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.” ...
Beatrice Stonebanks wants to teach you how to be a corporate dominatrix
San Francisco Bay Guardian Online
All too often in the workplace, women fight to hide their sexuality. In Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In, the controversial feminist-treatise-of-the-moment on combating sexism in the corporate world, Sandberg references a tech worker who goes so far as to remove her earrings before coming to work, so fervently does the employee wish to minimize her gender lest it distract her male cohorts.
Beatrice Stonebanks takes a different tack. A sales consultant for 25 years now, and a member of the San Francisco BDSM scene for 16, she strode into a partners' meeting at her job in 2010 and wrote two words on the dry erase board for all to see. They were: corporate dominatrix.
"In BDSM you have to know how to negotiate, otherwise you're going to get hurt." Ensconced under the fluorescent lights of my office, Stonebanks is entirely at home among the cubicles and boardrooms in her black skirt and floral blazer. She makes her living applying the take-charge skills she learned playing in dungeons with her husband to office culture.
Did her white board assertion consternate her coworkers? Tear rifts in officeland reality? Stonebanks says, to the contrary, it was a natural connection on her part that has led to increased office performance.
"The more domineering I became, the better the results," she says, smiling. "If I could produce the numbers, they didn't care about my tactics."
One year ago, she began teaching classes on those tactics to the kink community. Stonebanks is the editor of the BDSM education group Society of Janus' newsletter, a publication playfully dubbed Growing Pains. At home, she is a 24/7 loving dominant to her submissive husband, a role reflected in the take-charge manner in she fields my interview questions and guides our dialogue about her methodology.
There are obvious differences between the two worlds she straddles. For example — and I can testify to this firsthand because she was kind enough to bring both for our in-house Guardian photoshoot — the skirt she wears to teach her "Corporate Dominatrix Training 101: How to Use Sex and Power to Increase Sales" class is several inches shorter than the one she sports to, you know, use sex and power to increase sales.
But the long and short of the matter is that both successful BDSM and boardroom activities hinge on clear assertion of self and healthy communication. Both employ, or should employ, negotiation, safe words, execution, and after-care. "It scales," Stonebanks affirms. ...
The exact wording of the new DSM is being kept under strict wraps until its publication. But proposed changes discussed online by the American Psychiatric Association researchers who worked on the new edition suggest that foot fetishists and bondage aficionados who hoped to get out of the book altogether won't see that wish come true.
Instead, unusual sexual fixations, or "paraphilias," will likely get their own category as odd, but not necessarily signs of mental illness. If, however, a person is distressed by a fetish — or if that fetish harms others — he or she will likely be eligible for a diagnosis of a "paraphilic disorder." [Hot Stuff? 10 Unusual Sexual Fixations]
"This was a way of saying it's OK to have a benign paraphilia," said Ray Blanchard, a psychiatrist at the University of Toronto and chair of the working group on sexual and gender identity disorders for the DSM-5. "That does not automatically give you a mental disorder."
Other psychiatrists argue that even leaving benign paraphilias in the DSM goes too far. Sexual fixations that cause harm and distress can be dealt with under other diagnoses, they say, ones that don't stigmatize people who enjoy non-mainstream but harmless sexual activities.
"I've heard people at meetings talk about 'those paraphiliacs,' 'those people,'" said Alan Shindel, an urologist and specialist in sexual problems at the University of California, Davis Health System. "I think that's always a dangerous road to go down when you're talking about othering people in that way."
Psychiatrists define paraphilias as unusual objects of sexual arousal, ranging from the mundane and typically harmless (foot fetishism) to the universally reviled (pedophilia, or attraction to children). The current DSM, the DSM-IV-TR, doesn't consider paraphilias problematic unless they cause distress to the self or harm to others.
The proposals and discussions posted online by the American Psychiatric Association suggest the new DSM will take that DSM-IV-TR qualification further, separating the notion of paraphilias from paraphilic disorders. Turned on by obscene phone calls or spanking? You've got a paraphilia. But unless your paraphilia is causing you some sort of dysfunction or distress, it's not a mental disorder, according to DSM-5. If the paraphilia does cause distress or harm, it becomes a paraphilic disorder.
The DSM-5 may also, for the first time, clearly define "paraphilia" (previous incarnations have simply listed odd sexual targets). Blanchard and his group proposed a definition describing paraphilia as "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."
It's a definition that casts a wide net. In one study, published in 2011 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, a whopping 62.4 percent of 40- to 79-year-olds in a German sample reported at least one sexual interest that would qualify as a paraphilia. About 60 percent of the time, men reported simply fantasizing about this unusual interest, but 44 percent had incorporated it into their actual sexual behavior.
In that study, researchers found the most common paraphilia was voyeurism (spying on an unknowing person), followed by fetishism (sexual fixation on a nonliving object). [The Sex Quiz: Myths, Taboos & Bizarre Facts] ...
Those arguing for "marriage equality" at the U.S. Supreme Court this week should be ashamed of themselves.
They're just as guilty of discrimination as those dastardly conservatives still bitterly clinging to their guns and their religion. Why no argument for polygamy, polyamory and other forms of diversity? Why are they only defending their exclusive definition of diversity?
How dare those seeking to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act signed by President Clinton, or Proposition 8 ratified by the people of California, stop at just redefining marriage to include two consenting adults of the same gender. Why do these people believe they have the authority to draw a moralistic line against any consenting adults, and thus force their moral standard upon the rest of us?
Besides, society's views on these other progressive forms of relationship diversity are shifting, and shouldn't we always base our concept of right and wrong off what we see on TV, just like our gender-neutral maternal units taught us. Who better to consult on moral matters than the huddled masses that paid money to see all those Saw and Hostel movies? For example, there is a popular reality show on basic cable called Sister Wives about the lost art of polygamy. Showtime is airing a trailblazing show on the multiple wedded bliss of polyamory....