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.

A new (or old?) coat of submission

This is how it goes:

K: Love you
Me: Love you too
K: Just remember
You’re mine
You belong to me

This is how it goes, the heart-beat quickening response, the breathy breaths, the stomach flipping Love. This is how it goes, the rejection of should and should-nots, the angst of semantics, the intellectual reasoning and double-checking and theorizing and reading and writing and endless, circular thinking…

This is how it goes. The unexpected familiarity of something deeply known, relaxing into submission. The sudden, peaceful calm. This is how it goes, full of perceived indecision when really, was there ever a decision? Didn’t I first make it, when we kissed and he tangled his hands in my hair, drawing me in and holding me? Was there ever really a question, after suddenly stumbling into him and waking up to who I really was?

This is how it goes, side-stepping the what-ifs, witnessing my frantic ego build walls, watching myself work up into a terrified frenzy and then, with three simple lines, just…knowing.

This is how it goes, this path to being owned.

Blissful nights. Toronto December 2012

Blissful nights. Toronto December 2012

 

A break-up letter, Havana, March 2012.

The view from my casa in La Habana, Cuba, 2012

The view from my casa in La Habana, Cuba, 2012

Hello my love.

I’ll try and describe this room to you. It’s pretty plain, but been remodeled in ‘antique’ style, which seems very popular in both the casa I’ve stayed at. Antique style here equals a huge billowy white satin curtain covering one wall (nothing behind it, just a blank wall), a big window with a red curtain with roses on it and a huge stand-alone wardrobe with a big mirror on the front. The wardrobe has actually been scaring me. I woke up one night totally freaked out because I dreamt that I was lying in bed looking at the mirror and I saw Miss Havisham (the creepy old woman from Great Expectations) in it, staring at me. And last night I was tossing and turning trying to sleep and I couldn’t turn my back on the mirror. I was even afraid to close my eyes in case I opened them and saw someone else in the mirror.

I wanted you here, last night.

I’ve been up and down since we parted. I’m cautiously saying I’ve been up slightly more than down, but I’m not sure if that’s because I’m feeling happier, or if that’s just the glow of a new place and new adventure. I’ve had a really low day today, and I’ve been angst-ing all evening on what to do about that, what to say to you, and- this is what I’m finding the hardest- whether to trust how I’m feeling. My trust in myself is totally shaken.

I got the bus to Playa del Este today, it’s a beach about 18k from La Habana. It was pretty average, I swam a bit and read, and tried to write you. This nice guy started chatting to me- Canadian from Toronto- wasn’t trying to hit on me, just another solo traveller and wanted to hang out with someone for the day. And I rebuffed him at every chance I got! He was persistent, but friendly: asked if I wanted to get some lunch, explore the town, share a cab back to Habana, even invited me out with some of his friends tonight to a salsa club. And this is what solo travel is all about right, to leap at chances that arise, and meet new people, and challenge myself socially. And here’s my chance! And I didn’t take it. It’s Friday night, and I’m in bed writing you at 10:30pm. I haven’t been out drinking or dancing in Cuba at all yet! I couldn’t be bothered socializing with this guy. I caught myself thinking on the bus on the way back into town, if I wanted to chat with someone on the beach and explore Habana with someone, that someone is you, my partner of two years, it’s not some random guy from Toronto who I barely know.

And then I got back to Parque Centro and all I could see were couples everywhere. One sticks in my head: they were tourists, and the guy had his arm draped around the woman’s shoulder. He was pointing up at something and she was looking, and they were both smiling. And then they laughed and she snuggled into him tighter and kissed his cheek and he kissed her head. I saw that and thought, we look just like that when we’re together, and I felt so incredibly lonely then, and so stupid and confused and conflicted.

Those feelings have stayed with me all evening. I’ve been trying to write you all week, but I don’t know what to say. I need to make a decision and I just have to trust and hope hope hope that it’s the right one. My options are: A) Come to you sooner rather than later. Reconcile. We feel more like a couple, less like ‘just close friends’ (by this I mean, regular, passionate sex:)). I feel happy and content in the choice that I’ve made. Plan more travel with you. B) Come to you sooner rather than later. Spend lovely time with you, but probably more like close friends, rather than as a full on couple. You go to Costa Rica, I go somewhere close by, probably not back to Canada. We plan to meet up again sooner rather than later, but in what capacity? C) We see each other before we leave Cuba, but we know that will be the last time for a long time. I return to Vancouver, you go to Costa Rica.

I’m trying to approach this decision-making logically, which may be a bad and incredibly frustrating idea, because logically, surely, I’d want option A right? Here’s some of the things that are making this decision difficult for me.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to love you like you want me to/like you deserve/like you love me. 

