“it’s not about sex” and other lies

The following is the talk I gave this afternoon at the closing banquet for The Floating World, a supercool (and absolutely massive) sex-positive annual weekend conference in New Jersey. The teaser for the talk read as follows: “This is a talk about the lies we tell ourselves and the rest of the world. It’s a talk in which bullshit will be called, hierarchies challenged and strong statements made. It’s a talk about polyamory, and BDSM, and queerness, but above all, it is most definitely a talk about sex.”

***

Hello everyone. I’m very happy to be here, and I’d like to thank the organizers of Floating World for inviting me to come and present both tonight and throughout the weekend. You are an incredible group of people and I’m honoured to be among you. And I want to extend my congratulations to the people who make events like this happen. They are one helluva lot of work.

One of the things that makes this event unique is that it caters to such a wide variety of people on the sexual fringe. Of course that also makes it a little complicated to come up with a speech that will resonate, or potentially resonate, with everyone. But I like a challenge. So today I’m going to speak to you from my various perspectives all at once. Let me lay those out for you so that you know where I’m coming from.

I’ll do this in the order they showed up for me. So, for starters, I’m a kinky fuck. I’m sure that’s also true for many of you in the room. Me, I’ve known this since I was about two years old. I don’t necessarily buy into the “born with it” story, but at the same time, the first thing I ever knew about my sexuality was that my turn-ons were inextricably bound up with questions of power and pain. I’m not saying this to create a hierarchy in which I must be kinkier than you if I was masturbating to thoughts of torture when I was a toddler and you only figured out your kinks when you were fifteen or thirty or sixty. I’m just saying it because it means that to me, kinky came first, and I don’t know how to have sex any other way.

Next up? I’m queer. But I’m the kind of queer that sometimes upsets other queers. A lot of people use the term “queer” as a sort of 2010 version of “gay and lesbian,” maybe with a bit of genderfucking thrown in to mess with the binary (thank you Judith Butler). For me, queer is a question of mindset. I’m not particularly picky about the genitals of the people I’m drawn to—that’s just plumbing. It means that I tend to not find people attractive when they’re invested in the institution of heterosexuality (as separate from the practice, which can be lots of fun), or in a system that only includes two genders. I find the institution oppressive and the binary reductive and that shit gives me a limp dick.

Concretely, that means that both my gender and sexual practice are all over the map. And that map, in addition to all sorts of gorgeous people who identify as female or as somewhere on the vast and beautiful trans spectrum, also includes male-bodied individuals who still identify as male. For some people, the boundary of queer still stops at homosexuality. As in, you no longer really count as queer if you have sex with someone who’s of the “opposite” sex. But believe you me, when I’m in bed with one of those, what we’re doing is still deeply, deeply queer. And not only if I’ve got my cock down his throat or I’m dressing him up in my lingerie, although that’s fun. Even if we’re in the missionary position.

I’m also a trans ally. For me that does not mean automatically seeing trans people as a subset of the queer population. Why? Because some trans people are straight. In Ontario, the Canadian province where I live, a survey was recently carried out that collected 87 pages of data each from nearly 450 self-identified trans people, which is the largest and most comprehensive survey of its kind. You wanna hear a fun figure? It showed that 35% of trans people identified as straight or heterosexual. That tells us two things. First, it tells us that one-third of trans people, at least in Ontario, aren’t queer. They’re your average straight person who happens to have been born in a body that didn’t match their sense of themselves. But it also tells us that 65% of trans people do identify as something other than heterosexual or straight—gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, queer, questioning and more. This becomes relevant when we look at the kind of transphobia that still comes up in the queer world. You know, the one that likes to call itself GLB…T. I wrote an article on the initial results of the survey for Xtra, the national queer newspaper. And the reader comments that came up after the article—I just read them this morning—and they made me incredibly sad. One woman wrote, “Perhaps the trans community could come up with their own media so there can be some refocusing on our issue of sexual orientation.” I guess she missed the fact that 65% of trans people are, broadly speaking, some sort of queer. That makes “them”—or at least two thirds of them—into “us.”

I’m polyamorous. I am a member of a queer triad. For me, poly is a worldview and even a spiritual perspective, not just a way of doing romantic relationships. It informs the way I approach my friendships, my work, my community. But in addition to being polyamorous in the sense of having multiple loving relationships at once, I also engage in a broader kind of non-monogamy, meaning that I happily (very happily) play with and fuck people I do not love.

Now that last one brings me to the title of this talk, which is “‘It’s Not About Sex’ and Other Lies.” So the first thing I want to do here is unpack the idea of lies, because as a person who values honesty and trust above all else, I do not use that word lightly.

I think that when people lie, it’s generally for a specific reason. Omitting the compulsive liars out there, who simply do it because they always do, I think we lie because we think it will get us something more quickly or more easily than telling the truth. So when we say “that dress looks great on you” when it doesn’t, we’re doing it for a few benefits. First, it keeps a relationship smooth when a different answer to that little question might have made it rocky, in the moment; it allows us to avoid unpleasant conflict. Second, it allows us to make someone feel good. Third, it allows us to look good ourselves—“look, I’m such a nice guy, I’m giving a compliment.”

Now, I still don’t advocate lying about a partner’s dress, but even so, I can admit that it’s a relatively small matter to by lying about. But it still has consequences. It might keep a relationship smooth in the moment, but if the person who’s being lied to realizes there’s a lie going on, it erodes trust. If I look in the mirror after receiving a compliment of that sort, and I realize that there’s actually a chocolate stain on my dress, or the seam is straining because I gained some weight, I will start to wonder why my partner didn’t just say so—I asked because I wanted their opinion, not because I wanted to have my ego coddled. What else might they be lying about, if something so small and simple is approached that way? And how will we ever learn to deal with our conflict points if we avoid them? Beyond that, while that lie may have made me feel good in the moment, it’s a very hollow kind of way to feel good; and if it made the liar look good in the moment, well, that only lasts as long as the lie isn’t exposed.

If we take that model for the benefits of lying, we can start to see why some of our lies are a tempting strategy, but we can also see why that strategy starts to fail.

So what are the lies I’m talking about?

Well, let’s start with a simple one, and one we’ve probably heard a lot: “Gays, lesbians, bisexuals, queer people are just like everyone else.”

Okay, on some level this is true. We’re just like everyone else in that we’re human, we eat food and breathe air and drink water and shit poo, we work and play and rest, we have dreams and ambitions and challenges like anyone else. Fair enough. But when people say this, they’re usually trying to make it seem as though you could just take the average nuclear family photograph, remove the male half of the couple, insert a female replacement, and proceed, with all other assumptions intact.

