Anything Goes?

[WARNING: This post regards some things which should be disturbing to many readers. Please proceed at your discretion.]

If you’re involved in this community for long enough, whether as a creator, a participant, or even just a simple voyeur, you will invariably come across some things that will shock you, and some that will even trouble and disturb you in a real and serious way. Things that challenge and things that truly offend. Or, as such things are known more popularly, “some real fucked up shit.”

It’s simply a function of how lumped together people of all tastes and persuasions are under the umbrella terms of “kink” and “BDSM”; there may be real distinctions between people and groups within those categories, but in a lot of ways we weirdos are stuck having to associate with each other, with even the ones to whose beliefs and behaviors we object. It’s a lot like being American, actually. A New York liberal and an Alabama good ole boy may repulse each other but they are, at least in one sense, countrymen. And believe me, the commonality is often a good deal less comfortable, and less familiar, than that.

In many cases, it’s a question of what else there is to call one thing or the other when they are most overtly joined in not being “vanilla”, which is to say, not being what can safely be called normal or usual for the majority. What do a foot fetishist and a furry have in common? Not a great deal in substance I should imagine, but they both can freak out the squares.

So unique to this “community”, to this landscape of strange and unusual sexualities, is the need to negotiate the territory with a little functional pluralism. There’s a bit of the Golden Rule in this, in a form that asserts, “Judge not the persuasions of others in the way that you would like not to be judged for your own.” I’ll return to this point in a minute, but for now it is enough to say that this sentiment is widely held among those who, by one standard or other, either are weird themselves or participate in the weirdness of others. It’s a good deal of “live and let live” with a dash of “hey, I don’t get it but good on you for being yourself.”

It’s a somewhat noble sentiment, laudable at least for its friendliness and its affability, and there’s a measure of solidarity in it too. It’s a reasonably good attitude to have, and it functions well enough in terms of preserving the dignity and humanity of our fellow human beings, at least for most of the time. Unfortunately, however, there are occasions when this sentiment is applied to a fault, and it is that which I intend to explore today.

As a kinky person you are uniquely challenged by the question of where you “draw the line”, both for yourself, in terms of what you are willing to welcome into your own sexual experience and fantasies, and, yes, though some would balk heartily at the notion, for others. What is good for people? What is safe? What is healthy? These are moral considerations, and ones which I think a great many people, despite their compassion and their sympathy, think very seriously about.

And before I get too much further into the exploration of these questions and these ideas, I should state very clearly that I believe that this moral calculus is indeed the sacred right and province of every thinking person. While I don’t believe in judgment for judgment’s sake, or in judging unfairly or unsympathetically, I do think it is important that we are willing to call some things wrong, when we are able to see true harm and exploitation. Without that, I feel that we would be every bit as lost and debauched as they say we are.

I have written before about the need to separate, in the popular imagination, what is kinky from what is pathological (such as authentic sexual sadism that conscripts the unwilling and the ineligible), but as I reflect on what I have seen this week, and what I have encountered not altogether rarely in the past, I feel compelled to illustrate this same need for those within the community to do likewise.

The case in point involves a young man [for discretion’s sake, all parties involved will be kept anonymous] whose kink seems to revolve around being a “homework slave” for young women in college; he writes their essays, does their assignments, and so on, for which he asks nothing in return.

The academic dishonesty of it aside, let’s suppose that this much is reasonably harmless, at least as affects himself. Let’s say he feels good about this role and enjoys seeking out the means to fulfill it, and in so doing he provides some measure of benefit to the “partner” with whom he engages. Even this much is certainly more complicated than that, but the purpose of bringing up this young man is not to analyze him or to put him and his desires under the microscope. What matters, is to look at what happened next.

[NOTE: The details here are a little fuzzy, due to their discovery revolving around an exchange of messages and Tweets on Twitter, some of which were deleted. The parties involved either could not be reached or declined to clarify.]

Apparently, the young man was unable to complete a particular assignment for a particular young woman and, overcome by shame at this, he decided he was deserving of some form of punishment. For a BDSM submissive, this in itself is not particularly unusual; punishment and so-called “funishment” often play a significant role in a healthy D/s relationship.

However, in his desire to correct the balance of his transgression, he elected a very extreme behavior which he wanted to be induced to perform: his suggestion was to boil a portion of oatmeal and pour the mixture over his face.

Now, I am not a squeamish man. But it seems it should be apparent to anyone that this is something which any person who wants to should in all attempts be prevented from doing, and that the motives to do so must be investigated because they imply a serious degree of mental pathology. If you yourself are unconvinced, let’s take another moment with it shall we?

Boiling water, so employed, would be bad enough, and certain to cause burns. The mixture, however, would render the substance not only gooey, but sticky, and this means that instead of the majority of it mercifully splashing away it would cling, almost certainly causing serious and permanent damage. This, again, could be bad enough if it were done to an appendage or some less fragile part of the body, but applied to the face we are now talking about disfigurement, and if it were to affect the eyes could potentially cause blindness. [TO BE PERFECTLY CLEAR, this is highly extreme behavior which would fail to dismay only a small proportion of those who practice kink and D/s.]

So we must, to begin with, try to see his perspective, and ask ourselves what it would take in order for that punishment to fit the crime. In any case, no matter what we might think of that would cause us to think of this as appropriate for anything, the things that would, in any world, balance that scale are orders of magnitude more grave than failing to give a coed the means to skate through her education. In short, this person’s means to evaluate these things were so distorted that they contributed the worst thing they could think of in order to square what they could only have imagined to be the worst possible thing they could have done.