I recall in one of our conversations, you said that the main thing you wanted in life was me, and that I am the top thing that makes you happy. I don’t know if I can ever say that to you, if I can ever say that to anyone. I can’t put that much trust, that much power and hope, on one person. I don’t know if I’ll ever change my mind on this, I feel it so strongly. It also frightens me, that I have that much responsibility pressing on me. I feel like if I don’t ‘give’ you myself, then I am taking away from you what will make you the happiest. That’s so conflicting, because I do want to make you happy, I do.

But this makes me feel trapped and angry! No one owns me, and no one can make claims like that on me. Similarly, I don’t believe I can make claims like that on someone else. The first person I look to in life to give me what I want is…me. And it will always be me. I’m not saying you’re wrong in feeling this way, it’s how you feel, and this is how I feel. It has crossed my mind that perhaps you would be loved better by someone who felt similar to you in this sense. I’m genuinely afraid that if I pick option A, whose to say that this won’t happen again? I left you in Varadero because I wanted something more than I wanted our relationship. I can’t guarantee this will be the one and only time.

BDSM.

It’s bizarre that I’m thinking about this, now, when I’m feeling the least horny I’ve ever been. This is tough to write to you, because I know this is something that cuts very deep with you, and something that is particularly sensitive. My recent experience with BDSM in Vancouver was eye-opening, mostly in how I reacted. The most eye-opening thing is how quickly and consciously I went against what you specifically asked me not to do. The thought of possible S and M creates an drug-like reaction in me. I wonder if it’s close to an addiction? I do things that are completely against my better judgement, I think of no-one but myself. My reaction defies all sense and logic. The second thing that surprised me is that once was never enough. If you can imagine some kind of animal tasting a certain type of meat for the first time, and then going on a feeding frenzy to get more of that meat, that is how I felt.

And the ‘meat’ wasn’t exactly quality. It excited my mind more than my body. For example, I was never shaking with horniness. I was never as wet as I am with you. I never came as hard, and as often, (and as truthfully) as I do with you. So then why did I crave it? It flicked something in my brain, something that was impossible, and still is impossible to ignore. It got closer to the core of my S and M cravings than anything else I’ve experienced, and that is something that is mean and scary. Something that is without love, something that is about pain, something that is about being used for a sadist’s pleasure. Something about being forced to submit, even though my better sense is screaming at me not too. Something dangerous and risky. Can you see why I can’t explore deeper with you? You can’t be any of those things to me, even if we’re acting.

And we’ve already discussed this, and you said something in our last discussion that made my heart leap with hope. You said that perhaps I could fulfill this separate to our relationship, with your knowledge, consent and perhaps participation. This is my best case scenario. But I’m afraid that I’m unable to do it successfully. As I’ve already demonstrated by trashing the terms of our open relationship, the promise and hint of BDSM makes me crazy and stupid. It fucks with me, more so with my head than my body. I don’t know if I’d be able to have an occasional Dom on the side, without going into a feeding frenzy, without lying to you, without hurting you in some way.

THIS is what it comes down to: I don’t know myself in this situation, and if I decide to go deeper, I don’t know how I’ll react. If I want to experiment further with BDSM, it could be unfair and hurtful to do it within our relationship. And the big question is IF: is BDSM ‘just’ a sexual preference, or is it a larger part of who I am? Which do I want it to be? Do I want to find out?

I’m no longer a stable person

Ok, that sounds very dramatic! I don’t mean that I’m ‘unhinged’. In Auckland, I was stable. I knew what my goals were, they were achievable and I didn’t question them. I knew what made me happy and what made me sad. I knew what I valued and where my strengths lay. I had a mid to long term plan that filled me with hope and excitement.

Now, I don’t know anything. The goals I have are guesses at best- I’m unsure if they’re good goals or not. I have many ideas for plans, but I don’t know how to pick one- and whether they are good plans or not. I still have some idea of what I value, but I’ve been thinking about new values too- and I’m unsure whether they’re good values or not. My strengths are still there, but mostly I sense my weaknesses, and feel inadequate. And I can brainstorm thousands of things that bring me happiness- but they are things that brought the old, stable ‘me’ happiness. With little sense of, and trust in my goals, plans, values and strengths, how do I know what I’m looking for?

I need this year. I need to develop a deeper sense of who I am through experimentation and trial and error. Can I do this while in a relationship? No. I can’t live experimentally while I have the grounding consistency of a long-term relationship, one that brings all my past actions, behavior and assumptions to the present. I have to live selfishly, and just for me. I have to travel solo. Is this goal worth it, is this goal worth forsaking my happy relationship?

Yes.

I’m so sorry, my love, my best friend, my bear. I choose option C.

Fight. Come. Submit.

Lightening flashing outside, photo bulbs. Half smoked pipe on the window sill and I’ve flung the window wide open, welcoming in the damp, dripping, humid night. Quiet, stoned mind. It drifts and settles on J.

