Author: has written 57 posts for this blog.

Clarisse Thorn is a Chicago-based, feminist, sex-positive activist and educator. Personal blog at clarissethorn.com; follow her on Twitter @clarissethorn; you can also buy her awesome book about pickup artists or her awesome best-of collection, The S&M Feminist.
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65 Responses

  1. mikea
    mikea July 1, 2011 at 9:00 am |

    The plural of anecdote is not data. I feel like shouting it at people sometimes (my partner did once, at her brother). Great post!

  2. Tawny
    Tawny July 1, 2011 at 10:04 am |

    Thank you, Clarisse, for writing this. As a kinky sub lady who is an absolutely aggressive, dominant frat boy outside the bedroom, I really appreciate it.

    I hate when people conflate sexual submission for women w/a submissive personality. Why can’t some of us be the stereotypical high-powered lawyers/CEOs/doctors who have the Secret Submission in the Bedroom thing, too? Why is that only for men? (Obviously cultural preference, but STILL UGH.)

    Anyway, I appreciate you blogging kink on Feministe, and especially this post. =)

  3. Iris
    Iris July 1, 2011 at 10:26 am |

    Oh,yes.
    A call for women to look at themselves as human beings.
    Women allowing themselves to experience the entire range of human experience.
    This post really resonated for me in that thinking outside our cultural boxes is such a powerful tool.
    A tool with which we can stand up for ourselves and believe we deserve equal rights legally, culturally, sexually and morally.
    Thank you.

  4. Hugo
    Hugo July 1, 2011 at 10:29 am |

    Amen. As a vanilla married dude who remembers a less monogamous youth, I remember having friends tell me the same thing — the women they slept with “all liked pain.” Some of these guys were obviously into the whole Manic Pixie Dream Girl thing, and they were aspiring knights-in-shining-armor. For them, a longing for pain was something from which these poor young women needed to be rescued. And yes, I went through the rescuer phase in my early 20s and thank goodness, got past it.

    Recognizing how one’s own sexual choices shape one’s perceptions of gender is important. Learning to listen to what the people you’re sleeping with are SAYING (rather than pathologizing what you see) is vital.

    I recognize myself from half a lifetime ago in this post, Clarisse, and I’m sure quite a few men will as well. Thanks for this.

  5. Mona
    Mona July 1, 2011 at 10:34 am |

    If gotten this from men too and most of the time it seemed like this was what they wanted to believe. Like you said, men like this are probably attracting more submissive women than dominant ones.
    I find this really frustrating because I’m quite dominant in and out of the bedroom but I often “play” submissive because most men at least outside of the BDSM scene (which I’m not part of) are reacting badly when I try to talk about my preferences. Even when I’m just casually brushing the subject. I think because of cultural conditioning a lot of men are scared to even entertain the idea of what some might think of as “role reversal” in bed.
    Not that I really blame them because I have a lot of problems fully accepting my kink and being scared of a partners reaction that I often hide my preferences. Wich is also why I’m not (yet) comfortable joining the BDSM community. Everything around me tells me that my sexuality is somehow wrong or unfeminine.

  6. Emolee
    Emolee July 1, 2011 at 11:08 am |

    Thanks for this. You make some great points. I have thought in the past that it was necessary for me to carefully “negotiate” my enjoyment of sexual submission with my feminism. But, actually, a woman who is doing exactly what brings her pleasure sexually- and whose sexual activities happen fully within the boundaries of her own full consent- is not being submissive in a societal sense at all, even though she may be playing a submissive role “in bed.”

  7. Athenia
    Athenia July 1, 2011 at 11:12 am |

    I’m not sure why a woman’s desire for “pain” is all that surprising–if you are generally on the “receiving” end of things, pain–for some people–is going to part of the menu no matter what.

  8. Xeginy
    Xeginy July 1, 2011 at 11:40 am |

    This was fantastic. Thank you so much for writing about stuff like this.

  9. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin July 1, 2011 at 11:54 am |

    I wish most men were self-aware enough to reach these conclusions themselves. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I may as well have been one of these well-meaning men myself at an earlier stage in my life.

    I can point to specific behaviors and beliefs of a sexual nature that refer back to that time of trauma. Now, of course, this doesn’t mean that every aspect of my sexual self is tied to it. But we’re so inundated with aspects of a violent society that everything gets filtered through that lens.

  10. Jadey
    Jadey July 1, 2011 at 11:56 am |

    mikea: The plural of anecdote is not data.

    Actually, anecdotes *are* data. They’re just a particular kind of data – qualitative rather than quantitative. They still provide information, but they can’t be interpreted as if they are statistically generalizable because they aren’t. Plenty of excellent research is done based on the analysis of anecdotal firsthand accounts though, often providing insight into questions that quantitative data cannot touch. The real issue is that people don’t recognize the limitations inherent in their datasets (and this goes for quantitative data too, although the limitations are different), and thus draw faulty conclusions.

    Sorry, the whole “anecdote /= data” has been chapping my hide for a little while now.

  11. Kendra Holliday
    Kendra Holliday July 1, 2011 at 11:59 am |

    Found this post when my friend shared it on SEX+STL fb wall. Fantastic! This was my favorite line: “Sexual kinks have no impact on one’s performance in non-sexual fields.”