It certainly qualifies as cruel and unusual, and if it had been at someone else’s behest we could safely consider them a psychopath. To go so far beyond the pale, to so exceed any reasonable boundaries with regard for safety and wellbeing, and to inflict such a terrible degree of harm is self-evidently pathological, and if it were done to someone else it would be abhorrent. But sadly, the tale of a dangerous desire is not where this story ends.

Apparently, out of contact with and unable to receive the reprisal of his choice from the young woman to whom he had given this perceived injustice, he went in search of someone willing to administer the same. Imagine it; again, so out of whack and so distorted was this person’s reality that he was approaching strangers (online) in order to get them to induce him to commit this grievous act of harm against himself. And, I am sorry to say, he found one, who reportedly was willing to pocket $100 of his money for her troubles.

Now, personally, I am deeply dismayed and disheartened by this. It reflects poorly on sex workers and their clients, it reflects poorly on the kinky, it reflects poorly on young women… It troubles and sickens me that such a thing would take place, that this person would be unable to get the psychiatric help that they need and would find not only a venue for a terrible extension of their illness but would be indulged in it by someone who took time enough to profit from it before laughing all the way to the bank. It is nasty, it is twisted, it is wicked, it is evil. But I’m sorry to say, ladies and gentlemen, it does get worse from there.

What is supposed to have happened next is that, among those in this woman’s circle, another young woman in the community objected to this, it made the rounds with many who felt likewise, a backlash ensued from friends and supporters of the first one and then…?

We don’t know. At the time of this writing the young man’s account has been silent since before the incident. We have backtracking and apologies from the whistleblower to the profiteer, and after a bit of gloating from the latter party both of their feeds have gone back to normal. And now what? Now I sit, writing this article.

Barring the even more twisted possibility that all of this is an elaborate “mindfuck” on us all, a hoax of some kind, presumably the young man is in a burn ward or (hopefully, at least) a psych ward right now, having to explain how he got this way, as he probably will have to for the rest of his life. The profiteer is back to being her usual self and not only feeling good but smug about it. The whistleblower has been embarassed into silence. And the catalyzing tweets were deleted, sweeping the whole thing under the rug.

So, supposing that nothing new comes to light, where does that leave us? What do we make of all this? What can we learn?

The first thing that must be said in response is that, as in the rest of society, mental illness, and in particular untreated or extreme mental illness, has to be addressed more clearly in the kink community. For all the dreck that you hear about kink being like or better than therapy, and for all that it is authentically therapeutic for the right people, the entire world of BDSM is not a substitute for mental health treatment and care. If anything, this example illustrates clearly how dangerous these things can be in the wrong hands, and when explored without conscious care and support, in isolation, without the connection to and engagement with loving and protective partners, all of which are conditions that apply in spades to those who are profoundly mentally ill. They are uniquely subject and vulnerable to versions of these things which are not just unhealthy or strange but which will cause them serious harm. You may as well send someone who is crippled and drunk to run with the bulls.

And those of us who struggle with mental health issues as a disability, who have the upper hand when it comes to managing it, we need to call it like we see it and encourage others into care when we see someone who is unwell, who is hurting themselves. We can’t let these social media tools become just television, with nothing but advertising, programming, and self-congratulation. Imagine the kinky social media universe being your only point of connection to other people and ask yourself what it would be like if no one just treated you like a real human being, and looked out for you when you were ill and confused.

The second thing to say is that we have to stop perpetuating the idea that this is all just a game, by which I mean that’s it’s just amoral playtime that exists in a vacuum. Kink affects people very deeply and very seriously at all kinds of levels and in all different ways, and you are playing with fire if you don’t have respect for that. We have to start saying that, along with consent and aftercare and all the other things we preach about so endlessly, what is inherent and indispensable in kink is at the very least a decent human respect and care for those with whom you engage.

And the third is to recognize that the InstaDomme mentality, which neglects in its entirety the whole of what I’ve just said, is more than just the offensive nuisance we’ve all come to live with it as. It used to be that a prostitute (because that used to be the only kind of sex worker there was) had to live in a town or a city and had to cultivate relationships with the people she worked with and with the environment in which she lived. It used to be we had to live with each other, and those who provided a service had to see and interact with their clients as human beings.

The good ones still do this today– they provide their services, they build a reputation, they participate in the community, they contribute to the welfare and the ecology of their worlds; they are upstanding people who care about what they do and what they put out there, and about how that reflects and feeds back on them as professionals and as people. But this modern incarnation, which is only achievable through the distance and disposability made possible by the Internet, is opportunistic, it’s shallow, and it treats the world like fast food customers; like hunger, that is just waiting to be turned into dollars.

And by the way, if you’re thinking that what they do doesn’t really have anything to do with the so-called “Real Thing” and that it’s not important enough for you to worry about, you’re wrong. Content creators and sex workers, whether you like it or employ them or not, are at the center of kinky identity and culture, and if you don’t think that feeds back on real people and especially the younger generation, you’re wrong.

What’s at stake isn’t just the fate of the lost ones, like the young man in this story. It isn’t just the “paypigs” and their money. The risk is that kink moves from this generation into the next as nothing more than another way to make a quick and dirty buck, that people use like a bad drug, with an attitude that makes it all just masturbation.

Please, whether you’re a creator, a provider, a consumer, or just a participant, please take kink and your kinky practice seriously. Don’t take it as a license to stop asking yourself if what you’re doing is good, or ethical, or real. Don’t use it as an excuse to stop being human, and to stop letting others be it too. If we don’t remember that what we do as kinky people matters, and if we don’t remind each other, then we’ll never be able to reconcile what we do with who we are, and we’ll never become what we’re truly meant to be.

