- I’m old enough to remember how different and exciting the Internet was in the 1990s. So does Violet Blue, who lays out just much has changed for the worse since then, especially with the censoring of Tumblr last year. “I can tell you for a fact that Tumblr helped a generation of frightened, isolated kids trying to figure out their sexual identity.” Her essay on Engadget.
- David Wraith has an overview of how terrible the SESTA/FOSTA laws are, stifling freedom of expression on sexual matters while subjecting sex workers to greater danger.
- On the brighter side, England has reviewed its obscenity laws and a number of kinks, including spanking, BDSM, and female ejaculation, are now okay in porn, as long as they are shown as consensual.
- Kink Guidelines is a project “to explore what constitutes clinical best practices in working with those who are interested and/or involved in kink, BDSM, and/or fetish eroticism.
- The city leaders of San Francisco have approved the construction of Eagle Plaza, a small park commemorating the Eagle bar’s contribution to the LGBTQ and leather/kink cultures.
- Lupercalia, the ancient Roman festival that loosely corresponds to Valentine’s Day, was known for men playfully whipping women “believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy”, according to Plutarch. Today, whipping rituals are a part of fertility festivals in parts of Europe, Mexico and Asia. From Vice.
- Even though Walmart, regular drugstores and other mainstream retailers now stock vibrators and other sex toys, sex products are still caught up in controversy. Producers risk rejection from retailers, payment processors, crowdsourcing platforms, and advertising venues. Sex toys have to toe the line of being for “health and wellness”, not for pleasure, which would be prurient. The Verge has more.
- Puppyplay for gay kinksters seems to be on the rise lately, and Slate has a profile of a San Francisco polyamorous pack.
- Kerrang has a list of BDSM-themed songs, including the classic “Venus in Furs” by Velvet Underground.
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]
The Atlantic has an article on how the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom successfully lobbied the American Psychiatric Association to remove BDSM from the Diagnostic and Sexual Manual. (Another for the “I should have written that” file.)
It’s an interesting development that actual kinky people have directly and successfully worked with medical authorities to depathologize kink. It took a long time before LGBT people could have the organization to do the same.
Ley, David J. The Myth of Sex Addiction. Rowan and Littlefield, 2012 Amazon
Sex scandals are so prevalent that the publishers of The Myth of Sex Addiction by David J. Ley could reasonably expect that one would be in the news when the book launched. David Petraeus, former commander of US forces in Afghanistan and former director of the CIA, stepped up and performed adequately, but there were plenty of others waiting in the wings. His affair with his biographer was revealed when his mistress sent harassing emails to a female friend of the family, leading to an FBI investigation and ultimately his resignation. Predictably, people have applied the sex addiction label to the Petraeus affair.
Sex addiction has become our all-purpose rubric for sexual deviance, whether qualitative or quantitative, harmless or horrifying. Infidelity, porn use, homosexuality, masturbation, rape, fetishes, pedophilia, are all seem as symptoms of sex addiction. For a condition that is not recognized by many major medical and psychiatric organizations, sex addiction has amazing cultural currency, whether one views it as a moral failing or an illness.
Delve into the histories of those slapped with the sex addiction label, says Ley, and we will find a host of other problems: low impulse control, mood disorders, poor socialization, relationships between people with incompatible desires, etc. You find a guy crippled with guilt and shame because he masturbates twice a month. Examined closely, sex addiction dissolves into other conditions that are better known and more treatable.
Its importance begins in infancy. “When people say they hate being tickled and there’s no reason for it, they forget that it’s one of the first avenues of communication between mothers and babies,” he says. “You have the mother and baby engaged in this kind of primal, neurologically programmed interaction.” Or the father: I tickle my son; he shrieks; I tickle him more; he shrieks more; I tickle him yet more; he starts wailing. I apologize.
In a sense, this is our first conversation—how we manage to talk with someone despite being preverbal. The content here is socioemotional, and as a form of social binding, it preceded the development of language, Provine says.
New research suggests that many mammal species tickle (or can be tickled), including humans, chimpanzees, squirrels, elephants and even rats. There’s a back and forth to tickling play that suggests the back and forth of BDSM: figuring out the boundaries between pleasure and pain, between intimacy and invasion, between the self and the other. It’s a symbolic attack.
I tend to cringe at depictions of BDSM in mainstream media, as it is usually flubbed in one way or another. Sometimes, however, a good (not necessarily “positive”) depiction appears in unexpected spots. For example, look at two films by Canadian director David Cronenberg.
While I’ve already read Sigmund Frued’s essays on sadomasochism, notably “A Child is Being Beaten”, I’ve been putting off reading his daughter, Anna Freud’s 1922 essay, “Beating Fantasies and Daydreams” (possibly based on her own life).
