Feministe Feedback: Sex from a Feminist Perspective

Feministe Feeback

A reader is looking for resources:

While pondering the problems of navigating the rocky waters of heterosexual sexuality with its troublesome past and symbolic meanings, I wondered: are there any good resources online for sex from a feminist perspective? Not blogs, but more along the lines of info sites.
Also, an interesting topic of discussion would be if there are any forms of sex that are essentially negative, or against the principles of feminism, if they’re done by sensitive, equal partners? Or is that ideal of a relationship (being very difficult, while everyone thinks they are in one) just likely to obfuscate what might be problematic sex lives?

Can anyone help out?

214 comments for “Feministe Feedback: Sex from a Feminist Perspective

  1. June 10, 2008 at 7:18 am

    I personally do not buy into the idea that any sex acts are innately degrading to women. I think that many sex acts are problematic in the way that they are socially represented and often enacted. For example, I don’t think that blow jobs are in any way innately degrading towards women (or men, but we’re talking about heterosexual sex here). I do think that the social positioning of blow jobs — as something that women are obligated to perform, as a male exertion of power, and as something that is often desired by asshole men because it’s seen by them to be degrading towards women — is incredibly problematic and fucked up. I don’t have a problem with blow jobs — I have a huge problem with the way that many men perceive them, tend to brag about them or feel no need to reciprocate.

    In any case, while I don’t talk about my sex life, preferences, fantasies, etc., I do have to say that I’m rather tired of hearing some (not most!) feminists proclaim that the things that get me off don’t actually get me off, are evidence that I don’t respect myself and/or evidence that my husband doesn’t respect me. I’ve done the whole guilty “should I really like this/does it make me a bad feminist?” bullshit. When it comes to sex, I don’t think it’s right to tell people how to have it — other than to say that all sex should definitely be consensual as a requirement, and sexual activity should have the goal of equal pleasure for partners in mind. And I don’t think it’s any different or better for people to be told how to have sex in the name of feminism than for people to be told how to have sex in the name of religion. The fact is, if I didn’t have sex in the way that I like it, the patriarchy wouldn’t suffer a damn bit. But I sure as hell would. It seems to me that allowing patriarchal standards to control sexual choices in one way or the other isn’t helping women or feminism.

  2. Anne Marie
    June 10, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    A-fucking-men, Cara. With you 100%.

  3. June 10, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    Are we talking about creating rules as to which sex act are OK vs. NOT OK?

    If we are wanting to create, in feminism, a mere mechanism for social control, then, indeed, go ahead. But I can grant you’ll get a fair bit of opposition, especially from someone like me – who grew up in an environment where there were so many WRONG TYPES of sex.

    Consent, and if everyone’s happy and nothing one would consider harmful* to themselves is being done, then why shouldn’t most acts go?**

    *as opposed to concepts such as pain/hurt. plus different things can be harmful to some people as oppposed to others. A person with a background of a specific sexual abuse may find certian sexual acts harmful, but that does not mean that all instances of that act are harmful to all, or conversely that all instances of that act are non-harming.

    ** There are some acts, that I personally do wonder about, but for now, that’s my position.

    When I was younger, before I became interested in feminism I found http://www.the-clitoris.com/
    very helpful in terms of basic information and self-respect.

  4. June 10, 2008 at 12:36 pm

    Also, an interesting topic of discussion would be if there are any forms of sex that are essentially negative, or against the principles of feminism, if they’re done by sensitive, equal partners?

    Anything that doesn’t involve complete and informed consent. When in doubt, talk it out!

  5. Jay
    June 10, 2008 at 12:43 pm

    What Cara said. It’s not the acts per se, it’s the meaning attached to them.

    Consent and mutuality, and beyond that whatever floats your boat. To me the mutuality is over the long haul – it doesn’t mean we both have to be wanting the same thing at precisely the same time, every time. It means that sometimes I will do stuff because my partner wants it, and sometimes he’ll do the same for me. But each and every time we both fully consent.

  6. June 10, 2008 at 12:54 pm

    are there any good resources online for sex from a feminist perspective? Not blogs, but more along the lines of info sites.

    Which feminist perspective? You’re going to find a big difference between sex-positive feminists and radical feminists on this one.

    Also, an interesting topic of discussion would be if there are any forms of sex that are essentially negative, or against the principles of feminism, if they’re done by sensitive, equal partners?

    I think this is the wrong question to ask. While I don’t think there are any sexual acts that are essentially/innately negative (with the cop-out of “oh, sensitive equal partners wouldn’t do that” or “that doesn’t count as sex” when it comes to rape), we don’t live in a perfect world. I’m not comfortable saying anything between other people who can and do consent is wrong, but I think some acts – particularly those involving shame, degradation or disrespect – merit closer examination.

    Or is that ideal of a relationship (being very difficult, while everyone thinks they are in one) just likely to obfuscate what might be problematic sex lives?

    I think that a lot of us do think we’re special cases, and that what gets us off isn’t or shouldn’t be problematic *because it gets us off*, and it’s easier to change our philosophy than our libidos. Acknowledging that just because I find something arousing doesn’t make it free of problems is the main reason I call myself a positive-sex feminist rather than a sex-positive one.

  7. June 10, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    I completely agree with Cara and take it one step further– it’s okay for things to vary on a case-by-case basis. While you may be comfortable doing something with one partner, you may not doing it with another (or with the same partner at another time). You have to listen to your body and feelings and see where it takes you.

    It’s okay if you don’t like blow jobs, for example, because YOU don’t like them, not because you think you’re not supposed to. And if a certain guy (since we’re talking about het sex) pressures you to do something, that’s not cool no matter how vanilla it is.

    So, go for it! If you and your guy are both comfortable with something, give it a try, no matter how “negative” other people say it is.

  8. vice abbess
    June 10, 2008 at 1:27 pm

    check out http://www.wakingvixen.com for cool news and views on sex from a feminist perspective- everything from the waxing abstract to practical how-to and links.

  9. June 10, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    Jill, Dr. Petra Boynton has a great site and a blog. Here is the link to her web site:

    http://www.drpetra.co.uk/

    LoveHoney is another good site. It’s a sex toys site that includes very good articles. LoveHoney is part of the Green movement in sex toys. Here’s a link about Lovehoney’s Green perspective:

    http://www.lovehoney.co.uk/help/lovehoney-and-the-environment/

    Here is LoveHoney’s articles page:

    http://www.lovehoney.co.uk/buyersguide.cfm

    There is always my sex column in the British e-zine Nuts4chic. I write with my pseudonym, Elizabeth Black.

    http://www.nuts4chic.com

    Other good reads are Blowfish… (a blog, but a good one)

    http://blog.blowfish.com/

    Tristan Taormino (female)

    http://puckerup.com/

    Violet Blue, the sex columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle

    http://www.sfgate.com/columnists/violetblue/

    I hope that helps!!

    Trish

  10. DAS
    June 10, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    I might add — coming from a somewhat religious yet generally feminist perspective — that what’s more important than the acts themselves is the relationship in which those acts are embedded. Was the relationship an I-Thou relationship established by partners on an equal footing? Did the initiation of the relationship follow sexist tropes of courtship that are ultimately degrading to both men and women (and start off a relationship on the basis of “game playing” that’s unhealthy for the relationship in the long run)? Are both partners respectful of each other as peers?

    All too many relationships are not such partnerships and this is something that should be of concern to feminists — how do we teach our daughters (and our sons) to be strong and independent as individuals so that way they may grow up to engage in healthy relationships? How do we ensure our choices are healthy and egalitarian? How do we make sure that society encourages egalitarian relationships rather than encouraging the propagation of sexist tropes that do no-one any good and ultimately are unhealthy for both men and women?

    In terms of the actual acts themselves, I follow Talmud (Nedarim 20b) — just as we may eat all manner of kosher food, so we may engage in all manner of sexual acts (provided they are consentual and we are safe about them — including condom usage, safe-words for BDSM, etc.). But just as the products and preparation of said food must be in accordance with basic moral laws, the relationship in which said sexual acts occur must be one of respect between equal partners.

  11. Lala
    June 10, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    I agree with Cara, whatever works for the couple works for the couple. As a ‘good catholic girl’ I have worked to separate my beliefs and feelings vs other peoples (and the churches)repressions and mis-teachings. Sex is not ugly evil or wrong. Thats the starting point. Other people are probably saying ‘duh’ but as I said I’m catholic damnit

  12. June 10, 2008 at 2:03 pm

    Also, an interesting topic of discussion would be if there are any forms of sex that are essentially negative, or against the principles of feminism, if they’re done by sensitive, equal partners?

    Surely not.

    As to the other stuff you wrote, I love Sue Johannson (spelling?). You know who I am talking about? That little old lady with the sex show on late at night in Oxygen. She’s great. I love her.

  13. June 10, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    P.S. I am sure Sue Johannson has a book out somewhere…

  14. June 10, 2008 at 2:08 pm

    And I don’t think it’s any different or better for people to be told how to have sex in the name of feminism than for people to be told how to have sex in the name of religion.

    Exactly.

    I also wish there was less chatter about whether we should, and more on “how to have fun with this”. Or something like, “Women and orgasms: It’s not the mystery you think it is.” or something. I am far more interested in contributing to and participating in conversations that are sex-positive, rather than anything frigtfully old topic of ways in which sex is “esssentiall negative or against the principles of..”

  15. Liz
    June 10, 2008 at 2:25 pm

    Violet Blue lists a lot of great stuff on her site.

    As far as steering you towards information about “degrading” sexual acts being performed in a positive manner, well, that’s more of personal opinion, isn’t it?

  16. June 10, 2008 at 2:35 pm

    just as we may eat all manner of kosher food, so we may engage in all manner of sexual acts (provided they are consentual and we are safe about them — including condom usage, safe-words for BDSM, etc.). But just as the products and preparation of said food must be in accordance with basic moral laws, the relationship in which said sexual acts occur must be one of respect between equal partners.

    I love this, DAS!

  17. June 10, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    Sonia, sadly, Sue Johanson’s show has been cancelled by Oxygen. I just rad about it last week. Maybe another network will pick it up.

  18. Kelsey Jarboe
    June 10, 2008 at 3:21 pm
  19. marijane
    June 10, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    The Society for Human Sexuality website has a wealth of sex-positive resources.

    http://www.sexuality.org

  20. June 10, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    I also agree with Cara on this. “It seems to me that allowing patriarchal standards to control sexual choices in one way or the other isn’t helping women or feminism” — well said. The patriarchy has no place in the consenting adult bedroom in any form.

    Obviously, whether certain modes of sexuality should be marketed to kids or in venues where kids have access is a different story. I’m thinking Max Hardcore, stuff like that. I have no problem with consenting adults doing anything, including scenes from these movies, but I think many aspects of sexual media tell a story to young girls that we may wish to hold off on telling.

  21. June 10, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    I completely agree with Cara and take it one step further– it’s okay for things to vary on a case-by-case basis. While you may be comfortable doing something with one partner, you may not doing it with another (or with the same partner at another time). You have to listen to your body and feelings and see where it takes you.

    It’s okay if you don’t like blow jobs, for example, because YOU don’t like them, not because you think you’re not supposed to. And if a certain guy (since we’re talking about het sex) pressures you to do something, that’s not cool no matter how vanilla it is.

    Great additions, Sally! I always feel like these kinds of things are implied, forgetting that for very large numbers of people . . . they’re not.

  22. miffedkit
    June 10, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    apologies– messed up the html…let me try again…

    It’s not a website, but The Guide to Getting it on is one of the best sexuality guides EVER. Check out the website http://www.goofyfootpress.com/.

    I teach about sexuality for a living and the questions I get from students/friends/strangers on the street are about about whether or not they’re supposed to enjoy, do, want, or give something sexual. Supposed to. I think it can be very confusing to be a U.S. feminist (my only experience of feminism) because there are so many conflicting messages about what’s okay. In my experience it can be hard to find your own voice, sex-wise, because there’s a lot of shouting going on.

    I have a baby thought about women taking ownership of their sexuality and the myriad ways that mainstream culture AND some aspects of feminism have encouraged and discouraged this… love to write more about this but I have to get back to work…

  23. Ann
    June 10, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    That is my baby thought too– but I want it BIG. I want to start a SLOW SEX movement–with all the same concerns the slow food movement has. Like who is exploited in the creation of this orgasm and so forth. Please check out my article on it and let me if you are interested in transparency around what has become the sex industrial complex! http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2008/02/09/6943/

  24. June 10, 2008 at 5:06 pm

    Octogalore said…

    I’m thinking Max Hardcore, stuff like that. I have no problem with consenting adults doing anything, including scenes from these movies

    Can a woman who has her anus held open with a speculum while a man pisses into her, and is then forced to drink the funnelled out piss, be said to be a consenting adult? That’s Max Hardcore movies. If so, should we maybe ask why she might be consenting?

    (If anyone has any doubts about whether Max Hardcore’s pornography is abusive, watch the Channel 4 documentary ‘Hardcore’, in which Max Hardcore rapes a woman on camera, nearly kills her with a forced blow job, and admits that the way Max Hardcore films are made is to basically push women until they won’t/can’t go any further. the women in Max Hardcore films literally do not consent, and are not asked for their consent.)

    Yes, all adults should be free to do whatever they choose to in bed – but we can’t ignore the context of that choice.

    Before I was a feminist (and before I had any self worth) I consented to (and suggested) being held down during sex, having a hand over my mouth, being called a bitch, etc – yeah I chose it, but we make our choices from the options given to us, and as far as I knew, that was the only option… that’s what sex was. Yes, I chose it – but it still fucked me up and fucked up my relationship and my sex life.

    It’s not ‘not-feminist’ to consentually replicate abusive behaviour in our sex lifes, as non of us are immune to messages we’ve received about sex since birth – but do we want it to keep on happening in a feminist society?

    I don’t ever want a women to be in the position I was in – not being able to orgasm unless your partner has a hand over your mouth and he’s calling you bitch.

  25. June 10, 2008 at 6:02 pm

    I am a feminist, and I have a lot of self-worth, and I come like gangbusters when I’m held down and have a hand over my mouth and am called a bitch. I also enjoy sweet, romantic sex where I’m on top and my partner and I have lots of eye-contact and we’re murmuring words of love to each other.

  26. Chel
    June 10, 2008 at 6:22 pm

    To the E-Visible woman…

    You’re right, I don’t think porn should be considered “consentual”. I actually am researching human trafficking at the moment and you would not believe how many porn sites/videos/pictures especially of hardcore/bestiality/gross stuff are abusing women who have been kidnapped/sold into slavery and are not consenting nor making any money from these films. But of course I shouldn’t bring up porn, because everyone will yell at me and say I’m not a feminist for thinking that pissing on a woman’s face is probably a bad thing no matter how you look at it. Even if women can enjoy being a sub (and I’m talking sub, as in a piece of shit that should be killed/raped right now) we should really wonder whether or not she enjoys that because she’s been taught to/always been treated like that anyway…etc. Consent doesn’t ALWAYS make things perfect and coated in sugar.

  27. June 10, 2008 at 6:43 pm

    Chel and E-Visible Woman-

    I agree that consent is a relative term, and that in a great many sexual situations, women technically consent without any real meaning behind it — that is, if a woman is being coerced into doing something (directly or indirectly), she can say “yes” and do it without really having the freedom to say no. That’s a big problem.

    But I wonder what we do about it. From a feminist standpoint it’s not too difficult — we try to fight things like trafficking, we try to establish norms of enthusiastic sexual consent, and we attempt to give women as many options as possible so that the choices they make can be as authentic as possible. But from a legal standpoint, it’s harder. Outlawing porn doesn’t work, and in my opinion, is an impermissible encroachment on free speech and expression. I don’t think that outlawing things you dislike — even things that can be harmful to some people — is always the answer. And I’m not sure there’s any logical way to draw lines in porn to weed out the really harmful stuff (and who gets to define what’s harmful in the first place?). Anyway, point is, I’m also personally repulsed and disgusted by the Max Hardcore stuff… but I wonder how it’s possible in a free society to really regulate that.

    So I tend to err on the side of changing social norms. Sexuality, like everything else, is socialized. It’s something that a lot of feminists have a hard time talking about, because there’s a sense that our sexual freedoms are so hard-earned we don’t want to mess with them by casting a skeptical eye on sex; and there’s the concern that if we talk about problems with the way sex is constructed, we’ll come off as anti-sex. So it’s a tough position. As other commenters said above, there are a lot of women who get off on abusive language and actions during sex, when it’s consensual. And I don’t want to take anyone’s pleasure away, because Lord knows women are told enough that liking sex is dirty or unladylike. But I do think it’s important to examine how our sexual likes and dislikes emerged and developed, and what that means. If women are coming during sex, great. But is it a problem that there are a lot of men out there who also get off on holding women down and calling them bitches? Is it a problem that the sexual power dynamics in hetero couples often (though not always) fall along traditional gender lines?

    Again, this stuff is hard because it often gets read as an attack on individuals, and a lot of people take the view that “if it’s consensual, it’s cool.” But that’s not how feminists approach anything else in the world. Why does sex get a pass? I’d like to think that we can talk about this stuff without individually shaming women about their sex lives, but I don’t know.

  28. June 10, 2008 at 6:54 pm

    heterosexual sexuality with its troublesome past and symbolic meanings

    Symbolic meanings? Sex is a part of reality, and reality isn’t a symbol of anything. A penis in a vagina is a penis in a vagina. Sex is often used as a mode of communication, but I hardly think that my method of getting laid has layered meanings.

  29. K
    June 10, 2008 at 7:28 pm

    E-Visible and Jill,

    meta context: am an avid, educated feminist who enjoys bdsm. I was raised in a stable, white, middle-class environment and have no history of sexual abuse.

    However, there is a level of personal responsibility that needs to be accounted for when it comes to sex. Granted, it’s a bit of a cop-out to just throw the “consenting!” out there, but ultimately we all make our own decisions, and we learn or lose from them. This isn’t about the dangers of bdsm, this is about how you, or me, or Sheila and Mary and Tom handles bdsm. Do you really feel you have the right to judge the context of their involvement, if it’s consensual and safe? Just because you had a negative experience, or found the scene to be negative, does not mean that others will have the same experience.

    Here is some context: BDSM is there (or should be there) to allow those of us with alternate sexual desires to have a safe, consensual, experiences within a contrived, fantasy environment. I know many bdsm couples who use scening as a form of therapy.

    Yes, we should examine why we have sex. It’s okay. There are many bdsm relationships in which the dom is a woman and the sub is a woman, or a man is the dom to a male sub, the woman is the dom. Personally, I prefer female tops or doms (and I’m a woman). But regardless of who is topping me, I only get involved in scenes with people whom I respect and I know respect me, people I know will be sensitive to my needs, listen to my words, and will stop immediately when I use my safe word. If they didn’t fit all those categories, I wouldn’t let them touch me with a ten foot pole. It’s like any relationship, except communication, honesty, and respect are of the utmost importance because you’re dealing with scenarios that are potentially very dangerous or scarring if not handled appropriately.

    I’ve heard people say that folks who get involved with BDSM do so because they were sexually abused, but only one of my friends involved in kink was- and frequently we take this sort of commentary as an attack, because we’re perceived as deviant or perverted or anti-feminist.

    I’m not saying don’t question sexuality or bdsm but it does sound like you don’t have a lot of experience with the subject, or that your experience is fairly hetero-normative. If you are going to analyze or question bdsm and it’s impact/conflict with feminism, you should take the perspectives of those who are involved (and do identify as feminists or equalists) into account.

  30. K
    June 10, 2008 at 7:31 pm

    Excuse me,

    The problem with directing a response at two people with different points. That last paragraph was direct at Jill, specifically.

  31. June 10, 2008 at 7:41 pm

    I agree that consent is a relative term, and that in a great many sexual situations, women technically consent without any real meaning behind it — that is, if a woman is being coerced into doing something (directly or indirectly), she can say “yes” and do it without really having the freedom to say no. That’s a big problem.

    Well, perhaps proving the notion that consent is a relative term (not one that I particularly agree with, though!), I don’t in any way consider this consent. Really, not at all. Been there, done that, still emotionally scarred. I do think that this is a prevailing view, though.

    As other commenters said above, there are a lot of women who get off on abusive language and actions during sex, when it’s consensual. And I don’t want to take anyone’s pleasure away, because Lord knows women are told enough that liking sex is dirty or unladylike. But I do think it’s important to examine how our sexual likes and dislikes emerged and developed, and what that means. If women are coming during sex, great. But is it a problem that there are a lot of men out there who also get off on holding women down and calling them bitches? Is it a problem that the sexual power dynamics in hetero couples often (though not always) fall along traditional gender lines?

    See, I’m not sure about this, because it sounds well good on paper, but this kind of analysis didn’t work for me. It drove me kind of nutty and came close to pathologizing my own sex life. Not only did I end up feeling like crap and feeling guilty about sex for the first time since I actually started having it, I also didn’t come away with any answers. And it’s not fun looking at your husband skeptically when you know that he deeply respects you, just because he also enjoys something that you suggested doing in the first place. I’m not saying that this will be the result for every woman, and I think that E-Visible Woman has a story that probably resonates with a lot of women, regardless of the specific acts involved. But it’s hardly a universal story (and E-Visible, I didn’t get the indication that you thought it was).

    For me, it also comes down to what the relationship is like outside of the sexual realm. If my husband was an asshole to me, or treated me like crap after sex, or didn’t care about my pleasure, I doubt I’d want any sexual contact with him, let alone anything even remotely kinky.