A huge man. A quiet man. Law student, PhD, powerlifter, married, polyamorous, quietly dominant. He wears thick glasses, walks with a very still upper body, has a cheeky smile, is highly, intimidatingly, knowingly intelligent.

We fight. In a hotel room in suburban Vancouver, prearranged, I turn up in a pencil skirt and blouse, no panties, no bra. At his command I kneel on the bed on all fours, he walks around me, observing me like an animal at auction. I’m frowningly obedient, bratty, scratchy. Hands, on me, running over my ass, down my thighs, between my legs. He slaps them apart, and, surveying me, slides his hand between and dips a finger inside my wet pussy. I moan.

He steps back and orders me to strip. I’m now naked, standing in front of him, skin tingling, alert. He’s almost naked, boxers still on and muscles and tattoos leap out at me. He has a hammer and sickle on his shoulder, and the union organizer in me notices this, I warm to this man even more. He’s silent, still, and this makes me nervous. My toes are nudging each other, fidgeting, sweaty palms. I look him in the eyes and through the stillness and silence he taunts me…go on.

I take one step, and then another, and then a faster one and then I’m throwing myself at his chest, strength and adrenaline pulsing into my forearms, clenched hands, fingernails bunched in fists, striking hard muscles and warm skin and I’m angry! He flips me, I’m on my stomach on the bed and he’s forcefully twisting his hand up between my thighs. I’m wet and horny, but my nervousness has gone and I’m pissed, determined, stubborn. I kick wildly, barely missing his head and squirm away from his grip, but he growls, clamping onto my leg, dragging me back towards him with speed and aggression. His spare hand is between my legs again and before I can take a breath he thrusts both deep fingers inside me. The feeling is overwhelmingly good and hot and I scream pleasure and madness into the pillow.

He can’t win this easily.

I writhe out of his grasp again and get off the bed, facing him, crouched with hands in fists, panting, sweaty. He gives me that look and I launch myself at him, this time with a yell, throwing myself across the bed and punching, punching, punching, punching him and I’m raging and storming, adrenaline and anger, and I hit him with all my strength again and again. And when he’s had enough he calmly flips me on my back and thrusts his fingers inside me.

We play this way for a while, each time I attack and he bats me off, and then he starts making me come, over and over, thighs slick with wetness, shining with sweat and tangled hair and smudged mascara and fiery eyes. I orgasm, screaming pleasure and frustration and rage into the mattress, and then kick out at him afterwards, tempting him into another bout. He never speaks, never loses control, he observes me with amusement and interest.

I’m exhausted, and slowing down. I’m lying on my stomach, the sheet bunched in my fists, my chin hanging off the side of the mattress in my attempt to crawl away. Legs are clamped wide open under his thighs and his fingers are working inside me again, and I’m coming hard: muscle-clenching-body-shaking-pussy-spasming-eyes-squeezed-mouth-silent-pleasure hard. It subsides and the pressure on my gspot is too intense and I’m begging: “Please no more please please no more now please”. He pulls out, spanks my ass leaving a wet handprint and walks to the bathroom.

And I’m still. I don’t move, I don’t try to roundhouse kick him in the mouth or elbow jab his ribs. I listen to my breath, short, quick pants as my head hangs over the edge of the mattress. I’m aware of my sweaty, sore, exhausted body, my wet and tingling pussy. My fingers and hands relax. I stare at the sisal carpet and follow the floor to the full length mirror on the wardrobe door just in front of me. I slowly look up until I can see my reflection: crazed hair, legs sprawled wide, cheeks red and makeup smudgy, lips puffy and slightly open. I am a hot mess. My eyes are bright, glazed, watery. I see defeat, exhaustion. I want to cry, and at the same time, I feel such relief, such peace.

I burrow my face into the sheets. My body cries, but no tears come to my eyes.

He is beside me on the bed now, pulling me into him. His fingers are stroking, claiming, owning my body and there is no resistance, I don’t even think about fighting. This man has beaten me and he has won my submission. This feels very good. I shyly nuzzle into the space between bicep and pectoral and tell him this. He chuckles, the first sound I’ve heard him make for hours, and looks at me under his glasses, one eyebrow raised, quizzically.

That look says: Good. That look says: You interest me. That look says: I never doubted that I would have your submission. That look says: Is there any other way?

On being a slut

I started having sex two months after my 16th birthday, and I loved it.

I lost my virginity on the beach my family have been camping at for years, bathed in a full moon, moaning enthusiastically, and thoroughly enjoying myself. Later, recounting this at a party with friends and hearing their stories of virginity regret, I felt awkward and mumbled something along the lines of, “Yeah, I wished I had waited until I had done it with a boyfriend.” But this was bullshit, because I didn’t regret anything about this. On a beach, deliciously doggy-style, with a gorgeous man 2 years my senior who I had only just met? Perfect! Sex was fun, pleasurable and I liked it!

