Monday, 27 October 2008

Carnival of Feminist Sexual Freedom and Autonomy Deadline Extended

Belledame asked me to post this and see if any of you lovelies are interested:

The deadline for submissions to the latest Carnival of Feminist Sexual Freedom and Autonomy has been extended until the 30th:

So, yes, I'm [Belledame, that is] hosting this next edition. The scheduled date is for October 27. Because I suck and let time get away from me & forgot I have a paper due this week, I'd like to give a little more time for people to get their entries in; so unless Lina or anyone strenuously objects, I'm going to say: carnival goes up on Friday the 31st, deadline for submission midnight Oct. 30.

General guidelines for this carnival here.

Some thematic suggestions (suggestions only) for this edition:

-Halloween: "Trick or treat," or "come as you aren't." Costume, role-play, illusion, trickery, sugar: what roles do any of these play in sexuality? Make it personal or political or both.

-Day of the Dead: The veils are thin this time of year. Connections between sex and spirituality, and/or sex and the transcendent, if you prefer. (they call it "the little death" for a reason). Dark or light or anywhere in between.

-Election season in the U.S. Specific electoral battles such as Prop K in San Francisco, or more broad-ranging political pieces.

Also particularly interested in pieces exploring intersectionality with sexuality, including but not limited to: being of color, being queer, being genderqueer, having a trans body, having a disability, class issues, cultural issues, religion. Again, both personal and political.

Also, too, U.S. election notwithstanding, looking for pieces from folks outside the U.S. and particularly outside other Anglophone countries as well (U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand).

Feel free to nominate your own work or someone else's. Multiple submissions are fine.

Send to:

belledame222 AT gmail DOT com

by October 30.

Good luck! Happy writing/reading.

Submit stuff, folks. The last couple of incarnations of the Carnival have been a bit homogenous, IMO. I think it would be lovely for more weird people to send in more interesting things this time around.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Tired Now
In the book the Courage to Heal, there was a woman who had been brutally sexually abused as a child and was into S/M. She then realized this was because of her abuse and was not healthy for her and actually managed to change her sexuality so that she could be aroused by something else (in her case, a fantasy of a healing waterfall). I wonder how many people who enjoy S/M really have similar issues to this woman?
"Wonder" all you want, but why does your "wondering" always seem to involve things like... generalizing from one case you read about in one book?

And why is it that because I am both into SM and a survivor, my own understanding of my sexuality is always in question? Why is it automatically assumed that I am reporting falsely on my own motivations? That I cannot know them and must be unaware of them?

Yes, trauma harmed me. But no, trauma did not make me magically confused and convinced that my partner loves me.

That's the thing that pisses me off the most. I mean, it would piss me off even if we were just casual buddies engaging in mutual OMG USING ONE ANOTHER for fun, too. But the fact that I am with someone who really loves me, and yet people who don't know us and are probably presuming all kinds of things about how we relate to one another can claim that what we do is all some unresolved issue... that pisses me off the most.

FFS, I don't know why I like it. But I am very tired of this idea that others know better than I do.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

The Price of Pleasure: Trinity's Take

xposted from my Livejournal

Well, I saw the SM bit of The Price of Pleasure.

I should probably be more pissed off than I am at it, but I'm really quite burnt out on other people's SM hate.

For those of you who don't know, the worst part of its depictions of SM: Images of dunking bound women in water, juxtaposed with images of torture from Pinochet's regime.

Time was, I'd be really angry at that.

Now, I'm just sad. If people want to think, and say, and profit on, the idea that I'm an inhuman monster, I can't stop them. The Goddess knows I've tried.

And I'm getting tired of it, and don't feel like engaging with anyone like that any more. If you presume I'm a bad person -- or hasten to tell me that you think I'm a lovely person but the Patriarchy made me get off on something that wasn't very nice, but you give me your holy permission to continue using whips -- I'm just done with you. Done until we meet and talk and you walk away shocked.

But I'm not throwing in any towels, here. I've got something to say. I've always got something to say.

And that is that I envy, with every fiber of my soul, people whose lives are so damn safe that they can actually, with a straight face, have the same terror of consensual sex that they have of actual torture.

Before I go on, I want to note that I do understand that some people have experienced intense violence and are triggered by SM. My beef isn't with them at all, as long as they understand that my triggers and their triggers may not be the same things. And that, hey, even if they are the same things, some people actually deal with things that are serious for them by working them out in controlled environments.

Risky? You bet.

Wrong and bad? Only if you think that you know better than some other individual person how she should deal with her trauma.

My beef? Is with whiny academics like Jensen and Dines and Whisnant and the makers of this film, for whom conflating these things is lucrative. People for whom pearl-clutching and sympathy are a profit machine: Money, attention, tenure when your arguments are shot full of holes.

My problem is them. Because they're as far removed from the reality of Pinochet's regime as they are from the reality of sadomasochists like me. Jensen doesn't know what torture is. Maybe he knows what guilt is. But all he knows is what it's like to feel bad about himself, and get attention as riveted and intense from his fans as a porn star gets from hers. And he profits from not knowing the difference.

My issue is not that he doesn't like SM. I don't give a fuck about that. My issue is that when he says shit like that, he trivializes torture.

He teaches people who have a visceral squick at SM -- and there are many such people, and I'm fine with them -- that that reaction, that revulsion, is just the same as what it means to recoil from the violent tactics of a State committing war crimes.