    I don’t know, I guess that my skepticism comes from a place of thinking that examining your sexual desires can be interesting, until you start purposely looking for things that are bad. The indication I’m getting here is that say, the acts listed above, or BDSM or whatever isn’t being asked to be examined in the same way that one would ask a woman to examine why she, I don’t know, enjoys the sight of her lover going down on her. No one seems to expect that woman (who is man of us) to examine the meaning behind it. Maybe I’m wrong about this, but it strikes me as though finding something bad is the goal. But if you find it . . . then what? Assuming you were sexually happy and at peace before — which is the scenario upon which I’m basing this whole argument — what does it solve? If you want to change your sexual habits, great. If you don’t, I guess that I just can’t see the benefit in knowingly putting your desires under negative scrutiny.

  32. June 10, 2008 at 7:45 pm

    Can a woman who has her anus held open with a speculum while a man pisses into her, and is then forced to drink the funnelled out piss, be said to be a consenting adult?

    Absolutely, she can. Why would she not be able to? What assumptions are you working off of?

    Just because something is personally revolting to you, does not give you the right to erase the agency of those who do it.

    (As usual, the caveat about CONSENTING ADULTS applies. I don’t think this should have to be said, but I’m including it just in case.)

  33. June 10, 2008 at 7:46 pm

    Before I was a feminist (and before I had any self worth) I consented to (and suggested) being held down during sex, having a hand over my mouth, being called a bitch, etc – yeah I chose it, but we make our choices from the options given to us, and as far as I knew, that was the only option… that’s what sex was. Yes, I chose it – but it still fucked me up and fucked up my relationship and my sex life.

    And so other women, who are feminists, cannot choose those things?

    That’s pretty offensive.

  34. June 10, 2008 at 8:21 pm

    i kno for me a big step in learning to really enjoy sex was learning about my own body and sexual responses, and for that i really highly reccomend sex for one by betty dodson.

    and i havent read it, but i kno theres a book out there somewhere whos title escapes me thats a how to make love guide written by lesbians for straight couples, which is supposed to be great for making hetero sex less phallocentric and less focused on penetration as the be all end all.

  35. June 10, 2008 at 8:34 pm

    I think it has to be possible to find some position in between “this gets me off, and that’s okay” and “I tried to examine why this gets me off, and it just made me a neurotic mess.” (Note that neither option comes anywhere near “people should be prohibited for doing this.”)

    I realize that’s easier for someone like me, who doesn’t have to deal with nearly as much “slut-shaming” in general, to say. Maybe the thing to do is try to focus more on “positive-sex” concepts like enthusiastic consent, and try to move society toward a point where self-examination without guilt/shame is more feasible?

  36. June 10, 2008 at 8:41 pm

    I’m not saying don’t question sexuality or bdsm but it does sound like you don’t have a lot of experience with the subject, or that your experience is fairly hetero-normative. If you are going to analyze or question bdsm and it’s impact/conflict with feminism, you should take the perspectives of those who are involved (and do identify as feminists or equalists) into account.

    To be clear, I actually wasn’t talking about BDSM — I was talking about “vanilla” hetero relationships, in which the kind of rough sex with abusive language isn’t all that abnormal. That’s what I find a bit more troubling — the prevalence of that kind of stuff in porn, and the normalization of it. BDSM requires discussion and meaningful consent, as far as I can tell, and issues of power trade-offers are the whole point. I don’t think those kinds of discussions happen in a lot of “vanilla’ hetero relationships.

  37. June 10, 2008 at 8:57 pm

    See, I’m not sure about this, because it sounds well good on paper, but this kind of analysis didn’t work for me. It drove me kind of nutty and came close to pathologizing my own sex life.

    Yeah, that’s the heart of the problem right there — I do the same thing. I over-examine, and then I feel guilty for liking certain things, and then nobody wins. But I also think it’s really difficult to separate sex out from the rest of my relationship and the way I view sexuality and men in general. So… no win.

  38. June 10, 2008 at 9:08 pm

    To be clear, I actually wasn’t talking about BDSM — I was talking about “vanilla” hetero relationships, in which the kind of rough sex with abusive language isn’t all that abnormal. That’s what I find a bit more troubling — the prevalence of that kind of stuff in porn, and the normalization of it. BDSM requires discussion and meaningful consent, as far as I can tell, and issues of power trade-offers are the whole point. I don’t think those kinds of discussions happen in a lot of “vanilla’ hetero relationships.

    Oh I definitely agree with you that there need to be conversations. I’m not entirely sure, though, that people who have rough, not strictly BDSM sex don’t have them. Of course, all don’t. Whether or not most do, I have no idea. I was under the impression from anecdotal evidence as well as things I’ve read that concepts like “safe words” were becoming mainstreamed and used in non-BDSM relationships. In any case, I think that it’s a good and important idea, and that couples should have these discussions about what they like and don’t like regardless of whether they like public group sex or 10 minutes of missionary intercourse once a week.

    Interestingly enough, I wouldn’t refer to rough sex as “vanilla.” As I’ve stated, I don’t see anything wrong with it, but I don’t place it in the vanilla category at all really. As we keep proving throughout this thread, sex and views on sex are very subjective!

    Yeah, that’s the heart of the problem right there — I do the same thing. I over-examine, and then I feel guilty for liking certain things, and then nobody wins. But I also think it’s really difficult to separate sex out from the rest of my relationship and the way I view sexuality and men in general. So… no win.

    See, I don’t think that I have the second problem, so long as things are discussed, negotiated and respectful (i.e. while using abusive language during sex wouldn’t generally be considered “respectful,” in this case I mean “respecting the person’s boundaries” and “treating them like a full and equal human being in absolutely every other way). For that kind of situation though, no, I definitely don’t have any easy answers. Maybe in the end I got lucky in that respect.

  39. June 10, 2008 at 9:10 pm

    I think it has to be possible to find some position in between “this gets me off, and that’s okay” and “I tried to examine why this gets me off, and it just made me a neurotic mess.” (Note that neither option comes anywhere near “people should be prohibited for doing this.”)

    I don’t disagree. But what bugs me is what often appears to me to be an undercurrent of, “If you like [x], obviously it means you haven’t examined.”

    What if I *have* examined, and I still like [x], and in all my examining I’ve decided that I’m just fine w/ that, and that I don’t have time for shame?

    (This drives me particularly batty bc I am all about introspection.)

  40. June 10, 2008 at 9:13 pm

    But I also think it’s really difficult to separate sex out from the rest of my relationship and the way I view sexuality and men in general. So… no win.

    But you know what Jill, at a certain point it becomes a zero-sum game. If you keep asking questions that are impossible to answer, since no one lives in a vacuum and our lives are ever-changing, what good are you doing yourself or anyone? I say this as someone who’s been down that road. I finally decided that it was more important for me to have a strong sense of self, and adamantly like what I like and not be ashamed of it – and also be open to the possibility that “what I like” may change at any given time.

  41. June 10, 2008 at 9:27 pm

    What if I *have* examined, and I still like [x], and in all my examining I’ve decided that I’m just fine w/ that, and that I don’t have time for shame?

    What Amber said.

    See, I love having conversations about this stuff. Absolutely adore it. Really. It’s all over my blog lately. I’m gonna have to R-rate that shit pretty soon.

    But I think so much comes down to shame, as Amber said, and wondering what we’re “supposed” to like, and that’s just more having sex to please other people. And whether we’re having sex to please other people that are male or other people that are female, we’re still doing it to please everyone but ourselves, and then, like Jill said, no win.

    I’ve been in pretty kinky relationships and pretty vanilla relationships. I’ve been with people who wanted me to do things that I couldn’t bring myself to do, and I’ve been with people who inspired me to all kinds of devilish(ly fun) stuff. It does indeed vary with the person and the moment.

    No amount of “examining,” though, is going to explain why mostly I get turned on by larger, physically dominant men. And yet outside of the bedroom, I am quite often the dominant one in the relationship.

    As someone said above, a penis in a vagina is just a penis in a vagina. It’s not a symbol of anything when it’s me and someone in the bedroom. It’s just part of what feels good.

    I just think that the absolute last thing we need to do is problematize women’s desires. That’s not going to stop them from having desires or having sex, but it’s going to lead them once again to get used to sublimating their desires to those of someone else, and that someone else, in hetero relationships (since that’s what I think we were discussing) is gonna be a man. And so where has “feminist’ sex gotten us then?

  42. June 10, 2008 at 9:35 pm

    What if I *have* examined, and I still like [x], and in all my examining I’ve decided that I’m just fine w/ that, and that I don’t have time for shame?

    That’s a really good point, and I wasn’t trying to give that impression at all. I came to feminism by way of sex-positive activism, and so as a newbie feminist, a lot of my thinking was influenced by the sex-positive communities I was in, which basically had an “As long as you like it, do it” attitude. I remember having a conversation with a feminist friend of mine who is still one of the smartest women I’ve ever met, and we were talking about rape fantasies. I said something along the lines of, “Well, it’s not my bag, but if it’s what some women like, that’s great.” And she pushed back pretty hard, and was asking, “But what does it mean if women are fantasizing about being raped? What does it mean if men are fantasizing about raping women? We talk about how rape is about power and not sex, but sex is about power, too — how can we say that this isn’t a problem on a larger level?”

    That was a lot of years ago, but it’s has me thinking about things a lot more critically ever since. So I didn’t mean to imply that no one has examined their shit if they like certain things — I just meant that I hadn’t examined my shit, and I’m still working through how I balance feminism and sex.

  43. June 10, 2008 at 9:37 pm

    I just think that the absolute last thing we need to do is problematize women’s desires. That’s not going to stop them from having desires or having sex, but it’s going to lead them once again to get used to sublimating their desires to those of someone else, and that someone else, in hetero relationships (since that’s what I think we were discussing) is gonna be a man. And so where has “feminist’ sex gotten us then?

    Word.

  44. June 10, 2008 at 9:55 pm

    Didn’t get that impression from you at all Jill; I was responding to another commenter. But thanks for the clarification. I think w/ issues like this that are so sensitive for so many of us (with good reason), it’s worthwhile to err on the side of going overboard w/ the “I’m speaking for myself only” disclaimers.

  45. June 10, 2008 at 9:58 pm

    I agree with a lot that has been said. I think context is crucial and I think that sex acts don’t exist in a vacuum–they have symbolic meaning. But I think that gets lost oftentimes in the very divisive and unnecessarily reductive prosex/antisex arguments. I think “consenting adults” is important, but the context of consent is too–we need to be self-reflexive of our decisions and desires and think about in what context are acts given value? Why are they deemed sexy or desirable? While I don’t think politics should overtake the bedroom, I also don’t support the “whatever you like is fine” approach. Our desires aren’t immune to cultural influence so why shouldn’t we treat them as a cultural product, subject to critique just like everything else is?

  46. trouble
    June 10, 2008 at 10:18 pm

    I just think that the absolute last thing we need to do is problematize women’s desires

    I totally disagree. I also think Cara’s statement about “what gets us off is not actually getting us off” is missing the same point. It’s not about what gets you off, it’s about whether it supports sexism and the patriarchy or works against it.

    look, the patriarchy exists because it is embedded in all social institutions. That includes our desires.

    In the same way that my feelings of self-worth and attractiveness are shaped by the society I live in (i.e. my meeting particular standards of beauty make me FEEL GOOD), so too are my feelings of excitement in the bedroom.

    If people take feminism to mean the validation of anything a woman does (or says she has consented to), then we deny the reaity of patriarchy and how it works. It’s not just some vast exteral machine forced on us by evil outsiders, it works by embedding itself in our worldviews and our psyches. That’s part of why we criticize media portrayals of women, because it affects us, right? not just because it is factually inaccurate, but because that inaccuracy contributes to sexism, sexist expectations (including our expectations of ourselves)

    And as several people pointed out, “consent” is not a free pass here. Just like many workers “consent” to their contracts but don’t have much real freedom to refuse demands their bosses make on them, many women consent to patriarchy because there are fewer options. Many women marry abusive husbands, and even defend their husbands right to beat them – do we say they consented to it?

    Just as patriarchy affects our desires, it also affects our personal relationships. Does “the personal is political” stop in the bedroom? I’m afraid it does not. I’m actually surprised by the extent to which people here are very traditionally affirming a boundary of “privacy” which has been very problematic for women. Abusive partners rely on the “privacy” of their relationship as a shield against criticism or accountability. Privacy arguments have not been a good friend to feminism in many cases.

    I understand that it’s very difficult if not impossible to change our desires. But that’s different from pretending that they in themselves are liberating.

    I can (and do) conform to some mainstream attractiveness standards. I won’t lie that I like the way I like, and it feels good to do so. But part of that is a privilege (not everyone can do so). In fact it does contribute to (or at least not help) maintaining those fucked up beauty standards that some women simply cannot achieve. I don’t beat myself up about it, but neither do I tell myself that I am furthering gender equality when in fact I am not.

    I’m not saying I know where the line is, I’m only saying it is much more complicated than some statements here seem to suggest.

  47. Solitary
    June 10, 2008 at 10:25 pm

    bad – he said I had to, that if I loved him I would.
    I like sex, but the church says it’s bad to do it before marriage, so now I feel guilty. (paraphrased from what a teenager recently told me.)
    If I don’t have sex with him, he will leave me.

    good – My cousin enjoys auto-erotic asphixiation Personally, that pushes all sorts of buttons and I would never be able to do it in a million years, no matter how much I trusted the other person. When my cousin told me this – I got the feeling she was confessing to either shock me or to find out if she was hopelessly ‘bad’ for enjoying it – I asked her if she did it because she enjoyed it or because her partner did. She said she really liked it. I asked if they had any sort of safe word. She said she held a small cat ball in her hand whenever they ‘played’ games like this. I told her that as long as everything was consensual and safe, that she should have fun, but I also said that if she ever needed to talk, I would listen. Needless to say, I’ve heard quite a few things over the years I could have lived without! I changed her diapers, for goodness sake, hearing about her toys is a bit much.

    I could come up with other examples of people engaging in sex acts many consider ‘bad’ to one degree or another, but it doesn’t matter. As long as it is done with consent and for the pleasure of both parties, I think enjoying sex is a great expression of both femininity and feminism. For so long women have been told they can’t enjoy sex and if they do that makes them a bad person. By all means, enjoy your body and enjoy what you and your partner can do with one another.

  48. June 10, 2008 at 10:41 pm

    lindabeth,

    Ok, so we critique our desires – what’s the desired outcome? We might decide we actually *don’t* like something we “thought” we liked; that’s always a possibility, yes. But what if we critique/examine/whatever, and find we still have these desires? Then what? Do we keep on with ’em, just so long as we feel sufficiently guilty (because THAT’S so different from how women’s sexuality is cast in society already); do we try to repress them and pretend they don’t exist (because that always works SO well)? What do we do?

    Or maybe, just maybe, “critiquing” desires is entirely the wrong framework.

    Personally I say to hell with guilt, shame, and pathologizing sexual desire.

  49. June 10, 2008 at 10:43 pm

    I remember having a conversation with a feminist friend of mine who is still one of the smartest women I’ve ever met, and we were talking about rape fantasies. I said something along the lines of, “Well, it’s not my bag, but if it’s what some women like, that’s great.” And she pushed back pretty hard, and was asking, “But what does it mean if women are fantasizing about being raped? What does it mean if men are fantasizing about raping women? We talk about how rape is about power and not sex, but sex is about power, too — how can we say that this isn’t a problem on a larger level?”

    Well, in something of a defense of “rape fantasies,” most things I’ve read by sex expert type people say that the term is often misconstrued. As hopefully most people know by now, “rape fantasy” is not anywhere near the same as “desire to be raped.” But I think, again as has been confirmed by many sex experts, that most rape fantasies aren’t about being the subject of violence and terror so much as they are about erotic helplessness. And that “rape fantasies” can vary from actually getting off on being or thinking about being the subject of violence to simply enjoying being held down during sex (which is still about the feeling of sexual powerlessness).

    By the way, I’m probably totally jinxing it now, but I’ve been really impressed that we’re almost at 50 comments and have thus far managed to keep this discussion generally civil and interesting.

  50. E.
    June 10, 2008 at 10:47 pm

    lindabeth, I agree. And further, I think the point of subjecting desires to cultural critique should emphatically *not* be to shame individual women out of their desires. The key problem seems to me to be, as Jill alluded to, the distinction between morally blaming individual people and pointing out systemic (cultural, political) facts that infuse sex with meaning (because it is indeed infused with meaning). The follow-up to the kind of examination we’re talking about shouldn’t be individual shame, it should be anger at the systemic facts that influence sexual power dynamics. I realize that this can make it sound like I’m saying people’s desires are completely culturally determined, which I don’t think is true, but what I want to emphasize is that, for me at least, the way I react to a problematic sexual fantasy is not by blaming myself but by re-focusing on systematic aspects of patriarchy.

  51. June 10, 2008 at 11:08 pm

    Ok, so we critique our desires – what’s the desired outcome? We might decide we actually *don’t* like something we “thought” we liked; that’s always a possibility, yes. But what if we critique/examine/whatever, and find we still have these desires? Then what? Do we keep on with ‘em, just so long as we feel sufficiently guilty (because THAT’S so different from how women’s sexuality is cast in society already); do we try to repress them and pretend they don’t exist (because that always works SO well)? What do we do?

    We (well, I – I’m coming from a slightly different place here, as men’s sexuality is cast *very* differently from women’s) work with them. It’s not about eradicating desires so much as about finding just where the appeal lies, and becoming better able to reconcile those desires with other principles we deem important.

  52. June 10, 2008 at 11:13 pm

    Ok, “work with them” – but what does that MEAN? Just saying “work with them” is not good enough for me – I don’t know what that means, or what that looks like, in a concrete sense. What do we actually DO?

    And, reconcile our sexual desires w/ other principles? Well, personally, I don’t see any facet of my sexuality as being in *opposition* to any of my principles, or needing to be reconciled.

  53. E.
    June 10, 2008 at 11:31 pm

    I think the point of subjecting desires to cultural critique should emphatically *not* be to shame individual women out of their desires. The key problem seems to me to be, as Jill alluded to, the distinction between morally blaming individual people and pointing out systemic (cultural, political) facts that infuse sex with meaning (because it is indeed infused with meaning). The follow-up to the kind of examination we’re talking about shouldn’t be individual shame, it should be anger at the systemic facts that influence sexual power dynamics. I realize that this can make it sound like I’m saying people’s desires are completely culturally determined, which I don’t think is true, but what I want to emphasize is that, for me at least, the way I react to a problematic sexual fantasy is not by blaming myself but by re-focusing on systemic aspects of patriarchy.

  54. Chel
    June 10, 2008 at 11:41 pm

    Thank you for your response Jill. My reaction involved some head bobbing mixed in with some ‘ah hah good point’ moments. Thanks for giving me something to think about more, and to everyone else who commented :)

  55. Chel
    June 10, 2008 at 11:42 pm

    p.s. to the person who assumed I am straight…don’t assume :D

  56. June 10, 2008 at 11:54 pm

    Amber, in defense of Jeff, I think that we do construct men’s sexuality in ways that encourage violent and degrading fantasy. I don’t want to hurt women, both as a decent person and as a feminist. Here’s an over-share: years ago, I was in a relationship with a woman who liked to be slapped hard in bed — all over, including on the face. At first I refused to do it, then I started doing it, and then I realized I liked doing it. A lot. And I went through a period of typically agonized reflection about what that meant.

    In the end, I figured out that my socialization and hers made this hitting desirable to both of us. And I accepted that it wasnt my job to rescue her from her “issues”, or to, as you say, “pathologize” her. At the same time, it wasn’t something I could stay comfortable with. I didn’t like mixing lust and rage, because for me — and this was just for me — doing what we did brought up those feelings in a very powerful and co-mingled way. We broke up for many reasons, and this was one of them. I’m a world-wise vanilla, after all.

    If I may, here’s a post from last year on this:

    http://hugoschwyzer.net/2007/10/01/private-pain-private-pleasure-and-public-justice-a-follow-up-on-feminism-sexuality-and-bdsm/

    Key quote:

    if honesty, integrity, communication, trust and concern for the other’s well-being are the hallmarks of good sex, then I think it quite possible that many practitioners of BDSM could meet that standard at least as well as those of us who are cheerfully “vanilla.” One thing I’ve learned from my friends in that “scene”: it is possible to “perform” acts of domination and submission in the bedroom (or the family dungeon!) while also practicing radical respect and mutuality. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a huge amount of potential for ritualized self-abuse, soul-destroying cruelty, and toxic exploitation within the BDSM world. But you can have miserable, selfish, damaging sex with your spouse in the missionary position with the lights off. Take it from this thrice-divorced fella. The postures adopted, the wedding bands present or not, and the toys and tools used do not tell us much about whether or not sex is mutual, loving, or safe.

    Ultimately, “Good Sex” (in the larger sense of “contributing to the greater good” as well as mutually pleasurable) can happen in an almost infinite variety of ways. And though it does not fall into the realm of my own experience, I am reliably assured by those whom I trust that it can even involve the carefully negotiated use of pain and domination.

  57. Anonymous for this one
    June 11, 2008 at 12:59 am

    Before I was a feminist (and before I had any self worth) I consented to (and suggested) being held down during sex, having a hand over my mouth, being called a bitch, etc

    I am a feminist, and I absolutely love being held down, having a hand over my mouth, and being called names. It makes me feel safe. It makes me feel unconditional trust.