    Just like how one’s sexual kinks have no impact on one’s performance as a parent, a volunteer, etc. Yes our sexuality is connected to all aspects of our lives, but a healthy and creative sexuality can make us better employees, parents, and citizens. It’s so nice finding trusted individuals to explore our deepest desires.

  12. LoriA
    LoriA July 1, 2011 at 12:05 pm |

    Interesting how the same people who jumped all over the violent-sex-as-a-way-to-heal-from-PTSD article are overwhelmingly silent here.

    And by ‘interesting’ I mean pretty much the opposite.

    1. Jill
      Jill July 1, 2011 at 12:16 pm | *

      Interesting how the same people who jumped all over the violent-sex-as-a-way-to-heal-from-PTSD article are overwhelmingly silent here.

      And by ‘interesting’ I mean pretty much the opposite.

      Dude, this piece has been up for like one hour. But please, don’t let anything stop you from your crusade of proving in the comments of a blog that That Blog Is Terrible.

  13. wavevector
    wavevector July 1, 2011 at 12:09 pm |

    “Why are all women into being submissive and/or masochistic in bed? What does that mean? They ask me this question in vaguely worried tones. ”

    While the essay was interesting, I think it is itself an answer to the wrong question. Clarisse, in her somewhat solipsistic mindset, has answered at length what it means for women, for feminism, for equal rights, etc. What she has ignored completely is the person asking the question, and what it means for him.

    So let me take a shot at answering that guy. I’m directing my answer at him for the rest of this response, so as not to be accused of mansplaining.

    So you’re a guy and you’re finding that all your female partners are submissive in bed. That has been my experience too. In fact, not only are they submissive in bed, they are submissive to me in general. I find the more a woman is in love with me, the more she wants me to lead, to make decisions, and to be in charge when we’re together. I’m not talking about BDSM or even kink, either – my sexual and personal life is strictly vanilla. Granted, this probably has a lot to do with the type of woman whom I’m attracted to, and who is attracted to me, and there are many other types of women who may behave differently. But given that we have this type of partner, how do we understand this?

    I think I know what is bothering you. You’ve been told all your life that male dominance is a bad thing, that it is oppressive and abusive and harmful to women. But your girlfriends seem to want you to be dominant anyway. So here then is the REAL QUESTION: “How can I take a dominant role in my relationship and still be a good man?”

    The key to answering this question is to understand that dominant and submissive roles are independent of one’s worth as a person. They are personal proclivities or choices, not measures of value. A dominant person is neither better nor worse than a submissive person. That means there is one area in which strict equality must be maintained in a relationship, and that is RESPECT. You must respect your partner as you do yourself, regardless of who is dominant and who is submissive. And because of that respect, you must also care for that person as you do for yourself.

    If you balance dominance with equal quantities of respect and caring, you will find you can have a good and healthy relationship with someone who is submissive. It is important to understand the difference between dominant, and domineering or dominating. The latter two imply an imposition of your will on someone else by force. To act this way is to act disrespectfully. A dominant person does not impose their will by force; rather, they lead a willing follower.

    If done correctly, being dominant is a giving thing and an act of service. It is discovering what your submissive partner wants and giving it to them. I have come to realize that when my wife acts submissively to me, she is giving me an offering. But it isn’t for free – she wants something in return. She may want care, or comfort, or intimacy, or a sign of commitment. I used to be uncomfortable accepting her submission, which left her a bit disappointed. But I’ve learned it makes her much happier if I accept her submission, figure out what she is asking for, and give it to her. In reality, I perform the role of dominant to satisfy her needs more than I do to satisfy my own.

    My final thought for you is that by playing the role of dominant convincingly, you are increasing the value of what you are giving her, whether it is sex or emotional support. She wants someone who is confident and strong, not tentative and conflicted in their dominant role. If you dispel your fears that being dominant is oppressive and abusive and if you learn to balance dominance with care and respect, you will find you can give your partner so much more. Whether she wants comforting or a good hard fucking, your ability to be confident and comfortable in your role will enhance the value of the experience for her. So relax and learn to love being dominant. Just remember that being dominant is in itself neither bad nor good. With a lack of respect and care dominant can turn to domineering. Watch yourself and don’t let that happen. But if you cultivate respect and caring for your partner, then being dominant can be a very good thing, for both you and her.

  14. Emolee
    Emolee July 1, 2011 at 12:20 pm |

    I was silent on the PTSD article because it was a lot for me to process. My partner was diagnosed with PTSD. I think our sex life, which I would not characterize as violent, but rough at times (and not at all rough at other times), has been one of the things that has helped him with it. His psychiatrist was the one who first made me realize this, although I was troubled at first when she brought it up. She started by asking me if I indeed consented to everything going on. Since she works for a federal agency that does not have the reputation for caring a lot about consent in general, this made me feel like, whoa, is what we are doing really wild? But when I said that I did, she said that she thought it was helping him. I agree, but I just can’t break down the “why.”

  15. Jeff
    Jeff July 1, 2011 at 12:20 pm |

    LoriA: Interesting how the same people who jumped all over the violent-sex-as-a-way-to-heal-from-PTSD article are overwhelmingly silent here.And by ‘interesting’ I mean pretty much the opposite.

