‘Consenting adults in private’, redux

I’ve been thinking about is whether its possible to come up with a better minimum code of ethical interaction for spanking (and D/s) relationships than the old standard: every practice is okay as long as it’s between “consenting adults in private.”

Consenting Adults in Private evolved from the gay rights world, and may not be quite right for D/s. It is more than apparent that a lot of unethical-by-any-measure (genuinely exploititatve, cruel) behaviour goes on behind the fig leaves of consent and privacy.

I’m greatly in favour of D/s broadly interpreted. I’m not in favour of real cruelty and exploitation (and I feel D/s is messed up by people who are cruel and abusive for real.)

I’m not moralising, nor trying to reign anyone in, nor get anyone else to do what I do. I absolutely appreciate the diversity of practice and opinion in our field. It is all about self- and other-exploration, so there must be freedom to explore. But I don’t think one can say: “don’t judge what I do in my house and I won’t judge what you do in yours”.

Think of it this way: despotic and criminal countries with human rights abuses galore always say: “don’t interfere in our internal affairs, and we won’t interfere in yours.” But in fact the abuses of children, women, prisoners, p.o.w.’s, disabled people, mentally handicapped, people of colour, gays and lesbians, and so on has forced charters such as the Internation Declaration on Human Rights, the Geneva Convention, and so on, which precisely say: “it’s not all subjective, cultural, relative. There is a basic human standard of behaviour ethical nations adhere to.” By the way it’s worth reading the Declaration of Human Rights, which can be found at this link.

I wouldn’t mind this kind of charter for the spanking D/s world. Something everyone could point to, which would glady tolerate the healthy diversity of interpretation and practice, but also flag real abuse.

So what might this look like? Here’s a beginning list:

1. Adults. No D/s interaction with anyone under the national ‘age of consent’. Note, I’m not saying 18. If the age of consent is 16, that means D/s is allowed. If that’s not okay, the age of consent should be raised. (Natural parents spanking children in a moderate way is no problem.)

2. Duty of care and consistency. The dominant must have the submissive’s interests at heart. This is hard to pin down – definitions vary – but I think we all know when it’s not there. There is a duty on the punisher to make sure the punished is not grossly physically harmed. This extends to mental health too. The rules can be strict, and the consequences severe, but the submissive should feel mentally secure, not subject to random witholding of the relationship or other ‘mind games’.

3. Absolute limits on the strike zone. What’s tricky about spanking is it’s hitting, and hitting is also the essence of abuse. We resolve this by saying some zones are smackable, others not. But, you might say, ‘what if she agrees to be punched in the face as part of her discipline?’ This would pose a theoretical problem, but in all my years I’ve never seen it nor heard of it. It can be safely dismissed. There are standard body areas, the bottom obviously (but perhaps also pussy, legs, and back too, according to preference) that can ‘belong’ to the Dominant (subject to 2 above.) But that doesn’t mean he should start the session with a few ‘backhands’, nor that she should feel this is permissible.

4. Freedom of association. This is the consent point. But I don’t think consent is the right concept because in D/s non-consent or partial-consent or overcoming-of-non-consent is intrinsic to the act for many. So a clearer principle is freedom of association. This means that a person should be free to walk away (physically, mentally, socially, financially) without fear of retribution.

5. Private. As with all sexuality and nudity, people who are offended or not interested have a right not to be confronted in a public place. The reverse applies too. Nobody should invade your privacy (subject to 1-4 above).

Think of it this way: the abuser is one who denies freedom of association (you leave me and I’ll kill you, etc); will hit his trusty sub any old how, possibly even in public; and disregard her actual, real physical and mental well-being. My little code of practice is a straight reversal of what troubles me, and I think, troubles most honourable people.

Anyway, I suppose I’m whistling in the wind. There will never be an International Charter of D/s Practice. But it maybe worth checking whether these minimums apply to you.

6 Responses to ‘Consenting adults in private’, redux

  1. Sara says:

    It’s an interesting proposition. I agree, too much BDSM covers abuse. There are Tops who are users and bottoms who don’t possess the self esteem to protect themselves. The problem is, in the end, I think you arrive back at consent.

