Posts Tagged ‘advice’

2012 7 Jun

“The S&M Feminist” NOW AVAILABLE, plus: reading tomorrow in Berlin!

At long last!

I’ve learned from my previous experiences. This time, I’m releasing all formats of The S&M Feminist: Best Of Clarisse Thorn at the same time.

* Click here to buy it for Amazon Kindle for $5.99.

* Click here to buy it for other ebook formats at Smashwords, also $5.99.

* And click here to buy it in paperback for $14.99.

* Also! If you’re in Berlin (or you know someone who is), I will be reading from The S&M Feminist and answering questions at Schwelle 7 on Friday at 8pm. Here’s the event on Facebook. I have totally gone international!

For this collection, I included all the articles that readers requested, and many more; I’ve written quite a lot since I started in 2008. There are 48 pieces in all, plus introductions describing the context in which I wrote them and thoughts I’ve had since writing them. Plus cute “study guides” in case you like that sort of thing! I recommend S&M resources, too, and have a glossary of common S&M terms.

The amazing adult sex educator Charlie Glickman, of Good Vibrations fame, has already posted a great review of The S&M Feminist. Excerpt:

Clarisse isn’t afraid to talk about her own experiences with BDSM, relationships, and sexual politics. But she’s also not afraid to explore some of the issues around consent, violence, and safety that a lot of the kink cheerleaders would like to sweep under the rug. She brings a refreshing honesty to her writing that is often lacking. Add to that a deep commitment to feminism and sex-positivity, and you have an amazing combination.

The tension between kink and feminism is a tough one to hold onto and most people end up firmly in one camp or the other. What makes Clarisse’s writing phenomenal is her steadfast refusal to avoid doing that. The clarity with which she discusses both sides without resorting to caricatures or stereotypes is simultaneously inspiring and challenging. If you’re interested in either or both, I can’t recommend her enough.

Thank you, Charlie! And on Facebook, the writer Alyssa Royse said:

I’m not especially into S&M and struggle with the word “feminist.” But Clarisse’s writing about autonomous sexuality is second to none. She can help you find peace and power in your own ideas of sexuality in a way that few can, simply by being brazenly and powerfully true to herself, in the gentle way that only someone who isn’t trying to please anyone else can be.

Now just for completeness, here’s the full book description:

Clarisse Thorn is a sex-positive activist who has been writing about love, S&M, sex, gender, and relationships since 2008. Her writing has appeared across the Internet in places like The Guardian, AlterNet, Feministe, Jezebel, The Good Men Project, and Time Out Chicago — and this is a selection of her best articles. Also included is Clarisse’s commentary on the context in which she wrote each piece, the process of writing it, and how she’s changed since then. Plus, there are “study guides” to help readers get the maximum mileage from each section!

Clarisse has delivered sexuality workshops and lectures to a variety of audiences, including museums and universities across the USA. In 2009, she created and curated the ongoing Sex+++ sex-positive documentary film series at Chicago’s historic feminist site, Jane Addams Hull-House Museum. In 2010, she returned from working on HIV mitigation in southern Africa. She has also volunteered as an archivist, curator and fundraiser for that venerable S&M institution, the Leather Archives & Museum. For anyone with an interest in activism, S&M, polyamory (open relationships), dating dynamics and/or sex theory, this book is guaranteed to give you plenty to think about.

Yes! Buy it! Kindle. Or Smashwords. Or paperback. And tell your friends. Your lovers. Your reading group. Your local dungeon. And anyone who’s anywhere near Berlin. (San Francisco, I’m coming for you next ….)

2012 30 Apr

Inter-Generational Relationships; Another Pickup Artist Interview; Modesty; and more

In mid-December, I took on the role of editing the Sex + Relationships Section at the gender-lens site Role/Reboot. Role/Reboot is a nonprofit organization that is specifically designed to talk about gender issues with an audience that has little exposure to them.  This editorship has been a bit of an experiment for me, and there are aspects of it that I struggle with. The focus of the site has narrowed since I came on board; there’s less and less space for me to write and feature the kind of in-depth sexual analysis that I’m naturally inclined towards.

But these changes are part of the site finding its voice and its niche, and being accessible to a wide range of people. So while I struggle with it, I’m trying to go with it for now, and see what happens.

I don’t choose every piece that is published in the Sex + Relationships section, but I choose a lot of them. (My writers contribute to other sections, too.) Here are some of my favorites since early February, when I wrote my last post highlighting Role/Reboot articles:

* The Story of Leah and Vanessa, written by Rachel Swirsky (who is part of the team at Alas! A Blog). Rachel is an amazing feminist writer who actually won the Nebula award for one of her science fiction novellas. She writes with a lot of nuance; this piece is an examination of one cross-generational relationship that works, and the pitfalls of cross-generational relationships in general.

