Posts Tagged ‘BDSM’

2011 22 Apr

Going under

“Come back,” an S&M partner said softly, the other day, pushing my hair out of my eyes. I blinked and shook my head in a futile attempt to clear it.

“That’s weird,” I said. “Someone else used to say those words to me when I was coming out of subspace. I … that’s weird.”

“I’m not surprised,” he said. “It’s a natural thing to say to you. You go under so fast, and so deep. You’re so far away.”

“Not all the time,” I said. “And not with everyone. You’re good at putting me there.”

He smiled. “You bring it out in me.”

Subspace is so hard to describe. I’ve written about it before, in passing, in multiple posts, because it’s so important, but I’ve never come up with a good description for it; and when I Google for it I can see that other people have the same problem. When I’m starting to go into subspace it’s just soft and dark and slow. But when I’m really far under, I’m totally blank. Falling. Flying.

Somewhere else.

Come back.

What is it, where do I go? It’s just submissive, masochist headspace. But I don’t always get into subspace when I submit, and I don’t always get into it when I take pain either. I’m not sure what the other ingredients are: some amount of trust, of course. And strong feelings about my partner make everything more intense … way more intense. Orders of magnitude more intense. Still, I’ve had new partners put me under with surprising thoroughness.

It’s a lot like deep sexual arousal — hard to think, hard to process, hard to make decisions — but the deepest sexual arousal does not put me anywhere near deep subspace. Deep subspace is. More. Than anything else.

Some S&M teachers tell people not to drive after an S&M encounter, not for a while; not until you’re over the subspace. They compare it to an altered state, like being drunk. Some S&M teachers caution that it’s dangerous for the dominant partner to suggest a new activity in the middle of an S&M encounter — something that wasn’t negotiated beforehand — because the submissive may not be able to think clearly enough to consent. (And because in those moments, the submissive will have a harder time than ever saying no.)

I sometimes think that when I was younger and less experienced, I abandoned myself to subspace more easily. I’m better at pulling myself out of subspace now, but I think the cost may be that it’s harder for me to really get into it. (Safety first?) I trained myself to be able to say, “Don’t stop,” when I wanted my partner to keep going. (Sound easy? Trust me, it took a while.) Playing with unfamiliar partners, I trained myself to be on guard. (One of my sex worker friends told me once, “I don’t care how deep the subspace is, I can always come out if the client tries to fuck me without a condom.”) I got better at calling my safeword before I had to — asking my partner to do something else or give me a break, rather than suddenly stopping everything once I hit my absolute limit.

I am nowhere near perfect, of course. In particular, I can rarely answer complicated questions, and sometimes my partners literally can’t get me to answer any questions when I’m subspaced. Sometimes it takes me a long time to come out, and partners may get nervous while I’m surfacing. But I’m not sure these aspects can actually be eliminated from subspace. And I’ve gotten better.

I’m sure that in an emergency, I could talk and function straight out of heavy subspace. I doubt I would be optimally intelligent and thoughtful, however.

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2011 3 Apr

[storytime] Fear, Loathing, and S&M Sluthood in San Francisco

The following meditation on “sluthood” anxiety first appeared in December 2010 on the women’s site Off Our Chests. I’m reposting it here today because San Francisco loves me and I love it.

* * *

Since I was small, I’ve loved the Van Gogh painting “Starry Night.” I loved the cypresses in particular: winding spiral trees, hallucination trees. They were so unlike other trees I’d seen that I thought Van Gogh made them up, and so when I first saw cypresses years later, I was stunned: the hallucination trees had been imported into my world. I’d like to think that my world turned a little bit sideways forever, when I first saw cypresses, but I’m probably being melodramatic.

San Francisco has cypresses, and a lot of other hallucinations, too. The city is full of angles, vantages, transitions, unceasing changing views: it feels, at times, like an unsolvable puzzle. A forested path leads darkly under a bridge, suddenly opens upon a manicured lawn with a white lace conservatory. A cement staircase rises through a narrow outlet, resolving itself step by step into a slice of brightly painted Victorian façade. I walked once with a friend alongside an ocean road, pacing through thick fog, and arrived at a dirt path that I insisted on following; thirty seconds later we stumbled upon extraordinary ruins.

