Notes of a Feminist Sadomasochist
by Lady Green
First, some background. I'm 41 years old, which means I grew up in the era when whether or not you left the hair on your legs meant something. I've had an abortion, been married and divorced, raised two tough-minded children. I've worked for men who know less than I do, and been fired by them. I've been called all the nam es that women who demand what they want get called. By almost anybody's definition, I'm a feminist. I am also a practicing sadomasochist.
Does that mean what you think it does? Well, if you're picturing leather, whips, blood and chains, you're right. If you're picturing tenderness, sensuality, moments of primal emotion, interludes of astonishing intimacy, you're right again. I've gotten deep satisfaction from scenes with my lover that wouldn't raise an eyebrow (well, not too much) in the Dole household. I've also attended parties where the air sizzles with sweat and screams, where every person in the room is torturing or being tortured.
I love what I do. I think it's one of the highest achievements of the human body and spirit. I'm going to tell you why -- and then I'll tell you why I'm so profoundly offended by my feminist sisters and brothers who'd love to label me and those like me "tools of the patriarchy."
Ever watched Rover and Fluffy making it? Then you've seen for yourself that dominance and submission are essential components of animal sexuality. Rover's been programmed deep in his doggy genes to overpower his mate, grab the scruff of her neck and ha ng on tight. If you tried to make him caress her tenderly and respectfully, neither one of them would function sexually.
(Am I implying that only male domination over females is "natural"? Nope: If Spot comes along and overpowers Rover, he in turn will respond with sexual submission. My point is that most forms of mammalian sexuality are inextricably intertwined with primal, ritualized behaviors of dominance and submission.)
Rover and I are alike in a lot of ways. One of them is that we're genetically programmed to respond sexually in certain situations that make us feel dominant or submissive. We differ, though, in that he has no choice in the matter and I do. My instincts aren't in charge of my behaviors, at least not in this area. Instead, I choose my sexual behavior. The instincts that are so irresistible to my pooch are, to me, material for safe, negotiated, and very exciting voluntary sexual behavior.
It's no coincidence that SM folk call what we do "play." Just as children's play incorporates the human drives toward aggression, nurturing, creativity and so on, bringing them down to a manageable, not-too-frightening level appropriate for children, my SM play gives me a safe way to explore inborn drives toward sexual dominance and submission without being manipulated or overwhelmed by them.
Anti-SM feminists -- and their sisters and brothers, the anti-porn feminists -- are swimming against a strong genetic current. Domination is hot. Submission is hot. Pretend they don't exist and you get tepid sex.
I believe that doing SM, either as a dominant or as a submissive, is a profoundly feminist act. Here are just a few reasons why.
1. SM is revolutionary. Within the context of SM, I've learned that power and powerlessness, control and helplessness are a temporary, negotiated, consensual dance. Tomorrow, you and your boss will "do a scene" in which you will follow his orders within certain pre-negotiated limits, and in exchange he will give you a pre-negotiated sum of money. The next day, you may negotiate a different set of roles -- and your boss won't necessarily be the "top." Bosses, understandably, are not wild about SM people.
2. SM is heroic. Virtually every recent mental health movement, from est through 12-step and beyond, struggles to teach its adherents that they are responsible for their own choices. Sadomasochists understand this concept at pure gut level: The knife's edge where resistance meets capitulation is the balancing point of many a hot SM scene. Short of reducing your mental functioning to a subhuman level, nobody can "make" you do something -- they can only increase the incentive to do it. Even in the real world, with its sordid history of nonconsensuality and abuse, the torturer and the blackmailer can only up the ante; they can't eliminate your choices. This concept is at the heart of all heroic action.
3. SM is honest. When I first began practicing SM, one of the most difficult challenges I faced was figuring out what I wanted well enough to instruct my partner how to give it to me. Most people never have to figure out exactly what they want, much less describe it accurately enough to negotiate a scene. The people I've met in the SM community have learned this lesson well and are thus, almost without exception, breathtakingly honest (with themselves as well as others). You rarely encounter sneakiness , manipulation, or hidden agendas. Our communication skills are all that stands between a mutually rewarding and exciting scene and a physically dangerous or emotionally devastating disaster -- you bet we're good communicators.
4. SM is art. Aristotle stated that the purpose of art was "to evoke pity and terror." Within the context of the SM scene, the submissive expects to approach the extremes of emotions like terror, pain, humiliation, arousal, and awe; the dominant experiences pity, power, tenderness, arousal and empathy. Most people have to go to a theater or museum to see (or, if they're lucky and empathetic, experience) emotions like these. I have turned my sexuality into art -- I can experience pity, terror and more every time I play, within the context of a loving interpersonal interaction. And I can choose whether or not to participate in SM, just as in art, as I please.
5. SM is choice. You'll excuse me if I seem a little hostile as I discuss this. How dare someone espouse my right to choose whom I love and then deny me my right to choose how I love them? (I understand that whipping someone may not look like loving th em to you -- but missionary-position intercourse under the blankets, with the lights off, without speaking, doesn't look much like loving to me.) Even if you believe that SM is "acting out patriarchal values," "reliving old child-abuse traumas," or whatever your particular politically correct catch-phrase may be -- can you tell me a safer, more rewarding, more intimate way to work on those issues? I choose to explore my interior landscape in a dungeon rather than on a couch, with a partner who cares for me rather than an impersonal professional. I choose to negotiate my partner's and my desires, limits and concerns ahead of time. I choose that my partner and I will both receive profoundly intimate contact and tremendous sexual arousal from the interaction. I feel extraordinarily fortunate to have the opportunity to make those choices. So you'll pardon me for getting a little testy when someone who ought to know better denigrates my choices as "patriarchal," "exploitive" or "sick."
Perhaps you've read this far thinking that the behavior of perverts like me has nothing to do with you or your sex life. Before you turn the page, ask yourself -- have you and your lover ever experimented with sex in which one of you remains entirely passive, while the other takes full responsibility for providing stimulation? Have you ever held your lover's hands down, or had yours held down, rendering you temporarily and consensually helpless? Have you ever taken pleasure in sexually stimulating your lover to the point where s/he loses control, while you remain in control? Then you've played with SM energy -- and those who contend that sex should be egalitarian and respectful would love to deprive you of a source of tremendous pleasure and stimulation.
You owe it to yourself, and to millions of people who are bravely exploring the leading edge of sexuality, to fight the forces of censorship, behavior control and invasion of privacy. Remember: These "feminists" believe that your desire to play with dominant or submissive energy cannot be a valid, meaningful choice. And if that's not patriarchal, what is?
(prev: "SM vs. Abuse")
(next: "SM Goes to the Movies")
return to main page