Saturday, January 9, 2010

Duty of BDSM Authors?

Do authors of contemporary BDSM fiction have a duty to promote a rational view of BDSM practices?

I say yes.

BDSM practioners are pretty much misunderstood by society, and as a result, are largely underground. The common view of kinksters as dangerous, crazy perverts isn't harmless bias. Such prejudices can have real-life consequences, like loss of child custody and so on. Authors shouldn't promulgate it.

How is a contemporary erotica author, who has little familiarity with BDSM, supposed to write reasonably about kink? Some folks might say, "Don't. Don't write it if you don't understand it." And that would be a short blog entry. Another option is for the author to earnestly attempt to appreciate the term SSC. SSC stands for Safe, Sane and Consensual. It's an ethical framework, a kind of a moral code used by many people involved in BDSM. I'll describe each part in turn.

Safe. That means safe sex. As in condom use. It's not too hard for an author to write a hot sex scene preceded by the sound of a crinkling condom foil. Contemporary romance writers do it all the time. BDSM authors--not so much.

Sane. That means fictional characters don't do things to each other that will kill or permanently injure. Quite a lot of leniency is allowed in BDSM fiction in the name of titillation. After all, it is fiction. But if the author goes to far, it becomes dangerous fantasy.

Consensual. This is one big hot button for me. Consent means characters agree to treat each other in an agreed-upon way. Contemporary BDSM erotica often falls short in this arena. Instead of actually understanding the idea of consent, authors trot out ritualistic formal BDSM negotiations in their stories: "limit sheets" detailing which interactions are and are not allowed; slave "contracts", and safewords to stop the action.

Yes, rituals and forms are real, though they aren't always used. The problem arises when consent is at odds with sane. "Consent" does NOT blot out sane. And there's the rub: Too many authors think it does.

Let's look at the fictional use of the safeword. A safeword is a kind of rolling consent. Withholding consent by uttering the safe word jives with sanity only if a bottom or sub can actually say it. Refined processes like speech are impossible in subspace, for example. The safeword is also useless in other situations, like in ball gag play. Supposed consent, no matter how formal and ritualistic, cannot trump common sense--even in contemporary kink erotica.

Here's another example of consent failure in BDSM fiction: a plot involving play with a "damaged" sub character. A damaged sub cannot give consent! Why? Because the sub is nuts. A Top or Dominant should know that. Too bad so many authors don't. Exploiting a damaged sub for kicks is unethical in real life. It's wrong in fiction, too. Worst of all, the enormously popular "damaged sub" plot device perpetuates the stereotype of only crazies seeking out and enjoying BDSM.

I believe the author of BDSM erotica has a duty to populate stories with healthy characters that have an intimate (but not necessarily explicit) understanding of SSC.

Image credit wikipedia/commons