Why being in the BDSM closest sucks. Or. Am I a crazy person?

There is a group that has started in my city called Sexual Politics Now. I love that they exist. I back the work they do and I really believe that we need to be able to talk openly about porn, to critique and discuss the impact it has on our lives.

A few weeks ago, this group showed the Australian documentary Sex and Love in an Age of Pornography, directed by Maree Crabbe and David Corlett. I went along to it, and felt myself shrinking. By the time it came to the discussion I felt intimidated and marginalised. I kept quiet, and slunk out as soon as it was over, even foregoing the free wine and snacks. I’ve tried to forget this experience, because to be honest, I have been pretty up and down over the last few months and I’m learning how to rebuild my trust in my feelings. (Although, based on the fact that I didn’t stay for snacks, this is a pretty clear indicator that I felt sad and weird.)

But, I can’t let this go! And I so wish I had the guts to send this to the film directors, or to the organisers of Sexual Politics Now. But I don’t, at the moment, so I’m doing the next best thing and posting this on my (anonymous) blog. If you read this, it would be great to know if you think I’m completely out of line, or if you agree with my point of view. I kind of need that outside perspective right now, you know?

Okay, here goes.

My ass. Cane, bruising and photo courtesy of VanErotica. Yay for submission and degradation!

My ass. Cane, bruising, rope marks and photo courtesy of VanErotica. Yay for submission and degradation!

I do agree with Love and Sex in an Age of Pornography. We need this documentary. It is important. We need to be discussing porn with teenagers and young adults, and this documentary represents a way to do that.

However. While watching it I started to feel like my sexuality was not the RIGHT sexuality. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t making shit up, so I tracked down an article the directors have written about the issues the film addresses:

there has been a marked shift in pornography content towards rougher, more aggressive sex—including, for example,

  • fellatio inducing gagging
  • heterosexual anal sex
  • ejaculating on women’s faces and breasts, and
  • double penetrations in which one woman is penetrated anally and vaginally at the same time.

Significantly, porn is normalising sex acts that most women in the real world don’t enjoy, and may find degrading, painful or violating. […] We are seeing young women internalising the messages of porn (Zwartz 2007). The porn erotic is so ‘normal’ that women may not see that this construction of sexuality is about appealing to men. It is not about a woman’s own dignity, respect or multidimensional nature—not to mention her pleasure.

Okay, okay, so can we pause a second please? Sure, the activities listed in the four bullet points are pretty much at the top of my fetish list, but I accept that I may be in the minority with this, and I accept that they’ve written ‘most women’ don’t enjoy this. That ‘most’ is important. But. I feel offended that after that innocuous ‘most’, they proceed to say I’m unaware how my fetish has been constructed by porn, my turn-ons are only about appealing to men, and my sexual activity does not allow me dignity, respect or pleasure.

I call bullshit. I feel that Crabbe and Corlett have a view of what empowered sexuality looks like, and this is decidedly vanilla. I can understand if you think I’m reading too much into the documentary and the article. I have thought that too. But it was impossible for me to ignore vanilla-biased discussion afterwards. There were about 50 people in the lecture theatre, including Crabbe and Corlett. Two thirds of the audience were women, and the majority in their twenties and thirties. At one point, someone in the audience said, “No woman likes having cum on their face!” There were murmurs and laughter in agreement, the directors up the front nodded sagely, and I shrank. I so badly wanted to stick my hand up and say, “Yes! I’m a woman and I think having cum on my face is the best thing ever! I would happily start every day with a rough blow job and a face full of cum!”

I didn’t, though. I’ve had one negative experience with a feminist group in June 2012, and since then I’ve been wary of being told my experience isn’t valid, that I’ve been “brainwashed by the patriarchy” (yes, that’s a direct quote). I’m afraid of being accused of sidelining the real argument, of distracting or being irrelevant. And, I knew my opinion would be unpopular.

At the end of the article, Crabbe and Corlett write:

While the porn erotic is normalised, it is possible to imagine an alternative vision. As porn demonstrates, it is possible to eroticise inequality, mere physicality, and even degradation and violence. But it is also possible for the erotic cultural sensibility to allow diversity and individual taste, and at the same time to promote equality, tenderness, communication, consent and mutuality.

The last sentence: Yes, oh my god, yes. I am so on board with this. I am so passionate about this! I want to become a sex educator to promote exactly this! But, are Crabbe and Corlett able to promote it in a way that actually IS about diversity? I feel they’ve completely ignored kinksters who are living proof of diversity and individual taste, who are highly skilled at respectfully communicating and negotiating consent, but do it in a way that EXPLORES inequality, physicality, degradation and violence.

