Kink, BDSM and Pornography: Why Don’t They Always Show Sex?

A common complaint I hear from porn viewers is that they want to see S/M (aka BDSM, bondage or authentic kink) mixed with sex — but the combination is nearly impossible to find. It’s easy to think that pornographers just don’t “get it,” especially considering how they handle and produce bisexual and female-penetrating-male porn.

BDSM and kink are a sexual practices, and porn is about sex, so why don’t they ever show the two together? Those who practice and play with S/M know how hot and sexy these two great tastes are together, and renting an S/M tape with sexy players who do nothing more than spank each other in rubber outfits can be pretty disappointing. I mean, the sexy latex-wrapped sirens in the Ivy Manor series are way hot, but would be even hotter if they fucked and came like screaming banshees. Unfortunately, in the eyes of the law, anything outside of vanilla sex is considered “edgy” content — even though many regular folks engage in S/M sex games every day.

The problem is, many lawmakers believe that S/M and other quite common sexual practices such as bondage, spanking or even fisting are harmful — they simply don’t understand what these practices really are. And contrary to what the lawmakers think, what S/M isn’t about is abuse, degradation or nonconsensual violation.

In reality, the sensual rituals and games that fall under the name “S/M” are for people who love, respect and trust one another. When a couple engages in S/M, they experience the thrill, rush and arousal that come from an agreed-upon exchange of power. One lover holds down her sweetheart’s hands while she administers loving spanks to his naughty, gleefully wriggling behind; two lovers can dress in leather, lingerie or uniforms and play erotic games of dominance and submission with sexual rewards; one partner can enjoy surrendering to the feeling of restraint and allow herself to be sensually whipped into erotic bliss that can only come from surrender, fantasy fulfillment and intense physical stimulation. Sex and S/M in combination can make for the most unforgettable, mind-blowing, pivotal, emotional and even spiritual sexual experiences.

The state of the law in the United States about sexually explicit material revolves around keeping pornographers and retailers on their toes, never knowing for what, or when, they might be prosecuted for offending “community standards.” You see, the law in the U.S. states that something is considered “obscene,” and therefore illegal to create or distribute, if a court somewhere says it is.

You might hear people in and out of the adult industry say things like, “Showing urination is illegal,” or “Showing S/M with sex is illegal,” or “Portraying Bill O’Reilly as a journalist expert is illegal” (and if isn’t, it should be), — and all of these cautious statements are incorrect. In fact, there’s only a single test, which is whether a court in any of the 50 states decides that a particular thing (tape, book, picture, washed-up comedienne, whatever) is, by the “standards of the community,” obscene.

No one making S/M videos knows if what they are doing is illegal or not. That is, until they receive a sweet invitation called an “indictment” and attend a party just for them called a “trial,” followed by a big hangover called a “conviction.” Then they’ve been (albeit arbitrarily) bad. This situation, reminiscent of organized crime tactics, is not an oversight; the U.S. Supreme Court is quite aware that the only way that retailers and pornographers can really be sure they won’t be prosecuted for selling “obscene” material is for them to avoid portraying activities that might possibly be interpreted as obscene — anywhere.

Meanwhile, the courts seem smug and pleased with themselves, conservative politicians can trot out a pet cause when the polls are flagging, and the retailers and creators of the most widely recognized product (outside the 99-cent hamburger) in America sweat through every single business day — while the government never actually makes smut categorically illegal. Based on caution and court cases, adult retailers know that they cannot ship S/M and sex videos to Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah as well as the northern district of Florida.

The topic of obscenity is, put lightly, a slippery slope. If you’re like me and you survived the National Endowment for the Arts debacle where performance artist Karen Finley faced off against ultra-ultraconservative U.S. Senator Jesse Helms’s frightening stance on obscenity in art, then you’re likely to be wary about the notion of others defining your individual standards of obscenity.

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines “obscene” as “1: disgusting to the senses: repulsive; 2A: abhorrent to morality or virtue; specifically: designed to incite to lust or depravity; B: containing or being language regarded as taboo in polite usage; C: repulsive by reason of crass disregard of moral or ethical principles (an obscene misuse of power); D: so excessive as to be offensive (obscene wealth, obscene waste).”

In a court case for obscenity, the accused is held to whatever the local community’s standards are for obscenity, as determined by a jury. The real question is, whose morality or virtue is being offended here? A jury sitting there worrying about how much work they’re missing while stuck in court? The many people who bought or rented the tape? And whose community standards come into question when you’re talking about a consumer product? Not too long ago, Attorney General John Ashcroft found the exposed breast of a statue in the halls of his own Justice Department to be obscene, and ordered it covered up. I find the one-million-dollar per episode salary for each cast member of Friends to be obscene (that was 22 episodes per season, girls).

But an act of mutual sexual pleasure between adults?

Please — spare me, and my tax dollars.

Legality and porn is a big crapshoot for retailers and pornographers. In many cases manufacturers have decided to avoid material that could cause problems, though some producers are becoming willing to take a chance and portray sexuality in a more diverse and realistic light, and ready to face the consequences (such as where they mix S/M with sex, resulting in many — female — orgasms and pride themselves on the female-driven storylines, in addition to the safety and consent of their performers). In my opinion, I say let us consumers decide — keep the courts out of it.

Read more common questions, and their often strange answers in my book, The Smart Girl’s Guide to Porn.