* I Taught Men to Pick Up Women: A Q&A with Former Dating Coach Mark Manson, by me! For this, I interviewed Mark, who features heavily in my book Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser. (Mark has his own site at He’s a smart and empathic guy, and while I certainly don’t always agree with him, I always find his perspective interesting.

* Ask An Internet Sociopath, co-written by me and Internet Sociopath (who has a mind-bending Twitter account @AskASociopath). Internet Sociopath is one of my recurring commenters; those of you who have been reading for a while might remember some of his comments. I’ve never quite known what to make of him, but who could pass up a sociopath advice column?

* How Modesty Hurts Men Too, written by Sierra (who is part of the team at No Longer Quivering). I love Sierra’s work; she writes about her experiences leaving the evangelical Christian Quiverfull movement, and a while back I arranged for her piece on leaving for college to be reposted at Feministe. This article talks about how what she terms “the modesty doctrine” harms men as well as women. It follows her piece about modesty and self-harm, How Modesty Made Me Fat.

* Male Kindness Isn’t Always A Mask For Desire, written by a gentleman who called himself “Too Shy For This.” The gent asked not to publish the piece under his real name because he feels that it comes off as a bit arrogant. It’s a brief piece about how women often assume that male kindness = interest in sex, and what that might imply for many women’s wider perspectives.

Moving forward, Role/Reboot is specifically focusing on personal narratives and timely cultural critiques that are pegged to a recent news item. If you’re interested in pitching me your own work, or you know someone who is, please do get in touch with me: clarisse at rolereboot dot org.

2012 3 Apr

April Fool’s Day… and some things I actually believe

Firstly, just in case anyone missed the update: my previous post was an April Fool’s joke. There is a long list of things that I don’t believe in that post, and I decided to write a post to cover the big ones.

Also, this picture is awesome:

Anyway! Things I Said In My April Fools Post That Contradict My Beliefs:

* The most important thing I don’t believe is that cheating is a good example of polyamorous leanings. While I’m sure some people resolve non-monogamous leanings by cheating, I see cheating in a monogamous relationship as a huge red flag, even if that person later decides to be polyamorous. This isn’t to say that people who cheat are Incontrovertibly Bad People, and I understand that relationships can be very complicated. I try to be empathic to people who feel trapped in relationships for whatever reason, even if they cheat. But the bottom line for me is that polyamory requires a lot of honesty and self-knowledge and integrity, and cheating is usually the opposite of those things.

I will freely admit that I have some intense personal baggage around this topic, but I’m not the only polyamorous person who espouses this view. Many poly people get especially pissed at people who cheat and then label “cheating” as polyamory; that is not okay. Here’s an excerpt from an excellent piece by Technomom called Coming Clean: Transitioning from Cheating to Polyamory:

Note: I use male pronouns in the following article for the sake of simplicity, but I’ve encountered both men and women in this situation. My advice is the same to both.

Frequently, newcomers to various poly groups introduce themselves with a tale of woe. Alas, after entering into a committed monogamous relationship (usually a marriage), the poor man has just discovered that he is, in fact, polyamorous. In most cases, the newcomer has already strayed into infidelity, and wishes to have his cake and eat it too now. He asks for advice regarding how he can convince his wife to accept the relationship with the new lover so that they can all live happily ever after.

The newcomer, who I’ll call Phil, is usually surprised to find that he is not, in fact, welcomed with open arms. Most of us are very hostile to people who cheat on their partners and call it polyamory, because that has absolutely nothing to do with how we are living our lives.

… In over 20 years of being polyamorous and knowing other poly people, I have never, not even once, known of anyone who has been able to move from an affair in a monogamous relationship to a healthy polyamorous relationship involving the same people. I’ve known of people who did cheat on their partners in monogamous relationships who later moved on to be polyamorous, but they did not salvage the original monogamous relationship.

I’ve known people whose spouses cheated on them in monogamous relationships who ended the monogamous relationship, then went on to explore polyamory very happily themselves. (That fact surprises a fair number of those seeking help in this situation.) What you have to realize is that the real issue between you and your spouse right now is not polyamory or sex. It is your betrayal of the agreements between the two of you. It is about your dishonesty and dishonorable behavior. You have broken her trust.

She then gives advice anyways, and I think it’s really good advice.

* My standards for consent and communication are not “too complex.” What does it even mean to have standards for consent and communication that are “too complex”?

* I don’t believe that “true submission” is about allowing your partner to dictate your life, and I think any statement about “what submission really means” is intensely problematic. Submission (and dominance, and every other type of S&M) is different for everyone; for more on this, there’s always my post BDSM Roles, “Topping From The Bottom,” and “Service Top”.

