I apologize in advance because this is a long one.
From the title I bet you can guess what we’re going to discuss today. People who decide that their way to kink is the only way to kink are bad for the community. It’s a form of gatekeeping and it takes away people’s right to decide for themselves.
This topic has been on the list for a while because it’s something I run into a lot on social media. Someone will post asking a question or start talking about an experience and people will jump in and start ranting that they are doing it wrong, or that they are being bad examples.
I saw this recently when someone posted a screencap of an article about a Dominatrix walking her puppy play submissive in public. There were a large variety of responses from “Yes!” to “That’s not even that weird tbh.” to “They have no right to do that in public because the audience didn’t consent.”
All of those are valid. When you are doing extremely obvious BDSM activities in public the watching audience should be one that has consented to see those things. Wearing a collar is one thing, but perhaps a full-on leather dog, crawling at the end of the leash could be problematic in your local coffee shop. So, I wouldn’t argue that people are being unreasonable on that take.
What bothered me though, was the people who commented to say she was a horrible Dom because he wasn’t wearing knee pads, or that crawling on the hard ground would be terrible for his knees. That she obviously didn’t know what she was doing. That’s a major judgment call and something that should be between them.
Some submissives like pain and have a high tolerance. Some want to be left with marks including bruises and abrasions afterwards. Crawling on the ground can cause some damage yes, but so can be hit with a heavy wooden paddle fifty times.
Once you start policing how much is too much it’s very hard to find the line. He looked healthy and fine in the picture. There were no obvious signs of damage and we have no idea how far he’d crawled. It could have been just 20 feet from the car. And for all we know this is normal and within his tolerances.
I don’t think you get to judge a Dominant for a situation you know nothing about, at least not on the basis of whether she is abusive, or putting him through too much. But that wasn’t the only thing that’s come up recently to make me feel like this is a topic I should move to the head of the list.
Now, before I mention this I want to make something clear. I normally don’t really look at my reviews much and when I get bad ones I tend to shrug and walk away. Occasionally I’ll even turn bad ones into ads because most of the time someone’s ‘No way!’ is another person’s ‘Oooh yes!’ But I recently put out my first Daddy book as an indie author and I really wanted to keep up with what people thought of it.
I had been told by a publisher that there was too much female agency in it. That what is selling right now needs to be more Alpha male grab and spank, whether she likes it or not–quasi consent at best. Which is probably true, if you look at all of the top selling books right now most of them start with the men grabbing and then the woman comes to understand she is fine with it … eventually.
I’ve written that before, and I’m fine with quasi-consent in fiction. I find it hot but I didn’t think that worked with the characters in Claiming, so I decided to self-publish and see where it went. But yep, I was curious so I braved Goodreads so see what people thought.
Unfortunately, one of the first reviews was a 2-star that not only judged the book harshly but also attacked me personally, which I admit is kind of a new experience. What they didn’t like was that the character’s decision didn’t match what they thought should be ‘allowed’ in a lifestyle relationship. So by having her make that decision I was being a bad example.
There were other things there, but the point of this isn’t to whine about a review. The reviewer wrote a very deep and detailed essay, and clearly had a lot of feelings about the book. So on one hand it was wonderful to see that she had so many thoughts and had gone so deeply into it. However, she also had very judgmental opinions on what people should be allowed to do in their relationships, what authors should be allowed to show, and how much responsibility an author has to only show good role models.
For some background, the main character in Claiming His Brat, Charlie, asked her dominant boyfriend to punish her without safewords. She wanted to be held accountable for the rules and didn’t want to take the chance that she might back out and call it off too soon. It’s not at all uncommon in the scene for subs to make this decision with people they trust highly, but you rarely see it in books, so it’s something I like to use at times.
But this reviewer decided that Charlie not wanting to use safewords meant I, the author, was disparaging the whole BDSM community and that I didn’t understand what the lifestyle was about. As a long-time scene veteran, I was a little shocked by this, and amused too. Plot twist: the lifestyle isn’t always what people think it is.
This is, like I said, not a rare or unusual thing for a submissive to do. But I have a feeling she thought that this was something I just made up, and therefore I was setting a bad example. Most real players will have run into this, but I forget sometimes how many people only know about kink, BDSM, and D/s from romance novels.
Or from playing with their significant other. The real truth behind the pages can be an eye-opener, I expect. But we’ll come back to that in a minute.
Since my blog was specifically brought up and mentioned in the review, I figured that gave me an additional incentive to move this topic up on the list. That being said, this isn’t meant to call out a reviewer, or to reply to the review. I don’t argue reviews. It’s bad practice and reviewers should feel free to be honest with their thoughts and she has a right to think whatever she wants about the book.
