Posts Tagged ‘BDSM’

2012 10 Feb

[storytime] The Strange Binary of Dominance and Submission

It’s been a while since I felt simultaneously very into someone, and very sure about him. It’s a strange feeling. I’ve been playing with theories about how “flirtation is basically an exercise in strategic ambiguity” and “insecurity is an integral part of romantic intoxication” and “uncertainty is an emotional amplifier“, and I do think that those ideas are true in many ways. But I got so wrapped up in theory that I forgot how it feels to be way into someone … and only a little bit scared.

* * *

I met Mica at a Saturday night party. When I left the next morning, he said he wanted to see me again as soon as possible. “Monday?” he asked. “Tuesday?”

“Monday,” I said. “Tomorrow.”

He’s a smart, creative thinker. There are layers to him, and he practically shines: so why not call him Mica? I would love talking to him for those reasons alone. But there’s also a kind of certainty to him; a calm presence; an extraordinary quality of attention. Once he’s focused on a partner, there’s a rhythm behind everything he does. He’s so precise that when I’m kissing him, I feel like an awkward puppy.

I observed this very quickly, and something else: that the quality of his attention — often overtook him. Controlled him. In a sexual interaction, it’s difficult to distract him from catering to me. And since he’s excellent at reading my desires, I usually don’t want to distract him.

It made me think of what I was like, years ago, before I understood my submissive tendencies. Mica hadn’t done much explicit S&M before, and when he’d done it, he was dominant. I didn’t want to project too much, or make any assumptions about him … but I couldn’t help noticing.

The second night I was with him, I asked him to inflict light pain on me. Very light. I didn’t want to go further with him, yet. But his instincts for delivering pain and watching my reactions were, as I suspected, beautifully calibrated.

The third night I was with him, he touched my face and kissed me. I felt my eyelashes flutter and my body melt, and he smiled. Then he said, “I’m feeling really gentle tonight. I don’t know how much I’m up for.”

He doesn’t want S&M right now, I thought. Sometimes guys date me and get anxious that I’ll be disappointed when they don’t want to do S&M. This is understandable, given that I’m an S&M writer. But I hate that, because the last thing I want is for one of my partners to feel obligated … and besides, even I don’t want all-S&M-all-the-time. I smiled directly into Mica’s eyes and told him I was fine with it.

In bed, I watched him. Watched his extraordinary attentiveness. Eventually we got to a point where I was leaning over him, kissing him. I watched him give up his body to the kiss. He doesn’t want S&M right now, I thought, … except that his main experience with S&M, so far, is being in charge.

“Do you trust me?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he said. “Absolutely.”

I clenched my nails into Mica’s side, and his back arched. It was the clearest invitation I’d seen from him and, I suspected, the clearest invitation he knew how to give. If he even knew that he was giving it. It can take a lot of time and experience for a submissive to learn what they want well enough to give good feedback for it. It’s one of those submissive skills that people don’t think about enough, because for some reason we’re always too busy teaching dominant skills.

I kissed Mica again, and tore into his back.

He was ready for it. His breathing fast became irregular; he gasped; he shook in my hands. After a while, I pulled back and simply observed the intensity flooding through him. His body undulated like a wave.

“I knew you were dangerous,” he breathed. “In exactly the way that I want.”

“Dangerous,” I repeated. I hesitated. “What do you mean?” His eyelashes flickered, and I saw that he was too far under to answer me. He probably barely knew what he was saying. (In S&M, we call this state of mind subspace.)

I pushed him a little farther. I only used my nails, but you can do a lot with your nails. I said his name, over and over. He struggled, he fought his own body. I observed the struggle and saw myself in it. “I know,” I told him.

Eventually Mica said, quite seriously, that he wanted to stop. I was certain that he could take more. A lot more. I might have been able to convince him to continue, and had him thank me for it later. But he needs to know that I’ll respect him when he says to stop. Also, in a somewhat self-interested way, I don’t want to set a precedent where his boundaries are entirely nonverbal; where his limits depend on my capacity to see through him. Maybe someday, when we know each other really well. Right now, it would make it too easy to seriously harm him … and for him to hate me afterwards.

