Monday, January 28, 2013

Crossing the Line: Where Kink Becomes Abuse

In my second D/s relationship, my sub and I had different agendas. And we lived in different states. Our second long visit was difficult. I felt badgered, not served. It wasn't malicious on her part; she was making known her sense of insecurity about the relationship without stating it. I withheld my frustration, until her last night with me. We were browsing bondage erotica online. Stirred, my top self suddenly leapt to the fore and offered a conduit for my anger. I pulled her down on the bed by the hair and pinned her on her back, then slapped her face hard and repeatedly, though carefully. I chose to stop before marks appeared. But I wasn't done. She would know my fury. I commenced a wicked tongue-lashing. I told her nothing untrue, but I sharpened the edges of truth before striking her with it. And it felt so satisfying—a rich mix of dominance and anger! She submitted to the torrent of barbs.

But I'd lost track of her. She was triggered, miserable. Eventually she managed to say meekly, "I need a safeword." It hadn't even occurred to me that she might not be able to take my verbal assault. I didn't think she deserved my care in that moment, but I knew to stop. In silence, I tugged her by the hair off the bed, onto the floor and to her knees. I sat on the bed and tried to locate my composure. I had given free reign to my fury, and crossed the line in the process.

There is no hard, bright boundary between consensual kink and abusive treatment. No, it's a foggy, broad gray-zone. Where the zone lies, and how wide it is, varies from day to day for each of us. Venturing out to your limits in a D/s context may lead somewhere transcendent, or terrible. And it's not only the bottom who's at risk. When a top is drawn into territory where he's conflicted, but presses on because the bottom apparently craves it, he will be hurt as well.

Simply defined, BDSM is sexualized power, sexualized punishment. Power corrupts. It's cliché, but true. Impulses like anger and greed compete with rational notions like care and fairness. Males' abuse of their power in vanilla relationships (e.g. date rape and domestic violence) is sadly common. It can't be a surprise that an intentional power imbalance within a romance, even if just during sex, leads to abuse at times. Indeed, "power exchange" carries you there, eventually. Incidents of abuse are a rarely-discussed cost of regular kink.

If straying into abuse—whether intentional or not, acknowledged or not—becomes a pattern, you have an abusive relationship; the right choice is to leave it. But what sort of relationship is it when abusive events are infrequent, and discussed afterwards, and cause the partners to adjust course, yet remain inevitable? Can this be considered healthy? Can it be considered... sexy?

A slave-identified woman whom I corresponded with for a while had been introduced to the master-slave dynamic by a much older gent who was her first serious partner. She had moved in with him in her early 20s. He had introduced kink to her gradually at first, and found her receptive. One day he announced that she had a choice: begin a 30-day training period to become his slave, or leave the relationship. If the training did not suit her, she could opt to leave after it was complete. He was a former military man, and believed in the principle of boot camp: break the civilian to reach the soldier within. Applied to his girlfriend, that became: break the independent girl to reach the slave within. She agreed to try. His kinks then became her entire experience, 24 hours a day. She described his treatment to me; none of it was terribly unusual, but it was brutal in its intensity. She was overwhelmed. She was miserable. She begged him to stop. He continued. Then in a particular moment, she told me, something awoke in her. A light came into her eyes, which he recognized. He'd found the slave within her.

She told me they later discussed the training period, and he admitted he had become too harsh too quickly. He had been, in my view, abusive. She was, I believe, damaged somewhat by that experience. But it was also her gateway into a relationship and lifestyle that she was passionately devoted to. From her recollections I gathered that abuse was not a pattern after the training days. When I met her she was seeking a new master, as her original master had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. He'd directed her to seek a new partner. Clearly she still felt owned by him, but was dutifully seeking what he thought best for her.

The strange truth is that along with power and punishment, abuse, too, can be sexualized. Coping with mistreatment this way doesn't mean it's not damaging; any incident of abuse will require the attention of both partners, and time, to heal. But I suspect that sexualizing abuse committed in a kink context blunts its edge; isolated transgressions can be interpreted as moments of extreme weather, rather than crises that might precipitate a breakup.

