Archive for the 'BDSM' Category

Sexuality and Privacy

by Jason Stotts

I think that some of the ideas that people hold about sex are quite interesting.  Some people think that monogamy is natural (it isn’t, although it still might be an optimal form of relationship for some people).  Some people think that the purpose of sex is reproduction (that’s only one possible end of sex, the number of live births per sex act is about 1 to 1,000). Some people think that only heterosexuality is natural (it’s not, a certain percentage of the population is homosexual in any culture).

Another interesting idea is that sex is private.  Some people take this idea so far that they won’t discuss anything related to sex: not things related to reproduction, not things related to sexual health, not things related to relationships, not anything at all.  This, however, is completely irrational.

Sex is an important part of a human life.  Unfortunately, we’re not born knowing anything about sex.  Not about how to do it, not about how to do it safely, and especially not how to do it well.  We must learn all this information and we can either do that through trial and error or by learning about sex from others, in the way we learn about everything else.  The problem with trial and error is that, while it works adequately for things like technique, it works terribly for things like sexual health and reproduction.  Many STI’s are incurable and will harm a person’s life.  Getting pregnant when you don’t intend to can be very traumatic and forces a person to choose between options they might not want: carrying a child to term or getting an abortion.  Even with sexual technique, trial and error isn’t a great option.  Most people know little to nothing about sexual anatomy or technique and their lives would be greatly improved by this knowledge.

Thus, a person’s life would be objectively improved by learning about sex and sexuality.  Consequently, to not learn about sex, at least the basics, would be immoral.

Now, admittedly, there is some sense in which sex can, and perhaps should, be private.  The things you do sexually with your partner, or partners, is no one’s business except your own.  You can choose to share that information with others or not.  While I don’t think you should just tell everyone you meet about your sexual exploits, I also think that it’s good to talk to at least some people about it.  Many people, especially before the advent of internet forums and chat rooms, thought that their sexual practices were unique to them and abhorrent, because they went beyond the christian idea that sex is only for reproduction and not for pleasure.

If we more freely shared information about our sex lives, then we would see that others have the same desires, thoughts, fantasies, and feelings.  Sharing information about our sexualities would help to normalize different kinds of behaviors and desires in our culture, behaviors and desires that are actually already common in practice.  Part of what makes certain kinds of sexuality shameful for some people is thinking that their desires are “abnormal” and this troubles them.  But, I doubt anyone has a truly unique sexual desire.  In fact, the range of what’s (statistically) “normal” would probably surprise most people; like, for example, adultery (more than 50% of people in our culture have experienced infidelity).

So, the question is, what is the line that we should walk regarding sex and privacy?  Certainly, we should not tell everything to everyone, but neither should we make the mistake of not even talking about sex with our partners.  We should treat sex as a normal part of a healthy human life and as an important part of what it means to live a happy human life.  We should always talk to our partner or partners about it and about our likes and dislikes, our desires, and our fantasies.  We should seek out information about sexuality to improve our lives and make sure that we have adequate information about sexuality to live well.  Ultimately, the exact amount of information that one shares with others, to whom they share it, and in what contexts, is a matter of personal preference and personality and must be decided by each individual. However, we must not let our personal preference lead us to live less well than we could otherwise.

Another question we should address is why people want to keep their entire sex lives private and feel shame whenever sex is discussed openly.  This shame comes from accepting ideas that that sexuality is base and low, that it is not natural, and that it is unimportant or even detrimental to living a good life.  In our culture, these ideas come from the christian hatred of the body and of this world.  In christianity, copying Plato, the body is nothing but a corporeal prison of the soul that taints it with its desires, urges, and drives.  These base bodily things cloud the purity of the soul and prevent it from reaching its highest possible state in the realm of the forms (heaven).   People who believe these misanthropic things and internalize these beliefs experience shame about their bodies and about natural bodily processes.  They also experience irrational expectations about what their bodies should be like and how they should behave.

