Dear Teen Vogue, You Don’t Know J**k About BDSM

When I was my daughter’s age I remember lounging on my bed with the magazines, Tiger Beat and J-14 scattered around me. Back then magazines that targeted young adolescents used to flood them with posters that you could rip out and stick on your wall. That’s why you spent the $5 USD in the first place! All over my walls were pictures of The Backstreet Boys, the cast of “Dawson’s Creek”, and Britney Spears. I loved the Spice Girls and Christina Aguilera. The internet was just beginning to become more mainstream, but mostly my world consisted of the radio, CDs, and MTV. There was no way in the world that I could have understood or even fathomed getting into a power exchange relationship in my teenage years. No teen should ever even consider the idea.

Now I am the proud parent of a young teen. I had my daughter when was 23 years old. I was far too young to be having a baby, and while it was a very hard lesson learned, I love her with all my heart and soul. I try to protect her from too much exposure to violence or sexual content on the media. But little did I know that something as innocent-seeming as Teen Vogue would make my parental head look over with a double-take.

I want to clarify (before I rant) that our household is a sex-positive household. My husband and I have sat down and had a healthy, age-appropriate conversation with our child about what sex is all about. We answered her questions and discussed things like: STDs, contraception, sex in same-sex relationships (as our daughter identifies as lesbian), and the emotional ramifications of having sex. We feel that being open and honest will give her the foundational tools to govern her own body and make wise choices for herself in the future. That said, while we are open, liberal, etc. there is a certain line that we draw in the sand. Exposing minors to articles about BDSM and what it’s about is definitely outside of our comfort zone.

It all began when I came across this article online from Teen Vogue titled, “Consent and BDSM: What You Should Know” https://www.teenvogue.com/story/bdsm-consent?mbid=social_twitter

I. There’s a Reason Why the BDSM Community Does NOT Support Minors in Kink:

Do a quick Google search and you will see the following statistics about Teen Vogue Magazine:

  • Teen Vogue’s target demographic are teenage girls ages: 13 to 19 years old.
  • Currently they have 11.6 million digital users on their site and 13.6 million social media followers.

In short, they have a very wide reaching audience and platform to spread information with each article they publish. This is why my blood is boiling at them exposing young adolescents (in particular impressionable females!) to the BDSM lifestyle which should be exclusive to legal adults only! That said, I want to dissect why we don’t encourage minors (18 years old and under) in this lifestyle. I see so many young people getting coerced and emotionally hurt by others online who use BDSM as a ruse for being a predator. If I can help one minor to think twice and wait to enter the lifestyle until they are an adult, then I will consider this post a win. Now, let’s talk about why this article was so damaging:

  • The Age of Consent: The number one reason why we discourage minors from entering the BDSM lifestyle is because it is illegal for a minor to be involved in a sexual lifestyle in any way, shape, or form! In the United States the age of consent varies by state and I wrote about this more extensively in my post, “Is the Cg/l Lifestyle Even Legal?”. (Note: My friend, Nijntje over at “nijntje & The Bear” was kind enough to provide another helpful link and it should be noted that there are places in the world where BDSM is illegal. Please check your local and national laws to ensure that you are always following the letter of the law). But the author of this article does not state anywhere that practitioners of BDSM must be legal adults. By not stating as such she is giving a license for sexual exploration to teenagers who have no business practicing S&M, power exchange, etc.
  • Safewords: No where in this article is there a mention about safewords! She rambles on about how it’s okay to try some kinks and not have to try everything. But no where in her article does she discuss the safety aspect about play. If she wants to tell young adolescents about S&M (which I’m personally against), then at least tell them about how to safely do so and equip young readers with the knowledge of having a safe word!
  • True Consent Begins with Understanding the Risks: Lastly, the author throws around the word consent like teenagers are just going to understand the depth of being risk aware and fully informed prior to engaging in S&M. Of course they won’t! Having consent with your partner means that all parties are fully informed about the risks involved and tries to mitigate any potential injury or trigger by taking as many safety precautions as necessary. It’s more than a “yes”. It’s a deep awareness and negotiation process that is involved. This article fails to inform readers about any of the consent-making process.

