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Unraveling the Dark Mystery Behind Fetlife Murders: An Insight

The Fetlife community has been rocked by a series of gruesome murders in recent years. These crimes, committed by individuals who used the platform to connect with their victims, have left law enforcement officials and members of the community struggling to understand the motives and methods behind the violence.

The Fetlife Murders remain shrouded in a dark mystery, leaving many to speculate on the potential dangers of online communities and the psychological factors that contribute to violent behavior. In this in-depth analysis, we aim to provide insight into the Fetlife Murders, exploring the broader societal and cultural implications of this tragedy. Through examining the cases and patterns, psychological profiles of the perpetrators, and the impact of media sensationalism, we hope to shed light on the complex nature of these crimes.

Our analysis delves into the virtual realm of Fetlife, examining its influence on users and potential implications for the murders. We explore the darker aspects of the platform, including the potential risks and dangers associated with engaging in online communities like Fetlife. Additionally, we’ll discuss the blurred line between fantasy and reality in the Fetlife community and how it may have contributed to the murders.

By evaluating law enforcement’s response to these crimes, as well as the legal ramifications and victims’ support networks, we hope to provide a comprehensive understanding of the Fetlife Murders’ full impact. Lastly, we’ll offer practical advice on safety measures and precautions that individuals can take when engaging in online communities like Fetlife, and speculate on the community’s future changes and adaptations.

This article serves as a cautionary tale, highlighting the importance of ongoing discussions and awareness surrounding the risks associated with online communities. Through this analysis, we hope to provide insight into the Fetlife Murders and contribute to a larger conversation surrounding online safety and personal responsibility.

Understanding the Fetlife Community

Fetlife is an online social networking platform that caters to individuals into BDSM, kink, and fetishism. It was founded in 2008 and has since grown to include millions of members worldwide, making it one of the largest BDSM communities online.

The Fetlife community is formed around the idea of providing a safe space for individuals to explore their sexual interests and connect with like-minded individuals. The platform allows users to create profiles, join groups, attend events, and engage in discussions.

It is important to note that while Fetlife is associated with BDSM and kink communities, it is not a dating platform. [It is used as a hook up platform and pornographic website]. Instead, it is designed to facilitate conversation, education, and exploration of BDSM interests.

Exploring the Virtual Realm: Fetlife’s Influence

While Fetlife’s primary function is to facilitate communication and connection between like-minded individuals interested in alternative lifestyles, it has created a virtual realm that extends beyond its online platform. Users have reported that their involvement in the community has impacted their day-to-day lives, influencing their social interactions and shaping their personal identities.

As a result, Fetlife’s influence extends beyond the boundaries of the site and into the lives of its users, with the creation of subcultures that embrace alternative lifestyles and practices.

However, this influence is not without its potential dangers. The anonymity of online interactions can lead to a false sense of security and trust, potentially leading individuals to engage in risky behavior or trust others without adequate vetting.

Additionally, the nature of Fetlife’s community and the emphasis on fantasy and role-playing can lead to psychological impacts, blurring the line between fantasy and reality. This can result in individuals becoming desensitized to dangerous behavior and potentially contributing to the perpetuation of risky activities.

It is important to acknowledge the potential influence of Fetlife on its users and to approach interactions on the platform with caution and awareness of the risks involved. By staying informed and mindful of the impact of virtual interactions, users can mitigate potential dangers and maintain a safe and fulfilling experience within the Fetlife community.

Unveiling the Dark Side: Risks and Dangers of Fetlife

While the Fetlife community can provide a safe space for individuals with unique sexual preferences, it also has a darker side that cannot be ignored. The platform’s open nature and lack of regulation make it a breeding ground for potential risks and dangers.

One of the major risks associated with Fetlife is the possibility of encountering individuals with malicious intent. Predators can easily create fake profiles and prey on unsuspecting users. Additionally, the platform’s anonymity can make it difficult to verify the legitimacy of users and their intentions, leaving users vulnerable to exploitation or abuse.

Another danger of Fetlife is the potential for users to engage in risky or illegal activities. The platform’s focus on alternative sexual practices can attract individuals with extreme or non-consensual fetishes, leading to harmful encounters. Furthermore, the lack of regulation on the platform means that illegal activities such as prostitution or human trafficking can go unnoticed.

Finally, the unmonitored nature of Fetlife can be detrimental to individuals struggling with mental health issues. The platform’s open discussion of controversial topics can exacerbate conditions such as depression or anxiety, leading individuals down a dangerous path.

It is important for users to be aware of the risks and dangers associated with the Fetlife community and take the necessary precautions to protect themselves. This includes verifying the legitimacy of users and their intentions, avoiding engaging in risky or illegal activities, and seeking help if struggling with mental health issues.

The Murders Unveiled: Cases and Patterns

The Fetlife murders are a tragic example of the potential dangers of online communities. Over the years, several cases have emerged involving individuals who met through the platform, with fatal consequences.

One such example is the case of Brady Oestrike, who engaged in a consensual BDSM relationship with a couple he met on Fetlife. However, his behaviour soon became erratic and violent, leading to the murder of the couple and the suicide of Oestrike.

Another case involves the murder of Texas woman Jacqueline Vandagriff by Charles Dean Bryant, whom she had connected with on Fetlife just days before her death. It was discovered that Bryant had a history of violence and stalking.

These are just a couple of the many cases that highlight the risks of engaging in online communities like Fetlife. Certain patterns have emerged, including individuals with violent or criminal histories and those who engage in fringe sexual practices.

The complexity of these cases shows the need for greater awareness and education regarding the dangers of engaging in such communities, and the importance of taking precautions and being vigilant.

Examining the Role of Online Interactions

As with any online community, interactions on Fetlife can have a significant impact on users and their offline lives. In the context of the Fetlife murders, it is important to examine the role of online interactions in relation to the crimes.

While it is impossible to definitively determine the influence of Fetlife on the perpetrators’ actions, there is evidence to suggest that the platform may have played a role. For example, messages exchanged between the murderers and their victims on Fetlife have been cited as potential evidence in court.

Furthermore, the anonymity and platform’s focus on kinks and fetishes may lead users to engage in riskier behavior or disregard personal safety. The lack of face-to-face communication and physical boundaries may also contribute to a blurred line between fantasy and reality, potentially desensitizing users to dangerous situations.

It is important for users of Fetlife and similar communities to be aware of the potential risks associated with online interactions. Engaging in conversations and activities that prioritize consent and safety, as well as being cautious about sharing personal information, can help mitigate these risks.

Ultimately, while online interactions cannot be solely blamed for the Fetlife murders, they serve as a reminder of the potential dangers of engaging in virtual communities without proper precautions.

The Line Between Fantasy and Reality

The Fetlife community is known for exploring taboo sexual desires and fetishes in a safe and consensual manner. However, the line between fantasy and reality can become blurred, leading to dangerous situations.

Many users of Fetlife engage in role-play and fantasy scenarios that involve power dynamics, BDSM, and other potentially risky behaviors. While these activities can be harmless when conducted with consenting partners, they can also create a false sense of security and lead to dangerous situations outside of the virtual world.

The Fetlife murders highlight the potential dangers of blurring the line between fantasy and reality. Some of the victims were involved in BDSM and other fetishes with their attackers, but the situations ultimately turned violent and deadly. This serves as a stark reminder that even when engaging in consensual activities, it is important to maintain a clear understanding of reality and potential risks.

Furthermore, individuals who struggle with distinguishing fantasy from reality may be particularly vulnerable in online communities like Fetlife. It is important to recognize the difference between harmless fantasy and potentially harmful behavior, and seek help if necessary.

Investigating Law Enforcement’s Response

Law enforcement’s response to the Fetlife murders has been a topic of debate and scrutiny. While some applaud the efforts of law enforcement in solving the cases, others criticize the lack of attention given to the potential dangers of online communities like Fetlife.

The murders highlighted the need for law enforcement to better understand and monitor these virtual communities, as they may provide a platform for dangerous individuals to connect and communicate with potential victims. There have been questions about whether police departments are equipped with the necessary tools and training to effectively investigate crimes that occur within these online spaces.

Furthermore, the murders have raised concerns about the accountability of law enforcement in addressing crimes that occur within online communities. Given that many of these communities operate on a global scale, it can be difficult for law enforcement to track down and prosecute perpetrators, particularly when they are located in jurisdictions that have differing legal systems and enforcement mechanisms.

Despite these challenges, law enforcement has made progress in solving the Fetlife murders. Through extensive investigations and collaborations with other agencies, several individuals who committed these crimes have been brought to justice. However, there is still much work to be done to ensure the safety of individuals who participate in online communities like Fetlife.

