Monday, December 16, 2013

Radical Ecstasy

I have to confess; at times I have felt just a little bit jaded about the whole scene thing. You know, the old “being there, done that” feeling. So reading this book was like a breath of fresh air: it showed me how much I have to learn, and how much further I can go in the world of BDSM.

What book, you say? Well, it’s titled “Radical Ecstasy” and its authors are two hardcore, old-time players, Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy. It’s published by Greenery Press, a company that has put out there a bunch of books on kink and sexuality.

The “radical” in the title doesn’t mean that Dossie and Janet are to revolutionaries in the path of Che Guevara. Nor does it means that they propose something outrageously out of the ordinary – although that is closer to the truth. Radical stand for “root”, the root of life at the base of the spine, where we have our genitals and our anus. The first chackra.

The chakras, according to the mythology of Yoga and Tantra, are seven centers of energy aligned along the axis of the body, from the crotch to the top of the head. Kundalini, the mythological energy serpent, lies asleep in the first chackra. When it is awakened, it travels upwards, lighting up the chakras in bouts of mystical experiences.

Do I buy all that stuff? Well, yes and no. You see, I’m as rational, scientific and skeptical as anybody can be. I don’t believe in souls, astral bodies, reincarnation, life after death… you name it! Nor I believe that there is some kind of mystical energy, “prana” or “qi”, that we can use to do magical things. Having said that, I do know that we can experience altered sates of consciousness that can bring a lot of meaning to our lives. I said I “know it” because I have experienced them myself. The fact that they are real, and important, doesn’t mean that they are otherworldly or “paranormal”. They are just states of our brain that do not contradict in any way the laws of physics, chemistry or biology. After all, when Einstein came out with the theory of relativity, that was “just” a state of his brain, wasn’t it?

You may be growing impatient at this point… What does all this have to do with BDSM? Well, the central message I the book is that in the scene may be another path to achieve these mystical or spiritual states of consciousness. To make this point, Dossie and Janet draw on their vast experience with BDSM, on the one hand, and with yoga and Tantra, on the other. They explain all this in a very down-to-earth way, with an intimate tone. They talk about their troubles in life, their suffering, and how they found a way to confront it by opening up, letting go, “peeling away the skin” – in Janet’s metaphor. And they do this by whipping themselves silly, by dominating and submitting, by having orgasms.

By far the best part of the book is the account of their scenes. In many of them Dossie and Janet play together, but they also play with others. The intensity and sophistication that they describe is just amazing. It’s also very comforting that these are not two young gals – Dossie must be well into her sixties. So there is still time to play for those of us that have crossed the half-century line. Yes, even for women that have said goodbye to their last egg!

Well enough for today’s blog. I’m quite sure that I will return to the things I learned from Dossie and Janet in future postings. For now, I leave you with an inspiring phrase from their book:

“We want you to make yourself a promise. A sacred vow that you will take care of yourself, be kind to yourself and listen to yourself with compassion. Do that now, and then you may continue.”

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Why is “50 Shades of Gray” so successful?

The success is undeniable: I have seen the thick tomes of this trilogy piling up high in airport bookstores across the USA. In spite of that, many say that the books are poorly written, that the story and the characters are unrealistic, and that the sex scenes are repetitive and boring. As for the sadomasochists themselves, most find it outrageous the way the book depicts their lifestyle (for example, see ).

