Self-Harm and Bodily Autonomy

Stock photo of a brown teddy bear with a bandage around its head and another on its leg, and two band-aids crossed over one another on its chest. I mostly chose this image because I didn't want any graphic self-harm pictures and because it is adorable, like me.

Note: This post is, naturally, going to talk about acts of self-harm in detail, and also refers briefly to suicidal ideation and surviving abuse. You can feel free to give this one a miss, and at the weekend I’ll be posting something sexier and less commonly triggering, so watch this space!


The first time I can remember hurting myself on purpose, I was five years old.

I didn’t jump straight to sharp objects. There was a misunderstanding, and I was upset, and whilst I was alone in my room I bit into my own wrist with such sustained ferocity that I left two perfect little crescents, indents of my baby teeth in my flesh. Of course, my mum noticed and was horrified, and I learned quickly that people did not like it when I hurt myself.

This did not stop me.

I have a collection of fuzzy memories from that age onward of hurting myself in various creative ways. I would give myself friction burns by running a belt back and forth over the back of my neck, where my long hair would cover the raw, reddened skin. I would scratch and scratch and scratch the same spot on my arm until it was too sore to even touch. I would pick at everything – spots, scabs, dry skin – and sometimes, when I was really upset, I would still bite myself until my jaw hurt.

When I was thirteen, I progressed to a pair of sewing scissors. These hurt instantly, drew blood instantly and had me breathing a sigh of relief instantly, but they also robbed me of plausible deniability. The wounds couldn’t have been anything other than self-harm. It was only a matter of time until somebody found out.

And they did, of course, and it was a whole Thing that I won’t go into here, and I started having counselling and also having sharp objects confiscated and hidden from me. Counselling was hard for me to engage with in a lot of ways (at 13, I knew they could break confidentiality if they were worried for my safety, so I had to self-censor a lot, and I didn’t hugely trust adults in any setting), but I hit a major roadblock that I still haven’t quite overcome: I couldn’t see why I needed to stop self-harming.

I was a smart kid whose mum had thoroughly instilled in them a sense of autonomy. I knew all the risks of cutting myself: I could misjudge it and catch a vein; the wounds could become infected; I would have scars forever. But, even at 13, I weighed it up and felt very strongly that cutting myself was safer than not doing so. I know that the first time I recorded a suicidal thought, I was 10, but it’s very probable I felt that way a lot earlier and just didn’t write it down in my Groovy Chick diary. At 13, self-harm was a pressure release valve that kept me alive from day to day.

As I’ve grown up, I’ve only become more perplexed about why, exactly, I shouldn’t harm myself. I’ve come to understand that it isn’t a constructive coping mechanism and doesn’t address the problems at hand, but most of the problems at hand have been so vast and complicated that I simply couldn’t address them. Being told to treat the root cause of my distress was not helpful when I was a teenage victim of domestic abuse, and it continues to be unhelpful now that I’m a traumatised adult with super fucky brain chemistry. And I was watching other people, in media and in real life, engage in equally non-constructive coping behaviours like drinking, self-isolation or bullying the autistic kid in their class for not knowing what a Pandora bracelet was (ahem. Not that I was the autistic kid in this example, or anything). And nowadays, I’m doing therapy, I’m practising self-care, but that doesn’t negate the need for self-harm all of the time.

I want to be very clear here: I am not advocating for anybody to take up self-harm, nor to continue doing it when they very much want to stop. Lots of people hate the fact that they self-harm, and I fully support any choices they make to quit and find alternative coping strategies. (I will lowkey judge people who recommend the rubber band method, though – the one where you wear a rubber band on your wrist and snap it against your skin whenever you have the urge to self-harm. You’re still reinforcing the connection between emotional distress and physical pain, you’re not addressing the root problems, and it’s not even a terribly effective method of harm reduction because most self-harmers find it so lacking that they end up relapsing anyway.) However, few people understand my frustration about the ways self-harm is addressed, so I want to articulate it. And I want other people in similar positions to feel less alone and weird.

The thing about self-harm is that it’s kind of… viscerally upsetting to other people. Like I mentioned in my post about blood and kink, we’re instinctively shocked by wounds and bleeding, and I think people are even more perturbed when you’ve caused those things on purpose. It also externalises your emotional pain, so your wounds are confronting the people who care about you with the reality that you’re suffering, and that’s hard for people. My mum sometimes tells me, “I’m not upset that you’ve self-harmed, but I’m upset that you were that distressed.” My mum is better at separating these two factors than most other people on the planet.