And I argue that we absolutely can’t do that. Doing that, or trying to, erases all the realities we live in. For starters, we live in a culture that’s heavily weighed down by misogyny—by the hatred of the feminine and the female. This doesn’t mean we have seen no progress, because we certainly have. But just listen to the way we talk. You throw like a girl. What are you, a sissy? That’s so girly. You’re such a pussy. This language is available to us because no matter how individually progressive we may be, our culture still devalues the feminine.

Our culture devalues the feminine and sees it as the necessary counterpart to the masculine; the feminine is the background against which masculinity defines itself. A man is only a real man when he’s nothing like a woman. The people who hate queers hate us because our very existence challenges that little set-up. If a woman can be substituted for a man in the picture, or a man substituted for a woman, then the whole precarious structure starts to fall over. Which should have us asking: if the structure is that fragile, why are we buying into it in the first place?

Any strategy that tries to pretend we’re all alike is a strategy that only works in a vacuum, and ignores all the many issues that we face, as queers, which make our lives and our experience extremely different from the rest of the world. I come from Canada, where same-sex marriage has been a fact of life for several years now, and you know what? It didn’t solve all our problems. It just made certain privileges easier to access for people who generally had a lot of privilege in the first place.

Kids still show up at the queer street youth drop-in that my boy runs because they’ve been kicked out of their homes for being queer or trans or both. Doctors are still under-educated about some of our most basic sexual practices and the risks they may or may not include, like, say, cunnilingus. Queers, alongside many other groups with legitimate political agendas, are still brutally assaulted by cops and jailed for peacefully protesting, as we saw in the recent G20 mess in Toronto which featured the country’s largest mass arrest in decades. Our health is still affected by the strain of living in a homophobic world, with queer people facing much higher rates of smoking, depression and other issues. Written words and images that depict our sexualities are still censored, underfunded and suppressed. We’re still harassed at work and bashed on the streets.

And that’s just the bad stuff. As a grad student working in the realm of history, I can attest to the incredibly rich and textured past of queer people and queer cultures. It’s a mistake to look into the past, see evidence of same-sex experience and simply equate it with the stuff we get up to today. But at the same time, that history represents the precedents of a culture that many, if not all, queer people still participate in today. The current renaissance of butch-femme identities among dykes, for example, is exactly that—a renaissance. It’s not new. People have been doing it for decades, if not centuries. And we take what we know of our pasts and we blend that with the cultures and technologies and ideas we have today in creative ways every day; that past merges with the present and informs how we understand ourselves and how we create new ways of being. Today’s butch and femme are not the butch and femme of 1942, much like today’s drag queen is not New York’s fairy from 1890. But our identities in 2010 could not exist without the ones that came before us. We have a complex history that informs a complex and evolving culture. And while that history and that culture may not resonate with every person out there who’s interested in having same-sex sex, we can’t dismiss it as the realm of just a few isolated people, either.

When we say that “queers are just like everyone else,” we erase that history. And you know, if you’re not into history, that’s your prerogative. But in saying such things, we also erase the present. We erase the fact that our health, our families, our work situations, our communities really do have distinct characteristics and distinct challenges. And in erasing those challenges, making like they’re not important or notable or worthy of mention, we’re doing the homophobes’ job for them. We’re buying into their system—a system into which we can only truly fit if we erase enough of ourselves that we don’t even really exist anymore.

I’m going to move on to some other lies now. I’m going to talk a bit about the lies we tell in the BDSM and leather communities.

One of the lies I hear a lot, particularly in intro-level BDSM books and classes, is that “BDSM is not about pain.” That one comes hand-in-hand with a couple of others, so I’ll try to tackle them as a package. That package includes the lie, “It’s not really real, we’re just role-playing.” And there’s also my perennial favourite, “Everything we do is consensual.”

Now let me say up front that I definitely know people for whom BDSM really isn’t about pain. They don’t like pain, and not even in that I-like-what-I-don’t-like sort of way. And I also definitely know people for whom BDSM is all about the role-play. They want to be puppies and ponies and dirty uncles and little girls and nasty mobsters and pirates and wenches and Catholic schoolgirls and nuns, and all kinds of other crazy shit. They’re awesome and beautiful and sometimes they’re absolutely the life of the party.

But I would argue that even if these things are true for some of us, the fact that they’re not true for all of us means that using those statements is a problematic way of explaining ourselves to the outside world. It sets up a situation where we take the most palatable forms of kink—the kind that doesn’t really hurt, that isn’t really risky, and that’s all just a big game of let’s-pretend—and we put that forth as an explanation of how really, in the end, we’re not actually perverts, we’re just, y’know, creative types. Who like to dress up in shiny things sometimes, and play, like theatre, and isn’t that fun?

That means we’re setting up a hierarchy in which the people who are the furthest out on the fringe—the full-time master/slave couples, the people who get off when they’re being tortured or humiliated, the people who do heavy body modification or highly risky play, are the bad guys. The weird ones over in the corner there, who make the rest of us look bad.

I know that when I see a 101 manual that tells the rest of the world, and even the freshly hatched kinksters coming into my communities, that we don’t really enjoy pain, I feel erased. I feel as though I’m being told that my kinks are things I should be ashamed of. They’re not fit for public consumption. They’re weird and dangerous and they’re most certainly not good PR.

I call bullshit. I want it to be up-front and centre that while some of us are not interested in pain at all, some of us definitely are. That we’re working to dismantle the emotional, cultural and even medical and legal understandings of pain and hurt and harm, that we’re exploring and disentangling and recoding the meanings we place on the experience of pain, that we’re doing that work with our minds and our bodies and our spirits and our sexualities, and that this is beautiful and valuable work.

Same goes for this question of role play. For some people, getting to be someone they’re not, for a little while, is a great relief. Or hell, it’s just fun. Plus, the costumes are fabulous. For some of us, though, our kink is not about escapism, or about taking on a persona that’s an exaggerated or narrowed version of ourselves; it’s about intensification, deepening of who we are. It’s about broadening that into our daily lives. It’s about everyday power management inherent in ongoing D/s and M/s relationships, and the challenges of doing that ethically, humbly, in relationships with people with whom we take our power dynamics well outside the container of a focused scene space.

