An Important Question

12 Feb

Reader Lillie, in a comment on another post, asks:

[I]sn’t it actually irresponsible to assume that everything’s okay just because it has a sexual dimension? Or is “sexuality” such a sacred cow that even to suggest something might not be okay automatically makes you a bigot?

That’s an excellent question, and it’s one that I’d like to hear some opining on.

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143 Responses to “An Important Question”

  1. Screaming Lemur February 12, 2009 at 8:38 PM #

    Or is “sexuality” such a sacred cow that even to suggest something might not be okay automatically makes you a bigot?
    Well, not a bigot… but um, look: there’s some weird sexualities out there. I personally think peeing on someone is gross, and SO not okay- for me. But some people find it a turn on. As long as they’re not seriously endangering their health or their partners, who are we to judge what people find exciting?
    So, no, I don’t think it’s irresponsible to assume that pretty much all consensual sex acts are okay. If it’s safe, sane, and everyone involved has agreed, then doesn’t to do otherwise make us Sex Police, like fundie Xtians talking about “OMG teh gay buttsecks”?
    Sexuality isn’t a “sacred cow”- it’s a wildly diverse spectrum, and people who fall into certain parts of that spectrum- because they’re perceived as weird- catch a lot of shit because it’s weird. But telling other people what’s okay for them based on what’s okay for you is a recipe for disaster, and we already have Dobson for that.
    So I am opining.

  2. RenegadeEvolution February 12, 2009 at 10:05 PM #

    What SL there said.

    Rape has a sexual aspect, yet is far from okay. Many murders have sexual aspects, and that is far from okay. Child molestation has a sexual aspect, and that is not okay. I don’t get furries, but you know, they aren’t hurting anyone, so I guess that is okay.

    And yes, I know people are sick of and hate the bad, bad consent & choice words, but yes, in my mind, those words make a whole world of difference.

    And I’ve never felt discussion was a bad thing, but outright condemnation or vast generalizations or judgments about non-standard modes of sexuality rub me the wrong way.

  3. Erstwhile lurker February 12, 2009 at 10:42 PM #

    [I]sn’t it actually irresponsible to assume that everything’s okay just because it has a sexual dimension?

    It would be, but I don’t see who’s making that assumption. Many of your kinky commentors have explicitly said that non-consensual or dangerous sex acts are wrong (but what they do is all right because it’s consensual and not dangerous).

    Or is “sexuality” such a sacred cow that even to suggest something might not be okay automatically makes you a bigot?

    I did a ctrl-F for “bigot” in the previous couple threads, and couldn’t find a single instance of anyone calling anyone else a bigot. I will say that I was shocked by some of the ignorant claims made about kinky people on the “question for doms” thread (they’re out to injure their partners, they’re indifferent to safety, that they need to escalate to ever-more-scary things, that they emotionally abuse their partners), and I don’t see those beliefs being very responsive to contrary evidence. 9-2, I realize that you did not say any of those things, but if you’re picking up on some ire from kinky people, those comments are a big part of what’s caused it. And I’ll say it: having negative beliefs about a group of people that are not responsive to evidence, and not based on evidence: that’s bigotry.

  4. Gayle February 12, 2009 at 11:12 PM #

    Sex isn’t a sacred cow. However, men have managed to make any critical discussion of their sexual practices or fetishes off limits to women, mostly through name calling and threats of violence.

  5. CJ February 12, 2009 at 11:28 PM #

    Alright, this is getting complicated for me.

    And I’m agreeing with Screaming Lemur.

    Telling other people what they can/can’t do with their own bodies, whether we find what they are doing unsavory or not, is not a good road to go down, either.

    I’m confused as hell. I can’t get down with women allowing men to beat them and cut them, I can’t help but recoil in horror at men who say they get off on hurting people (I’m more understanding of this with women, especially those dominating men in this context). I can’t really relate to any of this.

    I also, however, cannot be, and am not in, a position to tell other people what they should and should not be doing to achieve orgasm/have fun.

    Blarg. Round and round I go. Where I stop, I have no fucking clue.

    I’m blogging this confusion as well, if anyone is interested.

  6. darkdaughta February 12, 2009 at 11:29 PM #

    I would have to agree with Screaming Lemur. Also, I sincerely believe that it’s more important for people who have issues with the spectrum of natural human sexual expression to ask themselves and not others who dare to risk and to explore, why? Why does this terrify those who are not invited to participate? Why do they need to pursue agendas that are about sexual gentrification and homogenization? Why do they feel so comfortable being allied with fairly right wing christian religious extremists when it comes to stifling sexual expression? Why do they seek to dominate others by defining the limits of sexual expression for us all? From the celibate through to the very vanilla right on out to frontier places human sexuality is diverse. Because we live on a planet where hierarchy, dominance, power over and authoritarianism reign supreme, everything we do resonates with power relations and can be perverted into something that causes us pain. Because it’s widely known that predators have used offers of candy or ice cream to beckon children closer, does this mean that candy or ice cream should be outlawed? No. People understand that pedophilia is not synonymous with ice cream and candy. I think that the illogical conflation of consensual power exchange with violence, rape, slavery, murder and other forms of abuse is overly simplistic. Because there might be a surface resemblance doesn’t mean that these things are all one and the same. I think that insisting that they are just keeps the debate in stasis, at a really simplistic level where intelligent inquiry and critical analysis on a multitude of fronts is prohibited. So sad.

  7. Rachel February 12, 2009 at 11:59 PM #

    Here’s how I see it. As feminists we critique social institutions. That’s not persecuting the people who are involved in them – it can sometimes turn into that if the person involved is getting overheated or being insensitive, and a lot of people intentionally misinterpret feminist critique as personal criticism so they can take offense, as we have just been shown, but that doesn’t change fair critique into persecution.

    There’s a lot of history of feminists critiquing the institution of motherhood and the nuclear family, for example. And there’s a lot of people getting offended by it. (Some of them occasionally have points, for example, hating on children does not an inspired social critique make.) But it is not a personal criticism of mothers to point out that single mothers are disproportionately in poverty, or that women and their children statistically get poorer after a divorce while men get richer, or that it’s often hard on a woman’s mental health when she loses most of her adult social life after leaving work to care for a child, even if she feels rewarded in caring for the child. Similarly, it’s not invalidating anyone’s choice to become a mother to point out the ways that motherhood is pushed on women in our culture, in ways as blatant as the denial of full abortion rights and as subtle as the assumption that all women are yearning after children and will magically find themselves completely fulfilled “when” they have them, regardless of what the woman herself says, and that even the more subtle pushing has an effect on the way we make our choices.

    I think sex is the same way. Feminists, i think, tend to do our feminist-ing in relatively liberal circles, where criticizing the family institution is relatively more accepted than criticizing anything that looks like “sex” to a young liberal man. But I think it’s obviously a major locus of the subordination of women and I personally feel that it’s not only OK but incumbent upon me as a feminist to question it when the questions present themselves.

  8. Trinity February 13, 2009 at 12:01 AM #

    As I said earlier responding to this very comment:

    I don’t think anyone is saying that if there’s an underlying problem, it should be let lie because sex is awesome, or something. What we are saying is that in our own cases we don’t think there’s an underlying problem. We’re being told there must be, that it should be obvious that there is, and we’re saying “No, there isn’t.”

    Some of us are saying we’re not survivors of trauma and are bothered by the assumption we must have been abused. Others of us are saying “Yes, I was, and yes, it has affected me. But I know what my bad coping devices are, and BDSM is not one of them. I am telling you that I see a clear difference between, say, self-harming and SM with my partner, and you are telling me I am deluded.”

    It is possible for people to be wrong about whether something they’re doing is healthy, and no one’s denied it. But I for one would really like a better explanation of how you can be sure that we are wrong when we say that we are very aware of how trauma has affected us, and are working on that, but that we see a very clear difference between that and BDSM.

    As far as the “sacred cow” comment, I have to say I find that comment a bit odd. Those of us who see SM desires as innate, as unchangeable, or as orientational (these are, btw, three different things) are not saying that they thereby shouldn’t be thought about. Rather, we’re saying that there’s something oddly unjust about giving non-SM desires a pass (asserting that they aren’t “immoral”, for example), but at the same time claiming… what?

    The best sense I can make of it is that ideally, people with unchangeable desires should simply never indulge them, but that of course since that would be a heavy demand, *maybe* you’ll be merciful to us broken folks and look the other way.

    We’re saying “Look, that’s unproductive and gross, and doesn’t help anyone to live a better life. If we’re focusing on how patriarchy affects people, why does it involve talking this way?”

    And why, for the love of Jesus, Kali, Horus, and any other deities, does it involve telling us over and over that we haven’t examined, that we’re “assuming X is okay” in an “irresponsible” manner, when we talk constantly about how we’ve examined it, and how we’ve gone to the sorts of lengths to be responsible that most men under patriarchy would consider “a total turnoff, man… remember when Men were Men”?

    Why is it that any answer we give is irresponsible? I see a fixed game here.

  9. Erstwhile lurker February 13, 2009 at 1:00 AM #

    Apologies, there is an instance of “bigotted” in the thread you linked to. Possibly evidence that I should get back to work.

  10. Charlie February 13, 2009 at 6:09 AM #

    Does sex make something sacred? Not in my opinion. But we sure get defensive about it.

    One of the challenges in talking about sex is that there’s almost nothing that we all experience in the same ways. For anything that you can imagine taking place within the bounds of consent, someone enjoys it and someone else detests it. That’s just how it works. I’ve been a sexologist and educator for 20 years and I’ve seen very, very few things that we all experience in the same way.

    This is relevant because when we talk about sex or sexual politics, what often happens is someone presents an experience, a belief, or a preference, as if everyone reasonable would agree with them. And if there are enough participants, there’s likely to be someone whose experience differs. Then we go around and around debating whether the first person’s statement is wrong, or whether the second person is sick/lying/wrong/deluded/etc.

    I find it more useful to talk about some/many/most. Some people like this. Most people do that. That way, I leave room for the range of diversity that exists. It makes my statements more likely to be heard. It creates room for differing opinions. And it reduces the chances that someone will get defensive. Of course, your mileage may vary. Do with it what you will.

  11. Polly Styrene February 13, 2009 at 11:16 AM #

    I have opined on this more times than I’ve had hot dinners, but once more from the top. I call it the ‘big fat gay herring’. Here’s a post about it I made earlier.

    http://thesizeofacow.wordpress.com/2008/05/10/oh-look-its-the-big-fat-gay-herring/

    It goes like this.

    In some parts of the planet and at some periods of history people have been/are been persecuted simply for being lesbians/gay men. This is wrong.

    No arguments with that. To persecute someone simply for being attracted to the same sex, rather than the opposite sex is inhuman. The problem is with part 2 of the ‘argument’ which goes like this.

    “Therefore you should never criticise anyone’s sexual behaviour. Because if you do you are exactly the same as people who persecute lesbians and gay men. ”

    This is based on a completely false premise. That if you criticise anything anyone else does sexually, you are behaving in the same was as a homophobe. The point being that being a lesbian/gay man – ie attracted to people of the same sex – is no in any way intrinsically harmful.

    What that definitely doesn’t mean however is that anything anyone does sexually (including a lesbian and gay man) can never be harmful. Paedophiles claim that what they do is a ‘sexuality’ and they should be allowed to express it, and that the age of consent stops 4 year olds having the opportunity to consent to sex with adults. . (As a side issue, BDSM darling Patrick Califia is also a paedophile advocate).

    We shouldn’t criticise someone just for being attracted to a particular sex of person. That doesn’t mean anything people do sexually should never be criticised and scrutinised. The two are completely separate issues.

  12. Faith February 13, 2009 at 1:28 PM #

    “I]sn’t it actually irresponsible to assume that everything’s okay just because it has a sexual dimension?”

    Yes. I understand where the feeling that sexuality for the sake of sexuality under all circumstances had to be defended and even originally supported that theory. But now the ideas of what is or is not healthy sexuality has become so distorted and intentionally preyed upon that simply screaming consent and choice is not helpful or an adequate approach.

  13. isme February 13, 2009 at 2:30 PM #

    I agree with SL, RE and CJ.

    As long as I respect people’s right to choose for themselves, then I have to respect choices I don’t like.

  14. Gayle February 13, 2009 at 3:13 PM #

    “Feminists, i think, tend to do our feminist-ing in relatively liberal circles, where criticizing the family institution is relatively more accepted than criticizing anything that looks like “sex” to a young liberal man”

    True and that’s a big part of the problem. Worse, today’s liberalism has a libertarian streak a mile wide.

    Progressive men don’t hate women less than conservative men. See porn and the last election cycle for myriad examples.

    It was and is a huge mistake to allow feminism to be conflated with progressive politics. These threads show just how much “liberal” men are still controlling women’s voices, sexuality and agenda.

  15. Trinity February 13, 2009 at 3:27 PM #

    CJ,

    A lot of people do recoil in horror at people intentionally inflicting or consenting to pain. I have close friends who really don’t want to think about what my partner and do, because it just fundamentally bothers them.

    (And I don’t mean this like “Oh, they’re such silly prudes.” While I do think they don’t quite get it, I don’t think their response means they’re somehow foolish. It makes sense.)

    The thing is, though, that while that recoiling reaction makes sense? We’re not experiencing these things the way that people having those reactions assume.

    For us it’s not frightening in the same ways. Where you look at sadomasochism and see something indistinguishable from (or at least, way too damn close to) actual torture, we feel things like trance states, intense stimulation, pride in our own or our partner’s endurance, desire, togetherness.

    I mean, not to whitewash it — yes, we are intentionally playing with stuff that’s frightening, stuff that’s on the edge. But we’re not doing it for hateful reasons (despite that many people in this debate think we must be, and must simply not know it because we haven’t “examined”, etc.)

    We’re doing it because we like exploring what our bodies are capable of, because we like pursuing intense pleasure, because we think it’s better to give the dark side a little freedom so it doesn’t devour us later.

    Have you ever chosen to do something very challenging, something really tough for you, and done it, and felt invincible and proud? That’s what it’s like. It’s not self-abasement at all. It’s testing yourself, and winning, and glowing with pride. Or testing your partner, and watching in amazement and awe as fear and aversion melt away, and all life and spirit becomes worth embracing.

    THAT is what it is about, at least for us. And the notion that that’s life-denying is really quite foreign to me. It’s about the most intense, concentrated celebration of being alive I know.

    And the idea that THAT has to do with gender, with patriarchy… well, I see why the theory says it does, but it makes no sense to me. It’s as if I’m over here talking about apples, and someone skips oranges entirely and says “But the kumquats are of such profound concern!”

    Anyway, for whatever it’s worth, I really appreciate your willingness to think more about our side of it.

  16. RenegadeEvolution February 13, 2009 at 5:27 PM #

    For some reason, I seem to end up comparing everything to sports. I guess because that works for me, having played a few. Well, I guess I see BDSM like another sport. It’s physical, it’s challenging, when it’s done people can be sore, but when it’s done, there is also this physical rush/afterglow/ sense of accomplishment thing going on- the whole rising to a challenge as it were. I personally do not have the deep spiritual thing going on that others do, but thats okay.

    And believe it or not, I think Polly has a point. BDSM and homosexuality are not the same thing. Parallels between any form of sexual discrimination can be drawn, but all types of sexuality have differences. Women have been hurt killed and discriminated against for being too sexual or not sexual enough, which is not the same as being hurt killed or discriminated against for being homosexual, which is not the same as…so on, so forth. There are similarities, but it is not “the same”.

