Chapter One: Introductory Kink
Nine years ago, I began working on a book called Different Loving: The World of Sexual Dominance and Submission. When my coauthors and I started out, we assumed we would be researching the small sexual subculture of dominance and submission (also known as B&D and SM) to which we belonged. Basically, we sought to write a book about people like us for people like us -- people who knew what they liked but felt they needed to understand more about kinky sex from a broad perspective.
On this assumption, we researched the history and practice of SM, and directed all our interview efforts at people in the "Scene" (a nickname for the kinky subculture in the United States). Aiming for diversity, we talked to as many different kinky people as possible -- gay, straight, transgendered, bisexual. We recruited them from kinky newsgroups on the Internet, sometimes according to their fetishes; we wrote letters to SM/fetish organizations and attended club events, distributing flyers; and we asked friends to tell friends about our book project.
In the end, we had hundreds of terrific interviews, covering not only an amazing spectrum of sexual variations, but spanning a diverse range of religions, ages, races, and social classes. There was, however, one serious limitation on the sample: All of the people we interviewed knew they were kinky and had decided, at some point in their lives, to join the SM subculture to one degree or another.
In fact, the number of people who actually find their way into the Scene represents only a small fraction of the total number of American adults who enjoy erotic variations that would be classed, clinically, as sadomasochistic or fetishistic. During the course of our research, that larger group revealed itself to us. It comprised a largely conventional, completely in-the-closet, and clinically unacknowledged segment of society that neither seeks out kinky contacts nor even admits to having kinky fantasies to anyone other than a life-partner -- or possibly a professional dominatrix.
My husband, Will Brame (who was my coauthor on Different Loving, along with Jon Jacobs), and I were at first bemused when, at conservative literary gatherings, we would be deluged by people who asked us lurid questions. At one such prim gathering where the women wore Birkenstocks and the men wore colorless ties, one thirty-something repeatedly squealed loudly in disgust as we talked about our research. Later, she approached us privately. Dreading yet another onslaught, we were taken aback when she asked us this question: Her ex-boyfriend liked her to pee on him before sex. Would we consider this kinky?
Well, yes. We would. It's certainly kinky enough for there to be a clinical term for it (urophilia, or a love of urine).
The squealer was only the first of an unfathomable number of ordinary, conservative people we've met since who similarly react first with horror, then fascination, when we describe our work.
The most curious confessions came from a media coach. She told us later that she had been worrying all day that we would show up in biker jackets, with chains around our necks and piercings everywhere else. Our business suits apparently comforted her because by the time our meeting was over, she had confided that while she was shocked by the people who "threw their waste on one another" (which is how she characterized the squealer's boyfriend's fetish), she could easily understand why people would enjoy being infantilized (put into diapers and treated like babies). She spoke quite fondly of the Elia Kazan movie Babydoll, in which a grown woman sleeps in a crib and sucks her thumb. In fact, the coach talked quite a long time about both fetishes, and with strong emotion too.
What was really going on in her mind? Why was peeing on someone else more morally reprehensible than dressing in a diaper and peeing oneself? Is this some rule of sexual etiquette my parents never taught me: You can pee on yourself, but not on your friends?
Once the book came out, the confessions reached a fever pitch. It seemed that every place we went, there was always one person, and usually more, who wanted to tell us their secrets. On one book tour, a Washington reporter confided that he had a foot fetish; a Southern bookstore manager whispered a throaty tale about the time his girlfriend begged to be his "loveslave"; a California radio personality admitted to us that his ex-wife liked him to slap her face during sex; and so on. Occasionally, people blocked our path, grabbed our elbows, hurriedly blurted out a sexual confession, and then darted away before we had time to react. Hit-and-run confessors, as it were.
Where did they all come from? How many of them (or us) are really out there? At present, there are no hard data on how many adults engage in consensual kinky sex of one type or another. Sex theorists have made estimates ranging from 5 to 50 percent of the adult population, with the consensus opinion closer to 10 to 15 percent. From my own experiences, I know the interest is much higher than the consensus.
In 1987, under the handle "Angelique," I founded an SM educational outreach/support group on Compuserve. The group was part of a larger network of specialized sexuality support groups in Compuserve's Human Sexuality Forum (HSX). At the time, the HSX Forum had roughly 50,000 subscribers. When we set up the new SM group, we expected only a tiny membership. This was partly because other support groups already were in place for certain fetishes and partly because we required members to fill out an online application stating that they had a personal interest in SM/fetish sexuality. Even though people could apply under pseudonyms, we believed this requirement would help to filter out gawkers.