[UPDATE: Apparently a third domme has been implicated and much of the confusion has revolved around the involvement of the domme who was originally blamed. Further bulletins as events warrant.]

© 2018

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InstaDomme: FemDom and Kink on Social Media

It’s not infrequently that I browse the “FemDom” and related hashtags, particularly on Twitter because that’s where we at the SMUT Project feel there is the most to be done when it comes to connecting with those who think seriously about the topic. I look for things to share, thoughts and content to promote, things that inspire me or with which I feel a sense of common cause, things I feel connected with or represented by in a positive and meaningful way.

But more reliably than anything like that, what I find in much greater proportion is a slew of what is, in essence, merely advertising. Not for prodommes, not for pornography, but for a special breed of person that I only became unpleasantly aware of in the last couple of years, and which I’m fairly comfortable in believing not just did not but could not have existed until sometime around then: the “InstaDomme”.

She is, in short, at least as defines the typical case, a very young woman (I should say most often in the range of 18-22), with a relatively new account that has a relatively low number of posts, the sole purpose of which is to provide herself with 1) an income stream under the guise of what is called “financial domination”, and 2) an outlet for her distinct and abundant immaturity.

A typical feed reads as follows (quotes taken anonymously from actual tweets):

  • “Your just a looser #findom #femdom”
  • “Where are my #LittleDick losers? I know you’re lonely and feeling vulnerable. Come to me, weakling.”
  • “bow down to your superior and start $ending cucks”
  • “i’ll humiliate you, spit on you, take all the money you have in your wallet, then make you crawl to the ATM like the pig you are to give me the amount I deserve. and you’ll be begging me for more #findom”
  • “RT Game. $2/$2/$2. 1 Comment per 15 min. Drain this fucking loser #findom”
  • “makeups expensive. New foundation costs me £45. #reimburse me for it losers. #reimbursement #findom #paypig”
  • “money makes me so horny”

And make no mistake, there are accounts like these by the hundreds, even by the thousands.

And why not? Can you imagine the perverse simplicity of it? Imagine being that age and coming across the idea that instead of working hard, whether to produce content or cultivate relationships or even just to interact in a healthy and productive way with those around you, instead of suffering from the pressures that life puts on us all, instead of letting that pressure subject you to the pains of growing into a stronger and better human being, all you had to do to achieve success and provide yourself with cash is to create a couple of social media accounts and accounts on sites to process payment, give yourself a title like “Princess” or “Goddess” or “Queen”, fill your feed with bile, and wait for your rewards to come pouring in.

And oh, do those rewards ever floweth. It’s not just the evidence they post, in the form of screenshots declaring their account has received another $100 or $200 or more, the trophies of their “tributes”. It’s not just that they persist in a way that clearly indicates that it’s working for them. It’s the flood of dozens to hundreds of engagements with what they post; the likes, the retweets, the encouraging and prostrating comments, and followers, followers, followers.

A great many of these accounts have followings from the hundreds well into the several thousands, and the phenomenon is within itself a little subculture. There are promotional accounts solely devoted to circulating this kind of dreck, there are similarly devoted “slaves” who do likewise. The little communities play “retweet games” where their “finsub” or “paypig” has pledged a certain amount of cash for each engagement, and over a certain period of time the girl will delight as notification after notification signals the growth of her payoff.

Supposedly this is an outgrowth of BDSM. It’s a kink, we are meant to believe, and surely, the whole ridiculous sham wouldn’t perpetuate itself without a lot of people somewhere jerking off to it in earnest. But to someone who grew up before and in the early days of the Internet, someone who is old enough to know any different, and someone who knows the kinky persuasion to have the capability of being profound and sacred and deep (namely myself), this characterization reads as both cheap and abundantly cynical.

Calling findom a kink asks us to believe that, for all time, there have been people with a quiet desperation to walk up to a stranger, be spewed upon, give them money, and call it a day. While I find that hard to believe, I find it even harder to believe that the procedural aspects of the practice make any sense before the combined existence of the Internet, social media, cashless finance, and the ability for both parties to be isolated in the exchange. It’s true that we don’t have another word yet for something that arouses a person sexually without some relationship to formal sex (one that while making that distinction could further distinguish something like this from that which corresponds to real BDSM), and I don’t dispute that the whole thing revolves around being a turn-on for people. I’ll even go so far as to recognize that the roles and power dynamics at play bear some resemblance to the practice of kink. But to whatever extent it is an authentic extension of D/s, it’s one that, in my estimation, completely misses the point.

Let’s concede for a moment the assumption that at the heart of all of this lies a true appreciation of something and a deep desire to glorify, adore, and promote it. Let’s suppose that that drive animates the whole process, and that at the end of it all both parties are satisfied and fulfilled in their true and essential nature. What, then, can we say that this particular process hinges upon? What, if we even broaden the idea to include the whole “brat” persona, can we say is really being set on the altar of worship? In answer, I can only find some of the most hollow, vacuous, and ultimately contemptible things.

I feel we must take as read the self-evident proposition that these attitudes and behaviors are not things that most of us would honestly support or encourage in real life and in the real world. I think most of us, even the tolerant ones, would say that these things are reprehensible in and of themselves, and that they are really only tolerable to the extent that they represent a phase through which we all must pass. These are things for which we forgive our loved ones because for a time they are incapable of knowing any better. But instead of waiting politely and sympathetically while they grow out of it while enforcing the social discipline that they need in order to learn that that mentality is not a suitable or appropriate one for dealing with other human beings, this so-called kink thrusts it into the spotlight, showers it with praise and both tangible and intangible benefits, and then prostrates itself before it and presents it with the most essential biological approval.

