I Will Absolutely “Kinkshame” Shady Behavior, Thank You Very Much
CW: Mention of rape, child abuse, death, and other terrible things. This post is not a silly one.
As a spanko, I’ve come to despise this mantra over the years.
I actually parroted it wholeheartedly when I first entered the scene because I know what it’s like to worry and feel bad about one’s own proclivities. Who am I to judge what other people do, especially after being judged so harshly for who I am at different points throughout my life?
I also wanted to perceive myself as highly open-minded back then. U.S. culture puts immense value on this trait in the name of liberty, particularly here in the Bay Area where I grew up. “Let your freak flag fly!” and all that. I know what it’s like to live in countries that demonize open-mindedness, so it’s inescapably clear to me (especially as a bisexual woman who’s entirely ‘out’ about her fetish) why this matters to an extent.
However, over time I’ve come to believe there’s such a thing as being so open-minded that your brain can fall out of your skull. Certain things are unacceptable and should be called out. Time and again, I’ve heard “don’t kinkshame” used in attempts to silence rightful criticism of some of the most harmful, dangerous, abusive, sociopathic behavior in the BDSM realm.
I don’t accept this anymore. I’m fucking done. I will indeed call out shady behavior and I don’t care whether anyone whines about it. This post is for anyone who feels afraid to point out that certain things carried out in the name of kink are very, very wrong. You don’t have to be afraid and I don't think you should.
Oh, the Bullshit I’ve Seen
Here’s a handful of examples of how this worn-out PC mantra is used to protect perpetrators of legitimately heinous acts:
Pedophilia: “Don’t kinkshame! They’re just minor-attracted persons into age gaps and DD/lg!”
Beastiality: “Don’t kinkshame! They’re just into pet play! It’s just an attraction to animals, that’s all!”
Child abuse: “Don’t kinkshame! It’s just old-fashioned discipline! I mean, you’re a SPANKO, ffs!”
Mutilation: “Don’t kinkshame! It’s just body modification! You have piercings and tattoos, no?”
Racism: “Don’t kinkshame! It’s just race play! What’s it to you anyway, white girl?”
Misogyny: “Don’t kinkshame! It’s just D/s! They don’t really think women are the property of men.”
People use terms like “DD/lg” and “domination” to talk about dynamics that can, in many cases, be wholly enjoyable between consenting adult participants. No harm, no foul. We know this.
Other times, however, these terms are tossed around to excuse behavior that would never be acceptable in any other sphere of society. Don’t let people pull the wool over your eyes just because they use them.
If someone in their 60s is salivating over teenagers, waiting with bated breath for the day they become “barely legal,” they’re an immoral skeeve.
If someone’s throwing shade your way because you told them fucking dogs is wrong, they’re deranged.
If someone with a fetish like mine says they can’t wait to have kids so they can spank them when they misbehave, they’re a danger to children.
If someone’s pressuring, guilting, tricking, or forcing their partner into playing outside the terms they consented to, that’s sexual assault.
If someone’s dehumanizing their partner with zero regard for their thoughts and feelings in the name of “domination,” they have a clinical-grade empathy deficit.
If someone’s using “race play” as an excuse to claim, for example, that Asian women are naturally submissive and make ideal domestic servants and sex slaves, they’re a piece of shit.
If someone’s doing something unsafe in the name of kink that involves a reasonable chance of killing them or causing debilitating damage, they shouldn’t be praised or encouraged to do that thing.
I have seen, heard, and/or personally dealt with all of the above and more. I once had a guy contact me to say it turned him on when his friend spanked her adolescent daughter’s bare ass in front of him. He’d watch and get hard, then jack off later while fantasizing about it. He wanted to know if I thought that was fucked up.
“Yes, I do. That’s a real, crying child in pain, not a fantasy, story, or drawing. You’re getting off to trauma in the making. You really have to ask a stranger whether that’s fucked up?”
Don’t even get me started on all the lying, coercion, intimidation, misogyny, objectification, consent violations, and other upsetting shit certain people have pulled while playing with me. We’d be here all night.
There’s a veil between us and vanilla society. From the other side, the kink scene seems mysterious and intriguing. Many people assume that since this whole thing is so popular, we must all have our shit together. Some praise how focused BDSMers are on consent as if we’ve graduated from the struggles still being discussed by the mainstream media.
“What’s a little spanky fun between consenting adults?”
When you put it that way, of course I agree, but there are degrees to this stuff, along with a lot of interpersonal nuance. People as a whole used to be more skeptical of kink and view it with a critical eye, but that’s changed thanks to its massive presence online and evolving attitudes toward psychiatric health.
Modern Psychiatry and Kink
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is a publication by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) that classifies mental disorders using a common language and standard criteria. The fifth edition (DSM-5), released in 2013, effectively depathologized kink by making a distinction between paraphilias (kinks and fetishes) and paraphilic disorders (uhhh, BAD kinks and fetishes).
Paraphilia: “any intense and persistent sexual interest other than sexual interest in genital stimulation or preparatory fondling with phenotypically normal, consenting human partners between the ages of physical maturity and physical decline”
Paraphilic disorder: the same thing, but with the caveat that it’s “distressing” for the person experiencing it.
