As a community, we are all aware of the spaces in which sex and ethics intersect. We talk extensively about issues of consent and seek to educate others about the varying shades of the word “no”. We talk about practicing safe and consensual sex. We discuss respect for our partners and the necessity of open communication and active listening.
But how do we approach sex ethics in kink-specific discourse?
The vast majority of kinky individuals know and accept the very basic ethical tenets acknowledged and taught within our communities. We know to look for consent and to graciously accept when consent is not given or revoked, without pressuring or pushing the other person to change their mind. We know about RACK (Risk-Accepting/Aware Consensual Kink) and SSC (Safe, Sane and Consensual) kink. We know the rules and routines for ensuring that all members of a scene, relationship, or other event are well and safe before, during, and after anything we do.
When it comes to our kinks, we know every detail of our responsibilities to our playmates and partners. We are aware of the impact of our words, actions, and choices within the context of that scene.
Perhaps a more difficult pill to swallow, however, is the impact that our kinks can have on those outside of our consenting playmates–on people, cultures, and groups who are not participating members of a scene or relationship. Are we truly aware of and accountable for the impact that our kinks, our blogs, and our soapboxes have on marginalized groups, victims, and vulnerable members of our society?
Do we acknowledge when our kinks are rooted in abuse, violence, discrimination, and other systems of oppression? Do we know what kinds of messages our kinks, language, and imagery send to younger, more impressionable members of our community? Are we prepared to take responsibility for the soapboxes and “safe spaces” that we create, the messages we send, and the effect that they can have on the people who come in contact with them?
In my experience with the kink community, I don’t think we are. I think that there are shockingly few kinksters who are willing to accept responsibility for our kinks and the effects they have outside of our playmates, our partners, and ourselves.
Perhaps that’s because, whenever our kinks are brought into a critical light, we close our eyes, cover our ears and scream “kink shaming!”.
Whether we avoid the discourse altogether or jump into the fray with our community-approved soundbites in our defense, we are living in denial. We are denying the fact that our kinks (when publicized) can have a real impact on uninvolved parties. We are denying that our kinks can support a system of socialized abuse and oppression. And we are invalidating the feelings and experiences of those vulnerable members of society who—despite the already-present target on their backs—find the strength to stand up and express the hurt, abuse, and betrayal they have felt at the hands of the kink community.
We choose defensiveness and denial because we are unwilling to change our thoughts or feelings or to consider our impact outside of the box that is our bedroom. We decided that if we are not including said marginalized groups, victims, or vulnerable members of society directly in the kink, that we are washed of our responsibility to listen to, protect, and support them. And that is just not true.
Some kinks are built on the backs of CSA (Child Sexual Assault) victims, sexual abuse victims, and victims of racism—and these people have the right to voice their (opposing) views of whatever kink we take part in. Or they would if we didn’t bend over backward to change our language and argue semantics to confused and invalidate them.
I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve seen a victim of CSA or incest stand up and say “what you’re doing makes me personally uncomfortable, can you please do it in the privacy of your room/away from me” only to be attacked for “kink shaming” someone. (This is not kink shaming. This is a victim of abuse telling someone “This is triggering my trauma. Please, do it elsewhere.”) If someone’s yelling and belligerence were triggering someone, no one would hesitate to stick up for the triggered person.
Why is it different with kinks?
Why do we feel the need to silence people who don’t agree with things we bring into public spaces? Because—whether or not we want to admit it—bringing our kink to twitter/blogs/anywhere outside of you and your consenting party, is bringing it to a public space, full on individuals who did not consent to see it.
We bring our kinks into public spaces. We parade them around and market them as appealing to the best of our abilities. And, whether we like it or not, other people see what we say and do.
Once this happens, the impact of our kinks is no longer confined to our bedrooms. Victims of CSA and incest see DD/lg and incest play every day, and they are reminded of their scars. Black men and women in the kink community run the daily risk of encountering race play in their online lives, and this had an impact. Sometimes, these people speak up. More often than not, they don’t feel as though they can.
And that is our fault.
When a CSA victim stands up and says that a kink is reminiscent of their childhood abuse, the appropriate reaction is not to repeatedly tell them about all of the other CSA victims who have found power and liberation in reclaiming their trauma.
When someone on the autistic spectrum says that they are made uncomfortable by elements of age play, it is not your place to correct them.
As a Black woman, I have been driven to trembling and tears by the armies of white women who have felt it was their place to tell me that some other Black woman participates in race play and that I should read their take on that kind of submission instead of being offended.
We want to believe that we are a progressive community—but we don’t act like it. We preach anti-censorship, but we squash out opposing sentiment aggressively and without listening.
We talk about being allies to the vulnerable members of our society but abuse and bully them into silence by telling them that their experience and feelings are invalid (because some other vulnerable person agrees with us). We hammer in the notion that we should communicate, listen, and take accountability for our actions and choices, but we flat out deny the unquestionable fact that our actions (especially when publicized) affect more people than just ourselves.
Nothing exists in a vacuum. Kinks are no exception.
Since coming to the Twitter community, I’ve made a lot of wonderful friends. One of those friends once told me that everything I felt about a certain kink was valid and that it was unfair of someone to invalidate it. At the time, I found those words comforting. That was the kind of comfort I was looking for in that connection.
Upon further reflection, however, my feelings about that kink changed. I no longer felt it was safe or positive. I no longer believed that it existed in a bubble, where it couldn’t impact anyone other than myself and my playmates. I saw the patterns and systems that it fit into. I saw the damage that it did to people I didn’t even know. And I changed my mind.
When that happened, that friend changed their tune. They went out of their way to invalidate everything I felt and said—through false equivalencies, emotional manipulation, and redirecting the conversation at every turn. And that’s the problem with our community.
We want anti-censorship, but only for the people who agree with us. We validation for everything, as long as it doesn’t make us feel bad. We talk about safewords and consent and supporting victims. We talk and talk and talk about ethics. But, when we take our kinks out of the context of private play and into the public arena, we refuse to adjust our understanding of the impact. Even though the environment has changed, our actions have not.
We continue to enforce the rules of private play even in situations where they do not apply—telling anyone who opposes what we have publicly published and endorsed that everything we do is fine because it happens between consenting adults in private.
So it hurts no one, right?
The things that we do in public have every right to be scrutinized–because we’re doing in public. We have taken our kinks from our bedroom/playroom and out to the world. We have exposed others to them. We have endorsed them. And, when someone has spoken up about our public behavior, we have silenced them. We have told them all about our private kink and how it hurts no one, but we have refused to consider how our public behavior is clearly hurting them at least. And, rather than listening and changing our public habits, we take measures to shut them up or “educate them” that any reasonable person would call gaslighting, manipulative or abusive.
We are threatened, for some reason, when someone is critical of our behavior. We are scared of the kink-critical. What people don’t understand, though, is that being kinky requires us to also be kink-critical. And it requires us to be critical of and accountable for our public behavior and interactions—in the same way, that being part of a religion requires us to be critical of the extreme groups within that religion. Or that being a member of a professional field requires us to be critical of the unethical factions of that field.
Being kink-critical doesn’t make a person sex-negative or kink negative. Being open to criticism or new points-of-view about our public forums does not make a person wishy-washy. It makes them accountable for their actions and decisions and how they affect vulnerable and marginalized groups, as well as society at large. It makes them aware of their message and impact.
That’s an important responsibility for anyone looking to create a public space for anything.
If we’re not capable of that, if we can’t handle being held accountable for your larger impact, maybe it is best that we keep our kinks in private.