“And so what?” you may say. “They’re just playing. Why can’t they just be left alone with their kink?”

But kink is supposed to be a mutual thing, an exploration of two or more parties’ selves that lead them all to be in touch with the way that they best are able to be, and there is no way for her to participate in this kink without lowering and debasing herself until she is petulant and abusive and exploitative and divorced from her sensitivity, her care, and her love. The practice is, on its face, one-sided, but it is as though we are looking at it through a mirror; the imbalance doesn’t favor her simply because she is in receipt of something as pathetically hollow as money. No, in fact it is the other way around; it enables a man to pay her to get her to be her worst self.

But what’s worse than that, supposing that we can imagine that these things do not take place solely within the ejaculatory vacuum and that it actually has an effect on this young woman’s life, how can she ever grow and develop into an authentic, self-actualized, profound human being who is in touch with and in control of her highest and best self when the world specifically rewards her for doing the opposite? Does the supposedly unassailable right of her counterparts’ exuberance come at the cost of her future, and of the quality of her life and relationships? Does the willingness to idolize her adolescent misapprehension of the means by which to assign value to herself and her world arrest her development into adulthood? I think these are fair questions, and worth asking.

Women shouldn’t be celebrated for being brats any more than they should be celebrated for being bimbos, or bitches, or any of the other things that are less than their most engaged, fulfilled, and powerful selves, that’s why this species of what is called findom has no relationship to the practice of FemDom, despite the supposed interchangeability of their hashtags.

The women who can rightly call themselves Goddesses or Princesses or Queens, the ones who are truly worthy of the adoration and worship they receive, are inspiring. They’re something to be proud of, something to be admired because of what they have achieved in themselves. They have a glory and a majesty that isn’t free, and that you don’t get for nothing just by being female. But if we teach these young women that it’s only because of their anatomies and their gender, they will never know that that level is theirs to pursue.

In all of these accounts and these personas there is a common thread that the domme should be worshipped for what she is rather than who she is, and we have to let FemDom be about more than that.

A woman’s true divinity is something that is explored, and developed, and nurtured, and earned. It’s what elevates her beyond the mundane, the pedantic, and the cheap, and submission is supposed to be about getting in touch with that, both for her and for the sub. But if we continue to let young women believe they can have it for nothing, and keep paying to convince them it is so, the only thing we will buy is that the real thing will be rarer, and all the fewer will be those who possess it.

NOTE: It is true that some men also participate in the practice of financial domination, in a fashion almost entirely similar to what I have described here. I don’t know how this relates to members of the gay or bisexual communities, but I expect there are adequate parallels. The whole thing reeks to me of a similarly exploitative charlatanism and nonsense, but I haven’t begun to explore the dynamics there, nor am I inclined to personally.

© 2018

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On Matters of Taste

Whips, chains, gags, restraints, and atmospheres of supposed cruelty and duress, these are the trappings of what is commonly referred to as “S&M”, or “kinky sex”. To the uninitiated, and to the naive, these are shocking, frightening things, invoked usually as some inevitable extension of “pornography addiction” (a final point of debauched chaos on the addict’s errant journey) and occasionally in the same breath as the most twisted, barbaric varieties of sexually infused murder and torture.

The bizarrities of some people’s sexual lives are held up to others, or perhaps it is better to say waved frantically in front of them, as a warning. Tread not this path, brothers and sisters, or like this you shall become; lost, debased, and capable of anything. I, for one, am sick of being referred to in that tone of voice.

I am sick of being equated with serial killers and psychopaths, or of having it even implied that they come from the same place as me. I am sick of the implication that only my personal brokenness and misguidedness could account for my affection and taste for these modes of erotic interaction. And I am sick of the idea that I slid into my current state, down a slippery slope of self-destructive, poisonous hedonism, and that I need to be redeemed.

What I can’t help feeling when these subjects are raised, as invariably they are when the topic is publicly discussed, is a sense not of defensiveness or guilt or embarrassment, but of anger, alienation, and disgust. I feel insulted, offended even, and deeply mischaracterized and misunderstood. I feel accosted and plagued by Philistine ignorance, and I feel too that those who make such equivalences and assumptions have no business commenting in the first place.

But since a large number of people seem to find these characterizations and assertions convincing, compelled as I think they must be by disorientation and fear, and because these attitudes are perennial, exhibited with unsurprising ghastliness whenever the prudes and Puritans deign to afford my ilk the time of day, I feel that I should take a minute or so to confront them. While I’m sure it will make little difference to the attitudes of those who would like to see the world subsist on the sexual equivalent of hard tack and gruel, I think that I can at least make the subject clear to those who might be willing to accept what other people do if they could be sure that those people weren’t withering or imploding before their very eyes. As distasteful as it is, I can believe that a great many people think and feel the way they do about the way people like me have sex because they are worried about us, and I would be more than glad to put their minds at rest.

To begin with, I really do believe it’s a matter of taste. Put simply, we all have to start taking for granted the assumption that some people are different than us, and that they might respond differently than we do to things that we perceive in different ways. This much, I think should be easy.

In other matters we are perfectly happy with this. “I don’t like spicy food,” we might say, but we hardly think of people who do as having a corrupt moral character. In matters such as these however, you can imagine someone driven to distraction by the concept. How on Earth, we can imagine them saying, can anyone subject themselves to that sort of thing? It hurts! Food is supposed to be lovely and sweet! It’s disgusting! In this, we neglect a number of things, important things, about the consideration of those who do.

