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Navigating BDSM as a Survivor of Sexual Violence

Navigating BDSM as a Survivor of Sexual Violence

by Coffee and Kink

Content warning: sexual assault.

I’m a rape survivor. The details of what happened to me are unimportant at this stage; suffice to say I was in a sexually abusive relationship from my mid teens to my early twenties, and have also experienced a number of lesser incidents of sexual violence over the years.

But there is one thing that it is vital to understand: I was kinky before I was a victim of sexual violence, and I am kinky now that I am a survivor. For whatever value I place on the “born this way” narrative (which is little), I believe I have always been kinky. It is an inherent part of my identity. You’ll understand, then, why it irks me so much (read: makes me want to light things on fire) when people inform me so helpfully that I am kinky because I was sexually abused.

They are not connected. One did not cause the other. But navigating BDSM as a survivor does come with a set of unique considerations.

Nowadays, abuse triggers during kinky play come up surprisingly infrequently. This is partly the result of a lot of healing work and therapy, and partly due to learning which activities are generally safe to play with, which can be touched upon in the right context with the right person, and which I need to leave well alone. For example, I know that spanking is generally safe (hitting was not a part of the abuse I experienced), non-consent roleplay is safe in small and occasional doses, and any kind of humiliation play centred around body-shame is an absolute no-go area. I also only engage in deep psychological kink play with people I trust, quite literally, with my life. Right now, this means my two serious partners. With others, I will play at a more surface level, but not go to the really intense places.

I have also learned how to take care of myself when triggers do arise. There have been occasions in the past where I was reduced to a shaking, crying mess who couldn’t articulate what was wrong as a result of being triggered during a scene. This was, of course, profoundly upsetting for me and frightening for my partners. Learning to navigate trauma and BDSM has meant learning how to ground myself when I am triggered, how to articulate what is happening to a partner, and how to ask for what I need – usually, to end the scene and have some cuddles is the safest place to start.

As anyone will tell you, kink is not therapy. However, I very much believe it can be therapeutic. Consensual and carefully negotiated roleplay scenarios have, on several occasions, helped me to work through some of the trauma I was still carrying. Playing out a version of something awful that happened but in a consensual context with a beloved partner, can be profoundly healing for many of us. Playing out a version where we get to change the narrative, fix the ending, or take back the power that was taken from us is also a powerful way of fighting back against our abusers and gaining a sense of control after having been made powerless.

My journey from trauma victim to kinky survivor has been one, in large part, of reclamation. For a long time after I escaped from my abuser, I wondered whether I was still “allowed” to be kinky. Was part of me fundamentally broken now that I’d been raped? Was I only allowed to have soft, gentle, missionary-style sex from now on? Would Dominant partners even consent to play with a survivor? The answers were: emphatically no, also no, and yes absolutely. One day, I realised that my abuser had taken enough from me. I was not going to let him take BDSM from me as well. Safe, consensual kink with loving partners brings me joy, fulfilment, sexual satisfaction and a sense of peace. No-one will take that from me.

If you’re a survivor and still want to be kinky: I see you. I believe you. You’re not broken and you do not have to give up on BDSM, if it brings you joy and pleasure, because someone decided to harm you. You might have to navigate things a little differently in order to keep yourself psychologically safe, but you get to be the badass kinkster you’ve always been.

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