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“If we decide to judge or police other people’s consensual sex lives, we aren’t feminists, we’re being Patriarchal” ~ Gayle S. Rubin

On a very basic level, the term is a combination of three abbreviations—‘B&D’, which means Bondage and Discipline; ‘D&S’, meaning Dominance and Submission; and ‘S&M’, which stands for Sadism and Masochism. These are actually umbrella terms for a large variety of sexual kinks. In this article, I will be focusing on Submission and Masochism (S&M). BDSM relationships establish themselves on an unequal distribution of power, where one person is a clear ‘Dom’ or ‘Top’ (i.e, the dominant one, the one in control); and the other is the ‘Sub’ or the ‘Bottom’ (i.e the one who plays the submissive role). And masochism simply means someone who enjoys being inflicted with pain, it may be verbal (like humiliation by calling names) or physical (choking, spanking, hair pulling). 

The tricky part is the nexus of gender and S&M—the power dynamics of kink resemble the unequal power distribution between men and womxn. For centuries womxn have had little or no sexual agency, and being a sub feels like giving up that agency. In hetronormative relationship, womxn are again left the whims of a man. And the violence and humiliation womxn face on a daily basis is enacted in masochism. This intersection of S&M with reality makes it look like like abuse. This is why on the surface, it is consider anti-feminist, and misogynistic. This notion makes it difficult for women to engage in it because there is a judgment and shame attached to it. 

During my college, when I was sexually active, I started to experiment with myself—what I liked, what I disliked. I had heard about various kinks and I thought of them as disturbing and misogynistic. It was only after some exploration I realised that I enjoy being restrained, dominated, and at times also humiliated.

Like most Indian teenagers, I also came across BDSM through the infamous Fifty Shades of Grey, which is ironically the worst example of BDSM. During my college, when I was sexually active, I started to experiment with myself—what I liked, what I disliked. I had heard about various kinks and I thought of them as disturbing and misogynistic. It was only after some exploration I realised that I enjoy being restrained, dominated, and at times also humiliated.

When I thought about it, I was so shocked and confused. I am what society calls “too feminist types” my main goal in life is creating safe space for women , then how can I a staunch feminist ever get attracted to such a thing. I who cringes at gender norms enjoy a guy who dominates me. How can I who dreams day and night of overthrowing patriarchy enjoy being humiliated by my partner? It didn’t make any sense. 

This led me to believe that something is wrong with me, that I may be insidiously a misogynist. Thus began the cycle of guilt, shame and judgement, coming from no one else but my own self. It felt like I was betraying my own kin and kith in the fight against patriarchy. This went to the extent wherein I would suppress and overlook my own desires. I started thinking that I’m running a scam with my feminism because my views don’t align with what my body is demanding. It was painful and scary.

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Only when I started reading up on it, I realised how common this feeling is—a lot of women bearbare the same guilt as I do. Usually for me, feminists circles are safe spaces where I can talk without fear of judgement, but in this conundrum I could not even approach the space. My internal judgment was eating me up, therefore I decided to research and liberate myself. 

Views about S&M have always been conflicted by feminist critique. During the 1970s and 80s, there was a ‘Sex Wars’. This started a dialogue about BDSM. While a large number of feminists were in support of these various forms of expressions of sexuality, there were also a large number of feminists who were against BDSM. Their arguments against BDSM revolved around the inherent violence that exists within these practices, especially directed against women, and how it legitimises the male desire to subdue, assault and control women. There was another section of feminists which stood for BDSM because consent is the key; as long as two adults practice consentual sex nobody else should have the space to comment on it. The modern feminists stand with sexual autonomy, irrespective of how it manifests itself. 

This led me to believe that something is wrong with me, that I may be insidiously a misogynist. Thus began the cycle of guilt, shame and judgement, coming from no one else but my own self. It felt like I was betraying my own kin and kith in the fight against patriarchy. This went to the extent wherein I would suppress and overlook my own desires.

Co-Existence of S&M and feminism 

Prima-facie, the co-existence of feminism and BDSM and particularly, submission and masochism feels like a paradox. The two of them can actually co-exist really well. For any BDSM the first rule is active consent. People indulging in it, need to have boundaries, a safeword and an explicit consent. The huge difference between abuse and BDSM is the presence of consent. And as long as two adults consent to it, there is no harm. 

Why are Women into it? 

There doesn’t have to be a causation over why people are into it, nor does anyone have to justify it. However, usually the reason why people indulge in this is because of trust and vulnerability involved, to let go and deal with trauma healthily. BDSM of any kind is built on trust; it’s about trusting your partner enough to give them control. It is a space where you can be vulnerable and explore parts of you that you didn’t know existed. 

In the journey towards equality, womxn are put through a lot of challenges. It’s hard juggling between home, work and the additional expectations, and womxn always expected accountability or else they will be left behind. When womxn sexually submit, it creates space to let go off control and responsibility. It lets them just enjoy without thinking what is expected out of them. Contrary to the popular belief, that abuse is what leads to BDSM, there is no direct correlation. In fact, S&M gives the space to womxn to get through their trauma healthily. It gives them a chance to live through it, but only this time they have autonomy.

Also read: The Kinky Way Forward: How BDSM Helped Liberate My Sexuality

Why Do We need to Change our Perspectives?

Womxn’s sexuality is already a taboo topic—not meant to be discussed or acknowledged. All the sexual acts are viewed through a lens of morality, and this stigmatises and ingrains the idea that women and sex don’t go together. As feminists, it’s our job to create a dialogue. We must overcome the existing judgement and not legitimise it. For most women, figuring out what they enjoy, and having sexual pleasure is empowering. It’s an act of taking charge of your body; even as a sub, it’s the woman who gives her the control to her partner, which means the ultimate control lies with the sub. 

Conclusion

Of course sexual instincts are inherent, and it is not possible to understand why a person gets turned on from a specific activity. However, at large, it is definitely something to think about. I obviously do understand that kinks and sexual submission do not exist in a vacuum. Radical feminist philosophes claim that kinks like S&M are a result of cultural victimisation and socialisation. Another argument is about biological structure and primal instincts wherein the females are inherently seen as submissive and the males, dominant.

While at a broad level, it is interesting to analyse and come up with theories; at a personal level, there is not much we can do to change our kinks. So I’ve learnt it the hard way that it’s best we let go of our judgement and shame and embrace it. It’s also very essential to read up more and have a discussion to lose the stigma and have a better understanding of ourselves. Only a true understanding can liberate us.

And lastly, accepting your kinks only empowers you and does not make you a bad feminist! 

Also read: Tryst With Kink: Brushstrokes Of BDSM On My Sexuality

References

  1. Medium
  2. Youth Ki Awaaz
  3. Elle
  4. Huffington Post
  5. DNA India
  6. Archer Magazine
  7. Bitch Media

Featured Image Source: Feminism In India

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