FetLife Harmful to the Community?

Monday, April 4th, 2011

When I first listened to Maymay‘s presentation, I’ll admit my reaction was emotionally-based — I love FetLife, and how dare he say that it’s bad for the community? Insular? Pfah, it’s got all kinds of people on there! And he’s bashing it on the one hand for not being safe enough because its only safety feature is being non-indexable by search engines, and then bashing it again for being non-indexable by search engines! He calls FetLife a technological monoculture[1]; what the hell?!

But having the self-awareness to realize that I was perhaps biased, I took a moment and went over his points again in my head. And after doing so, I have to say that I agree with those points.

First off, neither he nor I are saying that FetLife shouldn’t exist, or that people should stop using it. I think that a lot of people read the title of his article/presentation, and immediately think that’s what he’s saying. So what is he saying? As I understand it:

  1. FetLife is not safe, as far as protecting your identity. Sure, it’s better than sites that can be indexed by search engines, but by the same token anyone can create an account and see most of your stuff[2], so it’s a false sense of security. Also it’s not safe in that plenty of people still get attacked on there for their lifestyle.
  2. Because FetLife can’t be indexed by search engines, people who are new to the lifestyle and have specific questions are likely to do a Google search, and not find the answers provided on FetLife. This is the “insular” part.

Going one step further, he suggests that privacy controls should be top on the list for FetLife to implement. I agree with this — I would much rather see that than things like a live chat, at this point. Yet who knows if it’s even on their develpment radar?  Granted, something like that would likely require a fundamental re-working of much of the site.

So what’s the ideal state of FetLife?  I would say: being like a stripped-down version of Facebook which allows for the same level of privacy control, except also allows for posting of adult content.

That means that FetLife would be able to be indexed by search engines, but only the information people wanted publi would be public. Are you a sex blogger that wants people to be able to find your FetLife articles and so forth? Make it public. Search engines can now index it. Are you a teacher whose job would be ruined if someone read your FetLife blog? Make it private, so that only your friends can see it.

Some concerns with this:

  1. If FetLife were to move in this direction, by default they should lock everything down so that the public cannot see any information. Then people can open things up to anonymous browsers (and also search engines), other FetLife users, and certain friend groups as they please.
  2. This may make it such that people can more easily search for “18-22 year old female submissive living in Atlanta” via a search engine. If #1 were implemented, it would mitigate this greatly. If they further made it so that search engines could never see age/sex/orientation/location (which wouldn’t be very tough), that would pretty much eliminate this concern altogether.
  3. Discussions and other “shared spaces” would be trickier. Let’s say Bob starts a discussion and makes it public. I want to comment on Bob’s discussion, but I don’t want it being public. What are the options here? Maybe allow a “Make public?” option with each response… but that makes the discussion seem pretty fractured. Perhaps for people who have set their privacy such to not allow the public to see their profies, then when said public sees their comments in discussions it simply comes up as “Anonymous.”

I have to say that I’ve wanted to be able to create friend groups on FetLife (as you can on Facebook) for some time now, but for a slightly different reason — as with Facebook, I have acquaintances, friends, and close friends among my contacts list. And some of the people I have as acquaintances can be quite… prolific, and tend to spam up my update list. I would really like to be able to see just the stuff from my friends, or close friends.

So overall, I have to say that I agree with Maymay’s critiques of FetLife, though I don’t agree that it’s outright “bad” for the community — just that it could be much, much better. For FetLife to be the Facebook of kink, it has to be the Facebook of kink, in a way that both allows granular privacy control, and allows the outside world in (where desired by the information poster) so that it can be a resource everyone can use. And because FetLife is a business, a bonus to them from this system would be extra web traffic coming in from searches — currently if someone uses Google to look for “BDSM sounding”, and there’s an awesome article about it on FetLife that everyone is linking to, it won’t show up on Google. It would behoove FetLife for it to show up.

Everybody wins. But I’m not holding my breath that it’ll happen.


