Posts Tagged ‘agency’

Ask Mr. Sexsmith: I struggle with my feminist beliefs and my bedroom preferneces  ... help!

Ask Mr. Sexsmith: I struggle with my feminist beliefs and my bedroom preferneces … help!

April 18, 2014  |  advice  |  No Comments

Dear Mr. Sexsmith,

I am a strong, opinionated, sometimes bossy, lesbian. I have a huge passion for the empowerment, education and advocacy of women. I volunteer as a sexual assault advocate and have been involved as a Planned Parenthood educator. I am very vocal about breaking the cycle of female oppression in our culture.

I feel a personal conflict, as I also identify as femme and am very much a bottom in the bedroom. I like to be dominated and controlled in sexual play and I very much get off on fantasies that boarder on roughness and non-consent. I guess my struggle lies in the dichotomy between my feminist beliefs and my bedroom preferences. I do not consider myself to be a weak or oppressed female, but in the bedroom I love to be controlled, punished and made to serve. Is there a way for the two to be harmonious? I fight for women to have power and to stand up for themselves. Can you help me sort this out?

Tara

I hear you.

I too have come up within the lesbian feminist movements (and in their wakes) with a strong passion for smashing the patriarchy and a vehement dedication to working on less pain for the various gender minorities in the world. And I too like to do dirty, “perverted,” un-politically correct things in my erotic life. I struggle with reconciling my own feminist beliefs with my desire for sadism and wanting to physically cause “pain,” and with my masculinity and dominance and the ways that both masculinity and dominance are seen as corrupted ways of having power in some feminist’s views. I was asked just this morning about my consumption of porn, and my candid talk about how porn is fun and can be useful and good and valuable, and how I reconcile that with feminism. And, oh yeah, I forget that’s a part of that feminist reconciliation process too.

And all of these took a long time, and were long processes.

I have had lots of judgment about sadism, masculinity, dominance, and porn in the past. Some of it was a reaction formation, at least in a minor way, I think. I had reactions and judgment both about other people’s visible execution of these things, and the tendencies in myself—my own desires. I struggled to reconcile those tendencies and how they went with my feminist commitments to gender liberation and my sensitivities to surviving abuse and being in a rape culture.

I think it absolutely is possible to reconcile, to sort this out.

Here’s some of the ideas that I kicked around—for years and years, with trusted friends, at kink conferences, with lovers. It was not an immediate process. It required adopting a new kind of feminism, I think—a BDSM- and kink-friendly feminism that is rooted in agency and consent, and that understands the difference between play and abuse.

Consider these things:

1. Bottoming, service, and surrendering control, comes from a place of great strength and power.

[Bottoming] is absolutely is making yourself vulnerable. But vulnerability is not about weakness—it comes from a place of great strength.

People have the idea in their heads that bottoming is weak, but I think that is not true at all. Bottoming is incredibly powerful. Being able to know where your own boundaries are, hold yourself safe, be able to speak up for your own needs, ask for what you want, and negotiate trust with a person who is going to assist your body and self on a journey takes a lot of skill and sovereignty. People who do it well have an extensive amount of intelligence, self-worth, and self-knowledge.

It absolutely is making yourself vulnerable. But vulnerability is not about weakness—again, it comes from a place of great strength.

The notion that bottoming, receiving sensation, and submitting to someone else’s desires is weak comes from a twisted version of what those things really are, versions that show only the completely non-consensual and abusive sides of these experiences. But when done consensually, the gift that is bottoming to another is precious and strong. It’s amazing to serve someone else; we serve community, family, friends, and other valuable relationships all the time. We give our power or authority, or cede our control, away intentionally in order to empower others in a variety of contexts, and we can get great pleasure from doing so. And when we find someone worthy of our trust such that we will put our body into their hands for intense sensation, cathartic release, and the deep pleasure of being in the present moment with whatever is happening … how does that not come from a place of power?

The difference, in my opinion, between it coming from power and strength or from oppression comes down to some simple traditional feminist concepts.

2. Consent makes all the difference. All of it.

When done within a framework of consent, I believe it is possible for just about anything to be empowering.

