I’m growing weary of the cliche — manufactured by misinformation, shame, and projection — that only weak, damaged women identify as submissive. Because I hang out — virtually, anyway — with so many sex-positive bloggers and educators, I sometimes forget that many people believe women who like to be spanked are victims of abuse.
It wasn’t long ago that I believed the same thing. I thought women who greeted a lover with bound wrists and an ass in the air were re-enacting early sexual abuse, or were lost, boundary-less people easily manipulated by sociopathic men. And while I’m sure this is true for part of the BDSM population, I don’t think it’s any more true than it is for women in vanilla relationships, ergo the plethora of mainstream dating experts and web sites for women left in heartbroken heaps by emotionally unavailable cads.
My judgmental stance manifested in part because of the sexual shame I carried inside for decades. I didn’t know how to interpret my thirst for high-octane, novelty-seeking, shove-me-up-against-the-wall-and-take-me-repeatedly sex. Or images of being overpowered by imperious men in suits that flickered across my mind. I tried, and tried, and tried, to stay sexually engaged in relationships that didn’t accommodate my needs. And when I inevitably turned cold, and relationships ended, I felt even more ashamed, because this was “proof” that something was wrong with me.
Since I made the decision, for sanity’s sake, to own my sexuality and risk others’ unsolicited judgments, I’ve become more comfortable in my own skin, and more empowered. I’ve also had to examine my own judgments about the way other people express their sexuality.
Sexual choices and dynamics that involve an abuse of power — Jerry Sandusky and the Penn State atrocity being one heinous example — are clearly wrong. But as long as sexual choices are actually choices, who am I to judge?
Since entering the sex blogging community, and dating decent men with what some might think are indecent desires, I have had to deconstruct my biases. A year ago I would never have imagined that I would consider sex work to be a sound career choice. Or that watching porn can be a healthy part of one’s sexuality instead of a cause of relationship demise.
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I’m especially rankled when women who identify as feminists attack other women’s sexual expression. I did not come of age in the early years of feminism, and I was raised in a home run by a powerful woman. So I don’t interpret sexual submission as a form of patriarchal oppression — but I try to respect the worldview of women who do.
Here’s what I don’t get, however: if feminism arose from women’s lack of choices, why, then do some women invalidate other women’s choices? Is it not ironic that members of a gender who refuse to be labeled inferior are now asserting that their own brand of feminism is superior?
And where does black-and-white thinking lead? If sexually dominant men are abusive, are homosexuals immoral? Are bisexual women selling out because they embrace gender fluidity?
Our culture is held hostage because of extremism. African-American males can’t walk down the street without looking over their shoulders. Gays are forbidden from marrying. The constitution is re-written to deny women reproductive rights due to the control-freakiness of a money-grubbing corporation. Republicans and Democrats have such a dysfunctional relationship that they have rendered the country ungovernable. Rarely does anything good come from absolutes.
When I was younger and relied on men to make my decisions, the only arena where I could call the shots was in bed. In my case — and I am in no way saying this is the case for others — my need to control men sexually was a symptom of my lack of internal control. The more I grew into myself, and learned to make my own decisions, the more I wanted to give everything over in bed. It is because of my confidence that I crave having my ass smacked, not because I’m re-enacting early abuse (I’ve never been physically or sexually abused).
I don’t agree to anything I don’t want to do, and the dominant men I’m with have never tried to force anything on me. The role I step into in the bedroom stays in the bedroom. And it’s just that: a role, a fantasy, a form of play, a consensual power exchange. The notion that I’m too confused to understand that I’m not really in charge of my sexual choices, or I don’t really enjoy it but I pretend I do to keep a man happy, is insulting.
Feminism should make room for more than one kind of sex. Otherwise it’s just another elitist, exclusionary club, and I’d rather not be a member.