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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20 Responses

  1. Fat Steve
    Fat Steve October 14, 2011 at 4:01 pm |

    I have a very stupid and naive question as I have no experience, knowledge or even reliable third hand information on BDSM, apart from when I read your posts on here, which always leave me with so many queries. I’m so hesitant, because my ignorance is such that I have no idea if I’m saying something that would cause offense. So please, feel free to delete this question or ignore it, if it offends you in anyway.

    I suppose I am what you would call VERY ‘vanilla.’ It’s not that I don’t have an active libido, I just get a lot of enjoyment out of the simple stuff. But I find the same stuff sexy in the bedroom (meaning any place you’re having sex privately) as out of the bedroom and it seems like with BDSM there is a dividing line. For example if I’m out to dinner with my wife and she’s dressed in a way that shows off her curves I find that very sexy, and when we’re in the bedroom I find her curves just as sexy. However if we were out to dinner and she was humiliated in someway, I would be absolutely gutted. But if you get sexual pleasure out of humiliating your partner in the bedroom, would you be finding it sexy if he/she was humiliated in public? I know it’s a stupid question and like I said, you don’t have to answer, but I just wonder how one manages to compartmentalize that sort of thing.

  2. Andy
    Andy October 14, 2011 at 5:20 pm |

    The type of “humiliation” that occurs in BDSM is pretty far removed from the type of humiliation that occurs when, say, you’re walking on the street and you trip and fall flat on your face. It’s not akin to your wife wearing revealing clothes in the bedroom and then her wearing them on the street. It’s more along the lines of your wife wearing revealing clothes in the bedroom and then wearing revealing clothes on the street because an escaped tiger ran by and ripped them off her. At which point, I’d think you’d be more concerned with getting the scratches tended to than precisely how high her new, tiger-improved hemline was.

    The reasoning behind WHY your wife is in revealing clothes/being humiliated and the precise quality of the clothes/humiliation is usually pretty central.

  3. Tina S
    Tina S October 14, 2011 at 6:02 pm |

    After reading this, I just feel like people like the author need to go find all the domestic abusers out there and pair up with them. Seems like a perfect match of those who like to exert power over others and those who love the people who hurt them.

  4. saurus
    saurus October 14, 2011 at 6:12 pm |

    Fat Steve:
    I have a very stupid and naive question as I have no experience, knowledge or even reliable third hand information on BDSM, apart from when I read your posts on here, which always leave me with so many queries. I’m so hesitant, because my ignorance is such that I have no idea if I’m saying something that would cause offense. So please, feel free to delete this question or ignore it, if it offends you in anyway.

    I suppose I am what you would call VERY ‘vanilla.’ It’s not that I don’t have an active libido, I just get a lot of enjoyment out of the simple stuff. But I find the same stuff sexy in the bedroom (meaning any place you’re having sex privately) as out of the bedroom and it seems like with BDSM there is a dividing line. For example if I’m out to dinner with my wife and she’s dressed in a way that shows off her curves I find that very sexy, and when we’re in the bedroom I find her curves just as sexy. However if we were out to dinner and she was humiliated in someway, I would be absolutely gutted. But if you get sexual pleasure out of humiliating your partner in the bedroom, would you be finding it sexy if he/she was humiliated in public? I know it’s a stupid question and like I said, you don’t have to answer, but I just wonder how one manages to compartmentalize that sort of thing.

    To put it another way, if you’re a kid, playing that you’re doing battle with a fire-breathing dragon might be super fun. But if you magically transform that fire-breathing dragon into a real creature, that kid is gonna be traumatized. It’s not fun anymore. It’s terrifying.

    Sometimes a fantasy isn’t a concession – i.e., wanting a situation to actually come true but “making do” with a cheap imitation – rather, sometimes it’s wanting to enact a version of a situation in which the variables are controlled; a situation that can’t come true because if it did, it wouldn’t be good anymore…it would be scary and awful.

    Likewise, I might be into certain types of “kinky” (I hate that word and the whole concept, actually) roleplay, but I can say genuinely that if someone exhibited the same behaviors out of the bedroom I would not be into it. Largely because I do not walk around everyday in a state of sexual excitement in which I’m receptive to such behavior, but also because while I’m happy to minister to a fantasy douchebag, I am not at all inclined to humor a real one.

    My partner is the same way – maybe he’s into the idea of watching me be humiliated in a bedroom context. But he also cares about me, and with him knowing what I’ve been through in the past with negative sexual situations, if he saw this happening to me and knew I wasn’t into it, he’d be horrified. In fact, even in the bedroom, if he thinks I’m not 100% into what’s happening, he’s horrified. Which is as it should be, I think!

    Anyway, this is not to say that what you want in the bedroom is always completely disconnected from what you want outside of it – sometimes I worry, for example, that a partner whose tastes are heavily informed by mainstream heterosexual cisgendered porn may have some funny ideas about a woman’s role that extend beyond (or leak into) the bedroom. But I do know that it’s possible for the two to be separate.

