Monday, July 25, 2011

Asymmetrical perceptions.

I like kinky porn. Because of conflicting and troubling stories about the consent/enthusiasm of the performers, I've gotten pretty picky about the video/photo kinky porn I use (it's pretty much come down to "do I know the people who made it?"), but I still read kinky erotica. What I don't read, if I can possibly help it, is other people's comments on the stories.

The problem is, there are two ways you can enjoy a story about a woman letting her lover tie her down, beat her, and fuck her. The first is as a depiction of consensual BDSM that is fulfilling to both participants. The second is as the humiliation of a dirty slut. And reading the comments on a lot of BDSM erotica sites makes it clear that some people see it as the latter--and they like it.

This asymmetry plagues almost any sex-positive endeavor that's open to the public. Hold a BDSM demonstration that involves nudity, and some people are going to ogle it like a strip show. Produce enthusiastic-consent-modeling dyke erotica celebrating diverse body types, and some people are going to watch it as girl-girl porn. Host a gathering for kinksters to meet and socialize, and some people are going to see it as a great place to meet slutty chicks who are into freaky shit.

I'm phrasing these as differences of semantics, but they often result in differences in behavior. Someone who sees a play party as 360-degree porn for their entertainment is going to be bad company at best, an intrusive wanker at worst. (A literal wanker, sometimes.) Every person who thinks of munches as pure meat markets makes the community less safe and less welcoming. And it's disgusting and horrifying to have what you thought was a mutual exploration of sexuality with someone, only to learn that they just thought of you as a disposable slut who was giving it up easy.

I think this asymmetry of perceptions is mainly due to two factors: context and participation.

Being involved in sex-positive activities in good faith requires education. If you come into a sex-positive activity with only the knowledge you learned in the cultural mainstream--that sex is dirty, sluts are gross, women's sexuality exists for men's amusement, and kink is freaky-weird--then you're going to misinterpret everything you see. This is one of the reasons that I'm a big proponent of people settling into a kink community socially before attending parties.

I think that every sex-positive activity that's open to the public should come packaged with some sort of education on its context. It may be tiresome for the old hands, but when there are people in the audience who may never have been exposed to sexuality without judgement before, it's important to spell out both your ground rules--no wanking, ya wankers--and your conceptual foundations--this is a place for sexuality without judgement, ya judgers.

A big cause of asymmetrical perceptions at live events is when people are playing asymmetrical roles. People who put themselves in the role of "audience member" or "customer" at sex-positive activities tend to cause many more problems than people who put themselves in the role of "participant." When I've felt exploited after sex, it's because my partner saw himself as a normal guy fucking a slut, rather than one slut fucking another.

I don't think everyone at BDSM parties has to play. But I think everyone at BDSM parties should have to identify themselves as a kinkster, as part of the party, not as a spectator. In practical terms, I think it would help to require everyone to help in some way to create the event. This could be an entirely token thing--bring one bag of chips, pick up one piece of trash--and it would still help people feel more like community members, less like consumers. And this is a second reason that I think "munch before you party" is so important.

In a way, this is simply another aspect of providing context--letting people know that by engaging with sex-positive culture, they are now a part of it. Whatever false dichotomy someone had between "perverts like them" and "normal people like me" should be destroyed the instant they start getting enjoyment from the perverts.

Like watching what perverts do? You're a pervert yourself now--so you'd better come to terms with why that's not a bad thing. Like having sex with sluts? Guess what that makes you...


  1. Ah, yes. My earliest emotional scarring from being a poly bi girl in the 80s in small town Ontario, let me show you it...

    Adding kink and the kink community to the mix both helped and didn't, you know?

  2. Holly, let me just say how valuable your posts on this sort of thing have been. I'm into some of the "wierdest" stuff you could imagine - stuff nobody would be able to admit to anyone - and the discourse that goes on here has been immensely helpful in me treating myself like a human being, and not some fucked-up, "perverted" waste of flesh. Not done yet, but getting there.

    So thanks.

  3. Anon - There's just about nothing nobody would be able to admit to anyone. I know people who are into eating poo, people who are into extremely realistic rape scenes, and people who are into getting set on fire. They're my friends.

    It may be something you're not ready to admit yet or that you don't have anyone you can to admit it to, but there's nothing so taboo that you can never admit it, and nothing so weird that someone else isn't into it.

  4. I'm confused. You seem like you're drawing a big distinction between two kinds of people, but it also seems like the issue is just the classic, "don't be creepy." I would imagine that the sex-positive participating kinksters watching a scene do enjoy seeing other people's scenes in a sexual way, even if that's not the only reason they're there. And they might wank about a play party, or fantasize about one, when they're at home?