Investigating Law Enforcement’s Response:

Learning from Tragedy: Safety Measures and Precautions

The Fetlife murders have shed light on the potential risks and dangers of online communities. While it is important to recognize the benefits and freedoms that the virtual world offers, it is equally important to take precautions and steps to ensure one’s safety. Here are some practical safety measures and precautions to consider when engaging with online communities like Fetlife:

  • Exercise Caution: Be cautious when communicating with others online and always be mindful of personal information that you share. Trust needs to be earned, and it is crucial to be careful and wary of those who may have malicious intent.
  • Safeguard Your Identity: Protect your identity by keeping your personal information private. Avoid using your full name, address, or phone number when creating your online profile. Using a pseudonym can help preserve your anonymity.
  • Meet in Public: If you decide to meet someone you’ve met online in person, always meet in a public place. Inform someone you trust where you are going and who you are meeting. Consider taking someone with you.
  • Trust Your Instincts: If someone or something makes you feel uneasy, trust your instincts. Always prioritize your safety and well-being over any social or emotional pressures.
  • Continuously Evaluate: Continuously evaluate your interactions and relationships with others online. Be aware of warning signs of abusive or manipulative behavior and take steps to protect yourself if necessary.

It is crucial to take these safety precautions seriously and prioritize one’s safety when engaging in online communities. By being cautious and vigilant, individuals can enjoy the benefits of these virtual communities without putting themselves at risk.

Support Networks: Victim Advocacy and Resources

Victims of the Fetlife murders, and their families, require extensive support networks to cope with the aftermath of such heinous crimes. These networks must provide practical assistance, emotional support, and advocacy services to help victims navigate the complex legal and psychological aftermath.

Fortunately, victims have access to several resources that can support them during this difficult time. One such resource is the National Center for Victims of Crime, which offers a wide range of support services, including counseling, financial assistance, and legal advocacy. Similarly, the Sexual Assault Legal Institute provides free legal services to victims of sexual assault, including access to restraining orders and advocacy in court.

Other resources include local rape crisis centers, which often offer counseling, support groups, and assistance with medical and legal procedures. Many victims also benefit from the support of family, friends, and faith-based communities.

However, it is crucial to acknowledge that these resources may not always be accessible to all victims. Barriers such as financial constraints, geographic location, and social stigma can prevent some victims from seeking the support they need. It is therefore essential for communities to work together to create more inclusive and accessible support networks for all victims of sexual violence and online crimes.

Finally, it is important to recognize that advocacy and support for victims should not end with the resolution of a particular case. This support should be ongoing, recognizing the long-term impact of these crimes on victims and their families.

Legal Ramifications: Prosecution and Justice

The legal implications of the Fetlife murders are significant and far-reaching. Law enforcement agencies across the globe have been tasked with investigating and prosecuting the individuals responsible for these heinous crimes. The successful prosecution of these cases has led to the award of justice for the victims and their families, as well as serving as a deterrent for potential future perpetrators.

The prosecution process begins with the collection and analysis of evidence, followed by the formal charging of the accused. This may be followed by a trial, where evidence is presented to a judge and/or jury, and a verdict is reached. The sentencing phase then follows, where the severity of the punishment is determined, often taking into account aggravating and mitigating factors.

Despite the successful prosecution of some Fetlife murder cases, there have been instances of perpetrators being acquitted or receiving less severe sentences than expected. This has led to criticism of the legal system and calls for reform. Victim advocacy organizations have also raised concerns about the need for greater support for victims and their families during the prosecution process.

Ultimately, the pursuit of justice for the victims of the Fetlife murders is an ongoing process. As such, it is important for law enforcement agencies and legal systems to continue to adapt and evolve in response to the changing nature of online communities and related criminal activity.

Societal Impact: Discussions and Debates

The Fetlife murders have sparked widespread discussions and debates surrounding the safety of online communities, personal responsibility, and ethical considerations. Many have questioned the role of online platforms like Fetlife in facilitating dangerous behavior, leading to calls for increased regulation and oversight. Others argue that individuals must take personal responsibility for their actions online, recognizing the potential risks and making informed choices.

One important point of debate has been the blurred line between fantasy and reality in the context of the Fetlife community. While many users engage in BDSM and other taboo activities purely for pleasure, others may harbor dangerous intentions that can lead to harm for themselves and others. The question of how to distinguish between harmless fantasy and genuine danger remains a subject of ongoing discussion and debate.

At the same time, the Fetlife murders have brought attention to the importance of victim advocacy and support networks. Resources and organizations have emerged to provide support to survivors and victims’ families, highlighting the need for greater access to emotional and legal support for those affected by online crimes.

Ultimately, the societal impact of the Fetlife murders extends far beyond the specific cases themselves, sparking vital discussions and debates about our collective responsibility to ensure safety and ethical behavior in online communities.

Future of Fetlife: Changes and Adaptations

With the tragic events surrounding the Fetlife murders, it is unlikely that this community will remain untouched. Significant changes and adaptations may be necessary to ensure the safety and security of its members.

One possible change that Fetlife may undergo is the implementation of more stringent safety protocols. This could include mandatory verification of user identities, more thorough background checks, and enhanced monitoring of user activity. Additionally, Fetlife may need to increase its moderation efforts to prevent harmful content and behavior from being promoted or shared within the community.

Another potential adaptation could be the development of new technologies or features that prioritize safety. Fetlife may need to look to other online communities or social networks for inspiration and guidance on how to best protect its members.

However, any changes or adaptations must be made with care and consideration to avoid alienating existing members or compromising the purpose and values of the community. It will be crucial for Fetlife to continue to listen to feedback from its members and make informed decisions that prioritize safety and wellbeing.


The Fetlife murders represent a dark mystery with numerous implications for online communities. Through our analysis, we have gained insight into the risks and dangers of platforms like Fetlife, as well as the potential impact of media sensationalism.

It is crucial that individuals engaging in online communities understand the blurred line between fantasy and reality, take precautions to protect themselves, and seek support when needed. Furthermore, law enforcement must continue to develop effective strategies for preventing and solving crimes in the virtual realm.

As for Fetlife, the community may undergo changes and adaptations in response to the tragedies that have occurred. However, it is vital that ongoing discussions and awareness surrounding the risks of online communities continue to take place.

Overall, the Fetlife murders serve as a reminder of the importance of online safety and personal responsibility. We must continue to evaluate the impact of virtual interactions on our society and prioritize the well-being of individuals engaging in them.


Q: What is Fetlife?

A: Fetlife is an online community focused on BDSM, fetish, and kink. It provides a platform for like-minded individuals to connect, share experiences, and explore their interests.

Q: Are there any risks associated with using Fetlife?

A: Like any online platform, there are risks involved in using Fetlife. It is important to practice caution and take necessary precautions when engaging with others on the site.

Q: How can I ensure my safety on Fetlife?

A: To ensure your safety on Fetlife, it is advisable to thoroughly vet the individuals you interact with, maintain boundaries, and communicate openly about your expectations and limits.

Q: What should I do if I encounter suspicious or inappropriate behavior on Fetlife?

A: If you encounter suspicious or inappropriate behavior on Fetlife, it is recommended to report the user to the platform administrators and, if necessary, involve law enforcement.

Q: Are the fetlife murders isolated incidents?

A: The Fetlife murders are specific cases that have occurred within the context of the Fetlife community. While they are not representative of the entire community, they highlight the importance of online safety.

Q: How can I support victims of the Fetlife murders?

A: Supporting victims of the Fetlife murders can be done by raising awareness, advocating for resources and support networks, and encouraging open and honest discussions about online safety.

Q: What is the role of law enforcement in addressing the Fetlife murders?

A: Law enforcement plays a crucial role in addressing and investigating the Fetlife murders. It is important to evaluate their response and effectiveness in solving and preventing future crimes.

Q: Can media sensationalism have an impact on the understanding of the Fetlife murders?

A: Media sensationalism can have a significant impact on the public’s understanding of the Fetlife murders. It is important to critically analyze media coverage and consider its potential consequences.

Q: How can individuals ensure their personal safety when engaging in online communities like Fetlife?

A: Individuals can ensure their personal safety when engaging in online communities like Fetlife by implementing safety measures such as using pseudonyms, being cautious about sharing personal information, and setting boundaries.

Q: What are some available support networks for victims of the Fetlife murders?

A: There are various support networks and organizations available for victims of the Fetlife murders. These resources provide advocacy, counseling, and assistance to those in need.

Q: What legal ramifications are associated with the Fetlife murders?

A: The legal ramifications of the Fetlife murders involve the prosecution of the perpetrators and the pursuit of justice for the victims. The legal process plays a crucial role in holding individuals accountable for their actions.


