Saturday, April 4, 2009

Examining Desire (Part 3) - A Conversation

I have been carrying on this conversation privately with Becstar for most of the past week.  I'm really happy with the way it has turned out, so here is a (only slightly abridged) reprint of the dialogue.

Bec: "I wonder why if gender is not relevant in the BDSM community why so many more women put themselves into submissive positions than men? I've probably asked that before but it just doesn't make sense to me at all."

Me: "Well, I think there's a difference between how I'm defining BDSM and submission and what you mean by the terms.  If you mean the sort of default roles that people can fall into when the don't really think about things, then I probably agree with a lot of what you have to say.  Most of that stuff is totally messed up and a lot of women do take on negative roles to please men, but that's not what I (or Trinity or most of the other people I know) mean by BDSM.  

When I say BDSM I mean something general, but also fairly specific.  BDSM generally stands for bondage, discipline, domination, submission, sadism and masochism (yeah, I know there's an extra D & S), particularly as these things relate to sexuality.  The most important parts of BDSM as a mode of sexuality are consent and safety.  We know that what we are doing can be dangerous, that if we are not careful someone could be seriously emotionally or physically harmed.  Most people who practice BDSM have thought more about sexual negotiation and consent than probably the majority of vanilla people.  

So the point of all this is that if we're talking about the not explicitly negotiated and consensual social type of submission then you are probably right, it is gendered.  And it s definitely problematic.  But that really isn't what most people mean by BDSM.  BDSM as a sexual subculture has strong roots in the gay male "leather" community, and is also common among lesbians.  There are transgender and cissexual people who practice BDSM, and also lots of people of all genders and sexual orientations who "switch," taking on both dominant and submissive roles.  There are also lots of straight or bi male submissives.  The only place where patriarchal conditioning can really be seen rearing it's ugly head is in the lower numbers of straight or bi female dominants.  Oh, and there are plenty of people who do BDSM as "tops" or "bottoms" without dominance or submission being part of the interaction."

Bec: "I've never really heard a good explanation as to the difference between top/dom or bottom/sub. Could you explain it a bit more?
I'm sure there are aspects of BDSM which aren't gendered but when it comes to heterosexual partnerships I have to wonder. The lack of dominant females I think says a lot and should be discussed more than it is (it tends to always be passed over along the lines of "well, plenty of men are sub too" without explaining then why there is such a high number of dominant men).

Only vaguely related as well but I always read of people using the orgasm as a justification of their behaviour. Given that adrenaline produced in a negative way (eg. rape) can also cause (female) orgasms I don't think the fact that it gets someone of is a seriously lacking explanation. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Also, I gave you my version of what BDSM is - what's yours?"

Me: "As far as the top/dom bottom/sub thing goes, I guess I would say that most doms top but not all tops dom, does that make any sense at all?  Not all BDSM incorporates domination/submission aspects.  There are some people who are just masochists, but definitely not submissive, who just play with pain on a fairly equal footing with those who are dishing it out.  There are also people who only submit, with little or no pain involved.  I guess subbing involves more submission - willingly, actively submitting - than bottoming does.  It's also sort of a personal distinction for the people involved.  For me, I pretty much always bottom (I will switch, but only very rarely, it's not really my thing), but I only sometimes submit.  It's sort of an issue of mindset.  I'm not really sure that I'm helping to clarify anything.

I thought I tried to tell you how I define BDSM in my last email, but maybe I didn't do the best job.  It's a blanket term that means lots of different things to different people.  For me, and most other people who practice it, the most important aspect is the explicit focus on safety, negotiation and consent.  Without that, regardless of the particular activity involved, I wouldn't call it BDSM and I might call it abuse.

As for the whole "it gets me off so it must be okay" thing, I don't really go for that.  I think it's okay because it's consensual, no one is being harmed, and for a lot of people (myself included) it can be a very positive and affirming experience.  Personally, I feel so much better, more grounded and sure of myself, since I started finally accepting how I really felt and acting on it. 

In regards to the whole, "if it's hetero, it's gendered" bit I'm not really sure what to say other than that for me, and a lot of other people, it's really not.  And there are a whole lot of hetero relationships where the partners switch, so neither one is in the dominant role all the time.  There definitely are dominant women (Trinity doesn't like it when people imply that she doesn't exist), just less, which I suspect has a lot to do with the fact that women are socialized to be "nice" and "gentle," which can be sort of counter to the dominant role."