I would guess that you do not have a fetish for a scenario where you are forced to serve against your will, when you were thrown around aggressively and had your body played with when you didn’t want it. Fuck no! But what you do want is within a safe, negotiated relationship, to be “forced” to serve, to play with giving over your will entirely.

Consent changes experiences completely. In the activist cultures around female oppression, we often talk about consent in a “no means no” way, and stress the value of enthusiastic consent and the “just because they didn’t say no doesn’t mean there was consent!”

But I think an incredibly important piece of examining the feminist concept of consent is also that YES MEANS YES, and that the consent itself is what makes the act possible or okay.

Let me give you an example: I like playing with Daddy/girl and Daddy/boy role play in my sex life. I know that is something kind of extreme to some people, and many people misinterpret it as incest fantasies, which it is and it isn’t (more on that another time). Sometimes I hear people say things like, “But what if you/I/someone crosses the line with an actual young person!”

But for me, that would not happen.

I do not have a fetish for sleeping with and playing roughly with people under eighteen. I have a fetish for sleeping with and playing roughly with adults who adopt a younger persona (usually temporarily) with enthusiastic consent. It’s not about actual incest or actual under-18 youths. No no no no no. It’s about adults tapping in to other parts of ourselves, to open up new experiences.

The consent is actually an essential part of that fetish.

And likewise, I would guess that for you, Tara, you do not have a fetish for a scenario where you are forced to serve against your will, when you were thrown around aggressively and had your body played with when you didn’t want it. Fuck no! But what you do want is within a safe, negotiated relationship, to be “forced” to serve, to play with giving over your will entirely, to be punished for doing something “wrong,” to be used for someone else’s pleasure.

There is a huge, huge difference between the actual thing and some sort of play consensual version of the thing.

3. BDSM—and being punished, controlled, and made to serve—are completely different from abuse and oppression.

And consent is a key piece of that, yes, but there are a lot of other specific, clear, and measurable differences, too.

Read the “BDSM is Not Abuse” list released by the Lesbian Sex Mafia, one of the oldest women’s BDSM groups in the country, based in New York City. I think it articulates things very well:

The Difference Between BDSM and Abuse

SM: An SM scene is a controlled situation.
ABUSE: Abuse is an out-of-control situation.

SM: Negotiation occurs before an SM scene to determine what will and will not happen in that scene.
ABUSE: One person determines what will happen.

SM: Knowledgeable consent is given to the scene by all parties.
ABUSE: No consent is asked for or given.

SM: The “bottom” has a safeword that allows them to stop the scene at any time should they need to for physical or emotional reasons.
ABUSE: The person being abused cannot stop what is happening.

SM: Everyone involved in an SM scene is concerned about the needs, desires and limits of others.
ABUSE: No concern is given to the needs, desires and limits of the abused person.

SM: The people in an SM scene are careful to be sure that they are not impaired by alcohol or drug use during the scene.
ABUSE: Alcohol or drugs are often used before an episode of abuse.

SM: After an SM scene, the people involved feel good.
ABUSE: After an episode of abuse, the people involved feel bad.

Souce: lesbiansexmafia.org

Because they are so different, I sometimes think the hyper-articulation of different language is important. It’s one of the reasons that people sometimes use the phrase “consensual non-consent” instead of “rape play,” for example.

The difference between BDSM and abuse goes back to consent, yes; but it goes back to all sorts of other things, too. Like trust, and skill, and agency.

4. Trust in your own agency. Trust in your own experience.

If you negotiate with a lover to get what you want, have an experience, and then everybody feels good after … as long as the experience is “doing no harm” in the world, then I say FUCKING GO FOR IT.

Have some play. Have some ecstasy. Have some screaming release. Have a big bold messy weird experience that maybe other people would judge but it just felt so goddamn good for your body and your mind and your emotions and everything sings a little brighter the next day.

You get to say what happens to your body. You get to have your own experience, and then decide if that was pleasurable or not, enjoyable or not, and whether you’d want to do it again, with this person or with a different person or in a new way or not at all. You get to have your experience of a non-ordinary thing and then, if you feel like fuck yes that was amazing! More more more please! then you can trust that that is real and true. Agency is trusting the answer that you come up with, authentically, when you ask yourself: Does it feel good or bad? Am I left with icky residue or release and joy? Do I feel closer to my play partner, or farther away?