So I stopped.

“No one has ever touched me so deeply, so fast before,” Mica said, later. And, later later: “This changes everything.” I lay still, kept my arms around him, listening. “That was total catharsis,” he said. “I mean –” a note of doubt crept into his voice. “Do you actually like doing that?”

“Yes,” I said. I said it fast and hard, because he needs to believe it. I understood why he was asking: I’ve been there. When I was first getting into S&M, the first time I felt that way, I had a hard time believing that my partner actually liked doing that for me. It felt so incredible. It felt like I couldn’t possibly be giving back as much as I received. Sometimes, I still feel that insecurity.

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2012 8 Feb

Manliness; Casual Sex for Ladies; Islamic Sexuality; and of course S&M

In mid-December, I took on the role of editing the Sex + Relationships Section at the gender-focused 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.  In fact, this is one of the things that excited me about working with Role/Reboot; like my sex-positive film series, it’s intended to create new conversations, to bring new people and new perspectives into the gender discourse.  The managing editors at Role/Reboot identify as feminist, although they explicitly prefer to position the site outside existing gender discourses.

This editorship is a bit of an experiment for me, and I’m interested to see how it will go. It’s an opportunity to highlight some work that I think is both excellent and accessible. I don’t choose every piece that is published in the Sex + Relationships section, but I choose a lot of them. Here are some of my favorites from the last six weeks:

* Mica: A Strange Binary, written by me! This is a storytime-type article in which I talk about how it feels to start a relationship with a gentleman who’s new to submission, and isn’t sure how to talk about it. And in the end, he and I switched BDSM roles, too … (I later reposted this article to my blog under the title, “The Strange Binary of Dominance and Submission”.)

* Virginity and Sexual Realization, written by Nahida (who blogs at The Fatal Feminist). Nahida is a really interesting writer whose main focus is the intersection of Islam and feminism. This piece is about her understanding of Islam and female sexuality, and her feeling that her Islamic culture is fundamentally more sex-positive than the Western culture in which she grew up.

* Born This Way: Black Box Sexuality, written by Noah Brand (who’s part of the blog team at No, Seriously, What About Teh Menz?). This is an exquisitely constructed, hilarious piece about why we should treat sexuality as a “black box” — we don’t know why personal sexuality is the way it is, and it arguably doesn’t matter. (I’ve covered similar ground in my old piece on BDSM as a sexual orientation.)

* Picking and Choosing from the “Act Like A Man Box”, written by Charlie Glickman. Charlie is one of my favorite writers on issues of masculinity. This piece follows his earlier piece, The Performance of Masculinity, and it’s a wonderful discussion of the narrowness of our conceptions of manhood — plus ideas on what it means to create a “new masculinity.”

* Awesome Casual Sex for Single Girls, written by Adaya Adler (who blogs at My So-Called Polyamorous Life). If you’re a lady interested in trying casual sex, you couldn’t find a better place to start than by reading this article. Which is not to say that I think you “should” try casual sex; I’m not too interested in it myself. But if you want to, you know where to start reading!

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 2 Feb

Orgasms Aren’t My Favorite Part Of Sex, and My Chastity Urge

The following pieces were originally published at the girl-power site Off Our Chests: here’s Orgasms Aren’t My Favorite Part of Sex, and here’s My Chastity Urge. I’ve combined them in one post because they feel, to me, like they deal with fundamentally the same issues, and belong together.

A month or two ago, I published a piece called A Unified Theory of Orgasm. In that piece, I talked about my own history, and how long I took to learn how to orgasm. Basically, learning how to orgasm took a long time and a lot of angst. And I’m really glad that I eventually figured it out — and that I have many years of experimentation still ahead of me.

That piece was really well-received, and a lot of people have thanked me for writing it. As always, though, there’s some mixed feedback too. And I’ve been worried about one thing in particular: it seems like a lot of people missed the part in my article where I said that, now that I’ve learned how to have orgasms … orgasms aren’t even my favorite part of sex. It’s a long article, and I can see how people would miss that, but I did say it and I think it’s important.

