Posts Tagged ‘BDSM’

2011 14 Oct

BDSM versus Sex, part 2: How Does It Feel?

Every once in a while, someone will ask me a question about something BDSM-related that I feel “done with”; I feel like I did all my thinking about those topics, years ago. But it’s still useful to get those questions today, because it forces me to try and understand where my head was at, three to seven years ago. It forces me to calibrate my inner processes. I often think of these questions as the “simple” ones, or the “101” questions, because they are so often addressed in typical conversation among BDSMers. Then again, lots of people don’t have access to a BDSM community, or aren’t interested in their local BDSM community for whatever reason. Therefore, it’s useful for me to cover those “simple” questions on my blog anyway.

Plus, just because a question is simple doesn’t mean the question is not interesting.

One such question is the “BDSM versus sex” question. Is BDSM always sex? Is it always sexual? A lot of people see BDSM as something that “always” includes sex, or is “always sexual in some way”. In the documentary “BDSM: It’s Not What You Think!“, one famous BDSM writer is quoted saying something like: “I would say that eros is always involved in BDSM, even if the participants aren’t doing anything that would look sexual to non-BDSMers.”

But a lot of other people see BDSM, and the BDSM urge, as something that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with sex — that is separate from sex.

I see two sides to this question: the political side, and the “how does it feel?” side. Both sides are intertwined; when it comes to sex, politics can’t help shaping our experiences (and vice versa). I acknowledge this. And yet even when I try to account for that, there is still something deeply different about the way my body feels my BDSM urges, as opposed to how my body feels sexual urges. I don’t think that those bodily differences could ever quite go away, no matter how my mental angle on those processes changed.

I already wrote Part 1 of this post about the political side of this question. Now for Part 2 ….

The Embodied Side of BDSM versus Sex

Although Part 1 was all about how the divide between “BDSM” and “sex” is often nonsensical, or purely political, or socially constructed … that doesn’t mean that the divide does not exist. I once had a conversation about ignoring social constructs with a wise friend, who noted dryly that: “One-way streets are a social construct. That doesn’t mean we should ignore them.” Just because the outside world influences our sexuality, does not mean that our sexual preferences are invalid.

Some polyamorous BDSMers have very different rules about having sex with outsiders, as opposed to doing BDSM with outsiders. For example, during the time when I was considering a transition to polyamory, I myself had a couple relationships where we were sexually monogamous — yet my partners agreed that I could do BDSM with people who weren’t my partner. Those particular partners felt jealous and threatened by the idea of me having sex with another man, but they didn’t mind if I did BDSM with another man. Maybe the feelings of those partners only arose because they categorized “BDSM” and “sex” into weirdly different socially-constructed ways … but those partners’ feelings were nonetheless real, and their feelings deserved respect.

And there are also unmistakable ways that BDSM feels different from sex. There is something, bodily, that is just plain different about BDSM, as opposed to sex. I often find myself thinking of “BDSM feelings” and “sexual feelings” as flowing down two parallel channels in my head … sometimes these channels intersect, but sometimes they’re far apart. The BDSM urge strikes me as deeply different, separate, from the sex urge. It can be fun to combine BDSM and sex, but there are definitely times when I want BDSM that feel very unlike most times when I want sex.

The biggest political reason why it’s difficult to discuss this is the way in which we currently conceptualize sexuality through “orientations”: we have built a cultural “orientation model” focused on the idea that “acceptable” sexuality is “built-in”, or “innate”. Some BDSMers consider BDSM an “orientation” — and I, myself, once found that thinking of BDSM as an orientation was extremely helpful in coming to terms with my BDSM desires. But one thing I don’t like about the orientation model now is that it makes us sound like we’re apologizing. “Poor little me! It’s not my fault I’m straight! Or a domme! Whatever!” Why would any of these things be faults in the first place? Our bodies are our own, our experiences are our own, and our consent is our own to give.

The orientation model is one of the cultural factors that makes it hard to discuss sensory, sensual experiences without defaulting to sexuality. As commenter saurus pointed out on the Feministe version of part 1 of this post:

Sometimes I think that we have compulsions, needs or “fetishes” that aren’t sexual, but lumping them in with sexuality is sometimes the most convenient or socially manageable way to deal with them or get those needs met. They might even physically arouse us for a variety of reasons, but that might be a side effect instead of the act’s inherent nature. Which is not to say that every act can be cleanly cleaved into “sexual” and “non-sexual” — of course not. But I think we lack a language around these needs that doesn’t use sexuality. I see a lot of groundbreaking work coming out of the asexual and disability justice communities in this regard (which is just to say that I find the folks in these groups are churning out some incredible ways to “queer” conventional dominant ideas about sexuality; not that they never have sex or whatever).

