Sadomasochism, Violence, and Pacifism

I started this post thinking about how one can reconcile being an ardent pacifist with being turned on by pain.  Actually, as I thought about it I determined that the answer to that question itself is pretty simple (hint, it has to do with consent) but I made some more interesting observations when thinking about what it is about violence that is so abhorrent to me.

I’m a big time pacifist.  I hate violence, and I’m the kind of person who would rather allow someone to victimize me than fight back.  That’s not to say that I wouldn’t try to use words, wit, creative solutions, or the simple solution of “run like hell” to get out of a sticky situation, and that’s also not to say that I in any way blame those who do respond to violence with violence.  It’s understandable, especially when you’re scared, when you’re being attacked, and it’s the only option.  But personally, I just really, really hate any kind of violence and I’ve never so much as smacked someone.

But why?

When I started thinking about it, I realized that it really comes back to the systemic nature of violence and war.  That system is patriarchal, violent, and aggressive.  It’s often imperialist, racist, and marginalizing.  It’s a system that celebrates one ideal (masculine, physically strong, able to destroy others) and posits that anyone who does not fit that ideal should be either protected, crushed, or ignored.

This kind of violence shows up everywhere.  We see it in war.  We see it in colonialism.  We see it in racism.  We see it in the treatment of people with disabilities and immigrants.  We see it in capitalism.

Sadomasochism doesn’t fall outside of this structure.  We all live in this world, and our sexuality is necessary a part of the world and affected by it.  To varying degrees, systemic violence may inform our practice of BDSM.  Some people may use BDSM as an outlet for aggressive tendencies, or as a healing mechanism for the wounds sustained by systemic violence, or to carry out violent fantasies that are embarrassing in a political context.  Pain can be about sensation, but it also be about violence for many perfectly safe, sane, and consensual practitioners.  And that’s okay.

What differentiates violence in a BDSM context, when practiced according to the dictates of SSC (or RACK), is (unsurprisingly) that the participants are willing.  However the practice relates to the system, the people practicing S&M are saying “I like this, I want to do this, and here’s how.”  It’s an exchange, not a one-sided act.  It’s conscious, and I think in many cases, examples of systemic violence aren’t.  I think a lot of people who hold a gun in an armed conflict, or rape a woman, or assault a transgendered person on the street, perpetrate violence almost mindlessly. Violence is so normalized as to make these options understandable to many, and celebrated by more than a few.  When practiced with a clear head, and according to the dictates of enthusiastic consent, S&M is anything but mindless.

This post was originally published on the blog Sex Positive Activism, which has now merged to become the sex & relationships section of Queer & Now.

Momentum: Feminism, Sexuality, Relationships, and New Media


Exciting Announcement time!  I’m going to be presenting at Momentum, a sure-to-be-exciting convention taking place April 1-3, 2011 in Washington (technically, Silver Spring).  The theme of the convention is feminism, sexuality, relationships, and new media, and I will be doing a session on the potential of new media for polyamory, as well as participating in a poly panel.  The presenters list is quite exciting, with a lot of names I’m sure you know from the world of sex education and sexuality media.  I’m particularly excited to meet Minx from Poly Weekly and Shanna Katz of Essin’ Em, but there’s a whole bundle of kinky, queer, poly people with fabulous ideas so it’s sure to be a great weekend.  You can register online, and be sure to book a hotel early.  The hotel they picked is really nice; I’ve stayed there before for a convention.  Hope to see you there!

This post was originally published on the blog Sex Positive Activism, which has now merged to become the sex & relationships section of Queer & Now.

Fantasizing with the Id

I’ve been trying to think of what to say about fantasies for a couple of weeks, because I have so much to say about fantasies.  So I think, instead of doing one big post about fantasies, I will start small, and continue on this theme for a while.

Tonight I want to talk about what I call the “id fantasies.”  Id fantasies, as I define them, are those fantasies that are not just down and dirty but often a little bit embarrassing.  They might be mainstream porny, they might be way beyond what you’d ever want to do in real life, they might kind of go against your politics in every way.  But they’re hot.

Continue reading Fantasizing with the Id

A Hymen Primer

I’ve learned some interesting things recently about the hymen, and surfing around sexuality sites and blogs, I’m realizing that many sex positive, feminist bloggers and activists appear to be as in the dark as I was about the hymen.  So!  Time to change that.

1. The hymen does not “break.” I think most feminist, sex-positive people are aware that breaking the hymen doesn’t equal virginity loss, that there isn’t always blood, and probably that “virginity” itself is a social construct.  But did you know that the hymen doesn’t break at all?  I’d learned, at some point, that the hymen is a thin membrane of tissue covering much of the vagina, and that it breaks when you have intercourse or insert a tampon or ride a horse or what have you, and then the tissue just washes away with your blood or natural fluids and there it goes.  Not true!  The tissue can tear and change the shape of the hymen, or it can stretch so that it pretty much becomes an unnoticeable part of the surrounding vaginal tissue, but there isn’t any one “breaking” moment.

2. There are different shapes of the hymen.  Some are more convenient than others. Many women have basically circular shaped openings in the hymen, or something like a ragged circle.  Others have a shape that’s basically round but has lots of little fingers coming off from it, like a sunburst.  Others have a kind of blob like shape like an inkblot.  Others have a circle with a band of hymen running across.  Others have a tiny hole, or many tiny holes, or none at all (this is usually “fixed” at birth due to the issues of menstrual blood needing to escape).  And you can have a combination of shapes!  The shape might change over time.

3.  If the hymenal opening is very small or has a band going across it, it can be cut. This is apparently a very simple procedure in the gynecologist’s office. A lot of us have heard about the surgeries to “sew up” the hymen and give the illusion of virginity, but I haven’t heard much talk about the option to cut away problematic hymenal tissue.  This can be done at puberty if a girl is having trouble inserting a tampon or having a very slow flow of blood during her menstrual cycle. It can also be done to alleviate pain during penetrative sex.

4.  Some hymens are more flexible than others. As far as I can tell, the stretchiness of the hymen, and how much it blends in with the vaginal walls, depends somewhat on estrogen.  So things like birth control, HRT, and menopause may affect how stretchy the hymen is and how easy penetrative sex is.  Lubricant helps.

This post was originally published on the blog Sex Positive Activism, which has now merged to become the sex & relationships section of Queer & Now.

Sex Education for Adults

So I’ve long been fantasizing about making a living as a sex educator, with a number of possible projects from a sex education “textbook” for adults to a non-profit organization. But one thing I want to recommend, for adults who are need of some continuing sexuality education, is scarleteen.com. I know a lot of adults recommend this to young people as a sex education resource, but it turns out, it’s a damn good website even for grownups (especially those of us who were victims of abstinence-only!) I was doing some hand mirror explorations this weekend of my (somewhat rare in a few ways) anatomy and I found Scarleteen to be an excellent resource.

This post was originally published on the blog Sex Positive Activism, which has now merged to become the sex & relationships section of Queer & Now.