Posts Tagged ‘books’

2012 8 Mar

“Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser” NOW AVAILABLE

Sex.
Love.
S&M.
Ethics.
Seduction.
Feminism.
Polyamory.
Pickup artists.

(Cover image copyright © 2005 Beautiful Disasters Photography. Thanks so much to Beautiful Disasters for giving it to me. Cover image description: A girl in a corset with a bowler hat tipped down over her eyes.)

I have basically been running a marathon with my brain in order to release this ebook in time for the SXSW-interactive conference, and I’m a little stunned that I succeeded. You can click here to buy the book now for Amazon Kindle!

UPDATE, March 24: Thanks to everyone who bought it so far! It really made a splash! Within two days of release, the book hit #1 in both the Amazon “Feminist Theory” and the Amazon “Sex” category … and it stayed at #1 in both categories for a week. It’s at full price now, and as of this update, it’s still #1 in “Feminist Theory.” You can now also now buy the book on Smashwords, which offers pretty much every possible e-format.

UPDATE, April 15: Now you can buy the book in paperback form at CreateSpace!

Here’s the Amazon description of the book:

There’s an enormous subculture of men who trade tips, tricks, and tactics for seducing women. Within the last half-decade or so, these underground “pickup artists” have burst into the popular consciousness, aided by Neil Strauss’s bestselling book “The Game” and VH1’s hit reality show “The Pick-Up Artist.” Some men in the seduction community are sleazy misogynists who want nothing more than power and control. Some are shy wallflowers who don’t know how to say “Hi” to a girl. The one thing they all have in common is a driving need to attract women.

Clarisse Thorn, a feminist S&M writer and activist, spent years researching these guys. She observed their discussions, watched them in action, and learned their strategies. By the end of it all, she’d given a lecture at a seduction convention and decided against becoming the next great dating coach. In “Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser,” Clarisse tells the story of her time among these Casanovas, as well as her own unorthodox experiences with sex and relationships. She examines the conflicts and harmonies of feminism, pickup artistry, and the S&M community. Most of all, she deconstructs and reconstructs our views on sex, love, and ethics — and develops her own grand theory of the game.

Also: you should totally become a fan of Confessions on Facebook! I encourage discussion there, and in comments here. I’m very curious to see what people think of it all.

Right now I’m here in Austin for the conference, and even though I’m completely exhausted, I’m also psyched. I’ve been recruited for a panel on pickup artists and feminism that’s being run by Kristin Cerda — it features myself, the female dating coach Charlie Nox, the pickup artist coach Adam Lyons, and the well-known feminist Amanda Marcotte. The panel will take place on Saturday March 10 at 6.30 PM. If you know anyone who will be at SXSW, you should totally tell them to attend!

* * *

Reviews and Testimonials
(I’ll update this as more come in)

I lived and breathed the PUA world for years and I honestly thought I had seen everything. But Clarisse brought some fresh and interesting perspectives, which was really cool.

~ excerpt from interview with pickup artist coach Mark Manson

I found her book to be insightful, thoughtful, engaging, and very well-balanced. She talks about all sides of the community, the positive, negative, and horrendous, and she draws larger lessons about society and human nature.

~ excerpt from Psychology Today interview by Scott Barry Kaufman

Clarisse’s analysis is as interesting, easy-to-follow and well-laid out as it is in all of her writing, but the most compelling thing in this book is not the analysis itself (which I was expecting), but the way in which Clarisse uses memoir to supplement her analysis. Clarisse is a brilliant sex writer with what appears to be (on the page, at least) an unflinching ability to reveal personal information. That talent is highlighted here as Clarisse fleshes out scenes that create a parallel emotional and intellectual journey, allowing the reader to travel with her through the insights and frustration of her time on the fringes of the pick-up artist community. Her intelligent writing about S&M and polyamory help establish her presence in the text as someone with a subaltern point of view, and place pick-up artistry within the context of other sexual subcultures so that the book’s criticism is grounded in an almost ethnographic framework which works to keep the text from becoming sensationalist or exotifying.

~ excerpt from review by feminist science fiction writer and Nebula award winner Rachel Swirsky

Gutsy, troubling, messy, and great

~ Jonathan Korman on Twitter

This is a very good book. Putting hideous in the title implied to me that it was a man bashing book or a condemn all the evil PUA dudes to hell kind of read. However, being a knowledgeable member of the PUA community, i was still intrigued enough to check out the Amazon Kindle preview.

Hello! Finally, somebody — male or female, it didn’t matter to me — has taken this whole PUA seriously and made a real study of it. This book is more like 5 or 10 books in a good way. Tons of great insights, ideas, interviews, stories, etc. A very generous sharing by the author. … And to be completely honest, the really serious student of PUA will want to get this book and read it cover to cover to learn how to be even better at his craft — lots of valuable clues in here (sorry, Clarisse, but you really did spill a lot of beans… thank you :)).