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‘Wife’ of alleged BDSM sex cult leader charged with child grooming offences

ABC Investigations / By Elise Worthington

A bald man wearing a black T-shirt
James Davis is facing almost 60 charges.(Supplied)

A 22-year-old woman who was involved in an alleged BDSM sex cult has been charged over sexual activity with minors and morphine possession.

Key points:

  • The woman received bail after appearing before Blacktown court 
  • She is facing 12 charges including transmitting child abuse material
  • The 22-year-old was one of several women who called themselves “slaves” to a man who is now facing dozens of charges

The woman was arrested yesterday in Blacktown, in Sydney’s west, and charged with six counts of using a carriage service to prepare or plan to engage in sexual activity with a minor and five counts of transmitting child abuse material.

The charges carry a combined maximum prison sentence of more than 25 years.

The arrest comes as part of an ongoing AFP human trafficking investigation code named Operation Saintes which began earlier this year after a Four Corners investigation into the group.

The woman’s partner, 40-year-old James Davis, was arrested during a dramatic AFP raid on a rural property near Armidale in March where he was living with several women he called his “slaves”.

Mr Davis was a prolific user of social media before his arrest, calling himself a “patriarchal overlord” and publicly boasting of his “alternative lifestyle”.

The women in the group shared on social media that they had signed slave contracts, wore collars and claimed they were living in a consensual BDSM master/slave relationship with Mr Davis.

Social media posts obtained by the ABC reveal several women, including the 22-year-old, joined the group while they were still teenagers and in high school.

Sexual assault support services:

The AFP raided the rural property where James Davis lived with his partners in March after the ABC provided information to police.

Mr Davis is now facing 58 federal and state charges spanning 20 years including rape, assault, animal torture, child pornography and kidnapping offences, along with several counts of using a carriage service to prepare or plan to engage in sexual activity with a person under 16.

The AFP spent more than two days scouring Davis’ property at Yarrowyk for evidence and confiscated illegal weapons, ammunition, filming equipment and hard drives which were being forensically analysed. 

Police now say during the raid they also discovered an IV bag containing 30 grams of morphine which they allege was stolen from a hospital.

The woman appeared before Blacktown Court House on 12 charges including possessing the schedule 8 drug. 

The ABC can reveal she was registered to work as a nurse but had restrictions placed on her registration earlier this year. 

The conditions included that she must not supply, check or administer any drug of addiction, or work without supervision.

The 22-year-old was granted bail this afternoon under strict conditions including not accessing the internet or going within 500 metres of children.

AFP Detective Superintendent Craig Bellis said police were continuing to investigate and asked anyone with information to come forward.

“AFP investigators have worked tirelessly to investigate this matter, and further analysis of material seized in March 2021 search warrants has resulted in these charges against a second person.

“The AFP will not rule out further charges in this matter.”

The matter is due back in court in January. 


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Abused submissives in the BDSM community through a gendered framework


This study examines how abuse is viewed and talked about in the BDSM community. Particular attention is paid to gender actions and how a gendered framework of masculinities and femininities can further the understanding of how abuse is discussed within the community. The study aims to explore how sexual abuse of submissive men is viewed and discussed within the BDSM community, as compared to that of women. The study furthermore focuses on heterosexual contexts, with submissive men as victims of female perpetrators as its primary focus.

To my knowledge, victimological research dealing with the BDSM community and its own views and definitions of abuse has not been conducted prior to the present study. Thus, the study is based on previous research into consent within BDSM, as this research provides a framework for non-consent as well.

To conduct this study I have interviewed six BDSM practitioners. Their transcribed stories were then subjected to narrative analysis. The analysis of the material shows that victim blaming tendencies exist in the community, and that these vary depending on the victim’s gender.

The findings indicate that the community is prone to victim blaming, and that this manifests itself differently for men and women. Furthermore, my results show that male rape myths can be used to understand cool victim-type explanations given by male victims of abuse perpetrated by women. After discussing my results, I suggest possible directions for further research.

Results and Analysis

The most commonly overlapping themes during my interviews were the concepts of shame, blame and responsibility in relation to gender roles and victimization. These themes were often intertwined, and as such it would be difficult to completely isolate them from each other in the analysis. Shame was found in connection with models of explanation that emphasized masculinity in contrast to victimization, but also in connection to female victims of abuse. However, the concept of shame seems to have different implications for men and women. Similarly, responsibility appears to be gendered. This concept was mainly found in stories regarding victimization and what led up to it. Lastly, blame was found in narratives concerning victimhood, often intertwined with ideas about responsibility. These themes will be discussed in relation to theory and previous research.

5.1 Gender roles

To a certain extent, the rules for submissive men and women appear to differ in ways which go in line with the activities assigned to each gender; for instance men still need to retain some aspects of dominance and activity even in their submission, an action which stands in contrast with the actions valued in submissive women:

I: About being a sub… Would you say that there are differences, like different rules for how men and women should be to be a good submissive?

Sophie: Well… yes, I would think so. […] I get the feeling that there are a lot more demands on guys. Girls are expected to look good, to be pretty and all that stuff, but it’s almost preferred if they don’t know too much. If you can, if you have a lot of experience, it’s like no, I wanted to train you from the start, why do you know so much already? You’re supposed to be fresh and new, somehow. While guys, going by the emails I get even though I don’t ask for emails like that, they try to prove that they know a lot and that they can fulfill all my needs, and they’re so good at this and that and they’ve already been trained by someone else.

The mentioned differences between female and male submission go in like with the normative gender actions outlined by Pettersson (2003:142). This suggests that gender roles are stronger than the community-specific roles of submissive or dominant. Furthermore, the narrative indicates that men do not surrender their control the way women do, since men are emphasizing that they are knowledgeable and active, in that they can “fulfill all [her] needs”, as opposed to submitting. This notion also translates into how men deal with abuse, even if they do not necessarily define it as such. For instance, when Sophie dominated a man and later asked how he had liked the scene, he talked about disliking some of the painful elements of it in the following way:

Sophie: [H]e said that “nah, I just took it anyway. I can’t just give up like that!” […] Then, later on he said that “well, you were pretty wimpy” [as a dominant].

By refusing to “give up” while also refusing to admit to having felt overpowered in a negative sense, the man in Sophie’s story exemplifies one way in which submissive men can express a need to retain control. By maintaining that he actively “took it”, but also that she was a “wimpy” dominant, he places himself in control of the situation by making himself out to be the strongest. This kind of controlling actions while in submission was not encountered when participants described submissive women; however several similar accounts regarding 22 submissive men surfaced during interviews. It seems probable that this prevalence of traditional gender actions over BDSM specific sexualities accounts for submissive men’s tendency to avoid discussing abuse as openly as women do:

I: So there’s no support group or some such for submissive men, if there’s abuse? Arthur: We’re men, we don’t talk. No, we don’t talk about stuff like that [abuse]. We don’t come together like that. In general, at least the subs I know, we talk to each other if we’re friends. We can’t talk the way women do, y’know, just because we’re all subs.

This could be understood as a collective masculinity project among sub men, with the purpose of upholding what is considered as normative masculinity. As Fisher and Pina suggest, masculinity entails strength and dominance which stands in opposition to normative femininity, meaning that men cannot be victims of abuse by female perpetrators due to their superior strength. Thus, “if a man [is] to report a sexual attack by a woman he could […] be considered as having lost his masculinity” (Fisher & Pina 2012:58). Arguably, loss of masculinity could induce feelings of shame. Especially given the premise that normative masculinity contrasts normative femininity and the societal expectations attached to these conceptions “discourages men from reporting sexual attacks [by women] because of fear that they will be labelled effeminate and essentially weak” (Fisher & Pina 2012:58).

5.2 Differentiating between grey areas and abuse

According to interview participants, the distinction between grey areas and abuse (to the extent they can be differentiated at all) largely lies in communication, intention and insight. Furthermore, some participants led on that to parts of the community abuse is nonexistent:

Arthur: Sometimes people say that BDSM is consent and that as soon as there is no longer consent then it’s not BDSM anymore, then it’s something else.

This implies that the concept of grey areas is, in fact, the only scope within which abuse can be made to fit in the BDSM community. This could be understood as denial of abuse in BDSM contexts, meaning that the idea of grey areas is to be understood as containing the idea of abuse. In the cases where they are considered as different concepts, grey areas are still not necessarily preferable to outright abuse:

I: So grey areas are not safer or… more innocent, than abuse? Emma: No, no, no. You know that this is the line, then you shouldn’t go right up to it. Maybe you could build up to it, over time, like one small step and then another next time if it feels okay. You can’t just jump right into a grey area and hope you land on the right side of a boundary.