To say first, I think we can all acknowledge that there is a difference between a person who likes eating a nice jalapeño or habanero, and a person who wants a diet that involves molten lava, or broken glass. The serial killer Albert Fish, for example, took frequently to hammering rust-covered nails and other unsavory objects into the area around his groin, and this habit is generally considered to indicate his masochism. I realize that, as yet, there may be no word or term to distinguish the sexualized pleasure he derived from the practice and what one gets out of being spanked or trampled by a loving partner, in the way that there certainly is for the fact that his urges also revolved around children rather than adults, but it should be clear that there is a distinction to be made.

I think we are safe in calling someone like Fish a pervert, in a way that we are not in describing sexual masochism itself as a perversion. What’s more, I don’t believe the two are even remotely similar except in ways that are ultimately meaningless. While there may be formal parallels between the sexualization of pain and distress, there is no extent to which I would find it adequate to describe the pain of an act like that and the “pain” of some forms of kink in the same way, and, importantly, I refuse to take for granted that the pleasure is similar as well. When dealing with a character like Fish, we are talking about extreme pathology that extends far beyond what enabled him to get his rocks off, and it is flippant simply to say that he “liked” or “needed” extreme pain in order to get to the same place as the rest of us when his needs came calling. It should be clear, and it’s safe to say, that someone like that needs things none of us would want or choose, even if they were offered to us on a silver platter.

Even Ghost Pepper aficionados and people who like experimenting with the famed Carolina Reaper or the Trinidad Scorpion (the world’s two hottest peppers, which are said to induce “thunderclap headaches” and cardiovascular distress in those who ingest even the smallest of doses), while perhaps a bit foolhardy, can’t usually be accused of a psychologically dysfunctional constitution. They may be causing themselves pain, yes, even, at the extreme levels, putting themselves in danger, but we concede that for them there is something worthwhile about the experience, and even if we call them crazy we don’t really mean it. We think of these people as perfectly capable of making what to us is an abundantly stupid decision, and I think at some level we also believe they must have gotten something out of it. We validate the experience itself, and we show respect to the ability of these people to decide for themselves whether or not they want to be involved. At worst, we tend to think, and say, something along the lines of, “That’s nuts. Must be a crazy experience. I certainly wouldn’t do something like that.”

The point is that we don’t think of these people as inherently disordered, least of all morally, and it’s also that we don’t accuse people who like spicy food in general of participating in Carolina Reaper-level behavior. In fact, I’d wager that most people don’t even know that such peppers even exist, in the same way they would be unacquainted with the many extreme acts and behaviors available to people of kinky persuasions. Those who are overwhelmed by a simple green chile are unlikely to comprehend how far what’s out there really goes.

But even at the fringes, we don’t consider the thrill-seeking, daredevil recklessness of the devotees of spicy food to be the result of some inevitable progress which began with the person’s first exposure to Tabasco sauce. We don’t think of people as being hopelessly addicted to spicy food, seeking out (as the accusation goes) greater and greater pain like a drug because they’re sick enough to like it.

To whatever extent they do it’s because they are curious and open, and willing to find their own limits and to explore the varieties available to their experience. Because what must be said of all of this is that eating and liking spicy food doesn’t just revolve around different levels of capsaicin and the accompanying endorphin rush that is produced upon consumption; there’s flavor too.

A jalapeño and a habanero don’t just burn differently, they taste different too, and there is a whole cuisine the world over that has evolved around the subtleties that separate serranos, poblanos, chipotles, Thai chilis, even paprika or cayennes. You have to concede that, in forgoing spicy food because you can’t take the heat, there’s something you are missing which not only involves the (often) comparatively minor sensation of pain but also a range of pleasures that have nothing whatsoever to do with the pain itself. You have to concede that to those who can stand it, these things might be more than a head rush; they might actually be delicious.

The point also raises another, which is that all of these peppers and their distinct qualities have connections to other, non-spicy foods, which have, again, encouraged the development of all manner of recipes in which the spice is indispensable. What would pico de gallo be if it was just chopped up tomatoes and onions? What would pho or pad thai be like without what most would say is the key ingredient? Fine, I’m sure, but to those who like it, something getting dangerously close to bland, or boring.

And there’s nothing wrong, of course, with liking bland and boring food. I’ve had many great meals that revolved around cabbage and potatoes, boiled this or that, and I’m not immune to the pleasures of a simple bowl of oatmeal on occasion. But that’s always been part of the confusion. No one says you must like or involve yourself in the eating of spicy food, just because other people relish it immensely. No one is forcing you to enjoy or even pretend to enjoy things you find aversive. But it’s important to stop pathologizing and insinuating nasty little things about those who do.

Which leads me, unfortunately, into the territory that contains my impetus to construct this piece in the first place. The next time you hear about the innocent victim of a murder who was hogtied and violated before being killed, be very careful before confusing the perpetrator of such a despicable act with a member of what might very loosely be described as the kink community.

Ted Bundy was not one of us, no matter what kind of porn he liked, and whatever may have thrilled the awful bastards that can do that sort of thing has nothing to do with kinky sex. Liking spicy food has nothing to do with what might prompt a monster to shove a Carolina Reaper down the throat of a 13 year old girl, and you won’t find anyone who approves of or relates to that impulse, not even amongst the weirdest in our rank. While we might all, ourselves, regularly tolerate a bit of indigestion, every one of us maintains the ability to have our stomachs turned, and don’t you dare suggest that that that kind of rot and filth is a part of our buffet.

Kink is an element of humanity, of culture, and if you’re confused by or uninterested in that aspect of our world you are more than within your rights to say so and act accordingly. But it is more than just unfair to suggest that, Man, those people will eat anything. It’s worse to say that someone who likes food you don’t is capable of chugging gasoline, and it’s terrible to suggest that, when someone found doing something evil had a twisted, perverted sexual side, they have anything in common with the legitimately sexually adventurous.