[1] I do think he used some rather specific tech/software terminology when talking to a less-specialized audience here, causing the statement to be misleading. A monoculture — in software terms — is a group of computers all using the same software. So he means to say (I think) that FetLife is becoming so large that a lot of people only interact there, so it’s a bunch of users using only this one website to talk about kink. He did not mean monoculture in the general sense of the word, which is a prevailing culture marked by homogeneity (some definitions also include a lack of dissent).

[2] FetLife recently added privacy settings that allow you to only show certain pictures to people on your friends list. This is a good first step, but it’s a small one.

Alternative Sexuality In Advertising

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Earlier today I was listening to a Pandora mix I entitled “Flog Me, I’m Irish” and an advertisement said, “Why be monogamous with your sound selection?” Which I thought was pretty cool, until it went on to imply that the opposite of monogamy is promiscuity, a word which has some pretty negative connotations of indiscriminate sex.

Then I was watching a YouTube video and saw a little animated ad of a guy using a back scrubber to put Axe body wash on, which cross-faded into a girl draping a flogger over her back.

It then went on to say “The cleaner you are, the dirtier you get.” If only the flogger she had weren’t so crappy.

Random Thoughts About Safewords

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

This article was republished with my permission on SafewordMagazine.com’s April 2011 issue here.

How necessary are safewords?

I was just thinking about them the other day, and how Red/Yellow/Green are pretty common. Why? I’ve seen two reasons cited:

  1. It’s universal, so in public play people will recognize it, and if you’re playing with someone new you’re unlikely to forget those safewords.
  2. Because “stop” or “a little lighter” generally don’t work; they ruin the magic.

Reason #1 I completely understand.  But reason #2 seems overplayed.  Granted, I have scened a lot where I pay no attention to things such as, “Daddy, stop!”  In fact, it gives me great pleasure to ignore such pleas when I’m in that headspace.  However, when I’m playing with someone for the first time, I do listen to “stop” and other such verbal feedback[1].  In fact, with people new to the lifestyle, sometimes they’ll get far enough into headspace where “red” and “yellow” don’t come naturally to them, but “oh fuck, lighter please” does.  (Of course, I’d make them give a “sir” at the end first!)

Also, if I know someone well enough to ignore cries of “ow, no, stop!” then I generally don’t need to play with safewords at all. They are nice to have in case I really badly misjudge a situation, but the better of a top you are and the better you can read your bottom[2], the less you need them.

And looking outside of myself, it’s uncommon — though I wouldn’t go so far as to say “rare” — that I witness scenes where “okay I’m done” would be ignored.

So I wonder if safewords are used more as a shield against the outside world, and perhaps for a sense of security.  “See?  Our lifestyle is okay, if someone really wants something to stop they only have to say the word.”

[1] Unless it’s specifically negotiated that sort of forced sadomasochism is something they’re looking for.

[2] It’s a combination of the two.  You can be a world-class top, but something just isn’t clicking with the bottom, or their “no” reaction is the same as the “yes!” reaction of a sub you work with regularly, for example.

Suzanne Venker is an insane anti-feminist

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

A friend just posted a link to this interview with Suzanne Venker, co-author (along with Phyllis Schlafly) of The Flipside of Feminism: What Conservative Women Know—and Men Can’t Say. Feminists will probably be familiar with Schlafly already, and this interview with Venker is… well, read it for yourself.

As a note, I do not consider myself a feminist per se, though I do believe in equal pay for equal work, and that employers should treat women the same as men. I also believe in equal treatment both ways, so for example I think women in the military should be allowed in combat, but should also have equal physical fitness requirements as men.  Physics don’t care whether you’re a man or a woman — if your buddy (who weighs 230 lbs. including gear) gets knocked unconscious by an IED, you’d better damn well be able to pull that buddy to safety, period.

