Quillette Writes a Coded Ode to BDSM

Hey, weirdly, this is now the “takes on Quillette blog.”

I can’t help it. This showed up in my Facebook feed, and I’m only human.

So I read it.

It was actually super interesting. Of course in the beginning it’s got the obligatory boring feminism straw-manning (“all hetero sex is RAAAAAAPE”). Would Quillette cease to exist if it published something on feminism that didn’t reduce it to tired, non-representative tropes?

After that, the author has seemingly written an advertisement for BDSM without ever mentioning BDSM.

“It is in trusting, loving relationships where a woman feels free to submit to her desire for submission that she discovers new depths of herself precisely because she surpasses the limits of her own will.”

Please remember to start out slow. Negotiate the limits of the scene beforehand. Have a safe word ready.

I have a knee-jerk negative reaction to overgeneralizing about all women. It’s so often used to justify power discrepancies and gendered expectations.

And it’s often bullshit. For example, one study showed that when women were confident that they wouldn’t be judged for being slutty, they were just as likely as men to say they desire casual sex.

Another study showed no gender difference in what men and women wanted more of in their sexual relationships. Everyone prioritized romance and affection above dirtier, kinkier shit.

However, there’s a lot of good empirical data to suggest that men and women’s brains do differ in measurable ways, due both to innate and cultural factors.

Which means of course that men and women experience sex and desire differently. For instance, women tire of monogamy faster than men. Women are sexually aroused by a greater variety of stimulus than men.

After the feminism straw-manning, the Quillette article is way too hard on hookups. I really don’t think they’re as traumatizing to women as the author seems to think. They’re like fast food. If you go in expecting a gourmet meal, you’re going to have a bad time. But if you expect something fast, cheap, and filling, you may get pleasantly surprised. Sure, sometimes the food disagrees with you. But not usually.

What the author gets right is this:

Sexual pleasure for the women, [Simone de Beauvoir] writes, “is a kind of spell; it demands total abandon.” For a woman, this means abandoning herself to her desires. This is complex for women because the deepest female desire is for a man to see her as the object of his desire; she desires to be desired. A man’s will must assert itself in order to have the flesh he covets. But a woman’s desire is to abandon her self, her subjectivity, to be viewed as an object by the man without losing herself in the process.

In one study 62% of women said they’ve had a rape fantasy. Other research shows the most arousing thing for most women is to feel that they’re arousing to their partner. One therapist even said: “The ravishment fantasy is most likely the rule for women, rather than the exception.” Another believes, “Female desire is activated when a woman feels overwhelmingly desired, not rationally considered.”

Curiously, other research suggests that women don’t get aroused or orgasm as easily if they’re not feeling safe and relaxed.

From Psychology Today:

At the end of the day, the accumulating evidence appears to reveal a paradoxical element at the core of female desire, a tension between two conflicting motives. On the one hand is the desire for stability, intimacy, and security—picture the flame on the burner of a gas stove: controlled, utilitarian, domesticated, and good for making dinner. On the other hand is the need to feel totally, uncontrollably desired, the object of raw, primal lust—a house on fire.

And I think that’s really it. I think a lot of women, and maybe men too, want a safe place to feel threatened. A relationship where fundamentally they feel secure and safe enough to submit, to surrender, to become objectified. They want a place where it’s okay to laugh and cry and rage during sex.

Hookups are fine. I feel pretty safe during mine. But I’ll never let a hookup see certain aspects of myself. The risk is too high and reward too low. Those I save for a lover.

The problem with casual sex and hookups isn’t that they’re traumatic. It’s that they’re boring. Most of the time, men can’t create a safe enough space nor do they feel emboldened to unleash their animal lust.

What feels transcendent is to be aroused by a man’s tremendous lust and then submit and surrender to his will, knowing he won’t hurt us physically or emotionally. To let ourselves go, fully, to feel and react without judging or thinking or holding back. To be fully present, vulnerable, and open and to feel that reciprocated. It’s a tall order in a relationship, and pretty much anathema to anything that could be considered casual.

BDSM is a way to create a place that’s safe, scary, and novel — all at once. Trust between partners, negotiation, and safe words help create the stability, intimacy, and security referenced earlier. Inside the scene you can feel “totally, uncontrollably desired, the object of raw, primal lust.”

I don’t know, maybe for some the missionary position gets them there. I think many, though, may need a little more. I bet the Quillette author does.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.