Lesbian & Gay Psychology Section

Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review
Vol 6 No 3 November 2005

Special Issue: Contemporary perspectives on sadomasochism (S/M)

ISSN: 1467-2472

Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review
Editor: Elizabeth Peel, Psychology, School of Life and Health Sciences, Aston University, Aston Triangle, Birmingham B4 7ET, UK. E-mail: e.a.peel@aston.ac.uk. Associate Editor (Book Reviews): Sonja Ellis, Applied Social Studies Division, Faculty of Development and Society, Sheffield Hallam University, Collegiate Crescent Campus, Sheffield S10 2BP, UK. E-mail: s.j.ellis@shu.ac.uk. Associate Editor (Focus on Activism): Meg Barker, Dept. of Psychology, Faculty of Arts and Human Sciences, London South Bank University, 103 Borough Road, London SE1 0AA, UK. E-mail: barkermj@lsbu.ac.uk. Associate Editor (Research in Brief): Darren Langdridge, Psychology Discipline, Faculty of Social Sciences, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, UK. E-mail: d.langdridge@open.ac.uk. Editorial Board: Catherine Butler, Camden & Islington NHS Trust; Clair Clifford, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham & Solihull Mental Health Trust; Gareth Hagger-Johnson, University of Edinburgh; Peter Hegarty, University of Surrey; Jim McManus, Directorate of Public Health, Barking & Dagenham Primary Care Trust; Lyndsey Moon, Queen Mary’s Hospital, Roehampton.

International Advisory Group
Janis Bohan, Denver CO, USA Virginia Braun, Auckland, New Zealand Paul Flowers, Glasgow, UK Didi Herman, Canterbury, UK Celia Kitzinger, York, UK Sean J. Massey, Binghamton NY, USA Martin Milton, Guildford, UK Damien W. Riggs, Adelaide, Australia Eric Rofes, Arcata CA, USA Theo Sandfort, New York, USA Jane M. Ussher, Sydney, Australia Sue Wilkinson, Loughborough, UK Henny Bos, Amsterdam, The Netherlands Victoria Clarke, Bristol, UK Adrian Coyle, Guildford, UK Gregory M. Herek, Davis CA, USA Ellen Herman, Eugene OR, USA Hilary Lapsley, Wellington, New Zealand Kerry McLuckie-Wilson, East London, South Africa Charlotte J. Patterson, Charlottesville VA, USA Ian Rivers, Edinburgh, UK Esther Rothblum, Burlington VT, USA Melanie Steffens, Trier, Germany Gordon Walker, Melbourne, Australia

Advertising: Advertising space is subject to availability and is accepted at the discretion of the editors. The cost is: Section Members Others Full page £20 £40 Half page £10 £20 High-quality camera-ready artwork and the remittance must be sent together to the editor. Cheques should be made payable to the ‘BPS Lesbian & Gay Psychology Section’. Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review aims to advance understanding of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer issues with respect to psychological theory, knowledge and practice and to facilitate the development of LGBTQ psychology in the UK and internationally. As the publication of the British Psychological Society’s Lesbian & Gay Psychology Section, it also aims to disseminate information about Section activities. It welcomes empirical, theoretical and review articles, bibliographic articles, interviews with leading figures in LGBTQ psychology, short articles on relevant research papers, book reviews and notices of events and activities that are likely to be of interest to Section members. The editor is also interested in receiving proposals for Special Issues, featuring several articles on a common theme. Disclaimer: Views expressed in Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review are those of the individual contributors and not necessarily the views of the Lesbian & Gay Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society. Publication of conferences, events, courses, organisations and advertisements does not necessarily imply approval or endorsement by the BPS Lesbian & Gay Psychology Section. Any subsequent promotional piece or advertisement must not indicate that an advertisement has previously appeared in Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review. Copyright: Copyright for published material rests with the British Psychological Society unless otherwise stated. With agreement, an author will be allowed to republish an article elsewhere as long as a note is included stating ‘first published in Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review, date, volume number, page numbers’. Teachers of psychology may use material contained in this publication in any way that may help their teaching of lesbian and gay psychology. Permission should be obtained from the Society for any other use. Back copies and subscriptions for non-BPS members: Back copies of Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review are available from the British Psychological Society, St Andrews House, 48 Princess Road East, Leicester LE1 7DR at a cost of £4 per issue or £10 for a complete set of issues for a year (UK residents) and £5.50 per issue, £15 for a complete set of issues for a year (overseas rates). Cheques should be made payable to the ‘BPS Lesbian & Gay Psychology Section’. Non-BPS members wishing to subscribe to Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review should write to the British Psychological Society at the address above, enclosing a cheque for the appropriate amount (made payable to the ‘BPS Lesbian & Gay Psychology Section’).

143 Editorial: The place of S/M in LGBTQ psychology Guest Editors: Meg Barker & Darren Langdridge The cultural formation of S/M: History and analysis Kathy Sisson Visions of sadomasochism as a Nazi erotic Alison M. Moore Unleashing gender: Dependency, subjectivity and recognition in dominant/submissive relationships Sarah A. Smith The erotic imagination: An existential phenomenological perspective Trevor Butt Actively dividing selves: S/M and the thrill of disintegration Darren Langdridge Women who engage in S/M interactions for money: A descriptive study Kathy Sisson & Charles Moser Feminist SM: A contradiction in terms or a way of challenging traditional gendered dynamics through sexual practice? Ani Ritchie & Meg Barker Researching sexual difference: A survey of gay S/M in the UK Eric Chaline Is an interest in BDSM a pathological disorder or a normal variant of human sexual behaviour? Martin Baggaley Is S/M pathological? Peggy J. Kleinplatz & Charles Moser Does heterosexuality belong in the DSM? Charles Moser & Peggy J. Kleinplatz Developing an SM awareness tool Meg Barker Kink therapy and me: Outing myself as a kinky client Pushpa Mitra Total power exchange in a modern family: A personal perspective Rachel Green Spanner: S/M, consent and the law in the UK Eric Chaline in conversation with John Pendal Book Reviews Books for Review

Articles 147 163 177

189 198 209 227


Commentaries 253

255 261 268 274 279

Focus on Activism 283 288 299

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Editorial1: The place of S/M in LGBTQ psychology
Guest Editors: Meg Barker & Darren Langdridge
ITH THE GROWTH of identity politics in recent years, research on marginal sexual practices, which have always formed the core of sexualities research, has increasingly focused on sexual identities rather than sexual practices. Furthermore, with the desire for persons and communities to achieve sexual citizenship has come a retreat from a focus on sexual practices by practitioners themselves, which may alienate those in the dominant centre, and instead a focus on relationships and identities (Bell & Binnie, 2000). As a consequence many psychological researchers have also retreated from discussing and working to theorise sexual practices and instead similarly focused on identity construction. Sadomasochism (S/M) occupies an unusual position with regard to these debates since it may be understood as a sexual practice or alternatively as a sexual identity. This special issue seeks to address both components and offer examples of research where there has been no retreat from a focus on sexual practices. S/M is an important and much debated topic within lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ) studies. It has occupied a central place in feminist debates from the 1970s to the present day, with some theorists arguing that S/M maintains inequality and oppression through the reinforcement of gendered power relations (Jeffreys, 2002), with others arguing that it provides a way for women to ‘grasp power’ rather than relinquishing it (Barker & Easton, 2005). Key


research on gay male sexuality has also focused on S/M leather communities (e.g. Rubin, 1994, 1997) and the meanings of these sexual practices and identities for gay men. S/M (whether taking place in a lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or heterosexual context) has also been thought a ‘queer’ activity because it enables people to play with gendered notions of dominance and submission, activity and passivity, as well as potentially taking the focus of sexuality away from the act of penetrative sex, intrinsic to hegemonic heterosexuality (Sullivan, 2003). In spite of, or perhaps because of these debates, S/M remains marginalised within and outside LGTBQ communities. S/M is a criminal activity in the UK if it entails practices that leave marks2 and continues to be listed in DSM-IV and ICD-10 (the two principal psychiatric diagnostic manuals in use today). With this in mind, S/M activists have called on LGBTQ psychologists and communities to support their arguments for the de-criminalisation and de-pathologisation of S/M, making links to similar battles in the history of the fight for gay rights. Like homosexuality some 30 years ago, sadomasochistic sex is considered alongside rape and child sexual abuse as individual sexual pathology in need of explanation, treatment and cure and there is an ongoing fight to change this. Perhaps not surprisingly, psychological work on sadomasochism (S/M) has historically been concerned with understanding it as a form of psychopathology. Even today, studies on S/M are often concerned with

1 Note that the guest editors, not the editor, take full editorial responsibility for this issue of Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review. 2 See the ‘Focus on Activism’ piece in this special issue for more on the current legal position with regard to consensual S/M.