San Francisco. Halcyon city, heartbreak city. Cypress city. The place I come to recover from being torn apart and, it seems, sometimes the place where I get torn apart again. This is okay with me, because nothing is more fun than overanalyzing strong emotions. I am not even kidding.

* * *

I returned from Africa recently; paused briefly in my adopted city of Chicago to collect my thoughts; and then went to the Burning Man Arts Festival, thence to San Francisco. This is my version of emotional decompression, and it worked! I feel much more centered now. But part of decompressing, for me, was specifically going out to a lot of dates and BDSM parties and pushing my own boundaries, which carries its own potential decompressable risks.

At the time of this story, it had been a couple of months in San Francisco, and I was leaving soon. I’d had an assortment of adventures, but there were two guys in particular who I was excited about. Not necessarily in a long-term way — I’m not in this for the white picket fence and the 2.5 kids — or at least… not yet. But definitely I felt excited in a wow-I-have-to-control-myself-or-I’ll-come-off-as-kind-of-puppyish way. New Relationship Energy: it is such a mind trick, such a delicious head-trip. You are the perfect drug.

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2011 29 Mar

Grassroots organizing for feminism, S&M, HIV, and everything else

I wrote this for Bitch Magazine’s Feminist Coming-Out Day Blog Carnival; the goal is to talk about feminist “click” moments.

* * *

Earlier this month, my sex-positive documentary film series screened “Jane: An Abortion Service”. The film tells the extraordinary story of “Jane”, an underground network of women in Chicago who provided thousands of safe abortions in the years before abortion was legal. It was totally inspiring.

“Jane” was started accidentally by a woman named Heather Booth. Booth was a student at the University of Chicago in the late 1960s when another woman came and asked her — secretly, of course — whether she knew any abortion doctors. Heather Booth found one, and she also found that other women started coming to her for references.

As one woman in the film put it, in those days, women who sought abortions were all “hysterical and desperate and scared”: if you needed an abortion, you knew you would have to come up with some fabulous amount of money and take a life-threatening risk. Some women committed suicide when they got pregnant instead. Information about abortion was at a premium.

So Heather Booth began looking for abortion doctors, and better than that, she started vetting them. After finding the doctors, she sought testimonials about those doctors. Common problems with abortion doctors ranged from being rude to actually assaulting their patients; some doctors, who already charged sky-high prices, would demand more money at the last minute. Booth kept a list of abortion doctors who didn’t do those things. Pretty soon, there were other women who had her list too, and they were vetting doctors and spreading the word as well. The group also provided counseling before and after the procedure, letting the patients know what they could expect — physically and emotionally. They called themselves “Jane”: a woman who called them and asked for “Jane” was seeking an abortion.

After some time, the women of Jane figured out that abortion isn’t a complex procedure, and they convinced a doctor to teach them how to do it safely. And then they taught each other. So then they didn’t have to refer patients to doctors: they did all the abortions themselves, and they did them for whatever the patient could spare rather than charging prices that were out of reach for many women. Jane members continued to provide emotional support, as well: in the documentary, one member reminisces about how she would have patients over to dinner with her kids and talk to them for a while before performing the procedure. It got to the point where doctors and medical students sent women to Jane, rather than getting referrals from Jane.

That is positive activism. That is building the world we want to see.

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2011 17 Mar

The Sex-Positive Documentary Film List: 2011-2012!

SEX POSITIVE
pro-SEX, pro-QUEER, pro-KINK

a FREE documentary film series for people who like sex
curated by Clarisse Thorn and the awesome Sex+++ Committee!

+ Join our Facebook group, and invite all your friends!
+ Join our Google Groups mailing list to receive updates!
+ Want to volunteer to help out? Join our volunteer mailing list!

* * *

OFFICIAL FILM LIST: 2011-2012
2nd Tuesdays at 7PM
Jane Addams Hull-House Museum
800 South Halsted

Sex+++ is a film series and discussion group that’s open to all, where we discuss sex, culture, and sexual fun. When I started the series in 2009, I thought it would only last 9 months (here’s the original film list) — but Sex+++ ended up succeeding beyond my wildest dreams!

