Bottoms Up: BDSM and Abuse

I was so excited for [redacted] and I to have the perfect summer fling. Sunshine and sundresses during the day, kinky play at night. She was exactly my type, said all the right things while we chatted on Tinder, and was so polite the first few times we met. Then she got comfortable enough to show me what she was really like.

I wanted to get to know her, so whenever we saw each other I made sure we had time to sit down and just talk. We talked about everything as light as our favorite colors to as serious as what our best relationships could look like. We talked about kinky boundaries and sexual histories. Somewhere along the line, I shared with her that I considered myself monagam-ish and that when I wasn’t in a committed relationship I usually slept around. “So you’re a thot,” she stated matter of factly.

Thot, an acronym for “that hoe over there,” started to appear in rap songs in the past year or so. It’s rooted in misogyny, racism and classism, and unlike the sometimes reclaimed “slut,” I’ve never heard anyone referring to someone else as a thot in a positive manner.

As I sat and stared, she also told me that while we were sleeping together she felt like she owned my pussy. I couldn’t sleep with anyone else because my pussy was hers. She tried to lighten it up and joke that I wouldn’t need anyone else to sleep with if she was the primary person fucking me. She paid for dinner, she bought the drinks, and she drove us everywhere, so I was hers. Never mind that I told her I didn’t need her to do things like that; she insisted and then used it over me.

Inexplicably I continued to see her, but the namecalling didn’t get any better, and she also started to try to dictate how I dressed. At this point in my journey, I am not a 24/7 submissive, nor do I want to be. And any element of control a dominant and I play with — and how and when and where we play with it — has to be mutually negotiated, regimented and controlled. I love being called dirty names, for instance, but only under specific circumstances. I choose those names, they fulfill a need, and, used correctly, they make me feel good.

But [redacted] called me a thot to shame me, subdue me, and tell me my body was her property. Dressing for activity partners can be fun, but she made me feel like I owed her, so I wore things I didn’t want to wear. It felt like she thought she could buy me with drinks and dinner, and then treat me like shit. Because of the headspace she got me in, I went along with it. I didn’t want to seem ungrateful.

It took me longer than it should have to confront her. It was summer and I was lonely and she was kinky and the sex was good and I live in a small town. And she was perfect, but she wasn’t. But in retrospect, it took me so long because I really wanted to be a good sub for her. In kinky play, sometimes the line between BDSM and abuse can get blurry, and a lot of potential for abuse revolves around the fact that often being a “good sub” is conflated with giving away all your power to a dominant, while being a “good dom” is conflated with taking all the power from a submissive. If I am grateful to her for anything, it’s learning that this is not the case. BDSM should only feel painful in consensual, negotiated ways. Once my dominant steps outside of the boundaries of what I want my submission to look like, I need to recognize that as disrespect and walk away.

Speaking up and advocating for myself is just as important to submission as the more exciting aspects of kinky play. I don’t ever want to put myself in a space again where I allow someone to insult me the way that [redacted] insulted me. I’m constantly reminding myself that being a sub does not mean people have the right to walk over me or to hurt my feelings. Being submissive does not mean submitting to abuse. Ever. I practice kink because it makes me feel great. When it makes me feel bad about myself, it’s time to re-evaluate the person I’m playing with.

It still sucks that that top and I didn’t work out because she was gorgeous and we would have been summer’s cutest couple. I am happy, however, that I’m learning to value my feelings and myself as a submissive and walk away from dominants who don’t.

Alaina is a 20-something working on a PhD in Performance as Public Practice. They are a mom to three cats, they listen to a lot of NPR and musicals, and they spend a lot of time on Pinterest lusting over studio apartments. They are actively trying to build A Brand on twitter @alainamonts. One day, they will be First Lady of the United States.

Al(aina) has written 263 articles for us.

30 Comments

  1. “I practice kink because it makes me feel great. When it makes me feel bad about myself, it’s time to re-evaluate the person I’m playing with.”
    YES YES YES THANK YOU

  2. “I’m constantly reminding myself that being a sub does not mean people have the right to walk over me or to hurt my feelings. Being submissive does not mean submitting to abuse. Ever.”

    THANK YOU, ALAINA.

  3. Alaina, the first paragraph of this was so resonant with a summer I’ve had that reading it was like a punch in the gut. You articulated the unease and second-guessing of oneself that can happen frighteningly easily in BDSM relationships where people mobilize “good sub” and “good dom” narratives as tools of control. I fell into the fallacy that because I was the dom in my own summer fling, I wasn’t at risk for abuse (in spite of other power differentials in play), and could ignore what seem like huge red flags in retrospect.

    I’m glad that you were able to confront your abuser, and that you are in a place where you can value and validate your feelings in all the ways she did not. Reading your reflections on it did me a world of good.

  4. Good for you!

    Some of your red flags are things I positively enjoy, but everyone’s kink is different. The important thing is I willingly offered Mistress control over my choice of clothes every day so in our relationship it’s not abusive. Yours took it without consent and that’s not good.