Page 686 of the DSM-5 states, “A paraphilia is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for having a paraphilic disorder, and a paraphilia by itself does not necessarily justify or require clinical intervention.”
This distinction is important because it points out that having a kink or fetish should not necessarily be considered a problem or a mental illness in need of treatment. That brought me a lot of comfort in the past, but I feel like it’s been used to over-simplify this whole situation at a cultural level.
I’ve been to five different therapists over the years for issues relating to anxiety, depression, and PTSD. None of those people really knew much of anything about fetishes or what goes on in the kink scene. Essentially, they just knew what was written in the DSM-5 and lumped kink in with normal, non-paraphilic sex as a result. They couldn’t talk in any detail about what I was experiencing.
“There’s nothing wrong with what you like.”
There was though, for a very long time. My fetish stems from trauma. I witnessed a lot of child abuse at other kids’ houses. Those experiences made me ruminate endlessly about corporal punishment and intimate, aggressive forms of violation from the time I was in preschool. Those are some of my earliest memories. They imprinted themselves onto my brain and programmed my sexuality because (I believe) my mind was desperate to romanticize them into something that felt good rather than terrifying. Those memories made me feel fundamentally unsafe in the world. They influenced what I find attractive. They affected my ideas about boundaries and what kind of behavior I should find exciting or acceptable. One of my ex-boyfriends held me down and raped me in college, and while I no longer blame myself for what he did, my budding feelings about “domination” were a subconscious aspect of what drew me to him in the first place. Trauma reenactment is a thing, though I didn’t know it back then. I’m still in the process of healing all this and sorting it out in my soul.
None of my therapists seemed interested in helping me connect those specific dots. They wanted to talk about my family. My parents are emotionally neglectful, unhealthy people, so I’m glad those discussions were had. There was value in unpacking that. But the spanking thing? The masochism? The constant, violent, intrusive fantasies? They all shrugged that whole thing off. ALL of them. That’s just sex, no biggie.
So in terms of the “kinkshaming” stuff, it’s not that I think doctors and mental health specialists should say there’s anything inherently wrong with fetishes and kinks as a whole. (I don’t think there is, nor do I want to worry or feel bad about myself!) I just don’t think most of them understand fetishes and kinks, even at a basic level. I don’t think most of them can actually see the subtle differences between a paraphilia and a paraphilic disorder. I don’t think they can tell whether or not someone’s paraphilia is contributing to their symptoms. How can they when the current cultural zeitgeist tells us that kinks, no matter how violent or degrading, are “just sex”?
I think it’s problematic that we as a society are increasingly brushing this whole thing off and acting like it’s taboo to question it. For some people, at certain points in their lives, indulging their kinks and fetishes can cause harm to themselves and others. I’ve engaged in incredibly risky behavior in the past (and been applauded and admired for it). I’ve seen friends do the same. These situations require mindful analysis, not a knee-jerk desire to err on the side of “anything goes.”
Ethics in the Kink Scene
We kinksters know better than anyone that this thing we do is complicated, which is why people in the scene have come up with codes like SSC, RACK, PRICK, and CCCC. The idea is that if we can specify parameters of what’s acceptable and people adhere to them, we can stay on ethically solid ground. Conversely, those who violate those parameters ARE BAD AND SHOULD FEEL BAD!
To sum these up:
SSC: Safe, Sane, Consensual
As long as the activities we do are safe, all participants are of sound mind, and everyone’s consenting to what’s happening… all is well!
RACK: Risk-Aware Consensual Kink
Very little of what we do can be deemed objectively safe, so participants should all be aware of the risks involved so they can properly consent before and during play.
PRICK: Personal Responsibility, Informed, Consensual Kink
This one’s like RACK, but with the added emphasis that all participants need to take personal responsibility for their involvement in what they do.
CCCC: Caring, Communication, Consent, Caution
We should care about the people we play with, communicate clearly and responsibly, be sure informed consent is present, and take every precaution we possibly can.
I guess out of those four philosophies, the last one resonates with me the most. I think it’s important to broadcast the idea that we should (duh) care about each other on some level before beating each other with weapons.
However, the idea that any of these ethical codes actually provide us with a foolproof forcefield of protection is an illusion. A lot of people drawn to the kink scene don’t want to talk much about this stuff, in my experience.
We all get into this because we have fantasies we want to bring to life. Many of us want to be respectful and do what’s right, but a lot of folks just want to stroke their hedonism boners to whatever extent they can get away with. Abusers protect each other in the scene. Newbies are preyed upon for their enthusiasm and lack of experience. People sigh and roll their eyes because they don't want to deal with “drama.” Some event organizers shrug off reports of consent violations and talk shit about people who make complaints, even when the incident at hand is an outright rape that happened at their party. (I know because I unwittingly worked for one of these people. Took me a year to put all the pieces together and quit.)
There’s a boatload of sweet, empathetic, delightful people in the kink scene. I know many! And good times do happen constantly. I’ve had many! But the bullshit is always there too.
“Why not just call the cops when things go sideways?”