    Thanks for the namedrop btw, Clarisse.

  5. Fat Steve
    Fat Steve October 14, 2011 at 6:42 pm |

    @Andy
    I didn’t even mean that type of severe humiliation. I meant anything that made her feel embarrassed or even when I’m in a totally douchy mood and find making a comment in which I say something to make her feel bad and I see the look on her face, I immediately get emotional pain from that, not pleasure.

    @saurus
    That is a really helpful explanation. I suppose I wasn’t the sort of kid who imagined doing battle with dragons. I was the sort of kid who thought Star Wars was really boring. (Not to imply that I had intellectually superior highbrow tastes or anything, I just preferred comedies, like anything with the original SNL cast in it or Richard Pryor/ Gene Wilder films or even Burt Reynolds but with real people, set on Earth.)
    I suppose I really am the most boring person. When I was 8 I decided I wanted to be on the radio, and thats what I do for a living now, and when I was somewhere in my pre-adolescence I decided I’d like to have sex with a female, and that is what I do in the bedroom (some sleeping occurs as well.) Ironically, no one I know would refer to me as boring because just because I have the somewhat rare ability of talking absolute shit in a humorous way.
    Thanks for the

  6. Fat Steve
    Fat Steve October 14, 2011 at 6:45 pm |

    ooops my last point got cut off… I wanted to thank Clarisse for not making me the example of the ignorant anti-BDSM shithead.

  7. Anon for this one
    Anon for this one October 14, 2011 at 7:32 pm |

    Interesting… for me, BDSM is always sexual. Without sex, to me, there would be no point… I don’t get anything out of it other than sexual gratification. I wonder if that’s an individual thing, or if S/M is different from D/S that way. Interesting to hear a different perspective :)

  8. Rachel
    Rachel October 14, 2011 at 9:17 pm |

    @ fat steve

    Let me preface this by saying I’m still a bdsm newb, and I’ve experimented almost exclusively with my primary partner, my gf, and we have a monagamish relationship. k

    so, what I think you’re asking is: If one person likes to be hurt or humiliated (yup :) and the other likes to hurt and/or humiliate (indeed) doesn’t that play out outside the bedroom.

    I think the answer is complex. I think it can, but not in the ways you might expect. In my (admittedly quite limited) experience, folks who play put a lot of time and energy into establishing boundaries and limits. So, that’s the easy answer.

    I’ve only played a little tiny bit outside my relationship, and the people I played with were careful to delineate the difference between playing and not.

    Now, within my relationship, it does come out of the bedroom sometimes. I like being bossed around, my gf is a newbie domme. Sometimes she totally tells me what to do. And I like it. Is that our relationship all the time? Heck no! Outside the bedroom, I have a pretty damned forceful personality. So am I meekly following orders 24/7? Nope. So, its complex. The easy answer is that you draw a line between play and not. That’s simple if you’re not in a relationship, but if you are the lines blur a bit. The harder answer is that you have to also look at underlying motives.

    My gf is a sadist, so, it certainly excites her to hurt me. But she’s also giving me something I want and need, and its clear to her that this is the case, or she wouldn’t be doing it. So is she mean to me in the world? Heck no. This is a woman who, when we’re on a bus, grabs the bar with one hand and wraps the other arm around my waist and whispers into my ear, “I got you.” She helps me put my coat on and pulls out my chairs. She treats me really really well.

    Its the same impulse. Its enacted differently. The best dommes I’ve met (again, only a few) were incredibly gentle, kind people in the day to day. It’s the act of giving them permission to top that allows them to do so, just like giving myself permission to bottom lets me do that. Hope that makes sense.

  9. Aydan
    Aydan October 14, 2011 at 9:22 pm |

    This was an interesting read– I know (or know of) several asexual people who are into BDSM or kink, so I have thought of BDSM as not-necessarily-sexual for a while. Interesting to see another take on the topic.

    Thanks especially for reposting this, which I had not seen but with which I strongly agree:

    “Sometimes I think that we have compulsions, needs or “fetishes” that aren’t sexual, but lumping them in with sexuality is sometimes the most convenient or socially manageable way to deal with them or get those needs met. They might even physically arouse us for a variety of reasons, but that might be a side effect instead of the act’s inherent nature.”

  10. Sharing the love « The Lady Garden
    Sharing the love « The Lady Garden October 14, 2011 at 9:53 pm |

    [...] does it feel” because I suspect it’ll raise some bloggable issues for me. EDIT: Part 2 is now [...]

  11. Sophia
    Sophia October 15, 2011 at 12:39 am |

    @Fat Steve

    I know a few people have already answered your question, but I’ll chime in with my perspective too.

