Webster’s dictionary defines a “lifestyle” as: [The consistent, integrated way of life of an individual as typified by his or her manner, attitudes, possessions, etc.]

Thus, as individuals, we are singular and alone within a community we call the “BDSM Lifestyle.” As we dig deeper “lifestyle” includes qualifiers such as: “Manner, Attitudes, Possessions’, etc.” If the BDSM lifestyle was practiced by [only] a few people, yes, it would qualify under this limited scope. This is however, not the case. According to the Kinsey Institute as far back as 1993, of sexually active adults, 14% of men and 11% of women engage in SM activities at least occasionally. Thus it can be extrapolated that today, the suggested percentage of those engaged in SM is closer to 18-20%. Obviously not all of them are active BDSM Community Practitioners. But they don’t need to be.

Webster’s defines a “culture” as: [The ideas, customs, skills, arts, etc. of a people or group that are transferred, communicated, or passed along, as in - or to - succeeding generations; such ideas, customs, etc. of a particular people or group in a particular period; the particular people or group having such ideas, customs, etc.]

BDSM Practitioners have formulated [ideas] regarding ethical practices and relationship dynamics, [customs] of how to act as a community (and the rituals we perform as a part of that community), [skills] regarding the activities we enjoy and the level of expertise required to perform those activities safely and effectively, visual and auditory [arts], literary or interpretive affirmations of the bondage, discipline, and sadomasochism we display, either by our own creation or that of others. These affirmations of ideas, customs, skills and arts are [transferred] through training and mentorship, advice and individual interpretation, [communicated] in threads like this, and in workshops given at any of the hundreds of events each year to [succeeding generations] encompassing both the new and the youth of the community, as it has been since the days of the Back-Patch Clubs (Old Guard) of the post WWII era with the presentations of leather as a formal affirmation of peer acceptance.

 
Yes, BDSM is a broad spectrum term, but that does not negate its impact. I am both Irish and American Indian, and those are cultures I am a part of, even if only on the periphery, because of my genealogical heritage. Thus it stands to reason that BDSM (regardless of how loosely one associates themselves) does not remove the auspice of a formalized “culture” as the term is defined or as the community has evolved and identified itself. Keep in mind that a culture does not have to involve the majority of societal members to be legitimate. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said [regarding the culture of free speech and the Constitutional Right by which we live these beliefs]

“Societies can only hope to progress toward the – ultimate good – by free trade in ideas, not by silencing expression that challenge dominant cultural beliefs.” In this case the "Victorian societal norms" by which vanilla folks live would be the "dominant cultural beliefs" and W/we the BDSM Community et.al., would be expressing challenge to those norms.

Cultures exist in companies and organizations, in members of socioeconomic classes and within the borders of countries and geographical regions and religious beliefs. BDSM as a culture has a set of cornerstone ethos by which we define our community standards, those being Honor, Integrity, Accountability, Loyalty, and Respect. From these base building blocks we have defined relationship dynamics, values and principles (which allow for situational diversity and individuality) as well as expectations we have for those within the community constructs.

Although there are no defined legal protections under the law for BDSM, there is case law that defines cultural constructs as a legitimate defense [when] they are known within the community and act as a standard by which the group or community observe or practices its beliefs. (On a side note: The sad duality of the free society in which we live, means an abuser will rationalize criminal behavior sighting the BSM culture as justification. Our protections against this are the very ethics by which we live. The clearer the definition of the culture, the safer we can become from those who would bastardize it in defense of criminal violence.)

In the end, the true need to understand BDSM as a sexual orientation, lifestyle, or culture depends on the ability to define it using legitimate and appropriate definitions that can be quantified and validated with objective, visual proof of practiced beliefs, rituals and arts. Under these constructs, the appropriate understanding for BDSM would, in the most encompassing definition, be:

A “Culture defined by its ethics, beliefs, rituals and arts - collectively “principals and traditions” - as such principals allow for situational diversity understood as ‘lifestyle choices’ which take(s) into consideration the individuality of how I/We/They practice those accepted traditions of community at large.” Written by Sir Joe

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