Those of us who do full-time M/s relationships are often both admired and reviled in the kink scene. Some people see full-time M/s as the be-all and end-all of what it is that we do; the pinnacle, the thing we all dream of and fantasize about. Others see it as inherently unhealthy, codependent, abusive, dangerous and probably a little bit crazy. Or maybe a lot crazy. Now, I am the last person who’ll try to convince you that there’s no abuse in the kink scene. There is, absolutely. There’s also a lot of simple ineptness, and human error—which of course has increasingly serious consequences depending on how intense the risks are. But that’s not the same thing as saying that M/s is bad.

At the same time, I’m not interested in creating a reverse hierarchy, where the cool kids are the pain sluts, and the more you can take the hotter you are. I’m not interested in making fun of the non-pain people as lightweights or as not really kinky. Not in the least. And I’m also not interested in saying that the M/s people are better than the D/s people who are better than the role-players. This isn’t a question of worth. It’s a question of each of us having our own perfectly valid kinks, that bring their own perfectly valid challenges with them, and their own perfectly valid pleasures.

What I am saying is that as we intersect with a world full of people who don’t yet understand what we do and who we are, we aren’t doing ourselves any favours by putting on a good face and only trotting out the kinks and the people who are easiest to digest. No real understanding can come of it. Much like if I went out in a dress with a chocolate stain on it, someone will eventually notice that something’s not quite right. People will notice that they’re not getting the whole story. It makes us look duplicitous and insincere. It alienates people from each other within our communities as much as it misrepresents us to others. It doesn’t build trust.

I think we also fail to build trust, both within our communities and outside them, when we insist that everything we do is consensual, and stop the discussion there. I’ve often said that for me, consent is the baseline, the sine qua non of anything I do—and I’m not talking about kink. I’m talking about life. I’m not going to drive someone’s car without permission and negotiation any more than I would have sex with them or spank them without permission and negotiation. I bet most of you feel the same way. So now that we’ve all established that we’re human beings with generally good intentions, let’s talk about reality.

In reality, consent is messy and complicated. We communicate to the best of our ability and there is still misunderstanding, unexpected circumstances, emotions we couldn’t have predicted, sensations that feel different than they did last time. Relationships shift, words don’t mean the same thing to everyone, risks come up that we hadn’t accounted for. I am not bringing any of this up to justify non-consensual behaviour. My point is that we hide behind this idea that what we do is consensual when it’s actually a really poor shield. So rather than talking about consent, I’d rather talk about communication skills, listening skills, awareness, education, informed choice about risk. These are human concerns common to any kind of relationship, and in that sense, BDSM is not different.

Beyond that, I take issue with the idea that we insist so strongly on the concept of consent BDSM because I think it puts us on the defensive and lets the vanilla world get away with appearing to be problem-free. The reason we have grasped onto consent so strongly is because we’ve been told that our practices are hyper-risky and freaky and frightening. It’s almost like we’re seen as monstrous, so we must need to build extremely strong cages to contain ourselves. And you know, in some cases, that’s accurate. Some of us do engage in pretty risky play, and I absolutely support the idea that as your risk level goes up, so should the care you take toward safety and the intensity of your negotiation and the depth of your awareness and the weight of your consent.

But you know what? The real monster is way, way bigger than the blood players and the erotic asphyxiation fetishists. The truth is that plain old body-to-body sex is risky. If I flog someone, I do not run the risk of getting them pregnant. If I tie them up, I am not going to transmit hepatitis C. Face-slapping and verbal humiliation are highly unlikely to infect anyone with HIV. But having standard-issue penis-to-vagina sex—now that shit can kill you! And it’s often some of the most poorly negotiated, least talked about and questionably consensual sexual behaviour out there on the market. So why, exactly, is the onus on BDSMers to be more consensual than everyone else?

So I’m interested in having realistic conversations about what we get up to, both within our communities and when we’re doing our PR. I’m interested in turning the tables when people think what I do is terrifyingly risky and that it requires special skills to navigate well. I’d rather challenge the whole world develop the kind of skills we spend so much time working on in the BDSM world, because what the rest of the world does can itself be terrifyingly risky, it’s just not acknowledged as such. I’d rather tell everyone having any kind of sex or play or relationship to engage in the kind of risk assessment and safety approaches we think are important, rather than holding that feature of our communities up to justify why we’re not actually really scary perverts after all.

I’m interested in putting out the kind of message that embraces the diversity of what we do and finds ways to communicate about it without being defensive. It’s about acknowledging that the BDSM, leather and kink communities encompass a full spectrum of people’s relationships to power and pain, and that we’re each on our own journey, and that we come together as a community—a loosely affiliated web of many sub-groups and sub-sub-groups—to help each other along on those journeys. I’m not interested in being admired for the extremity of my kinks on the one hand while being sanitized out of existence on the other. I am a whole person. I am a human being, like every one of you out there, who’s just trying to get it right, to live in a way that’s true to myself, to understand concepts and practices and people who aren’t like me, and to learn what I can from them and offer what I can in return. And I would challenge us, as a bunch of perverts who often do fetishize good communication, to find ways to communicate that to the outside world as such, rather than picking the easy things to explain and sweeping the rest of it under the rug.

Here’s another lie that’s been coming up a lot lately: Polyamory is not about sex.

Now, I can understand that on some level, there is a distinction between having sex outside the context of an ongoing romantic relationship, and having sex within that context. And of course, I would generally agree that it’s probably unhealthy to pathologically pursue empty, meaningless or compulsive sex with strangers that leaves you feeling used or worthless.

But once again, this kind of thinking is all about a weak defence tactic. People often seem to think that the only way to deal with clueless non-poly folks’ assumptions—i.e. that poly is ALL about sex, that sex must be the only reason to do polyamory—is to go too far in the other direction and say “it’s not about sex at all.”

In truth, poly relationships are as much about sex as any non-poly romantic relationship is—which is to say, a lot! This is not to diss the asexuals out there. But most of us are hardly making a claim to asexuality.

Beyond that, we’re certainly not having problems with anti-polygamy laws, multiple-partner immigration cases, child custody and society’s general prejudice for all those multiple *non-sexual* relationships we get into. The whole reason polyamory bothers people is that we’re having sex. Otherwise we’d just be a bunch of friends hanging out, and everyone does that.

Further, what bothers people about polyamory is that we’re having sex with multiple people and telling the truth about it. Because don’t you know, we’re supposed to be ashamed of it? We’re supposed to do it behind closed doors, when we’re working late or when our partner is out of town. The very concept that sex with multiple partners could be a shameless, accepted, encouraged part of our lives is terrifying to anyone who wants to keep it hidden.