In three months, our membership swelled from an initial sign-up of a few dozen people to over 3,000. By the second year of operation, we had drawn over 15,000 people to our membership roster and were hosting the single busiest message board on HSX.
The advent of the Internet has been an eye-opener. For the first time, kinky people from around the world -- whether living in rural communities in the United States or major cities in the Third World -- had free access to materials that confirmed there are others just like them out there. And access them they did!
By 1994, the alt.sex.bondage newsgroup on UseNet (since abandoned) was attracting nearly half a million visitors every week. Dozens of smaller newsgroups, for more specialized fetish interests, were springing up left and right, as were IRC chat-rooms devoted to BDSM. By the following year, dozens of kinky sites had set up shop on the World Wide Web, offering everything from amateur photos to personal diaries and educational resources.
In 1996, I built gloria-brame.com and continued the work of Different Loving. One of my Web site's most popular features is the "Kink Links Catalogue" (http://gloria-brame.com/love8.htm), a resource guide to over 1,500 SM/fetish Web sites. As of mid-1998, according to my research, there were roughly 3,000-plus sites catering to SM/fetish interests. My site alone draws roughly 2,000 people daily from places as far away as Peru, Bahrain, and Singapore.
Needless to say, I get a ton of E-mail. Most fall into two categories: people asking to be listed in my links catalogue and people requesting personal advice.
The queries about listings are interesting for two reasons. First, there are so many of them! Second, while I expected to see lots of bondage, spanking, cross-dressing, and infantilist sites, until the requests began pouring in I had had no idea, for example, that there are enough people sexually aroused by toy balloons (yes, the kind you blow up at kiddy parties) to support the hundred or so sites which now cater exclusively to that fetish.
The personal letters fall roughly into two camps. One is made up of pleas for advice from people who, until discovering kink on the Internet, believed themselves the only ones in the world with these interests. When they read other people's writings about subjects they've never permitted themselves to talk about, it has an immediate and powerful effect. They are both thrilled and desperately frustrated by the discovery because they don't know how or where to begin.
The second type of personal letter comes from people who know there are others like themselves but who have not been able to find a sympathetic partner. Reduced to pursuing their interests in secret, surfing the Web or anonymously subscribing to kinky publications that are sent in plain brown wrappers to discreet postal drops, they often feel trapped in troubled marriages to spouses who angrily reject their sexual needs. Their attempts at communicating their needs or introducing variations in bed have resulted in fights and tears. Some blame their partners for being puritanical; others blame themselves for being sinful or sick. Yet almost all hope that I can give them advice to help save their relationship.
This book will provide answers for them, as well as their partners, their friends, family members, healing professionals, and anyone else dealing with kinky sex issues. Even if you've never tried kink, and don't intend to try it, this book will round out your personal understanding of the range of acceptable sexual variations that consenting adults may enjoy. Frankly, in an age when STDs make many of us choose safe-sex alternatives to intercourse, and when we're all living longer and remaining sexually active longer, picking up new ideas on ways to spice up your erotic life may not be such a bad idea.
I'll guide you through all the key issues related to kinky sex, beginning with the most basic questions (What is normal sex? Are there others like me?). I'll tackle more advanced topics as well, including how to hang on to a relationship when one partner can't accept the other's kinks; religious and moral conflicts about sexual differences; and how to differentiate between a positive, loving kinky relationship and an abusive one.
Drawing on the thousands of letters from the broad mix of people who have written me these past eight years, I will use representative questions to start discussions of a vast range of fascinating facts about kinky sex. I'll explore what kinky sex is (and what it isn't), how to talk about it with your loved ones, how to deal with your own shame or embarrassment about your fantasies, and how kink is incorporated into stable, loving relationships.
Along the way, there will be tons of practical advice, including lists (such as "Clamps, Cuffs, and Crosses," a guide to the wide range of kinky adult toys, with notes on how they are used); entertaining and revealing quizzes you can take alone (or with your friends); and some purely humorous excursions. I've even developed a special primer for you: "Speaking the Kinky Lingo" (in the appendix, on page 307) is a glossary of common slang used in the kinky communities. Use the glossary whenever you come across an unfamiliar kinky word or expression -- it'll be there.
Now, before launching into the dos and don'ts and hows and whys of kinky sex, I want to prepare you for topics that may alarm you, facts that may surprise you, opinions that may upset you, and sexual scenarios that may excite you. So let's start with what I consider to be a fundamental document for anyone who wants to bring a truly open mind to these issues.