Bec: "I know it seems to be thought that I am conflating BDSM with abuse but what about experiences like this from a BDSM porn site which supposedly is tighter than most about consent issues? Of course there's the issue of whether is representative of 'true' BDSM, which I can't answer. I also don't mean that as a porn reference point but how when I think of BDSM I think that in a power exchange surely consent is hard to regulate and not always heeded. I also have compared it to videos/blogs I've seen which pretty much say that all women want to be dominated by men.

To be honest the difference between subbing and bottoming makes little to no sense to me. How is it possible to be the one who is being "topped" without giving over any power? How is power given over when being submissive? Are the acts difference and that's how I don't know how power can be exchanged or not exchanged when the same acts are being played out.
Have you come across people who do consider themselves into BDSM but don't pay as much attention to safety, consent and negotiation? When people have preconceived notions that women are supposed to be submissive how does this allow for true negotiation and ultimately the safety of the woman involved?
I'll admit that as a response to my aforementioned experience with "BDSM" or "abuse" or whatever you want to call it that I wanted to be dominant simply because I wanted my agency back and I wanted revenge. In fact, I still do to an extent. I don't think it matters what sex it is being played out upon I don't see how it stops being degrading to the submissive. How does it? I just deal with maledom/femsub because it seems more prevalent in ways I find problematic.

Also people in those blogs keep saying that all of this type of stuff as been written on extensively and yet it doesn't seem to be all that accessible for those not already involved in it. Do you know where any of these illusive writings are?"

Me: "Look, I'm not saying that BDSM relationships are never abusive, that would be silly and wrong.  There is the possibility of abuse in all kinds of relationship and BDSM is no exception.  I'm just saying that BDSM isn't inherently any more abusive than any other type of relationship.  In fact, since there is such a focus on consent there might even be slightly less opportunity for abuse (although when it does occur it can be terrible because of the type of trust involved).

As far as the thing goes, I don't tend to think that any porn is really indicative of anybody's real sexuality (even if teenagers with no other education do model things on it). Mostly I'm just annoyed with that line of thought because to me the two things don't really seem related. If someone wants to talk about porn that's fine and if they want to talk about kink that's fine too, but when they act like both are really the same topic I mostly just end up confused. It's like if I was drawing conclusions about people's actual vanilla relationships based on diamond commercials or something (that's not the best analogy, romantic comedies maybe?). Why would anyone assume that a fantasy-based commercial product would be in any way indicative of somebody's real life? Especially since the primary porn fantasy isn't even really BDSM it's that other creepy nonconsensual d/s thing.

In terms of the "preconceived notions about women" thing, I don't really know because I wouldn't date anyone (kinky or otherwise) who thought that my submission was based on anything other than submission. Luckily I haven't really run into all that many people that hold that sort of view about much of anything, although this is probably due primarily to location.

As for "how it stops being degrading to the submissive" I don't really know what to say other than that it shouldn't start that way so there should be nothing to stop.  I do it because I enjoy it, if it felt bad or degrading I wouldn't want to do it.  Read this post I just put up, maybe that will help.  

Can you really not see how the same action can mean different things depending on the context?  That seems really strange to me.  I mean, isn't that often the fundamental difference between sex and rape.  The exact same actions can be ecstasy or torture depending on whether they are wanted or not.

For at least some writings about it all check the archives of Trinity's pro-sm feminist site.  There's a lot of discussion and links about most of the issues we've talked about plus some others.  There are also quite a few books written by people in the community that you could fine online or at a decent woman-owned sex shop."

Bec: "Okay, the fact that both BDSM and vanilla relationships can be abusive makes sense, as does the porn not reflecting reality (although I do believe that mainstream porn leads to violence in vanilla relationships but that's a whole other issue).
I really cannot see the difference between the same act just because the context is different. I think one reason for this is that the people I have been talking to about it on feministing seem really not to care where the actions are coming from. To use my own past I don't see why the person who did those things to me can move onto a submissive woman and have those behaviours legitimized despite the fact that he didn't really give a crap whether he had consent or not. The same goes for arguments for men within BDSM who want to rape women but know its wrong and so do it with consent. I don't see why not only acting out but actually desiring a behaviour which is so dehumanising can come from a healthy place. I don't see why consent can suddenly transform a horrible act into a good one when every other aspect remains the same.
I'll search through the archives of that blog and see if there's anything else that I find that I just don't get."