Sometimes, in the middle of a really intense BDSM scene, I will enjoy having my partner tell me to do something that I actually really hate … but this is not the norm for me, it requires a lot of trust and intense connection, and I certainly don’t think it’s a good norm for everyone. I explored this a bit in my post on Anger, Fear and Pain.

Also, while I accept that some people are cool with it if their partners demand major life changes as part of the S&M relationship … that’s not how I do things personally. And I have trouble imagining any situation in which I’d choose a man over my writing. If a guy really feels so threatened by my writing that he wants me to stop entirely, then we are a terrible match and I’m kind of surprised we started dating in the first place.

* I would never use the phrase “real man” outside a sarcastic context. It capitalizes on too many socially-inculcated male insecurities that I think are completely unfair. For more on this, I really like Charlie Glickman’s article Picking And Choosing From The “Act Like A Man” Box. I’ve also explored the topic of masculinity in many places, including my old “questions” series and obviously in my super awesome book Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser.

* I love the Beatles, but I was always skeptical of the quotation “Love is the answer.” I mean, love is awesome, don’t get me wrong; I’m very pro-love and pro-empathy. But … “the answer”? The answer to what? Does this mean we never have to work on our relationships or make space for each other because love will magically make everything work? My most problematic ex-boyfriend once told me “I just want to feel like you love me more than you love yourself,” which was the point that I should’ve walked out the door. Anyone who says something like that does not have your best interests at heart.

* Finally, “You have the second prettiest hair I’ve ever seen” is just not a very good neg, at least not for me. I like my negs served with epoxy, thank you.

The image at the top of this post shows a classical Greek-style picture of a couple at a table, except that the woman is smoking a cigarette and the man is reading a newspaper and the table is kind of Victorian-looking and there are coffee cups. I have no idea where it came from but I love it so much.

2011 9 Dec

What Happens After An S&M Encounter “Gone Wrong”

I’ve often thought that BDSMers should talk more about our “failed encounters”. Sometimes the best way to learn is through “failure”, or by looking at others’ “failures”. But when a BDSM scene “goes wrong”, it’s often highly personal for everyone concerned. So it’s really hard to talk about and really hard to write about — both for the dominant and submissive partners. This is just like any relationship, really. After all, people rarely talk about their most embarrassing or awkward or otherwise difficult “mistakes made” during vanilla sex, right?

(I use phrases like “failed encounter” and “gone wrong” and “mistakes” with caution, because I think these situations can often be viewed as learning experiences, and therefore they are successful for a lot of purposes! But certainly in the moment they feel like screwups, and a lot of the time they can make the whole relationship very difficult, and I think that most people who have been through them feel as though some kind of failure happened … whether it was a failure of understanding, communication, empathy, caution, or something else.)

Much of the problem, I think, is that people have such a hard time communicating after serious miscommunications and mistakes.

The following quotation is from Staci Newmahr’s Playing At The Edge, an excellent ethnography of the BDSM community. (I’ve changed a few jargon terms so I don’t have to define them for you, but I left two terms I’ll be using throughout this entry: “top” and “bottom”. A top is a blanket term for a dominant and/or sadist. A bottom is a blanket term for a masochist and/or submissive.)

Sophie had been engaged in a long and intimate S&M relationship with Carl, a friend whom she deeply trusted. During the encounter she describes below, Carl changed his approach, and Sophie subsequently felt that Carl was somehow not quite himself. Sophie and Carl never quite recovered from the incident; though they remained friends and tried to do S&M again, it was, according to Sophie, never the same.

Sophie says:

He was very much a rope top. That was his big thing, was tying people up. And he was excellent at tying people up. And our dynamic was always — I mean, yes, he would absolutely hurt me when the time came for that, but there was also always this element — even when he was hurting me, it was done in this incredibly, like, touchingly caring way. And especially when he was tying me up, it was this soothing, wonderful thing.

So one day … Carl starts an encounter with me. Carl had decided in his head, from all the things that he’s heard me say about how I play with another partner, that that’s what I really want from an interaction, in order for it to be the most gratifying and valuable. So we proceeded to have an encounter where Carl was not Carl. And I didn’t stop it because it was so like, I couldn’t understand what was going on. I couldn’t understand why it felt so horrible. And it wasn’t that I didn’t trust him, because I trust him completely. [ … ] I just couldn’t figure out what the problem is, I felt horrible through the whole thing. And he was so out of touch with me that he wasn’t even aware of how horrible I was feeling. The encounter went on for some time … and the second it was over, I … was just, like, you know, traumatized. And he was like, “Oh my God, what’s wrong?” [and] he carried me into the other room. I said something like, “Where did my Carly go?” and then he started to cry. [ … ] He’s like, “I was trying to give you this sadistic experience.”