We don’t know, yet, what drives the despicable to do the horrible things they do, any more than we know what makes someone enjoy spicy food. But to grab a pile of festering shit and wave it in front of someone, saying, “How about it, pervert? You want some of that?!” is very nearly as disgusting as the act implied. And suggesting that it’s where we all might find ourselves if we stray beyond white rice and crackers is pathetic.

We need to stop using the kinky as scapegoats, just as we need to stop using them as bogeymen. Being kinky isn’t the same as being twisted, and it’s wrong to pretend that it is.

© 2018

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On Gynocentrism and the “Male Gaze” in Erotic Fiction and Pornography

Yesterday I was in conversation with a domme about putting some work towards a project of hers, one that in principal I support, which revolves around providing erotic artwork and literature that caters specifically to the pleasures of dominant women.  It’s a noble effort, and one that I am considering being involved with, but our conversation raised some interesting points that I think are worth exploring further here.

She intoned that such a great deal of femdom’s representation is inauthentic, a sentiment with which I heartily agree, and she expressed the need for works that would address her desires and pleasures as a dominant heterosexual woman, specifically things that would focus on her foil and counterpart, the male sub.  She indicated that the audience she represents was deeply underserved at the moment, often relying on gay romance and porn because stories from within her genre have so little to offer in terms of this perspective.

Now of course, naturally, I want the femdoms of the world to have just as much access to stimulating content that arouses and enthralls them as anyone else, and I agree that too often so-called “female dominance” is just a subcategory of selfish male fantasy.  In short, most of the Philistines believe that femdom means “a woman’s gonna tie you down and give you the best blowjob of your life whether you like it or not, Mister!” I’m certainly aware too, and painfully so, that most of the consideration given to femdom is some contorted caricature that too closely parallels things like schoolgirl and naughty nurse fantasies.  But what she indicated was to blame for this unfortunate circumstance was the unconscious, conditioned artistic reliance on the “male gaze”, and that is where I think our ideas and beliefs parted company.

By way of a definition, the “male gaze” is a feminist philosophical concept, first put forward in the mid-70s, that contends that female representation in arts and literature is inherently objectified, inherently contorted, and that its entire exploration stems from a prevailing masculine narcissism on the part of its creators.

It’s a fair point that deserves consideration, and it’s a functional analysis, yes, but in my estimation it’s one that is ultimatly inadequate to accurately inform one’s perspective on this topic, and I would like to address some of the things the idea carries with it:

For starters, speaking as a man with what I believe is a refined and sophisticated humanistic consideration for the opposite sex, I object to the notion that a man’s perspective on women is categorically some million candlestrength spotlight that immediately subjects her to a harsh, glaring, and specifically unnatural appraisal.  It’s just not something I’m willing to be accused of.  It implies that my perspective is inherently incapable of apprehending reality in a realistic way and it does so solely on the basis of my gender. That’s sexist and it’s wrong.

Secondly, I reject the idea that as a man my prurient interests are defined by exaggeration, bombast, and hyperbole.  There’s a sense in these discussions, tacitly accepted by all, that somehow because of my gender I am drawn inexplicably to surreal misrepresentation and overstatement.  That implies that my being is inherently incapable of relating to reality in a realistic way, and that my senses and powers of reflection are too dull and befuddled to appreciate things as they are.  I find that an abhorrent insinuation, and I’m afraid I must point out againt that such is levied against me because of my sex.

In both of these points we’re not talking about the bizarre irregularities of culture, we’re talking about my systemic dysfunction as a human being, and that needs to be stamped out immediately.

But to turn back toward the point this domme was making, the idea that most of the work out there focuses one-sidedly on the female half of femdom, the first thing I have to take issue with is the idea that it’s society driven and that it’s some version of conditioned, unconcsious bias.

The things I write aren’t uncritical streams of masturbatory consciousness that serve as some Freudian release. I’m not playing out little scenes with paper dolls in my mind. I don’t emulate what I see in other media, I don’t write out tropes, and even for the cheap smut peddler that I am I’m not a hack. I write from my own abundant and unrelenting fascination with women and with female sexuality. I don’t write stick figures or sock puppets, and I don’t just write a story and tack on incidental features to give it color. I base my characters on real women I have known or amalgams thereof. I try to give my scenes, scenarios, and interactions verisimilitude based on the specific personalities and attitudes of those women, and I listen to my characters far more often than I speak for them.

And yes, those characters and the things I describe and meditate upon are unapologetically female.

You can say it’s just a function of my staunchly heterosexual male perspective, and perhaps that’s true, but I am, for better or worse, utterly enamored of the female human being– not just physically but metaphysically, psychologically, and spiritually. I truly believe there’s something special about women that men categorically do not possess, and it’s not something that comes from having been exposed to glamorous photos and advertising, it isn’t something I’ve been led to believe by lies and half-truths I’ve been told. It’s something innate that relates to my innermost values and beliefs.

And on the question of values, as a creator I’m also faced specifically with the question of what I believe is worth glorifying and enunciating, what is worth portraying and celebrating, and the question is important to me not just in terms of the characters I create but of what they do and how they do it because of the genre in which I write, and that is something I take very seriously. That is how I address the inauthenticity of kink and fetish literature– I do my best to write from my highest and most authentic place, and that involves being true both to my earnest fascination with women and to my sincere appreciation for the female touch and the female influence on what takes place in my stories.