Slut.

This was what was whispered behind my back, and then to my face. I was happy and excited about sex, and naturally, I told my ‘friends’. I made trips to see my beach hook-up a couple of times more, and enjoyed hours of sweaty, clinging, exclamatory sex with him. Then, I was curious to see what it would be like to have sex with someone different, so I met a man at a party and I did. I told my friends all of this, and then was surprised, and ashamed and hurt when rumours circulating my high school got back to me. I think these made it as far as my parents, because I remember my mum buying me condoms, and quickly saying to me that since we live in a small town, it’s a good practice to keep ‘personal’ things to myself. We never talked about my blossoming sexuality, I never told her about my first time. I think she just sort of knew, but not in detail.

So, I stopped talking. I had my first real relationship around this time, and this lasted 5 years. This gave me licence to explore, and I did with so much pleasure. My boyfriend was initially taken aback with my enthusiasm, but he was wonderful and open, and we experimented with spanking and hints of D/s. I didn’t broadcast all the new fascinating things I was discovering about myself, but it was a small town and word still got out. “Slut” wasn’t said outright, rather I would be referred to, with more than a little bit of passing judgement as “___’s nympho girlfriend.” This became so common place that it was said to my face, my boyfriend didn’t argue it, and I was a little unsure what it meant so I stayed quiet, smiling uncertainly. People started relating to me differently. Men would hit on me, hoping to ‘score’ me (even though I had a boyfriend), but not viewing me as a potential partner, only as a trophy fuck. Women felt threatened by me and gossiped. I was viewed as a sexual object, age 16.

However, I had the right amount of bullet-proof naivety that none of this stopped me. I was just so…driven…and curious…to explore everything that had the potential to be sexually pleasurable; with a partner, or several, or just by myself. I was fascinated by my body’s reactions, by secret little spots that could make me feel so good! Honestly, writing about it now brings a smile to my face. My exploration was wonderful!

My curiosity also spelled the end of our relationship. We separated for various reasons, but one was that I cheated. Twice. When I went to university I was madly curious to see what it would be like to sleep with this particular person? Or this one? In this way? With this dynamic? (A small, secret part of me was also curious to see what it would feel like to hurt my partner, and myself by doing this. What would it feel like to shatter trust and cause pain, to both of us? Could I survive it? This fascinates me: why was I so interested in exploring emotional pain?)

Both times I cheated I told my partner the next day, and after the second time, after calling me a slut, he understandably finished our relationship.

Sexual confidence and enthusiasm took a bit of a nose-dive. My rebound man was a marathon runner, with the most beautiful cock I have ever seen. He was right-wing, arrogant, immature. We fucked on and off for 2 months, and when he called it off he told me that I was TOO open with him, and that he wished I had been more secretive so he could work harder to get to know me. The subtext of this was that he wished I had ‘withheld’ sex for longer, so he could feel that sleeping with me was more of a challenge. He also called me a slut.

This hurt, and in my already fragile state I took this on board. I decided that there was something wrong with me, that I was a ‘nympho slut’ (in all the negative sense of the word) and that I should grow up and conform to the feminine ideal: hard to get, shyly flirtatious, make men work for ‘it’, not give ‘it’ up too easily. I decided the easiest way to do this was by cutting all penis out of my life and becoming celibate, age 21.

I stumbled into the weird world of ‘with-holding’ sex: if I told a man that I liked him but wasn’t interested in sleeping with him because I was celibate, they would take this as a challenge, and do everything they could to ‘make’ me have sex with them. It was a side to men I’ve never seen before- ultra charming, manipulative, attentive to the point of harassment, they would pursue me with vigour. Creepy. My trust in men plummeted.

It struck me as completely wrong that I could be enthusiastic about sex and met with judgement, yet be actively celibate and have men flocking to me, trying to ‘win’ my sex.

And then, thank god, in a culmination of different circumstances, I acknowledged that I was kinky. I started reading BDSM blogs, I was introduced to the world of sex positivity, to amazing phrases like “yes means yes”, and “ethical slut”, and I felt like crying and laughing and shouting and rejoicing because this was my space, and these were my people! I fit here! This was me!

Now, I’m 25, and have slightly more maturity to see through the dating, pick-up bullshit. I choose men who are attracted by enthusiastic consent, because of course, they are definitely out there. I am not at all interested in men who want to play games with me, who view sex and my body as something to be won, as a challenge to be conquered (because, of course, they are also definitely out there). I am really drawn the performance model of collaborative sex (Let’s Jam!). The term ‘enthusiastic consent’ has given me freedom, and a place where I can relax. I was reflecting that before I came across any of this the only exposure to sex-positivity I had in my late teens was Christina Aguleria and Little Kim singing “The guy gets all the glory the more he can score / While the girl can do the same and yet you call her a whore“. Isn’t that sad?! I’m planning to become a sex educator to work on changing exactly this, but that’s something to talk about later.

