Strangling a partner, grabbing and pulling hair, and slapping someone all sound like forms of physical abuse, and indeed can be. In fact as someone who has worked with hundreds of survivors of intimate partner violence these activities are often what was described to me. Many of them finally left the abuser when their partner put their hands around their necks and tried to strangle them. This was often the last straw and the victims feared for their life. Hearing these stories from survivors of abuse was often chilling, and I did help them understand that these actions are not ok, except if that is what you want. If you do not want your partner to slap you or pull your hair it is abuse, however if you mutually agree that this is what you want to do, and even more so if you get aroused and feel pleasure from it, you are not being abused. A friend recently reached out that I had not heard from in a few years. She seemed a bit panicked in her email, and I reached out right away. She was a fellow social worker, and we had both worked with survivors of intimate partner violence. I know she had been single for a long time, and was looking to be in a relationship, and indeed she was now in one. The relationship sounded great, but she was worried about one thing – their sex life. She had a fair amount of sexual experience, but there was something new in this relationship-kink. Her partner had discussed with her that he liked being hit, whipped, and strangled. At first she had refused, but in time she decided to give it a try, and she found she really, really liked it. However, this made her fear that she was secretly an abusive person, and was afraid she would slap her or hit her boyfriend at times when they were not having consensual sex. Maybe when she was mad at him, or just because she wanted to. She was afraid she was an abuser. When I asked if those feelings or urges had come up, she said “no.,” but I could sense that her fear was intense. We discussed that becoming sexually aroused by doing what her partner had asked her to do, was not abuse. I think it was so hard for her to realize that actions that hurt many people can also make others feel good. This NY Times article also delves into the world of kink, and might help explain a bit more about it.
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