And young college girls -- who I again have nothing against, I was one myself ten years ago, and it feels like not so long ago at all -- eat it up. Because, with rare exceptions, they're not people with a passion for ending torture. They're nervous kids who don't want pressure from a boy. And they get to feel totally vindicated, because that's just like torture, OMG.

I envy people who know so little about real pain that they can make that parallel without retching. It's got to be nice to have lived such a safe little life that you have no idea what the difference is.

Friday, 17 October 2008

The Price of Pleasure, Deconstructed

crossposted from my LiveJournal

Ernest Greene has posted another installment of "The Price of Pleasure, Deconstructed," his series of posts over at The Blog of Pro-Porn Activism regarding a documentary on pornography which purports to be objective. As Ernest reveals, however, it's very clearly been produced with an anti-industry agenda.

In this particular post, he discusses how the documentary portrays BDSM pornography. If you think the answer to this is "not very well," you'd be right, but grossly understating. Here we go:

Full disclosure: I couldn’t possibly claim any objectivity regarding the next segment of this film, not only because I appear in it, but because it concerns a subject about which I care passionately in both my personal and professional lives. If I treat what follows as singularly despicable, you’re welcome to take that into account.

But I won’t be alone in taking offense at the egregious and slanderous distortion of reality to which TPoP audiences will be subjected. There are tens of thousands of ethical, consensual BDSM players out there who would share my revulsion if confronted with the same vile smear.

And like my lunch, it’s coming right up.

First, we get a quick glimpse of the homepage, with its teaser image of a bound girl wearing a ball-gag. Tacky Twilight-Zone-style spooky music swells in the background as we’re shown the ominous interior of a subterranean-looking dungeon studio used for’s associated site, device bondage.

A naked female performer sits bound on a concrete block with her ankles raised and some kind of dildo gizmo presumably penetrating her, although the penetration itself is blurred, contrary to previous practice, which suggests that a stolen prevue was the source material. The performer is also gagged, but sounds of whipping and screaming are laid over the soundtrack. Another naked female performer is shown locked into a vertical pillory. Nothing is happening to either, but the whipping and screaming continue.

We finally get a half-second glimpse of the noise source, a third female performer, bent over a bar-frame, her nipples decorated with weighted clamps and a dude in a black T-shirt whipping her from behind. Her expression is distressed and she squawks out a tormented “oh shit!” before we jump to the next image, lasting maybe two seconds, of yet another girl restrained in a seated in some other elaborate bondage contraption.

Now, I well understand the power of such images taken out of context, and so do the operators of, and all the other sites from which this, and more content to come, has been excised. Would they appear to be anything other than horrific abuse when shown in a swirl of jump cuts? To an observer utterly unfamiliar with consensual BDSM activities, likely not, which is why we don’t get to see the performer interviews that are among the most conspicuous features of all’s presentations.

Performers talk at length, both before and after their scenes, about their individual responses to BDSM activity, their prior explorations of it, their views and feelings while engaging in it on this particular occasion and the reasons they find it enjoyable. If, as I have no doubt, the producers would claim, these interviews are faked (while all the pain and torture and shit is completely real, of course), and are utterly without credibility, why are we not allowed to see even a moment of one?

Why, once again, are the performers in these acts denied any voice other than a scream? Why are they once again depersonalized by these filmmakers in a way that pornographers would hesitate to do?

Pornographers understand something that these … humans … do not. The audience is genuinely curious about sex performers of all sorts. They want to know more about them. They want to hear them speak, to see them goofing around on the set in behind-the-scenes footage.

Yes, there are porn viewers who say hateful things to and about performers, and who undoubtedly despise them projectively for the conflicted feelings of shame and arousal they inspire. But most regular porn viewers, viewers of BDSM porn who invest a great deal in their own fantasy lives especially, consider themselves fans of performers. They do not hate them. They do not wish them harm. They want to feel they know and share something intimate, even if the intimacy is artificially created, with the individual they’re watching.

No manipulation among all this mendacious parade of trashy agit-prop, is more libelous of pornographers, porn performers and porn viewers than the systematic exclusion of any and all hints of empathy that might be part of the “pleasure” referenced in the title. It is that quality of empathy that the filmmakers, to put over their bullshit hypothesis, must relentlessly deny where pornography is concerned, as empathy and objectification are mutually exclusive in the primitively wired brains of professional porn-bashers. The very concept of such things co-existing in the minds of human beings is just altogether to complex for them to grasp.

Not to digress too far here, but BDSM sexuality depends on empathy for its erotic appeal. Even Sade observed that he couldn’t enjoy the things he did to others if he couldn’t imagine what those things would feel like if they happened to him. Indeed, most BDSM players switch back and forth between dominant and submissive roles situationally (no, I have no statistical evidence to support this opinion, merely four decades of personal familiarity) and not only imagine but also experience the sensations of both roles at one time or another.

....Lest we somehow manage to misunderstand what we are being shown, Joe Gallant returns for another fragmentary clip in which he gravely tells us that: “I hate to say it, but I feel the future of American porn is violence.” To underline this rather dubious claim, the whipping and screaming continues on the soundtrack as he speaks. Gallant likes shocking people, and sometimes I think he forgets that, with certain people, he isn’t shocking them, but rather validating precisely what they already believe.