As for the review itself, honestly it just reminded me why I shouldn’t even look. Though I will say it’s always a mistake to think you know anything about the author based on a character. So, whenever someone leaps to assumptions about me based on my books I tend to not take them seriously.
She did bring up this blog in the review, so it’s possible she reads it. I have no idea, but I don’t censor my topics here and I think this is a valid and important one no matter how it came up. This is not meant as an attack on her, and obviously if you come across her review please don’t bother her about it.
The real focus here is the problematic attitude behind the review. And it’s the same attitude I see on social media, as I mentioned earlier. It’s a whole ‘Your Kink Is Not Okay Because That’s Not How I Want To Picture The BDSM Community’ vibe that I see sometimes. Usually connected with ‘Your Kink Is Not Okay Because That’s Not How I Do It’ and it’s a problem for all of us. We call people who gatekeep and decide that their way is the only right way ‘One True Wayers’.
They’ve decided that things people have come up with to help with safety in the past, are now concrete rules that everyone must follow or else. They see what works for them and try to push it on the rest of the community. They get set in their own little kink niche and decide that anyone who doesn’t do things exactly like them is wrong.
You can usually find them popping up to ‘correct’ people on posts (or in reviews). A lot of my articles here are inspired by seeing this happen. Fun times.
I try to avoid tangling with them when I can, because it’s pointless. Any view that’s different from their own is wrong, so they aren’t going to listen. I hate wasting my time arguing with people who won’t learn anything, but It does make things problematic for new people coming in and feeling they have no choice but to follow these established rules.
So when I see things like that I usually don’t reply. Instead I come here and write about the things that bother me where it can actually help someone. Because if I’m seeing it, so are other people. And this way of thinking does bother me. Not because it affects me personally. It really doesn’t.
I have been in D/s relationships for my entire adult life. I’m confident in my way of playing and in the safety steps I prefer to use. So no one popping in years later and telling me I’m wrong is going to do anything. On top of that I’ve actually had to deal with the consequences of risks I’ve taken.
Were they worth it? Sometimes. Other times no. Finding what works for you is a learning process and it changes as you learn and grow. D/s is a partnership and when you find a new partner your styles and basic framework have to meld. Which means both of you have to give a little bit.
But people who gatekeep like this are taking power away from others, including submissives. Think about that for a second. By storming in and announcing that this is the only way to do something, and that anything else is stupid or abusive, you are stripping that submissive of their choice. No one has a right to do that.
The BDSM community has worked hard on the positive ‘we’re not abusers and sickos’ PR campaign. There’s been a concerted effort over the years to convince vanilla people that what we do is valid and okay. (Which it is!) And it’s worked. Vanilla people are now much more reasonable about kink and no longer so judgmental, which was the goal.
So I get it. There were good reasons for projecting that image, but the world as a whole has changed. How people think of kink has changed too. It’s no longer considered a mental illness and even vanilla people are intrigued by the fantasy, if not the reality. A large part of the BDSM community has matured along with the new attitudes. But there is a segment who stubbornly stick to the image of what they want to show people, rather than the reality.
That just doesn’t work. You can’t mandate how other people play. It’s not your place to tell people what they must do within their relationships. It’s exhausting to see people wanting to push a rigid structure on a community that has never been about strict formats and rules. It’s about guidelines and teaching people so they can explore safely.
It’s also ironic that the main image the community tries to get across is that the submissives are the ones who really hold the power in a D/s dynamic. But at the same time this certain segment feels that the submissives can’t be trusted with the power to make their own decisions about how to play.
If submissives have all the power, then why is that power to decide being stripped from them, not by Dominants or play partners, but by people who think their way is the only way?
If you’ve actually read my blog and paid attention to the articles you’ll see I’m a big fan of knowing your options, and then following your own path. The BDSM community has always, from the start, been made up of the outliers. The people who don’t quite fit into the vanilla world. The renegades.
Then you put them into a loose kind of community structure and suddenly expect them to conform to the role you think they should have. That doesn’t work. It will never work. We are too individual and too content to be ourselves to even try to fit into a mold.
The BDSM community has built up a pretty reputation for being all about safety, and they make a really great show of everything being safe, sane, and consensual. But you already know I have a problem with that catch phrase and why. Things should always be 100% consensual, but safe and sane are completely a matter of perspective.
My problem with SSC is that the show is more important than the reality. RACK is a better reflection of how people actually engage in the BDSM community. For a more in-depth analysis of this topic you can check this out: We’ve outgrown Safe Sane and Consensual
I prefer RACK (Risk Aware Consensual Kink). I find it to be a more mature view, and more realistic. That means as long as everyone knows what they are getting into and consents then they have the ability, as adults, to decide what risks they will allow. If you want to use safewords then by all means use them, and demand that the people you play with respect that.
