Consensual and non-consensual…

There’s a piece of legislation afoot in the Massachusetts legislature that, if passed, would criminalize corporal punishment given to children. Over the past few days, I’ve become very interested in this issue. I’m ardently opposed to corporal punishment. My parents never hit me. I remember one time my dad told a story at dinner about how he got hit in school, and I ran from the table crying. Reading about the issue in Massachusetts caused me to think and rant a great deal about the role of parenting and how we should behave towards our children. I think parents should try to treat their children like equals, inasmuch as their intellectual development allows. Hell, an adult wouldn’t hit a dog — what gives an adult the right to hit a child? And so on and so on.

In the past 48 hours or so, I’ve been ridiculously busy both working and doing all this “thinking” shit. I hadn’t devoted much time to “pleasure”, as it were. Just now, though, I read a story of someone’s account of their submissive role in a BDSM scene, and it was almost like I was approaching the subject anew. I’ve immersed myself in the idea of non-consensual punishment in order to argue in favor of Massachusetts’ proposed legislation. Now here’s a story of consensual punishment, far more graphic or painful or whatever you want to call it than the swats on a child’s ass I was deploring. I was almost alarmed — though believe me, I’ve read quite a few stories of BDSM scenes.

(As a side note, it’s so much easier to write the acronym “BSDM” in anonymity. I can so rarely bring myself to say it in real life.)

I guess, then, maybe it’s a little easier to understand where people who don’t know about BDSM are coming from, when they confuse it with abuse? But on the other hand, maybe not: the concept of consent is a ridiculously clear one. Either someone says “yes” or they don’t. Either someone’s boundaries are respected or they aren’t. Either someone’s in a fit state to give consent (over a given age and sober) or they aren’t. And perhaps, in a few ways, I should be glad I was almost shocked by reading the account of that scene. In the first place, I shouldn’t be desensitized to violent acts, even consensual sexual ones. If that becomes the case, I won’t be shocked the way I should be by non-consensual violence that deserves the response of the shocked. In the second place, I think that one of the reasons power and physical threat are titillating to me is because they are unnerving. When I was a little kid, reading about punishment or slavery would send chills down my spine, but I was enthralled and I came back for more. That was what developed into my principle sexual interests. I enjoy having those interests; I’m glad that being accustomed to them doesn’t diminish the chilling and absorbing and titillating power of what I read.

On the other hand, all this just reminds me that I need to be so careful. Even if the line between consent and lack thereof is sharp, one of the scariest concepts to me is that of being aroused by that which is blatantly non-consensual. Obviously it happens. I have experienced that sexual flutter at accounts of rape or punishment or torture or power dynamics. If it’s a fictional account, that’s bad enough: by my flutters, am I supporting a cruel, real-life act? But if it’s a real account, then I feel terrible. It was bad enough when it was the American slaves in 8th-grade history, because then I didn’t know what I was feeling. But now I do, and now I try so hard to keep the “consent consent consent, it’s not good unless there’s consent” mantra going in my mind. I’m scared of what I could become if I’m not more careful about it. But at the same time, it’s all so enticing, and well, most of the time I don’t know what to think.

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