It should be noted that although the term "BDSM" is known and used in Germany, it is not as widespread as simply combining everything that the English-speaking countries group under that label, under "Sadomasochism" (or rather, Sadomasochismus). This article reflects this usage.
In Germany in particular the involvement of medicine in the conception of Sadomasochism is crucial. Leopold von Sacher-Masoch was born in nearby Austria-Hungary and died in Germany. Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing (who formally defined Sadism and Masochism for the first time as illness) worked in Germany, and the physician Andreas Spengler, who replaced the picture of the lonely patient by that of the socially inconspicuous member of a subculture, is also German. It seems that only the Marquis de Sade (a Frenchman) is missing.
The legal situation for Sadomasochists in Germany is world-wide one of the most favourable.
In both Germany and Austria, SM is treated widely and uniformly as bodily injury with consent and it thus has a status which is comparable with medical surgery and martial arts. Germany differs from Austria, however, in that SM is not a violation of good manners. Abuses of state power against Sadomasochists because of their sexual preferences are largely unknown in Germany.
The German judicial system places stability of justice as a great importance. Existing laws and judgements are rarely contested in court; instead new laws are brought about. Sadomasochists operate in a clearly defined national uniform legal environment.
From Article 1 of the Basic Law - protecting the dignity of the people - is derived a protection privacy, particularly in relation to the media. The privacy of individuals even in contemporary history is protected.
The censorship situation in Germany is relatively unfavourable for Sadomasochists.
Article 5 of the Basic Law prohibits censorship although it is permitted by other laws, the protection of minors and the "right of personal honour" is limited. According to the Federal Constitutional Court, Article 5 applies only to a prior censorship. The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights indicates that "protection of morals" is a permissible reason for censorship.
In recent decades the right to liberty of opinion has been increasingly limited in Germany.
The two main reasons have been:
- Protection of children and young people
- There are strict guidelines on the protection of minors, which also affects adults, making some media virtually impossible.
- Protection of human dignity
- Although there are no clear criteria exactly when a violation of human dignity occurs, this justification makes major areas of sexual depictions widely prohibited (e.g. pornographic depictions of sexual acts with animals). Partially with this reason also the possession of materials may be forbidden.
An indexing by the BPJM (German censor body?) with the pertinent advertising prohibition often destroys the value of a medium from the perspective of the publisher and is, in most cases, the death knell for the medium. In many cases an indexing therefore means that the work remains unpublished. The small market of little more than 100 million German speakers worldwide gives little profit clearance for edge publications, despite the application of fixed book prices.
Religious and arch-conservative groups with a 'sadophobic' agenda in Germany have little influence.
A vociferous campaign by a group of radical feminists led by Alice Schwarzer in the 80's for a prohibition on erotic media had sadomasochism pictured as an enemy but this died out in the 90's with almost no affect.
A more subtle form of censorship is partly to the translation or synchronization of foreign materials.
There is a Federal union, the Bundesvereinigung Sadomasochismus (BVSM), founded on 31st May, 2003 in Cologne uniting diverse groups and individuals in the SM subculture.
The favourable legal situation gives Sadomasochists in Germany little reason for their cause to go public. The number of people who are open about their inclinations regarding Sadomasochism, in comparison to countries like the USA, small.
Between homosexuals and heterosexuals in the subculture, only loose connections exist. In some parts of the non-commercial subculture reservations exist against the commercial scene.
Size of the subculture
Exact numbers over the size of the subculture are not available. Some data from July 2003 indicates that there were at least 84 groups, 39 mailing lists, Web groups or IRC forums and 10 other institutions.
During the Third Reich, sadomasochism was considered as poorly as homosexuality. From this period also comes the addition of body injury paragraphs in the Criminal Code, SM to be a criminal offence. This (still existent) Addition is not applied the today's courts.
Even in the GDR Sadomasochists had to count on Repression.
- The BVSM (German language), a German focal point
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