This year, we’re exploring some new themes:

+ Activist Sex (how sex and activism intersect),
+ Sexual History (how sex has been viewed in the past),
+ Love And Sex (how romance and relationships shape sex),
+ and Sex Everywhere (how people think about sex outside the USA).

You can RSVP by phone if you like: 312.413.5353. If you RSVP, we’ll save you a seat — and if the venue fills up, you’ll definitely be able to attend! In other words, RSVPs are not required, but they’re in your interest. Please note that we unsave seats at 7PM.

* * *

MARCH 8, 2011: “Margaret Sanger: A Public Nuisance” (1992) + “Jane: An Abortion Service” (1996)
#1: Highlights Margaret Sanger’s pioneering strategies of using media and popular culture to advance the cause of birth control, and discusses some of her early-1900s arrests and trials.
#2: Tells the story of “Jane”, the Chicago-based women’s health group who performed nearly 12,000 safe illegal abortions between 1969 and 1973 with no formal medical training.
+ themes: Activist Sex, Sexual History

APRIL 7, 2011 — THURSDAY: “A Jihad for Love” (2007)
+ This is a special event and will take place on Thursday, April 7 rather than the second Tuesday in April, because the filmmaker is coming into town for a talkback!
+ Fourteen centuries after the revelation of the holy Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad, Islam today is the world’s second-largest and fastest-growing religion. Muslim gay filmmaker Parvez Sharma travels the many worlds of this dynamic faith, discovering the stories of its most unlikely storytellers: lesbian and gay Muslims. After we screen “A Jihad for Love”, Sharma will talk about his more than a decade of work and experience in countries like Egypt, where he filmed in secret, without government permission, during Hosni Mubarak’s repressive regime.
+ Note that there will also be a brown bag lunch with Parvez Sharma at noon on April 8, on the topic of race and identity.
+ themes: Activist Sex, Sex Everywhere

MAY 10, 2011: “Sister Wife” (2008) + “The Love Bureau” (2009) + “Muslims in Love” (2010)
#1: A fundamentalist Mormon woman in a polygamous marriage explains how she feels about it.
#2: Profiles a modern-day mail order bride service that specializes in matching Eastern European women with Italian men.
#3: Shows devout American Muslim young people pursuing love and marriage, searching for alternatives to arranged marriages common to traditional Muslim culture.
+ themes: Love and Sex, Sex Everywhere

JUNE 14, 2011: “Trans Entities: The Nasty Love of Papi’ and Wil” (2008)
A unique, sexy, thought-provoking and above all touching portrait of an interracial, polyamorous, transgender couple. The film involves several personal interviews and three explicit sex scenes: the first with Papi’ and Wil; the second involving an extra partner; and the third an S&M role play scenario.
+ themes: Love and Sex

JULY 12, 2011: “Outrage” (2009)
Examines the issues surrounding closeted homosexual politicians and their hypocrisy in voting anti-gay on measures from HIV/AIDS support to hate crime laws — and how they have harmed millions of Americans for many years.
+ themes: Activist Sex, Sexual History

AUGUST 11, 2011 — THURSDAY: “The Canal Street Madam” (2010)
+ This is a special event and will take place on Thursday, August 11 rather than Tuesday. It will also take place at the Everleigh Social Club, 939 W. Randolph St., rather than at the Hull-House Museum, because we are partnering with the Sex Workers Outreach Project on their upcoming sex worker film fest!
+ “The Canal Street Madam” follows the story of Jeanette Maier, a New Orleans madam whose clientele included a number of powerful, high-ranking politicians. When she was busted by the FBI and torn apart in the press, they escaped censure, so after her trial she set out to fight back against a system that silences the powerless and protects the elite.
+ themes: Activist Sex, Sexual History

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2011 11 Mar

[storytime] Sex communication case studies

In the wake of my last post, which was basically a meditation on one relationship with bad sexual communication, I want to offer some positive examples of sexual communication from my life. [footnote 1]

* * *

1) Low pressure and leather belts. Years ago, when I was pretty inexperienced in the community, I had a single BDSM encounter with a gentleman in his home. We met at a BDSM discussion group, arranged to meet later at a café, and went home from there; as we exited the café, I took his driver’s license and texted his full name and license number to a friend. (I think more people should do this, frankly — in fact, more non-BDSM people should do this when they go home with strangers from bars.)

