Anti-BDSM FAQ

These are all real arguments that i have come across, some so silly i cannot help but make fun of them. A good deal of them turn up every single time sex negative feminism is discussed. I may make a post at some point going into more detail about why BDSM is a product of patriarchal sexuality in the first place, but this format ended up being more useful and the main gist of the argument gets repeated through the FAQ anyway.

You’re an authoritarian tanky

A Stalin for every bedroom.

You’re a kink-shaming bigot

BDSM practitioners are not an oppressed social stratum.

You’re moralizing

That isn’t an argument.

You’re a pearl-clutching stuck-up frigid puritanical prude

This is even more misogynistic.1

This is (1) SWERF (2) TERF (3) The Republic Party (4) The Pope (5) My Aunt (6) That one book by Dworkin

(1) no (2) no (3) no (4) no (5) highly statistically improbable but not necessarily impossible (6) yes.

But lots of people like BDSM

The validity of an argument depends on its merits and not whether particular individuals choose to believe in it or not. It is idealist to think that the mental state of any sample of society determines the empirical or logical legitimacy of an argument.2 A flat earther does not a flat earth make. This type of idealism is known as an “argumentum ad populum”.

But lots of LGBT people like BDSM

This is a simple variation on the previous argument. The oppressed are not immune to social influences and liking BDSM is not inherent to being LGBT.

But some abuse victims use BDSM to deal with trauma

The way an abuse victim deals with trauma is not necessarily positive. Some abuse victims use heroin in an attempt to deal with trauma. Some abuse victims continue the cycle of abuse and take it out on their spouse or children in an attempt to deal with their own trauma. Some abuse victims bottle up their feelings in an attempt to deal with trauma. And, yes, some abuse victims use BDSM in an attempt to deal with trauma.

The psychology of PTSD is rather unintuitive, and this sort of behavior is not unexpected:

Some traumatized people remain preoccupied with the trauma at the expense of other life experiences and continue to re-create it in some form for themselves or for others. War veterans may enlist as mercenaries, victims of incest may become prostitutes, and victims of childhood physical abuse seemingly provoke subsequent abuse in foster families or become self-mutilators. Still others identify with the aggressor and do to others what was done to them. Clinically, these people are observed to have a vague sense of apprehension, emptiness, boredom, and anxiety when not involved in activities reminiscent of the trauma.

The Compulsion to Repeat the Trauma: Re-enactment, Revictimization, and Masochism, Bessel van der Kolk

Alternatively, some abuse victims might go to a psychotherapist to deal with trauma. Some abuse victims find community with other abuse victims to help each other deal with trauma. And some abuse victims find other positive ways to deal with trauma. It is harmful to victims of abuse to make a political point of ignoring these sorts of constructive coping mechanisms, in favor of reenactments of abuse.

But pleasure is a biological process

To state that pleasure is the biological process where various endorphins are released in the brain is not to explain why those endorphins are actually released. It is not to explain the circumstances and the ideology constructing BDSM as an activity that one might do in the first place, or the reason for that particular biological response. The biological excitement the stockbroker feels when making lots of money does not make stockbroking a biological fact of life nor does it necessarily explain why stockbroking is happening in the first place.

But some communists used to say that patriarchal capitalism is behind the existence of LGBT people

Some communists think that the rules of debate require one to address the argument of one’s opponent, rather than construct a flimsy analogy to an argument made by someone else. Arguments have merits unrelated to the merits of separate arguments.

You can’t criticize what happens in private

To pass the bedroom threshold is not to transport oneself outside of society. The door is not a magical portal to a netherworld of supernatural fucks. The door frame not a device which prevents ingress or egress of social practices. If a slave were confined to a bedroom, would the “privacy” of the matter prevent criticism?

