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Can BDSM Be Healthy - words on an orange background

Can BDSM Be Healthy?

By Melissa, a Hotline advocate

bdsmHere at The Hotline, we hear from quite a few people who have questions about BDSM (which encompasses a variety of erotic practices or activities that may involve bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and/or sadism and masochism). They might be wondering if it’s healthy, or they may have concerns about a current relationship in which they’re practicing BDSM with a partner.

A lot of stigma is attached to certain sexual appetites and desires, but we want to be very clear that BDSM is not inherently or automatically abusive. It’s possible to have healthy BDSM relationships, and they require just as much–if not more–of the same things that healthy “vanilla” relationships do: trust, honesty, respect and equality.

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Pregnancy and Abuse: Planning a Safe Child Birth

This post was contributed by Rebecca Donley and is the third in a series about pregnancy and abuse. Read the first post here and the second post here.

pregnancy-3For many first time parents, childbirth is an exciting yet frightening event. While there are many ways to prepare yourself for the birth of your child, everyone has a different version of the perfect birth, so these steps will vary from person to person.  Some people create a birth plan to outline what they would like to happen during and immediately following birth. A birth plan can include measures for safety if you are also concerned about the impact or role of an abusive partner during the birth.

As you are creating this plan, consider the allies that you will have available during the birth. If you plan to give birth at a hospital, doctors and nurses will likely be present during much of your labor process. If you are giving birth at a birthing center or at home, you may have a midwife present. Depending on your prenatal care options, you may have been able to inform these professionals about your concerns about the abuse. If not, contacting the professionals beforehand and planning some items to add to your birth plan for safety may be a possibility. You also might have a professional like a doula for support at the birth. Birth doulas provide support at hospitals, birth centers or home births, and unlike a doctor or nurse who may be supporting several patients and present only during certain parts of labor, your doula will stay with you throughout your labor process. Though doulas may not have training in domestic violence or supporting someone who is experiencing abuse, you still may be able to reach out to them for added support during your labor. While doula costs may not be covered by insurance, some doulas may be able to provide services pro bono or on a sliding scale. If you do not have a birth doula, you may want to identify a family member or friend to take on the role of labor support. When considering who to ask, keep in mind that you may want someone who will safety plan with you as opposed to for you.

Childbirth requires a lot of energy and focus. Even if you have a c-section planned in advance, that’s a major surgery that deserves your full attention. No matter your birth plan, it’s important that you be able to fully access your reserves without having distractions. If you feel like your abusive partner or ex-partner will attempt to prevent you from taking necessary steps for a safe and stress-free birth, consider adding strategies to your birth plan that will refocus and energize you. Different strategies work for different people, so practice these in advance to see what is most effective for you. These include movement exercises, breathing exercises, guided meditation or relaxation narratives, listening or singing to music and repeating positive affirmations. The key is that you are able to stay relaxed and positive.

If you have left the relationship, or go into labor while your partner isn’t present, you may determine that preventing them from finding out that you are giving birth is the safest thing for you and your child. You may be able to do this by only alerting your labor support person when you go into labor, and ensure that they know to not share this information with anyone else. When determining where you will give birth, you may want to consider whether your partner or ex knows your due date, and if they will try reaching out to area hospitals, birth centers or your support network to try find you. Once you determine a plan, let the staff at the place where you give birth know to alert you if someone tries looking for you, as well as to not provide any information about your presence or status. Give them a picture of your partner/ex, and ask that staff alert you if anyone matching their description is reported in the area. If you are giving birth outside the home, you may want to take a cab or have a friend or family member take you in a vehicle that your partner/ex will not recognize. When you leave the facility, ask your labor support to check the parking lot to ensure that your partner/ex is not waiting for you. While it is understandable that you would want to share information of your birth with social networks, consider safety before sharing updates or information. Pictures online can often be viewed by friends of friends, even if the abuser is blocked. If family and friends visit, ask them to wait on posting any photos that they take with you or the baby until after you’ve returned home.