    …are you being deliberately obtuse? People reacted to the previous article because it could’ve used some clearer cautionary bits about negotiating that kind of thing. Whereas this article is entirely different…

  16. LoriA
    LoriA July 1, 2011 at 12:23 pm |

    @Jill
    This post has been up for several hours, and excuse me for having so little patience for kinkphobia. Maybe I’d be much more fair-minded like you if I weren’t a kinkster privately and professionally and had the emotional resources to let people spew shit about marginalized sexualities all over my blog. Oh, and children. Let’s not forget that thread.

    1. Jill
      Jill July 1, 2011 at 12:25 pm | *

      I’m sorry, I must have missed the part where someone was forcing you to be here. Didn’t you flounce like a month ago?

  17. LoriA
    LoriA July 1, 2011 at 12:28 pm |

    No, Jeff, I just don’t feel like going back and finding that bullshit thread. And here’s The Point, since it’s hard for you to divine: people who are out to criticize kink are far, far more likely to comment an article they can find fault with as opposed to an article like this, where god forbid they would have say something nice about it instead.

  18. LoriA
    LoriA July 1, 2011 at 12:29 pm |

    I’m here because I want to be able to engage with one of the most important feminist sites, but you are trying your damndest to make this place as inaccessible to as many people as you can.

    1. Jill
      Jill July 1, 2011 at 12:34 pm | *

      Lori, I’m not trying to make it as inaccessible to as many people as I can. I am trying to center the conversations around what the posts are actually about, and not whatever topics individual commenters want to discuss (for example, on this thread — you seem to want to discuss previous threads and your personal beefs with commenters from earlier this week instead of engaging with the topic at hand). So yes, I am pushing back against that, because I think commenters who pull that shit are poisonous to the community, and need to not insist that blogs be their personal therapy sessions, and need to grow up a little bit and not be so entirely ME ME ME ME ME. In pushing back against those commenters, we open up the community to more people whose voices and opinions are silenced when comment threads turn into discussions about What Lori Wants To Talk About rather than the topic at hand.

      All of which is to say: Back to talking about the actual post now.

  19. Jadey
    Jadey July 1, 2011 at 12:34 pm |

    LoriA:
    I’m here because I want to be able to engage with one of the most important feminist sites, but you are trying your damndest to make this place as inaccessible to as many people as you can.

    Wait, who are you pissed at – Jill or the commenters whose views you find offensive?

  20. Jadey
    Jadey July 1, 2011 at 12:35 pm |

    Oops – sorry about pushing the derail. I withdraw the question.

  21. LoriA
    LoriA July 1, 2011 at 12:36 pm |

    @Jadey
    Both

    @Jill
    Wow. My therapy session. Yeah okay. You keep not being oppressive just like that.

    1. Jill
      Jill July 1, 2011 at 12:39 pm | *

      Further derails will be ignored. If it gets any more out of hand, people who are serial derailers and trolls will be banned. Back to the post.

  22. LoriA
    LoriA July 1, 2011 at 12:42 pm |

    Calling out mods on ableism will get me banned huh? Go for it.

  23. saurus
    saurus July 1, 2011 at 12:52 pm |

    It’s an odd but common assumption that what you’re like inside the bedroom is somehow more revealing and telling about your innermost attitudes than what you’re like *outside* the bedroom. I think that’s because of the trope of sex as “private”; we tend to feel like the public world is where we pretend to be a certain way, whereas the bedroom is where we reveal who we “really” are.

    But when I’m submissive, I’m not “revealing” anything – it’s not the deep-down truth of who I am. It’s just another facet of my whole truth, and the whole truth of me is that while I’m cool with submission in the bedroom, I genuinely and avidly dislike being treated that way outside of the bedroom. I’m not privately wishing you’d be more dominant; I’m so turned off by it that I couldn’t sleep with you even though it’s a behavior I might like in bed.

    This thing we do, of trying to boil everyone’s facets down to a one-faceted plane of who they “really” are, is super irritating.

    When I say “we” I mean people in general, not the commenters in the thread.

  24. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub July 1, 2011 at 1:00 pm |

    Clarisse, this is an interesting post, though I’m not part of that community. As you pointed out, this attitude (women are submissive/men are dominant because teh biology) is everywhere. It’s very limiting, narrow-minded, and misogynist. It’s also a lot more complicated that the gender-essentialist claptrap that people (esp. the privileged) like to push to make themselves feel good about their privilege. It’s one thing if someone is into that but I really hate it when people push it as Gospel Truth For All Women Because Otherwise It Is Very Unnatural. (I mean, sheesh, I know a bunch of dominionists who agree with the women are naturally submissive crap.)

    I’ve been in relationships with men who were convinced that being dominant was a natural thing for men and submission was a natural thing for women (it came out as the relationship progressed and we’d clash because–SURPRISE–I’m not particularly submissive)–and this was in general, not just in regards to sex. It was incredibly stifiling–I wasn’t allowed to be human, as it really bothered them when I made my needs and desires clear.

  25. Marlene
    Marlene July 1, 2011 at 1:01 pm |

    next I’ll be telling you that queer, trans and asexual women exist!

    Trans women are not a group of women separate from straight women. Most trans women are straight. Gender is not sexual orientation and the conflation of the two is offensive to lots of trans folks.