Of course sex may or may not be the first or even the most important thing we seek out in a romantic relationship. Real life does happen, and partnerships don’t last if they’re built on sex alone; we are, of course, whole human beings. We want to spend our lives with people who get us, with whom we can share a home harmoniously, and with whom we can enjoy dinner and a movie and a good conversation and maybe a vacation once in a while. But from there to saying we’re not here for sex is simply not true. And it’s a very shaky tactic to be employing when we are trying to explain ourselves to the world.

Another related tactic I’ve seen is when poly people (and non-poly people, for that matter) dress up sex in spirituality as though somehow that makes it less dirty. This is not to say that spirituality is bad. I truly believe that sex can be sacred, that sexual energy moves through our bodies in ways that can open us to the divine, that the body can be a path into the spirit. At the same time, I am often uncomfortable with the messages that I hear in sacred sexuality circles. I hear language that’s about honouring and embracing and celebrating, when in fact it sometimes feels more like it’s about excluding and judging and refusing to see the diverse ways that people engage with spirituality in their sex. Janet Kira Lessin is a leader within the World Polyamory Association, and a tantric sex coach. I’ll quote an essay she wrote about three years ago, just to give you an idea of what I mean:

“Even though we respect & embrace our sensuality, we are not swingers or polysexuals, so we don’t focus on the sexual or disrespect the very essence of sexuality & all its glory. We aren’t swingers, so we don’t use swinger terms & for the most part, most polyamorous people would never use the words… slut, whore, queer, fag etc. These are derogatory & demeaning to a person’s character plus in no way to these words have a positive meaning behind them. We use the words “love”, “long term relationships” & commitment when we talk. We aren’t crude, rude & talk about sex 24/7.”

To me, that sounds incredibly holier than thou. That tells me that she and many people who think like she does really want to draw a line in the sand in which the sluts, whores, queers and fags are on the outside, and the spiritual and loving polyamorous people are on the inside. It’s okay to talk about love and relationships, but it’s not okay to talk about sex. It’s okay to use words like “share” or “sacred” or “spirit” but not to use words like “fuck” and “beat” and “suck.” It’s spiritual to commit to someone, and profane to cruise. I’ve heard that kind of hierarchy in other places and I don’t trust it for a second. My relationships are sacred and my sex is spiritual, but my polyamory does not happen on the other side of a fence with the freaks and sex radicals safely at a distance. I am a queer. My community is made up of sluts and whores and fags. Those people are not “them,” they are “us.” And whatever our sexuality looks like, it’s just as legitimate as that of the people who choose to follow traditional Tantra or any other sex-positive spiritual path.

Beyond the question of spirituality, it seems like there’s a subset of poly folks who are so intent upon the “purity” of poly that they forget—or would like to forget—the natural human instinct to fuck, committed relationships or no. Sometimes sex is deep and meaningful, sometimes it’s superficial and fun. Sometimes it happens in the context of a 20-year-long marriage, sometimes it happens with a person you’ve known for 2 hours and will never see again. Sometimes it’s rough and fast, sometimes it’s sweet and sensual. Attributing validity to only one kind of it, and only then behind closed doors and closed mouths, only serves to alienate the people who are proudly poly and do their sex in other ways (often in addition to, not instead of, the long-term committed kind), and to dismiss the incredible richness and power of other kinds of experiences.

Speaking for myself, I can say that some of the most amazing, affirming and life-changing sexual experiences I’ve ever had have been with people who were not my committed partners. The first woman I ever kissed, I spent one night with and never kissed again. (Of course we’re dykes, so we’re still in touch on Facebook ten years later.) I learned to ejaculate because a guy I had a one-night stand with told me he could feel that my body was ready to do it, and explained how he could tell. I found out just how much I love the attention of foot and shoe fetishists because of an exquisite one-time-only scene with a male submissive—the first person to ever treat my body from the knees down as though it were the most beautiful part of me rather than focusing on my tits and ass. I had my first taste of D/s service in a scene I did with someone I’d just met while I was on vacation in a different country, and that set me on a path of D/s and M/s relationships that has continued ever since; today I have a wonderful leather family made up in some part of my former submissives and their constellations, and I’m the owner of an amazing boy in an M/s dynamic that, ten years ago, I never even dreamed was possible.

I can think of much more productive conversations to be having. Rather than talking about how non-sexual and committed and really non-threatening we are as poly people, I’d rather talk about the kinds of ethics we try to bring to our relationships. From there, I’d like to talk about how to extend those ethics to every kind of relationship we have—how to treat a casual sex partner with as much respect and care as we would a long-term lover, how to take all those amazing communication skills we try to develop and put them to use in navigating temporary connections with as much grace as we do multiple-partner living situations.

I realize that I come to my poly from a place of queerness, where because of a long history of oppression, of being told our sex is bad, many of us hold onto and defend the beauty of our sexuality with great ferocity. I come to it from a place of kink, where we spend tons of time talking about how to play and have sex in ways that feel good to us. But whether you’re kinky or queer or poly, all of the above or none of the above, I invite you to join me in refusing to buy into any variety of “sex is bad” or “sex is less than,” no matter whose mouth it comes out of. Whether it’s conservative lawmakers, or our intimate partners; the American Psychological Association or our community leaders; the Religious Right or the sacred sexuality proponents.

When we sanitize who we are and try to present the “best” face, we’re actually creating a hierarchy that doesn’t reflect who we are and that pits us against each other instead of against the people who try to tell us that how we live is shameful. When we do this as a community, it’s the same thing as when we do it individually—de-gaying your house when your aunt visits, or pretending your second partner is just your roommate when the neighbour’s around—and it hurts us individually just as much.

I think if there’s anything I want you to take away from this talk, it’s to question the easy defensive statements we sometimes make, to avoid slipping into those lies, and to convey a richer and more complicated truth instead.

42 Responses

  1. 3:27 am, hey? Thanks for the post. It addresses lots of relevant questions in a consistent and limpid way.

    • I’m sorry I missed this in person and am so happy you posted it. It’s really an amazing essay. i know a lot of people who will enjoy reading it. thank you!

  2. Super smart.

  3. [...] written essays, there’s one on ‘10 Principles for Healthy 24/7 D/s and M/s‘ and “It’s not about sex” and other lies. Worthwhile reads, and the latter might be more general interest than the first which is obviously [...]

  4. I am neither as queer, nor as kinky, nor arguably as poly (though I identify as poly very strongly) as you – but I found this was terrific, I agree with every sentiment expressed.

