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Archive for the ‘Media Commentary’ Category

I recently did something I should have done ages ago, which is turn on Google alerts and make it tell me whenever certain key words or phrases are mentioned in the news. Doing this for “BDSM” has garnered some interesting results, not the least of which is a continuation of the trend that Bitchy has noticed of a rift between professional dominatrices (as she likes to say) and more ordinary folks doing kink. Her main beef was that the professionals seem to be creating the world of female dominance as it is seen by most people, and it is a world that she reviles. But another question is arising from my own reading: a question of elitism, of experience versus education, and the potential de-fanging of kink.

The story starts with Lera Gavin, a young dominatrix in Miami who writes a column called “Ask a Domme.” In an August 11 article called How to Enjoy Extreme Smothering Without Fatally Suffocating Your Boyfriend, she advises a man who would like for his girlfriend to try smothering with him to “con her” if she doesn’t agree at first:

You also said you’re unsure how to approach your girlfriend. There are two ways you can handle this matter: You can ask her or con her. If she says no to your request, don’t frown, just trick her into it. But start easy. You want her to be relaxed. The best way to get a woman into smothering is by worshipping her body, especially her ass.

So next time you see your beloved chickadee naked, compliment her gorgeous bottom. Most women go gaga for praise. Call her a goddess and then ask if you can admire her hot ass. She won’t be able to say no.

No question, this is phenomenally bad advice. Not just because breathplay can be extremely dangerous and should only be done with the full knowledge and consent of everyone involved, but because dude, consent! Trick her into it? “She won’t be able to say no”? Welcome to rape culture; here’s your complementary beer bong.

Theresa Ikard of Carnal Nation responded to this moron with some dismay. The angle she took, however, struck me as a bit oblique.

Her piece is titled Why It’s Important for Dommes to Go to Dominatrix School, and while it briefly addresses the consent and safety issues, in larger part I think it misses the point and comes off as condescending. In pertinent part:

BDSM is way more a mental game than a physical one. What I mean is that “hard skills” like flogging, caning, cock and ball torture, rope bondage, etc. are easier to learn than the “soft skills” like communication, awareness and responsibility for interpersonal dynamics, and respect for the power of their craft…

The only way to master these skills is to be educated properly and practice consistently. Just like a young therapist or doctor in training, a fresh Domme needs mentoring and feedback. The author of this article has a bio online in the form of a feature article and I gather from what she has written that her training to become a Domme centered primarily around financially driven motives. Now, don’t get me wrong: the business end of sex work training is essential, but is hardly sufficient knowledge or motivation in itself and it certainly does not foster development in either soft skills or hard skills.

Now granted. Lera Gavin is 21 years old, and in said feature article she says things like, “The mistress explained the client was a sad, older man still mourning his recently deceased wife. I knew it was a difficult time for him and that seeing a mistress was a way for him to cope with pain and loss. Of course, I put all of that out of my head. Sensitivity isn’t part of the job.” [emphasis mine] I would no sooner put myself in her hands than I would let my dog use the stove.

But suggesting that because this woman has for some reason been given an column in which to propogate bad kink advice that she should have gone to “dominatrix school” is a little off the mark. Suggesting, too, that experience as a pro domme does not foster the skills needed to be a good dominatrix is simple madness. When I was going into the business, I trained by reading books, throwing whips at willing stunt bottoms, playing with people I liked and watching others play. I barely knew anything when I had my first paying client except for how not to actually damage him. I was lucky to have some natural ability in the “soft skills” and a background in theatre and in healing, but I had to learn nearly everything on the job – how to use my voice and what words to choose, how to read a client’s reactions, how to establish rhythm and pace for maximum effect, and once, how to get a guy out of standing bondage when he’s fainted.

