This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
We are in the midst of a cultural shift. Men are confused. "How are we supposed to know what’s OK if you don’t tell us?" they wail, tearing their shirts and bellowing at the moon. Here’s a solution: Just ask! Send me your questions about romance, relationships, and sex. I’m a woman, ask me anything.
What's the problem?
A question sent to me on Curious Cat: "What are the ethics of S&M for feminists? How can a woman be submissive to men and a feminist? How is it OK for me to get off on dominating or humiliating women but consider myself an ally outside the bedroom?"
What am I not getting here?
You're a good guy, right? Kind, sensitive, determinedly right-on in a way that can be a little annoying at times?
I can see that you're trying, because you describe yourself as an ally rather than a straight-up male feminist—you probably knew I would make fun of you for pulling that. And I can see how exhausting this topic must be for a well-meaning man who wants to believe in the right things but also wants to have good sex.
Because, OMG, this issue is a never-ending conundrum for so many politically concerned women and the men who fuck them. I've spent the last ten years trying to puzzle it out and I'm still not really sure what I think, but I have spent enough time considering it to square it with myself day to day.
What do I need to know?
Here are my basic rules:
1: Do whatever you want in bed as long as it’s between consenting adults.
2: But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t question what turns you on.
My practical short-term advice is that if you're happy sleeping with someone who likes to be dominated and humiliated—well, we should all be so lucky. It can be difficult to find someone you really like with compatible kinks, so enjoy it. Don't question a woman's ability to be dommed and still a feminist. That isn't your place.
Your second question riled me up a bit for this reason, because I’ve had men ask me that, often while tenderly stroking the hair they’d finished pulling moments before. It's like, I don't know, man. How come you just choked me for ten minutes but I'm not calling the police? Because things are weird in bed, and if I had to enforce my political beliefs every time I had sex, a man wouldn’t be allowed to look at me without my permission, let alone have control of my body. But, unfortunately, desire isn’t really capable of being intellectualized—at least, not in my experience—and, sadly, that means accepting I am turned on by things which are politically abhorrent.
This leads me to my second rule. The fact that I don't advise you to go in a training program of jerking off to vanilla porn until you don’t want to dominate anymore is born of purely selfish reasons. I love sex and am not willing to live without it. Life is already vile enough without giving up one of the very few free, healthy, fun things to do with another person.
However (and this is a big however), I don’t think that means you or I get away with indulging these preferences without seriously considering them. Because I don't think gendered sexually violent play is an innocent fantasy or a fetish that can be written off as the same as being into feet, or balloons, or latex, or whatever. There’s an episode of Sex and the City (sorry) in which Samantha and her boyfriend are doing a home invasion/rape fantasy role-play, and she dismisses it by saying, "So what, it’s just fantasy, it’s just play." The idea was that it didn’t matter what was played out—anything goes in fantasy.
I remember that striking me as odd even as a goggle-eyed, innocent 13-year-old watching in 2003. Because it’s not unrelated to real life—rape, gendered violence, and domination are all so real that it seems mad to me to pretend they are just meaningless preferences that can be shelved away neatly when we aren't having sex. I think they do mean something—even if I also think you should allow yourself to indulge in them anyway.
When I started to think about why I like what I like, I came to think maybe it all began because being submissive allowed me to override the basic Catholic schoolgirl shame of having sex at all. If I was being bossed around and physically controlled, it worked to alleviate my own responsibility for what I wanted to do, the fact that I wanted to do it so badly. This isn’t the whole reason why I like it, of course. But it’s one thing I valued considering. Maybe you will come to some interesting conclusions, too, if you can stand to look at yourself for long enough.
I think it’s important for you and everyone to wonder just why this is such a prevalent sexual dynamic. Because I think what makes your dick hard is important. It isn’t just irrelevant play—it's worth considering, even if it makes you feel ashamed.
Would I change what I like if I could? Well, yes, probably. It makes me worried and sad when I look at the front page of PornHub, even if I’m there to partake in it. I wonder and would desperately love to know what my sexuality would be if I grew up in some blank space devoid of all of that.
So there’s my advice to you: Be a hypocrite, like I am. Be concerned about the eroticization of female helplessness which surrounds us culturally, but go home and do what you like in bed with a willing partner.
Be a good ally, speak up for women, make a difference—but allow that life is short; a brief exercise in pleasure.
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To ask Megan a question, head to her Curious Cat page.
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