Here's TWO's description of NARTH, a a self described “non-profit, educational organization dedicated to affirming a complementary, male-female model of gender and sexuality":
At the Feb. 10, 2007 Love Won Out conference in Phoenix, the “secular” therapist told the audience, “When we live our God-given integrity and our human dignity, there is no space for sex with a guy.”Now, obviously this is religion-based, rather than based on a theory that sexuality is socially constructed in a way that's bad for women. But there's a lot that I see that I find very familiar.
Confronted with protesters at their 2006 national conference in Orlando, NARTH instructed its members to “sing a hymn or pray instead,” according to Mother Jones magazine, in its Sept.-Oct. 2007 issue.
...Dr. Nicolosi has said in his first book, “Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality that, “I do not believe that any man can ever be truly at peace in living out a homosexual orientation.”
The late Dr. Socarides, who has a gay son that once served as President Bill Clinton’s gay liaison, told The Washington Post on August 14, 2007, “Homosexuality is a psychological and psychiatric disorder, there is no question about it. It is a purple menace that is threatening the proper design of gender distinctions in society.”
First, the "there is no space for" remark. The most strident of the anti-SM feminists also don't usually claim right out that no one should do BDSM. They just remind us that living to our full potential would not include doing BDSM, and that those of us who continue to do it are misguided and confused.
Second, the comment about "peace." This is a big one. According to these sorts of "radical feminist," it's perfectly within our rights to behave as we want, but we can't possibly be happy. Being subordinated to men is a bad state -- and even female tops like me are supposedly "subordinated" to our partners, since only men could ever really want this stuff -- and some secret part of us, deep inside, knows it. We're not content, somewhere inside ourselves, and in five years or so we'll come to the revelations that saved the ex-BDSMer feminists and be unable to deny that we "weren't at peace."
This is a particularly nefarious one. No human being is ever totally at peace with herself over everything. That makes it quite easy for manipulative techniques like these to get their hooks in people. If you're sad, if you're confused, particularly if you're currently unhappy sexually, it's very easy to remember what someone, be they radical feminist or reparative therapist, said to you about not being truly at peace with yourself. It's very easy for that, in turn, to trigger a "purge" if you're insecure: tossing out your sex toys and vowing to "find peace."
I haven't here quoted the bit from the website describing what NARTH takes the origins of homosexuality to be. First, we've all likely heard it: distant fathers, dominant mothers, and other gender-nonconforming setups in our home life. Second, the specifics of that are totally unlike any "radical feminist" theory about anything.
But the similarity I see even there is that the "not at peace" sexuality is taken to be socially constructed. For NARTH, homosexuality comes from being around gender nonconforming people and copying them. For "radical feminists" of this stripe, it comes from being around patriarchy. In both cases, the sexuality cannot be inborn.
It's not only that, though. I personally do think both homosexuality and BDSM orientation can be inborn, but that they need not be, and that using "inborn or not" as the barometer of whether the sexuality is okay or not is beyond stupid. It's that these theories of social construction/nurture are taken to be obvious and beyond reproach.
No one can really, truly prove for sure that social environment doesn't shape sexuality, sometimes radically. We believe that the "mother" theory is stupid as an explanation for homosexuality because there are tons of people it doesn't fit. I believe the "patriarchy" theory is stupid as an explanation for BDSM orientation because I've met tons of people who don't connect it to gender at all.
But unlike the "mother" theory, there's no way to say "this is what happened outside of patriarchy." If you accept their understanding of patriarchy as something that not only affects but shapes every part of our psyches, there is no way to prove them wrong either.
But notice, from what I say above, that this doesn't actually suggest that they are correct. It only looks like it does. Just like there's no way out of the claim that people who do BDSM are unhappy or "not truly at peace" because no human ever is, there's no way out of the claim that people's sexualities aren't fruits of patriarchy because no one is free of it either.
But all that that line of thinking indicates is that we have no idea what human sexuality would look like free of patriarchy. I've seen scads of discussions in feminist spaces about whrther there'd be SM in utopia. They've never come to resolution, for the very same reason: all that any of us, pro or anti, can do in such discussions is speculate. I speculate that SM would still exist, because pain play isn't about power, and that D/s would still exist, because power play isn't about injustice. Someone else speculates that pain and power are attractive because of oppression, and no one in Utopia would dream of it.
Problem so totally solved, there.
Third, both NARTH and the "radical feminists" are careful to inform everyone that they don't intend to impose on anyone. They acknowledge that their treatments or theories are not for everyone. Here's NARTH:
NARTH respects each client's dignity, autonomy and free agency.I hear something similar from "radical feminists." They are careful to remind any pro-BDSM person they debate with that they have no interest in preventing us from doing BDSM and no personal investment in any individual coming to agree with their theories or to change sexual behavior or orientation. They say instead that they only hope to get more people thinking about where their desires come from and why they have them. I've even e-met a few who've told me they agree with "radical feminist" theories about where their desires come from and kinda wish they could change, but know they can't.
We believe that clients have the right to claim a gay identity, or to diminish their homosexuality and to develop their heterosexual potential.
The right to seek therapy to change one's sexual adaptation should be considered self-evident and inalienable.
We call on our fellow mental-health association to stop falsely claiming to have "scientific knowledge" that settles the issue of homosexuality. Instead, our mental-health associations must leave room for diverse understandings of the family, of core human identity, and the meaning and purpose of human sexuality.
The thing about this, though, is that neither NARTH's nor the "radical feminists'" theories are as neutral as they claim. No, no one is compelling anyone to seek change, if we do these folks the courtesy of taking them at face value when they say that. However, their theories assert that you're broken. If you're gay, it's because something's wrong in your life and you are so desperate for closeness with people of the same gender that you act out sexually, desperate for their attention. If you're kinky, it's because you have been so supersaturated with the message of male dominance and female submission that you're incapable of sexually relating to others in a positive way.
And that, in the end, is the big commonality: the theory that people are broken and need fixing. Homosexuality supposedly comes from family dysfunction; BDSM is often described as the result of abuse, despite many people enjoying BDSM who were never abused and many people who were abused thinking they had BDSM interests before any abuse happened. Corollary to this is the idea that as you heal, your sexuality may change.
I've spoken before about how damaging I feel this is, and I think it cuts straight to the heart of both what's wrong with reparative therapy and what's wrong with "radical feminist theory" about how abuse affects us. I quote from myself, elsewhere:
I don't in any way mean to suggest that I know better than that person [an ex-BDSMer who believed that her SM fantasies came from her abuse, and said that she replaced those fantasies with mental images of waterfalls] where her fantasies came from or how her healing should have gone. But I will say that personally, I found the assumption that healing from my trauma would involve no longer being a sadomasochist pretty harmful.In a nutshell, that's my major problem with both reparative therapy and anti-SM "radical feminism": this theory that you're broken, and if you just pray enough or "examine your desires" enough you'll heal, but that if you don't you must just be too hurt, too broken, too weak, or too easily seduced to get over it.
The people I relied on for mental health care told me that my fantasies came from my trauma, and that once I'd really healed, I'd not have them any more.
I spent so much time worrying about my sexuality not changing, of waterfalls or whatever else not replacing my self, that I didn't allow myself for years to take pride in the actual progress I was making toward healing. I became obsessed with the idea that my sexuality wasn't changing and therefore there was something wrong with me, even as I slowly felt better about myself, less inclined to self-harming (again, maybe to you the desire to do SM and to self-harm are the same, but in my experience they are very different), etc.
I think promoting the idea that SM fantasies are *always* scars from trauma is harmful.