Which leads me to the other criticism of gynocentricity: that it diminishes the male role to such an extent that any old sleazebag can insert themselves into the story, and more seriously that it allows a male passivity which is not only burdensome but actually lazy and exploitative. This is something I take seriously as well, and I don’t believe that any erotic effort should be produced with the kind of boys’ club, big-eyed spectator mentality that characterizes so much of what’s out there today.

For me the role of the narrator in my stories, the vessel of the “gaze” from which I write (whether it’s 1st or 3rd person and regardless of the perspective), is to observe, describe, and most importantly articulate not just what happens but how it happens, and the art of that is deciding how best to get that across. It isn’t the same as just pointing a lens at something and saying “here it is”. Building tone, giving emphasis, changing focus, all of these are specific to the way my narrator thinks and experiences and that is what personalizes the story. In other words, what’s specific to the male in my stories (whether or not they are actually a character) isn’t the minutiae of how they are involved in the story itself, it’s the minutiae of the way they tell it and how the experience relates to them.

I understand why that might not be such a thrill for a reader whose interests and pleasure lies in the observation of the observer I’m describing, and I sympathize, but I refuse to accept the idea that the self-abdicating nature of my gaze somehow removes myself, the universal male of my stories, from the equation.

And to put it simply, I find it hard to believe that the Philistines who want a cheap, easy thrill over some garish, inarticulate presentation find themselves at home reading my stuff. I’d like to imagine that they get bored and move on to the rest of the crap made for them.

In the end, I may or may not write something for the so-called “femdom gaze”. If I can find something in my consciousness that I can offer to the musings and thrill of dominant women who want stories focused on submissives and the experience of submission then I’ll be most pleased to facilitate that. But if I never venture in that direction I hope they’ll find something worthwhile in what I do produce, and I hope they’ll get the kicks they want from someone who is more destined to write it.

© 2017

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What’s Wrong with Porn?

Last night my partner and I came home, got cozy, and settled in with our toys and our lube to watch some porn together. Sounds hot, right?

It’s a fairly normal occurrence for us; we both like to watch it, and when we watch it together we like to mutually masturbate or have intercourse with each other once something gets us going. And most of the time it’s fun and it’s exciting, and oh yeah, it’s plenty hot. But last night we ran into something that in the past has been fairly easy to navigate around: the fact that, lamentably, most porn just flat-out sucks.

It didn’t ruin our night, but afterwards we got to talking about why that is and we arrived at a number of things that I think are worth sharing here:

We started off talking about how we felt like most porn isn’t made with us in mind, that it seems to cater (and really, to pander) to those without much sexual experience or sophistication, who don’t know, for example, that touching someone’s knee isn’t likely to evoke a heavy, gasping moan, or who can’t tell when two women aren’t actually all that thrilled about having sex with each other. It also, consistent with its reputation, either goes right into the deep end or it belabors itself with aimless buildup for buildup’s sake that doesn’t resemble real foreplay in any significant way. Put simply, most of the time it doesn’t feel like watching real sexual people having a real sexual experience, it feels like watching porn people do the porn thing.

And unfortunately, there’s more wrong with that than just my partner and I not being able to get off to that sort of thing. It also lies about sex to those people who don’t know any better, and it confuses real sex for those who are just starting out. Because after all, it’s not like we live in a world where porn exists in a common, relatable context that we all understand, and that’s one of the things that promotes such poor quality as well.

Porn is far enough outside of the mainstream that there’s no culture that holds producers accountable. They get away with churning out flat, half-assed, insincere content because they know no one is talking at all, let alone critically, about their work. They know it’s a ‘get in, get off, get out’ mentality, and mediocrity thrives in that climate.

We turn our response to flavor into cuisine, our response to noise into music, our need to be clothed into fashion, our love for narrative into stories and films, but while almost every other one of our natural instincts has been developed into a rich, complex, familiar world, full of character and criticism and humanity, our sexuality has been so repressed that it’s prevented us from treating its exploration and indulgence with the same respect.

So there isn’t a culture of appreciation for porn, but the other problem is that there isn’t a culture of creation for it either. What so many pieces exhibit is an obvious lack of discipline, and it’s hard to imagine an actor or director being interviewed thoughtfully about their method or their philosophy. It’s hard to imagine some pornstar equivalent of Inside the Actor’s Studio, or art school, or a master class. It’s hard to even imagine them rehearsing. There’s a congratulatory body that gives out awards, yes, but is there any equivalent of the AFI or BFI’s 100 Best Films lists? Or 1,001 Pornos You Must See Before You Die? Is there anything that would even start making the list and truly deserve a place there?

I’ve written before about the artificial distinction we make between art and porn, and about our willingness to settle for such substandard fare, but what’s salient about that to me is that nothing and no one enforces the current state of things; there’s no mandate in any form saying it must be this way.

Call me crazy, but I see the potential for a bright and glorious future for the pornographic form, and I’ve said before that I believe that the only way for that future to become a reality is for our attitudes and our level of esteem towards it to change. The only way we’ll have great porn that both shows us and validates us as human beings is for us to start treating it as an extension of our humanity. But the point is that that’s true for all of those it involves, from its creators to its audience to all of those who care one way or the other.

Failing that, we’ll be stuck not only with this hollow, inauthentic drivel, but also everything that it feeds back to our society. We’ll continue to have men, both young and old, to whom sex is something between a foreign language and garbled gibberish. We’ll continue having women who have to deal with those men, romantically or otherwise. And we’ll continue not being able to talk about sex because the image we promote shows something no one in their right minds would ever admit to participating in.