Here is my ‘alternative’ alternative vision to the “porn erotic”. My vision would include: ‘your kink is not my kink and that’s okay’. My vision would replace the word ‘tenderness’ with respect. (Tender just alludes too much to a particular type of sex, which again, might be your kink but it’s not mine). My vision would not privilege one type of sexuality over the other.

At this point in writing, I pause and ask myself: “okay, it’s one thing having this alternative alternative vision, but how would I communicate this to young people?” Because I really do agree with the emphasis Crabbe and Corlett have placed on teenagers’ (particularly young womens’) sexual empowerment. So, since the only experience I can really speak of with any authority is my own, I think back to being a teenager.

I started watching violent porn when I was in my early teens, I actually would search for it, and feel very turned on, and then very guilty. I told myself I was a sick and bad for getting off on this sort of stuff, and I hated myself for it. In my alternative vision, I would have a sex talk with my teenage self. (And actually, it wouldn’t just be ‘a talk’. It would be an ongoing discussion throughout her teens and early twenties). I would tell her that what turns her on is what turns her on. I’d ask her WHY did this particular porn, erotic fiction, cartoon turn her on? How did she feel about this? What did she find appealing about the misogyny and unequal power relationship? What did she find problematic, what was it exactly that made her feel sick and bad?

We’d discuss whether porn actors can give enthusiastic, informed consent when faced with outside pressures (agents, fans, money), and can we ever really be sure whether porn is entirely consensual? I’d ask her how she felt about that. We’d explore how she could find a medium ground, recognising that she still wanted to watch porn, but discussing ethical alternatives (like feminist porn, porn with before and after interviews, erotic fiction for example).

I’d invite her to discuss her sexual desire, her inner erotic life, her fantasies. We’d talk about ways for her to explore her desire in a way that was safe, sane and consensual.

I would not try to ‘fix’ her. I would not tell her that her preferences were a phase. I would not tell her that she only thought she enjoyed these things because the porn she was viewing had manipulated her, or because she was a product of a patriarchal society.

Because actually, if our goal is support young women and men to a fulfilling, nurturing and empowered sexual identity, whether these things are true or not is irrelevant. I am far more interested in seeing young people as whole and highly functioning. What can we do to support them (and ourselves) to explore and make conscious choices about all the wonderful, complicated and contradictory sexual desires they may have?

Thank you to Maree Crabbe and David Corlett for making this documentary and to Sexual Politics Now for showing it and encouraging discussion. The very fact that I’ve spent hours writing this is testament to how thought-provoking this stuff is! Let’s continue this discussion, but please, let’s do it in a way that embraces all the beautiful complexity of personal sexual identity.

Ten expert tips on how to rock your long distance relationship

So, I met a man. I’m going to call him The Wolf.

December 2012, in Toronto. I went, on my own, to a club to dance. (This isn’t unusual. I love going out dancing on my own. No wall-hugging friends, no yelled conversation, no clammy men. The best). He checked my ID, said “Oh, a kiwi”, and gave me a ridiculously sexy smile. I danced provocatively in front of him the entire night, and at 4am he invited me out for a Denny’s dawn breakfast.

This started 10 days of the most incredible dating of my life. This man…and the sex…oh my gasp.

And then, because I have a killer work ethic and a ‘Grand Plan’, I hopped on a plane and flew back to Auckland, New Zealand, where I had a job waiting.

Although it was unplanned, it just sort of started. Toronto/Auckland Long Distance. And I’m talking STRICT long distance, none of this, “let’s meet in Hawaii and spend a weekend together” shit. Brutal. Admittedly, I’m only at the end of month 9 at the moment, but we’re both so stubborn I feel that we’re going to make it to 12.

So, I’m officially calling myself a LDR (long distance relationship yo!) expert, and here are my expert tips referencing personal experience.

An excellent LDR photo. My family cat and my ass.

An excellent LDR photo. My family cat and my ass.

1) Sexual chemistry. The person you’re doing a LDR with has to be the sexiest, hottest thing on the planet. You need to be able to masturbate to them. Repeatedly. You know you’re onto something good if just hearing their voice, seeing their photo or talking with them on Skype makes you wet/hard.

2) Excellent dirty talk. You can develop these skills pretty quickly, but it helps if you’re already comfortable sexting, writing your own erotic fiction and describing what you’re doing to yourself while using a sexy voice. Good words to use are: moan, thrust, cock, dripping wet. The upside is that you learn exactly what turns your partner on, because after a couple of months of no sex, having a sexy discussion is pretty fucking awesome. (And then you can masturbate about it later. Win.)

3) Celibacy and monogamy. Okay, I know some of you will be like, “well, duh?” But I came to this through a circuitous route. In the months prior to meeting The Wolf, I was very happily dabbling in polyamory. Even to the point where I had declared ONE DAY before I met him, that “I was not interested in a traditional, monogamous relationship. Ever”. (Oh fate, you tricky thing).

