Like all alternate sexualities, SM is stigmatized in many ways by most of society. In extreme cases, SM players are prosecuted legally. or persecuted by people who would _like_ to so prosecute them. This section of the FAQ describes some of these ongoing battles. (See another question for a brief mention of one recently-vanquished challenge.)

The Spanner case

First, the most serious anti-SM action in years: the Spanner case. In Britain in 1992, sixteen men who had attended an SM party were convicted of assault, despite the fact that everything that happened at the party was fully consensual. The sentence was four to six years in prison.

The defendants appealed, and eventually reached the highest court in Britain, which issued a judgment rife with the worst and most inaccurate popular misconceptions about BDSM, ignoring everything that is now widely known about how it is safe and consensual. This judgment is a travesty of human rights, and flies blindly in the face of medical and psychological fact, in favor of prejudicial ignorance.

The men involved are now pushing to take the case to the European court of human rights. They need any and all assistance. An organization named Countdown on Spanner was formed to pursue the appeal as far as necessary.

Countdown on Spanner can be reached via Snail Mail; C/O Central Station 37 Wharfdale Road London N1 Great Britain Please include a SAE. Or contact via e-mail: There is also a Spanner web page.

Canadian censorship

Another situation demanding attention is the censorship being practiced by Canadian customs. Canada has no First Amendment, and Customs has been seizing gay and lesbian erotica, especially SM-related material, and preventing it from reaching bookstores in Canada. This arbitrary action has made it very difficult for many of these bookstores to survive. The Canadian government, via Customs, is silencing the voices of those who want to talk about their sexuality.

Little Sisters Bookstore in Vancouver is suing Customs, asserting that Customs should not have the right to seize books on suspicion of obscenity. If the case is won, obscenity will have to be determined by the courts, not by Customs. It is not at all certain that the case will be won; a recent Supreme Court decision in Canada used language from American anti-porn activist Catherine MacKinnon to define pornography as material that is “violent” or “degrading” to women. Such laws can be used to keep ANY SM-related material from ever being published–which is exactly the intent. MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin have repeatedly pushed for such legislation in the United States as well. The Canada case is thus very relevant for Americans into SM.

If you can contribute, please write to Little Sisters Defense Fund, 1221 Thurlow Street, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada V6E 1X4. The case will be expensive, and help is badly needed.


America has its share of official persecution of SM, though not so seriously as in the Spanner case. SM clubs are still associated by the media with unsafe sex, whether or not the club requires safe sex (as almost all do). Of course, the current ignorance of consensual SM in America leads to regular prosecution of people producing erotic material, whether videos, magazines, or pictures. Legal fees from obscenity proceedings brought by the government can put a small producer or publisher out of business before the case ever comes to trial. For example, movies involving bondage together with sex are essentially censored in this country, because of such government action.

Most of all, learn for yourself about the realities of SM, as opposed to the myths. And speak out against oppression born out of ignorance.