In Sophie’s story, Carl’s risk backfires. … The risks were unsuccessful; each ended up emotionally distraught and distant. Ultimately, they sacrificed the relationship. (pages 179-180)

Man, that description is so intense. Let’s talk about it.

The Practice

The first thing worth noting about Sophie’s story is that, while she probably had a safeword, she didn’t use it: she says that she “didn’t stop it.” Sometimes, in really confusing S&M scenes, submissives have trouble using their safewords. This does not mean safewords are worthless … but as Thomas MacAulay Millar puts it, “Tops can never be on cruise control.” Non-verbal signals matter, and if an S&M partner — top or bottom! — starts reacting in an unusual way, it’s great to check in with them even if they haven’t used their safeword. Safewords are a useful additional way of communicating about sex, but they can’t replace all communication.

Note also how hard the situation was on the top partner, not just the bottom. Carl ended up crying afterwards!

Next, what I find myself wondering is whether Sophie and Carl could have communicated past this incident. Sophie obviously trusted Carl, and presumably he trusted her. Could they have talked it out and had a successful relationship afterwards? It would have been hard, but maybe they could have done it.

I’ve (rarely) had similar experiences myself — where boundaries were severely tested, and afterwards it was difficult for both me and my partner to work through it. It can absolutely have an immense impact on the relationship. I write about this a bit in my awesome eBook, Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser (read reviews and buy it by clicking here). Here’s a quotation from a section in my book where I’m talking to a dominant partner, with whom I just had such a difficult encounter:


2011 22 Nov

[advice] How To Break Up and Take It Like A Champ

Eventually something you love is going to be taken away. And then you will fall to the floor crying. And then, however much later, it is finally happening to you: you’re falling to the floor crying thinking, “I am falling to the floor crying,” but there’s an element of the ridiculous to it — you knew it would happen and, even worse, while you’re on the floor crying you look at the place where the wall meets the floor and you realize you didn’t paint it very well. ~ Richard Silken

I do my best to maintain a healthy sense of irony about everything. Including death, taxes and breakups.

But breakups are terrible and soul-searing; I’ve been observing some breakups lately that make me feel gun-shy about ever wanting to be involved with another human being. Also, I’m never sure what to tell my friends in these situations. I find the above quotation to be a totally awesome description of how I feel after a nasty breakup, but it doesn’t contain much actionable advice.

There are two resources I’ve found that had the best breakup advice ever. One was aimed at women, and one was aimed at men, but both of them work for people of all genders. The one aimed at men is shorter, and I’ll reprint the whole thing in a moment here. The one aimed at women is more hilarious.

Here are those resources, plus some advice from me. And also, if you’re going through a breakup, then you have my sympathies. Virtual hugs, my friend.

* * *

Resource #1

The lady breakup guide is the book Exorcising Your Ex by Elizabeth Kuster. Here is one of my favorite excerpts. This isn’t one of the advice parts of the book; it’s solely funny. Even if you have broken up lately, it will hopefully make you laugh:

… This seems as good a place as any to share with you the best (or worst, depending on how you look at it) story about post-breakup stuff that I’ve ever heard. It came from a woman who initially professed not to have any post-breakup stuff. Naturally, I was skeptical. The ensuing conversation went something like this:

Me: You are sure you have absolutely nothing around the house that reminds you of your ex? Nothing he gave you?
Her: He didn’t give me anything.
Me: No cards? No letters? No pictures?
Her: No. Well … there is one thing, but I’m not sure it counts as “stuff” the way you mean it.
Me: Aha! I knew it! What is it?
Her: Well … I have my ex.
Me: What?
Her: His ashes.
Me: What?
Her: In an urn. On my mantel.
Me: What?!

Turns out that she once dated a guy for two weeks. A few months after she broke up with him, he died in a motorcycle accident. She had to handle all the funeral arrangements, since his brother — his only living relative — lived thousands of miles away and couldn’t deal. So she had her ex cremated, as he’d wished, and then she called his brother to find out when he was coming to get the ashes.

“I can’t right now, because I’m in the process of moving,” he told her. “Can you hold on to them for a while? I’ll call you as soon as I’ve settled in.”

“That was two years ago,” she says. “I still have the ashes, because I don’t know what to do with them. It’s really getting me down. I haven’t dated anyone since this happened, and sometimes I think that the spirit of my ex is preventing me from getting dates.”

… It would take a very sick person to find anything funny about this story, so let me assure you that I am that person. … I suddenly remembered an article I’d clipped from the “Dallas Morning News”. The title of the article was, “Can’t Part with Fido? Freeze-Dry Him”, and it was about a Colorado Springs company that freeze-dries dead animals into “lifelike” poses so that their owners can keep them for all eternity. … I, of course, immediately wondered if it would work on people.

