Is there a “Bdsm gene”?

It’s unlikely that there’s such a thing as a “bdsm gene”, any more than it seems likely there is a single “gay gene”. However, it’s plausible, though not proven, that there are genetic factors that in combination predispose some people in some cultures into adopting the homosexual role defined and allowed by that culture.[i]

Somewhere in that damn DNA is the BDSM. Or, as the case may be, not.

Similarly, it’s plausible that a combination of genetic factors predispose some people to be aroused by pain, restraint or dominant-submissive relationships, and to channel that arousal in sexual directions.

This doesn’t mean that some people are born to be involved in bdsm. It’s rather that they are more likely than other people to recognize and respond to situations with bdsm overtones, for example watching or getting a childhood spanking, or a television or film scene in which a character gets tied up. These experiences can be called “bdsm signals”.

They can be real-life experiences, but bdsm signals are common in advertising, films and music videos. Some people with this genetic disposition may never encounter a signal that catches their attention and triggers their interest. In that case, they probably won’t experience this kind of arousal, and that genetic possibility will go unexplored.

Others, who have both the genetic predisposition and the awakening experience that comes from the culture’s bdsm signals, are more likely to become interested in bdsm.

“Man talk.” (Smack.)

I once talked about this with a woman who had watched Goldfinger on late-night TV with a group of friends.

There’s a notorious moment where Sean Connery smacks Margaret Nolan (who plays a character called “Dink”) on the arse, after sending her away because he wants to talk to Felix Leiter. “Man talk.” 

Everyone else was shocked at the bizarre sexism of the scene, which hasn’t aged well, and she was sitting there quietly thinking, Sean Connery can smack my arse any time he likes. It was one of those “that’s when I knew I was different” moments. 

If there is a genetic predisposition it’s almost certainly carried across a range of genes rather than a single one, and it’s unlikely that those genes will be identified any time soon.

Still, it seems plausible that the culture provides people with bdsm signals, which they may or may not see or notice. And that some of those who observe the signal may for genetic reasons sexualize dominance and submission more easily than others do. In this very limited and partial sense some of us may be born that way.

 

[i]Richters, Juliet, “Understanding Sexual Orientation: A Plea for Clarity”, Reproductive Health Matters, Volume 6, Number 12, 1998, pp 146-147.

Neck constriction, “choking” and death

The Guardian published a piece on sexual choking. It’s here

I’ve some reservations with it. For example it doesn’t distinguish clearly between two different phenomena: 

1. A lot of porn at the moment, particularly but not only bdsm porn, features choking, where one partner puts their hand on the other partner’s neck and constricts their breathing, and some people are imitating what they see; and 

2. Some husbands have murdered their wives, and their defence lawyer has argued that the murder was a “consensual kink session that accidentally went wrong”, as a defence. 

It’s unfortunate not to make that distinction, because in the second kind of case kink was not involved. In fact the defence lawyer and the mainstream media have worked together to blame an old-fashioned murder on alternative sexuality. 

I have some other problems, like the citing of anti-sexual minority and pro-censorship activist Gail Dines as an “expert” and as a “feminist”, when she is not in the habit of taking contrary evidence into account, and she is significantly opposed to the right of women to make sexual choices of which she disapproves. There are also questions about her relationship with the anti-abortion rights wing of the Christian Right. 

 

Anyway, I’m still pleased that the issue has come up. 

First, a personal statement. As a Dom, I simply don’t do choking. I’ve been a nurse (a psych nurse, but you get some basic medical training), and I know all the systems that run through the neck are delicate enough without people fucking with them deliberately.

I do know that it can be done safely. If it couldn’t, then the floors of all the bdsm porn studios would be littered with corpses. And they’re not.

Also, I know many submissives want to try it.

But personally, if someone wants to be choked, I’ll ruthlessly shove their face into a pillow, and check on them after, say, thirty seconds. No, seriously.

The neck grip strikes me as too risky to be fun.

The Guardian article talks about two, possibly three deaths. One was clearly a murder, while the other is perhaps more ambiguous. I know that in my native New Zealand there used to be about 6 deaths every year from erotic strangulation, though almost all of those were auto-asphyxiation, with no one else present. 