However, there are basic rules for BDSM play most participants agreed the breaking of which constitutes abuse. These are things such as ignoring safewords or other revocations of consent, though not all participants agreed on these rules. Furthermore, some argued that while continuing an act without consent is wrong, it still might not be abuse. As such, the line between abuse and grey areas is difficult to outline:

I: How would you say abuse is different from grey areas? Nathan: I think a lot is in the talk you have afterwards. If someone is really feeling bad and crashes12, that you’d catch that and realize that shit, I messed up, or that, woah, this is my responsibility, I’ve made this person feel bad and that makes it my responsibility to make them feel good again. As a dom you can’t explain it all away by saying “you should’ve said no”, or “you should’ve used a safeword”, no. It’s your responsibility. […] So a lot of it is in accepting responsibility, if you accept responsibility for you actions I think the risk of it being abuse lessens.

I: So it’s not about the act itself as much as it is about the reactions to it?

Nathan: Yeah, that and the talk you have before. If there’s a line drawn, and someone crosses that, and then tries to talk about it a lot… If you’ve crossed an explicit, clearly set boundary and you were aware of that, you meant to do it, then that’s abuse.

What this implies is that a situation can be defined as either abuse or as a grey area depending on several factors, to whatever extent the community can differentiate between the two at all. These factors include practitioner’s intentions, insight into their own actions as well as into the feelings of their partner(s), communication before, during as well as after the scene, and the parties’ willingness to accept responsibility for their actions. Two possible outcomes thus exist in a nonconsensual situation; either it was abuse, or it was a grey area. Furthermore, these two terms seem to exemplify the same type of situation, which perpetuates the notion that the two concepts are mutually inclusive to some extent:

Arthur: We can’t know, in BDSM it’s enough that someone messes up. And I know, I’ve even seen that, someone didn’t hear a safeword, and then that becomes abuse.

When someone does not hear a safeword and continues to act out a scene without consent, this “becomes abuse”, regardless of the dom’s intention. Even though the victimization was unintentional, the situation was still defined as abuse. Thus, intention cannot serve to differentiate between grey areas and abuse. Furthermore, grey areas were described by participants as including all kinds of potentially abusive situations:

William: If you’ve gotten yourself into this, especially as a sub, you should probably be prepared to find yourself in… situations you hadn’t counted on. And then you shouldn’t necessarily blame that on the partner you’re with, rather maybe you should’ve thought it through from the beginning. […] If you’d see abuse as a concept as a grey area, I’d say that in one end of the scale it might not be much to talk about but as it gets worse there might be reasons for dealing with it differently at the opposite end of the scale.

In conclusion, abuse and grey areas are not easily defined in opposition to one another, quite the contrary. This implies that the concept of grey areas could in some cases be a substitute for the concept of abuse or that grey areas serve as a term which includes abuse in its definition. This could be detrimental to a victim’s credibility; since grey areas is a wider term than abuse in that it also incorporates a lot of less severe actions. In turn, this could explain some of the victims blaming tendencies found in the community, since the ideas about shared responsibility inherent to communicating about grey areas in BDSM are similar to ideas incorporated in victim blaming13. Furthermore, this responsibility, as well as the community’s views on abuse, grey areas and victims, seems to be different for men and women.

5.2.1 When situations are defined as abuse or grey areas

According to the interview participants’ stories the community not only defines submissive men and women differently, but also defines abusive situations in different terms depending on the victims’ gender.

Sophie: I think it might be a bit different in different groups, but from what I’ve heard [about female victims] they say things like well maybe she was young and thoughtless, maybe she was a bit credulous, maybe even… a bit stupid. But when they talk about men I think people often have this idea of them as… as having to be pretty… pretty weak, mentally too, not to be able to stand up to a woman.

While women are blamed for their own victimization to some extent, men seem to have not only their actions, but their masculinity questioned. Female victims are regarded as naïve; however male victims are regarded as mentally and physically weak because they were unable to stand up to a female perpetrator. Therefore, according to participants it is shameful for a submissive man to be abused by a dominant woman:

William: If a woman abuses a man, I think a submissive man would have a tough time talking about his experiences because the perpetrator is a woman. Because this is shameful, there is a lot of shame placed on it and there is nothing desirable about that kind of shame, there is nothing pleasant to it.

As opposed to types of degradation incorporated in BDSM play, the kind of degradation men experience from admitting to having been abused by women is described by BDSM practitioners as potentially detrimental to one’s masculinity, as being overpowered by a woman (as opposed to submitting to one consensually) contrasts conceptions of typically masculine actions (Pettersson 2003:142). As previously stated, this goes in line with male rape myths. These, in turn, have been found by previous research to be strongly related to victim blame (Fisher & Pina 2012:57). For instance, responsible submissive men are supposed to know better than to engage seemingly bad dominant women in the first place, but if they fail to do so and are subjected to abuse, they are still not considered as victims. According to the participants, the community is seemingly prone to share an idea of toughness as an ideal masculine behavior, regardless of sexual identity.

I: Do you think the community treats men differently from women, as abuse victims? Sophie: I think that when it comes to men there’s more slut-shaming, like… You should’ve known better, why did you go home with her in the first place, if you thought she was nasty, why did you have sex with her?

One noticeable aspect is that when asked about the community’s attitude towards men as victims of abuse, the participant still talks about a man’s responsibility in relation to consensual sex, and the “slut-shaming” associated with not living up to it. This narrative goes in line with male rape myths and attitudes towards male victims of female perpetrators as pointed out by previous research (Fisher & Pina 2012:57, Davies, Pollard & Archer 2006:277). This could explain the way in which men present themselves as victims. For example, men seem prone to shame dominant women as being incompetent as BDSM practitioners when things go wrong, rather than talk about their own feelings in terms of victimization. This could be understood as a defense, in order to avoid the shame connected to being blamed “for not preventing the assault” (Fisher & Pina 2012:57).

5.3 Responsibility and victim blaming as gendered phenomena

In the early days of victimology Hans von Hentig (1948) stated that the victim of a crime contributes to his or her victimization through the participation in the events leading up to the crime. This has since been heavily criticized as being the foundation for victim blaming (Ryan 1971:3-4). Ryan points out that “victim blaming is often cloaked in kindness and concern” (Ryan 1971:6); which is a statement that my interviews have validated to some extent. When talking about the responsibilities of others, several interview participants led on that the community’s line between responsibility and victim blaming is as blurred as that between grey areas and abuse:

Isabelle: It really is incredibly important that the dominant owns up to their mistake and is mature enough to say that I was wrong and I’m so, so sorry about that, to really apologize. It isn’t to lie down or grovel, to apologize because something went bad. And then the sub has to be able to say that it’s not just your fault, I encouraged you to do this. And then you can straighten out what happened from there.

While Hentig’s notion of varying degrees of shared responsibility14 between the victim and the offender is critiqued as being tantamount to victim blaming, many of my interview participants nonetheless seem to express similar ideas regarding abuse and grey areas within BDSM. This similarity is not to be read as an indication that BDSM has any inherent processes of victimization. Rather, this similarity is brought up to further illustrate the complexity of abuse and grey areas in BDSM, since consensual participation can become non-consensual at any time15. The process of negotiating scenes beforehand, verifying consent throughout the scene and the process of aftercare thus require that both the submissive and the dominant parties accept their responsibilities towards one another and themselves. However, the concept of responsibility appears to be gendered. While responsible submissive men are supposed to know better than to “have sex” with “nasty” dominant women (as examplified in 5.2), submissive women are viewed as irresponsible if they fail to avoid high-risk situations:

Sophie: This woman was just starting out in BDSM, as a sub, and she felt that she wanted to try this out with someone who was experienced, that felt like a smart move. […] So she looked around and found this guy who she thought seemed nice, and he asked if she wanted to meet up for coffee and talk, see how it feels. So she said that yeah, we can do whatever you want. She said that a lot, we can do whatever you want. They go out for coffee, it felt good, he asked her if she wanted to follow him out to his car. She said sure, so he said that they were going out into the woods to enact a scene and asked if she was okay with that. She said that she thought it sounded very interesting and went along, so they went into the woods and he tied her to a tree. She was kind of scared, and then he told her that just so you know, I could do whatever I want to you now. I think you should understand what a bad position you’re in, and that you should never do this again […] He wanted to show her that it’s a bad move to say that you’ll do whatever someone wants, especially when it’s someone new, someone you don’t know.

