The bdsm shelves. A few books haven’t turned up yet, and will still be in boxes somewhere. But it’s good to have these back within reach.
I knew a woman who’d fucked Keith Haring a few times. As she tells it – I’ve got various good reasons for believing her, by the way – it was a bit more than a one-nighter, but less than a relationship. He was more famously into guys, but there were women too.
Anyway he’d spanked her, a lot. After the first night he tied her as well. He hadn’t asked for consent, but he’d sort of paused before going on, in an “is this ok?” sort of way.
I guess that’s about a half mark, for bdsm ethics.
But she felt okay and that’s the best indicator. Everything else is more about politics than people. I trust people more.
That’s all I’ve got, today: a meaningless anecdote about a dead New York artist. I’ve been working and my brain’s nearly off-line.
We’ve had two posts on the psychoanalyst Dr June Rathbone, and her textbook on “Masochism”. The book’s mainly interesting for its over-the-top hostility to the people she chose as her topic.
Still, if someone who was attracted to or practiced bdsm ever needed counselling or psychiatric help, and they went to a therapist whose ideas about bdsm were shaped by Rathbone’s book, then they’d be likely to be harmed.
Still, you can do even worse than that sort of bigotry. My favourite contender for the Great Moments in Science series is some early work by John Bancroft.
He turned his attention to one of those great scientific questions we’ve all wondered about, lying awake late into the night. Like, “Can you kill an elephant with LSD?”
That one was solved by a Dr Richard West, then working on some extremely dodgy projects for the CIA.
The answer was, “Yes, but it takes one fuck of a strong dose.”
But I digress.
Anyway, Bancroft’s question was different:
“If you give masochists ‘aversive therapy’ to cure their sexual orientation, are you going to cure masochism, or are those pervy masochists just going to get off on the electric shocks?”
This one’s been solved too. Bancroft’s team found that masochists, just like everyone else, generally dislike getting electric shocks. So they didn’t actually pick up an electrification fetish.
So aversive therapy could proceed.
That was early in John Bancroft’s otherwise distinguished career. I’d expect he finds that project pretty embarrassing now, if he ever thinks of it.
And he’s done some good and progressive stuff on increasing understanding of a range of minority sexual tastes.
I shared a taxi with him once, on the way to dinner at some conference in Scotland, and it crossed my mind to ask him about that study. But it would have been rude, and anyway I was too star-struck. He’s actually one of the good guys.
It’s often said that bdsm is roughly where homosexuality was fifty or sixty years ago, in terms of social, political and media acceptance.
Rathbone’s textbook on bdsm, Anatomy of Masochism, definitely supports that idea. If anything, it’s more hostile, more overtly bigoted about the sexual desires of others than most psychologists would have been about gays and lesbians in the 1950s.
As well as coming up with a bizarre list of “causes” for bdsm, as seen in yesterday’s post, Rathbone also provided a helpful checklist of the distinguishing characteristics of “sadomasochists”.
You can sum up our personalities, we perverts, as being steeped in rigidity, fantasy, infantilism, hypocrisy, passivity and tension, also deceptiveness, pathological selfishness, and authoritarian politics. Did I say authoritarian? Well, Rathbone thinks it’s more a matter of our peculiar tendency towards Nazism.
To Rathbone, it’s not just that all bdsm relationships are dysfunctional, it’s that bdsm is almost the only cause of relationship dysfunction. She wrote, “When a ‘love’-relationship is not loving, it is usually sadomasochistic.”
Anatomy of Masochism’s bigotry is so overt and so intensely hostile that – as you can see – it’s essentially comic.
Still, it’d be an unlucky person who needed information and advice about their bdsm desires, and sought those things from a doctor or therapist whose perception of bdsm was guided by Rathbone’s book.
So we’re picking up where we left off, in the series in which various scientists and psychologists try to come up with explanations for why some people are weird enough to like bdsm.
We had Karl Abraham’s theory that our bdsm desires are caused by teething. I wrote about that charmingly bonkers theory here: http://preview.tinyurl.com/nt54dmq
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And we had the team who studied “sadists” by dissecting the brains of dead axe murderers. Read it and weep! http://preview.tinyurl.com/mufu5h3
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But those guys are lightweights, since they offer only one explanation for bdsm each.
As far as I’ve found, the record holder, for the most – and I think it’s fair to say the craziest – explanations for bdsm is Dr June Rathbone, in her 2001 textbook Anatomy of Masochism.
Dr Rathbone dispenses bdsm explanations like a party magician gives out balloons.
For example, Dr Rathbone explained that we bdsm perverts suffer from “incomplete individuation”, by which she means that, having failed to develop as human beings, we avoid intimacy for fear that our personalities will be swamped by closeness to another person. We stave off intimacy by turning aggression outward if we are ‘sadists’, inward if we are ‘masochists’.
In addition, we are addictive personalities hooked on the endorphin rush of pain.
Moreover, we are stuck in Freud’s anal stage, unable to achieve normal sexual release because for us “the anus and buttocks are more erotogenic than the genitals.”