What’s interesting about this essay is its explanation of how sadomasochistic fantasy operates in relation to conscious daydreams and print media. Our subject, an adolescent girl, has both beating fantasies and what she called “nice stories”:
In a previous post I touched on the difference between fantasizing about a person being in peril of violence and a person actually suffering violence.
This clip above is the 1954 BBC television adaptation of George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-four.
In the book, Winston is shown the rat cage device, strapped down and then the device is placed on his face. Only then does he crack.
In this production, they don’t even put the device on Winston’s head. O’Brien merely shows the device to Winston and describes how it operates, and this is enough to make Winston crack and say, “Do it to Julia!”
Here’s an interesting paper on the results of a survey of people’s subjective experience to pornography. The researcher assembled about 70 porn images and asked people to comment on how they responded to the images and what they fantasized about in response to the images. (I participated.)
In an argument loosely based on Mulvey’s concept of the male gaze, it has long been assumed that the subjective experience of pornography involved either the viewer’s sexual domination of the subject, or else the viewer adopting a like surrogate for the same end. In fact, these modes of encountering pornography appear to account for slightly less than one-third of responses to this survey. Even if we look only at responses in which the viewer is present in their narrative of the image, these simple modes account for only 63% of all responses. More surprisingly, from the traditional viewpoint, there is almost no difference in that rate by gender.
The takeaway is that, instead of a simple “male gaze”, people had a highly complicated and variable way of relating to images. Sometimes they are omniscient observers, sometimes they insert themselves into the image, sometimes they take the position of one of the people in the image. People spun elaborate scenarios about the action and experiences of the people in the image, based on the tiniest of cues in the image or the absence of details.
This suggests that people don’t take the pornographic image “straight”: they add a huge amount to the experience from their own imaginations and memories. When we read text, we complete the experience with our own minds, but it may be that we do when we see images, and that no two people see precisely the same image. People have active imaginations (not only sexual) and we cannot attribute the content of their fantasies solely to their media intake.
Anti-porn theorists generally posit that pornographic images encourage or foster imitative behaviour in the viewer, but this study suggests that it’s a lot more complicated. The viewer may select a woman who is injured or bound in order to fantasize about rescuing or healing her.
Another interesting point is the difference between putting a fantasy character in a “peril” situation, in which something bad is threatening but hasn’t happened yet and from which they could be saved, and outright violence or snuff scenarios.
This might have something to do with the hurt/comfort trope in slash fanfiction, in which one character in the story is physically or mentally injured and the other heals or tends to the first, creating an opportunity for physical/emotional intimacy. (Of course, this could also be read as an opportunity to indulge in latent sadism, displaced onto another character.) In the film of The Sheik, the Valentino character starts out masterfully masculine, but the emotional climax of the film comes when he is injured and prostrate before his female love interest.
This ties into Freud’s essay “A Child is Being Beaten”, which talks about the mobility of the fantasizer’s point of view in flagellation fantasy, and Anna Freud’s essay on fantasies in which they are constantly re-edited by the fantasizer. (More on this later.)
Laura Kipnis opines on the DSK scandal and the apparent lack of female sex scandals, drawing on Louise Kaplan’s Female Perversions:
In her influential 1991 book “Female Perversions” (later made into a movie starring Tilda Swinton), psychoanalyst Louise Kaplan writes that we tend to think of sexual perversions as a male province only because female perversions are more hidden. In fact, they’re hidden in plain sight. The point is applicable to sex scandals too, I believe. According to Kaplan, perversions aren’t primarily about illicit or deviant sexual behaviors, they’re actually pathologies of gender identity. “What makes a perversion a perversion is a mental strategy that uses one or another social stereotype of masculinity or femininity in a way that deceives the onlooker about the unconscious meanings of the behaviors she or he is observing.”
Women too, are capable of perverse behavior, and enlisting others in such stratagems, but this kind of thing generally doesn’t make the headlines. Very occasionally we see women getting themselves into scandals in ways we’d consider “masculine”—high school teachers sleeping with their students for instance—but it’s rare. More often, when we see a woman behaving in caricatured feminine ways, the response is, “Thanks for doing the laundry, baby.”
The stereotypical cliche of perverse sexuality, the CEO who pays a dominatrix thousands of dollars to dress in a French maid uniform and do her laundry, doesn’t seem to have a direct female analogue. When we look for female scandals with this perspective, things start to pop up, of female celebrities under tremendous pressure and acting out in bizarre ways. I think of Angelina Jolie’s (perhaps excessive) display of maternity in adopting African children, or Tammy Faye Bakker’s grotesque exaggeration of female makeup back in the days, or women who have multiple cosmetic surgeries. Still, these examples are something inward directed.
As women move into more positions of authority in the corporate and political realms, will they start to display more male-like sexual perversions, or will we have to create a new category of scandal for them? Tabloid journalism obsesses over the bodies of female celebrities (too fat? too thin? botched operation? pregnant? infertile?) but not their sexualities, not the objects of their desires.