You may need to have a plan for staying safe with the abuser present during labor as well. Creating activities to occupy your partner, like asking them to contact family and friends or pick up items from the store if they are distracting you, may be one strategy to create space for you to focus. As part of your safety measures in your birth plan, you could determine a code word to use with your doctor, nurse, midwife, doula or other labor support to alert them if you are feeling unsafe and would like your abuser removed from the room. You could also have a friend or family member stay with your partner to prevent them from interrupting your focus during childbirth. Brainstorming other strategies ahead of time is key because you will want your full energy to go towards ensuring a safe and peaceful birth. Even if your partner has limited your birth planning options, you may be able to mentally prepare yourself by researching childbirth and making a personal safety and self-care plan for each stage. Obtaining access to a phone to dial 911 in the case that your partner has prohibited you to leave the home to have the baby may be one part of an emergency safety plan. Identifying a room where you feel most safe and relaxed to labor, and preparing it in advance with the items and materials that you will need is another strategy to reduce stress during labor without external support.

Whatever your circumstance or needs, The Hotline is available to help you, whether that’s identifying local options or national resources that may enhance your safety, developing a personalized safety plan that helps you maintain your reserves for childbirth, or providing emotional support and validation during the last phase of pregnancy. We are available 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233 or via live online chat from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. CST.

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Staying Physically, Emotionally and Financially Safe During Pregnancy

This post was contributed by Rebecca, a Hotline manager, and is the second in a series about pregnancy and abuse. Read the first post here

pregnancy-2While often portrayed as a magical, happy time, pregnancy—with the associated physical, emotional, social, and financial changes—can be challenging, even with a supportive partner in a healthy relationship. Because an abusive partner may see the unpredictability of pregnancy as an opportunity to increase power and control, if you’re pregnant it’s important to explore options to enhance your physical, emotional, financial and legal safety.

Your physical safety needs may change as pregnancy progresses; what may seem safe at one point may not feel that way a few weeks later. Getting prenatal care may be a way to maintain both your and the baby’s health during this time. It also may be a way to connect with a service provider that you can turn to if you are concerned for your safety. If you are unsure about accessing prenatal care, you may be able to get more information by contacting 211, a local resource line available in most communities. You can also sign up for Text4Baby, a free service that sends you tips about staying healthy during pregnancy up through your child’s first birthday. If you have concerns about not being insured, you may be able to get insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Survivors of domestic violence can enroll at the healthcare.gov website at any time, using the Special Enrollment Period (SEP). For more information about this option, visit the What’s New? area of the Health Cares About IPV website.

During pregnancy, your center of gravity shifts and joints loosen to allow for easier childbirth. This can make getting around more difficult. If you live with the abuser, consider mapping the safest routes out of the home or apartment from the rooms where you spend the most time. Try avoiding rooms with weapons, hard surfaces and areas near stairs. If it is becoming difficult to drive, consider identifying some safe people that you can contact if you need transportation. Keeping cab or bus fare stowed in a packed bag may be another way to get out quickly if needed.

Protecting and maintaining your emotional energy during this time is also important and closely linked to physical safety, as stress can adversely impact your pregnancy. Creating a self-care plan is one way to achieve this. Some people use prenatal yoga, walking in nature, journaling, art or spending time with loved ones as part of their self-care. Creating social connections with other parents can be particularly important during pregnancy. Meetup.com is a website where you may be able to a group of parents expecting children with a due date close to yours. Other parenting and social media websites may have similar groups that you can join to find support and connection. If finding a group online doesn’t fit your needs, you could ask your healthcare provider to ask about classes or programs for expecting parents. Seeking out the support of a counselor may be an additional way to get perspective during this time. The Hotline can offer information about local domestic violence programs that offer counseling and support groups. If you’re looking for counselors that specialize in other areas, GoodTherapy is a website that offers assistance finding a local counselor, as well as articles and resources on issues that impact emotional well-being, including during pregnancy.

Pregnancy is also a time when financial and legal options begin to shift. Knowing your rights around these issues is a first step to creating a plan to protect yourself and your new child. While workplaces may differ in their support for pregnant employees, there are certain employment laws that they must follow. The Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau has a website where you can review your rights during pregnancy and as a new parent. Some state domestic violence coalitions also have dedicated projects that offer support for protecting yourself financially. One great example is the Economic Justice Project of the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence called Get Money, Get Safe, which offers general tips on banking, credit and other issues for survivors of domestic violence. Knowing your options regarding custody can also be confusing, especially if you have several plans that you are considering for both your and your future child’s safety. WomensLaw offers a wealth of legal information including custody information and parental kidnapping laws searchable by state.

Safety plans are not one size fits all. Each person has a right to safety and a right to define how that will look, and these suggestions are not meant to serve as a guarantee or a direction. At The Hotline, we believe that you are the foremost expert in your situation. If you see some ideas that seem fitting and would like to expand on them, you’re always welcome to call us 24/7 or chat online between 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. (CST) to fully discuss creating a personalized safety plan.

