My Safety Philosophy: Why I Practice (C)RACK

I always listen to Loving BDSM Podcast the day it comes out (Fridays), usually on my way to work. They’re always insightful, frequently hilarious and often make me think.  Today’s episode was all about the different safety philosophies within the kink community. Kayla and John discussed why they personally practice SSC – Safe, Sane and Consensual. As always, they’ve got loads of great things to say and I highly recommend you take a listen.

A cracked wall with flowers growing out of it. For a post on safety philosophies in kink.As I was listening, I realised I’ve written about safety tips for kink, but I’ve never actually written about my own personal safety philosophy before.

In kink, the three safety philosophies you’ll mostly hear cited are:

SSC: Which states that everything we do must be Safe, Sane and Consensual.

RACK: Which urges us to practice Risk Aware Consensual Kink.

And PRICK: Which asks us to take Personal Responsibility (in) Informed Consensual Kink.

Each of these has their merits and I will never knock anyone else’s safety philosophy as long as it’s based around the cores of safety and informed consent. Personally, though, I practice RACK. Let me tell you why.

What is “safe” anyway?

Very little in life is completely safe. We take risks in our life every day. It would be absurd to think that sex or kink could be completely free from risk. I take a risk every time I use a sharp knife to chop vegetables. I take a risk every time I get in my car (driving, when you think about the size of the machine you’re in and the speeds at which it moves, is fucking terrifying). And I definitely take a risk every time I let someone spank me, string me up in ropes, or get into edgy and emotionally fraught places in my psyche. (Yes, not all risk is physical. Mental risk is just as real).

Risk Aware, for me, doesn’t just mean knowing the risks are there but taking active steps to reduce them. We know driving is dangerous, so we wear seatbelts, don’t drive drunk, and don’t text while we’re driving. And in kink, it’s exactly the same.

Being risk aware means letting a partner know about any physical issues I might have that could impact our play, and keeping an eye on them during. It means letting my partner know about a pinched nerve or pins and needles in my hands. It means, when I’m Topping, getting proper education on the acts I want to do to another human being and not playing beyond my competence level.

So: nothing we do is, or can be, completely safe. Even vanilla missionary position sex with the lights out carries some degree of risk. By being informed, we can meaningfully mitigate risks to the best of our ability.

Who gets to define “sanity”?

I, like approximately 1/4 of the adult population (conservative estimate,) suffer from a mental health problem. Does that mean I’m incapable of doing kink responsibly? No, absolutely not. As a person with mental health conditions, I find classifications of “sanity” to be intensely problematic.

As long as I’m aware of where my mental health is at, and can communicate that to a partner, it’s generally reasonably safe and completely healthy for me to play. Which… circles us back around to that risk aware piece, doesn’t it?

At best, sanity is nebulous and difficult to define. What feels “insane” to one person might be “average Saturday afternoon” for another.

My unease with PRICK

PRICK is a fine philosophy, in so far as it goes. But it makes me feel a vague uneasiness whenever I hear it, and today I finally put my finger on why.

I’ve been involved in various ways in anti-sexual-violence activism for 6+ years. The phrase “personal responsibility” has been thrown at me and so many of the survivors I know more times than we can count. In those instances, unfortunately, it is taken to the extreme of meaning that you are ultimately responsible for everything that happens to you.

This means that a generally good philosophy (“look out for yourself, take responsibility for your actions and the impact they have on yourself and others around you”) has been co-opted and twisted to mean “if someone harms you, it’s your fault”.

It’s not that I’ll never play with someone who practices PRICK, but I would need to make damn sure that their meaning is closer to “we are responsible for taking care of our own and each others’ safety and wellbeing to the best of our ability”. That’s what a good philosophy of personal responsibility would look like.

Sadly, I just know too many people who say “personal responsibility” when they mean “if you get raped, what were you wearing how much did you drink why were you out late how did you not know that guy was a rapist?????