What’s wrong with this whip-wielding youngster is not that she didn’t go to dominatrix school – nor even that she didn’t receive mentoring. She seems to have had an older domme as a boss and guide; mentoring is no guarantee, especially in the less populated parts of the country. What’s wrong is that she never learned that the first rule of kink is consent, and without it, there can be no ethical BDSM play, or in fact sex play of any kind. What’s wrong is that she doesn’t seem to have learned that actually, sensitivity is 95% of the job; whipping and tying and torturing and having your feet worshipped is the rest.

She responded to Ms. Ikard’s article with a vicious and infantile rant full of ad hominem venom in which she calls Ikard “some humorless lipstick feminist,” refers to Carnal Nation as “an obscure online magazine about ‘sexuality,'” and derides the opinion of “a lowly bottom,” as if submissives were allowed no dignity or opinions even when they leave the dungeon. (She makes a further fool of herself by fluttering “Midori who?” when someone mentions Midori in the comments. At least do your homework.) Then she tries to back away from the criticism by suggesting that her column is meant to be humorous and the advice shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Yet later in the article she does raise an interesting point. “The true art of BDSM is all about power, fear, and suffering,” she writes, adding:

Scary? Well, it’s supposed to be. No professional dominatrix wants to seriously harm a client, but if you don’t see at least a hint of real fear in your submissive’s eyes, you’re not doing your job right. In a way, old school feminists were right, S&M does eroticize power and violence, and all the PC jargon such as “sex positive,” “personal empowerment,” and “energy exchange” are just a way of avoiding this inconvenient truth.

Don’t get me wrong; I still think she’s mostly talking out of the wrong end of her corset. Claiming that sex-positivity is simply PC jargon is wildly ignorant, and BDSM play isn’t always about fear. But what are we doing, exactly, when we seek to take the teeth out of kink by making it a subject of academic study? How are we bullshitting ourselves and our clients when we claim to be healers, priestesses or therapists rather than sex workers? I specifically took up training as a type of therapist and began seeing clients in a counseling capacity because I felt that the work I was doing was not healing work but bandaging work.

BDSM is dark – it has its ugly sides and its deranged desires. These things need to be acknowledged, not just because they are true but because our desire is so intimately linked to our freedom. Read Pat Califia’s introduction to Macho Sluts sometime, if you want an excellent breakdown of this topic, but the point is: we want what we want, and sometimes, it’s not pretty.

None of this, of course, removes from Ms. Gavin the responsibility to stop telling people to do nonconsensual BDSM with their partners. Like it or not, she is something of an authority, even at her age and level of experience, by virtue of having such a strong interest in this work and having a column in which to share her supposed expertise. Part of her ongoing education, hopefully, will be recognizing that she has a responsibility for the community she represents, and that passing off her column as humor after the fact is buck-passing of the cheapest sort.

Meanwhile, I look forward to the continuing marriage of intellect and heat that seems to be churning over at Carnal; pieces like this one on a potential parents-of-kinky-kids support group, and this thoughtful piece by Clarisse Thorn give me all kinds of hope.

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A lover of mine stumbled across this song after loading a bunch of stuff onto his iPod and sticking it on shuffle. He then played it for me, and I was slain not just by the song itself (which is in fact hilarious), but by how many of the typical sub male fantasies I’ve encountered in my career he hits on the head.

Ladies, gentlemen, and other: Adam Sandler’s At A Medium Pace. Do not under any circumstances listen to this at work.

The lyrics:

Put your arms around me baby,
Can’t you see I need you so?
Hold me close against your skin,
’cause I’m about to begin
Lovin’ you.

Spit on your hand and stroke my cock at a medium pace.
Play with my balls and tell me how big they are.
Honey rub your beaver up and down my face.
Now sit on the corner of the bed and watch me whack off.

You see that shampoo bottle? now, stick it up my ass.
Push it in and out at a medium pace.
Talk about your old boyfriend’s dick and how big it was.
Now shave off my pubes and punch me in the face.

Darling, make me push my dick and balls back between my legs.
Call me an ugly woman and take my picture to show all the people
You work with.

