Nothing cute or kinky about sadism

What first annoyed me was the contention that the book Fifty Shades of Grey "annoyingly demonises BDSM" (bondage, domination, sadism and masochism). Demonises sadism? When did it become acceptable to be a sadist? I wonder how it would look on someone's CV when he or she applies to be a school teacher, for instance, or a social worker, or a human resources manager; indeed, any job in which the applicant has to work with other people or animals.

The next statement that made me angry was that people who practise BDSM are generally "psychologically healthy" – not just healthy, but somehow more "advanced" because they are "cognoscenti" and do not terrify "novices" with "advanced techniques" such as fire and electricity. I thought electricity to the genitals was usually associated with torture.

But no, the esteemed Patricia Stephenson Connolly is one of these rarified intellectuals who have evolved beyond morality. Good and bad are so last century. Moral relativism is in. And, as a sex therapist, you cannot exactly accuse high-paying clients of being sickos.

Do not get me wrong. I am not a total prude. If anyone wants to do lascivious things with shoes, underwear, latex, plastic, ice cream or even dress-up clothes, they should go for it. The harming of shoes in the course of a kinky romp (and here "kinky" is used correctly) is not going to cause lasting harm. But inflicting humiliation, fear, pain and other unpleasant sensations or emotions on sentient beings, well, I have a real problem with that. Negative sensations and emotions harm both those who receive and those who inflict them.

Unlike Pam, I do not believe that you can be a sadist in expressing your sexuality, but nowhere else in your life. In fact, Pam, do you not remember your basic Freud and Klein? If you isolate a part of yourself or an aspect of your life, you are splitting it off, which is seen by psychologists (other than yourself) as deeply unhealthy. The whole idea of psychotherapy is to retrieve the split-off bits of yourself and reintegrate them. But having sadists reintegrate cruelty into their working, parenting or friendship areas of their lives – the mind boggles.

I am not advocating the impossible notion of having a "sex police". But glorifying or even sanitising BDSM is wrong and dangerous. It is not cute and kinky; it is downright harmful. – Michelle Nel

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Michelle Nel
Michelle Nel has worked as a freelance environmental journalist, photographer and editor for more than 20 years. She is a member of Al Gore’s Climate Leadership Corps and was the first freelancer to win the SAB Environmentalist Journalist of the Year Award for print. She serves on the Linbro Park Environmental Monitoring Committee in Gauteng, which aims to turn a closed landfill site into a recycling and recreational area. She has helped numerous organisations with their communications strategies on issues ranging from people and parks to wetlands.
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