Waterboarding for Pleasure: When Kink Violates Geneva Convention – Rolling Stone
×
Home Culture Culture Features

Waterboarding for Pleasure: When Kink Violates the Geneva Convention

It’s internationally banned for prisoners of war — but for some in the BDSM scene, simulated drowning is the ultimate expression of arousal and trust

waterboarding torture; Shutterstock ID 261035264; Purchase Order: RS.com

Those who have consensually been waterboarded say it can be a turn-on like no other.

Shutterstock

The video features a slim, dark-haired woman who is totally naked, her ankles, wrists and neck bound by thick rope. A burly man subjects her to garden-variety BDSM torture — light flogging, bondage, forced orgasm — before tying her to a large wooden plank. He starts to drip water onto a thick grey cloth over the woman’s mouth from a wide-mouthed water bottle. Her body starts convulsing, her extremities flopping wildly. When the man removes her cloth, her shrieks and grunts turn into sobs.

For even the most seasoned kink connoisseur, the clip can be disturbing to watch; for a brief moment, it appears to cross the already-blurry line between pain and pleasure, into genuinely terrifying, life-threatening territory. That’s because the clip is a depiction of waterboarding, a highly controversial military interrogation tactic that is banned by the Geneva Convention and classified as a form of torture by the United Nations. 

Waterboarding involves dripping water over a person’s face while a piece of cloth covers their mouth, effectively preventing them from breathing. “You’ve got restricted air flow, and when you try and breathe in, you breathe in water. Your carbon dioxide levels fall and that makes you want to breathe faster,” says Coral Dando, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Westminster who studies the efficacy and psychology of torture. “You get the perception of drowning when you’re not.”

Although waterboarding has its roots in the fourteenth century and was used during the Spanish Inquisition, it is perhaps best known as an interrogation tactic used on al-Qaeda suspects during President George W. Bush’s administration. In 2009, President Obama signed an executive order banning all forms of torture by U.S. government officials, and it has also been banned for use among military trainees since 2007.

When Elise Graves, the dark-haired woman in the clip and a Bay Area bondage enthusiast, first agreed to be waterboarded for the Kink.com clip, she was aware of its history as a torture method. But she didn’t find it terrifying. For the most part, she says, she found it a turn-on.

I find the combination of adrenaline and some anxiety or fear, plus exhibitionism, to be sexy, so that whole combination of things worked for me in an arousing way for sure,” she tells Rolling Stone. She compares it to “something that’s scary but fun, like rock-climbing or skiing.”

I find the combination of adrenaline and fear, plus exhibitionism, to be sexy,” says one bondage enthusiast.

In the BDSM and kink community, consensual waterboarding is alive and well. “I would say it’s more commonly requested and more popular than one would expect,” says Mistress Couple, a New York-based dominatrix and House Mistress of La Domaine Esemar dungeon. For some, the fact that it is a well-known form of torture and a hot-button political issue is almost icing on the cake: in BDSM, says Couple, “things that exist in the public consciousness and are talked about in politics show up in people’s fantasies all the time.”

That’s not to say, however, that waterboarding is uncontroversial. Within the BDSM community, which highly prioritizes consent and safety, it’s considered a form of “edge play,” or an activity at the riskier end of the spectrum that could potentially result in serious injury. When done improperly (for instance, if someone is not properly elevated) or for an extended period of time, waterboarding can result in vomit aspiration or oxygen deprivation, which can result in brain damage or death. “It is incredibly dangerous and there are many, many things that can go wrong,” says Couple, who does not practice waterboarding but has seen it being done at supervised play parties.

There are also many psychological consequences of waterboarding, ranging from long-term memory issues to depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, says Dando. But it’s unclear whether someone consenting to being waterboarded would be vulnerable to such consequences. “Torture is a process whereby I’m in control of what you can and can’t do, and I’m going to use that control to make you do something you don’t want to do,” she says. “If people are consenting to it for their own excitement and joy, then I’m not sure those conditions would be in place.”

In the context of shooting a BDSM porn scene, production companies will establish various safeguards to reduce the intensity of the experience.  “Since the goal is the feeling of helplessness in the context of a BDSM scene, not the actual inherent danger of making the submissive inhale water, vomit, or suffer traumatic stress, the techniques are necessarily less extreme,” says Alison Boden, CEO of Kink.com. “The feeling of pouring water down a wet cloth on the face can be very intense by itself and doesn’t necessarily require the [subordinate]’s body to be inclined in a way that would cause it to go up their nose or in their mouth, for example.”

Performers frequently check in with each other before, during, and after the act; additionally, there is always a signal or safe word established to indicate when a performer has reached their limits. (In Graves’s case, for instance, she held a metal pipe in her hand, which she dropped whenever things got too intense during the shoot.)

“A lot of people aren’t aware of the care going into shooting these scenes,” says Tommy Pistol, who has shot a handful of waterboarding scenes (link NSFW) for Kink.com. “We know what we’re walking into, and we don’t want anyone to walk away hurt [or to] put their lives at risk. Everything we do is to a point. It’s a fantasy.” But the fact that these conversations may be edited out of the final cut can pose a problem for kinksters interested in trying this type of risky play at home (despite the presence of strongly worded disclaimers from Kink urging viewers against doing so).

“Everything we do is to a point,” says one performer. “It’s a fantasy.”

Legally speaking, activities like consensual waterboarding occupy somewhat of a grey area. While the law varies state by state, “if a serious bodily injury was suffered, it doesn’t matter whether you consented. You can’t consent to an injury,” says Dick Cunningham, legal counsel for the National Coalition of Sexual Freedom. While Kink.com requires performers to sign releases before shoots, thus largely absolving them of legal responsibility, that’s not necessarily the case if someone is doing it in their private life. If something goes wrong, and two parties do not have a written contract on hand, “it’s hard to say whether the person did consent, or whether they understood the risks involved, so it’s all very complex legal stuff,” says Couple.

For this reason, Couple advises that those who are interested in waterboarding do so “with partners that you have established a great deal of trust with and are very experienced with — not only with the activity, but with you and your flight and fight response in particular,” she says. “It’s very important when you’re engaging in these types of activities that your partner knows what your trauma response is going to be.”

But this is not always possible, particularly on porn sets, where actors may be meeting their scene partners for the first time on the day of the shoot. Pistol says that while performers always agree on what acts they are and aren’t willing to perform long before they come to set, it’s not unusual to be asked to engage in an act like waterboarding with someone you’ve never met before. He also says that, unlike at supervised BDSM play parties, where there is often a medic on site, there usually isn’t a trained medical professional to supervise the action on porn sets.

Graves, who has been on both the giving and receiving end of waterboarding multiple times, says her experience shooting waterboarding scenes has been uniformly positive, and that she has always had nothing but the utmost trust in her scene partners. When asked if she believes waterboarding is a form of torture in a military context, her answer is unambiguous. “For sure it is,” she says. “I honestly cannot imagine how scary it would be in even a remotely more out-of-control environment. It’s scary within the best context ever.”

But in consensual and supervised conditions, Graves views the act not just as a turn-on, but as an expression of trust and intimacy. “For me, that’s ultimately the real appeal: a scenario in which I or another person is made vulnerable and trusts another person to take care of them, and they do,” she says. “So that circle is complete, where one person trusts another and the other person is trustable. So it’s a very bonding experience.”

Newswire

Powered by
Arrow Created with Sketch. Calendar Created with Sketch. Path Created with Sketch. Shape Created with Sketch. Plus Created with Sketch. minus Created with Sketch.