BDSM (the sexual equivalent of being into Renaissance faires) Part 3: Some of the Data

The respondents to the personal ad I mentioned in the first post fell into three rough categories, which overlap and share some common features (don’t read these bullet points if you’re upset by the kinds of shit these cretins fantasize about, which would be completely understandable):

  • The dudes in the first group were the least overtly terrifying of the bunch, but they were creepy and offensive in their own way. Most of them wrote what could best be described as novellas and used the word “art” in their comical and terribly written blatherings about their BDSM “philosophies.” Their descriptions of their sexual fantasies were like letters to Penthouse Forum written by dudes who wear eyeliner, with a lot of “trembling,” “aching,” and “quivering” in between the generous helpings of “pussy” and “cock.” They all described the mental and physical sensations they would cause our poster to experience down to the last detail with the kind of confidence that only men who are terrible in bed possess. Nearly all of them explained that their ultimate purpose was to help their submissives grow as human beings and that they understood that feminism had caused emotional conflicts for women who felt the “natural” “feminine” urge to submit to a (much older and wiser, naturally) man/dad/teacher (for a bunch of purportedly countercultural motherfuckers, these guys sounded an awful lot like Promise Keepers). Many of them addressed our poster as “little one.” Honestly, I thought I was reading the lyrics to a George Michael song half the time. Retch is right. These guys may have even fooled themselves into believing that their particular sexual fetishes are the kinds of things that women “crave deep within their souls,” but they’re kidding themselves with all their talk of transgression. 
  • Then there were the dudes who didn’t bother to pretend there was any kind of philosophical basis for their desire to dominate and humiliate (their words, not mine) women. Their responses were all detailed descriptions of the kinds of sex acts they’d be carrying out on her, with nary a question about what she might fancy. They got very specific about the kinds of tools they were bringing to the table (literally and figuratively) and exactly how they would restrain our poster so they could “rape” her “asshole” and whip her “tits” and “cunt” with whatever instrument their shockingly uncreative minds could come up with (usually a belt). They too described the sensations this would cause for the poster, because they were just positive that they could make her “cum over and over” by hitting her and calling her a “filthy little slut,” a “cum slut,” or a “little whore.” These dudes made no attempt to disguise the fact that they get off on humiliating and hurting women, though they did dress that up a little with candle wax, leather, and various bizarre implements. (A lot of them were really into shibari, a — surprise! — Japanese bondage technique involving rope. Seriously, fuck Japan.)
  • The third group was by far the most frightening. They read the word “submissive” and creamed their shorts at the idea that there was a woman out there who’d let them act out Max Hardcore vignettes on her. None of them had anything to say about the “art” of BDSM or the sensations our poster would experience, but rather just told her which hole they’d like to rape her in (guess which one came in at number one) before they ejaculated on her face. Her wishes did come up a few times, always in the form of the insatiable desire to lick semen up after being raped. That’s about all I can say about that lest I break something or kill myself. 

I told you that shit was gnarly. Sorry. 

I suppose a lot of people will claim these last guys aren’t a part of the BDSM scene, and that’s true, but what’s the difference between them and the guys in group two? That they’re less fruity about their rape fantasies? That they don’t pretend to be a part of some revolutionary sexual counterculture movement? Please. All of these dudes share one thing in common: they derive sexual pleasure from dominating and humiliating (and in many cases hurting) women, and they’re all foaming at the mouth at the idea that there are women who will eagerly submit to the worst humiliations they can come up with. That they want the woman to be into it too doesn’t make them cool guys, it just means they don’t want to have to feel guilty. These motherfuckers at worst hate women and consider them to be subhumans, and at best think of women as mental children that they want to fuck in between teaching them life lessons. 

The serious analysis is still to come (and I’ve got some more results of my research to report), but I’m tired if this shit for tonight.

To be continued…

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BDSM (the sexual equivalent of being into Renaissance faires) Part 2: The Problem with Kink

BDSM is two parts hilarious, three parts terrifying.