Of course, not every BDSM scene is that easy to evaluate—but some of them just are. Start there. Start with the ones that are easy to tell. Start with trusting your own consent, and agency, and your own deepest experience of what you like or don’t like.

If it matters to you that other people do sometimes see these things you want as contradictory, seek out feminist kink communities. They do exist! This was a topic that came up in the Submissive Playground ecourse quite frequently, actually, and we had a lot of lively discussions about the feminist reconciliation process.

I actually have a dozen more notes about things to say around this process of reconciliation, but this is already more than 2,000 words, so I’m going to call it good for now. Feel free to ask more about specific things in the comments and I’ll do my best to reply!

I hope that gives you lots of places to start. If you’re still stuck, remember, I do one-on-one coaching sessions, and I would be very happy to help you with resources, experiments, ideas, support, or just talking in depth through this reconciliation process. Contact me for more information and pricing.

Got a question for Mr. Sexsmith? Ask it here!

Comment Zen …

Readers, do you relate to Tara’s question?

If you do, would you share your own story about your relationship to feminism and kink? Did you reconcile the two? What was the process like? Slow, fast, hard, simple? What kind of resources helped you on your journey? Books? Anything to recommend for others who are going through this? Do you have any recommendations for feminist kink Fetlife groups?

Leave your story anonymously if you like; your email address will not be published, and if you don’t want your usual “gravitar” picture of you to show up, just type “+sugarbutch” in your email address (like [email protected]) and I’ll know you want to be anonymous.

Consent Obsession

February 15, 2010  |  essays, journal entries  |  6 Comments

I’m realizing that I’m a little bit obsessed with consent, in perhaps a way that is too much. I mean, it is not a bad thing to get someone’s consent in sexual play, and there are many ways to do so. But I’m starting to see ways that I’m conscious of consent or non-consent in many other aspects of my life.

For example:

One of the reasons I don’t really like sex in public is because of the other people who may witness it. Some people find the getting caught part the part that is thrilling, and some folks find the threat of getting caught (though not actually getting caught) thrilling. I do like being in such lust and desire that you can’t keep your hands off the one you’re with long enough to get home and really have to take them, have to have them, right now, right here, but I don’t want that to have anything to do with being in public or potentially watched by strangers, because the strangers are not consenting. No matter how sex-positive (or sex-negative) they might be, they are not consenting to seeing someone else having sex right now, right here, and I guess that I feel like doing it, then, is a little bit rude.

Now, consenting strangers, like at a sex party? Sure. No problem. I’m glad to have sex in front of other people, though I’m more of a voyeur than I am an exhibitionist, I do like showing off my partner and what she can do, how she looks, how I can make her scream and gasp and cry and come.

When I perform at a reading series and decided to read some erotica, I try always to warn folks at the beginning of the reading, to tell them what the content will be (just broadly—a blow job, some fucking—without ruining the “plot,” of course). Sometimes one is just not in the mood to listen to explicit sex, certainly I am not in the mood sometimes, and have been at events where someone busts into some really explicit sex (or violence, or something else a bit controversial) and often the audience gets very uncomfortable. It’s not that I don’t sometimes want the audience to be uncomfortable, when listening to my work, or that I think anyone who has a problem with sex should necessarily leave if given a warning, just that it’s easier to kind of brace yourself if you have some vague expectation of what’s upcoming.

This consent obsession happens in my own apartment, too. I noticed it just recently, when I was, yet again, shushing Kristen as we were fucking, probably in the morning, possibly when either my roommate was around or when my new neighbors with their young child were loud enough to hear through the walls. I know my roommate knows that I have a lot of sex, and I know he doesn’t really mind, but still, I try to be respectful.

I was discussing this with Kristen a little bit lately, this particular one about being quiet when we have sex at my place, and she pushed me a little to think about it. Especially in terms of the neighbors. “That’s just something that happens in New York City apartments,” she shrugged. The walls are thin, we live close together, cramped in this big ol’ city. And sheesh, there are way worse sounds to hear than your neighbors having good sex—hell, maybe they’re pervy enough to really like hearing their neighbors get it on, and it ends up inspiring them to have sex, too. Sometimes I really do let it get in the way of really letting go when we’re fucking, and I don’t want that to happen.

