Good Sex, Bad Sex

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in conference


'Selling Vulnerability: BDSM Sex and the Power of Choice' Abstract: This paper examines the interaction of the politics and regulation of selling sex, with that of BDSM (bondage and discipline, sadism and masochism). Where women sell BDSM sex, complex questions of choice, exploitation, vulnerability, power and agency are raised. Some of the policy and legal debates about the regulation of sex work take place against the backdrop of heteronormative and gendered assumptions about power, agency, and the subject position of the buyer and seller. Legal and social questions about regulating commercial sex take on new and more complex aspects when considered in the light of the sale of both straight and lesbian BDSM sex. Do these ‘transactions’ mirror the gendered exploitation that is sometimes said to be inherent within the heterosexual (vanilla) purchase of sex? Is the desirability of selling BDSM sex dependent on whether or not the woman selling sex (who is commonly thought to be exploited) plays a dominant role? Or can an analysis of sex that eroticises vulnerability and control, and the deliberate enactment of inequality, challenge us to be more precise about the basis for regulating the sale of commercial sex? BDSM sex that amounts to actual bodily harm is unlawful in the UK, and recent legislation in England and Wales has outlawed the possession of extreme pornographic images (and the Scottish parliament is currently debating similar legislation), including images of some kinds of BDSM sex, on the basis of the harm that such images may cause to women participants, as well as to women more generally. Against the backdrop of these prohibitions, this paper explores the complexities of regulating commercial sex, by way of a feminist critical analysis of the sale of BDSM sex that ritualises and eroticises vulnerability and unequal power relations.
PeriodMay 2010
Event typeConference
LocationPrague, United KingdomShow on map


  • BDSM
  • prostitution
  • consent
  • queer
  • feminist
  • agency
  • choice