We sat together on the public transit and quietly discussed the upcoming scene: he asked me many, many questions about what I was okay with and not okay with. Questions like: “What do you have experience with?” “Could you go into that more?” “What do you like?” “What makes that fun for you?” “Is there anything you really don’t want me to do?” He asked a lot of the questions twice, too, which I think is a really great strategy especially with new partners. People don’t always have their heads together enough during these conversations to answer an S&M question properly the first time, especially if it’s a broad and open-ended question like “What are the things you really don’t want to do?”

I made it clear that I just wanted a BDSM encounter, that I wasn’t up for oral sex or vaginal sex or anything like that. He’d never had a BDSM encounter that didn’t involve orgasm, so it was a new concept for him, but he was cool with trying it.

After our long discussion of boundaries and limits, we made it to his apartment and settled in. He got out some equipment, including a collar, and he said: “While you’re wearing this, you will obey everything I say. Do you have any final boundaries to set? Anything you really want me to do? Anything else you don’t want me to do?” I said no, and he snapped on the collar. (We did have an agreed-upon safeword, though — so I had a way of interrupting the proceedings if I really needed to.)

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2011 1 Mar

[storytime] How my life wasn’t always Happy Fun Boundaries Are Perfect Land

This was cross-posted at Feministe.

A reader recently sent me an email in which they said:

i know you have always had clear boundaries with yourself (at least how you have described yourself)

Well.

I guess I’ve had a pretty good sense of my boundaries, historically, but there have been times when I have not set them well. This is hard to write about, because it happened years ago, and the memories aren’t fun, and I don’t like writing negative things about people I know unless I think there’s a good reason for it. But there are few people in my life, now, who are likely to identify the person I’m discussing. And I’ve asserted before that we should be more willing to write about our screwups; I was writing about BDSM at the time, but I think it’s true of all kinds of relationships.

There was a gentleman in my life, lots of years ago, who I was extremely in love with. We had an on-again, off-again relationship that lasted a very long time. We had an extraordinary mental and emotional and creative connection. We understood each other very well. There is zero doubt in my head that he loved me too.

Our sex life was really terrible, though. (It was not a BDSM relationship. I hadn’t yet come into that part of my sexual identity.) And there were some emotional boundaries he simply wouldn’t respect. At first I was too inexperienced to really recognize how bad it was, though I knew some things were messed up — then, as I got older (and dated other people in the interstices of our relationship), the problems became clearer and clearer to me. Want some examples? Here’s a blatant one: he never went down on me, though I regularly went down on him; he never even offered to try and figure out something else I might enjoy equally. Oh, I knew that was messed up from the start, but I didn’t have the vocabulary or the self-esteem to negotiate something different.

I tried — believe me, I tried to discuss our sex life, in a hesitant and confused way — but he found ways to shut me down, every time. Sometimes the shut-downs were blatant and aggressive and involved shouting. Sometimes they were very subtle, like the time he told me sadly, “You know, occasionally I get worried that you don’t really like having sex with me, but I know that’s just insecurity on my part and I need to get over it.” What a masterful way to say: “Part of me knows you’re not getting what you need, but please don’t bring it up, because that would make me feel bad.”

Today, I would reply: “Sorry if it brings up insecurities. I’m here to talk about those if you like.  But it’s also true, and we need to address it.” Back then, I accepted what he’d said, and felt roiling confusion and pain, and stayed silent.

I’ve got sexual-emotional baggage from that relationship to this day. And yes, I do resent it. Still. Despite knowing that he loved me, and despite valuing many memories from that relationship — when I look back on my time with him, it feels clouded and toxic. I remember that one night, years after I broke up with him, I had one of the worst nightmares of my life: merely a dream that he and I were back together. I woke up shaking, almost in tears.

During an argument, he once said to me, in a voice both angry and wounded: “I just want to feel that you love me more than you love yourself.” And my reaction was not to walk away. My reaction was not to laugh incredulously. My reaction was not to dump him on the spot. My reaction was to cry, and tell him how hurt I was. Hurt: because how could he think I didn’t love him more than I loved myself? Of course I did. What did I have to do to prove it?

