There is a lot of dispute about the origins, but the ideas of the equality of the sexes is only several centuries old. The norm that sexual relationships should be voluntary, mutual, consenting, reciprocally pleasurable is quite new in human history.
|"Let's Go Crazy"|
There is controversy as to whether the film depicts "healthy" BDSM or the abuse of a young woman. Both sides of that debate, though, accept, in principle, that sexual relationships ought to be voluntary, mutual, consenting and reciprocally pleasurable.
BDSM positions itself as a kind of sex play within the norms of sexual egalitarianism. And like all play, it has an "as if" quality. Let's have sex "as if" I were your sexual slave, "as if" I had unlimited power over you. Let's have sex "as if" all the roles were reversed, and men were completely subservient to women.
Your pour the wine; I'll light the candles. Make sure the kids are asleep.
And most BDSM sex is even more playful. I'll pretend that all this is really happening to me, by me, through me, while I have sex with myself. It's playful thoughts.
It is also the eroticization of power, of domination and subordination.
Later on, when the play is over, we can go back to the real world, where men and women are equal, and sexual relationships are mutual and voluntary, and where we are horrified to read real stories of kidnapped women kept in dungeons and sexually abused. The world, also, of international sex trafficking and forced prostitution. The play world of voluntary BDSM and the real world of sexual abuse co-exist.
It's play, but it's atavistic play, deliberately recreating social arrangements of a previous, pre-feminist era. And it depends on a degree of privilege; all play does. Unless one is a person with sexual agency, autonomy over their sexual self and activity, one cannot give it up in play.
I am not here to judge other people's sex play and fantasy lives. They have their own sincerity and authenticity.
But I do want to know why. Why this, at a time when the hidden codes of domination and subordination between people are being interrogated and exposed as never before. Is it like ethnic joking, a seemingly playful subversion of new multicultural sensitivities? Is this nostalgia for the old ways of being human in which unequal power and sexuality were welded together?