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Meg Barker & Darren Langdridge analysing extreme non-consensual acts and applying this analysis to consensual S/M. However, more recently, there has been interest in exploring the meaning of sadomasochism in non-pathological ways (for instance, Beckman, 2001; Langdridge & Butt, 2004, 2005; Taylor, 1997; Taylor & Ussher, 2001). This research has sought to understand the stories practitioners themselves tell of their lives and sexual practices rather than relying on pre-determined and pathologising psycho-medical explanatory frameworks. This special issue of Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review seeks to provide further discussion and debate about S/M amongst psychologists and other academics, critically moving away from pathological explanations of S/M identities and practices. It also attempts to bring S/M out of the margins of LGBTQ psychology and present cutting edge research and theory from academics working on the topic in the UK, US, Canada and Australia. Generally ‘sadist’, ‘dominant’, ‘dom/ domme’, and ‘top’ are used for the person in the position of power or the one giving out the stimulation and ‘masochist’, ‘submissive’, ‘sub’ and ‘bottom’ are used for the person with less power or the one on the receiving end. A ‘switch’ is someone who takes both kinds of roles. Often the words ‘dominant’ and ‘submissive’ are used for more psychological S/M (e.g. that involving humiliation or servitude) and ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ for more physical (e.g. that involving pain or other sensations), although there is also often overlap between the two. S/M activity may be referred to as ‘play’ or a ‘scene’ and non-S/M sex may be termed ‘vanilla’. Sometimes those who take part in S/M are referred to as S/M practitioners, although others prefer terms like ‘SMers’, since many in the S/M communities view S/M as an identity they have whilst others see it as an activity they practice. We are keen to emphasise the diversity of S/M practices and identities as well as experiences involved and motivations for taking part, which may differ widely between individuals and even within the same person on different occasions.

A note on terminology

In this special issue our understanding of S/M is broad and includes all sexual identities and practices involving pain play, bondage, dominance and submission, and erotic power exchange. However, readers will note that authors use various different terms to describe the activities and identities they are writing about, including S/M, S&M, SM or BDSM (a broader term which stands for bondage and discipline, domination and submission) and sadomasochism. We have left authors to define their own terms in each paper rather than using the same term throughout because they may be using a word to refer to a particular subset of activities. Also, some feel that it is important to separate out S and M as two distinct practices/identities (sadism and masochism) whilst others feel that bringing them together in the word sadomasochism suggests that one is not possible without the other. Similarly, various words are used for the different participants or positions in S/M. 144

The contributions

This special issue begins with Kathy Sisson’s analysis of S/M as a sexual culture. This article provides a good overview of the history of S/M as well as the key issues in S/M communities today, which are picked up later in the volume. This is followed by Alison Moore’s article focusing on the links which have often been made between sadomasochism and Nazism, including an indepth analysis of the way lesbian and gay S/M groups have responded to critiques of their practices. After this, we have three theoretical articles exploring different but related aspects of S/M. Sarah Smith revisits feminist psychoanalytic theories to propose a non-pathological psychoanalytic perspective on S/M. Trevor Butt and Darren Langdridge draw on existential philosophy and psychology to consider ways of underLesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Editorial standing fantasy and the thrill of the S/M scene respectively. Following this are three papers presenting new empirical work on SM which, between them, consider aspects of bisexual, heterosexual, lesbian and gay men’s experiences. Kathy Sisson and Charles Moser report their survey of women who engage in S/M activities professionally. Ani Ritchie and Meg Barker describe their group discussions with bisexual and lesbian women S/Mers and how they construct their activities as potentially feminist. Eric Chaline presents the results of his survey on gay S/M in the UK, comparing his findings to those of previous research in this area. Given the controversial nature of S/M, particularly within the medical professions, we have also included a number of commentaries in this special issue. The first three are focussed on the psychiatric classification of S/M. Peggy Kleinplatz argues against the pathologisation of S/M, which is followed by a piece in which she and Charles Moser consider the problems of the paraphilias in DSM-IV by asking whether heterosexuality should belong in the DSM. Psychiatrist Martin Baggaley then draws on his own clinical experience to argue that S/M is not a disorder. In the spirit of contemporary work centred on giving voice to participants themselves, the final three commentaries consist of pieces written by members of S/M communities. First, Meg Barker writes about how she developed an S/M tool with members of S/M communities to raise awareness of the ways in which S/M is socially constructed in relation to other, arguably similar, activities. Pushpa Mitra draws on her personal experience of counselling to consider how counsellors and clients might deal with issues of coming out as S/M within a therapeutic context. And finally, Rachel Green writes about what it is like to integrate dominance and submission into a modern family. The Focus on Activism interview in this issue is with a leading gay S/M activist who talks about the current legal position of S/M and what psychologists may be able to contribute to S/M activism in the future. We would like to thank all the contributors for their hard work on this special issue. Thanks also to all our reviewers and members of the Lesbian and Gay Psychology Section Committee for supporting us in the production of this special issue of Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review. And finally, a special thanks to Trevor Butt for organising the half-day conference on sexualities at the University of Huddersfield (June 2004), which was the starting point of this project. Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review welcomes further commentaries and papers on the debates raised and theories proposed in this special issue, and it is hoped that it will prove a useful catalyst for further dialogue and research around these identities and practices. Meg Barker & Darren Langdridge Guest Editors.

Barker, M. & Easton, D. (2005). On ‘tops’, ‘bottoms’ and ‘ethical sluts’: The place of SM and polyamory in lesbian and gay psychology. Meg Barker in conversation with Dossie Easton. Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review, 6(2), 124–129. Beckman, A. (2001). Deconstructing myths: The social construction of ‘sadomasochism’ versus ‘subjugated knowledges’ of practitioners of consensual ‘SM’. Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 8(2), 66–95. Bell, D. & Binnie, J. (2000). The sexual citizen: Queer politics and beyond. Cambridge: Polity. Jeffreys, S. (2002). Unpacking queer politics: A lesbian feminist perspective. Cambridge: Polity. Langdridge, D. & Butt, T.W. (2004). A hermeneutic phenomenological investigation of the construction of sadomasochistic identities. Sexualities, 7(1), 31–53. Langdridge, D. & Butt, T.W. (2005). The erotic construction of power exchange. Journal of Constructivist Psychology, 18(1), 65–73. Rubin, G. (1994). The Valley of the Kings: Leathermen in San Francisco, 1960–1990. Unpublished dissertation, University of Michigan.

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Meg Barker & Darren Langdridge
Rubin, G. (1997). Elegy for the Valley of the Kings: AIDS and the leather community in San Francisco, 1981–1996. In M.P. Levine, P.M. Nardi & J.H. Gagnon (Eds.), Changing times: Gay men and lesbians encounter HIV/AIDS (pp.101–144). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Sullivan, N. (2003). A critical introduction to queer theory. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Taylor, G.W. (1997). The discursive construction and regulation of dissident sexualities: The case of SM. In J.M. Ussher (1997), Body talk: The material and discursive regulation of sexuality, madness and reproduction (pp.106–130). London: Routledge. Taylor, G.W. & Ussher, J. (2001). Making sense of S&M: A discourse analytic account. Sexualities, 4(3), 293–314.


Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

The cultural formation of S/M: History and analysis
Kathy Sisson
The cultural visibility of sadomasochism (S/M) has grown markedly in the last 30 years. Is this simply the most recent manifestation of an erotic style that predates terminology such as ‘sadomasochism?’ or is it a unique reflection of contemporary Western culture? This study uses a cultural theory perspective to frame the history of S/M. Synthesising previous research, it presents a new theoretical model of cultural formation and function. The model predicts that sexual cultures develop in five distinct stages, reflect historical and social conditions, and serve specific functions for their members. This study finds that the evolution of S/M conforms to this model and suggests that S/M constitutes both a new sexual culture and a new sexual identity. Keywords: culture, cultural theory, history, sadomasochism, sexual culture. /M’S CULTURAL VISIBILITY has increased dramatically over the past three decades. Recent corporate advertising campaigns from Saks Fifth Avenue, Continental Airlines and Ikea have featured S/M motifs and iconography. S/M themes punctuate bestselling books (The Sexual life of Catherine M., 2001), mainstream movies (Secretary, 2002), and popular music (Madonna’s Erotica, 1992). Contemporary fashion has embraced black leather, boots, collars, chains and other apparel evocative of S/M. Internet sites with explicit S/M content are readily accessible. And sexuality sections of most major bookstores feature manuals explaining S/M to potential participants. Researchers continue to debate the prevalence of S/M behaviour (Hunt, 1974; Levitt, 1971). However, extant S/M research estimates five to 10 per cent of the US population, or over 14 million individuals, currently engage in S/M activities (Kinsey et al., 1953; Moser, 1988; Reinisch & Beasley, 1990). Despite this cultural visibility and prevalence, the history of S/M practice and its relation to the larger culture remain relatively unstudied. The utility of studying sex as part of the larger culture became apparent in the 1980s with the emergence of social constructionism (Irvine, 1994; Parker & Aggelton, 1999;


Weeks, 1985). Researchers have applied theoretical, constructionist models to study a variety of sexual minority groups: gay and lesbian (D’Emilio, 1983; Rich, 1986; Rubin, 1984; Weeks, 1981), people living with AIDS (Parker et al., 1991) and adolescents (Irvine, 1994). But to date no study has employed a cultural theory approach to explore the history and formation of the contemporary S/M phenomenon. This paper draws upon previous theoretical contributions to provide a brief overview of sexual cultural theory and to present a new theoretical model of cultural function and formation. It then utilises this model to frame a historical overview of S/M practice as it evolved from the 16th century to the present, and to analyse S/M’s role in contemporary culture. The paper focuses primarily on American S/M history and culture, but references international and UK S/M cultural developments as well. It will conclude with recommendations for the utility of the model in organising and understanding the historical evolution of other sexual minority communities which remain similarly under researched.

