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.

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.

This Is What I Know (or…How I Came to Realize I Love BDSM)

Barbie

Barbie (Photo credit: C Simmons)

When I started consciously acknowledging to myself that I enjoyed submissive masochism, it was emotionally turbulent to say the least. I felt so fucked-up, and found myself searching back in my past for any instances of abuse at the hands of others (there were none), or wondering how I could ‘fix’ what was causing me to enjoy this type of kink.

The coming out stories from other BDSMers were incredibly helpful- they made me feel far less weird and broken, and more like I was one of the lucky ones with a key to an amazingly kinky world. So, I decided I would write my own story. It is basically instances in my life that I look back on with curiosity now I identify as into BDSM. Perhaps I’m taking self-analysis way too far, but it makes me feel comforted thinking that seeds of BDSM have always been with me, rather than ‘just’ being a particular sexual fantasy.

This is very personal. But! Maybe it will help someone else!

*******

He pulls me to him across the bed. Thrusts one hand roughly between my legs, forces his fingers inside me. My breath catches, I turn my head away and scream into the pillow. His free hand twists in my hair, and he forces my face within centimeters of his. You are going to come, and you are not going to look away or close your eyes. He snarls this and I nod, already feeling tingly orgasm about to overwhelm my body. He pushes his fingers in deeper and I can’t help it, it’s too intense and my head snaps back, my eyes squeezing shut. Look into my fucking eyes! I’m scared by the anger in his voice and bring my face back to his. Fucking come! I obey, violently. Time slows…I’m staring into his eyes, dark, glittering. I see his pupils dilate, in slow motion, and I’m trapped, I can’t look away. That’s the chance he needs and then he’s there, he’s in my head, he’s dominating my thoughts, he’s got me. He’s won.

This is what I know.

I was brought up in rural New Zealand, in a well-rounded nuclear family. Both my parents are still together, and I have one younger sister. I was shy at school, but I had a close group of friends. At age 10, ‘playing horses’ was the game of choice. Every break-time for a year, you would see giggling girls cantering around, holding imaginary reins in our hands, and gripping tightly onto riding crops (or, rather, sticks. Bamboo was a favorite). The stick seemed the essential prop, we didn’t need reins, or a saddle, or even a pretend tail. We HAD to have a riding crop. The summer of that year I made an interesting self-discovery. It was one of those long, hot, dry summer evenings. I had taken to galloping around on my own for the last week, making neigh-ing sounds and jumping over things. I remember very clearly that one evening I decided I was riding a particularly troublesome horse, who needed to be ‘tamed’. I began whacking my own thigh, harder and harder with the riding crop, and becoming engrossed at the sound of the stick strapping my bare skin, at the red stripes appearing on my leg. Even more surprisingly I remember enjoying the pain. I didn’t recognize this consciously at the time, but this was monumental. I wasn’t known for having a high pain tolerance. Everyone called me a wimp, and I often didn’t try things my friends did because I was scared I would hurt myself. Then why did I enjoy this so much?

The following year my sister and I discovered a new favorite hobby. It was the winter holidays, raining and windy. We had Barbie and Ken dolls that a more conservative friend had brought me years before. I had worshipped that Barbie, partially because of what she represented. My mum is a strong, proud feminist and a manifest of this was that she only bought us gender-neutral toys as children. Barbie was so ultra-feminine and I would spend hours dressing her and brushing her hair. Ken was interesting for a little while, and then I left him in front of the fireplace and his ridiculous abs melted and formed a sort of penis shaped blob on his crotch! By the time I was 11, both dolls had lost their appeal. So, my younger sister and I decided to make a Barbie-cube. We tied Barbie and Ken together, back to back, at the neck, waist, wrists and ankles. My sister made the knots, and I remember closely supervising and checking the ‘bondage’ was secure enough. We dramatically drowned them in an ice-cream container of water, and then locked them in the freezer overnight. I remember gleefully fantasizing about Barbie struggling against her bonds, trying to break free from Ken and her captors. The next morning we ran to the freezer, with Christmas morning-like excitement. My sister carried the Barbie-cube outside with reverence, I climbed up onto our jungle gym, and from the highest point we could find I ceremoniously smashed the Barbie-cube on the concrete in our front yard. To our delight Ken split completely in half! We threw him up onto the roof of our house (seriously! I have no idea why we thought that should be his final resting place), and then turned our attention to Barbie. Only one of her legs had fallen off so I popped it back in and (fatefully), she lived.