I made a quick call to the company (Timberline Taxidermy, in case you’re interested), and was informed that, theoretically, it would. All they’d have to do is ice your ex’s corpse until it reached 180 degrees below zero, and then put it into a vacuum chamber and suck all the moisture out of it.

The process is expensive — freeze-drying a 9-pound pet costs $550, so freeze-drying a 200-pound ex would cost about $110,000 — but think about the possibilities. You could have them pose your ex so it looks like he’s begging for forgiveness. You could have them pose him in a sitting position, put him on the couch and tell your parents you’re married. (They’ll be none the wiser, especially if you insert a remote into his lifeless hands.) (pages 118 – 121)

I frequently quote Ms. Kuster’s line where she says “It would take a very sick person to find anything funny about this, so let me assure you that I am that person.” It’s kind of my favorite quotable quote ever.

* * *

Resource #2

Aaaand now for the dude breakup guide. It originated on the forums at the classic Internet dude site, The user who originally wrote this guide called himself Lushka16. Lushka16’s advice has been reposted across various nerd sites, so I might as well mirror it here.

Here it is:


Being dumped sucks.

It is rarely a good experience — no matter how long you’ve been going out, what the nature of your relationship was, or how it ended. The very idea that someone does not want to spend his/her time with you is a pretty big blow to the ol’ ego.

I have been dumped on many occasions for many reasons, for over nearly a decade. I understand that there are many who have never had a girlfriend, many on their first relationship, and many more with little experience with being dumped. Take my advice as you will, but I can guarantee you that when the day comes (and it probably will), you will be better prepared for it, and hopefully won’t end up being a huge whiny turd.

I give to you:
Lushka16’s guide to being dumped, and taking it like a champ

Rule 1: The relationship is over.

This is the most important rule of all. You need to go back to it at least once every minute in the aftermath of being dumped. It is the most difficult part, yet it is also the foundation for healing. The day you come to terms with it, is the day things start getting better.

In my experience, there are three basic parts to being dumped: Premonition, Dump, After-Dump.


2011 2 Aug

Thinking More Clearly About BDSM versus Abuse

Years ago, when I first started thinking about BDSM and abuse, I was defensive. A lot of feminist BDSMers are defensive about it.

We get scared of the accusation that “BDSM is always abuse” … and we’re accustomed to accusations from certain feminists such as “those of you who pretend to like BDSM just have Patriarchy Stockholm Syndrome and don’t know what you really want” … and often, we’re also fighting our own inner BDSM stigma demons. We get angry that our sexual needs are seen as politically problematic, or unimportant.

And so, for a lot of people, our instinctive angle on abuse in the BDSM community is: “Shut up! That’s not what’s going on!” And that’s a problem.

Obviously, I don’t think BDSM is inherently abusive! Exploring my personal BDSM desires has given me some extraordinary, consensual, transcendent experiences and connections. I also genuinely believe that BDSM has the potential to control, subvert, and manage power.

BDSM can be a place where people learn to understand bad power dynamics in past relationships; it can be a place where people learn to manage or destroy bad power dynamics in their current relationships; it can be a place where people find glory, self-knowledge and freedom by manipulating their own reactions and responses to power. Here’s a great, complicated relevant essay by Pepper Mint, and here’s one of my favorite quotations on the matter from violetwhite:

It’s ironic that the most perverse manipulations of power in my life occurred in a past vanilla relationship, where I tolerated tyranny because the normative structure of our relationship obscured the fact that that is what it was.

Still, I’ve seen things happen in the BDSM community that turned my stomach. Terrible manipulative behavior exhibited by people who have the greatest reputations. Blaming the victim when they try to speak up. Telling “rumor mongers” to shut up when people are trying to talk openly about problematic community members. The BDSM subculture has its own version of rape culture, where “lying bitch” and “drama queen” and “miscommunication” are used against abuse survivors.

Miscommunications do happen. But not everything that could be a miscommunication is actually a miscommunication.

Oh yes, rape culture can happen in BDSM just the same way it happens in the “vanilla” mainstream. And there are certainly people in my local community who I would never get involved with, because I do not trust them. (I like Asher Bauer’s old post, “A Field Guide To Creepy Dom“, which is all about how to spot predators — although, like Asher, I think the post has a few problems.)

Being defensive about BDSM and abuse won’t help; yes, BDSM is stigmatized and stereotyped, but the abuse is still a problem. So after I started blogging, I tried to move past my defensiveness and write more concretely — to write about what exactly the BDSM community does to work against abuse. One of my first posts on BDSM and abuse was called “Evidence That The BDSM Community Does Not Enable Abuse“. It highlighted anti-abuse initiatives within the BDSM community.