~ excerpt from Amazon review by Turiyananda

I think this is going to become a very important piece of modern feminist literature.

~ Bianca James in a quick review

Clarisse is unflinchingly honest (radically honest, even) about the occasionally hot, often tormented, and chronically analytic headspace she experienced as a sex-positive feminist investigating the bizarre subculture of pick up artistry. She risks endangerment of her sanity, her feminist paradigm, and her person to stalk, interview, and, yes, flirt her way through the underworld of geeks and sleazebags of pick up artistry. … After outlining and explaining this disturbing world, she tore it to shreds in a dissection that is too honest to completely please anyone involved: pick up artists, feminists, and innocent bystanders will all leave with a lesson or two.

~ excerpt from Amazon review by Katy Huff

The book is intense, mesmerizing, disturbing, and sometimes downright terrifying. It’s also amazing: there’s tons of information that I use every time I interact with a partner.

~ a gentleman Facebook commenter and early reader

Clarisse’s big strength in Confessions is her empathy. A lot of times people only understand their little corner of the gendersphere and have ideas that are at best strawmen and at worst outright lies about the other corners. But Clarisse understands why men might take up pickup, and how it would help them, and how it can become destructive. She understands the eroticism of power, both in vanilla and kinky sex. She understands actual sex-positivity, not the caricatured version of “we are all SLUTS because it is EMPOWERING” that idiots continually push.

Clarisse Thorn understands that shit is complicated.

~ excerpt from review by feminist Ozy Frantz

I really enjoy how Clarisse’s writing makes it seem she’s telling me this over coffee. ♥

~ Lidia-Anain on Twitter

If there’s an overriding message, I think that’s it: that whether it’s feminism, or BDSM, or polyamory, or PUA, these are all dangerous, complex, conflicted territories, some perhaps more treacherous than others, but difficult to navigate all the same. Where we stop, who we meet, how prepared we are, how our fatigue and weariness affect us, who we have as our traveling companions, what we bring with us to comfort us, what we encounter that frightens us, what reminds us of home and what reminds us that we’re no longer there… all of these things are of account.

All of them, always, in ways that we know and recognize, and in ways that we don’t, sometimes early enough to correct, and sometimes only too late.

~ excerpt from review by Infra

* * *

If you want to review the book, then I would obviously love that. Just let me know and I’ll post a link to your review. In the meantime, here are some of my past posts on pickup artistry:
* Feminist S&M Lessons from the Seduction Community
* [guest post] Detrimental Attitudes of the Pickup Artist Community
* Ethical Pickup Artistry

OK but seriously, buy it now for Kindle or buy it on Smashwords … or buy it in paperback form at CreateSpace.

* * *

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, SomethingAwful.com. 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.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

2011 22 Oct

[litquote] The shadow of a flame, the colour of a kiss

My favorite author is named Tanith Lee. She is an unbelievably versatile writer with a varied body of work. I don’t love all her work, but some Lee books overwhelm me. I think of those books as articulating the baseline of my own emotions … or establishing that field of inquiry one might describe as the philosophy of love.

I once read a critic who called the French author Colette “a corsetiere of love”. If Colette is a corsetiere, then Tanith Lee is a surgeon with a scalpel — or rather, a more artistically violent profession, perhaps a sculptor with a knife.

My favorite of Lee’s short stories is called “The Glass Dagger”, which is part of the compilation The Book of the Dead; I don’t like the other stories in that book nearly as much. My favorite of her novels is Biting the Sun, although that could just be because I discovered it at age 14, and I felt like the main character was exactly like me. I have never felt able to satisfactorily quote these works, so they aren’t represented below. When recommending Lee’s work to newbies, I usually suggest starting with the compilation Dreams of Dark and Light and the fantasy sequence the Flat Earth novels, beginning with Night’s Master. There’s an incredibly awesome, detailed bibliography of Lee’s work at a website called Daughter of the Night.

I would give a lot to interview Tanith Lee, but I hear she’s reclusive. I’d direct you to her own website, which was once a tacitly lovely and sideways place; but it looks like tanithlee.com has been snagged by domain squatters.

* * *

Once upon a time there was a princess, outside whose high bedroom window a nightingale sang every night from a pomegranate tree.

While the nightingale sang, the princess slept deeply and well, dreaming of wondrous and beautiful things. However there came a night when the nightingale, for reasons of her own, did not sing but flew far away.

