Thursday, 9 April 2009

Sex, Intimacy, Connection, and Critique

Roy Kay has an interesting post up at his LJ on the "radical feminists vs. BDSMers" dustups that happen now and again in blogland:
There is an additional obliviousness about one of the chiasmic differences among BDSM communities – whether or not sex in properly even involved in BDSM. Yes, there are a lot of BDSM practitioners who really and truly fuck – and have sex in myriad other ways. However, there is a contingent which absolutely insists that sex is a frivolous distraction from the True Deep Relationship formed in pain, submission and other elements.

I personally don’t concur with this view. I mean, I AM one of those hyper-frivolous sluts that would take a pass on the whole deal if it didn’t get me and my partners’ orgasms, preferably many of them, on the road from interest through excitement to exhaustion. But the truth is that some people are quite the opposite, and that BDSM is wholly NOT about the sex – it’s about the emotional connection. Somehow this is another aspect they prefer to be oblivious too. Maybe it’s because its too close to the emotional connection they feel in keening against those outside the RadFem community.
I commented to him there with this:

I'm not entirely sure this would actually be convincing to them, though. I think they're concerned about the whole idea of valorizing power relations, and so I think they might respond that whether or not power play causes orgasm is not the point.

I don't think "She's my slave, but I don't fuck her" would get anything like a "Oh, well, that's different then" from these folks.

To further expound, I do think that one part of what worries them is "orgasm as a powerful reinforcer," which you see in a lot of anti-pornography feminism as well. On such a view, coming to something means associating that something with a flood of happy brain chemistry, and this is uniquely suited to making you want more of the something, sometimes against your own better judgment. (I think here of some comments in the anti-pornography documentary The Price of Pleasure, wherein a guy who uses porn describes how he has orgasms to porn, but feels dirty and ashamed and sullied after doing so.)

So if you have nonsexual D/s, you remove The Pavlovian Pitfall -- so Roy has a point; what about when that's gone? Doesn't that invite the possibility that it's not merely swoony infusions of serotonin that keep some people desiring to serve and valuing serving?

I think that's a good point, but I think we need to say more. The obvious question that comes next is "what does it mean to value serving?"

And the thing is, as I've said many times, I don't think kinky people should be required to justify our desires. But I do think "radical feminists" of this stripe will want to know what people get out of service. (And will probably dislike some answers to this question. Then again, so do I, and I'm an unrepentant pervert and dominant to boot.)

The thing is, though, that instead of this meaning "All you subbies have your assignment, dears: prove that what you get out of service is worthwhile and the meanie radfems might leave you alone. You just haven't examined enough!" I think this means something else.

I think the burden of proof is on the anti-BDSM folks. To them I say:

You already have our stories written down for you. You've had them since the publishing of Coming to Power, even all neatly wrapped up in feminist contexts. It's you who are not defending yourselves. All you can say when we say "Prove that our stories are meaningless in a feminist context" is some vague, lukewarm old politics you haven't heated enough on your stoves. It's cold and it's old and there might be some mold. Why are "trends, not anecdata" so popular with you, when you don't explain these "trends" with reference to anything like scientific studies?

The few times I have brought up data from studies -- usually the ones in Powerful Pleasures -- they haven't gotten any comments at all, not even very obvious criticisms of methodology! Hell, usually I'm the one saying "Here's the data, though of course this and this don't quite tell us what the researchers wanted, because of that..." What is up with that, exactly?

Really, if you want to be taken seriously as speaking in some Objective, Observing Voice, unlike the partisan people who are swayed by, uh, doing something because they like it, you need far better methods of data collection and collation.


Anonymous said...

The disadvatage of a priori logic is that they just fill in the blanks whereever they want to with whatever is missing.

This is why I DO think psychology, however risky it is in being dismissive, should come into play. How else to explain what is practically a plea of "You have to BELIEVE!" What IS this fanatical need to control others (while denying that they are trying to do it) based on. Certainly not reality testing.

Trinity said...

Yeah, I do think there's some weird control issues going on... which is the odd thing to me. BDSMers talk about control, when we want it, when we don't, when we want to surrender to something greater, etc. These people... don't. That's... not healthy.

figleaf said...

"I don't think kinky people should be required to justify our desires. But I do think 'radical feminists' of this stripe will want to know what people get out of service."

My first thought was sure, there's no requirement to justify anything but... finding a way to answer the question *persuasively* instead of defensively might... change someone's perspective and maybe help them give themselves permission to try it.

My second thought was what actually *do* people get out of service? Except, maybe like Roy (hey Roy, long time no see!) I'm at best a service top and so for me if BDSM isn't about pre-orgasmic play then why bother.

And so I read the question as what do *tops* get out of having people serve *them?*

And since I have no idea what the answer might be I also don't understand why paleos want to bend *you* to *their* wills.

figleaf said...

I think everyone must read this.

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