Okay, with that out of the way, here are some gems from this interview:
And whatever strides [feminism] made in the workforce have had tremendous ramifications for businesses, so they came at a great cost to businesses and government. It’s a double-edged sword.
Translation: women deserve less pay, don’t be a meanie and pressure corporations to pay them equally! Their proper place is in the kitchen anyway.  At least, that’s what I get from that.
The abuse problem is smaller than it’s made out to be, and when you draw attention to something that’s so terrible, it’s like the issue of homosexuality today. The awareness that gays exist, or that terrible men beat their wives, is good to recognize but not to belabor or exaggerate.
Hmm, people belaboring and exaggerating terrible things, huh?  Being gay is terrible, like spouse abuse is terrible?  You, madame, are a small-minded twat.  Some might say that she didn’t mean to imply that being gay is terrible.  While she might not have directly said that, that’s the whole point of the analogy (terrible things being exaggerated/belabored), so I call bullshit on that.
Why would you have a whole movement to make women feel better about not choosing to have children?
<sarcasm>Because you know, women’s place is to pop out babies, so why the hell would you want to make them better for not doing their biological duty?  So the feminist movement is kind of like having a movement to make murderers feel better about murdering.</sarcasm>
It is my belief that ultimately nobody, male or female, can be happy with that lifestyle, with having sex with whoever they want, having sex with your friends, or one night stands and all that.
Not that I believe the exact opposite is true, but I’d love to respond to that with, “It is my belief that ultimately nobody, male or female, can be happy with that lifestyle, with never having sex with whom they want unless it’s their one partner, never being able to have sex with friends, or one night flings.”  I’m sure her reaction would be priceless.
Feminists are not concerned with anybody outside of America.
Just… wow.  Saying that American feminists center their political and cultural activism in America is one thing.  But this statement is full-on retard.

I understand that there are some valid points in this woman’s philosophy.  Feminism is about equal opportunities, but some feminists disrespect women who choose to be homemakers, and that’s not cool.  And… yeah, I think that’s about the only valid point I see.  People like this disgust me.

Yet still I’m glad that I live in a country where they can spout their nonsense.

Fun with friends, different headspaces

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

I know I’ve been pretty quiet on here lately.  I write when I have the drive to; if I try to make myself write regularly, it becomes a chore, and I don’t have fun doing it. So when things are busy, I tend to be doing instead of writing. Horrible, I know.

This past weekend, some friends came in from out of town for a goth/fetish club event. My friend, his wife, and their roommate came down and we went to a new-ish club space in Atlanta. On the downside, the dungeon/play area on the bottom floor had a salty, sewer-like smell to it. Ugh. On the upside, lots of my friends were there, and there were some fun scenes; a rigger friend started the night off right with a suspension scene.

My friend requested on behalf of his wife that I put her on the cross and beat her, and also their roommate. I’d played with both of them before at a goth event in Louisville several months ago, and I was very happy to see that they both enjoyed it and wanted more. I did check in after that first time and they had only good things to say, but you never know until they come back for a second helping. The wife in particular caused my sadist-sense to go off the previous time; she’s pretty reserved, but I could tell that she was really getting into it. The scene this night was also pretty basic, for a few reasons. For one, I had had a few drinks, not enough to be anywhere near drunk or inaccurate by any means, but enough that I felt restraint was in order since neither of them are in the lifestyle. Also, it was a club that I wasn’t familiar with, and I don’t generally do intense scenes in public — it triggers some people when a girl is crying and you keep on hitting her, for example.

Anyway, I used one of my favorite toys: the dragon’s tail. I love the versatility of that thing. Thuddy, stingy, biting, wrapping… it can do a lot. Also, I like that it takes more skill than a flogger — you can be very precise with a dragontail, which appeals to me. I explored a bit more with the girls this time, and learned that my friend’s wife prefers pain on the back, whereas the roommate prefers it on the ass. Both of them are pretty shy and tentative about giving feedback, so I was very glad to see that they were being more communicative of what they like.

I also played with another friend after I was done with those two, and after all that I was ready for a break, so luckily my friend Blue was there to give me a beating with the dragon tail, and my other friend (the first girl’s husband) ready to give some rough body play. He is not really in the scene, but is good at that and seems to enjoy it.

In retrospect my switching that night made me think about my different headspaces.