    I also do not think it is so much of a sacred cow thing is that there seems to be a lot of disagreement over the validity or even the possibility of things like consent and choice. That actually seems to be the huge bone of contention in many of these discussions. Up thread Gayle mentions how terrible it is that womens voices and whatnot are so controlled by men. I suspect there are a lot of women who would disagree with her statement and assert they are into what they are into by choice. And that is one of those sticky personal topics that makes people get real ugly real quick.

  17. Clarisse February 13, 2009 at 6:04 PM #

    I keep thinking that maybe I should just tattoo “What Trinity said” to my forehead or something.

  18. pisaquaririse February 13, 2009 at 7:14 PM #

    Dear Cat-Spanker,

    Please give fluffy to a kinder, more loving home. (WHY have more people not called that shit out? Cats.cannot.consent)

    WTF!!,
    pisaquari

  19. pisaquaririse February 13, 2009 at 7:40 PM #

    wrong thread, damnit

  20. James February 13, 2009 at 8:56 PM #

    What SL said.

    Gayle: if you think that modern day liberalism is bad, check out the Classical kind.

  21. Itxaro February 14, 2009 at 12:16 AM #

    darkdaughta: Please don’t play the “you’re aligned with right-wingers!” card. They don’t want sexual freedom; they want sexual slavery. What anti-BDSM/pornography/etc. feminists want is an honest critique and examination of how patriarchy shapes sexuality, and an effort to expel it from sex- they aim for sexual freedom from systems of oppression. Right-wingers are terrified of sexuality and want to keep everyone under their heel by dictating what is right or wrong.

    And here’s where I think it gets complicated:

    You’re right, Nine Deuce- very, very often sexual desire is not supposed to be something you are supposed to question. And i don’t mean “question” as the Q of GLBTQAP-whatever-it-is-now; I mean something to question in terms of cultural practices.

    This especially happens with sexual quirks or kinks that are considered ‘perverse’ by judeochristian Upstanding Family Men who like Vanilla Heterosexual Sex in the Missionary Position. Because so many individuals are shamed and scorned for their sexual desires, the BDSM community often adopts a knee-jerk reaction to any real QUESTIONING.

    Notice a repeated word? “questioning”. Not “condemning”, which is where I can feel for the people arguing with you, too– broad “this is patriarchal” holds up very poorly against people who have actually taken the time to sit down and question their own beliefs. That’s why you get a lot of criticism from individuals. I think that the best thing radfems can do (me included) is to ask THEM what THEIR experiences have been: What aspects of the BDSM community make misogyny easier to practice? What parts of it often DO become patriarchal? Is there anything that you, as someone involved in the community, feel could be altered to be more egalitarian? What do YOU think distinguishes a desire to hurt people put in an “acceptable” context from a genuine desire for mutuality and respect within the fetish?

    I think it’s very difficult for radfems because we have such an issue with the eroticizing of domination and submission- particularly M/f. It happens so much in mainstream culture, in a context that is distinctly patriarchal, that seeing it practiced with the gloves off is difficult to avoid condemning. So I think the key is dialogue–

    What separates BDSM from the mainstream, patriarchal eroticizing of domination? What separates BDSM from the patriarchal mainstream eroticizing of women in pain? What separates BDSM from the patriarchal mainstream eroticizing of the submissive feminine?

    These are questions we need to answer. And I definitely don’t think it’s out-of-bounds to call out misogyny disguised as fetish, as you did with your examples of “offers” you received from Doms.

  22. Trinity February 14, 2009 at 3:17 AM #

    Itxaro,

    Can you explain what “questioning” means in this context? I’m not being funny here, I’m honestly confused. I’ve known about radical feminist critiques of SM since 2001 or so, and I’ve written quite a lot arguing against them. Yet the admonition to question seems to presume that we either haven’t heard the criticisms, or have not treated them with the appropriate seriousness.

    But it’s never laid out how we prove that we have so treated them. Even those of us who refused to do BDSM for many years because of the sorts of concern ND lays out here — and the writers of _Against Sadomasochism_ laid out years before — are often assumed to have somehow backslid. There’s this weird assumption that such people have grown exhausted or weary and “given in” to temptation, chosen pleasure over thoughtfulness.

    And I don’t get that. As I’ve said several times, it strikes me as an example of people saying “Well, you eventually came to a conclusion I don’t share, and therefore you should go back to the drawing board.”

    What is it exactly that leads you to feel that we don’t examine, or that we have stopped?

  23. Trinity February 14, 2009 at 3:45 AM #

    As far as your questions about patriarchal influence shaping how people do BDSM, here are some of my thoughts:

    1) Do our best to ensure that people who might first stumble upon fetishes based on gender essentialism/gender supremacy know that this is not everything that’s out there.

    Personally, I think the offline Scene does a good job of this, though the Internet has sizable enclaves of people into gender essentialist silliness. I’m not sure how this would be corrected, though. People who are looking for the best information they can get will easily discover that the larger community frowns on gender essentialist BS, but some people specifically seek that out or don’t bother to do research.

    2) Ask people who seem to be acting on sexist assumptions what they’re up to. If they say that M/f dynamics that look creepy to us are something they’ve thought about and consensually decided to do, there’s not much to “do” really. They may simply like something that ticks my/your creep radar. Even if they are being fools, sometimes people need to be free to make mistakes. Obviously if there is serious violence happening, intervention of some sort may be called for. But as we all know in this discussion, not every instance of buying into sexist nonsense is inviting actual abuse.

    It IS, however, possible to get people thinking about whether they’re making weird assumptions about men and women. I’ve been the only female top at a few small events where some folks really did have an M/f default in their heads, and talking to a few of them about why that would be got some people thinking.

    3) Watch out for people who are behaving in predatory ways: pushing limits, not negotiating thoroughly, etc. Spread the word about these people. Get them kicked out, if possible. If not, make sure that newbies are warned about them.

    (But then, this is not something gender-specific. There’s a female top in my area who has gotten kicked out of just about every group in the state for being a clueless creep.)

    The big thing that I think people need to do in discussing BDSM is to keep a watchful eye on their heterosexism. While feminists do have reason to be especially interested in men dominating women, all too often the queer/gay history of BDSM is completely erased in discussions where MenNWomen MenNWomen MenNWomen are the only focus.

    I find this especially distressing because hetero BDSM as currently practiced in most communities is heavily indebted to the gay SM community. Making invisible that history is, well, not exactly something progressive, in my opinion. Hets already like to pretend they don’t owe anything to queer culture.

  24. Stuart February 14, 2009 at 4:13 AM #

    I think ND is absolutely right that no sexual practice should ever be above criticism and debates like those recently on RATM are therefore extremely important. To suggest that our sexual desires are not strongly linked to and emerge out of a specific social context is absurd and the argument that everything which arouses people must somehow be good or feminist is clearly not ever going to help us challenge or understand the patriarchal structures that promote and maintain male supremacy.

    The feminist struggle can’t in any way be won until the gendered power dynamic in which men’s needs always come before women’s needs and in which men are expected to be naturally dominant and women naturally submissive has been destroyed. As has been stated here plenty of times BDSM as it exists now is almost always about eroticising and magnifying traditional patriarchal power structures and forms of domination to a ridiculous extent and when this is the case it’s difficult in my view to see how it couldn’t be harmful from a gender perspective.

    In a hypothetical perfectly egalitarian, non-hierarchical, non-patriarchal world we’d of course be much freer to explore our sexualities in various ways without any risk of this. But unfortunately we don’t live in such a world and at present the things we do sexually will inevitably have much wider consequences for the relationship between women and men in our society.

    None of this is going to stop individuals at the moment from finding aspects of BDSM arousing and I don’t doubt people who say they have genuinely tried to remove all power dynamics and traces of dominance and submission from their sexual fantasies and desires and found it extremely difficult to say the least. Whether this is 100% down to patriarchy I don’t think anyone can say for sure but it’s certainly largely a product of the type of society we live in and I hardly see how further eroticising power is the best way to challenge the oppressive power structures inherent under a capitalist and patriarchal system.

    It’s easy for people to get very defensive and to accuse others of trying to silence them or ban what they do but it doesn’t contribute to a constructive debate on the issue. Everyone who feels committed to challenging male domination and building a truly egalitarian world has I think a duty to analyse their own behaviour and to think deeply about its consequences for both them and for others around them. Not everyone will come to exactly the same conclusions but any objective analysis would likely be able to identify plenty of things which are harmful in a number of respects and when this is the case people should think seriously about either changing what they do or attempting to reorientate their desires in a more positive way.

  25. Itxaro February 14, 2009 at 5:31 AM #

    Trinity,

    To be honest, I HAVEN’T heard a lot of very loud talk about the questions I asked in my second-to-last paragraph, particularly on this blog (my memory may be shaky; life’s a little hectic right now), but I also haven’t followed the entire history of radfem discussions of BDSM. So, you know, maybe there’s a discussion I haven’t read.

    I’m not going to deny anyone’s personal experience by claiming they’re brainwashed, or just tools of the patriarchy and whatnot, because that’s idiotic and divisive. Rather, I’m really interested in how to possibly reconcile the fact that everything I dislike about mainstream culture, particularly gender roles in mainstream culture, seems to be exactly the point of BDSM.

    To me, as a radical feminist, mainstream culture eroticizes the submission of women and domination of men. Do you disagree with this statement? If you take this statement as fact, how do M/f situations, and BDSM culture in general, defy or enforce this patriarchal ideal? When power and sex are already so intertwined in the mainstream world that it’s very hard to have a relationship that DOESN’T mix the two, is BDSM at all counter-culture?

    It’s very hard for me to look at all the gendered patriarchal shit I work to fight in the mainstream and then take an accepting look at a subculture that basically glories in it. I think this is where a lot of the misunderstandings and issues between radfems and folks who do BDSM come to play.

    My general position towards sex work, pornography, and, yes, BDSM, is that all of these would be free and equal and awesome in a post-patriarchy society. Unfortunately, we don’t live there, and so the continuation of the patriarchal-defined sex roles is something that concerns me, and it’s very difficult for me to believe that relationships that combine power and sex don’t enforce the patriarchy-instituted dynamic to the individuals involved.

    So that’s my side, and some honest questions I have (as well as why I- and I’m pretty sure some other radical feminists- have difficulty with BDSM). I’m really interested in hearing what you have to say as a response, and I’m totally not meaning this as an incendiary comment in any way, because I’m a big believer in dialogue.

  26. Garden Gnome February 14, 2009 at 6:22 AM #

    As a queer feminist, I have to say, I am really sick of people conflating all their weird fucking kinks with sexual orientation and/or queer identity. Behavior is different from orientation. If BDSM is orientational, then so is my desire to dress up in 19th century period costume and recite Emma Goldman speeches while I have sex with my partner. And so is furry-ism. Maybe we need a civil rights movement to fight all the furrsecution that is rampant in this country.

    And I’m not saying this as someone who is disgusted by BDSM, and can therefore make judgements from afar. I find BDSM disturbingly titillating, but because I am capable and willing to analyze my sexual feelings, I choose not to engage in it because I find it to be problematic and in conflict with my feminist ethics.

    In conclusion, I think John Stoltenberg got it right when he said, “If it’s about freedom, how come it looks so much like slavery?”

  27. firefey February 14, 2009 at 7:09 AM #

    stuart…”As has been stated here plenty of times BDSM as it exists now is almost always about eroticising and magnifying traditional patriarchal power structures and forms of domination to a ridiculous extent and when this is the case it’s difficult in my view to see how it couldn’t be harmful from a gender perspective.”

    this is a firmly held belief of many here, i know. however, the studies done and demographics available and personal anecdata of most of the posters here is pretty clear that Male domination of female submissives is not the dominant paradigm within BDSM. and honestly, i don’t think there can be any meaningful discussion about the validity of power exchange dynamics that doesn’t take this fact into account.

    also, Clarisse, i think we should get matching tattoos…

  28. Lillie February 14, 2009 at 9:17 AM #

    Interesting. In another thread, somebody else compared S/M to sport – but I’m not sure I see the similarity, except for the adrenaline. The pleasure you derive from sport seems to be a mixture of increased heart rate, smooth co-operation of muscles, and skill well applied… self-mortification, not so much, unless you’re orthorexic. I’m sure people exercise for a variety of reasons, and it’s hard to pin-point the source of pleasure, but the relationship between pain and pleasure just seems so different. Take running, for instance: a beginner in a not-so-good shape won’t take much pleasure from it. Painful stitches in your thighs and cramps in your lungs make running more challenging, but certainly not more pleasurable. Less pain and more skill => more pleasure. In BDSM, however, doesn’t tolerance grow – don’t you need more pain for more pleasure?

    And is needle-play, choking, etc. exciting mainly because it’s challenging to cope with the pain, or because there’s something inherently orgasmic about the pain? There’s a difference between fakirism and sex.

  29. Lillie February 14, 2009 at 11:40 AM #

    One more comment before I go! Garden Gnome:

    I find BDSM disturbingly titillating, but because I am capable and willing to analyze my sexual feelings, I choose not to engage in it because I find it to be problematic and in conflict with my feminist ethics.

    I think this is a very important point. Sexuality isn’t formed in a vacuum, it’s not immune to critical thinking, and what we’re turned on by at any given time of our lives isn’t set in stone. This is why I find it so hard to understand why a specific kink could be important enough to define a person’s identity.

    I can only speak for myself, of course – but as a teenager I was drawn to the rape fantasy. I didn’t think of it as a “rape fantasy”, of course. I just read books with stalkerish, controlling jerk “romantic heroes” and thought their forceful sexuality was soooo sexy and romantic. My staple diet of sexual fantasy was to be “ravished” by one of them. After a sudden “WTF?” epiphany and some years of critical thinking, I can’t now think of anything more off-putting. I’m also turned off by many things that only a couple of years ago I still found titillating. Sex has an intellectual dimension, too.

  30. Laurelin February 14, 2009 at 12:23 PM #

    Sport is not inherently harmful, nor designed to harm anyone. Even wing tjun kung fu, which is intended to harm when one is defending oneself, is not practiced in order to harm when one is in a lesson. If you harm people in practice you are doing it wrong, and are not showing the respect for your own skill. Part of the skill in practice is sparring *without* harming.

    The analogy with sport and kung fu, so beloved of BDSM reactionaries, is both false and disingenuous. Choking someone is harmful. That’s the point of choking. It is a manoever used to stop people from breathing, and is a common form of woman-murder by sadist men.

  31. Faith February 14, 2009 at 2:09 PM #

    “But as we all know in this discussion, not every instance of buying into sexist nonsense is inviting actual abuse.”

    Here’s something I don’t understand:

    Why do so many people seem to want to separate sexism from abuse? How is sexism not abuse? Because from where I’m sitting, they seem to be one and the same to me…even if the woman is consenting to the treatment.

  32. McStar February 14, 2009 at 2:12 PM #

    Garden Gnome: “I find BDSM disturbingly titillating, but because I am capable and willing to analyze my sexual feelings, I choose not to engage in it because I find it to be problematic and in conflict with my feminist ethics.”

    You seem to be insinuating that anyone who does choose to engage in BDSM are incapable of analysing and questioning their sexuality. As well as being utterly untrue, this is patronising and insulting. I have spent years considering and analysing my sexuality and discussing aspects of it with friends and partners, and I choose to do BDSM play, because my analysis reached the conclusion that my sex life is my business and is not harmful to anyone and I do not have a responsibility to feminism to have sex in a specific way. The fact that some of us came to different conclusions through our analysis than you did does not mean we have failed to analyse/failed to analyse correctly.