Sexual culture theory

A sexual culture may be defined as a collective system of meanings and practices that emerges from historically specific social and 147

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Kathy Sisson psychological conditions (D’Emilio, 1983; Hostetler & Herdt, 1998; Padgug, 1979). Sexual cultures issued from 19th century modernisation processes (Herdt, 1997; Rubin, 1984). In contemporary Western society, multiple sexual cultures (also referred to as ‘subcultures’) emerge, proliferate and coexist alongside the monogamous, reproductive heterosexual paradigm (Hostetler & Herdt, 1998; Taylor, 1996). Sexual cultures may be viewed as ‘performing’ certain functions for their members and evolving through discernable stages (Herdt, 1997; Hostetler & Herdt, 1998; Weeks, 1981). A new theoretical model of sexual culture function and formation which synthesises previous scholarship follows. Sexual culture function model Sexual culture functions may be summarised as: (1) demarcating boundaries between the sexual culture (‘inside’)1 and the larger, paradigmatic culture (‘outside’); (2) providing a story of origin and historical context; (3) establishing a code of behaviour which prescribes appropriate and inappropriate conduct; (4) creating a system of shared meanings about specific desires and behaviours; (5) providing a means of social reproduction that allows newcomers to access and participate in the sexual culture; and (6) generating sexual identity. One aspect of sexual identity, therefore, would be its generative relationship with sexual culture (Herdt, 1997; Hostetler & Herdt, 1998; Irvine, 1994; Rubin, 1984; Taylor, 1996; Weeks, 1981). Sexual identity may be defined as a template for organising sexual desires and subject-object relationships (Herdt, 1997). Sexual identity formation emerges from the confluence of multifaceted personal and social phenomena, including sexual cultures (Hostetler & Herdt, 1998), personal narratives, (Plummer, 1995), sexual experiences (Plummer 1995), educational processes and social interactions (Weeks, 1981). From the mid-19th to the mid-20th century, a binary sexual identity schema based sexual identity on the sex of the object choice, limiting available sexual identities to homosexual or heterosexual (Herdt, 1997; Hostetler & Herdt, 1998). In the latter half of the 20th century, individuals began constructing new sexual identities based primarily on individual subjectivity, transgender and queer being perhaps the most visible (Connell, 1992; Hostetler & Herdt, 1998). Sexual culture formation model Delineating stages of sexual culture evolution, while artificially imposing order on inchoate historical events, provides a useful organisational framework. The stages of sexual culture evolution may be summarised as: (1) Contacts – discrete individuals sharing common desires locate and establish contact with each other; (2) Networks – contacts expand to form loosely-linked assemblages of likeminded individuals; (3) Communities – networks merge and coalesce into unaffiliated, regional associations based on face-to-face interactions, sharing common interests, ideology and public spaces; (4) Social Movements – communities grow and, often galvanised by the harassment and discrimination that accompanies increasing social visibility, gather the economic, political and social momentum necessary to support effective activist campaigns; and (5) Sexual cultures – ultimately, the communities and social movements expand and merge within a shared system of meaning and practices; a new sexual culture takes its place alongside the dominant sexual culture as one of an increasing number of 20th century sexual cultures.

Historical overview of S/M practice: Cultural formation

This paper defines S/M as a broad range of consensual, erotic, interpersonal interactions involving the administration and the

1 The ‘inside’ spaces normalise and facilitate particular sexual behaviours and expressions of desire. These desires are both sexual – the subjective, individual erotic drive – and social – the larger, human desire for collective acceptance and belongingness.


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The cultural formation of S/M: History and analysis reception of pain, and/or the enactment of dominant and submissive power dynamics. Historical evidence suggests that behaviours imitative of those we contemporarily identify as S/M have occurred for millennia (Brandt, 1963; Ellis, 1905; see also Eulenberg, cited in Ellis, 1905; Kuels, 1985; Taylor, 1996). However, historical accuracy precludes imposition of modern terminology and concepts on behaviours transpiring with different meanings in different contexts (Herdt, 1997; Padgug, 1979). The words ‘sadism’ and ‘masochism’ entered the lexicon in 1886 in Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis (Krafft-Ebing, 1886/1953); Freud coined the term ‘sadomasochism’ in 1905 in Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex (Freud, 1905/1938). Therefore, this paper designates behaviours resembling contemporary S/M practice that occurred prior to these dates as ‘S/M-type’ behaviour. Up until the 1940s, no clear distinction between sexual orientation and S/M practice appears in the literature. A distinct gay male leather community developed in the US in the 1940s and much has been written about its formation (Rubin, 1994, 1997). Distinct heterosexual and lesbian S/M communities emerged in the 1970s. Due in large part to the vituperous feminist sex wars during the second wave of feminism, a considerable literature on lesbian S/M communities exists as well (e.g. Califia, 1981). I suggest that these three distinct S/M communities, gay, lesbian and heterosexual, co-exist today as part of the larger S/M sexual culture. However, a paucity of data exists regarding the development and characteristics of heterosexual S/M communities and culture. In its historical overview from the 1940s to the 1980s, this paper focuses on the formation of a primarily heterosexual S/M community, although same-sex interactions quite likely transpired between some of its members. Stage 1 – Contacts (1600s–1900s) Historical evidence of contacts between individuals engaging in S/M-type behaviour Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3 dates from the 17th century and proliferates up through the turn of the 20th century. Medical literature from 17th century Europe referenced flagellation as a means to shorten the male refractory period, and as a remedy for erectile dysfunction and female lack of desire (Meibomius, 1639/1718); Eulenberg, A. [as cited in Ellis, 1905]; Boileau, 1700/1903). Popular works, such as The Presbyterian Lash (anon., 1661), Venice Preserved (Otway, 1682/1969), and The Virtuoso (Shadwell, 1676/1992), associated flagellation with sexual pleasure, the latter positioning it in an English brothel. Ellis describes whipping as a ‘well-known … sexual stimulant’ in England (Ellis, 1905, p.133) by the 18th century. Brothels specialising in S/M-type interactions began to appear in the major cities of Europe, and S/M-type motifs grew increasingly prevalent in 18th-century literature. John Cleland’s Fanny Hill (1748/1986) described an incident of mutual whipping between a prostitute and client in an English brothel. In Confessions (1782/1953), Rousseau attributes his sexual masochism to childhood whippings. And the Marquis de Sade’s works describe a plethora of S/M-type behaviours, some of which transpired in Parisian brothels. The 19th century’s significant social transformations modernised human sexuality (Herdt, 1997; Rubin, 1984). The shift from agrarian to urban social organisation provided individuals with new found anonymity, privacy, and contact with diverse populations and behaviours. Industrialisation gave rise to dramatised power relations. Secularisation, consumerism, the rise of the middle class, and increased leisure time all contributed to new concepts of individual subjectivity, including sex and gender. And many scientists and scholars began turning their attentions to sex research. Brothels specialising in S/M-type interactions flourished across Europe and in certain American urban centres in the nineteenth century. Some proved quite lucrative; Theresa Berkelely’s flagellation brothel in 149

