The Difference between
S/M and Abuse

A group of leaders and activists who attended the Leather Leadership Conference II in NYC on April 17-19, 1998, compiled the following set of ideals based on established community principles that SM is fundamentally different from abuse. We hope the community agrees to the following Standards & Guidelines that are intended to help the law enforcement and social services communities understand the difference between abusive relationships and S/M, which consists of diverse sexual practices that bring satisfaction and gratification to the participants. While we respect the diversity of our subculture, we believe that the autonomy and humanity of each individual must be respected and maintained.

S/M is the generally accepted term for a complex group of behaviors that involves the consensual giving and receiving of intense erotic sensation and/or intense mental discipline, and it usually involves an exchange of power between the partners. S/M is not about unresolved childhood issues of power, shame, or the eroticization of violence.

If an individual is in an abusive relationship, then it is likely that physical or sexual activities will also be abusive. It is essential that those involved in diverse sexual relationships are not isolated from their family or friends. To ensure self-esteem, individuals must be free to discuss their preferences, practices and feelings with anyone they chose. Individuals must also be able to exercise self-determination when it comes to money, employment and life decisions.

Standards

1. The community recognizes the phrase "Safe Sane Consensual" as the best brief summary of principles guiding our sexual expression.

A. "Safe" is being knowledgeable about the techniques and safety concerns involved in what you are doing. Each participant must be informed about the possible risks, both mental and physical.

B. "Sane" is knowing the difference between fantasy and reality. Knowledgeable consent cannot be given if you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

C. "Consensual" is respecting the limits imposed by each participant. One of the most easily recognized ways to maintain limits is through a "safeword" - which ensures the bottom/submissive can end the activity at any time with a single word or gesture.

2. These Standards & Guidelines only pertain to sexual expression between consenting adults. Children (anyone under 18) cannot give knowledgeable consent, and sexual acts between adults and children are illegal and cannot be condoned by the community.

3. Threats are not safe, sane or consensual. Threats can include actions or warnings that your property will be destroyed, or your children and pets will be hurt, or your partner threatens to kill you or commit suicide if you leave, or you are blackmailed or outed because of your involvement in diverse sexual practices.

4. Isolation and/or being prevented from retaining employment or obtaining higher education is not safe, sane or consensual. Emotions must be respected, including feelings of jealousy or dissatisfaction, and responsibility for what happens must be accepted and shared by each participant.

Guidelines

1. Use a safeword in order to make participants responsible to themselves and others.

2. Use negotiation, which often involves complex, lengthy communication, in order to make participants aware of each other's limits, needs and desires.

3. Do not use scenes to express anger or frustration, or to manipulate or give unwanted punishment to one of the participants.

If you say no to any of the following questions, you may be suffering abuse:

We hold abusers accountable for emotional and physical violence, and we encourage survivors to seek support.