How do you tell if it’s abuse or d/s?

A little while ago someone asked a really interesting question on Fetlife. If you enjoy being pushed beyond your comfort zone, how do you tell the difference between abuse and d/s?

I’m honestly not sure but I’ll ramble for a bit and invite readers to add their advice in the comments.

In vanilla relationships it’s simpler to tell if it’s abuse. The usual “is it abuse?” advice focuses on whether your partner makes you feel safe and loved or like dirt, but things get a lot more complicated if you’re into hardcore humiliation scenes or really heavy masochism.

Particularly if you’re personally conflicted about what kind of scenes and/or relationship you have that can make it really hard to pick apart feeling weird about it because “I’m a freak for liking this” or “I like parts of this but not all of it and I don’t feel like I can say no” from “I’ve been waiting years for a relationship like this! This is exactly what I wanted for so long! I like this, right? It’s good, isn’t it? Oh god what if this is as good as it gets?” are really easy to confuse with each other.

Here’s where I punt the question: if you feel bad for liking what you like, I strongly recommend finding a kink-aware professional and talking things out. What I mean by this is that your problems matter and you deserve a real professional’s help sorting them out. Just like I would tell you to get a real professional to fix your plumbing and not your friend’s-cousin’s-dogsitter, I would tell you to get a real professional with training any everything to help you sort out your feelings about your kink instead of listening to some asshole on the internet. You deserve better than someone with no training, no knowledge about your particular situation, and quite frankly no idea what they’re doing.

That said, I realise there are some serious taboos against actually seeing a professional (god knows I freaked the fuck out for the entire walk to see my therapist for the first time) and even if you can get over that you’ve still got the additional hurdle of paying said professional and finding time to see them and in general shit’s not easy. Given all of those issues I’m going to try to help, but if my advice doesn’t work for you, you need to blame me and not you.

Caveats out of the way, I think it’s a good idea in general to ask yourself how you feel after a scene. Do you feel broken, triumphant, looking forward to the next time, like you failed and you’re a bad sub? Don’t forget, sub drop is a thing. Give yourself a few days to get over your drop before you make a firm decision about how you feel about what you did. It is totally okay to feel weird about stuff when you’re in the middle of drop. The question is how your top/dom supports you through that time and how you feel once you’re back on an even keel.

I’m personally pretty cautious, but there is no shortage of people who enjoy pushing boundaries. That is a completely valid way to run your life, you just need to keep in mind that the things you like freak some people out and for that reason you might not always get useful advice out of them. Using myself as an example, I’m pretty squeamish about blood and serious bruising. If the results of your play freaks me out, that means absolutely nothing about whether it was good and healthy for you.

Basically, you need to have a very strong sense of self if you’re going to play hard. Not everyone is going to understand the things that work for you, but that doesn’t make you wrong. If you possibly can, find people who like the stuff you do. It can only help to talk with people who play as hard as you do.

Another thing that’s a good idea to ask yourself in general is how do you usually feel in the relationship? Do you feel valued, respected, and safe outside of scenes where you deliberately want to feel humiliated and degraded and vulnerable? It’s totally okay to want to go dark and deep in a scene, but even if that play partner relationship is entirely about going deep, you need to have people in your life who remind you that your are worth something. I’d question even getting involved with someone as a play partner who you aren’t also friends with, but I do understand that some people like to compartmentalize.

It’s also important to think about how your dom would react if something went wrong, if you don’t already know. A person worth submitting to you will make sure you’re okay or at least with people who will help get you there. Let’s be honest, things are going to wrong sooner or later. If you’re going to do anything risky, you need to do it with someone who will take responsibility for getting you back to okay. If they aren’t willing to do that, what else could they decide they can’t be bothered to do?

Liking intense things doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you, it just means you need to be extra careful about who you do those things with.

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