Bec: "Reading through the latest posts at your blog and from Letters from Gehenna is quite a strange experience. I was also ashamed about my sexuality despite the fact it was "vanilla" and that combined, I think, with my own sexual abuse when I was much younger led me to not be able to say no (and have actually said yes and pretended to take it when I actually hated every minute). I still can't to an extent and have to tell the boyfriend not to touch me when I feel that its going to be particularly bad. I'm not quite sure where it all fits given that I turned to "making love" in order that I wouldn't be hurt again but it only turned out that anything but the softest, most unselfish, most vanilla (think missionary only and no oral) type sex still completely freaked me out and i would end up saying yes again. Does it show sexual abuse can cement the ideas we already held about sex, of what we already desired? Definitely something to think about."

Me: "I'm really sorry you can relate so much to those posts.  It's not a pleasant place to be.  I know Dw3t-Hthr and I both chose to use our experiences for learning and growth, I hope you can do the same.

'To use my own past I don't see why the person who did those things to me can move onto a submissive woman and have those behaviours legitmised despite the fact that he didn't really give a crap whether he had consent or not.'

I see what you're saying but I don't think it would be likely to ever work out that way.  What you've described doesn't sound like what submissive women want anymore than it was what you wanted.  When you're dealing with things like BDSM, respecting consent and boundaries becomes even more important, not less.  So someone who doesn't listen to the word "no" or respect their partner's limits probably isn't going to find a submissive woman who thinks he's a great catch.  If he didn't care about your limits he won't care about hers either.

As far as the context thing goes, I'm not sure how to explain it except to give you examples.  It seems really obvious to me that something wanted is different than something unwanted.  How about accidental vs. planned pregnancy - all other aspects being equal, are they the same experience for the woman involved?  Context is fundamental to our experiences of the world."

Bec: "I guess in regards to the legitimisation I figured that a sub woman would be more likely to say yes to the things he did to me without consent and so legitimise it in his own mind. I don't think it came out of a place of hatred but more of "this is what all women want and what I want". I wonder if he would be more capable to sticking to limits if he at least he got to be dominant some of the time...but then, like I said, it's probably to close to me still for me to be able to look at it properly.
In regards to context I think I get it on the side of the person it's happening to (pregnant woman or submissive) but not on the side of the person who is doing it (the dominant). I don't see why on that side consent makes any difference if ultimately you still want the act, consent or no."

Me: "Ah, okay.  I think that maybe the assumption that someone who is dominant would "still want the act, consent or no" is flawed.  Context works both ways; I mean, would you rather hang out with someone who's engaging and into the same things you are or someone who seemed blatantly preoccupied or bored every time you're together?

For most people, even if they don't want a serious relationship, sex is relational.  It's not just about the mechanics, it's also about human interaction.  And for most decent human beings, the difference between someone who's obviously turned on and enjoying them-self and someone who desperately wants it to stop is pretty obvious.

Plus generally speaking more people (of both sexes) have strong submissive desires than dominant ones.  There are a lot of people who only started domming because their partner was submissive and wanted it.  In my relationship, for example my partner isn't kinky so much as he is experimental and a reaction junkie.  I came into the relationship as being submissive (and a little bit of a masochist), but he really just had more of an open to trying things attitude.  It just didn't take very long for him to figure out which type of thing would get the best response and focus more on that.  He doesn't have some sort of nebulous desire to tie women up and hit them regardless of context.  He does it to me because of the obviously positive reaction that results; I'm noticeably "better" in bed when we're being kinky because I'm way more into it and therefore more fun to be with."

Bec: "I guess I don't think the difference between someone who wants it and someone who doesn't as all that huge of a gap, especially as I've stopped/never started enjoying myself and had my partner not notice/care and continue. I think part of it is that the look of pleasure and look of pain can seem awfully similar. In regards to dominant men I think my line of reasoning goes something like this: he desires to hurt women and see women in pain therefore acts that out in the bedroom and doesn't really care if he's *actually* hurting her (emotioanlly or physcially) because ultimately he's getting to play out his desire and see said woman in pain.
In terms of  people who kind of fell into being dominant I can understand that more than someone who actually wants to hurt another person because I can see how context would make a huge difference. I just can't see how context would make a difference to someone who actually desired to hurt someone.

And if this question is too personal at all feel free to ignore it, but how does one be submissive without being masochistic? Is it more about say being ordered to do something rather than being hit? The only other thing I can think of is humiliation which I see as fairly masochistic as well."

Me: "Hmm, well I've also had the experience of someone not noticing/caring whether I was into it or not (although he wasn't kinky).  But generally speaking, in that type of situation the person in question doesn't necessarily enjoy seeing people in pain, they're just self-centered and oblivious or an asshole.  If it's the first talking to the should solve the situation, if it's the second it will obvious when the don't respond well to talking (at which point you should probably find a new partner).  I realize that being able to comfortably verbalize about it can be a challenge, I've struggled with it a lot myself.  