Kathy Sisson England reportedly made $20,000 in eight years (Tannahill, 1982). Nineteenth century literature containing S/M-type themes grew increasingly popular. Venus Schoolmistress (anon., 1830) references Berkeley’s flagellation brothel. The Pearl (anon., 1870) an erotic magazine widely circulated in upper class society, included stories of flagellation. The Lustful Turk (anon., 1828) described sexual dominance and ‘violent, aggressive sexuality … a good example of 19th century pornography with Sadian overtones’ (Beck, 1999, p.386). Although these and similar works with S/M-type themes attained widespread popularity, Krafft-Ebing’s publication of Psychopathia Sexualis (1886) brought ‘sadism’ and ‘masochism’ squarely into the cultural discourse and cultural consciousness. Psychopathia Sexualis conferred typology, etiology and pathology on previously unremarkable sexual behaviours and desires. Prior to its publication, S/M-type behaviour was considered neither sick nor sinful, regarded often as a medical curiosity, if at all (Bullough, 1977; Levitt, 1971). It captivated mainstream readers and catapulted sadism and masochism into the public arena. KrafftEbing described sadism and masochism as individual phenomena, a precedent followed by subsequent sexologists until the late 1960s, when social scientists observed that S/M was no longer an isolated, individual behaviour, but rather had become a social phenomenon (Gebhard, 1969). Psychopathia Sexualis also popularised the binary sexual identity schema based on gender or sex of object choice – homosexual and heterosexual. Stage 2 – Networks (1900s–1970s) Nineteenth century social developments led to the beginning of the modern American S/M phenomenon – the formation of S/M practitioner networks. Changes in early 20th-century S/M practice also facilitated network formation. Privatisation, novel materials and behaviours, and new contact strategies were particularly integral. 150 The locus of S/M practice shifted from flagellation brothels to private homes and parties in the first two decades of the 20th century. Flagellation brothels’ role diminished. In the US, the first sexual revolution and World War I made non-commercial sex more acceptable and available. Law enforcement agencies in both Europe and the US began suppressing brothel prostitution. Although a corresponding rise in street prostitution included S/M-oriented prostitution (Bienvenu, 1998), and some brothels specialising in S/M interactions maintained successful clandestine operations, S/M practice moved increasingly into the private arena. The materials and practices American S/M practitioners employed at these private parties also shifted in the first few decades of the 20th century. Flagellation brothels offered a fairly narrow range of practices centred on spanking and flagellation with various contrivances (Bienvenu, 1998). They employed ‘soft media’ – materials such as fur, satin, velvet and silk (Bienvenu, 1998). By the 1930s, S/M practitioners’ range of behaviours had expanded to involve elaborate restraints, specialised equipment, highly stylised fashion and electrical and medical technology (Bienvenu, 1998). The materials they incorporated shifted to ‘hard media’ – such as leather and metal (Bienvenu, 1998). These S/M products tended to be expensive and early S/M practitioners were generally affluent (Bienvenu, 1998). In subsequent decades, practitioners also incorporated rubber and latex. S/M practitioners’ primary contact strategy was carefully worded advertisements placed in underground magazines. Code words and veiled references to ‘discipline’ conveyed an S/M-oriented subtext to likeminded individuals (R. Roberts, personal communication, 2000). As small networks of S/M practitioners began to form, face-toface referrals also integrated an increasing number of aficionados (Bienvenu, 1998). Most early American S/M practitioner networks formed around the producers of Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

The cultural formation of S/M: History and analysis S/M-related products (Bienvenu, 1998). A small number of east coast artists, photographers, artisans, writers and publishers provided S/M apparel, equipment, catalogues, mail order services and erotica. Most were practitioners themselves and their S/M products were often a sideline to the production of equestrian and burlesque supplies (Bienvenu, 1998). A fetish ‘family tree’ of S/M erotica producers began forming in the 1930s with Charles Guyette’s emergence as a prominent S/M-erotica producer. Guyette sold S/M photography and equipment through underthe-counter sales in his theatrical supply store and by mail order in underground catalogues. He anchored the earliest network of American S/M practitioners and provided support for subsequent generations of S/Mproducers (Bienvenu, 1998). His widespread social interconnectedness and influence on successive generations of S/M producers facilitated S/M network formation for the next three decades. Certain contemporary S/M producers and practitioner networks trace their origins back to Guyette’s enterprise (Bienvenu, 1998). In the 1940s, mainstream ‘cheesecake’ magazines (men’s magazines featuring scantily clad, voluptuous women) began incorporating S/M iconography, which dramatically expanded the early S/M producers’ cultural visibility. Although Guyette had attained prominence in underground S/M networks, his audience remained relatively small; cheesecake magazines reached hundreds of thousands of mainstream consumers a month. Robert Harrison published several popular cheesecake magazines containing S/M-themed art, photographs and advertisements from a second generation of S/M producers, many of whom Guyette sponsored (Bienvenu, 1998). Harrison’s successful publications provided venues for John Coutts, Irving Klaw and Leonard Burtman to debut as second generation S/M producers. Artist, photographer and writer John Coutts emerged from Guyette’s social circle and went on to publish Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3 Bizarre magazine, an explicitly S/M-oriented magazine, from 1946 to 1956. Irving Klaw, primarily a photographer, achieved notoriety with his fetish photographs of Bettie Page, many of which appeared in Harrison’s magazines. Klaw also made the first bondage film in 16mm in 1949. Leonard Burtman trained as a photographer with Harrison, and by the early 1950s, had established a fetish publishing empire that survived into the 1980s (Bienvenu, 1998). Each of these artists and businessmen continued to sponsor successive generations of S/M producers (Bienvenu, 1998). Greg Day also rose to prominence as a private practitioner and wealthy patron in the interconnected social networks from the late 1930s to the 1960s. He shared close friendships with Guyette and Coutts, and social relationships with most of the other S/M producers (Klaw apparently limited himself to business relationships) (Bienvenu, 1998). Day hosted numerous private play parties at his home in New York which were attended primarily by couples (Bienvenu, 1998). Other wealthy practitioners and patrons began equipping their homes with S/M paraphernalia and dungeons, but Day remained the most visible private practitioner. Offshoots of his social circle still exist in contemporary east coast S/M circles (Bienvenu, 1998). The public visibility of S/M iconography increased with its presence in mainstream cheesecake magazines, but the fear of discrimination, harassment and legal prosecution compelled the S/M producer/practitioner networks to remain underground. A number of S/M producers were imprisoned on obscenity charges and driven out of business by the burden of continuous legal investigations from the Post Office, FBI, state and local law enforcement agencies, and social morality groups (Bienvenu, 1998). In efforts to avoid prosecution, S/M producers began censoring themselves, withholding images that included pubic hair, heel heights over three inches, and men and women together in sexual situations (Bienvenu, 1998). 151

Kathy Sisson Burtman was the only early S/M producer with sufficient resources and legal advisors to survive these investigations (Bienvenu, 1998). His nationwide S/M erotica distribution network included mail order catalogues, correspondence publications, books, magazines, photographs, and the first 35mm mass distributed fetish feature film, Satan in High Heels. His expansive social circle included Harrison, Day, Klaw, Guyette, Coutts, as well as professional dominatrices, transsexual stage performers, and numerous private practitioners (Bienvenu, 1998). Like Klaw, Burtman’s photographs of Bettie Page helped leverage him into popular culture and, in the 1960s, he successfully transitioned into mainstream pornography. Legal prosecution of US S/M producers intensified in the 1950s, until the Warren Court began its increasingly liberal obscenity interpretations. Roth v. US, 354 US 476 (1957) narrowed definitions of obscenity and added the ‘prurient interest’ criterion. Manual Enterprises Inc. v. Day, 370 US 478 (1962) added ‘patently offensive’ to obscenity criteria. A Book Named ‘John Cleland’s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure’ v. Attorney General of Massachusetts, 383 US 413 (1966) rearticulated these rulings and established three criteria for determining obscenity: (1) that the dominant theme of the material taken as a whole appeals to a prurient interest in sex; (2) that the material is patently offensive because it affronts contemporary community standards; and (3) the material is utterly without socially redeeming value. (In Miller v. California, 413 US 15 (1973), the Burger Court added the ‘SLAPS’ test to obscenity criteria, ruling that only material lacking serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value could be characterised as obscene.) These rulings changed law enforcement agencies’ policies and facilitated the growth of an increasingly explicit pornography industry. S/M iconography began appearing in popular pornographic movies, magazines and books, and a burgeoning pornography industry engulfed many small, independent S/M erotica producers. Yet, despite the Warren Court’s rulings, the FBI and Post Office continued investigating and charging the remaining small S/M erotica producers with obscenity (Bienvenu, 1998). Attempting to thwart these investigations, small publishers masked their S/M-themed works as pseudo-scientific, psychological essays on human sexual behaviour (R. Roberts, personal communication, 2000). But ultimately, independent S/M producers became increasingly disadvantaged in the marketplace. Several technological and marketing shifts in the 1960s further eroded the small, independent S/M producers’ roles. S/M equipment and apparel became cheaper and easier to mass produce with the introduction of PVC and less expensive, more versatile leather. ‘House of Milan’ opened in the U.S. as the first public retail outlet for fetish clothes and equipment, a precedent which lead to the increasing availability of S/M products.2 And mass media’s increasing role as cultural choreographer facilitated the popularisation of fetish as fashion. Haute couture designers and photographers, particularly Yves St. Laurent, Helmut Newton and Vogue, began featuring S/Mmotifs, PVC and leather into their work. Television shows introduced characters clad in latex and leather, most notably Emma Peel in The Avengers. Stage 3: Communities (1970s–1980s) The 1960s’ cultural shifts facilitated the formation of S/M communities in the early 1970s. Communities began forming around nascent S/M support groups. Two of the earliest groups remain the largest in the US. The Eulenspiegal Society (TES) formed in New York in 1971, and the Society of Janus (SOJ) formed in San Francisco in 1974.