My top headspace is very high-energy. I feel on top of the world, charged, radiant and aggressive. The more I let the chains loose on the beast, the more aggressive I get. Riding that edge has provided for some of the most awesome scenes, but I have very rarely done that since it’s still a place I’m a little afraid of. If I ever did something to someone that ended up harming them (especially emotionally), it would kill me. But at the same time, I really like hurting people badly. (Note the difference between harm and hurt. Pain is good. Injury is bad.) After a good scene as a top, I feel like I want to go run, or wrestle, or something. I’m jazzed, and the world is sharply in focus.

My masochist headspace is much more of a calm place. When I’m experiencing good pain, the world melts away. In fact, witnesses to my first singletailing scene (wherein my back got torn up pretty good) remarked how relaxed I was, as if I was about to fall asleep. The pain becomes punctuations between moments of stillness. Stingy pain is like a shooting star in a black sky. Punches from rough body play are like an aggressive massage. Afterward, I feel serene, like I want to snuggle up and doze off. I melt, and the world becomes fuzzy.

I also had the always-fun experience of another person from the scene coming up to me after that with an amazed/surprised expression saying, “Man, I thought you were a top!” To which I happily replied, “I am. I’m also a masochist. So really, I’m a dominant sadomasochist.” He identifies as a Master, but proceeded to tell me how he likes pain sometimes too. I honestly can’t remember the details — I was drifting at that point, not really able to hold a conversation.

At some point while I was doing all of this, a friend of mine used his new paddle on my girl. They both had quite a good time, and she was very positive about his spanking technique — he’s new to it, but apparently has a good feel for it (pun intended). I was pleased to see that the next day he followed up with me making sure that everything was all right, and making sure that I was still okay, reassuring me that he didn’t have any designs on my girl or anything. It wasn’t really necessary — I consider him a good friend and wouldn’t have okayed it if I thought anything funny was going on — but it was a very nice gesture.

Some other friends from New York came down for a grappling tournament last weekend as well. Unfortunately their schedule was packed so we didn’t get any play in, but I did enjoy a nice breakfast with them Sunday morning before they left. I’m very seriously considering starting a kinky grappling group here in the Atlanta area.


Monday, January 17th, 2011

My friend Clarisse recently posted about sexual fluidity, and it got me thinking about my girl.

You see, she used to describe herself as lesbian to other people (before we started going out, of course), but actually identified as bisexual. This is because she was one of those women that are mostly attracted to other women, but apparently being a bisexual woman gets you shunned from the lesbian community. Which I thought was odd and counterintuitive, but the more I looked into it the more I found that to be true. Maybe it’s just a regional thing — I don’t have much data from other regions.

But then I remembered that this sort of thing, which seems hypocritical to me, happens in BDSM a lot too.

I really just don’t get it. Is it just that most people have knee-jerk emotional reactions and can’t see past them? I would think that people who are members of fringe groups would be innately accepting of other non-traditional groups, but I suppose I underestimate the tendency of people to believe that everyone else should be like them, regardless of whether they are in the minority or majority.

I challenge you, dear reader, to think about what things you pre-judge people for, and think hard about whether or not that’s fair. To use a common example: if someone tells you that they’re a furry, does that automatically lower your opinion of them? (Poor furries get no respect; I personally think they’re adorable!)

Project “Your Personal Kink,” all about BDSMers who aren’t in the subculture

Friday, January 7th, 2011

A friend of mine, Clarisse Thorn, is organizing this project, so I just thought I’d put the word out.

“Your Personal Kink”

Clarisse Thorn
clarisse at leatherarchives dot org

The Leather Archives & Museum, a cultural center in Chicago devoted to preserving the history of alternative sexuality, wants your help documenting the experiences of BDSMers who do not currently participate in the public BDSM subculture. If you enjoy kinky sex but do NOT attend adult sexuality workshops, dungeon play parties, sex parties, or educational meetups, then the goal of this project is to learn about your experiences through an interview. (Other projects have different goals; if you’re interested in the Leather Archives and frequently participate in public BDSM events, feel free to get in touch and ask about our other work!)