In the morning the princess summoned a gardener and told him to cut down the pomegranate tree. The man protested; the tree was a fine one, young, healthy and fruitful. But the princess would not relent. For as she said, all that one previous night a nightingale had perched in the branches, and the princess’s sleep had been very much disturbed by her song.

[from Disturbed By Her Song]

* * *

Love is everywhere … and the death of love. And time, which is built of the histories of death and love. Death and time I had always conceded, and acknowledged. And now I see plainly what love is. Not in you, pretty, mortal child. But in my arms that comfort you for wounding me, in my hands which soothe you for it, in my words which say to you, in despite of me, Do whatever you must. This lesson I will not remember. Nor shall I ever forget.

[from Delirium’s Mistress]

* * *

A rose by any other name
Would get the blame
For being what it is —
The colour of a kiss,
The shadow of a flame.
A rose may earn another name,
So call it love;
So call it love I will.
And love is like the sea,
Which changes constantly,
And yet is still
The same.

[from The Silver Metal Lover]

* * *

[This last one is both sad and cruel. You’ve been warned. The main character is a late-1800s gentleman who has stopped off at a village during a long, long train ride. We do not know where he was traveling to. In this village, he has just seduced a girl named Mardya. ~CT]

(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 22 Feb

[ladypornday] BDSM Can Be “Love Sex” Too

This post is for Rabbit Write’s Lady Porn Day.

I’m not a big porn consumer, but I have no problem with porn in itself. When I have a problem with porn, it’s because I have a problem with how it was made: because there are labor issues, or questions of the actors’ consent. Sometimes, I get frustrated with the context in which porn exists or the stereotypes it expresses — but there, the problem is with the context and the stereotypes, not with porn in itself. I tend to think that most anti-porn anxiety arises from irrational grossed-out reactions and stereotype-created fears, and I try to open up conversations about the ethics of making porn whenever I can.

This isn’t to say I don’t get angry because many people in our society are pressured to have sex that doesn’t work for them — but that’s not the fault of porn. I certainly get frustrated by sexual stereotypes, but I don’t think porn created those stereotypes.

One stereotype I’ve been thinking about a lot lately — one that I see expressed over and over in BDSM porn — is the idea that BDSMers don’t love our partners, or that love can’t be part of a BDSM relationship. Last month I posted a quotation from the writer Patrick Califia that touched on this … here’s the relevant paragraph (which contains spoilers about the endings of three famous BDSM novels — Story of O, Return to the Chateau and Nine And A Half Weeks):

I still remember how crushed I was when I read Story of O and Return to the Chateau and came to the ending, where Sir Stephen loses interest in O and tells her to kill herself. I can also remember being furious with the way Nine And A Half Weeks (the book, not the movie) ends. The submissive woman has a public breakdown. She begins to cry hysterically, and is abandoned by her master, so that strangers have to obtain help for her. One of the cruelest stereotypes of S/M people is that we don’t love each other, that there is something about our sexual style that makes our relationships mutually destructive and predisposes us to suicide.

This came back to mind during a conversation I had a few days ago: I was talking to a girl who really likes BDSM sex but referred to non-BDSM sex as “love sex”. Because, you know, love is just not an ingredient in BDSM sex. “Everyone knows” that — the same way “everyone knows” that BDSM always arises from childhood abuse, or dominant sadism is for villains, or everyone who likes BDSM is damaged and miserable and irresponsible, or ….

Not to put too fine a point on it: fuck that.

I’m not saying there’s no BDSM smut out there with love in it. Anne Rice’s Beauty series ends with Beauty riding off into the sunset with her loving sadomasochistic partner (although of course the characters deal with all kinds of uncaring brutality first). But even nuanced BDSM erotica seems to fall into this trap more often than not — for example, Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart, which is so consciously written that it includes safewords, also portrays a main character whose most compelling BDSM relationships are with her enemies and whose love relationship is with a man who can’t stand to hurt her. (Carey took a very different tack later in the series, with other characters; I’ve always wondered whether she did so as a reaction to criticism.)

It’s easier to criticize than create. And all my porn critiques could come back and bite me soon, because I plan on releasing my own BDSM smut sometime this year (if only to see if the online publishing model can actually make money) … and I’m sure that what I produce won’t even be close to perfect. Yet one thing I really want to ensure I represent in whatever I write is love. There are plenty of BDSM fantasies that partly operate on the absence of love — that even demand it, perhaps because the fantasy is all about a vicious and emotionally distant dominant, or because much of the erotic tension is derived from how much the partners hate each other, or for lots of other reasons. And yeah, they’re hot ….

But it’d be so great if those weren’t the standard.