    I know what you mean about comments on stories, though. I like to chalk it up to the reader still being in the mindset of that fictional universe of slavery or whatever (okay, still wanking to it). Otherwise I would be a little nervous about humanity.

  5. "I don't think everyone at BDSM parties has to play. But I think everyone at BDSM parties should have to identify themselves as a kinkster, as part of the party, not as a spectator. In practical terms, I think it would help to require everyone to help in some way to create the event. This could be an entirely token thing--bring one bag of chips, pick up one piece of trash--and it would still help people feel more like community members, less like consumers."

    So you're basically envisioning a kinky unconference? :D

  6. Emma - It is a "don't be creepy" post. It's just another way of looking at one of the causes of creepiness.

    There's a difference between getting turned on by a scene, and acting like a scene exists so you can be turned on by it. Wanking at home about it--which is to say, wanking in a way that does not disrupt the scene or make yourself an unwanted part of it--is a respectful thing to do, I think, in a way that wanking at a party is not.

    (I should clarify, too, that there are wank-friendly parties, and though they're not my cup of tea, it's obviously not creepy or anything to wank at those.)

  7. Holly - Yeah, I suppose that's true. I spend enough time on The Internets to know that there's more than one of everything. Nobody, nobody is alone.

    I guess my above post betrays that yeah, it is just a personal thing that I'm probably not going to ever intentionally expose a lot of that stuff, but at least I don't despise myself thoroughly for it like I used to. Still not really comfortable with myself, but I guess that can't be rushed.

  8. Wait but Holly, if someone was into getting set on fire they'd die or be permanently disfigured and unable to talk to anyone. How does that work?

  9. Okay, not "can of gasoline" set on fire.

    Like "a small flame on your skin that is quickly extinguished" set on fire.

  10. Okay, I was kind of worried there for a second.

  11. As an aside, I know you live in my neck of the woods and all, but it was still weird to see that photo. Tee-hee, caning shoppe.

    More on-topic, I slightly object to your condemnation of spectators at play parties in that I am a huge voyeur, and happiest just watching. There's a lot of kink I do enjoy participating in, but my trust issues make casual stuff complicated (and as such, I don't do casual stuff and make things harder for me and any potential partner(s)) and so I'd really love to go to these events and enjoy seeing some gleeful people doing gleeful things to each other.

    What's a spectatin' perv to do? (yes, yes, make friends in the community and go to munches and I swear I will I just have no time)


  12. Sorcy - I think there's a difference, if only in attitude, between voyeurism as a fellow perv and voyeurism as a "customer." (I do not believe in parties where everyone has to play--the definition of "play" is nebulous and I'm wary of "so you have to play with me" manipulation.) If you're friendly and respectful of boundaries...

    You know what? I'm going to do an entire post on "how to go to a play party and not play." Scuse me.

  13. Actually, I know a girl who's into being set on fire. Like, coated with some sort of substance that prevents her skin from igniting, then that gets a covering of alcohol, then the match.

    It's... really, really freakily gorgeous. I wish I could link you to pictures, but there exist none, by her request... but oh my God. *fans self dramatically*

    These are not small flames we're talking about here. :D And yes, she does get burns from it. But apparently she doesn't mind, and the burns aren't serious - no worse than a moderate sunburn.

  14. Aaron - I... I mean, my friend... and I don't use any kind of substance other than the alcohol. As long as the proportion of alcohol to water is right (I think about 75% alcohol but don't quote me on that) and the alcohol is extinguished very quickly, you don't need any extra substance to not catch fire.

    And yes, fireplay is beautiful. :)

  15. As it regards fireplay, I've found it helpful to have a person on hand whose job it is to carry a large, soaked towel at all times. Much like a wise rigger keeps a sharp pair of scissors on hand, topping a fireplay scene usually involves having a way to quickly extinguish the bottom if the fire goes from 'Mmmmm!' to 'Argh! It burns!'

  16. Regarding voyeurism -- I think the sensible thing to do is to realise that, if you're openly wanking to something, or maybe even just openly slavering over it, then this is a sexual act! It's a sexual act that involves not just you but also the people you're watching. So it should require consent! I have no experience with play parties, but I imagine it wouldn't be too hard to say you want to be a consensual voyeur and are looking for some people who wouldn't mind you wanking to them as they play :)

  17. We used to use laboratory grade pure acetone for fire play. It burns a little cooler than alcohol, and my friend worked in the genetics lab at school and could sneak some out. Put it in a 10cc syringe (no needle) and distribute as necessary.