2 One of most enduring links between successive generations of S/M producers, House of Milan’s original catalogue was published by Burtman, and his cousin, Yogi Klein, was its principle co-founder (Bienvenu, 1998). House of Milan’s successor company, HOM, publishes contemporary fetish erotica in California.


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The cultural formation of S/M: History and analysis Although both groups began as pansexual S/M support organisations, their memberships became increasingly heterosexual within the first several years of their formation. The HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s further divided the gay, lesbian and heterosexual S/M communities. The following discussion focuses on San Francisco S/M community formation which, while distinct, is also illustrative of S/M cultural formation patterns occurring more generally throughout the decade. Society of Janus (SOJ) and San Francisco S/M community formation Cynthia Slater, a bisexual, professional dominatrix (Weymouth, 1999) organised SOJ. She drew initial members from pre-existing, unaffiliated S/M networks – primarily gay men from the leather community (Weymouth, 1999). These early members’ goals were to develop an educational S/M support group and to sponsor regular S/M ‘play parties’ (parties at which S/M practitioners socialise and engage in S/M interactions). They established rules of conduct and guidelines for S/M interactions, conducted orientations for new members, and began providing educational programmes on safety and techniques (Weymouth, 1999). Initially SOJ members met in private apartments, and SOJ remained underground for the first several years. By the late 1970s, SOJ secured meeting space in a number of different public venues, ranging from bar backrooms to liberal churches and sex clubs, and gradually emerged into the public view. SOJ encountered organisational obstacles in addition to the ideological and personality conflicts endemic to most embryonic organisations. It attracted a disproportionate number of men to women, and found it difficult to increase female membership. Women comprised roughly 1/9 of members regularly attending early meetings; the dearth of female members extended well into the 1980s (Weymouth, 1999). To encourage female participation, in 1976 SOJ formed a women’s outreach group called Cardea (Weymouth, 1999). Cardea arranged venues for S/M-curious women to socialise, ask questions and explore their S/M interests.3 SOJ also solicited potential female members by posting flyers, advertising in local magazines, and face-to-face referrals (Weymouth, 1999). Additionally, heterosexual S/M practitioners, having emerged from the small, covert, S/M practitioner networks of the preceding decades, were reluctant to ‘come out’ about their S/M interests and risk legal persecution or the loss of social privilege (Weymouth, 1999). Gay men from the leather community had been out about their S/M orientations for decades and were seemingly less concerned (Weymouth, 1999). But, by the mid-1980s, heterosexual male and female membership began to increase; SOJ’s composition shifted; and gay, lesbian and heterosexual S/M practitioners moved into discrete communities. Stage 4: Social movement (1980s–1990s) By the early 1980s, the public visibility of SOJ, other S/M organisations, and S/M sexuality in general began increasing considerably. Several social phenomena in the ensuing decade politicised the discrete gay, lesbian and heterosexual S/M communities, and by the end of the 1980s, these communities coalesced into a larger social movement, demanding to participate in the cultural sexual discourse. Influences in the 1980s included a rapid expansion in S/M’s local, national and international cultural visibility, the HIV/AIDS crisis, a second wave of technological change, and the emergence of S/M activism. Cultural visibility Locally, in the San Francisco Bay Area, the cultural visibility of S/M communities grew rapidly in the 1980s. Other S/M organisations began forming and holding S/M play

3 In 1978, Cardea morphed into another all-female S/M support group, Samois. These two groups anchored the formation of San Francisco’s lesbian S/M community (Cameron, 2002).

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Kathy Sisson parties, meetings, orientations and educational programmes. In 1982, SOJ began publishing a monthly calendar to keep practitioners informed of the increasing number of Bay Area S/M community events (Weymouth, 1999). A public television documentary, One Foot Out Of The Closet (1980), was the first television programme in San Francisco to investigate S/M (Weymouth, 1999). Its conclusion that S/M practitioners were not especially different from any other group, ‘cracked open the bubble of the underground’ (K. Sunlove in Weymouth, 1999, p.20) bringing S/M practice and practitioners new public visibility. Several S/M events debuting in San Francisco in the 1980s have become urban tradition. The annual Folsom Street Fair is perhaps the most renown. The fair, a five block celebration of the leather/S/M communities, originated in 1984; it now ranks as the third largest public gathering in California, attracting 400,000 aficionados from across the globe (Mickic, 2005). SOJ and other S/M organisations sponsor charity fundraising events during the fair. In 1986, SOJ also provided its first organised contingent in the Gay Freedom Day Parade, and continues the annual tradition. Flea markets, bondage beauty pageants, slave auctions and a variety of special play parties debuting in the 1980s occur regularly throughout the Bay Area. Nationally and internationally, S/M support groups proliferated, organised and coalesced with increasing economic, social and political power in the 1980s. The National Leather Association formed in 1986 to provide information about S/M, support for political activism, and outreach education for law enforcement and the media. In 1989, Tony DeBlase designed the leather flag, a continuing symbol for the leather/S/M community worldwide. The Leather Archives and Museum, devoted to preserving and documenting S/M history, opened in Chicago in 1996. The National Coalition of Sexual Freedom (NCSF), a USbased non-profit S/M and sexual minority 154 advocacy organisation formed in 1997. S/M conventions even began booking conference space in corporate hotels and holding play parties in the hotel ballrooms. Media presence and technological change S/M’s media presence increased dramatically in the 1980s and 1990s. The S/M communities’ proliferation and coalescence generated increasing media attention and commerce of its own, and corporations began to recognise the marketing appeal of S/M iconography and narratives. Mainstream publishers released S/M-themed books, no longer disguised as pseudopsychological studies. Memoirs, scientific research, instructive/educational manuals and essays about various aspects of S/M appeared in libraries and on mainstream bookstore shelves. Major studios produced a number of popular movies incorporating S/M themes and iconography: 9 1 2 Weeks / (1986), Blue Velvet (1986), Basic Instinct (1992), Exit to Eden (1994), Pulp Fiction (1994), Paris France (1994) and 8 mm (1999). And corporate advertising campaigns (Haagen-Dazs ice cream, Ma Griffe perfume, Boddington’s beer) incorporated S/M iconography as they pursued innovative marketing strategies that transmogrified risk into commodity for an audience jaded by mainstream sexual imagery (Beckman, 2001). The second wave of technological change centred on the internet. With internet access, individuals unable or unwilling to access established S/M organisations could acquire wide-ranging information about S/M. The internet provided new contact strategies, cyber venues and chat rooms for like-minded individuals to meet, and even play online. It also spawned the formation of ‘munches,’ frequent, informal gatherings, usually convened in local restaurants, for individuals with S/M interests to meet and socialise. The first munch was organised on the internet in 1992 by an American woman who later became a SOJ member (Weymouth, 1999). The concept took hold Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