I’ll leave you with some thoughtful porn/erotica links I turned up lately:

* Gender and Misogyny: Responsibility and Erotic Writing, by Corey Alexander

* Rewriting Herstory Through Erotic Romance (Love, Anonymously), by Kama Spice at Racialicious

* 7 Ways To Create A Sex-Positive Critique of Porn, by Charlie Glickman

* Sex blogger Maymay wrote a critique of Lady Porn Day that I thought was interesting and important. Again, I really don’t care about what kind of porn an individual might like … but I think an activist event like Lady Porn Day has different responsibilities from an individual wanking in the bedroom, and that such an event should offer porn ideas that bust scripts and attack stereotypes whenever possible. In other words — I have no problem absolving people for their personal non-politically correct sexual desires, but if we’re going to talk about diversity of porn and trying to set new standards, then I think those conversations should make as much space for different sexual desires as they possibly can.

* And on a non-porn note, there is an actual study out there establishing that consensual S&M increases intimacy among participants. You’d think they could have just asked us rather than doing a study … but, you know, that’s cool.

* * *

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 21 Jan

[litquote] S&M stereotypes, parenting, and community action

The following quotation is from an essay that tears apart awful BDSM stereotypes, and also makes a great case for coming together as a community and living our lives without shame … all in the context of parenting. It’s called “S/M Fetish People Who Choose To Parent,” and it was printed in the anthology Speaking Sex To Power by one of my all-time heroes: the brilliant and inimitable Patrick Califia.

The state does seem to have a vested interest in preventing anyone who is sexually different from raising a child. Over the years, I’ve heard many stories of custody battles involving polyamorous people, pagans, transsexuals, sex workers, and members of the BDSM-fetish community, not just lesbians and gay men. The people who go through these battles usually do it alone, and they usually lose. But that story can change when there is enough publicity to generate community support.

In early 1995, members of the BDSM-fetish community in the US and Canada were appalled to learn that a couple in the scene had had their children taken away. The Canadian fetish magazine “Boudoir Noir” established a defense fund for the unlucky pair, known as the Houghtons. As we had for the Spanner defendants, the community banded together and raised enough money to allow Steve and Selina Houghton to hire a decent defense attorney. Selina ultimately pled guilty to a disorderly conduct charge, and her husband to one count of endangering the welfare of a minor, a Class E misdemeanor. They were also ordered to continue to receive family counseling …. Although they did not receive jail sentences, their privacy and home life had been badly damaged by the intrusive actions of the police. When the Houghtons got their kids back, they moved suddenly, disappearing from the scene, probably to protect themselves from further persecution.

This tragedy occurred because the pair had made a videotape of a scene they did at a dungeon party in a bordering state. A family member and friend who babysat for the children apparently unlocked the box where the tape was kept, revealed its contents to at least one of the Houghtons’ children, told them their father was abusing their mother, and sent a copy of the videotape to the police. No minors were featured in the videotape, and S/M activities did not take place in the Houghtons’ home. Nevertheless, the videotaped evidence of kinky sex was enough to bring down the wrath of Child Protection Services, who removed the 7- and 12-year-old and kept them in foster homes for more than a year. This was in spite of testimony by one of the law guardians, who told the court the children would be better served by returning them to their parents.

… It’s interesting to think about how we might feel about being parents if we lived in a society where S/M was not stigmatized. … One of the smartest things I ever heard about S/M was uttered by a gay man, Steven Brown, who used to pair up with me to do educational lectures about the scene. He once said, throwing up his hands in despair about the suspicious grilling we were getting, “I do this because I am a loving person. I love and respect the people I play with. And that includes being able to embrace parts of them that are supposed to be unlovable.” This foundation of acceptance and empathy seems to me to be potentially quite useful to a parent, who must be able to see things from a child’s point of view, and deal with a lot of behavior that is extremely trying.

As a top [i.e. a dominant/sadist], I’ve learned how to communicate in terms that will make sense to the other person. I’ve learned patience. I have a deep love for the vagaries of human nature and respect for the wisdom of the body. I am able to create a positive experience within a framework of limitations handed to me by another person. Of course, some idiot will probably assume that by making this list I am saying that I am going to somehow top my child. That would be asinine. I’ve learned how to keep my intense sexual experiences from spilling over into parts of my life where that kind of role-playing would not be appropriate. That is, if anything is, the First Principle of participating in these kinds of erotic fantasies. In order to be a responsible, safe player, you have to know when to be your scene-self, and when to be your mundane self.