Joining the BDSM community only added to my confusion. People were supported in doing all sorts of viscerally upsetting things, like needle play and being beaten, as long as they were making informed, risk-aware decisions. I felt even more indignant about the way people responded to self-harm – I was making informed, risk-aware decisions! About my body, which everybody told me was mine to control!

I have no idea what makes BDSM “okay” and self-harm “not okay”. Maybe it’s the lack of another party’s involvement. Maybe it’s that one is motivated by pleasure and another is motivated by emotional pain (although, if I’m being real, people do use BDSM to address emotional pain, and I, for one, derive some degree of pleasure from self-harm). Maybe it’s just that we talk so much about autonomy and consent when it comes to sex and kink, but relatively little about those things in other contexts. Whatever it is, it still escapes me.

I self-harm a lot less than I did as a teen. (I used to bring my trusty sewing scissors to school every day. This was very reckless of me, since I did not also bring disinfectant. Also, I would not recommend pulling your tights back up as soon as you’re done mopping blood off your thighs – they stick.) That’s not because I’ve come to see that self-harm is Bad and other coping mechanisms are Good; it’s simply because I’m not quite as acutely distressed quite as often as I was then, thanks to being in a much safer environment and getting medicated. Sometimes I do try to use lower-risk coping strategies before I self-harm, like distraction or crying or going for a walk, but that’s not because I’ve learned that self-harm is, for some reason, bad – frankly, it’s largely because it’s inconvenient. I have bondage to do and I don’t want to bleed on nice, expensive rope.

Telling people that they shouldn’t self-harm is undermining their bodily autonomy. It’s obviously always important to respect someone’s autonomy, but when they’re self-harming because they’re dealing with or recovering from abuse, or anything else that makes their life feel outside of their control, it’s especially crucial that you don’t urge them to refrain or “quit”. You can remind them of the risks if that’s appropriate (like if you’re a medical professional, or their mum) and you can ask if there’s any other coping strategies they’d like to try first, but ultimately, every person has autonomy even when they’re using it in ways that others disapprove of. If you’re someone who self-harms and you’ve felt alone in the fact that you don’t see why you should stop: I see you. Know the risks, be as safe as you can, but know that I am not judging you. I’m as confused as you are. We’re going to be alright.


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Why Do I Keep Finding Autistic People In My Kink Communities? (For #AutismAcceptance Month)

Gummi bears lined up in a grid. Most of them are clear, but the one in the centre is red, like an autistic person in the midst of neurotypical people

Now, this might just be a Me Thing™, but I find that autistic people are disproportionately easy to find in kink settings.

Conservative estimates suggest that 1 in 100 people in the UK are autistic. Even if there were 100 people at every munch, social or class I’ve ever been to, and even if I was, miraculously, extroverted enough to talk to every single one of them, statistically speaking I should’ve been the only autistic person in the room. I have found, however, that this is rarely the case.

If you, like me, are wondering why autistic people seem over-represented in kink settings, read on; I have some theories.


1. A lot of kinks involve sensory-seeking behaviours.

Obviously I can’t speak for every single autistic kinkster out there, but one of the things I enjoy the most about practising kink is the sensory component of it. The way that rope smells, the rhythm of a beating, the secure hug of being strapped to something – all of these things are sensory experiences. And in kink, we’re not just pursuing sensory experiences covertly, like when I’m in a busy shopping centre and I discretely tap my fingertips against my thumbs to attempt to self-regulate. In kink, we’re supposed to wholly lean into the sensory experiences we’re creating.

Additionally, dungeons and the like are more or less designed to make it so that you can focus entirely on the sensory experience at hand. They often have some areas for louder play and some quieter ones, and there won’t be any overwhelming distractions like a TV playing or people bumping into you. A well-designed dungeon is a safe sensory haven for the autistic kinkster.

2. Everyone in kink communicates more explicitly.

In vanilla life, communication with others can sometimes feel like an uphill battle. People use sarcasm and euphemism, they hedge their statements, and sometimes they say things they straight up don’t mean. (I still struggle to understand that the question, “How are you?” is not a request for information about how I actually am, but rather a relationship-building pleasantry that requires me to say something banal that’s easy to respond to.)