Now, it can be perfectly rational to not disclose everything about one’s sexual practices and past to just anyone.  However, if the reason that one doesn’t share any information is due to shame, then this is illegitimate and needs to be worked at to be overcome.  There are lots of reasons why one might not want to disclose information about one’s sexuality, like fear of reprisal, loss of future job prospects, etc.  However, it should be pointed out that the situation won’t ever improve for people with alternative sexualities until they start coming out in large numbers so that “normal” people realize that they actually know people who are gay, or who are polyamorous, or who are swingers, or who are into BDSM, etc.  There is very clear historical evidence for this in the gay movement, where homosexuality was considered aberrant and unnatural, until gay people started coming out in large numbers and demanding recognition for who they were.  Now, although our culture still has some hang-ups about homosexuality, the culture is moving inexorably towards treating gay people as real people who have rights and can participate in societal rituals like marriage.  If other alternative sexual groups want to have the same kind of recognition and acceptance, they too must come out and be open about who they are.

Ultimately, there are good reasons to keep sex private, but there are also very good reasons to be open about sexuality and to share information about sexuality.  The appropriate path for any particular person must be cut by them, but I hope that this essay will have given some useful things to think about when considering whether to share information about sexuality and how much information to share.  I do think that if we are to err in our disclosures, it would be better for all of us to err on the side of too much disclosure rather than too little, because at least with too much disclosure we will see our society change for the better.  Additionally, if we don’t discuss this oh so very important part of human life, this leads us to have a sub-optimal life and will impede our long-term happiness.

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BDSM, Testing, and Worthiness

by Jason Stotts

Author’s Note: this was cut from my forthcoming essay “The Bounds of Passion and the Good Life: Alternative Sexualities and Ayn Rand’s Objectivism” because it ended up being repetitive. But it was too good to just let languish, so I’m presenting it here by itself. Enjoy.

Sex involves passion: for your own and happiness, your lover’s life and happiness, and for your life shared together.  Passion is appropriate and desirable in sexual relationship with your beloved: who would want to have a dispassionate relationship?  Passion is a way of showing your lover just how much they mean to you and of expressing the true depth of your feelings.  Yet passion can be so great that it slips its bounds, so great that restraint is swept away in its torrent.

This boundless passion can be the genesis of, and impetus for, the incorporation of pain in sex.  It is not a desire to harm or injure your partner, but rather a desire to hurt them – the desire is to cause them pain without any sort of deleterious physical affects.  This can only be done in a relationship where each partner trusts the other completely.  When this is the case, the pain is not merely an end, but moreover, and more importantly, the means to something further.  What, you ask, could possibly be the goal of causing pain to your beloved?

In the earlier cited passages from Atlas Shrugged, the sexual encounters had an element of violence in them because they were the result of a long and arduous struggle.  In the scene with Dagny and John, when they realized that the person for whom they had been struggling for so long was finally within their reach, that their perfect lover was finally theirs to have, the passion and excitement would have been boundless – the intensity of the situation necessitated more than gentle sex.  In order to show the other person the depths of their passion and their absolute trust, they had to incorporate pain.  Furthermore, their sexual union was their surrender to each other and a sign of ownership: their having sex meant their total commitment to one another as they gave themselves to each other.

The case is similar in real life in the best kinds of relationships.  In such relationships where the lovers are each other’s complements, where they are both excellent and good, sex becomes a way to experience the unification of your life with your lover’s.  This union can arouse love so strong that it is painful, as it feels as though it will tear your heart asunder under its force, and an intense anger, that there is so much separating you from your beloved – even an infinitesimal distance seems to be too great a gulf.  In this state your passion for your lover is strong beyond words; the only way to describe the experience is as one of unmitigated intensity.

This heightened state of ecstatic union drives you to test your lover: to test their resolve, to test their trust, to test them to see if they are worthy of your total surrender to them: to see if they are truly worthy of your love.  The tests can vary in intensity, the more strenuous the test the stronger the resolve of the partners and their devotion to each other.  The tests range from light scratches on an arm to deep gouges on the back, from gentle kisses barely grazing the skin to kisses that draw instant bruises, from caresses that cause sighs of contentment to caresses that cause gasps of pain, from sex done gently to sex that tests the limits of your tolerance.  All the while the thought that runs through your head of whether your partner will break: it drives you to even greater lengths: wondering whether you are doing too much while concurrently being proud of your lover’s strength.  Also, there is a sense of exerting ownership over your lover because you know that they will let you do whatever you want to them, almost a defiant sense of “you can’t stop me from hurting you, you’re mine now.”