The public-private distinction is something that has long been criticized by feminists:

The liberal ideal of the private holds that, so long as the public does not interfere, autonomous individuals interact freely and equally. Privacy is the ultimate value of the negative state. Conceptually, this private is hermetic. It means that which is inaccessible to, unaccountable to, unconstructed by, anything beyond itself. By definition, it is not part of or conditioned by anything systematic outside it. It is personal, intimate, autonomous, particular, individual, the original source and final outpost of the self, gender neutral. It is defined by everything that feminism reveals women have never been allowed to be or to have, and by everything that women have been equated with and defined in terms of men’s ability to have. To complain in public of inequality within the private contradicts the liberal definition of the private. In the liberal view, no act of the state contributes to shaping its internal alignments or distributing its internal forces, so no act of the state should participate in changing it. Its inviolability by the state, framed as an individual right, presupposes that the private is not already an arm of the state. In this scheme, intimacy is implicitly thought to guarantee symmetry of power. Injuries arise through violation of the private sphere, not within and by and because of it.

In private, consent tends to be presumed. Showing coercion is supposed to void this presumption. But the problem is getting anything private to be perceived as coercive. In law, the private is fundamentally an angle of vision, a way of seeing from the point of view of power, attached later to a place or quality of being. It sees so as to surround power with a sacred circle of impunity. Private is what men call the damage they want to be permitted to do as far as their arms extend to whomever they do not want permitted to fight back. Epistemically, in gender terms, it means that male force is invisible. When aggression occurs, what is seen is consent. Privacy seems to stick to white upper-class men and follow them into the world, forfeited only under unusual conditions, while consent seems to stick to women. As interpretation, when what men do is private, their aggression is not seen at all, and women are seen to consent to it. It is not that this is never overcome, but rather that there is something there that must be overcome in order for force to be seen as force.

This epistemic problem explains why privacy doctrine is most at home at home, the place women experience the most force, in the family, and why it centers on sex. Why a person would “allow” force in private (the “why doesn’t she leave” question raised to battered women) is a question given its insult by the social meaning of the private as a sphere of choice. For women the measure of the intimacy has been the measure of the oppression. This is why feminism has had to explode the private. This is why feminism has seen the personal as the political. The private is public for those for whom the personal is political. In this sense, for women there is no private, either normatively or empirically. Feminism confronts the fact that women have no privacy to lose or to guarantee. Women are not inviolable. Women’s sexuality is not only violable, it is—hence, women are—seen in and as their violation. To confront the fact that women have no privacy is to confront the intimate degradation of women as the public order.

Toward a Feminist Theory of the State (Chapter 10), Catharine MacKinnon

You can’t criticize what happens between consenting adults

This objection relies on the same type of reasoning beneath the majority of pro-BDSM arguments. Historical circumstances, patriarchal influences on culture, and social pressures don’t exist. Everyone is infallible, i like BDSM, others like BDSM, therefore BDSM is good. One way or another, acknowledged or not, put in as strong a terms or not, most pro-BDSM arguments come back to something like this. It is a decidedly non-marxist way of thinking. How did that one Marx quote go, again?—Something about ruling classes, ruling ideas, and ideal expressions of the dominant material relationships?

Moreover, there is a tendency to think that because the absence of consent in sex is bad, the presence of consent means that the sex has to be healthy. But this conclusion does not follow from the premise unless “consent” is the only possible metric we may use to evaluate whether the sex is healthy or not. The absence of consent can mean that sex isn’t good, without the presence of consent overriding all other reasons why the sex might be bad:

People can consent to things which cause them harm. People consent to sex for many reasons. We may want to feel loved and to express love. We may be conditioned, as women especially are, to feel that our self-worth depends upon our sexual desirability to men—in the moment, sex with a man may feel like fulfillment. We may feel other social pressures to have sex, such as a sense of obligation: if we are in a long-term relationship, we may feel that sex is expected as one of the relationship “terms.” We may genuinely desire the sensation of sex itself. None of this means that what actually happens to us during sex does not degrade us, does not reinforce our subordination, does not leave lasting, negative affects on us. What consenting to harmful sex means is that women and non-men accept being dominated—and because domination is so wound up with love, pleasure etc., we may to an extent desire domination—because it is the only way within the context of the current system to achieve what we want (love, pleasure, etc.).