But there is no one-true-way to kink responsibly and as long as the people in the relationship know and agree to what’s going on, then no one else has a right to say they are doing it wrong. Within some boundaries, of course. Clubs and parties have a right to set up rules for their own legal protection. One partner doesn’t get to decide things for everyone, all parties have to agree to do things that way.
I’ve found, over the years that many people have very narrow definitions of what is okay. I’m here to tell you that they’re wrong. Let me repeat this for the people in the back: As long as there is consent and no one is being harmed by the relationship, then you do what makes you happy. People outside might hate it, but it’s none of their business.
And that absolutely covers safewords. This seems to be a shock to some people, but not everyone uses them. And not everyone uses the whole stoplight system even if they do use ‘red’.
For some people safewords are for emergency only. There’s no yellow or green. For others safewords are for new players or experiences only and they don’t use them with their long-time play partners. There are many ways to play and the way you are comfortable with is probably not for everyone.
I think, my personal opinion, is that the person to make the decision on leaving safewords out should always be the sub. The one who is at physical risk. That does not mean the Dom can’t refuse to play without one. On the contrary, they are equal partners and should only take the risks they feel comfortable with. But I don’t feel the Dom should be the one saying ‘Let’s not use safewords’ because physically they aren’t in danger most of the time.
I dislike false images, and I hate being forced into boxes of someone else’s making. My characters reflect that in a lot of ways. Sometimes they also reflect my personal feelings and kinks, and sometimes they don’t.
But often they are meant to show segments of kinksters that are underrepresented in fiction. With Charlie, and also with Katherine in the Timeless Love series you see women who don’t want to use safewords. Both of them are looking for punishment that feels more real, and less like a ‘scene’. It’s written very carefully as their choice. In fact, the men have to be encouraged to accept their decision on this.
And I did that deliberately because it should be their choice—but it’s a choice they are allowed to make. Adults are allowed to know what they want and ask for it.
Quite a few of submissives who want relationships with rules and punishments don’t want the option to stop a punishment because the temptation to do that is too much. Yes, it’s unpleasant and it hurts. It’s supposed to, that’s the whole point. But when you’re in the middle of it you also do want it to stop, because it’s not fun.
But let’s be honest about a few things here. Punishment is an intimate act, more so than just casual playing. I can and have played with strangers in clubs or parties many times, but I would never let them punish me. That’s too personal. Punishment, for most of us is reserved for people we trust. People who know us well.
The idea behind not using safewords with punishments isn’t that the Dom can beat you mercilessly and you can’t stop them, it’s that if there is a real problem your Dominant partner knows you well enough to stop without needing a safeword anyway. “Wait… something’s wrong.” Should be enough to alert your partner without needing to scream aardvark.
The only real reason for a safeword is to eliminate confusion. It gives submissives the ability to struggle and react in a scene and say “No, no stop!” even though they don’t actually want things to stop. The Dom knows that it’s fine to continue because the safeword wasn’t used and that those were just in-scene protests.
By having this specific word it triggers the Dom to an OOC (out of character/out of scene) situation. Which is great. It’s important especially in scenes where the sub wants to really dramatically protest the whole thing. But safewords don’t magically take away the need for a Dominant to be attentive to the sub’s reactions.
Unfortunately many times that’s what happens. The Dom assumes the sub will call ‘Red’ if there is an issue so they don’t pay as much attention as they should. But some subs are bad about safewording when they should. Sometimes situations come up where you can’t safeword. It’s all well and good to insist people have to be safe, but safewords aren’t what make people safe–communication is.
Agreeing on a safeword between a couple makes things safer because of the communication involved. Because now they both know what to expect in a situation. But there are other ways to make sure that communication is involved, and for some people there are better ways.
And … here’s some more honesty. Even if a submissive has said “I don’t want a safeword.” if they actually have an emergency and yell ‘Red!’ a good Dom is probably going to stop anyway, at least long enough to make sure things are okay. The lines of communication don’t close just because someone has decided they don’t want to use a safeword. If anything the Dom is going to be more focused on their reactions not less.
There is also a big difference between “Ow ow stop! Stop it!” and “Something’s wrong I need a minute” and someone who knows you will, hopefully, see the difference.
Whereas many subs/bottoms feel that if they have a safeword they might use it when they aren’t anywhere near their limits, just because punishment can feel more intense. It takes a lot of self-control to accept punishment when it hurts, you’re crying and not turned on. And for some, punishment puts them in a younger mindset where they can get sulky about it, meaning it’s even more likely that they will say red just because they are mad about being punished.
