There is no BDSM diploma

Every so often on sites like Fetlife I’ll see people asking how much training/education/direct personal instruction they need before it’s ‘okay’ for them to have a sub of their own. I understand being concerned about being a responsible dom and taking reasonable precautions to avoid harming anyone you might play with or start a d/s relationship with, but I just don’t understand where people get the idea that there’s some sort of standardized dominant certification process.

If you’re going to get involved in something as potentially dangerous as BDSM, you’re going to need some critical thinking skills. Not only is there a lot of terrible advice out there, but there is also plenty of reasonable, well-intentioned advice that simply won’t work for your personality and situation. You’ll save yourself and any partner/s you might have a lot of time if you think things through.

So, let’s work this ‘standard amount of training/instruction before you can be a dom’ thing out. First of all, if there were some sort of rule that you need x years of experience before you’re allowed to have a sub of your own, who on earth would be the one to decide how much experience is necessary? Or  the one to administer the dom test and declare that you’re ready to start looking for a sub?

There is simply no answer to either of those questions that makes any sense. There is no national governing body for kinky people, and given that trying to get us all to agree on anything is like herding cats, there never will be. Your local kink group might have some guidelines that suit you and the way you play, but then again, you might have the sheer bad luck for your style not to mesh well with the general style of most people in your area. For example, my local community is generally very low protocol. Our standard (very broadly speaking) of being ready to play with someone is knowing not to flog the kidneys. If you were interested in high protocol master/slave relationships, that wouldn’t help you very much.

And that’s if your community is run by well-meaning people whose style simply differs from yours. There’s always the possibility that your community is run by assholes who don’t want any competition for the hot young submissives. If someone tells you that you need months of intensive study before you can even think of picking up a paddle while they gleefully pounce on every new person who wanders into the community, they just might have an ulterior motive.

Even  if there were a standard amount of training everyone needed before being set loose to find a sub (which will happen around the time soaring flocks of pigs become a menace to air traffic), there would still be the problem of who provides that training. What if you go to Mistress A and I go to Master B and they disagree about whether punishment is useful in a d/s relationship? What if you start your training in City Q, then move to Town K before you’re ‘finished’?

Aside from the numerous and glaring logistics problems with any sort of standardization, there’s one core problem. Namely, why the fuck should I care how much education some random thinks I ought to have? If you want to be someone’s top/dominant/master, there’s precisely one person whose opinion matters: your prospective bottom/sub/slave. If the two of you are happy and healthy*, everyone else can fuck right off.

*On the subject of healthy relationships, an agreement to have a certain type of relationship does not magically make it healthy for anyone involved. People technically ‘agree’ to work for terrible companies under abusive conditions because making some money is less awful than making none at all, that absolutely does not mean that said terrible job was actually freely chosen. People may also technically ‘agree’ to abusive relationship dynamics (for example: “You can say no to me whenever you like, but that will end our relationship.”) because they are afraid that relationship is the only chance they have to get their kinky needs met. If anyone in the relationship cannot freely say “No” or “Hey, can we talk about this?” at any time with no fear of consequences, something is horribly wrong.

No matter how experienced you are, it couldn’t hurt to read some of the enormous amount of advice available or to find someone in your community who you personally respect and ask them questions, but when it comes to relationships (high risk kinks are a separate issue and you really should get plenty of one-on-one instruction if you’re going to do something that might seriously harm someone) there’s a limited amount other people can tell you that you can’t figure out with good communication skills and a willingness to try things out and see if they work.

Above all, no amount of education is going to keep you safe if you’re unwilling or unable to think for five minutes and sort the maybe useful from the obvious bullshit. If you can’t put on your grownup pants and think things through for yourself, you should probably forget the whole kink thing until you’re ready to run your own life without Mommy and Daddy telling you what to do.

4 thoughts on “There is no BDSM diploma

  1. This, to me, is tied into the concept of all of those people claiming “Pft how dare you say you’re a master, you’re not fifty years old there’s no way you are a master”

    It’s kind of toxic, and turns the community into an elitism contest.