Back to the very, very abbreviated clips from the streaming videos ripped from, and then, in the single, most heinously libelous distortion of this whole misbegotten venture, we’re immediately shown a rough sketch from a human rights report on the use of immersion torture by the military regime of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet.

As if we couldn’t make the connection ourselves, the narrator grimly informs us that: “The United Nations defines torture as any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person.” Just in case we still haven’t put it together, we get a few seconds each of several sequences of bound, naked, female performer getting quick dunkings for another site,, with another sketch or two from the Pinochet material interspersed between.

“What,” asks the spooky-voiced narrator, makes a torture-treatment entertaining?” against a backdrop of more bondage, fucking and sensation-play snippets. “What makes an image of suffering sexually arousing?”

Please note the very careful parsing implicit in the term “torture-like treatment” as opposed to straight out calling what we’re being shown torture. I doubt that anyone who has experienced actual torture could be convinced that such a thing as a “torture-like treatment” could ever exist. Wouldn’t that be kind of similar to a “rape-like treatment?” Is it not insensitive and offensive in the same way?

Anyone who has known real violence, and here I speak from some direct knowledge, could never confuse it with something that might be “like” it. There is nothing remotely like violence of any kind. A sure sign of any metaphor turning to shit is the introduction of the V-word, as in “she was racked by violent orgasmic spasms.” As an editor, I’ve taken the blue pencil to plenty of copy like that in my day, because before I was an editor, I was a night police beat reporter. I’ve never much liked T.V. cop shows or the balletic slow-mo hokum that passes for the portrayal of violence in most entertainment media.

....As a girl gets her head pushed into a toilet, the somber Professor Wolff pitches in his two cents to the effect that “pornography, with all its destructive effects, is a sign or a reflection of the failure to question an economic system that reward enterprises for profit maximizing and endlessly market expanding.”

....Another possible explanation, one of many not addressed in this intellectual sink hole, is that what is portrayed in BDSM pornography is not, in fact, violence.

One of the performers recognizable in the content is Lorelei Lee, a sex-worker advocate, writer and co-organizer of the sex workers’ art show that recently traveled cross country, dogged by controversy as might be expected. Like most of the regulars, Lee is also a BDSM enthusiast in her private life, and has this to say about it: “Nobody likes to stub their toe or drop something heavy on their foot. You need to understand that it is a different kind of pain. You have adrenaline going and especially if you are mixing it with sex. So then there is the pain and the pleasure happening at the same time. My experience came in that context compared to if someone were to come up to you and hit you in the face in a bar during a fight.” Seems like a clear enough distinction to me, if not to someone as well educated as Dines. But wait, there’s more.

Not long ago, I interviewed another regular, Madison Young, who performs in and directs her own line of BDSM videos, in which she usually plays submissive roles. She’s also in a full-time D/s relationship with her life-partner, also a BDSM peformer-director. Here’s what she told me: “I love to be fucked while bound. Rope bondage alone is enough to get me off, but when you add a fist or a cock up my ass or pussy, my body just tumbles into a bottomless abyss of orgasm. It's a very unique sensation to be made completely open and vulnerable to your partners and be penetrated and gifted by their domination and love at the same time.”

No talk about violence from either one of these two women. No wonder the makers of TPoP don’t want performers talking for themselves.

Now if Dines had suggested that violence were being disguised as something else in order to avoid legal complications, she would have had to acknowledge that the legal suppression of pornography does, in fact, occur, and that would blow a big hole in the film’s central conceit that pornographers enjoy free reign in all aspects of modern society.

Not one word is ever spoken by anyone on the subject of adult obscenity prosecutions in this film’s entire running time. Professor Sun’s dismissive response to an audience question at a recent showing regarding why ACLU director and long-time opponent of adult obscenity prosecutions Nadine Strossen never appears in this film, even though Sun spoke with her while making it. Apparently, Strossen wanted to talk about the legal implications of pornography and censorship, and these things were not “media critic” Sun’s concerns. I’ll have a go at that one later, but let’s get back to the business at hand.

....“It (meaning pornography) will explore every kind of sexual perversion, dysfunction, misery, sadness, desperation,” proclaims Dr. Wolff, as if all these things fall neatly into the same category of “icky.” Examples from Web sites selling images of rape, large women having sex, old women having sex, midgets having sex, pregnant women having sex – you know, more icky stuff – help punch up his insistence that: “if we don’t question the pornography industry, we’re allowing the producer to create the need that he can profitably meet.”

In other words, if it weren’t for porn, nobody would ever think of such things. Pornography is what capitalism substitutes for individual sexual imaginations, sort of like something out of “Attack of the Body Snatchers.”

That’s why nothing but wholesome, vanilla sex existed before the invention of pornography, right?

Back for one more visit to that anonymous flat-block exterior, and another chat with Eric the student, who talks about the excitement of watching pornography in the moment, but if you continue watching after you’ve had an orgasm “it’s kind of just foul.”

Deep. Very deep. And about as subtle as the visual closer of a kneeling girl getting her face splattered with semen. I’ve lost count of the number of non-compliant images long ago, but I think there are more than enough of them in this show to get any actual pornographer sent up for about a hundred years. We slowly pull out of this, amid the gasping and grunting of an unseen male masturbator, until the frame freezes, signaling the merciful conclusion of our own immersion in disingenuous bullshit.