    One thing where a Domme pushes at a limit and you find you like it every now and again can be good. If it’s a good relationship and it goes wrong (and it will sometimes) the aftercare will be brilliant. When it’s smack, smack, smack of your limits like dominoes falling over, like it sounds your summer was, well you’ve been bitten now, so hopefully you’ll be shy next time, for your own sake!

    All the best in your journey.

  5. Really glad this article is here but what do you have to say about, “In kinky play, sometimes the line between abuse and BDSM can get blurry”? And Eloise’s comment, “One thing where a domme pushes at a limit and you find you like it every now and again can be good”?

    Why, if in the BDSM culture, it’s seen as sexy when someone pushes boundaries, is this practice considered safe? Why does every sub I know have this exact story?! Obviously abuse occurs in vanilla relationships but with the prevalence of abuse inside BDSM and the flood of creepy dommes entering scenes, I just don’t see how anyone could risk it.

    • There is a difference between pushing a limit and ignoring it and just barging on through. Everyone is different but I’d never push a limit with someone I didn’t know well, trust completely and that I hadn’t played with (at least) several times before. In practise, I’ve never actually done it with someone I’m not in a relationship with and not in the early days of the relationship.

      Yes, the person could still turn out to be an abuser and just have hidden it well enough for long enough but ultimately I choose to trust my partner every time we play. I make that choice to continue if they get towards a limit and push at a limit.

      Perhaps I’ve been lucky. Every time a scene has gone wrong (and they have) it’s been something silly and unpredictable. My legs weren’t tied, weren’t restrained in any way and I got massive cramps in one calf and had to stop for example. That kind of thing. Or we were chatting and my erstwhile partner hit a trigger neither of us knew was there and I dissolved in tears – which probably wouldn’t have happened in a vanilla relationship, wrong kind of chat but could have done.

      But, IMO, for a successful long-term relationship the sub and the Domme have a pretty close match of kinks. The Domme won’t want to push a limit into an area of play that the sub really just can’t face. Equally they’ll be more than happy to play in all the kinks that the sub does like. It’s hard to give examples without getting pretty graphic but control over clothes choices is something I like giving up and Mistress likes having. If it only worked for one of us it wouldn’t work well. Blood play doesn’t work for either of us, so it’s never going to be a limit Mistress wants to push.

      We’ve pushed at limits in types of impact play though, and nipple play and so on. It’s not a case of moving from “yesterday I spanked you 10 times, today it’s 100 strikes with the horsewhip!” Some of it is during the scene “Can you take 10 more for me?” where I’ll agree or not – and with a good Domme they might ask and say no or stop before if I can’t in their opinion based on how I answer. If it’s a new type of toy, we look and consider it together when we’re stone-cold sober to make sure we’re both sure before we spend the money. (Usually we’re right, we’re wrong more often about weird dildo designs that other toys, but we’re not perfect.)

      I should say too, from scene to scene the amount of spanking I can take can vary based on other things and if last time I got spanked 100 times, this time it might only be 50. You need safe words, you need a partner that respects them, and ideally you need a partner that recognises how your body reacts so if you’re having a bad day and 50 is your limit today, they’ll notice and build to a stop there rather than blithely carrying on so you have to use the safe word.

      As for why having a limit pushed is wonderful… I think there are lots of reasons. For me, I think it’s mostly a mix of pleasing Mistress and pushing my body. I’m getting older and I have quite a few constant aches and pains from silly things I did in my teens, 20’s and 30’s when I was still quite sporty. Now I can’t, literally, be sporty any longer and there are things as a sub I’d like to do but I’m physically not able to. But I can push those boundaries a bit in other areas. Take more, do more, do/feel something new. But I think other people will have other reasons. One of my friends says it’s often about confronting a fear in a safe place, which I can see too, even if it’s not one I particularly share.

      It’s not perfect like I say. But it’s checking I’m consenting and the person in the best state of mind for it is using her best judgement to check I’m still fit to consent and it’s safe to continue. And, ultimately, we’ve been together nearly 5 years now. That’s a lot of time where she’s made the right choices, time after time. The first time it came up was several months in, not the first time we played together – if it had been, I’d have probably run like hell!

    • I think there’s a difference between pushing limits and pushing boundaries. To me, the “Can you …” “I want to …” type of negotiation masquerading as a question/statement and the things Eloise is describing are limit-pushing. From my own experience, the difference is this (both experiences went wrong):

      Limit-pushing/okay-to-hot: Dom intentionally bites harder than usual in a sensitive spot, immediately pulls back when they feel my body react negatively, and is already watching my face when I say “yellow.” Dom verbally checks in for clarification before returning to play.

      Boundary-pushing/abuse: Dom is told, “Do not ever X, Y, or Z with me. I have post-traumatic stress disorder and those things will cause me to flashback.” Dom decides to ‘Y’ during a scene without warning. Dom is annoyed that I have a flashback and rebukes me for being “not submissive enough” to finish the scene. I am incandescently furious and end the relationship immediately.

      • Ah, I’d say the first is a soft limit and the bottom is a hard limit – and definitely abuse as you describe it.

        But pushing soft limits can be abusive if it’s too frequent, if there’s no care taken, if there’s no respect of the safe word and so on.