It’s hilarious for a lot of reasons, chief among which is the theatrical aspect of it. It might be a result of my being unlikely to respond positively to orders, but I really can’t imagine doing aught but snickering at someone handing out orders to me with the expectation that I’d get all excited by it. I realize that role-playing gets some people all hot and bothered, but that shit is lost on me. I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings here, but until someone really cool tells me they’re into role-playing, I’m going to assume it’s the domain of dorks with no sense of the absurd and people who go to Medieval Times and call each other “sire” all night without the excuse of being wasted. I mean really, who besides people who can’t let go of their high school theater days can prance around in those stupid costumes and deploy all of that ridiculous Renaissance faire lingo without laughing too hard to maintain a boner? 

Sex therapists can often be heard advising couples to try role play to “spice up” their sex lives. What a fucking bizarre idea, right? Apparently, in our warped culture, sex is not sexy enough anymore. You’ve got to throw in some power exchange, some foreign objects, some corny outfits, or some absurdly trite verbal exchange in order to make sex sexy. Seriously? How fucking silly. Kink, in general, is about as embarrassing as this.  

But there’s more to it than that. That kink is seen as the remedy for a lack of sexual contentment says a lot about where we’re at culturally with regard to sex; kink, at its core, represents an attempt to derive as much excitement and titillation out of sex as possible while avoiding real intimacy. It’s a lame substitute for what sex can be, an attempt to substitute adrenaline for intimacy, because real intimacy can be quite a frightening concept for people who’ve absorbed the idea that sex is about power and satisfying base urges. Sex may not be sacred, but it’s got the potential to be a bigger deal than using the toilet. It’s a unique way for people to bond and it’s kind of sad that so many people are missing out on that in the quest for ever more absurd couplings of adrenaline and orgasm. 

A lot of people will make the claim that kink will create a bond between the two people engaging in it, but that’s a bit of a red herring. Sure, experiencing fear with someone will tend to create a sense of shared experience (and thus an attachment) between two people, but is that the kind of bond a relationship should be based on? People who have been held hostage together tend to form bonds, too, but no one’s throwing a party about that shit. Sexual adventurousness can be a healthy thing, provided that it’s not being used as a substitute for the bond that ought to exist before it begins. Unfortunately, we’ve all bought into the idea that sex with the same person over a long period of time will necessarily grow boring and that a long-term couple will need to do it outside, pretend they’re doing it with other people, bring new people/objects into the mix, or otherwise alloy the experience with extraneous mental or physical sensations. We’re told that without these additions to the sex mix (that sounds like a Chex mix with pretzels that are shaped like boobs and wieners, which you can consider patented as of now), we can assume that one or both partners will cheat.  

Well, maybe they will. Not because it’s true that sex with the same person must necessarily become boring, but because physical and emotional brinkmanship have become an integral part of modern sexuality to the ouster of intimacy. We’ve gotten the idea that sex is boring if it isn’t coupled with adrenaline, and that only happens when you’re with someone new or when you’re doing something emotionally or physically frightening. Ideally, that adrenaline that comes with getting busy with someone new will be replaced by the kinds of excitement and exploration that real intimacy can make possible, but when it isn’t people often turn to kink rather than considering the idea that they might be with the wrong person. Kink is the solution to the problem that compulsory marriage creates: couples who don’t belong together feeling like failures because their relationships suck. And kink nearly always involves a power differential. Think about a few examples of kink, from the most pedestrian role-playing to the most extreme forms of BDSM and see for yourself whether that’s true.  

It’s true. And because we live in an oppressively misogynistic culture, that power differential usually expresses itself in male dominance and female submission. Mainstream sex and pornography (the line between which I fear is rapidly disappearing) reflect that dynamic in very clear ways: in general, men are aroused by female pliancy, and women are aroused by their ability to arouse men. Women are objects, men are subjects. 