As I learned more about BDSM and abuse, and my perspective got more nuanced, I wrote a more expansive post called “The Alt Sex Anti-Abuse Dream Team“. It covered all the information I’d given in the earlier post, and also talked about how I personally would structure an anti-abuse initiative with alt-sex people in mind.

Looking back now, those posts still strike me as defensive. I was making good points, but I also think that I didn’t fully understand where some feminists are coming from when they react negatively to BDSM. This past year, I’ve learned a lot more about abusive gender-based violence, power, and control. And I’ve concluded that while BDSM is obviously not equivalent to abuse, we need better theory to describe the difference between BDSM and abuse, and we should try to avoid defensiveness while articulating that theory.


2011 20 Jul

[slogan] Start From A Position of Strength

A while back, I attended a workshop run by educator Sarah Sloane on the topic of BDSM and abuse. Sarah centered her workshop on a maxim that I have hereby stolen: “Start from a position of strength, and seek strength in the end.”

I’ve been thinking about this a lot in terms of not just polyamory and BDSM, but sex in general. All types of sexuality are more pleasurable for some people, and less pleasurable for others; emotionally easier for some people, and more difficult for others. I have zero interest in telling other people how they “should” or “shouldn’t” deal with their sexuality, as long as what they’re doing is consensual. I want to say right now that nothing I’m about to write is intended to tell others how they “should” or “shouldn’t” do S&M; it’s just my own thoughts on how I might choose and process my experiences.

I can certainly consent to whatever, even if that thing is problematic or scary or difficult or complicated — I can consent. The thing is, if I want to get something amazing and positive out of my experiences, I think it’s good to start from a position of strength.

In some ways this is clear. For example, I think that being with a partner who genuinely wants me to have a good experience, who really cares about me, and who wants to see me again — that’s almost always a position of strength. Even if I have fairly intense, dark S&M encounters with that person, I can feel confident that he’ll treat me with respect; that he’ll give me space and lend me strength for emotional processing afterwards.

Also, knowing what I want is a position of strength; understanding how I feel is a position of strength. Being able to recognize my emotional difficulties, hiccups, triggers and landmines is a position of strength. Knowing for sure that I can call my safeword, if necessary, is a position of strength. On a physical level, I prefer to do S&M when my body is in good shape — when I’m well-rested and I’ve eaten healthy food. That, too, is a position of strength.

In some ways this can become murky. For example: I am rarely interested in one-night stands. There are a number of reasons for this, but one reason is that — especially as a woman — feeling like a “slut” can be scary, difficult cultural territory. And when I don’t feel good about myself, my interest in one-night stands is even lower — because I know that dealing with the difficult territory of “sluthood” will be harder with low self-esteem. If I’m feeling happy, strong, competent, valuable, and loved by the world … then one-night stands can easily be fun. If I doubt my worth, or if I doubt how much I deserve love … then one-night stands can be self-destructive.

The same goes for relationships with people who don’t care about me. If I’m sure that a guy has no emotional interest in me, then having sex with that guy can be a dangerous emotional proposition for me, and one that I need to feel strong for. This doesn’t always end up being true — I’ve definitely had sexual encounters that left me emotionally unaffected — but sometimes it’s hard to predict whether I’ll want more emotional investment from a given dude, so I try to keep it in mind for all encounters. (From a polyamorous perspective, I’ve noticed that less-emotional sex is often easier to handle when I’m already in a solid relationship with someone else.)


2011 23 Mar

Ethical Pick-Up Artistry

UPDATE, March 2012: I have now released my book Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser, and people seem to like it. Buy it here! And now for the original article …

* * *

As some of my readers know, I’m fascinated by the pickup artist subculture (a community devoted to advising men on how to seduce women). It’s a very mixed bag. My feeling is that there’s good advice in the community for genuinely kind shy guys. But sometimes, it’s so mixed with misogyny and cold-heartedness that wading through it feels like panning for gold in a sewer.

By the end of this year, I plan to release a book called Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser, all about my experiences in that subculture. In the meantime, here’s my attempt at a summary:

There are small communities of pickup artists all over the world, and there are message boards all over the Internet, and expensive pickup coaches are always popping up. Some of these folks are not so bad; some of them are really bad. Many have awful cynical and negative attitudes about people; many hold particularly awful stereotypes about women. And most of them care a lot more about what works (i.e. how to get their penis in someone) than about what’s ethical or how we can treat women like human beings.

A good friend of mine recently told me that he’s been reading the blog of a misogynist pickup artist who I absolutely loathe. I was appalled. I provided a detailed feminist critique of this guy’s blog. My friend listened and understood, but in the end he said, “I hear what you’re saying, and I agree with you. The guy is an asshole and his advice is permeated with terrible opinions of women. But a lot of it is really good advice, and I don’t know where else I can find such good advice about women.”

