Three R’s Of BDSM

by Bob Harris

Granted, “making intelligent decisions” is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when someone asks for a list of what the Government does on a day-to-day basis. Still, i’d really like to know what idiotic reasoning was used in deciding to make a holiday to mark the end of the summer season, and then do it under the guise of setting a day to honor the American worker? It’s bad enough that it won’t be long before the weather turns crappy, the trees lose their leaves making them all look dead, and most outdoor activities become a test of our endurance to the cold. Is an end of summer “holiday” any way to honor the workforce? Sure doesn’t sound like a day to celebrate to me!As a child, i didn’t particularly like Labor Day either. It was just a reminder that school was about to start back up. It’s not as bad for kids now that schools have begun reopening in August instead of September. It still marks the end of summer, but they have already been back in school for a couple weeks, so now it’s the first day off from another year of “Three R’s”; Reading, ”Riting & ‘Rithmatic.

Judging from what i see lately, a good number of the boys, as well as the boi boys, and girls, in our community, could stand a review of the Three R’s as well. The Three R’s of submission that is! A lot of Dominants could stand a brush-up as well.

What are the Three R’s?

Responsibility, Responsibility, Responsibility

Okay, so i made that up. Actually it should be the “Four R’s” to include Respect as well.

But for now I’m going to talk about responsibility. It seems that the concept that a person is responsible for his/her own actions has all but vanished. Accepting the responsibility for ensuring that commitments made are actually honored has been changing to accepting responsibility–if and when it is not inconvenient to do so.

For example, as a member of any type group–be it a single family unit, or an international community–there is an inherent responsibility not to act in such a way as to disrupt or dishonor that group or its members. Not only has that responsibility been forgotten, it appears that it has been replaced with a responsibility to purposely try to tear things apart. We’re seeing more and more of that within our Community lately.

It would be easy just to ignore the problem, to write it off by saying that our Community is simply reflecting what is happening in society in general. Maybe we should be grateful that, for once, we have a problem that is not ours alone. Another easy out is to feel that any attempt to correct the situation would be futile. After all, despite many efforts, society has been unable to slow down, much less stop or reverse the trend of personal irresponsibility, right?

But, as with so many other aspects of everyday life–such as trust, honor and respect–personal responsibility and being accountable for your own actions (or lack thereof), takes on a heightened importance in the context of the BDSM culture. The concepts has even greater significance in the context of submission.

Consider how important it is for a submissive to be able to completely and unquestionably trust a Dominant. One must trust that they possess the necessary technical skills and also the personal attributes which show them to be a person of honor who inspires respect. This high degree of trust is essential for a submissive to give himself to the Dominant freely and willingly. Very few situations in everyday life require that level of trust. Certainly, one of the fundamental elements of such a trust is knowing that the Dominant fully accepts his or her responsibility to develop basic skills before using any implement in a play scene. Dominants much accept their responsibility in ensuring that the scene does not result in the submissive being pushed to a limit beyond their actual capabilities; that they do not inflict serious injury or abuse, mentally or physically.

Likewise, one of the fundamental elements considered by a Dominant in accepting an offer of submission is whether the submissive accepts his or her responsibility to be honest when describing their experience level, personal limits, “hot-buttons” and any other factors that could even remotely affect the scene.

It is the responsibility of submissives to let the Dominant know if they are beginning to feel uneasy about a given situation or feel that they may be getting pushed too far, too fast. It is their responsibility to express those feelings to the Dominant BEFORE the they are pushed to a level beyond their capacity to deal. Once that happens it may be too late to go back and fix it; the damage may already have been done.

It is also their responsibility to inform the Dominant of any areas of play which they definitely do not wish to explore for whatever reason– whether it’s because of an association with a traumatic event earlier in life, a type of play they are not familiar with or don’t understand well enough to try yet, or simply because they tried it in the past and just didn’t like it.

