when speaking to men about false accusations

accuse
[content note: sexual violence]

I want to preface today’s post with two things: first, I’m going to be talking about my own personal experiences online and off. I don’t have “hard data” to back me up, but this has been enough of a pattern in conversations that I’ve had that I think it’s warranted to talk about it.

Second, I have been the victim of a false accusation. My accuser did not go to the police to file a report; instead, he convinced many people– all of whom I had considered friends– that I was an abuser and a rapist, which made my life incredibly difficult for the few months I had left before graduation. It was miserable– and one of the worst periods in my life for a variety of reasons; being ostracized by people I had once trusted was excruciating. So I do understand the pain this causes. I’ve been there.

That being said, I’ve noticed a few things when I’ve talked to men about being “falsely accused.”

The first time I noticed this was a little over a year ago. At that point I was still really new to feminist conversations about rape culture and I was just beginning to familiarize myself with the data, and was sharing what I’d been learning. He brought up how he’d been “falsely accused” of raping a woman he’d been dating for a short time, and I did my best to not minimize what I saw as legitimate pain.

But, the conversation continued, and as he kept talking I realized something: the “false accusation” he felt so victimized by wasn’t actually false. In this particular case she hadn’t actually said he’d raped her, but that he’d assaulted her– and he had, by his own admission to me. He didn’t see it as assault; to him it was a small thing that he described with phrases like  “being a little pushy.”

I didn’t have the chutzpah at the time to call him on it, but that conversation stuck with me.

Since then, I’ve noticed that when men bring up their personal experience with “false accusations,” they tend to be exaggerating, or omitting the fact that they’ve been accused of assault, not rape. In those particular cases, when I’ve been able to hear “their side of the story,” so far without exception they actually have assaulted a woman, but they’re such magnificent douchebags that they refuse to even recognize that’s what they’ve done. Instead they go on gigantic screeds about how much they’ve suffered. And, trust me, I know what it’s like to have people think that you’re capable of assault or rape. It’s worse than unpleasant.

However, most of the time, the only consequences these men have suffered is losing access to some of their victim’s friends. Their employment is completely unaffected. Most of the people in their friend groups support them. Their “suffering” is usually limited to not being able to bang a few women who’ve decided they’re a jerk– almost always because they are.

In the cases when they actually have been accused of rape, it’s unusual for their victim to have gone to the police and for them to have been investigated, much less charged with anything (I haven’t personally spoken with a man who was formally charged and convicted, so please be aware that’s not what I’m talking about). These men go on and on about how much their lives have been destroyed and ruined, and I’m left scratching my head because I’ve been through this. I know what it’s like to have most of the people around you believe that you’re a rapist. It’s horrible in a way that few things in my life have been, and I’ve been through some tough shit.

But life-destroying? How about no.

I graduated. I got a job as a graduate assistant. I got a Master’s degree. I’m now happily married to one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met. My family supports me. I have a few very good friends. Despite the hundreds of people who still believe I’m a rapist, I have a just-beginning-t0-bud career as a writer and activist. My life, overall, is pretty sweet. It hurts when I think that some of the people I thought were my friend believe me capable of rape, and I would do anything to help an innocent person escape that same burden– but my life is anything but ruined.

It’s also usually played out that these men who are talking about being “falsely accused” of rape actually are rapists. They have a lot of justifications for why what they did wasn’t rape, I’ve found out. There are multiple communities dedicated to convincing men that forcing a woman who is saying “no” isn’t actually rape, it’s just them “asserting their male dominance” and other such bullshit. I’ve had posts and articles mailed to me by MRAs who believe all of that to their core. I’ve talked to people that see no means yes and yes means anal as a legitimate statement. There are so many places online that are filled to the eyeballs-floating-in-shit brim with rape myths– they preach tactics like “those bitches actually do want your cock, you just have to convince them by giving it to them.”

We see these sorts of rape myths played out on a daily basis in our popular culture– Cersei and Jaime Lannister, for example. What many people saw as a “gray area” or “dubious consent” was actually just a rape myth. Cersei said “No” seven times, but Jaime assaulted her into shutting up and then raped her until she gave up being such a bitch and just admitted she actually did want it.