Now. Let’s turn this all on its head.

Through BDSM I explore the dark side of myself, of relationships, of sexual interactions with men and women. I go to places I’m too scared to go in my vanilla life. And one of these places has been around enthusiastic consent.

Okay…writing this feels complex and very sensitive. As I write I’m very aware of all the “Yes, buts” that can be thrown at this…’Yes, but aren’t you just propagating gender stereotypes”, “Yes, but haven’t you been brainwashed by a life of patriarchy”, “Yes, but aren’t you just giving another man a chance to ignore you as a woman and treat you like an object.” I ask myself these things regularly (and recently, I found this blog post which asks a lot of good, challenging, difficult questions). I haven’t yet been able to come up with a perfect answer to these “yes, buts”. BDSM has taught me so much about communication, negotation, trust and self reflection, more than any sex education class. And, selfishly, it makes me happy.

I’ll try to write this next part as cleanly as possible.

In my ‘consent play’, I’m drawn to scenes where I don’t LOOK enthusiastic, where I actually say “No!”,  I struggle in partner’s grasp, physically fight them, try to run away. I’m drawn to scenes where my partner exhausts me to submission, where they trap and trick me, where sometimes, they even force me. I’m drawn to scenes with physical violence and emotional manipulation. I want my partner to call me a slut, and a dirty whore, and a nympho bitch. I want them to degrade me to the point where I feel like nothing more than a vagina on legs. I want them to sexually objectify me.

But. Here is the beauty. After all this has happened, they gather me up in their arms, and stroke my hair, cheekbone. Kiss me gently all over and pay adoring attention to every inch of my tender, sensitive body. They tell me that I’m a good girl and that they’re proud of me, and make me hot chocolate and silly jokes and we giggle.

It is empowering for me to explore these feelings of shame and fear in a situation I’ve created, and I can emerge from as a whole person, with my partner’s support.

(Would I feel the need to be treated like this if I had grown up in a sex positive community? I’m unsure. My attraction to this type of BDSM wasn’t necessarily a conscious plan, I just knew I needed it. I have spent hours asking myself “why?”, but at the end of the day, as long as I feel my practices are RACK (risk aware consensual kink), then I do angst over why like I used to).

Because, I have ultimate control. I create these scenarios, I consent to being used in this way, I negotiate with a partner and have safe words I can call anytime to stop, if I’m not enjoying how things are going (and I have done this!). I now explore what intrigues me without hurting others, in a community that is as sex-positive as I could have ever hoped for. I AM a slut! And how awesome is that?!

This feels so damn good. I am very grateful I let my sexual curiosity, awakened in my teenage self, prevail and lead me to this beautifully kinky world.

Waterboarding

I’m already shaking and sniffling when he shows me upstairs to the tub. We agreed to this, I was intellectually aware of what I was getting myself into. Simply, I was to lie down, recline my head back past horizontal, and then he would cover my face with a towel and slowly pour water over the towel. How hard could it be? So far, this has already been the most intense scene I have ever done. My tormentors are brutal. Physically so, but far surpassing the physical toll is the emotional. They are closer to breaking me than anyone else has ever been.

She sits in the tub. I lower my quickly bruising body onto her lap. He instructs: how long can you hold your breath? I inhale and hold. He counts. As he reaches 30, I start to play a game with myself. I can hold my breath longer, I know I can. All I have to do is think of something else, and I can get up to a minute. But then, knowing what is coming up, will my stamina work in my favor? Will I be rewarded for fit lungs, or pushed further? I feign exhaustion and breathe out at 40secs. They haven’t beaten me. Not quite yet.

I am pushed down until I am reclining, my naked hips in the triangle of her folded legs. His hand firmly grips the back of my neck and pulls me down until my shoulders are on the bottom of the tub. My back arches over her thigh. They smile sweetly at me. They know what’s coming. I’m still fairly unaware.

Ready?
No safe words, right?
No safe words. We’ll agree on how long to hold each time, and then you endure for that amount of time. Ok?
Ok.

The smiling sadist from before has disappeared. Our exchange frightens me in it’s clinical seriousness. He is focused. I watch him with wariness: filling the water jug, reaching for a towel. Practiced, measured movements. She is still, patient, waiting. She watches him too, but with a glint in her eye. She’s excited. I start to wonder if I’m in over my head.

We’ll start with 10 seconds. You can hold your breath for 40 remember?
Ok.

My eloquence has left me, along with my previous confidence. I think: this is used as torture, right? Perhaps I had underestimated it. He covers my face with a towel. Then, his hand wraps around the front of my throat. Not enough to choke me, but strong enough to know that I can’t get up, and the towel is not coming off.

Ready?
Urgh.

I make some kind of sound in response. Speech is departing faster with growing panic. I take a deep breath, under the cotton. He starts pouring. And counting out loud.

