August 2008 - resting during a visit to Kew Gardens
Thank you to everyone who provided feedback on last month's column, which gave details of a model to describe SM sexuality. Your comments have given me much to think about and I hope to post a follow-up next month.
My highlight of September was travelling to America for Inferno, the annual SM run of the Chicago Hellfire Club. This was my fifth Inferno and I had a lot of fun. I'm very grateful to everyone who volunteered their time to organise such a wonderful week.
Despite the fun we have at SM clubs and parties there are elements of society who think that our sexuality is criminal or mentally unsound. For example, the American Psychiatric Association has a list of mental illnesses called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Homosexuality was removed from the DSM in 1973, but it still contains a section on paraphilias which includes Sexual Sadism, Sexual Masochism, Fetishism, Transvestic Fetishism, Voyeurism, Frotteurism, Exhibitionism and Paedophilia.
In the latest version of the DSM they added some restrictions before you can be diagnosed as a Sexual Sadist or Sexual Masochist. You have to have had intense, arousing SM fantasies for at least 6 months, which narrows down the group of people who could receive a diagnosis ... hardly at all. The SM fantasies also need to have caused you marked distress or interpersonal difficulty. But if you lose your job because someone tells your boss that you like SM, then it can be said that SM has caused you marked distress or interpersonal difficulty! Another symptom psychiatrists are recommended to look out for is when your fantasies involve a non-consenting person. But how can your SM partner give their consent if they have also been diagnosed as having a mental illness?
Those of you who live outside North American may think you have nothing to worry about. Unfortunately the World Health Organisation (WHO) has an International Classification of Diseases (ICD) which includes Fetishism, Transvestism and Sadomasochism as psychiatric diagnoses. So if you live in the rest of the world and like SM, watch out, you too could be diagnosed as having a mental illness.
Does any of this really matter? Surely anyone who enjoys SM and wants psychiatric treatment would look for a kink-friendly therapist?
Unfortunately the law and the psychiatric profession work hand in hand. If an SM player ends up in court fighting for custody of their children, as a victim of rape or abuse, or defending themselves against allegations of assault following a consensual scene, then it is not going to help when the court asks for a psychiatric evaluation and the SM player is given a positive diagnosis of mental illness. We can stop the courts from using this against us if we can persuade the psychiatric professions to remove SM from their lists of diseases.
Some people argue that SM should stay listed as a possible diagnosis because "it's not right for everyone" or "it causes some people problems". Well I know some people who work in jobs that are not right for them or that cause them depression, but we don't classify the profession they work in as a potential mental illness. Instead we recommend that the person gets another job.
The good news is that there are people campaigning for change.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has formed working committees to revise its Diagnostic and Statistic Manual (DSM) by 2011. The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom has launched an online petition to persuade the APA to remove or drastically restructure the Paraphilias section in the DSM in the next revision.
You can sign the petition by going to www.thepetitionsite.com/1/DSMrevisionpetition (you can make your signature anonymous on this secure petition site so it doesn't appear on the Internet). The NCSF has also provided more information about the DSM and the Paraphilias section on their website: www.ncsfreedom.org
On the other side of the Atlantic, the Revise F65 project in Norway is lobbying to remove Fetishism, Transvestism and Sadomasochism as psychiatric diagnoses from the International and national Classifications of Diseases published by the WHO. The Revise F65 project would like to build a network of supporters all over the world, including as many mental health professionals and national psychiatric organisations as possible. This is the same process as when homosexuality was taken away as a mental disorder, first by several countries and their national psychiatric organisations, followed by the WHO itself.
Have fun, look after yourselves and the people you play with.
International Mr Leather 2003