“Power play can be a deeply healing experience for sexual assault survivors because they get to decide what happens”
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[Trigger Warning: the following article contains discussions of sexual assault. Please read with caution. If you or someone you know is struggling with sexual assault. Call 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.]
Let me start you off with some sad statistics: Nearly one in five women, and one in 71 men will be raped or face rape attempts in their lifetimes. Nearly half of lesbians, bisexual women and transgender people are victims.
A majority of these assaults will occur before the victim reaches the age of 25 and can psychologically impact them for the rest of their lives.
One tactic that survivors of sexual assault have used to reclaim their bodily autonomy and treat PTSD is power play. Power play is a form of BDSM (bondage/discipline, domination/submission, sadism/masochism), which utilizes dominant and submissive roles.
Consent and communication are the most important aspects of this dynamic. Before a scene takes place, both partners must discuss what is going to happen and what they are comfortable and not comfortable doing. In some cases, this means planning out the entire scene and establishing a safe word to end the encounter, in case one or both partners become overwhelmed or are no longer enjoying it.
Power play can be a deeply healing experience for sexual assault survivors because they get to decide what happens, allowing them to revisit, recreate or rewrite their trauma in a controlled environment.
“To be able to sit down and discuss ‘this is exactly what I want, and this is exactly what I’m willing to allow,’ and have that be held sacred, opened my eyes to the realization that I am worthy of having my consent treated like the number one most import thing in the world — because it is,” Alyssa, a LA-based stand up comedian told Vice.
Some prefer the submissive role where they relinquish control to a trusted partner. This may help to rebuild trust. Others take on the dominant role, which allows them to lead the scene, helping to rebuild confidence. Some prefer to switch between the two, depending on how they’re feeling in a certain situation.
Submissives, or bottoms, experience an altered state accompanied by feelings of floating, peacefulness, time distortion and living in the here and now. Dominants, or tops, feel the Csikszentmihalyi Nine Dimensions of Flow which includes focused attention, a loss of self-consciousness and optimal performance. In the BDSM community, these states are referred to as “subspace” and “topspace.”
Some psychotherapists, like Leslie Rogers and Tani Thole, have incorporated kink and power play into their therapy techniques. The duo calls it Light/Dark Therapy.
“What I’m recreating in BDSM is like war — but in recreating war, I’m ending it,” Rogers told The Atlantic. “I’m going to a place with you where I shouldn’t go, and we’ll meet there, and in the end we’ll realize that we are still capable of being loved.”
Power play and BDSM may not be the best course of action for every survivor of sexual assault, though. Some scenes or actions may be triggering, so it’s important to be cautious and open with your partner.
Power play doesn’t need to incorporate more traditional elements of BDSM, such as bondange or spanking, to be effective. All it requires is an openness to new experiences, honest communication and, above all, full consent.
Past experiences can be hard to overcome, but everyone deserves to be loved and treated with respect. Power play is just one way that survivors can work to move past these traumas to live their best lives.
Rachel Kutcher is a Staff Writer at Rowdy Magazine. She loves the rain, candles, fancy cocktails, collecting jars and New Girl’s Nick Miller. Her passions include destigmatizing sex, empowering women and exploring cultures through food. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.