    This type of sex didn’t work for you. It was hurting you. It came from a bad place. You realized that. You stopped. This is a good thing. This is what makes feminism great: being able to self-examine, and to change.

    I changed too. I realized that tender, affectionate sex wasn’t enough. That there was a real lack there, and a need. I acted on my desires, and I am happy with the result.

    Am I an abuse survivor? Hell yes. Lots of abuse survivors have non-vanilla sex. It’s not a horrible wrong that’s going to be righted with feminist literature and lots of hugs.

    I can’t speak for all survivors, but the trust that I feel when I have non-vanilla sex is a major component of my relationship. Letting my guard down in this way is a major healing experience. Even panic attacks have gone down significantly in recent years. And the feeling of guilt has drained away.

    I think feminism has played an integral part in all of this, just like it did for you.

    “But what does it mean if women are fantasizing about being raped? What does it mean if men are fantasizing about raping women?

    A lot of the rape fantasies aren’t *really* rape fantasies. Cara mentioned erotic helplessness, which is a good one. The very phrase “rape fantasy” is an interesting one – it has the flavor of transgression about it, but the issue of desire makes it more complicated than what it looks like on the surface.

    I have so-called rape fantasies all the time. But deep down, they are about me desiring something, rather than having something forced upon me.

    I think that men who fantasize about rape fall into a variety of categories; anywhere from the Ted Bundy category to the “honey, I’m going to tie you up and f*** your brains out when I get home from that business trip” (cue excited squealing on the other end of the line). Then there’s also the fact that some men fantasize about women giving enthusiastic consent where none can be given (think about the protagonist of Lolita, imagining an utterly willing, playful, and excited little girl who really, really wants him).

    Are these thoughts dangerous? Of course, they can be. Human sexuality can be a dangerous thing. It has its dark sides. I’ve known as much for years. I don’t think we can make the dark sides go away either, but there are many women and men who can be helped by the notion of sex positivity and the radical idea that woman are people.

    How many men have seriously messed-up desires due to their inability to reconcile an internal conflict with the opposite sex? How many are not able to channel their negative energy into something positive? How many women punish themselves with things they don’t like, because that’s what “good girls” do, or whatever? I think feminism can be a tool that helps out, if at least in part.

  58. AndersH
    June 11, 2008 at 4:56 am

    As the writer of the question, I figured I’d add (before even reading the thread) that I wasn’t really looking for written-in-stone answers, so much as relevant questions to ask and reflect upon.

  59. June 11, 2008 at 7:24 am

    Humm. Maybe the feminist thing would be to stop “gently telling” people how to have sex, that they are doing it wrong, and making “no woman, feminist or otherwise, could like doing X, no way they could actually enjoy/consent to THAT.”

    Non-Vanilla folk examine a lot, really. And saying otherwise and displaying such condeming shock and awe at what they might actually like? Humm, it can cause shame.

  60. June 11, 2008 at 7:26 am

    Amber, in defense of Jeff, I think that we do construct men’s sexuality in ways that encourage violent and degrading fantasy.

    Again, I don’t disgaree, but I got the impression that the conversation was about women’s sexuality, not men’s.

  61. June 11, 2008 at 7:28 am

    In the end, I figured out that my socialization and hers made this hitting desirable to both of us.

    Ok, so that’s your experience. Mine is? Only in my current relationship, where I feel a degree of comfort, trust, and understanding I’ve never felt before w/ a partner, do a feel comfortable opening up and sharing some of the fantasies I never would’ve shared with a partner before. I never would have felt comfortable acting on a lot of them because the trust level was not there. Now, I feel that bond of trust, and it feels wonderfu, joyful, dare I say liberating, to share such things with my partner.

  62. June 11, 2008 at 8:52 am

    See, I’m not sure about this, because it sounds well good on paper, but this kind of analysis didn’t work for me. It drove me kind of nutty and came close to pathologizing my own sex life. Not only did I end up feeling like crap and feeling guilty about sex for the first time since I actually started having it, I also didn’t come away with any answers. And it’s not fun looking at your husband skeptically when you know that he deeply respects you, just because he also enjoys something that you suggested doing in the first place.

    Yes. THIS. This happened to me too. I couldn’t touch anyone at all in any way, even the supposedly egalitarian and nonthreatening ones, because I basically wound up deciding I knew both what I wanted and that what I wanted was bad, awful, and horrible.

    A lot of people may be new to feminism and not yet have encountered the “examining” thingummy, and not yet realized they actually don’t like rough sex or like BDSM or whatever. But for people like me — people who spent years of our youth overcoming conditioning *from the larger culture* that said “It’s not OK to dominate men” and then wandered off to feministlund only to hear “It’s not OK to dominate men”… not very productive.

  63. June 11, 2008 at 8:57 am

    As a person who was a moderator at http://www.scarleteen.com for six years, I can recommend this as a sex-positive site for straight and gay mwn and women in the 13-19 year old age group.

  64. June 11, 2008 at 9:19 am

    I didn’t like mixing lust and rage, because for me — and this was just for me — doing what we did brought up those feelings in a very powerful and co-mingled way.

    Just a note to this: I did end up, in one BDSM relationship, trying out “punishment” dynamics that I felt mixed lust and rage for both of us, and I had the same experience. It was very unhealthy. But the thing is, for me (and I’m not saying this is true of anyone else) that rage was very different from what other dynamics and activities I enjoyed felt like. And the other thing is that, well, knowing that those punishment things didn’t work really didn’t take “examining” of the sort being described here. At least in my case, I knew right away what emotions I was engaging with.

  65. June 11, 2008 at 9:26 am

    I think that men who fantasize about rape fall into a variety of categories; anywhere from the Ted Bundy category to the “honey, I’m going to tie you up and f*** your brains out when I get home from that business trip” (cue excited squealing on the other end of the line). Then there’s also the fact that some men fantasize about women giving enthusiastic consent where none can be given (think about the protagonist of Lolita, imagining an utterly willing, playful, and excited little girl who really, really wants him).

    Why is it supposedly that men fantasize specifically about doing the ravishing, and women fantasize specifically about being “taken?” It really seems to me sometimes, as someone who had vivid fantasies of ravishing men since age seventeen, that many feminists — people who are committed, among other things, to dismantling gender stereotypes — have some really traditionalist (and heterocentrist) pictures in their head about how “rough sex,” whether that’s BDSM or just a forceful romp, looks.

  66. Mindworm
    June 11, 2008 at 9:38 am

    I think this post, and the comments thread that follows it touch upon an interesting subject. Feminism, like any movement for social change, begins by identifying and problematizing social and cultural tendencies and fields, and calls for awareness and change to the systems of control and oppression that it identifies, and conversely creates a movement towards an ideal future society. But there’s a tension in movements like this between seeing the current situation as essentially bad and calling for it to change and, on the other hand, an acceptance of the situation, seeing the limitations that exist for individuals and organizations to change the basic structure of the society you wish to change. The sex situation shows this so acutely, because it literally gets into your skin: I have these attitudes towards sex that I have, because of my socialization and upbringing. And that wasn’t all feminist. When I identify problems with how women, sexuality and sexual practices are viewed in society, I also identify the ways in which my personal views on this have been influenced by those views. And even though I can envision a utopian society, I can “have a dream” about a perfect, feminist world, I still live my waking life in this imperfect reality.

    I think views on sexuality that state that some practices are “just wrong” no matter the context are trying to utopianize reality, to try and reduce the complexity of the real world down to a manageable list of do’s and don’ts, and I don’t see that as an effective way to engender change. But on the other hand, a realistic, “let’s do what we can with what we have here and now” point of view can, if taken to the extreme, be just as counter-productive since there’s an “anything-goes” nihilism inherent in that. Walking that thin line between pushing a utopia on others and isolating every individual in the bubble of their own preferenses and desires, I guess, is what feminism is about to me. I don’t think the problem is really the over-examining of the issues; the problem, at least it is what really brings me down, is that feeling of disappointment that one gets when you compare your ideals and hopes for society with its current state (or your ideals and hopes for your personal sexuality with the ideal of sexuality you have; I know I have one). But I think that dichotomy can also be a source of productive ideas and inspiration for useful work, as long as it doesn’t turn into self-loathing. I don’t really have a solution to this problem, but this post, and especially the comments discussion, just made me see it so clearly. Thank you.

  67. June 11, 2008 at 9:40 am

    Ok, “work with them” – but what does that MEAN? Just saying “work with them” is not good enough for me – I don’t know what that means, or what that looks like, in a concrete sense. What do we actually DO?

    What it means to me is that “this turns me on, and therefore it’s good” gets replaced with “this turns me on, this is why it turns me on, these are elements of it that I’m less comfortable with, these are why I’m uncomfortable with them, these sources of discomfort I repudiate, these other sources of discomfort I accommodate by choosing practices that reduce or eliminate them.”

    How it looks from a behaviorist perspective? I think it really depends on the person; for me, it’s meant communicating with partners about the above (i.e., not just what we like, but why) and it’s meant rejecting forms of representational erotica and “imposed sexuality” that I’m ambivalent about in favor of forms I can embrace without reservation.

  68. June 11, 2008 at 10:04 am

    What it means to me is that “this turns me on, and therefore it’s good” gets replaced with “this turns me on, this is why it turns me on, these are elements of it that I’m less comfortable with, these are why I’m uncomfortable with them, these sources of discomfort I repudiate, these other sources of discomfort I accommodate by choosing practices that reduce or eliminate them.”

    Okay, and what if there AREN’T elements your uncomfortable with? Or what if you work through your discomfort by coming to greater self-acceptance, instead of self-flagellating based on societal expectations of you to police your sexuality? Then what? Is the examination not good enough?

    What if communication with partners means that you ask for what you want, unapologetically, and your partners do the same? And what if that means consenting adults deciding they want to do things that other people might not be wild about?

    Because what I keep getting from all of this is a not-so-subtle indication that if you don’t decide to STOP doing certain things, it’s not good enough. I smell the unmistakable odor of judgment and shaming, and it stinks. I don’t know what you mean by “imposed sexuality,” but I would greatly appreciate you not imposing YOUR idea of what sexuality should or shouldn’t be onto ME.

  69. June 11, 2008 at 10:05 am

    “Okay, and what if there AREN’T elements your uncomfortable with?” – should be YOU’RE. My inner grammarian just cringed.

  70. Emily
    June 11, 2008 at 10:38 am

    I think we have to ask whether there is a trade-off between affirming acts that are “shocking” to MANY and lessening shame versus denouncing them and making it easier to “prove” or “establish” that consent was not in fact given for them.

    Yes, there will be people who have thoughtfully examined their desires, who enact them in the context of caring, equal partnerships with people whom they trust and have discussed their preferences with. BUT, there will also be people who are pressured, who “say yes” because they think they should, or because they kinda sorta want to, but don’t feel comfortable or know how to have the conversations that make those actions so much less problematic.

    And at a certain point, I think there is a trade-off because the background ASUMPTION matters. When we hear of other people’s sex acts (porn, gosspip, internet) if we ASSUME they are problematic/not fully consensual, then we “shame” the people who truly want to engage in them, but if we ASSUME they are not problematic, then we are less likely to “catch” those who are exploiting women vulnerable to being pressured into giving a fake “consent.”

    The Max Hardcore example struck me. Amber says “why not assume that a woman would consent to that.” But I think we agree that coerced consent, consent based on desperation or duress, is not the kind of consent that makes an act OK. The kind of consent that makes an act OK is the type described by some BDSMers in attendance – talking, safe word, equality outside of the sexual part of the relationship. When we hear about the Max Hardcore scene – should we really PRESUME, without evidence to the contrary, that that was produced with the kind of REAL, VALID consent that (I think) we agree is necessary?? Or should we PRESUME, that it is problematic, unless we hear the woman involved explain, as some commenters here have, all the safeguards that are in place to make sure that her boundaries are respected?

    There is a role in culture and the law for a background presumption – which can be overcome by evidence. My presumption that some sex acts are degrading does not mean that I consider what you do in your bedroom degrading. It means that I want to know about the safeguards in place before saying I don’t think it’s a problem.

    I think our opinions on this are based A LOT on our own experiences and social circles. Those in BDSM circles may assume that certain safeguards are usually in place for people doing XYZ because that’s what they know and see. People whose social circles are not as open about talking about specific sex acts or sex in general, may be more like to assume a lack of safeguards/communication.

  71. June 11, 2008 at 10:49 am

    Okay, and what if there AREN’T elements you’re uncomfortable with? Or what if you work through your discomfort by coming to greater self-acceptance, instead of self-flagellating based on societal expectations of you to police your sexuality? Then what? Is the examination not good enough?

    The thing about a call to personal reflection is that it’s personal – nobody else can say “this is good enough.” As for coming to greater self-acceptance: that’s one of the goals, I think; it’s as much about acknowledging one’s sexuality as policing it. (I know it had that effect for me; one of the big things that delving into these issues accomplished for me was to separate “innate” desires – the things I want because that’s how I’m wired – from “imposed” ones – the things I want because that’s what society tells me I want.)

  72. meggygurl
    June 11, 2008 at 11:05 am

    Hmmm… this is an interesting thread. It’s been a while since I have had sex with a man (Gay since 2003) so I will do my best to reflect back on those experiences.

    I apologize in advance, I am a classic over sharer.

    My first sexual relationship was as vanilla as two 17 year olds could be. This, was not my choice. My bf shamed me for wanting more. He would tell me he wanted to make love to me while looking in my eyes. This brought us down to only two positions. Me on top or him. he was always looking me in the eyes and holding me, and I have never been more shamed and self loathing in a relationship. And that was because he made me feel dirty for wanting something different. I also hated giving head. HATED IT. It’s not that I find it degrading, I found it tiring and uncomfortable. I gave head only because I wanted the return favor. It became a chore for me.

    My current relationship is with a woman, and i know you are looking at only hetero relationships, but we experiment with mild bdsm (spanking/biting and tying up are about as kinky as we get) and never have I felt more respected in my life. Mainly because she is not telling me what I should like, she’s asking me what I DO like. It makes all the difference.

    I would say most sexual relationships can be good feminist relationships as long as there is respect and understanding. The kind of sex I find to be less important then how the person treats you.

  73. June 11, 2008 at 11:08 am

    The thing about a call to personal reflection is that it’s personal – nobody else can say “this is good enough.” As for coming to greater self-acceptance: that’s one of the goals, I think; it’s as much about acknowledging one’s sexuality as policing it. (I know it had that effect for me; one of the big things that delving into these issues accomplished for me was to separate “innate” desires – the things I want because that’s how I’m wired – from “imposed” ones – the things I want because that’s what society tells me I want.)

    Exactly, so why do I get the distinct impression on threads like this that there ARE people saying “that’s not good enough?”

  74. Thomas
    June 11, 2008 at 11:22 am

    Trin wrote:

    It really seems to me sometimes, as someone who had vivid fantasies of ravishing men since age seventeen, that many feminists — people who are committed, among other things, to dismantling gender stereotypes — have some really traditionalist (and heterocentrist) pictures in their head about how “rough sex,” whether that’s BDSM or just a forceful romp, looks.

    She and I are bookends on this: she a female dominant, and I a male bottom with submissive tendencies. I echo what she says: the usually unspoken assumption that men top and women bottom undergirds almost all of the feminist criticism of BDSM that I’ve seen (and its cousin set of assumptions, that in same-sex relationships the more masculine-identified people top).

    The heteronormative and traditionalist assumption is so visible to me because I mostly bottom: I do lost of the things that some folks say women can’t do consensually. Obviously a man’s sexuality and experiences in patriarchy are very starkly different, but it does answer a question for me that I think some anti-BDSM folks have no answer for and make an unstated assumption: the question “how could anyone like that?!” (My personal answer, in no particular order is the intimacy of exchanging power with a trusted partner; the intimacy of a shared violation of social norms about dignity, power, pain or cleanliness; and the physical rush of accepting and dealing with intense sensation.)

    On a different topic, do folks know that Max Hardcore (I hate him so much that I refer to him in comment threads as Max Whatsisname, rather than point people who don’t already know of him in this direction) was just convicted on obscentiy in federal court in Tampa? Now, lots of us, maybe all of us, are critical of obscenity as a way of approaching sexually explicit material: Dworkin famously disagreed with MacKinnon over the Butler decision in Canada because she just didn’t think an obscenity model could be salvaged. But it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving POS.

    I can’t find it right now, but Violet Blue wrote something a few months back about the generation of abuse porn (my term, not hers) and its popularity that was basically critical because (and I’m cribbing from my admittedly biased recollection) it centers the power dynamics of BDSM without the norms of communication and consent that the BDSM community has had decades of experience building. That’s certainly what I think; in fact, assholes like Max do everything they can to remove the trappings of BDSM from what they do and make it look like nonconsensual abuse (and I have no trouble believing that it often is; I’ve read accounts of women on those porn sets who wanted to stop and were raped). They want the hard work of people like me and Trinity and the generations that came before to provide cover for them, but they don’t want to import the norms of mutuality and affirmative consent. Well, to hell with that. They shouldn’t get to ride the BDSM communty’s coattails to normalize the abuse of women.

  75. June 11, 2008 at 11:37 am

    Exactly, so why do I get the distinct impression on threads like this that there ARE people saying “that’s not good enough?”

    That’s what I’m trying to figure out – how did this turn into yet another round of Kink On Trial?

    I think I screwed up early on by singling out acts “involving shame, degradation or disrespect” as particularly worthy of examination. My thought process was more along the lines that nobody should have to feel ashamed, degraded or disrespected unless it’s something they’re specifically seeking out; I forgot that in some circles those words are synonymous with kink in general.

  76. CM
    June 11, 2008 at 11:53 am

    Trin: As a bisexual woman, I sometimes have “rape fantasies” — they usually involve a man “raping” a woman (who really, really enjoys it). On that same note, I sometimes think the men in my fantasies are really ME. Which is interesting. Perhaps I want to dominate, but can only fantasize about it if I’m the man. Interesting. Now I’m reflecting!

    I don’t have much more to add; I just wanted to say that I’ve really enjoyed this post and the comments within.

  77. crow
    June 11, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    I just want to say, I’m glad this topic was brought up, and there are a lot of interesting links here.

    About BDSM: People cannot make their sexual fantasies go away by willing them away. People cannot change what they are and no one should have to feel guilty about being what they are. It is rather arrogant to assume that some people would stop enjoying certain sex acts if they only knew better. Research has been done on this subject, and no correlation between public personality and bedroom personality has ever been shown.

    I’ll admit there are some kinks that make me feel as if there must be something wrong with the people who practice them, such as infantilism. But even if they are not strictly normal or even mentally healthy, I am not going to dismiss anyone as immoral if they aren’t hurting anybody (without their consent). Even normal sex can be harmful and addictive to some people, but that doesn’t mean the people who have problems simply lack the correct values.

  78. another temporary anon
    June 11, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    I can really identify with those saying that true, healthy BDSM (vs. the Max stuff) is about intimate power exchanges and the like, because I know that I have enjoyed a variety of experiences that might be considered “light” BDSM, and for me personally the gender roles were never fixed. My fascination with dom/sub began when I was a teenager, when the thought of two gay men having dom/sub sex turned me on more than anything that was happening for me in reality did. Later, with my second boyfriend, we tried some play where I was the dom, and he was the sub, and it was intensely gratifying for me. With my current boyfriend, I’m the sub and he is the dom, and it’s the best sex I’ve had in my life. I know that position during BDSM sex is not fluid for everyone, but for me it is, and I’ve been both the top and bottom, and don’t find anything inherently wrong with enjoying submission at the moment. The same things that my second boyfriend liked in bed, I like now. Certainly there is a danger that women might be coerced or expected to be submissive in their sexual relationships, and it’s important to inform them that this need not be, but I think that sexual power dynamics handled by two responsible people can be great fun, and not at all damaging if handled with care.

  79. Chel
    June 11, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    it centers the power dynamics of BDSM without the norms of communication and consent that the BDSM community has had decades of experience building. That’s certainly what I think; in fact, assholes like Max do everything they can to remove the trappings of BDSM from what they do and make it look like nonconsensual abuse (and I have no trouble believing that it often is; I’ve read accounts of women on those porn sets who wanted to stop and were raped). They want the hard work of people like me and Trinity and the generations that came before to provide cover for them, but they don’t want to import the norms of mutuality and affirmative consent. Well, to hell with that. They shouldn’t get to ride the BDSM communty’s coattails to normalize the abuse of women.

    This is something more people should be critical of, instead of wondering if their BDSM (true bdsm) sex is something they shouldn’t be enjoying. There is definitely a line between something that is widely understood and practiced as consent like BDSM and acts that are guised as BDSM but are simply being performed for the degredation of women like he said about Max, but I also mean in relationships/one night stands, etc. In my current relationship we enjoy mild BDSM, but the bottom is not based on who is the more feminine of us, which, like someone said above, is what usually happens even in same-sex relationships.