Specifically, I wrote:

[It may help some people] not to prioritize orgasms. I am not saying orgasms aren’t important; I just don’t want the importance of orgasms to wound you, the way it wounded me. For me, it is helpful to imagine sex as a journey. For me, it helps to focus on having fun throughout, instead of doing what it takes to reach the “goal” of orgasm. If you’re not taking pleasure in the journey — or at least indulging some curiosity — then why keep going? Why not stop and try something else?

Experimenting sexually in an open-ended way has been, for me, the most productive possible attitude. And in fact, once I knew how to make myself come, I discovered that — though it’s helpful to be able to attain that release if I really want to — orgasms aren’t actually my favorite part of sex! There are lots of other things I like better.

It’s also worth noting that our definitions of “orgasm” are fairly narrow. Some research indicates that there may be other ways to conceptualize orgasms than the stereotypical genital-focused approach.

And now I want to talk about it some more.

It may be ironic that I spent so much time feeling terrible and broken and depressed because I couldn’t figure out how to have orgasms … whereas now I prefer not to focus on them. In fact, I estimate that most of my current sexual encounters don’t include my orgasm, and very few of my most pleasurable sexual encounters have included my orgasm.

I’m the first to admit that I don’t know everything about sex, and there’s a lot that I haven’t experienced. Anything might change. But seriously. The best sex I’ve had in my life has been connective and emotional and, for me personally, has frequently involved intense BDSM. My favorite sex so far? Has also mostly been orgasm-free.

Some people in some sex-related communities have asserted that for maximum amorous power, it’s actually best to limit one’s orgasms, because then the contained sexual energy ends up channeling into a deeper connection with one’s partner. I can see that. For me, another way of thinking about it is that I’m really into being teased — and I’d rather experience hours of being teased without an orgasm, than have a quick encounter that ends in orgasm.

And …. (Oh no, I can already tell this is going to get complicated … but hey, sex is complicated, so I’ll give it a shot.) …. Especially when I’m doing BDSM, it can actually be hot sometimes if I don’t have an orgasm. For example: if I go to sleep so turned on that I can’t dream about anything but my partner, and then I wake up in a damp mess, and then my partner makes my life difficult all morning, it’s pretty awesome. (Although it’s very nice that I know how to give myself orgasms now, because that means that if I’m really feeling overwhelmed by my own sexual energy, I know how to give myself release if I have to. You know, like … if I need to get some work done.)

Aaaaand … here’s the most painful, ridiculous, circular irony of all. Ready? Here goes: now that I’m capable of having orgasms, I’ve found myself occasionally having orgasms only to satisfy my partner. How absurd is that? Plus, I know I’m not alone, because I’ve talked to other women who do the same thing!

I’ve written before that in the past I’ve felt trapped by fake plastic ideas of “what hot girls look like during sex”; I’ve written about how the pressure to “perform” my sexuality can hurt. What has amazed me, as I’ve gotten older, is just how pervasive that pressure can feel with some partners … and how little pressure there is with other partners. The question of how to create a low-pressure environment for sexuality to flourish is big and complicated, so let me just say here that although I’m all about people giving each other orgasms … it’s no good if my partner’s desire to give me an orgasm turns into pressure for me to have an orgasm!

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2012 16 Jan

Submissive Skills

This was written for and originally published at Role/Reboot, where I became the Sex + Relationships Section Editor on December 15, 2011.

I write a lot about my experiences with BDSM — that’s a 6-for-4 acronym that covers Bondage, Discipline, Dominance, Submission, Sadism and Masochism. I have a fair amount of experience engaging in BDSM; I also have a fair amount of experience in the BDSM subculture. The subculture consists of meetup groups, educational workshops, dungeons where people practice BDSM, a set of well-reputed books and resources, Internet social networking sites, etc. The subculture also has its own norms and pitfalls.

Many BDSMers use the word “bottom” to refer to a masochist and/or submissive, and “top” to refer to a dominant and/or sadist. I am a switch, which means I feel comfortable in either the top or the bottom role. I haven’t observed every BDSM group in the world, but in my experience, one BDSM subculture pitfall is that we don’t explicitly teach very many “bottom skills”. In fact, a lot of the time, “bottom skills” aren’t even recognized as skills.