    I personally often get off on being humiliated in bed by my partner, but in my day to day life I’m a very shy person and find embarrassing situations to be really awful for me – not sexy in the slightest. Like others have said, it’s a matter of choice and consent. When I’m being kinky in bed with my boyfriend I’m choosing to be insulted by someone I love and trust because I’m turned on by it, but when it happens randomly in public it’s completely non-sexual and unpleasant. Similarly, if he was to do anything humiliating to me in public or when we weren’t having sex, then I would be extremely pissed off rather than aroused, because I would feel like he was disrespecting me and ignoring my boundaries.

    To give a vanilla analogy, you may find it super sexy to make out with your partner. But if you were randomly kissed by a weird acquaintance or if your partner started making out with you during a completely inappropriate time (say in the middle of your workplace), then you would probably feel pissed off rather than aroused.

  12. jemand
    jemand October 15, 2011 at 7:49 am |

    @Fat Steve… Here is one additional perspective that applies for me. I think it’s because sometimes I fantasize about voyeurism, that I’ve considered even everyone who sees an incident of BDSM or sex (or both) as participants in some way.

    So, anything that feels like it could scratch a BDSM itch in public would make me feel VERY uncomfortable that I was bringing nonconsenting individuals into my private sex play, by making them watch. If it is something very minor that wouldn’t be recognized as sex OR BDSM to an observer, and if it wouldn’t be upsetting to anyone watching, then I would be ok with it, but watching someone get humiliated in public CAN be upsetting for a lot of people.

  13. Foglet
    Foglet October 15, 2011 at 10:52 am |

    I find the comment about lacking a language which incorporates bodily desire and need without sexual language to be very helpful. For me both sexuality and kink are about exploring the limits of the pleasures my body can experience. Sex without kink for me is often an uncomfortable experience, an uncomfortability which for much of my life I lacked any sort language to describe and still struggle with. Sex for most of my life was mechanically going through the motions. For me, kink opened up possibilities to break through barriers within myself and has expanded my (sexual) possibilities. However, this is not to say that kink is merely a means to an end as I often have pleasurable kink encounters with nothing that would be considered traditionally sex. I’d much rather talk about pleasure and bodies without reference to specific acts when thinking about my own experience, but it’s difficult.

    I go back and forth with the language to use for myself. panromantic kinky-asexual works in the sense that sex on it’s own is so unimportant for me. I like to be close to others I care about and cuddle and kiss, but that’s about it most of the time. However, what I get from kink can provide that space to experience my and my partner’s body comfortably even if it incorporates sex. But if I can do sexy things can I claim asexual? Is demisexual or variations thereupon more accurate? Are more identities the solution, like an identity soup? Language is difficult and sometimes I feel like I’m just qualifying my own existence.

    Posts like this make me feel better knowing others are just as fucking confused as me. Thanks.

  14. LC
    LC October 15, 2011 at 1:16 pm |

    clarisse, I really found this an interesting read. Like Foglet, I find the comment about needing a language more divorced from the sexual rings true.

    My BDSM is almost always mixed in with sex, but it doesn’t have to be. I do think there is an intensity level for me that requires a more intimate relationship, and in my life, those have mostly been sexual ones. This may be throwing the curve off, if you will.

  15. Fat Steve
    Fat Steve October 15, 2011 at 9:02 pm |

    Having thrown that curveball, I’ll steer this back to the BDSM vs Sex thing. The problem I would think is not the nebulous definition of BDSM, it’s the nebulous definition of sex. I have spoken to men (not friends, on my radio show…it was a topic that came up one day and we had a surprising number of calls,) who’ve talked about occasionally having their female partner use a strap-on dildo to, for want of a better phrase, f–k them up the arse and also to women who’ve done the deed. The men always say they like it as part of sex, they say it feels good and makes them come. Whereas the women pretty much all say they enjoy the power/domination/humiliation. One woman especially made me think it was about humiliation, when she told us she would say things like ‘you love it when I f–k you, you little bitch, don’t you?’

    Are the guys just lying or can one partner be having ‘sex’ and one doing ‘BDSM’ all in the same act?

  16. Thomas MacAulay Millar
    Thomas MacAulay Millar October 16, 2011 at 8:27 pm |

    Steve, context is everything. For example, I identify as a masochist; I like pain. But only in the right context, with the right connection with my partner so I can process it in a way that does something for me that I like. If I stub my toe or get a headache, I don’t like it any more than anyone else. Humiliation works about the same, for me. Certain kinds, in the specific contexts that work for me, can be great, but other kinds are no more fun for me than they would be for you.

  17. Everything Is Sex « The Lady Garden
    Everything Is Sex « The Lady Garden October 17, 2011 at 4:09 pm |

    [...] I was right. Clarisse Thorn’s piece on BDSM vs Sex did climb inside my brain and crawl around for a couple of days, so I was thinking about BDSM while [...]

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