In kink, however, people are somewhat more forthcoming. Plenty of kinksters have Yes/No/Maybe lists that make their preferences clear, and there’s generally a heightened degree of openness in settings where anal fisting and inverted suspensions are being discussed. A culture of consent means that people feel more comfortable saying what they actually mean.

(However, I do feel the need to point out to some of my fellow autistic kinksters that people in kink settings aren’t always 100% forthcoming. Sometimes, when people feel uncomfortable saying, “No, thank you” to a proposition – because you are or are read as a man, because they’ve been harassed before, or simply because they want to be polite and avoid hurting your feelings – they will often use a ‘soft no’ instead. A soft no is something like, “Maybe another time,” or, “I’m not really sure.” It can be tempting to follow that up by asking when they would like to play with you or otherwise pressing them about it, but generally, a soft no won’t turn into a firm yes. It’s always better to say, “Okay, thank you anyway!” and then, if they actually are interested in playing with you “another time”, they can come and seek you out.)

3. Kink is outside of the mainstream, so autistic people feel right at home.

Plenty of people in kink settings have experience of being belittled, mocked or shunned for things they do in their personal lives – and even when they don’t, they’re aware that it’s a possibility. So it follows that plenty of people in kink are empathetic to people who, for reasons relating to neurodivergence, have also never felt too comfortable in mainstream society.

This is not to say that neurotypical kinksters face discrimination and oppression on the same level as neurodiverse folks, but they certainly know more about how it feels to be rejected by mainstream culture than vanilla neurotypical people do. Moreover, there’s a pretty high correlation between people who practice BDSM and people who identify as LGBTQ+, and those people are even more likely to understand what it’s like to exist outside of societal norms and to have to fight for one’s own human rights. This helps kinky spaces to be welcoming and accommodating to neurodiverse people and helps those people feel safer and more able to be their authentic selves.


If you’re autistic and you’re not sure whether you’d be welcome in your local kink scene, I hope this post has reassured you somewhat. Not only will you have built-in conversation topics available to you, since kinksters all have at least one thing in common (kinkiness!), but you’ll probably find your local munch or dungeon to be a welcoming environment where everyone is a little (or a lot) ‘odd’ by mainstream standards. I think it’s pretty likely that you’ll fit right in.

Mums Make Porn, Episode 1: Review

I really, really wanted to like Mums Make Porn.

The premise is promising: five mums, all with different backgrounds, band together to create a porn film that reflects their own values, showcases consent and depicts sex in a light that they’d be happy for their children to absorb. I was tentatively excited about it.

Now, I tentatively hate it.

At the time of writing, only the first episode has been aired, so it’s the only one I’ve watched. In this first episode, mums Emma, Anita, Jane, Sarah and Sarah-Louise meet for the first time, watch some cliché PornHub slush, start to brainstorm their ideas for their own pornographic production, visit a couple of porn sets and say a lot of things that made me so angry I felt nauseous. You know, standard documentary fare.

From the outset, porn is depicted as an evil and abusive monolith. There is no mention of the porn that already exists which does exactly what these mums hope to do: depict consent, communication, intimacy and women actually, genuinely enjoying themselves. I began to feel a bit insulted on behalf of all the feminist porn producers and stars out there, but I resigned myself to this being the “angle” of the show and pressed on. One of the porn sets they visit, wherein a Domme named Zara films a scene with a nice-looking boy named Sam, does actually seem to feature a woman enjoying herself and some communication regarding consent, and to be fair, the mum who’s watching, Emma, responds quite positively to the whole affair. (There was even a very sweet little moment where Emma helps Zara with her lingerie.) Unfortunately, this seems to be the absolute peak of positivity regarding porn, and does not set the tone for the rest of the episode.

Three of the other mums visit a set where a clip creator (and “mum of two” – we’ll come back to that) is filming a scene for the cheating girlfriend genre with her real-life boyfriend. They fuck, they talk dirty about her fictional boyfriend, they stop when his cock goes soft, they continue, you can fill in the blanks. And then the three mums go outside because Sarah-Louise needs to puke into a bush.

I don’t want to be unkind. People are squicked by what they’re squicked by, and she is apparently viscerally disgusted by the sight of the male performer’s cum. However, this woman has had six children. How did they get into her womb? I’m reluctant to suggest that the vomiting is theatrical, but there’s clearly some kind of separation in Sarah-Louise’s mind between nice, private cum and dirty evil porn cum.

