Why my BDSM is not a form of self-harm (trigger warning)

Disclaimer: There is no such thing as a universal experience of mental illness. The content of this post refers specifically to me, and should not be held as representative of everyone with clinical depression.

A lot of perverts of around my generation had some kind of awakening upon watching the film Secretary. For those who don’t know, a potted summary: Lee (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a chronic self-harmer, finds a new kind of release in BDSM.

Secretary helped me to identify my sexual preferences (in more ways than one – Maggie Gyllenhaal was the first female celebrity I openly admitted I was attracted to). However, its depiction of the intersection between BDSM and self-harm is hella problematic.

I am a depressive and a recovering self-harmer. I have not self-injured in 4 months to the day. As I type this, my arms are covered in bruises and rope-marks from a tricky suspension and a fairly vicious hojojutsu session. These two things are not related.

For me, self-harm is one of two things: an act of self-hatred, or externalising emotional pain. Wounds are reassuring, because they heal, and if the wounds on the outside can heal, maybe the ones on the inside can too. Pain can help to make the noise in my head subside during a particularly bad episode. Sometimes I just want to hurt myself because that’s all I deserve.

Fundamentally, I do not self-injure because I enjoy pain. That’s the realm of SM. If I am tempted to engage in SM as a replacement for self harm, I am doing it for the wrong reasons, and I am self-aware enough to isolate myself if I have to.

SM can be a tool to manage the urge to self-harm. It is not, and should never be, a substitute for self-harm. If you wield SM against yourself as a tool of self-hatred, you are almost certainly doing it with the wrong person and for the wrong reasons.