1 one thousand
2 one thousand
3 one thousand

The water is cold. It quickly soaks the towel, tickling rivulets down my scalp, neck, cheeks, eyes, mouth.

7 one thousand

Luckily, an air pocket has formed, right at the base of my nose. No water enters my sinuses. I relax, a little. This isn’t too bad.

9 one thousand
10 one thousand

He releases his neck grip and pulls me up. I sit, shivering in her lap. Very still.

How was that?
Fine.

I’m cautious. I’m hopeful that perhaps this isn’t as scary as I thought it would be, but I don’t want to show bravado in case it’s punished.

How about we try 20 seconds? You can hold your breath for 40 remember?
Ok.

Down I go again. The tub is even colder and I’m lying in a centimeter of water. She looks down at me. Her eyes flash, she’s fascinated by this. Like a child burning an ant, she knows it’s going to be damaging, but she can’t stop, can’t turn the magnifying glass away. How will the ant react when it feels the heat of the light? Her interest is morbid. The towel, now cold and heavy, clamps over my face once more. His hand holds it in place, squeezing my throat down. I take a breath through my mouth, feel the towel suck in.

1 one thousand
2 one thousand

The water is pouring slowly. I wait, unmoving.

4 one thousand
5 one thousand

The airpocket below my nose breaks. Immediately, water starts seeping through. It’s cold, trickling down my sinuses. I can feel it behind my eyes, the back of my throat. All of a sudden I feel an overwhelming urge to breathe. I try to ignore it, but my body starts screaming at me: “Breathe! Breathe!” I’m yelling back, “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t!”.

9 one thousand
10 one thousand

My body wins, and I open my mouth, to try and take a gasping, life saving breath. Water pours into my mouth, the towel sucks in, clinging to my lips. No air comes in at all, and I’m panicking now, really panicking. I’m going to die here in this fucking bathtub, and I can’t even hear the countdown because my brain is screaming louder than I’ve ever heard it: “BREATHE! BREATHE!” I’m aware I’m struggling, flailing with cold hands, fighting. I feel his hand grip my throat harder, I can’t beat him, I can’t win, I can’t breathe, water is in my nose and eyes and throat and mouth and hair and I’m totally helpless and I just need to FUCKING BREATHE!…

20 one thousand!

He shouts and this breaks though my crazed mind and then I’m pulled up. I’m choking and coughing and breathing, taking in huge gulps of air, so hard and fast. I’m bawling too, and instinctively move out of her lap, into the far corner of the tub. I crouch over the Dr Bronner’s Almond Soap, hugging my arms to myself, sobbing hard. The tears come from some place, deep inside me, and I can’t cry hard enough, my whole body moves with each sob and I’m gasping huge mouthfuls of air at the same time. I squeeze my hands to my chest so hard the pain from my already damaged nipples brings me back to reality, and I slowly look over my shoulder, viewing my captors through bloodshot, wet blue eyes. They look back at me calmly, impassively. This scares me even more. Wasn’t I just about to die in their arms? Why aren’t they more emotional?

Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, holy crap, oh my god.

I hear this again and again, and then realize I’m saying it, babbling in-between sobs. It scares me, to hear how messed up I sound, to hear how much emotion I’m betraying. I try to claw back self-control: I run shaking hands over my hair, inelegantly wipe my nose on my arm, turn my body slightly out of the corner and towards her. He’s too scary to face.

I’m going to get a bigger jug.

He turns and leaves the bathroom, matter-of-factly. The significance of what he’s doing doesn’t even register, I’m focused on her. I’ve stopped babbling, but now what I’m saying barely makes sense to me. I’m not even sure if I’m conscious of it.

Oh my god, and I’m alive! And I thought I was going to die, I thought I was going to die lying there, I was going to die. That’s so fucking scary, that’s so scary, I didn’t think it would be that scary, I had no idea it would be like that, no idea at all. But I’m alive now and I can breathe and talk and breathe and I’m alive.

I start to calm, a little. I feel my heart, thumping in my chest so hard. I try to slow my breathing, imitating a woman in labour. Slow in, slow out. Then a voice pipes up in my head. I ask her:

That was 20 seconds, right?
Yes.

An idea starts to form, and before I know it, it’s grown in cognizance. I can beat this. I can beat waterboarding. I know about meditation and mental control. It’s only 20 seconds! I can hold my breath for 40 easily, and even longer if I’m really calm and focused. All I have to do is stay calm, hold my breath, think about something else. It might even be relaxing, think of it as a water cleanse, getting all my sinuses washed out with cold water, water gently trickling. I can beat this. I can fucking beat this! I can beat water boarding! I am fucking awesome! In the couple of seconds it took to formulate this plan, he was back.

Again?
Yes.
30 seconds?

