My Sexuality Has a Dark Side — And Maybe Yours Does Too

Photo: ADragan/Getty Images

II first explored the darker side of my sexuality a little over two decades ago and, to this day, I have absolutely zero regrets. I was introduced to bondage, discipline, and sadomasochism (BDSM) by an older, more experienced man who convinced me to trust him and his expertise. With him, I was able to try new, thrilling activities that I knew were more my sexual preference than what I’d experienced up to the point. Unfortunately, he turned out to be abusive, but I remained intrigued by the positive and exciting aspects of the lifestyle, so I decided to continue along my journey alone.

BDSM is growing in popularity, notably in the United States. While there is no definitive figure to tell us how many people have indulged their kinkier tastes, most studies I’ve come across estimate one-quarter to one-third of sexually active adults have brought kink into their bedrooms. “National Kink Month” was established in 2012 to raise awareness about the BDSM lifestyle and to celebrate sexual freedom. Joel Tucker, founder of Stockroom, Inc., a source of sexual pleasure items and sex-positive education, thought that the fantasy escapism of Halloween coincided well with the BDSM lifestyle. In the years since, members of alternative sex communities, specifically those who engage in BDSM and kink, have used the month to raise awareness, host events, and advocate for their sexual freedom.

BBDSM isn’t a lifestyle to be entered into lightly; anyone interested in exploring it should do relevant research, talk to active participants, and communicate honestly about their wants and needs before taking the leap. While 50 Shades of Grey was neither an accurate nor positive representation of the lifestyle, the books and films sparked mainstream conversations about BDSM in a way we’d never seen done before. To be clear — our lifestyle is still considered “alternative” and we still deal with marginalizing stigma about what participants do and how we live our lives. There’s more to what it is that we do than whips, chains, leather, and lace, and what mainstream coverage often overlooks is the humanity of us kinky folks.

As a sex-positive, kink-positive Black feminist woman, my work must include educating people and debunking myths about BDSM, particularly as experienced by people of color. With October also being Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM), a time when we focus on the realities of domestic and intimate partner violence, I want to focus on the ways in which kink and intimate partner abuse collide. There are predators who use the lifestyle as a cover to mask their abusive ways and I’ve become more vocal about calling out abusers who threaten the safety of others.

BDSM isn’t a lifestyle to be entered into lightly; anyone interested in exploring it should do relevant research, talk to active participants, and communicate honestly about their wants and needs before taking the leap.

Consenting adults have the right to engage in whatever sexual activities they want to with each other. I’m not advocating that people break laws or engage in criminal activity that could put them in jail, but I do advocate for changing a lot of the laws that limit sexual freedom and make consensual sexual behaviors between adults illegal. Until 2003, for example, anal sex was still a crime in 14 states, and it was through advocacy and activism that the matter was taken to the Supreme Court and ruled unconstitutional.

More recently, there has been increased activism related to issues like the decriminalization of sex work, which is important in the promotion of bodily autonomy and sexual agency. There are still laws, like those stating people can’t consent to being “assaulted” that create a difficult gray area for those who identify as sadomasochists to navigate.

From the outside, a lot of the things we do appear harmful, even abusive, and it’s difficult for those who don’t experience the same compulsions to understand why anyone would willingly engage in some of our activities. Why would a Black person, especially, willingly be tied-up in chains or be whipped or further, embrace labels like “slave” or “master”? Why would a feminist woman let a man beat on her and call her dirty names?

For many, that type of behavior is unacceptable and being a kinky Black woman means feeling defensive about our unique desires or remaining secretive about our kinkiness to save ourselves headaches and avoid being ostracized by loved ones who don’t get it.

I’m especially concerned about Black women who identify as “s-types” (submissive or slave) and the risk of abuse they face within the lifestyle. Black women are three times more likely to die as a result of intimate partner violence and the reasons behind this epidemic don’t stop existing in the BDSM lifestyle. I worry about Black women being vulnerable to abuse and having experienced it firsthand and witnessed it within the lifestyle, it is imperative that we talk more about how Black women can safely participate in BDSM and hold space for those who have been harmed while holding their abusers accountable.

OOur communities have zero-tolerance for abuse and exploitation, and we live by a code that whatever we adults do, it must be safe, “sane,” and consensual. While most people are familiar with the concept of “consent”, especially with it being discussed more regularly in the mainstream media, not everyone understands that consent is the cornerstone of the BDSM lifestyle. Our commitment to honoring consent and promoting safety is exemplified in organizations like the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom and the myriad of educational classes and workshops to help community members explore their kinky desires with minimal harm.

Consent can be revoked at any time, and we know that everything is a negotiation; I want to be explicitly clear about that. Too often, abusers in the lifestyle are able to get away with violating consent and trust because people are afraid to call them out.

With kink communities being so marginalized and Black kink communities being even more isolated, it becomes even more difficult to speak out against those who violate others; we don’t want to draw any more negative attention or confirm any negative assumptions made about us. Still, we can’t sit idly by and pretend that abuse never happens and I am committed to expanding the discourse about what it looks like and how we can all do a better job of preventing it.

If you’re interested in exploring BDSM, particularly as a woman of color, I encourage you to seek out a mentor, someone you trust who has been actively engaged in kinky communities for some time. If you’re more “out” and you attend munches and play parties, be sure to attend some classes and workshops too. As with any intimate relationship you enter into, stay vigilant and look out for red flags — if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

If you’re confused about something, ask questions and know that anyone who avoids answering your questions isn’t very interested in helping you grow and safely explore your desires. This lifestyle can awaken things in you that you never imagined were possible to feel, and the thrill is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I want the best for all of my sistas who choose to walk this path, so I encourage you to always put yourself first and listen to your gut before getting into any type of kinky relationship dynamic or community setting.

She/Her | Author, Activist. Philly-based, NYC-bred. #ReclaimingOurSpace #PushTheButton Google me. Twitter/IG: @FeministaJones Contact: bit.ly/ContactFJ