For the record — just in case it needs to be said — that is ridiculous. Anyone who demands that you love them more than you love yourself does not have your best interests at heart. My reaction was just as ridiculous. I should not have been looking for ways to prove that I loved him more than I loved myself. I should have been out the fucking door already.

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2011 22 Feb

[ladypornday] BDSM Can Be “Love Sex” Too

This post is for Rabbit Write’s Lady Porn Day.

I’m not a big porn consumer, but I have no problem with porn in itself. When I have a problem with porn, it’s because I have a problem with how it was made: because there are labor issues, or questions of the actors’ consent. Sometimes, I get frustrated with the context in which porn exists or the stereotypes it expresses — but there, the problem is with the context and the stereotypes, not with porn in itself. I tend to think that most anti-porn anxiety arises from irrational grossed-out reactions and stereotype-created fears, and I try to open up conversations about the ethics of making porn whenever I can.

This isn’t to say I don’t get angry because many people in our society are pressured to have sex that doesn’t work for them — but that’s not the fault of porn. I certainly get frustrated by sexual stereotypes, but I don’t think porn created those stereotypes.

One stereotype I’ve been thinking about a lot lately — one that I see expressed over and over in BDSM porn — is the idea that BDSMers don’t love our partners, or that love can’t be part of a BDSM relationship. Last month I posted a quotation from the writer Patrick Califia that touched on this … here’s the relevant paragraph (which contains spoilers about the endings of three famous BDSM novels — Story of O, Return to the Chateau and Nine And A Half Weeks):

I still remember how crushed I was when I read Story of O and Return to the Chateau and came to the ending, where Sir Stephen loses interest in O and tells her to kill herself. I can also remember being furious with the way Nine And A Half Weeks (the book, not the movie) ends. The submissive woman has a public breakdown. She begins to cry hysterically, and is abandoned by her master, so that strangers have to obtain help for her. One of the cruelest stereotypes of S/M people is that we don’t love each other, that there is something about our sexual style that makes our relationships mutually destructive and predisposes us to suicide.

This came back to mind during a conversation I had a few days ago: I was talking to a girl who really likes BDSM sex but referred to non-BDSM sex as “love sex”. Because, you know, love is just not an ingredient in BDSM sex. “Everyone knows” that — the same way “everyone knows” that BDSM always arises from childhood abuse, or dominant sadism is for villains, or everyone who likes BDSM is damaged and miserable and irresponsible, or ….

Not to put too fine a point on it: fuck that.

I’m not saying there’s no BDSM smut out there with love in it. Anne Rice’s Beauty series ends with Beauty riding off into the sunset with her loving sadomasochistic partner (although of course the characters deal with all kinds of uncaring brutality first). But even nuanced BDSM erotica seems to fall into this trap more often than not — for example, Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart, which is so consciously written that it includes safewords, also portrays a main character whose most compelling BDSM relationships are with her enemies and whose love relationship is with a man who can’t stand to hurt her. (Carey took a very different tack later in the series, with other characters; I’ve always wondered whether she did so as a reaction to criticism.)

It’s easier to criticize than create. And all my porn critiques could come back and bite me soon, because I plan on releasing my own BDSM smut sometime this year (if only to see if the online publishing model can actually make money) … and I’m sure that what I produce won’t even be close to perfect. Yet one thing I really want to ensure I represent in whatever I write is love. There are plenty of BDSM fantasies that partly operate on the absence of love — that even demand it, perhaps because the fantasy is all about a vicious and emotionally distant dominant, or because much of the erotic tension is derived from how much the partners hate each other, or for lots of other reasons. And yeah, they’re hot ….

But it’d be so great if those weren’t the standard.

I’ll leave you with some thoughtful porn/erotica links I turned up lately:

* Gender and Misogyny: Responsibility and Erotic Writing, by Corey Alexander

* Rewriting Herstory Through Erotic Romance (Love, Anonymously), by Kama Spice at Racialicious

* 7 Ways To Create A Sex-Positive Critique of Porn, by Charlie Glickman

* Sex blogger Maymay wrote a critique of Lady Porn Day that I thought was interesting and important. Again, I really don’t care about what kind of porn an individual might like … but I think an activist event like Lady Porn Day has different responsibilities from an individual wanking in the bedroom, and that such an event should offer porn ideas that bust scripts and attack stereotypes whenever possible. In other words — I have no problem absolving people for their personal non-politically correct sexual desires, but if we’re going to talk about diversity of porn and trying to set new standards, then I think those conversations should make as much space for different sexual desires as they possibly can.

