Once you start to explore the history and deeper ideas of sexuality, you inevitably come across the topic of the fetish, and the particularly gendered origin of the concept. For a long time, it was assumed that women simply did not have fetishes, and that they were a particularly male malady, much like masochism, tied into Freudian ideas of compensation of female castration. When women exhibited behaviour that could be seen as fetishistic, like kleptomania, it was explained away as something else.
More recent, feminist thought about sexuality has suggested that female fetishism does exist, but it hides in plain sight. One of the ideas of female fetishism is attraction to injured or wounded men.
Dressing For Pleasure is a 1977 25-minute documentary directed by John Samson, who made a career out of films about outsider topics (e.g. tattoos, competitive darts, the sexual lives of disabled people).
HBO’s Westworld TV series postulates a fantasy world where guests interact with non-human “hosts” in a simulated Wild West setting. The narrative, much like the previously discussed Dollhouse, explores the issue of what happens when people are removed from their usual social restrictions and are able to act on their fantasies and desires.
(Note: spoilers ahead)
I sat astride his chest, ‘It’s just a thrill,’ he said,
As he relaxed on the dark, dark bed, ‘it’s just breath control.’
He whispered ‘Hold me here’ and I did and his head fell back.
He whispered ‘Press harder’ and I did and his eyes rolled back.
It’s just breath control. Just breath control.Read more: Recoil – Breath Control Lyrics | MetroLyrics
One of the insights I had into the overall historical arc of BDSM is the issue of safety, who decides what is safe, and how, and how is that knowledge distributed. My thoughts on this crystallized after a recent weekend workshop on rough play, which included a discussion on edgeplay and the risks involved in thinks like choking and other forms of breathplay.
Some of the legal discourse about BDSM, notably in the Operation Spanner case, has compared BDSM to sports, in terms of consensual activities with a risk of injury or death. Historically, pursuits like boxing, wrestling, gridiron football, etc, have gone through a process of “taming”, with the developments of rules that specify required protective gear, proscribed conduct in play, and the like.
There are a couple of principles I keep in mind when studying history. The first is, “You have to work with the evidence you have.” We have no way of knowing how many people secretly had relationships like Arthur Munby and Hannah Cullwick, but left no historical evidence. Likewise, I and other scholars of this particular field have to contend with the lack of historical material about lesbian SM before the 1970s. Maybe somewhere there’s an old journal or manuscript or audiotape sitting in somebody’s basement, and someday somebody will find it and open up a new field of study.
The second principle is, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” It’s highly unlikely there were no lesbian women doing SM before 1974, but we can only make cautious, educated inferences based on what evidence we do have.
Thankfully, somebody scanned and posted old issues of Lesbian Tide, which contain what may be the earliest mentions of BDSM in lesbian media. As I mentioned before, lesbian SM emerged into visibility at the same time and in dialectic with more restrictive theorizations of lesbian-feminist sexuality, and it cannot be discussed without also discussing this conflict.
Ortmann, David M., and Richard A. Sprott. 2013. Sexual Outsiders: Understanding BDSM Sexualities and Communities Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Sexual Outsiders is primarily a guide for people in the helping professions (psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and counsellors).
If you need to ask why this book is necessary, there is a problem of “therapy refugees”, people who have been unable to get therapy because they have been, or fear being, rejected for being kinky:
“After an off-hand comment made by the therapist about ‘those sick people who beat each other,’ I was put into a position of being unable to talk about any connections I had to BDSM. I also felt that it was unsafe to discuss that I was raped by a partner (which was something I needed to talk about) because we had been involved in a Dom/sub relationship.” [Pg.122-123]