Saturday, December 20, 2014

The virgin/whore complex

Some men dream about a woman that is pure and chaste. She has been waiting all her life for him, rejecting every man in her path until his arrival because he is her special one, the one she will love and cherish for the rest of her life. Once she is with him she will not flirt with anyone, not even look at them. She will protect her modesty and save her charms only for him. She is his virgin, if not in deed, at least in her deepest heart. She is also ready to step in the mother role, to build him a home that will be his castle, to take care of him and eventually of his children.

Well, maybe it is too much to be expected from a woman to be a virgin in this day and age, but a man can always dream… And, as a last resource, he can always invoke the old American Redemption Myth that permeates so many of the stories and biographies in the USA. It goes like this… A person is led astray by the “follies of youth”, tempted by sex, drugs and violence. She spirals down in circles of increasing degeneration until she touches bottom. Then she “looks for help” and starts a new life in a magical ordeal of rebirth - she is “born again”. That would be the perfect moment in her life in which her savior, the prince she has been waiting for without knowing in, can ride in wearing shining armor or a cowboy outfit, to “sweep her off her feet” and welcome her into her new life. All the mistakes of the past are forgiven and forgotten. Her virginity is magically restored by the soul-searching and the trials of her rebirth.

However, before making his glorious appearance into the virgin’s life, our knight-in-shining-armor or Malboro man has to entertain himself. He looks for “easy” women to have fun with. They are sexy, hot and funny and he likes to spend time with them. But in is heart of hearts he despises them because he knows what they are: they are whores, ready to fling themselves into the arms of any man. They are unworthy of him, they are soiled, they have lost their self-respect by pursuing the easy pleasures of life instead of the higher goal of Pure Love and dedication to Her Man. Of course, there is always the possibility that they would see the error of  their ways, repent and be reborn as virgins ready to devote themselves to the Just One Man ideal.

Occasionally, after he has settled down with his virgin, our King-Of-His-Castle can feel a pang of nostalgia of his careless past with the whores. He thought the virgin would be all he wanted, but now that she is running around taking care of the house and the kids she is not much fun anymore. She dutifully opens her legs for him every time he asks, but sex has become a boring routine. So, since “men will be men”, he occasionally goes out of his castle to find himself a whore or two. Or maybe he adopts a special one who is always waiting to take him on a wild ride when he feels like it. But let’s not get it wrong, everything has to be in its place: the virgin locked in the castle and the whore waiting by the whoring bed.

Things are no different in the BDSM world. In fact, there are some roles that fit perfectly well with the virgin / knight stereotypes. The submissive can be in fact a super-virgin, one that chooses to carry her dedication to her Master to heroic extremes by being ready to obey his every word and to be punished if she ever strays from the “straight and narrow”. And the Dominant can be the super-knight, the Daddy who knows best and has no other desires than the well-being of his submissive virgin.

Do I really need to explain what is wrong with this picture? The virgin / whore complex is the manifestation of some of the deepest sexist reflexes of our culture. It is misogynistic because it negates the right of a woman to run her own sexuality, putting it at the service of a man’s fantasies and desires. It is sex-negative because it is based on repressing sexual desire and imposing a narrow normative of sexual behavior. Indeed, it reinforces the same old monogamous societal norms based on sexual and romantic exclusivity, and the labeling of “infidelity” as the worse possible transgression in a couple.

Yes, everybody has a right to live their kink as they please. If they opt for the most conservative versions of monogamous Domestic Discipline, that’s fine. But we cannot allow sexist, sex-negative and monogamous societal norms to be imported into the BDSM community and preached as the only valid way to do BDSM. The very nature of BDSM, the vast variety of its practices, lends itself to having multiple partners with whom to experience different forms of play. A desire for variety and experience doesn’t subtract from the intensity of the surrender in D/s; in fact, it adds to it. Furthermore, we shouldn’t take it for granted that complete surrender and obedience to a Dom is always wholesome and sane. The intensity of the feelings involved in submission makes it way too easy to manipulate them for psychological abuse, especially when coupled with social isolation in the name of “fidelity”. The best way of preventing this from happening is to be immersed in a kinky community that can raise warning flags when they are needed and provide advice to the submissive, and even the Dom, when things start to go wrong.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Cecilia, a portrait

What makes a woman beautiful? There are women of astounding beauty. Women who are tall, sculptural, with blond hair, blue eyes and generous breasts. They are the women that we expect to see on a magazine cover, on a movie poster. Just past her twentieth birthday, Cecilia is pretty, but with a discrete beauty that is only revealed under close inspection. She is petite, with features reduced in proportion. She has black hair parted in the middle; a sea of unruly curls messed up by her habit of sticking her fingers into them, combing them back in a coquettish motion that often ends with a wild shake of her head. Her face is triangular and symmetric, with high cheekbones, straight thing nose and sharp chin. Her lips are expressive, able to change in a heartbeat from a charming smile to a grimace of annoyance, and her big dark brown eyes are shaded by long eyelashes that emphasize that thoughtful look so common in her. One can make out the shape of the muscles in her strong, well-proportioned body, particularly in her arms and her thighs. Her breasts are small, with that shape rounded from the front, conical in profile, that establish youth and elegance. Her most attractive feature is her bottom, which has a bold, insolent curvature that make men turn around in the street to look at her as she walks away.