My sister soon became bored with my new favorite game (“Let’s torture Barbie!”) and stopped playing, but I continued with growing cruelty. I cut all her hair off, tied a rope around her neck and dragged her behind my bike, alternatively drowned her and then stomped her into the mud, threw her out the window and dragged her behind the car. Funnily enough, my parents saw all this going on, and never once stopped me. I almost got the feeling that my mum encouraged it. Eventually Barbie was swallowed by a rain swollen stream, and I didn’t look for another toy to replace her. My days of torture (to others) were over.

My interest in horses quickly waned too, although I did continue galloping around hitting myself with a stick until I was 13. I remember one incident where I found a particularly whippy riding crop, and thrashed myself until I raised welts. My mum noticed these, and I can’t remember her making much of them at the time. Years later we were recalling my horse days and she brought this back up. I laughingly brushed it off, “Oh yeah, I used to get so into character when I was playing, what an imagination etc etc”. I was surprised she remembered this. I wonder if she had much of a clue as to what I am now?

My high school experience was painful for the first 4 years, and awesome for the last one. I was so shy, intellectually stimulated somewhat but bored too, desperate to be one of the cool kids and at the same time desperate to carve my own niche. Probably not dissimilar to every other teenager. 14 to 15 was volatile, turbulent, fraught. I ended up carving into my skin. I wasn’t suicidal, but I enjoyed the rush of the sharp, intense pain and then watching the blood rise to the skin, extreme contrast to the white of my arms. I would never cut deep, I restricted myself to the depth on the sharp point of a protractor, and would drag it again and again across my skin, then just sink into the pain. I would lie back on the mattress, feel the pain wash over me, radiating out from the cuts like light across my body. It was horrible, I was filled with misery, hopelessness, despair. Self harm didn’t solve any of that, but it did, for a short period of time, make me feel invincible, in control, powerful. The rush it would give me was euphoric.

I was drawn out of depression and self harm partially through various kinds of therapy, and mostly by a very stable and loving boyfriend. The Puppy. We were together for five years- the last two years of high school and almost all of my university. He’s a salt of the earth kind of guy: enjoyed fishing, power tools, kids and a white picket fence. Writing this now I’m surprised we lasted as long as we did, but as teenagers, we loved each other. We would spend hours together laughing hysterically, eating junk food, drinking way too much, going on dusty road-trips in the mountains behind our town, exploring each others bodies, learning about ourselves. I discovered an insatiable appetite for spanking. I loved the shock of his hand smacking my ass, the jolt it would send up my spine, the stinging pain, how it would make my head swim with arousal. We grew apart, the cracks started to show at university, and after multiple infidelities on both sides we broke up in my final year. When I was 19, a lesbian friend whispered to me mysteriously at a drunken party: “Literotica”. I had an inkling of what she was referring to, and the following day, horny and hungover, I googled it. I masturbated until I was exhausted, until there was a giant damp patch on my sheets, until I actually, physically, couldn’t come any more. I also made the ground-breaking self-discovery: the two categories I was most drawn to were “BDSM” and “Non-consent/Reluctance”. I told no-one. Not even the Puppy.