But bottom skills are totally the skillsiest skillz you can imagine. Let me start by describing my ex-boyfriend who was most in touch with his bottom side. When I met him, I was much less experienced than him at BDSM, and I was basically unaware of my top side. I think there are probably a lot more women than we think who would be up for being BDSM tops, but since cultural norms tell us that women aren’t dominant, lots of those women simply don’t recognize those feelings. My ex-boyfriend agrees, and as a result he’s specifically trained himself to surreptitiously draw out a woman’s dominant desires.

With me, he started by giving me the gift of his fear. We saw each other around the community a few times, and I guess he took note. Then one day, we were both at a BDSM meetup, and from nearby — while he was speaking to someone else — he remarked that I terrified him. He knew that I’d overhear.

I looked at him. He avoided my gaze. Eventually he worked his way around the crowd so he was actually speaking to me, and that was when he actually met my eyes and said directly to me, straightforward, in a charming and casual tone: “I’m terrified.”

Of course, this is vulnerability on a silver platter: it’s confident vulnerability. You scare me. Yet I’m still talking to you, even though I’m sure you could hurt me real bad. He was being so obvious, yet there were still so many tacit dimensions to what he was doing, and I had never quite seen anyone like him before. I was intrigued, and felt myself gain a predatory focus.

He was like that throughout our relationship. Throughout the flirting, throughout the BDSM encounters. He communicated very directly when there was a need for direct talking. But he also showed me so much of what to do. When I put my nails in certain places, he’d arch his body directly into them and groan. When I did something that was difficult for him, he’d get quieter and less responsive in an extremely obvious way while he dealt with it. He’s the only man I’ve ever seen who knew how to tip his head back for a kiss (he was also tall, so most women would have to be in very particular positions for this to work, ahem). A lot of this was instinctive, of course; many bottoms would recognize themselves in these tendencies … but he’d learned his own instinctive responses and fine-tuned them.

I want to make it clear here that I don’t want anyone to “perform” a type of sexuality that they don’t like; trust me, I know just how much a person can feel responsible for “acting out” their sexuality. I’ve been there. But that’s different from a person taking their own desires and reactions, and honing them for maximum communication power. That kind of thing takes experience and self-knowledge. Which is one of the things I value most about BDSM — the inner exploration it can enable. I just wish we taught about it better.

I definitely think the BDSM subculture is great at teaching certain topics: for example, how to perform certain activities safely. In major USA cities, there are often workshops on how to safely hit people with whips. Communication also gets a decent amount of airtime; for example, everyone in the community knows what a safeword is (indeed, a lot of people outside the community know about safewords, too). Sometimes, tops are even “judged” on their “dominant skill set”. But bottoms are usually seen as just being “along for the ride” — or are merely judged for “how far they’re willing to go”, which is even worse, because it discourages some bottoms from setting boundaries.

(As a side note, here’s a pro tip on looking for tops. If you’re talking to a top who can’t stop bragging about how awesome and experienced they are, I advise you to walk away. Or perhaps I should merely say that I, personally, would walk away from that. My favorite, most respectful dominant partners have all had a hefty sense of humility and been very willing to learn — even if they were very experienced.)

So why sub skillz got no respect? I think it’s partly because a lot of them are subtle and hard to see. In general, any “receptive” social role is going to get less credit in an interaction, because lots of people think that the “initiating” social role “does all the work” — but the truth is that the “initiating” social role simply does more visible work. You see this happening with mainstream gender roles, too; for example, some men complain about how women expect them to do “all the work”, like asking women out on dates. But the truth is that for any role played by one gender in the usual heterosexual mating dance, there is an opposing or matching role that takes its own kind of work. For every man who has trouble asking women out, there is a woman who has trouble appearing approachable … or who wants to ask men out but thinks that she will freak men out by doing so (and indeed, she might well be correct). Things are tough all over, baby.