The pain is experienced as a trial that one would rather die than fail, as a test that tests not only the limits of your endurance but also the resolve of your lover who is inflicting the pain.  To break while being tested is bad, but so much the worse for you to break while causing pain: to stop prematurely shows your lack of respect for your lover, assuming that they could not handle more, that they are weak.  To break while receiving shows weakness, to break while giving shows disrespect.

Of course, this is only appropriate in an intimate context.  To inflict pain upon your beloved in the course of daily routine, not as test of their commitment but just to inflict pain merely as an end, is to show yourself not to value your beloved.  To cause pain during sex is to show respect, but to inflict pain outside of a sexual context is to degrade your beloved and yourself.  There is a reverence in this kind of encounter that is unique, an honor reserved solely for your beloved.  This is the kind of activity which you would only allow your true love to do to you and from whom you would only accept it.

Furthermore, there is a distinctive kind of joy that accompanies this sexual trial; a joy born of overcoming and confirming your worthiness for your lover and a joy born of testing and reaffirming your lover’s worthiness for you.  The trials, while involving pain, are ultimately pleasurable for both of the lovers.  Humans, because of the neural pathways for sensation, experience pleasure and pain on a continuum: the exact same action that feels painful in some contexts can feel pleasurable in others; the same amount of force used on a person who was unaroused could feel painful while a person who was aroused would enjoy it.  Furthermore, not all pain is unpleasurable, one can experience pleasure from pain as when a bite that is painful also causes great feelings of pleasure.  Conversely, one can experience pleasure so exquisite that is it painful, as when you are doing something that is so pleasurable it hurts.  In addition, pain can make pleasure more pleasurable: the contrasting sensations can add a level of depth to the pleasure that is otherwise unattainable.

Ultimately the issue of sex and pain is one of confirmation, reaffirmation, and celebration: a test of strength of will to confirm your equality and worthiness, a trial to reaffirm your mutual trust, and the most poignant and complete unification to celebrate your existence together.  In a proper relationship, pain during sex becomes a testament to the depth of the love: there is no aspect of shame or degradation.  This kind of pain, born of the intensity of your passion for your lover and the desire not to hold anything back, is not only morally permissible, but appropriate in the right context.  But, it should be well noted that this pain is merely physical and never emotional.

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Review: The Ultimate Guide to Kink by Tristan Taormino

by Jason Stotts

I recently got a copy of The Ultimate Guide to Kink: BDSM, Role Play, and the Erotic Edge edited by Tristan Taormino and after having read it cover to cover, I have to say that it’s up to Tristan’s usual standard of excellence. This book is a little different from other Tristan books in that it’s not written by Tristan herself, but rather is a collection essays from different experts on different subjects in kink.  The result is that you get a lot of good advice and opinions on a wide range of subjects. The book is split into two halves, the first half is practical sexual techniques like impact play (Ch. 2), vaginal fisting (Ch. 4), and CBT (Ch. 6), while the second half is more theoretical on subjects like feminine dominance (Ch. 13), submission (Ch. 14), and sadism (Ch. 16).

My three favorite essays:

1. “Making an Impact: Spanking, Caning, and Flogging” by Lolita Wolf.  I really liked how this author (I can’t talk seriously about an essay and call the author “Lolita”) intertwined a story about impact play and instruction on how to do it.  The effect was to see action in a story, then have it explained so you understood what had happened and how to do it yourself.  It was very well done and the information in the essay was very good.

2. “ForteFemme: The Art and Philosophy of Feminine Dominance” by Midori.  I really liked how Midori broke down the idea of feminine dominance into something that people could understand.  Sometimes the reason we can’t get started with something new is simply our own ignorance.  We don’t know what we don’t know and we don’t even know enough to ask the right questions.  By breaking the idea of feminine dominance down into understandable parts and then explaining how to build this into a “fortefemme” persona cuts right through the ignorance and will certainly be helpful to those wanting to learn more about female domination.  I particularly liked this line: “The ultimate power is that of persuasion.  To get the submissive or bottom to want to do for you what you command of them–that’s dominance.” (292) I think she’s right on the mark about this and this shows me she understands the essence of dominance.

