Abstract: "It's Their Consent You Have to Wait for": IPV and Bdsm Among Gender and Sexual Minorities (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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"It's Their Consent You Have to Wait for": IPV and Bdsm Among Gender and Sexual Minorities

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Paradise Valley, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Nathan Q. Brewer, PhD,, Director, SARP, Boston University
Kristie A. Thomas, PhD, Associate Professor, Simmons College, Boston, MA
Objective: Gender and sexual minority (GSM) youth are more likely than their cisgender heterosexual peers to experience intimate partner violence (IPV) and practice bondage and discipline, domination and submission, sadism, and masochism (BDSM). Although IPV and BDSM appear to have superficial similarities, these constructs are theorized to have important distinctions—namely, the absence or presence of consent. Additionally, current measures of IPV are known to have particular limitations, including false positives due to lack of specificity regarding non-IPV constructs (e.g., consensual roughhousing). No known study has explored if and how GSM youth understand and experience IPV versus BDSM. Nor has any known study explored if those who use BDSM include consensual violent and controlling behaviors when answering items intended to measure IPV.

Method: Nine GSM youth (mean age 21.2) were drawn from a GSM youth-serving organization in the northeast. Participants were diverse by gender, sexuality, and race. Participants were interviewed about their experiences with IPV, BDSM, and consent. Participants were also given two commonly used standardized measures of IPV and asked about their experience completing them. Interviews were coded using conventional and directed content analysis. Memos and peer debriefing were used to increase trustworthiness.

Results: Eight of nine participants reported IPV victimization, and seven of nine reported BDSM interest or experiences. Four themes emerged: (1) GSM youth experience a spectrum of IPV victimization, often related to their gender and sexual identity; (2) Interest in BDSM does not imply an acceptance of IPV, (3) GSM youth have a nuanced understanding of consent and strategies to communicate consent with their partners, and (4) Consent is the organizing framework by which GSM youth distinguish IPV from BDSM. Four participants confidently indicated that they would include BDSM behaviors when answering standardized measures intended to assess IPV. The others were less sure but ultimately explained circumstances where they would include BDSM behaviors in their answers for IPV items of these measures.

Conclusions: This study underscores the importance of conceptually and operationally differentiating IPV and BDSM among GSM youth. Findings suggest that social service programs that serve GSM youth should address IPV victimization, including abuse targeting their gender and sexual identities. Programs should also include sex-positive education regarding healthy relationships and BDSM, focusing on assisting GSM youth to differentiate abusive behaviors from consensual BDSM. This study suggests that standard measures of IPV include false positives for those who practice BDSM. More accurate IPV measures are crucial for the study of GSM youth, given their higher rates of IPV and BDSM interest.