While underlining the importance of clear communication on BDSM, this narrative shows tendencies of victim blaming. Having said “we can do whatever you want” is viewed by the dom as tantamount to contributing to her potential victimization. While this is a story of a submissive woman and a dominant man, the narrative focus is still on the woman and her failings even though the dominant man could be construed as the one at fault. Seemingly, responsible submissive women should know better than to agree to anything presenting a risk. While this is similar to the “you should’ve known better” line of reasoning in the previous example, the implications are somewhat different. Both submissive men and women are supposed to “know better”; however for men the results of not doing so are discussed in terms implying consensual sex rather than victimization. The previous narrative shows a view within the community which makes submissive men responsible for abusive situations while denying them the role of victim, since they should “know better” than to “have sex”, not know better than to say something (e.g. “we can do whatever you want”) that could lead to them being abused. This implies that the concept of men being abused by women is regarded as unlikely in the BDSM community, which goes in line with previous research into attitudes towards male victims of abuse by female perpetrators (Davies, Pollard & Archer 2010:286).

While both men and women are made out to be responsible for finding themselves in abusive situations, abused women are made out to be bad BDSM practitioners while men are made out to be weak as men if they are victimized.

An example of blaming women for their own victimization, as well as shaming their incompetence as BDSM practitioners, is provided by the following narrative:

Emma: They [dominant men] sent emails like “well this [the abuse she was subjected to] happened because you’re not supposed to use safewords. Then you’re not really submissive, so it’s your fault. It’s you, you’re not really submissive, that’s why it happened to you”. This happened a lot when I crashed, for months I wrote about how I felt and stuff. A lot of people were supportive, but then there were these guys who said that maybe you’re not submissive, maybe that’s why you crashed. Or maybe you need more spanking to get over it, and I was like… well, no! They were questioning me but not the guy I was with. They never questioned him, never.

Again we see how men explain abuse through women’s ineptitude as BDSM practitioners, blaming them for their own victimization while simultaneously shaming them for being irresponsible. According to the dominant men in the narrative, her responsibility can be considered as being towards the dominant man in question, as well as to herself. Someone who is “really submissive” would never use safewords, meaning that if she would have taken her responsibility as a “real” submissive and learned how she was “supposed” to behave to fit in, she would not have been abused. Thus, she is blamed for her own victimization. However, her femininity as such is not questioned, even though her sexuality is.

In conclusion, the case of the male sub who should have “known better” than to “have sex” with a “nasty” dominant woman implies that what he experienced was an unpleasant, but consensual, sexual encounter. His masculinity thus denies him credibility as a victim, as it is assumed that he consented to having sex. The narrative also points out a tendency to shame dominant women for being bad at what they do, rather than to accuse them of perpetrating abuse. In the case of the female submissives, both narratives show them to have been abused (or to have run the risk thereof) due to their own inability to accept responsibility for their own safety. As a result, all three situations include an element of emphasizing female incompetence at BDSM and its social rules as a fundamental part of the explanation. This line of reasoning goes in line with the overall submission of women inherent to the notion of complicit (and thus also hegemonic) masculinities.

5.4 Complicit masculinities shaming female dominance

Connell’s writings on complicit masculinities serve as a useful framework for understanding the concept of shame in relation to abuse the BDSM community. According to the interview participants, shaming women for being bad doms is one way for submissive men to avoid presenting themselves as weak while still addressing the problem of abuse. Thus, the dominant/submissive dynamic is placed as as secondary to the male/female dynamic through “the overall subordination of women” which benefits men in general (Connell 2005:75). As such, submissive men are still higher up than dominant women in the social hierarchy in the community at large. This is partially realized through the masculinity in men’s submission being accentuated by their placing shame on feminine enactments of dominance:

Arthur: We had this… situation at a club. This… old dominant woman was coming on to this young, submissive guy [man 1] like crazy. We could see how uncomfortable he was, like, he really didn’t like it, but as a guy you just don’t say no to stuff like that, we’re not taught to say no to that stuff. And after a while, we sort of, we thought it was getting really hard for him, and he was new there, so… eventually we told a friend of ours [man 2] to go over there and take care of it, help him out. So he went over there and grabbed hold of her, led her away. That new guy made it out okay, he left pretty soon after that [man 1 leaves the club, and the narrative, at this point]. Then it turned out that this woman, she’d beat up my friend [man 2] out on the stairs. And it’s not allowed to play there. I don’t know how much, but I know he was not happy. […] But what he said was that “nah, you have to take stuff like that”, because somehow he’d got that in his head. But no, you really don’t have to take that stuff. So even though it was as wrong as it can possibly be, he just took it, he just accepted it. He didn’t think, if he’d seen that happen to a girl he’d been furious, but when it happened to him he didn’t even consider that it could be wrong.

The dominant woman in question is being presented as unattractive from the start, as the interview participant takes care to underline that she was both older than and unattractive to the submissive man she was “coming on to”, while giving her actions an air of mental instability by adding “like crazy”. As such, she is being presented as enacting femininity which contrasts normative femininity and the expectations placed on a woman. While this study does not focus on age in particular, it is worth noting that the age difference is presented as an important part of the narrative. She is old, and therefore unattractive. This can be understood as a way of emphasizing how unlikely it would be for any of the men in the narrative to consent to sexual activities with this woman. Furthermore, this is a factor I have not come across in previous research regarding men as victims of abuse by female perpetrators; the importance of attractiveness. When describing the woman as old and unattractive, the interview participant implies that this is a key part of why the men in the narrative dislike her advances. In order to clearly show that any sexual interaction between the straight men and the straight woman in the narrative is undesirable, the woman is portrayed as stereotypically unattractive. This can be understood as a protection against ideas of straight men as unlikely victims of abuse by females (Davies, Pollard & Archer 2006:277). This line of reasoning is furthered by presenting her as coming on to them like “crazy”, which in this case seems to mean sexually aggressive; something that further contrasts ideas about normative femininity. As the situation progresses, she is presented as violent as “she beat [him] up”, as well as ignorant of the rules of the establishment as it is “not allowed to play there”. In short, the narrative focus is on her failings which in turn seem derived from a discrepancy between dominance and femininity, mirroring the masculinity/submission discrepancy discussed earlier. Disregarding the dominant/submissive dynamic and replacing it with a male/female one, the narrative presents the situation based on traditional gender expectations; while the woman is presented as contrasting the things a woman is “supposed to be” (Lander 2003:33), the men are shown as active, competent and strong.

5.5 Cool victims

What we are told of the victim’s response in the example above goes in line with Åkerström’s study of cool victim-type enactments of masculinity, as he “took it” without contemplating the abusive nature of the situation, even though he would have been “furious” if a girl was subjected to the same treatment. This model of explanation can in turn be understood through the idea of complicit masculinities as being socially superior to femininities. As a result, the situation is shown to be abusive (since a girl would be regarded as a victim) while the man in question is presented as remaining above being victimized by it, since the feminine enactment of dominance is still socially inferior to his own masculine model of submission. This furthers the assumption that the submissive role is different for men and women, while also implying that “victim of abuse” in heterosexual BDSM contexts is regarded as an exclusively female role by the community. In addition, he “took it” in order to “take care of” the problem at hand, which creates the impression of him as an active, capable man. Underlining what he does (e.g. “takes it” to help a friend) rather than what he is subjected to (i.e. abuse), allows him to retain aspects of normative masculinity in his submission. He was not abused by a woman; rather he acted to help a friend. However, the woman was at fault as she was found to be undesirable as a woman and incompetent in her actions of dominance.

5.6 Subordinate masculinities’ compliance

The archetypes of the hypermasculine man and the submissive woman serve as the extremes of the gender hierarchy as constructed in the BDSM community. Subordinate masculinities (Connell 2005:78) as a social process related to that of complicit masculinities places submissive men between dominant men and women of any sexual identity in this gender hierarchy. Subordinate masculinities are still complicit in this context; since different types of masculinities are not static submissive men are still complicit in the sense that as men, they are above women in the gender hierarchy.

William: About how abuse is defined in BDSM, I get the feeling that… that it’s dominant men who make the rules based on a male culture where the strongest survive. […] I think that it’s a result of living in a society where traditional masculinity is the norm, and I get the feeling that this norm might get a bigger… It’s sort of intensified in this community.

We have previously seen that submissive men are described by participants as enacting submission in different ways than submissive women do. They enact masculinities in submission, meaning that normative masculinity takes precedence over sexuality. Submissive men thus incorporate aspects of “traditional masculinity” in their submission, meaning that normative masculinity is not only “intensified” for dominant men. This also creates active, dominant aspects of male submission, aspects which are ideally lacking in their female counterparts. However, submissive men still enact subordinate masculinities in relation to hegemonic masculinity (the dominant men). Thus, submissive men are socially superior to women, while being inferior to dominant men. Since the definitions of abuse are based on a “male culture”, this places men above women in the gender hierarchy regardless of sexual identity. The narrative also perpetuates the idea of hypermasculinity as hegemonic in the BDSM community, since dominant, “intensified” varieties of masculinity are the norm. These social processes could be used to understand submissive men’s tendency to shame dominant women (thus asserting their own social dominance) for being bad practitioners while giving cool victim-type explanations of non-consensual events (thus avoiding being labelled as effeminate by dominant men), rather than discussing having felt victimized. In this way, ideas associated with male rape myths are perpetuated; (strong, active) men cannot be abused by (weak, passive) women, etc.