This is too much. My heart starts to race again, and I can’t control the panic in my voice.

No! No, 20 please, just 20, just 20 please Sir. Please.
Ok, 20.
Promise? Just 20 again?
Yes, just 20. Promise.
Ok.

I hear myself doing ‘woman in labour’ breathing again. I focus on my crashing heart, try to slow it. I clench my fists to stop my hands shaking, and chant in my head: relax. You can do this. Think of something else. Count with him. 20 is easy. You’ve got this. You are fucking awesome. His hand clamps my neck, the cloth goes over. My whole body tenses. I’m still going over my mantra, but my mind is screaming it at me. RELAX! YOU’VE GOT THIS! 20 IS EASY! YOU’VE GOT THIS! STAY CALM!

Take a deep breath.
1 one thousand
2 one thousand
3 one thousand
4 one thousand

I lose it. There is no air bubble at all this time, and the water starts running into my sinuses straight away. By the time I feel like it’s at the back of my eyes, my ‘calming mantra’ has gone. I don’t want to be doing this again, I don’t want to be here. I think I’m crying already, panicked tears mixing with the cold water running down my neck and ears. My body is yelling at me once more: “BREATHE! FUCKING BREATHE!” I obey, and straight away my mouth fills with water, no air. I think I may be gurgling stop, red, anything, I can hear terrified animal sounds. I’m thrashing around, wishing wishing wishing he’d let his hand off my neck. My fingers connect with flesh and I dig my nails in, hoping to hurt someone so they’ll let me up, hoping they won’t let me die.

10 one thousand
11 one thousand

Fuck, we’re only half way! Amazingly, another voice suddenly bursts into my head and manages to drown out the survival instinct yelling at me to breathe: FREEZE! Don’t move anything! FREEZE! Wait it out! FREEZE! My mouth stops gaping helplessly at the suffocating cloth, I stop thrashing. I freeze. Inwardly, there’s a fucking war on. The voice ordering me to freeze is speaking from somewhere I’ve never heard before. Somewhere deep inside me. Somewhere incredibly strong and powerful, with my survival as it’s core interest. It’s fighting for me. It’s fighting against my frenzied, knee-jerk response for oxygen.

17 one thousand
18 one thousand

I cling to the sound of his voice. I feel like I’m seconds away from death.

20 one thousand

I burst up, my head silences in a second and all of a sudden I’m back with my body, back in the tub, gasping and bawling and panting and hiding in the corner. There’s no voice screaming at me any more, I’m gulping air and my body is shaking with silent sobs. I squeeze my arms into my chest, tuck my head into the corner of the tub, and something hits me…the silence. I’m not babbling. Neither of my captors is saying anything, I’m barely aware of them. But….and this is monu-fucking-mental…there is NOTHING in my head. The screaming voices are gone. The thoughts are gone. It’s totally, completely, silent and empty.

It bewilders me, I don’t know what to do with this sudden silence. I lift my head, and stare at the tiles, without seeing them. I feel totally blank. It’s white light, fingers tracing sounds on wineglasses, hazy blue sky, loss of gravity, infinite middle C. There is no past, no future, just total, absolute…present. And it’s void, tipping into emptiness, slowly spiraling forever in space. A noise behind me, perhaps one of my torturers, ripples into the ringing silence and my eyes dart, from the sterile tiles to my body, resting on my fingertips. The disturbed rhythm they are tapping on my chest seems totally at odds with the blank of my mind. This juxtaposition is enough to jump-start my brain, thoughts flood, colors into the white, sounds and noise and memories and photo flashes of what I’ve just survived.

I’m back. Very present, hyper-aware. I turn, and stare at my Dominants. I don’t even register how they look at me, but they’re touching me. A steady hand on my shoulder. A warm thumb brushing my cheek. Tears are still leaking out of my eyes, but I’m not racked with sobs as I was earlier. I hug my body, quivering with cold and relief. And in that second, euphoria rushes in. It feels hot, tickling my core, spreading like fire to my fingertips and toes, leaping up to my heart, neck, mouth, nose, eyes, top of my head. Holy fucking shit! I just did that! I just did THAT! I was water boarded! And I’m alive! And I even tried to beat it, what a CRAZY I am! I think a smile cracks from my lips, I feel incredibly high. Everything is wonderfully hazy and bright at the same time. I’m alive! I ask for a tissue and blow my nose, then dry my face on a towel. I’m helped out of the tub, but I barely notice the two people beside me.

I tried to beat water-boarding. It kicked my ass. And I’ve never felt so beaten, so broken-down. I am all emotion: elation. Survival. Fear. Strength. Presence. Exhaustion. Elation.

Can I let myself be a kinky, spiritual feminist?!

Me at the top of Tajumulco, a volcano in Guatemala

At the top of Tajumulco, the highest volcano in Central America. Guatemala, November 2012

Sometimes, I feel I am one giant contradiction.  Once again I’m pondering two core themes:

1) Can I be feminist and submissive?