We are interdependent creatures, yet we are selfish. We are resilient beings, yet we have long memories. When drawn to the flickering heat of D/s and S&M we have to know that we are working with psychological fire; although we manipulate it artfully on our best days, we will be burned, or burn our lovers, on our worst. Some such accidents may seem tenable, even fantastic, in the moment—until the wound appears. Given care, wounds heal, and scars fade, though not entirely.



At October 09, 2013 2:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Will, Sir, thank you for writing this post. I was in a 24/7 M/s relationship for several years and left it when the lines got blurred and I ended up badly beaten and verbally assaulted. It was not during kink. Another woman was brought into our relationship after we had been together for years. I was told I didn't have to be submissive to her, but as my duties called, it was impossible not to be. She never picked up after herself. She would keep him up all night, which meant I slept on the couch and when the work day started he would be too tired to work. We ran a company from home. That meant that I had to do both our jobs and clean up after her. Things came to a head and I got way out of control. I was crushed and lost my mind. I did everything for my Master. That is what he wanted and I loved doing it. He never really discussed it with me and I felt very threatened. Mostly because he told me I should. Coffee in bed, showered him, shaved him, 3 Q-tips, trimmed him, clipped his nails, cleaned the house, did the laundry, ran the business, serviced him daily and I am extremely kinky, I got him out of the house, I took care of the bills and the taxes, I fed him a healthy diet, filled his glass of water every time it was empty, made sure he always had his favorite snacks, vitamins each day with his meals....etc...things I can't mention here.

I suppose I could have left when the new lady showed up, but I love/d him!!! A true Dominate!!!! One that is willing to do the things he did for me? It took me this long to find him and I can't imagine there is another like him. BDSM is everywhere so why does it seem so hard to find a Dom who seems to be able to read you like a book almost immediately and works with you just the way you are....and doesn't make you out to be some person he wants you to be. Things only got out of control once. Unfortunately it was the extent that it got out of control that makes it impossible for me to be with him openly.

When I tell people that I misbehaved they don't understand, but I truly did. I was way out of line. He was too. He knows it and feels very badly. It was very damaging to him as well. Having to leave him was EXTREMELY difficult. He was kind enough to let me go slowly. I didn't just leave. The other lady had to deal with it. I first stopped grooming him and so on... There's so much more to the story, but I've already written way more than I intended. I just wanted to say thank you and I've enjoyed reading your posts.

At October 09, 2013 2:24 PM, Blogger Will said...

Hallo and thanks for sharing some of your story; it sounds both heart-warming and then heart-rending. I'd be very interested to hear more of it if you're so inclined. You can reach me via

At January 16, 2014 1:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although I don't think any of the true BDSM community would like to admit this aspect of D/s relationships, occasional (and maybe accidental) abuse does occur and is hard to talk about with others and your partner because it is a sensitive subject. This happened to me once, I'm not comfortable sharing the details to the public but my partner became extensively abusive during play and then had a panic attack afterwards and then lost all memory of the event. He has on occasion tried to remember when I pressed him and he just gives me this perplexed look. He is not one to lie, and he was visibly shakey after the scene and couldn't breathe and collapsed on the floor, but he didn't hit his head, so memory loss wasn't because of a concussion. Luckily the emotional damage for me wasn't too bad, mostly because he is my Daddy and the situation in itself got so confusing by the end that I had no idea who to blame and I love him and he has not done anything like that since. Anyways, thank you for acknowledging that BDSM does have an aspect of abuse, just like anything, and it is not always so easy to understand who is to blame and how it can be stopped.

At January 17, 2014 11:36 AM, Blogger Will said...

Thanks so much for relating your experience; that's a fascinating story. I'd love to hear more if you're inclined to share it by email; I'm at thejourneyofwill on gmail

At May 17, 2014 11:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

'It can't be a surprise that an intentional power imbalance within a romance, even if just during sex, leads to abuse at times. Indeed, "power exchange" carries you there, eventually. Incidents of abuse are a rarely-discussed cost of regular kink.'

If you think that abuse is an inevitability in BDSM relationships, you have issues that you need to address.

At May 18, 2014 2:51 AM, Blogger Will said...