Now pull up my scrotum and take that shampoo bottle out of my ass.
Pretend I’m the pizza delivery guy and watch me whack off.
Strap on a dildo and make me give you head.
Now tell me to slow down and do it at a medium pace.

I feel so humiliated – I’m about to blow my load!
You tell it’s time to make love but I can’t ”cause I spewed all over myself.
Then you look into my eyes, then you realize
How much I enjoy loving you. oh.
I’m so sorry I spunked on my stomach.
Maybe next time I’ll be better at loving you.

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Last night’s Diane Rehm Show was a panel discussion on France’s recently passed ban of the veil and the burqa. It included the voice of Asra Nomani, a journalist and American Muslim whose heritage stems from a strict Indian sect who forced women to veil their faces. She herself was raised a modern woman by her mother, whose own mother-in-law literally tore the veil from her face and thus began her liberation.

Nomani’s story is touching, and I can’t say I support the wearing of the veil or the burqa, though I don’t claim to fully understand the nuances of the practice. But more to the point: regardless of what I think of it, I cannot support the idea of state-mandated or -forbidden religious practices, no matter how oppressive we on the outside may believe they are to the women in question. As another panelist asked, what’s next? Is the state going to go into Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods and stop Hasidic women from shaving their heads?

Why am I writing about this here? Well, I couldn’t help but think of those well-meaning – but usually ultimately vitriolic – feminists who believe that all women who choose to be engaged in BDSM are simply brainwashed by the men they are with, and by extension, by the patriarchy. According to these folk, there is no way a woman could actually desire, or consent to, sexual submission or erotic pain. She is just the unwitting victim of a larger society that promotes and reinforces the supremacy of men and violence against women.

French Muslim women who wear the burqa – only a couple thousand in all, incidentally – couldn’t possibly be doing so because they want to as part of their personal religious beliefs. It must be and can only be an expression of the most radical political elements of Islam, which are seeking to oppress their women and will not stop until every Muslim woman is veiled and locked in the house. A sad story, to be sure – but unfortunately, it’s simply not the case. And even if it were – that is no call for a state to step in and punish the victims by forbidding them from appearing in public in the only mode of dress they know to be correct. Way to isolate, punish the victim, and further radicalize Islam. Thanks, France!

I was listening to Maymay’s podcast, Kink on Tap – and I’m several episodes behind, mind you – but it was the one where one of the panelists was discussing how Rhode Island was re-criminalizing prostitution. In that story, it was explained how the best way to stop the supposed horrible human trafficking that is going on is to punish prostitutes who are caught with hefty fines and even prison. This was so the heavy penalties could be used as a bargaining chip to get these women to testify against their awful human-trafficking pimps.

Does anyone else see anything wrong with this?

On going to Kink on Tap’s site, I found that naturally, Maymay got to this ahead of me. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who has seen this connection. When are people going to stop trying to protect women by removing their freedoms and questioning their agency?

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I’ve been pretty silent here for a while. There are reasons, of course; there always are. But I would like to be saying more in this space. It’s just that the things that are happening to me in the kink realm seem increasingly private, and it’s hard to talk about them in a space where so many people know my real name.

Instead I’ll talk about the woman in the Firefox window I’ve had open for a month, Marina Abramović.

I read about her first when Cal pointed her out at the closing of her recent exhibition in New York.

For those who don’t know (because I certainly didn’t), Abramović is a performance artist who began her career in the 1970s. Her work was explicitly about the body: what it can take, and to whom it belongs. She did work that was grueling, painful, and sometimes close to lethal. In what was likely her most famous piece, Rhythm 0, she stood completely passive and silent for six hours near a table full of objects: chains, feathers, olive oil, razor blades, cameras – and a loaded gun. Audience members were invited to do whatever they liked to her, and while at first people were reluctant, by the end a spectator was holding the gun to her neck until another group of audience members stopped it.