These are the sorts of things the men I’ve talked to who say they’ve been “falsely accused” tend to believe. There are victims of false accusations– I’m one of them. It should never happen to anyone.

However, I have yet to speak to a rapist– not even once– who see that what they did was rape. They are delusional, but they have huge communities backing them up online, telling them all of the things they want to hear. It wasn’t rape– it was rough sex. It wasn’t rape– I just knew that she didn’t actually mean “no.” It wasn’t rape– I just got her drunk enough. It wasn’t rape– she was just unresponsive. It wasn’t rape– she was just crying because she was a virgin.

And on and on it goes.

So, basically, anytime a man says “I’ve been falsely accused,” I give them the side-eye accompanied by a heavy dose of skepticism, because every single rapist who’s been accused is going to say the same exact thing.

Christians understand your feelings better than you

Praying woman hands
[content note: fundie-speak about “conviction”]

As you all know, a little while ago I attended The Reformation Project’s conference, and it was an experience I appreciated and enjoyed. It wasn’t completely sunshine and roses for me, as Friday morning a couple protestors showed up outside the church. I ignored them every time I walked past until I was coming back from lunch and had an hour to kill, so I stopped to listen to a conversation one of the other conference attendees was having with the “leader” of the two.

I’m not sure how long I just listened, but eventually I got roped in and the other woman left after a few minutes. I stayed and continued to talk, mostly just asking questions because what he was arguing I found honestly confusing for a while. Eventually I figured out that he was saying “openly gay-and-in-a-relationship people can’t be Christians because it’s impossible for a Christian to live in unrepentant sin,” but that followed statements like “Christians aren’t proud,” which I found hysterical and really just said this man is a little out there and not living on the same planet as me.

There were even a few upsides to the conversation– it became clear to me early on that he wasn’t as familiar with the Bible as I am and that he couldn’t really deviate from his homophobic script much and that he also didn’t really understand things like cultural context very well. I think I even managed to get him to go “huh– I’ve never seen that before” at one point (I pointed out the “born eunuchs” passage to him, which I don’t think he’d ever read before while wearing his “I’m thinking about non-hetero-cisgender-conforming people” cap).

Eventually, though, my hour was up and I had to go in order to get to the panel discussion I was attending, so I started extricating myself from the conversation, and this is where our discussion went south in a hurry.

As I started to leave, he told me that the only reason I was leaving was that I was being convicted. I knew I was denying God’s truth, and I just wanted to avoid the pricking of the Holy Spirit on my conscience.

I honestly don’t know if what I did next was smart or not, but I’m a little proud of myself for being able to do it. I took my sunglasses off and looked him dead square in the eye and told him that no, I am not being convicted, I know what you’re doing, and that is not ok. And then I walked away, barely making it inside the church atrium before I broke down. I barely made it to the bathroom–my legs gave out a couple times– but I knew what was happening. I’d been triggered.

I was triggered because “you’re just being convicted” is one of the most powerful ways spiritual abusers controlled me for my entire life. And, as I’ve been thinking about what he said for a couple weeks, I’ve realized why that particular phrase caused the reaction in me that it did.

It’s an absolutely hideous thing to say to someone for a few reasons. First, when a fundiegelical is talking to someone, and they’re being a homophobic or sexist bigot, and the person they are talking to becomes frustrated or otherwise visibly emotional, a frequent go-to response is “you’re being convicted, I can tell.” They are completely confident that your response has nothing to do with them being mean or aggressive or even downright nasty and vindictive. It is not their fault if you become angry, even– that’s only proof of your “conviction.” It relieves the fundiegelical from any responsibility not to be an asshole. They can be an asshole all they want and when someone gets upset, they don’t have to feel guilty.

Second, it is erasure. I wasn’t actually upset with this particular person until he said this– I was just amused and then I had to leave because I was busy– but I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve been legitimately and appropriately upset and been told that I haven’t been hurt by their words, I’m just feeling the Holy Spirit. These people take my natural emotional response and say no, that is not what you are experiencing. I know better than you, and what you are feeling isn’t anger with me. It’s anger with GOD. I had a pretty simple motivation for leaving, like “my panel starts in a few minutes, bye,” but even if I had been upset with him, that would have been a legitimate reason for me not to want to talk to him anymore.