  33. Trinity February 14, 2009 at 5:01 PM #

    Itxaro,

    Here’s a bit of discussion over at SM-F about what particularly feminist BDSM might or might not look like:

    http://sm-feminist.blogspot.com/2007/06/what-do-we-mean-by-feminist-bdsm.html

    Whether that is the kind of examination you mean, I don’t know, but there you go. A few other links:

    http://sm-feminist.blogspot.com/2007/06/gender-supremacists-in-bdsm-difficult.html (I said some truly nasty shit about radical feminists in that comment thread, many of which I would not say now)

    http://sm-feminist.blogspot.com/2007/07/fetishising-innocence.html

    http://sm-feminist.blogspot.com/2007/06/examining-your-desires.html

  34. Trinity February 14, 2009 at 5:05 PM #

    “In BDSM, however, doesn’t tolerance grow – don’t you need more pain for more pleasure?”

    I can only speak for myself here, but IMX it doesn’t work that way for me or my partners. Many different kinds of sensation are fun and sexy — pain in an SM context is only one. While I have seen people become able to eroticize more intense pain over time, I haven’t seen people stop liking less.

    IMX, It’s not that sadomasochists don’t like gentle and sensual — it’s that we like gentle and sensual stuff AND erotic pain. It’s that the idea of avoiding erotic pain doesn’t make sense to us, and always going without it feels incomplete.

  35. Trinity February 14, 2009 at 5:11 PM #

    “And is needle-play, choking, etc. exciting mainly because it’s challenging to cope with the pain, or because there’s something inherently orgasmic about the pain? There’s a difference between fakirism and sex.”

    Well, there are people who are into being pushed to their limits, and for them it’s about the challenge and they want things to be difficult to process.

    Then there are people for whom stuff that would hurt like hell in other contexts just feels good, and sexy.

    Most people I have encountered are the second kind, or a mix of the first and second.

    As far as why the second kind are the way they are, the usual folk theories are that gradually increasing sensations of pain floods the body with endorphins, which cause trance states/highs that are probably similar to the fakir. Why this is specifically sexual, I don’t know. I’d say it’s part fetishism/wiring (pace Laurelin!) and part that SM contexts are sexual contexts.

  36. Gorgias February 14, 2009 at 5:22 PM #

    “To me, as a radical feminist, mainstream culture eroticizes the submission of women and domination of men. Do you disagree with this statement?”

    I do to an extent.

    It seems like it’s often difficult for a minority ideology that perceives itself as revolutionary to recognize when their ideals have been partially adopted by the majority, and have become in some way part of the establishment. Because our culture is in such flux, because there seems to be no consensus on such matters now and likely to be in the near future, it’s easy for both sides to perpetuate a victim or fortress mindset, where they are besieged on all sides by hostile ideologies. A queer rights activist can see a sea of homophobia with few bastions of progressiveness; looking at the same situation, a Christian fundamentalist can see a sea of sin and acceptance for deviant lifestyles with only a few people clinging to the ways of God, and truth be told, they’re both right. It all depends on what you emphasize.

    So to suggest that feminism has been utterly impotent over the past fifty years, that little girls aren’t often pressured these days to become doctors and lawyers and presidents as they were once pressured to be housewives (see Dw3t-Heather’s blog), and that the ideal relationship that, yeah, I’ll say the majority, of our society has now bought into is the egalitarian one is absurd. None of which is to say that our culture isn’t schizophrenic, that much in our mass media doesn’t inculcate a subservient mentality in little girls. But you’re missing the picture if that’s all you’re focusing on. And if you need any proof of this, you need look no farther than BDSM. I get that the theory says that patriarchal culture lurves power differentials and particularly power differentials where the male is on top. But you’ve completely forsaken objective reality in favor of a reality that’s only been constructed in your head if you think society as a whole is fine with BDSM, or even that it reflects values that the mainstream holds. Nearly all of us fear that our sexuality will be discovered. 24% of us have lost a job over our sexuality, and 3% have lost a child (http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/Content?oid=162102)

    “how do M/f situations, and BDSM culture in general, defy or enforce this patriarchal ideal”

    I think it defies the patriarchal ideal inasmuch as mutual pleasure and intimacy are the goals, that safety and negotiation are paramount, and that the submissive can withdraw consent at any time. I think BDSM as a whole (again, I’m not sure treating M/f as a separate case is wise) cuts across that inasmuch as, while M/f is certainly the most common pairing, other sorts of pairing are common. The submission and dominance aren’t seen as essential features of a gender, with certain gender essentialist conclaves excepted (and FWIW, I’ve seen way more innate female supremacy BS than I have male supremacy. But I’m a male sub, so I probably find my way to that kind of thing more often), but rather traits of individuals. Really the same thing as a woman being a housewife. Such only reinforces the patriarchy if it is understood as a gender essentialist subordination instead of a choice to live the life that the person finds most fulfilling. Such is only injurious to the woman if she views it as her only option, what she’s supposed to do because her culture tells her to, as opposed to a thoughtful consideration of where she’ll be most happy in life.

    “If BDSM is orientational, then so is my desire to dress up in 19th century period costume and recite Emma Goldman speeches while I have sex with my partner”

    Tell that to the vast swathe of kinksters whose sexual desires surfaced very early in life, who spent most of their adolescence feeling guilty about their desires, and who spent a long time attempting to change their sexuality before giving up. On the whole, as a bisexual submissive, I can say that both of them feel like innate predispositions which I had no control over. The lived experience for me of both of them seem the same. We both have the choice not to indulge in our orientations and go with a relationship that is physically and emotionally unsatisfying.

    “And is needle-play, choking, etc. exciting mainly because it’s challenging to cope with the pain, or because there’s something inherently orgasmic about the pain?”

    Both, actually. I don’t get aroused from exercising, but I do take a sense of satisfaction away from it that’s similar to what I feel after a good BDSM session. I like the challenge of holding out with the safeword on the tip of my tongue; of pushing myself just a little farther.

    I’m sure that there are some masochists who don’t experience it that way, though.

    You’re right that the analogy is only imperfect. My goal in bringing it up wasn’t necessarily that enjoying exercising is the same as eroticising pain, but that everything that causes us physical pain is not necessarily bad

  37. Trinity February 14, 2009 at 5:23 PM #

    “To me, as a radical feminist, mainstream culture eroticizes the submission of women and domination of men. Do you disagree with this statement?”

    No, I don’t. I’ve written a lot about how as a young top I got the very clear message from the culture around me that my desires were messed up and backwards and I was a failure as a woman for fantasizing about being dominant instead, especially over men.

    “If you take this statement as fact, how do M/f situations, and BDSM culture in general, defy or enforce this patriarchal ideal?”

    I believe that something can LOOK like something else without BEING the same thing, and therefore I think that freely chosen M/f dynamics are different from imposed societal expectations.

    I believe that some people who are into M/f do it in an unreflective and creepy way and buy into the idea that men are innately dominant over women, and some don’t.

    And I think that in many cases, people don’t see themselves as “M/f” at all, but rather “I’m straight and a woman and have submissive tendencies” and “I’m straight and a man and have dominant ones.” I don’t think those things necessarily occur together because of culture.

    “When power and sex are already so intertwined in the mainstream world that it’s very hard to have a relationship that DOESN’T mix the two, is BDSM at all counter-culture?”

    I think there are two questions here. First of all, I don’t think power and sex need to be separated from one another. I think they need to be thought about, and particular ways of putting them together can be bad, good, or neutral, but I don’t think trying to completely disentangle them is necessary. Or worth what seems to be, as you say yourself, a monstrous effort.

    I’d much rather people know themselves and be thoughtful than lose themselves in trying frantically to change.

    As far as how BDSM is counterculture, I think you’re not seeing the forest for the trees. You’ve got a theory that says it’s the mainstream writ large, so that leads to the conclusion that the mainstream loves us or something. It doesn’t, not when it takes away custody of our kids, fires us, and deems us violent or sick. Why is something identified with “the mainstream” based on a theoretical conclusion, rather than an examination of prevailing opinion?

    As I put it snarking a while ago, “Why haven’t I gotten my gold star from the Patriarchy yet, then?”

  38. Aine February 14, 2009 at 5:42 PM #

    I think this is a valid point, especially if we look past the current BDSM discussion- I had a conversation a while back about the scene in Ironman where Tony Stark sleeps with a reporter who’s been hitting him with hard questions and clearly disapproves of what he does for a living. I got slammed for saying that I thought the Reporter was demeaning herself -selling out might have been a more accurate term– for sleeping with someone she despised.

    I’m not claiming that my opinion is automatically right, but I found it a little odd to see the reaction to suggesting that sex is too important to do with just anyone. Sacred cow seems to sum it up.

    pisaquaririse

    You know how a cat can tell you it doesn’t want to be petted/held/spanked? It bites you and runs out of the room. Don’t be a moron.

  39. Trinity February 14, 2009 at 5:59 PM #

    “I had a conversation a while back about the scene in Ironman where Tony Stark sleeps with a reporter who’s been hitting him with hard questions and clearly disapproves of what he does for a living. I got slammed for saying that I thought the Reporter was demeaning herself -selling out might have been a more accurate term– for sleeping with someone she despised.”

    I thought that too. I found that whole sequence really gross. But then, most of Iron Man *was* icky. If it wasn’t sexism it was racism.

  40. Gorgias February 14, 2009 at 6:02 PM #

    “Sport is not inherently harmful, nor designed to harm anyone”

    Neither is BDSM.

    “Choking someone is harmful. That’s the point of choking.”

    None of us want to be choked to the point of losing consciousness or dying. None of us want to break bones. We do want to feel pain, which is a different thing entirely.

    There’s also the question of whether intent really matters. Even if we accept as given that the point of BDSM is to harm, and the point of sports is something else, does that matter? What if the point of BDSM is harm, but we’re pretty bad at it? Whereas sports, while their purpose is not harm, seems to do a pretty damn good job of harming and injuring their participants.

    In short, whatever the end goal of these activities is, playing football is far more injurious to my health than getting whipped.

    “Sexuality isn’t formed in a vacuum, it’s not immune to critical thinking, and what we’re turned on by at any given time of our lives isn’t set in stone”

    Would you say this to a homosexual or bisexual?

  41. T Dalton February 14, 2009 at 6:20 PM #

    The only thing that matters is that as long as the participants are CONSENTING HUMAN ADULTS, and doing it in private, then it shouldn’t matter to anyone else what they do.

    Are there sexual practices out there that, frankly, repulse me? Of course. But if they are practiced by consenting human adults (meaning not involving animals or children in their acts) and they aren’t putting it in my face, then it doesn’t bother me what they do.

    When we start putting legislative limits on what people do in the privacy of their own bedrooms, it’s a slippery slope. Do you know in many states it’s ILLEGAL for a man and a woman to co-habitate without being married? STILL! In this day and age. (Don’t believe me, look it up. Florida, for one, has such a law, at least they did when I looked last year.) So technically, if you are a heterosexual, unmarried couple, you might be violating the law.

    Is that right?

    NO.

    Government needs to stay out of our bedrooms where consenting adults are concerned. Especially since many of the people making our laws for us are probably engaged in breaking (or at the very least bending them) in their own bedrooms.

    • Nine Deuce February 14, 2009 at 8:51 PM #

      T Dalton – No one is talking about banning anything here. That’s a straw man.

  42. Alderson Warm-Fork February 14, 2009 at 6:29 PM #

    If anyone likes over-simplified models like economists get paid to make, a lot of the discussion that’s been running here recently looks sort of like this to me:

    Both the pro- and anti- BDSM sides are associated with both a vital principle and an indefensible caricature. The pro- side’s vital principle is

    “When someone says they want to do something, we should take that seriously.” (the context – consent/vs. non-consent – is important)

    and the indefensible caricature is

    “When someone says they want to do something, we should accept that it’s fine and have no business investigating it.” (the context is the only important thing)

    The anti-side’s vital principle is

    “Since it is possible for people to willingly do self-destructive things, what someone is doing needs to be looked at, even if it is consensual” (the content is important)

    and its indefensible caricature is

    “Actions which are right or wrong when done non-consensually have exactly the same significance when done consensually. Hence BDSM is abuse plain and simple.” (the content is the only important thing)

    Obviously, each vital principle is the negation of the opposing indefensible caricature, and vice versa.

    While some people actively avoid both indefensible caricatures, a lot of people take themselves to be stating their own vital principle (and hence sensible) while actually expressing their side’s indefensible caricature. And whenever the other side responds, even if it’s just to assert their vital principle, they interpret it as asserting the indefensible caricature (and thus ridiculous). Hence both sides proceed confident of their own wisdom and the stupidity of the other side.

    That’s not to deny that some people actually are saying indefensible things. There’s also lots of people putting indefensible things into various people’s mouths, and preferring to focus on the indefensible things said by the otherside. But I think the discussion would make more progress if we didn’t pay as much attention to them, and assumed that most people could accept that both content and context are important, and see where that takes us.

  43. Trinity February 14, 2009 at 7:16 PM #

    “I get that the theory says that patriarchal culture lurves power differentials and particularly power differentials where the male is on top. But you’ve completely forsaken objective reality in favor of a reality that’s only been constructed in your head if you think society as a whole is fine with BDSM, or even that it reflects values that the mainstream holds. Nearly all of us fear that our sexuality will be discovered. 24% of us have lost a job over our sexuality, and 3% have lost a child (http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/Content?oid=162102)”

    Yes, this. Just because there’s a superficial resemblance between X and Y does not mean that the social forces that legitimate X also legitimate Y.

  44. Kim February 14, 2009 at 7:29 PM #

    I don’t know where some of the sweeping generalities are coming from. I can’t think of anything, especially anything sexual, where everything is okay, all the time. The BDSM community has a phrase that’s kind of pithy that says “Your kink is not my kink, but your kink is okay.” which leads people new to the community to think that anything is okay and we don’t get to judge. Not so. We DO get to judge and despite what you might be reading out there, we do judge others and their safety, all the time. Permanent damage is not kinky.

  45. Faith February 14, 2009 at 8:14 PM #

    “You know how a cat can tell you it doesn’t want to be petted/held/spanked? It bites you and runs out of the room. Don’t be a moron.”

    Just because an animal appears to enjoy something, doesn’t mean humans should do it to animals. Animals can, and do, respond favorably to being sexually stimulated by humans, as well. Bestiality is illegal in many places and for damn good reason.

    Don’t be a moron.

    • Liselotte April 17, 2009 at 11:45 PM #

      For what reason?
      I’m not into animals. But as you mentioned, non – human animals can respond favorably to being sexually stimulated by humans. What is the damn good reason for it to be illegal- you forgot to mention THAT so don’t assume anyone knows.
      Bestiality is not natural as it is natural for humans to find others humans attractive, and as such few humans will ever do it- but does that make it inherently bad?
      If the animal is raped (or otherwise mistreated for sexual enjoyment) it is animal abuse, but if it doesn’t show any sign of discomfort or pain I don’t see a reason to forbid it.

      • Nine Deuce April 18, 2009 at 1:26 AM #

        Unbelievable.