Here’s the thing: the current pickup artist subculture has a monopoly on effective advice for how to break down social interactions and talk to women. Not all of it works, but enough of it works that it draws guys in. As a pickup artist instructor once told me, “When I first found the community I was horrified by how sleazy and gross it is, but I had never had a girlfriend and I told myself: dude, if you don’t learn this stuff you’re gonna die alone.”

I’ve theorized that maybe feminists should provide good pickup advice, in an attempt to counterbalance some of the awfulness of the existing community. In the meantime, however, I figure the next best thing to do is to provide a list of less-misogynistic pickup artist instructors and sites, and a few very basic critiques.

First, the basic critiques. These are very, very basic; if you get me started then I’ll provide ten thousand more. But please, if you are going to investigate pickup artistry, at least keep these things in mind:


2011 11 Mar

[storytime] Sex communication case studies

In the wake of my last post, which was basically a meditation on one relationship with bad sexual communication, I want to offer some positive examples of sexual communication from my life. [footnote 1]

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1) Low pressure and leather belts. Years ago, when I was pretty inexperienced in the community, I had a single BDSM encounter with a gentleman in his home. We met at a BDSM discussion group, arranged to meet later at a café, and went home from there; as we exited the café, I took his driver’s license and texted his full name and license number to a friend. (I think more people should do this, frankly — in fact, more non-BDSM people should do this when they go home with strangers from bars.)

We sat together on the public transit and quietly discussed the upcoming scene: he asked me many, many questions about what I was okay with and not okay with. Questions like: “What do you have experience with?” “Could you go into that more?” “What do you like?” “What makes that fun for you?” “Is there anything you really don’t want me to do?” He asked a lot of the questions twice, too, which I think is a really great strategy especially with new partners. People don’t always have their heads together enough during these conversations to answer an S&M question properly the first time, especially if it’s a broad and open-ended question like “What are the things you really don’t want to do?”

I made it clear that I just wanted a BDSM encounter, that I wasn’t up for oral sex or vaginal sex or anything like that. He’d never had a BDSM encounter that didn’t involve orgasm, so it was a new concept for him, but he was cool with trying it.

After our long discussion of boundaries and limits, we made it to his apartment and settled in. He got out some equipment, including a collar, and he said: “While you’re wearing this, you will obey everything I say. Do you have any final boundaries to set? Anything you really want me to do? Anything else you don’t want me to do?” I said no, and he snapped on the collar. (We did have an agreed-upon safeword, though — so I had a way of interrupting the proceedings if I really needed to.)


2011 30 Jan

Body chemistry and S&M

The above image — a postcard, showing a pinup-style girl with the text “I gained 30 pounds … & sex has never been better!” — is courtesy of PostSecret, the community art project to which people mail in postcards featuring secrets they’ve never told anyone before.

I often think that good physical health is a widely-ignored element of good sex. I am obviously not saying that people in poor health can’t have good sex (and in fact, I certainly hope they do — more power to ’em). But it consistently amazes me how much my physical health factors into my sexuality, especially S&M. I am by no means an expert on this topic, but here are some examples:

* Food. I am both less interested in sex and in S&M when I’m hungry; ensuring that I’ve eaten well before I take some punishment is especially crucial. I try to eat well in general, but if I’m planning to have a heavy S&M encounter, I don’t cut myself any slack. I try to specifically ensure that I eat enough protein before the date and I try to include some vitamin-heavy foods like beets, leafy green vegetables, etc. Eggs are a good source of protein; nuts, beans and tofu are my primary protein sources. (I was wrong about a previous statistic on eggs that I included here; see comments.) If I don’t have enough protein available for whatever reason, I at least eat enough food that I won’t be hungry when I see my partner.

Part of the reason I’m writing this right now is that I’ve had trouble finding useful resources on the Internet for what people recommend as good pre- or post-S&M food, especially during aftercare. “Aftercare” is an S&M term for how people end their S&M encounters. This excellent page on aftercare describes it thusly (note: “top” is a blanket term for a dominant and/or sadist, and “bottom” is a blanket term for submissive and/or masochist):

Aftercare is the last act of the SM drama. It is the culmination, the pulling together of all loose ends, the finishing touches, the final communion between sharers of the SM ritual, the phase where the participants (usually the tops) formally give the fantasy scene a context in everyday reality. Its technical purpose is to transition both players from the elevated states created in a scene [i.e., an S&M encounter] back into normalcy, returning to the motor control and awareness they will need to drive home once the scene is over. But as any good SM practitioner will tell you, it’s much more than that. It is the time after the action when the participants come together in mutual affirmation that something special was created and shared. It is when affection and closeness is offered and sought. It is, at very least, the proper time to express thanks to the person who has shared this tiny segment of your life with you. It can be, and often is, the most beautiful part of a scene, and it is part of the scene. To skip it altogether is as rude as having dinner at a friend’s house and then bolting once you’ve eaten your fill.