Littles, for instance, are very prone to that younger headspace when being punished. And since they are dealing with the emotions of a child while being spanked, it’s very likely that the first time it hurts ‘Red!’ is going to come out of their mouths. It’s not even necessarily a decision they made, but simply something that happens because of that headspace.
They don’t mean it. They won’t be happy to escape punishment because as a sub they know they cheated out of the punishment they earned, but in that moment the temptation to say ‘red!’ is just too much. Sure, it’s easy to say that the sub should be mature enough to suck it up, but punishment scenes are all about the emotions, not logic and rational thinking. It hurts = stop it. Which means punishment isn’t really going to be effective for those people if they can stop it whenever they want.
Yes, things happen. Yes, there is risk. That is what RACK is about. Knowing your risk and knowing what you’re getting into before you make a choice. One of the worst scene injuries I ever saw was to someone who did have a safeword but in the moment of panic couldn’t say it. Luckily her Dom realized pretty fast something was wrong. But safewords aren’t magic cure-alls, even with them things can happen.
That doesn’t mean you can’t use safewords with punishment. Lots of people can and do. It just means it doesn’t work for everyone.
I’m not disparaging safewords. I don’t think people who use them are ‘wusses’ in fact it’s the contrary. Anyone who says only wusses need them would send up an immediate red flag for me and I won’t play with them. Using a safeword is not a weakness. It’s a commonsense safety precaution.
I highly recommend safewords, especially for new people and new situations. I’m sure they’ve saved me from some bad experiences at least a few times. There is always risk any time you play without one, but that varies dramatically depending on the scene and relationship. You have a right to decide how much risk you want to take in your play.
So no, I don’t have a cavalier attitude towards safewords. Most people who decide not to use them have thought long and hard about it. They are experienced, know the risks, and make the decision to play without them with full knowledge of the downsides. In my books, Charlie and Katherine are both experienced at kink and I’m sure have used safewords in the past. But because they know what they are doing they make a choice.
If you’d like a comparison you can look at my book Architect of His Desire, where the Dom, Curtis, insists from the start that they do play with safewords because Rhiannon is completely new to the scene. It’s part of his rules for playing with her and those come up right from the start and is an example of him being a responsible Dom, in my opinion.
I think that’s how it should be in the beginning.
You are trying things on for the first time to see how they fit, so you follow the rules exactly, take all the safety precautions. But down the road when you know what you’re doing you decide to make changes, to adapt those basic rules to ones that work better for you. Generic guidelines just don’t fit everyone, and kinky people know that better than anyone.
This is my personal opinion: if you’re new to the scene you should definitely be using safewords for your protection while you learn the ropes (so to speak). And if you’re trying something new, anything scary, or potentially more dangerous than usual, then yes, even if you know your partner it’s a good idea to use a safeword. Just in case.
That goes with extreme bondage or any activity where you may need things to stop instantly. And if you’re using a gag, I recommend a non-verbal cue because of the extra danger.
That is just my recommendation. Because you are all adults and can make your own choices.
See if you want to know my personal opinions, you don’t have to try to guess from the way my characters act. You can just come here and read all about it. It’s a lot more practical.
Now the only reason I’ve defended my characters choice here, comparing it with the realities of BDSM is because it connected to the topic perfectly. But I don’t really feel like I need to defend a fictional characters choices. You either like the story or you don’t. You find the character appealing or you don’t.
I’ve noticed that in kinky romance there are three norms. You either completely ignore the safeword conversation entirely. You mention it just in passing, but it never really gets used. Or you jump on it and incorporate it into all of your scenes to the point where the readers just tune out the conversation because it drags down the scenes and it’s repetitive to go through the same conversation every time the characters play.
But you rarely see the population who know they exist, understand, and then decide not to use them. It’s a pretty big group of people to ignore because they don’t fit the narrative.
The fact that I sometimes write characters who don’t follow the standard pattern of submissive or Dominant doesn’t mean there is something wrong with their relationships. It means they are exploring their own paths. I find that realistic and I like the idea that readers might see themselves in a character that doesn’t fit the standard format.
I’d really love to see less gatekeeping in the BDSM community, especially where it translates over to fiction.
And while Charlie’s safeword decision is fine and not in the least unusual in the RL scene, let me make this perfectly clear again, you should not be looking to fiction for relationship modeling anyway.
Here on the blog, I make an effort to be a positive influence on people who are exploring, or curious about the kink lifestyle. I want you to be knowledgeable so you can be safe. But that’s because this is a blog about real life.