        • Liselotte April 18, 2009 at 9:02 AM #

          What exactly is unbelievable?
          That I’m not into other species?
          That humans are able to sexually stimulate other species?
          That the reason most humans don’t do so is that it is unnatural, and not that there’s “a damn good reason [not] to?”
          That while the human in question sure is weird, he doesn’t inflict harm on it and as such there’s no reason to persecute it?

          Animals are able to consent to sex. Would they not, they couldn’t reproduce.
          The human is an animal, only one of many animals and very different from the others (but so are bonobos and chimpanzees), but an animal no matter what else he wants to be.
          If we’re looking at our concept of consent (e.g. only human adults can consent and even them should be careful since they’re always influenced by society), we’ll see not only it’s unique among humans, but among humankind as well- e.g. it is, to put it that way, a “symptom of being raised in captivity” since there’s a lot of “primitive” tribes who more or less consider it some fun and do it as they please. But that’s another story.

          Point is, it is unnatural for animals of other species to have sex with each other. So human and e.g. a cat is unnatural, but dog/ chimpanzee/ sheep/ whatever and cat are too. So, does this mean a cat can’t consent to dogs, chimpanzees, sheep? The only objection is that it is very unlikely to.

          • Evo April 18, 2009 at 3:51 PM #

            Are you really trying to argue that animals can and, in some cases, will consent to being fucked by a human? How would a dog tell you it wants you to fuck it? I really would like to know.

            • Nine Deuce April 18, 2009 at 3:54 PM #

              No shit, right?

              • Liselotte April 19, 2009 at 12:05 AM #

                What is consent, any way?
                How do animals show others of their kind their consent? Females (with few exceptions like humans and bonobos) are usually in heat (and even then: if they don’t like the male, they’ll scratch or bite), males usually (again: if they don’t like something, I’ll guess they’ll scratch or bite or at least show signs of discomfort) are receptive regardless of time so -yes- as much as it is possible with their kind, it might be possible with other species as well as long as these are perceived as “pack members”.

                There is also two reasons for me:
                I have a cat who, when I sleep, occasionally bites in my leg and makes “mating” movements until I wake up and kick him away. As mentioned before, I do not participate in this (especially since male cats bite the females during sex so it’s impossible not to note it for everyone not sleeping like a stone), but just an anecdote as the cat does so completely without being invited or coerced.
                A friend of me once told me that she, when she was about 11 or 12, has had smeared something between her legs and made her dog lick it off. While I was digusted at the thought of that and was very tempted to question her sanity, thinking about it I came to the conclusion that there actually wasn’t anything wrong about it. Weird, yes, just like fucking a chair or lamp is.
                Can a chair or lamp consent? No, but it doesn’t mind anyway since it can’t feel. Can a dog consent? More or less, but it doesn’t mind anyway since it either feels good (in actual sex) or doesn’t know what’s going on at all (in things like licking). I know animals aren’t things so you don’t have to tell me, and I know they can feel, but with few exceptions they don’t think as much about things as we do, they just think thinks like “feels good/ bad”, “tastes good/ bad”, “is a nice/ mean person”, “is comfortable/ uncomfortable”, ….. and not about morals or consent. Asking about it’s consent is like asking yourself wether it likes the new tapestry: it doesn’t give a damn.

                • Evo April 20, 2009 at 5:35 PM #

                  What is consent, any way?
                  How do animals show others of their kind their consent? Females (with few exceptions like humans and bonobos) are usually in heat (and even then: if they don’t like the male, they’ll scratch or bite), males usually (again: if they don’t like something, I’ll guess they’ll scratch or bite or at least show signs of discomfort) are receptive regardless of time so -yes- as much as it is possible with their kind, it might be possible with other species as well as long as these are perceived as “pack members”.

                  No, most animals are not in heat most of the time. Most animals go into heat one to several times per year. Arguing that an animal has to express discomfort or try to get away to imply non-consent is problematic as that argument is often applied to human female rape victims, i.e., “She didn’t fight, she must have wanted it.”

                  I have a cat who, when I sleep, occasionally bites in my leg and makes “mating” movements until I wake up and kick him away.

                  Children also behave in inappropriately sexual ways at times, would you argue that they are also inviting sex from an adult human?

                  Your example about your friend disturbs the fuck out of me. You concluding that it’s OK also disturbs the fuck out of me. I, personally, would not hang out with someone who abuses animals in that way and would absolutely report them. That is reprehensible to me. I really don’t want to get too in depth on this because it is seriously making me ill.

      • Faith April 20, 2009 at 7:24 PM #

        “For what reason?”

        Liselotte,

        I’m going to be nice and assume that you’re just terribly naive and not as completely disgusting as you seem.

        Animals can not give consent to humans in the same way which children can not give consent to sex. Children can and often do respond favorably to sexual stimulation from adults. This does not in any way, shape, or form negate the fact that an adult sexually stimulating a child is a crime. A child does not possess the capacity to understand the complex psychological and physical effects of engaging in sex. This is much of the reason that sex with children is illegal. Similarly, animals can not understand the consequences of having sex with humans. Animals can not, for instance, understand the negative health effects that occur from being penetrated by a human male. I’m not going in to specifics because my stomach can’t tolerate such a thing at this moment. If you really do not understand the physical danger to animals from humans having sex with them, you can google the matter and find out for yourself. Humans having sex with animals absolutely does harm them, even if they don’t show obvious pain or discomfort.

        • Liselotte April 20, 2009 at 9:56 PM #

          >>What is consent, any way?
          How do animals show others of their kind their consent? Females (with few exceptions like humans and bonobos) are usually in heat (and even then: if they don’t like the male, they’ll scratch or bite), males usually (again: if they don’t like something, I’ll guess they’ll scratch or bite or at least show signs of discomfort) are receptive regardless of time so -yes- as much as it is possible with their kind, it might be possible with other species as well as long as these are perceived as “pack members”.

          >No, most animals are not in heat most of the time. Most animals go into heat one to several times per year.

          By “usually” I didn’t mean they are usually in heat, but that they, when wanting sex, usually are.
          Misunderstanding here.

          >Arguing that an animal has to express discomfort or try to get away to imply non-consent is problematic as that argument is often applied to human female rape victims, i.e., “She didn’t fight, she must have wanted it.”

          “She didn’t fight” would be. But what about “she didn’t show any sign of discormfort at all and looked happy”?

          >>I have a cat who, when I sleep, occasionally bites in my leg and makes “mating” movements until I wake up and kick him away.

          >Children also behave in inappropriately sexual ways at times, would you argue that they are also inviting sex from an adult human?

          Ah, a very difficult and problematic topic now.
          The reason adult-child-sex is forbidden is the following one:

          Adults can have sex with each other, coercing and force occurs but there is not the power dynamic like adult with child because adults are less easily coerced. An abuser needs much finesse and subtility than needed for a child.
          Children can have sex with each other, coercing and force occurs but there is not the power dynamic like adult with child because children aren’t that subtle in coercing. An abuser needs much more finesse and subtility than most children have.
          And between adults and children however, there is a horrible power dynamic. Especially in our society, where children are taught from early on to obey everything an adult says without questioning, but even without that, children can be easily coerced by adults. An abuser will tell it that IT did something bad, not the abuser, and it should be careful mommy doesn’t find out for it’s own sake. He’ll tell the child that if it really loved him, it wouldn’t even want to say no. He’ll give it sweets and toys, and compliments. And children won’t be able to do to much against this. And when child – adult – sex would be allowed, then the child had to prove it was done against it’s consent- which is horribly enough for an adult rape victim, but adult sex is something healthy and natural and rape and coerce make a rather small percentage while sex between adult and child is unneeded and done by a very small minority of which a very high percentage is coerced. I can’t imagine the many children who’d have to prove they’re victims, that couldn’t be not even for the sake of the few adults who do it.

          And -perhaps you’ll be shocked again?- this is the reason I think sex between adults and children should be outlawed, and not that I think every adult – child – sex is inherently coercec. Yes, I’d go so far as to say that children, when making sexual advances all by themselves which they indeed sometimes do, are theoretically able to have equal, noncoerced sex. BUT who can prove what is what? It is hard enough to prove with adults. So many adults are already raped and the perperators can’t be persecuted because there’s no proof. What proof can children give? They wouldn’t be safe a day. They should be spared of any more proof than the one needed to prove that any sex happened.
          Among the bonobos, sex between adults and children is common. But they are different: males don’t think they’re better and can do everything. Males don’t believe the world is centered around their dick. Children aren’t brought up to obey any command, to endure any touched they don’t want, to think that anything an adult does or says is right. There is hardly any violence, and virtually no rape. I’d like to say “They’re just like us” but this would be an embarassement for any bonobo. With luck, one day we’ll be like them. And until them, when there is proof that an adult had sex with a child there ought to be no further proof whether it consented.

          >Your example about your friend disturbs the fuck out of me.

          It’s not that uncommon for a little girl trying out. Okay, it is rather uncommon. She’d be terribly laughed about and her good name would take damage if it came to public. It’s not that morally right. But it didn’t really harm anything. You make it sound like she hurt it or something. She grew out of it and has had many boyfriends since, she’s very normal, I can’t believe what assumptions you can make about persons you don’t know anything about.

          >You concluding that it’s OK also disturbs the fuck out of me.

          The dog licked something tasty off and didn’t care where. That it’s her private parts it’s licking off didn’t harm the dog, neither her enjoyment did.

          >I, personally, would not hang out with someone who abuses

          It was something she did in her earliest teens. She doesn’t do it anymore. Write in the past, please. We sat together and talked about first times and our teens and about what stars we fantasized of, and then she suddenly said: “Well, I once got this weird idea and saw the dog….” and tells it, and everybody laughed. It was rather seen as embarassing for her than as abuse for the dog. The dog was not harmed.

          >animals in that way

          Once again, the way you talking, like she did anything it didn’t want. It just licked something off and thought “this tastes good”, it didn’t understand what it was doing.

          >and would absolutely report them. That is reprehensible to me. I really don’t want to get too in depth on this because it is seriously making me ill.

          Report to whom?
          If you mean her parents, she’s much older now and I hardly believe her parents can hold her a speech now.

          >“For what reason?”
          >Liselotte,
          >I’m going to be nice

          Can you tell me when? ;-)

          >and assume that you’re just terribly naive and not as completely disgusting as you seem.

          Now, that is nice! I shall do the same, shall I?

          >Animals can not give consent to humans in the same way which children can not give consent to sex.
          >Children can and often do respond favorably to sexual stimulation from adults. This does not in any way, shape, or form negate the fact that an adult sexually stimulating a child is a crime. A child does not possess the capacity to understand the complex psychological and physical effects of engaging in sex.

          Ah, we’re making complex psychological and physical effects out of something that perhaps isn’t.
          As said before, I do think that children can enjoy sex with adults. But as also said before, adults can easily tell them they would and as children have a hard time proving the abuse already, no one in their right mind can want to make it harder my asserting there must be any proof that it was done against consent. This is the reason sex with children is illegal. Not because children truly don’t understand the highly psychological whatever, but because they have such a hard time proving sexual abuse and any healthy adult – child – sex clearly is such a rare minority that it can easily be ignored and so I agree with you that children should be taught to only have sex with children around their age.
          I’m not from some pro- pedohile – agenda arguing for pedophile’s rights, nor pedophile. And I think the victim’s rights should come first. Just some thoughts from somebody who dares to question.

          >This is much of the reason that sex with children is illegal. Similarly, animals can not understand the consequences of having sex with humans. Animals can not, for instance, understand the negative health effects that occur from being penetrated by a human male. I’m not going in to specifics because my stomach can’t tolerate such a thing at this moment. If you really do not understand the physical danger to animals from humans having sex with them, you can google the matter and find out for yourself. Humans having sex with animals absolutely does harm them, even if they don’t show obvious pain or discomfort

          You just made the patriarchal error to equate sex automatically with penetration. The girl smearing something between her legs and making a dog lick it off- no more physically harmful then licking it off her hand. Not unhealthy unless the foot itself is. If anything, it makes us question the girl’s sanity- but even insanity, unless harmful, is not unlawful by itself.

          • AliceRubberFeet. April 20, 2009 at 11:01 PM #

            Liselotte, whoever they are is getting off on this – it’s hideous.

          • Faith April 21, 2009 at 12:01 AM #

            ““She didn’t fight” would be. But what about “she didn’t show any sign of discormfort at all and looked happy”? ”

            Still not consent. Clear consent needs to be given in order for it to be clear as to whether or not rape has occurred.

            “I shall do the same, shall I?”

            I’m not the one trying to defend animal abuse. I assure you my feelings will not be hurt if you are “not nice” to me.

            “Ah, we’re making complex psychological and physical effects out of something that perhaps isn’t.”

            There are complex psychological and physical effects from sex. Animals can become just as damaged by abuse as humans. And animals do experience negative effects from sex (including sex which does not involve penetration) with humans, including the possibility of transference of illnesses from human to animal.

            “But as also said before, adults can easily tell them they would and as children have a hard time proving the abuse already, no one in their right mind can want to make it harder my asserting there must be any proof that it was done against consent. This is the reason sex with children is illegal. Not because children truly don’t understand the highly psychological whatever, but because they have such a hard time proving sexual abuse and any healthy adult – child – sex clearly is such a rare minority that it can easily be ignored and so I agree with you that children should be taught to only have sex with children around their age.”

            Actually, both of the reasons you have given are the main reasons sex with children is illegal. Children can not understand the consequences or implications and therefore it is impossible for them to give clear consent. You seem to almost be talking in circles here.

            “Just some thoughts from somebody who dares to question.”

            You aren’t questioning. You’re making direct declarations. You are arguing that there is no sound reason that bestiality should be illegal.

            “You just made the patriarchal error to equate sex automatically with penetration. ”

            I did no such thing. I only -mentioned- penetration by a human males. Even in the situation that you are referring to, the animal could potentially be harmed by contracting a disease…something the animal could not possibly understand.

            http://www.soc.ucsb.edu/sexinfo/?article=2fq1

            “And between adults and children however, there is a horrible power dynamic.”

            A power dynamic also exists between human and animals. How exactly do you propose that we decide if an animal has given -informed- consent? As in, how can we possibly have any idea if the animal wanted to engage in sex with a human? Do you think we should ask it nicely? “Hey doggie, did you really want to lick the nice girl’s vagina?” or “Hey doggie, did you really want that man’s penis inside your vagina?”

            • Liselotte April 21, 2009 at 11:47 AM #

              Then it’s the same with sex between dogs, isn’t it?
              After all, who asked them, and how can their consent ever really be informed? They just follow their instincts and do something that feels good to them.

          • Faith April 21, 2009 at 12:06 AM #

            Once again, the way you talking, like she did anything it didn’t want. It just licked something off and thought “this tastes good”, it didn’t understand what it was doing.”

            EXACTLY. The animal did not understand what it was doing, therefore no actual consent was given. This is the -point-.

          • Faith April 21, 2009 at 12:11 AM #

            “With luck, one day we’ll be like them. And until them, when there is proof that an adult had sex with a child there ought to be no further proof whether it consented.”

            Wait…did you just argue that you hope one day we as a species can have sex that occurs between adult males and children without it being rape or abuse? That if we remove the patriarchal power dynamic suddenly sex with children will be hunky-dory? Because if you did, I’m done talking to you. I don’t talk to people who condone sex with children under any circumstance.

            • Liselotte April 21, 2009 at 11:44 AM #

              Well, bye! then and farewell, if you like.