    It just does seem like there is something to the point that women are more likely to be bottoms and men are more likely to be tops. I’m just wondering/thinking if that has anything to do with socialization and gender roles, because I think we can all agree that women are not inherently meant for abusive treatment in any part of life. True, women should be able to choose for themselves on what they want to partake in. But we can also ask stay-at-home-moms across the country why they are doing what they are doing and many will probably just say “because I am a good mother, or this is what mothers do”. Not to get off topic, but I don’t think the smaller number of stay-at-home-dads would say “this is just what fathers are supposed to do”. It’s kind of the same observation we should make as feminists with anything( I know, how tiring right?) because that’s technically the whole point of working toward gender equity. Women who have only ever been the bottom in relationships may just come to the conclusion that “that’s what women do” or should enjoy. Examining where behavior may not be equal in areas like sex, even if the behavior being observed/questioned isn’t anecdotally what some of you who have posted loving being (pseudo?)- abused during sex would consider wrong. I’m just saying it is good to keep questioning (but not obsessing).

  80. Chel
    June 11, 2008 at 12:13 pm

    Oops… I exactly switched the two around….

    Everything in italic is what I said, and everything not is what I quoted…. OOPS.

  81. June 11, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    I can’t find it right now, but Violet Blue wrote something a few months back about the generation of abuse porn (my term, not hers) and its popularity that was basically critical because (and I’m cribbing from my admittedly biased recollection) it centers the power dynamics of BDSM without the norms of communication and consent that the BDSM community has had decades of experience building. That’s certainly what I think; in fact, assholes like Max do everything they can to remove the trappings of BDSM from what they do and make it look like nonconsensual abuse (and I have no trouble believing that it often is; I’ve read accounts of women on those porn sets who wanted to stop and were raped). They want the hard work of people like me and Trinity and the generations that came before to provide cover for them, but they don’t want to import the norms of mutuality and affirmative consent. Well, to hell with that. They shouldn’t get to ride the BDSM communty’s coattails to normalize the abuse of women.

    I’ve not actually seen Max Hardcore’s pornography, but I was under the impression that, like Kink.com, his videos ended with the performers discussing what they did, how they felt about it, what they enjoyed and didn’t enjoy, etc. Can someone who actually knows enlighten me about whether this is true or not? If it is, while I highly doubt I would enjoy watching his “work,” I don’t see any problem — plenty of BDSM looks creepy if you don’t know what you’re seeing, and there are people I truly don’t like to watch play who I don’t have reason to think are in any kind of unhealthy relationship.

  82. June 11, 2008 at 12:35 pm

    Exactly, so why do I get the distinct impression on threads like this that there ARE people saying “that’s not good enough?”

    You’re not alone there, Amber. I think the reason this becomes so perennial is there are two basic points of view about whether “examining” is useful in the first place.

    One says “Of course it is; we could all benefit from a little more introspection, especially in a world with sexual norms that really do affect us. Maybe we can get free of the norms that are harmful if we look a little more closely at what the norms look like, what our lives look like, and where they intersect.”

    The other says “Of course it isn’t; assuming that sexuality is to be ‘examined’ always involves presuming there is some unanalyzable sexuality. Examination of sexuality didn’t begin with feminism; it began with Freud (or less famous people with similar ideas) and the idea that homosexuality is ’caused’ by particular influences. Of course this does presuppose that heterosexuality is also ’caused’, but that doesn’t need examination, because nothing’s gone wrong. The pattern of ‘examine your sexuality’ also follows this pattern: certain deviant sexualities such as BDSM or ‘overly pornified’ sexuality always come up as in need of more ‘examining’ than egalitarian vanilla. While both can be assumed, on a model like this, to be caused and therefore examinable (gah, is that a word?!?), in practice ‘examining’ becomes about rooting out causes of deviance… and the rooting finds what it wants to find. Just as Freud found distant mothers, feminists find abuse and pornography.”

  83. June 11, 2008 at 12:36 pm

    jfpbookworm,
    I’m not even talking about “kink” in particular (besides, no one really seems to know what that word means, anyway). This is the part of your initial comment that set off a MAJOR red flag for me, and got me started commenting on this thread:

    think this is the wrong question to ask. While I don’t think there are any sexual acts that are essentially/innately negative (with the cop-out of “oh, sensitive equal partners wouldn’t do that” or “that doesn’t count as sex” when it comes to rape), we don’t live in a perfect world. I’m not comfortable saying anything between other people who can and do consent is wrong, but I think some acts – particularly those involving shame, degradation or disrespect – merit closer examination.

    Or is that ideal of a relationship (being very difficult, while everyone thinks they are in one) just likely to obfuscate what might be problematic sex lives?

    I think that a lot of us do think we’re special cases, and that what gets us off isn’t or shouldn’t be problematic *because it gets us off*, and it’s easier to change our philosophy than our libidos. Acknowledging that just because I find something arousing doesn’t make it free of problems is the main reason I call myself a positive-sex feminist rather than a sex-positive one.

    Also, I find the language of “it gets me off so it’s okay” to be reductive and inaccurate. It lacks nuance, which is something the arguments of those pushing back against your comment(s) most certainly have in abundance.

  84. June 11, 2008 at 12:37 pm

    (2nd sentence in that blockquote was a quote from someone else. I put in italic tags but forgot that the style for blockquotes here in italicized, too.)

  85. June 11, 2008 at 12:37 pm

    Er, I shouldn’t have said “unanalyzable” above. It’s not that the norm is impossible to examine through those lenses — it clearly isn’t. It’s just that that examining doesn’t turn up something suspicious.

  86. June 11, 2008 at 12:49 pm

    It lacks nuance, which is something the arguments of those pushing back against your comment(s) most certainly have in abundance.

    Right on.

  87. June 11, 2008 at 12:59 pm

    She and I are bookends on this: she a female dominant, and I a male bottom with submissive tendencies. I echo what she says: the usually unspoken assumption that men top and women bottom undergirds almost all of the feminist criticism of BDSM that I’ve seen (and its cousin set of assumptions, that in same-sex relationships the more masculine-identified people top).

    YES, THAT. I very rarely see criticisms of people like me. Sometimes I see criticisms of submissive men, like this. But people like me are assumed to be unicorns… or assumed to be pros, doing it for pay.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with pro domming, and I don’t want to give the impression I think there is. But it’s very telling to me that some feminists seem to have trouble “examining” their own idea that women cannot find wielding power as exciting as they find submission.

  88. June 11, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    I’ve not actually seen Max Hardcore’s pornography, but I was under the impression that, like Kink.com, his videos ended with the performers discussing what they did, how they felt about it, what they enjoyed and didn’t enjoy, etc. Can someone who actually knows enlighten me about whether this is true or not?

    Several of them do. And as it seems necessary- Hardcore was convicted of obscenity, not rape. In fact, not a single woman who has ever performed with him testified in any capacity at his trial, though he dated one woman who performed with him for several years and she stated to Tampa Reporters that consent does mean something on his sets and the character “Max Hardcore” is very different from the man Paul Little.

    But is this really about Max? A man? This topic here?

    Unlike Trinity and Tomas…I don’t engage in what people would think of as “traditional” BDSM. Yet, I seriously doubt anyone would call my sex life vanilla either. I also see I am not the only woman here who is getting that “Your not examining enough, it’s not good enough”…and yes, we do have to look at things through a cultural and society based lense: So, how does a woman, because she enjoys doing it, beast-fucking a man up the ass with a strap on (both parties consenting, ofcourse) play into the Patriarchy/dominant/male defined heteronomitive scheme? How about lesbians engaging in age-play? Or furries at all? Oddly enough, I don’t think it does.

  89. SarahMC
    June 11, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    “Rape fantasy” is a bit of an oxymoron, is it not? By it’s definition, rape is unwanted. How can one fantasize about something she, by definition, does not want? If you want it to happen (in the fantasy), it’s no longer rape. Yada yada yada
    I think a more accurate term would be Ravishment Fantasy or something like that.

    Carry on!

  90. Alxndr
    June 11, 2008 at 1:50 pm

    Trin, what about this as a response to the comments found in your link?

    While men assume that both their sexual desire and their sexual enjoyment make them powerful, while they assume that their sexuality motivates and justifies their entitlement and sociopolitical dominance, women are taught, both by the left and the right, that their sexual desire and sexual enjoyment will disempower them and make them subject to men. In order to be powerful, we begin to think, it is necessary to deny both our desiring and our desirability, and if we fail to do so, and do in fact therefore have sex with a man and, worse, if we actually like it, it makes us hopelessly weak, subjugated whores.

    To be fair, this opinion is held by a majority of the male population. Academic feminism is really only responding to an existing male opinion. However, in attempting to combat this opinion, all they’ve done is internalize it, aligning themselves not against the men who perceive sexual women in this way, but right next to these men, in the same lineup, on the same team.

    Once again, it’s feminism’s blatant capitulation to male cultural dominance, poorly covered up with man-hating rhetoric. I am going to propose a brilliant solution, because that’s what I do when I’m not posing for pictures in corsets or being handcuffed and beaten up with canes. My strategy for frustrating both feminism and misogyny’s figurations of female heterosexual sexuality will sound similar to beliefs held by many famous professional dominatrixes and, at times, my girl Camille. Those beliefs concern the idea of instituting a female supremacy in which women dominate men sexually in precisely the manner in which men have assumed sexual dominance for centuries, and so turning the power roles on their heads.

    But that picture’s just a tease. That’s not what I’m proposing. I do want to turn power roles on their heads but, perhaps unexpectedly enough, I don’t believe that the outward performance of female sexual dominance will have much effect in that regard. Perhaps the only reason that I do not merely reiterate the idea of a female supremacist state governed by spike-heeled, latex-clad, Wanda von Dunajew clones is that I’m not primarily dominant, and therefore couldn’t be Queen of such a state. But more than that, I think even such a proposal, while it seems to be the most radically opposite thing possible from anti-sex feminism, is in fact propagating the exact same problematic anti-sex and anti-femininity ideas as those it seeks to oppose. While I greatly admire and at times practice female sexual dominance, in terms of sexual politics I think it is far less useful for female empowerment than it would appear to be, sort of in the way that the SAT answer choice that seems totally obvious and easy is usually wrong.

    This is because intractably submissive men are actually often the biggest misogynists around: their worship of dominant women is the only way they can indulge deviant sexual desires while keeping their virgin/whore complexes intact. The dominant woman and the puritan virgin are in fact quite similar. They are both impenetrable fortresses of untouchable femininity; the woman-as-what-you-can’t-ever-have. The danger of actuality, of real possession, of the sex act and what follows in all its sticky complexities—which we never resolve because it’s no part of the stories of pursuit and courtship on which men and women alike are raised; stories that end with a fade-to-black on the way to the bedroom—is conveniently never reached, and the man can remain in a safe, comfortable state of unfulfilled torment.

    Our culture has no idea what to do with happiness or with the getting of what one wants. Out of Puritan (since most Christian religion is the biggest tease-and-denial scene around, especially Calvinism) roots has sprung an obese and greedy modern America, never content to stay still in the having, but always needing to want something else, the next thing beyond your hand’s reach. What we get, what we have gotten is reviled, and for this reason, women who want to have sex are told by conservative men and feminist women that they simply must resign themselves to their partners’ being disgusted by them. If we choose to have sex because, for fuck’s sake, sex is fun, we cease to be a challenge and so become (we’re told) effectively worthless. Male cultural dominance is blatantly asserted in this sexual pattern simply by the fact that the man is the one who can tire of the woman. The woman is gotten—the man pursues and, once getting the woman, gets to be sick of her; or, in the more popular faux-sensitive contemporary liberal version, gets to be really, really tormented about the fact that he’s now sick of her. Napoleon knew that once a country is conquered, you move on the next unconquered country. The dominatrix appears to turn this roleplay on its head, but in fact does no such thing. She merely permanently stalls the process at the second-to-last step, still in the wanting but never the having, so that the man never loses interest. Even the sex act, in the most extreme male-submissive fantasies, lacks climax or satisfaction. In this way the dominatrix is exactly the same as the girl who keeps waiting one more date to actually fuck whoever she’s dating, in the certainty that she can only keep his interest as long as she keeps him frustrated. One of these women would be called “tease” in a worshipful tone, and the other in a derogatory tone, but the meanings are effectively synonymous.

    The “Return to Modesty” crap preached by some academic feminists a few years back was, whether or not it knew it, nothing but a big, slow, striptease on a raised platform behind a glass screen. It’s exactly what men want, specific as a mail-order bride. Sexual refusal isn’t liberating. It not only denies women the pleasure by which men define themselves and their masculine power, but reinforces that power by giving men more to pursue and a more difficult pursuit. Sexual refusal is as comforting to the patriarchy as a well-baked pie and a gingham apron. Sexual refusal scares the patriarchy about as much as a blow-up doll in a nurse outfit. Actually, I’ll take a blow-up doll in a nurse outfit as my second-in-command over a woman who hates sex “because sex is a form of oppression” any day. That’s exactly what men expect from you! It’s what they make fun of, and the expectation by which they sexually empower themselves and that allows them to continue to figure gender as an unabated war! If you honestly don’t want to have sex, for any one of a zillion rational reasons, including those upheld by Morrissey at the height of his career, then you absolutely shouldn’t have sex and that decision is beyond sociopolitical feminism, and more important than it too. But if you think refusing yourself pleasure and big hard cock when you in fact want big hard cock is a feminist statement, if you think you have to be ashamed of your heterosexual sex fantasies because they’re antithetical to your feminism, grow the fuck up and get laid.”

  91. June 11, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    Yeah, the term “rape fantasy” really bugs me because it’s not accurate. More often than not, what is *actually* being talked about is a fantasy of submission, feeling powerless, being ravished, whatever. But not *rape*.

  92. Alxndr
    June 11, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    *”How about this as part of a response to the discussion found in your link?”

    (Editing doesn’t seem to work.

  93. June 11, 2008 at 1:59 pm

    I agree with the problematic nature of the phrase “rape fantasy” — particularly because it so often necessarily results in the clarification I gave above, that “a rape fantasy” is not “the desire to be raped” and does horrible things with propping up the myth that rape victims “wanted it.” It’s a phrase that I inevitably use because it’s in the popular lexicon — but I definitely would love to find a way to change the term on a wide-scale.

  94. Thomas
    June 11, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    a woman, because she enjoys doing it, beast-fucking a man up the ass with a strap on

    Ren, have you met my wife or is the resemblance coincidental?

    I second Amber’s point about nobody knowing what “kink” is. “Normal” lives in the shadow of a forest of untested assumptions and fear.

    About the introspection thing, examining navel lint is a major hobby for me, so I’m all for introspection — but only-sometimes-acknowledged assumption that a lot of people are calling out here is that “normal” (see above) sex somehow calls for less introspection than sex that involves power exchange, though at least a good portion of the latter comes from a BDSM tradition where it is pretty damned well examined. (Of course, some of what’s going on is as simple as people who are uneasy about BDSM hinting, as I think Ren put it, “you just haven’t examined enough” and really meaning “if you’re still doing it you haven’t reached the right conclusion.”) Patriarchy is all the more an unexamined influence in het sex that fits what het people think of as the norm, because there’s nothing in the culture to tell folks to examine it.

    p.s. Ren, you keep dropping the H out of my name, which I wouldn’t mention except that there used to be some dude around Alas who posted as Toumas, and any confusion to that effect would be unfortunate.

  95. June 11, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    Alexndr: What about it, exactly? What point are you trying to make?

  96. June 11, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    Aside from not knowing what exactly you mean, I’ll say this: I’m fine with critiques of certain norms within femdom, but they don’t resonate too much with me, being butch and all. I don’t really think generalities about any given kink make much sense, so I gather this random person thinks I’m not awesome… but I really am not sure why I should care, given that I’m not even performing the femininity that person is railing about. Also I’m not straight, and I find it really weird to cordon off what I do with men from what I do with women when they’re not all THAT different. I do like especially topping men because I think it’s fun to watch people behaving in ways that are not socially expected, but how that’s the bad SAT answer I’ve really got no idea. Care to enlighten me?

    As far as whether feminine straight tops can be subversive: sure, why can’t they? I don’t see any reason to assume that every such person is doing the Gynotopia thing, and I don’t see any reason to suppose there aren’t women out there with Gynotopia fantasies anyway. As long as such fantasies don’t indicate actual gender essentialism (which I think they sometimes do and sometimes don’t), why should I scoff at them?

  97. Alxndr
    June 11, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    That the original quotation used in the blog entry found at your link wasn’t as grabbed out of thin air as many at that blog suggested, and that, for instance, the description seemed to fit one of the male subs commenting there quite aptly? I thought it made some interesting suggestions about sexuality and BDSM, doms/subs, in general.

    (This might be OT for this particular thread though, sorry. Maybe the essay I linked to fits the criteria for this discussion, as a whole, I don’t know.)

  98. Alxndr
    June 11, 2008 at 2:17 pm

    Nevermind, posted before your second response.

  99. RenegadeEvolution
    June 11, 2008 at 2:17 pm

    Thomas- Okay, with an H…and sure, you’re wife and I play golf every Thursday…(sorry, the mental image amused me).

    Human sexuality is very, very complex, and I think threads like this often over-simplify those complex issues and deal too heavily in universals. Generally speaking, I think that kinky folk actually spend a lot more time examining all sorts of things than they are given credit for, and they start the process the second they realize their sexuality is seen as everything and anything from quirky to wrong. You can bet at about age 13 when other girls were all about kissing I wondered why hair pulling appealed to me more and what the hell was wrong with me. A whole lot of examining later, I’ve come to the conclusion that there isn’t anything wrong with me for prefering that, I’m just wired differently. As are a lot of “kinky” people. Why the focus on them examining any more deeply than other people do, when in fact, they probably already have? As Belledame is wont to say, it sounds a lot like “I’m cold, put on a sweater.”

    And it gets old. Very, very old.

  100. June 11, 2008 at 2:18 pm

    a woman, because she enjoys doing it, beast-fucking a man up the ass with a strap on

    Ren, have you met my wife or is the resemblance coincidental?

    Thomas: Maybe not. That’s just fun.

    (Countdown to people calling me male-identified*: 3… 2… 1…)

    (*who will most likely not also examine why people with factory-equipped penises enjoy penetrating people)

  101. June 11, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    Generally speaking, I think that kinky folk actually spend a lot more time examining all sorts of things than they are given credit for, and they start the process the second they realize their sexuality is seen as everything and anything from quirky to wrong.

    Word.

  102. June 11, 2008 at 2:24 pm

    Generally speaking, I think that kinky folk actually spend a lot more time examining all sorts of things than they are given credit for, and they start the process the second they realize their sexuality is seen as everything and anything from quirky to wrong. You can bet at about age 13 when other girls were all about kissing I wondered why hair pulling appealed to me more and what the hell was wrong with me. A whole lot of examining later, I’ve come to the conclusion that there isn’t anything wrong with me for prefering that, I’m just wired differently.

    THIS. Here. Yes. Yes. Why does the “examining” (and sometimes the “going to therapy because we figure we’re sick”) we do as teenagers wondering why the fuck we’re different not count? Is it not sufficiently motivated by feminist principles, or something?

    You can bet I knew that the culture didn’t want female me thinking about people, particularly about men, in the way I did. I agonized over it for years. Feminism should have been one of the things that helped to free me from feeling that I was supposed to accept men’s sexual power over me, that I was unfemale and broken because that didn’t excite me at all.

    Nope, instead I’m Wanda von Dunajew (who was, if people actually pay attention, unwilling, and therefore hardly dominant), wear high heels, and am a tricky answer to an SAT question about women’s empowerment.

    WHO KNEW?

  103. Thomas
    June 11, 2008 at 2:38 pm

    (Yeah, that’s proof if more was needed that I cannot translate my humor to the Series of T00bs.)

    Trin, I’ve definitely gotten the sense that het men doing receptive anal was rare when I was a young’in, during the BCE years (before Clinton era), and has become much more common. I have not seen quantitative backup for that, but it’s my sense of it.

    Ren, in case I wasn’t clear, I agree. Folks whose sexuality is different examine the hell out of it, so the notion that folks doing BDSM are the ones who have not “really really” examined is more than a little silly, as compared to the mountain that is unexamined sex roles in het sex.

  104. June 11, 2008 at 2:46 pm

    Why is it supposedly that men fantasize specifically about doing the ravishing, and women fantasize specifically about being “taken?” It really seems to me sometimes, as someone who had vivid fantasies of ravishing men since age seventeen, that many feminists — people who are committed, among other things, to dismantling gender stereotypes — have some really traditionalist (and heterocentrist) pictures in their head about how “rough sex,” whether that’s BDSM or just a forceful romp, looks.

    I agree. As I worked today, I thought about this. We talk about women having “rape fantasies,” and of men fantasizing in regards to rape (or “rape”). But we rarely touch on the idea of reversing all that. Or, in general, of looking at the wide spectrum of fantasy, desire, domination, etc.

    My current philosophy is that no person really fits one static definition anyway.

  105. June 11, 2008 at 2:49 pm

    Folks whose sexuality is different examine the hell out of it, so the notion that folks doing BDSM are the ones who have not “really really” examined is more than a little silly, as compared to the mountain that is unexamined sex roles in het sex.

    Exactly.

    “Normal” is, a lot of the time, what you get when you don’t bother with introspection and figuring out what *you* want.

  106. June 11, 2008 at 2:54 pm

    I think it’s problematic/over-simplifying/reductive to pit it as an “either/or” game between kinky and non-kinky sex, and which is more “unexamined.” I think that whole train of thought is barking up the wrong tree (to mix some metaphors for you).

  107. June 11, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    Trin, I’ve definitely gotten the sense that het men doing receptive anal was rare when I was a young’in, during the BCE years (before Clinton era), and has become much more common. I have not seen quantitative backup for that, but it’s my sense of it.