  5. This is really fantastic, on the ball and incredibly well written. Andrea, you amaze me everytime with your blogs. I am so glad to have been introduced to you and so glad that you’re out there being a voice for many of us. I just want to cheer and clap and yell, “right on”, each time I read something you communicate so well with nothing but the limiting english language to work with. One day I would like to hear to you give one of these essays in person.

  6. Totally agree, and nicely put.

    I would consider, if I were you, re-editing an essay form from your speech script in future, because written essays can be denser and-or shorter than things to be spoken.

  7. Excellent.

  8. Wow, this was a really great read! Really interesting and I totally agree with what you have to say. Have passed it on to some others who should be interested.
    Thank you for this.

  9. Thanks so much for posting this – sorry I missed it at FW! I *really* appreciate your perspective. I found this especially moving and interesting:
    “…we’re exploring and disentangling and recoding the meanings we place on the experience of pain, that we’re doing that work with our minds and our bodies and our spirits and our sexualities, and that this is beautiful and valuable work.”
    Would love to hear more of your thoughts on that.

  10. Hey, wow, thanks for all the kind words, everyone! I am totally bowled over at how many hits this post has gotten – I didn’t realize it would strike such a chord! But I am glad it has! :)

    dave – “as queer,” “as kinky” or “as poly”… let me just reiterate how I don’t want to see these things as hierarchical. (Besides, is being a little bit poly sorta like being a little bit pregnant?…) ;) Anyway, thanks for the comment!

    Chinapple – Good thought. Blogging, for me, is not about perfection, despite the fact that I work as a professional editor. So even though I know the length of my posts can sometimes be a deterrent, I’ve so far not been successful at making them shorter and still feeling good about ‘em. So you may be stuck having to read the long versions, if you decide to come back that is! That said, I am soon going to be working on a couple of books based on this blog in the relatively near future, and editing things to make them slicker and tighter will definitely come into play there. :)

    barb – Thanks for that comment. I will chew on your question and perhaps poop out another post at some point in the future, about pain and related concepts. I very much appreciate the note, it’s food for thought.

    • Hey

      I didn’t mean to be harsh about the length -that would be a serious case of pot. kettle. black. -I’m terrible at writing short things! And I probably will be back :-)

      xx

  11. Oh goodness. No worries, it didn’t seem harsh. And in any case you’re hardly the first to note that I write long posts! I’m kind of a cross between an accidental blogger and a book author with a serious case of procrastination… ah well. Glad I’m not the only one. And glad you’ll be back. :)

  12. Interesting post as always, thank you. I agree with a lot of what you write here, bottom line being “Let’s stop catering to the “moral majority” in trying to get our queerness, polyness, kinkiness (and I would add genders) “accepted as normal” and “non freaky.”

    With regards to kink more specifically – we’ve discussed this a few times over the years – I still take a bit of issue with the way role-play is described here. I see that you’ve included the way in which I and other people have described our view of role play (taking a “narrowed version of ourselves” rather than “being someone else.”) But I still see several of the statements made about role play to be problematic and oversimplifying in the same way that saying kink isn’t about pain or JUST about role-playing oversimplifies kink. I’m sure that’s not your intention and I realise that this is an example you use to make a larger point. But in spite of the assurances that it’s not about creating a hierarchy of kink, reading your descriptions of role play make me feel like my kink is less serious and intense than 24/7.

    I get the sense that many people hear role play and think doctor-nurse, teacher-student, nun-schoolgirl, etc. That can be lots of fun! I’ve done it and will do it again. However, role play can go to many other places. My favourite, rape play, is an example of role playing that is certainly not one of the most palatable forms of kink. It certainly can hurt (I would say that any form of role playing can hurt – triggered feelings can hurt as much as a cane) and it certainly can be risky (on an emotional level). And since role play often includes many of the physical acts that others might include in their scenes (cutting, caning, whipping, slapping, punching), whatever physical and emotional risks exist with those activities are there too.

    Is it a game of let’s pretend? Is it about being creative and dressing up? Is it always fun? Meh. When I’m in the role of a rapist, I’m not pretending that I would like to rape. I’m enjoying the rape. I’m feeling it. And I’m treating my victim accordingly. I want them to hate me and despise me. I want to hurt them and degrade them. I want to force them to do things and have things done to them. And I want to hurt the shit out of them when they don’t comply. When I’m in the role of rape victim, I’m not pretending that I would like to be raped. I’m hating my rapist and swearing vengeance. I feel degraded and abused. I get hurt. And I get off. And that makes me confront some things about my past and present that I don’t necessarily like. It can make me very uncomfortable. It can make me ask some very deep questions about myself. And it can seriously affect the dynamic between me and the other person. Therefore, it is not contained within a focused scene space – it spills over in a multitude of ways. Role playing can be and frequently is “about intensification, deepening of who we are.”

    I’m saying this in specific reference to some rather extreme role-playing scenarios that I fantasize about and try to bring to fruition but, depending on the people involved, even the “fun and innocent” sounding doctor-nurse and teacher-student can probably have that affect as well. Heck, I got my first cutting – a profoundly moving experience – in the midst of a medical role playing scene. There was no pretending there.

    So, yeah, in all respect of my fellow kinky-queer-poly academic geek, I have to object to references to role play being about escapism. I’m sure it’s that for many and I think that’s great. Heck, I like role-playing for escapism and comic relief from time to time! And the fun scenes can even lead to ideas for more serious and intense scenes. Sometimes the fun scenes are a fun way to get to know someone at a party, where a more intense scene would be difficult. Some other activities are like that for me – flogging, for example. I don’t particularly get turned on in any way by flogging on its own, outside of some kind of “imposed pain” scenario, but it’s a good way to get to know someone at a party, get a feel for them and start building a dynamic. This leads me to add that I can understand that it’s easy to see role-playing more in light of costumes and “fun skits” when they take place at play parties. Some of the more intense role plays just can’t be done at a party without being disruptive or triggering to others. I don’t think I would do a real rape play scene at a party because of the damage I could cause a by-stander. Also, these things can take a lot of space!

    Anyway, again, great post and I know that you didn’t intend to downplay anyone’s kink. But I had to point out what I feel is an inaccurate portrayal of role play, or at least of some kinds of role play. Alas, the nuance never ends in our community, does it? Probably one of the multitude of reasons we both love it.

  13. Hey Jacky! Thank you so much for writing that all up, and putting yourself out there so personally. You just did such an eloquent job of explaining that, wow.