What makes a woman interesting? There are women with high-pitched, childish, excited voices. Other have voices that are as profound and seductive as the night. Cecilia speaks with a youthful, serene voice, sometimes fast, sometimes meditative. Her gaze often gets lost in the distance or glances self-absorbed at some random object that happens to be in front of her. Her eyes smile better than her lips, but they also know how to glare in anger or
to let tears flow with abandon. She moves with quick, nervous gestures, or occasionally rests motionless, lost in deep thoughts. Because Cecilia is above all a girl of exceptional intelligence, of unconventional ideas, who chases her goals with a stubbornness bordering obsession.

What is it that some women have to make everybody fall in love with them? Perhaps, more than their beauty or their personality, what makes them irresistible is the power of their passion. Cecilia carries inside a burning desire that, like it happens with volcanoes, can be asleep sometimes, but sooner or later it explodes in a rain of incandescent sparks and blazing lava flows. Somehow that inner fire peeks out in the glint of her eyes, in the warmth of her skin, causing many to be bewitched. But beware those who dare love her! For Cecilia is also a woman of dark fantasies, one who courts pain and infamy, and it isn’t always easy to accompany her to the murky places that she likes to visit.

Nevertheless, at the beginning of our story we encounter a different Cecilia. An innocent, immature and sanctimonious girl, trapped in the historical circumstances of the country where she was born: a Spain that was just beginning to wake up from forty years of gloomy dictatorship. That tyranny and the devastating war that preceded it could smother perhaps the yearning for liberty and justice of an entire generation. But what the fascists never expected was that the desire to be free and to fight for a better world will be reborn with renewed strength in the hearts of their own children.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Panic attacks in BDSM scenes

Among the many problems that can happen in a scene, panic attacks can be a serious one, especially if the Top doesn’t know how to handle them. They are more common that you may think. Last month, during a talk I gave at Threshold (the BDSM organization of Los Angeles), I asked my audience to raise their hands if they had experienced a panic attack in a scene, either themselves or their play partner. About two thirds of the 45 people present raised their hand.

What does a panic attack look like? It happens more or less like this… The scene seems the be going well and is approaching its peak. Both the Top and the bottom are completely immersed in it. Then the sub stops reacting. She does not moan with each lash, doesn’t move, has closed her eyes and seems lost in her inner world. Then, all of a sudden, she explodes. The panic attack is characterized by an inability to speak - so in this case the safeword is of little use. There is also difficulty to breathe, uncontrolled moves, evasive gaze, crying and rejection of being touched. Inside, the person that experiences the panic attack feels extreme anxiety, terror, tunnel vision and inability to think and express himself. That state can last an undetermined amount of time, from minutes to hours. Returning to the scene is normally impossible and, in any case, not recommended.

What can we do when this happens? The first thing, of course, is to stop the scene. Discontinue immediately any type of painful or stressful stimulus. If there is bondage, it must be released immediately because physical restrain is one of the main triggers of panic attacks. If necessary cut the ropes with scissors or a knife being extremely careful not to cut the sub, who is probably moving unpredictably. If he is wearing a blindfold, remove it. Turn on the lights. Being able to see provides a strong reassurance. You should speak clearly with a calm voice, explaining everything you are doing, even if it looks obvious to you, even if the sub doesn’t seem to understand. If he is having trouble breathing, you can try guiding his breathing with your voice. You should warn her before you touch her, because sudden physical contact can be alarming for somebody suffering a panic attack. If you are in a public space, try to keep people from crowding the sub. However, if there is somebody around who is intimate with the sub, bring her in, perhaps she can reassure the bottom better that you can. After all, you were the one just beating her, remember? Encourage the sub to cry, which is healing and releases tension. Once the worse part of the attack is over, when the sub can speak again, you should give him  the option of talking about it or staying quiet to process it internally. Some people need to spend time alone after they suffer a panic attack. If that’s the case, your mission is to provide a safe environment in which she is not bothered or can hurt herself. Listen for any signs of danger.

Why do panic attacks happen in scenes? A scene puts the sub in an altered state of consciousness, and he may have a good trip or a bad trip. That state is normally experienced as something nice and enriching, but sometimes it brings forth traumatic experiences that pack such a powerful emotional charge that they trigger the panic attack. We call them “emotional land mines”. Paradoxically, endorphin release can produce the “freezing” state that is often the precursor of the panic attack. Animal studies have found that endorphin release can be triggered by uncontrollable stressors, so if the sub feels that she is losing control in the scene this can trigger the panic. Yes, endorphin release is not always a good thing. It has been linked to the “learned helplessness” paradigm, a state in which the person or the animal gives up and doesn’t fight anymore. Learned helplessness causes immune suppression, cognitive disabilities and a host of other unhealthy effects.

A person who suffers panic attacks is not crazy, neurotic or traumatized. The panic attack is just the manifestation of the power that a BDSM scene has to profoundly alter the mind. If handled right, a panic attack may even be beneficial in the long run. Mobilizing negative psychological contents allows them to be processed consciously, which can be healing.

I think it’s important that everyone who practices BDSM realizes that encountering a panic attack is a real possibility and to know what to do when that happens. It is even possible to prevent the panic attack from happening if we are alert to the freezing behavior that precedes it. When we flog or tie somebody, it’s normal for him to moan, complain and squirm. What is not normal is complete immobility in the face of pain. That is a sign that something is wrong. The Top should talk to the bottom from time to time. If she doesn’t answer, you should stop and look the sub in the face to make sure that everything is all right. There are, of course, people who prefer to “go inside” and not react to pain, but they should warn the Top during the negotiation that that’s the way they function. Conversely, I don’t think is advisable that the Dominant orders or trains the sub to be still and quiet when he experiences pain. Not only that would not let us detect an imminent panic attack, but it’s even likely to provoke one.