The cultural formation of S/M: History and analysis and munches now flourish nationally and internationally. Other technological and marketing shifts also impacted S/M’s cultural expansion. Inexpensive, readily available plastics and power tools made home production of S/M equipment and apparel more feasible. And mass produced, commercial S/M products proliferated, made ever more accessible through online sales and explicit mail order catalogues. HIV/AIDS and S/M activism In San Francisco, in the early 1980s, the increase in heterosexual male SOJ members changed the groups’ focus and composition; and by mid-decade, the HIV/AIDS epidemic intensified the emigration of gay, lesbian and heterosexual S/M practitioners into discrete communities. SOJ’s new heterosexual members brought widely divergent S/M interests, some of which fell outside the original gay male members’ definitions of S/M (Weymouth, 1999). When the HIV/AIDS crisis erupted, some heterosexuals feared contracting the disease from gay men at S/M play parties, and gay men felt increasingly less welcome at pansexual S/M events (Weymouth, 1999). As heterosexual membership increased, gay male membership declined and many gay men returned to the leather community. Pansexual S/M events virtually disappeared and the larger Bay Area S/M community lost scores of its most knowledgeable leaders to HIV/AIDS. By the mid-1980s, SOJ was primarily a heterosexual organisation (Weymouth, 1999). However, the HIV/AIDS crisis also raised sexual minority communities’ political consciousness, galvanising and politicising particularly the gay and lesbian communities nationally and internationally. S/M activism emerged from the confluence of the HIV/AIDS crisis, S/M’s growing public visibility, S/M organisations’ more voluble public voice, and S/M practitioners’ escalating experiences with discrimination and legal prosecution. S/M activism has focused on public education, legal prosecuLesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3 tion and, more recently, mental health issues. As S/M’s cultural visibility has grown, its practitioners have encountered a corresponding increase in discrimination, harassment, and legal prosecution on consent, obscenity and assault charges. NCSF conducted the National Violence and Discrimination Survey of S/M, leather and fetish communities in 1998. It found that of 1017 respondents, 36 per cent reported incidents of harassment and/or violence, and 30 per cent reported incidents of discrimination involving employment and/or child custody (National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, 1998). NCSF Incident Response Overviews from 2002 and 2003 suggest these experiences continue. Other S/M practitioners have reported loss of employment, child custody privileges and security clearances (Moser, 1988). S/M activists work to educate the public, law enforcement and media about S/M in order to reduce such incidents. Two particular areas of interest are: (a) legal prosecution; and (b) depathologisation. (a) Recent legal cases involving S/M have focused on consent and obscenity issues. Contemporary S/M organisations promote and share the behavioural code, ‘safe, sane and consensual’ (Miller & Devon, 1995; Brame, 1996). According to S/M community standards, only consensual S/M interactions constitute S/M; non-consensual interactions constitute abuse (Moser & Madeson, 1996; Miller & Devon, 1995; Brame, 1996). Therefore, legal cases interpreting consent bear directly on S/M practitioners’ ability to engage in their desired behaviour. Recent consent-related cases have raised two intertwined issues: whether consensual S/M interactions constitute assault, and whether an individual can legally consent to assault. In England, in 1980, the judge in the Spanner trial convicted five gay men practicing consensual S/M of serious assault. The House of Lords upheld the convictions on appeal, declining to make an exception in existing English law that allows individuals to 155

Kathy Sisson consent to assault or bodily harm in the service of public benefit (surgery, contact sports, military training) (Farshea, 1999). Moreover, under English law, individuals who consent to receptive S/M may be charged having aided and abetted the assault on their own person (Farshea, 1999) – see also Chaline’s interview with a Spanner trustee, this issue. Jovanovic and Attleboro were seminal US cases involving consent and assault issues, and served to politicise S/M communities nationwide. The judge in the 1998 Jovanovic case also ruled that consent was no defence to assault. However, an appeals court overturned the ruling on evidentiary grounds. Oliver Jovanovic recently filed suit against New York City for false arrest and malicious prosecution. In the 2000 Attleboro case, a woman was charged with possession of a dangerous weapon (a wooden spoon) and assault, despite the testimony of her partner that their interactions were consensual. The charges stemmed from a police raid of a private party in Attleboro MA. After considerable publicity the charges were eventually dropped. The highest level recent obscenity case appears destined for the US Supreme Court. Nitke v. Ashcroft, filed by the NCSF in 2001, challenges the use of ‘local community standards’ to define obscenity on the internet. The clause is part of the 1996 Communications Decency Act. Testimony concluded in late 2004. The ruling is pending and both sides have already declared their intention to appeal. The harassment and legal prosecution levelled against S/M practitioners has galvanised and politicised S/M communities nationally and internationally. Just as Stonewall politicised the gay and lesbian rights movement, these events and cases have impelled S/M community activists to begin advocating for equal protection under the law and freedom from discrimination. In pursuit of these goals, S/M activists have recently turned their energies to interrogating the mental health profession’s diagnoses of sexual sadism and sexual masochism as pathology. 156 (b) The American Psychiatric Association (APA) diagnoses sexual sadism and sexual masochism as paraphiliac sexual disorders (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – DSM-IV-TR, 2000). However, several researchers have challenged the assumption that S/M practitioners exhibit poor mental health, or are markedly different than the general population in ways other than their sexual preferences. Gosselin et al. (1991) administered the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire to 57 S/M-identified women and found that, although the women showed ‘high psychoticism, low neuroticism and high libido traditionally associated with a stereotypic ‘male’ image … this is not to say that the behaviour of S/M women should be regarded as pathological …’ (Gosselin et al., 1991, pp.14–15). Breslow (1987) conducted studies of dominants/sadists, masochists/submissives, and S/M practitioners who assume both roles. He administered the Rotter’s Internal vs. External Locus of Control, and Burger and Cooper’s Desirability of Control Inventories, and found that all three groups believed ‘that they are capable of exercising control over their environment,’ as measured by the former, and ‘fell into the category of high desire for control’ on the latter (Breslow, 1987, p.999). In general, belief in one’s ability to control his/her environment indicates a more positive level of mental health (Yalom, 1988). Moser (1998) concludes that although ‘S/M practitioners, like members of any other sexual orientation, can have psychiatric problems … they have not been shown to have any particular psychiatric problems or even any unique problems associated with their orientation’ (pp.53, 57). He also notes that the DSM-IV-TR ’s diagnostic criteria for paraphiliac behaviour is so broad as to apply to nearly everyone (Moser, 2001). Moser and others are currently working to have sexual sadism, sexual masochism and the other paraphilias removed entirely from the DSM (Moser, 2002; Moser & Kleinplatz, in press). Iconoclastic researchers suggest that diagnoses of mental illness are essentially Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

The cultural formation of S/M: History and analysis social constructions used to control behaviour not conforming to the cultural norm (Levine, 1986; Moser, 2001; Szasz, 1974). DSM diagnoses influence the criminal justice system, the medical profession, public policy, the media and public opinion. Culturally, the pathologisation of consensual S/M may impede social acceptance of a sexual outlet that research indicates may be benign for many practitioners. Individually, pathologisation may contribute to internalised, negative self-images among S/M practitioners. Echoing the removal of homosexuality from the DSM in 1973, researchers, clinicians and activists are beginning to challenge the DSM diagnosis of sadism and masochism. Stage 5: Sexual culture (2000–present) The model of cultural function and formation this paper proposes defines sexual culture as a collective system of meanings and practices which emerges from historically specific social and psychological conditions. It posits that sexual cultures evolve through a five-stage developmental sequence and perform certain functions for their members. The preceding historical overview suggests that S/M cultural formation has been inextricably linked with the surrounding social and psychological climate, and conforms to the proposed cultural formation model. Additionally, S/M communities and organisations appear to perform the functions predicted by the cultural function model. Therefore, this paper suggests that an embryonic S/M sexual culture emerged in the late 1990s. The following analysis summarises the ways in which the S/M communities and organisations comprising S/M sexual culture perform the cultural functions. Cultural functions Contemporary S/M communities and organisations provide certain cultural functions for their members. In various ways they: (1) demarcate boundaries; (2) provide a story of origin; (3) establish codes of behaviour; (4) Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3 create a system of shared meanings; (5) provide a means of social reproduction; and (6) generate sexual identity. First, boundaries between inside and outside S/M culture create ‘safe’ spaces for practitioners to acknowledge publicly their S/M interests and to engage in S/M practice. S/M support groups, play parties, S/M conventions, S/M-oriented public events, S/M-friendly businesses, S/M-friendly therapists, and S/M-themed publications and art all provide non-judgmental, protected environments for S/M practitioners. Second, many S/M organisations, including SOJ, chronicle their stories of origin in written and oral histories. E-mail lists devoted to discussing S/M/leather history exist online. Scholars and S/M practitioners have written numerous books and articles on historical aspects of S/M practice. The Leather Archives and Museum’s stated mission is to document and preserve S/M/leather history. And the Museum of Sex in New York mounted an historical overview of S/M at its opening in 2002. Third, the overarching credo of S/M behaviour, safe, sane and consensual, is widely recognised and respected by S/M practitioners (Brame, 1996; Easton & Liszt, 2000; Miller & Devon, 1995). Guidelines for S/M interactions, including preliminary negotiations about what will transpire, a ‘safe word’ which halts or slows S/M play, and ‘aftercare’ arrangements for monitoring participants’ post-play reactions, are de rigueur (Easton & Liszt, 2000; Wiseman, 1996). Individuals known to violate the guidelines are often marginalised by local S/M communities and expelled from S/M events (Brame, 1996). Fourth, S/M practitioners share a system of meanings about their sexual behaviour, ‘which are culturally produced, learned and reinforced by participation in the S/M subculture’ (Weinberg, 1987, pp.51–52). S/M interactions are understood to be consensual, collaborative and mutually defined; and they occur within a context of sexual expression, role-play and fantasy (Patrias, 1978; Weinberg et al., 1984). Fifth, 157