(Hey look, Sinclair is putting other people’s perceived—not even actual!—needs in front of her own. Surprise, surprise. Yeah, working on it.)

I’ve been noticing this lately in terms of my email inboxes, too. I have a public email inbox, and twitter stream, and thus sometimes I get things in my inbox that I don’t consent to, that I don’t ask for, from products and ads and offers to hate mail. One of the things about email is that it’s really hard to receive an email, see who it’s from, see the subject line, and then either not open it or delete it without reading it, and thus I have ended up reading all sorts of things that I didn’t really want to. I’ve kept this in mind when sometimes writing long sappy emails to my exes in my mind, too, thinking, are they consenting to receiving this email? Do they want to hear from me? It’s different to send a note saying, hey, thinking of you, hope you are well, verses sending a two-page long story-of-my-life and pouring-my-heart-out emotional letter.

Perhaps it’s a form of containment.

That’s not to say that I don’t love and appreciate the occasional emails in my inbox about my work, folks pouring out their hearts and emotions and sex lives, telling me about gender and their partners or exes and how my work has changed how they are relating to their relationship, sex, or gender issues. I do love that. I’m so glad my work isn’t going out there into some big black void. And I know that when I reveal this kind of personal stuff about my own gender, sexuality, sex life, relationship, and emotional life, it makes it easier to open up about yours in response, and I cherish that opening. It’s inspiring and beautiful and I love that kind of connection with other folks.

I suppose that’s just one of the side effects of having a public email address—and I’m starting to really envy folks like Leo Babauta of Zen Habits and Havi Brooks of The Fluent Self who have shut down their email inboxes entirely. I know that wouldn’t exactly solve the problem, and I do like to have a place where folks can write to me. And the only thing I can do about this is to note the ways that I sometimes throw things in other people’s inboxes that they don’t consent to, and be aware of that.

I still have my own issues with trusting the agency of my partner, too. My relationship with Kristen was kinda tough over the holidays, and one of the things that came out of that was some distrust on my part of the D/s dynamic that I’d come to love and cherish. I second-guessed myself and her to the point that I wasn’t trusting what either of us were saying, I was (subconsciously or unconsciously) convinced that there was something else I wasn’t seeing, something I didn’t know about that would come bubbling up (again) and … be scary. But, so what if it does? That could certainly happen! There’s always more stuff to figure out that comes up and demands to be dealt with. So what. More and more, I trust that I—and Kristen and I together—have the tools to deal with that stuff, whatever it is. And when I can bring this all into articulation, it’s very clear that I haven’t been trusting our dynamic enough and have needed to relax and let go a little more (instead of gripping tight and trying to keep control and protect and help, yet again).

Maybe my “consent obsession” is slightly more accurately described as an obsession with control—or perhaps that’s related, though not entirely the same, like an overlapping Venn diagram. Regardless, it’s something I notice coming up in various places in my life, and I want to be more aware, mindful, and intentional with what I choose to do with it when it arises.

Feminist Carnival of Sexual Freedom & Autonomy #15

January 27, 2009  |  essays  |  11 Comments

Welcome to the 15th Feminist Carnival of Sexual Freedom & Autonomy! I'm your host, Monsieur du Sexsmith, as we wander around the sex, feminist, queer, and gender blogospheres to bring you some amazing reading, writing, introspection, self-reflection, and inspiration on the subjects of sexual freedom and sexual autonomy.

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Call for Contributions: Feminist Carnival of Sexual Freedom & Autonomy

January 12, 2009  |  essays  |  11 Comments

The Feminist Carnival of Sexual Freedom and Autonomy, edition #14 is up at Silent Porn Star, and Sugarbutch is hosting the next Feminist Carnival of Sexual Freedom and Autonomy, edition #15, here. That means, I am on the lookout for links about sexual freedom and autonomy. Email them to me to submit your site to the upcoming Carnival, which will be posted - here! - on Monday, January 26th. That gives you almost TWO WEEKS! to write something. Get crackin'!

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