Most people who are dominant, as opposed to abusive (not that there's no overlap, but it's a fairly small one), don't actually want to cause real harm to their partners, even if they do want to hurt them.  I know the difference might not seem too obvious, but there is one.  To harm is to cause lasting damage; hurt, on the other hand, is fleeting and does not cause any real damage.  I think most doms have spent a considerable amount of time obsessively thinking about how to reconcile their fantasies with the fact that they don't want to leave anyone broken.  Even at the more selfish end of things, if you really like hurting people it makes sense to do it as consensually as possible because you're much more likely to be asked to repeat the performance than if you completely disregard the other person's feelings.

As far as being submissive but not masochistic, I'm maybe not the best person to ask (I'm definitely not the right person to ask about humiliation, it's totally not my kink).  I'm not really into intense pain, but I do like at least some.  That being said, I have done (and do) plenty of things that could qualify as submissive without masochism so I'll try.

This may or may not have been obvious based on other things I've written, but I really like being tied up.  The feeling of rope on my skin just totally does it for me.  The conventional stereotype is that he would tie me up and then hit me or be rough (which I do also like), but I've definitely had some pretty fun experiences where he will tie me up (and occasionally blindfold me) and then be nice to me.  Really nice - hours of soft, slow gentle caresses nice.  Plus, a lot of submissives are very service oriented - not just following orders, but proactively finding ways to be helpful.  For example, I'm a math major and tutor.  We've definitely turned homework help into foreplay on more than one occasion."

Bec: "'don't actually want to cause real harm to their partners, even if they do want to hurt them'

That actually makes sense to me. I guess I always associated dominant's desires to be rough with actually wanting to harm the person which is why I had such problems with it. The being service-orientated also makes sense. And one of my absolute-all-time-favourite things is being caressed so I can definitely understand that, even if I'm not into ropes.
Thanks for answering all my questions :) While I'm still personally squicked out by the thought of being submissive (way too many flashbacks involved in all of that) and think I can kind of understand why others want to be (and how it can be healthy for them). I think I'll still lurk around in the various blogs though for the time being because while I don't have any more of the "obvious" questions I'm still interested in the other ins and outs of it. In fact, if anything, in a bizarre way all of this made me realise exactly how unhealthy (for me) my own "submissive" type fantasies were in the past and that it definitely was more harmful than helpful given my headspace. Its also cleared up a bit more what kind of headspace I will have to get to if the boyfriend continues to experiment with switching, and the fact that it probably isn't going to happen for quite a while yet (if ever, if the links between being handled like that and my abuse persist)."

Me: "I'm glad I could help.  Thanks for taking the time to really listen and think things through, a lot of people don't.  I hope everything goes well for you in your relationship in the future.  If you ever have anymore questions feel free to ask."

Bec: "I know it may not be the norm but I think there are people out there who do want to know but after coming after those who use questions as a form of attack can never really get an answer. I don't even think a person needs to be into BDSM to for a discussion of it to really enlighten a conversation on sexuality as a whole. Like for instance the fact that I think I would be okay saying absolutely no way to the boyfriend wanting me to be submissive because I learnt that it definitely would not be healthy for me."


  1. This was a really interesting read. I think you did a nice job of presenting at least one type of perspective on things, Hope.

  2. Thanks. I really could only try to describe my own perspective on things. Figuring out answers to some of her questions was really tricky, I had to rely on conversations with my partner and others for some of them.

    If you'd like to give any insight from the dominant side of things feel free, it would make a nice addition.

  3. Responding to a few questions in there for my own perspective:

    The distinction I make, personally, is that top/bottom is about actions and dom/sub is about psychology. Personally, in the overwhelming majority of my sex, the top/bottom distinction is completely nonsensical -- who is the "doer" and who is the "done-to" is just ... not relevant, not discernable, a distinction that is not true?

    The psychology of power, though, is present in my interactions with one of my partners (my liege) essentially at all times, and occasionally in my relationship with my husband in individual rounds of sex.

    (And my liege came over when I was working on this comment to give me a kiss, and he sat down next to me and sort of stared into space. "Do you want anything?" "Yes, but I don't know what. You can go back to what you were doing, and I will snuggle at you." Lookee power dynamic!)

    How is it possible to be 'topped' in an equal-balanced or nonsubmissive power dynamic?

    A not infrequent line of dialogue from my sex life with my liege is when he says, "You can fuck me now."

    Topping = doing-to. But still a service act.

    Preconceived notions of women ...

