Sadism vs. CNC

I had an interesting conversation with Mistress on this Valentine’s Day.

“I think I might be a sadist,” she said.


“Well, a few hours ago—“ before the nap I’d needed after “—we had sex, and you were in pain, and I liked that you were in pain.”

Okay. Well, yes, that sounded like sadism—but also wasn’t news. She’d used a neon wand to the point of pain on me just the night before, combined with a chest harness of conductive rope, while our friends watched. We’d done impact scenes that lasted hours and consisted of mostly single tails. So why did enjoying having sex that exacerbated some pre-existing pain trigger this revelation?

Her initial explanation came down to “because you were in pain and didn’t want to be in pain”.

I thought out loud about definitions of sadism I’d seen. In the kink scene, “sadist” and “pain play Top” often get kind of combined and messy. A more classic definition of sadism would say that it was enjoying the pain of others. The difference I spotted was basically enjoying inflicting pain for one reason or another, or enjoying others being in pain for the sake of pain.

I asked, “What do you get out of pain play scenes?”

Well, mostly she enjoyed it because she knew I liked it. And she got to guide me through a journey of sensation. And, sometimes, show off—in the case of a public scene.

None of those really had to do with the pain itself. Of course, pain was involved, she said, but it was something I generally wanted as a part of a scene, pain for the sake of pain.

So that’s what made the sex today different. I was in pain I didn’t want. And she enjoyed it—without my enjoyment, without getting to lead a sensation journey, and without any showing off. If her definition of sadism was just about the pain itself, she could’ve had this revelation from an impact scene. But she hadn’t. Because it wasn’t about the pain.

It was about the fact that I didn’t want the pain; that was the differentiating factor.

We’d had sex, which exacerbated pain I didn’t want to be in, making it hard for me to enjoy it. And she found she especially enjoyed the experience specifically because I was experiencing pain I truly didn’t like.

Having thought through some things out loud, I came to the conclusion: “Maybe it’s not sadism, maybe it’s CNC.”

Because if sadism is about pain, if plenty of people identify as sadists when they are enjoying the pain of someone else when that someone else also enjoys it on some level, then her identification as a sadist wouldn’t depend on me not enjoying it; it also wouldn’t be about just being a pain play Top or not, because she was already definitely that.

It wasn’t about my pain; it was about my consent, and I’m not allowed to say no.

I pointed out that there were other times we’d had sex when I hadn’t wanted to, for reasons that weren’t really pain, per se—I was engaged in something else, I was short on time, I was tired, etc. She’d also very much enjoyed those—but hadn’t used sadism as a word to describe it because pain wasn’t involved. But the issue here wasn’t really pain either, though pain can be hard to define.

I do things as a slave on a daily basis that I really don’t want to do, but I do imagine it’s harder to pin down how you feel about that outside of a scene from the other side of the slash. Watching me do dishes and maybe looking a little agitated and jumping when washing a spoon ends up soaking the front of my clothes, is different than being actively engaged in something that’s clearly making me feel pain. It feels a little more the same from my side, sometimes pain is pain whether it’s from scrubbing or not.

I also pointed out that when providing a real answer to, say, a stranger at a munch about what she does in kink, Mistress usually engages more about having a slave than about whips or rope or fire play.

I think in the end I’m still thinking that this is about consent and not pain, an idea I’ve seen Mistress discover parts of over time, as I have. It’s an interesting concept.

Shaming of “Unethical” Dynamics Within the Community

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.

No Safewords, No Limits: An Elaboration

One way I describe our dynamic is: no safewords, no limits (no way out). This descriptor has worked better than almost anything that has a broader spectrum attached. On the one hand, that descriptor is exactly what it says on the tin and gives an idea of the root of things easily. But, let me elaborate, because there are a lot of points attached that most people don’t think of.

No safewords, no limits is, for us, the natural extension of me not being allowed to say no. I don’t often specify that, because it’s basically implied in the contexts I’m usually in. If you think about it, most vanilla relationships have no safewords, no limits, but that’s because they just use the word no. I’m not usually using the phrase in that sort of context though.

For us, the nature of this dynamic is that we don’t really negotiate. We might talk about things, and sometimes if I express hesitancy, Mistress takes it into consideration and backtracks, or changes something. Maybe the point of the thing discussed was she thought I would like it, or I provide information she wasn’t aware of, like a specific concern. Sometimes she doesn’t backtrack or change anything.

The point isn’t that she always ignores my preferences, but that she is always well within her rights to do so. It would be hard for her to manage to never do things that I like, and that isn’t her goal. The goal is that she gets what she wants from me without limitations—and sometimes what she wants from me is for me to be happy. Sometimes she wants something else, and she doesn’t need to justify it or negotiate for it.

