Time for another study review from Kleinplatz and Moser’s Sadomasochism: Powerful Pleasures. This one might, for once, be rather brief; what can I say, the next essay in the book is well-thought-through, well-written and well-presented… funny how the good ones can be harder to review! Or maybe it’s just that I have more fun tearing apart flaws than I do pouring streams of praise. It’s that whole “critical thinking” fetish of mine.
Nonetheless, there are things worth saying.
The article in question is entitled “Sexual Spanking, the Self, and the Construction of Deviance,” and it’s by Rebecca F. Plante. A couple of excerpts from the summary explain the whole thing quite well:
“Using interview and observation data from a group of consensual, heterosexual adults interested in sexual spanking, I describe members’ sexual stories and stigma neutralization techniques. (…) Participants strive to differentiate themselves from sadomasochistic activities and to create normative behavioral expectations within their scenes. I conclude that all of this can ultimately be viewed as part of the complex sexual adaptations that people make.”
I have to admit I find the whole thing really funny.
It’s not that spanking itself is cause for guffaws, but… I mean, come on. Spanking? That’s practically vanilla! Sure, it can be lots of fun. But it’s so overdone as a metaphor in pop culture imagery, porn and other mainstream depictions of “ooooh, that’s kinky” sexuality that it’s almost silly to think anyone still harbours the idea that spanking is particularly deviant behaviour. To think that there are entire groups of people out there who hold up spanking as a specific interest and feel there’s a whole separate stigma around it… jeezis, folks. Try being a gay furry with an interest in electrical play and sounds (i.e. penetration of the urethra using metal rods), or a butch MTF transsexual dominant with a penchant for saline inflation, flesh hook pulls and piss play.
Really. Do a few heterosexual pairs in which the female halves like to get their buttcheeks reddened every once in a while constitute an edgy group suffering from derision and discrimination? I suppose so, in the sense that any sexual activity that smacks of deviance (oh, sorry, that wasn’t on purpose) makes conservative and repressive people upset and inspires censorship and so forth; certainly this does extend to spanking publications and gatherings. But on the whole I highly doubt that the repressive forces of the world are likely to specifically target such relatively “soft” forms of play, especially when done in heterosexual contexts, for any particular attention.
But the even funnier thing is that the people who are part of the group in question seem almost more interested in distancing themselves from the larger BDSM community than they are in defending their “normalcy” to the rest of the world. I understand that in a sense they are doing both – as Plante explains,
“Participants know about broader cultural narratives and constructions of “normal,” and are aware that their interests are often stigmatized and defined as deviant. In this vein, they work to redefine deviance via several strategies and techniques for neutralizing stigma. They collect and share pop cultural references to sexualized spanking and suggest that most people are interested in spanking but simply do not know it. The participants in this research also differentiate themselves from sadomasochistic practitioners, defining themselves as solely interested in “the bottom,” or the buttocks, and in fantasies and scenes specifically involving the erotic tableau of a man spanking a woman.”
So what we have here is a bunch of kinky people who get really excited about a very, very specific activity, and they frame that activity more or less as “everybody likes spanking, we’re just brave enough to say so; and make no mistake about it, the real deviants are those weird BDSM people over there who do a whole lot more than just spanking.” The spankers set up rigid boundaries about how much spanking is okay (too much and you might be – gasp! – a masochist!) and what pairings are okay – man spanking woman is right and good; woman spanking man is weird and that makes the woman almost too much like one of those SM dominants; woman spanking woman and man spanking man are unheard of and very much frowned upon. (Homophobic, much?) The fact that these spankers occasionally have to seek their partners in the BDSM world brings them no end of distress because of the “lifestyle differences” they perceive between themselves and the depraved kinky dating pool.
In other words, they, the spanking aficionados, are most emphatically just like everyone else, except for this one rather titillating thing they like to do in or before bed.
It’s a fascinating study, for sure. I think it intrigues me mainly because I find it so incredibly amusing that anyone would get their (metaphorical, of course) panties in a knot about this kind of thing. As a kinkster, there are lots of kinky practices in which I don’t personally participate, but I don’t find myself jumping up and down to tell everyone how very fundamentally different I am from those terrible people over there doing those disgusting things that I don’t do. A commonly heard saying in the BDSM world is, “your kink is not my kink, but your kink is okay.” It’s a tongue-in-cheek way of shrugging and saying, “yep, we’re all perverts, and to each their own.”
I mean, if I spent all my energy telling people whose kinks I don’t share how not like them I was, and how much more normal my own kinks were, I’d never actually get around to playing. Not to mention I’d piss off half the people who might otherwise have played with me. What do I have in common with a straight guy who likes to wear diapers, or a latex fetishist with silicone implants up each arm and a body covered in tattoos, or woman who likes to get figged (anally penetrated with a plug of raw ginger) by her husband? Not a helluva lot, but their existence doesn’t offend me. If I were to converse with these people, or play in the same space as them, I might learn some fun new things, or I might be mildly put off, or I might feel completely neutral. But I don’t think their company or their particular expressions of perviness make me any more or less a pervert in my own right, nor add to nor take away from my legitimacy as a human being.
I guess that’s where I see the big difference here. The spanking group featured in this study seems to be really concerned with self-policing their normalcy, and very invested in holding onto that normalcy at all costs – including the cost of being extremely judgmental about other kinky practices. The idea of seeing “normalcy” as so hugely valuable that the very existence of other kinks bothers you… the concept of closing the door to any variance on a perversion, of rigidly holding boundaries within which you still count as “okay” and outside of which you can be rejected and mocked… this all seems antithetical to a happy, healthy, wholesome sexuality. I don’t think there’s any particular shame in enjoying spanking, but I also don’t think there’s any particular shame in liking to be encased in rubber and shat on, or tied up and pierced, or treated like a pet dog or whipped or slapped or ordered to lick a boot. Having personal limits is a good thing, but imposing those ideas on others to decide what’s acceptable… well, that’s where I draw my own line.
When a person feels their personal preference for sexual expression gains something – legitimacy, safety, acceptability, even edginess or superiority – from putting down the expressions indulged in by others, whether those other people and practices are “way too boring” or “way too weird,” I can’t help but wonder what makes those “others” so scary to the “normals.” It reminds me of people who gay-bash because they’re self-hating queers themselves, or preachers who teach purity and abstinence and then pay for a hit of speed and a back-alley blowjob as soon as the last parishioner walks out the door, or the frat boy who fucks a transsexual gal and then murders her because otherwise he might have to think of himself as a faggot. Sexual practices from boring to bizarre don’t bother me; what scares me is the inner workings of shame and judgment and the incredibly twisted cruelty that can come from that.
I’m squicked by judgmental people. Even if all they’re doing is enjoying thirty precise strokes of a male hand to a willing female buttcheek, their kink is not my kink, and their kink is dangerous.