  26. Emolee
    Emolee July 1, 2011 at 1:08 pm |

    saurus: “while I’m cool with submission in the bedroom, I genuinely and avidly dislike being treated that way outside of the bedroom. I’m not privately wishing you’d be more dominant; I’m so turned off by it that I couldn’t sleep with you even though it’s a behavior I might like in bed.”

    Totally. I feel exactly the same way. My partner and I have had this conversation many times, and we both laugh about it now. We joke that we would never have “obey” in our marrriage vows unless they added “only in bed.”

    But this is what I once worried would be harmful to feminism- that people would think a woman liking to be submissive in bed was some kind of “evidence” of women’s “inner, secret desire” to be submissive in *general*, and it absolutely is not.

  27. Plop
    Plop July 1, 2011 at 1:25 pm |

    They have actually asked, so they must enjoy it and know. It’s a play in submission since it’s their decision and not someone else’s =)

  28. ellefromtheeast
    ellefromtheeast July 1, 2011 at 1:55 pm |

    This is a great post.

    I’d like to hammer home point A.
    If a guy is
    a) straight or bi
    b) in touch with and self-possessed about his own desires
    c) has elements of dominance/sadism/etc in those desires
    and, most importantly,
    d) has the respect and patience necessary for fun and safe BDSM
    then he is rarer than hen’s teeth. I’ve met only a few men like this in my years in the kink scene, and Reader, I married one. (I’m a switch, FWIW.) No wonder women who are into those characteristics find this guy.

    So, guys, if all the women you’ve dated have liked a certain kind of sex (any kind, really)? As long as you also like that kind of sex, that’s a GOOD thing. Potential partners are picking up what you’re putting down. Yay for compatibility!

    I’d also like to point out that in any kink scene – gay men’s, lesbians, female-dominant het, or male-dominant het – bottoms outnumber tops. There are always more people looking to receive than to administer. (The research Clarissa links to in the OP mostly bears out my personal observation.)

    Why, I don’t know – it’s an interesting question. But it makes gender less relevant here. If Clarissa’s questioners had mostly male partners, they might well have the same kind of experiences.

  29. PM
    PM July 1, 2011 at 2:01 pm |

    “Actually, anecdotes *are* data. They’re just a particular kind of data – qualitative rather than quantitative. They still provide information, but they can’t be interpreted as if they are statistically generalizable because they aren’t. Plenty of excellent research is done based on the analysis of anecdotal firsthand accounts though, often providing insight into questions that quantitative data cannot touch. The real issue is that people don’t recognize the limitations inherent in their datasets (and this goes for quantitative data too, although the limitations are different), and thus draw faulty conclusions.”

    Right on! Mixed-methods research FTW!

  30. wavevector
    wavevector July 1, 2011 at 2:18 pm |

    @ellefromtheeast;

    “I’d also like to point out that in any kink scene – gay men’s, lesbians, female-dominant het, or male-dominant het – bottoms outnumber tops. … Why, I don’t know – it’s an interesting question.”

    I don’t know the kink scene firsthand, but I have a lot of experience analyzing dominance in other social settings, so I’ll throw out a hypothesis. Being dominant and doing it well is hard work in any situation. In work situations, most people don’t want to be the boss – companies have to pay people more to get them to be managers. In volunteer organizations, few people want to lead – it’s easier to show up and have someone tell you what needs to be done. The same is true in the bedroom. Being dominant means you have to organize, plan, and decide what to do. You have to read your subordinates’ needs as well as your own. When things go wrong, you get the blame and have to set things right again. Being dominant and doing it well is an act of service, not selfishness. It takes a range of mental and emotional skills that few possess.

  31. K
    K July 1, 2011 at 3:13 pm |

    This post gets at a number of things I have been struggling with for years. I am a more or less straight woman, and I have always been turned by violent or dominant sex in books and movies. I am very uncomfortable with this, and basically ignore it in my sex life, which I’m pretty sure is a loss for me sexually. But…

    I guess I’m still bought into the idea that my sexual taste says something deeper about me as a person. Part of this has to do with context-in many of the stories I find hot, the submission of the woman extended far beyond the bedroom and was woven into the whole relationship. That makes me really uncomfortable.

    I feel so guilty for fantasizing about rape when so many women actually suffer through it every day. I feel like I’m trivializing their pain. The idea that I get pleasure reading about/watching someone else’s pain makes me sick to my stomach, even when it’s fiction. But I still do it, because it’s so powerful for me sexually.

    Some of this is tied into dysfunctional family history, in that I basically had only myself to rely on growing up. Now I have times when I really do just want my prince to show up and rescue me, and then I feel disgusted with myself.

    Not to turn this into my personal therapy session, but I thought I would take a stab at explaining why some of us still can’t accept this part of who we are.

    Thanks for the post!

  32. Tawny
    Tawny July 1, 2011 at 3:57 pm |

    K:
    Some of this is tied into dysfunctional family history, in that I basically had only myself to rely on growing up. Now I have times when I really do just want my prince to show up and rescue me, and then I feel disgusted with myself.

    Having grown up similarly, I definitely understand this, and just thought you might want to know! I also dated several dudes post-leaving home that were basically giant, moneysucking children, so it was a very long time before I found a situation where I was not STILL doing everything for everyone in the house.

    It’s nice to not have to hold the reins occasionally.

