A reader question leads to a discussion of one of the fundamental issues with BDSM: making the difference between kink and abuse.

ask ani a question

Late in November, I received a question from Julia, who asks:

I’m in a M/s relationship and M gets off solely on degrading me and making me do things I don’t enjoy (gross/uncomfortable) to please him. Is this unhealthy/abusive? He is a narcissist and loves it.

I apologize for not getting back to you faster, as the end of the semester kicked my butt, but I am here now, so let’s have a look.


For the uninitiated, the difference between kink and abuse can be muddy. How do you know when power is wielded in safe, consensual ways? How do you know if your D or M cares for your well-being or is just using you to get off?

The first thing to clarify with yourself when answering this question is: did you establish limits when you negotiated this relationship? Are these limits discussed at regular intervals and reconfirmed between both partners? More to the point, do your boundaries allow him to do these gross/uncomfortable things to you? If you told him in the past that these things were off-limits and he still does them, yes, it is abusive. If you have not told them or have not established limits around these activities, it might not be abusive, depending on your answers to a few more questions.

My main concern with your question is: does he care about you and your well-being? Does he check in with you, make sure that you are not unduly distressed or hurt? Does he work to fulfill your own needs and ensure your physical, mental and emotional health? Or does he just say, “I’m your Master, you do whatever I want”? You say that he gets off solely on degrading you, and it doesn’t seem like you enjoy it very much. Is degradation your kink? If not, and if you’ve made it clear to him in the past, then yes, I would call this abusive.

Remember: M/s relationships are ultimately just role play: you still have free will, you still have needs, you still are a person. Using his Master position as an excuse to deny you anything you need, including feelings of safety and love, is wrong and, yes, abusive.

Your saying that he is a narcissist gives me extra reasons to worry. Narcissists only care about themselves and are incapable (or unwilling) to consider other people’s needs and desires. To narcissists, others are simply tools to be manipulated or mirrors reflecting their own self-obsession. Relationships with full-on narcissists are rarely healthy, unless the narcissist is working really hard to modify their behaviour and develop empathy.

Remember that the purpose of abuse is to maintain control over a partner. In the realm of BDSM, this issue gets a little complicated: after all, as a slave, you gave up that power to your Master. But it doesn’t mean that said Master has the right to misuse that power. Healthy BDSM is based on carefully negotiated power exchange, not a brute display of dominance solely for the M or D’s benefit. Without more detail about your activities, negotiations, and relationship, it’s difficult to make a call as to whether it’s abusive or not, but the final judgement rests with you. If you feel abused, then it probably is abuse.

If you are still unsure and want to discuss this issue with a professional, the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom has a list of kink-friendly professionals you can check out. You can also reach out to trustworthy members of your local kink community for advice.

Abuse is a very important but messy topic for kinksters, because kink can easily be used as a mask for abusive behaviour. You may consent to kink activities and power exchange, but you never consent to abuse. Although I can’t tell for sure whether that’s your situation or not, your question hints that this might be the case here.


Fair and thorough negotiation is essential for avoiding abuse in kink, whether in one-off play or long-term relationships. Check out my quick guide to negotiation for pointers, which you can get by signing up for my newsletter.

Good advice? Helpful information? Thank me with a coffee!