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Friday, June 25, 2010

Let's Talk About Torture, Baby

I have a friend who is into torturing girls. It totally gets him off. He tells stories that start out, "So, I was torturing this girl...."

I really hate this word, as applied to BDSM. Torture is perpetrated on non-consenting people. It's something you do to someone whose life and health don't matter to you, someone whose body and mind you are okay with fucking up permanently. I don't really want my sex/play partner to think of me as her torture victim.

Okay, I know that my friend is not actually torturing anyone. He's putting his partners through a series of intense sensations, many of which they probably don't like very much, but all of which they have consented to, because having these things done to them turns them on. He may even be doing some sort of torturer/torture victim roleplay with them. This isn't torture, just as rape play is not rape.

The problem here is in the word itself, as it so often is in BDSM. (Seriously, this is the kind of irresponsible use of language that would make Orwell spin in his grave. Or emerge from it, with vigorous Orwellian re-education on his mind! Zombie Orwell!) I have a big fucking problem with rape, but I don't have a problem with rape play. People can play with the idea of non-consent as much as they'd like. Ditto race play. People are playing with their experiences with, and the presentation of race - which is why it is not called "hate crimes". (Race play seriously squicks me out, but that's neither here nor there. In fact, I'm going to guess that my feelings of squicked-ness have something to do with my discomfort with the heaping piles of white privilege that are my inheritance from birth.) I would not have a problem with someone telling me that they were into torture scenes, because that implies that everyone is playing.

I don't even necessarily think that this is something that one needs to be rigorous about in the bedroom. If you turn to your partner and say, "Lover, I'd like if you'd torture me," I won't think less of you, because at that point, both of you will, I hope, have an understanding of what that means. And a safeword. I do, however, think that people should be cognizant of what they say in public, especially in front of people who are new to the scene. Saying that you're going to go home and torture your lover implies that you think of your lover the way a torturer thinks of his victim. Most people are going to understand what you mean, but do you really want to be responsible for the person who doesn't?

So remember: "I am really into torture scenes."


  1. I think what you experienced is typical self proclaimed "topness". When this man, and I use the term lightly, says 'torture' he is trying to say "look at me, I am above my play partner, I control the shots". It is nothing more than over compensating for a genuine lack of class and skill for the craft. If you aren't willing to give him the ass kicking in the alley that he deserves, just steer clear. The BDSM world is no different than any other in "you are what you associate with".

  2. I think that there is some truth to what you say: identifying it as torture rather than as play torture does extend the scene into real life. I don't think, though, that he is trying to imply anything sinister. I think he's just being irresponsible with his words. I think I will say something to him next time it comes up, too. since I've started writing here, I've gotten a lot more confident that my problems with BDSM are legitimate and defensible, and not just based in my own neuroses.

  3. I agree that this is probably an honest mistake. Let's face it: terminology can get slippery sometimes. I couldn't tell you how many times I've said "sub" when what I really meant was "bottom," or something like that. "Torture" is a little bit tricky because it refers to the whole dynamic of interaction, whereas a lot of terms like "spanking" or "electro-stimulation" just refer to simply physical acts.

    So I wouldn't impute this sort of thing to a lack of "skill" or "class" or "experience" (whatever those terms mean in this context), but just to a lapse of thoughtfulness about language.