I was perusing Scarleteen today and I came across this little bit from Hugo Schwyzer (who as many of you know, I do not always agree with, or even like, but hey) that I liked. It's discussing sexual ethics in the context of newfound Christian faith, which is not in any way relevant to me, but I feel it answers very well why people's objections to BDSM and even to D/s don't work for me:
Let me suggest, Christine, that God cares more about the content of our sexuality than he does about its form. Traditional Christian sexual ethics are often discussed in the context of what Christians can and can’t do. Some Christians will often say things like “the only form of genital contact sanctioned by God is that which happens in a marriage between one husband and one wife.” The implication is clear: if you get the “form” (heterosexual marriage) right, then the sex that follows is okay. If you haven’t got the form right, then you’ve “fallen short of the mark.”
But “form-based” sexual ethics clearly have their problems.
For example, it ignores entirely the great likelihood that coercion, disrespect, and force can take place within marriage. The Churches did not start condemning marital rape — or even acknowledging that such a concept was possible — until the second half of the twentieth century. Is a situation in which a husband demands sex from his wife against her will somehow more in keeping with the spirit of Christ than a situation in which two unmarried people make love with mutual enthusiasm? If you’re a stickler for “form-based ethics”, you bet. For the most traditional of theologians, marital rape is less of a serious sin than homosexuality or pre-marital sex, because form matters more than content.
“Content” based sexual ethics are concerned with the way in which people, in the process of being sexual, value themselves and their partners. Content-based ethics are deeply concerned with mutuality, with pleasure, and with the willingness of each partner to take responsibility for the physical, spiritual, and emotional consequences of what is done. Form-based ethics teach the Christian to ask the question “Am I allowed to do this?” Content-based ethics teach the Christian to ask “Am I truly loving — in every sense of the word — the person or persons with whom I am doing this, including myself?”
This is what I can't parse about "BDSM is wrong," even when it's phrased as "Hierarchy is maladaptive for humans and limiting and restrictive."
[EDIT: The person who made the comment linked there has mentioned that she did not use the words I'm using to characterize her position. She says below that she meant that BDSM is wrong for her personally, and that I misrepresented her views on hierarchy as well. About them, she said the following, c&ped verbatim from the comment linked above: "I can't be of help as to whether something is "bad." That's not an idiom I work within or classify things by. I simply know for myself, and for the world I envision as better than what I see we've got now, I think, at a minimum, that less hierarchy would be really helpful." I mention in the comments that I still think there's a value judgment there, but I agree with her that it's best that people interpret her own words and not mine here.]That's form. That's "The sex (or "the relationship" in the case of outside-the-bedroom D/s) you want needs to not have these features that look like this in order to not be this, which I find maladaptive." It follows that up with an explanation of where that maladaptiveness comes from, yeah -- but so do explanations of why homosexuality is wrong in conservative Christian moralities, sometimes in great detail. There's reasons given for "bad form." They're bad, but they're there.
It's funny how people who usually seem to go with the content-based ("of course it's okay that I'm gay, silly!") slip into the form-based ("he wears a collar [usually not, it's too big for his neck] and called you Master once being cute? OH MY GOD!") when things are outside their comfort zone.
Saying content matters instead implies that all the answers to "form" questions like "is BDSM compatible with feminism/okay for Christians/good for Buddhists/acceptable for snails?" (okay, that last is me giggling over "love darts") will not be quite right, because they start with the wrong question: "what are you doing?" or "what are you mimicking?" rather than "how are you doing this?"