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International Journal of Applied Philosophy

Volume 24, Issue 2, Fall 2010

Morten Ebbe Juul Nielsen
Pages 265-288
DOI: 10.5840/ijap201024223

Safe, Sane, and Consensual—Consent and the Ethics of BDSM

The article analyses the role and moral force of consent in BDSM (Sado-masochistic and related practice). The view defended accepts consent as a key feature in sexual morality, and explains in detail the relation between consent and autonomy. In brief, it is argued that consent as a genuine extension of personal autonomy both justifies and draws limits to justifiable BDSM-practices: autonomy-undermining practices cannot be justified by appealing to autonomy. The paper discusses in detail the necessary conditions for consent with an emphasis on relevant pitfalls in the context of BDSM and moves to an analysis of the prevalent “official” morality of the BDSM-community, expressed in the slogan “safe, sane, and consensual.” Finally, it draws attention to an un-discussed parallel between sexual morality and the concept of exit-rights as it is known from political philosophy.