  33. anna
    anna July 1, 2011 at 4:14 pm |

    “I’m not sure why a woman’s desire for “pain” is all that surprising–if you are generally on the “receiving” end of things, pain–for some people–is going to part of the menu no matter what.”

    Um, no. There is no reason sex should hurt for a woman if she doesn’t want it to. If it does, she either has a medical problem and/or an asshole partner who is deliberately hurting her. Not being a sub myself, I can tell you it is absolutely possible to be penetrated without any pain at all, if that’s what you want.

  34. Emolee
    Emolee July 1, 2011 at 6:00 pm |

    Does being a sub necessarily mean you like pain? What if you are not into pain but are into being dominated?

  35. Kyra
    Kyra July 1, 2011 at 6:41 pm |

    Does being a sub necessarily mean you like pain? What if you are not into pain but are into being dominated?

    No, it doesn’t. Everybody has different tastes, different likings, different comforts, different preferences, informed by different personalities and different experiences. There are people who like being dominated but don’t like pain, people who love pain but hate being dominated, people who like neither but love being the person things are done to, and everything in between.

    Unfortunately, this is one of those things that not everybody understands, and everyone’s best bet is to be clear with prospective playmates on what you like, what you dislike, what you’re uncomfortable with, and what psychological quirks might come into play—and if somebody insists somebody with your tastes can’t possibly be real, that’s a mark of the highest disrespect for you as a person and a good cue to leave.

  36. Emolee
    Emolee July 1, 2011 at 7:21 pm |

    Thanks Clarisse and Kyra for the insight; very helpful.

  37. Politicalguineapig
    Politicalguineapig July 1, 2011 at 8:31 pm |

    K:I feel so guilty for fantasizing about rape when so many women actually suffer through it every day. I feel like I’m trivializing their pain. The idea that I get pleasure reading about/watching someone else’s pain makes me sick to my stomach, even when it’s fiction. But I still do it, because it’s so powerful for me sexually.
    Check. For me, it’s kind of equal opportunity, but I feel more comfortable reading stuff where a man gets raped. I’m still trying to figure things out. I was once attracted to a friend while she was going through a horrible time in her life; I think it’s the vulnerability that got to me. (For the record, I never, ever acted on it, or told her about it.)

  38. sonorous
    sonorous July 1, 2011 at 9:05 pm |

    K:

    I feel so guilty for fantasizing about rape when so many women actually suffer through it every day. I feel like I’m trivializing their pain. The idea that I get pleasure reading about/watching someone else’s pain makes me sick to my stomach, even when it’s fiction. But I still do it, because it’s so powerful for me sexually.

    In my case, I fantasize about “rape” – in these fantasies I am turned on by the event, the acts are psychologically and/or physically pleasurable, and frankly the whole thing revolves around me even though someone else technically has control. I think half the attraction is the taboo-ness of it, and half is the psychological depth of the interaction, which hooks me. “I love you, let’s have sex” or “You’re hot, let’s have sex” kind of bores me, fantasy-wise.

    As a survivor, there is so much distance between that kind of fantasy and my own real life experience that it’s like apples and oranges – I don’t feel guilty or weird about it, and I don’t think other people should either. In my real experience, it was emotionally devastating – not in a “I’m a whore and I’m ashamed but I love it” way but in a “I wish I were dead, or I wish someone would give me a severe enough concussion that this whole memory can be wiped out” way. I don’t know anyone who fantasizes about that.

    Plus, there were many ugly, awkward, unsexy parts that certainly wouldn’t make the cut in a fantasy. And in my fantasies, maybe there’s the “whore” element, but there isn’t the “I feel shitty about myself, my body, and my life” element that was churning through my head during my real experience. My fantasies are about excitement and danger and the taboo thrill of degradation and all that crap – it’s not about your partner telling you that you aren’t affectionate enough, and then making a move on you, and you feel too crappy about everything to stop him, so you basically cringe your way through sex that you’re too upset to even focus on. Or whatever.

    Anyways, I do think rape fantasies can be complicated territory – what if your fantasies are less the “reluctant but won over type” and moreso the “miserable and in the pain the whole time” type? Does it make a moral difference whether you’re a survivor or not? Whether you’re the perpetrator or the victim? Are fantasies morally neutral, or maybe just not as important as the ideas and attitudes underlying the fantasy (such as racism for example)?

    It’s hard.

  39. Lee
    Lee July 2, 2011 at 9:18 am |

    As a trans guy and a switch, I have definitely noticed that my partners’ preferences for whether I am dominant or submissive has changed as I’ve progressed in my transition. When I was presenting as cis and female, 90% of my interactions with male BDSM partners involved me submitting (my interactions with female partners were about 50/50) — which is something I enjoy a lot, but is not necessarily representative of my own preferences in bed. Now that I’m on hormones and presenting as male, both male and female partners seem to be much more comfortable with me being dominant in bed.

    </random anecdata>

  40. sophonisba
    sophonisba July 2, 2011 at 9:25 am |

    But your girlfriends seem to want you to be dominant anyway. So here then is the REAL QUESTION: “How can I take a dominant role in my relationship and still be a good man?”