I still remember how crushed I was when I read Story of O and Return to the Chateau [two famous BDSM novels] and came to the ending, where Sir Stephen loses interest in O and tells her to kill herself. I can also remember being furious with the way Nine And A Half Weeks (the book, not the movie) ends. The submissive woman has a public breakdown. She begins to cry hysterically, and is abandoned by her master, so that strangers have to obtain help for her. One of the cruelest stereotypes of S/M people is that we don’t love each other, that there is something about our sexual style that makes our relationships mutually destructive and predisposes us to suicide. We are supposed to be content with existing as two-dimensional caricatures of vanilla people’s erotic paranoia, emerging from our warrens only after dark, always clad in body-hugging fetish gear, having no real lives outside of public dungeon clubs and “violent” pornography. What’s really sad is the fact that a number of us buy into this insane picture of how a “real sadomasochist” is supposed to behave. It’s a good way to end up burned out, disillusioned, and in exile from the realm of pervery.

2010 24 Dec

[litquote] Sex workers and whore stigma in southern Africa

I read a lot when I was in Africa. One of the most interesting books available was Catherine Campbell’s Letting Them Die, which describes a community HIV/AIDS project that took place in a South African community called Summertown (not the community’s real name). It is really an exceptional description of the difficulties inherent in the promotion of sexual health. It’s also got a lot of interesting discussion and commentary on sex work and whore stigma, and the experience of sex workers who were interviewed for the study.

I want to emphasize right now that I don’t always agree with the writer’s approach, though I always find it interesting. This is a loaded topic, and there are some issues with the following quotations. However, I think there is a lot of wisdom as well. Quotations follow:

* * *

A key reason why people agreed to discuss their stigmatized work so openly in the baseline interview study lay not only in their growing fear about the epidemic, but also because, in setting up the interviews, much emphasis was laid on the fact that the interviewers regarded sex work as a profession like any other, and had no desire to criticize or judge anyone for their choice of work. [page 81]

* * *

How do people deal with having a spoiled identity, the stigma of a shameful profession? … One way was through a series of justificatory discourses. Predominant among these was the discourse of “having no option”.

S: “I give my clients respect by telling them I don’t like doing this job. I tell them I only do it due to poverty.”

W: “This is a job that lowers our dignity. We discuss this often, that we should look for other jobs. But the truth is that there are no alternatives.”

Virtually every woman said she had been “tricked” into starting the job. They all spoke of having been recruited by friends, who tempted them away from their rural homes with stories about jobs in Johannesburg, without telling them the nature of the work. They spoke of arriving and initially refusing to sell sex. Eventually they had been forced into it by a combination of hunger and the lack of transport money to return home.

… In a paper reporting on similar interviews with sex workers in Gambia, the authors use somewhat judgmental language, variously describing sex workers’ accounts of their lives as “lies”, “fiction” and accounts that “could not be trusted”. Possibly this was also the case in the Summertown study. Peoples’ stories of being tricked into sex work were remarkably similar.

… In relation to sexual health-promotion among this group, however, the objective veracity of their accounts is not the most interesting or key feature of the life histories. What is more important is how people reconstruct and account for their life choices, given that these accounts reflect the social identities that are crucial in shaping sexual behavior. In this context, the main interest of these stories of origin lies in the role that they play as a strategy of coping with a spoiled identity — the way they are used by women to distance themselves from this stigma in as many ways as possible.

(more…)

2010 1 Dec

News Flash, Pay Attention: HIV Is About Sex

Today is World AIDS Day. I don’t think about HIV as much as I did a few months ago, when I was still in Africa and my job was to help with the epidemic. But today, I’m thinking about it, and I have something very simple to say:

HIV is about sex.

One of the big lessons I learned about HIV in Africa is that many, many people will do amazing mental and rhetorical backflips to avoid talking about how HIV is actually spread. It’s astonishing. You’d think that when talking about HIV, you’d have to talk about sex; you’d be wrong.

In the areas where I worked, a massive percentage of people were infected with HIV. In a number of places it was about 25%. In some populations, it was more like 40%. Think about those numbers for a second — and remember that many people who had contracted HIV had already died. In other words, uncountable numbers of people had already died of AIDS-related causes, and among the people who remained alive, the percentages still got as high as 25% and 40%.

And yet I got the message over and over and over that we mustn’t talk about sex! For example, I was told by some school authorities that I could not give safer sex information to their students because that might “encourage the students to have sex”. In other words: God forbid we tell students where to get condoms and how to use them, because that might encourage them to think sex isn’t wrong and dirty. What the authorities were really telling me is that it’s more important that we continue to stigmatize sexuality, than it is to protect people from HIV.

Another example of this phenomenon is highlighted when we look at how the USA’s HIV charity money is spent. The President’s Emergency Plan for HIV/AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) places rather elaborate restrictions on how the money is spent, and while there’s nothing wrong with restricting aid money in principle, these restrictions include a provision that states that no PEPFAR money may fund an organization that doesn’t actively oppose sex work. In other words: God forbid we support sex workers and help them stay safe while they do their jobs, because that might make sex workers feel like they’re accepted members of society. What PEPFAR is really saying is that it’s more important that we continue to stigmatize sex work, than it is to protect people from HIV.