I think one answer to that is to just open up the definition of sexuality to include these things, but as someone who identifies vehemently not as “sex positive” but as “sex non-judgmental”, I know I don’t personally want all my shit to be lumped in with sexuality. It just makes me picture some sex judgmental person insisting that “oh, that’s totally sexual.”

I, Clarisse, can certainly attest that it’s common for people to have BDSM encounters that are “just” BDSM — “no sex involved”. For example — an encounter where one partner whips the other, or gets whipped, and there’s no genital contact or even discussion of genitals. (I’ve written about such encounters several times, like in my post on communication case studies.) And I’d like to stress that when I have encounters like that, they can be very satisfying without involving sex. The release — the high — I get from a heavy BDSM encounter can be its own reward.

I’ve also had BDSM encounters where I got turned on … (more…)

2011 9 Oct

BDSM versus Sex, Part 1: Divide and Conquer

Every once in a while, someone will ask me a question about something BDSM-related that I feel “done with”; I feel like I did all my thinking about those topics, years ago. But it’s still useful to get those questions today, because it forces me to try and understand where my head was at, three to seven years ago. It forces me to calibrate my inner processes. I often think of these questions as the “simple” ones, or the “101” questions, because they are so often addressed in typical conversation among BDSMers. Then again, lots of people don’t have access to a BDSM community, or aren’t interested in their local BDSM community for whatever reason. Therefore, it’s useful for me to cover those “simple” questions on my blog anyway.

Plus, just because a question is simple doesn’t mean the question is not interesting.

One such question is the “BDSM versus sex” question. Is BDSM always sex? Is it always sexual? A lot of people see BDSM as something that “always” includes sex, or is “always sexual in some way”. In the documentary “BDSM: It’s Not What You Think!“, one famous BDSM writer is quoted saying something like: “I would say that eros is always involved in BDSM, even if the participants aren’t doing anything that would look sexual to non-BDSMers.”

But a lot of other people see BDSM, and the BDSM urge, as something that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with sex — that is separate from sex.

I see two sides to this question: the political side, and the “how does it feel?” side. Both sides are intertwined; when it comes to sex, politics can’t help shaping our experiences (and vice versa). I acknowledge this. And yet even when I try to account for that, there is still something deeply different about the way my body feels my BDSM urges, as opposed to how my body feels sexual urges. I don’t think that those bodily differences could ever quite go away, no matter how my mental angle on those processes changed.

This post is about the political side. Several days after I wrote this post, I followed up with a post about the bodily side. But first ….

The Political Side of BDSM versus Sex

“BDSM versus sex” could be viewed as a facet of that constant and irritating question — “What is sex, anyway?” I’ve always found that the more you look at the line between “what is sex” and “what is not sex”, the more blurred the line becomes.

For example, no one can agree about what words like “slut” or “whore” actually mean. As another example, recall that ridiculous national debate that happened across America when Bill Clinton told us that he hadn’t had sex with Monica — and then admitted to getting a blowjob from her. Is oral sex sex? Maybe oral sex isn’t sex! Flutter, flutter, argue, argue.

It is my experience that (cisgendered, heterosexual) women are often more likely to claim that oral sex is not sex, while (cis, het) men are more likely to claim that oral sex is sex. I suspect this is because women face steeper social penalties for having sex (no one wants to be labeled a “slut”), so we are typically more motivated to claim that sex acts “don’t count” as sex … whereas men are usually congratulated for having sex (more notches on the bedpost!), so men are typically more motivated to claim that sex acts “count” as sex. (Unless they’re Bill Clinton.)

So we already have this weird ongoing debate, about what “qualifies” as sex. And you throw in fetishes such as BDSM, and everyone gets confused all over again. A cultural example of this confusion came up in 2009, when a bunch of professional dominatrixes got arrested in New York City … for being dominatrixes … which everyone previously believed was legal. Flutter, flutter, argue, argue, and it turns out that “prostitution” (which is illegal in New York) is defined as “sexual conduct for money”.

