How safe safewords are?

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Some key concepts of extreme eroticism have been repeated so often to be now part of the vanilla culture as well, to the point of finding them quoted even by prime-time television shows. One of them is the SSC principle: every erotic game must be Safe, Sane and Consensual. Another is the safeword system: if one partner says a previously agreed-upon word, whatever is going on must be immediately stopped because something isn’t going how it should. They are solutions so simple, useful and efficient that some sexologists are now suggesting to make them part of the common tools of so-called “traditional” couples, who sometimes could find great benefits in them. But things aren’t as good as they seem.

Earlier this year an article published by the prestigious Salon webmagazine revealed that – at least within some circles in the United States – theory and practice are two very different things. The alarm bell was rung by Maggie Mahyem and Kitty Stryker, two activists who launched a campaign for Consent culture starting with the fundamentals: the tale of the rapes they were subjected to as submissives in the BDSM world. The more towns their seminar reached, the more their stories were joined by those by several other persons who reported nonconsensual sessions. One case even involved a BDSM club in which various girls were abused under the effect of spiked drinks, and someone mentioned «too many episodes to count».

This left me very surprised. I’ve been hanging around the extreme eroticism world for 25 years now and I never saw that kind of situation, especially in “public” places like a party. Of course I met my share of overexcited or deranged people and I have been told of home parties where alcoholic excesses or drug use turned any domination game a hazard… but all the rape incidents I know of have always happened in very different places, especially vanilla clubs.

I am not alone in this. On a similar occasion years ago, an earnest astonishment was also the reaction of famous divulgator Jay Wiseman when after a play session his partner candidly commented that he had been «the first dom who respected the limits» she had negotiated. A following informal study brang to light many cases of “authority abuse” within occasional BDSM couples, leading to an article which ended on an open question: «is this really possible?»

Maybe I am naïve and irresponsible, but since I was feeling far removed from that kind of situations I just forgot about this… until I recently saw this petition on Fetlife, one of the most active international (yet mostly North-American) communities of extreme eroticism enthusiasts. Its subject is the removal of one clause from the website’s rules, which is currently forbidding people to denounce the criminal behaviors of other members. For the administrators this is a sensible request to avoid being dragged into ugly legal disputes, but about 900 backers say it is also a limit stopping them to describe their misadventures and warn their peers of the dangers they might get into by meeting certain community members.

This is a very complex debate. If at first sight accepting the petition would look logical, many other Fetlifers objected that it would expose everybody to the risk of being denounced out of spite, dislike, hearsay or plain insanity. Thinking back to my own experience with stalkers and a few sociopaths I met in the Scene, I perfectly understand this point of view too. There are lots of online urban legends about me already, according to which I’d even mutilated several people and committed all sorts of vileness; I can only imagine what would happen if somebody instituted an official board where those same persons could attribute similar crimes to me just by ticking a few boxes. Conversely, the opposite would be equally unjust: it wouldn’t be fair if my long militancy in the BDSM world made me “untouchable” even if I’d actually behave badly with the people who play with me.

I must admit that to me it is not clear yet how vast the phenomenon of abuse of consent is outside of the USA; I am also not familiar enough with the gay BDSM scene to evaluate it; but with all my limits… I think I made my opinion up about all of this. Before expressing them, however, I’d love to hear what my readers’ are.

 

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