Sadomasochism, gay penguins and Captain Underpants. This is what passed for controversial in American literature in 2012, according to the American Library Association’s annual list of “frequently challenged books,” released on Monday.
The A.L.A.'s Office for Intellectual Freedom compiles reports on complaints filed with a library or school “requesting that a book or other material be restricted or removed because of its content or appropriateness.”
The office said it received 464 reports in 2012, up from 326 in 2011. The books on the most frequently challenged list are “Fifty Shades of Grey” by EL James; “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” by Sherman Alexie; “The Kite Runner,” by Khaled Hosseini; “Looking for Alaska,” by John Green; “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls; “Beloved” by Toni Morrison; “Thirteen Reasons Why,” by Jay Asher; the “Scary Stories” series by Alvin Schwartz; the “Captain Underpants” series by Dav Pilkey; and “And Tango Makes Three,” a young-adult book about two male penguins at the Central Park zoo who became a couple, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson.
Once a week, Daily Intelligencer takes a peek behind doors left slightly ajar. This week, the Polyamorous Woman Color Coding Her Lovers: Female, 33, work at a charity, London, in an open relationship, heterosexual.
10 a.m. I update my Google calendar while I'm in the office, in between discussing fund-raising proposals for the mental health charity I work for. Now that I'm seeing three people, it's gotten more complicated. The calendar is color-coded for each person so I know at a glance when I'm free and whether I'm "over-doing" anyone. Biker Guy is blue. The One, Possibly is red. Weekly Fun is orange. Administration is the one part of my job I've always hated, but I've really improved since I started dating.
1 p.m. I meet Weekly Fun for my afternoon off. He's having a hard time with his current girlfriend, who has just broken up with her girlfriend. Her self-esteem has been knocked and he's trying to spend as much time with her as possible — hence the lunch date. I can't go without sex, even though I'm starting to feel like his counselor. We go to his house, which is down the road from mine, and start making out. I give him a blow job in his living room, with his large, possessive orange cat staring at me steadily from the floor. He pulls out before he comes in my mouth and the come falls onto the rug. We end up scooping it out with tissue.
6 p.m. I try to do a couple of more hours of work when I get back home, but my concentration is whacked. As usual, I end up going through OkCupid, to check my messages at first, and then just to see if there's anyone new. I don't understand the negativity around online dating. It seems to have more stigma than being polyamorous. I knew something was up when I saw lots of guys were labeling their profiles with "available" instead of "single." I'd found The One, Possibly that way. He seemed so upfront — like me, out of a difficult, unadventurous relationship, looking for something open-ended that just acknowledges it's human nature to get bored easily. I didn't expect to fall in love with him.
6:20 p.m. There's a new message from Tech Geek, with whom I've been pinging messages back and forth. Weirdly, I haven't got bored of the correspondence even though we've been in touch for a few weeks and canceled a couple of meetings.
8 p.m. It's my scheduled night off. It's been less packed than usual this week because Biker Guy is away on holiday with his girlfriend. I'm reading a book, listening to the podcast "Pedestrian Polyamory." I hate being one of those people who go on about poly — to me "poly" just a way of owning it before anyone else can say it's strange or wrong or pervy. Okay, it's definitely pervy, but in a good way.
11 p.m. I need this time off so much. But the OkCupid app pings again. I hold off looking for a few hours, but inevitably my eyes start wandering. ...
We're used to seeing women with bedazzled earrings, nose rings, eyebrow piercings and hoops, cheek piercings and hoops, lip piercings and hoops, tongue studs . . . you get the idea. But now a Huntington Beach wholesaler is hawking a new line of gold or bejeweled or otherwise colorful versions of its fastest-growing eye-catchers:
Nipple clamps. Indeed, Sex Toy Distributing Co., which sells adult products of all types to sex shops around the country, reports the BDSM market for women is "booming," especially when it comes to such fetish mainstays as floggers, strap-ons and, yes, nipple clamps.
"Manufacturers have responded to rising nipple clamp sales with lines of alligator, tweezer and other popular styles that are as much a fashion adornment as they are sex accessories," reads a company statement. "Featuring colorful pinks, golds, purples and dangling beads, jewels and charms, these all-time favorites make a style statement that shoppers love."
You can almost picture a woman jealously whispering to a friend in the supermarket checkout line about the dangling teat tightener visible under the lady checker's top. ...
On my way to work last weekend, I noticed a familiar sight. Stuck between the hands of a woman who sat across the aisle on the 84 bus, there was Fifty Shades of Grey, the incredibly popular erotic novel that includes sadomasochistic sex scenes. The Fifty Shades fever has died down for the most part. On slow days, gossip sites report on who is and is not in the talks for the movie, but the main artifact of the craze is the occasional book whipped out on public transportation.