Interviews will be recorded and stored at the Chicago location of the Leather Archives & Museum. They are not being collected for a specific purpose at this time, but may be used for future museum exhibits and will be made available to researchers and scholars who use the museum’s collections for study.

We respect your privacy. Anything you tell us will be kept under an anonymous name, if you prefer, or your real name only if you are comfortable with such disclosure. Interviews will be recorded and stored at the Chicago location of the Leather Archives & Museum, and they may be used to build museum exhibits or to assist researchers.

Interviews may be conducted in any way that makes you feel comfortable — by email, phone, an online voice service such as Skype, or even in person if you happen to live in Chicago. Again, we completely respect your privacy; if you get in touch, we will gladly work with you to figure out how to keep you feeling safe and comfortable throughout our discussions. The point person for this project is Clarisse Thorn, who can be reached by email at [ clarisse at leatherarchives dot org ]. You can also leave her a voice message if you call the Leather Archives at 773.761.9200.

ABOUT THE LEATHER ARCHIVES & MUSEUM: The Leather Archives & Museum is devoted to preserving the history of alternative sexuality. By sharing your experience with the Leather Archives & Museum, you will be helping us document sexual practices that are not widely recorded or understood. The Leather Archives & Museum is located at 6418 N. Greenview Avenue in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, IL, USA; you can visit the website at www.leatherarchives.org.

My First Tattoo — Not Exactly Needleplay

Friday, December 31st, 2010

A few days ago, I had my first tattoo done, and I’d like to talk about that process from an SM/pain perspective. Being familiar with pain, I knew I could handle it; but it was still a new experience, so I was a little apprehensive.

In a nutshell, it wasn’t really that bad. There were only a couple of cringe-worthy moments in the 2.5-hour process, and those were fleeting.

A friend of mine described having a tattoo done as being similar to a very intense violet wand session. I can see the parallel, even more so due to the sound that the tattoo gun makes being somewhat like an electric crackle. Overall it felt like what it was: something very pointy being vibrated against my skin very fast. It didn’t really feel like it was actually piercing the flesh — probably because it was going past the epidermis, but just enough to get to the dermis.

There were also two types of needles/guns used. At some point in the process, I think during shading, he used a gun that sounded a lot different — quieter, and a more… “watery” sound, as if it were submerged. I asked about that, and he said it was a rotary tattoo gun. Doing a bit more research, I see that there are four different types of gun — rotary, coil, liner, and shader. I’m not sure which of these was used on me; it’s quite possible all four were, and some just sounded the same as others. The rotary gun had more of a pressure, “grinding” sort of feeling to it, with a hint of an abrasive feeling. I’d classify it as less painful than the other gun by just a bit.

Just as painful as the needle, if not more so (probably more so), was the nearly constant wiping-away that the artist did, to remove excess ink, and any blood that came up. The skin was already raw from the poking, so adding abrasion to that wasn’t terribly comfortable. And it was a different sort of pain, so it was difficult to keep in the headspace.

Being into BDSM definitely helped with the process. Specifically, it helped to practice pain processing such as breathing techniques and focusing. I even found myself going into brief bouts of headspace many times during the process. My girlfriend was there to lend support, but due to being in and out of headspace so much, I was pretty unresponsive. That, combined with the fact that I was looking off into space and hardly ever looked at her, made her think that I was angry with her for checking in — but we talked about it later and cleared that up. I’m definitely glad she was there, and checking in.

Overall it was a good experience, and I have a lifelong mark from it — how cool is that?

Bondage and Me

Monday, August 9th, 2010

I am really not all that into bondage.

For some reason, that feels a bit hard for me to admit openly to the BDSM community. It seems like it’s almost expected that people be into it — I mean hell, it’s the first letter in BDSM!