Okay, so there it all is. I don’t claim my interpretation of The Price of Pleasure is unbiased and non-judgmental. As a pornographer, I am merely unsympathetic to its point of view, but I don’t think it’s much of a threat, as it preaches to the converted and is unlikely, in its ham-handed literalness, to convince anyone else. As a filmmaker, I dislike its ineptitude too much to even enjoy it as an exercise in camp. Unlike something Ed Wood might have made, it’s not so bad it’s funny. It’s just plain bad.

But personally, I loathe it. I despise the lies it tells about me and about what I do and about my friends.
I disdain it for its hypocritical hand-wringing over the fates of female porn performers who are never allowed to speak for themselves on any of the serious themes the film claims to address. I hate it for silencing them while assuming the martyr’s mantle of speaking up for views that have been silenced, when those are the views heard most often in mainstream media, on college campuses and from pulpits all over America.

The very worst thing about this film as that it denigrates the women in porn far worse than porn itself could ever manage to. It treats them the way a film made by PETA would treat farm animals: as faceless, voiceless, mindless, anonymous victims too pathetic to be regarded as individuals.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Guest Post: Renegade Evolution on "Verbal Degradation"

Recently an anonymous commenter left the following remarks to a post here, in whose comments I and other regulars attempted to explain BDSM to a radical feminist visitor. We stressed the "nice" parts of BDSM: the negotiation, the positive feelings it can bring up, the intimacy, etc. Our anonymous visitor felt, apparently, that we've made BDSM sound too nicey-nice:
I'll also say here that some of the posts here strike me as unnecessarily whitewashing this sexuality. I'm not sure- perhaps our sexualities simply differ. But still, the fact is, I kink on heirarchy. Unfairness is hot. And yeah, I kink on humiliation too. All those posts about how we're actually equal, how wearing a collar can mean so many different things, rings hollow to me. I'm here because I adore power exchange dynamics and because being lead around on a leash makes me feel like a dog.
I added my own comments, but I want here to post the comments of the inimitable Renegade Evolution. I would just give her guest post access, but the owner of the blog actually isn't me, so for all I post here, I'm not the one who can do that. So here are Ren's own words, unedited, as she sent them to me:

Filthography- One Woman's take on the allure of verbal degradation & humiliation.

Right then. I preface this with saying I am no expert on BDSM. No way in hell could I talk about topping or being a sub like most of the folk here, no way I am prepared to discuss the proper way to execute suspension bondage or what is better for the task at hand, leather, synthetic, or horse hair. I'm just sort of a generalized perv who digs rough sex and a few other kinks and quirks. Two big among them being verbal degradation and humiliation. That shit I dig, in so much I have sought out a profession that often contains components of my preferred perviness (after all, if you have to work, you might as well like your job). And something that is often asked is…Why?

Well, I can't answer the why for everyone. I can't say with any sense of absolute authority why anyone other than myself would get off on being called names, used sexually, objectified, degraded and humiliated- or get off on doing those things to other people- but I can delve into why I like it, and what I think the allure is. And some of it may ring true for actual BDSM enthusiasts, and some of it may not, but hey, I'll give it a go.

One, I think for all the labels of deviant and fucked up or whatever else, expressions of non-traditional sexual behavior, kink, as it were, are ultimately cerebral, and ultimately human. People, after all, are not all happy shiny wonderful honorable wonder and light. They just aren't. People have dark sides. People have ugly sides. People have aggressive streaks and snide moments and greedy motivations. They have times in which they like to test themselves. They have seedy or sadistic or submissive or cold moments. And people can examine endlessly if they want, look at cultural modifiers and implications and influences all they want, this does not change the fact that people are wired with both admirable and less than admirable quirks and urges, and it does not change the fact that in some way or another, these things will come out. That might be in a controlled way, or an uncontrolled way, it might be exercised, it might explode. But these things are there, and I think denying them is actually pretty bad for ones health, so yeah, giving the dark side some airtime? Not a bad move in my book. Some people do this via art; some do it via writing or music. Some people sick it out into private journals or channel it into contact sports. I rather like letting loose with it in sex. Consenting sexual contact between adults, of course, but yeah…I'm big on good old fashioned hate fucking. In short, I like my sex…ugly. Ugly beautiful, but ugly. I have to be "good, caring, socially acceptable, generally polite human" every day of the week, so when it comes to fucking, I don't want to be that human, I want to be the other part. The animal part, the selfish part, the mean or cruel or dehumanized part, the not human-objectified part. Yeah, I am odd like that…

I know many people engage in verbal degradation or humiliation as part of a role playing exercise, and enjoy it because they know their partner doesn't really mean what they are saying, or the context is reclaimed or specialized, where the words and acts are not truly intended to be ugly, but rather something special and ritualized and actually, a signifier of trust or intimacy or affection between the parties involved…I'm not one of those people. When people, in a sexual context, say ugly things to me, as it were, I want them to mean it. I don't need that shit prettied up or justified. If anything "nice" need be in there, a sense of awe will do. I want what is ugly to be as real there as when I look at a flower and find it pretty. I want it real. Horrible me, I know, engaging in such things, but yeah…I like the power plays and domination and control and all the actual selfish, "using", ID driven crap to be real. Make it in color, do it like you mean it. If some guy is going to grab my hair, calling me a filthy whore, pitch me on my back, and tell me to choke on his fucking cock…it better be believable. And if I'm going to call some dude a worthless meatsack, kick out the back of his knees, and drill him up the ass with a strap on like a piece of stinking meat…I want him to believe I mean what I say…because I do. If someone is going to present me to a group of people, rip off my top and bang me on the coffee table, I don't want it to be a matter of "look at what I have, isn't she wonderful", I want it to be a matter of whomever actually wanting to humiliate me and objectify and use me. I want it to be as real and as dehumanized as consenting people can get. In fact, the only consideration I'm interested in is the consent. I don't want some guy pissing on me because it's part of some elaborate kinkster game…I want him pissing on me because at that moment, what I'm worth is being pissed on. I want it to be real. I want the ugly beautiful. I even go for being the objectified and used party far more often than not, because in the daily have to be a nice human world? Yeah, I'm a bit of a perfectionist and highly complimented control freak.