6 Discussion and Conclusion

In relation to the research questions, this study has found that the BDSM community largely talks about abuse in terms of grey areas. Furthermore, the study found expressions of denial regarding the existence of abuse in BDSM, thus making the concept of grey areas include abuse by default. While the concept of grey areas is important given the sometimes complicated boundaries involved in BDSM play, it seems to include cover for victim blaming given the premise that grey areas include abuse rather than contrasts it. The notions of shared responsibility which are intrinsic to grey areas then lend themselves to placing responsibility on abuse victims. The implication is that by discussing abuse in terms of grey areas, victims of abuse are found less credible since abuse is often not defined as such, but rather as a grey area where both (or all) parties are equally responsible for the outcome.

The study has also shown that there is a tendency to discuss abuse and grey areas in different terms depending on the victims’ gender. The discrepancies between traditional gender roles and submission (for men) and dominance (for women) could be used to understand the victim blaming tendencies and their gender variation. Abused submissive women are often described as having been labelled as bad submissives by the community in BDSM practitioners’ narratives. However, while they are presented as naïve or irresponsible, their femininity as such is not questioned. Contrariwise, abused submissive men are described as either giving cool-victim type explanations or as mentally and physically weak. Ideas which fall in line with male rape myths seem prevalent, which ties into the cool victim-type explanations given by abused submissive men. Through their denials of abuse, submissive men are in a sense dominant to the women who dominate them sexually in the social interplay of the community at large, since women are thus described as too weak to be a threat. This could be understood as an effort to minimize the masculinity/submission discrepancy. It could also be understood as an expression of male rape myths; the men might not think themselves credible victims. As such, men seem to have difficulty being recognized as victims of abuse by female perpetrators.

As I stated in the introduction, the abuse suffered by submissive men is seemingly missing from the ongoing debate in kink communities. The cool victim-type presentations offered by interview participant’s stories lend themselves to the idea that traditional gender roles take precedence over the dominant/submissive dynamic. Since none of my interview participants’ stories contained information about submissive men openly discussing abuse suffered by dominant women in terms of their own feelings of victimization, one could assume that maintaining traditional enactments of masculinity is valued by the submissive men in the community. This could explain why men seem reluctant to discuss abuse openly online the way women do. However, that tendency could also be understood through the lack of credibility ascribed to men as victims of female perpetrators.

In conclusion, based in the interview participants’ narratives the BDSM community seems to incorporate ideas about traditional gender roles and the expectations attached thereto as well as victim blaming phrased accordingly in its discussion of abuse. This implies that a gender/sexuality discrepancy exists in the (heterosexual) BDSM community. For submissive men this results in their giving cool victim-type explanations in cases of abuse, possibly in order to stay close to the ideas of what a man is supposed to be. It also results in the prevalence of male rape myths, which may be part of the cause for these mentioned cool victim-type explanations of abusive situations.

Written by Tea Fredriksson


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Hooked Up and Tied Down: The Neurological Consequences of Sadomasochism

Neurons that fire together wire together. BDSM causes the neural networks controlling sexual arousal, aggression, and fear to become dangerously intertwined. An examination of the phenomenon of BDSM from the perspective of a psychiatrist.

Fifteen years ago, in an essay titled “Hooking Up: What Life was Like at the End of the Second Millennium,” the novelist Tom Wolfe asked: what will future generations think about us when they looked back on our strange day and age?

He noted that by the year 2000, “dating,” that ritual in which a boy asked a girl out for the evening and took her to dinner, was dead. Drawing on the old use of baseball terminology to describe romantic encounters, Wolf writes:

In the year 2000, in the era of hooking up, “first base” meant deep kissing (which was now known as “tonsil hockey”), and the groping, and the fondling; “second base” meant oral sex; “third base” meant going all the way; and “home plate” meant . . . learning each other’s names. Getting to home plate was relatively rare, however.

This captures the gist of the semi-anonymous, emotionally detached, uncommitted sexual encounter so typical on college campuses today.

Another strange sign of our age appeared more recently, with the enormous popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey, which has sold an astonishing 100 million copies, and set a record in the UK as the fastest-selling paperback of all time. The story depicts a young female ingénue who is gradually initiated by a wealthy and powerful man into a BDSM sexual arrangement—Bondage, Discipline, Dominance, Submission, Sadism and Masochism— in which she acts as his “submissive.” The heavily marketed movie version of 50 Shades of Grey was released on Valentine’s Day, raking in $94 million over its opening weekend.

Tom Wolfe’s observations suggest that the random impersonal sexual encounter is a defining feature of our day and age. Likewise, the enormous popularity of Fifty Shades suggests that interest in the world of BDSM may be another. What should we make of this? Is there any cause for concern here?

Fifty Shades: A Model of Abuse

My purpose here is not to examine the literary merit of Fifty Shades of Grey (or the lack thereof). Instead, I’m going to examine the phenomenon of BDSM from the perspective of a psychiatrist.

In 2013, social scientist Amy Bonomi of Michigan State University published an interesting study titled “‘Double crap!’ abuse and harmed identity in Fifty Shades of Grey.” In this study, the relationship depicted in the story was assessed for characteristics of “intimate partner violence,” using widely accepted standards from the CDC for emotional abuse and sexual violence.

This study found that nearly every interaction between the male and female protagonists in the book, Christian and Anastasia, was emotionally abusive. Their relationship includes typical features of abusive relationships, such as stalking, intimidation, and isolation. In fact, the book’s pervasive sexual violence meets the CDC’s definition of sexual abuse—including Christian’s use of alcohol to overcome Ana’s reluctance to consent. The researchers also found that Ana exhibited classic signs of an abused woman, including the sense of a constant perceived threat, stressful coping styles, and an altered sense of identity.

A second study published in 2014 by the same author looked at 650 women aged 18-24; it found that the women who had read the book were more likely than those who had not read the book to exhibit signs of eating disorders and have a verbally abusive partner. Women who read all three books in the Fifty Shades trilogy were found to be at increased risk of engaging in binge drinking and having multiple sex partners—known risks associated with being in an abusive relationship.

There are limitations to this study: it did not distinguish whether women experienced the health behaviors before or after reading the books, so we cannot say whether the book contributed to these behavioral problems. It’s entirely possible that some women were more drawn to the book because they struggled with these behavioral issues already. But Bonomi argues that the findings are problematic either way. As she explains it:

If women experienced adverse health behaviors such as disordered eating first, reading ‘Fifty Shades’ might reaffirm those experiences and potentially aggravate related trauma. Likewise, if they read ‘Fifty Shades’ before experiencing the health behaviors seen in our study, it’s possible the books influenced the onset of these behaviors.

The Problem of Consent

Those who defend BDSM, like those who defend the campus hook-up scene, usually rest their case on one element and one element alone. That element is not love. That element is not fidelity. That element is not commitment. It’s not even pleasure.

That element is consent.

This one feature is seen as all-important and decisive. On this social contract model, as long as both partners consent, then everything is okay. As long as both partners consent, no one is harmed in the process. In Fifty Shades, although Ana is ambivalent and reluctant—it takes her a while to warm up to the BDSM arrangement—she eventually consents to the masochistic/submissive role. Well, then, no harm, no foul. Right?


First, people often consent to things that they are not really comfortable with; they do so for many different reasons and under many different social pressures. We see this clearly in Ana’s reluctance to sign Christian’s contract. Second, people often consent to things that turn out to be quite harmful to them. For consent to be authentic consent, it must be truly informed. To consent, people must understand the risks of what they are agreeing to do. This is a basic tenet of medical ethics, and it applies here as well.

I recall one patient I treated, a young man who was one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. He was in a committed relationship with a similarly brilliant but troubled young woman. She wanted him to hit her during sex. He consented . . . sort of. That is, he agreed, and he did it, but he never really liked it. He was always reluctant. It troubled him, and eventually it got in the way of things. The relationship, as you might expect, eventually fell apart.

Mind-Body Split

People often nurture the fantasy that sex can mean whatever we want it to. This fantasy involves an unrealistic and strange sort of mind-body split, a kind of dualism. People mistakenly believe that the mind, the sovereign will, is in complete control. The body is just a tool, a sort of appendage, detached from the mind. So, if the mind decides that sex means nothing, the body must obey. If the mind decides that it wants sex to be violent and domineering today, but warm and tender tomorrow, the body must just obey.