        I have had a hard limit pushed at gently by a previous Mistress. Her pushing is not why the relationship ended – we both got offered jobs in different cities at pretty much the same time and distance took its toll. She enjoyed a certain form of play and I was really not at all into it. Hard limit not into it. Over time we built up to it, in lots of baby steps and with my complete consent and understanding at each step. I was never in any doubt that if I’d said “no, can’t do it” the relationship would have continued so I never felt coerced. It’s still not something I enjoy and seek out but it is something I can do. We didn’t do it often – her birthday and a couple of other significant dates for us – but enough to satisfy her desire for it. Happily for me my Mistress now doesn’t like it either so I don’t have to.

        I don’t feel that was abuse because although it was a hard-limit that was changed into something I just don’t like, I was asked to consent, lots and lots of times along the way.

        I hope you’ve got lots of good experiences to counter the bad ones, and very few of the hard-limit smacking ones.

      • Sorry if my reply yesterday felt like I was ignoring your experience. My only defence is that I’d had a long, bad day at work and I was trying to suggest that other experiences for hard limits can exist.

        In a situation like yours, with PTSD and flashbacks I can’t imagine any decent Domme ever pushing to approach the hard limit, or even risking going close to it. What part of that is being safe with your mental health, let alone playing consensually?

        So sorry again if I my reply didn’t come across well. I hope you’ve had plenty of much better experiences in kinky play and found better Dommes too. I know nothing about PTSD from direct personal experience and little from my circle of friends and acquaintances but I hope you’re getting all the help and support you can with that and you’re at least improving if not actually recovering from that too, however long and painful the process is.

        I’m sufficiently British to be awkward about offering hugs to strangers, but if an awkward, apologetic hug is acceptable, please accept one: *hugs*.

        • Eloise, thanks for coming back to this. I think we’re maybe talking past each other here with terminology? I have soft limits and hard limits, like most everyone, but for me boundaries are beyond a hard limit — and the pushing of those is definitely abusive.

          Boundaries are things like PTSD triggers for me, or, for example, a genderqueer partner who didn’t want a certain part of their body touched and wanted their body parts called by specific terms only.

          I think part of where the blurring between BDSM and abuse happens is where people don’t distinguish enough between limits and boundaries — the difference between “I really don’t want to do ‘X’, but will on very rare occasions because my top likes it (and we have negotiated this compromise)” and ” ‘X’ will cause me very real psychological harm that cannot be negotiated away.”

          Another part of where the blurring occurs, for me, is where phrasing like, “If you were -really- submissive, you’d do ‘X’ for me” starts being said, either explicitly or implicitly, around a sub’s limit. It manipulates the sub’s desire to please to avoid the fact that the sub is likely to say “no” if actually asked.

          As far as the appeal of doing it anyway, despite bad experiences: it gives me things that vanilla sex just doesn’t, physically and emotionally.

    • y’all are having an amazing coversation here and I love it! To answer your question about why even do bdsm, it’s because when it works, it’s so fulfilling! kinky sex does more for me than canilla ever has, and I enjoy experimenting with it. but safely, and in situations I have a part in creating.

  6. This is a great piece; I really appreciate your sharing it.

    I know several people who have suffered some very extreme rape and abuse from batterers that used BDSM as a cover, and then suffered again from anti-BDSM attitudes that shamed them when they sought help. The conversation you’re creating here is a wonderful way to ensure that both these things happen less, and that there are communities of support to access when they do.

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  9. The Network/La Red (www.tnlr.org) is an awesome resource for survivors of abuse in kink and BDSM relationships! They have a 24-hour hotline if you need to talk: 617-742-4911.

  10. To someone in a kinky relationship relationship, the line between abuse and kink can be blurry; often even recognizing abusive behaviors and attitudes in a relationship can be a huge challenge.

    Thank you, for writing this. I’ve never been in bdsm relationships (though goddess, I hope so) but I’ve been in a relationship where, eventually, one person had all the power, and one person was disempowered. I wanted to do things well for them, make them happy, and I lost my own self for it. You don’t start out that way, and it’s terrifying to recognize that from within.

    Within the context of bdsm, kink, and leather relationships, this can be all the more challenge. Often, the other cue is your feelings about the matter. no one outside the relationship or your partner will be able to confirm it.

    Some of the posters above have conflated consensual, enjoyable, mutally desired choices (giving up power) with abusive behaviors (controlling you in ways that made you upset, doubt yourself, scared, or uneasy). It can look the same, but the different is in the impact on you.

    “I practice kink because it makes me feel great. When it makes me feel bad about myself, it’s time to re-evaluate the person I’m playing with.” YES. THANK YOU.

    If you’re interested in reading about 24/7 mutally polarized relationships, http://www.sexgeek.wordpress.com Andrea Zanin writes so many thoughtful, articulate things.

    Having just recently left a relationship of close to three years, in why I was allowing/having the person I was with controlling me, and I had convinced myself that since she was happy, I was happy, I know full well the mind-mess that can happen. It’s never all bad. but keep an eye on your feelings, they’ll lead your way.

    My best to you, and anyone reading this comment.
    https://www.tumblr.com/blog/tuba-twin

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