    I will agree that perhaps the way I talk about role-play in this post could be read to mean that I think it’s all fluffy and not-real, which clearly in your experience, and many others’, is not the case (though I know some people for whom it’s very fluffy and that’s exactly why they like it!). I will make sure I think better about how to phrase things in the future because that’s really not what I was aiming to do.

    Actually, let me give that a shot right now. I would say that there may be a hierarchy of “acceptable” role play just like there’s a hierarchy of “acceptable” pain play. Most people don’t get all that upset about the idea of a little spanking or scratching during sex, but when you get to the end of the spectrum that’s about heavy bruising, cutting/piercing/bleeding, and other kinds of super-intense stimulation, then people get way more uncomfortable about it. Likewise, in power exchange situations, I think a far higher number of people can wrap their heads around being someone’s slave for two hours than can understand signing up to do that 24/7. And I’d venture that, especially taking into account the way you’ve described some of the intense and potentially trigger-heavy role play you’re into, the same kind of spectrum stands in the world of role-play as well. As in, dressing up to play French maid and strict aristocratic lady for an evening might not be such a big deal in many people’s minds, but (as you might know far better than me) I know that role play scenes involving rape, incest, racial themes and various other things get a lot of people upset.

    I perhaps confused the issue by placing role play on one end of a spectrum and M/s on the other. What I should have done would be to place short-term, scene-based D/s on one end of a power exchange spectrum and full-time M/s on the other, and then to create a different spectrum for role play, with “light”/fluffy/escapist role play on one end with the other extreme being potentially trigger-heavy role play.

    It’s not a perfect model, as there are lots of potential overlaps and exceptions: role play may include strong elements of D/s (and in such cases, how useful is it to separate those two things for most practical purposes?); D/s energy sometimes finds its expression in role play; and some ongoing D/s and even M/s configurations have a really strong role play element to them that continues throughout everyday life rather than being part of a scene (i.e. the way some people do Daddy/boy or /girl relationships, for example). You might even argue that for some, being a “leatherdyke” or a “master” or a “slave” is itself a form of role play – our own community’s archetypes, complete with language, clothing styles and typical behavioural protocols, certainly can be taken up in a temporary fashion like anything else (even if for others in the same communities, those things are strong elements of identity). Also there’s nothing stopping an M/s couple from role-playing for fun one day, so it’s not like they’re mutually exclusive activities.

    Still, seeing role play and power exchange as two parallel and potentially overlapping spectra might help clarify some of what I think you’re driving at here, which is that all role-play cannot easily be stuck into a single spot on a power spectrum. Does that make sense?

    Of course, as you also pointed out, there’s a further potential for overlap with a pain spectrum, and I’d add that I’ve completely neglected to acknowledge yet another spectrum, that being fetish. (Acceptable: high-heeled shoes are sexy! Getting weirder but still understandable: full latex outfits are sexy! Much less acceptable: diapers are sexy! Completely whacked: sports team mascot costumes are sexy!)

    Again, my purpose is not to create hierarchies of worth, but to point out that some kinks are more “acceptable” than others, and whether we’re talking about pain or power or role-play or any number of overlaps between them, it doesn’t serve us well to protect ourselves from disapproval by using the (supposedly) least threatening kinks as a shield while hiding the dark, scary stuff off in the corner and hoping nobody notices. As such, I’d rather see the kind of testimonial you just wrote about role play any day, rather than relying on a party line I often hear of “it’s all just dress-up and not really real.”

  14. “Still, seeing role play and power exchange as two parallel and potentially overlapping spectra might help clarify some of what I think you’re driving at here, which is that all role-play cannot easily be stuck into a single spot on a power spectrum. Does that make sense? ”

    Yes, absolutely. Thank you for that. As I said in my first response, I know your intention wasn’t to write off role-play or diminish it but I appreciate that you are willing to reconsider and rephrase things to be more inclusive. As you say, some forms of role-play are more palatable to the “mainstream” and I think it was those forms to which you were alluding in your post. However, those other forms of role-play that include some controversial themes or “scary” activities are less “palatable” and probably other things that some people would like to hide to make the world of kink more acceptable to the mainstream.

    I think it’s unfortunate because if I were to have a discussion about my kinks with someone who wasn’t kinky, I’d much rather spend time talking about why the kind of things I do help me grow rather than pretend that I like to wear latex and heels and whip someone (or vice versa). Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that (usual disclaimer) but it’s not my thing, and I know that when people hear that I’m kinky, that’s probably what they imagine. (Of course, now I’m giggling trying to imagine myself in one of those thight “cat suits” that we see on the posters featuring slim and “mainstream sexy” women for all those pansexual events. Wondering how well it would go with my beard, package and beer belly.) But I digress.

    In general, I think it’s hard to find categorisations that appeal to everyone since all the different activities we can talk about mean so many different things to different people. Take watersports for example. For some, it’s simply fun. For others, it can be about worship, with the ingestion or someone else’s pee being a form of reverence. For others, it’s about humiliation. Now, depending on how it’s phrased, this activity could become more or less palatable to the mainstream.

    Or take whipping, flogging or spanking. They can be about fun that’s incorporated into sex. No biggie to the mainstream. They can be about exploring one’s limits or experiencing sensations. This could be seen as a bit weird to some mainstream folks but when it’s explained by someone who can clearly articulate how they experience it, some of them would get it and nod, perhaps making an analogy with running a marathon. Now, for some, like myself, whipping, flogging or spanking REALLY turns me on if there’s an element of imposition and punishment involved, or some form of humiliation and shame. I don’t enjoy the pain but the shame I’m made to feel by a rapist/parent/owner/insert figure of power here in a scene really gets me off as does the imposed endurance of pain, especially if there are people watching. Trying to explain that in a way that doesn’t squick the sensibilities of the average Jo (with Jo being a gender neutral name here) might be a bit more difficult.

    Anyway, very complex stuff and, again, I agree with the general point you were trying to make. I just felt that the use of role play as a whole to illustrate the “safe” or “palatable” end of the kink spectrum was problematic. Thank you for taking the comment seriously and incorporating it into your description. It’s always a pleasure to exchange about these things and I know you get as excited about nuance as I do. Some people get annoyed by my constant desire to nuance but I know you can appreciate it :)

  15. “role play may include strong elements of D/s (and in such cases, how useful is it to separate those two things for most practical purposes?);”

    Oh yes, I wanted to respond to this as well. That is a good point – lots of role play can indeed be about a power exchange taking place in a limited time frame. I see a lot of the role play that I like to do in those terms – short term D/s, especially if there is no or little resistance on behalf of the person “submitting.” It can be cloudy in the case of resistance – I wouldn’t say that a rape victim who struggles is really playing a submissive role. But perhaps it can go there – the establishment, in scene, of dominance and submission can be very hot. The taking of power after a hot, sweaty, tearful struggle . . . oh great, NOW how will I get any work done?!?!?