    I do think you’re right there. (I was also being humorous.) But yeah, I think the explosion of pegging’s popularity happened a little after I realized I wanted to do it. So by the time I was actually sexually active it wasn’t as weird. But when I was sixteen, and wondering “Hmm, I dunno how to even ask him out. But even if he likes me, how do I let him know I want to penetrate him and not the other way around? Fuck. I’m a freak. Never mind.”

  108. June 11, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    …especially when no matter what you want or what you do, there’s a norm telling you not to do it THAT WAY…

  109. al343sw
    June 11, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    This thread is very interesting. As a male, I’ve had problems in my sex life with my wife (both of us have only had one sexual partner our whole life), and more than anything else its because I was raised with the (obviously innaccurate) view that that women dont really relish sex–they will participate if the husband wants it, but they dont seek it out because they’re not “wired” for it like men are. Of course this is problematic for a number of reasons that deserves a doctoral thesis on its own, but I wont go there for now.

    I’m trying to “deprogram” myself to understand that women enjoy sex. My wife definitely wants more than we are doing. I guess the bottom line is that I really dont feel comfortable talking about it. I dont feel comfortable going into bed at night and waking up her up for sex, I still feel like I’m imposing something on her, even though she has told me many times she wants me to wake her up for sex. She initiates all of our sexual contact. Its almost like I feel guilty for trying to initiate, as if I’m trespassing her personal space or something. Yeah I know its weird and pathological. I havent been able to bring her to orgasm yet. We are extremely vanilla, only tried 2 or 3 positions. We are currently doing it only about once per month. Guess I need a sex therapist.

    AT any rate, back to my background. I always had this idea in my head that a respectful man would never ask for sex with a woman, because it was disrespectful. I guess I took that to the extreme and decided that ALL sexual contact had to be initiated by the woman. It wouldnt bother me at all if it was just limiting MY sexual pleasure, but when I found out that this worldview was decreasing sexual pleasure for my wife, it became a problem. Although its obvious that the male-dominating view of sex that “all women want it” is tremendously problematic, I wanted to point out that the view of sex I grew up with–that women are basically asexual creatures and that its evil for men to pursue sex at all–is also extremely problematic not just for the man, but the woman as well.

  110. Margot M.
    June 11, 2008 at 3:09 pm

    I’m always surprised when feminists hand-wring over submissive desires in women. Like, you’re surprised that the patriarchy did a good job?

    I think the only real consolation to offer a woman who is conflicted or uneasy about a desire to be dominated is to have her know that the damage was done a long time ago. You, the woman, had little say in the matter. The worst you could accuse yourself of is having, at early points in your psychosexual development, been a chump. You were had, and you’ve got plenty of company. Anyone born female and socialized as a woman finds herself in an impossible and wholly unenviable position, and one popular and time-honored technique for surviving while enduring the indignities of enforced femininity is to eroticize them. To that extent, you were complicit in your subjugation, but really, what could you have done differently? Infants can’t, like, just refuse to enter into the Symbolic. My advice would be to try to reserve the bulk of your hate for patriarchal social and psychic structures rather than yourself. But I also want to disagree with this idea put out by the pro-sex factions that you shouldn’t be ashamed of your submissive fantasies/tendencies – I think shame can serve important, self-preserving and even radical functions, and banishing shame from your emotional repertoire can leave it impoverished.

    Shame for me is the private little burning flame whose heat lets me know I’m more than, a wholly different entity from, the words bitch or whore or slut or cumdump, a candle lit in my conscience in honor of the historical and psychic contingency of my identity and my wants, a reminder that my own – heterosexual, moderately submissive – desires aren’t a reflection of some essential inferiority, or some feminine nature that will eternally only find happiness in slavery. Shame is the feeling that I and women everywhere don’t deserve this, that we have been tricked and cheated by a reality that might someday be obsolete. Shame is the feeling that allows me to read pro-sex literature – the tone of which often strikes me as bullying and superior and as if its writers think that they might get crone cooties if they ever for a minute acknowledged that the bleaker second wave insights might actually have been more complex – and more relevant to contemporary discussion of sexuality – than subsequent reductionist caricatures make them seem – without feeling so hopeless and ashamed that this is the best response to oppressive structures of sexual difference that feminists have been able to come up with – ‘enthusiastic consent’ to them – that I feel like crying or throwing things. Which, sometimes, I do anyway.

    You don’t have time for shame? Well, I guess we just have different priorities. I make time for shame. Shame is my personal door jamb between the signifier and the signified. I need it for my sanity. Don’t try to tell me I can’t have it or it’s not good for me. Without it I would be nothing. It keeps me alive.

    But to the original questioner, the person who earnestly wants to know what feminist heterosexuality looks like – well, I know I’m probably in the minority here, and I keep quiet, or just roll my eyes, in both digital and real world conversations about sex and feminism most of the time, but I guess in the end I take a pretty pessimistic view of the matter. To me, heterosexuality is basically a theater where the accomplished facts of gendered power are played out to no one’s benefit. The technical, physiological pleasure that I receive from sex is great – but it is also ill-gotten and spurious. I don’t buy the idea that that pleasure, or any pleasure, is inherently liberating, or empowering, or so sacrosanct as to place its satisfactions beyond scrutiny or criticism. If you like to be slapped, fake raped, gagged (or even give blow jobs or be spanked) etc., that’s because patriarchy has succeeded. Does that mean you shouldn’t be slapped, fake raped, gagged, etc? No. Do what you have to do to obtain the sense of equilibrium that keeps you sane enough to stick around. Just don’t think it’s anything other than a Sisyphean absurdity. And don’t kid yourself that these acts can take place in a context of ‘mutuality’ or ‘respect’, or that you can leave your submission behind at the bedroom door and then pretend that because you make your boyfriend do the laundry or earn more money than he does that you have an equal ‘relationship’. There’s no ‘leaving behind’ your mind, and that’s the place where the real humiliation, the humiliation of gender we should all regret – and yes, even feel guilt and shame over – has already taken place.

    I also think my view of the irreconcilability of heterosexuality and feminism contributes to my pessimistic outlook for a feminist future more generally. Unless there’s some kind of revolution that includes an interrogation and attempted overhaul of psychosexual norms (and it’s impossible to imagine what that would even look like?) women – with the the exception of minorities of dominant females and submissive males whose desires have just gotten turned around in the same sad reality that turns women into, well, women – will continue to be inculcated into masochism, a fact that will in turn continue to influence their social, economic, political and legal positions.

  111. Margot M.
    June 11, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    Whoa. Sorry. I got carried away with the last post. I had no idea it had gotten so long.

  112. June 11, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    I think the only real consolation to offer a woman who is conflicted or uneasy about a desire to be dominated is to have her know that the damage was done a long time ago.

    Are you serious w/ that comment? Especially after (I hope) reading the whole rest of the thread? Are you seriously saying that having the desire to be dominated means a woman is DAMAGED?

  113. June 11, 2008 at 3:39 pm

    dear Margot M,
    I don’t need your fucking consolation, thank you and good day.

  114. Margot M.
    June 11, 2008 at 3:52 pm

    Amber – I realize now that my first paragraph is poorly written. The ‘a woman’ is me, and the ‘you’s , when I wrote them, were, like, me talking to myself. It’s a little speech I’ve only ever addressed to myself, in the privacy of my head, and in writing it out for the first time it came out wrong. I guess I do feel a damaged sometimes, like it’s sick, inventive punishment of some greek god that I have been made to desire my own subjection.

  115. miwome
    June 11, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    I think this is a really essential point, in general and with regard to what’s going on in this thread:

    Generally speaking, I think that kinky folk actually spend a lot more time examining all sorts of things than they are given credit for, and they start the process the second they realize their sexuality is seen as everything and anything from quirky to wrong. You can bet at about age 13 when other girls were all about kissing I wondered why hair pulling appealed to me more and what the hell was wrong with me. A whole lot of examining later, I’ve come to the conclusion that there isn’t anything wrong with me for prefering that, I’m just wired differently. As are a lot of “kinky” people. Why the focus on them examining any more deeply than other people do, when in fact, they probably already have?

    The question wasn’t particularly about kink (whatever that may be taken to mean), although there was an allusion to it. It was about het sex. The speed with which this thread derailed into discussions of kink and BDSM is logical on the face of it, at least in the case of BDSM, since there is a very clear power dynamic that is easier to examine than the one between the couple having their ten minutes of missionary. But in fact, it indicates the clear discomfort that some commenters have with these concepts. It’s not only easier on a simply conceptual level to analyze that power dynamic, it’s easier to examine “their” sexuality instead of “ours.”

    For that reason, “normal” sex goes unexamined a great deal, and that is why it can be so dangerous and harmful. Who’s deciding that it’s missionary with the lights on rather than, say, fisting, and why? Is sex being used as a bargaining chip in the relationship? (A whole other kind of issue which hasn’t really been talked about.) Questions about trust and comfort are sublimated or ignored because it’s “normal”, and to have a problem with that would mean there’s something wrong with you. (This is obviously not to say that all “vanilla” het sex is broken. I have had both harmful and wonderful sexual experiences with different people doing the exact same things, and–say it with me now–it worked when there was mutual respect, trust, and security. There are plenty of het couples who have that. The ones who don’t, though, are the ones who also don’t examine that situation because it’s been normalized.)

    Random side note re: rape/ravishment fantasy: such fantasies, for me, were always about the idea of being so overwhelmed with physical pleasure that my thoughts/opinions/emotions simply didn’t matter or where swept aside. (Obviously, questions of regret after the fact did not enter the fantasy.) That idea was a very powerful one for me in several contexts, but what I find interesting about it is that it’s ultimately a fantasy of escape–escape from everything we’ve been talking about on this thread, give or take. Which speaks to how flibbing DIFFICULT this whole sphere really is.

  116. Chel
    June 11, 2008 at 4:12 pm

    Margot said

    To me, heterosexuality is basically a theater where the accomplished facts of gendered power are played out to no one’s benefit. The technical, physiological pleasure that I receive from sex is great – but it is also ill-gotten and spurious. I don’t buy the idea that that pleasure, or any pleasure, is inherently liberating, or empowering, or so sacrosanct as to place its satisfactions beyond scrutiny or criticism. If you like to be slapped, fake raped, gagged (or even give blow jobs or be spanked) etc., that’s because patriarchy has succeeded. Does that mean you shouldn’t be slapped, fake raped, gagged, etc? No. Do what you have to do to obtain the sense of equilibrium that keeps you sane enough to stick around. Just don’t think it’s anything other than a Sisyphean absurdity. And don’t kid yourself that these acts can take place in a context of ‘mutuality’ or ‘respect’, or that you can leave your submission behind at the bedroom door and then pretend that because you make your boyfriend do the laundry or earn more money than he does that you have an equal ‘relationship’. There’s no ‘leaving behind’ your mind, and that’s the place where the real humiliation, the humiliation of gender we should all regret – and yes, even feel guilt and shame over – has already taken place.

    Thank you. I appreciate this viewpoint. And it always seems like the people that consider themselves “outrageous” or “above the norm” in their sexual preferences also consider themselves to be more introspective and better than anyone else. I wonder at what point in time being ‘fake’ raped, gagged, slapped, or cummed on became more of a feminist action than respecting oneself for not being an object in someone else’s perverted playground.

    That said, I understand that I have differing opinions with many in this post, and am obviously not going to tell you what to do in your life… I just ask you all who consider yourselves ‘kinky’ , to whatever extent, to stop thinking you’re better than everyone else who doesn’t sit high enough on the kink scale just because you partake in abusive/pseudo abusive/whatever the ef you wanna call it, acts.

    End scene.

  117. Chel
    June 11, 2008 at 4:13 pm

    ok… i really need to learn where and when to push the damn quote button. It always gets effed up.

  118. June 11, 2008 at 4:18 pm

    This is slightly off-topic and might sound weird, but sort of in response to everyone who mentioned “the patriarchy:” what forms of sex would not have anything to do with the patriarchy? This is an actual question, not like a sarcastic or attempting-to-be-controversial one.

    I only ask because in the various discussions I’ve had with other feminists, in women’s studies classes, etc., and then even after reading this thread, I feel like nobody ever really knows how to answer that. Even role reversal (dominant women/submissive men) isn’t entirely against the patriarchy because it is still based on the assumption that there are roles to be reversed, as my favorite professor once pointed out.

    I always feel like more feminist porn/erotica is trying to answer that, but have they really gotten there yet?

  119. crow
    June 11, 2008 at 4:23 pm

    It’s funny how some feminists continue to think society encourages women to be submissive when the truth is there are actually more female dominants.

    Chel, how can something be abuse if both parties enjoy it? If closet masochists like Margot continue to force themselves to feel ashamed of whatever it is they want to do, isn’t that more abusive?

  120. June 11, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    And it always seems like the people that consider themselves “outrageous” or “above the norm” in their sexual preferences also consider themselves to be more introspective and better than anyone else.

    How/why do you get that impression?

    I wonder at what point in time being ‘fake’ raped, gagged, slapped, or cummed on became more of a feminist action than respecting oneself for not being an object in someone else’s perverted playground.

    Well, a big part of what I, personally, object to is OTHER PEOPLE deciding for me what constitutes respecting myself or being objectified. You’re basically saying that if I like certain types of sex, I don’t respect myself. That is hugely offensive and erases my agency. Not exactly the feminism I’m familiar with.

    Also, it’s not a pissing contest.

  121. June 11, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    And it always seems like the people that consider themselves “outrageous” or “above the norm” in their sexual preferences also consider themselves to be more introspective and better than anyone else. I wonder at what point in time being ‘fake’ raped, gagged, slapped, or cummed on became more of a feminist action than respecting oneself for not being an object in someone else’s perverted playground.

    Chel, I think you’re missing what we’re saying (and missing that, AGAIN, not all of us take the submissive role anyway — why people are so keen on ignoring that I’m not sure.) We’re not saying we’re superior. We’re saying that there is this meme in feminist circles that says “Think about what you want,” which implies that we have not done so. We’re pointing out that anyone who is sexually deviant (or socially deviant in any way) is generally aware of hir difference from others (or MADE aware of it, through bullying and other violence.) Being aware that you’re different tends to induce introspection: Why am I this way? Why are others not this way? Am I wrong? Are they? Are we just neutrally different? What do different people, groups, and ideologies think of being this way?

    Many people think about those questions for years. So what we’re pointing out, Chel, is only that asking us “to examine” is actually rather odd — chances are we’ve done so more than most. Chances are we’re *more* aware, not *less*, that society can and does have sexual expectations of people — including differing expectations of men than of women, and expectations that are often (to understate it tremendously) deeply disrespectful of women’s actual interests.

    What all this means, some of us think, is that when we’re being asked to “examine”, what others want is not for us to think more (as we’ve already done that) but to agree with their conclusions. And the thing is, what changes someone’s mind is not to revisit things they’ve already thought about, but to come to think of things in a new way.

    In other words, if what someone wants from us is that we change our minds, she’ll have to do more than say “Examine.” She’ll have to make a persuasive *argument* that causes us to *come to different conclusions* than those we currently do. “Examining” has nothing to do with *that*.

  122. June 11, 2008 at 4:46 pm

    It’s funny how some feminists continue to think society encourages women to be submissive when the truth is there are actually more female dominants.

    Proof? The studies I’ve seen suggest there are less of us (though those don’t discuss (include at all?) sex workers, who may or may not enjoy their work or dominate people outside of work.)

  123. Chel
    June 11, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    Amber,

    I got that impression from basically most of the 50 comments above the one I posted. Everyone kept criticizing vanilla sex (whatever that is, because that of course is also subjective) and saying that people who like kink were more introspective. I can’t find the exact passage but those were close to if not the exact kind of words used.

    I understand that if people are masochists they are masochists and will enjoy that kind of sex, but I’m just saying that I don’t understand how masochism (aka ENJOYING being demeaned (is that a word)) can also be self-respecting.

    And thanks Trin for posting about that statement. I don’t know where the blanket statement of “more female dominants” came from, because at least on this thread I have only heard of a few female dominants. Every other woman was talking about loving being called a bitch and having her face covered, etc…

  124. June 11, 2008 at 5:57 pm

    Amber:

    This is way late now, but I just wanted to respond. My comment came at an odd place in the thread b/c of moderation, and a lot happened between what had been posted when I commented and when my comment posted. So the context is a bit off. I agree with much of what you’ve said throughout. I’m not interested in shaming anyone, I just get very frustrated with the all-or-nothing perspectives on sex. I think there has to be some variation, and in-between. There has to be agency and desire, but also understanding these things are very influenced by patriarchy. There has to be some self-consciousness and self-reflexivity.

    But I do agree very much with what Jill said here: “Again, this stuff is hard because it often gets read as an attack on individuals, and a lot of people take the view that “if it’s consensual, it’s cool.” But that’s not how feminists approach anything else in the world. Why does sex get a pass?”

    I think what I’m saying is that saying whatever women like is fine isn’t really good enough. Sexual desires are not a-political any more than mothering or marrying are.

    You had said to me:

    lindabeth,

    Ok, so we critique our desires – what’s the desired outcome? We might decide we actually *don’t* like something we “thought” we liked; that’s always a possibility, yes. But what if we critique/examine/whatever, and find we still have these desires? Then what? Do we keep on with ‘em, just so long as we feel sufficiently guilty (because THAT’S so different from how women’s sexuality is cast in society already); do we try to repress them and pretend they don’t exist (because that always works SO well)? What do we do?

    Or maybe, just maybe, “critiquing” desires is entirely the wrong framework.

    Personally I say to hell with guilt, shame, and pathologizing sexual desire.

    I’m not suggesting guilt or shame.

    The desired outcome? For me its distinguishing between a perspective that says all acts that are x are inherently “good” or “bad” and that some acts signify and function in particular ways to support patriarchy and masculine-based sexuality. It’s so we can have more productive conversations about sexuality than “all porn is sexual domination” and “all porn is liberations because it’s women’s choice,” or “facials are anti-feminist” and “facials are a-political and solely based on personal preference that has nothing to do with patriarchal values.” Both perspectives I see as unproductive and even counter-productive. Both are overly simplified. And the “I know women who like it so it’s beyond criticism” is something I hear coming from men, who don’t want to think about how sexual desires and pleasures are in part shaped and influenced by patriarchal masculinity and sexism. And as women have gained more power and influence in society, sexuality is becoming an increasing domain of male control. And I really want productive ways to talk about sexuality that acknowledge both agency and internalizing patriarchy.

    I say keep your desires and don’t feel guilty about them as long as you know why you’re doing what you’re doing and that it jives with your own feminist ethics. This seems very similar to me to the “mommy wars.”

    And you’re probably right, critiquing could be the wrong word.

    What I grapple with personally is that middle ground I’m alluding to. Personally, I find both the strict “prosex” and “antisex” positions to be lacking and kind of missing the point.

    I don’t know what I’m saying makes any sense. But this is something I am very interested in, and that I’ve been thinking about for a while, and will continue to do so. And my thoughts are constantly developing.

    On another note, YES! to what Amber said here: “Yeah, the term “rape fantasy” really bugs me because it’s not accurate. More often than not, what is *actually* being talked about is a fantasy of submission, feeling powerless, being ravished, whatever. But not *rape*.”

    I was going to make the same comment myself until I saw yours. To me “rape fantasy” (for the one being dominated) is an oxymoron. If you desire it, doesn’t than make it no longer rape, but something else? Now, if the fantasy comes from the dominating/raping position, it’s no longer an oxymoron, and instead is deeply disturbing (to me).

  125. June 11, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    You don’t have time for shame? Well, I guess we just have different priorities. I make time for shame. Shame is my personal door jamb between the signifier and the signified. I need it for my sanity. Don’t try to tell me I can’t have it or it’s not good for me. Without it I would be nothing. It keeps me alive.

    Yeah, you know what I don’t have time for? Margot and her judgmental bullshit! WEIRD

    I got that impression from basically most of the 50 comments above the one I posted. Everyone kept criticizing vanilla sex (whatever that is, because that of course is also subjective) and saying that people who like kink were more introspective. I can’t find the exact passage but those were close to if not the exact kind of words used.

    I’ve pretty carefully been following this thread and I didn’t see anyone say that. Saying that people who are into kink are more likely to examine their desires is in no way the same thing as criticizing people who are not into “kink,” whatever that is. In fact, I’m rather puzzled by that leap. I don’t think I’ve seen a single person on this thread say that “vanilla sex,” whatever that is, is bad. But a hell of a lot of people (Margot for the gold) have criticized what they perceive to be kinky.

  126. June 11, 2008 at 6:07 pm

    You know, I really tried my best to be civil, but I just reread Margot’s comment, and having made my intelligent arguments up thread, I really do just have to respond with: fuck you.

    Sorry if that offends someone, but Jesus Christ, I don’t think I’ve ever read something so ridiculously offensive to multitudes of women in a very long time, if only if this time it’s coming in the name of feminism. I can handle some asshole calling me a bitch whore cunt on my blog for arguing that rape is, you know, wrong, because at least he’s being honest about his motives. Is Margot secretly Laura Sessions Stepp? Or just her extremist twin? Because I’m not sure that even she promotes the concept of female shame over sexuality this much.

    Okay I’m pissed off but I’m done.