Some people do indeed, but it’s rare, and I’m pretty sure we all know why.
At the end of the day, when it comes to dealing with these problems in our community, shame is often the most effective tool we have. Any of you who’ve been following the recent #SpankoMeToo situation online will know that the former organizers of Shadow Lodge in Vegas only stepped down from their positions of power after blunt, detailed, ongoing criticism of their abusive behavior from the people they’d harmed and supporters on the sidelines who wanted no part of such manipulation.
Some Things Should Be Shamed, and Loudly
I’m gonna go ahead and say something everyone knows: People have died while doing BDSM.
There are many examples out there, but I’ll mention one you can read about for yourself if you wish, because the whole situation unfolded very publicly on Tumblr over a number of years.
To sum up, a “master” named Dylan Hafertepen, who lived right here in beautiful San Francisco before moving up to Seattle, was living with and domming a polyamorous family of submissive guys he called his “pups.” They were into many things, like pet play and exhibitionism, but a lot of their pride and public attention came from being “gainers.”
I’ve tried and researched a lot of kinky things, but this one was new to me. Apparently a gainer fetish revolves around “a consuming desire to enlarge your body, to put on as much weight as possible. Some gainers want muscle, others fat.” Using this pursuit as a form of domination, Dylan gave one of his pups, Tank Hafertepen (who took on his master’s last name after he entered the pack), specific measurements he had to meet in relation to weight, muscle mass, and physical proportions. One of Dylan’s orders was for Tank to undergo ongoing “scrotal saline inflation.” This involves injecting saline into one’s scrotum to dramatically increase the size of one’s genitals.
Dylan documented his poly family’s lifestyle on his Tumblr blog. Tank also shared about it on a blog of his own, and his fans were particularly enamored with his massive package.
“That underwear bulge * SWOON * what a handsome minotaur man you are :smile:.”
“That junk down south looks AMAZING. Bet your master lays on that bulge like a pillow every night.”
Many elements of this story indicate the relationship was abusive, but I won’t go into them. The real issue was that Dylan eventually had Tank switch from saline to silicone injections so the enlargement effect to his genitals would be permanent rather than temporary. This is illegal and also incredibly dangerous.
“Free-floating silicone often causes severe inflammation. It can enter the bloodstream, usually at the time of the injection, or migrate later into the lymphatic system. Bigger globules block blood vessels and kill tissue or clog the machinery of the lungs and brain, depriving a person of oxygen and causing permanent damage or death.”
Both Tank and Dylan knew this. The latter even said he’d seen friends die from it in pursuit of the fetish. Still, they kept posting pics of Tank’s size gains. In 2016, a reader asked him how big he intended to go. Tank replied, “Master will decide when enough is enough.”
In October of 2018, Tank was admitted to the hospital with trouble breathing. He died six days later at the age of 28 from lung problems caused by a silicone embolism. A huge legal battle ensued between Tank’s mother, Dylan, and the other pups. I think it might still be going on to this day, but I’m not sure.
This is obviously very fucking sad for so many reasons. The point I’m getting at though, as I’m sure you can tell, is that a lot of people were cheering Tank on despite knowing that injecting silicone entailed a reasonable chance of killing him. His “master” and fellow subs did too. They weren’t ignorant or new to the scene; they were experienced BDSMers. You have to wonder whether they’d have gone to the extremes they did if the people in their sphere hadn’t been continually praising them for it and asking for more.
Perhaps some of Tank’s fans did reach out to express disapproval over the risk he was taking. Maybe some did “kinkshame” him. I don’t know. What I do know is that “don’t kinkshame” is screeched so often in situations like these that anyone with enough concern to speak up publicly would almost certainly have had to hear it.
“There’s a 1-in-3,000 risk of death with an injection of your own fat into your buttocks. Imagine injecting an area with a ton of dilated veins with a foreign material. Consider the injection techniques of somebody without medical training. It’s a recipe for disaster,” said Dr. Alex Sobel, president of the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery. “This is avoidable. We shouldn’t even be having this conversation; this guy should be alive.”
So what do you think? Do the events of that story sound progressive? Cool? Liberating? Kind?
I don’t personally think so.
If You See Something, Say Something
Don’t let anyone in the kink scene keep you from speaking out if you see something fucked up happening. Don’t let them make you doubt your own judgment or try to guilt you into shutting up if they’re treating you or someone else irresponsibly in the name of indulging their fetish. Odds are, you’re not crazy. And if they turn around and say, “Don’t kinkshame me,” ask them:
“What does that phrase mean to you and why are you saying it in response to my concerns? Why, exactly, do you believe you’re beyond reproach just because you have pride in your fetish? Why do you believe you’re above accountability?”
Because it’s often people like that who make genuinely kind, ethical, conscientious kinksters so fucking fed up that they leave the scene altogether. When those good people walk away, that’s not just their loss, but ours as well. We need more good people in the scene.
Some things are wrong and even if we’re not actively encouraging them, our desire to keep things copacetic can be taken as approval. That’s not kindness or responsibility on our part. Our integrity matters.
Let’s protect each other, even when it’s hard. Much love to you, friends.