communication

Clarisse Thorn's picture

Going under

This was originally posted at Clarisse Thorn: Pro-Sex Outreach, Open-Minded Feminism.

“Come back,” an S&M partner said softly, the other day, pushing my hair out of my eyes. I blinked and shook my head in a futile attempt to clear it.

“That’s weird,” I said. “Someone else used to say those words to me when I was coming out of subspace. I … that’s weird.”

“I’m not surprised,” he said. “It’s a natural thing to say to you. You go under so fast, and so deep. You’re so far away.”

“Not all the time,” I said. “And not with everyone. You’re good at putting me there.”

He smiled. “You bring it out in me.”

Subspace is so hard to describe. I’ve written about it before, in passing, in multiple posts, because it’s so important, but I’ve never come up with a good description for it; and when I Google for it I can see that other people have the same problem. When I’m starting to go into subspace it’s just soft and dark and slow. But when I’m really far under, I’m totally blank. Falling. Flying.

Somewhere else.

Come back.

What is it, where do I go? It’s just submissive, masochist headspace. But I don’t always get into subspace when I submit, and I don’t always get into it when I take pain either. I’m not sure what the other ingredients are: some amount of trust, of course. And strong feelings about my partner make everything more intense … way more intense. Orders of magnitude more intense. Still, I’ve had new partners put me under with surprising thoroughness.

Alex Karydi's picture

7 “Unhealthy Parenting Behaviors” and how it’s affected you!

When I first began my career, it was working in a South African Orphanage for children with HIV/AIDS, ten years later after a career in the field of addiction, I find myself working with kids again. The deal with working with kids in a therapeutic setting is that caregivers and parents are included in the package.

There is nothing worse to me than seeing a parent that does not care or has lost the interest in doing what’s best for their child.  Unfortunately, that is not always the parents fault, kids do not come with manuals and life is not a simple flat road that we travel with ease.  I know they have been many time that my bad decisions have affect my child and made me a “shitty” parent in those moments.

All we can do as parents is learn to do better. Hopefully, this article will not only help parents but those individuals that are wondering what may have gone wrong in their family systems, and motivate some to restore some inner balance and peace.

Here are 7 “Unhealthy Parenting Behaviors” that may have been in your family system or that you are currently doing with your own children.  If you notice that you may be doing any of theses, it’s important to recognize them and perhaps even go talk to a therapist on how to change the behaviors into healthier ones.

Clarisse Thorn's picture

“I Know You’re Smarter Than Me” 2: Backlash, Feminist Ideology, and Flexibility

This was originally posted over at Feministe! and Clarisse Thorn: Pro-Sex Outreach, Open-Minded Feminism.

It’s dangerous to start posts with anecdotes, but I’m gonna try it again. This one is from when I was a little baby proto-feminist, and I got my period. My mama, who was born in the USA in 1945, regaled me with stories about old myths around menstruation: she talked about how when she went to college, for example, her home economics teacher very seriously reassured the students that “Now, it’s just not true that if you bake a cake while menstruating, the cake will fall,” and “Now, it’s just not true that if you milk a cow while menstruating, the milk will sour.” Imagine, if you will, living in a world where that kind of myth-busting had to be offered at the university level.

Mom then told me all about how PMS used to be viewed by doctors when she was young; how many male doctors used to simply refuse to accept the existence of PMS; how patronizing doctors would be when she was growing up, about her body and her experience. Mom suggested that I someday take a look at the gynecological sections of 1950s-1960s medical textbooks, just so I could see how medieval they were. She talked about how it used to be accepted among doctors — who were almost all male, natch — that a woman who felt cramps while menstruating was making it up. That a woman who felt unusually emotional or even in physical pain while menstruating was just being all hysterical, moody and useless — you know the way women are! She explained that as more women became doctors and feminism gained traction and science advanced with a broader perspective, PMS became recognized as a real thing. Cramps were no longer “typical female hysteria”.

I thought about this recently when I saw the 2009 film “Jennifer’s Body”, which was written by avowed feminist Diablo Cody (who wrote “Juno” too), and which I ended up liking a lot more than I usually like horror flicks. Here’s the menstruation-relevant exchange:

Needy [the main character]: Are you PMSing or something?

Jennifer: PMS isn’t real Needy, it was invented by the boy-run media to make us seem like we’re crazy.