And while sure, there is some smirking nod at "transgressive"; it's not about that. Not for me anyway. I dig the seedy and brutal and mean. I want the dark side, the sneering, greedy, contempt-filled use and objectification and callous pursuit of pleasure. That, to me, is the allure. That is the attraction. That is what makes it, for me, hot. Because it's not pretty. It's not nice. It's not loving or contextualized or reclaimed or any of that. It's selfish, crass, and not subject to after-care. It's ugly and visceral and…human. That's the allure, the turn on, the thrill, what makes me wet. Because we all have dark sides. And this is where and how I chose to exercise mine. And words? Words do matter, almost as much as actions. I want them to talk to me like they hate me, and fuck me the same way.

We all have our quirks.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

"the time honoured BDSM-mindset tradition"

I'm tired, need sleep, and would rather spend my energy on post-sex happies than on this sort of thing:
  1. on 10 Oct 2008 at 1:50 amlaurelin Identicon Icon laurelin

    I think it’s worth remembering that people who comment and criticise blog moderation policies are doing so because of their own political (whether they personally refer to it as ‘political’ or not) agenda. Ironically (or not), these are the same people who accuse those who refuse to publish their comments of deleting their comments due to the blogger’s own political ideas. They would prefer it, of course, if we sauntered over to their blogs in order to pick fights, as then their accusations of our unfairness would seem to have some basis. But we don’t. So they have to troll us instead.

    Women are always told to be nice to those who abuse, and then when they experience abuse and complain about it, they are told that they ‘encouraged’ the abuse, or (in the time honoured BDSM-mindset tradition) that they did not respect their own boundaries and are therefore to blame, rather than the abuser. We should not have to put up with this shit on our blogs either. I'll just say "what the fuck is a 'time honoured BDSM-mindset tradition'?"

Friday, 10 October 2008

We've been found!

Just discovered that Demonista has posted about my post on Dworkin here.

Doesn't look like she has much to say beyond "I'm pissed." Which is, of course, totally within her rights.

ETA a bit more depth, there: I don't really have a problem with rad fems finding my "analysis of Dworkin" (I straight up said it was not an analysis but merely something that struck me that I might be wrong about. Funny how they seem to have missed that) wrongheaded. What I DO have a problem with is not hearing why so many of us in that thread feel that Dworkin's way of saying what she did is hurtful and dismissive to us. That just bugs me. Why is it that people have to lionize her like that? Is it impossible to say, "hey, this is really sweeping and can get obnoxious, but it's also really inspiring to me and has helped me and I love it?"

If she really wants to fisk my post, doing two things would make her post more effective:

1. Explaining why the pieces I quote there, in which she mentions liking sadomasochistic games and feeling profoundly inspired by The Story of O (kind of amusing how she and some other feminists consider that book so full of meaning, yet a lot of actual sadomasochists I know weren't big on it), should not be interpreted as having liked submission at one point in her life.

2. Responding directly to the reactions of ours that piss her off. It strikes me as very odd that she's allowed to feel insulted by some of us attacking her idol but we're infuriating for feeling that her idol attacked us first.

Also, she calls me to task for not having read entire books at the time. [Edit: Looking back, she was quoting someone else. Whoops. My mistake there.] Since then, I have read Intercourse, but I have not actually read the books that those snippets come from. However, since many radical feminists refer curious people/one another to the Andrea Dworkin Online Library as a website that gives representative samples of her work, I don't think I've sinned as horribly in this regard as people who cherry-pick Dworkin quotes so that it appears she said things like the famous "all sex is rape" misquotation.

(Though I will say that I do think that accepting her theories CAN lend itself to conflating sex with rape. Having read Intercourse, I don't think that she herself does, but more than a few of her ideological daughters make that mistake, some of them unapologetically.)

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

"People finding satisfaction in being abused"

(xposted from my lj)

I probably shouldn't even bother as this makes utterly no sense, but Hugo Schwyzer has posted a new post about pornography (the previous one is here.) The post itself is thoughtful and interesting, but one commenter is so strange I can't even figure out what she's saying.

Here's a bit of the post itself, included because it actually talks about something I hadn't thought of:

It’s very difficult, I realize, for me to separate my own experiences with pornography from a range of other possible reactions. I have an addictive personality. I was addicted to alcohol and drugs for many years, and have now been clean and sober over a decade. I am not an “anti-alcohol” campaigner, however. I know perfectly well that plenty of people have this remarkable ability to do what I could very seldom do: have one or two drinks and then stop. At family dinners and at cocktail parties, I am confronted with evidence that not everyone who uses alcohol uses it the way I used it — so compulsively that it nearly took my life. I was addicted to prescription pills, too; on the very rare occasions in the past ten years where I have been given heavy-duty pain medication, I’ve always placed the bottle in the hands of a trusted friend or lover. Even now, frankly, I’d be uneasy about a bottle of Percoset in my medicine cabinet. And yet, I know plenty of people who use prescription pain meds as they were intended to be used.

