I originally posted this over at my LiveJournal, as an answer to AngryScientist's "what motivates sadists?" over here. He doesn't seem to have been impressed with my story, but I thought some of you might be interested in it, especially as it does talk about gender norms and how they've affected me. Anyone else care to share?
My Story, Version Eleventysixish
As far as my own perspective, exactly what made pain-for-pleasure sexually exciting to me, I don't know, although I was attracted to stories with dominance and submission as themes (usually female over male, but sometimes the reverse. I'd probably have enjoyed stories about same-gender setups too, but these were rarer for me to find when I was a kid) since I was a very young child. I know that some feminist theories suggest that this is not necessarily a matter of personal nature, as patriarchy gets to us from early ages, but I honestly doubt that it is fully a product of nurture in my own case. (This does not mean, as some assume, that I take it to be fully ingrained/biological. It only means I question the idea that social construction is ALL of the story.)
I, like many girls, also got the clear message that I was expected to be fulfilled by submission to men, swooning over their masterful demeanor, etc. As a girl trying to "be good" under patriarchy, I often felt that my desires were "backwards" and worried that something was wrong with me.
I've also, as a person born with a disability, had a rather medicalized life from birth. I do not think this made me attracted to pain in some way that "broke" me, but I do suspect that some of the curiosity I have about the limits of the human body, and some of my lack of fear of things that hurt, stem from having experienced a lot of invasive things that demonstrated to me how the human body responds to a lot of stimuli and also how it heals (better than one might think!)
I honestly, because I connect my kinks and my disability in my head, feel that people who argue that people are interested in consensual sadomasochism must be "damaged" or "broken" by culture or patriarchy are using a similar logic to those who argue for the medical model of disability. I can't separate the claim that my mind is "broken" and I experience bodily pleasure in the wrong ways from the claim that my body is "broken" and functions in the wrong ways. I don't know whether you do or don't subscribe to the social model of disability, but I've never understood how people who do could be anti-SM. In my mind, SM is a product of how I experience the world, and my disabled body is a large part of that.
For me, dominance and SM are times when my body can not only be graceful (I actually find, and I don't know why this is, that my movement is least impaired when I'm topping) but also times when my body can express power. That's very heady given that all my life I've been told that my body made me weak, inferior, dependent. To be the one in control, and to have obvious physical manifestations of that, like physically controlling what sensation someone under me feels, is really intoxicating given all that.
Also, I think that everyone has a dark side. This isn't to say we're all evil, it's just to say that I've never met anyone who hasn't had the occasional violent urge or forbidden desire. For me, one of those forbidden things is anger -- which I think is common under patriarchy. Women are expected to be nurturing and quiet, not aggressive and claiming. And being kind and nonviolent is definitely a good thing to be, and not something I'd want not to be. It's just that I don't always feel kind... and I don't think any human does all the time.
I mean, even look at radical feminists again. Someone like Twisty enjoys being angry and snarky and mean, for fun. She doesn't mean she wants to destroy men, but she does seem to enjoy saying things in biting ways. For me, sexual desires to be cruel are similar. They're not who I am most of the time, but they're things I feel sometimes.
Having a partner not just accept but eagerly desire to "play with" the cruel side of me, enjoy not only sexual stimulation I give but *pain* I give is really fun to me in part because it's very radical acceptance. I do these things that are supposed to be scary and hurt, and instead of recoiling, he gets hard/she gets wet and begs me for more. It makes me feel that any part of me, whether socially acceptable or not, is worth loving.
And I think there's really something to which emotions are "forbidden" that feminism can and does have a lot to say about. Women are expected to be "nice", quiet, demure, nurturing, put others (usually men) first, etc. SM gives me a space where I can be greedy, insistent, impolite, harsh, and not Put The Guy First by default. It's exhilarating to let that go, and to know as I do that it not only is OK with my partner, but is also sexually exciting to him (or her, though I primarily involve myself with men, in part I think because I kink on reversing the patriarchal default. And no, before you ask, I don't think that just because I do so in bed this "empowers" women as a class. It's just a lot of fun.)
Many men I've topped have said the reverse is exciting for them: that patriarchy expects them to be cold, in control, not "soft," not "feminine" or having any traits associated with the "feminine." When someone like me consensually mock-"forces" them to submit, that allows them to experience and express things patriarchy tells them not to. For a lot of them this is a very emotionally powerful experience, and it makes me feel gratified that they trust me enough to experience a richer and more full palette of human emotions around me.
Some of this I'm sure doesn't apply for heterosexual males who enjoy the dominant role, but I'm sure some of it does. I've heard many a friend of mine talk about how cool it is to do something to a woman that is "supposed" to be bad and mean, only to have it send her into sexual ecstasies. I've heard many of them say they like playing with the forbidden, too, whatever that's been in their lives.
The men who answered Fortuny may or may not be this type of person; I suspect a lot of them were assholes with anger issues. But I don't think that means one can draw conclusions about BDSM from them, either.
Finally, I note that you wanted people on your thread to address your friend Jen's story.
I do think that such things can and do go on in some BDSM circles, and that they are bad things. What I question is how common they are. In many of them that I hear, the woman is isolated from the larger BDSM community. Either she's not involved at all and BDSM is just something hubby brought home, or the guy gradually isolates the woman from the larger community by asserting that she's worth more to him or more serious or more loving if she's more completely submissive. This is an abuse tactic and a recipe for disaster, and it's not something most people I know have any patience with or support for.
I am, however, not one of the folks who say BDSM has to be time-limited "play" to be healthy. Personally, I'm in a relationship with some small, very minor D/s rituals in and out of bed. I think this sort of setup, where the power roles exist but are faint and fluctuate, is common, but for whatever reason is rarely talked about. Also rarely talked about are the many people whose relationships begin as play-based but evolve into more serious D/s because that's what the submissive partner, rather than the dominant one, wants.