It is an odious thing to do. I am me, I understand what I’m feeling and most of the time I understand why I’m feeling that way. No one has the right to assume they know more about me than I do, especially a self-righteous stranger standing on a street corner. No one should ever erase someone’s motivations for an action and substitute their own.

“Real Marriage” review: 139-155, “The Porn Path”

1950s sweater

Ok, so the last time I talked about porn, a lot of people seemed to think that I don’t have any problems with porn, or that I think that porn is always ok and having negative thoughts/feelings about porn makes you a prude or something. So let me clarify something up front: I have a problem with a lot of porn, but I do my best to limit my discussions about porn to arguments that are reliable in the sense that I have more than anecdotal evidence to back me up.

Many people have reported having “addictive” reactions to viewing pornography; however, hard-science researchers don’t have much (if anything) to substantiate that. Sociological researchers can speculate about such definitions as “it’s an addiction when it starts interfering in relationships,” for example, but for every researcher saying stuff like that I can find one that argues that porn is awesome because it lowers rape rates (not that I personally find that at all compelling).

What Mark Driscoll does in this chapter– and what basically every evangelical I’ve ever heard talk about this does– is create an argument based on scare tactics. I’ve found that those arguments just don’t work because if you go to a ridiculous and unsubstantiated level of rhetoric, eventually someone (like me, ha) is going to investigate your claims and find out that they’re mostly bunk, and there goes your argument.

The biggest thing I have against this chapter is the way that Mark Driscoll (and many other evangelical leaders) define porn:

We do include as pornography such things as porno movies, magazines, Web sites, online sexual chat, romance novels, phone sex with paid operators, explicit movies, lingerie catalogs, and even the swimsuit issues of sports magazines, and the increasingly base men’s and women’s magazines. (142)

He goes on to talk about how they only have one computer in the kitchen and the TV is in the most visible part of the house, and how they have Nanny net and never watch a movie with nudity in it. So, basically anything where people (and probably just women, let’s be honest) are showing an amount of skin that Mark thinks is “nudity” is porn. This is what I see as the primary problem: women’s bodies are sexualized to the point where we’re not seen as fully human beings, but a collection of sexual parts. To Mark, though, a woman’s body is inherently sexualized, and seeing us undressed can always be porn, because that’s “just the way it is.” Instead of attacking the problem of sexualization, Mark thinks that sexualization is natural: we are just limited to sexualizing (his phrase: “lusting after”) our spouses.

Another problem with this definition is that it’s incomprehensibly large: literally anything that could be considered “immodest” (so pretty much every single cover of Shape) all the way up through hardcore porn counts (which he says is called “gonzo porn” but that doesn’t seem to reflect reality). When your definition is that big, it seems almost inevitable that you’re going to have to go to fundamentalist extremes to avoid it.

But then he gets into the arguments. And this is where we take the train to crazy town.

Argument #1: porn creates neural pathways and mirror neurons. (140-144)

His presentation is rooted in a layman’s understanding of nueroplasticity, and he builds upon the argument made by William Struthers in Wired for Intimacy, a book I’m familiar with because it’s mostly horseshit. Struthers doesn’t say anything the entire book that doesn’t conflate correlation with causation (which, seriously?), so I have my doubts about this argument, especially when every variation of “porn neural pathways” I could Google got me exclusively Christian pages as a result. So I’m … skeptical. I suppose it’s possible, but I’m not a neuroscientist, so I don’t have a definitive way of evaluating this claim.

Argument #2: watching/reading/seeing porn will result in All of the Most Awful Bad Things. (144-152)

Examples include:

  • You will always want sex that degrades women. (145)
  • You are guaranteed to “act out in extreme, dangerous, and self-destructive behavior.” (146)
  • You will never care about your wife’s sexual pleasure. (147)
  • You could become a serial killer, like Ted Bundy. (148)
  • You will do nothing but objectify women always. (148)
  • You will become lazy and selfish in your sex life. (149)
  • Porn is prostitution, and prostitution is the always the same thing as sex trafficking. (150)
  • You will form incestuous desires and fantasize about raping your daughters. (151)
  • You will inevitably end up watching children being raped. (151)
  • You will also probably become a child rapist. (151) (Based on an unsubstantiated claim Gail Dines has made, which… bleh)

See what I mean about scare tactics? None of these things are even realistic.