While I have a personal vendetta against Fifty Shades of Grey because I believe it depicts an unhealthy coercive relationship and because the protagonist refers to her genitalia as “down there” the majority of the time, I am thankful at least that it has brought up discussion about BDSM in the mainstream. Even if you do not engage in the practices yourself, I think BDSM is a great mental location to examine consent, pleasure and sex positivity, even for the non-BDSM “vanilla” relationships.
So what is BDSM? The acronym itself is a complicated jumble of different types of play: B&D for bondage and discipline; D/s for Dominance and submission; S/M for sadism and masochism. Some relationships feature only parts of the acronym, while others (such as discipline with D/s) work off one another to a build an experience. Generally, there is at least one Dom and one sub, or a giver and a receiver of pain/punishment/et cetera. There could also be switches involved, who are people who enjoy both giving and receiving. Contrary to popular superstition, very few relationships are a Total Power Exchange (TPE, or 24/7), which would grant the Dom exclusive decision-making power over the sub in all aspects of their lives. Instead, enthusiasts play a “scene,” which is a specific time frame that the partners involved agree to act through their particular form of BDSM.
Because of the nature of BDSM, consent and healthy relationships initially look different between Doms and subs. If they do not understand how anyone could derive pleasure from pain or punishment, some mistakenly read the consensual acts of a scene as violence, thus conflating abuse with BDSM. What these naysayers ignore is the culture of explicit consent in alt life that forms the core of healthy BDSM.
This culture gives way to the phrase Risk-Aware Consensual Kink (RACK). This does not refer to a formal set of guidelines but a ideology of consent. RACK values having an acute sensitivity of what is being done. It is not enough to stumble across an incident or a pleasurable time. You have to know what you are getting into (presumably with research), judge whether the costs involved are worth the gains, and then actively accept the conditions. While this meaning may be intuitive based on the words involved, it still bears examining closely since the process of negotiating a BDSM partnership is a very sex positive approach to founding a relationship. The purpose of RACK, after all, is to ensure that BDSM participants are aware that their sexual expression—kink—involves a level of risk, and they have decided that their pleasure is worth said risk if done consensually. ...
'None of my clients know who I am completely. There's always an air of fantasy and mystery.'
Miss Georgia is mad, so she grabs David by his face and starts pushing him.
He looks genuinely scared, and can only stammer a bit as Georgia presses him for an explanation. "Your travel plans got changed?" she suggests. "The dog ate your homework? Your grandma died?"
She slaps him around a bit, nothing too hard. David has only medium pain tolerance, and once she really lays into him, huge red splotches will appear on his bare back. Miss Georgia (who asked to use a pseudonym) isn't actually mad that David, a professorial 48-year-old with salt-and-pepper hair, failed to bring her a Sephora gift card as promised, or that he canceled his last session here at her independent Manhattan sex dungeon. That adds up to a $300 loss for her, true, but at least now she gets to have fun. David wants punishment and she's eager to deliver it, because being a dominatrix is Miss Georgia's dream job.
Georgia stands six feet tall without her size-10 shoes, hipless and muscular, yet overwhelmingly feminine. She's a purple belt in karate who wears Queen-sized stockings over her muscular thighs, drinks Powers on the rocks, and chases it with Stella Artois. Intelligent and enthusiastic, when she agrees with you, she says so four times fast: yeahyeahyeahyeah.
Georgia took a meandering path to her untraditional career. She graduated from college with a psychology degree in 2000 and moved to Seattle, where she started dabbling in the scene.
"I started out as a submissive. I knew I wanted to be spanked. I had never been spanked in my life, by my parents or anybody. It was just this drive that I had, so I went to a club that had a screening process," she says from inside her dungeon. "You had to go through an orientation period and learn certain rules, and then they would let you in and let you play."
Georgia had a relationship with a vanilla (non-kinky) partner that took her out of the lifestyle for three years. But when she moved back to New York six years ago (she's originally from Westchester-ish), she jumped right into the professional domination scene, finding a gig at a commercial dungeon in Midtown West.
In February 2008, a 67-year-old retired math professor named Richard Benjamin slipped into a coma at a dungeon called the Nutcracker Suite, causing then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer to crack down on commercial BDSM houses. In one of those sweeps, six of Georgia's fellow dominatrices at the dungeon where she worked were arrested for offering sex to undercover cops.
Rather than risk a similar fate, Georgia turned entrepreneur. As an independent dominatrix, she requires letters of recommendation from other professionals and a pre-interview, precautions which have protected her from arrest so far. (While performing as a dominatrix is not illegal, she sometimes performs illegal activities involving anal penetration. But cops looking to make a quick bust are unlikely to go through these hoops, she says, and lack the acting skills to make it through an interview full of BDSM jargon.) Georgia is interested in building relationships with her clients, so she doesn't accept spur-of-the-moment appointments. This also helps her maintain a sense of normalcy. "A lot of people expect to call you up like you're sitting in your Spandex," she says. "But no—I'm in my jeans and about to go to a birthday party."
