Erotic Slavery

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December 1995

by William A. Henkin, Ph.D.

Copyright © 1995 by William A. Henkin

<Q>I've been having a discussion with my Mistress – in straight time – about sexual slavery, property rights, and ownership. I want her to own me completely: to control all the rights in my life about everything – where I go, what I do, when I do it and with whom – everything. I am extremely committed and eagerly obedient to her: I rarely fuck up, I accept my punishment when I make a mistake, I try hard not to make the same mistake twice, and I would happily die if my Mistress told me to. For all my devotion, however, she thinks it is simply impossible for one person to truly own another. She says that without some form of force to back such ownership up, the person who is property can pull the plug on the agreement any time, just by walking away.

I can see her point from a legal or a nonconsensual perspective, but can't one person own another emotionally? And why would someone walk away from an agreement he wanted so sincerely, even if he could? If slave contracts are really worth no more than the paper they're written on, isn't all our community talk about dominance and submission something of a sham? My Mistress has read this letter and though she says she does not agree with all of it, she does approve my sending it to you.

<A> As you are apparently aware, your Mistress is absolutely correct about the illegality of owning human property, which is prohibited by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. No slave contract of any kind can be enforced at law in this country, including a consensual contract: you do not have the right to give yourself away.

Even though a person who is owned in the DS meaning of the term can, technically, pull the plug on the agreement any time just by walking away, however – as can his or her owner – this sort of abrupt, unilateral change is not likely if the relationship has been well-negotiated at the beginning, and well-executed as it played out. Change within, or termination of, a well-organized relationship between Mistress or Master and property is more likely to be worked out the way any other relationship is altered or concluded: by communication and negotiation that aims at the greatest possible mutual satisfaction.

The fantasy of human ownership extends far beyond the mean history of nonconsensual slavery our species seems to have practiced in most parts of the globe for the past 5,000 - 10,000 years, and far beyond the SM subculture's consensual slavery as well; you can hear echoes of this desire to control and be controlled – or to hold and be held – in a plethora of popular songs based on the "You belong to me" or "I belong to you" theme.

But as I've written here before, people's fantasies virtually always exceed what they want in reality, and living out a fantasy as complex as one based on owning or being owned by another person is very difficult for both the top and the bottom. You can get some sense of the difficulties reflected both in the fact that the sorts of songs I mentioned are especially popular with adolescents, whose worldviews tend to be more simplistic than those of older people, and in the fact that successful human property relationships are extremely rare. Cynthia Slater, founder of the Society of Janus, used to observe that an SM relationship that lasted was likely to be a relationship that had SM in it, rather than a relationship based on SM. I might build on her observation by noting that while it may be the fetish that attracts us to one another, it is more often the human element that binds us.

For any sort of SM/DS human property relationship to have its best chance of success, whether it's a brief professional scene or a lifetime partnership, the exchange of erotic power should be clearly and consensually negotiated. Because it is negotiated, and because it is consensual, an observer might assert that no one in it really owns or is owned by anyone. So, with regard to the sexual theatre of SM, we might pause to ask what constitutes reality – but who could answer such a question?

The 18th century English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge pointed out that in order to enjoy the fantastic qualities of even the most realistic fiction we must exercise what he called "a willing suspension of disbelief": we must agree to pretend that while we're sitting in our easy chair turning a book's paper pages marked with blotches of ink, we're really on a starship long ago in a galaxy far, far away; or running with the bulls in Pamplona before World War II; or falling down a rabbit hole into a world where the moon is the grin of a talking cat and where the queen of hearts of a deck of cards plays croquet using a flamingo for her mallet. If we don't suspend our disbelief, all of fiction – all of art – is patently absurd; but if we do, it is our willing suspension of disbelief, as much as it is the art we suspend our disbelief for, that allows alternate worlds to open up to us, bringing us insights and wisdom as well as the simple delights of escaping into a well-told yarn.

In the world of consensual slavery we also willingly suspend our disbelief: we pretend that two politically equal human beings are politically unequal; that one has power and authority over the other even if the one in charge is physically weaker, financially poorer, less educated, less sophisticated, and has no line of force to back her up; that the one who is owned cannot simply pull the plug on the agreement any time just by walking away because he has given his freely negotiated word that he will not do so. Leaving apart those people who identify spiritual dimensions in their play to which they pay religious honor, our human honor becomes our reality.

In literature, of course, we don't suspend our disbelief for just any writer: she must have a story to tell that captures our imaginations, and must tell it in a way that keeps us coming back for more. If we are not a good match with some author, or even if we're not a good match at that time, we don't play with that author, or we call our safeword: we don't read his book or we put it down and look for another. Likewise in SM we can't suspend our disbelief for just any top or bottom, even if we want to: he must be a fit with us in some way or ways. And if we have to renegotiate later we can do so with responsibility and integrity.

The human-world reality we live in is, to a large extent, what we agree with each other that it is. Gravity may not care about consent, but the borders of nations, codes of laws, and rules of aesthetics certainly do: that is why they change so readily. I can't own you physically because the law says I can't, and I can't own you emotionally because, as your Mistress observes, one person can never truly own another that way: he who is owned may change his mind as people fall out of love, and anyone can always walk away.

But I can own you as long as we both agree or recognize that I do, and as long as we agree what that ownership means and entails, and as long as we are willing and able to discuss changes of the borders if and when they occur. Whether your Mistress is willing to play this potentially deep, intimate, and serious game with you is part of what constitutes the borders of your relationship, and so it is for the two of you to decide together.

If you enter into a negotiation of this sort you might make a few unsettling questions part of your discussion. When you talk about sexual slavery, ownership, and property rights, for example, are you speaking out of a certain amount of fantasy you have not completely acknowledged – even to yourself, perhaps? If not, then why, as you say, could you do something as extreme as to happily die for your Mistress, when you cannot accept her much gentler command that you own yourself? Do you want your Mistress to own you her way, or yours?

And bear in mind, of course, that if you want your Mistress to own you as completely as you say and she agrees, what you get may not be what you want. It is surely possible, for example, that your Mistress does not want the very substantial responsibility of owning another person, which is a much harder job than SM porn and weekend scenes make clear. But – as she has done to some extent by approving your letter even though she disagrees with parts of it – she could also take the rights you offer and then require you to run your own life as you've been doing all along. Obeying such an order would let your Mistress's reality over-rule your fantasy, and that would be an act of true submission.

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