I do agree with Mark about the basic facts: a lot of porn– an overwhelming amount of porn– depicts violence against women, or shows them being humiliated or degraded, or expects the women to have an anything goes attitude. Porn tends not to center the necessity of consent– in fact, a lot of it actively fights that. That is a problem, and I understand the concern that porn is serving as a form of sexual education for people. If a person thinks that most porn is what sex should be like, then yeah… problems. However, in the conversations that I’ve had about this, most people seem to be happily aware that a lot of porn (there are things like MakeLoveNotPorn, as an exception) isn’t what healthy sex looks like, that it’s a performance.

I’ve talked to the girlfriends and wives of men who have struggled with porn, and I’ve heard a variety of things– it hasn’t really affected their sex life, to their sex-life is now non-existent, to they started expecting them to act like porn stars. That last one I’ve personally experienced, and it’s extremely unpleasant. So I get why there are a lot of really heated emotions about porn.

But, at the same time, I don’t think talking about porn this way is really helpful. I’ve watched marriages fall apart because one spouse discovered the other’s porn habit, and part of me has always wondered– was it the porn, or was it the lies? Was it that one felt that they had to hide something so big, that they felt trapped and like they couldn’t communicate honestly? I’ve never been sure, but I lean toward the latter. Making porn into this ominous boogie man to where it is so horrifically awful how could a good person ever struggle with this seems like it’s just going to make the problem worse.

Anyway … I don’t have any really settled opinions about porn at the moment, but I honestly don’t think I have to. I don’t think we sexualize and degrade women because porn exists: I think most porn sexualizes and degrades women because that’s what our culture does. I think I can talk about those broader problems without committing to either “all porn is bad” or “porn is fine.”

opening the door to an affirming church?

opening door

Where I live, there are no LGBT-affirming churches. Most are outright hostile, and the ones that aren’t still preach from the pulpit that wanting to be in a loving relationship is a sin for a significant number of people. It’s just a deeply conservative area when it comes to religion, and because of that, I’ve been having a hard time finding a church. My politics and my theology puts me squarely outside what’s acceptable here … and occasionally that’s a little heartbreaking. I want so badly to be a part of a church, but nowhere feels at all safe.

Which is one of the reasons why I decided to attend The Reformation Project’s (TRP) Regional Training Conference in DC last weekend. I’ve recommended Matthew Vines’ book God and the Gay Christian, and he’s the founder of TRP.  I don’t agree with Matthew on a lot of things, but his theological positions put him in a unique place when it comes to “the gay debate“: he agrees that abstinence before marriage is a requirement for Christians, and he has what conservative evangelicals call “a high view of Scripture.” Those two things enable him to have conversations that a person like me can’t really have with conservative Christians.

And, because of where I live, if I’m going to be able to have conversations with pretty much anyone, I have to be able to have a conversation the way that Matthew would have it. I don’t personally believe the same things about the Bible that the people around me might believe, but what I can do is work with where they are. There’s a way to see the “clobber verses” in a new light– and, personally, I find arguments like Brownson’s and Matthew’s pretty convincing.

I wrote a reflection of my experiences at the conference for Convergent Books, Matthew’s publisher, that you can read here.

interview on Religious Trauma Syndrome

pray

Hey all! It’s period week for me, and because I was at a conference over the weekend, I didn’t have the time to prepare a post for today. But, I realized this morning that I never shared with you something rather incredible– I was interviewed for the BBC Radio program Things Unseen, for a show they did on Dr. Marlene Winell’s proposed term “Religious Trauma Syndrome.” She wrote Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving their Religion. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but it seems like a valuable resource and I’ve heard it recommended by people I respect.

The program opens with Dr. Winell’s explanation of what RTS is, how it can be caused, and what the healing process can look like. I’d highly recommend listening all the way through, but if you’d like, my interview begins right around 16 minutes in and continues through to the end.