I sometimes say things like, “That would be a hard limit if I had hard limits.” Because when I say I don’t have limits, I don’t mean I’m so kinky that I would never have objections to anything. I mean that I’m a slave who has given up the right to those objections and limits. It’s the difference between having a favorite ice cream flavor and actually being allowed to choose which ice cream to eat.

Something that I don’t see discussed about dynamics like this as much is… well, anything that’s not play. (And there could be dynamics like this that don’t involve play at all.) While some of the most dramatic sounding examples of this dynamic might take place in a dungeon, there are plenty of things in life people might want to place limits on that don’t happen in a scene.

Let’s say, doing chores. In the most vanilla sense of the word chores. Dishes, laundry, things like that. Maybe putting some clothes in the washing machine hasn’t made a lot of people call a safeword, but if this dynamic is for the rest of your life, there are things to consider. Maybe the washing machine is in a not-temperature-controlled area, and it’s below freezing or it’s a hundred and fifteen degrees outside. Maybe you’re so tired you feel like your body is vibrating in protest of being upright, and there’s a sink full of dishes to be done. No safewords, no limits, no “no” applies to those situations just as much as it does to a type of whip you’re not inclined to.

The same thing goes for rules and protocols. There’s no safewording out of having to kneel on the floor on an aching joints kind of day. There’s no setting a limit to prevent a rule about what you can eat that might eliminate favorites or require foods you hate. Think bigger—life choices. Career, schooling, moving? Suddenly whip types seem like a smaller problem.

Mercies may be granted, but they are not in your control anymore. I actually think that largely, Mistress is easier on me than I am. I’ll be forcing myself through a chore or whatnot, I might not ask to get out of it, I might even reject an offer to be let out of it. She sometimes stops offering to let me rest and starts ordering me to go to bed instead. … And I realize how right she is as I almost black out on the way there. Of course, the flip side is that if I do ask to get out of something, she can always say no.

Also consider some other general good practices of BDSM that no longer apply when safewords and limits don’t. Aftercare? A heads up on certain things? Not guaranteed. Not being able to say no means that conditions can’t be put on things. So you can’t say, “Sure you can hit me with that, but only if we do this kind of aftercare/only if you let me know beforehand.” You can ask. You can’t demand.

A common misconception about this dynamic is that it usually involves yelling, “No! Red!” and being ignored. That’s not how my dynamic works at all. It’s not about saying no and being ignored—it’s more about just not saying no. The reality is that as much as I might want to say no to something in particular, I don’t want to say no to Mistress in general, and that’s better to keep in mind. Not whining is a better goal for me than making her overpower me constantly. She might want to have to overpower me in some situations, but not all the time.

If I don’t feel up to sex, the sex doesn’t look like rape play; it looks like having sex where I’m not aroused, and might not be able to act like it. Maybe it looks like me making a lot of pained noises of the bad sort. Sometimes Mistress will decide to stop, this isn’t what she wants right now; sometimes she won’t, but will hold a water bottle to my lips after and leash me to the bed for a nap. Sometimes, she won’t stop and falls asleep basically immediately afterwards herself.

Big point is that my slavery is not about me, and I would not want it to be. I don’t actually “hold all the power”, we’re not equals “at the end of the day” or “underneath pretenses”, and it would be impossible to “take off our roles” whether we wanted to or not. And internal enslavement means that it’s not just her or external circumstances dictating my obedience, but my own mind.

This all makes consent as a concept messy and complicated, but for us that’s okay. It’s not for everyone or every dynamic. As I said, I’m not universally a no-limits person, nor was I always necessarily capable of having such a dynamic; but now, in the context of my dynamic, I am. It takes having the right emotional balance on both sides, and the ability to keep it within our own dynamic.

If Mistress were to say yes to everything I want, to give in every time I was suffering in any way, we couldn’t have a functional M/s dynamic as we define it. She has to be able to pick her own methods over what society teaches us about courtesy and compromise. She can choose to observe those things if she wants, but if she feels bound by them every time, she’s not actually controlling things.

For my part, I have to be able to deal with it in a way that makes it easy for her to choose her own methods, not fixate on the concept of fair or treating others as you want to be treated. I can’t just technically never say no but try to whine and wheedle my way out of anything and everything I don’t like. It helps to be flexible, able to find things to like in a situation and handle it even if I can’t.

For us, no safewords/no limits works as a style and a quick descriptor—this is my elaboration.


Sadism vs. CNC

Shaming of “Unethical” Dynamics Within the Community