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2011 31 Dec

[open thread] OK, it’s time to deconstruct “Tangled”

I saw “Tangled”, the 2010 Disney Princess flick, over my Christmas holiday. Where to start? I don’t know, so I’m gonna do one of my all-too-rare open threads. (Also, I have concluded that I should catch up on work and email and past comment threads and make sure to thoroughly enjoy New Year’s Eve before I write another of my famous long posts. Also also, happy New Year, folks.)

Feel free to post things that aren’t about “Tangled” too. But like … the movie is a freakin’ goldmine. Here are some discussion prompts:

1. I guarantee that “Tangled” has already birthed many, many BDSM fantasies. I mean, see above. But recalling my frequent injunction that BDSM can be “love sex” too, I like this picture much better:

Disney’s always been good at that sudden, sweet, swoon-inducing moment of intimacy.

2. Obligatory gender roles analysis! How do we feel about these in “Tangled”?

3. Did we learn any lessons about manliness (or even pickup artistry) from Flynn Rider?

Why, it’s almost like the guy is both cocky and funny! But you know what else he is? Vulnerable. Flynn’s character kinda made me think of the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold cliché.

P.S. That “Blade Runner” reference towards the end. This isn’t even a question.

I am just saying. They can deny that they intended to reference “Blade Runner” all they want, and I’ll still be here, just saying.

(Images above show various characters from “Tangled” — including two in which Rapunzel has tied up the male hero, Flynn, using her hair. Please note that the image of the “unicorn moment” from “Tangled” is here via the fuckyeahtangled tumblr. Because there’s a fuckyeahtangled tumblr.)

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:

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2011 2 Dec

[image] The “Vamps” comic, and unsettling female vampires

The above image is the cover of Issue #1 of “Vamps”, a short series of obscure comics from the mid-1990s. I came across it in my mid-teens and loved it. It was all about these gorgeous girl vampires who formed a gang and motorcycled around, seducing men and drinking their blood. The girls were turned into vampires by a male vampire who was a selfish, abusive jerk, and the series was partly about the way they defeated him and seized freedom.

One of my big takeaways from reading “Vamps” came not from the series itself but from the author’s afterword. The comic was created by a woman, Elaine Lee, and although I don’t have access to the quotation now, I seem to recall that she described receiving a ton of vitriolic hate mail over “Vamps”. Her theory was that vampires are basically a rape fantasy, and that readers were incredibly disturbed to see the “typical” rape fantasy “turned around” such that women were taking that kind of aggressive and violent sexual power over men.

Anyone who does any serious research about vampire tropes will find almost immediately that vampires are historically, consistently associated with “deviant” sexuality — meaning queerness and, of course, BDSM. (Hello to my fellow blood fetishists!) Vampires are some of the most hidden-in-plain-sight BDSM fantasies available, so it’s not surprising that vampires would also be affected by some of the gendered stereotypes about BDSM roles that get expressed in the BDSM community: for example, that men are the “natural” dominants/sadists and women are the “natural” submissives/masochists. People have a hard enough time accepting female dominants; it’s not surprising that female vampires might be considered more unsettling than male vampires.

That said, I think the cultural tide has turned a bit since the 1990s, though everything isn’t fixed by a long shot. The 2000s saw the wide release of “Underworld”, an action movie with a badass and aggressive vampire lady as the main character. (Which, by the way, blatantly cribbed from one of the best roleplaying games ever made: “Vampire: the Masquerade“. The makers of “Vampire” sued the makers of “Underworld” and settled out of court. In fairness, the game “Vampire” was both an excellent overview of vampire tropes and a significant influence on ideas about vampires, so it’s conceivable that some of the writers on “Underworld” weren’t familiar with the game.)

A couple of years ago, I wrote some fiction whose main character was a female, masochist, submissive vampire. Her master was a mortal, and I really enjoyed thinking about him feeding her his own blood as a gesture of power, or as a reward when she did what he wanted her to do. She only wanted to drink from him, and she loved him … despite her strength and predatory power, she ended up enslaved by her own hunger. I’ve thought about trying to revise that story and publish it somewhere, but I’ve never gotten around to it. (The original is incoherent and unpublishable.)