    Ah, yes. When a woman demands something unsettling of you, the REAL QUESTION is, “How can I obey her absolutely and live up to her expectations of me?” Because saying “no” and demanding equal treatment for your own preferences is not even on the menu. (And your own preference couldn’t possibly be for her submission, or the REAL QUESTION would be how to ethically satisfy your own desires, which you would take responsibility for.)

    So, again, the REAL QUESTION is “How can I make it okay to do exactly what my girlfriend tells me to do?”

    But you’re the dominant one, and women just want you to take charge. Sure, uh huh, yes sir, whatever you say.

    Hint: If it literally never enters your mind as a possibility to say “No” to a girlfriend who asks you to lead her around, because you’re not into that and it disturbs you, then there is definitely a natural submissive in your relationship. And it isn’t her.

  41. sophonisba
    sophonisba July 2, 2011 at 9:37 am |

    Seriously, the foot-shuffling, head-scratching, aw-shucks-ing faux-befuddlement schtick of dudes who have no desire to dominate, no rape fantasies, no desire AT ALL, MAN for women to subordinate themselves either socially or sexually, but yet somehow (somehow!) keep ending up with women who only want to be held down and ravished, and also told what do do on dates, and gosh, they’d like a more outwardly-egalitarian setup, but what’s a dude to do? You can’t say no to a lady! Men have absolutely no say in what they do with their dicks, they just serve and obey!

    ..I mean, Clarisse, rather than dignify this bullshit with an introspective essay, why not link them to “Why Do All These Homosexuals Keep Sucking My Cock?” and let them figure it out?

    This is all, and I do mean all, about evading responsibility for their own sexual decisions. Either they get off on domination but prefer to put all the ‘blame’ on their partner for ‘making’ them play that role — a nice bit of psychological sadism in itself — or they don’t get off on it but like to conceive of women’s sexuality as a mighty, unstoppable force that can’t be comprehended but must be indulged, because saying no is for girls.

  42. LoriA
    LoriA July 2, 2011 at 9:43 am |

    @Clarisse
    I’m surprised to hear you use a tone argument. I don’t have to be nice and polite when complaining about allowing kinkphobia, certainly not to someone who thinks it’s appropriate to say this is ‘not my therapy session.’ Disgusting.

  43. jfpbookworm
    jfpbookworm July 2, 2011 at 12:10 pm |

    So here then is the REAL QUESTION: “How can I take a dominant role in my relationship and still be a good man?”

    wavevector, you come closer to the issue I had than Clarisse did, but for me neither question is really on point. For me, the applicable question is “What can I do about this common expectation if I *don’t* want to take a dominant (or submissive) role in my relationship?”

    If I find (as I have) that a significant number of female partners or potential partners are behaving in submissive ways, and expecting me to behave in similarly dominant ways, when that power dynamic was never negotiated or agreed upon, then I’m going to be upset because I’m being pressured into playing a role I don’t want to play and never agreed on playing.

  44. jfpbookworm
    jfpbookworm July 2, 2011 at 12:11 pm |

    Either they get off on domination but prefer to put all the ‘blame’ on their partner for ‘making’ them play that role — a nice bit of psychological sadism in itself — or they don’t get off on it but like to conceive of women’s sexuality as a mighty, unstoppable force that can’t be comprehended but must be indulged, because saying no is for girls.

    Or, sophonisba, because they’re caught between their desire not to play the role and their desire to please their partner, or because they feel like not adopting a dom role is synonymous with being “bad in bed,” or because they’ve gotten the impression that this is how things are supposed to work, or any of the other myriad reasons people do sexual things they’re not interested in.

    I mean, c’mon, you’re basically saying that people who felt pressured into sexual activity either really wanted the act itself or liked being pressured into it. And that’s not cool.

  45. sophonisba
    sophonisba July 2, 2011 at 12:59 pm |

    because they feel like not adopting a dom role is synonymous with being “bad in bed,” or because they’ve gotten the impression that this is how things are supposed to work, or any of the other myriad reasons people do sexual things they’re not interested in.

    Gosh, I wonder if that stuff applies to women as well? These guys sure don’t seem to have thought of that — no, any ‘submissiveness’ a woman shows is 100 percent genuine and proof that she feels comfortable revealing her true desires, and not an effort to please or simply an effort to be sexy in a way they have been told men find tremendously exciting.

    People who feel bullied and pressured sexually should have all the support in the world to help them stand up to overbearing partners, and I have argued on this very blog (against furious opposition) that gender conditioning doesn’t mitigate the wrongness of sexual bullying. But guys who like to do the chin-stroking musing bit about what it means that ladies all like to be dominated in bed are not those people.

    I would direct you back to one of the original quotes from the post: I did it, and enjoyed it; I loved how much it turned them on … it turned them on a lot.

    But notice the careful elision of whether or not it turned him on. He is not the one going under the microscope here, oh no. Dominant men don’t have to submit to such indignities.

    You may have noticed how nine times out of ten, any discussion of so-called rape fantasies — an eternally popular topic — is about whether all women have them or just some women; whether it means something about our fundamental sexuality or whether it means something about our overall psychology: a noxious flow of false dichotomies and nasty insinuations. Discussion of masochism, or submission, or rape fantasy is overwhelmingly, overwhelmingly discussion of women.

    This is, for some of us, a problem. Explorations of “The Woman Question” have a long and sordid history — it is not a neutral thing to make women’s tastes always the subject of study, women’s behavior the mystery to be solved, the object of the scrutiny and the gaze and the head-scratching and befuddlement and analysis.