She makes more money, too: $250 per hour-long session versus the $60 she would pocket at the commercial dungeon after the house took its cut. Her business has few costs besides her $1,500 per month rent, and thus a fairly high profit margin. Her biggest expenses outside of room and board are the incidentals—she spends about $200 a month on paper towels. She even files taxes as an independent entertainment contractor, writing off dildos, taxi rides, and wigs, although she notes, "Dommes are always in danger of being audited." ...
Although a Total Power Exchange might satisfy Steve, psychologists debate whether such men suffer from mental disorders.
The American Psychological Association defines a mental disorder as a "clinically significant behavior" associated with "present distress, disability, or a significant increased risk of suffering." The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, a compendium of these disorders, is the text American psychologists use to diagnose patients.
When the DSM was first published in 1952, it included "sexual deviation"—a category that included transvestism, pedophilia, homosexuality, fetishism, and sexual sadism. The second edition included masochism. The all-encompassing term was changed to the less-pejorative "paraphilias" in the third edition. When the fifth edition comes out in May, people who practice BDSM and feel distress about it will have a "paraphilic disorder."
This distresses the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, an advocacy group which considers DSM revision a "key project." "We want to make sure that distress from society doesn't mean a mental disorder," says National Coalition of Sexual Freedom spokeswoman Susan Wright.
The DSM listed homosexuality as a sexual disorder until 1973, when extensive empirical evidence concluded that homosexuals performed no differently on psychological tests than their straight counterparts. Five different studies conducted on masochists since 1977 point to high functioning—measured by high educational level, income and occupational status—compared to the general population. Furthermore, other studies show there is no link between masochism and past abuse. Why should one atypical orientation be treated differently than another?
Charles Moser, a California researcher who asks exactly that, has emerged as the psychologist most active in advocating for BDSM's removal from the manual. In an article co-authored with Peggy Kleinplatz this year, he wrote: "The situation of the Paraphilias at present parallels that of homosexuality in the early 1970s. Without the support or political astuteness of those who fought for the removal of homosexuality, the Paraphilias continue to be listed in the DSM." ...
The DSM currently defines "unusual" sexual turn-ons as paraphilias. Paraphilias include everything from foot fetishes, S&M and erotic eating to exhibitionism and pedophilia. These paraphilias are considered harmless unless the person experiencing them feels distressed about their preferences or if their unusual sexual practices are harmful to others. "Simply put, the DSM V will say that happy kinksters don’t have a mental disorder. But unhappy kinksters do," wrote Slate's Jillian Keenan.
It appears that the DSM-V will further formalize this idea and separate paraphilias from paraphilic disorders. This means that a benign fetish like being turned on by feet or enjoying some consensual bondage play would be considered a paraphilia, while having a sexual obsession with underage children would be considered a paraphilic disorder. LiveScience also reported that the definition of paraphilia may be made more specific in the DSM-V. The proposed definition is: "any intense and persistent sexual interest other than sexual interest in genital stimulation or preparatory fondling with phenotypically normal, consenting human partners between the ages of physical maturity and physical decline." ...
Forget big banks. In the eyes of one conservative group, Attorney General Eric Holder has failed in his duty to take down big porn.
Morality in Media put Holder at the top of its “Dirty Dozen List” of “top pornography facilitators” this week, placing the nation’s leading law enforcement official in the company of Comcast, Facebook, the American Library Association, Twitter, Wikipedia and even the Department of Defense.
“Holder’s actions keep the porn industry thriving,” Patrick A. Trueman, president of Morality in Media, said in a press release. “He not only refuses to enforce obscenity laws currently on the books that prohibit the distribution of hardcore pornography, but he even disbanded the office charged with enforcement.”
Trueman, who headed the DOJ’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section until 1993, is referring to Holder’s 2011 decision to shut down the Obscenity Prosecution Task Force, which was formed in 2005. Obscenity prosecutions dropped during the Clinton administration after Trueman left the department. The Obama administration hasn’t brought a new obscenity case since taking office in 2009, and during the Bush administration, Trueman acknowledges, obscenity prosecutions were at relatively low levels.
“It’s tough to imagine a bigger waste of taxpayer money than using limited prosecutorial resources to target porn depicting legal acts between consenting adults,” wrote Think Progress.
Larry Walters, a First Amendment lawyer who has represented the adult industry, told HuffPost that enforcing obscenity laws didn't seem to be a priority for the Obama administration. "I suspect that is based largely on public sentiment,” he said. “We’ve become much more tolerant of exotic material as a society in the United States, as has much of the world with the ready access of erotic material and explicit material on the Internet.” ...