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Safety Planning Around Sexual Abuse

Sexual-Abuse-Safety-PlanThis post was written by Heather, an advocate at loveisrespect/The Hotline

All forms of abuse can be really difficult to endure, but we know that survivors of sexual abuse are often hesitant to talk about it even if they have previously opened up to a friend, counselor or Hotline advocate about other forms of abuse. If you are in an abusive relationship and your partner has ever pressured or forced you to do anything sexually that you were not comfortable with or did not actively consent to, that is considered sexual abuse.

Is This Abuse?

Your body is yours, and whether it’s the first time or the hundredth time, whether it’s a hook up, a committed relationship or even a marriage, you are never obligated to give consent even if you have done so in the past. You get to make your own boundaries. A person can decide to stop any activity at any time, for any reason. If you don’t feel safe saying “no” then you have no room to say “yes.” If your partner pouts and begs until you finally say yes, that’s not consent. If they tell you that you’d have sex (or do any sexual activity) if you “really” loved them, that’s not consent. If your partner pretends not to hear you when you say no or stop, that’s not consent. Any response that disregards or minimizes your wishes when you decline a sexual activity is not okay.

We know that being LGBTQIA+ doesn’t protect anyone from abuse so if you have to “prove” anything to your partner by engaging in sexual activities you aren’t comfortable with, that’s abusive. Your sexual orientation and gender identity are yours, and you get to choose whether to disclose them or not, as well as who you tell. If your partner is threatening to out you (or refusing to let you come out) if you don’t have sex, that is abuse.

Are you into kinky sex? There’s nothing wrong with safe and consensual sexual activities that involve an element of bondage, pain or submission, as long as the relationship itself is healthy and respectful. The basis of a healthy BDSM relationship is consent, so if your partner is unwilling to discuss boundaries with you, or ignores your safe word, that is abuse.

Safety Planning

One of the most helpful things you can do if you are in a relationship that is abusive in any way is to make a safety plan. A safety plan is a living thing, so it’s important to update, change or adapt it whenever necessary. Your safety is our number one priority here at the Hotline, so we believe that no matter what you have to do to stay safe, it’s worth doing. Every individual’s safety plan will look different depending on their relationship. You know your relationship and your partner best, so we trust that you are the expert in your life. The sexual abuse safety tips in this post are meant to be general, so please only use them if you feel safe doing so.

Physical Safety

If your partner becomes physically violent if you say no to a sexual activity, sometimes ‘giving in’ may be the best way to protect yourself. If you decide to do that, know that giving in doesn’t mean giving up, and it doesn’t mean you consented to anything that’s happening. There’s nothing you could ever do that could make your partner’s behavior your fault or your responsibility. If you are making choices in order to protect your immediate safety, that is not consent – that is survival. Again, consent cannot happen when someone feels unsafe saying no.

Remind yourself that abuse is a choice; we are each only in control of our own words and actions, and everyone deserves a partner who treats them with respect at all times.

We have heard from our callers and chatters that they can sometimes strategize to avoid sexual activity for their safety. Some examples we’ve heard include:

If you do not live with your abusive partner you could:

  • make a point to spend time with your partner in public
  • avoid going to wherever sexual activity usually occurs
  • take a friend with you when visiting your partner
  • avoid seeing your partner at the times of day when sexual abuse generally occurs

If you live together you could:

  • sleep in another room
  • stay over at a friend or family member’s house
  • tell your partner you need to go out of town for business
  • house-sit for people regularly
  • ask friends or family to call you just after bedtime with minor emergencies
  • talk to your doctor and see if they can give your partner a medical excuse to avoid intercourse
  • say that you’re unable to get aroused or fake ailments like nausea, menstrual cramps, headache/migraine, fever or sore throat, leg cramp, urinary tract infection, yeast infection, hemorrhoids, etc.
  • As a last resort some callers and chatters have made themselves sick, for example by using laxatives or taking something that can make them vomit. Definitely consider your own physical health (and any personal history of disordered eating) before trying this, and we strongly recommend you consult with your physician.

In the end, whether you use strategies to avoid sexual activity or not, the person being abusive is the only one who can end the abuse. No one else can prevent someone from being abusive if that’s how they choose to behave. Abuse is NEVER the victim’s fault.