It all comes back to consent

Whichever you practice, you’ll notice that the one thing all these philosophies have in common is consent. Consent is at the core of everything we do. However, it occurred to me today that there is one key ingredient which none of these philosophies explicitly address…

The missing piece

Kayla and John so often come back to the importance of communication in their discussions on Loving BDSM. I often find myself nodding along, and am in absolute agreement with them that effective communication is at the core of everything we do. You cannot have safe(r) kink and sex without communication. You cannot have a good relationship without communication! And I don’t think we can meaningfully discuss good philosophies of safety without also discussing the importance of strong communication.

Therefore I present to you my new philosophy, adapted from RACK, which you are all welcome to use if it speaks to you:

CRACK: Communicative (&) Risk Aware Consensual Kink.

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Image from Pixabay and used under Creative Commons licensing.

[Guest Post] Forget Perfection, Bring Me the Glory – Life as a Disabled Kinkster by Pippin Strange

Today I am so, so honoured to be sharing a guest blog from one of my most favourite people. Pippin is my metamour – my sweetie The Artist’s primary partner – and a dear friend. Among many other things, they identify as disabled, queer and a survivor. They are also supremely wise, powerfully compassionate, ridiculously talented, and kinky as fuck in the best possible way. 

Content notes  are: chronic pain, intestinal health, ableism, intimate partner abuse and rape. Please look after yourselves when engaging with these topics.

Buckle in and get some coffee for this one, folks. It’s longer than I usually post, but I devoured every word and you should too.

Amy x
______________________

A person sitting in their wheelchair facing away from the camera looking up at a big tree.It’s a bad pain day. My joints are twinging; something untoward is happening in my lower abdomen; my neck feels like two bars of iron stuck on either side of my spine. And my fatigue levels are high – even sitting forward in my wheelchair is a challenge, and I’ve done well to make it out of the house.

Suddenly we come to a patch of bumpy pavement. The Magician increases their pushing speed ever so slightly, and every little jolt sets my buttocks singing with joyful agony from last night’s caning. It’s exquisite. Once we’re on the smooth ground again, I tell them my arse still hurts and it’s all their fault. Even before they stop pushing, I know they have broken into that devilishly handsome, sadistic grin. I shiver. They bend down and we kiss deeply, leaving me wanting more.

I’m Pippin Strange, otherwise known as the Minstrel. I’m a genderqueer, queer, polyamorous switch in my late thirties, with two delightful partners – the Magician (also known on Coffee and Kink as the Artist!), and the Ranger. My relationship with each of them includes kink – I submit to the Magician (who is my primary partner), and I switch with the Ranger.

I’m also disabled. I have joint hypermobility, and an unnecessarily interesting selection of long-term mental and physical illnesses, the former including Complex PTSD, the latter including ME/CFS and some form of seizure disorder. I’m also neurodivergent, with no formal diagnosis but the strong likelihood that I am both dyspraxic and autistic. I take several forms of medication, I’m housebound a lot, and I usually use my beloved wheelchair when out and about. For good or ill, being disabled permeates every part of my life, including my sex life, and it has done ever since I reached adulthood.

An evening in a university town, nearly twenty years ago. I’ve just come back from the bathroom. My lower abdomen is again in a scary amount of pain. The Saboteur – my boyfriend, later to become my husband – is not shy of expressing his disappointment that I’m yet again not well enough for intercourse. I’ve been close to screaming with the pain, but instead we focus on his sadness that we’re not going to fuck. I assure him, desperately, that yes I really am trying my best to sort out whatever is wrong with my innards so that he can be inside me again. I feel like a failure.

I say “an evening”. Actually this happens several times. On at least one occasion, I decide to give it a go anyway, because I can’t bear the guilt any more. The pain is too much, self-preservation kicks in, I speak out. He stops and withdraws. But he is the wronged party; I get no sympathy from him.