It’s easy to separate alcoholism from alcohol. It’s easy to separate opiate addiction from pain medication. It’s easy to make this separation because there are so many abundant examples of folks who use medication and alcohol in responsible ways. But as someone who was also addicted to pornography in my younger years, what I don’t get to see — in as obvious a way –are folks (men in particular) whose relationship to porn has no negative impact upon their lives. For me, alcoholism was a progressive disease: one beer became eight shots very quickly, so I learned I could never even have the first beer. For me, pornography addiction worked much the same way: I wanted “everlasting novelty”, and was compulsive about seeking out new images. (And this was back in the days before the Internet!) I could no more imagine using porn for fifteen minutes a week than I could imagine having three sips of wine and calling it a night. And just as my addiction to drugs and alcohol fed my narcissism and destroyed my empathy (to the point that some folks thought I might be clinically sociopathic), so too my porn use did tremendous damage to my ability to practice authentic intimacy. But this raises the obvious question: was my lack of empathy rooted in the porn itself, or in the addictive way I used it? Can the two be separated?

Most of us don’t go to social gatherings where we get to see people using porn casually but not compulsively. We don’t get to see the men and women whose porn use brings them pleasure but doesn’t diminish their ability to connect with each other. Indeed, my experiences of talking to other men about pornography began in Twelve Step and pro-feminist men’s groups — settings in which there was an assumption that pornography would almost invariably be spiritually, politically, and psychologically damaging. And while I was aware that many men spoke of using porn without negative consequences, I had a presumption that they were as I had once been: in a state of denial. Like most recovering addicts, I had to fight a very hard battle against a smug sense that I “knew” that no one could use porn without harming themselves or their families. I extrapolated from my own experience, and the experiences of men with whom I worked in recovery or in gender studies circles, and assumed that “almost every” man would be the same. And when I came to Robert Jensen’s work, I immediately identified with his experiences and his views, so fundamentally close to my own. Talk about empathy! It was as if Bob Jensen was my twin brother.

I commented on this bit thus:


Thanks for this post. I think some of the trouble *I* have with understanding the anti-side has to do with never having seen anyone who was doing the “looking for more novelty” thing. It’s honestly so far outside my experience that I’ve always found myself really leery when I hear that. The only place I ever heard or saw it was from conservative religious groups or religious websites, and it struck me not as real people’s experiences but as… how can I best say this?

You know how there are religious groups who say that if you’re gay and struggling, it’s because the “gay lifestyle” is morally bankrupt, wild, and lacking in intimacy? And how those people encourage the confused and hurting men and women who come to them for help and answers to understand their experiences as something like an obsession with attention from people of the same gender? And it’s a whole explanatory framework that doesn’t fit at all with the way most people understand what it is to be gay?

That’s what I always thought the “end porn addiction” groups were like too. I didn’t really think anyone had the addiction. I thought people had, say, curiosity or kinks they felt ashamed of, and went “oh God, now I’m looking at BONDAGE! But I think bondage is BAD! The porn must be controlling me!” and ran off to a group, rather than “Hey, I keep finding myself interested in bondage. Maybe there’s a long-standing interest here I feel I shouldn’t acknowledge. Let me sit down with myself and figure out if I’m OK with this interest I have.”

So I always thought that that “needing novelty” thing was not real, but a way of shaming people for becoming curious about things outside standard heteronormative sex. “Oh, I fantasized about a threesome. Shit, I must be emotionally unfaithful because I was erect for a few minutes!” “Oh, I fantasized about…” whatever, where that’s being measured against the non-kinky, the perfectly egalitarian, or the cuddling with the lights off and only and always expressing eternal love. Which… well, that is some folks’ ideal, sure.

But human minds, in my experience, don’t stay focused on just that. And I feel that a lot of the anti-porn stuff I’ve seen, both from the conservatively religious anti-addiction folks and SOME of the feminist folks, is an ideal that people won’t ever think about non-intimate sex, or the kinds of kinky sex their ideology prescribes. And to me, even if you’re ultimately less permissive than me, that’s unrealistic.

I said a bit more there about my own personal use of pornography (some people in that conversation don't like the term "use" but the only other term I can think of right this moment is "relationship to pornography" which just sounds weird to me, kind of like that really Sensitive Guy-type English teacher on Daria) there, but this is basically my main observation.

I still do think that "porn addiction" is sometimes little more than a popular way of explaining sexual behavior deemed bad. I still worry that some people who are simply wrestling with kinky desires, sexual troubles in their relationships, or other personal issues latch onto the idea that they are addicts rather than doing whatever personal work they need to do, whether it's accepting themselves as kinky, talking with their partners, or dealing with problems they have with intimacy.

I worry that using the paradigm of addiction to explain an ever-expanding series of "bad behaviors" creates a way for people to avoid responsibility or personal hard work, because they can simply claim, as 12-step programs do, that one is "always an addict."

But Hugo's clear description of his propensity toward many different kinds of addictions suggests to me that in his case, and therefore in at least some others, "porn addiction" is an accurate description rather than a popular buzzword. That gives me something to think about, though I remain critical of the ubiquitous and buzzwordy use of the phrase "______ addict."