We simply have no way of telling:

  1. How many deaths are claimed to be because of “choking”, or erotic strangulation during sexual play; and
  2. Of those, how many were actually murders, in which the “sexual play” claim was simply a ruse to cover up a murder in which kink was not involved;
  3. And how many were genuine tragic accidents by people imitating a practice seen in erotica or talking about in magazines, who discovered in the most tragic way that when you constrict the neck, death can come too easily and too quickly. 

Now, I don’t think porn changes people’s character or degrades their general behaviour. But what it can do is mislead. If choking is shown as pleasurable to the person being choked, and as requiring no great level of skill or preparation, then a conscientious and well-meaning lover may decide to try it out.

That is, to claim the practice is only misogynist is to simplify human sexual behaviour. What it actually is, is more dangerous than many people realise.

By “dangerous” I mean you can reduce risk, with guidance and practice, but not eliminate it.

Within bdsm, we need more education. People who want to be doms, and want to do the things in sex that doms will do need certain information. For example: 

1 There are some submissives who do, in fact, enjoy careful choking play. However there are many others for whom it is a hard limit. That means they don’t want it, and to try it will break their trust in the dom who tries to include it into sexual play without consent. My guess, based on anecdote and not data, is that submissives who dislike and fear choking are more common than those who like it.

2 Therefore, it should only ever be done with prior discussion and consent. 

At the moment, bdsm porn is not doing well at communicating those ideas. Choking is fashionable. Porn has fashions, like the sudden appearance a few years ago of butt hooks. (About which I’m much more enthusiastic.)

Porn makers often behave ethically. An example is promoting condom use. Another example is how quickly the porn industry dropped star James Deen after credible complaints of sexual coercion were made against him. Similar moves in “mainstream” media have taken years, or even decades.  

The porn industry doesn’t bear most of the responsibility for the “fashionability” of choking. Cultures are influenced in many complicated ways. But it would be a big help if they stopped promoting it and presenting it as a safe activity that can casually be sprung on the partner, thereby enhancing their pleasure. 

There are safer options for forcing a partner to lose control of their breathing for a while, if that’s something they want: pillows, obviously, and even a big bowl of water. 

It’s probably time for choking, strangulations and choke holds to quietly fade out of porn, whether bdsm or mainstream. 

Defining BDSM: What is it?

Bdsm is an unusual acronym, because it combines six words into just four letters. It’s short for bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism.  Bdsm is a group of three related sets of sexual desires and practices:

  • giving or accepting sexualised pain, which can involve beating, or the application of heat or cold, electricity or piercing;
  • imposing or accepting restraints and other things likely to produce feelings of helplessness;
  • demanding or giving submission, service and sexualised obedience to commands.

Any one of those things is bdsm, though most people involved in bdsm seem to like at least two out of three, or all three. 

Strictly speaking (and in bdsm someone has to speak strictly), you don’t need a single one of these items for bdsm. You just need hands, a tongue and genitals

Another way to describe bdsm is to say that it’s a kind of sensibility. Bdsm includes many experiences and feelings shared by people who don’t consider themselves to be involved in bdsm.

Anyone can have moments of sexual surrender when they lie back, close their eyes and let their lover do whatever they want with them. Many people enjoy the fiercer experience of pushing a lover beyond their control so they are no longer capable of reticence or caution.

Not everyone who sometimes feels that way during sex would say they were into bdsm. What’s specific to bdsm is the way it takes these common desires and sensations and seeks to extend, prolong and intensify them.

Another defining feature of bdsm is the way it gives sexual significance to things that don’t usually carry much sexual weight. Someone who kneels before their lover, forehead pressed to the floor, is aware of the posture they’re in and its meaning. That awareness is sexual.

There’s nothing sexy about kneeling. Until it acquires sexual meaning. Bdsm is very much about assigning and enjoying sexual significance to actions and words

In other contexts there’s not much sexual charge to be had from kneeling. Bdsm involves physical intimacy and physical sensations, sometimes intensely, but it focuses not only on how actions feel but also on what they mean.