Fast forward to the present. An afternoon in an industrial city in the Midlands. The Ranger is above me, fucking me, and it’s glorious. His hands pin mine above my head. My lips are pressed against his collar bone, moaning words of helpless submission into the his soft skin. I know I’m not going to come like this, not in this position, but I love it, I love it so much, and I’m desperate to keep going, to feel the rhythm change and hear his gasps as he comes inside me. But my thigh muscles are too weak, and my right hip joint is complaining. This is not a sexy pain. I keep going anyway, because it is wonderful and I want it so much. But he notices something, checks, asks if I’m comfortable. I realise that I’ve been foolish, and admit that I’m not. He pulls out of me, shifts aside so I can stretch out. I breathe an apology for having to stop but he tells me I have nothing to be sorry for. He smiles at me, praises me for answering his question honestly, tells me how good I am. And seeing I’m eager to stay in the scene, he starts dominating me in a different way…

Looking back, I’ve been a sub-leaning switch for as long as I’ve had any sexual urges at all. And I suspect that I have being disabled, even more than being queer, to thank for how much I’ve allowed this part of me to blossom. My body is already othered, already weird, already unacceptable. I’m already rebelling against a cultural norm every time I use it in any way that brings me pleasure. So if conforming is impossible, at least for someone with my drives and my stubbornness, I’m damn well going to rebel in whatever way I like best. And now that I’m gnarled and middle-aged (and the hottest I’ve ever been) and I only have sexual or romantic relationships with people who are actively lovely (rather than, say, completely dreadful), kink – as both dominant and submissive – has become a crucial part of my sexual identity. And a crucial part of how I cope with the day-to-day reality of my health conditions and the impact they have on my life.

A winter morning. I’m so fatigued that my arms have mostly stopped working. But I have the Ranger stretched out at my side, beautiful and helpless and mine. I can do so little to him physically right now, but there’s so much I can order him to do to himself – and I do, stroking his face and holding his gaze with mine and enthralling him with words. I have no power to do much with my muscles, but I have so much power over him.

To be a disabled dom makes, I would say, an instinctive sense. I’m someone who feels far too powerless in my life far too much of the time. And here is the Ranger, a man I love, kind and fascinating and staggeringly gorgeous. And here he is handing temporary control of his body and mind to me, calling me “Sir”, eyes widening with pain or pleasure as he falls at my command and I play with the power he’s given me. Yes fucking please, on every level. 🙂

And the flip-side of that: one of the worst frustrations I experience in being incapacitated with fatigue so much of the time is how little ability I have to do caring, lovely things for the people who I love. Put simply, my dominating the Ranger makes him happy, and I love making the people I love happy.

When I’m submitting, it’s more complicated. I already spend far too much of my life feeling powerless and in pain. So why does, for instance, being held down by the Magician’s firm hand while they torture my nipples until I squeal not only make me wet, but also give me a welcome sense of peace, healing, well-being, and even power?

The obvious answer is that in that situation, however powerless I feel, I actually am nothing of the kind. Every instant is something I have passionately chosen. But it’s more than that. While I do struggle to feel powerful in my everyday life, something that I never struggle to feel is responsible. With PTSD, an anxiety disorder, and a mind that is by nature a constant torrent of words, the feeling of falling into subspace and allowing my mind to be quiet, slow, responsive to what is immediate rather than what is ongoing, brings an instant and glorious relief, and, ironically, a growth of true power within me that lasts long after the scene. As an abuse survivor who struggles with low self-esteem, being praised for my submission by a beloved partner is incredibly healing. As a caree who does not always feel at ease about my needs, to have a situation in which I am cherished and guarded and cared for as a submissive, and in which that adds to the pleasure experienced by the dominant, reclaims some of that space for me away from my own internalised ableism.

And the pain? As every masochist and every chronic pain sufferer knows, pain varies, in quality as well as in intensity. The angry bite of a headache, the enervating ache of a stiff muscle, the sickening dragging agony of an inflamed intestine… “pain” is one word for all these things, but they have little in common beyond it. I defy anyone to enjoy anything about having Ulcerative Colitis, but most of the pains involved in sensation play within kink are of a kind that are at least potentially pleasurable, and at no point give the kind of “wrongness” signals that the body is coming to serious harm. Even when I’m being spanked to the point of tears, I know that I’m safe, that no harm is coming to my body worse than a few bruises or welts. It is blessedly different from anything that comes from my health conditions. It’s not uncommon, even, for kink sensations, coupled with post-impact endorphins, to temporarily overwhelm and drive out my chronic pain; especially useful for me given I cannot safely take most painkillers!