    Delusions of Inadequacy was one I wrote about that, though it was about someone with a female supremacist kink that expected all women to behave in certain ways.

    But really, one flavor of "women are expected to be like this" or "women are supposed to do that" tastes much like any other to me.

    I don't kink on degradation either, so I can't usefully respond to that one; as I've said before, if I wanted humiliation play I'd call my mother.

    Re: abusive experiences:

    I get the impression from the reading I've done is that people who have had sexual assault, rape, and abuse experiences tend towards extremes in reaction to them.

    My personal extreme: I was completely dissociative and asexual for about two years after I was assaulted, and it took me a long time to be able to get back into having a sexuality. I still flashback occasionally around certain scenarios and visuals.

    I've heard of other people with similar experiences, those who broke towards promiscuity, those who lost any sense of the capacity to consent (as becstar seems to be describing), a variety of things, but all of them tended towards ... unmoderated response?

    It's hard to get back to healthy from such an unbalanced skew. I'm thirty-one; I was assaulted at fourteen; I still flashback, I still twitch at certain situations. I'm a lot healthier than I used to be, but I don't know if I will ever heal entirely. I get claws-out cranky sometimes because I had to fight that particular trauma for every bit of healthy sexuality I have and pull myself back out of its jaws.

    Unfortunately, my response to "How can you be a submissive without being a masochist?" is mostly, "Don't be interested in painplay." It's uninformative at best... I don't have a better one, though. I'm a submissive who isn't a masochist. I just ... what's the problem? Ah well -- she's been reading my archives, maybe that will help.

    I agree that discussions of kinky sexuality can be illuminating to discussions of general sexuality; unfortunately, it's my experience that actually discussing it leads to complete thread hijacks as people flip out about how the perverts shouldn't expect their stuff to be acceptable to normal people. This even happens sometimes when the 'normal people' bring it up! Vide my commentary on one round of that - once I (and others) actually started weighing in with actual evidence, the conversation was declared "inappropriate" and died.

    Ah well.

    That was long and rambly, eh?

  4. I've been thinking about the question of how the desire to hurt or dominate someone can be different depending on context given that it starts off as kind of an intrinsically yucky thing. (Becstar didn't say that, exactly, but I'm willing to.)

    I think it's often true in life that some aspects of something are enjoyable, but that other aspects rule it out. For instance, a vegetarian might like the taste of bacon but be unwilling to be responsible for the death of a pig, and thus not eat it. I would like to have free things but am not willing to steal them.

    So let's look at rape for a minute, and posit the existence of a man who fantasizes about raping women but is horrified at the thought of a real woman actually suffering rape. Is that so implausible? To think that the idea of raping someone has aspects that are hot, can be fantasized about, etc., but that one would never want to be responsible for someone else having the experience of being raped?

    It's not that different, IMO, from the fact that a lot of women fantasize about rape but would find it horrifying and traumatic to experience it. (Or have been raped and found it so; I doubt that fantasizing about rape and having been raped are mutually exclusive.)

    I like holding my boyfriend down and hurting him. I like the look in his eyes and the sounds he makes and everything about it. I'll freely admit this impulse is not that nice. But I'd never, ever want to do something that traumatized someone or made them unhappy or dysfunctional. I can do that stuff to my boyfriend because he loves it to death and it makes his life better in every way.

    If people didn't exist who wanted to be hurt, enjoyed (in a sense) being hurt, and weren't harmed by being hurt in those consensual ways, then those of us who are ethical sadists just wouldn't act on it. Many of us might not even know were sadists, having never had a partner beg us to try it out. (I didn't know I was a sadist until I tried it a few times and noticed how crazy hot it was.) Or we might fantasize about it but just assume it would never happen, the way a lot of people do with rape, or the way some sexual sadists do about scenarios that can't happen in real life without harming someone.

    If there weren't vegetarian hot dogs then vegetarians wouldn't eat hot dogs, and people who had always been vegetarians from birth might have no idea that they would even like a hot dog.

    Now, if the impulse really is to actually cause harm or trauma or real distress, etc., to someone, then you might be a sociopath, or have (hopefully well-controlled) sociopathic tendencies. But if it's just some aspects of hurting someone that you want, and the aspects that involve damage to someone are things you don't want, you're just a happy little sexual sadist, IMO.

    I'm writing about S&M here, but it's pretty common to find people who are submissive but not masochists. Intentional submission is its own hot and/or satisfying thing - I certainly enjoy it (from both sides; I'm a switch). And the same kind of thing applies - one can enjoy dominating without being willing to participate in someone else living under a system of actual oppression.