II. Why Teenagers Cannot Handle Power Exchange Relationships:

I don’t care if you think you’re the most “mature” teenager on the planet. Just because you get straight A’s in high school does not mean that you are ready to care for another human being the way a power exchange relationship entails. There, I said it. Teenagers should not be involved in power exchange, not as a Dom… not as a Sub…. not at all. Why? Because developmentally they just aren’t ready.

Adolescence is a time when their landscape is ever-shifting. They are constantly thinking about who they are. Teens are dealing with more difficult schoolwork and rising to the challenge. They are forming opinions for themselves and testing out new looks, behaviors, and actions as they explore their identity. A high school is like a bubble for a teen with heavy peer influence. Research has shown that teens will seek more risky behavior if they think that their peers are watching or if their peers will find out. They are more willing to explore a new and uncertain situation where the outcome is not assured. Part of the science behind this deals with an adolescents ambiguity (or uncertainty) towards the losses and gains in a risky situation. Teens are less affected by not knowing how a situation (say, a play session!) will go. Their brain is in a period of development where if they see risks involved, but if they see more potential gain they will try the activity.

Though peers can push teens towards positive-seeking behavior, dopamine (the happy hormone) is in overdrive during puberty and this can have an impact on teens engaging in risky behavior. Furthermore, “Important developmental changes in the dopaminergic system take place at puberty (Chambers et al., 2003Spear, 2000). Given the critical role of dopaminergic activity in affective and motivational regulation, these changes likely shape the course of socioemotional development in adolescence, because the processing of social and emotional information relies on the networks underlying coding for affective and motivational processes.” (Lawrence Steinberg from the National Library of Medicine, “A Social Neuroscience Perspective on Adolescent Risk-Taking”).

Teenagers, who have a natural inclination towards risk-seeking behavior should not be in a position to be a submissive where they can be harmed, traumatized, or injured, nor should they be in the position of a dominant where they are required to make mature, sound, healthy decisions that impact another human being.

III. Neural Pathway Associations with Violence and Sex:

Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, Chief of Psychiatry and Ethics at Doc1 Health, wrote a fascinating article in 2015 titled, “Hooked Up and Tied Down: The Neurological Consequences of Sadomasochism”. In his article he describes how our sexual experiences have a profound impact on the neural networks of our brain and our response to pain, stimulation, and fear. He states:

“If you think about these three emotional experiences—sexual arousal, aggression, and fear—they are typically quite distinct emotional experiences. There is some overlap between them in terms of physical or bodily response: all three, for example, involve increases in heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure, because all three involve activation of the sympathetic nervous system. And yet, for most healthy individuals, sexual arousal, aggression, and fear remain distinct emotional, cognitive, and physical experiences. This is, I will suggest, a good and healthy thing.

So these neural networks and these experiences normally remain distinct—unless our experiences begin to fuse them together. When this fusion happens, the brain gets confused. And this is exactly what happens when people experiment with sadomasochistic sexual practices. These distinct neural networks and brain maps become fused according to Hebb’s principle: neurons that fire together wire together. Once this happens, aggression automatically triggers sexual arousal. Or fear and anxiety automatically trigger sexual interest. When this fusion of neural networks becomes pronounced, people often will present to the psychiatrist with clinical problems. Patients complain, for example, that they cannot get aroused unless they get aggressive or violent. Or they complain that they become involuntarily aroused whenever they experience fear. Once these distinct neural networks are fused, the person is—at the level of the brain—literally tied down.” (Kheriaty, 2015, Journal of the Witherspoon Institute)

Now, obviously Dr. Kheriaty is a vanilla psychiatrist and (presumably) not kink-aware. But my point in quoting his research is that while the brain is making associations between healthy sexual behavior and emotion, young people do not need to be engaging in any form of BDSM. They should not be equating pain and pleasure together because they lack the maturity and development needed to make such decisions.