The sense of achievement in sensation play is also a mighty difference between kink pain and chronic pain, and gives me a taste of something that I miss. I’ve always loved the feeling of having successfully pushed my body beyond what I believed it could do. To stand, for instance, on top of a big Scottish hill, gazing down at the incredible view, and thinking I made it. Since I now have moderately severe M.E., exerting my body beyond very narrow (and varying) limits is actively dangerous – it can make me more ill for days, weeks or even months. But a hard spanking challenges my body without that risk. And since I’m afterwards able to gaze on the Magician or the Ranger, the view’s not bad from the top of that hill either.

When it comes to sensations that are pleasurable as well as painful (clothes pegs on my nipples, a punch on my butt, a flogger on my thighs, a bite on my shoulder…), my body gets to feel something it can relish, just as much as with sensations that are purely pleasurable. More so, often, since the high background level of tension in my body can make pure pleasure paradoxically painful to me. A mixture of kink pain and pleasure allows my body to relax into the sensations and relish them intensely – and to be able to relish a physical experience in this body is a powerful thing indeed. Like a lot of people with chronic pain, I wrestle with the temptation to hate my body or feel thoroughly disconnected from it. At its best, sensation play as a sub brings me back into affectionate synchronicity with this fractious, fragile, and yet utterly wonderful meatsack of mine. It is beyond precious.

As I write this, the ring and little finger on my right hand are a trifle numb. Two days ago, with the Magician’s own chronic pain flaring but both of us feeling enthusiastic, we tried something new. They sat back on pillows, comfortably, calmly eating an apple like a (gorgeous) movie villain. And I gave them a show. Stripping at their instruction, torturing my nipples, scratching my thighs, pleasuring myself while they watched me and praised me and noted with delicious smugness that turning me into their helpless toy and slave had been so very, very easy…

It was wonderful. Squirmy and embarrassing and hot and beautiful and loving. And I wrenched my neck. It had been playing up for a few days, and the slightly unfamiliar position I was lying in did the rest. I felt odd after I came (I mean, happy! but odd), and the following day I woke up with my neck, jaw, and shoulders a mess, and the obvious symptoms of some mild and hopefully temporary nerve damage, as well as some indications that I’d had a seizure in my sleep. I don’t regret a thing about that scene (although I am thinking that I might need to go to the doctor if the symptoms continue…), but in future I’ll need to take a lot more thought about how I position myself, and ask for some Tiger Balm or ibuprofen gel as part of my after-care…

I don’t want to give the impression that being a disabled kinkster is easy. That, it certainly is not.

Events are a problem. I can’t get out of the house much, and when I can theoretically get to something, worries about access and the likelihood of running into at least some kind of ableist bullshit can be prohibitively exhausting.

Meeting new potential play partners is a problem. I’m horribly vulnerable, and already a survivor of assault, harassment, rape and ableist relationship abuse. Disabled people are on average twice as likely to be abused over the course of their lives as currently-abled people, and to say that I am very wary of the possibility of it happening to me again is an understatement. The kink scene and the polyamory scene are both riddled with ableism, from the usual cultural disdain for disabled bodies, to the fetishising of certain of those bodies in Fetlife groups, to the extreme end of Relationship Anarchy that rejects anything like a carer/caree (or mutual carer!) relationship between romantic partners – or even one that is merely stable and secure and committed, as is essential for me – as intrinsically oppressive. On top of that, anyone I go on an actual date with needs to be someone both the Magician and I trust to be, at least in a small way, my carer for a couple of hours – including pushing my wheelchair if the situation requires it. Thankfully I already have my two wonderful partners, not to mention three superb “kissing friends”, one of whom I may also start kinking with soon; I am quite beautifully polysaturated! But even if I were more interested in, say, casual play with a stranger or acquaintance than I am, it would not be remotely an option for me.