22. I graduated from university, honors first class, and in a whirlwind 2 weeks was offered a prestigious job in Auckland, ‘the big smoke’ and at the completely opposite end of the country. Of course I jumped at it. I was single for the first time since I was 16, in a city where I knew no-one, totally out of my depth and loving it. At a music festival I found myself gently kissing Fred, the surfer. We danced, talked, laughed and ended up naked in his tent. As he fucked me he pinned one arm above my head, firmly grabbed my chin in his free hand and forced my head to the side. I tried to bring it back to kiss him, but he forced it back again, whispering to me “I want to see your face in the moonlight as I make you come”. He did, and I did, hard and endlessly. I never saw him again, but that night something clicked in me. That subtle domination provided a tenuous link in my mind…that the erotic fiction I masturbate so furiously to could be more than a hidden fantasy. I was exceptionally turned on.

I met the Bear a few months later. He lived next door, our eyes locked across the weeds, broken beer bottles and moldy concrete. Or, more accurately, our pelvises locked. He was like no other man I knew. From the beginning he impressed me with his honest communication, his ability to eloquently describe how he felt about me and our relationship, his emotional availability, and his own lack of drama and indecision. It was simple. He liked me and wanted to be with me. He fed me: food, love, orgasms and compliments. Almost straight away we began pushing our sexual boundaries, quicker than I both think we realized. We were watching a lot of porn together, and I developed a noticeable taste for rough, humiliating, gang bang porn. We played with light bondage, double penetration with a dildo, more spanking, and rough, hard sex. Yet! Neither of us had consciously connected any of this to S and M. My tastes in erotic fiction were becoming more violent and depraved that I felt embarrassed by them, they were still my secret.

We were looking for a threesome, or a rendezvous with another couple online when we came across Master Mark. Reading his profile in the Bear’s bedroom I became very still and focused. “Master knows what you want and how to give it to you. Stop wasting time slut, and contact your Master.” I could feel wetness immediately between my legs, I unconsciously started grinding a little into the mattress. A cold shiver ran down my back. My stomach felt very light, my breathing was shallow, my palms were sweaty, I could almost feel my pupils dilate. I wanted this. I fucking WANTED this.

And I got it. The Bear and I met this ‘professional’ Dominant, had one incredibly unprofessional encounter, and I’m not even going to write about it because it makes my skin crawl. It was exceptionally sleazy, and I can only see that now with distance and slightly more maturity. Still, as gross as it was, it provided the catalyst. The Master Mark incident brought my BDSM desires, that I had never consciously acknowledged to myself, to the light of day. We had to address them. And as we discovered, they definitely weren’t going away.

The Bear was right on board. I think for him the sight of me, ravenous, almost foaming at the mouth for this particular type of erotica, made a big impression on him. An animal in heat is close to describing how crazy I was for this…thing…that had been awoken inside me. The Bear and I started experimenting. I started to develop my likes and dislikes. I enjoy stinging slaps all over my body. I enjoy being blindfolded and gagged. I particularly enjoy cruel dirty talk. Emotional masochism? Yes please.

For lack of knowledge and terminology, I self-identified as submissive. I’ve since found more enjoyment as a masochist. The two aren’t completely separate, and often in scenarios I become naturally submissive. I’m also discovering that certain types of pain make me submissive, while others make me mad and want to fight and struggle. I fight, but not wanting to win? I fight with the knowledge that I’ll lose, but grappling with my partner brings so much enjoyment.

I wish I could say everything in my life is clear and easy now that I’ve accepted this part of myself. It isn’t. I still feel some inner conflict about my masochistic desires, and recently I’ve been drawn to polyamory, which is bringing up a whole new load of stuff. I’ve had some awesome encounters with awesome men (the experience in the starting paragraph can be credited to one I call The Hyena;)). The Bear and I aren’t together anymore, for many reasons, one of which is differing priority we individually give to BDSM. But! I feel like I’m an onion! The core of this onion is who I really am, free to live in a loving and kinky world. And I’m getting closer and closer to that core, peeling off the layers of self-judgement, guilt, societal expectations, saying ‘no!’ to my desires, trying to be vanilla, shame, fear…

And that feels very good indeed.