  18. Recognizing this asymmetry is a huge point, it's part of how your blog has really matured my feminist thinking, Holly. I used to be one of those feminists who regarded scenes like what you described, a woman letting her lover tie her down and beat her, as inherently horrible and terrible because of those other people who saw it as the humiliation of a dirty slut--it didn't even enter my mind that someone might actually consent to that and enjoy it. Now I see that scene could exist in a completely different light--and if I'm so hopelessly vanilla that I don't understand it, at least I can realize the possibility.

    It's easy to get worked up into a feminist rage over the people who really are creepy, and so we should. But I was letting those bad people cloud out any awareness of what BDSM is like to people who make it a community.

  19. @Natasha: I don't think that lab acetone is really good on your skin. I've gotten quite dizzy from overexposure to it, because it goes through latex gloves almost as if they're not there (nitrile is a little better, though if you get some on your glove the best thing to do is take it off as fast as you can before it gets through.)

    Also, being a polar solvent that is skin-permeable, acetone can dissolve things and then get them into your bloodstream through your skin. Not as bad as DMSO (which people used to use for tennis elbow, and which you can *taste* as soon as it gets on your skin, it gets into your blood that fast), but still not great.

    Finally, most plastics are acetone-soluble, so it's probably dissolving your syringe, which probably means you're getting a little plastic going through your skin. I'd stick with alcohols.

  20. Yeah, on the acetone thing...

    I'm intrigued, but also kind of horrified. I've never done any fire play in the erotic sense, just plain old playing with fire in the "pyro" sense, but it definitely hasn't been my experience that acetone burns cooler than alcohol.

    It melted (de-welded) the handles off a silver sugar bowl I was using like a mini brazier, which never happened with denatured alcohol or 91% iso.

    Are you sure it wasn't diluted or anything? Granted this is a totally different situation. So maybe you're right, I just hope nobody tries this out without some careful testing first (or not at all, for the reasons Nathan mentioned).

  21. I'm sorry, this is so very off-topic, but I have to know. Does this mean I have nail polish remover and dissolved nail polish in my blood?!?!

  22. Emma - Probably not right now. You excrete it; it doesn't just stick around forever.

  23. Wikipedia says: "Acetone has been studied extensively and is generally recognized to have low acute and chronic toxicity if ingested and/or inhaled. Inhalation of high concentrations (around 9200 ppm) in the air caused irritation of the throat in humans in as little as 5 minutes. Inhalation of concentrations of 1000 ppm caused irritation of the eyes and of the throat in less than 1 hour; however, the inhalation of 500 ppm of acetone in the air caused no symptoms of irritation in humans even after 2 hours of exposure. Acetone is not currently regarded as a carcinogen, a mutagenic chemical or a concern for chronic neurotoxicity effects.[14]

    Acetone can be found as an ingredient in a variety of consumer products ranging from cosmetics to processed and unprocessed foods. Acetone has been rated as a GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) substance when present in beverages, baked foods, desserts, and preserves at concentrations ranging from 5 to 8 mg/L. Additionally, a joint U.S-European study found that acetone’s "health hazards are slight."[citation needed]"

    So I wouldn't worry too much about the acetone itself. However, studies have shown that it definitely can help you absorb drugs like ibuprofen transdermally, so I'd be wary of putting too much of it on dirty skin. Plus it's way more drying than rubbing alcohol. And the vapors are more dangerous, because it's more volatile. I would personally stick with rubbing alcohol, which I also think smells better.

  24. Holly, I guess that's comforting? But thanks to both of you for alleviating my paranoia, and apparently also my inability to wikipedia things my own damn self :)

  25. Y'know, even after I'd been identifying as a kinkster and hanging out with kinksters for years, I still found that the first time I volunteered to help with setup at a play party, I suddenly felt much more like I belonged there.

  26. hmm. I see what you are saying, but I also think you are taking the porn comments a bit too much to heart. people never expect a porn actress to read their comments, they are just saying stuff that keeps them in the mood.

    furthermore if I am on a porn forum, and a guy posts pictures of him in his underwear, I will say something with the words "dirty slut" in them, as i've noticed this tends to make the people happier. ex "I bet you enjoy the feeling of those panties on you. aren't you just a dirty little slut".

    I've never found someone who APPEARED hurt by this. similarly, this isn't the way I think of them. well, i mean it isn't and it isn't. XD they are hot little sluts, that's not a bad thing! and i'm a domineering pervert! x3 PERVERSIONS FOR EVERYBODY!

  27. Hi Holly,
    do you have any resources for kinky porn other than "people you know"? I love porn and prefer the feminist kind - I want to watch people who like what they do and whom they are doing it with. But I am also into BDSM and looking for hetero/female sub stuff. Until now I found it literally impossible to distinguish BDSM porn I consider ethical from other stuff. Do you have any suggestions?
    (and btw: your blog is awesome!!!)