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Home / Meta / Learn Something / What's the Difference Between BDSM and Rape?

To someone not in the BDSM scene this is an understandable confusion. To hear someone say that they want to be hit in order to feel like they are loved sounds like everything we were warned about when we learned about healthy relationships.

However, there are many facets to human relationships and with BDSM this is no exception. Therein lies the answer.

To disclaimer this allow me to say that I am by no means an expert. This is simply my own attempt at summarizing some of the main aspects of BDSM and abuse in order to help break it down into laymen's terms for others to understand. As always, your milage may vary.

That being said, here are the relavant points to consider:


Put simply this is a pain that someone did not want. Someone who is being abused is being hurt by someone else and they havve neither the desire for this pain nor the ability to stop it. The person who is abusing them may think they are doing a good dead, but the victim of the abuse is not benefiting in any way by this.

While it is true that you will find victims of the abuse who will rationalize what is happening ("He doesn't mean to hit so hard." "I bring it out in her." "I encourage this by the way I act.") this is still a situation which is not making them happy. They are gaining no ultimate good from being hurt in this manner.


The key word is CONSENT. While outwardly the two might appear to be similar (one person hurting and/or controlling another) in the setup of it there is a decided difference - here everyone agreed to it.

I cannot recommend reading a FAQ on BDSM strongly enough to fully understand what is going on here but, again, to put it into laymen's terms what is happening in this situation is that two people who are into bondage/domination/sado-masochism come together and make an arrangement in order to make sure everyone is happy and comes away fulfilled. Very often before any "scene" takes place those involved will sit down and talk about what will occur - who will do what to whom, what boundaries will or will not be crossed, what will be expected, etc. - to make sure there is no confusion. In addition to that safe and slow words will often be used during the scenes to be sure that no one gets hurt in a way they didn't want to be. (Safe words are code words which, when said, mean the scene has to stop RIGHT NOW. Slow words are code words which mean that the current activity is too intense/not quite what was wanted. When a safe word is said the scene must stop - to do otherwise is essentially rape. When a slow word is said the scene continues but changes to stop the activity that was causing distress.)

Total Power Exchange (TPE)

Bringing this up muddies the waters a bit but I wanted to mention it because I talked about it on the mailing list and also because people do run into it on the Net and get confused. So, if you think you've got the above concepts fairly in hand, add this into the mix: TPE, to summarize in a way that will truly remove a LOT of concepts behind it, is for those who, for various reasons, do not like ending scenes and/or using safewords. There's lots of reasons why they do not like it but I'm going to save that debate for those who know far more than I.

People who enter into TPE relationships intend and hope for them to be lifelong master/slave relationships. It is very much like a marriage and is treated with as much respect, particularly in terms of the thought one puts into it before agreeing to enter such a relationship.

The name comes from the fact that the slave in the TPE is giving over "total power" - total control - to their master. They want their master to completely own them and rule every facet of their lives. They want a relationship where they were never have to safeword or stop being slaves/subs. Likewise the master/top wants a relationship with a slave who will devote their lives to them.

The confusion with TPE comes from the fact that many people don't understand how a "healthy" and independant person would want to give over their lives in such a fashion. Again, society teaches us that this is a wrong thing to do. And it is true that there are unhealthy, abusive relationships which revolve around the fact that the victim cannot say no to their abuser nor can they escape them.

However, as with BDSM, the keyword is CONSENT. This arrangement, however strange it might sound to you (or not) is something that the participants wanted, discussed and agreed to ahead of time. It was not something forced onto another person and, again, it is something which provides pleasure to all.

To Sum Up

CONSENT, CONSENT, CONSENT. To try to figure out if what you are seeing/reading about/etc. is abuse/rape or BDSM the key is always consent. Did everybody agree to it? Did everybody want it? If the answer is "yes" then you are looking at a relationship which works for those involved. If "no" then you are looking at a relationship where someone is hurting someone else.

I hope that helps.

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