Interesting, right? Especially in context of my mother’s analysis. But I can totally see where it’s coming from. PMS may not have been invented by the media (and maybe other women of my mother’s generation would like to comment if they’ve got a take on this subject) — but regardless, PMS has sure as hell been co-opted by the media, and by sexism at large. I have definitely seen plenty of dumb assholes in my generation dismiss feminist arguments, or really any emotional thing ever said by a woman, by snickering: “Oh, she’s just PMSing.” And I would be astonished if the Feministe commentariat hadn’t experienced an overwhelming amount of those same shutdowns. That is the kind of treatment that Diablo Cody is trying to push back against with those “boy-run media” lines — and justifiably so!

Clarisse Thorn's picture

Body chemistry and S&M

Originally posted at Clarisse Thorn: Pro-Sex Outreach, Open-Minded Feminism

The above image — a postcard, showing a pinup-style girl with the text “I gained 30 pounds … & sex has never been better!” — is courtesy of PostSecret, the community art project to which people mail in postcards featuring secrets they’ve never told anyone before.

I often think that good physical health is a widely-ignored element of good sex. I am obviously not saying that people in poor health can’t have good sex (and in fact, I certainly hope they do — more power to ‘em). But it consistently amazes me how much my physical health factors into my sexuality, especially S&M. I am by no means an expert on this topic, but here are some examples:

* Food. I am both less interested in sex and in S&M when I’m hungry; ensuring that I’ve eaten well before I take some punishment is especially crucial. I try to eat well in general, but if I’m planning to have a heavy S&M encounter, I don’t cut myself any slack. I try to specifically ensure that I eat enough protein before the date and I try to include some vitamin-heavy foods like beets, leafy green vegetables, etc. Eggs are a good source of protein, as are nuts (I was wrong about a previous statistic on eggs that I included here; see comments). If I don’t have enough protein available for whatever reason, I at least eat enough food that I won’t be hungry when I see my partner.

Part of the reason I’m writing this right now is that I’ve had trouble finding useful resources on the Internet for what people recommend as good pre- or post-S&M food, especially during aftercare. “Aftercare” is an S&M term for how people end their S&M encounters. This excellent page on aftercare describes it thusly (note: “top” is a blanket term for a dominant and/or sadist, and “bottom” is a blanket term for submissive and/or masochist):

Clarisse Thorn's picture

[storytime] Predicament Bondage

Originally posted at Clarisse Thorn: Pro-Sex Outreach, Open-Minded Feminism

Note: This entry is more explicit than my entries usually get. You have been warned. Also note: In all of the following anecdotes, I arranged a safeword in advance, and I would have used my safeword if I’d wanted my partner to stop.

BDSM is a 6-for-4 deal of an acronym: Bondage, Discipline, Dominance, Submission, Sadism and/or Masochism. These 6 activities are somewhat different from each other, though they’re intertwined, which means that individual BDSMers tend to really like some things more than others. For example, some people are masochists (who enjoy pain) but not submissives (who enjoy, well, submitting). Some people are really into discipline (with lots of punishment) but not bondage (rope, cages, etc). Some people are sadists (who enjoy inflicting sensations) but not dominants (who enjoy being in control). Some people are switches, who find that they can switch between roles — they can be dominant or submissive; sadistic or masochistic … I am an example of a definite switch.

Me, I get positively bored if someone takes a long time tying me up. For other people, 45 minutes of elaborate knotwork = really hot foreplay. I don’t understand this, but that’s cool; plenty of people don’t understand my preferences and we all coexist quite happily anyway.

So yeah, “bondage” — rope, cages, etc. — is not so much my thing. But there’s one phrase I absolutely love: “predicament bondage”. Predicament bondage is usually presented in a very elaborate way: for example, a submissive might be tied up with ropes binding him such that his arms are in pain — but if he moves his arms then his legs will be in pain. It’s a predicament! And it’s bondage! Whee! Predicament bondage!

However, it doesn’t have to be elaborate to be predicament bondage. I’m not into rope obstacle courses, but I started loving the phrase “predicament bondage” after a friend went to a workshop run by Fetish Diva Midori and reported back. He said:

Midori had two pitchers of water, or maybe a pitcher and a glass. She told us, “This is the simplest form of predicament bondage,” and she had the demo submissive hold his hands straight out at shoulder height. Then she placed the water in his hands. The submissive had to keep holding the water; if he failed, he knew he would be failing Midori. But there was never any threat of “Midori’s wrath” if he failed her. In fact, she spoke as if she was on his side, part of his team. In many ways, her sympathy for his plight made it all the more cruel, because she was the one doing it to him.

She explained this. She knew that his sense of disappointment in “failing” her was worse than anything she could actually do to him.

So, the predicament in that case was the submissive’s increasing arm agony vs. his fear of failing Midori. For me, that’s infinitely hotter than a rope obstacle course.