To an unusual degree, bdsm pleasure involves something almost abstract: the partners’ awareness of their relationship, and the symbols, gestures and words by which that relationship is expressed.

The practices – I suspect – aren’t as important as that awareness between the partners. Which is why it’s true to say that bdsm is both a form of sex and a form of love. 

Masturbation Monday: Why I don’t write eroticised rape scenarios – but can anyone?

This is a sequel to an older post I wrote, about what erotic writers who consider themselves to be generally on the side of the angels should and shouldn’t write. 

TC (Teresa) Dale wrote, on Twitter, that my rejection of forced sex scenarios was a bit hard-line, and inconsistent with my general principle that writers should be free to write fantasies that wouldn’t really be acceptable in practice. Readers, after all, can tell fantasy from reality, and can scratch itches in fantasy that they can’t in the real world. 

It’s a valid point, and it got me thinking more about forced and non-consensual scenes. 

 

I used the words “on the side of the angels” purely so I could use this image again. It’s by an artist drawing as “Schpog”, and I think it’s gorgeous.

Firstly, there are many stories about non-consenting sex written from the “victim’s” point of view. Those tend to be stories where the aggressor is incredibly hot, and the woman (could be a guy or transgendered person, but usually it’s a a woman) dutifully says no, but finds that the hot aggressive one overrides their objections and forces them into sexual acts anyway. And the “victim” shocks herself by being into it.  

And I have no objection to writing that at all. 

It’s writing from the other side, the “aggressor’s” side, that troubles me. If someone wrote a story that went, “she let me in after our date, but she didn’t want to fuck me, so I forced her, and she was, like, totally into it”, I’d find that kind of creepy. 

I don’t think reading that story would make it more likely that someone will actually commit rape. That’s far too simplistic.

But I’m not going to write that story, partly for personal reasons: I don’t want to spend any time in that headspace.

But also, I hate those “rapist’s POV camera, stalking the woman” scenes on tv and in movies. I don’t want to write the prose equivalent. I guess it’s the idea that rape culture is pervasive enough already, and writers shouldn’t contribute to it.

So it’s writing about non-consent from the aggressor’s point of view that I have reservations about.  

If you have a scenario like, “the auctioneer has to test every slave girl before the auction”, it’s rapey, but somehow less appalling because it’s so obviously fantasy

There’s another issue: realism. It’s one thing to write about a James Bond villain with an underground lair and a desert island, or an alien with a spaceship, kidnapping some woman (or man or trans-gendered person) and forcing her into various sexual scenarios. Somehow that seems like it could be written from the aggressor’s point of view and not trigger my concerns, because it is so obviously fantasy. 

Realistic stories seem much creepier. “I raped my girlfriend because she didn’t feel like having sex with me, and then she loved it.” Or: “I stalked her through the park, attacked her, and fucked her on the grass where no one could see us.”

The principle is the same – it’s all forced sex – but it’s “realistic stories of non-consenting sex, from the aggressor’s POV” that make me most uncomfortable. A writer who really was celebrating the way rape happens in the real world would strike me as an asshole.

Finally, this is personal. Part of my discomfort is simply that my persona, and my reality, is very clearly male dom.

I’m subject to some prejudice, based on the ignorant idea that bdsm is about cruelty, not consent. As a dom, particularly a male dom, I don’t want to do anything to encourage the idea that doms get off on non-consent.  

 

Should there be a higher age of consent for taking part in bdsm than for other sex?

Consent is the key to bdsm. Consent is the difference between bdsm and assault, just as it’s the difference between lovemaking and rape. Still, “consent” isn’t always easy to define. For example, anyone who has given consent because their judgement is impaired by an intellectual disability, a psychiatric condition, or because they are too drunk or drugged to know what they are doing, is not considered to have consented in legal terms, or in the ethical codes recommended by most bdsm organisations.

BDSM is very alert to consent issues, partly because we need to make consent very explicit and specific, to avoid submissive coming to harm by being pushed into practices they didn’t really consent to.

And partly, I think, because we – I think; I’m just guessing, extrapolating from myself – find the gestures and words of consent are sexy in their own right.

