Daryl Champion

On the edge: BDSM and heteronormative denigration

Daryl Champion¹

Socio-Legal Studies Association Annual Conference

University of the West of England, Bristol, UK

Stream: Gender, Sexuality and the Law

Wednesday 31 March 2010

Bondage, domination and sadomasochism (BDSM) is largely misunderstood in modern societies such as the United Kingdom and the United States². Drawing on traditional and firmly entrenched heteronormative value systems and conventions, this misunderstanding is demonstrated in the official pathologising of BDSM, in the approach of law- and policy-makers in government, and is reflected in media coverage of BDSM. The result is a pervasive environment of denigration and discrimination, despite an increasing body of evidence suggesting BDSM falls within “normal” and healthy parameters of behaviour.

The nature and extent of this misunderstanding and discrimination can be seen in UK and US law, and in the application of law. In the United Kingdom, in particular, it is also observable in attempts by government and social institutions to conflate BDSM with paedophilia and with indiscriminate sexual violence, which were characteristics of both the Home Office’s presentation of the case in favour of introducing a law to criminalise “the possession of extreme pornographic material”³, and the arguments of pro-law lobbyists. The result is that the psychological and socio–legal effects of denigrative societal and media attitudes and the approach of state law- and policy-makers on the lives of people involved in BDSM can be very real, and in some cases devastating.

Full paper as Acrobat pdf file

  1. The presentation of this paper at the SLSA conference 2010 was sponsored by Backlash.
  2. “BDSM” is also broken down as “bondage and discipline, domination and submission, sadomasochism”, and, for brevity, often pared back to the SM component in the literature at hand.
  3. Home Office & Scottish Executive, Consultation: On the Possession of Extreme Pornographic Material. London: Home Office Communication Directorate, August 2005.