And then there’s the actual impairments. There are some activities I’d love to do that are either physically impossible for me, or which I cannot do for long. Ever tried giving a blow job with your jaw a clicky mass of pain, and when you have both a strong gag reflex and emetophobia? Not the easiest thing. 😉 I actually love sucking my partners’ cocks, both as a dom and as a sub, but my Gods do I have to be having a good day before I can, and deep-throating is most definitely not an option. And sometimes I am just too mentally ill for kink to be safe. Anxiety and depression and even flashbacks are one thing, and under the right circumstances kink can actively help, but on those thankfully rare occasions when my perception of reality is a little porous, let’s just say that telling a partner I’m their helpless captive is not a sensible plan…

But those limitations do come with their own blessings. I can’t have some perfect scene that lasts for hours and doesn’t require extensive in-scene management of my energy, pain levels, and whatever my brain might be up to. And since I can’t have it, I don’t need to try. Instead, my partners and I can get on with doing what works for us on the day – and finding creative solutions to some of the difficulties. After the Ranger and I stopped having PIV sex with him on top in the scene I describe earlier, we found another position that was a lot more sustainable for me, and in which I was able to come really quite explosively. Would we have found that position if my hips had been behaving themselves? I’m not sure we would. My difficulties with stroking his cock for any length of time I have gone some way to fixing, buying him as an anniversary gift a stroker toy that gives me a much easier grip, and which he loves in its own right (not least because it is purple!). The frankness about my body that I have had to develop to survive means that I’m good at giving accurate feedback, vital when trying something new.

The Magician and I, since we live together, engage in a lot of micro-kink: scenes that last literally seconds long and which we fit randomly into our day whenever we’re both up for it. A brisk hand or hairbrush spanking while we run a bath. Their hand closing briefly over my mouth while we’re snuggling. A glare over the top of their glasses that rapidly becomes a contest, with me trying to make them laugh before they can turn me into a subby heap (they usually win 😉 ). Even the very fact that they’re my carer sometimes creates micro-kink situations, as helping me out of bed turns into mutual fondling, encouraging me to rest becomes sternly ordering me to, and helping me undress when my arms aren’t working properly becomes, well, stripping me naked.

Perhaps this above all: every body and every brain has its moments of misfiring. The Magician is disabled too; the Ranger is also not in consistently perfect health. And they both know they can trust me absolutely to understand and empathise when it’s their needs or limitations that mean that a scene has to be changed or halted, or just isn’t possible that day. I don’t want to romanticise the lessons that being disabled has taught me, when the primary lesson it has taught me is that all disabled people live in severely ableist societies with inadequate access, respect, and understanding, and that this desperately needs to change. But I have been forced over the past two decades to teach myself something powerful about how futile it is to search for what is perfect, and how much better it is to build what is glorious instead. And if there is one thing that makes me both a good dominant and a good submissive, it is probably that.

Photo provided by the author. Do not steal it.

The C Word: All The Wrong Things I Was Ever Taught About Consent

Are you celebratiing #KinkMonth? If not, you totally should be! Why not treat yourself to something exciting, and enjoy a free lube when you spend at least £30 on kinky goodies at Lovehoney?

I’m celebrating by taking part in Kayla Lords’ 30 Days of D/s programme and writing posts inspired by the prompts. Today… oh boy. It’s the big one. Simultaneously one of my favourite topics, and one that feels too massive to actively delve into.

Today, we’re talking consent. 

Scrabble style letters spell out "yes" on a slate grey background. For a post on consent

Look, I can’t have my say on consent in one post. I just can’t. I’ll probably write a book on it one day (or at least a collection of essays,) but today I have to tell you something meaningful about one of the biggest and thorniest topics out there, in 1,000 words or less.

Something I learned recently: prior to finding sex-positivity, everything I was ever taught about consent is wrong. Everything you were ever taught about it is probably wrong, too.

Let’s go ahead and delve into some of the wrongness.

“Only men need to seek consent. Women don’t need to ask because men are always up for sex.”

If there is one myth that I think could fix so many of the world’s problems around sex if it would just have the decency to die in a fucking fire already, it’s this one.

