BDSM versus abuse: lines are grey

Erica Smith, graduate student of behavioral psychology, facilitating lecture about the difference between BDSM and abuse. 

Erica Smith, a graduate student of behavioral psychology, facilitated a lecture titled “Sex Posi+ive: What’s your kink?” Tuesday evening in Room 352 of the Student Center.

The lecture discussed the differences between an actual bondage, domination, sadism and masochism relationship and that of the one depicted in the book by E.L. James, “50 Shades of Grey”.

It also included a video showing various controlled and comical enactments of couples participating in BDSM activity and a few novelty items such as bondage tape and c-rings for show and tell.

“The purpose of this lecture is to help people understand the difference between what has become an international phenomenon that normalized, what is in truth, an abusive relationship,” Smith said. “So that people can see the fun, beautiful, intimate, healthy side of kinky sex.”

According to Smith, BDSM is a misunderstood practice and she believes that James’ book characterizes an unhealthy, abusive relationship and undermines the quality of what a true BDSM relationship is all about.

“It’s scary to think that people in abusive relationships might see this and think, ‘Oh, so it’s okay,’” she said.

Smith said that she still enjoys the book for it’s entertainment value, but that it is important for people to know that BDSM is not about abuse. It is about what is fun and feels good between two consenting adults.

The recent release of the movie made some attendees curious for analysis.

““I was just interested to hear what they had to say about the “50 Shades of Grey” and BDSM,” Susan Farley, EMU alumni, said. “I was curious. I have an open mind.”

There was some consensus that BDSM signals abuse to some people who don’t understand it. And there was admitted connection and intrigue that it could be disguised as abuse.

“I guess what brought me here, is just the idea about BDSM. Myself, ever since getting divorced because I was in an abusive relationship, I started to discover more that I was becoming more intrigued about the BDSM community,” Michael Salinas said. “I’m a double, women and gender studies and psychology, major.”

Salinas said he was intrigued about what the topic really meant and that he took out of it much more than he expected.

“I started to see all of the warning signs in my past marriage that I should have seen before,” he said. “There is so much more that I want to explore about the BDSM community.”

Smith said that there are ways to recognize an abusive relationship that might be disguised as BDSM:

  • Does your partner stop when asked to? Safe word.
  • Are you afraid of your dominant? Trust your gut.
  • Do they threaten to hurt or abandon you for disobedience? Violence.
  • Do they use alcohol or gifts to guilt you into doing something?
  • Have you gained or lost a lot of weight through the partnership?
  • Do you feel guilty about doing or not doing something that your partner wants?
  • Does your partner make you feel ugly or unwanted?
  • Do you feel violated after having sex?
  • Does your partner ignore your needs? Food, clothing or injuries.
  • Has your partner ever questioned your loyalty because you wanted to negotiate?
  • Has your partner ignored your safe words?

She said yes to any of these questions, even once, could be a sign of abuse. But she also said that she hopes that most people leave excited, wanting to try new things and to open their minds to something different.

“I hope that people walk out of here excited to explore their own sexuality, less restricted by societal rules about what’s okay and not okay in the bedroom. And maybe a little turned on and ready to go try something new,” she said. “I think most people under estimate how much BDSM they’ve actually engaged in.”


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