              It is among our closest relatives, and among some primitive tribes, too.
              As I’ve mentioned:
              Children have sex with each other. Only rare cases of them abuse.
              Adults have sex with each other. Only rare cases of them abuse.
              There is no clear reason that absolutely every single sexual act between adults anc children must be abuse.

              • Evo April 21, 2009 at 1:53 PM #

                Wow. Yeah, I think I’m with Faith on this one. I was actually going to respond to your last comment to me, but you seem to be intent on arguing that it is possible for sex between human adults and animals and children to be totally cool. You obviously have very little understanding of what this place is for. I think I am going to have to be done here too.

              • Faith April 21, 2009 at 2:27 PM #

                “Well, bye! then and farewell, if you like.”

                I sincerely hope you seek help, Liselotte.

                • Liselotte April 21, 2009 at 3:58 PM #

                  Because my opinion is different?

                  You never told me any real reason. You just repeat what you hear.

                  And even if what I said was wrong, and even if I said the earth was flat- no matter what, “I sincerely hope you seek help” would always be a very, very weak answer.

  46. RenegadeEvolution February 14, 2009 at 9:06 PM #

    I’m the sports comparison person.

    I will say this: I played rugby- something I am sure folk on both sides of the pond have seen played before. I knew, going into a rugby game that one- I was, almost in all games, going to be smaller than the other women playing. I knew, as scrum half, that most of those other women playing had one thing in mind…to put me and my teammates on the ground and get the ball. I knew I was going to get put on the ground, and why yes, I knew it was going to hurt. I would often finish games with bruises the size of dinner plates on my back, bruises which would turn to that deep dark ugly purple in a matter of hours, bruises which would make it hard for me to actually move the next day. I knew I was going to get hurt- it was part of the sport. I still played, I still enjoyed it, I absolutely loved playing rugby for the several years that I played it. Pain was part of the game.

    I spin fire now. No question a dangerous artistic activity, and doing it, you know, going in, it is not a matter of if you will get burned, it is a matter of when, and how badly. Several months ago I got severely, severely burned. I still like fire spinning.

    Pain is not the object in either of these activities, but sure enough, it happens. It is a promise that pain will happen, it is part of the activity. Severe injury can and will happen.

    Yet I cannot remember the last time I have seen either outright condemned as too dangerous to be done. I have seen mixed martial arts (UFC) and boxing critiqued, but not other “violent” sports such as American football, rugby, hockey or lacrosse.

    Now, I am not saying everyone has to think of BDSM like sports. As a person who is involved with both, I do. That is my own view on it, and I find both the pain and rush to be very similar. Others may very well not at all. Which goes to my assertion that well….we might actually be wired differently as different people. I do not see why that is so hard to consider.

  47. Erstwhile lurker February 14, 2009 at 9:23 PM #

    On the sport analogy: I do both BDSM and sport.

    Lillie: In BDSM, however, doesn’t tolerance grow – don’t you need more pain for more pleasure?

    I haven’t found this to be true. I have pushed some of my limits, and I think I now have different feelings in response to the same stimuli, but BDSM does not feel like an endless addictive quest for pain. I’m actually a lot less desperately thirsty for pain now that I’m getting my needs met.

    Also, in sports, part of the point is to push my limits, and different stimuli end up feeling different as I get more fit. I think the analogy is a good one.

    Sport is not inherently harmful, nor designed to harm anyone. [...] If you harm people in practice you are doing it wrong, and are not showing the respect for your own skill. Part of the skill in practice is sparring *without* harming.

    Ditto BDSM. The point is to cause vivid psychological states, not to cause permanent physical damage. And I am happy to call out idiots who engage unsafe play, including choking. I happen to think that choking is dead sexy, but there’s really no way to do it safely. I recommend putting pressure on the back of your partner’s neck instead, or putting your hands around their throat and being all growly, but not actually squeezing. This PSA brought to you by some random perv—as well as countless manuals, safety instruction sheets, and workshops.

    While feminists do have reason to be especially interested in men dominating women, all too often the queer/gay history of BDSM is completely erased in discussions where MenNWomen MenNWomen MenNWomen are the only focus.

    I find this especially distressing because hetero BDSM as currently practiced in most communities is heavily indebted to the gay SM community.Making invisible that history is, well, not exactly something progressive, in my opinion. Hets already like to pretend they don’t owe anything to queer culture.

    Reproduced for being a really awesome point. To the extent that BDSM is not a boner-killing stew of heteronormativity and gender essentialist garbage, we have out-and-proud queer people to thank. Also, subtract queer people from kink and you’ve subtracted every serious partner I’ve ever had. I’m not trying to imply that queer people are only valuable because they’re useful to me (some hetero chick); I just want to point out some of my own debts to queer culture and to queer individuals.

  48. Anna Belle February 14, 2009 at 11:24 PM #

    What Rachel said. Specifically:

    I think sex is the same way. Feminists, i think, tend to do our feminist-ing in relatively liberal circles, where criticizing the family institution is relatively more accepted than criticizing anything that looks like “sex” to a young liberal man. But I think it’s obviously a major locus of the subordination of women and I personally feel that it’s not only OK but incumbent upon me as a feminist to question it when the questions present themselves.

    I won’t have a problem with what people do with their own bodies in their own space as soon as we drop the patriarchal woman-hating frame that we are all corrupted with from birth. There can be no free will until that happens; until then, there’s no objective way to evaluate whether what you’re doing in the privacy of your home and relationship(s) is healthy. Period.

    • James April 19, 2009 at 7:12 PM #

      I don’t think you go far enough. There’s no free will with or without the Patriarchy. Why would being implanted with views that aren’t negative of women make the implantation process any less effective than one which implants ones which are?

  49. Gorgias February 14, 2009 at 11:53 PM #

    Where does that leave us in the interim, Anna?

  50. Anna Belle February 15, 2009 at 3:19 AM #

    In a state of dysfunction, obviously, Gorgias.

  51. Pharaoh Katt February 15, 2009 at 3:50 AM #

    Lillie: And is needle-play, choking, etc. exciting mainly because it’s challenging to cope with the pain, or because there’s something inherently orgasmic about the pain? There’s a difference between fakirism and sex.

    (I’m going to talk mainly about slapping/spanking here, because that’s my Number One like)
    Only speaking for myself here; often with things like slapping, I don’t feel pain. Slapping does not register as pain to me. It feels good, and not just sexually.

    And then there are things, more “vanilla” things, which I absolutely can’t stand (I’ll be posting about this on my LJ).
    Thing is, I have a huge aversion to tickling. It hurts, it bothers me, I absolutely can’t stand it. My legs, stomach and buttocks are very ticklish, a sensation that is increased dramatically when I’m turned on. If you run your hand lightly on any of these areas when I’m turned on, if you lightly stroke any of these areas, it tickles like hell and I hate it.

    I can’t handle soft sensations in these situations, I honestly can’t. I need the hit, the scratch, the forcefulness.

    And honestly, a lot of the “more extreme” things people do horrify me; not that they’re done, but the thought of it happening to me. Because my kink is not your kink etc. But I understand people enjoy it. I just have a fear of needles.

    My point with this is just, what I find wonderful, someone else might find painful. What someone else finds wonderful, I might find painful. And what you (general you) might enjoy, I might not be able to stand.

  52. Trinity February 15, 2009 at 3:52 AM #

    “I knew, as scrum half, that most of those other women playing had one thing in mind…to put me and my teammates on the ground and get the ball. I knew I was going to get put on the ground, and why yes, I knew it was going to hurt.”

    *nods* One of my most vivid memories of tae kwon do was sparring with one of my classmates. She kicked me, hard, in the chest. The pain was incredible. I still remember… something about that pain, the way my whole body experienced it. I don’t know whether it’s right to say I liked it in the same way I’ve sometimes liked, say, my lovers pulling on my nipples until it burns, but… there was something very pure and raw and real about the pain of it.

    And I didn’t go in thinking I deserved pain, I don’t think. I was there to spar, not to punish myself. (Or to get off, for that matter.) But the experience was intense, and memorable. And I do remember it with a kind of pleasure, because I was purely IN my body, experiencing something intense that I knew wouldn’t truly harm me.

    Not sure if that makes any sense to anyone else, though. Or even to me. :)

  53. Trinity February 15, 2009 at 3:53 AM #

    “There can be no free will until that happens; until then, there’s no objective way to evaluate whether what you’re doing in the privacy of your home and relationship(s) is healthy. Period.”

    What use is the concept of free will at all if it’s something to strive for but not something real? Why not just accept the circumstances as they are, if fighting the patriarchy is no more a choice than capitulating to it?

  54. Trinity February 15, 2009 at 4:11 AM #

    “And honestly, a lot of the “more extreme” things people do horrify me; not that they’re done, but the thought of it happening to me. Because my kink is not your kink etc. But I understand people enjoy it. I just have a fear of needles.”

    *nods* And I’m one of the few folks who never had the fear of needles going on. Aside from the fact that breaking skin is more risky than other activities in terms of disease transmission, I never had any aversive reaction to the idea of it at all. I remember a friend telling me that at my first play party I might see people doing that and quickly informing me how to avoid seeing it if I’d be bothered. My honest response was “why WOULD I not want to see that?”

    Is it possible that my lack of aversion comes somehow from patriarchy? Maybe, but it’s difficult for me to imagine how. There are a lot of common tropes in standard heteronormativity that have dominance or pain in them — the bodice-ripper for example — but I can’t think of any cultural norm that says anything close to “women like needles because men are just so manly.”

  55. Pharaoh Katt February 15, 2009 at 4:30 AM #

    Is it possible that my lack of aversion comes somehow from patriarchy? Maybe, but it’s difficult for me to imagine how.

    Well, I’m pretty sure my aversion comes from having to put up with countless bloodtests and my habit of fainting and feeling generally horrible whenever stuff like that happens…

    So if my aversion and you lack of aversion were both Caused By Something, what on earth is natural!?!?
    /snark.

    • James April 19, 2009 at 7:14 PM #

      Everything. Natural is a word used in ways which have rendered it irredeemably silly. The main problem stems from the outmoded Christian idea that humans are somehow unnatural owing to our relationship with a supernatural being. Instead we are just another part of the natural world.

      There is nothing beyond it which we can confirm the existence of. Us & all we do included. A chemical factory is no less natural than a wildflower.

      • Nine Deuce April 19, 2009 at 7:18 PM #

        George Carlin called and wants you to stop biting his material.

        • James April 19, 2009 at 7:22 PM #

          Hot damn! He dealt with this? Can I get a youtube link, please? I’m really serious, I <3 George Carlin & I had no idea he’d covered this topic. The closest I’d ever heard was him saying that the Earth doesn’t share our prejudices against plastic.

          • Nine Deuce April 19, 2009 at 7:23 PM #

            George Carlin was a dork. You’ll have to look that shit up yourself.

            • James April 19, 2009 at 7:25 PM #

              :O How was he a dork?

              • Nine Deuce April 19, 2009 at 7:42 PM #

                His routine was nothing but old grumpy man bullshit. I mean, some of it was funny, but it’s still kind of dorky. Let’s just say my parents love him.

                • James April 19, 2009 at 7:44 PM #

                  Cool parents. Who’s stand-up do you enjoy?

                  • Nine Deuce April 19, 2009 at 7:51 PM #

                    I think you meant “whose.” The answer is almost no one’s. Maybe Zach Galifianakis? David Cross is OK.

  56. Jenn February 15, 2009 at 5:18 AM #

    My thoughts on this is that the majority of sane, safe, consensual sex acts are neutral.

    But this can be questioned if the sex act seems to mirror historical oppressions, sexualizes violence or something detrimental to healthy interaction in society (such as people who require their partners to look as child-like as possible to adhere to a pseudo-pedophilia), seems predicated on a hijacked account of consent (i.e. takes undo advantage of social hierarchies for sexual gain), requires bodily harm or the extreme risk thereof, or is the product of psychological deficiency or addictions.

    Which means that homosexuality is not questionable, but erotic asphyxiation is. While swinging and threesomes might be neutral, an inability to find satisfaction without pain or causing pain is. Which means that having sex on your desk at work is probably okay but hiring a prostitute is not.

  57. Trinity February 15, 2009 at 6:22 AM #

    “Which means that homosexuality is not questionable, but erotic asphyxiation is. While swinging and threesomes might be neutral, an inability to find satisfaction without pain or causing pain is.”

    Okay, so this is me picking nits, and nothing rides on it. But can I ask what you mean by “an inability to find satisfaction” here? Do you mean someone who is incapable of enjoying non-SM activity at all (as far as I know, such people are rare), or people who feel they need some SM activity to have a good sex life?

    Again, just picking a nit because I’m not sure if you’re bringing in clinical fetishism here or saying something like “well, in an ideal world, no one would like pain.”

  58. Michael X February 15, 2009 at 8:47 AM #

    “[I]sn’t it actually irresponsible to assume that everything’s okay just because it has a sexual dimension?”

    Yes.

    “that even to suggest something might not be okay automatically makes you a bigot?”

    It doesn’t.

    I think we are in total agreement on these points.

    Regards,

    Michael

  59. isme February 15, 2009 at 9:07 AM #

    “What use is the concept of free will at all if it’s something to strive for but not something real?”

    Aren’t most of the important concepts that we strive for unreal?

    Fighting for equality and tolerance is very important, but we all know we aren’t ever going to truly win. People will always find someone to discriminate against, the best you can really hope for is it is someone that isn’t you.

    Anti-BDSM people here have been criticised for denying women the right to choose for themselves, and that this is somehow un-feminist. But feminism is, like almost all ideologies, ultimately a repressive one. It restricts the choices people make by (in theory) limiting them to those which do not oppress women, which we judge to be a better system of restriction than what we have at the moment.

    Free will, and the right for people to choose for themselves is very important, but it is only acceptable if they choose from a very restricted and artificial number of options. Whether or not this should include BDSM is unlikely to be resolved here.

  60. Trinity February 15, 2009 at 5:50 PM #

    “Aren’t most of the important concepts that we strive for unreal?”

    I don’t know what this would mean. If it simply means, “well, the reason we strive for equality is because we haven’t got it,” then of course I agree.

    I don’t see what this has to do with free will, though. Free will is something you’ve either got or you don’t, and saying that the Patriarchy means we don’t have it makes the whole idea of “fighting for it” not make any sense. If you have never freely chosen anything, how would you even know you *want* to be able to freely choose something anyway?

    The only way we can know that freer choice for women is a good thing is by knowing that we value the freedom of choice that we do have, and want more of it.

    Which is why the whole “Choice and freedom are not how I see feminism” stuff strikes me as utter nonsense.

  61. Trinity February 15, 2009 at 5:56 PM #

    isme,

    Are you saying that you endorse such a “repressive” system, or are you snarking and saying feminism is bad for restricting women’s options? I honestly can’t tell if you’re saying you endorse this restriction or if you’re saying you don’t.

  62. Faith February 15, 2009 at 6:41 PM #

    “Fighting for equality and tolerance is very important, but we all know we aren’t ever going to truly win. People will always find someone to discriminate against, the best you can really hope for is it is someone that isn’t you.”

    Really? You might “know” that. I sure as hell do not.

    That attitude is, quite frankly, the cowards way out.

    “But feminism is, like almost all ideologies, ultimately a repressive one. ”

    Yea, feminism is repressive now. Down is up and up is down. Where we stop, nobody knows!

  63. RenegadeEvolution February 15, 2009 at 7:29 PM #

    eh, I am so done with the women have no real choices and consent does not really exist and there is no free will because we are just so brainwashed and corrupted blah blah blah I could puke. That is quite possibly the most insulting thing I’ve heard levelled at women in a long, long time. I also think it is a load of crap.