    Anyway, I do also have a blog, in which I write (extensively) about my experiences, but from the perspective of trying to learn about d/s, it'd be an awful lot to read through for the few nuggets you'd get, I think. I do switch, including with my boyfriend, though I've been the dom/top for almost all of our relationship (but not right now), so that's something. I've experienced and enjoyed S&M and d/s from both sides, which only increases my comfort with it.

  5. Thanks a lot to both of you for weighing in! Part of the reason I posted this discussion here is because I thought that other people might have some good ideas and alternate perspectives about some of the topics.


    "I don't kink on degradation either, so I can't usefully respond to that one; as I've said before, if I wanted humiliation play I'd call my mother."

    Interestingly enough, that's almost exactly how I feel about it. Based on what little I've read about your mother she sounds frighteningly like mine.

    I was assaulted semi-continually from ages sixteen to twenty-one; I'm twenty-four now. I certainly wouldn't say that I'm healed, and I'm not sure how long (if ever) it will be until I am. Right now I'm satisfied with being okay far more often than not.

    The flawed assumptions that are commonly at the root of equating BDSM with abuse are what really get to me. It often seems to be based on the idea that 1.) All BDSM is violent and 2.) All abuse and sexual assault is as well. These assumptions mostly just make me feel invisible.

    My sexual assault/abuse was about as "non-violent" as rape can be. I was never held down or hit or anything. I just froze and then, later, disassociated. Most of my triggers are related to stereotypical vanilla acts; for me, BDSM is actually a much safer space.

    I agree that while conversations about BDSM can provide insights into sexuality in general it is often impossible to really carry on the conversation in a meaningful way. That's part of why I moved the discussion that becstar and I were having from a public comment thread to email.


    Thanks for elaborating on the hurting versus harming aspect of dominance. Most of what you said makes a great deal of sense to me on an instinctual level, but I wasn't really able to articulate it well. It isn't very useful, in terms of the discussion, for me to just say "I know it's different because I can feel it," which was my initial reaction to her questions.

    I think that, while becstar didn't really do this, people often get bogged down in "but it's icky/not nice/weird" and the discussion stalls there. I like how you dealt with it, although I think it gets harder when you're talking to the more irrational types who think that sub/bottoms only want it for bad reasons.

  6. Having others recognise that losing the ability to consent/ not consent makes me feel less of a freak. I'm sick of people telling me to "just say no" when it isn't that easy by a long shot. Especially as the boyfriend just admitted to having dominant desires and me completely freezing up again, depsite the conversations I've been having, despite trying to psych myself up for it.

    And Dw3t-Hathr, I have been reading your achives and I am beginning to understand more how someone can be sub without being a maschist, sort of. Definitely more than I did.

    Devastatingyet - You pretty much just outlined the reason that I found BDSM with maledom/femsub disturbing to begin with and why now that the boyfriend has admitted to it why I am completely freaking out. I can accept now that other people can be okay with this but when it comes to playing out that kind of stuff on me when he knows I have consent issues and about my past experiences which I am by no means pretty much just signals a complete brain meltdown through panic. It's also the reason I no longer feel safe around him.

    My abuse is still too close for me too emotionally be able to separate it from what he wants to do to me. Even after all these discussions while logically I am beginning to understand it, emotionally I automatically recoil when someone wants to do it to me. I do not understand how the idea of raping someone can have "hot" aspects. In my situation at the moment for example it doesn't really matter whether he wants my consent or not. Ultimately to me it will be like "proper" rape, trauma and all, because my consent means nothing. Obviously this is not true for everyone but the fact that he has not even thought about what this could do to me makes me wonder if his "fantasy" rape is little more than an excuse for the real thing.

    That was long winded and probably doesn't make much sense. I'm still in the emotional panic stage of finding out what he really wants, so sorry if I can't articulate it properly.

  7. Becstar,

    In my first S&M-involving relationship, my boyfriend and I had a lot of fun things that we did together, but there was one thing he wanted to do that I didn't want. And, honestly, the very fact that he wanted it was very disturbing to me and made me want to cry to think about. So from my own experience it feels totally normal for it to feel not OK for someone to even want something.

    It sounds to me (and, of course, please take this with a huge grain of salt because I'm only going off a few paragraphs of your own words) that the road your boyfriend wants to go down with you is not a safe or happy one for you. And despite how much fun, or whatever, it might sound like to him, he needs to have your safety and happiness as his foremost concern if he's going to try to do anything like this with you.