Reprinted below are the "Basic Sexual Rights," a ten-point list approved by the Ethics Committee of the Fifth World Congress of Sexology. This document takes the enlightened view that sexual rights are a basic part of our human and civil rights, as granted by the U.S. Constitution.
After each numbered "right," I will add my own explanatory comments so you understand exactly what each one means.
BASIC SEXUAL RIGHTS
1. The freedom of any sexual thought, fantasy, or desire.
Everyone is entitled to his or her private thoughts, no matter how bizarre they may seem to someone else.
2. The right to sexual entertainment, freely available in the marketplace, including sexually explicit materials dealing with the full range of sexual behavior.
If you want to watch pornography, read smutty magazines, or patronize sex-workers (strippers, prostitutes, etc.), you can do so without stigma.
3. The right not to be exposed to sexual material or behavior.
If you do not want to be exposed to pornography or sex-workers, you should not be forced to come in contact with them.
4. The right to sexual self-determination.
This means you may do as you wish with your body, sexually speaking. You can be celibate if you choose; you can sleep around; you may masturbate or you may abstain from all gratification. In other words, it is up to you to make the choices that feel morally right for you, without persecution from others.
5. The right to seek out and engage in consensual sexual activity.
This means you can sleep with consenting partners.
6. The right to engage in sexual acts or activities of any kind whatsoever, providing they do not involve nonconsensual acts, violence, constraint, coercion, or fraud.
All types of sex are acceptable as long as both people involved give their informed mutual consent. Using force or lying to get sex is wrong.
7. The right to be free of persecution, condemnation, discrimination, or social intervention in private sexual behavior.
Gays, lesbians, sadomasochists, fetishists, swingers, transgenderists, bisexuals, polyamorists, and all other sexual minorities should be free to pursue their sexual needs without being hassled or shut out of society.
8. The recognition by society that every person, partnered or unpartnered, has the right to the pursuit of a satisfying consensual sociosexual life free from political, legal, or religious interference and that there need to be mechanisms in society where the opportunities of sociosexual activities are available to the following: disabled persons; chronically ill persons; those incarcerated in prisons, hospitals, or institutions; those disadvantaged because of age, lack of physical attractiveness, or lack of social skills; the poor and the lonely.
Every adult, no matter their abilities or age, or their social or health status, is entitled to the comfort and pleasure of sexual contact with a consenting partner.
9. The basic right of all persons who are sexually dysfunctional to have available nonjudgmental sexual healthcare.
People with sexual problems are entitled to sympathetic counseling.
10. The right to control conception.
It's up to each individual to decide whether they wish to use birth control.
Did you find these sexual rights controversial? Whatever your own feelings about the list of rights, I hope you will think them over. They lay the groundwork for you to see beyond the misconceptions and prejudices that our culture imposes on us all. If you can accept, for example, that every human being is entitled to his own thoughts, no matter how strange, and that some of those thoughts are likely to be sexual, then it will not be a big leap for you to accept that everyone has a right to have strange sexual thoughts.
In this book, all sexual behaviors that occur by consent among mentally competent adults are seen as acceptable, valid, and normal expressions of adult sexuality.
You may not approve of them, you may not want to act on them, but being able to accept that they are a normal phenomenon, and not something to fear, is a great first step. That's why I describe them as acceptable sexual variations. I use "acceptable" instead of "right" or "wrong," "sick" or "healthy," because those terms all carry moral or medical judgments.
I'll leave moral doctrine to spiritual leaders. As a sexologist, my point of view is that a kind of sex is right when it feels good to the adults having it and wrong when it creates upset and unhappiness. Meanwhile, classifying sexual behaviors as diseases is a concept that has long outlived its usefulness, except as ways for lawyers to get clients acquitted and for quacks to profit by falsely promising cures.
I believe sexual behaviors should be viewed the same way we view all human behaviors. Some sexual behaviors -- rape, for example -- are criminal, because they are acts of violence against a victim. Some are pathological (e.g., compulsive self-mutilation) and generally indicate a much larger mental disorder (such as schizophrenia). But, by far, the majority of sexual behaviors are neither.
Now I'd like you to consider "The Five Fallacies of Kinky Sex." It addresses the biggest misconceptions about kink, so we can get those out of the way right up front.
THE FIVE FALLACIES OF KINKY SEX
1. Kinkiness Can Be Cured
There is no scientific evidence of any kind that people can be cured of their kinks.