    And I rather do think that sort of attitude is if not repressive, downright dangerous.

  64. Itxaro February 15, 2009 at 7:52 PM #

    Okay, re: a couple of points;

    first of all, I can totally get that the expressed point of BDSM is mutual pleasure, not, you know, domination for domination’s sake– intent is pretty huge. I have a hard time with that in actual practice, because I feel like it’s very easy to say “we’re both having fun here, what’s the problem?”.

    However, I have difficulty– and it’s probably my anarchist leanings that tend to play into a lot of my radical feminist leanings– believing that power hierarchies can exist as in a vacuum in our current culture, even when chosen. I find the entire idea of power hierarchies arising within our present culture of prejudice kind of icky. The present culture isn’t just about male domination and female submission- it’s also about how pretty much all interpersonal relationships require one person to have more power than the other.

    (And my complaint is mainly about power hierarchies, not about whatever sensations you find pleasurable– I really don’t give a shit whether you like your nipples breathed on or clamped, and I DON’T believe that a power structure automatically arises when one partner likes it rougher than another)

    And re: how the mainstream culture treats a lot of fetish folks- I definitely don’t agree with that, but I think it’s important to look at what voices in mainstream culture call for this or that. Yeah, we’ve been talking about the mainstream like it’s some big monolith, but it’s really just like the argument that strippers are discriminated against, ergo stripping is not patriarchy-certified no sirree. There is an ASTOUNDING amount of imagery out there in mainstream consciousness that fetishizes even extreme female submission. I can open you any fashion magazine and typically find one or two images, and the reaction to them is usually “that’s so HOT”. There’re other supports, too; the rise of “torture porn” and various other genres that sexualize violence using the trappings of BDSM.

    So, you know, I guess I’m coming to the conclusion that my real issue is the trend within mainstream culture to normalize relationships of power and control in a sexual context. Sure, that normalization has always been there via the institution of patriarchal power, but I’ve observed that an element of “women in pain” has been emerging particularly since the backlash years of the 1980s (yeah, it’s kind of my hobby to go through old magazines from before I was born). Combined with the incredibly scary misogynist and misandrist narrative of “the more sexual shit she does for me, the more of a man I am!”, I think that the alteration of old BDSM tropes for mainstream patriarchal purposes is an issue.

    For the people in the fetish world with whom BDSM is a kind of adventure into different parts of the human psyche (I read your links, too), and for those who come into this from a place of individual desire, I’m very willing to accept that BDSM is not patriarchal. This starts to be in danger of running into a “no true scotsman” fallacy, but it’s also a truth that there are shitty folks who want to play the system and fuck people up in any lifestyle or subculture, so bear with me.

    I think, though, that everyone needs to be able to separate the personal exploration stories of people who do BDSM and who have found it to be a raw and wonderful experience from the way that the patriarchy manages to fuck everything up, and the way that mainstream culture is sliding towards the mixing of sex and pain that is, uh, really nonconsensual and insane.

    This is probably an incredibly personal subject for me (whoo storytime!). I am one of those people who hates any kind of control, quite possibly due to a rather nasty history. I have also been struggling with my first relationship after I’ve come out of a long battle with mental illness, because I’ve found feminism and anarchism, and my Nigel and I have been working incredibly hard to try and avoid power hierarchy and social convention. It’s been rewarding so far, but I’m really fucking scared by how difficult it has been, and I worry about the kind of trauma that might be inflicted to developing sexuality by a sadistic trend in mainstream society.

    TL;DR: I’ve read up a lot and I seriously think that the problem is the patriarchy (lol), not BDSM– but that as sadomasochism has normalized in the media, the P is definitely trying to twist it for its own ends. And that scares me, and the really messed-up M-dom patriarchy folks Nine Deuce mentions (in her discussion of the dudes who answered her craigslist post) scare me, because their equivalents in the mainstream world, when I’m not actively submitting, are terrifying enough. That’s not to say that people shouldn’t do it, but I am sometimes disturbed by the ease (from what I’ve seen) for people to excuse downright woman-hating and disregard for others as “kink”.

  65. Jenn February 15, 2009 at 9:51 PM #

    Trinity-

    But can I ask what you mean by “an inability to find satisfaction” here? Do you mean someone who is incapable of enjoying non-SM activity at all (as far as I know, such people are rare), or people who feel they need some SM activity to have a good sex life?

    Again, just picking a nit because I’m not sure if you’re bringing in clinical fetishism here or saying something like “well, in an ideal world, no one would like pain.”

    What I mean here is people who are addicted to the practices of causing or receiving pain in a sexual situation to the point where sex is meaningless or not satisfactory without it. They have sublimated sex as a pleasurable experience and feel they need to cause pain or receive it in order to fully experience sexual culmination. The more common emotional warmth and interpersonal connection inherent in the non-exploitive vanilla sexual encounter is not appealing, and might even be distasteful. Affection and friction has ceased to be satisfactory vehicles for sexual pleasure. Only pain and domination can meet the created need which has become an addiction. This is what I mean.

  66. Trinity February 15, 2009 at 10:57 PM #

    “I think that the alteration of old BDSM tropes for mainstream patriarchal purposes is an issue.”

    I agree with this too. I just disagree with the idea that BDSM tropes are themselves an alteration of patriarchy.

    As far as power dynamics go, I don’t believe all power dynamics are bad. If I did that I’d have to believe that, say, parents or teachers should never correct children in any way. I think power dynamics are unavoidable aspects of human life.

    I think that that they are especially prone to abuse, but I don’t think they’re avoidable. And I don’t think this is because I’m particularly unimaginative. I think this is because people are looking at unjust social hierarchies like patriarchy and calling those “power dynamics” and then responding to very different power dynamics as if they were the same thing.

    I don’t think it’s me and those who agree with me who fail at imagination.

  67. Trinity February 15, 2009 at 10:58 PM #

    “as sadomasochism has normalized in the media, the P is definitely trying to twist it for its own ends. And that scares me, and the really messed-up M-dom patriarchy folks Nine Deuce mentions (in her discussion of the dudes who answered her craigslist post) scare me”

    Then we actually agree. It’s when people say that “fucked up patriarchal shit is the core of what SM and/or D/s IS” that I get testy. :)

  68. Trinity February 15, 2009 at 11:01 PM #

    “The more common emotional warmth and interpersonal connection inherent in the non-exploitive vanilla sexual encounter is not appealing”

    Where are you getting that there isn’t emotional warmth in BDSM, though? Have you experienced this yourself? If you haven’t, what gives you the authority to claim this? If you have, what gives you reason to assume this is the case for everyone?

    Because if you just state it like that, it sounds like you’re pulling it out of your butt — and attempting to set up a hierarchy of sexualities based on pure supposition about other people’s intimacy.

  69. Gorgias February 15, 2009 at 11:05 PM #

    @Itxaro:

    I don’t think I disagree with anything in your post. I think that the mainstreaming of pseudo BDSM themes in porn is a problem, not because BDSM is bad, but because that pornography is presented in a context outside the generally understood BDSM paradigm of mutual fulfillment and SSC and can give people some dangerous ideas.

    “So, you know, I guess I’m coming to the conclusion that my real issue is the trend within mainstream culture to normalize relationships of power and control in a sexual context”

    Would you agree with the caveat “outside a paradigm of mutual pleasure, consent, and SSC”?

    “The more common emotional warmth and interpersonal connection inherent in the non-exploitive vanilla sexual encounter is not appealing”

    Don’t pretend you understand what’s going through our heads when we do our sex. Intimacy, personal connection, and affection are not mutually exclusive with BDSM.

    I may as well say that those who practice vanilla sex are clearly seeking only mere physical pleasure as opposed to the deep emotional connection and vulnerability present in BDSM sex. But then, I don’t want to universalize my experience or pretend that my experience of vanilla sex is the way everyone experiences it.

  70. Trinity February 15, 2009 at 11:14 PM #

    Also, can you give evidence for your claim that SM involves an addiction to pain?

    I was sure I had a study here that dealt with that, but I don’t. (I was thinking that a study that concluded BDSMers aren’t more likely to have mental health issues had also concluded that they aren’t addicted to pain, but I had that wrong.)

    Have you got one?

  71. Garden Gnome February 16, 2009 at 6:33 AM #

    “‘Sexuality isn’t formed in a vacuum, it’s not immune to critical thinking, and what we’re turned on by at any given time of our lives isn’t set in stone’

    Would you say this to a homosexual or bisexual?”

    I am queer, and yes I would say this to another queer person. I personally don’t like to get bogged down with questions of whether being gay or bisexual is a choice, but since you brought it up, the reason why I would say this to a “homosexual or bisexual”, is twofold: 1) while we may may not be able to control what sexual feelings we have, we can control when, how, if and in what way we act on them. 2) I think sexuality is a lot more fluid and complicated than many people, queer and “non-queer” care to admit.

    Also, once again, I am sick of kinksters, polyamorists, polygamists, and even men’s rights activists in their own weird way hitching their horses to the LGBTQ wagon. I find it degrading. It’s as if to say, “what the hell,THESE people are finding greater social acceptance, why can’t I?”

  72. isme February 16, 2009 at 8:49 AM #

    “I don’t know what this would mean. If it simply means, “well, the reason we strive for equality is because we haven’t got it,” then of course I agree.”

    Well, more or less. But it seems to me that we will always struggle for it, because it will never truly exist. It’s something that humanity wants to impose upon the world, and will always be imperfect in it’s attempts to do this.

    “Are you saying that you endorse such a “repressive” system, or are you snarking and saying feminism is bad for restricting women’s options? I honestly can’t tell if you’re saying you endorse this restriction or if you’re saying you don’t.”

    A good thing. Any society needs to have restrictions upon the behaviour of its members. You can call the opposite anarchy or lawlessness as easily as freedom.

  73. Faith February 16, 2009 at 6:01 PM #

    “Also, can you give evidence for your claim that SM involves an addiction to pain?”

    I have no idea if SM involves an addiction to pain, personally. I would suspect in some people it does. Personally tho, I do believe that BDSM in general can be and is highly addictive. But I also happen to think that sex in general can be highly addictive…

  74. Trinity February 16, 2009 at 10:19 PM #

    “Also, once again, I am sick of kinksters, polyamorists, polygamists, and even men’s rights activists in their own weird way hitching their horses to the LGBTQ wagon. I find it degrading. It’s as if to say, “what the hell,THESE people are finding greater social acceptance, why can’t I?”

    Once again, I find it VERY creepy that you’re saying “kinksters, polyamorists, [and] polygamists” are not LGBT. Why are you so invested in assuming such people are hetero?

  75. Charlie February 16, 2009 at 10:21 PM #

    Several folks on this thread have expressed that they don’t understand why people seek out strong sensations/pain. While the reasons vary tremendously, this book has an interesting look at some of them:

    Sacred Pain: Hurting the Body for the Sake of the Soul

    http://tinyurl.com/abze4j

    From the amazon page:

    “Why do mystics and devout laypeople in many different religious traditions glorify physical pain, some going so far as to ritually mutilate themselves in the name of the divine? In this erudite and wide-ranging study, Glucklich, a professor of theology at Georgetown University, offers a compelling explanation. Drawing on the fields of psychology, neurophysiology and religious studies, he observes that pain “the most familiar and universal aspect of all human experiences” affects both the body and the mind. Pain triggers an altered state of consciousness in which one’s sense of self is diminished, creating an absence that can make way for a new and affirming presence. “The task of sacred pain,” Glucklich writes, “is to transform destructive or disintegrative suffering into a positive religious-psychological mechanism for reintegration within a more deeply valued level of reality than individual existence.” Although this state of transcendence exists across cultures, the way in which the experience is interpreted is culturally specific. To demonstrate this, Glucklich draws upon a wide range of examples, from the tortures of the Inquisition to Native American trials of endurance. He concludes by exploring what we may have lost with the development of medical anesthetics. This fascinating, closely argued study suggests that, in religion as in sports, there is no gain without pain.”

    Please note- I am not suggesting that all BDSM fits within this paradigm. I am suggesting that some of it does.

  76. Trinity February 16, 2009 at 10:31 PM #

    isme:

    Of course there’s a sense in which no social restrictions whatever would be a bad thing, but… that’s not what any of us have been talking about, I don’t think.

    Also, I am by no stretch of the imagination an anarchist and find what little I know of the theory disturbingly flawed, but to dismiss it with that much flippance is also disturbing to me.

    I never thought that feminists honestly thought of themselves as “replacing an old repressive system with a newer and better one.” Wow. Wow.

    Just… wow.

  77. RenegadeEvolution February 16, 2009 at 10:45 PM #

    “A good thing. Any society needs to have restrictions upon the behaviour of its members. You can call the opposite anarchy or lawlessness as easily as freedom.”

    Ummm yeah. Yes, society needs laws and rules, but actively repressive plans in place? This is good? You think the news media and reporters over in Russia who are being killed think repressive authority is grand?

    Yuck. I’m afraid I cannot come up with anything more articulate than that.

  78. sushis February 17, 2009 at 12:06 AM #

    “Any society needs to have restrictions upon the behaviour of its members. You can call the opposite anarchy or lawlessness as easily as freedom.”

    I agree with this. But, I think the heart of such restrictions must simply be that the strong should not be able to enforce their will without consent and unjustly (eg, a person can’t be allowed to rape, steal, murder, etc, with impunity.)

    When the restrictions go beyond this, and into the realm of “You will not be allowed to perform certain sexual acts, regardless of the enthusiastic consent of the participants,” that goes beyond positive, acceptable restriction. Not only should such restrictions not exist in law, in my opinion, they also make no sense in ethics. Of course, there may sometimes be ethically-problematic sexual encounters, even if the participants seem to be consenting adults, but, the problems would be specific to the individuals interacting, and to details of their relationships and their understandings about each other not to the acts themselves. For instance, one person can manipulate another in unethical ways, but just because someone wants to do something someone else finds “weird,” is not evidence that that person has been manipulated. That is, to say that “true consent” is only possible with regards to a limited number of set activities is to unjustly restrict behavior. A person can be unethically manipulated into “vanilla” sex, just as one can be unethically manipulated in BDSM. No set of consensual sexual activities has a monopoly on unfair and unethical behavior.

  79. Gorgias February 17, 2009 at 12:50 AM #

    Also, once again, I am sick of kinksters, polyamorists, polygamists, and even men’s rights activists in their own weird way hitching their horses to the LGBTQ wagon. I find it degrading. It’s as if to say, “what the hell,THESE people are finding greater social acceptance, why can’t I?””

    And I’m sick of queer people acting like they’ve got something on me because they practice sex with people of the same gender more normally than I do.

  80. hexy February 17, 2009 at 1:32 AM #

    I’m sick of people insisting that kink absolutely IS NOT an orientation, simply because it’s not for them.

    I’m a queer, kinky femme. I’ve had to fight long and hard to define my own sexuality instead of having it defined for me by others, and I absolutely say my preferences are all wrapped up in one package.

  81. Trinity February 17, 2009 at 1:48 AM #

    “And I’m sick of queer people acting like they’ve got something on me because they practice sex with people of the same gender more normally than I do.”

    +1

    Maybe it’s legitimate when I’m thinking about or partnered with another woman and not with a man?