You can listen to the whole program here. Let me know what you think!

“Real Marriage” review: 123-138, “Disgrace and Grace”

black and white 50s
[content note: sexual violence and victim blaming]

This chapter was a … struggle. I’ve known it was coming for a while, but I wasn’t certain how bad it would be. It deeply concerns me because if this is how Mark and Grace Driscoll and the pastoral staff of Mars Hill has been counseling sexual abuse survivors I’m horrified, and I’m grieving for all the men and women who have been harmed by their teachings.

There was one section that I didn’t have a problem with, and was encouraged to see– the one headed “Serving and Protecting your Children” on 136-37. She recommends giving children the words they need to describe their abuse, about the difference between good and bad secrets (surprise parties vs. “this will be our little secret”), and assuring them they won’t get in trouble if they relate something that happened to them. She also makes it clear how important it is to believe your children, no matter who they tell you harmed them, and I was grateful for that.

The rest of the chapter, though, was a nightmarish trainwreck and in my opinion is totally irredeemable. Everything she says is not just wrong but actively harmful.

I also think it will be helpful for me to simply allow what she says to speak for itself. Often I get asked why I’m reviewing this book, and this chapter is a perfect example. Grace says some horrific things, but Grace is not alone. She is one evangelical Christian woman among thousands of others and “biblical” counselors who will all tell sexual abuse survivors the exact same thing, and they’ll probably say it in similar ways.

Before we get to that, though, I want to highlight something that I think is revealing:

Was Mark really safe to talk to about it, or would his response cause more pain (123)?

What will happen to our church and our life if they know about my abuse (128)?

The first time I told Handsome about my rape and abuse, it never once occurred to me to wonder if he was a “safe” person. There was not a single second that I was worried if his reaction would hurt me. I was nervous about telling him, but not because I thought he would possibly think of me differently. And this breaks my heart for Grace because her gut knew that Mark’s reaction wasn’t going to be the right one (“Sometimes his responses caused fear all over again” 132); she makes casual references all through this chapter about how Mark had to learn and adapt in order to respond “appropriately,” and she talks about that as if it’s normal.

That is not normal. That is disturbing.

Also, the fact that she was worried about what the congregation at Mars Hill might think tells me that they had not been building a church that was safe for survivors. If a church hears “your pastor’s wife was in an abusive relationship” and reacts with judgment and condemnation, you have not been responsible leaders. Unfortunately, this is a failing endemic to evangelical churches everywhere.

Anyway, I want to spend the rest of the post showing how evangelicals use Christian-ese in order to victim blame survivors.

We wondered if it was really possible to trust each other again … (126) [implying that she had done something by being abused/telling him she’d been abused to be untrustworthy]

I had lived a double life, a pastor’s daughter and wife filled with deception and fear. (127)

That meant asking the Holy Spirit to restore any memories that needed to be brought into the light so I could be cleansed … and it meant Jesus’ righteousness alone had to replace all my old identity of abused, neglected, dirty, and worthless [sic]. (127)

We quickly realized there were large numbers of abuse victims attending our church … Mutual, honest accountability had always felt too vulnerable but it was part of the process I needed to prayerfully participate in. (128) [“accountability” is a term used among Christians that is intrinsically linked to sinfulness; men who struggle with porn have “accountability partners,” many small groups have “accountability times” where they confess sin to each other.]

I finally wanted to put my own sin and shame to death, through Jesus’ death on the cross. (128)

God gave me a few trustworthy women to encourage and exhort me and love me, despite knowing the truth about me. (129)

I never thought [healing] was possible, but that is what repentance and redemption feel like. (129)

To cope with the pain, I initially pretended to be a “good girl,” … without true repentance. (130)

It was an identity crisis [referring to different common coping mechanisms experienced by many survivors] because I wasn’t rooted in Christ. (131)

But we each need a new identity so that we don’t feel condemned by our sin. (132)

I sobbed off and on for hours over the pain of abuse and the conviction of my own sin. (133)

I could give many other examples, but the others need more surrounding context and I’m trying to keep the length of this manageable.