I found out about the success of “50 Shades” in April, as I was giving the final touches to my own erotic novel in Spanish. The news made me happy because my novel has a lot in common with “50 Shades”: it is also a love story that revolves around the subject of sadomasochism, it is told from the point of view of a 20 year old woman who starts of as a virgin and its plot has lots of action and many unexpected twists. However, the two books differ radically in their worldview. Because of that, I have been asking myself if the success of “50 Shades” forecasts the success of my own work. I list below my own ideas about why “50 Shades” has been so successful.
  • The plot really moves, there is suspense and tension from beginning to end. In any work of fiction the key to success is to create a conflict the engages the reader emotionally. In “50 Shades” the conflict is based on two opposed characters, the innocent Anastasia and the perverted millionaire Christian Grey, who have very different goals. Grey wants to turn Anastasia into his submissive. Anastasia wants Christian’s love and has conflicting feelings about whether she wants to participate or not in his sadomasochistic games.
  • Sex is much more interesting in the context of a love story. This is the key to the success of the romance genre, so attractive for women. It’s a simple enough formula, so one has to wonder why it has been ignored systematically in erotic novels. In most of them the characters are passionate about some particular erotic activity but they don’t fall in love with each other, and when they do their love is doomed from the start. For example, in “Story of O” it is hard to believe that O is really in love with René, and Sir Stephen announces emphatically that he does not love her or expects her to love him. The same can be said of other erotic classics like “Emmanuelle”, in which love is always distant and superfluous to the plot. In fact, many erotic stories take a rather cynical view on love.
  • The tension between the two main characters carries itself well into the sex scenes. Anastasia wants to let herself be seduced by the Gray’s sadomasochistic fantasies, but she is too proud and too afraid of pain to submit to them. This way, when a sex scene finally occurs it takes place under so much tension that a simple spanking produces a great emotional impact on the reader. This way, it is possible to arouse most readers without hurting their sensibility, as it might happen if harder sadomasochistic scenes were used.
  • The reader is made to identify with the protagonist by the clever use of fiction writing techniques. This includes setting Anastasia as the only viewpoint: we experience the story from her subjective point of view. True, there is also a weird combination of the use of the first person and the present tense, which I find highly unrealistic - it is impossible for the protagonist to tell us what is happing to her at the same time it is happening. However, the same approach has been used in other highly successful novels, like the “Hunger Games” trilogy, so there must be something to it… Another important thing is that Anastasia is presented as a common girl - only well into the story we start to realize that she is uncommonly beautiful and smart -, so it is not hard for the reader to crawl into her skin, specially is the reader is female.
  • Good presentation of the internal conflicts of the protagonist. The external conflict between Anastasia and Christian Grey translates into an inner conflict inside Anastasia, which lends depth and credibility to the story while at the same time increasing its emotional impact. Anastasia is torn between her attraction to Christian and the clear signs that he may be dangerous. This internal conflict is narrated by creating two characters inside Anastasia’s mind: her “subconscious”, which in reality is a Freudian superego embodying social conventions and repressive education, and her “inner goddess”, a facet of her personality that wants to freely pursue pleasure, beauty and adventure.
  • The plot is unpredictable. In fact, I was convinced that Anastasia would sign Grey’s submission contract. It is surprising that she successfully resists, given the power unbalance between her and Grey. The fact that the story does not go where the reader expects it to go keeps the suspense to the end.
  • Fabulous wealth exert an almost pornographic attraction on many readers. This is something I don’t share - I find that ostentation of wealth is in bad taste - but I seem to be different from most people in this regard. It is true that being rich opens the door to many wonderful experiences, like flying a helicopter or a glider, but poor people can have nice adventures, too. Wealth also works to create the power imbalance between Grey and Anastasia. However, I find it disappointing how at the end she lets herself being seduced by money despite of all her protest to the contrary.
I wouldn’t want to finish this post without pointing out some of the most grievous shortcomings of this novel.
  • The second and third books of the trilogy are much worse than the first. In fact, many of the good qualities that I listed above vanish in the second book, where the plot becomes bland and predictable. I’ve read that the third book is even worse, but I was so disappointed by the time I finished the second that I didn’t think the third was worth expending my money.
  • The literary quality of the novel is low. There is too much repetition of some words, set phrases and metaphors. There are also some serious grammatical errors (my favorite: “cariña” is not a word in Spanish!). And, although some of the sex scenes in the first book are exciting, some other appear over and over again without variation and end up being boring.
  • Its view of sadomasochism is incorrect and negative. It is important to point this out because this book is so often presented as an introduction to sadomasochism for the general public. The opinion of the author on this matter seems to be the same as Anastasia’s: some mild games like spankings, blindfolds and light bondage are OK as foreplay - what she calls “kinky fuckery”. But authentic sadomasochism, the one that uses instruments like canes or paddles able to deliver intense pain, or uncomfortable bondage, not to speak of the psychological games of dominance-submission… those are only for sick people! In case we had any doubts about that in the first book, the second makes it abundantly clear that Christian Grey is mentally ill, and so are his trainer Elena and all the women that submitted to him before Anastasia showed up to save him. And so this book perpetuates the stereotype of the mentally damaged sadomasochist, the idea that he or she is a person who has been damaged by serious abuse and seeks to reenact it. Sadomasochists thought they had defeated this damaging and untrue stereotype when psychologists stopped classifying sadomasochism as a mental disease, but this books does it best to resurrect it and broadcast is widely.
  • In fact, the relationship between Grey and Anastahsia is clearly unhealthy and abusive, but for different reasons. Grey is pathologically jealous, possessive  and controlling. However, the book presents all this as good things, as asigns of love. The relationship he forges with her presents many of the telltales of psychological abuse, including secrecy, guilt-trips, isolating her from her friends, putting her in an environment that he absolutely controls and managing all the key essential aspects of her life (work, house, money, transportation, etc).
  • The book also presents an old-fashioned, sexist view of couple relationships. In this view jealousy and possessiveness  are mistaken for love, it is perfectly justifiable for a man to stalk a woman, to control her life and to deprive her of her friends. Moreover, the book shamelessly reinforces sexist stereotypes: the woman (Anastasia) is weaker, poorer, defenseless and more ignorant than the man (Christian Grey), and the best thing that can happen to her is to end up marrying him… in the church, of course!