It was late January when he put it to me. Choose him, or choose to be poly. He was only interested in monogamy, and he was only interested in me. This level of commitment took me by surprise (no, actually, it scared the crap out of me). I was tempted to negotiate a sort of middle ground- like, still keep in touch, but sleep with other people- but I sat myself down and had a stern look at where my fear was coming from. In the end, I figured out that although the commitment was making me nervous, there was definitely excitement there too. On top of that, we’re talking about the sexiest man on the planet, and my pussy was voting for him.

So, if this is you, chose monogamy. Commit to each other early on, and outline exactly what monogamy means for you.

4) An end date. Crucial. I am landing in Toronto on 29th December 2013, at 11:30pm. This date is tattooed on the inside of my eyes. It’s circled in every diary I own. Open-ended is way too painful. Set the date, and stick to it like a mother-fucker.

5) Perspective. My mantra is ‘acceptance and impermanence’. Nowhere has this served me better than in a LDR. I accept that we will both go through periods of ambivalence, where we wonder why we’re doing this. I accept that, for lack of physical contact, I will replay our conversations, line by line, until I interpret a meaning that was never there. I accept that subtle emotion will be lost in text, email and even Skype.

And, this is the hardest of all, I accept that a 12 month LDR is not a guarantee we will work as a couple when I get to Toronto. The best we can say: we shall see. No, this is not comforting on those nights when I just want a fuck and a cuddle. Yes, holding this perspective does keep me sane.

Take a deep breath. Accept that…one day of crippling insecurity will pass. A week of doubt will pass. Three more months will pass. One year will seem like a blip in the span of your life. This is all so impermanent. You’ll be just fine.

6) Communicate like a BOSS. This one is quite simple. Be honest, be congruent and reflect on how your communication develops. We spent the first 3 months sharing our opinions: childhood, families, food, music, sex, religion, fitness, gender roles, careers, future plans, social habits. It was full on. And pretty dicey at times! (I wonder if this would be easier for established couples?)

We spent the next 2 months trying to negotiate the weirdest stuff, which at the time seemed crucially important. Like, for example, IF we ended up together, would we have guns in our house? Or, would I take his last name IF we got married? (It makes me laugh writing this, that we always put the IF in there, as if that would soften the fact that we were already talking about marriage?)

As ridiculous as these discussions (and yes, sometimes they were laptop-lid slamming) seem, I think they were important for a) establishing boundaries and individual identity and b) learning how to disagree. I think we were symbolically marking our territory.

Now we’re at a calm, mature, holding-on stage. We’re not as rose-tinted as we were at the beginning, and we’re not as emotional as we were in the middle. We’ve compromised and softened. We talk about our feelings openly, pragmatically. We share the best of ourselves. We say we love each other. We count the days.

7) Embrace ALL the technology. Get a smart phone. Use Snapchat and WhatsApp. Diversify: email, text, share photos, make videos, Skype, write letters, talk on the phone.

Although I had to move past my “Snapchat is just for horny teenagers” snobbery, I can honestly say it has saved our relationship. There was a stage where things were feeling a bit too raw for Seriously Dedicated Skyping, so we sent pictures. Of ourselves, of our lives, our family and pets and office and car and favourite view and sunsets and food and grocery shopping and latest tattoos.

Other sexy technology things I’ve done? Strip and masturbate to music, film the whole thing, send it for Valentines Day. Leave naked dancing Skype video messages. Put on red lipstick and film myself enthusiastically sucking my fingers pretending they’re his cock. Delicious.

8) Be stubborn. At the beginning, figure out why you’re doing this, and what you’re going to get out of it. Don’t rely on your partner to provide the why, find it within yourself. Because it’s going to get hard, and you’ll need to stubbornly stick to your reason, stick to your commitment, even though it might seem illogical.

9) Love the fuck out of yourself. You need to have your self-care down. Can you give yourself what you need when you’re feeling lonely, insecure, angry, or scared? Is your self-worth high enough that you can say you’re definitely worth this level of commitment from your partner? Do you have the strength to trust their word? Are you secure in your attachment? And if the worst case scenario happens, can you pick up your own pieces and rebuild yourself?

I had a good base in some of this stuff, and the rest I had to learn pretty quickly. It’s hard work. (Across the top of my mirror, I’ve written “You are so definitely worth it”. It helps.) The upside to doing this work is powerful. For the first time in my life, I can look in the mirror and unblinkingly say that I love and accept myself.