I found an original copy of “Vamps” Issue #1 in a comic shop recently and bought it ($1!) … I wasn’t as excited about it the second time around, but there’s still a lot to love.

As a side note, I must leave you with one of my favorite jokes. It’s kind of ridiculously terrible. If you are of delicate sensibilities, then it might appall you. Ready? You’ve been warned ….

Q: What did one lesbian vampire say to the other?
A: “See you next month!”

Actually, as a side side note, I must leave you with my personal vampire-related recommendations.
* The movie “Night Watch” (originally of Russia)
* The song “I’m A Vampire” by the Future Bible Heroes
* Neil Gaiman’s “Vampire Sestina
* The novel Blindsight by Peter Watts (free to read online)
* The novel Agyar by Steven Brust (one of my favorites)
* The classic roleplaying game “Vampire: The Masquerade” (non-nerds need not apply)
* Feministe post and comments on how Twilight (which I have not read) is “a powerful cautionary tale about accepting traditional gender roles and conforming to expected societal norms“.

2011 12 Nov

BDSM Roles, “Topping From The Bottom”, and “Service Top”

I often say that all consensual sexuality is okay. Open relationships? S&M? Same-sex partnerships? One-night stands? Porn? I could care less how people have sex, as long as the people involved are consenting adults. This means that most of the interesting and important questions are about consent: how do we make sure that we always have consensual sex? How do we ensure that we’re always respecting our own boundaries and our partners’ boundaries? How do we talk about our preferences and our consent? I write a lot about sexual communication for this reason.

Every once in a while, though, there’s something interesting to discuss besides consent. (Totally weird, I know!) One of those interesting things is stereotypes. Also interesting: bad dynamics in the BDSM community.

One example of a bad, weird dynamic is the “one true way” thing. Some people act like there are “right” ways and “wrong” ways to do consensual BDSM — as if some consensual BDSM is more legit than other consensual BDSM. Often, people do this via what we call “role policing”: they make claims about “real submission” and “real dominance”. (Even worse, people will sometimes act like dominant people are socially “better” or “more important” than submissive people. Or they’ll act like men are “inherently” dominant, or women are “inherently” submissive. It’s a clusterfuck! Thomas MacAulay Millar has a great essay about this called “Domism“.)

Examples of role policing might include:

* “If you were really submissive, then you would be serving my dinner right now instead of having me serve myself.”
* “If you were really dominant, then you would pay for my drinks.”
* “If you were really submissive, then you wouldn’t be confident enough to write a blog about your sex life.” (Not that I’m biased or anything.)

Sometimes these are hilarious light-hearted jokes. But sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they’re bullshit, and they make people feel as though they’re “bad at submission” or “bad at dominance”. Also, it gets really silly when we start thinking about switches — people who can feel comfortable in the dominant role or the submissive role, such as myself.

One very common, relevant assumption is that dominant people always enjoy inflicting pain: that sadists and dominants are always the same group. They’re not! Sometimes people are into sadism, or into dominance, or maybe they’re into a lot of sadism but a little dominance, or whatever. The same thing goes for submission: sometimes people are submissive and like taking pain, but sometimes people are submissive without being masochistic, or maybe they’re into a little bit of submission and a lot of masochism, or whatever.

Or maybe they’re masochists who like ordering their partners to hurt them. I once threw a memorable party at which my then-boyfriend, a mostly-submissive gentleman, arranged for a bunch of our friends to grab me and hold me down while he ate cake off my body. As he did this, I clearly recall shouting at him: “You better hurt me, or I’m going to safeword on your ass.” So he hurt me! It was great.

Because “submissive” and “masochist” aren’t always the same thing — and “dominant” and “sadist” aren’t always the same thing — the BDSM community uses the terms “bottom” and “top”. A “bottom” is a blanket term for a submissive and/or a masochist — the receiving partner. A “top” is a blanket term for a dominant and/or a sadist — the partner who is providing sensation. The point is to have words that indicate who is giving and who is receiving, without making claims about each partner’s preferences. (These words can also be used as verbs. For example, if I am “topping”, then I am in the dominant and/or sadistic position.)

