BDSM OR Sexual Assault?


In recent years, more and more people have heard of, and are intrigued by, BDSM. Yet, even with increased awareness there remains a taboo about the subject. Having this taboo means that it’s challenging to engage in honest and forthcoming conversations about the topic without having some stigma stick to you or fear you might loose your job. If we don’t truly talk about it, then comprehensive information won’t be widely available and people can get hurt. Because of this need, from time to time I will bring some reliable resources about BDSM. I believe that there is a lot to learn about this choice that can shed light on all kinds of intimate relations.

Before we continue, if you don’t know what the letters BDSM stand for, here is some basic stuff you should know:

BDSM stands for Bondage and Discipline, Domination and Submission, and Sado-Masochism.  This is a form of advanced sexual/sensual play, which may or may not include actual sex or sexualized activities. Contrary to popular belief, inflicting and receiving pain (SM) is not always part of a scene. A scene is a play time, in which consensual adults partake in safe activities that excite them, a time in which they feed their kinks, get revived and even healed. Actually, BDSM is founded on the idea of mutual consent. There are roles, boundaries, safe words, power exchanges, toys, aftercare, and lots of skills, knowledge and communication that goes into a scene. Some extend this play time for more than just a few hours and may develop a dynamic relationship that upholds BDSM principles. Whatever the dynamic one chooses, to encourage risk-aware experiences, it is important to follow the BDSM principle of Safe, Sane and Consensual play. 

Yes, there are immense risks involved in this advanced play; but know that alongside the risks there is the opportunity for immense pleasures as well. With this said, sometimes, pain does exist in the form of play. Play partners may choose a scene that otherwise may look like torture or abuse. But this scene was predetermined with clear limits that were discusses and there are agreed-upon rules, words or signals that will stop the scene.

So despite the risks, there are many ways to keep things safe.

They all begin in understanding and respecting the difference between advanced sexual play and sexual assault.  They are not the same thing!  As we all know, sometimes, some people, disrespect other peoples’ limits. At time, people hurt other people, non-consentually. Even in BDSM, that is sexual assault. Pain does not mean it is assault; disregarding people’s limit is. To understand it better one can say that BDSM is to Assault as sex is to rape. Sadly, in every form of intimacy,whether during kinky play or vanilla sex, we can encounter non-consent in the form of assault or rape .

Have you heard about that woman that didn’t report her rape? Yeah, we all heard it before. Reporting sexual assault is no easy task. So now imagine that she agreed to have a scene with this new Domme (for Dominant) and his guy friend. They discussed the boundaries and her hard limits that shouldn’t be crossed. They understood that she loves bondage, pain and sex. Then, a third person arrives in the middle of the scene while she is tied up. She tries to stop the scene but they see it as part of the bratty act and disregard her use of the safe word. They continue the scene because “Hey, she said she likes rough sex, so she must like a triple dose”. A line was crossed, obviously. Well, obvious to some. After this, can she really go to the cops and report a rape? Can she talk to her non-kink friends about this? Who does she turn to to seek support? With all the taboos and misunderstandings, not many people will take her seriously and they will probably shame and blame her for agreeing to be tied up in the first place.

This is not unique. Lots of people get confused between harsh play during a scene and sexual assault. For some, the idea that this type of play could be safe is ludicrous. But with just a little information you can easily tell the difference.

Is it assault or BDSM? 

These following pointers are adapted from the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom. (You can read more about all these terms on their website.)

Yes, it is sexual assault if….

  • A pre-negotiated limit is violated.
  • A safe-word or safe-sign (to stop activity) is ignored.
  • Consent is revoked and the retraction is not honored.
  • Consent is coerced, forced or is made under an unconscious situation.

It is advanced sexual play (of BDSM or any kind of ethical, intimate touch) if…

  • Verbal aware-and-sane consent is given before doing BDSM activities, entering any power exchange relations, or having intimate contact.
  • A safe-word or safe-sign is agreed upon by all participants to be honored and used to stop activities.
  • Consent is given with the awareness that every participant has a personal and mutual responsibility within the scope and limits set forth by all participants.
  • It is known that consent can be withdrawn at any time, for any activity, by any of the participants.

In the scene I depicted, the consent was revoked but ignored, the safe word was ingonred as well, and a pre-negotiated limit was violated. Hence it is sexual assault. Once we understand these basic rules, and if we agree to play ethically while taking mutual and personal responsibility, than the game is ON!

Well… maybe not totally game-on. There is still a lot to talk about. Consent is all about having an open and honest discussion before initiating in voluntary, enthusiastic, non-coerced, sexy, tantalizing, safe, sane and consensual play.


Do you want a pocket card with these points? Download You Got Choices’ BDSM or sexual assault wallet card.

To see the original points from the NCSF, download their BDSM-vs-assault wallet card for law enforcement and victim & social services.

If you’d like to talk to me personally or to order a workshop on this topic, get in touch at shanna@yougotchoices.com and check out my other workshops for consenting adults. 

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