The fact is everyone has issues they need to address, and those issues do impact their relationships, even if only occasionally. BDSM is psychological & physical fire, and when playing with fire people will make mistakes and burn themselves, or their partners, now and again.

At May 19, 2014 12:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A fancy way of saying that it gives you an outlet to abuse.

At May 20, 2014 5:10 AM, Blogger Will said...

If you had a BDSM experience you'd like to share confidentially, please feel free to contact me via email, Fetlife, or Tumblr.

At August 15, 2014 4:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I met this guy who was mentally Strong and confident. .. and just different than any guy I had ever actually known. We dated for a few months Then he came at me with. .. "there's something you should know about me..." I knew nothing at all about the life style. Lol I never even heard of the fifty shades of gray. .. before this guy. But he was different, I was curious. I just followed his lead and it was going great. He didn't explain a lot before we would get there, it was a learn as I went. He didn't want me learning aspects he wasn't intrested in. We didn't talk about much until after it was over. One night things changed and there's a lot of details I'm not comfortable with in open forum. Long story short it took a couple of months for the visual damage to go a away. But I find that the TPE that I so desperately want. The surrender that I need to give, and the ache to kneel at a D's feet is choked and smothered by the fear of the abuse I experienced. I don't know how to get passed the fear to submit. Ann.

At October 02, 2014 4:10 PM, Blogger Will said...

Dear Ann, apologies for the delay in responding... It sounds to me like you need time to heal, and possibly some confidants or a counselor to share your experience with. All the wonderful feelings and discoveries of that relationship are still very much a part of you, and you can have them again. Be patient and forgiving with yourself as you mend. See also Assuaging a Sub's Fear of Abandonment for tips on engaging with a new partner when the time comes.

At December 25, 2014 11:59 PM, Blogger Liza Marie said...

I think your brave for sharing this story. I'm divided, Will. At least you said something to her about what was frustrating you. On one hand it's very hot! I love the idea of of it! I love being slapped and having my hair puled in the heat of sex. Aggression is the shadow of eros. It's an intrinsic component of sexuality, and it should never be entirely excised from sexual relationship(s)

I don't' understand the break down of communication? I can only speculate, such as, an on-line met? For example, it can enables people to act out fantasies which they would not act out in real life. They feel safe, with in their inhibitions? For some that's titillating enough. To me it's tediously frustrating.

The challenge in the erotic is when it reaches the deepest parts of us our shame and guilt. When met with love with validation, shame dissolves. That is an experience of heart, body, and soul.
The crucible of the erotic mind is bringing vexing components of love- dependance, surrender, aggression and transform them into powerful sources of excitement.

I'd been married yes it was D/s BDSM we grew this way together. Often in life things come to an end, and we divorced. I took 2 years off and then found myself in a sexually frustrating vanilla relationship for a year and half. Upon the heels of that I meet a guy out in the wild.

I was experienced and naive at the same time. It seemed we might be sexually compatible. However you live you learn. One day after we had been dating about 4 mo he attacked me on a beach there was nothing sexy about it. Out of no where he said your safeword is Dreamweaver. I have to say I don't use safe words for many reasons Will has already stated. My body started to react to something I thought might be fun and a trance came over me.

He grabbed my hair so hard he pulled some out and he wiped my neck violently. I thought he might break my neck. The next thing I know is he had his hand over my mouth and was threating to cover my nose. He was holding my jaw so tight I thought he might break it. I couldn't have used a safe word if my life had depended on it. He was at the same time grabbing gouging my abdomen and thighs like an animal using a claw to tear open prey. I had broken skin and deep bruises from his fingers and nails. A man walked over and he backed off and then stopped. My head neck and body ached for days.

I admit it. I am the weaker sex. Yes. I told him never cross that line with me again. He didn't.

I didn't know why until latter I connected dots. He called it play it far from that. I found out his ex-girl friend had been stalking him and keyed his car. BDSM play is not a proper occasion to "punish" someone for a "real world" offense. This was classic maladaptive coping defense mechanism displacement. Also he never warned me she is violent I could have been attacked by her too. I learned his introduction to BDSM was through her. I don't believe he's a true dom. He's a dabbler and a secondary player. Going through the machines of role playing without having the inclination and dedication to take it to an art form. We weren't really compatible within 6 mo it was over.