Newsflash: sometimes, women want sex. Sometimes, men don’t want sex – tonight or this week or with this person or ever. Sometimes women want sex more than men[1] or at different times than men. And everyone needs to seek consent before and while engaging in any kind of sexual activity. (Incidentally, there are more than two genders and not all sex is heterosexual, so there’s that. Consent rules apply the same.)

[1] Source: literally every single male-shaped person I’ve ever dated having a lower sex drive than me, whether only slightly lower or a whole lot lower.

“Consent is unsexy and ruins the mood.”

Fuck this one! Fuck it backwards and upside down with a cactus, seriously.

Consent doesn’t have to be unsexy, awkward or scary. It doesn’t have to be a big sit-down discussion with yes/no/maybe lists (though these are awesome,) contracts and lawyers, for fuck’s sake. It can be straightforward: “I’d really like to kiss you, would you be into that?” “What kind of sex are you into tonight?” It can be playful: “Hey baby, wanna spank my ass?” It can be sexy: “God, I want to fuck you so bad. Do you want my cock?”

And you know what? Even if it IS awkward, even if you DO perceive active consent as unsexy… it’s still fucking vital. Get over it.

“If she says “no” or pushes you away, it might really mean “yes.””

No no no no no no no.

If someone says no or pushes you away, unless it’s part of a very clearly negotiated game (in which instance, you have a safeword, right!?)… no means fucking no.

Playing hard to get is bullshit. Even if you think someone might be doing it (because societal stigma is strong, especially when it comes to women being enthusiastic about sex,) the correct response is to stop what you’re doing and have a conversation with your partner about what’s going on and what you both want and don’t want. The correct response is never to just go ahead and have the sex.

No means no. Pushing you away means no. Freezing means no. Hemming and hawing without giving an enthusiastic “yes” means no. Making excuses means no. “I have a headache” means no. “We really shouldn’t” means no. Say it with me now: anything that isn’t clear and unambiguous consent means no.

“If I don’t ask, they’ll have sex with me! But if I ask, they might say no.”

If you ask and they say no, they were either never going to have sex with you in the first place and would have told you to stop when you got close to a boundary, or they would have endured an experience they weren’t really consenting to, possibly out of fear of the repercussions of saying no.

Is it worth risking maybe raping someone because you’re afraid that asking gives them permission to maybe say no?

(If your answer to the above question is “yes,” fuck off from my blog, ask yourself some serious questions, get therapy and don’t go near another human until you sort your shit out.)

“It’s really hard to know if someone’s consenting or not!”

First: no, it isn’t. Most people’s body language when they’re into an encounter is actually quite clear, and VERY different from the aforementioned “going along with it because you might really hurt me if I say no.”

Second: FUCKING ASK.

Third: if you’re still not sure, it’s your responsibility to not do the thing until you are sure.

See also: this song. [Song is “For the Guys” by Rachel Lark, who is a fucking badass genius. Lyrics include “if you’re not sure that it’s not rape, don’t do it!“]

Tell me in the comments or on Twitter: what lies were you told about consent?

Kinky item of the day is one from my “maybe someday when I have a shedload of money” wishlist: a proper custom-fit chastity belt. (Not an affiliate link and I have no connection to the company.)

Heads up: this post contains an affiliate link and if you buy through it, I make a small commission. All opinions are, and will always be, my own.

The image featured in this post was offered for use under Creative Commons Licensing.

Terrifying Sexual Laws You May Not Know About

[Note: this post focuses on UK laws and is by necessity limited to my own country.]

Sexuality has been criminalised in various ways for the vast majority of human history – in particular female sexuality, LGBTQ+ identities, and anything else the wider culture deems ‘deviant.’ This post will explore a few of the more fucked up laws of the last 100+ years…

A judge's gavel and 2 books for a post on historical sexual laws

Hysteria & Nymphomania

Around a third of female patients admitted to asylums in the Victorian era suffered from this supposed ‘mental illness’. ‘Symptoms’ included promiscuity, bearing illegitimate children, or masturbating. To say that these places were prisons is probably understating the horrors these women would have suffered – at the worst end of the spectrum, rape and murder of ‘inmates’ were not uncommon. In the 1860s, clitoridectomy – the surgical removal of the clitoris – became briefly accepted as a treatment for various ‘conditions.’

