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Feminism and BDSM: empirical findings and theoretical debates in the US, UK and Italy

Laura Zambelli

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A centrally important feminist debate, known as the sex wars, took place in the United States and United Kingdom and centred around sexuality issues. A similar debate occurred in Italy. Among the topics debated was sadomasochism (SM): does consensual SM perpetuates male dominance in societies or serve as an instrument of empowerment? Despite the either/or positions within the debate, data from the fieldwork and the interviews I conducted suggest that an in-between position is more appropriate to describe the Italian SM scene for two reasons. Firstly, the notion of consent and the challenge or reproduction of the status quo in SM are concerns positioned along a continuum of experiences. Secondly, the epistemological overcoming of both deterministic approaches, in which society limits the social actor, or the liberal discourse, in which the social actor is free from social constraints, leads to a more nuanced view of the relationship between social actors and society. I discuss some peculiarities of the Italian context in relation to the SM scene and provide some examples on how consent and negotiation are discussed and enacted by SM practitioners.

Keywords: Feminism, BDSM, Italy, United States, United Kingdom, sex wars


Bibliography: Zambelli, Laura: Feminism and BDSM: empirical findings and theoretical debates in the US, UK and Italy, INSEP, Vol. 4, Issue 2-2016, pp. 37-57.