BDSM and Women’s Gendered Embodiment: Other-Than-Sex Pleasure, Pain, and Power

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Oddie, Morgan
sexuality studies , BDSM , gender , power , pain , pleasure , consent
Bondage/Discipline/Dominance/submission/Sadism/Masochism (BDSM) is most frequently conceptualized as only non-normative, ‘kinky’ sex. In this dissertation, I combine feminist ethnographic accounts of women’s experiences as BDSM practitioners alongside theoretical frameworks of gendered embodiment to propose a reading of some BDSM practices as other-than-sex. Rather than narrowing the definition of sex, I instead take up Foucault’s expression of the possibilities of bodies and pleasures to explore how alternative relationality is formed between practitioners with some types of BDSM play with pain and power. In doing so, there is an expanded potential for women’s queer pleasure and a real possibility of disrupting patriarchal social structure with practitioners’ altered being-in-the-world. This analysis is centred on accounts from eighteen women participants in Toronto and Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, who were active BDSM practitioners. Participants in this project challenged traditional understandings of pain and masochism to produce new understandings of both. They accounted for safety and risk considerations in practices that help formulate a more robust consideration of the complications of consent in other-than-sex practices than is typically allowed for in either mainstream or BDSM-specific frameworks of consent. Lastly, they expressed conceptions of the strategic eroticization of power that accounted for it in play without eliminating the social power that some bodies exercise more flexibly than others. The alternative relationality that is fostered by other-than-sex BDSM practices is powerfully intimate and based on the radical vulnerability and bodily access between practitioners.
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