One commenter to that post, though, simply has my mind boggled. I think she's trying to talk about consensual BDSM or rough sex here, but she uses some very strange (and creepy) words to do so:

I of course don’t want to watch women being victimized or violated and it is, I think, particularly upsetting to watch women in a situation where they are contributing to their own exploitation by reveling in what appears to be straight abuse.

Now, when I was in grad school, we did discuss the possibility of consensual exploitation, so it's not like it's totally impossible. But that's really a question for the philosophers. This here... "reveling in abuse" is just totally bizarre. What would it mean to revel in abuse? And what would it mean to contribute to your own exploitation? I don't think you can presume that exploitation is consensual without giving a careful, and clear, statement of what you mean by consensual exploitation. And if consensual exploitation is something like, for example, "Yes, I'll take the job in the sweatshop because it's all I can get," it's very hard for me to see how a person could be truly enthused about it.

Or is she saying that the person is reveling in something that looks like abuse -- as in, we may know because she told us that she likes BDSM or rough or "gonzo" sex, but her viewers will not? And that they will, by Pavlovian frenzied masturbation, learn the "message" that women love abuse? That could be it. But if that IS it, why say that the women are contributing to exploitation? Maybe the idea here is that women in rough pornography are aware that other women will suffer as a result of their work, and don't care and should? But no, it says "their own exploitation." So apparently they are creating their exploitation, in an eager way.

Is it just me, or does this sound a whole hell of a lot like Freudian theories about female masochism that suggest that women crave not just consensual BDSM but actual abuse?

She "clarifies" later, and to my mind it just gets worse:

I don’t understand how there can be a solid connection between someone finding satisfaction in being abused and it being okay to abuse. They are actually two different ideas.

Just because an individual seeks abuse (which is what some workers in the porn industry seem to do) does not give another the right to abuse but it does not change the psychological issue with the individual seeking abuse that compels them to put themselves in a situation in which they can allow others to exploit them or where they can exploit themselves.

....One major problem that I have is the comparison between porn and domestic violence. Women who find themselves being abused by their spouse or another family member or friend certainly do not enjoy it I would hope. But there are individuals who will intentionally place themselves in situations where they are being abused and used and they find satisfaction in it because of an unhealthy self image and/or deeper psychological problem.

So some people have problems and it leads them to like being degraded. Sounds an awful lot like the popular stereotype of the masochist as someone who gets beaten because he believes he doesn't deserve better.

And yes, there may well be people like this. All kinds of strange propensities exist in humans. But she offers no way at all of understanding which sex workers these people are, who they are, or why she associates them all with rougher porn. Surely if this kind of thing is as widespread as her comment hints it might be, there are some people out there who do standard or even sweet-looking stuff because they've internalized the idea that they are good for nothing but sex. If we want not to see those people, how do we figure out what they're in? Simply avoiding kink because that's where we think we'll find it really doesn't narrow it down.

And if we do assume this is a widespread problem in the industry, why is the solution not watching these women's work rather than figuring out who they are and giving them alternatives? Simply boycotting their films for the sake of not being contaminated by consuming images of their exploitation doesn't help them to regain self-esteem, or stand up for themselves, or leave the industry if that's what's best for them.

It just strikes me as standard equating kink with abuse, wrapped in a layer of false (or at least useless from a practical standpoint) sympathy for women you're defining as victims without knowing anything about.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

And now for the latest installment...

of People Who Have Their Priorities Totally Backwards.

I'm being terse and snarky here because if I weren't I'd get very sad and angry. Suffice it to say that when we accept the idea that something's being consensually sadomasochistic makes it wrong, yet at the same time accept that state-sanctioned torture is not wrong, we have everything entirely backwards.

I think I am going to be sick.

And for the record, in case anyone takes this to mean I don't think Max Hardcore's porn is creepy, I do.

(Link contains potentially triggering, but entirely legal, photos of legal violence.)

Friday, 3 October 2008


I've just been thinking a bit about radical feminists, and wondering why they are bothered by BDSM, exactly. I know the theory: sexual desire is socially constructed, and BDSM is an exaggeratedly intense version of the same-old, same-old male dominance and female submission. (If people have questions about this theory itself, I'll go into it more in the comments and give links. I want to get on to the real point and spare my typin' fingers.)

All that's understandable to me, though I disagree with it because I'm not the kind of radical social constructionist that these people are. The thing that's not understandable to me is this:

Radical feminists are quick to point out to any kinky person who feels uneasy hearing that her fucking is just standard heteropatriarchy that they're not trying to control what anyone does in bed. "I'm not trying to take your whips away," etc. They'll be extremely careful to mention this, and understandably irritated when someone goes "They're trying to make me hang up the whips and go home," given how clear they are that this isn't what they want to do.

What I don't understand is exactly what good the theory does at all, if they're not trying to change people. I understand why the theory matters if they're right about pornography and prostitution. If it is the case that much of pornography involves coercive production conditions, that's bad and that should be stopped. So the theory gives us a very vague outline: Stop pornography. (It still doesn't, IMO, say enough about how, but at least that's clear.) Even if the production conditions aren't coercive, the message can still be "Stop pornography," because the other prong of argument is the idea that pornography trains men to pressure, coerce, or even rape women. We want a world with less rape, so we want those messages to be less ubiquitous. So we have something to go and do, somehow: Stop pornography.