But the mind and the body do not work that way. There is no such mind-body split. Rather, the medical and psychological sciences are increasingly demonstrating that there is a profound and inseparable connection between mind and body. And the body—not just the mind—is obviously involved in sexual encounters. The body has its own laws and its own logic; the body has its own wisdom, and it operates on its own terms. The human body must obey the laws of biology, of neuroscience, and of human psychology. And when we push against these, the body will inevitably push back.

Christian Grey clearly believes that his will is in complete control. He insists on having sex without romance or emotional attachment—aggressive, domineering, controlling sex. He actually believes that this arrangement can be secured by means of both parties signing a contract and signing a nondisclosure agreement. A written contract! Consent, do you see?

This approach is based on the belief that the meaning of sex can be turned on and off like a switch. I can experiment a bit with sex and aggression, or sex and violence, or sex and dominance, or sex and submission, or sex and humiliation. Then, when I find a relationship that I wish to be tender, or loving, or committed, or mutually respectful—then I can simply flip the switch in my brain, and suddenly I make sex mean something else.

But the human mind and the human body simply do not work this way. The modern science of neuroplasticity reveals that our brains continue to change—to be molded—across our lifespan, in response to our behaviors, our relationships, and our life experiences. Our brains obviously influence our behavior. But the reverse is also true: our behaviors influence our brain. So our choices have neurobiological consequences: our behaviors hard-wire, and re-wire, our brain in ways that profoundly shape who we are and how we function.

Tied Down: Fusing Neural Networks

An obvious example of this occurs in addictions. In an addiction, we become habituated to something—let’s say, a drug—and with repetition, new things get hard-wired into our brain. The more emotionally charged an experience is, the less repetition is necessary to achieve this hard-wiring. This is why an extremely powerful high from a drug of abuse can lead very quickly to addictive behavior and brain changes.

With this in mind, consider sexual experiences, which are also intensely emotionally charged. With sexual behaviors, things get wired into our brain rather easily; even experimentation or dabbling has tangible physical effects. Undoing these new neural networks (or brain maps) is much more difficult and prolonged than the original process of forming them. Forming the addiction was easy; recovering from the addiction is hard.

In The Brain That Changes Itself, psychiatrist Norman Doidge summarizes research on the neurobiological aspects of sexual development. He writes: “The human libido is not a hardwired, invariable biological urge but can be curiously fickle, easily altered by our psychology and the history of our sexual encounters,” and he goes on to conclude: “Sexual taste is obviously influenced by culture and experience and is often acquired and then wired into the brain.”

With BDSM, the story of the brain gets even more complicated. Here, a person is not just forming neural networks or brain maps in the areas of the brain responsible for sexual interest, sexual arousal, sexual climax, and so on. With BDSM, a person is fusing distinct neural networks that were meant to operate separately.

Sexual Arousal, Aggression, and Fear

Human beings have neural networks related to sexual behavior, and these are shaped in subtle ways by our sexual experiences. We have separate neural networks related to anger and aggression, and these are shaped and strengthened when people engage in violent or domineering behaviors. We have still more separate brain maps for fear and anxiety, which are shaped and reinforced by frightening or anxiety-provoking experiences.

If you think about these three emotional experiences—sexual arousal, aggression, and fear—they are typically quite distinct emotional experiences. There is some overlap between them in terms of physical or bodily response: all three, for example, involve increases in heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure, because all three involve activation of the sympathetic nervous system. And yet, for most healthy individuals, sexual arousal, aggression, and fear remain distinct emotional, cognitive, and physical experiences. This is, I will suggest, a good and healthy thing.

So these neural networks and these experiences normally remain distinct—unless our experiences begin to fuse them together. When this fusion happens, the brain gets confused. And this is exactly what happens when people experiment with sadomasochistic sexual practices. These distinct neural networks and brain maps become fused according to Hebb’s principle: neurons that fire together wire together. Once this happens, aggression automatically triggers sexual arousal. Or fear and anxiety automatically trigger sexual interest. When this fusion of neural networks becomes pronounced, people often will present to the psychiatrist with clinical problems. Patients complain, for example, that they cannot get aroused unless they get aggressive or violent. Or they complain that they become involuntarily aroused whenever they experience fear. Once these distinct neural networks are fused, the person is—at the level of the brain—literally tied down.

As with drug addictions, patients also complain of a tendency to build up what is called tolerance. In addictions, tolerance means that a person needs progressively larger doses of the drug to achieve the desired high. With sexual behaviors, the problem of tolerance means that one needs to push the envelope more and more just to get aroused or climax. The aggressive, domineering, or painful behaviors need to become increasingly intense and increasingly dangerous in order to “work.” Frequently, a person who engages in BDSM becomes habituated to these intense experiences and needs to up the ante to stay in the game. As with a drug, what might begin with experimentation can end with a kind of enslavement.

Before making decisions about our sexual behaviors, we need to ask ourselves some questions about what we want to be doing to our brain and our body—what kind of neural tracks and networks do we want to be reinforcing through these behaviors? Do we want to be fusing sex and love? Sex and security? Sex and attachment or commitment? Sex and fidelity? Sex and trust? Sex and unselfishness? Or do we want to be fusing in our brain and in our experiences sex and violence? Sex and dominance? Sex and submission? Sex and control? We shape our brain by our choices. And we develop increasingly automatic and ingrained habits by our repeated choices. But the initial choice of which path we embark upon is up to us.

The Allure of BDSM

What is the appeal of BDSM? Some individuals are clearly drawn to these practices because they tap into deep emotional scripts, often based on childhood trauma or insecure early attachments. One psychiatrist studying BDSM practitioners in Los Angeles found that a disproportionate number had a history of severe childhood medical illness, and often underwent painful treatments. In late childhood or adolescence, these individuals often employed sexual fantasies and masturbation to try and escape the pain or anxiety caused by the medical problems or treatments. So the fusion of pain and fear neural pathways with sexual arousal pathways likely started early in life, and disposed them to repeat this pattern later in life.

But not every practitioner of BDSM has a history of abuse or attachment problems, or a history of painful childhood medical problems. There are many routes that can lead a person into the world of sadomasochism, just as there are many routes that can lead a person into a drug or alcohol addiction. Sometimes the path begins with reluctant experimentation under pressure from a partner and proceeds slowly from there. These interests can then develop later in life through experimentation and gradual progression.

It is tragically ironic that at a time when we are recognizing an epidemic of campus rape and sexual assault—and carrying on a national conversation about how to address this problem—we are at the same time rushing to embrace a book and film that pair sex and aggression, and that portray male domination as an enticing or exciting option. But the prevailing orthodoxy on college campuses when it comes to sex is very simple: anything goes so long as it is consensual. This is—I suggest—a very thin and insufficient defense against sexual coercion and sexual abuse. This is not a recipe for a healthy sexual climate on campus.

People deserve accurate information so that they can make truly informed decisions about their sexual choices. Understanding the clinical science on sex and the brain might push us to think twice before hooking up or tying down.


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Response to Jeroen & Bob (RopeMarks)

Since Jeroen van der Klis of BizarreDesign and Bob Roos (not his real last name) of the RopeMarks brand have written about me on Facebook, I feel it’s time for me to write about my side of the story.

(Scroll down to read Jeroen & Bob’s texts about me and other additional information)

Jeroen I want to let you know that it isn’t personal that I’ve requested content removal. We always had friendly communication in the past. I’ve send you an email in which I’ve asked for all content depicting me to be removed from your websites and social media accounts, just like I have asked other people the same question. Me-Chiel, Kaskuyken and CarmineWorx have all removed the content immediately after I’ve asked them, they all worked with me to remove the content from their websites and social media accounts, without any problems.

After your first reply to my email you haven’t responded anymore, which ended the conversation about the content removal, even though I’ve asked you via email to remove the content again and again. Since you didn’t respond to my emails I’ve asked you to remove the content on Twitter by writing a comment under each tweet depicting me (Just like I have asked other accounts who share content depicting me to remove their tweets), which you have also ignored. That is why I started the process of reporting all tweets depicting me or referring to me. Which eventually led to Twitter blocking your account.

It’s important that you understand that there is not much else that I can do when an uploader refuses to remove the content. The only thing that is left for me to do is to report the content. Content that is online without my consent from the moment I first requested content removal by email or otherwise. After this request has been received and responded to, the uploader is aware that I have withdrawn my consent and therefore the content that is still on the internet is shared without my consent. The other option for me is to contact my lawyer which isn’t something that I want to do if I don’t think it is necessary.

Bob/RopeMarks, you write that there is a lot wrong with me, “more than I have let on to show”, you say that I am “too chicken” to confront my “collaborators” yet as you can see in my previous message to Jeroen is that I have contacted many people that I’ve “collaborated” with.

