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Aisha’s Musings: Can We Talk About Rape and BDSM?

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Growing up, I got sex education from romance novels (and the occasional glimpse of a sex scene in a movie, before the adult in the room changes the channel or the screen goes blank and we are left to figure out the rest). From the books I got to read, love and intimacy usually involved stolen kisses and butterflies in the stomach and wind in the hair and, eventually, sex, which was all sweet stuff. That was my conclusion on what was normal or traditional. So the idea of sexual pleasure involving pain and dominance and submission and the things in between came off as very unnatural and just plain weird. I just assumed that it wasn’t a thing normal people did.

Thanks to Fifty Shades of Grey, we have seen whips and riding crops and spankings and Other Rooms, and with regular people for that matter. I don’t think BDSM is so much of an alien concept anymore. But for those of us that don’t know, BDSM is a broad abbreviation for sexual activity involving Bondage and Discipline (BD), Dominance and Submission (DS), Sadism and Masochism (SM). You know the sex that involves chains and whips and that painful, kinky stuff? Yes, the gamut.

It also involves role playing and fantasy, usually with a partner being dominant and another being submissive. With the involvement of pain and bondage and role playing, there is the danger of assuming that the line between BDSM and rape can sometimes be blurry. It is not.

Sometime in 2014, mixed martial artist War Machine allegedly assaulted and attempted to rape his then girlfriend, Christy Mack, leaving her with multiple injuries including 18 broken bones. So far, War Machine’s defence is that Christy had previously discussed a rape fantasy she had wanted them to play out.

Rape (or attempted rape) is not BDSM. I’m strongly tempted to put this in tabular form but here: BDSM of any kind requires informed consent from both parties, such that if any party feels uncomfortable or unsafe at any point, he/she lets the other person know through established safety words and the person stops. Rape has no consent. BDSM does not leave someone with 18 broken bones and missing teeth, rape can and does leave things broken. While BDSM may involve roles ranging from teacher/student, nurse/patient, arrest, rape; emphasis remains on role playing. Both parties are aware of what their roles are, and they get to choose, rape has no mutual choices. Irrespective of what some people may think, BDSM is enjoyed by both parties, rape is not.

I know BDSM has been criminalised by many, in the way we tend to criminalise things we don’t really understand. Take the religious setting for example where it has been tagged as ‘sexual perversion’ and even I have a few reservations (because, living in this Country is more than enough rough play), but as the saying goes, osondi owendi. There are people like me who cannot mix pain with pleasure in any way but there are people who can, and find genuine enjoyment in the process. Civilisation insists that we strive to understand the complexities of others rather than conclude that something is wrong or punishable because it doesn’t work for us. I think suggesting that someone who enjoys BDSM and wants to play out a rape fantasy, for example, deserves what Christy Mack got is criminal.

I think if two adults decide to explore their bodies in a certain way, they should not be judged or condemned for it. And if one partner chooses to abuse the other, one should not be favoured over the other on such grounds, or on any grounds. Rape is a brutal thing, whether done or attempted and on no account should it be excused or explained away.

The trial starts February 27th and I hope in the end, common sense wins.