IV. Oversaturation of Sex and Sexual Violence Has Desensitized Teens:

I’m going to wrap up this post by just briefly touching on the point that it is deeply concerning how “normal” it is for a teen to see abusive sexual behaviors in TV, movies, and media and think it is normal. Have you ever watched the show, “You” on Netflix? It’s about a seemingly normal guy who ends up stalking and obsessing about his girlfriend to the point of scaring her. How about Game of Thrones? I love that show but wow does it have some sex scenes! And of course, “Fifty Shades of Grey” has caused a slew of its own problems for the BDSM lifestyle. Disturbing research has shown that young women ages 18-24 years old that they studied in a pool of 650 women were 25% more likely to have a partner who yelled or swore at them if they had read “Fifty Shades of Grey”. They also had an increased risk of having an eating addiction. Gone are the days when teens could look at magazines and swoon at celebrities. Now they are learning how to have sex and learning about BDSM. C’mon magazines! You can do better!

V. Being a Part of a Better Solution for Teenage Minors:

Teens will be curious about sex. I understand that completely. Teenagers will be curious about BDSM. I understand that too. But instead of enticing teens towards a lifestyle that they aren’t prepared to handle, let’s come together to steer teens towards a healthier outlet of choices. Let’s discuss topics such as:

  • Let’s give teens access and information on safe methods of contraception and how to use safe sex products. (Including safe sex options for LGBTQIA+ teens!)
  • Keep it real about STDs!: Getting an STD is a very real consequence of risky sexual behavior. Teens need to see the pictures of what that looks like, how to avoid getting an STD, and what to do if they suspect that they have one.
  • More information on empowering teens to take ownership of their bodies: Enough with the fat-shaming culture. Enough with these dumb viral challenges that lead to unhealthy eating behaviors in young people. Let’s empower teens to take pride in their bodies and develop a healthy, protective relationship over themselves.
  • Equality among all young people (gender conforming or non-binary): Dominance and submission begins from a place of understanding that power exchange is given voluntarily after a mature, thorough, vetting process has taken place. Dominants are not misogynists. Female submissives are not “lesser than” in this lifestyle. Young people need to first feel empowered in their personal identity before they ever think about entering a D/s relationship.
  • Promote self-love and masturbation: I think it’s healthy for teenagers to learn about masturbation. It’s important that they develop a healthy relationship with their body, how to care for it, and how to orgasm when they feel a sexual urge. There is no shame in feeling horny. Let’s give teens more access towards information on how to learn about their bodies and how to treat their bodies with nothing but love.

Alright my friends, I know this was a long post. But I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, hit that like button and let me know. Comment and let me know your thoughts and I will see you back here for the next topic!

Much love,

~Penny x

5 comments

  1. i am 100% with you, Penny, being a father at the age of 17 and having a wife(16) still in H.S. with a new born and responsibilities. i know the risk and the importance of being a sex-positive household. BDSM is serious and adds another layer to an already complicated relationship. I am fortunate that things worked out well for by first born. I have two wonderful grandchildren and one great grand child from her. Thank you for your wonderful intelligent piece on this subject.

    • Awww Sindee!! 😀 Well, first let me say congratulations on the birth of your grandchildren and great grandchild! You, my dear friend, are so very blessed!! And thank you for such kind words. You put it so eloquently that BDSM does add another complex layer to relationships that can be tricky to navigate anyway. I wish so much that I could “walk” around the internet passing out warnings and helpful tips to keep minors away from the lifestyle so that they don’t get hurt or coerced. 🙂 <3 One step at a time, right? Have a beautiful day, hun! Big hugs to you!

  2. I can see much merit in your post Penny Berry but I did want to drop just one word of caution. In many states and in many countries BDSM S&M Masochism etc are considered illegal regardless of consent from the parties involved.

    You can find a very basic but recently updated view here:
    https://www.everydayhealth.com/sexual-health/bdsm-legal-u-s-other-places/

    The author makes many points that I remember going over with a police officer friend of mine who also happened to be into D/s and S&M but made a point of not getting found out. He did a deep dive into the law so he could be certain and this was basically the conclusion he came to as well.

    The idea of a teen mag running articles on BDSM aside, if I was writing one for them I wouldn’t want to be responsible for any specifics either. ** Note, I wouldn’t be writing it in the first place! I am with you there.

    • What an excellent point and thank you so much for that link! You’re absolutely right, and I will make a small edit to note that in some countries it is illegal and so regardless of age, people need to be aware of their local and national laws regarding BDSM. Thank you so much for the helpful link and comment. Big hugs to you my friend! x

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