The fact is that attempts at cures have universally failed. Those who offer to cure someone's sexual nature generally do more harm than good. Some clients report feeling emotionally devastated, others betrayed, because they were given false hope. Some blame themselves for the failure and feel even guiltier than before.
Distressingly few helping or medical professionals receive adequate training in sex issues. Only a small handful of graduate programs even offer comprehensive curricula on sex. So, although they may be sincere and persuasive, people who offer cures are just as misinformed as the people who come to them.
At best, they may teach you to hate your own needs (through aversion therapy, where you learn to associate hateful things with the things that turn you on) or to sublimate your desires. But bottling up sexual feelings or punishing yourself for having them does not cure you of those feelings. Instead, it usually creates deeper conflicts.
Competent sex counselors do not advertise cures. Instead, they work with clients to find morally acceptable, socially responsible, and emotionally positive ways of dealing with their clients' sexual identity.
2. Perversions Are Caused by Trauma in Childhood
Despite the strides we've made in some areas of the medical sciences, there has been little forward progress in sexuality research. To date, there has been neither organic nor genetic proof to explain fetishes or sadomasochism. Nor is there any proof that childhood traumas produce the same results in different people or that trauma must always be present for someone to grow up with a love of pain or a fetish for high heels.
The soundest theory, basically unchanged since the late nineteenth century, is that our sexual identities are formed through a combination of genetic predisposition (meaning that our DNA comes encoded with sexual quirks) and life experiences. In other words, the best guess is that nature and nurture combine to shape our sexual identity.
Recent advances in genetic research open the door to finally finding out whether body chemistry or brain structure can explain things such as homosexuality or transgenderism; perhaps, one day, it will reveal facts about sadomasochism and fetishism too. I also hope there will be more studies on the cause-and-effect relationships between early childhood development and sexual orientation. But for now, all data are inconclusive.
3. People with Kinky Desires Have Psychological Problems
A TRICK FALLACY!
The answers to this are true and false.
First: False. There is no proof that people with unusual sexual fetishes or desires are any less functional than other people. Instead, there is considerable evidence that, as a group, kinky people are in the mainstream: stable, middle-class family people who maintain careers and participate in their communities. In other words, they are socially functional, which is a standard of psychological normalcy.
Second: True. People with sexual kinks do tend to seek out counseling. But one must consider why they do. Generally, it's because their feelings conflict with the feelings they are told they should have. For example, if the world tells you the most sexually appealing part of a woman's body is her breasts, and you find breasts boring but feet to be an instant turn-on, you are going to feel confused. If someone you love rejects you because of it, you're going to feel even worse.
Like anyone else, a kinky person doesn't want to feel as if she or he is alone in the world. No one wants to be rejected; no one wants to feel unlovable. In the face of the criticism kinky people face from families and lovers, often on a daily basis, it is not suprising that they turn to professionals for support.
4. Kinky People Can't Form Good Relationships
As noted above, kinky people do tend to seek out counseling, particularly when they are having conflicts with partners about their sexual needs. But sex and relationship problems are what motivates most people to go into therapy. The difference is that when "vanilla" (non-kinky or straight) relationships fail, people accept it as a common problem of modern life. When kinky relationships fail, however, people automatically assume that the blame rests on the partner with unusual sexual desires.
But as Mom always said, "It takes two to tango." In other words, it's a question of compatibility. Kinky people are bad partners with people who cannot accept their kinks (or have other incompatabilities). Otherwise, they are as likely as anyone else to form lasting, committed relationships.
5. Kinky People Can't Get Aroused by "Regular" Sex
Not only can they get aroused by it, many of them never have anything but regular sex.
Although we tend to think of kinky people as the leatherclad denizens of underground clubs, most people who are aroused by kinky things never have contact with that world. For any one of a number of reasons (social position, career, marital status, children, religious beliefs), they remain closeted, enjoying ordinary, productive sex lives with straight partners -- even though they may fantasize about their fetishes during sex.
Millions more adults regularly indulge in bondage, spanking, role-play, and so on as foreplay. For them, these are erotic games that add spice to monogamous relationships, extend the arousal period, and enhance orgasms.
There are indeed fetishists who are only aroused when the object of their fetish is present, and hard-core SMers who have little or no interest in intercourse. However, the vast majority of kinky couples include oral, anal, or vaginal sex as a regular part of their intimacy.
Copyright © 2000 by Gloria G. Brame