Criminalisation of Male Homosexuality and the Sexual Offences Act

Any act of homosexual sex between two men was criminalised until 1967. The Buggery Act of 1533 made ‘buggery’ (sex between two men) punishable by death. This was replaced by the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, which reduced the highest sentence to life imprisonment. Male homosexual sex remained a crime until the Sexual Offences Act 1967 finally decriminalised it between consenting men over 21. (The age of consent for heterosexuals was sixteen. 21 was lowered to 18 in 1994 and only equalised to 16 in 2001.)

Interestingly, sexual activity between two women was never technically criminalised in the UK. An urban legend suggested that this was because Queen Victoria held that ‘women do not do such things’. But historians now widely consider this to be untrue. Some suggest the male establishment avoided legislating on lesbianism for fear of giving women ideas. Others believe that it simply did not occur to the male lawmakers of the day. Whatever the truth, until the age of consent was legalised across the board in 1994, there was no statutory age of consent for lesbian sex.

Two high-profile men who fell foul of this law were Oscar Wilde, who was sentenced to two years’ hard labour in 1895 and died 3 years after his release, and Alan Turing, who killed himself in 1954 after being sentenced to chemical castration for “gross indecency” two years earlier.

Spousal Rape

It was completely legal for a man to rape his wife in the UK until 1991.

Read that again.

I’m not very old and that was within my lifetime.

This is because, historically, marriage was a contract of ownership and women were considered the legal property of their husbands. Sir Matthew Hale in his History of the Pleas of the Crown (1736) wrote that ‘the husband cannot be guilty of Rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given herself up in this kind unto her husband which she cannot retract.’ In other words, by consenting to marriage (and the concept of ‘consent’ is dubious at best under a system in which a man could sell his daughter off to the highest bidder) a woman was consenting to any and every sexual act her husband might wish to perform upon her.

I’m ambivalent towards legal marriage anyway. I cannot imagine ever wanting it under a system like this. Again, marital rape has only been a crime in the UK for 26 years.

Section 28

Section 28 or Clause 28 was enacted in 1988 by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government and stated that any local authority ‘shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality’ or ‘promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.’ In other words, homosexual sex had become legal two decades previously, but discriminating against LGBT+ individuals was not only legal but borderline government mandated.

In practice, Section 28 made it illegal for authority figures like teachers to tell children that being LGBTQ was okay. This led to not only widespread homophobic bullying with little to no recourse, but also LGBT+ young support and social groups, particularly in schools and colleges, being shut down for fear of breaching the Act.

This law was only taken off the books in 2003. I was thirteen in 2003 – I’d already had some 3 years of whatever shitty sex ed schools had to provide. At no point had we been told that being anything other than straight was even an option. I was questioning my sexuality at 13. It might have saved me many years of confusion and self-loathing if my teachers had just been able to say, ‘some boys like boys and some girls like girls and some people like both and by the way, boy and girl aren’t the only gender options.’

If only.

BDSM: The Spanner Case and beyond

The Spanner case was a landmark case in 1990. 16 gay men were handed sentences of up to 4-and-a-half years in prison for engaging in consensual sadomasochistic activities. Their defense – that it was all consensual – was denied and the convictions have since been upheld. This case is complicated – there was video evidence (technically extreme pornography) and an extensive investigation of what the police initially thought was a snuff film, meaning the investigators may well have felt compelled to bring criminal charges so that the investigation had not been a ‘waste’ of time and money.

Consent is not always a defense. Under UK law, you cannot consent to assault. Judge Rant decreed during the Spanner trial that ‘bodily harm applied or received during sexual activities was lawful if the pain it caused was ‘just momentary’ or ‘so slight as to be discounted.” His judgement applies also to bodily marks such as those produced by beatings or bondage. These too, according to him, must not be of a lasting nature. In essence, Judge Rant decided that any injury, pain or mark that was more than trifling and momentary was illegal and would be considered an assault under the law. This means that while most common BDSM activities are not illegal to perform in and of themselves, more extreme acts could technically fall foul of the law – however consensual they may be.