* * *

Clarisse Thorn's picture

Anger, fear and pain

I like pain. I like submission. What do these things actually mean, though? I don’t like it when I stub my toe, for example, and there are quite a lot of authoritarian situations I don’t like either. Emotional reactions, in particular, can get really complicated. So I need more precise words than “I like pain” and “I like submission.”

This is not a new problem, and around the BDSM subculture there are more precise terms that are frequently used. But when I was first exploring BDSM and didn’t yet have access to the community, I started coming up with my own vocabulary for what I liked and what I didn’t like. The primary words I came up with — words that I still use a lot in my own head, and that I sometimes try to explain to my partners — were “clean” pain and “dirty” pain.

I think of some pain as “clean” because even if it’s intense, I usually … like it. (For lack of a better word.) This is the kind of pain I fantasize about when I’m really craving BDSM. There are certain places on my body that take pain more cleanly — my upper arms, most of my back, my thighs. There are certain types of pain that are inherently more clean — needles come to mind. Wide, deep, blunt bites are good too. Heavy whips made of weighty materials, like suede. Pulling my hair right above the nape of my neck.

On the other hand, I think of some pain as “dirty” because it’s … harder to take. I don’t think of it as dirty because I see it as scandalous or perverse — rather, dirty pain is complex and hard to process. I never fantasize about it. Pain where my bones are close to the surface of my skin, like my collarbone, is dirty. Pain on top of scars is dirty. Pinches and small, narrow bites are dirty. Pulling my hair anywhere besides the nape of my neck is dirty. Electric shocks are extremely dirty.

But this whole “clean” and “dirty” thing, it doesn’t make any sense outside my own body, my own head. It’s hard to explain it. It helps that the BDSM community tends to frame pain in terms of techniques and less-subjective adjectives, using words like “sharp” or “sting” or “thud”. (A lot of people think of “sharp” and “sting” as the same sensation. I usually separate them a bit more, but I’m not sure how many other people separate them.)

Clarisse Thorn's picture

Call for Sexy Documentaries: Sex+++ Has Five New Themes

I hate to post two press releases in a row, but I’ve been very caught up in some Chicago community issues lately, so I haven’t had time to write anything more personal. I’ll bore you all with details about my life soon, I promise! In the meantime, please feel free to repost this …

SEX+++

pro-sex, pro-queer, pro-kink

Contact:

Clarisse Thorn :: clarisse.thorn at gmail dot com

+ Q. “What is being sex-positive?”

+ A. “Defining sex on my terms.”

+ A. “Understanding my sexual needs.”

+ A. “Being in charge of my sexual experiences.”

The Sex+++ Documentary Film Series is now entering its third year. We want to make it bigger and better than ever — and take it in new directions! We’re still discussing next year’s film line-up, and we’ve got a lot of ideas, but we also want to throw open the floor. We’re looking for suggestions and submissions: documentaries that are pro-sex, pro-queer, and pro-kink.

In 2011, Sex+++ will focus on several themes. We’re still discussing these themes, and they are subject to change as we research documentaries and develop the program, but here’s what we’ve thought of so far. We’re open to hearing more about any and all sex-positive documentaries — but in particular, if you’ve encountered documentaries that fit within these themes, please let us know!

+ THEME: Sex Everywhere

We want to explore how sexuality, sexual culture, sexual identity, and sexual pleasure are recorded, experienced, and understood outside the USA.

+ THEME: Love And Sex

We want to explore the many ways sex happens within romance, dating, relationships, marriage, and love.

+ THEME: Sexual History

We want to explore the history of sexuality, sexual culture, sexual identity, and sexual pleasure; we want to learn about sex-positive heroes.

+ THEME: Talking Sex

We want to explore how people talk about sex, sexual pleasure, and consent.

+ THEME: Activist Sex

We want to explore sex-related activism and how sex-positivity intersects with other social issues such as class, race, labor, health, justice and the environment.

Sex+++ will continue at its current amazing venue, Chicago’s own Jane Addams Hull-House Museum. Click here to learn what’s up with Sex+++ right now. And again — if you’ve got any documentaries to recommend, please get in touch! The primary contact for Sex+++ is Clarisse Thorn, who can be reached at clarisse.thorn at gmail dot com.

Clarisse Thorn's picture

News Flash, Pay Attention: HIV Is About Sex

Today is World AIDS Day. I don’t think about HIV as much as I did a few months ago, when I was still in Africa and my job was to help with the epidemic. But today, I’m thinking about it, and I have something very simple to say:

HIV is about sex.

One of the big lessons I learned about HIV in Africa is that many, many people will do amazing mental and rhetorical backflips to avoid talking about how HIV is actually spread. It’s astonishing. You’d think that when talking about HIV, you’d have to talk about sex; you’d be wrong.