  16. [...] a member of a handful of sexual/gender minorities, this piece was a beautiful kick in the ass. Possibly kind of unsafe for work, and probably something I may find myself having to explain to my [...]

  17. [...] World gathering that was given by hir; I would highly recommend reading it. It’s called “‘It’s Not About Sex’ and Other Lies,” and is a really excellent treatment of the issue of truth, trust, and integrity in one’s [...]

  18. Thank you so much for this! I posted a link, and a tiny little further discussion, on my blog just now.

  19. I’m in love. There are about a hundred spots in here where I found myself nodding in agreement.

    Just…thank you.

  20. I am so in love with you right now I can’t even think.

    /<3

  21. wow… heavy, deep and insightful. need a cigarette after that one…

  22. [...] simply must read this speech given by Andrea Zanin at The Floating World, a supercool (and absolutely massive) sex-positive [...]

  23. A friend linked me here. This is beautiful and heartfelt and so very true, and I’m bookmarking it. Thank you.

  24. [...] Read the rest of the essay: “it’s not about sex” and other lies. [...]

  25. Your point about making kink and sexual preference palatable to the mainstream set up an image in my head of a carnival. As long as things are made more palatable, there are those that fly in the face of societal norms to such a degree that to make them palatable would erase them. So all the kinks are lined up with the most palatable ones in the front of the line, holding their tickets to ride the big societal acceptance roller coaster, and others still have to wait.

    Practicing acceptance and making a space in your head and heart to understand the existence of what may scare or threaten you to a degree is the harder, but saner option. You really hit it that our life experiences shape and define us in ways that ensure there will never be a way to water things down so it’s palatable to everyone, without washing the heart and soul of it away.

    Great article. You really challenged me to think and address some long-held assumptions.

  26. [...] Sex Geek. This entry was posted in Sexual Health. Bookmark the permalink. ← Costs of [...]

  27. This is the best thing I’ve read all year. Thank you.

  28. Hey, everyone, thanks for all the thoughtful and supportive comments. :)

  29. Thanks for sharing this speech; I was sent the link by a friend.

    It expressed a lot of what I didn’t even know I’d been ruminating about!

    I guess all I would like to add would be this, which of course goes without saying in some sense, but by the end of reading your post I felt it’s what I needed to comment.

    I agree that we who are concerned about these things are doing beautiful and valuable work. Where I struggle, at times, is to see this work as _essential_, in the face of other shit going on in the world that is eroding people’s perhaps more basic (?) rights to food, shelter etc.

    Now to hierarchy the needs of humans isn’t that useful. And we need serenity to accept the things we cannot change. I guess the least I can do is acknowledge my incredible blessings/fate/grace/luck that in my world, one of the most difficult things right now is coming out as poly to my family and friends. Not, what to eat or how the fuck to access drinking water.

    How do queer, kink, poly etc communities place themselves into the global community which includes: pogroms, malnutrition, all kinds of real exploitation?

    I spoke recently to a woman who has been working for over a decade at the local women’s refuge. She takes a zero-tolerance approach to violence. She sees where people allow other people to be violent to them as the beginning of the end; opening themselves up to the risk of non-consensual violence. I know this to be true, but I choose to take the risk. Am I willing to jeopardise her work and message by making my point?

    One of the things I struggle with is how to prioritise my own commitment to breaking this shit down, for myself and in the way I live my life, over other kinds of “goods” (e.g. being quiet when it’s not the right time to bring this shit up). How tolerance to the mulitvarious expressions of self that we predominantly see in the relatively affluent part of the world connects with those communities of people who simply don’t have the energy to care about this shit right now.

    I don’t think that the kink etc some of us experience is a “more advanced” form of civilisation. I don’t believe, for example, that once societies have a guaranteed basic income, they will as a matter of course, in the fullness of time, have and want the kinks that other societies now have and want.

    Meaning to say, I do not expect that societies of people that do not obviously include people who express kinkiness, queerness, poly-ness, whatever either (a) actually do have people who are “like me” / “like us” about these things already in secret, or (b) include any people who will ever want to embrace my understandings of these things.

    And despite that non-expectation, the “beautiful and valuable” work of which you speak here I think can resonate and connect with those who don’t even care or want to be queer or poly. Because what we’re really talking about, as you say, is having the room to explore the possibilities of whatever the fuck we want in a base-line consensual level (i.e. at the level that it counts, for us).

    In that sense, we commune across kink, across cultures. We find this other community which includes straight / non-kinky people, people who don’t particularly want marriage for love let along sex for kicks, people who are too tired or thirsty for any kind of non-necessary physical activity, but who are nonetheless open to being tolerant… even if not actually tolerant at the time.

    I’m not sure what my point is. Just teasing some of my thoughts out, I guess. More or less a variant of a t-shirt slogan I would love to paint up one day: “My family emigrated to a western county and all I got was this lousy white liberal guilt.”

    Go well, and thanks again for sharing :)

  30. I don’t think that what you are proposing is a good idea for PR at all unless you are dealing with people that are already pretty progressive.

    Just to give you an idea. What about people who already do not consider people that are queer really human(which, btw, is not at all uncommon)? Or people who are deeply invested in the dominant misogynistic world and really have no desire to change(for example, a lot of people’s parents)?

    I am reasonably sure that your suggestions, were they followed, would result in a lot more people being disowned by their parents, jobs lost, and even additional injuries sustained.

    Don’t forget that in California, one of the most liberal areas in the United States over 7 million people voted to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

  31. I’m working on writing a response to your piece on my blog, but it may take a day or two. There’s so much to discuss and so much to unpack, that I don’t know if I can really take on the whole piece at once. There’s a lot that rang true, and a lot I would like to explore more in depth, like queer history and what it means for us to ignore/deny/reject that history.

    But in a lot of ways, I come from similar places. I’m queer and kinky and single (ergo learning again to navigate the communication and tight corners of fucking in the queer community, which can be like a fishbowl at times). I also know it’s much easier to say what people want to hear, and the relationships I value most in my life — friends, sex partners, professional relationships, etc. — are with people who aren’t afraid of honesty. I’ve come to realize that the people who like to play passive aggressive games and the ones who can’t come out and just talk about difficult subjects, like negotiating sex… their lack of honesty is a huge turn-off.