But the thing about BDSM is that even many radfems accept that at least a minority of us do BDSM consensually enough that they don't want to take our whips away. So the conditions aren't coercive. And we're not a multi-million dollar industry that it's a cultural commonplace to use or watch, as porn is. So we're not selling the degradation message, even if it is in fact the case that we have bought it ourselves.

So it's odd to me that some radical feminists are still picking on BDSM. There's no serious activist reason I can figure for them to do that at all, really. They're not aiming to stop a message, and they're not thinking that it's nonconsensual, so there isn't any reason for them to be "Stop BDSM." Which would leave trying to convince individuals to give it up, which they say they're not doing.

Which leaves this interestingly free-floating theory, under which BDSM is bad for women. But that theory just sort of sits there, and becomes fodder for blog posts on the Internet, but not fodder for activism. And I just wonder why. Why do you need a theory that says something's bad, if you agree that taking any action to stop the badness would be thought policing so you don't do it? Because that honestly just sounds like you want the theory around so you can tsk-tsk at people, rather than that you're actually using the theory to fuel actions based on feminist principles.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Oh wow, how'd I miss this?

From late August, a post on Amananta's blog, apparently a response to this post I made here in mid-August or so. Excerpts and then comments (not fisking. I'm sometimes nice). I've added paragraph breaks to make it a bit easier on the eyes:
Most interesting is the corners they try to paint any feminist who dares question BDSM. Usually they will say, upon reading any criticism of BDSM from a feminist standpoint, that we just must not know anything about it, we must be ignorant about how truly wonderful and sexy and enlightened their “underground” society is. But when someone as myself or Biting Beaver reveals we have lived that lifestyle for years and hated it due to the abusive nature of said “lifestyle”, we are told “it’s just you”. It must just be me, just because “I didn’t enjoy it” doesn’t mean other women can’t! What’s wrong with you that you didn’t enjoy it?

Then there were the ones who feigned some sort of coyness: “She says she was involved with the BDSM lifestyle for 15 years, what does she mean?” I mean I lived it, from any number of angles, no, not just one, and not just with one man, it wasn’t a problem of just it being “the wrong man”. Then there’s the clincher which would be floor-rolling-laughter funny if it weren’t just so fucking sad from someone who thinks they are a feminist: “If she didn’t like the lifestyle WHY DIDN’T SHE JUST LEAVE? WHY DID SHE STAY SO LONG?” All of this: “it’s just you” “its an individual problem” “why didn’t you just leave” are the farthest things I can think of from a feminist standpoint.
Okay, first thing: Yes, I did in fact say "Why didn't you leave?"

However, I wasn't referring to a person there, I was referring to the Scene itself. The paradigmatic reason people stay in abusive relationships is usually that they are wrapped up in a particular dynamic of violence and terror with a particular person who they alternately idealize and live in terror of. It's very dyadic, and it often comes with particular attempts on the part of the abuser to isolate his victim, so that she remains unaware that his behavior is unacceptable. The more time she gets away from him, the more chance there is that she will realize either that behavior she has been taught to excuse ("he's just angry" "he's jealous because he loves me so much" "he had a bad day") is actually out of line. So there's this very isolating bent to it all.

But the Scene itself is not an abuser. It is not a person that can force you to stay for fifteen years if you are ideologically opposed to it. Particular partners can force or coerce or terrorize you; The Eulenspiegel Society can't. That's what I meant by "why didn't you leave?" I don't believe that a social community can batter a woman.

Well... maybe not. There are such things as cults, and she might mean by mocking my comment that I should have understood that she was indoctrinated so severely that she couldn't break free, and had taken on "BDSM's Value System" or something because BDSM communities are cultic. That would at least make more sense, and fits with some of her other comments about how BDSM supposedly makes people see behaviors that are obviously ethically unacceptable as right dandy.

The thing is that I just haven't seen cultic dynamics in SM groups, and I'm very familiar with them. Those kinds of group dynamics are the sorts of dynamic that silence people if they disagree, pressure people if they don't want to do something, etc. And I have never seen this. I've never seen anyone at a demo say "and if you don't want to do this you're not good enough." Or, you know, "you're not really ONE OF US if..." (I have seen a little bit of this in some online circles, though. But it certainly doesn't sound like she means "I lived it" as "I hung out on Gorean message boards.") What I do see is people bending over backwards to remind people that they need not do anything they don't like, that what works for one person or couple or group may well be disastrous for another, etc.

So I'm left utterly flabbergasted, really. It's possible that smaller kinky enclaves are less well-policed and more pressure can happen there. So it may be, "I passed up the groups in the big city because I just didn't think they were TPE enough and joined TrueSlaveHearts out in bumfuck, where you had to write contracts in your heartsblood to prove you were SEEEERIOUS." But in that case, how is that a reflection on "the Scene," whose face is actually, you know... TES or Black Rose or APEX or places like that?

She calls me young, and I probably am younger than her. But really, how can you even talk to someone who won't give specifics at all? Who says, "the Scene is like this" and doesn't say, "this is what the presentations were like, this is how people acted at parties, this is what my partners said?" How is that any representation, when it's just "I'm older than you so I don't have to tell you what I'm actually talking about, now shut up little girl?"

And really now -- "little girl"? I'm a "little girl" now because I disagree with her? And obviously I haven't read anything from the Second Wave!

Who exactly has given up power dynamics here?