* And on a non-porn note, there is an actual study out there establishing that consensual S&M increases intimacy among participants. You’d think they could have just asked us rather than doing a study … but, you know, that’s cool.

* * *

This piece is included in my awesome collection, The S&M Feminist: Best Of Clarisse Thorn. You can buy The S&M Feminist for Amazon Kindle here or other ebook formats here or in paperback here.

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2011 12 Feb

BDSM and Abuse, quick resources

Tonight at a BDSM community class on the difference between BDSM and abuse, educator Sarah Sloane drew attention to me and my blog and said I should post about some resources on BDSM and abuse. Here are some quick thoughts:

* If you are seeking medical, legal or other professional help for a BDSM-related problem, try glancing over the Kink Aware Professionals list hosted on the website of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom. Lawyers, doctors and other professionals who are into BDSM or are familiar with BDSM can add themselves to that list; it’s not reviewed or vetted by anyone, so I recommend that you shop around among more than one professional in order to make your own decisions about who will work best for you.

* Here is a post I wrote on current BDSM anti-abuse initiatives, and other thoughts on the topic.

* Here is a post I co-wrote with Thomas MacAulay Millar on safewords and check-ins, which I think are two of the most important things to understand if trying to communicate effectively and non-abusively in BDSM relationships.

* Finally, here is a link to my general page on BDSM resources.

2011 30 Jan

Body chemistry and S&M

The above image — a postcard, showing a pinup-style girl with the text “I gained 30 pounds … & sex has never been better!” — is courtesy of PostSecret, the community art project to which people mail in postcards featuring secrets they’ve never told anyone before.

I often think that good physical health is a widely-ignored element of good sex. I am obviously not saying that people in poor health can’t have good sex (and in fact, I certainly hope they do — more power to ’em). But it consistently amazes me how much my physical health factors into my sexuality, especially S&M. I am by no means an expert on this topic, but here are some examples:

* Food. I am both less interested in sex and in S&M when I’m hungry; ensuring that I’ve eaten well before I take some punishment is especially crucial. I try to eat well in general, but if I’m planning to have a heavy S&M encounter, I don’t cut myself any slack. I try to specifically ensure that I eat enough protein before the date and I try to include some vitamin-heavy foods like beets, leafy green vegetables, etc. Eggs are a good source of protein; nuts, beans and tofu are my primary protein sources. (I was wrong about a previous statistic on eggs that I included here; see comments.) If I don’t have enough protein available for whatever reason, I at least eat enough food that I won’t be hungry when I see my partner.

Part of the reason I’m writing this right now is that I’ve had trouble finding useful resources on the Internet for what people recommend as good pre- or post-S&M food, especially during aftercare. “Aftercare” is an S&M term for how people end their S&M encounters. This excellent page on aftercare describes it thusly (note: “top” is a blanket term for a dominant and/or sadist, and “bottom” is a blanket term for submissive and/or masochist):

Aftercare is the last act of the SM drama. It is the culmination, the pulling together of all loose ends, the finishing touches, the final communion between sharers of the SM ritual, the phase where the participants (usually the tops) formally give the fantasy scene a context in everyday reality. Its technical purpose is to transition both players from the elevated states created in a scene [i.e., an S&M encounter] back into normalcy, returning to the motor control and awareness they will need to drive home once the scene is over. But as any good SM practitioner will tell you, it’s much more than that. It is the time after the action when the participants come together in mutual affirmation that something special was created and shared. It is when affection and closeness is offered and sought. It is, at very least, the proper time to express thanks to the person who has shared this tiny segment of your life with you. It can be, and often is, the most beautiful part of a scene, and it is part of the scene. To skip it altogether is as rude as having dinner at a friend’s house and then bolting once you’ve eaten your fill.

A lot of tops keep food and water on hand to give bottoms at the end of a scene, which I think is probably a good idea. (Eating post-scene doesn’t feel necessary for me as a bottom, but it might if I weren’t so careful about what I eat beforehand.) Some people say that fruit or fruit juice is the way to go — and indeed, it will give the bottom’s system a sugar boost and may make them feel better for that reason — but I would personally rather eat a protein bar, and I have some friends who feel the same way. Dungeons usually serve snacks, although the snacks aren’t always very healthy.