The words “I want it”, which are sometimes pronounced, “punish me; I deserve it”, are some of the sexiest sounds in the universe, round my way.

Age of consent laws

Most governments specify a minimum age at which a young person is considered able to consent to sexual activity. The age varies from one legal system to another. It’s 16 where I live, and 20 where the poor South Koreans live. 

Look, Helen Mirren once starred in a film called “Age of Consent”, and spent a lot of screen time being naked.
So this is a relevant, non-gratuitous illustration. Really!

People sometimes argue for higher minimum ages of consent for various kinds of minority sexual activity. Like there used to be – probably still are, in some places – discriminatory age of consent laws for gay sex compared to heterosexual sex. So that a young woman can use her cunt as she sees fit from 16, while a young man who is gay (also his lover) would have to wait till the young man was 18 before his asshole was legally, um, accessible. 

I’ve sometimes heard that bdsm should have a discriminatory age of consent. When a 16 year-old girl or boy says, “Whip me, Master, or as the case may be, Mistress”, does that 16 year-old know what they are doing? 

I think the answer is “probably not, not really, in most cases”. But I think the same is true of sexual intercourse, and there are good reasons why we allow kids to make their own mistakes and their own successes, from around that time.

Oddly, although most legislators are likely to find a minor’s participation in bdsm more alarming than intercourse, many bdsm activities may not be covered by age of consent laws because there may be no genital contact of any kind, or even undressing. However, other laws, for example the lesser charge of indecency to a minor, would presumably apply, and anyone who fell foul of those laws would be unlikely to get much sympathy from a jury, or (not that it matters) from me. 

Anyway, I don’t think the consequences of bad sexual intercourse choices are actually less significant than those of bad bdsm choices. In sexual intercourse potential bad consequences include pregnancy, getting raped after withdrawing consent, falling in love with a bad, destructive person, disease, and so on. The consequences of bad bdsm choices, especially submissive choices, overlap with those, except that there is probably less risk of pregnancy or disease, and higher risk of being pushed into scenarios harder and faster than they should. 

But consequences like rape and, say, a spanking that expands into a serious assault, are already covered by the law: they are illegal regardless of the age of the victim, and therefore not really relevant to discussions about ages of consent.  

Did I mention that”Age of Consent”  film with Helen Mirren? (Based on a Norman Lindsay novel, it’s a better film than you’d expect from the title.)

I suspect the idea that kinky sex leads to greater harm is partly based on simple distaste for kinky sex, and not on objectively thinking about consequences. 

There’s also a principled objection to having discriminatory age of consent laws, which is that they are discriminatory.

More importantly, perhaps, there are practical objections. There’s no age of consent that fits the individual circumstances of every young person. We have to accept that the law is only trying to set out a general protective principle without stopping young people from experimenting and experiencing.

A government that issued a range of different consent ages for different sexual activities would make lawyers rich but have no effect on what young people do.

Information for young people is the best protection.

Disclaimer

This is what I think, at the moment, from first principles. I’m open to argument, either way. 

Fitness, fucking and domming

Right now, I’m the most unfit I’ve ever been in my life. 

This is a very bad thing. I’m used to being thought of as good-looking, and what I see in the mirror at the moment is not that. I see a man, probably with a nice enough face, with a gut on him. 

I have a feeling that this is worse for doms than for most men. There seems to be two competing factors:

1 Women are, by and large, more forgiving of not-great male bodies than men are of women. But – 

2 A dom is expected to have his act together. If he can’t discipline himself, how can he claim the right to rule and discipline someone else? 

Because of Rule 1, I’ve seen a lot of men in pubs, trying to pick up women and often succeeding. The men are beer-gutted hoons, or bogans.

These are New Zealand and Australian terms, but I don’t think I need to translate them. They’re onomatopoeia.

The girls are fragrant, pretty flowers ranging between elfin-slender and pretty-girly-plumpness.But Rule 1` empowers the men to at least try it on. 

The disparity in attractiveness doesn’t seem to do the men much harm. 

I think it matters more for doms. I’ve heard women submissive complain about soft-bellied doms, and… at the moment that’s me.