    I wouldn't go there. I wouldn't be willing to try to do d/s or sadism with someone who wasn't sure of their ability to negotiate their own consent. I would be afraid to try it with someone like that even if they wanted it, and you don't sound like you do actually even want it.

    My feeling is, if this is something you do fervently want, that you think is the key to your sexual satisfaction, then there is a way to proceed down that road with extreme caution and care, with tons of communication before and after (since you're unsure you can meaningfully communicate during), and it might be a very positive thing. But if you don't feel that way, if you don't long for that type of sex, then I think your history and feelings really argue against the kind of "just trying it" that might be safe enough for someone else.

    You also wrote:

    Ultimately to me it will be like "proper" rape, trauma and all, because my consent means nothing. Obviously this is not true for everyone but the fact that he has not even thought about what this could do to me makes me wonder if his "fantasy" rape is little more than an excuse for the real thing.

    And I think this is a really, really bad sign. I don't know if your boyfriend is just clueless or what, but this should not happen. Doing rape play with someone who doesn't feel she can meaningfully consent, especially with such clear signs that it will probably be traumatic or triggering, is bad, wrong, stupid, and dangerous.

    People make mistakes in bdsm. Sometimes the bottom can get a little traumatized or be hurt in ways that weren't intended - it's happened to me, and I've done it to my boyfriend as well (accidentally in all cases, of course). I think it's all right because it's just an injury sustained in the course of the bottom seeking something they really, truly want and desire. But it is not OK to press someone into that type of situation, where they may suffer those accidental injuries in pursuit of something they don't even actually want.

    I'm sorry for going on and on about this - it feels very upsetting to me.

    Becstar, if you ever wanted to email me, please feel free - I'm, and I'd be happy to talk with you more.

  8. Hope --

    My mother is probably a sufferer from Borderline Personality Disorder; this is not something that produces a sane and well-balanced adult without a lot of work ... I'm probably overdue for a mommy issues post, actually.

    I only had the one assault experience, and it bordered on violent but didn't achieve it (pinned down/trapped/cornered/mild force); it was so different from the narrative of "real rape" that I spent a long time feeling that it was appropriative and degrading-to-women to have suffered any harm from it. Which, you know, didn't help...

    I still trigger on kisses. Sometimes hard. Confused the hell out of my liege when we got together, that I was so shy of kissing him in particular, until we talked about histories in detail.

    becstar --

    I'm glad to have helped you feel like less of a freak. Survivor experiences are hard, and I really wish there were better resources for it. I know I had a really hard time, aside from what I mentioned to Hope, because I was afraid of getting shoehorned into "the rape/assault victim" and never being allowed to be a whole person.

    If you're not able to feel safe in your current relationship, then it's not a good place for you, and you're unlikely to be able to heal and work through some of those issues - it'll be constantly pulling the scab off the wound, or popping the stitches, or whatever else.

    I am entirely too familiar with the freeze-up feeling; it's a godawful place to be. I hope you can find a way to get to a place where you can avoid those triggers and start to recover.

    (Hm. I'm having errors thrown at me, sorry if this comes through multiply.)

  9. Devastatingyet - I'm glad someone else agrees with me that it will be harmful to me to do it. I also think the boyfriend is clueless more than trying to delibrately harm me, but still, it doesn't stop me from having the reaction that I now don't trust him at all. Of the few people I have told about not being able to truly consent people seem to think its just a matter of just getting ovedr it and saying no, despite the fact it doens't work that way (it's not as if I haven't tried!). I wouldn't be surprised if he felt the same way. I think I'm going to write him a letter to explain it more and to say that I can't participate in that sort of stuff because god knows I won't be able to do it to his face.

    Dw3t Hathr - That's exactly what it is like when I am with him now. It's hard because we've been together a while now but the trust has gone out the window because I just go into panic mode whenever we're in private together. I have no idea how to deal with that yet, if I can at all.

    You're also right about the lack of informatrion for victims/survivors. It's rare to ever be told that rape isn't always a stranger in a dark alley or the various ways that it can effect a person. There's also a lack of information for the general public about this stuff, because like I mention above, people just don't believe me when I say I physically cannot say no, which leads to all sorts of bad situations in itself (like the stupid boyfriend wanting to play out his rape fantasies on me after I've told him I can't consent properly!). It's really frustrating. If I didn't have to seek validation every time I feel something I "shouldn't" because of it maybe I'd be able to learn to deal ith it beter rather than trying to deny it.

  10. Something someone said to me today may be useful for you; it was useful for me:

    "Also, "just say no" moves the responsibility for the outcome to the victim of an attack instead of leaving it with the attacker, and thereby blames the victim for a failure to respond (perhaps after such a shocking attack as to be unable to respond) instead of blaming the attacker."

