An Exploration of the Experience of Harm in the Bondage/Discipline/Sadomasochism Community

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Abstract

This study sought to gain insight into the attitudes, beliefs, and values that shape bondage/discipline/sadomasochism (BDSM) activities and to explore the degree and consequences of unintended or non-negotiated harms, including physical, emotional, and sexual violence. A qualitative approach, consisting of 22 semistructured interviews and over 150 hours of observations of BDSM events and activities, was used to develop an in-depth exploration of the lived experiences of participants. Thematic analysis was employed to elucidate the ways in which participants define and in some cases experience harm. Findings suggest that individuals construct rational identities that emphasize safe practices and managing harm; however; there are instances where “boundary slippage” occurs. Implications for understanding the dynamics as well as the potential dangers of “consensual” violence are discussed.

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