Throughout her career, she has demanded that the audience engage with the art directly – and she has demanded endurance and discipline of herself which, reading about her, made me think of the most extreme forms of submission and service. In this latest exhibition, she sits in a chair, completely silent, and stares into the eyes of whomever cares to sit across from her and look. She did not speak for three months. In older works, besides the extremity of Rhythm 0, she played the point of a knife between her splayed fingers as fast as she could, sometimes missing and cutting herself. When she would complete a cycle, she would attempt to repeat it exactly – including the cuts. With her long-term partner, Ulay, she did a piece where he held the string of a bow, with an arrow pointed at her heart; she held the bow itself, and the two of them leaned back, balancing each other. (A video of this and other pieces is here.) She did a piece in which she lay in the midst of a burning five-pointed star, and one in which she lived on platforms raised high above the gallery floor for twelve days without eating or speaking. The only way down was via ladders, the rungs of which were upturned butcher knives.

The dedication and grace with which this great artist has put herself through privation, suffering and humiliation are admirable in a stark way, that moves me as a person interested in the extremes of human experience. It offers, to me, another window into why we do what we do. Sometimes – often, in fact – it is about sex. But not always. Sometimes, it feels to me, we are reaching for something more: a spiritual cleansing, a direct encounter with our own limits, the kind of fear that allows one to walk the line between life and death without falling in, because the guide, your partner, is there. Watch this to get a sense of that peculiar terror, the predicament that you’ve entered into willingly.

She performed these pieces to say a number of things: about the body, about limits, about Communism and the terror under which she grew up. But it still strikes me, the way we still do these things ourselves: the way we subject ourselves to suffering in order to learn something about ourselves and what we can take. To show ourselves that suffering has meaning.

Because we all suffer, each in our particular way, from the most abject to the most privileged among us. Not many of us can claim the kind of suffering Abramović endured under Tito – but perhaps that’s exactly why we put ourselves through what we do.

I don’t believe, as some do, that kinky inclinations are the result of a diseased mind. But I do imagine that most kinky people are in semi-privileged positions – and for those of us who have never known what it’s like to starve, live in war or occupation, or really hurt people for a living, it can be very intriguing to get close to violence, to put yourself through the kind of challenge that humans who live indoors and have TiVo are rarely called to anymore.

Sure, kink is sexy. Sure, power play is hot. But for me, at least, there’s something more to it. It’s about overcoming fear – or about seeing that fear in someone else’s eyes. It’s about seeing how much pain I can take before I break. It’s about finding my limits. It’s about knowing myself – and stretching the definition.

More of Marina here.

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So, after my advice the other day, I found this New York Times article, about how Google has begun a ban on advertising for cougar dating sites.

Cougars, for those of you who have been asleep, are older women who want to date younger men. Sites like Cougar Life promise to set up older, sexy, successful women with young hot studs. Google has decided that the whole concept isn’t “family-friendly,” and therefore is no longer allowing advertising from such sites on its content network – including sites like Ask.com, YoutTube and MySpace.

The kicker? Sugar daddy sites are still fine.

Mind you, I’m not all that thrilled with either concept – at least not as they are peddled by such dating sites. I’m not against May-December romances in either direction, but the commodification and objectification aspects bug me.

Nonetheless, this is flat-out discrimination. Cougar Life boasts that it “pairs women in their prime with younger men and ends the double standard!” The very language stating that such sites aren’t “family-friendly” brings bile to my mouth: it suggests pretty strongly that older men who cheat and have affairs with younger women are fine, but we mustn’t promote the idea that older women – who might even be MILFs! – might do the same thing. What about the CHILDREN??

Google has been on thin ice for a while when it comes to its motto of not being evil, but this sort of tears it for me. When Google starts trotting out the “family values” crap and applying different standards of “adult content” to women than they do to men, I start to become very afraid about how freaking huge Google is, and how much it owns.

Incidentally, though we know Facebook is evil, too, it should be noted that they’re still allowing the cougars to mate over there.