  46. Mztress
    Mztress July 2, 2011 at 2:21 pm |

    Hint:If it literally never enters your mind as a possibility to say “No” to a girlfriend who asks you to lead her around, because you’re not into that and it disturbs you, then there is definitely a natural submissive in your relationship.And it isn’t her.

    FTW!

  47. Dommy Poet
    Dommy Poet July 2, 2011 at 4:39 pm |

    Clarisse,

    I’ve been involved in the BDSM and Kink scene for the past five years, give or take, and the women who are often praised for being “true submissives” or “natural submissives…” well, let’s just say that in every single case (anecdotally of course) where I peeled back the surface layers of “yes sir, no sir, can I freshen up your drink, sir” there was always something hiding underneath that was not pretty.

    “True submissives” in my albeit limited experience is a dainty little codeword for a man or woman who is broken. Yeah they’re great at taking orders; I would be too if I thought someone was going to hit me or leave me. Somebody took advantage of them as a child, or broke their heart, or hit them; something to turn the “What’s in it for me?” that fuels our decision making into “How can I keep the world from hitting me again.”

    That’s not submission, thats enabling a sort of sexual and societal agoraphobia for the convenience of having a person play with your junk.

    Dominance and submission are BOTH unnatural mental states that are difficult to achieve in good mental health and take real work and perspective to play with safely. Even in the animal world that people on “my” side love to reference constantly, animals are NOT in a “constant struggle to be Dominant.”

    If you believe you’re naturally Dominant, kick down the door to a Fortune 500 company and take it over with a tack hammer and moxie (I’ll watch from here.) If you’re naturally submissive, I’m going to steal your stereo because you won’t do anything about it.

    If these states were “natural…” well, there wouldn’t be a whole lot of point in all this theater and game play and whatnot because that’s how everyone’s sex life would be. Women would all be happily submitting to men who were happily dominating them and there wouldn’t be a blog post here because we’d call all this simply sex. The fact that we BDSM kids are on the fringe is pretty good circumstantial evidence that our ideas are on the fringe too.

    I don’t think much of the fact that more women are submissive than men (in terms of their self-identification,) since women have been submissive in sexual culture for several thousand years; you can’t break that overnight. But these ladies are waging a stealth campaign to even those odds up. When you pop the hood and look around, you’ll find that huge numbers of female submissives are starting to identify themselves as “brats,” “switches,” or other roles that shake up the balance of power.

    Submissives now a days (male or female) for the most part submit to a single partner, and typically 90 percent of that is during sexual acts where the Dominance and submission are less about a state of existance than knowing which way each partner is going to move to keep the game fun. For example I have a submissive partner. If I told her to bend over and let me spank her, she would let me. If I told her to bend over and let me spank her in Macy’s, she’d hit me with a brick.

    She’s submissive to me because that’s the particular role she enjoys playing sexually, and since she’s getting what she wants and needs because of it… honestly, that’s not really submissive at all. In Hockey or Soccer the goalie hangs back and nobody ever says “What in the world is wrong with him… Why doesn’t he want to score like a normal person.”

    A submissive who is mentally healthy and emotionally sound has the power to just ignore the shit out of my orders and make me look like a tool. And she can walk away, leaving me “Dominant” over my hand and my X-Box. As long as she is mentally and emotionally capable of walking away when she’s not respected, she holds the nuclear football of BDSM.

    As for my personal anecdotal evidence to female shrinking violets and doormattery… well, I did a lot of my mentoring under female Dominants and when you’ve seen a few 110 lbs women put 250 lbs men on their knees it gets really hard to see women as “natural victims.”

    I’ll finish up here since I’ve accidentally written a comment of Ayn Randian proportions (though hopefully not as intellectually bankrupt) and just say one thing to any Dominant partner, (male or female:)

    If you think you are topping a person who is so submissive that you could get them to consent to a sex act against their best interests, desires, or will, you need to (kindly) separate yourself from that person.

    Stop bringing damaged people into kink, and maybe we won’t have idiots assuming that people in kink are damaged.

    Dommy Poet

  48. wavevector
    wavevector July 2, 2011 at 6:56 pm |

    @ sophonisba;

    One of the reasons I posted my comment here in feministe was the anticipation of the contemptuous and deliberately obtuse misreading that it would receive. It’s taken a few days, but you came through for me.

    > Ah, yes. When a woman demands something unsettling of you, the REAL QUESTION is, “How can I obey her absolutely and live up to her expectations of me?”

    Of course, I said nothing about the woman’s demands being unsettling to me. I enjoy the dominant role. My point was that the hegemonic cultural message about male dominance is that it is a bad thing. Therefore, there is a cognitive dissonance between this negative cultural message and the actual positive experience. This is the source of the discomfort that many men feel, not the woman’s demands.

    > Hint: If it literally never enters your mind as a possibility to say “No” to a girlfriend who asks you to lead her around, because you’re not into that and it disturbs you, then there is definitely a natural submissive in your relationship. And it isn’t her.

