The type of relationship shaming I address here happens when a fellow kinkster tells you that your relationship dynamic is unethical, no matter how many logical points they hear from everyone involved, trying to convince them otherwise.
I’m talking about the cases where the real problem is that a kinkster sees a relationship they personally would have problems with, and insists that that relationship dynamic is unethical for anyone, ever, and the relationship should end. There is sometimes a difference between “unethical for someone” and “unethical for everyone”. One doesn’t have to personally practice something to acknowledge that it’s fine for others to do.
The most common thing that I see cited as the cause for such shaming is a lack of safewords. What I hear is, “Safewords are a crucial part of communicating and represent an ability to say no.” However.
While safewords can have a place in communication, having a safeword doesn’t mean ideal communication has happened, and not having a safeword doesn’t mean less communication has happened.
Depending on styles of communication, safewords can be more useful or less. If the person is good at getting out a safeword but not so good at getting out a full sentence right away, it might be useful. If the person is the “always fully verbal or fully non-verbal” type with negligible in-between, it might be less useful; they can either use the full verbal capacity to communicate without opening it with a safeword, or they’re not going to be able to get out a safeword anyway, and communication would likely be addressed in a completely different way anyway.
As for safewords representing the ability to say no… in some relationships, the s-type agrees to not have the ability to say no. And yes, this means they may end up doing things that they hate, things that make them very uncomfortable, things that are very painful for them, and things that they disagree with. What can make it ethical—and fulfilling—is that they do these things under the direction of someone they have reasons to deeply trust.
The second most common thing that I see cited is a lack of hard/soft limits. What I hear is, “Everyone should have self-defined limits; otherwise, anything could happen.” However.
I frequently see “no limits” as a phrase get mocked. To be fair, I see this happen most often in situations where the person saying they have no limits is currently single and new to kink. They might not know exactly what they’re getting into, and having no limits can attract problems as an opening line.
However, I do see a lot of people saying that you should always have defined limits you enforce—even when you’re in an established relationship with someone you have deep trust for. That is the situation I have a rebuttal for.
Does everyone have limits? In some ways, yes. Everyone has things they literally cannot do, and things that would cause permanent terrible damage, physically or psychologically. Some are almost universal to humans and some might be specific to things like medical conditions.
In the case of “literally can’t”, the limits are rather self-enforcing, or in the case of permanent damage coming after, this is probably more about respecting general concepts of health and safety than a specific partner’s limits. (Granted, this can get messy with some medical conditions and other things and a no limits dynamic might not be the best choice in this case amongst others.)
So let’s assume that in a relationship that can ethically pull off “no limits”, reasonable levels of health, safety, legality, and realism are already being maintained—these aren’t someone defining their own limits. Note the word “reasonable” rather than “perfect”.
In this case, the limits that could be defined are more like things that person isn’t willing/wanting to do. Some people want to set aside their own will/desires for the dynamic they are in—this is where “no limits” can happen.
Conclusion: some dynamics don’t include limits, some don’t include safewords, some don’t include either. Those dynamics can be ethical with the right people and circumstances. Different things work for different people; unethical for one isn’t necessarily unethical for all.