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It’s been a while since I’ve been answering questions here, but I got one recently and have been stewing on it a bit. Here’s my stab at it.

Dear Delilah:

I hope you had a delightfully kinky May Day! Maybe the change in season will inspire a fever of questions ;). I know I have one for you!

In my kinky relationships, I am primarily Mistress. Sometimes that aspect of the dynamic extends to financial and practical matters, in which I pay for the majority of meals, evenings on the town, and even household bills. I didn’t ask for anything sexual or otherwise in return, but it always felt nice and different on the rare occasions when the roles were reversed, and I was treated. When that happened, I found myself even hornier than usual.

Still, I never thought that the concept of actually having an “official” Sugar Daddy or Sugar Mama would seriously intrigue me and turn me on, but as I continue to explore the wide world of fetishes, it’s the one I keep coming back to. I am turned on by the idea of having someone, preferably someone older, provide support in exchange for companionship. I’m not interested in receiving things like jewelry or cars, but I want to make sure I know how to get my value.

I have joined related communities on Fet Life and conducted Internet research, but you are the guru when it comes to exploration. How do you suggest I pursue my interest and be taken seriously? Have you encountered any reliable resources for those searching for a Sugar Daddy or Sugar Mama?

Thanks in advance, and have a great day!

M.

Oh, my dear, I do appreciate your confidence in me, but having the word “guru” bandied about makes me just a tad uncomfortable. Still – let’s look at this, shall we?

Let me start with a disclaimer. Having been a sex worker for some time, I have a particular bias when it comes to kinks around money. I quit in part because I wasn’t comfortable monetizing my sexuality, and that discomfort gives me a little bit of a blind spot when it comes to people who kink on it. However, I also recognize that money is just another way to exchange energy, and a powerful one at that. Our society is almost as sick about money as it is about sex, and it’s not all that surprising that they frequently get snarled up together. I know a dominatrix who used to make her clients kneel at her feet and count the money out to her, because she wanted to highlight the humiliation of having to pay her to make her pay attention to them. I, conversely, used to have them leave it in an envelope on a desk on the way in, as I wanted to de-emphasize the monetary part of the exchange. Call it differences in style, call it differences in kink, or call it me perpetuating the denial about what was really going on. I was never comfortable doing blackmail or financial domination, either.

Part of my discomfort, though, also stems from the simple fact of how easy a monetary relationship is to abuse – from both directions. A person being given money for sexual favors can leverage his or her attentions, demanding more money for increased time, special activities, or even being nice. A person giving money is in an even greater position for abuse: just look at traditional patriarchal marriage. To many people’s minds (particularly men, unfortunately), the fact that they’re paying for something gives them carte blanche to treat it however they wish: it’s their car, they can crash it if they want.

I’m saying all of this by way of highlighting the peculiar dangers in what you’re looking for: tread carefully.

Before you go ahead and look into finding a sugar daddy or mommy, I’ll ask another question: do you need the money? It sounds like you don’t, as you have had some fun being something of a sugar mommy or “mistress” yourself. If you did need the money, I might caution you against engaging in this type of play, as you may find yourself being a sex worker when you don’t want to be.

Not that there’s anything wrong with being a sex worker. But if you’re not interested in being one, this is a slippery slope: you might wind up spending a lot of time with someone you don’t really care for because he or she is providing support that you need. If you’re not realistic about that, you can start feeling pretty icky, pretty fast. And you can start allowing someone to have power over you in ways that are uncomfortable and difficult to dislodge.

If you still feel comfortable going ahead, here’s what I’d recommend.

Start off just playing with this fetish. As with most things in kink, it’s a good idea to dip a toe in and do some role play first rather than diving in collar-first to a 24/7 arrangement. You might even try this with someone you’re already kinky with, who is willing and able to pamper you a bit financially. Go on a weekend with them, where they pay for everything, and in return, make yourself available to them in whatever ways they like (within reason).