A final note on food: I know there are people who specifically include food deprivation as part of their S&M. Obviously, this is totally fine by me as long as it is consensual, but I’d encourage people not to expect themselves — or their partners — to react the way they usually do to S&M, as long as they’re hungry.

* Weight. I used to be much scrawnier than I am now, and as my health has improved, I’ve gained weight. Sometimes this freaks me out (it’s impossible to be female in our society and not daydream about having cheekbones that can stab people), but it has been worth it. One time, after I’d been having a lot of anxiety about weight gain, my then-boyfriend emailed me the above PostSecret postcard and perceptively wrote: “Maybe that’s why it’s easier for you to have orgasms now? I think you should investigate this if you try to lose weight.”

I am not in a position to comment about whether being overweight affects sex. But I can definitely assure you that being underweight is not good for your sexual well-being.

* Sleep. I much prefer to have S&M encounters on days when I’ve gotten a lot of sleep the night before; this is at least as crucial as eating well before an encounter. There are approximately a billion studies that show the far-reaching effects that getting enough sleep can have on our health, and they seem to usually recommend around 7-8 hours as a good amount per night (more for teenagers).

As with food, I know there are people who include sleep deprivation as part of their S&M encounters. Again, this is obviously fine by me as long as it is consensual, but I’d encourage people not to expect themselves — or their partners — to react the way they usually do to S&M, as long as they’re tired. I don’t know about you, but exhaustion certainly makes me erratic and overly emotional. If you’re going to be doing something like S&M that can specifically create an erratic and overly emotional state … well, when overlapping that with exhaustion, it just seems like a good idea to be careful.

* Alcohol. Alcohol definitely decreases my pain tolerance (quite dramatically in fact), and it definitely makes it harder for me to get turned on. There is only one bonus to alcohol, and that’s the famous “social lubricant” effect. I personally prefer to limit myself to one glass of wine, maaaaybe two, if I’m planning to hook up with someone; in general, stone-cold sobriety is my preferred state to go into S&M. Good S&M makes me high enough on its own.

I get the impression that some people get drunk before they do S&M because otherwise they feel too anxious to do S&M. As always, I’m not going to tell other people that they shouldn’t do consensual things … but drunkenness frequently makes it hard to communicate and hard to know what’s going on in your head, which means that drunkenness makes consent hard. Not impossible, just hard. Be careful.

A lot of people say that mixing substances and BDSM is always bad. Personally, I figure that if a person has a lot of experience with a given substance, and a lot of experience with a given BDSM act, and a lot of experience with their partner … then I kind of doubt they’re taking a huge risk by doing a familiar BDSM act with a familiar partner in a familiar state of mind. It’s a lot to deal with at once, and again, it’s worth being careful. And of course, substance abuse problems are a whole nother ballgame. But if a person has been drinking a glass of wine with dinner every night for 10 years, then I’m not going to tell her that I consider her incapable of doing BDSM after dinner.

I am not qualified to comment on non-alcohol drugs because I, of course, never do anything illegal. But for all your drug-related questions, the website Erowid.org is often very useful.

* Illness. I don’t have any particular observations about how being sick changes my experience of S&M, but it definitely does. When I get sick and I have the option to reschedule a date, I always do.

* Menstrual cycle. I haven’t tracked my cycle with enough care to know exactly how it affects me S&M-wise, but I’m pretty sure it does. As one of the good people at EduKink once observed, “The great part about playing with a woman is that you have 28 different partners, one for each day of the month!”

I don’t usually write entries like this, so hey, readers: if this was helpful for you, let me know. And, as always, other perspectives and opinions are welcome!

This is another PostSecret postcard, and features a woman running with the text “I run best when I orgasm first”.

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This piece is included in my awesome collection, The S&M Feminist: Best Of Clarisse Thorn. You can buy The S&M Feminist for Amazon Kindle here or other ebook formats here or in paperback here.