  127. June 11, 2008 at 6:51 pm

    Margot, I’m honestly struggling with how to respond to your comment. On one hand, I want to join everyone who’s told you to bugger off. On the other hand, I see a lot of genuine pain and frustration in what you’re saying. If shame, however you define it, gets you through, it gets you through. But this isn’t what gets me through, it isn’t what gets many other people through. You look at shame and see one thing, and I see the eternal refrain of “if you have rough sex, you’ll make Baby Jesus/Andrea Dworkin/Ayatollah Khomeini cry.” I wouldn’t want to automatically dismiss you as clueless or dishonest, but I wish you wouldn’t dismiss *me* and the other people on this thread either. Throwing words like “damaged” around is easy. How about instead of telling people why they feel the way they feel (and what they should feel, and what they think they feel but not really, etc.), you just ask them?

  128. Chel
    June 11, 2008 at 6:52 pm

    Ok, totally missed Trin’s longer post to me. In response, I am not asking anything different from women than men when I say that I think PEOPLE in generally (obviously including women) should examine/think about what they like and why. I don’t think that by saying that I am assuming that people who like *different* things haven’t done so, just saying that it’s good if they have/and if they haven’t then maybe it would be good to do. And that’s not to say that only people who like *different* things should be introspective, I am talking about everyone. I have just unfortunately see how behavior in the bedroom can lead to disrespect of the submissive person outside of it and do not want that to happen to anyone else. That is one area in which I am coming from on this topic. I don’t like to think that the men who do like to dominate in violent ways (and never question why they like to) just assume that their ability and experience doing so means they can disrespect women as a whole.

    Obviously I am alone in my little corner on this, but I personally wouldn’t want to be what I consider abused by my lover and then wake up and have to eat breakfast with them and live my life with them. It just seems that any feminist wouldn’t approve of a woman being slapped in the face and called a bitch when she didn’t make a caserole correctly, fully clothed, at 6pm…. but if she’s naked and in a bedroom at 11pm it’s ok for her husband/whoever to slap her and call her a bitch? When is the line drawn between enjoying abusive behavior….does it have to be in a certain room (bedroom) or at a certain time of day…? I just don’t realize how sex and get such a pass when it involves women being submissive, and yet as feminists we try to make sure women are treated as equals in ALL other aspects of life. But like I said, I seem to be alone here in my opinions and confusions…

  129. crow
    June 11, 2008 at 7:08 pm

    Chel, things aren’t as they seem. The submissive controls the relationship, because the submissive decides what is going to happen and what the limits are. The “dominant” is only carrying out the submissive’s interests.

    Some people do go into 24/7 dominant/submissive relationships. I’m not going to pretend I understand the motivations behind that, but since both parties can walk away at any time, by definition it is not abuse.

    “Proof? The studies I’ve seen suggest there are less of us (though those don’t discuss (include at all?) sex workers, who may or may not enjoy their work or dominate people outside of work.)”

    It’s just the impression I get from the internet. Can I see those studies?

  130. June 11, 2008 at 7:33 pm

    Chel, things aren’t as they seem. The submissive controls the relationship, because the submissive decides what is going to happen and what the limits are. The “dominant” is only carrying out the submissive’s interests.

    Precisely.

    And Chel, I’d say that the difference is an issue of consent. Women don’t consent to being beaten because they cooked the casserole wrong. Women can and do consent to rough sex. Even if they do involve similar acts (for the most part, I don’t think that’s the case — I’ve heard of few people who make punching and pummeling a part of their sex routine, though they exist), they’re still vastly different. Just like “vanilla” sex is okay when consensual but not when it’s rape. Rape doesn’t have to involve other forms of violence — though it often does, the rape on its own is the violence. Raping a woman in the missionary position is still rape. Consenting to being tied up (or whatever) out of your own desire, not because your lover pushed you into it, which would not be consent in ANY case, is still consensual.

    And honestly, I’m very confused by what you don’t get there. Consent just plain wasn’t mentioned in your analogy — in fact, the analogy pretty explicitly predicated nonconsent.

    You talk about feminism being the desire to see women as equal to men in all forms of life. Part of (straight) male privilege is having the right to freely express desires, act on them consensually with a partner and not be ashamed by them. Women want that, too. I want (and I think have) that. Lots and lots of women on this thread want that. In order to reach equality in this sense, either both sexes can become free in their sexual desires, both can become repressed, or meet somewhere in the middle, which I’m not exactly sure what they would look like. given the choice, I’d say that the first option is unequivocally the best one.

  131. June 11, 2008 at 7:53 pm

    I understand that if people are masochists they are masochists and will enjoy that kind of sex, but I’m just saying that I don’t understand how masochism (aka ENJOYING being demeaned (is that a word)) can also be self-respecting.

    I don’t understand how refusing to listen to people expressing their desires is a show of respect, myself. Nor do I understand how calling my sex life demeaning is a show of respect.

    Free clue: humiliation is not everyone’s kink. But damn, if I were the sort of kinkster who got off on it, things like this quote would sure go to my happy place.

  132. Chel
    June 11, 2008 at 8:28 pm

    Perhaps I wasn’t clear…. I find it confusing that women would consent to abuse in a sexual way, but not in a non sexual way. Ie: why is slapping/name calling ok during sex, but not at any other time even if she consents? Because that begs the question, why would you want to be so submissive in a sexual way if you’re not during any other time…. why does sex get a pass?

    Should we all also agree that if a woman enjoys being abused by her husband day after day that it’s ok? I’d call that a mental condition, so I’m not sure why it gets such a pass in sex.

  133. June 11, 2008 at 8:37 pm

    So . . . you’ve said that a whole bunch of women on this thread, both who have been open about their desires and those who have been more vague but probably fall into this category, have a mental condition? You do realize this, right?

    Here’s the thing: I find foot fetishes personally repulsive. The thought of licking someone else’s feet makes me gag. I can’t imagine what anyone would find even remotely appealing about that. But I don’t think the people who do have foot fetishes need to be proclaimed to have mental illnesses or “examine” their way out of their desires. It’s just really, really not for me. The fact that I don’t get why something turns a person on does not mean that something is therefore abusive and/or unhealthy.

  134. June 11, 2008 at 8:39 pm

    I find it confusing that you’re calling kink “abuse”. So I guess we’re even.

    What gets “a pass” is people doing things that they enjoy and consent to. Which is only “abuse” if one’s interested in humiliating them without their consent.

  135. Chel
    June 11, 2008 at 8:49 pm

    ok ok I get your point. but you seem to have missed part of mine. i said enjoying daily abuse in an abusive relationship (ie: battering) would be a mental condition….therefore i would like to understand why people think kink/abuse (not all kind involves physical force i understand im just specifying) is above abuse during the daytime between couples, as opposed to night? ah well, i see i’m not getting anywhere with this inquiry. i’m trying to understand where the justification for the line between abusive sex and abusive relationships is.

  136. Chel
    June 11, 2008 at 8:54 pm

    and don’t reply with simply ‘consent’ please. we have already discussed in this thread that the word and meaning of ‘consent’ is subjective.

  137. June 11, 2008 at 8:54 pm

    I got that impression from basically most of the 50 comments above the one I posted. Everyone kept criticizing vanilla sex (whatever that is, because that of course is also subjective) and saying that people who like kink were more introspective. I can’t find the exact passage but those were close to if not the exact kind of words used.

    I’ve said before (on several occasions, actually) that I am not a big fan of the word “vanilla,” especially when it’s used in a way that’s imbued w/ judgment. I’ve seen a tiny bit of that here. But mostly what I’ve seen is people being put on the defensive by others basically calling them sick and perverted for not being afraid to say what they like and want sexually. I’ve seen speculation that folks who identify as “kinky” might have done more introspection than your average bear – and while I’m hesitant to draw generalizations, I think that’s a fair guess. Because in this society we’re told that anything outside a very narrow range of acceptable sexual behavior (heterosexual, with one partner, no freaky positions, man active/woman passive, etc.) is BAD BAD BAD WRONG SICK. So to be able to vocalize what you want, when it runs contrary to that prescribed formula? It takes guts. And you’ve probably taken some serious shit before it, and been through a few rounds of “What is wrong with me, why am I so fucked up?” (I know I have.) And it’s no fun to hear the same shit again from people who are supposed to be one’s allies in a fight against the anti-feminist status quo.

  138. June 11, 2008 at 8:55 pm

    “taken some serious shit before it” -> should be “taken some serious shit for it before”

  139. June 11, 2008 at 9:01 pm

    It’s so we can have more productive conversations about sexuality than “all porn is sexual domination” and “all porn is liberations because it’s women’s choice,” or “facials are anti-feminist” and “facials are a-political and solely based on personal preference that has nothing to do with patriarchal values.” Both perspectives I see as unproductive and even counter-productive. Both are overly simplified.

    I agree that those examples are overly simplified. The thing is? I’ve never actually seen/heard anyone posit argument #2. (Argument #4, sort of, but not wrt specific sex acts, and again, with much more nuance. See Dw3t-Hthr, for a recent example.) I won’t assume that the argument has NEVER been made, but it seems awfully far-fetched and simplistic, and I can’t imagine it being made by very many people who are really into talking about this stuff. Where have you seen this argument?

    I’ve said as much upthread, that I’m frustrated with how my arguments and the arguments of others have been reduced to a very black-and-white version of themselves, stripped of nuance.

  140. June 11, 2008 at 9:06 pm

    Ie: why is slapping/name calling ok during sex, but not at any other time even if she consents?

    That question doesn’t make sense. Consent IS the issue here. And the “any other time even if she consents” thing takes the argument to a place that’s a little too theoretical/hypothetical to even work with. Do you have a concrete example?

  141. Chel
    June 11, 2008 at 9:10 pm

    no, i just mean why would a woman consent during sex and not any other time. like, what’s the difference between being slapped/whatever during sex and any other time if you enjoy being slapped. Why would you consent to it only at certain times if it’s enjoyable anyway?

  142. June 11, 2008 at 9:12 pm

    Sorry for the one-comment-after-another routine… I’ll stop for a while after this, I swear.

    Cara said:

    The fact that I don’t get why something turns a person on does not mean that something is therefore abusive and/or unhealthy.

    YES. EXACTLY.

    Chel, what I’m getting from your comments is that you cannot conceive of why a woman would want to be submissive during sex, and you’re struggling to understand it. The only way you could imagine it fitting into YOUR life is if you were abused or mentally ill.

    You know what? That means submissive sex is most likely not for you!

    But it doesn’t mean it’s not for other people. Like Cara said, there are a lot of things people enjoy (sexually and otherwise) that I can’t imagine liking. There are some things that even the mere thought of doing it makes me feel ill, angry, repulsed, whatever… and yet, there are plenty of people who like those things.

    I don’t get to cast judgment on their mental state just because it’s not my bag.

  143. June 11, 2008 at 9:12 pm

    i would like to understand why people think kink/abuse

    So long as you keep repeating this conflation, you will never accomplish understanding.

  144. Pink Haired Cyborg
    June 11, 2008 at 9:13 pm

    Chel, basically you’re missing the point that what you perceive as abuse is something requested, consented to explicitly and when, how and how much is in the hands of the recipient. As opposed to abuse, where the control and nature of what is done is in the hands of the abuser.

    Basically, you’re making the same mistake as apologists who fail to see the difference between sexual assault and consensual sex.

    Where in kink, there is a huge element of trust between the sub and the dom, safety precautions and limits set by the submissive partner. As opposed to abuse, where the victim doesn’t have a say.

  145. Alcibiades
    June 11, 2008 at 9:14 pm

    I think this recent post from my blog is germane here. For full disclosure, I’m a male submissive, but I think what I have to say here is germane to the discussion:

    Two of my friends are getting married in just a few days (no, he won’t be on a leash. Unfortunately.) While I’m happy for them,undoubtedly some of my more nihilistic comrades in the freethinking movement will see no meaning in their commitment. “A mere vacuous twitch of the brain cells,” they might say, “brought about only because the survival shells of their selfish replicators, the genes (if I may appropriate Dawkins’ term in a way contrary to his actual sentiments on the subject) required a successor.” While anyone who believes in the theory of evolution, without divine intervention, must concede that this is the material, efficient cause of my friend’s actions, anyone who has been in love themselves knows that this is far from a satisfactory account of the actual sentiments of the blissful couple. Even more thoughtful people rightly conclude that, however base or meaningless the material cause of it is, that nevertheless, meaning may be found in the love, joy, honor, duty, and commitment that is the right of everyone in love. And that, indeed, reducing their emotions and subjective experience to merely that- to the vacuous twitch of the brain cells- is not only egregiously erroneous, but also the most deplorable insult to the nobility of marriage. In short, anyone who has not succumbed to nihilism in our age must concede that an efficient cause is not a teleology, that a cause is not a destiny, nor a purpose, nor a meaning; that whatever the cause of a thing may be, meaning may be found in the experiences it provokes in us and our loved ones.

    So why, then, do so many people balk at applying the same principle to my sexuality?

    In my blissfully happy state, they will say, “he is merely reliving the abuse of his past,” “he has been cultured in this way, no matter how, from his birth.” That may or may not be true- for the record, I grew up in a stable middle class family, and have no memory of abuse save for a particularly outrageous middle school social situation, by which time my sexuality was abundantly clear anyway- but it matters naught to me. The meaning of my experiences, whatever they may be, will not reside in their material cause.

    And even if it were? So much the better. If there is one solace my philosophical side can find in my sexuality, it’s the rejection of the inherent theory of value and meaning. Not necesarily do pain, degredation, control, and heirarchy result in evil- but that their meaning and significance rests solely with the person who experiences them. And can you think of any more poetic, any more noble, any more constructive way of dealing with that abuse than defiantly turning those experiences on their ear, transforming the very things that hurt you into a relationship-strengthening, identity-affirming ecstatic experience? The black community has in some degree reclaimed the word “nigger” in much the same spirit, the gay community is attempting a similar feat with their slurs- and all three represent a defiant effort to turn that which hurts us into beautiful things.

    http://physicalsophistry.blogspot.com/

  146. Chel
    June 11, 2008 at 9:20 pm

    I’ll keep my mind open. I guess I look at full submission as having no control (like those “ravishment” fantasies talked about earlier) as in purposefully not knowing/caring what happens to them (aka its up to the dom, so surprise! with everything).

  147. June 11, 2008 at 9:34 pm

    Chel- Funny, I don’t see ANY of the “kinky people” here telling you that you’re doing it wrong, need to examine, are some how flawed, or whatever the hell else. But you can bet I sure as hell believe in something known as vanilla privilege.

    Margot- If that is how you feel, that is fine and you are entitled to it, but please, avoid projecting your views and feelings on the rest of us as some universal truth or explanation. None of us are “every woman”, and no, it’s not all in us.

    I wonder at what point in time being ‘fake’ raped, gagged, slapped, or cummed on became more of a feminist action than respecting oneself for not being an object in someone else’s perverted playground.

    Well, a big part of what I, personally, object to is OTHER PEOPLE deciding for me what constitutes respecting myself or being objectified. You’re basically saying that if I like certain types of sex, I don’t respect myself. That is hugely offensive and erases my agency. Not exactly the feminism I’m familiar with.

    Seriously, WTF? Maybe some of us are perverts in our own playground, ffs. You know what I think is a feminist action? A woman standing up sexually and saying “THIS is what I Like, this is what I DON’T Like, this I want to do, this I won’t do…regardless of the men. What novel concept, I know.

    Chel:

    Perhaps I wasn’t clear…. I find it confusing that women would consent to abuse in a sexual way, but not in a non sexual way. Ie: why is slapping/name calling ok during sex, but not at any other time even if she consents? Because that begs the question, why would you want to be so submissive in a sexual way if you’re not during any other time…. why does sex get a pass?

    It’s because I am not “submissive” ANY other time. I, by nature, am a very physical and confrontational asshole 90% of the time. I make most of the decisions around my hacienda, a bit of a control freak, so when it comes to sex, where my headspace is very different than it is in regular life, I don’t want to be the dominant person a great deal of the time. I want to cut loose, be politically incorrect, physical, very visceral, and yep, I slap, name call, and pull hair back. Being able to give up control at all, at any time, is part of the reason it’s appealing, and frankly, me personally, rough is the only way I get off. Should I never have an orgasm because people don’t like the way I have one? I tend to think no. Now, I am not telling anyone else they should do what I do, like what I like, or wondering about their esteem or mental state for not doing what I do. I’d like to think I’d get the same consideration, but alas, that does not seem to be the case all too often. And sure, true enough, a lot of what I like to do in the bedroom would make other women run screaming or puke, but I choose to do it, I consent to do it, I enjoy doing it, and I’m forcing no one else to.

  148. June 11, 2008 at 10:10 pm

    no, i just mean why would a woman consent during sex and not any other time. like, what’s the difference between being slapped/whatever during sex and any other time if you enjoy being slapped. Why would you consent to it only at certain times if it’s enjoyable anyway?

    I am still having trouble understanding how this is even a question, but…

    It’s because for this hypothetical woman, the slapping itself is not the thing. It’s the slapping in the context of sex (and perhaps in the context of sex with a specific partner, or when she’s in a certain mood) that is enjoyable. The slapping is not the end. It’s the means.

  149. June 11, 2008 at 10:19 pm

    I’ll keep my mind open. I guess I look at full submission as having no control (like those “ravishment” fantasies talked about earlier) as in purposefully not knowing/caring what happens to them (aka its up to the dom, so surprise! with everything).

    Well that may be precisely your problem. In a fantasy, the person “ravishing” you isn’t going to do stuff that doesn’t turn you on because it’s, you know, your fantasy. In a bedroom setting, people who engage in BDSM or rougher sex do or at least SHOULD have safeguards in place, discuss boundaries, figure out what means “stop” (sometimes saying “stop” is part of the game, doesn’t really mean stop, and this is safe if it’s fully discussed beforehand and there is a “safe word” known to both parties) and trust each other to respect that order to stop immediately. I personally would not be at all comfortable either with a sexual relationship whether the submissive person is unable to revoke consent. I think that revoking consent should always be an option, if it’s not a rape is eventually going to happen, and this is true no matter what kind of sex you’re having, rough or tender. Other people here can verify my assumption and anecdotal evidence, but I’m under the strong impression that most people who engage in submission/domination sexual activities do discuss these things beforehand. I also think it’s a great and important idea to have these discussions no matter what kind of sex you enjoy and it’s something that we ought to just promote in general.

    no, i just mean why would a woman consent during sex and not any other time. like, what’s the difference between being slapped/whatever during sex and any other time if you enjoy being slapped. Why would you consent to it only at certain times if it’s enjoyable anyway?

    Because the enjoyment is SEXUAL. Do women who like cunnilingus enjoy it if their partner lifts up their skirt and starts going at it in the middle of the supermarket? Unless we’re talking about exhibitionists with a desire to get arrested, I think not. But why? Why would you not consent to it at the supermarket because it’s enjoyable anyway? Probably because most people have at least some separation between their sex lives and the rest of their lives. Because most people expect some sort of privacy in their sex lives, expect their partners to be respectful and appropriate, and there really is just a general social contract that how you behave while fucking is not the same way that you’re going to behave while having dinner with your parents. The fact that you enjoy something during sex doesn’t mean that you’re going to like it at every single opportune moment.

    Really, I think the answer to a lot of this is substituting in for “kink” or “abuse” or whatever word you’re using something that you personally do enjoy sexually. And then see if the question or assumption makes any sense and how you would answer the question if posed to you in that way.

  150. June 11, 2008 at 10:28 pm

    This is slightly off-topic and might sound weird, but sort of in response to everyone who mentioned “the patriarchy:” what forms of sex would not have anything to do with the patriarchy?

    Probably a form of sex that is not happening in a patriarchy? I mean, this is kind of like asking “what kind of fish fins don’t have anything to do with water.” Our entire notion of sex is constructed from the get-go by patriarchy, and when we think about how to use sex and enjoy sex and not be abused or controlled by sex in our lives, we are figuring out how to negotiate very hotly contested parts of a patriarchy. So personally, I don’t think it’s weird (and certainly not shameful or guilt-ridden) that part of that negotiation, part of what we find sexual and how we find release, often has to do with simulating things like power, lack of power, violence, coercion, restraint of the body, gender roles and expectations, etc.

    I guess I look at full submission as having no control (like those “ravishment” fantasies talked about earlier) as in purposefully not knowing/caring what happens to them (aka its up to the dom, so surprise! with everything).

    The only thing I’ve ever heard of that really resembles this is using a hanky code or something similar to indicate “anything goes” flagging (which some people equate with have an orange handkerchief in your right pocket) but even that is a somewhat controversial subject, and considered a pretty advanced form of kink.

    As for Chel’s questions about “why is getting slapped different during sex,” I don’t know… why is having your genitals fondled different during sex than say, when you are riding on the bus? Sex is a different kind of space, one that has to be consensually entered by both or all participants — otherwise it’s rape.

    Another way to explain this might be through theories about play. There’s a reason BDSM is often referred to as “play” and it’s not just because people find it fun. Play, especially any kind of play involving multiple participants, requires a special kind of space to exist in the minds of the players. This has been called “the magic circle” by some writers, and it can even be observed in animals. A cat may jump on and bite another cat in more or less the same way in two different situations, one play and one deadly serious, and get very different kinds of responses.