But what does “sexual conduct” mean? At least one previous court had set the precedent that BDSM-for-pay is not the same as “sexual conduct for money” … and yet, in 2009, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office decided that “sexual conduct” means “anything that is arousing to the participants” … and then decided that this suddenly meant they ought to go arrest dominatrixes. It’s not clear why the Manhattan DA did not, then, also begin arresting strippers. And what about random vanilla couples on a standard date-type thing, where the woman makes eyes at the man over dinner, and the man pays for the meal? Sounds like “sexual conduct for money” to me. Which could totally be prostitution, folks, so watch your backs.

(more…)

2011 30 Sep

[storytime] Chemistry

Thank you, all my readers, for your patience. To make up for the long wait, here’s an extra-long post.

* * *

It’s a long story and a short one, but I guess all of them are.

I’m 27. It’s about that age: A lot of my compatriots are getting married lately — most monogamously, some to a primary polyamorous partner. I myself have a stack of relationships in my past. Some were monogamous, some polyamorous. Some have been on-and-off; some short-term; one that lasted six years. Lately I’ve been processing some tough questions about polyamory, but I’d like to stick with it.

And I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want in a primary polyamorous partner. The kind of guy I could marry. I wonder if I’ll ever get to that point. I wonder if I’d know him if I saw him.

* * *

I met Mr. Ambition at one of the aforementioned weddings. Several people recommended that I talk to him, and we liked each other right away. Mutual friends used words like “zealot” to describe him; let’s just say he’s got an intense history of dedicated activism. Charisma, integrity, and pure energy pour off him. His words are almost always articulate and challenging. He can socially dominate a room without thinking. He works a challenging job ten hours per day; exercises two hours; socializes several hours; sleeps and eats when he can. He gives hugs easily, laughs easily, hands out compliments like candy.

Mr. Ambition is most definitely not a neutral personality. Of course, neither am I.

At the time, I was just coming out of the worst stage of my research on pickup artists — a subculture of men who trade tips on how to seduce women. Also, I’d just had one of those breakups where I was too busy feeling stupid to properly understand how hurt I was. (Don’t you hate those?) You can read all about those Dramatic Events in my upcoming book Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser. In the meantime, suffice to say that I felt … flattened.

Arguably, I should have had a sign taped to my forehead that read: “Emotionally Unavailable.”

I went to dinner with Mr. Ambition later that week. At the end of the meal, he sat back and looked at me. “You’re so authentic,” he said.

“I haven’t felt very authentic lately,” I said frankly, but his words felt good. Like a balm. Like I was healing.

* * *

We got along excellently, had a lot in common, etc. Typical this-relationship-starts-well stuff. One evening, after we’d been out to eat in a big philosophical group, Mr. Ambition noted the hotness of my intense theoretical bent. “When you were discussing social justice and ethics tonight,” he said, “I wanted to reach across the table and grab you.”

He mentioned marriage within weeks. “This has never happened before,” he told me. “I’ve never dated someone I thought I could actually marry.” Whoa, tiger, I thought, but I had to admit that he hit a lot of my Ideal Characteristics as well. Intelligence, drive, charisma, and morality: it’s hard to argue with that.

Our sexual chemistry was okay, but not climb-the-walls stellar. We’ll develop that, I told myself. He’s less sexually experienced than I am, and we’ll learn each other just fine. Fortunately he’s got some experience with polyamory, but in terms of S&M, he’s another of those vanilla-but-questioning guys (I never learn). When we did S&M, I had to monitor the situation extra carefully because it was so new to him.

And for all his intelligence, it was really hard to talk to him about emotions. It wasn’t that he was cold or distant; on the contrary, he’s one of the most fiery people I’ve ever met. But he had a lot of difficulty explaining what was going on in his head. Indeed, he told me that he had a lot of difficulty knowing what was going on in his head. He did things like laugh when a friend hurt his feelings, then deny that he was hurt, even though I could plainly see the stricken look behind his eyes.

I wasn’t surprised that he was more physical than verbal about S&M. Very straightforward: throwing me around, pulling my head back, digging his hands into my skin. He’s incredibly strong, and sometimes I called my safeword simply because his strength scared me.

There was one particular S&M encounter … early in the evening, I called my safeword because I wasn’t sure he was into it.

“Red,” I said, and he stopped. “Is this okay with you?” I asked, and he nodded.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

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.)