And here’s where BDSM comes in. As funny as my hazy Hot Topic-esque tableaux of the average BDSM interchange might be (at least to me), it ain’t no joke. BDSM, all of the corny posturing aside, is nothing but a highly-concentrated and more obvious remix of the mainstream conception of sex as something men do to women. If misogynistic mainstream sex is meth, BDSM is ice. 

Now I promise I’ll get to the data…

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BDSM (the sexual equivalent of being into Renaissance faires) Part 1: Some Background and a Few Warnings

I fancied myself a real iconoclast when I was a teenager. I had pink hair, lots of holes in my ears and various other places, and a penchant for Keystone Light, cigarettes, Black Flag, and responding to nearly all queries with, “Fuck that.” Being involved in one brand of counterculturalism predisposes one to sympathizing with members of other rebellious subcultures, so I naturally had a few goth friends (I mean goth in the 90s sense, not the current sense – goths are supposed to be maudlin and listen to The Smiths, they’re not supposed to be angry and listen to Avenged Sevenfold). The mixture of teen hormones, Siouxie and the Banshees records, and the bad influence of a few of these goths led me to a fleeting fascination with the world of BDSM. It sounded transgressive as fuck, which I was definitely down with, but I really had no idea at the time what went on in the BDSM scene. The internet was still the domain of adults who wore braces back then, and I had no idea of the existence of scene magazines or anything of the sort. My vision of the BDSM scene was a shadowy mélange of brocade corsets, Soft Cell songs, and the kind of sexual histrionics only teenagers and idiots are capable of imagining without laughing. You could say, I suppose, that I had a Hot Topic-esque understanding of BDSM.

I am loathe to admit this in a public forum, but I worked at a Hot Topic store when I was 18 and 19. Actually (ugh), I was the manager of a Hot Topic. Don’t worry – I knew it was a bunch of poser bullshit, and I made sure my employees and customers also knew it, but I worked there. This was the mid-90s, the era that saw the rise of shopping mall counterculturalism and era in which incense, plastic pants, and band t-shirts made the jump from the bong shop to the shop next door to Wet Seal. It was the worst era in the history of music, youth culture, and fashion the world had yet seen, and I think a cultural sewer spill started then that has created the cesspool of uncreativity we now live in.  It was the era that gave us The Crow, Marilyn Manson, and Nine Inch Nails, three cultural phenomena that would eventually make the world into the kind of place where Marines can call themselves goth and people who can’t get enough of Adam Sandler can get into S&M and buy each other leopard-print fur handcuffs as bridal shower gifts.

But that hadn’t happened yet, so I was curious rather than derisive… for a few days. I lived in San Diego at the time, and the gay part of town, Hillcrest, in addition to having one of the best record stores in the 619 area code, also had a BDSM gear store called Whiplash. One day on an outing to that record store I convinced a friend to go into Whiplash with me. I’d like to say I got a thorough education on what BDSM was all about that day, but all I left the store knowing was that there were people in the world who wore head-to-toe latex catsuits with tassels on the crown and pre-installed butt plugs and that there were more varieties of whips than there were bands I thought were “gay.”

I picked up a magazine that day that would provide me with plenty of fodder for thought and snickering over the following few weeks. It was basically a collection of ads for dommes who charged for their services, and my friends and I spent many a drunken night prank calling the phone numbers and coming up with explanations for what kinds of sex acts the euphemisms in the ads really referred to (dude, what the fuck is “flying with champagne and caviar”?). We decided to take our “research” a step further in internet chat rooms (hey, we were teenagers, and what else did teenagers do with the internet in the mid-90s but irritate people in chat rooms?). Half fascinated and half delirious with mirth, we told strangers we wanted to get into S&M and asked them what they thought. Of course we were immediately inundated with private messages from old men, which we shrugged off. It got really boring. No one wanted to tell us about the parties where everyone listened to Joy Division in libraries with Gothic architectural flourishes while wearing corsets and blindfolds and lightly spanking each other with riding crops, so we forgot all about it. We had no idea, obviously, that we had stumbled onto the real world of BDSM and that our vision of the whole thing only existed in Anne Rice novels.