I played Saturday morning footy in the park today. It was a hell of a shock to the system, because everybody was fitter than me. But I am a proud man, so I pushed myself and tackled people, and tried for goals, and so on. I think I scored one. Everybody else did better. 

Then I went home and gasped for an hour before I could rouse myself to have a shower.

Anyway, I’m reducing my stomach.

When a woman is across my knee, the only fleshly thing around should be her ass. 

Tender

Every good submissive needs aftercare. After a punishment, or a session. 

The body is suspicious of pain. It wants to know why it hurts, and how to interpret that assault.

A submissive who’s been punished hard, or used hard, and now has welts and bruises, needs to know that he or she is loved and cared for, valuable and special. 

That has a practical reason. It prevents or at least limits sub drop, the state of self-doubt and depression that can come in and bring the submissive’s emotional and physical state down, after the landing from flying through sub space. It’s like an ecstasy reaction, and like the eccie hangover, it sometimes comes immediately the effect wears off, and sometimes it comes a couple of days later. 

So the Dom needs to give the submissive a lot of love and affection and tangible signs of caring, to reduce the drop, and give the submissive some things he or she can hold on to, and use to fight the negative feelings that can follow a session.

That obligation can’t be discharged in one session. Some submissives need immediate aftercare only, but others need immediate aftercare, and a second course one or two days later.

Tenderness is a crucial part of aftercare: the hugs, the soft, loving words, the treats, the warm bath where the dom shampoos the submissive’s hair, the love-making afterwards.

But it’s more than aftercare. I think, anecdotally, that all doms in a long-term bdsm relationship love their submissive. With the physical and emotional intensity of bdsm, and the awesome power of the submissive’s surrender, it’s hard not to.

Sometimes we show that love in a harsh, cruel way, knowing that the submissive needs our harshness in order to take flight. And sometimes we’re just tender, because that’s how we feel.  

Tenderness is kind of underrated in bdsm literature, especially the sexy porn literature. But in reality, it’s essential. 

Why might left-wing people have more bdsm fantasies than right-wingers?

There was a study released a few days ago on the sexual fantasies of Americans. You can find a link to an article by the researcher here. The study took in 4,175 people across the 50 states, and asked them about people, places and things that turn them on. 

We won’t dwell on the “people” side of it, except to say that a lot of people wanted to fuck Sarah Palin, which is weird. So, IMHO, are the people who want to do Hillary. I was also surprised by the fact that Bill Clinton was fancied by more people than Obama. That’s got to be the weird American race barrier, because otherwise that seems kind of inexplicable.

Democrats fucking

Anyway, the interesting finding was that Republicans were more likely than Democrats to have fantasies about partner-swapping, orgies and other non-monogamous sex, while Democrats were more likely than Republicans to fantasise about bdsm. 

The article in Politico doesn’t tell us how the researcher, Justin Lehmiller, selected his sample. He also doesn’t tell us what the actual numerical differences were, between Republican and Democrat fantasies.

That’s why my heading includes the word “might”. Ordinarily I’d take the whole thing with a grain of salt, but I’m prepared to at least discuss it because it falls into the category of “possibly suss research that happens to fit in with my own anecdotal experience”.

Republicans fucking

Anyway, Lehmiller’s explanation for the difference he claims to have found is  the attraction of “taboo.” Republicans are big on “family values”, so non-monogamy is forbidden and hot, for them.

Democrats believe in equality so the inequality of dominant/submissive roles is forbidden and hot for them.

I don’t think that’s it.

In practice, bdsm isn’t the place you’d go if you want unequal relationships. You want “traditional patriarchal Christian marriage” for that shit. Bdsm insists on equality as a starting point, from which you negotiate unequal power, and it insists on explicit consent. And the power is never really unequal. If the submissive isn’t getting what he or she wants, their Dom will become their ex-Dom in about the time it takes to speak the words, “Fuck you!”

If you believe in clear consent, bdsm is one place you’ll find that. Someone could argue that that’s what draws left-wing people to bdsm. I suspect that only plays a minor role, though. 