Relish masturbation. In the last three months, masturbation has gone from something I’d quickly bang off to the most intense orgasms of my life. What’s changed? For the first time ever, I’m focusing solely on my own pleasure, slowly building up arousal through touch, rather than relying on porn or erotic fiction. I take about half an hour to masturbate, I indulge every weekend, and I tease myself, getting close and then pausing, relaxing and feeling my sexual energy build. It’s incredibly satisfying, and I feel such gratitude for being able to receive so much pleasure from my own body.

10) Be proud. Tell people. Own this. It’s hard, and it takes skill. Give yourself respect and credit for trying. This is clichéd, but let yourself dream. Dream about what it will be like when you see your partner, in the flesh. What will the first minute, hour, night be like? How might you evolve? What’s your ultimate fantasy? You don’t need to share this, keep it inside yourself, to fuel those daydreams during boring work meetings, car trips, quiet Sunday afternoons and nights when your bed just feels too empty.

You’ve got this. You can do it. It can work.

An early sexual experience. Age 14.

Reflecting on it later, she isn’t sure how it happened. She remembers talking to one of the boys, and feeling a lot more confident than normal. (Maybe it was the memory of her sun-warmed nipples under her tshirt). She sat next to him, on a log and they shared a beer. They sat in silence mostly, watching the flames, laughing at the poor jokes made by the others. She learnt that he had recently broken up with his girlfriend, he was two years older than her. She heard one of his friends say “rebound”.

Later, back at the hut, her sister and parents had gone to sleep in one of the bunkrooms, so she and Tess lay their sleeping bags out in the other room with the group of teenagers. Part of her longed to go into her parent’s room, snuggle into her sleeping bag, fold up her polarfleece as a pillow and read her book, before blowing out the candle and saying “I love you” to her family.

Later, on the platform of top bunks, all linked up. Tess and her are separated. She’s between ‘her’ guy and the wall. Tess is two different guys away. She doesn’t know what Tess is doing. She hears lots of whispers and laughs. She doesn’t know what to do.

The guy beside her leans in, and she assumes he must be going to kiss her, so she closes her eyes and parts her lips, like she’s seen. He pulls away, shakes his head slightly, but keeps coming at her. She lies still, as his hands explore her under her sleeping bag, over her tshirt and bra. She thinks about what she knows about this: women moan and arch their backs and squeeze their eyes shut. Men conduct, with grunts and say “baby” a lot. (When she was much younger, she thought it was lovely that so many men constantly sang and talked about their babies. “Such caring fathers!”)

She tries a moan. Just quietly, breathy, just enough for him to hear. He likes it, she can tell, because his hand is now travelling down, over the waistband of her shorts and over her thigh. She tries the moan again, and now his hand is between her legs, and then cupping right up there, right up there between her legs, cupping where no one else has ever touched before. Where she has only touched a few times herself,

secretly.

(The first time she did it, she didn’t know what had happened to her, she thought the orgasm that took her body by surprise was ‘having sex’.)

She decides to see how he reacts to a back arch, so she does, but without any sound it comes across like she’s uncomfortable and trying to move away.

(Is she?)

She tries the arch and the moan together, and this really excites him, and she knows this because his hands are now under her shirt, clammy and rough, sliding all over her belly and he can’t decide whether to go up or down. He tries up, and is stopped by her underwire, and this is too hard for him, so he’s going down, way down, underneath her shorts and underneath her panties, and his hands are scratchy and hard and his fingers are in a hurry.

(She’s not. In a hurry. For this. At all.)

Then, his fingers find her and push on her clit so hard she actually does gasp, not like in the movies, but a real gasp, one of shock and pain and bewilderment. And then his fingers keep going down and they push again and now one finger is inside her and it hurts and he’s pushing, his arm is pushing hard on her pelvis and he’s leaning over her, but looking at his hand under her shorts and breathing hard, eyes half closed, face frozen, eyebrows knitted.

(She doesn’t know what to do. So she…)

Arches her back. Movie-moans. Pretends. That she likes this, this violation.

He works his fingers in her for a long time. Any lubrication she had is long gone, and it’s feeling raw. She still continues with the charade, as long as he wants to, because she doesn’t want to make a

fuss.

Eventually, dawn is peeking through the matchbox windows. Like he’s been stung, he rips his fingers from her, she bites her lip to stop crying out, and he finally, finally looks at her. She makes one last grasp at intimacy, leaning forward for a kiss, and he turns his head aside, flops onto his sleeping bag, turns away.

She’s going to be sick. The nausea is quick and rising, and she can’t do it in the hut, she doesn’t want to wake everyone, so she’s climbing over the other sleepers, down the ladder, across the floor, out the door, across the lawn to the bush and then there she is, bent over.

Dry retching in the dawn light.

It’s misty. Mosquitos are still awake and start biting her, and all she can do is stare at her toes and feel a sharp ache, in between her legs, but also deeper than that, much deeper.

Pain.