Monday, December 9, 2013

One-legged love

I have to confess that the first time I saw her stump I felt a bit disgusted. The skin was loose and wrinkled, full of scars. It was kind of soft to the touch and it had a peculiar smell, maybe because of all that time inside the rubber envelop of her orthopedic leg. We made love, anyway. Erin, despite having her left leg amputated just below the knee, is a beautiful and sexy woman. She has the slender and willowy body of a teenager, well-defined muscles in her arms, shoulders and back, a flat belly, small delicious breasts and an exquisite ass - as can be seen in this picture I took while she was sleeping.

Soon enough I became aware that Erin is an expert in the erotic arts. Her desire gets easily turned on and then she gives herself entirely to you, to everything you want to do to her, opening her body with a fiery enthusiasm, without fears or traumas. We rolled in bed testing every position, every perversion, our naked bodies covered by a sheen of sweat, not knowing if it was hers or mine.

As a prerequisite for our relationship I have required the most rigorous honesty: I can’t stand lies, and secrets only when strictly necessary. So the following day I didn’t want to hide what I had felt. “I had some trouble with your stump”, I confessed. Her answer was totally unexpected: “And you think I don’t? It’s been more than twenty years since I lost my leg and I still haven’t gotten used to it”. That moved me. If I didn’t like her stump I always had the option of leaving her. But she didn’t; she always would have to make love putting just one foot up in the air, trying not to look at her stump, hoping that the lover of the occasion wasn’t bothered too much by her incomplete body. I think it was then when I started falling in love with Erin.

Little by little, in subsequent dates, Erin told me her story. When she was a teenager she always had liked to run. She would spend many hours jogging between the houses of Burbank, just at the foot of the steep San Gabriel mountains that mark the horizon of Los Angeles. She ran marathons and even won a few medals. She had beautiful legs, strong and slender. Once she was in need of money and signed up to show them off in a strip-tease show, and they were a big hit.

She was twenty five when disaster stroke. At sunset of a fine September day a friend asked her to take her home in her scooter. A car appeared out of nowhere making an illegal left turn, and slammed into them. Erin found herself lying on the street with her left foot torn apart, spitting her teeth on the asphalt. Her friend came out of the accident unscathed.

Erin spent several months in the hospital, until Christmas. The doctors did everything they could to save her foot, but to no avail. Erin told her mother that she’d rather die than to let them cut away her leg; she couldn’t live without being able to run. In the end it was the stench of the gangrene that changed her mind: an odor indescribably foul that was with her night and day, until she thought she was going crazy, particularly knowing that it came from her own body. One day the doctor came into her room and looked at her without saying anything. “It has to go, doesn’t it?”, said Erin. The doctor nodded. But that was not the end of it, even after the amputation the gangrene continued to spread, so the doctors had to cut her leg over and over again, every time a bit higher, getting closer to the knee. Her fibula had to be completely extirpated and only a little piece remained of her tibia. To cover her stump they had to remove skin from the front of her thighs, leaving two rectangular patches of whitish skin that resemble the mended pants of a beggar. One day, joking, I told her that she looked like a scarecrow, and for a while she signed her e-mails “scarecrow”.

Erin had no money to buy an orthopedic leg, so she made herself a wooden leg, like a pirate’s, that she tied to her stump with leather straps. Her workmates gave her stickers and tags that she placed over the wooden leg until it was completely covered by them. Now she has a nice orthopedic leg that allows her to walk normally. One day we went to the beach and I convinced her to run with me at the edge of the surf. Yes, Erin can still run, but she doesn’t do it unless necessary because the repeated impact can crack the plastic of her orthopedic leg, and she doesn’t have enough money to replace it.

I never thought that I would end up with a lover with a broken body. I never thought I would come to like her so much. What is beauty, in the end? There is a beauty that is easy to see, the one that they instill in you in movies, magazines and advertisement. The soft, unblemished skin. The symmetrical body. The shapely muscles with that thin layer of fat that soften the corners of the female body. That type of beauty is just an animal reflex; in the end everything comes to attraction to whatever reveals health and revulsion to whatever indicates disease. But there is another type of beauty that is exclusively human: the beauty of acting the right way, of living an ethical life; the beauty of a story that touches something deep inside you… That’s what I see in the mutilated body of Erin: her story, the courage that she summoned to face never been able to run again, having to spend the rest of her life dragging a leg made of plastic and steel. Now, when we make love I kiss her scars, I caress her stump. She tells me it’s quite sensitive, because all the nerves that used to ran all the way to her feet had to end there. Yes, Erin is beautiful, and not only because of her slender body, her flat belly and her exquisite ass. She is beautiful because of her missing leg, the rectangular patches of whitish skin in her thighs and her scars. Those things speak of her story, her suffering and her ability to overcome it. They show that her good mood and her easy smiles are her conquests, her triumph over bad luck. They show that she has more strength that most of us will ever have.