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Disability and BDSM: Bob Flanagan and the case for sexual rights

Abstract

Discourse about improving sexual access for people with disabilities is becoming more prevalent, although many reports continue to focus on heteronormative relationships and omit alternative sexual practices. The practice of bondage, dominance, sadism, and masochism (BDSM) may be viewed as a mode of empowerment for people with disabilities that welcomes them into a sexual community accommodating different bodies and playing with unstable boundaries between pain and pleasure. In this article, I probe the relationship between disability and BDSM for collaborative moments offering alternative sexual options for all bodies. The life of performance artist Bob Flanagan, whose work centered on his own disability and public BDSM demonstrations, captured one such moment. I show how Flanagan’s performances ruptured tropes of the disabled body as sick, immobile, and asexual. His work, I contend, signals the necessity for disability sexuality studies and policymakers alike to incorporate the desires and creative practices of all their constituents.

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Correspondence to Dawn Reynolds.

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Reynolds, D. Disability and BDSM: Bob Flanagan and the case for sexual rights. Sex Res Soc Policy 4, 40 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1525/srsp.2007.4.1.40

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/srsp.2007.4.1.40

Key words

  • discipline
  • submission
  • cystic fibrosis
  • heteronormative
  • alternative sexual practices