I didn’t think much about BDSM after that episode until recently, and I’ve only thought about it lately because it’s come up in a few random conversations I’ve had about whether there’s such a thing as an inherently degrading sex act (see Porn Part 9, forthcoming).  I’ve always left BDSM alone because I thought of it as a private sexual preference (I still do) and I’m not really into discussing people’s private sexual behaviors. I talk about sex a lot, but it’s usually in the context of discussing larger cultural forces and how they tend to play out in people’s personal lives. I don’t condemn specific behaviors (unless they’re patently fucked up, which you’ll see some of in the third post), but rather prefer to discuss the ways in which our desires to perform certain acts might reflect the influence of oppressive cultural ideas about gender, power, and sexuality. (I want everyone to re-read that last sentence before they even consider commenting on this post or any others in the forthcoming series. I’m discussing the dynamics involved in BDSM, not telling anyone who practices BDSM that they suck or should be ashamed of themselves. I’m not going to approve comments from people who want to pretend there’s no difference between the two.)

I read other radical feminist blogs. I know what the prevailing opinion on BDSM is. But I wasn’t ready to just dismiss the whole thing without doing some research of my own. I had a long conversation about the topic with the Esquire, and we figured one approach would be to put a personal ad on a website that will remain unnamed in four markets (New York, LA, San Francisco, and San Diego) to see what kinds of responses we’d get and to see what we could glean about BDSM therefrom. The ad was for a woman in her 20s interested in exploring submission (and that’s about all the ad said). In four days we got over 400 responses, and I read them all very carefully. I then wandered around the internet looking at various BDSM info sites, reading up on the various BDSM societies in cities around the world, and looking at BDSM porn. That’s right, I took about nine for the team (it wasn’t cool, so I expect any of you I happen to run across to buy me at least four beers to repay me for suffering the trauma).

I’m anticipating several objections to this approach. First, I suppose people will argue that it’s uncool of me to post a fake personal ad. I don’t care. Bots do it all the time. Second, people might argue that by presenting myself as a female submissive, I’m seeking out the kinds of responses that will confirm my suspicions that BDSM is all about men dominating women. Wrong.  I also posted an ad for a submissive male and got almost no responses from women. Third, I’m sure I’m going to hear about how empowering dominating a man can be for a woman, and that I’m focusing on female submission to confirm my own conclusions. Wrong again, but I’ll get to that later. Fourth, I’m sure plenty of people will bring up BDSM among lesbians and gay men. I’ll get to that later, too, but for now I’ll just say that the point here is that mixing sex with power is a problem, and that in the vast, large, wide, ample, immense, huge majority of cases, men wield the power and exercise it on women. 

Basically, all of the objections people are going to raise are going to be attempts to poke holes in the claim that BDSM is nothing but a distilled and adorned manifestation of our culture’s sick gender dynamic of man as subject, woman as (hated) object. The fact of the matter is that the bulk of BDSM practices center around female submission, or one partner taking on a “feminine” and submissive role. I’ll admit that there are infinite variations in human sexual desire, and that there might be three people on this planet who practice BDSM in ways that fall outside of that dynamic (though I doubt that), but I’m not talking about those people. I’m talking about the vast majority of cases, which is what we’re going to talk about here. From here on out, unless I say otherwise, I’m using the term BDSM to refer to what goes on in the vast majority of cases. So, if you plan to comment, I’ll ask that you keep in mind the fact that you can’t refute an argument that is true in most cases with a single counterexample, even if it is your own personal experience. Your experience matters and will be acknowledged, but not to the erasure of everyone else’s. I don’t want to tell you to closet yourself or to be ashamed of your desires, I want to examine some of the assumptions involved in the BDSM lifestyle. I’ll suffer no accusations otherwise. Be warned.

With that bullshit out of the way, on to the results of my “research”… 

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