(more…)

2011 1 Jul

“Inherent Female Submission”: The Wrong Question

I get a certain question occasionally, from straight dudes who’ve had a number of sexual partners. It goes something like this:

All the women I’ve slept with liked pain. They asked me to hurt them or to dominate them in bed. I did it, and enjoyed it; I loved how much it turned them on … it turned them on a lot. But I keep thinking about it now. Why are all women into being submissive and/or masochistic in bed? What does that mean?

They ask me this question in vaguely worried tones. Sometimes they say things like, “It’s really creepy.” It is obvious that these dudes are rather concerned about this Terrible Truth.

Here’s my short answer for those guys: If you know women who are submissive and/or masochistic in bed, that means those particular women like being submissive and/or masochistic in bed. It doesn’t mean anything else.

You’re still here? Ah, well. I figured that wouldn’t satisfy. So here’s a longer answer:

Firstly, if you’re a straight dude, and you’re drawing conclusions about “all women” based on the women you get involved with, then stop. Just stop. Even if you have slept with zillions of women, you don’t actually know what all women want, because:

A) Your experience of women is limited to women who got involved with you. You are screening for certain qualities, sometimes consciously, and sometimes unconsciously or by accident. If you tend to enjoy the dominant role, for example, or if you use a dominant style of flirtation, then you could be screening for submissive female partners, whether you intend to or not.

B) Everyone has biases, including you. I love the old saying: “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” If you have a bias towards seeing women as sexually submissive (and you almost certainly do, because female sexual submission is a hugely prevalent cultural trope), then you’re more likely to see female submission in places where it does not exist.

C) Women, like people of all genders, are demonstrably varied. You really don’t think non-submissive straight women exist? Why then, it must be so inconvenient when I point you to the work of blatantly dominant women, huh? It’s shocking, I know … next I’ll be telling you that queer and asexual women exist! (Not to mention women who switch among roles — from submissive to dominant, from sadistic to masochistic. I primarily go for submissive masochism, but still, I myself play for both teams.)

The thing is, though … no matter how many holes I can poke in these dudes’ anecdotal “data”, I can’t bring myself to worry like they do. Even if a brilliant, well-reviewed study came out tomorrow and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that 100% of women are submissive masochists in bed, I wouldn’t care. (I bet you my left ear this study will never happen, but I’m just saying, even if it did, I wouldn’t care.)

Let me say it really clearly: Even if most women are submissive masochists in bed (and I’m not convinced most women are), there’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t care. [ 1 ]

Why don’t I care? Because all this anxiety and argument about submission — and in particular, what it means for women to be submissive; whether all women are submissive; whether women are “inherently” or “biologically” submissive; whether BDSM is an orientation or not … this is all the wrong question.

I’ll note that the research seems to indicate that more kinky women are submissives than dominant. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily indicate anything about the tastes of women who don’t identify as kinky. And it’s probably biased by culture, in that everything from fashion photos to romance novels emphasizes female submission and male dominance. Within BDSM culture, female dominance and male submission are often disappeared, much to the justified frustration of actual female dominants and male submissives. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail — sometimes including our own psyches and sexualities. Plus, if the only available patterns for kink emphasize something a person doesn’t like, then that person will probably avoid kink. Note that in the research I linked to, for example, the percentage of submissive women was higher in samples from within the BDSM subculture than in samples from outside the BDSM subculture … perhaps because many BDSM subcultural gatherings emphasize female submission and thereby alienate women who are primarily dominant. Anyway, regardless … this is still the wrong question.

In short, “inherent female submission” is the wrong question.

Certainly, I’ve fought through a lot of personal fears about what my interest in BDSM meant for me as a feminist … but these days I have trouble understanding what, exactly, got me so upset. I can’t believe how long it took me to outthink those fears. Now, it just seems instinctively obvious to me that:

(more…)

2011 21 Jun

S&M Superpowers

I’ve gotten so bored of the biases and stereotypes against S&M. It’s like, “Hey, another person who implies that those of us who do consensual S&M were all abused as children? Sweet! That person is wrong, and I consider those views highly stigmatizing and sometimes damaging. So, can we go for a swim now?” (For the record, however, there is nothing wrong with people who consensually process past abuse through BDSM; see footnote [1].)

It’s much more entertaining to imagine how people would talk about S&M, if we lived in a culture where S&M wasn’t wildly stigmatized. In fact, what if S&M were admired or seen as a great thing … instead of being repressed and forced underground and seen as a dark, evil, disgusting thing? I’ve known people who called S&M and other fetishes “superpowers”, in a kind of ironic twist on this concept.

