Dec 042012
 

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.

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Sep 262012
 

As previously discussed, tickling is a strange phenomenon that I believe may have something to do with BDSM. Another Slate article:

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.

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Jan 192012
 

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.

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Sep 142011
 

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”:

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Jul 252011
 

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!”

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Jul 212011
 

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.)

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Jun 132011
 

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.

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Mar 152010
 

While I generally avoid talking about the physiological basis for BDSM in this blog, an article on tickling in Slate.com got me thinking.

Tickling is an odd thing. It causes the recipient to lose control and perform involuntary reactions like laughing and squirming away, yet the experience is pleasurable. Also, it appears to be impossible for people to tickle themselves.
However, tickling seems to require that the tickler and the ticklee know each other. When truly unwelcome, the contact is no longer tickling.

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Jun 202007
 

Salon’s Broadsheet blog has an interesting theory on the reactionary images of helpless, out of control women that seem to be filling the media these days. Instead of a regressive sign, this may actually be a sign of how much their status has changed.

Naomi Wolf … has an interesting take on why women take on the role of shrinking violet. In yesterday’s Washington Post, Wolf addresses Hollywood’s helplessness narrative, …

…this is where Wolf’s argument is most daring: “Yes, it gives many of us the thrill of feeling morally superior,” she says. “But it’s also a way to tap into a yearning for regression and irresponsibility — even a fantasy of not being so competent, of letting it all go to pieces and having someone else clean up the mess — that millions of us generally have to suppress as we make our way successfully through the daily checklist and get it all done.”

The overworked BDSM cliche is the male executive who pays a pro dominatrix huge amounts of money to be beaten and infantilized. Critics say that the executive’s submission to the prodom has nothing to do with changing power structures in the real world. If the real world and the kink world have no relationship, and male submission is a vacation, then doesn’t it follow that women of responsibility and authority would want the same kind of vacation?

I’ve started on Louse J Kaplan’s Female Perversions from 1991, which takes direct aim at the old “do women have fetishes?” question. Kaplan isn’t really interested in consensual BDSM, and focuses instead on the clinical definition of fetishism and perversion, something that is compulsive and fixed.

Kaplan says that “the perverse strategy” is a way of escaping the strictures of gender. Men get aroused by, say, infantilism or transvestism, because they want to act in a non-masculine way; the arousal is actually to decoy or divert attention of the fetishist and/or observers away the desired behavior by expressing sexual performance.

This is the inverse of Michael J Bader’s theory of sexual fantasies in his book Arousal. Bader says the fetish allays anxiety to make arousal possible. Kaplan says the arousal allays anxiety to make the fetish possible. I’m divided on which I think is true; maybe it’s a chicken-or-egg thing.

Kaplan says women have perversions that allow them to escape the strictures of their gender (e.g. being nice, clean, caring, etc.) while being camouflaged by other things. Maybe by observing female celebrity basket-cases, women vicariously experience being greedy, callous, self-indulgent, irresponsible, etc.

Addendum: This seems every apt to the discussion of Fifty Shades of Grey.

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Jun 092007
 

Elizabeth of the Alternative Journey blog calls Jack Bauer, the hero(?) of 24, her “ultimate conquered male.”

Bitchy Jones followed up with a related post on male suffering and heroism.

Male submission and the archetypal heroic narrative are basically interchangeable. But somehow submissive men (and, I guess, a lot of people in general) seemed to have been tricked into thinking submission is basically feminine; that submissive men need to create feminine personas to make their submission make sense, get I touch with their feminine sides.

Which is bollocks.


Submissive men are heroes. Every time they take off their clothes. Which they should do both frequently and often.

Look, Prometheus stole fire for humans and was, in retaliation, tortured daily for 30,000 years (sm). Atlas holds up the fucking sky on his shoulders (predicament bondage).

And then there’s Jesus Christ. Where to begin? Sacrifice? Submission? Dying for all our sins? Nails? Hot jewish guy in pain and mostly naked? My god, my god, why have you forsaken me? He safewords on the cross! I fucking loved Sunday school.

Do you see what page I’m on? Every story of heroism. From then to now.

Dr Jack says to the evil ‘others’ in Lost – let my friends go and you can do what you want with me.

Angel goes back to fight in the Ring even when he could walk free because he can’t leave the other demons to their fate.

Goddamnit, Indy, where doesn’t it hurt?

And Elizabeth has covered Jack Bauer in detail. (She’s an inspiration – that woman.)

Bauer suffers, certainly, but is he a masochist? His suffering is incidental to his mission. He does not suffer for its own sake, or find meaning in it. Arguably, he undergoes torture out of guilt for his own actions. Bauer’s distinguishing characteristic, at least in my mind, is sadism. Over the course of the series he mentally and physically tortures several people, kills a man in cold blood and cuts off his head with a hacksaw, and executes people on his own side. Like Richardson’s Lovelace and Sade’s libertines, Bauer justifies his actions by claiming he is aware of a higher truth about the nature of the world.

I’d call Bauer a stoic, not a masochist. Masochists suffer; stoics endure. A masochist wants to feel deeply, while a stoic wants not to feel pain or pleasure.

Old school male heroes, the John Wayne/Humphrey Bogart/Gary Cooper generation, were defined by stoicism, their immunity to fear, pain, exhaustion and loss.

The thing is, stoicism can easily shade into masochism. In order to prove one has the proper stoic’s indifference to pain, one seeks out suffering, makes a performance out of it. Is masochism the sign of a person insecure in stoicism?

It’s later on, starting around 1990, that we get male action heroes who not only suffer, but make flamboyant displays of suffering. Mel Gibson’s characters are often tortured in his films, while Bruce Willis weeping while picking broken glass out of his bare feet in Die Hard is a far cry from Sylvester Stallone as Rambo cauterizing his own wounds with gunpowder.

Furthermore, masochism can be a relief from stoicism, saying, “Yes, it does hurt, but I can still take it!” Masochism was defined as a specifically male problem by Kraff-Ebing when the masculine ideal was the height of stoicism, and self-sacrifice was the female ideal. Sacher-Masoch could be viewed as a holdover from the previous century’s culture of sensibility.

I’ve been talking about male characters so far, but what about women? Currently, there are two female characters on TV who are defined by their capacity to withstand suffering. Claire Bennet of Heroes and Jane Vasco of Painkiller Jane both have superhuman regenerative abilities, being nearly impossible to kill. Their storylines offer plenty of scenes of them being injured and recovering, and their willingness to undergo harm is a big part of their heroism.

However, Jane feels pain, while Claire doesn’t, or not as most people do. Does that mean Jane is masochistic, while Claire is stoic? Or does it mean that Jane is the stoic, ignoring pain, while Claire is the true masochist, experiencing intense physical sensations as pleasure?

Ariel Glucklich’s book Sacred Pain emphasizes that we do not just experience pain, we interpret it, assign it meaning in our life stories. A stoic sees pain as a distraction, to be ignored, or perhaps as proof of determination to accomplish goals. A masochist sees pain as a way to get outside our self.

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