Erotic stimulation deserves a much fairer shake than we give it, and we deserve an awful lot more from it in return. For too long we’ve perpetuated an arms race between its denigration and its misrepresentation, and it’s time for both of those things to stop.

© 2017

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Mischaracterizing Sex

Whether it’s public figures in prominent positions being taken to task for their misconduct or the apparent epidemic of sexual assault and abuse, or whether it’s ire and strife over the rights and status of LGBT people, or whether it’s cultural attitudes towards and public policy involving sex workers, it seems like the current climate for sex and sexuality is an unusually fraught and problematic one. But I’ve been trying, and I actually can’t think of a single moment in my lifetime when public attitudes towards these things have revolved around anything but the same pervasive anxiety that characterizes our approach to them today.

I grew up somewhere between “stranger danger”, the Clinton impeachment trial, boycotts of companies that supported the so-called “gay agenda”, and spooky stories of predators in chat rooms that might accost me while I was surfing the Web, and I’d like to say that things have changed. True enough, the public worries about different things now, but what hasn’t changed is the common thread between all of these things– that sex in America is a kind of universal boogeyman, forever rearing its head in new ugly ways– and it’s time we addressed what a disgustingly dysfunctional attitude that is.

How are we surprised that we have so many societal ills associated with sex when we so routinely set the stage for our sexual lives with such abundantly creepy scenery, while at the same time refusing to consider or entertain anything resembling a healthy, normal, realistic experience of the sexual dimension of life?

Our public approach to sex polarizes things to such an extent that all we have is the condemnation and vitriol associated with misbehavior and the sanitized over-glamourization present in media and advertising, unless you count the awkward 7th grader’s mentality that characterizes sex’s representation in comedy.

The only time we ever address sex publicly is to remind people what a sordid, painful, embarrassing affair the whole thing is to begin with, and that has got to change.

We have to start addressing sex in a more honest way, and that involves acknowledging the good as well as the bad. We have to start being open and candid with more than just our pain and our self-righteousness and and our glamour and our awkwardness. We have to start being genuine and real about sex. It’s the only way for things to get better.

© 2017

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Art “versus” Porn?

This week there is controversy in the Adult Content world regarding changes to the crowd-funding platform Patreon’s terms of service, which include restricting the creators from offering certain kinds of rewards (webcam sessions, Snapchat access, subscriptions to other services) and from funding certain efforts (website creation/maintenance, erotic video). The new TOS also omits a paragraph from the previous iteration which affirmed the value of erotic expression in an artistic context, and which explicitly declared such content an acceptable use of the platform, and it is that perennially prickly distinction which I should like to address in this essay.

[In an effort at full disclosure, I should submit that The SMUT Project has a page on Patreon, that we are a signatory to a circulating open letter that responds to these moves, and that the content we produce may or may not be subject to Patreon’s self-censorship depending on how that process is conducted.]

It seems that Patreon is the latest in a long line of those who would undertake the role of chaperoning eroticism in the arts, and while the effort is certainly nothing new in itself the modern twist is that its role is one of facilitation; they are not a governmental body dictating how people can be punished for what they produce, and they are not a publishing entity determined to curate a specific cultural brand, they are simply a means of connecting creators with patrons, which puts them in the unique position of being able to dictate both what people are able to support and what content is able to be supported through their platform. (This is, of course, their privilege. While the internet is a public utility, its services are not, and Patreon remains a private organization that can do what it wants to manage its affairs.)

Let’s take as read that I am not arguing for the facilitation of what anyone in their right mind would consider authentically obscene. To my mind the emphasis on strengthening the language against depictions of sexualized violence and the victimization of children and animals is some combination of low hanging fruit, red herring, and pushing the open door. What’s more it’s a tired cop out, which always prefaces these discussions, the assumption that that sort of bilge somehow comes with the territory of respectable pornography.

What we’re really talking about is a matter of taste– what is art, and what is porn? — and my question is: Why does it have to be one or the other?

We all know that there’s a difference. If you imagine one scene with soft lighting and violin music and another with platform heels and constamoaning you probably would assign them to different categories. But the aesthetics of it aren’t what I’m talking about; David LaChapelle’s photography is more garish and tacky than most porn and he’s still considered an artist.

What I mean to say is that something specifically designed for arousal, something meant to push one’s buttons, shouldn’t be written off as being without appreciable artistic merit. The point of art is to affect and stimulate the human soul, and I don’t think we should demand that sexuality be separate from that. Our response to the erotic is part of our humanity, and so is the way we address that response in others.

We have to stop pretending that a thoughtful, enlightened, sophisticated approach to life and to human expression is necessarily a chaste one. It’s bad for art, it’s bad for sex, and yes, it’s bad for society.

Video porn isn’t the same as cinema, erotic writing isn’t the same as literature, and I don’t know that either of them need to be indistinguishable from their more accepted counterparts. But I do think that they are both art forms unto themselves. They have traditions, they have genres, they have periods and movements, they have icons, they have practitioners great and small. And just because a good deal of what’s produced falls flat or rings false in the sophisticated ear doesn’t invalidate the medium, it just means it’s bad art.

I think if we started treating and thinking of and criticizing pornography that way it might rise to the occasion and prove itself worthy. Maybe if we treated it with respect it might really become respectable.

FOR THE RECORD: As I was writing this article I received an email sent to Patreon’s Adult Content creators by their CEO Jack Conte. It emphasized Patreon’s implicit support of its erotic creators and committed to working with them on a case-by-case basis in the event of a policy violation.  It also reiterated that the changes are meant to address the obscene and declared that they affect very few of their NSFW accounts.  I found it genuine and we will have to see how they handle things from here on out.

© 2017

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