In his post Discussion: Consent and Its Limits and his follow-up post My Views on Consent and Its Limits, Ludwig discussed whether it is morally acceptable that an adult consents to an activity like BDSM that causes injuries and where the limits of that consent should be drawn. At first, I wanted to write about my own views on that topic in a comment, but then I realised that the comment got too long and that it focussed on a certain aspect which wasn't the main theme of the original posts. So I decided to write about my thoughts in a separate post instead.
My personal view on consent and its limits in BDSM resembles Ludwig's, so I haven't much too add in that regard. The topics of consent, informed consent and subliminal pressure have already been discussed at length. But the case of the Rothenburg cannibal which Ludwig used to outline the moral questions made me think about my moral views on acts that cause or are likely to cause damage to a person and the role of the motivation of those involved. That's what I would like to write about in this post.
The first question I asked myself when I thought about the case of the Rothenburg cannibal Meiwes was whether I find it generally immoral that one person takes another person's life with their consent. For me, the answer is no. For instance, I am in favour of assisted suicide in case of severe diseases which cause a person lots of suffering. In my opinion, people should have the right to decide when to end their lives in such situations. Consequently, I wouldn't consider assisting someone in such a situation immoral. The same goes, for instance, when women who have a very high genetic risk of breast cancer decide to have their breasts preventively amputated. While there is no actual need at the time of the amputation to do it, I am of the opinion that it is the woman's right to decide whether she wants to live with that life threatening risk or not. So, the act of amputation or assisting someone in their wish to commit suicide obviously is not where I generally draw the line. There must be an additional factor in the Rothenburg case which makes me feel that it is morally wrong (apart from the question whether the victim Brandes was sane enough to give his consent to this act).
What distinguishes the Rothenburg case from the examples I mentioned above is the motivation. Brandes didn't suffer from any terminal or life threatening disease. He simply wanted to die, most probably as a result of a psychological disorder. What I would like to focus on today, though, is Meiwes's motivation. In the cases mentioned above, the doctor assisting with the suicide or amputating a woman's breast (hopefully) has their patient's well-being on his mind. The Rothenburg cannibal, on the other hand, committed the acts for his own pleasure. Brandes was merely his willing victim.
Now that's the part which brings the connection to BDSM. A top usually also derives pleasure from the consensual act that involves hurting another person. Martial arts fights might not be that different. Here the pleasure is not sexual but comes from the thrill of engaging in an athletic competition. The activity also includes the infliction physical pain, though, and in my opinion handling that pain and maybe also inflicting it is part of the thrill.
Pleasure is an acceptable motivation for me in both cases, no matter whether it is sexual pleasure or non-sexual pleasure. But with pleasure being the main motivation, I draw a different line when it comes to the question whether a consensual act is moral or immoral. In that case, I draw the line at the point already mentioned by other commenters, namely at the point where permanent damage is caused intentionally.
Permanent damage in the definition I use here means that a person has permanent health issues (a tattoo isn't a permanent damage according to this definition, cutting off a finger is). The word "intentionally" is important here, too. Martial arts fights, BDSM activities, even crossing the street are all actions which involve the risk of suffering permanent damage in case of an accident. But the important thing is that it is not the intention of the participants to cause any permanent damage. And in my opinion acts like sports fights and BDSM are only morally okay as long as the participants make sure that the risk of accidental damage isn't higher than necessary. Of course, this isn't a 100 per cent sharp definition, but I will try to explain it with an example.
As you might know, I don't have any moral problems with severe canings (using BDSM canes which aren't heavy enough to cause any permanent scars). I've done them myself and I can attest that, while causing longer-lasting marks, severe canings don't cause any permanent damage. But of course there is, for instance, a certain risk of causing real damage when accidentally hitting the kidneys full force. That's why I find it morally questionable when a top who hasn't enough experience and practice to wield a cane at least fairly accurately exposes a bottom to the risk of accidental harm through mishits. Of course, hitting totally accurately is difficult when it comes to full-force canings, but with enough practice the chance of being as far off from the target area as the kidneys is very small. Without proper experience, concentration and care, the risk becomes unnecessarily high, though.
A personal emotional rule
Apart from the moral question it came to me that this is a topic which also affects me emotionally, especially from a bottom's point of view. I realised that I've got the following emotional rule in my head: the more severe (mentally or physically) a scene is, the more important it is for me that the scene is based on the bottom's wish to try it and the more focussed should the top be on the bottom's well-being up to a point at which they focus more on the bottom than on their own pleasure - at least during the scene.
I am aware that this isn't a valid moral judgement, it's an emotional judgement which reflects my personal limits. Some people surely love to do edgy scenes wholly for the pleasure of their tops (because that idea actually gives them a lot of pleasure, if not during the scene then at least afterwards). And some bottoms might argue that they would never want to do an edgy scene knowing that the top doesn't fully enjoy it. But for me, the rule mentioned above is an important one which I need in order to feel safe.
There are several occasions in which this rule became important in Ludwig's and my play. Especially when we played for the very first time, when I decided to do my first very severe caning and when we filmed my severe caning scene for Dreams of Spanking. All three times, Ludwig was mainly focussed on my well-being and put his personal pleasure aside. He didn't only do that for me, though. If you read his accounts of his shoots for Mood Pictures and Lupus Pictures carefully, it will become very obvious that getting the scene right and hitting accurately was Ludwig's main focus. The feeling of pleasure was something he allowed himself afterwards, when the scene was over.
I think I've become a bit more relaxed about edgy scenes and tops focussing on their own pleasure over time. Having gained more experience and also switched sides, I came to realise that this isn't a binary thing. One can have fun as a top and still focus on the bottom's well-being. One can also talk about one's fantasies as a top and hope that the bottom might be up for it, even when it is not their core fantasy. Of course only as long as one doesn't put any subliminal pressure on the bottom to do things they aren't comfortable with. Still, the basic rule in my head hasn't changed. I am okay with fulfilling someone else's (and especially my mate's) fantasy, but the edgier the fantasy is and the more physical damage is caused, the more it must be a scenario that I enjoy as well and the more focus on my well-being I expect from the top during the scene.
How about you? I would love to hear about your thoughts in the comment section!