Many people have written about how S&Mers can offer lessons in sexuality that we gleaned from our outside-the-box perspective (there’s a whole paper on this topic for clinicians, written by a psychologist and titled “Learning from Extraordinary Lovers“). I myself have talked about how S&Mers tend to use much more careful and precise sexual communication tactics than the mainstream (examples include checklists and safewords). But these lessons are hardly confined to S&Mers — there are lots of vanilla people out there who are awesomely careful and precise about communicating sexually.

The superpower framework is a bit different ….

+ For example, it’s been demonstrated that S&Mers are not more likely to have endured non-consensual acts — so we know that despite what Freud would have had you believe, all S&M does not arise from childhood abuse. But maybe it does arise from a childhood experience … an awesome childhood experience. Maybe the Missing S&M Link is that something totally wonderful happened to S&Mers in our childhoods.

Hey, vanilla people? I’m so sorry you all had such bad childhoods. Really, you have my sincerest sympathies.

+ For example, some folks will say that we S&Mers have a wire crossed somewhere; some genetic inferiority. But maybe we are totally way superior. Maybe average dominants and sadists are, say, more empathic than the norm. (There is, after all, actual research showing that consensual S&M increases intimacy.) Maybe average submissives and masochists are better at processing pain and enduring challenges, both physical and emotional, than the norm. [2]

Sorry vanilla people, but we’re going to have to start screening for your gross vanilla genes in the womb. Nothing personal.

+ For example, one of my exes has a story about how he was down in Latin America and he only had access to incredibly cold showers. So he gritted his teeth, stepped into the shower, and told himself that a dominant woman was forcing him to take it. “Actually it made the shower a million times easier to deal with,” he said later. “And I had a raging erection the whole time.”

Aren’t submissives awesome? I pity those of you who lack submissive tendencies.

I leave the question of whether S&M superpowers can properly be attributed to people who don’t feel a so-called “sexual orientation” quality to their kink as an exercise for the reader.

Just because anything on the Internet can and will be misread, I will conclude this post by hammering down the point that this is all a thought experiment, and I do not actually think vanilla people are any less wonderful than S&M people. It’s okay vanilla folks. I love you just the way you are.

* Footnote: For the record, the biggest and best-designed study ever done on this topic surveyed 20,000 people and found that S&Mers “were no more likely to have been coerced into sexual activity” than the general population. But — also for the record — an S&Mer whose sexuality was associated with being abused would not be “less legitimate” than the rest of us, as long as that person practiced kink consensually. Because what makes S&M okay is consent, right? Right. S&M isn’t okay (or not okay) because of its “source” (whatever that might be) — it’s okay only when it’s practiced consensually, right? Right. So this is all actually kind of a silly conversation to have in the first place, right? Right. It’s too bad stigma tends to make zero sense, isn’t it? Stigma loves to trick you into debating on its own terms.

** Footnote 2: Although I did recently sprain my ankle, and I was not at all awesome at enduring the experience. For the record.

* * *

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.

* * *

2011 27 May

I’m Not Your Sex-Crazy Nympho Dreamgirl

This was originally published on May 12, 2011 over at the Good Men Project.

There’s this cultural image of what it means to be female, and good in bed. The image includes being young and thin and cisgendered of course, and that can be problematic. But it also includes a lot of behavioral stuff: the way you squirm, the way you moan, being Super Excited about everything the guy wants to do, and Always Being Up for It — whatever “It” is. When people think about “good in bed,” for a woman, that’s often what they think.

Here’s a short list of some things I think are totally awesome:

+ Squirming and moaning during sex in a genuine way, out of genuine pleasure!

+ Acting Super Excited when your partner wants to do something you’re actually Super Excited about!

+ Being up for sexual experimentation and trying new things, while keeping track of your boundaries and saying no (or calling your safeword) to sexual things you really don’t like!

Those things are great. They’re great when they happen in all kinds of sex, and I have no problem with how people experience or deal with with those things — whether people get them from vanilla or S&M sex, or porn, or sex with multiple people, or queer sex, or whatever. All consensual sex is fine with me. (In particular, in pieces like the one you’re about to read, I often have to make it really clear that I’m not anti-porn. OK? I’m not anti-porn. Got that? Say it with me now: Clarisse Thorn is not anti-porn. Yay, it rhymes!)