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2011 21 Jan

[litquote] S&M stereotypes, parenting, and community action

The following quotation is from an essay that tears apart awful BDSM stereotypes, and also makes a great case for coming together as a community and living our lives without shame … all in the context of parenting. It’s called “S/M Fetish People Who Choose To Parent,” and it was printed in the anthology Speaking Sex To Power by one of my all-time heroes: the brilliant and inimitable Patrick Califia.

The state does seem to have a vested interest in preventing anyone who is sexually different from raising a child. Over the years, I’ve heard many stories of custody battles involving polyamorous people, pagans, transsexuals, sex workers, and members of the BDSM-fetish community, not just lesbians and gay men. The people who go through these battles usually do it alone, and they usually lose. But that story can change when there is enough publicity to generate community support.

In early 1995, members of the BDSM-fetish community in the US and Canada were appalled to learn that a couple in the scene had had their children taken away. The Canadian fetish magazine “Boudoir Noir” established a defense fund for the unlucky pair, known as the Houghtons. As we had for the Spanner defendants, the community banded together and raised enough money to allow Steve and Selina Houghton to hire a decent defense attorney. Selina ultimately pled guilty to a disorderly conduct charge, and her husband to one count of endangering the welfare of a minor, a Class E misdemeanor. They were also ordered to continue to receive family counseling …. Although they did not receive jail sentences, their privacy and home life had been badly damaged by the intrusive actions of the police. When the Houghtons got their kids back, they moved suddenly, disappearing from the scene, probably to protect themselves from further persecution.

This tragedy occurred because the pair had made a videotape of a scene they did at a dungeon party in a bordering state. A family member and friend who babysat for the children apparently unlocked the box where the tape was kept, revealed its contents to at least one of the Houghtons’ children, told them their father was abusing their mother, and sent a copy of the videotape to the police. No minors were featured in the videotape, and S/M activities did not take place in the Houghtons’ home. Nevertheless, the videotaped evidence of kinky sex was enough to bring down the wrath of Child Protection Services, who removed the 7- and 12-year-old and kept them in foster homes for more than a year. This was in spite of testimony by one of the law guardians, who told the court the children would be better served by returning them to their parents.

… It’s interesting to think about how we might feel about being parents if we lived in a society where S/M was not stigmatized. … One of the smartest things I ever heard about S/M was uttered by a gay man, Steven Brown, who used to pair up with me to do educational lectures about the scene. He once said, throwing up his hands in despair about the suspicious grilling we were getting, “I do this because I am a loving person. I love and respect the people I play with. And that includes being able to embrace parts of them that are supposed to be unlovable.” This foundation of acceptance and empathy seems to me to be potentially quite useful to a parent, who must be able to see things from a child’s point of view, and deal with a lot of behavior that is extremely trying.

As a top [i.e. a dominant/sadist], I’ve learned how to communicate in terms that will make sense to the other person. I’ve learned patience. I have a deep love for the vagaries of human nature and respect for the wisdom of the body. I am able to create a positive experience within a framework of limitations handed to me by another person. Of course, some idiot will probably assume that by making this list I am saying that I am going to somehow top my child. That would be asinine. I’ve learned how to keep my intense sexual experiences from spilling over into parts of my life where that kind of role-playing would not be appropriate. That is, if anything is, the First Principle of participating in these kinds of erotic fantasies. In order to be a responsible, safe player, you have to know when to be your scene-self, and when to be your mundane self.

I still remember how crushed I was when I read Story of O and Return to the Chateau [two famous BDSM novels] and came to the ending, where Sir Stephen loses interest in O and tells her to kill herself. I can also remember being furious with the way Nine And A Half Weeks (the book, not the movie) ends. The submissive woman has a public breakdown. She begins to cry hysterically, and is abandoned by her master, so that strangers have to obtain help for her. One of the cruelest stereotypes of S/M people is that we don’t love each other, that there is something about our sexual style that makes our relationships mutually destructive and predisposes us to suicide. We are supposed to be content with existing as two-dimensional caricatures of vanilla people’s erotic paranoia, emerging from our warrens only after dark, always clad in body-hugging fetish gear, having no real lives outside of public dungeon clubs and “violent” pornography. What’s really sad is the fact that a number of us buy into this insane picture of how a “real sadomasochist” is supposed to behave. It’s a good way to end up burned out, disillusioned, and in exile from the realm of pervery.