    Your assumption that playing the dominant role is disturbing to me is a misreading of what I wrote, which nullifies the validity of all that follows. Nevertheless, you have stumbled upon a valid point – the submissive partner always has a lot of power in the relationship (as long as the relationship is not abusive). The expression I’ve seen in BDSM writings is “topping from the bottom” – something that is present even in a vanilla relationship. This dynamic is particularly strong in a mutual loving relationship, where each partner wants nothing more than to make the other happy. In this desire there is a deep mutual submission to the happiness and well being of the other. So it is true that in performing the dominant role, I happily submit to the desires of my wife, as she does to me while playing the submissive role. Such is the paradox of love.

  49. Athenia
    Athenia July 2, 2011 at 8:39 pm |

    anna:
    “I’m not sure why a woman’s desire for “pain” is all that surprising–if you are generally on the “receiving” end of things, pain–for some people–is going to part of the menu no matter what.”

    Um, no. There is no reason sex should hurt for a woman if she doesn’t want it to. If it does, she either has a medical problem and/or an asshole partner who is deliberately hurting her. Not being a sub myself, I can tell you it is absolutely possible to be penetrated without any pain at all, if that’s what you want.

    “Not being a sub myself” Huh? Did you mean “being a sub myself” because otherwise that doesn’t make sense.

    You know, I suppose I’m conflating two different types of pain—regular ol’ pain of penetrative object/receptive body part as opposed to pain like ass slapping.

    But I dunno, when I had my first PIV sex, it was really painful cuz my hymen was extra special. And one of the ways I coped with it was biting my partner’s lip. It turned him on which turned me on so yay for everyone.

  50. tritogeneia
    tritogeneia July 3, 2011 at 2:50 pm |

    Huzzah! Great article.

    I always wonder whether being female and sexually submissive even counts as a kink — it’s so common that I don’t believe it puts me in a little fringe minority. But I do think that the vocabulary and traditions of kink are the best way to deal with it, because they allow you to talk about limits to your fantasy and go back to a mutually respectful relationship in real life.

    Sexual essentialism is pretty silly. Statistical sex differences are real, but you’re usually fucking one person at a time, not a probability distribution.

  51. Bushfire
    Bushfire July 3, 2011 at 4:25 pm |

    And here’s The Point, since it’s hard for you to divine: people who are out to criticize kink are far, far more likely to comment an article they can find fault with as opposed to an article like this, where god forbid they would have say something nice about it instead.

    I am one of those people who would criticize “kink”. I’ve tried to engage with Clarisse and commenters on the idea of “sex-positive” and that conversation went absolutely nowhere. If you’re wondering where the critics are, they’re probably out living their lives instead of attempting to have pointless conversations with people who have made up their minds and aren’t going to entertain anything else. I have been quiet lately because I might as well let people have their conversation without becoming a derailer.

    Hope that answers your question.

  52. Ophie
    Ophie July 3, 2011 at 7:05 pm |

    Unfortunately those men are a dime a dozen. One time this guy I knew tried to convince me that I really would want kids when I thirty, because, well, all the thirty-year old women want kids. Dumbass.

  53. Poder, autoritat i submissió | Dr Read Good

    […] llegia Look Back in Anger de John Osborne vaig trobar un article interessant al blog Feministe sobre rols sexuals de dominació i submissió. L’article qüestiona aquella afirmació tan […]

  54. Avida Quesada
    Avida Quesada July 5, 2011 at 7:05 am |

    anna:
    “I’m not sure why a woman’s desire for “pain” is all that surprising–if you are generally on the “receiving” end of things, pain–for some people–is going to part of the menu no matter what.”

    Um, no. There is no reason sex should hurt for a woman if she doesn’t want it to. If it does, she either has a medical problem and/or an asshole partner who is deliberately hurting her. Not being a sub myself, I can tell you it is absolutely possible to be penetrated without any pain at all, if that’s what you want.

    I found this commend a little bit closed. There are other options, very significant ones including:
    Lack of communication: Not all the things that need changes of technique to avoid pain are medical conditions, some are just normal variations of size and form.
    If the change is needed for her to avoid pain, and she don’t communicates that she is in pain (maybe due to social construction, or ignorance) he is not an asshole for been unable to mind read.

    I want men to take women as people, adult people. So for me part of the faith agains rape culture includes men learning to respect no and women voices in general and we learning that it’s our obligation to be assertive.

    Thanks,

    Avida

  55. Ariadne
    Ariadne July 6, 2011 at 7:38 pm |

    As a dominant woman who is only dominant — or, anyway, when I’m playing with boys, but that’s another story– I just don’t get the premise to this. If they’re not inclined to be biased about women being submissive in the first place, if the fact that all the girls they know have been submissive truly bothers them and they’re not trying to convince themselves of something, couldn’t they just type ‘femdom’ into Google and reassuring themselves, right?

    Obviously, dominant women exist. Obviously, women have varying tastes. Yes? Or is it, I don’t know, not so obvious for some reason?

  56. Sharing the love « The Lady Garden

    […] Clarisse at Feministe explains a thing or two about “inherent female submission”. Hint: there’s nothing inherent about women at all. Or men, for that matter. […]

  57. bekabot
    bekabot July 9, 2011 at 12:17 am |

    “In Hockey or Soccer the goalie hangs back and nobody ever says ‘What in the world is wrong with him… Why doesn’t he want to score like a normal person.'”

    “Why doesn’t the pitcher want to hit a home run the way a real player would.”

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