    Play requires us to temporarily suspend our normal assumptions about how we react and make decisions about things that happen in the world, or how we do things. For instance, let’s say you gave me a stick and a 2″ diameter white ball, and pointed to a hole in the lawn about a mile away, and asked me to put the ball in the hole as efficiently as possible. Obviously I would probably just make my way over to the hole and put the ball in: job done. But if I’m playing golf, I’m required to have a completely different attitude about the task: I have to hit the ball with the stick, and not move it in any other way. This is a ludicrous way to accomplish the task, but within the space of a golf game it makes sense. There are different meanings involved. You can often spot magic circles not just by the way people behave (like how cats won’t have their claws out, fur standing up, or screeching) but also by other signs — there are demarcated beginnings and endings. There are sometimes physical markers, in chalk or paint on the ground for various kinds of games or play. Ordinary objects like blocks or rocks are made into imaginary geography, etc.

    BDSM sex is often very much like this, scenes with beginnings and endings, careful definition etc. Non-BDSM sex certainly can be too, even if it’s not so deliberate. I tend to think that a lot of good sex does require that people be in the frame of mind, the mood for sex. Although I’m not opposed to a surprise quickie myself, it can really help to have space and time for sex, especially if you want it to be hot sex. The similarities go on. So, just like a game or imaginary play or a play tussle between animals, sex acts have different meanings than the same acts outside of sex.

    Now, what is the function of play? Often (and even for cats) it’s to let us experiment with some kind of situation that might be too risky, or carry too many consequences, if we were to experience it in real life. Vicarious but also potentially a site of learning something. (Whether what you learn is good for you or not is an entirely separate question.) Play is often a simulation — and like any simulation, it is necessarily incomplete. It leaves something out, and that’s part of the point. (A cave painting of a bear would not be “better” by being such a realistic simulation that it could maul you.) So for instance, with sex it’s very important that participants be able to just stop what’s going on at any time, I hope we’d all agree. Situations in the rest of the world don’t always have this luxury.

    For play, a lot of what is left out on purpose is the consequences. If I check you roughly in a game of basketball, it’s not the same as if I shove you while walking down the street; if we play “Axis and Allies” you understand I don’t really have Nazi sympathies, and if I make an alliance with Jane during the game that doesn’t mean I like her better than you. Sex is also a space where people can experiment with things that they might feel really ashamed about or quite legitimately feel are problematic in the rest of their life, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

    If you look at it this way, it’s not hard to understand why a lot of people have “rape fantasies” and it also becomes apparent that it’s a lot more complicated than just some simple patriarchal brainwashing, “patriarchy’s gonna rape you so you better like it.” I mean, I agree that a lot of times it is more about powerlessness and being ravished. But I have to say it also doesn’t surprise me that when we teach girls that they must fear rape — and for very good reason — that intense fear, of the sort most of us in this thread have probably experienced, can also transmute into a subject of play, something that many people feel compelled to experiment with in the deliberately-not-real space of play.

  151. June 11, 2008 at 10:35 pm

    Holly: can I just say that that was great? ‘Cause it was.

  152. June 11, 2008 at 10:38 pm

    It just seems that any feminist wouldn’t approve of a woman being slapped in the face and called a bitch when she didn’t make a caserole correctly, fully clothed, at 6pm…. but if she’s naked and in a bedroom at 11pm it’s ok for her husband/whoever to slap her and call her a bitch? When is the line drawn between enjoying abusive behavior….does it have to be in a certain room (bedroom) or at a certain time of day…

    Chel, I’m going to try to explain the difference as I and I think others here see it.

    Abusive people are people who seek control… but it’s not just that they seek control, it’s that they will do anything for it, up to and including behaving in demeaning and capricious ways because they actually don’t care about their partners, but only about obtaining and maintaining control. They don’t actually LIKE you at all. They like what you represent to them: stability, emotional grounding, sex on demand, whatever.

    As someone who likes control in the BDSM sense, I have to say I wrestled a lot with whether wanting control is the same thing as what abusers want. Why I ultimately decided I didn’t is because the power dynamic I have with my partner is something we both like. If he didn’t (or I didn’t), it would go the way of the dodo. We’d probably stay together — and even if we didn’t, that wouldn’t change our friendship, that we love one another, etc. I like the power dynamic, I want it, it makes me feel good — but if he wasn’t OK with it I wouldn’t like it any more. I don’t like it when people I love are chronically unhappy.

    And I really don’t think, for all that some abusive people may claim they don’t understand why their partners are “sensitive,” that people abuse because they can’t see that someone they love is unhappy. Maybe I’m wrong, and the denial really is that deep. But I have a hard time thinking that’s true.

    And also… finding it fun to do things in sex that feel good to someone I like is in a totally different league in my head than feeling short with someone because I wanted something else for dinner. They just don’t connect to me.

    What I *did* feel approached that line in my head, personally, was trying to include punishment in my relationship. I didn’t want to. The person I was dating (not my current partner) was adamant that HE wanted it, and I was the one who was deeply uncomfortable with it. And you know what happened? I dumped him.

  153. June 11, 2008 at 11:12 pm

    If you look at it this way, it’s not hard to understand why a lot of people have “rape fantasies” and it also becomes apparent that it’s a lot more complicated than just some simple patriarchal brainwashing, “patriarchy’s gonna rape you so you better like it.” I mean, I agree that a lot of times it is more about powerlessness and being ravished. But I have to say it also doesn’t surprise me that when we teach girls that they must fear rape — and for very good reason — that intense fear, of the sort most of us in this thread have probably experienced, can also transmute into a subject of play, something that many people feel compelled to experiment with in the deliberately-not-real space of play.

    Yes, Holly, yes — which is exactly why I don’t think renaming the fantasies something else is necessary, or even particularly politically responsible. I think that some of the things humans do in safe, “play” contexts can and do involve toying with things they actually DO fear. And while I do think sometimes non-consent fantasies are more about ravishment than about exploring that fear, touching and tasting and holding it close… I don’t think that’s always what’s going on.

    (possible triggeringness from here on — explicit discussion of some very dark fantasies.)

    Some of my rape fantasies are about that, yes, so I can understand why a lot of people see it that way from the other side. But some of my rape fantasies are about much darker things, like doing to representatives of the patriarchy what they have done to us. And those fantasies aren’t cute. They’re SCARY. Engaging with them is a way of engaging with that anger in me, that knowledge that I do live in an unjust world, that part of me that really does imagine snapping and going after anyone who’s hurt me, violated my friends… what the dark joy would feel like to do it all right back.

    That’s not cute, it’s not pretty, and it’s not “ravishment.” It’s fucking Dante. It’s exactly what that buzzword says: “Sex as a weapon.”

    Which, y’know… judge it as you will, I don’t mind, but the whole “call it by the nice word” thing doesn’t resonate to me. “I’m going to be the brusque Daddy that introduces a fainting femme flower to the joys of eagerness for penetration” is a ravishment fantasy. “I want revenge, and in my fantasy I’m cruel enough to enjoy every minute of it” is not a ravishment fantasy. It doesn’t make my politics better to pretend I’m thinking about something I’m not.

  154. Peter
    June 12, 2008 at 12:18 am

    I personally do not buy into the idea that any sex acts are innately degrading to women. I think that many sex acts are problematic in the way that they are socially represented and often enacted. For example, I don’t think that blow jobs are in any way innately degrading towards women (or men, but we’re talking about heterosexual sex here). I do think that the social positioning of blow jobs — as something that women are obligated to perform, as a male exertion of power, and as something that is often desired by asshole men because it’s seen by them to be degrading towards women — is incredibly problematic and fucked up. I don’t have a problem with blow jobs — I have a huge problem with the way that many men perceive them, tend to brag about them or feel no need to reciprocate.

    In any case, while I don’t talk about my sex life, preferences, fantasies, etc., I do have to say that I’m rather tired of hearing some (not most!) feminists proclaim that the things that get me off don’t actually get me off, are evidence that I don’t respect myself and/or evidence that my husband doesn’t respect me. I’ve done the whole guilty “should I really like this/does it make me a bad feminist?” bullshit. When it comes to sex, I don’t think it’s right to tell people how to have it — other than to say that all sex should definitely be consensual as a requirement, and sexual activity should have the goal of equal pleasure for partners in mind. And I don’t think it’s any different or better for people to be told how to have sex in the name of feminism than for people to be told how to have sex in the name of religion. The fact is, if I didn’t have sex in the way that I like it, the patriarchy wouldn’t suffer a damn bit. But I sure as hell would. It seems to me that allowing patriarchal standards to control sexual choices in one way or the other isn’t helping women or feminism.

    Well said.

    I hope you don’t mind me chiming in, since I know this is a thread for the women. But, this totally makes sense to me. I’m glad I read this thread. To me, its the context and nature of the sex acts in a relationship that matter. Some porn obviously depicts certain acts as degradation and humiliation, which I find abhorrent. But, they could have an entirely different context in a healthy, consensual relationship.

  155. Melissa Mad.
    June 12, 2008 at 1:36 am

    Hi. I don’t know exactly how to phrase this, but I have a question for the people commenting who are knowledgeable about BDSM and rough sex. I understand the principle of consent, and as far as I’m concerned I may not understand why some people enjoy the types of sex they enjoy, but I have no problem with sex between consenting adults so long as nobody is seriously injured or killed. My question is how do people who have rough sex know they won’t seriously injure their partners? How do they know how much force to use? I’m asking as someone whose sexual fantasies involve rougher elements but who is terrified in real life about the possibility of seriously hurting or being hurt by a sexual partner. I think that this is a topic worth discussing. Also, I’d like to keep it about sites and information if that’s o.k. I’m not looking for personal advice/don’t discuss my sex life on the internet.

  156. piny
    June 12, 2008 at 2:26 am

    Yes, what Holly said. That was great.

  157. Thomas
    June 12, 2008 at 7:43 am

    Some days I just thank the Ceiling Cat for Holly. Nicely done.

    Melissa, not on the internet are also Jay Wiseman’s book SM101, and Sybil Holliday and William Henkin’s Consensual Sadomasochism. Nobody will agree with every last word, but either are excellent introductions to how folks do BDSM safely.

  158. June 12, 2008 at 9:58 am

    Melissa,

    I know you said to keep it to web resources, and I don’t have all that much to add, there. (A lot of the Internet is full of bad information, so I don’t like to rely on it.)

    Here’s a site I find somewhat useful, if you’re looking specifically for BDSM-related things: http://www.sexuality.org/l/bdsm/

    If you’re open at least to hearing about the existence of other resources: One way people learn how to do BDSM stuff safely is by joining groups, which will often have workshops, demos, or classes where people actually teach you how to do things and/or let you know how you can minimize risk.

  159. June 12, 2008 at 11:19 am

    One thing I’ve noticed about this thread is that many of the people who think BDSM is EVIL EVIL EVIL are very casual about describing in detail all kinds of scenarios that they think women couldn’t possibly enjoy. Whereas the defenders of BDSM are careful to keep their kinks out of other people’s headspace, and if it’s necessary to describe a particular sex act in detail they give plenty of warnings and do so in a circumspect way.

    I’d like to echo some of the other commenters: I’m really interested to think about a feminist perspective on vanilla, heterosexual, not explicitly violent sex. Although I’m fairly vanilla myself, I am bothered by the assumption that vanilla sex is simply unmarked, it’s the absolutely obvious and natural thing to do, and doesn’t need any explaining or examining. I think there are some strongly antifeminist and gender essentialist assumptions in the kind of sex that is assumed to be normal. I don’t think that means that people, or feminists, should avoid having, say, missionary position sex with a long-term, monogamous partner. But I would like to talk about it, as well as arguing about whether kinky people have “valid” desires.

  160. June 12, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    A cat may jump on and bite another cat in more or less the same way in two different situations, one play and one deadly serious, and get very different kinds of responses.

    My partner’s cat has another cat friend who we like to call his boyfriend. Almost every time they first see each other, they start leaping on one another and biting each other’s backs. At first, being not-much-of-a-cat-person, I was all “WTF they are attacking each other!” But then I realized that’s just how cats play. Afterwards they usually lie around in the sun together and cuddle. It’s cute.

    Anyhow, Holly, what you said was spot on and since there wasn’t much more to add, I decided to talk about funny cat behavior instead.

  161. CM
    June 12, 2008 at 12:07 pm

    My first boyfriend and I had a pretty “vanilla” sex life, for the most part. However, it was obvious (at least, eventually) that he didn’t care about MY feelings or desires. Even if I wasn’t in the mood, he would break me down until I’d finally give him and let him fuck me. The sex itself wasn’t very exciting, or very good, but he seemed to get off on the fact that I *didn’t* enjoy it. Quite honestly, it sometimes bordered on rape, which I still have some issues with. This also came up during other parts of our relationship — a little off topic, perhaps, but he used to “force” me to do certain drugs that I didn’t want to do, basically by begging and pleading until I got tired of his begging and pleading and just took them. The same thing happened quite a lot during sex.

    “Vanilla” sex can be damaging and degrading. It bothers me that people seem to forget that.

  162. Melissa Mad.
    June 12, 2008 at 12:42 pm

    RenegadeEvolution, Trin, and Thomas: Thanks for the links/resources. I’ll keep the idea of groups in real life in mind. After all, when learning something physical, learning by example is usually a good idea.

    And Holly, I wanted to chime in that your post was awesome.

  163. June 12, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    CM, thank you for sharing, and it’s a very important point to note. [And while this may be unsolicited, and I apologize sincerely if unwanted, I have a similar story. And from what you’ve said here, I would call that rape. Certainly by an enthusiastic consent standard it is.]

  164. Chel
    June 12, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    once again people assume vanilla means missionary and/or hetero………………. it seems the only two things people have to choose from are kink or vanilla. And if kink is well, kink and that doesn’t apply too well, and vanilla is hetero and 1-2 positions…. where the hell is everyone else supposed to fit in? Such a dichotomy ! I’d say I’m more like those cats than anything (*wrestle* then cuddle/sleep).

    p.s. to CM, it probably wasn’t so much the kind of sex, it was the way in which it was initiated/done. which you have already realized, i’m just saying don’t necessarily knock that it was vanilla, and more that the guy was a huge ass (sorry he was).

  165. roses
    June 12, 2008 at 1:23 pm

    Chel, I think you keep missing the point. Nobody here is saying vanilla sex is inherently problematic or that kinky sex is better or more feminist. They’re just trying to say that it’s unfair that kinky sex is singled out as being damaging and degrading, when vanilla sex also can be damaging or degrading (and kinky sex can be respectful and healthy). And our rush to condemn kinky sex and BDSM can result in us ignoring the problems that can come up in vanilla sex.

  166. Chel
    June 12, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    I didn’t miss anything. All I said was that people tend to be categorized into either vanilla or kink, which is problematic in itself. Of COURSE problems can arise in ANY kind of sex. I never said that problems couldn’t arise in “vanilla” sex did I ? No I didn’t, I’m just saying people always tend to categorize vanilla (once again whatever that is) as boring even though some people do enjoy it, and people tend to categorize kink as evil, even though some people do enjoy it. It goes both ways obviously. True, both critical groups of people can be personally confused as to why some people enjoy vanilla over kink or vise versa, but that doesn’t mean you have to associate a category of ‘boring’ or ‘freaky’ to each and maintain a dichotomy.

  167. June 12, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    Even if I wasn’t in the mood, he would break me down until I’d finally give him and let him fuck me. The sex itself wasn’t very exciting, or very good, but he seemed to get off on the fact that I *didn’t* enjoy it. Quite honestly, it sometimes bordered on rape, which I still have some issues with. This also came up during other parts of our relationship — a little off topic, perhaps, but he used to “force” me to do certain drugs that I didn’t want to do, basically by begging and pleading until I got tired of his begging and pleading and just took them. The same thing happened quite a lot during sex.

    This has happened to me too — and actually, and perhaps interestingly, the SM sex/play I had with the person who pressured me continued to be negotiated and generally feel safe (and I was bottoming some of the time.) It was the unmarked sex, the sex that was supposed to be less violent or power-laced (I don’t want to go into much detail here; I’m sure you understand) that seemed to most involve pressure, wheedling, “please please” “I need my…” etc.

  168. June 12, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    I don’t think that there’s a super-clear dividing line between “vanilla” and “kink” anyway. They’re rather diffuse clouds that overlap a lot, and people have different interpretations — one person’s vanilla is VERY often someone else’s kink and vice versa. And I think a lot (a majority? who knows) of people who have “kinky” sex, whatever that terms means to them or their communities or generally, also have plenty of “vanilla” sex, so it’s not like some kind of exclusive thing in any case.

    I also think it’s ok to evaluate some kinds of sex acts, for your individual purposes, as “boring” and others as “freaky” and totally enjoy both in different ways. I mean, boring does not necessarily imply less fun, less valuable, less fulfilling of needs, less pleasurable — unless you are overvaluing novelty or transgression or something. And that’s just a little silly if you ask me, and sometimes immature.

  169. Cecily
    June 12, 2008 at 3:18 pm

    I’m not sure I can agree that ‘boring’ doesn’t imply less fun. I mean, it implies less fun for movies, books, and other activities. I sure wouldn’t consider ‘boring sex’ to be a possible subset of ‘good sex’.

    Unless that’s a kink. It probably is. But I’m not going to be the one to websearch and find out ;)

    I think we’ve come around to something interesting: what the hell is ‘non-kinky’ sex and what kind of generalizations and expectations surround it, how fairly? I know that I have sometimes felt, in the subcultures I move in, that my being non-kinky was regarded with a sort of amused contempt, as if to imply that I can’t really be enjoying sex or experiencing my sexuality to its fullest. I think the term ‘vanilla’ is part of this (no offense to the ice cream flavor, but I think we all know the cultural connotations.) I think there’s a conflation of the absence of kink with repression, in sexually liberal circles. It can be a little aggravating, and it can also make people less willing to talk about their sexuality and their views on sex. There may even be some of that going on here, which may be part of the reason the discussion moved so quickly to kink.

  170. June 12, 2008 at 3:24 pm

    The discussion of “vanilla” sex is interesting (I think I was the first one to use the term in the thread). I think Holly is right when she says that the line between vanilla and kinky is kind of blurred. It’s all objective, really. When I use the term vanilla, I do tend to mean not-as-adventurous as other things, but certainly not bad by any standard. I like vanilla. There are many times I love vanilla and prefer it to anything else. Again, it’s all about who you’re with and how you’re feeling.

    I would also add that the spectrum of “vanilla” and the spectrum of “kinky” are both so great, that they aren’t really even a dichotomy, as Chel suggests. Vanilla doesn’t necessarily = boring and kinky doesn’t necessarily = freaky, I think that is oversimplifying it. Similarly, most people/couples do not usually choose one or the other, again, oversimplifying it.

  171. June 12, 2008 at 3:54 pm

    I know that I have sometimes felt, in the subcultures I move in, that my being non-kinky was regarded with a sort of amused contempt, as if to imply that I can’t really be enjoying sex or experiencing my sexuality to its fullest. I think the term ‘vanilla’ is part of this (no offense to the ice cream flavor, but I think we all know the cultural connotations.)

    Cecily, I understand your feelings on that, but I also really think you should consider this. “Vanilla” is an unfortunate choice of term, yes, but I do think some of the problems people have with that particular word can involve obscuring or overshadowing both

    1) much more pressing issues; and
    2) why that word was coined in the first place (see link and comments).

    (one caveat: I don’t think the term “privilege” is the greatest for this. I do think the dynamics Ren discusses there exist and are real, and that backlash against the kinky ignores that we are actually *not* the ones with the social power.)

  172. Cecily
    June 12, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    I should have placed more emphasis on subculture in my comment; I think Ren is definitely right about society at large, and it’s not been lost on me, say, that my polyamorous friends don’t tell me they are poly until we’ve known each other a year. But in sufficiently ‘non-mainstream’ circles — which in my experience includes artsy, geeky, and yeah, feminist as a subset of activist circles, there’s a different dynamic at play.

    And it may actually reflect this part of Ren’s post: “Two straight people, various positions, maybe a little light bondage, a little rough play, a little slap and tickle…no one really bats an eye at that.” If you do less than that — if you aren’t interested in toys, bondage, anything beyond two bodies and some surfaces — you’re automatically a prude.

    Enh. I’m by no means saying I’m oppressed. I’m just saying I am less likely to take part in discussions of sexuality and sexual practice, feminist or otherwise, because in the sort of communities I’ve been in where such discussions took place in an open and unthreatening manner, my unkinkiness was almost laughed at. I doubt I’m the only one, and this might explain some of the dynamics on these threads, why people don’t talk about their own sexuality or stances. It may not always be ‘oh, I’m normal, let’s talk about weirdos’ but ‘I don’t want to admit how ‘boring’ I am’.

    I think I basically want the same thing as Ren: for people not to assume they know a whole raft of stuff about me based on my sexual preferences and practices.

  173. June 12, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    I sure wouldn’t consider ‘boring sex’ to be a possible subset of ‘good sex’.

    I would. I love me some hearty, straightforward, uncomplicated, boring sex sometimes. But then I don’t really consider sex to always be equivalent to a narrative, quasi-mimetic entertainment experience like a movie or a book. Sex doesn’t have to be a “page-turner” to be good. I also think some music is boring, but still potentially really nice to have on when you are cleaning your house, and some food is boring, but still really nice and comforting to eat, and some windowshades are boring, but definitely get the job done and complement the room decor nicely. And sometimes sex is like that too, which is fine and dandy.