In the areas where I worked, a massive percentage of people were infected with HIV. In a number of places it was about 25%. In some populations, it was more like 40%. Think about those numbers for a second — and remember that many people who had contracted HIV had already died. In other words, uncountable numbers of people had already died of AIDS-related causes, and among the people who remained alive, the percentages still got as high as 25% and 40%.

And yet I got the message over and over and over that we mustn’t talk about sex! For example, I was told by some school authorities that I could not give safer sex information to their students because that might “encourage the students to have sex”. In other words: God forbid we tell students where to get condoms and how to use them, because that might encourage them to think sex isn’t wrong and dirty. What the authorities were really telling me is that it’s more important that we continue to stigmatize sexuality, than it is to protect people from HIV.

arvan's picture

Trigger Warning?

I was recently asked to provide trigger warnings for some images and links we posted on the SexGenderBody Tumblr and Twitter feeds. 

This is a topic that I have struggled with since we started this site.  We don't get many requests for this, but when we do - I take stock of what we are doing, how it might impact people, where we are accountable (or want to be) and what choices we make as we go forward.  So, I thought I would share my thoughts and open it up for discussion.

I take such requests very seriously.  SGB is designed to honor the terms of our individual identities and that is no easy thing to do.

We cover a lot of ground here at SGB: anything to do with sex, gender, body.  This includes not only the first things you might consider regarding these topics, but everything else.  Including but not limited to: sexuality, asexuality, age, gender, queer, body mods, tattoos, kink, vanilla, celibacy, non-monogamy, relationships, family, frienship, politics, feminism, rights, advocacy, activism and a zillion other expressions and conversations about the human body. 

Every person on the planet has their own definition and terms that they use to define their own sex, gender & body.  Some of these are common and some are less so, making for a very large (almost 7 billion) sample of variations.  Additionally, we each have our own ideas of what we like / don't like / are attracted to / offended by.  These too come in common and uncommon variations.

Many of us are survivors of assault and when we read about such things it can be very difficult for us.  We may wish to avoid such things or at least know that they're coming, so that we can manage it in some way.  Even if someone is not a survivor per se, they may simply wish to avoid such topics for some other reason.  Certainly, the desire for such advance notice is a reasonable request.  So, on one hand I would like to honor that request.  That's one element of this issue.

The elusive standard.

My struggle is in addressing a pair of considerations. 

One problem is: what is offensive? what is a trigger?  What words or image qualify as "offensive" in their mere existence? 

The next issue is: What is it to cause offense or trigger?  What actions does a writer take that are by definition - an offense or trigger?

Clarisse Thorn's picture

Social responsibility, activism, and giving thanks

Tonight I had Thanksgiving dinner with my mother and her boyfriend. Some friends of my mother attended, one of whom is a lesbian who I’ll call Kay. Kay attended dinner with her mother, who is unaware of Kay’s sexual orientation. One of the reasons Kay’s mom doesn’t know about Kay’s sexual orientation is that Kay’s mom has already behaved quite badly towards Kay’s elder sister, who is an out-of-the-closet lesbian.

I knew this whole situation going in, and one thing that struck me was how much of a nice person Kay’s mom is. I mean … she’s really nice. I mean, she clearly tries to be a good person. She also tried really hard to help me do the dishes. (I didn’t let her because I wanted them all to myself.)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to engage with people who have done bad things, or who are currently doing things I think are bad (like shaming their lesbian daughters). It wouldn’t have been right to throw my sex-positive ideas on the table while talking to Kay’s mom — mostly because Kay specifically asked me not to, ahead of time. But. The most powerful tool for getting people to reconsider their stigma against alternative sexuality is personal engagement. Don’t I have some responsibility here? Is there something I can do?

Other examples of this are rife. One very intense, very important issue I grappled with this week was having a friend email me to inform me that another friend — someone I like and admire a lot — has been credibly accused of sexual assault by a person who will never press charges. This has come up before in my life … every time it’s a little different, and yet so many things are the same: a person is assaulted, the news gets out among friends, the survivor doesn’t press charges, there is confusion among the friends about how to act, eventually things die down, and I feel as though I should have done more.

When I was in high school, one of my closest male friends raped a female acquaintance of mine. She didn’t press charges and they later had a romance that was, to all appearances, consensual. I pieced events together slowly — he did acknowledge what he’d done, though never directly to me. I didn’t know what to do, at the time, and I still feel as though I should have done so much more. He and I were so close. I never had the nerve to directly talk to him about what happened, because — even though we never talked directly about it — I saw evidence that he felt terrible about it, and I was sure that I could devastate him by talking about it more. But still … I should have talked to him.

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