  82. Itxaro February 17, 2009 at 2:41 AM #

    @Gorgias: I think we’re referring to ‘normalize’ in different ways. I mean it as in: ‘define as the default of human experience’, not ‘treat as something humans can engage in that isn’t shameful’. I’m pretty keen on acceptance of kink and understanding that, hey, people who whip each other consensually are people, too, and can be loving parents and doting partners and all that; I’m not a big fan of replacing one homogenous depiction of sex with another.

  83. Trinity February 17, 2009 at 3:29 AM #

    “I think we’re referring to ‘normalize’ in different ways. I mean it as in: ‘define as the default of human experience’”

    Thing is, Itxaro, that BDSM only shows up as “normalized” in this way if you *already subscribe* to a theory that claims that BDSM is the same as heteronormative heterosexuality. The problem here is that many radical feminists just act as if this is totally self-evident, and most kinksters find this assertion totally bizarre, precisely because people who *do* fit heteronormative paradigms call us sick to our faces (and sometimes do other things like deem us unfit parents.)

    The problem is that we’re not going to buy your understanding of what we do as “normalized” until we buy the parallel some radical feminisms draw between D/s and heteronormativity.

    And the thing is that… we don’t.

    Speaking only for myself, here are a few of my reasons:

    1) The distinctly queer/gay history of leather culture, and the influence it has had across the board on people whether gay or straight (that Sir Joe guy, for example, clearly identified as both “leather” and “straight.”)

    2) The fact that rituals involving pain and release of endorphins have existed in many different cultures. While I suppose it could be argued that all of planet Earth is patriarchal and that’s why, it’s difficult for me to accept the claim that *all* such rituals, whether for sex or spirituality, should be analyzed the same way.

    3) The fact that there have, similarly, been many traditions of denying/letting go the ego/serving, across human history. Yes, again, there’s always been patriarchy, but it seems to me that these don’t focus on femaleness necessarily. There’s a fair amount of discussion of the particular difficulties men have surrendering/forsaking the ego, which suggests to me that part of doing so is a response to patriarchy, not an agreement with it.

    To say that BDSM is normalized is to assume that BDSM is heteronormative — which it essentially is not and which strikes me as a very gross erasure of LGBT culture — and to look at only one dynamic. And not only that, but to look at that one dynamic and totally deny any of these other cultural factors could be a part of it.

  84. Trinity February 17, 2009 at 3:36 AM #

    Ack, sorry Itxaro, I confused your saying the culture normalizes creepy forms of control with the claim some make that BDSM is Heterosexism Writ Large.

    Very sorry; I’ve been forgetting who said what!

  85. Itxaro February 17, 2009 at 4:30 AM #

    No problem, Trinity, it happens (also, found your LJ via random linkpath– we actually live in the same part of the country half the year. Always amuses me when that happens).

    Also, another question for clarification/another issue to discuss:

    How does the BDSM community, particularly D/s, view enthusiastic consent vs. “passive” consent? One of my main critiques of mainstream sexual culture is that we focus on “well, they didn’t say ‘no’,” or “well, they said okay,” instead of “were they obviously having fun and did they say YES YES YES?”. I suspect this is likely more of a problem in people who are new to BDSM, and with people whose relationships progress over time to acquire D/s elements instead of starting out within kink, but because BDSM often involves instituted relationships of power and control, the idea of passive consent in that situation concerns me.

    I also mentioned before that I don’t have an issue with it based purely on intent; that the intent to both give and receive sexual pleasure is a crucial part of my acceptance of that sexual practice. I would be deeply disturbed by an individual who was still turned on by whipping, beating, etc., when their partner was only saying “okay” instead of “yeah, that would be really great for me, too!”.

    I think intent and mutuality matters a hell of a lot.

    For instance, I’m not sold on the idea that it’s conducive to a healthy relationship, or even really okay from a moral standpoint* for Dom Jane to really, really like hurting/controlling people, but for her to pick Sub Mark because she knows he won’t call the cops because he’s into that kind of thing.

    *oh no, I invoked morality! but seriously, very basic humanistic shit and no, I’m not playing by postmodernism rules– do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Treat them with respect.

  86. isme February 17, 2009 at 5:03 AM #

    “I agree with this. But, I think the heart of such restrictions must simply be that the strong should not be able to enforce their will without consent and unjustly (eg, a person can’t be allowed to rape, steal, murder, etc, with impunity.)

    When the restrictions go beyond this, and into the realm of “You will not be allowed to perform certain sexual acts, regardless of the enthusiastic consent of the participants,” that goes beyond positive, acceptable restriction. ”

    Well, yes, but my point (which I seem to have very badly expressed) was that it’s foolish to call something un-feminist or wrong simply because it denies certain choices to people. You are being repressive when you limit people’s abilities to exercise their free will, but restrictions aren’t by any means neccesarily bad.

  87. Trinity February 17, 2009 at 5:40 AM #

    “How does the BDSM community, particularly D/s, view enthusiastic consent vs. “passive” consent? One of my main critiques of mainstream sexual culture is that we focus on “well, they didn’t say ‘no’,” or “well, they said okay,” instead of “were they obviously having fun and did they say YES YES YES?”.”

    The Scene often prides itself on a lot of YES YES YES YES YES. I have to say that’s what I have, overwhelmingly, seen.

    However, I must add the important caveat that I am part of an established group with a long history in a large city. It’s entirely possible that for people who don’t have good support systems, things look very different.

    (And as I’ve said elsewhere, I think there’s a real difference between how things look online and off. I strongly suspect that some of the very extreme blogs one can find out there are people who didn’t fit in the larger community.)

    In my experience, most people who want to bottom or submit really, really, really like it and want more and more of it.

    I remember walking around at the first party I attended, hearing all these moans and cries around me (and by that I mean cries of pleasure, not discomfort) and thinking “wow, it’s kind of like I’m in a porn movie… or in what one would be if all those sounds of pleasure were real and not fake.” It was just this… overwhelming experience of being around so much pleasure. Really kind of magical for me, though of course I’m not trying to tell anyone else what to want, enjoy, do, or like. :)

    It was actually a relief for me, too. I’d had lots of fantasies wherein I inflicted sexual pain on people and they loved it and everyone was ultimately satisfied and happy, but I worried that in the real world it wouldn’t work that way and people would only put up with it because they wanted to make me feel good.

    I found that really was not the case, and I’ve seen a lot more enthusiastic consent in the Scene than seems to be common in the lives of many of my non-BDSM friends.

    It seems strange to many people, I know — and like I said I myself was unsure at first — but there really is no shortage of enthusiastic consent to these things, as scary or uncomfortable as they may sound. I’ve heard “I want you to hurt me more” plenty of times.

    And… I’m not any mindreader., and I can only say how it is for me and those close to me, but I really don’t think it’s psychic damage that does it. I don’t have an easy explanation for why or how it works, I just have these little bits about endorphins and arousal and some people’s deep satisfaction derived from being of service to others. So I can’t wave a wand and make it sensible, or clean, or easy. (And I suspect many of us would like it less if it wasn’t mysterious, unexplained, and a little frightening.)

    But I do think there’s a connection between SM stuff and the religious/spiritual/ecstatic experiences of ascetics, religious flagellants, etc. (And no, before someone says it, I’m not saying the connection to religious flagellation is one based on guilt…)

  88. Trinity February 17, 2009 at 5:46 AM #

    “I would be deeply disturbed by an individual who was still turned on by whipping, beating, etc., when their partner was only saying “okay” instead of “yeah, that would be really great for me, too!”.”

    I also would be bothered by someone actually doing this stuff when their partner is just gritting their teeth and enduring it to please them (unless the partner gets off on submitting and so enjoys it for that reason; even that though strikes me personally as not-quite-mutual enough.)

    I wouldn’t feel bothered if the person saying “okay” didn’t mean “this is icky but I’ll do it for you,” but rather meant “I love you and although I wouldn’t do it with someone else, I do get something myself out of indulging your fetish because I care about you and enjoy your pleasure.”

    Though I *would* be bothered if the relationship involved a lot of that kind of indulging. I think that kind of intense incompatibility is awkward at best and kind of creepy at worst.

  89. Trinity February 17, 2009 at 5:48 AM #

    also: what the heck is postmodernism anyway? I see it invoked dismissively a lot, but I’ve never been able to puzzle out just what its basic tenets are.

    Is Foucault postmodern? Because I liked some of his analysis of power and of the way bodies and minds are disciplined in modern times, but I’m hard-pressed to see how that means what people seem to be saying “postmodern” means.

    Eh.

  90. hexy February 17, 2009 at 12:11 PM #

    “Post modernism” has a different meaning depending on the background of the person you’re talking to, which is why I dislike it as a label for ANY of those contexts.

    At its most basic it means “after the modernist movement”. Yeah. Deep. To take an extreme example, fundamentalist Christianity is technically a post-modern new religious movement, as it developed as a direct response to modernism in the early 1900s.

    Ahem. Sorry. That was entirely irrelevant to the rest of the conversation. Carry on.

  91. Trinity February 17, 2009 at 3:35 PM #

    ““Post modernism” has a different meaning depending on the background of the person you’re talking to, which is why I dislike it as a label for ANY of those contexts.”

    That’s the impression I get, too. I was going to say “I’d just like a map and some names” but if people really are using it in wildly divergent ways, that might be impossible.

    I hear Derrida’s name in conjunction with it too, but I’ve never been able to make sense of a paragraph of his, and never seen a concise summation of what he’s actually saying, so hearing “your beliefs are like Derrida” helps me about as much as “your beliefs are like RandomGuy.”

  92. Bec February 17, 2009 at 9:07 PM #

    I certainly feel like an outlier here. I’m middle-aged, mostly straight, feminist woman who loves my kinks. I’m partnered (14 years) to a straight, egalitarian, feminist man who doesn’t eroticize pain, domination, submission, role-play, etc. He’s a very good sport and tries to meet some of my needs though we also have an open relationship to accommodate my need for sexual variety and sm/bondage interests.
    I have tremendous difficultly finding traction within my local bdsm community as I’m not interested in dom/sub roles and I’m easily pissed-off by the assumption that I should be. I don’t know where every other kinkster here is going, but my local community is chock full of self-titled, self-important male ‘dominants’ and female ‘submissives’ to the point that if I show up at a munch I am assumed to be a sub and straight until proven otherwise.
    It is beyond me that bdsm practitioners can suggest that the patriarchy and gender roles aren’t alive and well in the community; to do so is incredibly heedless and unperceptive, if not downright ignorant. Dom/sub play is nearly synonymous with bdsm, with erotic power exchange being the Holy Grail. Sub women in my bdsm community are praised for their servitude, their submission and their pain tolerance…these are their accomplishments. Women are spoken about/speak about themselves in the third person, they de-capitalize their names (or adopt a new name) use ‘respectful’ titles for their “sirs” and “masters”, accept pain and punishment that is by their own word, beyond their negotiated limits and in general heed to their dominants because he purports to know what they need.
    How is this not the playing out of the patriarchy? I understand the consent argument. Consent and negotiation are critical components for any of our types of play. But consent doesn’t automatically erase the very real core components of patriarchy and inequality inherent in d/s relationships.

  93. James February 17, 2009 at 9:24 PM #

    At its most basic it means “after the modernist movement”. Yeah. Deep. To take an extreme example, fundamentalist Christianity is technically a post-modern new religious movement, as it developed as a direct response to modernism in the early 1900s.

    There’s also a case for calling certain forms of Christian fundamentalism, and certainly a few strands of Islamism, modernist religious ideologies. “Political” religion requires modernism, if only for the ambition.

    As for why it would come up with feminism so often, that’s due to the biological essentialists getting their ass handed to them from the rest of the movement (even Dworkin thought that they were a bunch of hardline nutjobs) or perhaps because the separatists were just so successful we just haven’t heard from them for three decades or so and they’re all living happily on a man-free island somewhere in the mid-Pacific.

    But at any rate, all that were left were the cultural determinists, or to be precise those optimistic as to the prospect of Patriarchy demolition (optimistic as in: think it’s worth devoting time to instead of taking the “Fuck this, let’s hide” line that the separatist/essentialists adopted). And that’s an issue which unites the RadFems and the 3rd Wave, btw. Consequentially: culture got held aloft. The post-modern connection was obvious and deep.

  94. Charlie February 17, 2009 at 10:33 PM #

    Bec-

    I suppose it means that there are actually many different BDSM communities. I live in San Francisco, and while I get annoyed with the large number of self-congratulatory white folks around here, part of why I like living here is that the BDSM community here isn’t as homogeneous as it sounds like yours is.

    But then, the non-BDSM community here is also pretty diverse in terms of how it approaches issues of gender equality. There’s a higher concentration of heterosexual men who are comfortable in their gender and don’t feel the need to prove or parade it than anywhere else I’ve been or heard about. That seems to carry over to the local BDSM world. Further, the longtime relationship between the gay community and the BDSM community probably has something to do with that, too.

    The fact that many people use BDSM to act out their heteropatriarchal roles doesn’t mean that that’s the only way that it works. Similarly, many people act out their heteropatriarchal roles in marriage. And yet, the way that people move through marriage is also quite diverse in some places and less so in others.

    All of this makes me curious about what factors go into shaping the characteristics of each community. It also makes me wonder how many people in your area go to a munch or other event and get fed up with what they see and leave. I’m sure that they’re around, and I’m also sure that they’re hard to find. Perhaps someone needs to start an alternative munch.

    I’m with you when you write that “…consent doesn’t automatically erase the very real core components of patriarchy and inequality inherent in d/s relationships.” And I think that you’re talking about many d/s relationships rather than all of them. Similarly, consent doesn’t automatically erase the very real core components of patriarchy and inequality inherent in [many] marriages.

    While patriarchy often shapes both BDSM and marriage to an extreme degree, it doesn’t always do so. I doubt that there’s any relationship of any sort in this culture that is unaffected by it. But I’ve seen and been in relationships where that influence is minimized. And some of them were kinky.

  95. Erstwhile lurker February 17, 2009 at 10:49 PM #

    Bec, that’s horrid. I’ve only run into that kind of environment online.

    Itxaro:

    How does the BDSM community, particularly D/s, view enthusiastic consent vs. “passive” consent? One of my main critiques of mainstream sexual culture is that we focus on “well, they didn’t say ‘no’,” or “well, they said okay,” instead of “were they obviously having fun and did they say YES YES YES?”

    I’m not really qualified to comment on the community as a whole: I have a network of kinky friends that I found via someone I met over the Internet when I was in high school. That network gets me people to date, and it occasionally gets me opportunities to go to private play parties, but I’ve never been to an event put on by an official BDSM organization.

    But in my corner of the world, kinky people are very good about seeking meaningful, enthusiastic consent. Some things that I particularly like are:

    1. It’s considered an affront to touch people any way–not just overtly sexual ways–without asking first. Tickling or hugging without consent is frowned upon. It’s not that nobody hugs, they just ask first.

    2. It’s considered gauche to get all domly (or throw yourself at someone’s feet and act submissive) unless you’ve been invited to.

    3. No means no, and people stop asking after the first no.

    I really doubt that there is just one “scene” or “community” that can be talked about the same way in every context. Maybe it’s better to talk about different scenes, and ask how we can make them all more like the good ones: more welcoming, less sexist, and more serious about consent. (Non-kinky scenes could also be a part of that discussion.)

  96. Trinity February 17, 2009 at 11:18 PM #

    “It is beyond me that bdsm practitioners can suggest that the patriarchy and gender roles aren’t alive and well in the community; to do so is incredibly heedless and unperceptive, if not downright ignorant. Dom/sub play is nearly synonymous with bdsm, with erotic power exchange being the Holy Grail.”