Emotional Safety

If your partner is gaslighting you and becoming emotionally abusive when you try to assert your boundaries, it might be helpful for you to make an emotional safety plan to go along with your physical safety plan. For survivors of all genders, ages, races, sexual orientations, abilities, religions, immigration statuses and locations, talking to a counselor can be a great way to start to heal from any kind of abuse. Support groups can also be an important tool because they can let you see how others have coped with their own situations, and often let you interact with people at various stages of the healing process. Finding the right counselor or support group can be difficult sometimes, but our advocates are here to support you and put you in touch with the local resources in your community that are on the ground to help. If you want to find someone in your community to talk to about your relationship call or chat with us now.

Pregnancy and STIs

Sex can have big consequences, such as sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy, and you have a right to protect yourself. We know that pregnancy is one of the most dangerous times in an abusive relationship, so if you are pregnant be sure to put your safety first. Male and female condoms can help protect against both STIs and pregnancy, and dental dams can be used for safe oral sex on women and safe oral-anal sex on anyone. PrEP is a daily prescription pill that can help protect people from contracting HIV and the HPV Vaccine can help protect people from common strains of Human Papillomavirus. There are a number of forms of birth control available today, and Planned Parenthood can help you decide what kind is right for you, even if your partner can’t know you’re using it. If your partner refuses to use or let you use birth control, tries to get pregnant or get you pregnant without your consent or tries to force you to have or not have an abortion, those are all forms of reproductive coercion. If you’re concerned about pregnancy, STIs or HIV/AIDS talk to your doctor, and do whatever makes you feel safest.

Digital Safety

Pictures and video are immortal, so if your partner is digitally abusing you by forcing you to pose for or send them explicit photos or video, keeping yourself safe can be a challenge. Note that in every state it is illegal for anyone to have or share sexual photos or videos of people under age 18. If you do pose for or take photos or videos, try to keep your face and any other identifying information like birthmarks, scars or tattoos out of them. Even the background of a picture can be identifying, so be aware of your surroundings when possible.

Understand the Laws

Know that you have the right to say “slow down,” “no” or “stop” at any time, and even if you got sexual pleasure from an activity, that doesn’t mean you gave consent. If your partner is forcing you to have sex with other people, be aware that it’s possible they are making money from it which is illegal in most places. You have the right to defend yourself and fight back if anyone is trying to coerce, pressure, guilt or force you into any kind of sexual activity. If you are in school, Title IX, a federal mandate in the Education Amendments of 1972, prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs anywhere in the country. Under Title IX, people who attend school and have experienced sexual harassment, sexual assault or rape have the right to support services through their high school, college or university.

There are also state laws regarding sexual assault. The laws in every state are different, so if you want to know how your state handles cases of sexual assault, sexual abuse and rape chat with one of our advocates, who can find contact information for a legal advocate in your area. Here are some helpful tips on how to document the abuse if you choose to pursue legal help, which could include a protective order. If you feel that the abusive person would reduce the level and frequency of threats if the law becomes involved, this may be an effective tool to increase your safety. A protective order does not replace a safety plan, but a legal advocate may be able to help you explore whether getting a protective order could keep your partner from being able to legally contact you.

Advocates at The Hotline are available to chat from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. CT, or you can call us 24/7 to talk about what’s going on. Below are some additional resources that might be helpful to you as well.

Additional Resources:

  • If you’ve been sexually assaulted or raped in the past 72* hours, medical care and a SANE exam can be good options (*this timeframe may vary by state, with some allowing up to 120 hours (five days), but if you would like to be examined by a forensic nurse examiner you always have the right to seek medical care)
  • The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) has a 24/7 hotline 1.800.656.HOPE(4673) and chat service
  • After Silence and Pandora’s Project are good places to seek support online
  • Male Survivor is a great resource for male survivors of sexual abuse and assault
  • Not Alone, Know Your IX and Clery Center are great resources for information on Title IX and your rights as a student
  • Safe Helpline provides 24/7 chat and phone support 877-995-5247 for survivors of sexual abuse and assault in the US Military anywhere in the world
  • The Northwest Network and The Network/La Red provide support services to LGBTQIA+ survivors of sexual abuse and assault
  • FORGE offers anti-violence support for members of the trans community and can supply referrals to local providers at 414-559-2123
  • The National Human Trafficking Resource Center operates a 24/7 hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or by texting HELP to 233733 (BeFree)
  • The HIPS Hotline helps those impacted by sexual exchange and/or drug use due to choice, coercion, or circumstance 24/7 at 1-800-676-HIPS