THE SO-CALLED “DEVIANT” SEXUALITIES: PERVERSION OR RIGHT TO DIFFERENCE?

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The Manuals of Mental Health and Project ReviseF65

Svein Skeid is one of the responsibles for the Project ReviseF65 or Project ICD (www.revisef65.org) that aims to mobilize, through a website and a discussion group on the Internet, SM/Leather/Fetish groups and professionals in the field of mental health in all the world, with the purpose of taking away the psychiatric diagnoses (“paraphilias”) of Fetishism, Transvestism and Sadomasochism from the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (www.revisef65.org/ICD10.html), published by the World Health Organization (WHO). The diagnoses of “paraphilia” may serve as a justification for stigmatization and violence against sexual minorities. Several reports of violence against Sadomasochism and Fetish practitioners may be found in the ReviseF65 website (www.revisef65.org). The U.S. Leather Leadership Conference reports that thirty to fifty percent of the SM population suffers discrimination, violence or persecution due to their sexual orientation. Project ICD states that “Stigmatizing minorities by diagnosing their sexual orientation is on the contrary as disrespectful as discriminating people because of their race, ethnicity or religion”. It is, undoubtedly, a legitimate proposal in defense of the human rights of sexual minorities.

Countries as Denmark, in consonance with the legitimate needs and rights of sexual minorities, have totally withdrawn the diagnoses of sadomasochism from their health manuals in 1995.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder – Fourth Edition (DSM-IV, 1995, pp 495) also classifies Fetishism and Sexual Sadism and Masochism as “paraphilias”, in which, besides the existent recurring and intense fantasies and sexual impulses or behavior involving those practices (Criterion A), those fantasies, sexual impulses or behaviors must cause a clinically significant suffering or damage in social or occupational functioning or in other important areas of the individual’s life (Criterion B) [DSM-IV, 1995, p 495]. In case Criterion B is not met, the sexual variants above are not considered pathologic or symptomatic, configuring only a variation of adult human sexuality.

Due to the lack of information and knowledge of what consensual erotic practices are about, their practitioners are erroneously classified as victims or perpetrators of coercitive acts of violence and sexual abuse.

BDSM Concepts and Practices

Consensual fetishist and sadomasochist practices are not easily defined, for they include a wide range of behaviors from which many practitioners do not appreciate all roles and activities, being the detailed description of each BDSM or Fetishist practice beyond the scope of the present study. We will focus, however, on the most general terms.

The term “BDSM”, that refers to the sadomasochist universe as a whole, involves all its aspects – dominance, submission, bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism, while SM means “sadomasochism” (Paschoal, 2002, p 14). However, the relationship between them is analogous to the distinction between the terms “homosexual” and “gay” (Moser, 1996, p 24).

According to this author’s theoretic perspective, “Dominance and Submission (DS) implies the deliberate transference of psychological and sexual control from one partner to the other without, necessarily, elements of physical pain or humiliation”.

The term “Bondage and Discipline”, “B&D” or “B/D” refers to sexual practices with various kinds of immobilization or physical restraint, while “Discipline” indicates the acting out of fantasies that relate to punishment/penalties like, for example, the “teacher/student” fantasy.

“Humiliation” refers to role-playing scenes in which the dominant partner detains control of power over the submissive partner, inflicting and ritualizing psychologic tortures, like verbal insults of a sexual conotation.

Regarding the terms “sadist” and “masochist”, there is a more physiological conotation, in which people experiment pleasure sensations in giving and/or receiving carefully controlled spanking with slippers or whips (Moser, 1996, p 25).

The word “leather” is used in the sadomasochist community by gays and lesbians (Moser, 1996, p 63).

Other behaviors also generally included in the sadomasochist practice are “age play”, a fetish that demands a partner to act as being of a different age, sometimes older, sometimes younger (playing as a baby, for example); forced or voluntary feminization of male submissives who wear high heel shoes, lingerie and female dresses (“crossdressing”), and also sexual plays involving urine and excrements. Paschoal (2002, p 16) maintains that “each of these concepts has personal, individual and unique aspects, like the people who practice them… Each one is free to choose which and how they prefer them… It is impossible to follow them in a literal way, since human creativity and individual freedom are what is the most precious in the human being”.