    Not my experience at all. How big a city are you in?

    Because here, most people are into SM, and there’s currently a lot of people setting up specifically D/s related subgroups so people who are interested in D/s relationships can talk about issues particular to them.

    There are a few more D/s oriented classes these days, but I’ve never seen them presented as anything but “I’m explaining this to you so you can think about whether this is something that interests you.”

    And there’s nothing but M/f in your area? Are there any Club Fem chapters, for example?

    (Not that I don’t have my own problems with the female supremacist CF divisions; I didn’t join the local one until I was sure they were not into that and were OK with their members also being queer.)

  97. Trinity February 17, 2009 at 11:21 PM #

    “All of this makes me curious about what factors go into shaping the characteristics of each community. It also makes me wonder how many people in your area go to a munch or other event and get fed up with what they see and leave.”

    When I lived in rural areas, I found more M/f than F/m. I didn’t feel unwelcome at all though, except in one particular small group. I am not sure exactly what it was about them… but most of the time, even when I was the odd one out, I was definitely welcome and not treated as if I should be different.

  98. Trinity February 17, 2009 at 11:22 PM #

    “But in my corner of the world, kinky people are very good about seeking meaningful, enthusiastic consent. Some things that I particularly like are:”

    It’s similar in the circles I run in.

  99. Bec February 17, 2009 at 11:49 PM #

    Absolutely I come from a very homogeneous, mostly straight (public) bdsm community…no doubt. And certainly many people have come and gone when they find it not to their liking.

    As to consent: I think I’m seeing a fair amount of passive consent in many longer-term M/f relationships in that ‘global’ consent is given at some ceremonial point of the relationship and then the submissive woman is expected to consent/agree/tolerate outcomes that her dominant may or may not chose to consult with her on. There is an implication that the sub gives up (in this case) her agency and therefore gives up further individual acts of consent. That’s kinda the point, no?

    In terms of actual play there are still occurrences of the, “Well, she didn’t say no” problem except in this case it’s, “Well she didn’t safeword.” When one is unskilled or under-skilled it’s challenging to not only recognize your play partner’s limits but your own as well. Personally both my physical and psychological limits slide around a bit depending on my mood, work week, personal issues and menstrual cycle.

    Public play is interesting in that it appears that many tops and bottoms go further than intended due to effect of being watched and the culture of “hard/heavy is better”. I’ve certainly had the experience of making judgment errors for myself due to onlookers and as such don’t like to play in public anymore. Some folks talk about using public play to push their boundaries using onlookers specifically for that effect.

    I think that can be problematic…heavy bottoms find a lot of traction (praise, recognition, awe) in my community and I don’t think we’re all that different in that respect which is why as a whole the community has had to come up with the admonition that heavy isn’t better.

  100. Gayle February 18, 2009 at 1:23 AM #

    Nine,

    WTF?

  101. Nine Deuce February 18, 2009 at 2:03 AM #

    Gayle – In reference to what? The question in the post is a bit rhetorical, if that’s what you mean.

  102. antiprincess February 18, 2009 at 3:06 AM #

    Gayle – In reference to what? The question in the post is a bit rhetorical, if that’s what you mean.

    not for nothin’, but she may be objecting to the sort of riffraff you let comment here these days.

  103. Trinity February 18, 2009 at 3:35 AM #

    “As to consent: I think I’m seeing a fair amount of passive consent in many longer-term M/f relationships in that ‘global’ consent is given at some ceremonial point of the relationship and then the submissive woman is expected to consent/agree/tolerate outcomes that her dominant may or may not chose to consult with her on. There is an implication that the sub gives up (in this case) her agency and therefore gives up further individual acts of consent. That’s kinda the point, no?”

    Well, I don’t observe other people’s relationships closely, as I’m mainly interested in mine. :) But I do have a couple of good male dominant friends, and I’ve never gotten the impression that they would want their partners to be unhappy because they’ve got the power to make them do whatever anyway. (And I’ve seen them get dumped, so the idea that their partners are so controlled they’d never think of breaking up with them just makes me laugh.)

    And, well, I don’t know how well this follows what others consider to be Robert’s Rules of Order, but I don’t see my D/s relationship as being based on being able to make my boy do things. Yeah, I *could* have called him this morning and said “We’re going to the meeting tonight” and we would have unless he had some important objection, but that’s not why we do it.

    I see it as a relationship that includes elements of formality and service, and the D/s as the framework for that. It’s not fundamentally about giving orders for me, it’s about receiving service freely given.

    Now, do I like having control in sexual matters? Yeah, and he likes me to have it, but that’s not why we set up the relationship as we did.

    “In terms of actual play there are still occurrences of the, “Well, she didn’t say no” problem except in this case it’s, “Well she didn’t safeword.” When one is unskilled or under-skilled it’s challenging to not only recognize your play partner’s limits but your own as well. Personally both my physical and psychological limits slide around a bit depending on my mood, work week, personal issues and menstrual cycle.”

    This I have seen, and I think it’s really dumb. A safeword is a tool, and a useful one, but it’s not a panacea. People who know one another well can do riskier things because they know how to read one another, but first encounters should not, IMO, push like this unless such pushing is explicitly negotiated beforehand and the person is experienced with and likes that kind of thing.

    And IMX everyone’s tolerances and preferences do that, and not recognizing that is just sloppy.

    “Public play is interesting in that it appears that many tops and bottoms go further than intended due to effect of being watched and the culture of “hard/heavy is better”. I’ve certainly had the experience of making judgment errors for myself due to onlookers and as such don’t like to play in public anymore. Some folks talk about using public play to push their boundaries using onlookers specifically for that effect.”

    I’ve seen this (not with most people, but with some), though as someone who does play heavy, I’ve also seen the opposite (OMG don’t do THAT! etc.) Neither of those are most people’s attitude, in my experience.

  104. Trinity February 18, 2009 at 3:36 AM #

    (for whatever little it’s worth, *I* certainly don’t think Heavier Than Thou wars are any kind of good idea. That’s stupid at best, and quite risky at worst.)

  105. Gorgias February 18, 2009 at 6:36 AM #

    “In terms of actual play there are still occurrences of the, “Well, she didn’t say no” problem except in this case it’s, “Well she didn’t safeword.” When one is unskilled or under-skilled it’s challenging to not only recognize your play partner’s limits but your own as well. Personally both my physical and psychological limits slide around a bit depending on my mood, work week, personal issues and menstrual cycle.”

    Personal anecdote: my first experience in the BDSM community was not very successful, but it could have been much worse if it weren’t for my dom. I was nervous as hell, sweating profusely, and trembling… and I was seventeen, and hadn’t gone further with anyone sexually than kissing before. I wasn’t safewording because I was confused and wanted to push through whatever anxieties I had… but it wasn’t working. Thankfully, my now Master saw my distress and stopped the scene on his own, for which I am eternally greatful. I know that this is just normal consideration for a partner, but I also know that a lot of sex happens to confused and non-enthusiastically consenting people, and I’m really glad he decided not to take advantage of me like that, and more importantly, it showed me that he could keep his libido under control when it might mean hurting me or himself.

    Needless to say, I’ve trusted him ever since.

    This personal anecdote not to imply that such “well, she didn’t safeword” rationales don’t happen =)

  106. kellum February 19, 2009 at 1:54 AM #

    to get on the actual question…yes, if you discount any form of ‘sexual expression’ then youre a prude. ‘sex sells’…. no, WOMEN sell. theres not much sex to it. its all just the marketing of women as products. now, i agree that theres some stuff out there that i personally find horrible, but some enjoy. i think on one hand that if every is consenting, to each her own. but i also wonder what ‘consent, and choice’ mean. and i think, personally, that if youre seeking to degrade the other, even if they enjoy it, then theres something wrong on a deeper level.

  107. Garden Gnome February 20, 2009 at 6:18 AM #

    I wish to apologize (sincerely) for my rather harsh previous comments.

    I choose not to engage in BDSM for reasons that I consider legitimate and important, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that part of my personal issue with BDSM (and polyamory) lies with my personal experience with people who engage in these practices.

    I was in an activist community for a long time wherein those of us who were “vanilla” and/or monogamous were made to feel that we were not as “down” or “radical” as those people who were engaging in BDSM and/or polyamory. When I confided in one of my “friends” that I could see the attraction to BDSM, but didn’t personally want to act on it, I never heard the end of how I was “repressed”. The pressure I felt was pretty overwhelming.

    Now I realize that this lack of respect can happen in any sexual situation or community, from the most normative to the most non-normative. And I’m certainly no blind defender of traditional monogamy and sexual relations, as these are rife with problems. I guess what I want to say is that I don’t think that just because something is unusual, unconventional or “taboo” that it is necessarily transgressive or radical. And that was the attitude I came across time and again.

    Anyway, sorry for being a jerk on the internet.

  108. Trinity February 22, 2009 at 2:54 AM #

    Garden Gnome:

    I’ve seen that pressure as well. I used to get it now and then from people who couldn’t see how, if I was kinky, I wasn’t also poly. This weird idea that being monogamous *must* be about culture and shame, rather than about how I’d thought about it, tried it (a disaster; I didn’t want to do it and didn’t know what I was doing), and ultimately decided it wasn’t for me. I was kinky so therefore why was I having such trouble “rejecting” the monogamy-based “paradigm”, etc.

    I’m sorry to hear that you experienced that pressure. That must have really sucked.

    “I don’t think that just because something is unusual, unconventional or “taboo” that it is necessarily transgressive or radical.”

    I can only speak for myself, but I don’t think that’s true either (and I don’t get the impression most people in this debate, at least, think so.) For me, my SM fantasies showed up from the beginning of my being sexual, and I thought I was a freak for them. I didn’t ultimately try SM because I wanted to be “down” — I tried it because I spent years ACTUALLY repressing my feelings and was miserable enough I was considering suicide because I was such a failure at making the thoughts go away.

    And that’s something that I think gets lost, especially when people want to discuss the merits of a theory that says this *is* culture, that we’ll see that it is if we try hard enough.

    That sets up this weird hierarchy between people who have voluntary control over their fantasy life (I don’t think this is many people, but some claim they do, and I’m not in the business of proving them wrong) and those of us who don’t.

  109. Trinity February 22, 2009 at 2:55 AM #

    And thanks very much for the apology. For whatever my appreciating it is worth to you :)

  110. Garden Gnome February 22, 2009 at 7:54 AM #

    Trinity:

    Yeah, in my experience polyamory hasn’t worked well for many of the people I know who’ve tried it. (Obviously my personal observations are not necessarily universal.) The women I know started out polyamorous and became monogamous over time. (Especially when they met people they were really, really into).

    As for the dudes I know who are into it, it is just an excuse for anarcho-punk assholes to fuck a lot of women without feeling guilty about it.

    I don’t know what kind of community you exist in outside your BDSM community, but I have this feeling that a lot of radical activist communities have similar dynamics vis a vis sex and sexuality as the one I was in.

    As far as our fantasy lives, I don’t have much control over mine either, but for me, I feel better and relieved of my guilt by not acting on some of my fantasies.

  111. Charlie February 22, 2009 at 6:30 PM #

    My observation re (straight) men & polyamory is that most of the men I know don’t have the emotional skills or the self-regulation skills to successfully navigate multiple relationships. Especially younger men. Given how many men out there are lacking in the skills to deal with even one relationship, it doesn’t ever surprise me when someone falls back onto the “poly=sex” thing. It’s a lot easier.

    It’s also really hard to make poly work when there aren’t a lot of visible role models for it. Each person/couple/group ends up recreating the wheel and in the process of trial & error, disaster often ensues. Tristan Taomino’s recent book “Opening Up” has a lot to offer folks around that.

    I get really annoyed at folks who spout off about how only being queer, kinky & poly is radical & sex-positive. I think that it’s the height of sex-negativity to tell people that the way that they want to have sex is wrong, unless someone is being harmed by it. (By this formula, cheating on a partner is wrong since the partner is probably being harmed and secrecy consistently harms relationships.)

    There are, in fact, lots of people who make poly & other forms of open relationships work and aren’t looking for quick sex. But they tend to be less visible, just as queer men who aren’t flamboyant are less visible. Further, you hear about the disasters because there’s lots of drama. Successful open relationships are, by their nature, less dramatic and therefore, are less visible.

  112. Trinity February 22, 2009 at 8:17 PM #

    Garden Gnome:

    I don’t know what you mean by “what communities”; my job has to do with disability rights, but that’s the office!

    Even among the bloggy folks though, I think that there’s a kind of room for diversity within disability rights circles that keeps a lot of the echo chambery nonsense to a dull roar. Not all of us, for example, are pro-cures OR anti-cures, and we have to learn to get along. One person’s “don’t pathologize me” is another person’s “I really hate the hassle and the pain.” And if you really want to do the work, you have to realize that an office down there’s someone sitting there who has an absolutely, fundamentally different experience OF DISABILITY ITSELF from yours.

    Which I find to be a lot more positive atmosphere than a lot of the homogenized stuff I’ve seen in some feminist circles and a lot of anti-capitalist circles.

    “Yeah, in my experience polyamory hasn’t worked well for many of the people I know who’ve tried it. (Obviously my personal observations are not necessarily universal.) The women I know started out polyamorous and became monogamous over time. (Especially when they met people they were really, really into).”

    I’ve seen that a lot, though I’ve also seen a very small minority of people who really do seem happy and comfortable with it. From my observations I’d have to say it’s not for most people, but works well for a very few.

    “As far as our fantasy lives, I don’t have much control over mine either, but for me, I feel better and relieved of my guilt by not acting on some of my fantasies.”

    Okay. I don’t feel good about that, because I feel like this is a fundamental part of my sexuality. I think not acting on it is just as weird as my deciding that others around me aren’t comfortable with my being queer so I’ll stick to men.

    Of course not every fantasy I have is realistic or safe, but not acting on those is something I see very differently from never doing SM or the like.

  113. Trinity February 22, 2009 at 8:21 PM #

    “My observation re (straight) men & polyamory is that most of the men I know don’t have the emotional skills or the self-regulation skills to successfully navigate multiple relationships. Especially younger men. Given how many men out there are lacking in the skills to deal with even one relationship, it doesn’t ever surprise me when someone falls back onto the “poly=sex” thing. It’s a lot easier.”

    Yeah, that’s the thing when I tried it. There were a LOT of problems, including from what I can tell some deception. But even laying that aside, it often seemed it became this “How do I feed each woman the minimum of needed support, intimacy, and sex? Fuck, I’m bad at planning!” thing.

    And for one, he wasn’t managing it. But for two, it kind of bothered me that I had that impression. I mean, it’s entirely possible that wasn’t how he thought about it, but I always felt that each relationship he was in didn’t seem to be a cohesive whole.

    I don’t completely rule out the idea that my partner and I could both fall head over heels for someone, try living with that person for months before ever dating, slide slowly into a relationship and live as a cohesive household.

    But I expect it like I expect a meteor hitting my house.

  114. Trinity February 22, 2009 at 8:27 PM #

    (er, by I don’t feel good about that I mean about ME doing that, not you. Obviously you know better than I would what sorts of things are healthy for you to do and what are not.)

  115. Immir April 17, 2010 at 11:59 PM #

    When people run out of logical arguement they just say ‘you’re closed minded’ and suddenly they have won, in their minds, somehow.

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