What scares me, however—what continuously gets my goat, what still occasionally makes me feel weird about sex — is how easy it is to perform those three things I listed above. Because I have always, since before I even started having sex, known exactly what I was supposed to look like while I had sex. I don’t even know how I internalized those images: some of them through porn, I suppose, or art or erotica or what have you; some of them by reading sex tips on the Internet or hearing the ones whispered to me by friends. But I can definitely assure you that before I had any actual sexual partners, I knew how to give a good blowjob. I also knew how to tilt my head back and moan, and I knew how to twist my body, and I knew what my reactions and expressions were supposed to look and sound like — I knew all those things much better than I knew what would make me react.

There was a while there, where my sexuality was mostly performance: an image, an act, a shell that I created because I knew it was hot for my partners. I’m not saying I was performing 100% of the time — but certainly, when I was just starting to have sex, that’s mostly what it was. And, scarily, I can put the shell back on at any time. Sometimes it’s hard to resist, because I know men will reward me for it, emotionally, with affection and praise. It’s much, much more difficult to get what I actually want out of a sexual interaction than it is for me to create that sexy dreamgirl shell: hard for me to communicate my desires, hard for me to know what I’m thinking, hard for me to set boundaries.

And hard to believe that a guy will like me as much, if I try to be honest about what I want. Honesty means that sometimes I’m confused, and sometimes we have to Talk About It; honesty means that sometimes I say no, it means that sometimes I’m not Up For It. Something in me is always asking: Surely he’d prefer the sexy, fake, plastic dreamgirl shell? It’s not true, I know it’s not true, I swear it’s not true — I don’t have such a low opinion of men as that. I know this is just a stereotype, the idea that men are emotionally stunted horndogs with no interest in how their partners feel.

So sometimes, I have to fight myself not to perform. But it’s worth it — because the hardest thing of all is feeling locked into an inauthentic sexuality. I tell myself, I try to force myself to believe it: even if a guy would like me more for faking and holding back and being so-called “low-maintenance” — I tell myself it’s a stereotype, but even if that stereotype is true of some men — no man is worth doing that to myself. No man is worth that trapped, false, sick feeling.

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2011 20 May

[image] Kinkier Perrier: the lost ad campaign

Above image taken from this Flickr set, but I first encountered the ad in the Carter Johnson Leather Library — a traveling BDSM collection that came through Chicago a few weeks ago. (Check it out, maybe it’ll visit near you!)

The image portrays a couple people in fur suits, one pouring Perrier on the other. And the Perrier logo in the page’s upper corner says “Kinkier” instead. It seems that Perrier first placed this genuine ad in 2007. There was such an outpouring of outrage (furries? and water sports? in our Perrier?!) that the ad campaign was rescinded within weeks.

(For those BDSM people who get freaked out by the idea of including “those” water sports people or “those” furries in “our” kink, I refer you to the excellent Marty Klein article, “Is there such a thing as kinky sex?”)

2011 8 May

Towards my personal Sex-Positive Feminist 101

There’s an aphorism from the early 1900s literary critic André Maurois: “The difficult part in an argument is not to defend one’s opinion but to know it.” Even though I identify as an activist and genuinely want to make a real impact on the world based on my beliefs … I often think that much of my blogging has been more an attempt to figure out what I believe, than to tell people what I believe. And sometimes, I fall into the trap of wanting to be consistent more than I want to understand what I really believe — or more than I want to empathize with other people — or more than I want to be correct. We all gotta watch out for that.

But I’m getting too philosophical here. (Who, me?) The point is, I am hesitant to write something with a title like “Sex-Positive 101”, because not only does it seem arrogant (who says Clarisse Thorn gets to define Sex-Positive 101?) — it also implies that my thoughts on sex-positivity have come to a coherent, standardized end. Which they haven’t! I’m still figuring things out, just like everyone else.

However, lately I’ve been thinking that I really want to write about some basic ideas that inform my thoughts on sex-positive feminism. I acknowledge that I am incredibly privileged (white, upper-middle-class, heteroflexible, cisgendered etc) and coming mostly from a particular community, the BDSM community; both of these factors inform and limit the principles that underpin my sex-positivity. I welcome ideas for Sex-Positive Feminism 101, links to relevant 101 resources, etc.

This got really long, and I reserve the right to edit for clarity or sensitivity.

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