PEPFAR also demands that none of its money go towards condoms or initiatives that promote condoms; there are rumors that Obama will fix that, but I haven’t heard any confirmation of that yet. Maybe things are getting better on that score? And in one of my articles about Africa, I wrote that:

I can’t help noticing — with an occasional ironic smile — the phoenixes arising from these ashes. Firstly, it turns out that the best way to shut down sex-negative arguments against explicit sex education is to invoke the specter of HIV. One 2008 report from a well-respected local organization argued that AIDS prevention efforts should include straightforward lessons on pleasurable acts, such as oral sex or sex toy usage!

A 2004 “New York Times Magazine” article on HIV in southern Africa made the case that while “many experts contend that sexual-behavior change in Africa is complicated because women’s fear of abusive partners inhibits private discussions of sex, condom use and HIV,” the crisis also contributes to a better environment for those discussions. One researcher is quoted pointing out that, “young South Africans are much more likely to talk about sex and are developing ‘a vocabulary for discussing feelings and desires’.” Furthermore, southern African movements for women’s empowerment invariably cite HIV as a reason change is necessary now. Because gender oppression is acknowledged as a driver of the epidemic, gender equality is an explicit goal of both governments and major HIV organizations. Even admirably sane laws about sex work are being discussed — considerably saner than most Western ones, in fact. The laws probably won’t pass, unfortunately, but at least they’re on the radar.

In other words, in a weird way, the existence of HIV can be a positive thing because it’s a major factor forcing society towards honest, open, respectful conversations about sexuality. I believe those conversations to be good for a variety of reasons, but here’s why they are crucial to stem the tide of HIV — they make it much, much easier for people to both learn about the disease and take steps to avoid it. (After all: if you can’t talk to your partner about sex, then how are you going to communicate well about condom usage? If you don’t understand your own sexual desires or those of your partners, then how are you going to keep yourself out of sexually vulnerable situations?)

But we are not out of the woods yet. We’re not even close. And there’s ample room to slide backwards. I have read that HIV rates in America were falling for a while but are now rising again. And there are so many issues with which America is not doing much better than Africa — for example, our awful societal ideas about sex work. It seems to me that we Americans marginalize sex workers almost as much the African nations where I worked; and when sex workers are marginalized, they become more vulnerable to HIV. Indeed, just about any population whose sexuality is ignored, stigmatized, and swept under the rug is likely to be more vulnerable to HIV; history has shown this over and over, as for example with the gay community.

As long as we can’t have reasonable conversations about sexuality, we will never understand HIV. As long as we can’t have open, honest, non-judgmental conversations about sexuality, we will be hamstrung when we try to cope with it on both the individual and the community level. HIV is about sex. To deal with HIV, we have to be able to deal with sex.

The image at the beginning of this post shows a model wearing an amazing dress made entirely of condoms; thanks to the gallery at the website for The Wisdom of Whores, Elizabeth Pisani’s incredible book about the HIV epidemic and the international response. Pisani’s book is one of my favorites, ever — there are some valid critiques to be made, but even with those in mind, I just love it. Note that in honor of World AIDS Day, Pisani’s publisher is offering the book as a free download for the next month. Seriously, please read it. I have read very few books that I thought were simultaneously so entertaining, so well-written, and so important.

And, if you’re looking for someone to donate to in honor of World AIDS Day, then may I suggest Doctors Without Borders? Of all the organizations I dealt with in Africa, I was shocked by how little I felt like they wasted time and effort. They’re awesome.

This was cross-posted at Feministe.

2010 18 Nov

[advice] A 16-yr-old kinkster who wants “a sense of personal integrity”

When I received the following email, I was sitting in my mother’s living room. I read the letter aloud to Mom where she was standing in the kitchen; she stopped what she was doing, came over and sat down across from me. When I was done, she said, “That’s heartbreaking. This girl sounds just like you.”

Yeah, I relate a lot to this one.

Posted with the writer’s permission:

Dear Clarisse,

I’m sorry to email you out of the blue like this, but I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now and it’s been a great help to me. I’m also sorry if this is pretty personal, but I don’t know of anyone else with any relevant experience that I can turn to. You’ve always seemed friendly and open to discussion from what I’ve read, so I hope you won’t mind.