I know I’ve said this before. I’ve done a couple of articles on it too, but just to reiterate fiction is fiction. Please do not try to make your relationships emulate things you see in fiction. No matter who is writing it. Don’t copy 50 Shades. Don’t copy me.
People are allowed to have problematic fantasies about things that would be horrible to experience in real life. Rape, for instance, is a hot button for some people in fantasy. So is being kidnapped and forced to submit. Does anyone really want that to happen to them? Of course not!
People are allowed to write and read books with scenes that should never happen in real life. If books were only about what was allowed and acceptable, they wouldn’t sell. It would be boring. You’re already living that life. When people reach for fiction, they want the stuff they aren’t living. The fantasy and excitement. The things they can’t have in real life.
When I choose to write a character a certain way, I do so because that’s how that character is meant to be. And when I put in aspects of safe sex, or safe kink, or positive relationship dynamics, I’m doing it because that’s realistic. Except in dark romance I can’t picture a contemporary relationship where the couple dives into these things without having those discussions. And I feel it would be a glaring plot hole if I ignored that.
But that doesn’t mean I’m trying to give you role models to base your real relationships on. We teach children through fiction, but adults should know better than to pattern their lives after fictional characters. Romance authors aren’t responsible for only showing perfect dynamics. It’s not their job to teach you through the books.
Romance is for entertainment. So, when you read these novels it’s important that you are able to differentiate between fantasy and what should occur in real life. And I feel like some people might need this reminder too… writing books is my career. My job.
I enjoy writing, sure, most writers do. This blog is a labor of love, but my books are how I pay the bills. I can’t please every reader, and I won’t shove my characters into boxes that don’t fit them to try. In the end an author who does this for a career has to go with the trends of what is selling sometimes.
Dark romance sells right now, and the darker the better. Most of the top BDSM romance books have quasi- consent because that’s what the majority of readers are buying. I haven’t come up with a dark romance idea yet that compelled me to write it, but if I do then I’ll write it. And I’m sure that will upset a few readers too, but you have to understand … if the books weren’t selling people wouldn’t be writing them.
You just have to accept that fiction and reality aren’t the same thing. What people fantasize about can’t be regimented by ‘nice’ and ‘safe’. When I’m writing a book and I have to choose between ‘Oooh, this is hot!’ and ‘Hmm, well it would be educating to have this conversation here.’ guess which I’m going to choose? Guess which one is going to sell better?
Now that we’ve had the reminder about fiction vs reality again, let’s go back to the previous discussion so I can wrap things up.
I can’t stop people from reviewing books and judging them based on their own narrow view of kink. I wouldn’t even try. But gatekeeping doesn’t stop with a review. People saying, ‘You can’t do that! You’re a bad example! That’s not what the lifestyle is about!’ aren’t just saying it in reviews or in the comment section of a kinky post on Facebook.
They are lecturing new people coming into the scene and telling them that there is only one way to live. They’re stripping away people’s choices to play how they want to play. They’re judging Doms and calling them abusive for giving the sub what they have asked for. In short, they are hurting the community as a whole and I have an issue with that.
I’ve been told that I’m unhealthy because I don’t just play for sexual turn on. That needing external rules and discipline means there’s something wrong with me. I’ve been told my Doms are abusive because they punish me, instead of just smacking me for foreplay.
I’ve seen Doms in clubs called abusive because they scened heavily with their own submissive, and someone who didn’t even know them decided it was too much. One incident ended with someone being escorted out of a club because they tried to interrupt a scene between a Dom and his sub. Even though that sub did have a safeword and didn’t need to use it, a stranger decided he was being too rough.
In fact, I’d seen that couple play before and knew just from that she wasn’t near her limits. I think it was probably that part of the scene involved degradation and that upset the stranger, but again, it’s not your business how other people play if they’ve both consented to that scene.
Once you start deciding that you know best for anyone… it doesn’t stop. So, drop the gatekeeping. Decide what you want for yourself and go with it, but don’t expect everyone else to follow your rules. The BDSM community is a vast collective of individuals who all have their own views on everything. One shouldn’t override the rest.
Remember that there is no one-true-way. The BDSM world doesn’t have a rigid structure of rules on how to be a Dom or sub. If someone is trying to convince you that you’re not doing things right because they play differently, you have every right to call them out on it.
Obviously, there are some exceptions. Sometimes when you’re in a toxic or abusive relationship you don’t always see it from the inside, and someone might feel the need to say something out of concern. Even in that case they could be wrong or just be misunderstanding your dynamic. But that’s different from people who decide how others should be living their lives.
And on that note… I’m going to wrap up here.
Remember: stay home, stay healthy, and stay safe if you can!