With the same creativity, the BDSM community created the term “vanilla”, for referring to conventional sexual practices that do not involve any SM component (Scott, 1997, p3). The “Safety, Sanity and Consensuality” triad (Brame G, Brame W & Jacobs, 1993, p 49) is considered a basic norm for consensual unconventional practices and may never be ignored or neglected. Paschoal (2002, p 22) states that the non-existence of any of the SSC aspects makes any and all BDSM relationship totally inviable.

By “Consensuality”, Moser (1996, p 31) understands the voluntary agreement firmed between the participants of the erotic play, in which the limits of each participants are honored. He explains that domestic abuse that occurs between a couple cannot be named “SM”, for SM is consensual, and abuse imposed on a partner is not. We may use as an example sexual intercourse and rape, where the former is consented and the latter is imposed by coercion. Therefore, the difference between sadomasochism and true violence is to be found in “informed consent” (Moser, 1996, p 31).

“Sanity” refers to being aware of what the participants are doing in an SM scene: it is a fantasy that does not correspond to reality. Certain BDSM practices imply considerable risk. In this sense, the knowledge of the partner, the establishment of limits and knowing the risks inherent to each practice are very important factors for the erotic BDSM play to be safe and pleasant. It is also worth saying that safety involves some prohibitions. As it is extremely important that one has complete awareness of what one is doing, the use of alcohol or any kind of drugs is severely unadvisable before or during the BDSM scene or play (Paschoal, 2002, p 27). In case any physical or psychological limit is surpassed, the use of a “safeword” reestablishes the limits of physical and emotional safety of the participants and the play is immediately interrupted (Paschoal, 2002, p 25).

According to Brame, G, Brame, W & Jacobs (1993, p 358), the word fetish comes from the Portuguese word feitiÁo and it is said to be used for the first time by Portuguese explorers in the 15th Century, for describing sacred images. In its anthropologic meaning, fetish is linked to sacred artifacts that are invested of spiritual powers. For fetishists, the erotic fetish is the symbol of the divine itself, being able to arouse and even to induce their devotees to ecstasy. Examples of erotic fetishes are found in those who admire a pair of shoes, instead of the feet that wear them; or the feet are considered extremely arousing, in detriment of the human body as a whole. All human beings are fetishists to some degree. In Brazilian culture, buttocks are the object of national adoration, while in American culture, breasts are extremely valued. In China, small female feet are extremely sexy. This demonstrates that different cultures elect their own fetishes. As Paschoal (2002, p 68) illustrates very well, “a fetish would be a specific preference in a universe of possibilities… BDSM is more like a fantasy full of fetishes. So as a masochist prefers (or has the fetish of) receiving pain, or being tortured exclusively with ropes, or with candles, or with ice, or with all alternatives, or with none of them, the sadist prefers (or has the fetish of) causing pain. They are all fetishes”.

Regarding Brazilian reality, the Internet became a powerful vehicle for the search of information and contacts for people who are interested in the erotic sadomasochist and fetishist practices, largely contributing for the formation of a “virtual” subculture of sexual minorities. The Brazilian BDSM movement is at an embryonary state, but growing, with hundreds of websites and discussion groups (www.yahoo.com.br and www.msn.com.br), trying to form a gathering movement that provides recognition, visibility and contacts outside “virtual” reality, following an international tendency proposed by American organization “The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom” (NCSF), that fights for equal rights in the legal, political and social fields for adults who are engaged in the practice of alternative sexual expressions. According to articles on SM available in their website (www.ncsfreedom.org.), NCSF explains that Sadomasochism is not abuse or domestic violence, being the latter “a pattern of intentional intimidation of one partner to coerce or isolate the other partner without consent” (www.ncsfreedom.org/what.htm), as opposed to what happens in BDSM practices, in which the partners involved agree on everything that will happen in the erotic play, besides being well informed about possible consequences of the erotic power exchange game. It also explains that domestic violence may occur in any group of people, including SM practitioners, but with the difference that within the sadomasochist community domestic violence is not forgiven, and victims as well as abusers are encouraged to look for specialized help.