Here’s where another caveat comes in. We all know how fun it is to play with power dynamics – that’s why we’re here. Sometimes it’s really fun and challenging to push yourself to do things you might not ordinarily do in order to please your dominant. Keep in mind that when money enters into these kinds of dynamics, it can get really blurry: women especially are burdened in this society with a lot of guilt telling them that they have to do or put up with certain things because after all, the guy is paying for everything. This goes back to my original caution: be sure you don’t need the money too much.

If you can’t find someone to experiment with, and/or if the experiment is successful and you want to dive in, you’ll need some resources – which is what you asked for to begin with. (Gods, Delilah, yap much?)

The hottest site for this right now is called Seeking Arrangement, and it puts together rich older folks with “ambitious” younger folks. It’s free to join if you’re the “sugar baby” (which term gives me the heebs, for some reason). Also, the guy in the picture on the front page of the site is smokin’. Unfortunately, the site is a bit creepy in terms of condoning extra-marital affairs and citing “human nature” and historical references about concubines. It seems much more focussed on the monetary aspect than it is on any potential fetish, and it sounds like you are more interested in playing with how “dirty” the whole sugar daddy thing is than you are with doing it seriously. Also, are you 19?

If you search for “sugar daddy” on Google, you’ll get a bunch of sites like this. A search on “sugar daddy fetish” turned up Alt Sugar Daddy, which focuses on people who are kinky but “also appreciate the finer things in life.” This might be closer to what you’re looking for, but I definitely wouldn’t discount the potential creep factor here, either. You’ll probably be a hot commodity there, though, if you’re already someone who has her freak on; this site is more likely populated with sugar daddies who have odd tastes than with kinky people with a sugar fetish, if that makes sense. My bet is that here you’ll find guys who want women who will let them piss on them or suck their toes, or who will want you to wear particular clothes, or whatever.

Something you have to decide is whether you’re wanting to play with the sugar daddy/mommy idea in a kinky context, with the self-awareness and slight irony that that implies, or whether you want to enter into a real arrangement like this with someone who may or may not be kinky in other ways, or be able to see the potentially problematic nature of such an arrangement. If it’s the former, you may want to stay within the circle of people you already know; if it’s the latter, go to town, keeping all the caveats I’ve put out there in mind.

***
Got a question? Email me!

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Recently, Maymay, my favorite young sexuality warrior, was attacked by two women named Donna M. Hughes and Margaret Brooks, who are affiliated with the branch of the Salvation Army that deals with sex trafficking. They set about to defame him, name him a pedophile and a generally disgusting human being, and make out his KinkForAll unconferences to be recruitment centers for children to become involved in “violent and unhealthy sexual practices.”

Anyone who knows Maymay knows what an earnest, intelligent, caring and free person he is. His recent post, where he responds to the woman who alerted him to the bulletin by first writing a ranty post, then gracefully apologizing for her anger, is nothing short of inspiring.

As one commenter said, I want to be like him when I grow up.

At the moment, he’s looking for support, which is why I’m making this post to begin with. If you have a moment and care about the cause of sexual freedom and education, please check out his post and signal boost it.

In specific, he asks that you follow these guidelines:

* Refer to me as maymay.
* Name Donna M. Hughes and Margaret Brooks as the sources of attacks.
* Do express your opinion, but do so civilly. Do not use hateful language when you refer to Donna M. Hughes, Margaret Brooks, or their affiliates.
* Link to my blog post(s) about this[0][1] and the posts of my friends,[2][3] but NOT to Donna M. Hughes’ or Margaret Brooks’ writings; linking there merely amplifies their damage.
* Link to your friends’ blog posts who have written about this when they do.
* Quote my blog if you feel tongue-tied or inarticulate.

It is my hope that all of us can rise to his example in this fight. We’ve all been Ranty McRantypants from time to time; in the blogosphere, it’s easy to do so. Attempting rational discourse and bridge-building is just incredible in this sphere, but it looks like it has begun.

Let’s go.

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