OK. Here goes. Basically, I’ve had what I now know to be BDSM leanings since an early age — tying up the Barbie dolls, bizarre childhood games, the works, gaining a more sexual edge in my teenage years. I never really thought about it, and if I did, I would just think, “Oh well, I can think and fantasise about what I like, it doesn’t hurt anyone, why should I be ashamed?” The difficulty for me has come in my first proper relationship. I’ve been with my boyfriend for 10 months and it’s not a secret between us. I mean, it surprised him, but he’s completely fine with it and he seems pretty enthusiastic (and has consistently over the past nine months or so, so I think it might be more than just to please me, though he’s not as into it as I am). Maybe I should specify. I don’t enjoy labelling myself, but I suppose you would call me a submissive. 

As I’m sure you can relate to, this poses some problems for me. I’ve always thought of myself as a strong, independent young woman. I endured bullying at school and I have always espoused — or tried to, to the best of my ability — a philosophy that can be neatly summed up as “Fuck ’em.” It’s very difficult for me to come to terms with this other side of myself, that, while it was always there, never really intruded on my actual life, if you see what I mean. Now it does. I’m saying these things I’ve thought about a lot of my life, and doing some of them too. There’s a level — well, two, the rational level and the physical one — where I’m completely OK with it, but another part of me — I suppose the emotional part — is entirely disgusted. If it was just the pain, I could deal with that. It’s this desire for submission that makes me feel sick about myself. The thing is, rationally, I know that there’s no reason why I can’t be a strong woman in my relationships and my everyday life but play with a power dynamic during sex acts. I mean, from what I’ve read, you do it fine! I just don’t know how to make that leap. I’m sure you know the feeling I’m talking about.

I should also add that I’m 16 and a virgin, and the same with my boyfriend. This entire kaboodle is new to me and I don’t really know what I’m doing, and this is really causing me quite a lot of anguish. I don’t really know where to go for support. I can hardly ask at the regular sexual health clinic! I wouldn’t know where to start looking for kink-aware therapists, as you did. Besides that, I would have to talk to my parents about it. I’ve spoken to my mother about BDSM briefly in conversation without letting her know anything about myself, and she said she thought relationships like that were “unhealthy” and “destructive”. I’m sure that’s just ignorance on her part, but I don’t feel like I’m ready to come out to her, and explain why it’s OK, at least not until I’m sure about this myself. It still feels partly unreal, as though it’s something I’ve created in myself that will go away if I ignore it — even though I know that’s not the case. I share the feeling that you’ve written about before — I’ve never been in an “other-ed” minority before, being white and middle-class etc. My boyfriend is very supportive and caring, but to be honest, he doesn’t know what he’s doing any better than I do! So I hope that you will be able to offer me some reassurance and advice. Your blog, as I’ve said, has been a great help, but reading something like that, wonderful as it is, isn’t the same and doesn’t have the same power to reassure as a more personal dialogue. I hope you see what I mean and don’t just think that I’m seeking attention. That is not my goal here. All I’m after is a sense of personal integrity. Perhaps in the end that can only come from myself, but, it would be nice to be told I’m not completely mad!

I wanted to post that letter mostly because I think it’s eloquent. Again, I’m probably somewhat biased because the girl who wrote it sounds a lot like me. (The “fuck ’em” philosophy especially. It got a lot better once I got out of public school and went to university, but, man, it was pretty intense for a while there.) There are so many lines in there that I could have written, once.

Even the way she writes, “I suppose you would call me a submissive” …. It took me months — maybe even years, I can’t recall — after coming into my BDSM identity for me to accept the word “submissive” and apply it to myself. I hated that word so much.

Fortunately for the letter-writer, she lives in the United Kingdom, which means that at age 16 she’s not below the age of consent. This, presumably, means that she can hang out in BDSM communities if she likes; in the USA, people have to be over 18 to do so. One thing I suggested she look for is a group called The Next Generation, to see if there are any UK branches. In the US, TNG has branches in a number of cities; it’s a kink group that usually hosts low-key café meetups and the occasional BDSM demo for folks aged 18-35 (perhaps in the UK it’s open to ages 16-35). I also noted that there are probably some UK therapists on the Kink Aware Professionals list, though I don’t know if there’s as much representation over there.

I only know a couple of things for sure about BDSM in the UK. One is that the country contains the Torture Garden, which is the world’s largest fetish club, and which has released some absolutely gorgeous fliers. It’s also where one of the nastiest BDSM scandals in recent history occurred, the infamous and ridiculous Spanner Case, which resulted in a group called The Spanner Trust that works to protect S&Mers.