We also have Lesch-Nyhan syndrome, a hereditary condition involving “mental retardation, self-mutilation, and sudden aggressive behaviour.”
We probably also had a childhood fetish for rubber or plastic. Comic books are also to blame, and so is science fiction: “the mindless ruthlessness of most sci-fi is identical with the sadomasochistic compulsion to win at any price … and, when ingested in a steady diet, can only help to create or reinforce such a mind-set.”
Finally, Rathbone blamed bdsm on superhero comics, especially the body-revealing costumes. Also, Tom and Jerry cartoons. The weirdest thing was, she doesn’t blame rock music or marijuana.
You’ll have noticed that if you like bdsm, then Dr Rathbone doesn’t like you much, to an extent and level of intensity that goes well beyond mere bigotry. You’ll also have noticed that she’s a Freudian believer, taking seriously things like “the anal stage” and such.
There’s a connection between those two facts, which we’ll come to shortly.
I’ve lost my paddle. It was a heavy black leather paddle. Heavy, double-bladed; made a cracking noise when it landed. I care that it’s gone, but that’s because it was a present. So it’s got sentimental value.
But if I’d bought it myself, I wouldn’t really care.
I bought a little leather whip that’s pretty much for whipping cunts and perhaps nipples. I haven’t seen it in a while either, but I’m not counting it as lost because I haven’t looked for it.
The tools I like best are the simplest. Handcuffs are useful, and ankle cuffs. So are blindfolds. Spreader bars have their place, though they get in the way when it’s time to fuck the submissive. They can hurt the dom’s shins, and that simply won’t do.
If I want to give stronger sensations than a hand spanking, then my belt or a cane will do. But they’re all optional. I mean, only speaking for me.
So I’d be a terrible toy-reviewer blogger. “The new three-strength violet wand with attachable butt-massager”, I would write, enthusiastically, “is probably under the bed. But it might be behind the couch in the music room. I don’t think I took it outside. Anyway I recommend it. Probably.”
All I feel the need for is my hands, my cock and my tongue. To command, punish and pleasure. This is only a personal taste, and I’m not claiming any purity from this. But I’m only a tourist in Toyland; it wouldn’t ever be where I live.
The drawing in yesterday’s post, showing a domme and her shaven-headed, corseted submissive, is one of the first bdsm images I ever saw. It’s an illustration in the book, The Cruel and the Meek, which was the most forbidden and wonderful thing I’d ever seen, in my small country town.
I couldn’t face the clerk with it, and he wouldn’t have sold it to me anyway. I was too young for a book like that.
He didn’t know there were confirmed and determined 11-year old perverts stalking his streets and haunting his bookshop. One junior pervert, anyway. So I stole the book, and bought lots of other books off him later to salve my conscience.
I knew in my own mind what I wanted sexually, and I’d built fantasies that included my imaginative image of what a kneeling submissive girl, for example, would look like. But this was the first time that I’d seen visual representations of fantasies that were like mine, but were made by someone else.
That made them important. An image that someone else creates seems to have far more sexual power than an image that you create in your own mind, even though the image you create is more likely to reflect the specifics of your own tastes.
I suppose we’re hard-wired to respond more to someone else’s sexual touch – which can include mental touch with words or images – than our own.
Otherwise we’d all prefer masturbation to sex, and we’d become an endangered species. Fortunately, most of us would rather be touched by someone else.
So I paid a lot of attention to that first touch from a like-minded, or at least like-kinked, mind. The thing that struck me, I think, was the presence of two contrasting messages.
Some of the details were “hard”, like the submissive girl’s tight corset and her shaven head. I thought that would make it hard for her to leave the house; she’d have to wait every day until her Mistress came home. It never occurred to me that she could just put a wig on. I’d never seen a wig except for obviously fake joke ones. The way her Mistress rests her feet, in fetishistically high-heeled shoes, on her naked head was also “hard”.
But the image as a whole is “soft”. The Mistress relaxes in her chair, and the submissive rests below her, providing her footrest. It’s a scene of sexual tension, but also of peace; it’s a domestic image of a couple quietly together. They seem to be lovers as well as Mistress and submissive. Perhaps, after the Domme has whipped her submissive, and the submissive has pleasured her Mistress, and perhaps been allowed to come herself, they might walk in the park in the evening, hand in hand.
So the image helped to shape what I wanted and expected from bdsm. But then, I shaped what the image meant, at least what it meant to me, so that’s only natural.
This is an illustration from a fairly trashy book about bdsm, The Cruel and the Meek.
It’s got comic elements: The caption, “The shaven head, black patent leather, tight corset and fetters, typical of a sado-masochistic relationship”, is priceless. It also has a certain sexual power. Anyway, I’ll talk about it more tomorrow.
I’ve been working in the library. All the live-long day. I have a lot of things to blog, but no time at the moment.
I am building up to a post on why hitting children is a bad idea. Which links to theories about sexual development and interest in bdsm. But maybe it’ll be all the better for leaving it brewing in the back of my mind for a while before I write it.
Here’s another pic of the library, to give you an idea just how much work I have to do.