But there are good reasons why conservatives don’t much like bdsm. In particular, bdsm is anti-authoritarian. In bdsm people play “power difference” for sexual pleasure. Conservatives tend to think that’s very disrespectful to the rightful authorities. Particularly men of the church, who prefer their power over sexual matters to be non-consensual and unquestioned.  

Anarcho-syndicalist giraffes are way sexier than either donkeys or elephants.

I think the reason why Democrats are more likely than Republicans to have bdsm fantasies is pretty much the opposite of Lemiller’s “taboo” theory. That is, social acceptance off bdsm is relatively new and it is still happening. But it’s got a firm toe-hold in the culture.

Just as Democrats were faster to pick up on gay rights and dignity issues, they are more likely to feel that governments should keep out of bdsm consensual sexual activity. In the process, they are making bdsm less taboo.

That is, Democrats are more likely to fantasise about bdsm hotness (if that’s the case; note reservations about the research) not because it’s their “forbidden”, but because for them it’s less forbidden.

The responsibilities of fictional characters in erotica

A lot of people have attacked the fictional character Christian Grey for being a bad dom. Of course, he’d be a terrible dom if he was real. He stalks lip-biting inner-goddess Anastasia, spanks her and takes a strap to her arse, all without her consent. 

I’m sure he behaved badly in the second two books as well, but I haven’t been able to read them. Call me a snob and call me a cab, but after skimming Volume One I was out of there. 

If Christian Grey were a real person bdsm communities would have warnings about him, for his weird, unethical and non-consensual behaviour. He’d finish up getting charged with assault and being in the centre of a massive media scandal: “Billionaire in kinky love-nest rape!” That sort of thing.

However, as a fictional character his behaviour is a lot better. He’s made a lot more women come, with Fifty Shades in one hand and their bits in the other, than any thousand real doms combined. Even if you include me. That’s a significant contribution to human happiness, and you can’t ignore it.

As a fictional character, my main criticism of Christian Grey is that he doesn’t do nearly enough spanking and commanding and binding the Anastasia of Steel. I skimmed Fifty Shades Freed looking for the bdsm scenes so I could critique them, but I never found any. I’m sure I just didn’t look hard enough.  

In the interminable schoolgirl spanking saga I’m writing, there are two headmasters, and they initiate certain of their students into various kinky sexual practises. Obviously, if they were real and lived in our world, they’d both belong in jail.

They’re not breaking age-of-consent laws, and the age gap between them and their charges isn’t all that great: about eight years.

But they’re in a position of authority and there’s no question at all that they’re misusing their authority in ways that, uh, conflict with the criminal code in any civilised society. 

On the other hand, these two imaginary men are written to give pleasure to their readers, and my impression is that my spanking headmasters, like the “naughty schoolgirl” scenario itself, appeal particularly to a female audience. I am that audience’s humble servant. 

There is, eventually, a happy ending to the Jennifer-and-Maddie saga, but at the rate at which time moves in my stories, that ending will probably arrive some time in 2021. In the meantime, my point is, I’m happy to write it and make it as sexy as possible. While being fervently against corporal punishment and sex between teachers and students in the real world. 

 

I’m not saying that fictional characters have no ethical requirements at all. We erotica writers who consider ourselves to be on the side of the angels (especially the sexy, spankable, fuckable angels) don’t write bestiality, or eroticise rape, or write scenarios involving people under eighteen, though the age of consent where I live is sixteen.

But still, there is a difference, a space, between fantasy and real life, and it’s a space that erotica writers spend a lot of time in. It’s fluid and it’s complex, like the best sex, and we need to defend our freedom to have erotic fantasies that are perfectly sexy without necessarily being perfectly ethical.

We know the difference between fiction and fantasy, on the one hand, and the real world, in the other.

We need to take action in the real world to challenge the beliefs and indulgences that make it far too easy for men to rape and get away with it, and to give support to organisations that support women who’ve been subjected to rape and other violence.

At the same time, we need to defend our right to have erotic fantasies, and to share them with others.

Erotica is a powerful tool for improving human happiness, and for helping people to find and explore their own erotic selves without censorship or condemnation. 

Pleasure is, at least, undervalued. It shouldn’t be shamed.