Let’s Talk About “Consent”, Freya Brown

BDSM is only roleplay

Perhaps this argument is a variation on the “consent” argument, or maybe the “BDSM isn’t political” argument (dealt with below). It is not entirely clear, and this lack of clarity points to a lack of substance. All this argument seems to be attempting to do is redefine the conversation by making BDSM appear somehow “artificial”, as if to trick someone into thinking that BDSM shouldn’t or can’t be thought about critically.

Why do you want to roleplay? What roles are you playing? Where did those roles come from? What is the structure of the “play” brought about by the chosen roles? Why should it be axiomatic that roleplay is unharmful or somehow unrelated to social attitudes and social context? Why is roleplay not “real life”? How is there a difference between “real” sex and “roleplay” sex? These questions never considered and assumptions never justified.

BDSM isn’t political

Sexuality is socially constructed and constructing, an ideological playing-field. This is why sexual practices have varied so greatly throughout history. Whether it’s BDSM or the stereotypical norms one might find in a sex education textbook from an Evangelical Christian school, a society based on exploitation and oppression creates unhealthy forms of sexuality. Just like capitalism gives us certain ideologies about work, about nature, about every single major aspect of our lives, it gives us certain ideologies about sexuality:

Sexuality, in feminist light, is not a discrete sphere of interaction or feeling or sensation or behavior in which preexisting social divisions may or may not be played out. It is a pervasive dimension throughout the whole of social life, a dimension along which gender pervasively occurs and through which gender is socially constituted; in this culture, it is a dimension along which other social divisions, like race and class, partly play themselves out. Dominance eroticized defines the imperatives of its masculinity, submission eroticized defines its femininity. So many distinctive features of women’s status as second class—the restriction and constraint and contortion, the servility and the display, the self-mutilation and requisite presentation of self as a beautiful thing, the enforced passivity, the humiliation—are made into the content of sex for women. Being a thing for sexual use is fundamental to it. This identifies not just a sexuality that is shaped under conditions of gender inequality but this sexuality itself as the dynamic of the inequality of the sexes. It is to argue that the excitement at reduction of a person to a thing, to less than a human being, as socially defined, is its fundamental motive force. It is to argue sexual difference as a function of sexual dominance. It is to argue a sexual theory of the distribution of social power by gender, in which this sexuality that is sexuality is substantially what makes the gender division be what it is, which is male dominant, wherever it is, which is nearly everywhere.

Toward a Feminist Theory of the State (Chapter 7), Catharine MacKinnon

The problem with BDSM is the eroticization of violence, making abuse sexy and treating domination and submission as good and desirable. If you haven’t been paying attention, this is all the realm of politics.

But female dominants also exist

Anti-feminists often say that feminists want wimmin to oppress and exploit men, like men currently oppress and exploit wimmin. This is an incorrect accusation because feminists are actually criticizing the violence itself, not the fact that we aren’t in some alternative universe where wimmin oppress and exploit men as men currently oppress and exploit wimmin. The same thing applies to sexuality and BDSM. This is not to say that BDSM is a “gender-neutral” phenomenon, but that it’s unhealthy regardless. Explaining why the gender balance is as it is, explaining why female dominants can be brought up as exceptions, why the rule exists to be excepted at all, is to also explain why BDSM exists in the first place. BDSM wouldn’t exist without patriarchy, exceptional female dominants included.

Even in a situation where the roles are nominally flipped, it is often because of patriarchy—not in spite of patriarchy. If the usual role is for men to be dominant, and wimmin to be submissive, then a female dominant is all the more titillating because it’s ‘wrong’. The female dominant still exists as a thing for men to consume, because men still hold the sexual power on a structural level. This is what it means for patriarchy to be an all-encompassing aspect of our social reality. Even if the man is in the nominally ‘submissive’ role instead of the ‘dominant’ one, the man is still empowered by social context as a man. Choosing to engage in superficial ‘roleplaying’ (right?), does not mean that one escapes inescapable social structures.