    This is about sex and relationships. It isn’t fucking blacksmithing.

    • Ooh, good point. It totally makes sense that elitism would be one of the things behind the idea that thou shalt have x years of experience before daring to call yourself a master.

      What’s also really gross is that it only seems to be tops/doms/masters who get that kind of bullshit. It’s like people think that all bottoms have to do is show up.

      This is about sex and relationships. It isn’t fucking blacksmithing.

      Ha! So true.

  2. Oh, weeeird. This kind of relates to a post idea I’ve been thinking about for the last few days. Working title: “Kink University”— and at one point the draft included the words “in bdsm there’s no diploma”!
    *cue theremin music*

    It’ll probably never see the light of day (lol) so I’ma just throw it out there, malformed as it is.
    Basically, Kink University is the term I use in my head for the perpetual-education model of bdsm (and the related tendency to overcomplicate and rarify kink*). The subtle-yet-pervasive feeling that you should be spending huge amounts of your mental and/or physical kinkytime on classes and books and videos (aka: not playing)… so that you can play. One day. At… some kind of world-class-competitor level, I guess? Like the level you’re at isn’t good enough?

    I mean, obviously you want to know how to do X so that you can do X safely and well, but something about the subculture seems to push constant, neverending education. (And I do mean education— which is not a synonym for learning.) A lot of people seem to think of (and present) kink as a skillset more than a mindset, with skill judged mostly in terms of lab hours or whatever and I just… I dunno, it makes me wary. And sort of angry for some reason?

    I don’t know. It’s complicated, I can’t nail it down. But there’s something really wrong there. It *is* elitist.

    ____
    * eg: http://depressing-bdsm.tumblr.com/post/53344853551

    • at one point the draft included the words “in bdsm there’s no diploma”!

      Oooh, spooky 🙂

      The subtle-yet-pervasive feeling that you should be spending huge amounts of your mental and/or physical kinkytime on classes and books and videos (aka: not playing)… so that you can play. One day. At… some kind of world-class-competitor level, I guess?

      There is totally a post of two in there. As much as I love nerding out about kink (and I do worry that people like me are accidentally part of the problem), I hate the idea that we all need years of intense study to have a good scene. There are certainly high risk kinks, but come on, you don’t need hours of personal instruction to give a spanking.

      That tumblr post is the perfect example of this idea that thou shalt learn all of the things before so much as thinking about actually doing a scene. I’m suspicious that no small part of that is due to how many nerds there are in the scene – as a nerd myself I say this with affection, but the purpose of nerds is to complicate things as much as possible. That’s just what we’re for 🙂

      If you get a bunch of us in a scene together, it’s not at all surprising that we would compete to be the biggest know-it-all. And of course the know it alls need everyone to know just how knowledgeable and clever they are, so they’re the most vocal about everything they know. The people who are just having a good time with their scenes and/or their d/s relationships without feeling the need to tell everyone how smart they are become invisible just because they’re not out there teaching classes about how kink is not actually rocket science (come to think of it, I would love to see a class titled “Kink: It’s not rocket science”).

      I dunno, it makes me wary. And sort of angry for some reason?

      I think it’s totally reasonable to get angry about that. I believe very strongly that everyone should get to have the kind of sex/relationships/kinky or non-kinky funtimes that they like. If we give people the idea that you have to go to all these conferences and take all these classes to do kink right, we’re effectively saying that kink is only for middle-class or richer able-bodied, not too far from neurotypical, cis gender, white people with no or very well controlled mental health issues (those being the people most likely to have the disposable income, free time, and physical ability to go to conferences and workshops).

      As much as I enjoy putting far, far too much thought into kink, I want everyone to know that it’s completely unnecessary. Overthinking kink is just a hobby of mine, and it’s no more necessary to have a good time than memorizing baseball stats is to have fun throwing a ball around.

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