This is the second in a series of interviews with strong women who have stepped outside the dominant sexual paradigm. Rachel Kramer Bussel is an erotica maven: she writes erotica, edits erotica anthologies, and teaches erotica workshops. Her most recent anthology is The Big Book Of Submission. Read on for her brilliant kink myth-busting.
How do you identify sexually?
I’m bisexual and kinky. I tend toward the submission side but also have a bit of a domme side too.
Some feminists believe that women who enjoy being sexually submissive are being disempowered by misogynistic, abusive men. What is your response to this?
I think the heart of the question is who gets to decide what they’re into. Women involved with BDSM are generally fully aware of what they’re doing and are choosing to engage in kink with men or women who share similar values around safety. There’s a world of difference between making a proactive choice and pursuing a fantasy or lifestyle and being coerced into it. It’s too simplistic a reading to say that submissive women want to be submissive anywhere other than the parameters they’ve set for their scenes, plus there are plenty of men who are just as into submitting. It’s not about recreating the sexist power dynamics that exist in the outside world, but about creating a space where those real-life power dynamics can be largely left behind and people can engage with power play on their terms.
Some people believe that sexually submissive women are disempowered in non-sexual areas of their lives when, often, powerful women choose to be submissive. Why do you think this is?
I think it makes sense that powerful people generally would want a break from that in the bedroom. This may sound cliche, but it’s true that with great power comes great responsibility, and speaking for myself, I can say that I don’t always want to be taking on responsibility, especially in the bedroom. When I’m with a partner I can trust 100%, I enjoy letting go and get off on being told what to do.
I think for a lot of women, their interest in submission is in inverse proportion to how much control they have to constantly wield in their daily lives, from guarding their personal space when out in the world to often running a household. Not all sexually submissive people are alike, but I don’t think you can draw any conclusions about what someone is like in their non-kinky life based on their kinks. You can’t tell by looking at someone, or by looking at their resume, what they’re into behind closed doors.
Tell me a little bit about your journey into sexual empowerment. Was there ever a time when you felt constrained by sexual mores? If so, how did that impact you psychologically? How have your sexual preferences empowered you in other areas of your life, beyond sexual?
I don’t have the sharpest memory of the details, but I do remember a law school discussion about sexuality and kink and feeling like there was an accepted idea that “normal” people wouldn’t engage in kink. Even with the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey and greater public understanding of BDSM, I think there are still people who will look at you askance if you say you’re into spanking or power play or whatever. I didn’t internalize too much of that shame, but there have been moments in relationships where I’ve felt, if not judged, uncertain about how vocal I could be about some of my kinks.
My writing about sex evolved right alongside with my kinky explorations, so those have gone hand in hand and I think have helped me be more articulate and proud of my kinkiness. I don’t know exactly how it’s affected other areas of my life other than reinforcing for me that I can ask for what I want and negotiate around it, and be an active listener when it comes to hearing about someone else’s desires, which I hope has served me in other nonsexual areas of my life.
Any thoughts about why some sexually traditional women have trouble supporting women with kink preferences?
I think kink can sound scary to people who’ve never practiced it, and all the more so for women who see other women doing things that they don’t think they’d ever want to do. From the outside, certain aspects of kink can look “degrading” or like a woman is simply doing what a man tells her, because maybe she is, and maybe she enjoys it, in whatever capacity they’ve chosen to make kink a part of their lives.
I think kink can seem threatening to women who aren’t into it (the same goes for any aspect of sex) and people get defensive, as if kinksters want everyone to practice kink the way they do. Much of what kinky people enjoy can seem counterintuitive to so many things we are taught from a young age. For instance, I may be into having my face slapped within certain kinky contexts, but I don’t want to be slapped outside of those moments. The former I may experience as sexually arousing, the latter purely as pain and aggression, but if someone were watching my face get slapped from across a room, that would look the same without any additional information or context. Picture someone tied up, gagged, having their hair pulled, being led around by a chain, licking someone’s boots, having hot wax poured on them, struggling in their bonds, being kicked or bitten, etc., and the same dynamic applies. I don’t think we have to understand someone else’s fetishes or kinks to respect their right to engage in them.
Follow Rachel Kramer Bussel on Twitter at @raquelita.
For Part I of this series, read here.