It’s also Sarah-Louise who says that porn “does not represent normal women.” I assume that she means it doesn’t represent statistically average women, or all women, but indirectly calling the women who appear in porn abnormal is, um, not my favourite thing. The word “normal” gets thrown around a lot, and never in a way that I appreciate. One of the mums (I forget which) mentions that porn is causing young people to think “threesomes, foursomes, fivesomes are normal.” In my world, they are! When I was in a triad, I had threesomes so often I once forgot the term “partnered sex” and accidentally called it “1v1 sex” instead. I think by “normal”, they mean “common”, “frequent” or “easy to organise”, but still, I was unimpressed.

Another thing which mystified me throughout the entire episode was the mums’ assertion that what’s happening in porn “isn’t real”. I understand what they mean – that porn is performative, that there are tricks and clever editing involved in making it look the way it does, that the kind of sex represented in porn isn’t as common outside of it and that there’s usually some conversation beforehand – but the fact of the matter is that people do have sex like that. People do get double penetrated, they do get bukkake’d, they do get the shit beaten out of them, and all sorts more besides. And again – and I feel I cannot stress this enough – if they’re looking for representations of sex that they deem “real”, that looks more like the sex they have, that literally already exists.

You know what else already exists? Mums who make porn! The voiceover literally introduces the clip creator whose set the mums visit as “Roxy, mum of two”. Mums direct, produce and feature in porn all the time. (Has anyone told them what the M in MILF stands for?) I wonder how much of the choice to title the series Mums Make Porn was to make it as eye-catching as possible, and how much of it was influenced by the fact that these mums, and the documentary, seem not to understand that a lot of the women involved in porn are there on purpose, and that they actively contribute to the making of the porn. The only way I can comprehend perceiving mums making porn as a novel concept is if we assume that the women (including mums) who are in porn have no agency, and are just there as objects – which is not a terribly feminist assumption to make.

There was also, throughout the whole thing, an emphasis on the ease with which people (especially young people) can access hardcore porn. Now, I understand that porn is not an educational resource and that mainstream porn in particular portrays a very narrow, very misogynistic view of what sex can look like, but I truly don’t believe that making it harder to access will help anyone. What will help is conversations with kids from an early-ish age about consent, being kind to other people, the fact that different things make different people feel good, the fact that porn is performative and is not, statistically speaking, representative of every sex-haver on the planet, and the fact that there exists a much wider range of it than whatever you stumbled onto on the front page of PornHub.

The other problem with emphasising how easy it is to access hardcore porn is that it sort of kind of implies that if you’re into some weird shit (as I am, and as I assume some of my readers may be too) then you should have to work hard to view it, or else not view it at all. I fucking hate TikTok, but the fact that it’s advertised to me and is only ever two clicks away is not the problem – it’s how the internet works. It’s also great for people who enjoy TikTok! People can enjoy things! And, since the legal viewing age for porn is 18, it shouldn’t matter whether the weird, kinky and even the misogynistic stuff is easier to access than the nice, loving, intimate stuff – if you’re following the letter of the law, you shouldn’t be allowing your resident young person to view any kind of porn at all. And if you are allowing them to view porn, you should be talking to them about it, regardless of its contents, because it is just always going to look different to how one navigates sex in the real world. It’s usually better lit, for one thing.

There were some bright spots throughout episode 1 – primarily in the form of Anita, who talks openly about enjoying porn from many genres and who doesn’t express any disgust when watching consenting adults fucking. And I suppose it has opened up a dialogue between some of these mums and their teenagers, although it’s not my favourite thing when Sarah responds to her 16-year-old daughter having accidentally seen some pornographic adverts by saying, “There’s a lot of vile stuff out there. Vile.” rather than asking her any questions about it, and then goes on to repeat the insistence that porn is “not real”.

There’s no neat takeaway here because there’s just so much cultural bullshit to unpack and we’re only on episode 1. I am, I guess, glad that this is facilitating conversations about porn and our cultural perceptions of it, both between these mums and their kids and in the wider world, but I wish that we could have these conversations without dismissing the agency of women who do porn, subtly shaming people with weird kinks and ignoring the vast body of feminist, queer, and otherwise loving, intimate and consent-driven porn that people are working so fucking hard to produce.

Shall I review episode 2? (Update: I did!)