Clarisse Thorn's picture

The Alt Sex Anti-Abuse Dream Team

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

This was originally posted on September 28, 2010 over at Feministe, where it picked up a fair number of comments. I’m posting it here today partly because I’ve been reflecting on my identity as a feminist and partly because there is an upcoming Chicago workshop on abuse in the BDSM community, to be held at a local dungeon and facilitated by Sarah Sloane. The workshop will take place on February 12, 2011; feel free to email me for more information, or keep track of my Time Out Chicago “Love Bites” blog, where I will post a wide-release public description once it’s available.

* * *

BDSMers face a lot of stigma around our sexuality, and this can be a major problem when BDSMers are trying to deal with abusive situations. I’ve written before about generally negative conceptions of BDSM — they can briefly be summarized as:

* S&M is wicked,
* abnormal,
* a sign of mental or emotional instability,
* inherently abusive,
* or even antifeminist.

Given this climate, it’s not surprising that two things almost always happen when BDSM and abuse come up:

1) People of all genders who are abused are often unwilling to report. People of all genders who are abused within BDSM relationships tend to be particularly unwilling to report. Victim-blaming is already rampant in mainstream society — just imagine what happens to, for example, a woman who has admitted that she enjoys being consensually slapped across the face, if she attempts to report being raped. And that’s assuming the abuse survivor is willing to report in the first place; ze may prefer not to negotiate the minefield of anti-SM stereotypes ze will be up against, ze may be afraid of being outed, etc.

2) Members of the BDSM community sometimes push back against real or perceived anti-SM stigma by talking about how abuse is rare within the BDSM community. This BDSM blog post and comments claim that not only is abuse within the community rare, but abusive BDSM relationships seem more likely to happen outside the community. In fact, if you look then you can find posts from submissive women who found that getting into the BDSM community, being exposed to its ideals and concepts, helped them escape or understand their past abusive relationships.

I tend to think that #2 is a really good point — particularly the bit about how abusive BDSM relationships are more likely to happen outside the community, due in part to lack of resources and support for survivors. For this reason, I tend to stress the role of the community in positive BDSM experiences, and I encourage newcomers to seek out their local community. But lots of people don’t have access to a local community at all, especially if they’re not in a big city. Plus, lots of people have trouble enjoying their local community for whatever reason, perhaps because they have nothing in common with local S&Mers aside from sexuality, or because they don’t have time to integrate into a whole new subculture.

arvan's picture

The Lifestyle

A short documentary on a Chicago couple who enjoy sharing partners with other couples.  This couple writes on this site under the name: The Ultimates.

The Lifestyle from Victoria Fine on Vimeo.

pepomint's picture

The Valley of the Dolls

This is the first in a series of essays on nonmonogamy targeted at men who are attracted to women, talking about men's interactions with women in nonmonogamous communities. Once the series is complete, it will be collected into a guide to nonmonogamy for men and posted to my freaksexual blog. Some of the things I say in this series will apply to women and men who are attracted to men, but not everything.

Men have this persistent fantasy that if you just find the right scene, if you poke your head through the right door, you will happen upon rooms full of gorgeous women eager to have sex with you.

We see this in porn all the time. The primary justification for people having sex in porn movies seems to be that they have found themselves in the same room. Or perhaps outdoors in the same location. Their response to this incredible coincidence is: "Oh hi! Wanna fuck?" Sometimes they throw in a little bit of justification to spice things up. "Oh hi! You're the plumber! Wanna fuck?" "Oh hi, hubby! You just caught me having sex with the pool boy! Wanna fuck?" "Oh hi! I'm interviewing for a job. Wanna fuck?"

This is of course not just confined to video porn. Pick up Letters to Penthouse sometime: it reads just like a porn script. (Just so you know, those letters are faked. Really.) When men write down their fantasies, we often see these themes of sexual abundance and availability.

I call this mythological place full of nubile enthusiastic women the Valley of the Dolls, after Russ Meyer's sexploitation film Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Russ Meyer's movies generally featured tall women with huge breasts having sex with... everyone. Because these movies were made in the 60's or 70's, they ended on a moralistic tone to avoid the wrath of the censors, with the loose women getting married or killed. But their draw was the promise of easy sex with amazonian women.

The Ultimates's picture

Second Thoughts


We just got off the phone with an editor from a local magazine. He is writing a story about us (it's a feature about swingers who teach a class for potential swingers in Chicago).  He wanted to clarify a few things before wrapping it up, and his questions and comments left us strangely unsettled. 

At first it sounded exciting, being featured in a big, important magazine and sharing the basic aspects of our non-monogamous, sex-positive lifestyle.  We felt confident and bold, even agreeing to allow the use of our names and photos. But today, after the phone call, we are less confident.

We talk big, say we don't care about our employers finding out, our neighbors knowing ... but do we? We act confident, even put our photos in our class advertisement ... but are we? Are we as bold and free as we think we are? Or are we just as hypocritical and fearful as the closeted swingers we criticize?

The Ultimates's picture

Confession of a Situational Bisexual

In the swinger scene, bi is the new black.  Approximately 90 percent of women in the lifestyle refer to themselves as bisexual, bi-friendly or bi-curious. And I estimate that 10 percent of those bi-something women are actually lesbians who are married to men, but who swing with other couples in order to play with women. 

My bisexual standing is something of a mystery to me.  I don’t know how to label myself.  While I’ve had many bisexual experiences, I’ve only been turned on by a handful of woman (that very athletic basketball player in college, that beautiful, androgynous sex toy shop owner in Chicago and the amazing sexologist who reminds me of my favorite boss).  Since I’m a swinger, I need to define myself for other potential playmates so, as a willing -- but not bona fide -- bisexual, I label myself “bi-friendly” on my swinger profile. 

One of our early lifestyle experiences showed me just how limited labels can be. When we first joined the lifestyle, Kev and I discovered one of the “lesbian” swingers.  We were inexperienced and anxious to get our feet wet so, when John, the husband, contacted us, he very bluntly told us his wife was “more bi than straight.” In our eagerness, Kev and I heard “My wife is bi, so come on over and join us in the hot tub for sex.”

The Ultimates's picture

Practical Tips for Swinger Wannabes

Most people know that couples who are swingers, (in “the lifestyle”) define a committed relationship as one which does not include monogamy. But having sex with other people is not the only trait that separates swingers from the vanilla (non-swinger) mainstream.  There is a whole swinger culture which includes, among other things, specific grooming, clothing, products and sexual behavior.  

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