Here are four crucial questions to think about:

1. How are Dominants to know they have crossed a line the submissive did not want–or wasn’t prepared–to cross if the submissive did not tell them such a line exists?

2. Is the Dominant or the submissive to blame if such a line is crossed and the submissive somehow harmed?

3. Who is at fault if a submissive has been subjected to a level of pain they are incapable of tolerating, perhaps to a level where the high from play is replaced with the horror of torture when they didn’t ask for a time-out or give any other indication that all was not well until they were already freaking out?

4. Should Dominants feel responsibile if the play goes bad and the submissive claims harm, even though the Doms did their best to behave honorably: for example, pausing several times to check on the submissive’s mental state and ability to continue, and getting repeated assurances from the submissive that he or she desired to continue? A Dominant who fully understands and accepts the responsibility of protecting the submissive–and takes it seriously–is probably going to feel some degree of responsibility if the submissive experiences even the least bit of displeasure, no matter the circumstances, and no matter how careful they tried to be to make sure it didn’t happen.

But, in my opinion, unless a Dominant deliberately ignores signs of trouble, or by action or deed prevents the submissive from signaling a problem, it is unfair to assign blame to the Dominant. When a problem arises because the submissive failed to be honest about his or her limits or pretended that things were fine when they weren’t, the blame for any harm done lies solely with the submissive. By choosing to say nothing, failing to be fully honest, purposely omitting or giving misleading information, the submissive passively instigates his or her own abuse and must accept the brunt of the responsibility for the harmful results.

As far as i am concerned, this hold true in any situation involving a Dominant/submissive interaction– what that’s a single play session, a training or mentoring relationship, or a committed relationship. The Scene has long since progressed beyond the dangerous and misguided notion that submissives have no right to voice concerns or request limits. We are not mindless toys, with such low self-esteem that we feel all we are good for is to be used for whatever by whomever. Any dominant (little d on purpose) or submissive, who actually stills believes those things needs to stop and take the time to learn what this is really about before somebody gets seriously hurt.

What can the Community as a whole do? For one thing, we can stop jumping to the conclusion that the Dominant is always wrong and the submissive always right when a submissive claims to have been either misused or abused. We can stop listening to those who jump in and out of relationships, going from Dominant to Dominant, each time blaming the breakup on the Dominant’s inability to understand or treat them properly. We can stop listening to the vicious lies and rumors such submissives often spread in order to cover up their own inadequacy and their failure to provide the level of service and commitment they had promised. I think we need to check out both sides of every story before labeling someone as unsafe or abusive. The abuse may have actually been engineered by the submissive!

The submissives of the community can help by trying to educate those in our ranks, and especially those entering the lifestyle, that we do have a responsibility to take care of ourselves. We also have a responsibility to take care of each other and to help people out of truly abusive situations, stressing that abuse is not something they deserve and that they do not exist for the sole purpose of receiving “punishment”. We need to point out the difference between fact and fantasy when we see obvious misinformation being spread in chat rooms and egroups.

Most of all, submissives must realize that knowledgeable, trustworthy Dominants are NOT going to think less of you for being honest with them about your limitations. In fact, they will think more highly of you, especially if you fully explain the reasons behind the limits and keep an open mind to the possibility that some day, under the right circumstances, you might be willing to try and overcome them. Nobody wants a toy that is already broken or in constant need of repair. (And, by the way, it is your responsibility to make sure that you aren’t one of the broken ones!)

I guess this mean we have a lot of work to do. Which brings me back to the Labor Day theme. I forgot to mention that the main reason i don’t like Labor Day is that from now until Memorial Day wearing white is totally unfashionable. According to the protocols that Sir follows, boys are only permitted to wear white T-shirts, no colors, especially not black which is what Dominants wear: just white. So from now until Memorial Day, i have to keep an eye out for the fashion police.

Oh well! Another responsibility!

copyright bob harris © May 2000
(No portion of this article may be reproduced without the written permission of the author)