I’ve heard others say that they like bondage because it puts the partner completely at their whim. I like having my partner completely at my whim without having to rely on her being tied up to do it. I love struggle play. It’s much, much more fun for me to wrestle my partner to the ground and pin her so that I can do what I want even as she struggles, than to immobilize her so that she is incapable of fighting back. Some tops aren’t strong enough, or well-trained enough (martially speaking), to utterly physically dominate someone in this way — or at least, not without the other person losing the struggle on purpose, anyway. And I can completely understand that for those people, bondage is their only option when it comes to physically dominating someone.

But me, I want her to be able to (try to) fight back. I want her to feel, viscerally, that I am dominating her and there is nothing she can do to stop it*. I want to see that realization wash over her, and for her to try denying it even as she knows it, and then eventually give in. And then I want to put her in more pain, different pain, to where she forgets all over again and tries to struggle again.

That is the sort of domination that gets me off.

What I don’t like is the idea of taking 15 minutes to tie a girl down while she sits there cooperating. I love how shibari looks as an art form, but I guess the part of my brain that is into BDSM doesn’t have the patience for it.

Cuffs I’m okay with, but if we’re just talking about my enjoyment, I still prefer not to use them. But that said, it seems like lots and lots of people are into bondage (rope and otherwise). So I feel compelled to at the very least learn and become expert at some basic ties that are quick to put on. I realize that, from a psychological perspective, some people need to be tied down to feel completely powerless. And I definitely do want my partner to be enjoying herself too.

Also, I realize there are some situations where it’s not possible to personally physically restrain someone while having a scene. For instance, I can’t hold someone down and hit them with a 6-foot bullwhip at the same time (not unless I hit them with the handle, anyway). In those cases I still prefer my partner to be free of bonds, but if I’m going to go so hard that they need support to continue standing, I’m fine with cuffing them.

If you’re a bondage aficionado, what do you get from it? The art/aesthetic pleasure? The immobilization/power factor? Something else altogether?

* Other than calling red, of course.

BDSM vs. Abuse

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

At a recent munch, the discussion topic was “Abuse or BDSM; where do you draw the line?” The discussion was wrought with a lot of charged emotions — a lot of people in the lifestyle seem to have had some bad experiences early on with people masquerading as dominants and sadists, who were really just abusers.

So, where is the line between BDSM and abuse? What it really boils down to is the intent of the top. If the top has the wellbeing of the bottom in mind, then it is not abuse. If the top really couldn’t give a shit about the bottom or hir safety, then they are being abusive. While we might roleplay degradation, if the so-called top really doesn’t care about the bottom then it’s not BDSM, period. Even in a TPE situation the master should care for their slave — if the slave is property, they should be a prized possession, to be cherished and taken good care of. In regards to abuse, I heard the sentiment expressed, “That (abusive) guy cared more for his car than for his girlfriend.”

However, intent is an internal thing — looking at a situation from the outside (or even as the potential victim), it can be nearly impossible to decipher. So personally, I like to use the distinction of hurt vs. harm. Hurt is what we do in BDSM play — be it pain of a physical nature like that of the singletailed wihp, or pain of a mental nature such as humiliation and degradation play. However, this is pain of a temporary nature. If the top is doing something that causes the bottom harm, then it’s abuse.

So what is harm? When I say harm here, I mean making a person weaker. Physically, making them disabled (e.g. purposefully wrenching their arm out of its socket, causing a permanent physical disability). Mentally, making them less able to successfully interact with the world at large (e.g. robbing them of their sense of self-esteem and self-worth). I’d even go further to say that any good top should seek to make their bottom stronger as a person — stretching their limits, helping them overcome fear and anxiety, making them better able to cope with the world.

If you think a friend is the victim of abuse, my advice is to not step in directly, but to continue to be there for them, even if they say they don’t want you around. Abusers often cut off their victims from their friends, so if it is an abusive situation, then you could be their only lifeline. However, taking direct action like calling the police on the abuser has often ended in tragedy for the victim. The abuser goes to jail for a few weeks or months, gets out, and takes revenge on the victim. Not a pretty story.

As a closing note, I’d like to take a moment to point out that mental abuse is far more insidious, and (from what I’ve seen) common, than physical abuse.