Survivors of abuse– any form of abuse– have not sinned. I don’t know how to stress that any more emphatically. The only person responsible for sin is the one doing the abusing, not the victim. Trusting someone not to hurt you? Not a sin. Expecting someone to be a decent human being? Not a sin. Hoping that your abuser is capable of change and growth? Not a sin.

There is a common argument among evangelicals, especially “biblical counselors,” that it is important to claim “responsibility for your choices”; very often they frame this in terms of “autonomy,” appropriating feminist vocabulary in order to cloak what they actually mean. In reality, what they’re doing is a logical fallacy: post hoc ergo propter hoc, more commonly known as “false cause.” Grace argues that because she chose to date her abuser and chose to have sex with him willingly, she is partly at fault for what happened. If she had not chosen to date him, or chosen to have sex with him, the abuse would not have happened.

And, in a ridiculously literal way, that’s true. However, just because the abuse happened after she started dating him does not mean that she was abused because she dated him. It happened because he was an abuser.

In my opinion, there are few “counseling” ideas more poisonous. I spent so many years trying to do this, trying to be “responsible by recognizing what I had done wrong,” not allowing myself to have a “victim mentality,” and all it did was cause agony.

There’s a secondary problem going on in this chapter, most clearly seen in this:

My judgment was clouded once I had sex with someone outside a marriage relationship. The abuse made me feel dirty and defiled, and the lie that I had no value became even more believable. (136)

This is what purity culture does to sexual abuse survivors. I don’t want to say that without purity culture no victim would ever feel “dirty” or “defiled” after being abused. Abuse is intrinsically a deep spiritual, emotional and physical violation and it will cause pain and suffering, regardless of whether or not purity culture exists. However, Grace feels that because she’d consented to sex that her abuse was inescapable (“I was filled with my own guilt from fornicating and told myself if I married him it would cover my sin somehow” 124), and she felt that way because purity culture teaches women that sex– even rape– makes women dirty and defiled.

And she’s clueless that the “lie that I had no value” comes from purity culture, the exact same lie she’s promoting all the way through this chapter.

on being a kinky Christian feminist

tied up with rope
[content note for discussions of sexual violence]

Note for friends and family: I’m going to be talking about my sex life in probably more detail than you’d feel comfortable with knowing when we’re sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner, so you might want to skip this one.

If you are in the Christian feminist blogosphere, you probably noticed that there was a bit of a brouhaha over the post that Sarah Bessey put up last Monday: “On Jian Ghomeshi and the Acceptability of Sexualized Violence Against Women.” I didn’t catch onto it until last weekend, when I read her post Sunday evening and … I had a lot of feelings about what she said. I have a lot of respect for Sarah; her work, her blog, and her book have all meant a great deal to me over the past couple of years. I’ve recommended her writing to many of the people that I care about, and probably will continue to do so.

I do my best to avoid being a “hot take” blogger– I talk about the things I want to talk about, and sometimes that means going over some internet controversy, but I do it when I’ve taken the time to really think about it and I don’t really care about whether or not it’s as “relevant” anymore. For this post … I honestly don’t really want to respond point-by-point to Sarah’s argument, since if you go to her blog and read the comments, a lot of people have already made the arguments I would have.

What I do want to do, however, is contribute something that is missing: the perspective of a Christian feminist who also participate in kink or BDSM. I’m not the only one talking about this (see this post or this two-part series), but there isn’t exactly a whole lot of us, for reasons I completely understand. I try to keep the TMI stuff to myself. Mostly.

But, when I read Sarah’s post I …. well, it hurt. A lot. It hurt because of statements like this:

How dare we make light of the very real terror and horror that women have endured and are enduring? You talk to a woman who has been raped or sexually violated or beaten or abused and then try to tell me that it’s okay to be turned on by that. It is NOT okay. It is never okay, it never will be okay. Violence against women is epidemic and evil, it’s not to be mined for sexual pleasure. How dare we forget our sisters? How dare we make light of or sexualize for our own pleasures the unmitigated horror that is endured by women even at this moment?