2) Can I be masochistic, yet strive towards the practice of non-violence?

Oh tricky, tricky BDSM.

1) I know, intellectually, that I can. One of my favourite bloggers regularly teases this out:

Clarisse Thorn: I felt like: Goddamnit, I will show you that I can be an independent and rational woman who values voting and abortion rights and equal opportunity and consent — and be into S&M at the same damn time.

I’ve contributed to Fetlife discussions on this very topic, I can talk about this confidently with friends and partners, littering the conversation with words like empowerment, sex-positivity, choice and personal freedom. But. Honestly, I find the two things so hard to reconcile WITHIN myself. At the stage where I am at in my life right now, I feel proud and happy in my activism: working as a national union organiser, facilitating a network for LGBT* and questioning youth, part of a woman’s action group, and passionate about enthusiastic consent and sex-positive education. I love doing all these things, and when I’m in the thick of it, my future plans are full of leadership positions, brave travel and volunteer work, groundbreaking research, creative facilitation and radical activism. And this ‘future me’ is always transient, solo, strong and selfless.

When I picture this, I occasionally feel a “what about a partner and kids?” pang. But my pride in being so fiercely, successfully solo and totally bad-ass always trumps this.

And then. And then, as happened recently, someone comes into my life and forces me to address something else that I truly do crave, but hate (and I really mean that…hate) admitting to myself. I want to be anchored. I want to stop having to be brave and solo. I want to stop making all these huge decisions for myself and my life. I want to stop being so damn responsible and ambitious…it’s exhausting. I want to be taken care of. I want to submit to someone, and know that they will always have the final say. I want to be an ‘our’, rather than a ‘me’. I want to have someone else make the plan, tell me what to do, take charge. I want to be someone’s girlfriend, partner. I want to be a mum, and concern myself with my bubble and not gang rapes in India or shockingly low female literacy in Guatemala. I want to curl up to someone’s chest and know that they’ve got me, and I can relax. I want to be someone’s submissive, I want to be owned, I want to let myself feel pleasure in serving.

Ugh, it’s hard not to delete the above paragraph because I feel so…ashamed…at the woman it portrays. But I’m anonymous so far on this blog, and that offers an element of protection.

I … am nowhere near having the answers to this question. Of course I can write and talk about how I can be both, how a woman can be a strong in her submission, how I can easily find a partnership that will honour my submission and independence in equal parts, how I can wear a collar at home and hold a leadership position at work bla bla bla.

But, what it really comes down to, is will I let myself be both? Can I find a space in my life where I can be the ass-kicking feminist and the doting submissive? Do I need to look for a way to reconcile the two, or can I let them sit alongside each other, harmonious in spite of their contradiction?

2) I spent 2 months last year at a yoga and meditation retreat in Mexico. This immediately sounds wanky, I know, but it wasn’t. It was simple and cheap, filled with young travellers and teachers, full of love and energy and community. I blossomed there, and found much needed clarity and strength. I’ve been physically practising yoga (Iyengar and Hatha) for 8 years, but the two months I spent in Mexico illuminated my practice: I needed yoga to expand my consciousness, realise inner calm, meditate on the essence of who I am. Physical yoga was merely a crutch to higher things.

I was introduced to the yamas and niyamas, ethical guidelines by which to live a life of fulfillment while benefitting others. The yama that I resonated with the most was ahimsa, the practice of non-violence. After I left the retreat I took a tapas, which is like a spiritual vow, to fully apply myself to practising ahimsa for one month. In this month I was to end each day asking myself if I had caused harm in thought, word or deed to anyone, and if I had, extending warm and unselfish love to them. This was a beautiful time, it was challenging initially, but by the end of it I was shining.

However, I discovered in reflection that I hadn’t fully been practising ahimsa. Because, a core part of ahimsa is not thinking, saying or doing harmful things to yourself. And in that month I had a new partner, and we negotiated for him to hurt me- physically, emotionally, degrade me, verbally abuse me- again and again and again. And I endlessly fantasized about how he could satisfy my masochism, and all the different sorts of pain I could subject myself to.

So, my sexuality is in direct conflict with ahimsa.

Crap.

I can intellectualize this too. If I felt so happy practicing ahimsa in my own way for one month, what does it matter that I also engaged in deliciously nasty BDSM? But I feel uneasy, I feel that perhaps I’m only half-heartedly practising ahimsa. I feel guilty, and keep BDSM hidden from the yoga community I am part of.

Because, they just don’t fit. They are one big, fat contradiction.

This has been a pretty tough blog post to write, my brain is mushy, this doesn’t have the simple eloquence I would like. But I think it’s because this topic doesn’t lend itself to simple eloquence. BDSM contradictions are mushy and jumbled and tough.