The Armie Hammer Allegations Prove That We Still Don’t Know How to Talk About Kink
Content warning: sexual assault, emotional abuse, violence.
Without due diligence, there can be real damage when carelessly talking, writing, or producing content about kink. More often than not, abuse becomes conflated with kink — or non-conventional sexual practices — resulting in a nasty cycle where people confuse the two. (Kink by itself isn’t abuse, but it can be abusive when parties do not consent or if there is coercion.) Now the cycle of confusion is happening again with Armie Hammer.
Earlier this month, Instagram account @houseofeffie shared unverified screen grabs allegedly sent by the Call Me By Your Name star. The posts show messages in which Hammer allegedly writes that he wants to “break bones” and “rub blood all over” his face. Personal essayist and journalist Jessica Ciencin Henriquez — who is believed to have dated Hammer — chimed in and tweeted, “If you are still questioning whether or not those Armie Hammer DMs are real (and they are) maybe you should start questioning why we live in a culture willing to give abusers the benefit of the doubt instead of victims.” Hammer’s ex-girlfriend Courtney Vucekovich subsequently told Page Six that Hammer wanted to do “some things with [her] that [she] wasn’t comfortable with.” Hammer has since denied the allegations.
Regardless of whether the allegations and messages are true or not, they hint at a much deeper problem: the violation of boundaries during sex. But in the midst of all the noise, reporters and everyday folks alike lost the plot by obsessing over Hammer’s particular kink, formally called vore. Instead of focusing on the lack of consent and potential emotional manipulation the messages showed, The Daily Mail published a story centered entirely on his love of meat. Vulture, on the other hand, went for a supposedly witty headline: “Non-Cannibal Actor Josh Duhamel in Talks to Replace Armie Hammer in Shotgun Wedding.” The media frenzy soon turned to memefication with videos of Hammer dancing to Kesha’s Cannibal and tweets about DM’ing Hammer to get his attention.
By turning these women’s experience into a joke, the focus shifts away from the lack of consent to a story about Hammer’s kinks. And as disturbing as some might find Hammer’s (or anyone else’s for that matter) fantasies, what happens in the bedroom among consenting adults is not others place to judge — unless the boundaries of consent are being pushed. Hammer’s story includes alleged grooming, controlling, manipulating, and gaslighting of partners. It isn’t funny. It isn’t kink. It’s abuse.
Armie Hammer isn’t the first, or the most dire, example of the media’s careless and irresponsible coverage. News outlets disregarded accusations of exploitation of minors against R. Kelly for years, and framed his alleged abuse as polyamory and fetish. In 2013, the Miami New Times went as far as writing an article celebrating Kelly’s most “NSFW moments”. In the same year, Cosmopolitan released an article that included sex tips from R. Kelly writing, “Your partner will go along with any kinky fetish you ask for, as long as you sex him. Or sex R. Kelly. Either way.” In 2019, following the birth of the #MeToo movement, R. Kelly was federally charged for child pornography production and obstruction. He is set to face trial in September. While Armie Hammer’s situation does not equate R. Kelly’s, it nonetheless highlights the media’s frequent mismanagement of celebrity sex scandals, which often blurs the lines between consentual kink and abuse.
This trend of mistaking abuse for kink and vice-versa can also be found in movies as recently as last year’s with 365 Days. Packaged as an “erotic-romantic drama,” 365 Days alludes to the world of BDSM by using chains and spreader bars. However, at no point of the movie does the main character, Laura, give consent to her kidnapper/love-interest Massimo.
Domina Franco — a sex educator, coach, writer, and kinky person — has worked with the National Coalition of Sexual Freedom, where she used to teach the difference between BDSM and abuse. She highlighted the importance of RACK, an acronym that stands for risk aware, consensual kink. Franco mentioned that movies like 365 Days “exasperate rape culture” and “get BDSM all wrong.”
“If I thought 50 Shades of Grey was bad for BDSM and the BDSM community, [365 Days] is positively harmful beyond,” Franco said. For her, a movie that comes closer to the true nature of BDSM is the 2002 romcom starring James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Secretary.
Franco also said that it is important to be critical of bad portrayals and incorrect media representations that uphold rape culture and abuse, but doing so shouldn’t rely on kink shaming or “judging fantasies.”
“A fantasy can be as wild as the fuck you want it to be,” Franco said. “Fantasies and human sexuality are not in a nice tidy box with a cute little bow. Human sexuality can be a very dark, weird, circuitous, amazing place.”
However, Franco says, no one should be coerced into participating in someone else’s kink. Unless all parties are comfortable with doing something, it should not be done. She also points out that not all kinks are BDSM. Kink is a broader category of sex that could include power dynamics, whereas BDSM usually involves power exchange between the participants.
Dr. Tammy Nelson, a certified sex and couples therapist, shared her main concern with 365 Days — a concern that can also be applied to other movies that allude to kinks or sexual fantasies without laying the ground work and rules that come with it.
“Young people watching this movie who think that sex should happen this way are learning the opposite of what we have tried to teach them over the last one hundred years,” Nelson said over email. “No means no.”
Additionally, a “yes” is only a “yes’ for as long as you want it to be. “Consent is always revocable,” Franco said.“What you agree to want isn’t necessarily that you agree to that for the rest of your days.”
Furthermore, if people are not informed on how to safely participate in these activities, they may not even be able to know that what is happening to them is wrong, and may feel alone and unsupported. From tabloid gossip to films, it’s important we responsibly talk about and portray consent — otherwise we risk confusing kink and abuse, sending misinformation and perpetuating false, harmful narratives.
According to a Turkish idiom, “colors and taste cannot be questioned.” Sex is whatever consenting adults want it to be — whether that disturbs someone who is not involved or effected by it is irrelevant. Consent, however, is black and white. It has clear lines. It is a yes or a no. Make sure you ask and give it.
If you need to speak to someone, the National Sexual Assault Hotline provides confidential support 24/7 and can be reached at 800–656–4673 and through chat services at rainn.org/resources. RAINN is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization and offers assistance in regards to complaints about sexual misconduct, abusive relationships, and other incidents of sexual harassment.
The Abused Deaf Women’s Advocacy Services and National Domestic Violence Hotline provides deaf Americans with 24/7 video phone calls via the National Deaf Domestic Violence Hotline. You can sign with advocates who are trained to help deaf individuals who have experienced sexual assault. They can provide crisis intervention, a plan of action for safety, referrals to local organizations, and more. Video call: 855–812–1001