I’m a rape victim. I’ve been sexually violated, beaten, and abused, and I am turned on by kink. So is my partner– a wonderful, loving, gentle, compassionate man married to a sexual abuse survivor. And while I’ve heard all the arguments about how being a victim means my brain is all confused, I don’t buy it because I have been turned on by really kinky stuff since I was very young. And while Sarah argues that BDSM is intrinsically unloving, when I look into my partner’s eyes I see the exact opposite of that. He adores me and he expresses that every single time we make love, no matter how vanilla or kinky it is.

Sarah says she’s gotten a lot of letters from women who were physically and sexually abused– women whose partners used “BDSM” to groom them, to cover for their abuse, much like what Jian Ghomeshi is currently doing. I completely understand Sarah’s concern about this, because I’ve been in the exact same place. My rapist used the cover of BDSM and kink as one of many tools to convince me that what he was doing was “normal.” He would humiliate me, he would force me to do things that I didn’t want to do as part of being “dominant,” he would use verbally abusive and degrading language that I didn’t like, and he would hurt me and use his “kinkiness” to cover it up.

So when I became intimate with Handsome, I had sky-scraper-big question marks about whether or not I felt ok having kink in our relationship. I knew it still turned me on like it always had, but I didn’t know if I was comfortable allowing it into a healthy relationship. I took a good long hard look at myself and asked if I wanted it because the only thing I had to go on for “normal” in a relationship was abusive– was my response to kink a leftover from abuse being conflated with love?

What I figured out was that there are certain things that I am not ok with, and will never be ok with. Many of the things have been discovered over time: right off the bat I knew I’d never allow a specific type of “dirty” talk during sex– being called a bitch or a whore, for example. Some women, men, and others enjoy that sort of thing, but I cannot handle that. Other things we’ve discovered through talking about it, like the fact that even though I love being spanked before and during sex, being spanked with a belt would be a hard limit for us.

But there is so much else to explore, and it is wonderful and beautiful. Handsome and I “switch,” although I’m usually the one subbing. I can’t even begin to explain how much I enjoy watching him as he ties me up and pulls my arms and legs until I can feel an amazing stretch, a feeling that is impossible to duplicate without being restrained. When I grab his wrists, force them over his head, and tie them together, then order him to do whatever I want, I can’t get over how his eyes sparkle at me. I adore the way he fights to bury his fingers in my hair when I’m slowly teasing him but he can’t.

What I love about kink is how it exposes us as a couple. It puts the amount of love we have for each other and how deeply we trust each other fully on display in a way that more vanilla sex just doesn’t. For me, when I’m subbing, there’s an unbelievable amount of anticipation that is almost joyful. I don’t know what he’s about to do, or where this is about to go, but I know that I’m going to love it.

The best part is that I have complete and total control over what happens. As a rape victim, I cannot overstate how much that means to me. When Handsome and I are in a scene, I know that if he attempts something that makes me uncomfortable I can put an instant stop to it– but that hasn’t even happened yet. While we’re playing, we’re attentive to each other in a way that we don’t quite attain when we’re having a missionary quickie. Whoever is on top is watching every single breath and twitch, and we’re communicating with each other more than any other time we have sex. And because I know he is watching me incredibly carefully, I’m free to let go; he’s pushed me in ways I didn’t think was possible, and that’s happened because I trust him and I know he loves me.

And yes, many time’s there’s pain, but not always. I delight in being pinched and nipped and bitten and spanked and gripped and scratched and flogged. Most of the time I’m begging for more and for harder. But pain is not the same thing as violence, and causing pain is certainly not the same thing as abuse. That’s not even an argument that makes sense– everything in our daily lives belies that. It’s non-consensual pain (emotional or physical) that is an intrinsic violation and is always wrong, full stop.

To me, BDSM is about communication, and respect, and trust, and love, and commitment, and honoring each other. It’s about exploring, finding, and then keeping boundaries. That’s what I wish people could know when they think about kinky couples. I understand if you’re not personally comfortable with it. I understand if the furthest you ever want to go is fuzzy handcuffs. I understand being confused or even frightened by what other people are more than just comfortable with. That’s the beauty of consent– if you don’t want to, no one is allowed to make you.