But BDSM uses safewords

The necessity of a safeword in the first place is a sign that something is terribly wrong. When interjections such as “stop”, “don’t”, or “you’re hurting me” are sexy enough to warrant the designation of a safeword to use instead, what you’re finding arousing is abuse.

Secondly, even if intercourse can be stopped upon use of the safe word, it doesn’t mean that the intercourse wasn’t harmful before it was stopped. In an alternative universe where the anti-BDSM argument was actually “BDSM is only harmful because intercourse can never be stopped once started”, then the existence of safe words would actually hold weight as a counter-argument.

Thirdly, the nominal existence of a safeword does not always mean that the participant is free from all coercion when deciding whether to use it or not. If using the safeword makes the partner angry or upset, or has any other consequences apart from the most immediate one (cessation of intercourse), then that is a decision made under duress. A safeword is not a magic word that removes all social context.

I bet you like the missionary position

I’m celibate. Thank you for asking.

I bet you want everyone to do the missionary position

Upholding the stereotypical set of “conservative sexual practices” as an ideal, and criticizing the harmful sexual practices of BDSM, are two separate things. They both have their own problems, their own histories, and to say that BDSM is harmful does not mean that we need to take lessons on intercourse from Phyllis Schlafly, the Pope, or any other caricature. What’s unique about BDSM is that it’s the most extreme and most modern example of patriarchal-capitalist sexuality. It’s taken by the left to “progressive”, to be the sexuality of the “left”. It is no wonder, then, that criticism of the “left’s own” gets one branded as a sexual conservative by the left. Not because of the actual possession of stereotypical Victorian sexual morals, but because the “left” is being pulled along, blind to a culture shift it doesn’t understand.

I like BDSM and you’re invalidating my feelings

The world does not revolve around you. Marxism is the ruthless criticism of all that exists, particularly those things we find most natural, that we find ourselves emotionally invested in.

You must want to institute an intercourse inspectorate

You are projecting your own logic onto a conclusion born from different logic, and then unsurprisingly leading yourself down a bizarre straw road. BDSM is a product of a specific set of social relations. What sex has come to mean, how it is practiced, what social role it is assigned and what social roles it creates, is inseparable from modern-day capitalist patriarchy:

In a Marxist view, physical objects, their properties, our bodies, “nature,” etc. are all material, but so are social relations. And because a materialist dialectic posits that the relations in which something is engaged make that thing what it is, Marxists are principally concerned with social explanations for social phenomena. “Pre-social” categories cannot, in the Marxist ontology, be the basis for a social phenomenon.

What Does a Marxist Mean by “Material”?, Freya Brown

If BDSM were somehow “natural”, then a sexual police might very well be necessary should one desire to try and suppress it anyway. Thankfully this is not the case. Our ideas about the act of “sex” would be so utterly transformed in a non-patriarchal society that BDSM would be unthinkable in the first place. Even our ideas about the existence of a distinction of “sex” would not continue through to a non-patriarchal society. Domination and submission and violence in sex is bed-fellow to larger patterns of domination and submission and violence on the basis of sex.

You’re denying my agency

Patriarchy denies agency, criticisms of patriarchy do not. The theory is not at fault if reality is uncomfortable, but is in fact an essential step towards dealing with the uncomfortable reality. Is the theory of gravity to blame, rather than gravity itself, if someone falls off a ladder? Is Das Kapital, too, a denial of the proletariat’s agency?


  1. Ever notice how many words and insults there are to describe wimmin who aren’t putting out? How the ‘Junior Anti-Sex League’ is the stuff of the most famed dystopian fiction?

  2. Arguments concerning the frequency of certain mental states excepted.