    You're basically in shock. (And a Google search on 'shock' got me this Wikipedia entry.) It's consistent enough a reaction that I would not at all be surprised if you have PTSD.

    It is possible to get through the brainfreeze reaction; I managed to claw my way out on my own because I was afraid of looking for help, but if you're stronger than I was a therapist or counsellor may be able to help you work through things. I imagine either resources for PTSD support or for rape/sexual assault survivors might have recommendations for people who could help you, if you want to follow that course.

    Your reactions are within the range of normal reactions; you are not alone. I recognise some of my own reactions in what you say, though I also had some different experiences. It is not a sign that you are broken or defective that you have been hurt.

    Your partner needs to recognise that he needs to rebuild trust with you if your relationship is going to be sustainable. It will not be perfectly smooth -- when my liege and I had a major blowup that broke my trust, we both made a few mistakes, one of the worst of which sent me into a full-blown nonverbal panic attack -- but it is possible to do, if he is willing to back down to levels at which you are comfortable.

  11. Becstar, I think writing a letter sounds like a great idea. I often have trouble communicating things in person as well, and use email, IMs, and my blog to make up a bit of the slack.

    I wouldn't feel trust towards someone who didn't seem to understand/respect my limits either. That shit is important.

    (I really did get very upset thinking about this earlier. No triggering or flashbacks or whatever, just thinking about proceeding so recklessly with someone.)

  12. Becstar,

    As I said on your abstinence post over at feministing, the most important thing is that you feel comfortable and safe with your sexuality. For that to happen you need a partner who will be supportive of your healing process (or no partner at all for a while. Feeling pressured to do things that make you uncomfortable or are triggering only makes it harder to figure out how to get back in touch with yourself, which is the most important thing.

    If your boyfriend is really just clueless and you have a hard time speaking directly to him, writing everything down is a great idea. I've done it on a few occasions when I had trouble actually speaking how I felt and it worked out very well. After you give him a chance to read and think about what you've said, you could meet someplace semi-private but where you can still feel safe, like a quiet table in a coffee shop. If he's worth keeping he'll be understanding, even if he freaks out a little at first.


    Hmm, my mother has fairly severe Generalized Anxiety Disorder. among other things. Quite frankly a BPD diagnosis wouldn't necessarily surprise me. It's a tough thing to grow up with; I could probably also use a mommy issues post, but I wouldn't know where to start.


    I pretty much just second everything you've said. It is very not okay to pressure someone with issues around consent into any type of act they don't want, especially something like rape play.

  13. Dw3t Hathr - That is quite possibly the most enlightening thing I have ever read about abuse and not-so-obvious victim blaming. That's absolutely how I feel but didn't really have the words to describe it.

    I have never even heard of acute stress reaction before (thanks dodgy free counselor) but it seems to pretty much sum up what I experience in particular the bit about dissociating and/or going into a hyperactivity mode.

    I have been in counselling along with a "survivor's group" before but I got put off by the focus on saying no and its focus on what I guess is seen as more "obvious" rape. Its probably worthwhile for me to try and find a better group though because I don't think I can work through it on my own while still dating the boyfriend. I think I do need to articulate to him very clearly exactly what I associate his fantasies with and why it freaks me out so much and depending on his response take it from there.

    Devastatingyet - I really don't think he actually gets exactly how reckless it is. I think in his head it is pretty much is "Oh yay fantasy" and not much deeper thought about it than that.

    Hope - I am worried about freaking him out because I know the minute I say I associate his fantasies with being sexually abused he's going to be ashamed of himself and I don't want him feeling guilty about having them (feeling guilty about wanting to proceed on me when he knows I can't say no is another story though). The fact that when he gave me his clothed, barely touching example he stopped when he saw that I froze and was in absolute terror I think is a good sign that is just doesn't quite get it.

    Given I live in the city of coffeshops, that's an awesome idea. I had been wondering where I was going to talk to him about it after the letter.

  14. I forgot to mention that the boyfriend does not only want to experiment with me being the submissive though - he also wants to try being submissive himself. I feel like that should change my freak out response towards him but unfortunately it has not.

  15. Doing stuff with power dynamics in an intimate situation is always likely to be a charged situation. For some people, like me, that charge is often positive; for you, at least while you're dealing with your trauma, that charge is negative.

    Remember what I said at my place about the vulnerability of being dominant? It's still there. Your instincts know it, even if your conscious mind doesn't know how it works.