3. “Enhancing Masochism: How to Expand Limits and Increase Desire” by Patrick Califia.  Patrick’s essay does a good job discussing terminology and drawing some clear lines to help people understand masochism and sadism.  The real gem in this essay is in the section called “consensual nonconsent,” where Patrick says: “I recommend a no-fault attitude for BDSM players.  As long as both partners respect each other, make a good-faith effort to abide by each other’s limits, and are open to feedback, I think that missteps ought to be understood as part of the price you pay for being on the edge.” (330) I totally agree with him.  To approach kink play, especially S/M, with reservations about accidentally hurting someone or going too far is to go about it all wrong.  You absolutely should be respectful of your partner and their limits, but if you’re going to engage in edge play, you can’t expect that nothing bad will ever happen.  You just have to try to prevent it, but not at the cost of enjoying yourself and your sexuality out of fear that something bad might happen.

Overall, Tristan delivers with another excellent book on sex and I recommend that you check it out if you’re interested in learning more about kink.

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If you’re going to purchase The Ultimate Guide to Kink, please use the links provided here to support Erosophia with referral credit.

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Aporia: Sexual Identity

by Jason Stotts

What is sexual identity?  Is it simply being gay or straight?  Is it all possible facts about our sexuality?  Is it how we structure our relationships and love as well?  Does my sexual identity include facts about whether I’m monogamous or practice polyamory?  Should it include whether a person has sexual integrity?  Should fetishes and desires be included?

This issue has captured my attention recently while contemplating sexual orientation.  People often refer to a person’s sexual orientation as their “sexual identity,” yet, that seems much too thin to me.  I certainly don’t think that describing a person as straight or gay exhausts their sexual identity: in fact, it seems like more of a basic starting point than any deep information.  If all straight people were the same as each other, if all bisexual people were the same as each other, if all gay people were the same as each other; then sexual orientation might exhaust sexual identity.   But this is plainly not the case.  Sexual identity must be something more than simply orientation, although orientation is definitely a part of it.

But what else should sexual identity include?  It seems, at least at first blush, like it should include anything and everything about a person’s sexuality to which they are firmly committed and which form the core of their sexual experience.  By this I mean that if a person can’t think about sexuality without thinking of it through the lens of BDSM, then this is an important part of that persons’ sexual identity.  If a person can’t imagine becoming sexually aroused without their fetish, then this is an important part of their sexual identity.  So, tentatively, let us say that anything without which a person couldn’t imagine their sex life being good for them is an important part of their identity.

But, this raises the question, should literally anything be included?  Should we have to include anything in a statement of our sexual identity?  Should I need to say that: “I’m into {a,b,c,f,u}, but not {d, z, r, t}, and sometimes {q, j}?”  That seems much too cumbersome.  Of course, on the other hand, it’s not too likely that any particular person has a large set of sexual things that are very important to him.  Most people could probably communicate their identity with something like: I’m a bisexual woman who is mostly monogamous with slight polyamory leanings and also like some light BDSM.  It certainly seems like the stronger you hold a desire, the more it is part of who you are.

Perhaps it would be useful to delimit identity to just a couple of axes that are the most important, like: orientation, level of overall desire, sexual openness, relationship and love openness, and interest in kink.  Each of these could have a scale of 0-6 denoting orientation (Kinsey Scale), overall level of desire (asexual – nymphomania?), (monosexual – polysexual), (monogamous – polyamorous), (none – very kinky).  It’d be a little awkward to get it going, but it’d be easy to communicate your overall desires to someone quickly as “I’m a {6,6,0,0,6},” which would be a very kinky, very horny, homosexual.

Even if the scale idea doesn’t take off, and there’s no doubt it’d be a lot to get people to go to it and it might not even be worth it, I think I’m at least correct that sexual identity is much more than simply sexual orientation and if we at least move to a richer view of sexual identity, then we will have a better chance to understand our own sexuality and communicate it to others.

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