What are your views on the ethics of kink?
There are, again, a couple of ways that I read this question. The first is practical: how does one engage in kink without entering into the realm of abuse or harm? Consent and communication are important, obviously, but not sufficient: a couple of inexperienced, uninformed kinky folks can consent enthusiastically and communicate their plans in detail, but if they don’t learn how to do activity X safely, create a controlled environment, and prepare for things to go wrong, someone’s going to end up treed by an angry alligator.
I’m a fan of RACK (risk-aware consensual kink) because hey, BDSM entails certain risks to both physical and mental health. It would be irresponsible to engage in fire play without a fire extinguisher and/or fire blanket, for an obvious example. Humiliation can create vulnerability and (at least for me) comes with elaborate and sometimes contradictory aftercare needs. But what about a simple mistake? Say a top is practicing with a new belt and misjudges, hits a few inches away from where she intended? It’s an honest mistake, one that doesn’t do any damage, but it’s frightening. Trust can be shaken. And handling it wrong, by blaming or being overly defensive or otherwise not being completely calm and caring will make it worse.
Not that I’d know that either. . .
In an ideal world, the risks can bring the need for consent and communication to the forefront. When talking about sex is non-optional, it gets done. Sometimes awkwardly or shyly or not as well as it might be, but it’s at least a given within the kinky subculture that the typical vanilla pattern of just trying to slowly escalate physical interaction until your partner objects will not fly. You can’t just start whipping someone if a date goes well. You have to talk about it.
The other reading, which I do think about quite a lot, is: Is kink inherently immoral? How does one reconcile the desire to harm and be harmed, to take even a part of one person’s will or autonomy and give it to another, with such basic philosophical tenets as “suffering is wrong” and “man’s free will is sacrosanct”? Is it self-deluding to believe that consent and desire are sufficient to bring the facts of BDSM into a moral framework? Are we all in fact Sadean and fatalistic, unconsciously resisting the fear of suffering and mortality by choosing to master pain and risk in a way we can control?
Ethics are not nearly as simple as many people seem to think. Several aspects of kink run into problems if you run them by e.g. Kant, even if we choose to ignore his extraordinarily conservative views on sex generally. So let’s set aside his belief that sex is dehumanizing. Good, glad that’s out of the way. Now can we universalize the maxims central to BDSM? This probably depends on how we express them. Let’s try “It is acceptable to respect another person’s consent.” This looks good to me; universalize it and no one gets violated in any way ever again. But when you specify D/s it gets harder. “It is acceptable to act according to another person’s will” would express submission pretty benignly (Kant would not call it benign: it violates the autonomy of mind), for instance, but if that statement is universalized then no one’s actions are according to his own will and society falls apart. On the other hand, this could be a semantic issue caused by my inability to correctly formulate the maxims to describe the relationship.
Or to put it more succinctly, I need a t-shirt that says “I majored in philosophy and all I got was this crippling sense of doubt.”