    Of course there is a problem that “boring” has lot of negative connotations in a world where we talk a lot about how we want to be entertained or mentally stimulated. So I’m kind of pressing a point that doesn’t 100% make sense, but there’s a reason for that; one way to not get into these weird loops of trying to evaluate what kinds of sex are “good” or “bad” is to actually question what we’re evaluating — like maybe boring is NOT necessarily bad for lots of types of things, including sex. And then all of the vanilla vs. kink stuff becomes less of a dichotomy and more of a variety.

  174. June 12, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    And it may actually reflect this part of Ren’s post: “Two straight people, various positions, maybe a little light bondage, a little rough play, a little slap and tickle…no one really bats an eye at that.” If you do less than that — if you aren’t interested in toys, bondage, anything beyond two bodies and some surfaces — you’re automatically a prude.

    Okay, I have heard this before, but I’d really like to ask who says it. I’ve said in the past that I actually don’t get wanting vanilla all the time, and that this was always a problem for me because I felt it meant I wasn’t “normal” — it often feels less intimate to me because it feels like I’m holding back, more concerned about propriety than emotional connection. But I don’t think I’ve ever said that I think *others* aren’t emotionally connecting — in fact I sort of envy people for whom only doing that doesn’t eventually make them feel blocked off and disconnected. So… who says this?

    And what is bondage supposed to be for these people? I think I know who you mean — people who approach sex as something that has a lot of novelty in it, and think you’re supposed to think of sex as a bunch of experiments. Is that who you mean?

    If it is, they annoy me too. I do like experimenting, myself — but I don’t like doing it just to do it, and I don’t like people who turn sex into an endless game of oneupmanship. Personally I didn’t get into kink to be more adventurous than other people — I got into it because telling myself sex *shouldn’t* involve power and pain felt to me like people were saying “okay, here are these really intimate things you can do, and sex is intimate, but don’t do them, they’re scary” and I never understood that at all.

    I mean, I get that wading into how someone feels when they’ve totally surrendered, or playing with pain or any number of other things, is emotionally riskier than not. What I don’t get is why not taking those risks supposedly makes someone kinder or nobler or better, and why wanting to do things that I feel enable me to be more intimate with someone are bad — especially when intimacy is held up as a virtue by people who want “more egalitarian” sexualities.

  175. RenegadeEvolution
    June 12, 2008 at 5:08 pm

    oh, I don’t think vanilla = boring in the least.

  176. June 12, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    actually that last bit of mine reminds me of something in one of Patrick Califia’s stories. These two women have a one night stand involving BDSM, and the next morning they have a conversation that goes very roughly (been a while since I read it) like:

    A. Hmm, I never met you before last night, but now I feel like I know you so well.
    B. Yeah. Instant intimacy…

    which has always been how SM feels to me when done right. Really, really, really intimate. Whereas, for ME, vanilla feels a lot less intimate. A lot more mechanical. “Oh, if you keep touching that that way, I’ll orgasm.” Like clock parts moving.

    Which isn’t bad, and it’s not that that can’t *go* with intimacy, be something I do with someone I’m already intimate with. And I don’t mean it’s not intimate for others — my sexuality is only my own. But it always fascinates me how SM sex is seen as *less intimate*/more fake and plastic/more “scripted” and distant sex than what basically FEELS TO ME like “touch with restrictions.”

  177. June 12, 2008 at 5:13 pm

    er, I shouldn’t say “basically feels to me” — it doesn’t always. It’s just that when I approach sex with the outlook “this needs to be vanilla” I feel held back. When what happens happens not to include pain, or much noticeable power exchange because things just happened that way, that doesn’t feel weird to me.

  178. Cecily
    June 12, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    Okay, I have heard this before, but I’d really like to ask who says it. I’ve said in the past that I actually don’t get wanting vanilla all the time, and that this was always a problem for me because I felt it meant I wasn’t “normal” — it often feels less intimate to me because it feels like I’m holding back, more concerned about propriety than emotional connection. But I don’t think I’ve ever said that I think *others* aren’t emotionally connecting — in fact I sort of envy people for whom only doing that doesn’t eventually make them feel blocked off and disconnected. So… who says this?

    And what is bondage supposed to be for these people? I think I know who you mean — people who approach sex as something that has a lot of novelty in it, and think you’re supposed to think of sex as a bunch of experiments. Is that who you mean?

    Well, it’s hard to say ‘who says this’ as it’s been something I’ve experienced offline rather than online, with people I know (and, not knowing where you live or who you hang with, I’m guessing you don’t know) I guess from a certain point of view it’s a kind of One True Wayism; being just as ‘sexually adventurous’ as them means you’re fulfilled, uninhibited, and happy. Being more? I’m not sure what they think about that, but being less, you’re kind of prudish, immature, or naive.

    Basically, I don’t care what other people do in their sex lives within the parameters of consent and so forth that we all agree on; but I’ve been astonished to discover that people seem to care what *I* do (or don’t do), even though these people aren’t having sex with me or ever likely to. Maybe they are committed to identifying their subculture (geek, fen, what have you) with a certain kind of sexual behavior, and the existence of (what’s more vanilla than vanilla?) vanilla beans like me in the subculture rocks their world. I just find OneTrueWayism pretty aggravating no matter if it’s sex or ice cream flavors under discussion.

    Tillamook Chocolate Chip Mint, for the record ;) And thanks for the meditation on intimacy, Trin; that opens a real window of understanding and is really well put.

  179. June 12, 2008 at 6:10 pm

    I just find OneTrueWayism pretty aggravating no matter if it’s sex or ice cream flavors under discussion.

    Agreed. And that ice cream sounds DELICIOUS btw. :)

    And you’re welcome. I was nervous about posting that at all, because I don’t want it to be taken as “I think all these other people are not really achieving intimacy.” Which I don’t mean, and I’m glad you gathered as much. :)

  180. June 12, 2008 at 6:14 pm

    There’s a thread of that, for sure. Not just with kinksters — I run into it a lot in terms of “if you were really liberated and enlightened and free of inhibitions you’d be poly”, or “you’d be bisexual”, or “you’d be into casual sex”, too.

    Me, I’m not what I’d call “sexually adventurous”. Kinky, yes, sexually adventurous, no. I was with someone who was “sexually adventurous” for a while, and bored off my ass. All this sex-stuff that didn’t turn my crank. I’m up for a little stuff that doesn’t turn my crank, I think that’s a reasonable compromise in any sexual relationship, but there’s got to be enough crank-turning to make it worthwhile.

    Decorative bondage: enough crank-turning to compensate for how damn long it takes.

    Foot fetishism: not enough crank-turning even for an “If it’ll make you happy, honey.”

    If I were running into the “If you’re not into what gets me off, you’re repressed” crowd much I’d probably tell them I don’t have time for tedious sex. ‘Cause I’ve done the Sexually Educational relationship thing, and I’m much happier with the quality of my vanilla, bondage, and d/s.

    (Which isn’t to say that I haven’t had periods of weird angst about whether or not it’s ‘okay’ for me to file myself as kinky/a BDSMer because I wasn’t Adventurous or into major fetish stuff and SM. I’m having an actually secure in my self-identification day today.)

  181. June 12, 2008 at 7:02 pm

    Trin, off topic, but something struck me as familiar about the Califia story — did it have a character called Jessie?

    I agree, why assume BDSM sex is less intimate? I think, though — and this may just be my own experience — that it’s more about the individuals involved than the ice cream flavor that dictates intimacy. I’ve had kinky and vanilla both and with different people, either can be formula or intimate.

  182. June 12, 2008 at 7:14 pm

    Octo: Yes, that’s the one.

  183. Thomas
    June 12, 2008 at 8:57 pm

    Jessie: the first story in Macho Sluts. My copy is so dog-eared and worn it’s amazing the binding is intact. It’s the ur-text of lsbian BDSM fiction.

    Trin, well said. The sense of intimacy from the shared powerful experience is what makes it so compelling for me, also.

  184. June 12, 2008 at 8:59 pm

    I just think that the absolute last thing we need to do is problematize women’s desires. That’s not going to stop them from having desires or having sex, but it’s going to lead them once again to get used to sublimating their desires to those of someone else, and that someone else, in hetero relationships (since that’s what I think we were discussing) is gonna be a man. And so where has “feminist’ sex gotten us then?

    Right on. Exactly.

  185. CM
    June 13, 2008 at 11:13 am

    Cara: Not sure if you’ll see this as it’s a day later, but I appreciate your words! He used to break me down, and eventually I’d just give up and go, “OKAY” even though I didn’t want to — and I agree, that is rape. I did come to terms with it soon after I left him, and it all had a happy, silver lining — that relationship really helped me to learn what I wanted, and what I didn’t want, and it made me stronger. It also helped me to gain a lot of independence, because when I left him I had almost nothing.

    It was a horrible relationship, but I can’t say the outcome was bad at all, and I’m honestly not sure if I’d want to change anything if I could.

  186. CM
    June 13, 2008 at 11:16 am

    Chel: *laugh* he WAS a huge ass, so no need to say sorry!

  187. June 13, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    Amber:

    I have indeed read those who argue the polar opposite of the “porn is 100% bad 100% of the time and so are lots of sex acts” extreme radfem argument. Not so much in academic feminism being taught now, but I have in the past. And I hear it a lot in conversation. I’m sorry I can’t think of who right now, but it makes sense that just as there are those who say it’s all 100% bad, there are also those who say that whatever women want or consent to doing sexually is 100% good and is beyond critique. I think it’s just the nature of arguments, to have extremes. And (as we know), these are often the ones represented in the media-extreme, reductionist views are easy and get more attention than nuanced ones. And I think both arguments above suck. I hate that being porn-critical or sex-critical automatically labels you “antisex radfem.” And arguing some of the stuff on this thread seems to label you “anything goes.” Neither are good, and neither are productive.

    I’ve said as much upthread, that I’m frustrated with how my arguments and the arguments of others have been reduced to a very black-and-white version of themselves, stripped of nuance.

    I wholeheartedly agree with this. But I think it happens from both side. Very “pro-sex” people (god I hate these friggin terms, they’re so misleading and inaccurate) do it too to people who raise critique, concerns, etc. I sure have gotten it myself. I lament that the more nuanced voices are heard less because the conversation happening outside of feminist circles tends to be one side or the other in their extremes, and I don’t think that’s helpful for everyday women.

  188. Chel
    June 13, 2008 at 5:29 pm

    Lindabeth:

    You make a very good point, and thank you for doing so. More would definitely get done in discussion if it wasn’t a fight between “all and every kind of sex is good in any situation” or “all and every kind of sex is bad in any situation”.

  189. June 13, 2008 at 9:07 pm

    Okay, now I feel like banging my head against the keyboard. Chel, it wouldn’t BE that mythical fight if comments such as yours didn’t keep trying to MAKE IT into that kind of fight! How many times do I have to say that I’m sick of my arguments being reduced to black-and-white caricatures, and tired of the irrelevance of “well, SOME people argue that it’s all or nothing!” being invoked?

  190. crow
    June 13, 2008 at 11:20 pm

    “You make a very good point, and thank you for doing so. More would definitely get done in discussion if it wasn’t a fight between “all and every kind of sex is good in any situation” or “all and every kind of sex is bad in any situation”.”

    I’ve never heard anyone argue either of these things.

    Sex positive people acknowledges that nonconsentual sex is bad and sex addiction is bad.

    Very few people argue that all sex is bad. Those people tend to die off after 1 generation.

  191. Chel
    June 13, 2008 at 11:43 pm

    Why is everyone attacking me? I was simply replying to what the person above me said. Plus, I was going to add to my comment in the first place that I have personally experienced both arguments in my life and don’t know what to really say to either argument when presented……but I thought that at the very least semi-intelligent readers of this post would understand that. Apparently not. Don’t be so egotistical as to assume I was talking about you in the first place Amber. I’d appreciate it.

    “Sex is only good within marriage” is an example of “all sex is bad” because how could it only be good in an institution created by patriarchy?

    “All forms of sex are good simply if consent is there” is an example of absolutely any kind of sex no matter how abusive or vanilla being 100% good in that person’s mind.

    I personally don’t think either of those are completely correct or progressive. Once again, this is a personal view that I share (or so I think) with lindabeth. So why is it necessary to attack a person who merely commented on another’s views?

    Anyone?

  192. Chel
    June 13, 2008 at 11:47 pm

    Lindabeth said:

    I think it’s just the nature of arguments, to have extremes.

    So how am I wrong in having experienced extremes in arguments/discussions about sex? And where did I even come close to talking about specific people in this thread? Please tell me right now, I’d like to know.

  193. June 14, 2008 at 3:06 am

    Why is everyone attacking me?

    Chel, who is attacking you? I don’t see that at all (please correct me if I’m wrong, this thread is a long one). However you did (and still do?) automatically equate kink with abuse, and people have rather vigorously disagreed, and continue to vigorously disagree with you. I think you can understand why. No?

    The truth this, there’s lots of fun to be had in such a conversation, and lots of serious things to ponder too. But if you, not unlike Margot, tell people how they really think and feel, it’s not going to go anywhere.

    Imagine if I told you “oh, so you like the missionary position?! [I like it too, btw, but let’s say I didn’t] Well, well, well, how do you get past the fact that the male is on top?!

  194. June 14, 2008 at 3:08 am

    Why is everyone attacking me?

    Chel, who is attacking you? I don’t see that at all (please correct me if I’m wrong, this thread is a long one). However you did (and still do?) automatically equate kink with abuse, and people have rather vigorously disagreed, and continue to vigorously disagree with you. I think you can understand why. No?

    The truth this, there’s lots of fun to be had in such a conversation, and lots of serious things to ponder too. But if you, not unlike Margot, tell people how they really think and feel, it’s not going to go anywhere.

  195. June 14, 2008 at 3:14 am

    Whoa! Somehow I managed to post twice, and both times the comment is cut off. Whups.

    Here’s what I was trying to say in my last paragraph,

    Imagine if I told you “oh, so you like the missionary position?! [I like it too, btw, but let’s say I didn’t] Well, well, well, how do you get past the fact that the male is on top?! How do you get past the effed-up connotations of ‘missionary?’ You know, it seems to me as though your sex life is basically a perpetuation of some really messed-up sh*t. I mean, you don’t do that stuff outside of the bedroom now, do you? Hmmm. Why is that? I’ll tell you why… [You, meanwhile, love doing it missionary style, for the sake of argument].

    Naturally, a lot of this is hyperbole, but I think that this is how some people were reading you on this thread. And perhaps they have a point.

  196. June 14, 2008 at 9:37 am

    Aha! Okay, I’m egotistical. That must be it.

    Since this has now devolved into an argument between two hypothetical extremes, instead of an actual substantive conversation about the nuances of culture, societal expectations, desire, sexuality, individual expression, self-determination, and all the rest of it (and is past 200 comments), I believe it’s time for me to bow out.

  197. crow
    June 14, 2008 at 3:26 pm

    Chel, that was not an attack. You explained your perspective, I explained my perspective, which happened to differ from yours. That’s how I like to have discussions.

    This is an attack. I think your interpretation of this debate is condescending and denies the fact that people on both sides of the fence can have well thought out and relevant moral outlooks on life. Basically you think people on both sides of the argument are being stupid and you’re the mistreated hero of the blog. But of course nobody takes you seriously because everyone’s just so closed minded.

  198. crow
    June 14, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    Chel, that was not an attack. You explained your perspective, I explained my perspective, which happened to differ from yours. That’s how I like to have discussions.

    This is an attack. I think your interpretation of this debate is condescending and denies the fact that people on both sides of the fence can have well thought out and relevant moral outlooks on life. Basically you think people on both sides of the argument are being stupid and you’re the mistreated hero of the blog. Nobody could possibly understand you because you’re just too level headed for us. And any attempt people make to converse with you by questioning anything you say isn’t a relevant difference of opinion, it’s an “attack.”

  199. crow
    June 14, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    Damn, I clicked the edit button and it double posted it… someone delete the first post please, and this one I guess…

  200. June 15, 2008 at 11:27 am

    @ Cecily (& others talking about the “vanilla” thing)

    Yes – I think you’re spot on in saying there is a correlation with certain subcultures.

    Anecdote: A few years back I was musing on similar stuff in connection with BiCon the UK bisexual conference/convention. Obviously, bisexuality is pretty normal there. But also a lot of people there identify as polyamorous and/or bdsm-er, and there are often workshop sessions on those subjects.

    I forget now exactly whom I was talking to about it, but we agreed that in some ways it was probably more scary at BiCon to come out as monogamous or vanilla than as poly or kinky. Not that anything would have happened comparable to what can happen to poly or kinky people in mainstream culture, but just that people might feel a kind of social caution about it lest they be looked down upon or considered odd. The sense of it was something like “polyamory and bdsm is normal here”, or perhaps more like: “all the cool people are poly and kinky, and being monogamous or vanilla isn’t as cool”.

    This is of course not necessarily related to whether poly/kinky people are or aren’t in fact in the majority in that subculture / at that event – it’s about visibility and perceptions.

    (The whole thing about “being a proper bi person” is something I was interested in anyway – article here about a workshop I did at BiCon one year around that.)

    By way of sequel to the anecdote: I have a little cottage industry making button badges. I already had some celebrating poly and kink, but after that discussion I designed two new ones – “bi & monogamous” and “delicious vanilla”. They were quite popular :-)

  201. June 17, 2008 at 12:56 am

    I was looking around the web for some information on a skin condition I had, and I found a long thread on a medical web site where numerous women were posting about instances of what appeared to be the same skin condition on their genitals. There were several posters making comments along the lines that they would have to escape to the bathroom and cry after sex because the abrasions hurt so badly, and more than one who said they first sustained the skin damage during “rough sex,” which in the context where it actually abrades and cuts your skin, in a community where it was evident that these women were distressed and in pain vs. being turned on by the rough sex, cannot have been a good thing in my opinion. (I mean, there was a noticeable absence of “but then I like it that way, LOL” on this thread.) Meanwhile I was thinking “If intercourse were that painful for me, I would not be having it until I healed.” So I know this is a leap, because I don’t actually know these women, but I think here is an instance where the cultural (not individual) tendency toward roughness caused a problem. For whatever reason these women viewed the form of sex that hurt them, and the pain or at least lack of pleasure that went along with it, as “normal.” It was sort of shocking. I can’t imagine doing something several times a week that was that uncomfortable or actively painful.

    I definitely don’t think anyone should be expected to “justify” their own individual sexual desires and preferences, or to make sure that they are “sufficiently” feminist. But that doesn’t change the fact that there are a (surprisingly, to me) huge number of women out there–even if not a single one of them is commenting on this thread–who still in 2008 don’t feel comfortable examining their desires and speaking up if they don’t enjoy something, or even if it actively hurts them. That doesn’t make rough sex bad in and of itself, but the cultural promotion of rougher forms of sex (and I say this as someone who enjoys it a little rough), and, for example, the message that there is something wrong with you and you’re a humorless man-hating feminist if you don’t just absolutely love giving blow jobs, are a problem in my opinion.

    Of course there is also cultural pressure not to be “kinky,” which is equally problematic. And I agree with Amber to the extent of thinking, what is to be done about it? You can’t blanket condemn any particular act between consenting adults because there’s going to be someone somewhere, or more likely a lot of people, who genuinely love that act and derives sexual fulfillment from it. But just as I do kind of think that you can point out that lipstick, high heels, and the like arise from the patriarchy without actually passing any judgment on whether it is good or bad for a person to wear them (since of course some women love them, some are indifferent, and some hate them), isn’t it possible to argue–and it may or may not be true for any given practice–that certain sex acts arise from the patriarchy without passing judgment on the acts themselves or the people who love doing them? Because they cannot really be judged in a vacuum.

    To me it’s almost more unusual to actually not attach any judgment to fashion choices or sex acts. There seems to be one side that says you suck and are a mindless tool of the patriarchy if you feel beautiful in dresses and heels or get off on having your hair pulled, and another that says you suck and are a sex- and man-hating neurotic if you insist on wearing baggy clothes and Birkenstocks and feel that giving blow jobs is a perfectly fine activity if it pleases your partner, and you get into it to an extent, but for the most part sucking cock hurts your jaw and is sort of boring. In practice there doesn’t really seem to be a “side” that says any or all of these preferences are OK on an individual basis. On each side these preferences still seem to be thought to signify something larger–and negative–about the woman who has them.

    I usually only become suspicious of sex acts if their popularity in society appears to wax and wane in a way that appears to be driven by Maxim or whatever. Like how blow jobs seem currently to be the be-all and end-all of sex among teenagers, and anal sex has this cachet at the moment that it hasn’t always had. On the one hand it makes me feel sort of good for the young women who may enjoy giving blow jobs but previously got the message that nice girls don’t do that, and for the folks who have been wanting to try anal sex but considered it over-the-top dirty until they did some looking around and realized they weren’t sick freaks for their preferences. That part is good. The problem comes in when you start to get the impression that something other than your own preference–specifically the patriarchy and its ceaseless efforts to define for us what is “beautiful,” “sexy,” or a “turn-on”–is influencing your sex life, and then teenage girls feel bad if they don’t want to give blow jobs and married women feel bad if they don’t like anal, and many people still don’t feel comfortable refusing to go with the flow in that regard no matter how many times we’re told to communicate with our partners and speak up if we don’t like something. That’s what frustrates and upsets me.

    So I guess I do agree that sex acts are strictly speaking neutral from a feminist standpoint and are just individual choices and preferences, but many women, in practice, may not really feel like they have a right to a choice in the matter. If they don’t like x or y, then something’s wrong with them and they just have to try harder.

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