You say that there is a lot wrong with me, more than you thought at first, which shows that you were aware that I have had problems already when we first started collaborating. Before we made content together I have already been through some very harmfull events in my life and I was already in contact with people who have mislead me for years and who have turned out the be very harmfull to me during the time that we were “collaborating”. Results of these harmfull events were visible as seen in the scars on my body, they were visible to you and anyone else I’ve worked with and everyone who has seen the content that we have made. At the time I wasn’t aware of the way some of these people have negatively influenced me and I wasn’t aware of how far their abuse would go but I am fully aware of what has happened now.

All the signs of abuse were already there when we first started collaborating, yet you offered me a contract which basically stated that I give up my rights to you and to use the content for commerial purposes, without any financial compensation. During the time that we collaborated I believed that we were friends and we never spoke about the contract again. Making content for free for one or a few times doesn’t really strike me as odd but we have made a large amount of content, “as friends” content which you have been able to make money off for many years. The contract has many contradictons and doesn’t seem to be a legally binding document. I’ve also had contracts with some other producers who have removed the content depicting me after my request.

You were aware that I have wanted to build my own website from the beginning, in order to have more autonomity. I’ve come across a few people who have wanted to “help” me build my website but I sensed that they wanted to exploit me in some way. During the beginning of the covid era you offered to “help” me with my website as a friend and I accepted and trusted you. Just like I trusted you when making the extreme content that we did.

The result of this “help” was a website that, before anything else, had banners on it to all your websites. You made a website that was basically an extention of your RopeMarks websites. In the stories you have written about me on your websites and social media accounts you have refered to me as the RopeMarks house slave or other similar terms. As if Arienh was an extension of your brand. While my reason for having my own website was being able to do what I wanted with my stage name, you knew this. From the moment you started to “help” me you have made it seem like having a website was very difficult, you would help me with this, “as a friend”, the website would be on your server. You basically controlled the whole website instead of me. Yes you paid me a few hundred euros over the years when some content was sold but you never gave me full transparancy of the websites finances. You said you would “help” me but I have had no autonomy or control over whatsoever.

My request to you, to remove the content we made, was different than the way I approached other people. This is because I’ve began with a request to you, to take down the website on December the 20th, 2021. Which on January the 20th , 2022 you redirected to a page on (Now I know you have a clipspool account as well), then on 21st of January you redirected to your website. Which I at first agreed to because I believed I had no other options. This all was way before I contacted anyone else about the removal of content depicting me. Since December the 20th, 2021 you have never once asked me, or anyone contacting you in my name, what had actually happened to me. You asked how I am doing but you haven’t asked why I left the scene or anything like that. You also wrote that I was “passive aggressive”, while I was being formal and straight to the point, which I had to be to get my point across.

In our whatsapp conversation at the time I can read that you have said that you can’t and won’t give me full transparancy of ’s finances (you send me a few screenshots instead), you also wrote many reasons why you couldn’t transfer the domain yet. By then it was already May 2022. I’ve repeatedly said that it is possible to transfer a domain to someone else at any time, you said I had to wait for the domain to reach the end of the contract date, which as I could read on the internet wasn’t necessary and multiple real friends have adviced me on this matter as well. And it turned out that it wasn’t necessary at all when you finally transferred to me on July the 10th, 2022, more than 7 months after my first message to you about I have downloaded our full whatsapp conversation, so I can read the exact dates.

Since I’ve gained control over my own website and with everything I had to do to gain control over my own domain in mind, I have created a website with the purpose of telling a bit of my story. Which I probably would not have done if I didn’t feel mistreated by some of the people that I have “collaborated” with. Nothing on my website relates directly to you or your brand, however it does now.

After the whatsapp conversation about I’ve asked help from a lawyer to get the content depicting me removed from your websites and social media accounts, because I was sure you wouldn’t agree with removing the content if I requested this by myself. The situation concerning has shown me that your main interest is making money off of the content and by doing so of off me and other women who have never asked you for any financial compensation in return.

I know you haven’t paid other models because you told me many times while “collaborating” that paying the models is not something that you do. I accepted this at the time believing we were friends. Knowing that a friend would remove anything refering to me from the internet if I’d ask them, I do not consider you my friend anymore nor do I see our previous relations as friendship. Seeing you as my friend so far has been a “misinterpretation of reality’’ indeed.

The only time when I have received some money from our collaboration, other than the few hundred euros I’ve earned from over the years, was when we went to do a show at the tattoo convention in Germany, both of us received financial compensation for doing the show “@tattooconventionnewgeneration on Facebook”, October the 6th, 2019. During this show you hit me with a wooden cane while being completely suspended “for the show effect”, multiple times on the same spot and so hard that it left a permanent dent in my left upper leg. I’ve told you about this but you never once said that this was something you shouldn’t have done. In my opinion, hitting a dent is someone’s leg isn’t something you do just because you want to give a crowd something spectacular to see. I’m not saying that you did this on purpose but you never once said you might have made a mistake there, even though we were “friends”. I mentioned the dent in my leg to you once when Jeroen was present, we were at his atelier. I’ve send you the photos of the dent in my leg via Whatsapp as well and you acknowledged it was visible. I’d rather not have had the money, nor the dent in my leg.

My partner has requested “@tattooconventionnewgeneration on Facebook” to remove the photos they share from the show from Facebook. You haven’t removed the links to the redirection to these photos, that you shared from their Facebook account either. At first they were very understanding but somehow the photos are still online and there hasn’t been a response from the tattoo convention anymore.

My lawyer has contacted you about removing all content depicting me, as well as the stories you’ve made up about me. She contacted you on November the 15th, 2022. What you did was remove the content from your websites. Make your social media accounts private – the content depicting me is still online on these platforms, except Twitter.

You also didn’t contact SMRevenue/Shopmaker to end the affiliate programs with third parties who showed content depicting me that was shared from your websites. You even wrote to my lawyer that you don’t have control over what third parties are sharing on their websites. When I send an email to these websites to remove the content, they often say I have to contact you, Bob, if I want the content removed. Which I already have requested through my lawyer. However some websites actually do remove the content, when I ask them. I’ve been working on getting the content removed for the past year, something which you could’ve done in days. I’ve learned that it doesn’t take long for content to disappear from the internet, even though you have claimed in an email to my lawyer that it can take a long time for content to disappear because of my search engines cache. Which also isn’t true, because a removed image will change into an icon saying “this image has been removed”, or a variation of this, which will be gone in about a week after content has been removed.

You are aware that I have been raped, that I have been violated and that the videos of this experience have been shared all over the internet, yet you share my real name on social media, by doing so you are putting me in danger. Since you haven’t asked what has happened to me you aren’t aware what my concerns are based upon, nor if my behaviour is a healthy response to the situation I am in or not. At this time I am not at liberty to disclose the full extent of the situation but you are able to read enough about the matter on my website just like anyone else, to understand that my behaviour of the last 1,5 years doesn’t spring out of nowhere. Since you are not a licensed psychiatrist I also advice you not to make assumptions about another person’s mental health. I also want you to know that I am the driving force behind all my interactions and those send in my name and that I have a large support system standing by me, privately and professionally.

I’ve preferred to have kept our communication private through my lawyer but since you’ve made claims about me so openly on Facebook I feel obligated to share my side of the story, which I have tried to avoid. It came to my attention that this isn’t the first dispute you have had with a former “model” that you have openly communicated about online. As you know, my lawyer has requested removal of all content depicting me as well as all other references to me, “Arienh”. Afterwards ending all communication. We can make this a slow process or just get it over with.

Kind regards,

Arienh Autumn

Emails with Jeroen and comment I wrote to Jeroen on Twitter.

Facebook message posted by Jeroen:

Facebook comment written by Bob, RopeMarks:

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Ex-Performer Describes What BDSM and Abuse Porn Is Really Like

“They want the suffering.”

Have you ever wondered what really goes on in the world of extreme abuse porn?

Meet Theodosia, an ex-porn performer who spent years doing bondage, domination, submission and masochism (BDSM) porn. After surviving childhood abuse, the trauma she endured fed into violent and abusive romantic relationships, and eventually to a boyfriend introducing her to the world of violent pornography. She came to learn that the women who could endure a lot of pain on camera were valued in the BDSM porn world, and she was taught that her primary talent was suffering well.

One day, after years of being abused on camera, Theodosia realized she could no longer stomach the world she was thrown into. See how Theodosia got her start in BDSM porn, and why she eventually left the industry on her own terms.

Fight the New Drug is a non-religious and non-legislative organization that exists to provide individuals the opportunity to make an informed decision regarding pornography by raising awareness on its harmful effects using only science, facts, and personal accounts.

To learn more about how pornography impacts individuals, relationships, and society, visit This video was made possible by Fighter Club. To help us create more content like this, consider joining Fighter Club at

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