Kathy Sisson to facilitate new members’ entry to S/M culture, many S/M organisations offer orientation meetings and mentoring programs. Orientations usually provide a history of the organisation, a forum for questions, and explanations about its rules, guidelines, and educational and social resources. Mentoring programmes pair new members with more experienced members to smooth the integration process. The system of munches also provides safe and supportive environments for newcomers, as well as public access for the curious. Finally, researchers theorise that sexual identity generates in relation to sexual culture, through historical and personal narratives, social interactions, educational processes, exclusionary boundaries, and culturally-specific vocabularies (Herdt, 1997; Hostetler & Herdt, 1998; Irvine, 1994; Plummer, 1995; Rubin, 1984; Taylor, 1996; Weeks, 1981). Accordingly, this paper posits that S/M as a sexual identity generates in relation to contemporary S/M’s cultural functions, and is available as one of the new, post-modern sexual identities based on internal subjectivity. Akin to Hostetler’s and Herdt’s (1998) observations about queer identity and culture, S/M practitioners may move fluidly in and out of the various roles available within S/M culture4; and they may hold S/M as one of multiple, simultaneous sexual identities or as a primary, more fixed sexual identity that takes priority over their partners’ sex or gender (Califia, 1994; Moser, 1998). Akin to Plummer’s (1995) suggestion about the role of personal narrative in sexual identity formation, S/M practitioners’ draw upon narratives forged in a complex nexus of S/M cultural experiences to constitute their chosen, and changeable, S/M sexual identities. share a reflexive relationship. Nineteenthcentury social transformations created a fertile environment for the formation of S/M practitioner networks and the subsequent formation of S/M sexual culture. As work moved from home to industry, new power relations emerged between employer and employee, and complex power dynamics became a ubiquitous feature of modern society. Social organisation and sexuality grew increasingly complex as well. New possibilities for lifestyles, sexual relations, employment, leisure time and autonomy gave impetus to the formation of a variety of new social networks. As S/M practice and ideology became more publicly visible, it, in turn, impacted on the larger culture. Several researchers have explored the nexus of this modernisation process and S/M practice. Baumeister (1988) observed that increasingly complex social conditions of modernisation created anxiety and pressure as individuals shouldered new responsibilities, public personas, decisions and competition. He suggested that masochistic interactions may have provided temporary relief. Masochistic interactions would provide ‘a temporary and powerful escape from high-level awareness of self as an abstract, temporally extended, symbolically constructed identity, to a low-level, temporally constricted awareness of self as physical body, focusing on immediate sensations (both painful and pleasant) and on being a sexual object (Baumeister, 1988, p.54). By temporarily adopting a masochistic identity, individuals could escape the ‘burden of selfhood’ and achieve respite from the demands of modern society. Gephard (1969) also related S/M practice to the increasing complexity of industrialised society. He suggested that ‘sadomasochism … seems the monopoly of well-developed civilisations;’ and that ‘it may be that a society must be extremely complex and heavily reliant upon symbolism before

S/M’s role in contemporary culture

S/M practice and the cultural conditions in which it evolved over the past two centuries

4 S/M practitioners self-identify by numerous labels. Top/bottom, dominant/submissive, master/slave, sadist/masochist and switch are perhaps the most common. Most practitioners identify as switch, meaning they alternate between the dominant and submissive roles (Breslow, Evans & Langley, 1985, 1986; Moser, 1988; Spengler, 1977).


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The cultural formation of S/M: History and analysis the inescapable repressions and frustrations of life in such a society can be expressed symbolically in sadomasochism’ (Gephard, 1969, p.80). Weinberg (1994) suggests six pre-requisite social criteria for the institutionalisation of S/M interests into S/M culture: embedded power relations, social acceptance of aggression, unequal power distribution, leisure time, imagination and creativity. However, these theories do not fully account for the late 20th century’s dramatic acceleration of S/M cultural formation. Other theorists have suggested that unique 20th century social conditions may have facilitated this stage of S/M’s cultural development. McClintock (1993) suggests S/M is a uniquely well-suited sexuality for postmodern, post-procreative society because it flaunts socially constructed power, gender roles, identity and eroticism. McClintock proposes several ways in which S/M accomplishes this: (1) S/M subverts reified social power relations by creating and enacting exaggerated power roles, and by appropriating the privilege to punish; (2) S/M challenges the boundaries of sanctioned gender role behaviour by allowing either gender to assume dominant and submissive roles; (3) S/M mocks the concept of a unitary, fixed identity by allowing participants to move fluidly in and out of an S/M sexual identity, and by facilitating participants’ adoption of various fantasy and S/M roles; and (4) S/M deconstructs the paradigm of genitally oriented eroticism by utilising non-genital, non-erogenous sites on the body for sexual arousal. Foucault (1982) observed that in postsexual revolution, post-procreative societies, sexual encounters are easily arranged, eliding the novelty, uncertainty and tension that leant drama to sexual interactions in the past. In this context, he viewed S/M as a power game to heighten sexual intensity. Lee (1979) also viewed S/M sex as a game, as the epitome and ritualisation of recreational sex. The ritualised nature of S/M may also help explain S/M culture’s late 20th century Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3 appeal. The 1960s initiated a period of social upheaval that extended to the century’s close. The Vietnam War and Watergate eroded public trust in political leaders. The civil rights movement radically reorganised racial relations. The sexual revolution undermined traditional concepts of interpersonal, romantic relationships. The second wave of feminism ushered in new types of gender relations. The gay and lesbian rights movement challenged the hegemonic heterosexual paradigm. A new sexual identity schema based on individual subjectivity confounded the established binary - homosexual or heterosexual – sexual identity system. Post-modern, social constructionist and deconstructionist theory eroded the comfortable foundation of objective truth. HIV/AIDS created terror around genitally-oriented sexual behaviours. The traditional ideologies crumbled and chaos lurked in the rubble. The ritual of S/M interactions, the exaggerated, clearly defined power roles, the explicit codes of conduct, the liturgic, ‘theatrical iconography of punishment and expiation’ (McClintock, 1993, p.106), may provide S/M practitioners with a temporary reimposition of order amidst late 20th century social turbulence. It appears that the tumultuous late 20th century has also created a mainstream consumer populace receptive to avant-garde representations of transgression, power, sexuality and risk. To this end, corporate America has profited from its appropriation of S/M iconography into fashion, art, media, literature, retail and entertainment. Coburn (1977) described the phenomenon as ‘S/M chic.’ S/M scenes and innuendos appear in movies ranging from Naked Gun 331 3 to Secre/ tary. Certain celebrities (Madonna, Angelina Jolie) feel comfortable openly discussing their S/M interests. Vogue, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Helmut Lang bring S/M iconography to haute couture. Popular fashion integrates black leather, boots, collars, and other apparel evocative of S/M practice. Mainstream media openly discuss S/M topics. And the internet offers a myriad 159

Kathy Sisson of websites, chat rooms and newsgroups specialising in various aspects of S/M. This proliferation of S/M iconography in mainstream culture mirrors the emergence of S/M as a sexual culture. Over the last three decades, the public visibility of S/M iconography and ideology has increased dramatically. This has been due, in part, to S/M communities’ increasing organisational strength and S/M practitioners’ increasing advocacy. However, transformative social events occurred simultaneously which created a culture increasingly receptive to S/M iconography and ideology. The reflexive relationship S/M practice has shared with the surrounding social conditions for the past two centuries has culminated in a trend toward the ‘mainstreaming’ of S/M. cultures respond to other formative sexual minority cultures’ advocacy for a voice in the cultural discourse? Other sexual minority networks and communities have acquired public visibility in recent years, greatly facilitated by the internet. National and international networks of aficionados engage in furry sex, plushy sex, messy sex, crush fetishes, balloonism and many other understudied sexual practices5. Whether their roles in the larger culture will eventually match the one S/M practice has played remains unclear. However, studying sexual minority practices leads to a broader understanding of human sexuality in general. This paper presents a new theoretical model of cultural function and formation, which proved useful in framing a history and analysis of S/M cultural formation. Its utility in this undertaking recommends it as a model for organising and understanding the historical evolution of other sexual minority communities, which remain similarly understudied.


