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For those who are concerned that BDSM is inherently abusive...

BDSM -- Bondage and Discipline/Dominance and Submission/Sadism and Masochism -- is not abuse. BDSM is about voluntary authority exchange, sensation and stimulation, trusting one's partner(s), and sharing nurturing love and healthy pleasure.

Abuse has been masqueraded as BDSM by those seeking to validate their abusive relationships, but they are concepts which are in fact inherently distinct from one another. BDSM cannot exist without consent, consent that is informed, revocable, egalitarian, explicit, enthusiastic, and given of sober and cognitively-developed mind. In abusive relationships, one or all of these elements of consent are missing.

CPI is committed to providing consent-based education in service of kinksters and people in abusive relationships alike.

If you or someone you know are in a relationship you think may be abusive, please utilize the resources at the bottom of this page to reach out for help.

For those who are concerned that abuse is happening within the context of their BDSM relationship or play partnership...

These checklists can serve as a starting point for important conversations if you are still unsure about whether or not the BDSM relationship you’re in may be healthy. The words “partner” and “relationship” are used throughout to refer to interactions which may last over the course of a scene, or over the course of a lifetime:

Green Flags:

Green flags are protective factors of a scene or relationship that ensure that the people within it are safe and have agency. If most of your flags are green, you are likely in a safe and healthy relationship. Just remember that most of these are ongoing goals which will need some maintenance and check-ins on occasion.

  • I and my partner(s) each have more than one place or person from which we can get information and support about BDSM and kink.
  • My partner(s) and I became involved with each other over a longer period of time, with intensity building in a gradual way.
  • My partner(s) and I traded references, (which we followed up on) when we were getting to know each other.
  • I trust my gut/instincts about people and my surroundings.
  • My partner(s) and I may grow and change over the course of our time together, but we each take individual responsibility for that growth and change.
  • My partner(s) temperament is mostly steady and predictable, and so is mine.
  • All of the responsibility I and my partner(s) have as part of this relationship or scene is responsibility we have each consented to taking on.
  • My partner(s) and I may have disparities in age, income, social status, or social privilege, but we talk about it when we need to and are careful to not let it affect how much agency we each have in our relationship or scene.
  • When I or my partner(s) set a boundary, that boundary is not tested or questioned unless or until we change that boundary together.

Yellow Flags:

It is not uncommon for there to be some yellow flags in a healthy relationship or scene. When you notice a yellow flag, it is an indication that you either need to double check that your yellow flag has not threatened the safety and agency of yourself and your partner/s, or that you and your partner(s) need to do some work to turn that yellow flag into a green one. Sometimes that work can be done within the relationship, sometimes it needs to be done by one or two partners outside of the relationship, and sometimes a counselor or therapist can be a helpful ally as the work is done. (See the resources at the bottom of this page to find one in your area.)

  • I and my partner(s) each only have one place or person from which we can get information and support about BDSM and kink.
  • My partner(s) and I became involved with each other very intensely, very quickly.
  • My partner(s) and I did not use references.
  • I question my gut/instincts and frequently try to explain them away to myself and others.
  • Though they may not know it, my partner(s) need to change, and I know that I can help them.
  • My partner(s) are somewhat unpredictable in how they treat me from one day to the next, or it seems to be difficult for my partner(s) to predict how I will treat them from one day to the next.
  • Sometimes my partner(s) put the responsibility for their behavior on my shoulders.
  • My partner(s) and I have large disparities in age, income, social status or social privilege, and we’ve never really talked about how that might affect how much agency each of us has in our relationship or scene.
  • I am sometimes nervous about setting a boundary. When I do, that boundary is tested or questioned.
  • I don’t like when I am asked to communicate or make decisions, so I seek out power exchange relationships where there seems to be less need for that.

Red Flags:

Red flags are signs that there are elements of your relationship that likely make you or your partner(s) unsafe. If one or more of these applies to you or your relationship, it’s time to call in outside help. Please see the resources listed at the bottom of this page.

  • My partner(s) break my consent, do not seek out my consent at all, or I have agreed that my consent is not relevant.
  • My partner(s) hurt me physically or emotionally outside of the context of consensual BDSM, or within the context of BDSM, but beyond the boundaries to which I consented.
  • It is very important that I behave in certain ways so that my partner(s) will not be angry, upset, or attempt suicide.
  • I have considered suicide as an option for getting away from my partner(s).
  • My partner(s) make it very difficult or make me feel guilty for seeking out information and support about BDSM and kink from other places or people.
  • I have a lot of gut feelings and instincts which tell me that what is happening is wrong, but I don’t let myself listen to them.
  • My partner(s) can’t help the way they behave, especially when I do something wrong.
  • Of course, this is not an exhaustive list... If you don't feel good about your relationship or play, that's reason enough to reach out for help.


If you are in immediate danger, do not hesitate to call 911!