My own fault for being naïve lesson learned. Be more careful with myself.

I have learned and taken time to understand more about myself and what I'm looking for. I haven't found what I'm looking for, yet. I'm sure everything my heart desires will come to me.

Happy New Year Z*

At January 02, 2015 2:53 PM, Blogger Liza Marie said...

Dom guilt this is interesting these are struggles both D/s have – The heart of this is the Master, Dom, or Top is inflicting pain or abuse on a victim who IN REALITY doesn't actually feel victimized – Instead is SEXUALLY aroused. Domination where its sexually arousing where no one is hurt then there is no victim. The sexual arousement POWERFULLY disconfrims guilty beliefs or feelings and frees up our sexual excitement. Furthermore, to go deeply into a M/s For the Master, the slaves devotion is evidence of how important he or she is, the center of the slaves world. For the slave the Masters attention – figuring out the precise manner in which pain and degradation to use – makes the slave feel important for the master to control. This creates an intense bond between the lovers.

At February 15, 2015 10:13 PM, Blogger Liza Marie said...

I think a good example of abuse can be found in 50 shades of Grey which really promotes abuse and rescue of a maiden. While creating misleading information and speeding stereo types about D/s BDSM lifestyle.

At February 18, 2015 6:33 PM, Blogger Will said...

I'd say 50 Shades is about the rescue of an abused man by a pure woman. Although the first film doesn't get that far. Review is in the works!

At March 05, 2015 7:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this. Fuck the haters!! I think that ALL parties in any BDSM / M/s / D/s / whatever relationship are trying to explore their boundaries and desires. It isn't always easy to tell when lines are crossed, especially because everyone is into different things, and everyone has different emotional triggers and boundaries - which are always evolving!

At March 08, 2015 5:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just wanted to comment on your thoughts about Fifty Shades...that is exactly how I see it too but so many people disagree. I have also gained so much knowledge from your blog and greatly appreciate you sharing your thoughts and advice.

At September 20, 2015 6:00 PM, Blogger DaniS said...

Brilliant, absolutely brilliant. I'm fascinated by your insight and left hungry for more.

At October 03, 2015 2:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There have been a couple times in play where lines got blurred. I am lucky in that Master and I have a really open communication. We can talk to each other, no D/s about things. Once, it took me a while to identify something that happened. After play with my husband, I was quite shaken. We had discussed everything that might occur that night, but still I was upset. A long time ago, when I was really new to the LS. Vanilla still really, I had an abusive dom. Didn't listen to the safeword, broke a couple of soft limits without discussion, and a hard limit once. Something in my husband's play that night, took me back to that place. We had crossed trigger points before, but always talked first. That was intentional. He didn't even get out of control. It is important to know your triggers. Not just the obvious ones.

At April 18, 2016 1:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So between this post in which you admit to assaulting your partner without their consent and the other one in which you declare your need to see your partner suffer, I think I can safely conclude that you are a dangerous man and that you should seek therapy before you enter a relationship with any woman. Quite frankly, you ought to thank your lucky stars that she didn't have the gumption to call the cops on you cause I would have. And here you are justifying abuse by speaking of it as an inevitable aspect of a BDSM relationship. No sir, you are the danger that is rarely discussed in that community, you are the coward who takes advantage of the fact that women who willingly partake in BDSM will be too ashamed to speak out on the abuse they face from the likes of you. I don't know how you have the nerve to run a blog on how to live a healthy BDSM lifestyle when you don't even live up to those principles.

At April 02, 2017 4:26 PM, Blogger Will said...

The "assault" you refer to was consensual; it was the tongue-lashing afterward that pushed her out of bounds, hence her use of safeword, which I respected. And I accept the fact that I lost track of her state of mind, an error. The point is that mistakes happen, and they're not necessarily evidence of chaos.

Incidental abuse is not uncommon in vanilla relationships, although it usually doesn't arise out of consensual taboo-breaking.

Many kinky folks with a sadistic streak are inspired to make their partners suffer, and their masochistic partners are eager to participate. If said suffering is bonding, and appreciated by both parties on reflection, then it's constructive. Most people will not grok those mindsets; that doesn't make them wrong.


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