A sense of community is, in my experience, incredibly helpful for new kinksters who want to talk about the insanity-inducing coming-out process. One of the most powerful moments in my BDSM-integration process occurred during a discussion group at the San Francisco Citadel. It was the first BDSM group I’d ever attended — basically a Dominant/submissive roundtable — and the statement I recall best came from a woman who was happily curled up next to her boyfriend on a couch. She identified herself as a submissive and she noted that she and her boyfriend had an agreement that, every night, she had to kneel at the foot of the bed and ask his permission to get in.

“Some nights,” she said, “I’m really tired, and I don’t want to do that, I just want to climb in and go to sleep. But then I remind myself that this is the kind of relationship I want, and that it is part of my sexuality. That this is part of my integrity as a submissive, to show him that I want to keep our power dynamic alive by asking his permission to get into bed every single night.”

At the time, this blew my mind. Her use of the word integrity …. I don’t personally prefer to have those kinds of agreements — the kneeling-and-asking-permission type agreements — at least not usually. (Rarely do I encounter a man with whom our mutual power dynamic is so incredibly strong, whom I trust so much, that I’m willing to submit myself totally like that. But it has happened — though it had not yet happened when I attended that Citadel discussion group, and I may never experience it again.) Still … even though I don’t personally prefer the kinds of relationships she does, it was still such an incredible relief to see a submissive, who was so clearly in possession of herself and feeling so good about her relationship — to hear her use a word like integrity. To hear her apply the word integrity to her sexuality.

This is one of several reasons I usually encourage people to look into the local in-person community, but not everyone is going to mesh well with their local BDSM groups. Luckily, the Internet may provide another option. There’s a kinky social networking site called FetLife.com where BDSMers can make profiles, engage in discussion groups, etc.; that seems like a good place to start.  (There are even feminist discussion groups on FetLife, of which I am obviously a member.) BDSM blogs other than my own can perhaps function similarly.  I know there are online BDSM fora, and I’ve heard mixed things about some of them, but I don’t have a lot of experience with them.

This girl sounds plenty smart enough to make her own decisions about which groups to participate in and which to ignore, but I did encourage her to keep in mind that there are plenty of BDSM fora in the world. So, if she finds one that’s full of annoying or scary people, she doesn’t have to settle for that one.

In terms of straight-up relationship advice, there are lots of books and blogs out there for that too.  I personally like The New Bottoming Book by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy; the companion volume is The New Topping Book.  And then there’s just generally great advice on the amazing sex education site Scarleteen.  I know Scarleteen has its own message boards as well, though I haven’t participated much over there either.

For those who are interested in coming out to their parents, I recommend the book When Someone You Love Is Kinky by Dossie Easton and Catherine W. Liszt (it’s intended for the parents or for any other relatives of a kinkster).  I’ve also heard good things about the “Parents of Alternative Sexuality” pamphlet by Dr. Amy Marsh.

And, as always, there’s plenty of other stuff listed on my S&M Resources page.

And, just in case you’re thinking, “This girl is 16? That’s ridiculous. What does she know about her sexuality?” — I encourage you to read this post by Maymay: Young People Into BDSM Are Not Exceptional. The post is mostly about the community dynamics that occur in some places (though not all), where people who are younger and into BDSM are sometimes seen as “exceptions”, when in reality we’re not exceptional at all. Plenty of us experience sexuality, and have a firm grasp on it, at an age younger than the age our culture chooses to allow us full access to information about sexuality.

I think a lot about younger kinksters — not just because of issues like the ones Maymay raises in his post, either. It’s clear that in-person American BDSM communities cannot allow folks who are under 18 into our ranks, because of the liability we risk. Even if the community’s only and entire goal is education, it’s simply too likely that some concerned parent would find out about their under-18 kid talking to us. Then the parent freaks out and our community comes under attack for “child molestation” or some similar trumped-up charge. Oh, I can picture the worst that could happen, all too clearly ….

But this leaves us in the position of being unable to directly educate people under 18 about BDSM. So the best we can do is encourage those who are under 18 to read as much as they possibly can, both on the Internet and in books, before practicing any of the BDSM they might be attracted to. It’s not great, but it’s something. It’s more than our parents’ generation had.

UPDATE, 2013: I continue to receive emails from young kinksters. My heart goes out to you folks. My final thought is this:

You have time. Seriously, so much time. I know it’s so frustrating if you feel like you have to wait until you leave home or whatever, but hey, you can use this time to read books and stuff. (Like my collection The S&M Feminist: Best Of Clarisse Thorn!)

Besides, you are not as frustrated as me, because I have to wait until Thursday to see this new guy I have a thing for, and Thursday is like ONE MILLION YEARS from now. And I already texted him once today.

… You get my point.

Also, one of the teenagers who emailed me was apparently directed to my blog by her mom. The times, they are a-changin’!

P.S.: The comments on this post are excellent, so keep reading ….