And yet! Even though we have these handy terms “top” and “bottom”, which are specifically designed to help us avoid making assumptions, people end up making assumptions. There are two common BDSM community phrases that are often deployed in tones of disgust and irritation. One of those phrases is “topping from the bottom”. The other phrase is “service top”.

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2011 31 Oct

[storytime] A Unified Theory of Orgasm

Before I post my article about orgasms, happy Halloween:

I discovered this tiny sculpture (easily fits in my hand) at a friend’s party this weekend. Apparently it is known as a “Halloween labbit”; it was created by Frank Kozik and produced by the designer toy company Kidrobot. This discovery might just be the highlight of my entire life. Seriously. Study questions include, “What would you do if that were a real animal that ran into the room where you’re sitting right now?”

… Aaand on that note, let’s move on to “A Unified Theory of Orgasm”. This article was originally published at the girl-power site Off Our Chests.

* * *

I CAN’T COME.
and it’s poisoned
every romance
I’ve ever had.

masturbating doesn’t work. I don’t know why. I tried therapy too, but my smart, understanding, sex-positive, open-hearted doctor couldn’t help. drugs while fucking? check. I date attentive men who only want to make me happy, but no matter how fantastic they make me feel, I can’t get off. and believe me, I like sex. I love sex! how can it feel so good and not end in an orgasm? I tried experimenting, and I sure do love the kink. it feels great. but doesn’t get me off. I’ve tried everything. everything.

now I have the best boyfriend I’ve ever had. but just like every other one, he can’t get me off. big dick? oral sex? tons of foreplay? kink? it’s all there. nothing works. I used to lie to my boyfriends and say it was ok that I couldn’t get off. then at least they could enjoy sex without feeling guilty. but then they’d stop trying, of course. and this one is still trying … sometimes. I mean, it’s clearly never going to work. so I can’t blame him for not having the same passion for trying as he used to. and I keep thinking I should back off. after all, why put pressure on him to “perform”? he’ll just resent me if I keep asking for more, even if I’m gentle about it and compliment him and all that. since nothing he does works. it will never work.

and I try so hard not to get frustrated, but I can’t avoid the knowledge that I am fucked up, I must be broken. I mean, any normal woman would have come by now. so what do I do? I don’t know what I need. do I back off and focus on him? that’s what I end up doing, because I can’t face asking for a little more attention in bed anymore. what’s the point? he’ll just resent me when it doesn’t work again. so I back off. and I can’t help resenting him, just a little, for not noticing how much I’m hurting. and not trying, even if I am broken, and I will never ever come.

* * *

Contents:

I. Vaginal Pain
II. S&M
III. Frigid
IV. The Fight
V. Men’s Perspective
VI. S&M, Redux
VII. Figuring It Out
VIII. Study Questions

* * *

I. Vaginal Pain

When I wrote the above, I was actually pretty close to figuring out how to have an orgasm. But I didn’t know that. I’d dealt with the anxiety of being unable to come for so long — and I’d also recently begun to understand that my sexuality is oriented towards S&M — and so anguish just flooded out of me, into those words. I craved S&M, but acknowledging the craving made me feel like a “pervert”, a “freak”. It contributed to my already-overwhelming fear that I was “broken” because I couldn’t figure out how to come.

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2011 27 Oct

Free Tix to CineKink Chicago AND Group Discount to Reeling Film Fest!

November is an awesome month for sexuality-related films in Chicago. First of all, there’s the ongoing Sex+++: my sex-positive film series at Jane Addams Hull-House Museum. Sex+++ is pro-sex, pro-queer and pro-kink. The films are all totally FREE to attend, and we serve enticing snacks and delicious conversation. Our next screening is November 8, and you can read the full 2011-2012 film calendar by clicking here.

November is also when CineKink: The Kinky Film Festival brings its annual national tour to Chicago, November 18-19 — and I’m offering free tickets again this year!

Plus! November features Reeling: The Chicago Lesbian & Gay International Film Festival, November 3-12 — and this year, I can offer a group discount to one of the screenings.

For more information, keep reading ….

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