There are very very few documented cases on the books, but involvement in BDSM is not legally protected. In theory, a person could be fired, lose custody of their children or be evicted from rented accommodation for participation in BDSM.

The amazing organisation BacklashUK campaigns for sexual freedom and believes that these laws and others like them are outdated, harmful and discriminatory. We agree. That’s why we’re supporting them with Smutathon 2017. Please donate here if you believe this work is important.

The image featured in this post was offered for use under Creative Commons Licensing.

When Consensual Sex is Punished More Harshly than Rape [or: Smutathon – the Reason Why]

[This post comes with a HUGE trigger warning for sexual violence from intimate partners. Please feel free to skip this one or step away to care for yourself if you need to. It also carries a hefty dose of vulnerability and exposure of my personal traumas. Victim-blaming or doubt-casting comments will be deleted and the commenter permanently blocked. This is a one-strike-and-you’re-out deal.]

The Rape Crisis England and Wales logo for a post about Smutathon and rapeThe Backlash UK logo for a post about Smutathon and rape

I was sexually assaulted for the first time by a classmate when I was twelve. It was “only” breast and crotch grabbing through clothing, but I was deeply troubled by and ashamed of it. It was three years before I could even begin to find words for what had happened, let alone how it had made me feel.

More than one of my early relationships were sexually violent. By the time I was fifteen, I’d been coerced into sex acts I absolutely did not consent to and was not ready for by a much older boyfriend.

At nineteen, I pushed a man away seconds before he penetrated me – penetration that I had explicitly said, repeatedly, was not on the table that night. On the second date with the same guy (yes, there was a second date) he pushed me to drink and drink and drink, before telling me he wanted me so black-out pissed that I wouldn’t remember anything in the morning. Later, our previously sweet online chats took a turn for the dark as he described his violent, graphic fantasies of raping me (fantasies, he made very clear, that were not about CNC but about Actual Genuine Rape.

A year or two later, a boyfriend threw me out of the house for not acquiescing to sex. And on and on and on it goes. Sex became about obligation, pressure, coercion and survival. I became divorced from my own body, my own pleasure. They took me years to reclaim.

The point of all of this is to say that I didn’t understand until years later that sex under duress counts as rape or serious sexual assault, even if there was little or no physical force involved. I didn’t understand that as a minor, what happened to me at fifteen was statutory rape as well as sexual assault under coercion.

I didn’t seek any help until I finally got a counsellor, long after it was all over. I dimly understood that places like Rape Crisis existed, but I thought they were only for people who’d been raped at gunpoint or assaulted by strangers in dark alleys. “My boyfriend uses the threat of the roof over my head to make me have sex I don’t want, and my other boyfriend tried to rape me once and is weirdly obsessed with getting me drunk and telling me graphic fantasies of raping me” just didn’t seem serious enough, somehow, especially as I’d also had consensual sex with both of these men and others.

I wish I’d known then what I know now – that Rape Crisis would have listened with sympathy, love and support, given me resources to help me get out of those relationships, and told me that in no way in the world was it my fault.

That’s why #Smutathon2017 supports Rape Crisis.

In all but one case, I didn’t even report because I knew I’d be putting myself through hell for a less than 1% chance of justice. None of the men who assaulted or abused me have ever suffered consequences of any kind.

The same, alas, cannot be said for the not-insignificant number of people over the years who have been punished (legally, financially, employment-wise and more) for engaging in completely victimless fringe sexual practices with other consenting adults. From 1987’s Spanner Case (in which a group of gay men were prosecuted for participation in consensual sadomasochism) to the infamous ‘tiger porn’ debacle, to those who have been fired or had their kids taken away for participating in BDSM, sex work or pornography, sexual freedom is constantly under threat.

I cannot sit back and be okay with innocent, good people being prosecuted for consensual sex while only 0.6% of rapists ever see a day in jail.

And that is why #Smutathon2017 ALSO supports Backlash UK, an amazing organisation that defends freedom of sexual expression for consenting adults.

Please donate and support these two brilliant charities if you can. I hope none of you will ever need them – but if you do, they’ll be there for you.