    My personal strike zone is very limited. There are people who like face slapping. So..is open hand ok and closed not? Is it ok if she does not bruise? If they both want hard face slapping, if she agrees…. I am just not sure. In some ways, adults of age have the right to choose how they live. There are cutters who do not want to stop. Is it unhealthy…yes! Can the urge for self mutilation blend over into the BDSM practice of the Top cutting the sub? Yes. Is it healthy? I would say no. That does not mean that the consenting adults cannot and will not do it, but I would not support it.

    Many things in life are a matter of degree. There is a difference between spanking and beating. There is a difference between eating 3 cookies and 63 at a sitting. One is a treat that does no harm, the other causes illness and obesity. Cookies are not the problem, but how they are handled. Erotic practice that satisfies and does no serious harm is healthy enough. Erotic practice that does serious harm is not healthy.

    I appreciate that you have written about this and do think as a community we need to think about the differences between respecting another’s choices and supporting abuse. I have been on forums and heard women talk of “punishments” where she describes feeling used and emotional diminished. Readers are afraid to step on anyone’s toes..and take an ‘anything goes’ stance. It is my belief, that in that venue of a forum for exchange of ideas, we should speak up. On the other hand, if a blogger is talking about what they do at home, clearly abusive in my book but not complaining or asking for opinions. I feel it is not my place to go into their ‘home’ (blog) and tell them what to do.

    Tough stuff for sure!

  2. Jan says:

    Ok… this is the best post I have read in the two years of reading blogs. Being on collarme, and visiting other sites and listening to other folks in the D/s scene as also led me to believe that there are far far more “abusers” attrcted to this lifestyle than every before. (there have always been abusers but here in the BDSM world they seem to find protection esp from their subs). I have always been concerned about some of what I’ve read… not all, though, there are some some super duper Doms :D. Narcissism cloaked in an aura of Dominance is also a very very dangerous combination. I too have researched some the of the language in the “lifestyle” and also came to the conclusion that it stems from the Gay lifestyle as this lifestyle was becoming more vocal and public.

    However, I am very glad that you wrote this and I sincerely hope you will allow others to quote you on their sites… if folks don’t agree with you hmmmm I wonder I about them.

  3. Kat5 says:

    I have no experience yet but have read a ton and have a dear friend with lots as a dom so I at least think I know what matters to me (and hope to find out soon if I am right, lol) and I must say I love this post! Thank you.

  4. Z says:

    Yes Sara/Jan, esp. on borrowing language from the gay movement — where “consenting adults in private” really does cover things. In other contexts, though, that phrase just functions to help people hide. And I’ve found that society wide we tend to be conditioned not to see abuse for what it is, or to justify it in various ways, or simply not to understand how it works. I have more theories on this and how it *might* relate to d/s etc., but – got to go to work.

  5. Abel says:

    I’m coming to this post very late indeed, having not previously discovered your blog. I think it’s an excellent, balanced perspective on a topic that fascinates me – I explored similar issues in one of our SpankingCast podcasts a few months back:
    http://www.spankingwriters.com/blog/2010/08/27/spankingcast-episode-9-informed-consent/

    The definition I came to of appropriate scene behaviour was “adults giving their full and informed consent to safe kinky activities taking place in private.” It’s stood the test of time for me – even with debates about (say) no limits / no safeword play, such as in our latest SpankingCast.

    I particularly like your comment that “The dominant must have the submissive’s interests at heart.” Any dom, or top, should have that at the heart of their approach to play.

    I was fascinated too by Sara’s comment that: “There is a difference between spanking and beating.” That becomes interesting in the context of roleplay, where some do want their characters to be “beaten”. It’s a word I’ve always shied away from, but have become more comfortable with in the right context. For me, it only extends to harsher corporal punishment and face slapping; I guess there are others whose play is harder still, and I wouldn’t want to criticise their tastes.

    Thanks for stimulating some interesting thoughts.

  6. Christina says:

    Ive always been concerned about what Ive read on blogs and/or websites that deal with D/s!
    Perhaps this is why my Curiosity with THE THINGS WE DO has been on again / off again for 9
    years! I dont like the whippings and/or the face slapping scenarios – to me this isnt Erotic and/or
    pleasurable – but to each their own as Ive been told by many submissives!!

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