    I wish that I could say that the queer (or kinky or poly, in this case, slightly interchangeable) people I know come at sex with a more enlightened attitude. But the truth is, we grew up socialized in the same environment as everyone else — we grew up with virgin/whore dichotomies, slut-shaming, gender roles, and an association between sex and shame. I watch many of my friends perpetuate these same ridiculous stereotypes and lies. A good friend of mine, the other day, put down a girl for being “too slutty.” But the kicker was, my friend was talking to this girl just so she could sleep with her! Apparently, there’s a magical line where “appropriately sexually active” ends and “slutty” begins. Somehow I doubt I’ll ever find this invisible boundary, but I damn sure know that myself — and most everyone I know — is not on the side of “acceptable” because it’s an ever-changing standard. Watching people within the community put others down makes me realize how much damage we inflict; we don’t need the conservative crazies to put us down if we’re too busy doing it to each other. If we quit creating hierarchies and started acting respecting (and talking to) each other, there’s a good chance we’d all be better for it.

    I wish we could raise that bar. I definitely think talking about sex in a frank, open way is a huge step forward.

  32. [...] “It’s not about sex and other lies” takes on the PR of queerness and kink. <3 [...]

  33. “So rather than talking about consent, I’d rather talk about communication skills, listening skills, awareness, education, informed choice about risk. These are human concerns common to any kind of relationship, and in that sense, BDSM is not different.”

    Word.

    “When we sanitize who we are and try to present the “best” face, we’re actually creating a hierarchy that doesn’t reflect who we are and that pits us against each other instead of against the people who try to tell us that how we live is shameful.”

    Not just putting the fluffy/least-hard-to-understand aspects of my sexuality on the table with the people I’m intimate with has been an ongoing process for me, especially in terms of sadism. I started out letting people see the fluffy, and now I can talk pretty comfortably about dominance and submission, bondage and spanking, but I still have inhibitions about talking about that space when I am a predator and I don’t mean it figuratively. Or about wanting to make people bleed and cry and beg and push boundaries and to –informed and aware– go into emotional/spiritual/physical spaces that are by their nature risky and not safe.

    I enjoyed the grist of what you explored here, though I don’t share the same context. I find myself identifying as things less and less, and I’m not very plugged in to any sexual or gender community. I find myself functioning in terms of how our full actualized expression and healing make ripples that go off and bounce off and through other people, slowly shifting this fast clusterfuck of humanity rather than the strategies of activism. Sometimes I feel like I’ve abandoned the activist paradigm, others I feel like it’s just coming at the same thing from a different angle.

  34. [...] to read more of what inspires me?   “It’s not about sex” and other lies. This has sparked some great conversations on Polyamoury. [...]

  35. [...] « it’s not about sex » and other lies (via Sex Geek) 1 octobre 2010 // 0 The following is the talk I gave this afternoon at the closing banquet for The Floating World, a supercool (and absolutely massive) sex-positive annual weekend conference in New Jersey. The teaser for the talk read as follows: "This is a talk about the lies we tell ourselves and the rest of the world. It’s a talk in which bullshit will be called, hierarchies challenged and strong statements made. It’s a talk about polyamory, and BDSM, and queerne … Read More [...]

  36. [...] « it’s not about sex » and other lies (via Sex Geek) 26 septembre 2010 // 0 The following is the talk I gave this afternoon at the closing banquet for The Floating World, a supercool (and absolutely massive) sex-positive annual weekend conference in New Jersey. The teaser for the talk read as follows: « This is a talk about the lies we tell ourselves and the rest of the world. It’s a talk in which bullshit will be called, hierarchies challenged and strong statements made. It’s a talk about polyamory, and BDSM, and queerne … Read More [...]

  37. Here I am late to the party, but I wanted to echo Icelandanonymous’ sentiments that this approach might not actually be a good one for general acceptance purposes. Certainly the most common facce presented is the most sanitized and palatable, but the audience that it’s aimed at is already hostile and unwilling or incapable of understanding even rudimentary explorations of sexuality outside of the norm. By shifting gears and presenting the most offensive right along with the least offensive, all that will appen is that people will be able to justify ignoring all alternative sexualities as a whole based upon their more publicly abhorrent variants. This approach would be good for an audience willing and interested in comprehending queer communities (like, say, sexuality students or social researchers) but as a general face to present to the rest of the world, It’ll do more harm than good.

    Yes it’s unfortunate that some views and expressions will be marginalized, but we can’t all be celebrities, we can’t all be rich and we can’t expect everyone to accept us exactly as we are. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be who we are, though.

  38. I just got linked to this from browsing the archives on another blog and I just wanted to say thank you. Reading things like this gives me hope and reminds me of all the things that are wonderful about my life and my loves, in their various queer and kinky permutations – and gives me external validation that I am correct in using those words to describe me, them and what we do. (Not that I should need it, but you know how it is – some days you just feel down about things and second guess yourself.)

  39. I think that honesty with oneself is paramount, but I don’t think that throwing that in other people’s faces, unless they seek to know, is productive. Confrontation from a position of weakness is not a sound tactic. It may be justified in the political sphere, when “the whole world is watching,” if the world may be presumed to be watching sympathetically, or if there’s hope the army will break rank and join the demonstrators. Otherwise, it may be idealistic, but, like a lot of idealism, it’s adolescent.

    I was impressed, though, with a lot of what the author wrote. Being honest and nonjudgmental about sexuality in all its richness is an important part of the struggle for liberation from all the shackles on human consciousness. So, brava for that.

    Self-knowledge and self-acceptance are part of everyone’s struggle. In the end, though, I think it is self-limiting to define oneself by one’s sexuality, or to place that much emphasis on it.

    I think that sex without love may be fun and may even have health benefits, both physical and mental, but it isn’t spiritual. And that isn’t to wrap certain kinds of sex up in an aura of holiness and to exclude others as “dirty” or unworthy. Without love, we are only using people, whatever we do, and with love, we may do almost anything, engage in anything, and it can be sacred and beautiful and uplifting.

    To exercise power over another — which is to say, not fantasy or role-playing but seizing control, or taking advantage of another’s weakness to impose one’s will — is invariably harmful to both parties. Sexual gratification only exacerbates the situation. I am not talking about kink. Power may be an aphrodisiac, as it was to people like Henry Kissinger, but it is death to the spirit.

  40. [...] been a topic in a few places lately – “it’s not about sex” and other lies (Andrea Zanin),  Dangerous Rope (Graydancer),  and Give Me [...]

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