A lot of tops keep food and water on hand to give bottoms at the end of a scene, which I think is probably a good idea. (Eating post-scene doesn’t feel necessary for me as a bottom, but it might if I weren’t so careful about what I eat beforehand.) Some people say that fruit or fruit juice is the way to go — and indeed, it will give the bottom’s system a sugar boost and may make them feel better for that reason — but I would personally rather eat a protein bar, and I have some friends who feel the same way. Dungeons usually serve snacks, although the snacks aren’t always very healthy.

A final note on food: I know there are people who specifically include food deprivation as part of their S&M. Obviously, this is totally fine by me as long as it is consensual, but I’d encourage people not to expect themselves — or their partners — to react the way they usually do to S&M, as long as they’re hungry.

* Weight. I used to be much scrawnier than I am now, and as my health has improved, I’ve gained weight. Sometimes this freaks me out (it’s impossible to be female in our society and not daydream about having cheekbones that can stab people), but it has been worth it. One time, after I’d been having a lot of anxiety about weight gain, my then-boyfriend emailed me the above PostSecret postcard and perceptively wrote: “Maybe that’s why it’s easier for you to have orgasms now? I think you should investigate this if you try to lose weight.”

I am not in a position to comment about whether being overweight affects sex. But I can definitely assure you that being underweight is not good for your sexual well-being.

* Sleep. I much prefer to have S&M encounters on days when I’ve gotten a lot of sleep the night before; this is at least as crucial as eating well before an encounter. There are approximately a billion studies that show the far-reaching effects that getting enough sleep can have on our health, and they seem to usually recommend around 7-8 hours as a good amount per night (more for teenagers).

As with food, I know there are people who include sleep deprivation as part of their S&M encounters. Again, this is obviously fine by me as long as it is consensual, but I’d encourage people not to expect themselves — or their partners — to react the way they usually do to S&M, as long as they’re tired. I don’t know about you, but exhaustion certainly makes me erratic and overly emotional. If you’re going to be doing something like S&M that can specifically create an erratic and overly emotional state … well, when overlapping that with exhaustion, it just seems like a good idea to be careful.

* Alcohol. Alcohol definitely decreases my pain tolerance (quite dramatically in fact), and it definitely makes it harder for me to get turned on. There is only one bonus to alcohol, and that’s the famous “social lubricant” effect. I personally prefer to limit myself to one glass of wine, maaaaybe two, if I’m planning to hook up with someone; in general, stone-cold sobriety is my preferred state to go into S&M. Good S&M makes me high enough on its own.

I get the impression that some people get drunk before they do S&M because otherwise they feel too anxious to do S&M. As always, I’m not going to tell other people that they shouldn’t do consensual things … but drunkenness frequently makes it hard to communicate and hard to know what’s going on in your head, which means that drunkenness makes consent hard. Not impossible, just hard. Be careful.

A lot of people say that mixing substances and BDSM is always bad. Personally, I figure that if a person has a lot of experience with a given substance, and a lot of experience with a given BDSM act, and a lot of experience with their partner … then I kind of doubt they’re taking a huge risk by doing a familiar BDSM act with a familiar partner in a familiar state of mind. It’s a lot to deal with at once, and again, it’s worth being careful. And of course, substance abuse problems are a whole nother ballgame. But if a person has been drinking a glass of wine with dinner every night for 10 years, then I’m not going to tell her that I consider her incapable of doing BDSM after dinner.

I am not qualified to comment on non-alcohol drugs because I, of course, never do anything illegal. But for all your drug-related questions, the website is often very useful.

* Illness. I don’t have any particular observations about how being sick changes my experience of S&M, but it definitely does. When I get sick and I have the option to reschedule a date, I always do.

* Menstrual cycle. I haven’t tracked my cycle with enough care to know exactly how it affects me S&M-wise, but I’m pretty sure it does. As one of the good people at EduKink once observed, “The great part about playing with a woman is that you have 28 different partners, one for each day of the month!”

I don’t usually write entries like this, so hey, readers: if this was helpful for you, let me know. And, as always, other perspectives and opinions are welcome!

This is another PostSecret postcard, and features a woman running with the text “I run best when I orgasm first”.

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This piece is included in my awesome collection, The S&M Feminist: Best Of Clarisse Thorn. You can buy The S&M Feminist for Amazon Kindle here or other ebook formats here or in paperback here.

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