Future research is recommended to investigate the impact that cultural receptivity to S/M iconography and ideology may have on S/M practice. Will S/M practice lose some, or all, of its stigma? Will the mainstreaming of S/M dilute the sexual heat of taboo for some practitioners? Will engaging in S/M behaviour become a more permissible sexual outlet? Will more individuals experiment with S/M? Will S/M culture’s shared meanings and range of behaviours shift? SM also initiates speculation about the nature of sexual cultures in general. How would achieving the goals most sexual minority activists share – ending discrimination, obtaining equal protection under the law, and securing freedom to engage in private, consensual sexual interactions – affect their various sexual communities? How would sexual cultures that position themselves outside, or in opposition to, the heterosexual, monogamous, ‘vanilla’ paradigm, assimilate greater mainstream acceptance? How would newly enfranchised sexual


Kathy Sisson, MA, is an independent scholar in California. She is on the Board of Directors of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality and currently serves as programme chair for its Western region. She is also on the Board of Advisors for the Woodhull Freedom Foundation, an international sexual advocacy organisation. Her research focuses on alternative sexualities. Portions of this article appeared previously in American Sexuality Magazine and are reprinted here with permission. Copyright ©2005 National Sexuality Resource Center/San Francisco State University. Kathy Sisson 640 Fathom Drive, San Mateo, CA 94404. E-mail: kisson@comcast.net.

5 The variety of human sexual expression seems infinite. Furry and plushy sexuality involves anthropomorphism: in furry sex, individuals engage in sexual interactions wearing animal costumes; plushy sexuality involves sexual contact with stuffed animals. Messy sexuality involves slathering various substances – often food, but also including mud, oil, paint, etc. – over the body. Crush fetishes involve sexual gratification from witnessing female feet crush insects. Balloonism is the eroticisation of rubber balloons.


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The cultural formation of S/M: History and analysis

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Visions of sadomasochism as a Nazi erotic
Alison M. Moore
This article examines claims about sadomasochism as a Fascist erotic, and argues that in all cases these rest upon a series of historically inaccurate assumptions about Fascism, and upon a perpetuation of pathologising approaches to sadomasochistic desire. The role of fantasies of Fascism in the activation of repressed desires of sexual domination should be recognised as a sign of the taboo that surrounds the broader historical memory of the Holocaust in the contemporary world. Moreover since Nazism is understood as the ultimate political perversion of the modern age, evoking it also functions as a rhetorical device in arguments aimed at pathologising both political and sexual enemies. Keywords: Fascism, Nazism, the Holocaust, radical feminism, sadomasochism.


ONTEMPORARY SADOMASOCHISTS in the Western world have at various times received both open and implied criticism for their use of an aesthetic deemed reminiscent of Nazism. Such accusations have been made by American radical feminist critics and anti-pornography campaigners, by right-wing literature scholars, by historians of Nazi sexuality and, most famously, by the contemporary cultural critic Susan Sontag in her analysis of American gay SM/leather culture as an extension of the aesthetic allure of the cinema of Leni Riefenstahl, in the 1975 ‘New York Review of Books’ article that has since seen multiple republication over the past 30 years (see Sontag, 1980). The grounds on which SM practitioners are charged with inheriting the erotic universe of Fascism varies considerably according to the motives and level of reflection of the critic. But that such a broad consensus exists claiming some inherent correspondence between the two phenomena warrants deeper inquiry. The aim of this paper is to unpack the complex tangle of assumptions that has allowed for such an equation to be made repeatedly and to examine the way in which this uniquely recent form of pathologisation of SM has impacted upon Leather/SM groups within lesbian and gay communities. The ‘SM as fascism’ myth is frequently based upon historically inaccurate assump-

tions about Fascist sexual politics, assuming the Nazis to have been predominantly bisexual or homosexual, perverse and sadomasochistic, or drawing upon ill-informed stereotypes of sadomasochistic desire as a replication of real-life violence and abuse. Aside from those who directly criticise sadomasochistic practices as fascistic, there is also the broader level at which connections have been drawn between the two across a variety of cultural media. Nazis as perverse and perverts as Fascist are thus two distinct themes that have fed into each other in circular manner, creating a pervasive but rarely questioned perception of continuity. While the implications of sexually demonising Nazism has been the subject of recent discussion by historians and cultural critics (most notably Dean, 2004), these debates have never considered the corresponding problem of how the association of Nazism with sadomasochism has affected self-identifying sadomasochists (see, for instance, Rapaport, 2003; Bartov, 1997; Slade, 1997). In fact the historical pathologisation of SM as Fascist has had direct implications for lesbian and gay SM communities as reflected in two distinct fields of discussion that occurred amongst gay leather men and SM lesbians in America: While lesbian and bisexual women, many of whom identified as radical feminists, associated with the San Francisco group SAMOIS were called upon to account for their supposedly fascistic 163

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Alison M. Moore desire by some radical feminist critics of SM during the 1980s and 1990s, in the same period debate about pornographic exploitation of Nazi symbols such as the swastika emerged among American gay leathermen. None of this indicates that the question of the eroticisation of Nazism is specifically relevant to bisexuals, lesbians and gay men. The use of the Nazi past in imagined scenarios of sexual domination and submission has been a staple of overwhelmingly heterosexual pornography, b-grade and cult film since the 1960s popular in the US, Britain, Australia as well as in Italy and Israel (though banned in Germany). But while Naziesque fantasies can be found across all sexual orientations, it has been specifically lesbian and gay communities that have directly addressed the problem of eroticised Nazism in relation to SM fantasy and play. It must be emphasised then that while there is nothing especially queer about the SM-asFascism problematic, the debates about it have been more directly addressed by lesbians and gays, precisely because of the issues it has raised within these communities about self-representation in the struggle for societal acceptance of homosexuality. By broaching the problem of fascistic pathologisation of SM in this way I hope also to spark a less hysterical discussion of the very intriguing instances in which sadomasochist desire does indeed employ Fascist or pseudofascistic imagery. The debates about Nazism and SM within lesbian and gay communities in North America reveal that what is often being contested in such discussions are more fundamental problems concerning how much gays and lesbians should compromise libidinal expression for the sake of acceptability, for the sake of debunking pathologising myths, or for the sake of a vision of sex as something instrumental in social revolutionary transformation (see Kantrowitz in Thompson (Ed.), 1991, p.208). masochistic have been ubiquitous in popular and scholarly representations of Nazism. This is related to a broader phenomenon in which a vast body of intellectual speculation has linked the Nazis and the Italian fascisti to some form of heterosexual ‘disfunction’ and aggressive ‘perversion’ (see Herzog, 2002, p.3, also Herzog, 2005; Frost, 2002). This speculation began from the very time the Nazi party came to power: Wilhelm Reich’s analysis of the appeal of Fascism depicted Nazi followers as seduced by the mystical collectivity that Nazism promised as a refuge from the sexual danger that communism was imagined to represent, and as a deviation from heterosexual normativity (Reich, 1970, p.129. See also Hewitt, 1996, p.22). Wartime British and Soviet propaganda at the moment of Hitler’s demise generated rumours of sexual perversion and physical abnormality in claims that Hitler was a urolagnic, that he had only one testicle, or, in later accounts, that he had a sadomasochistic and incestuous relationship with his niece Geli Raubel which drove her to her suicide (see Redlich, 1999, pp.218–219, 229, 375). Such attempts to demonise Nazism by associating it with sexual practices deemed perverse have also frequently taken the form of claims about Nazism and homosexual desire (see Dean 2004, pp.123–126, also Halle, 1995, and Hewitt, 1996). Writing immediately after the Second World War, c.1945, Theodor Adorno critiqued Nazism as inherently homosexual, claiming that ‘Totalitarianism and homosexuality belong together’, by virtue of a virile misogyny he assumed them both to share (Adorno, 1974, pp.45–46; see also Hewitt, 1997, pp.38–60). In the mammoth 1950 work by Adorno and other Frankfurt School philosophers, The Authoritarian Personality, an ‘underlying resentment against the other sex’ that is identified as a feature of the Fascist psyche is implied to extend into a male homosexual preference (Frenkel-Brunswick in Adorno et al., 1950, pp.404), and for both genders it is claimed there is a higher incidence of ‘specified practices’ and promiscuity, and a Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Post-war visions of the perverse Nazi past

Implicit invocations of Fascism as sado-

Visions of sadomasochism as a Nazi erotic ‘surface submission plus aggressioncastration’ in women (p.391). Homosexuality appears as a recurrent theme in Frankfurt School visions of Fascism, argues Andrew Hewitt, because in the threat of homosexual to heterosexual desire there is a metaphor of the threat to liberalism posed by Fascism (Hewitt, 1996, p.9). But throughout other fields of representation the sexuality imputed to Nazism is not merely homosexual but perverse in other ways, sadomasochistic in particular. Implications of Fascist homosexuality and sadomasochistic perversion are especially prevalent in Italian and American cinema of the post-war period. In Roberto Rossellini’s Roma Città Aperta (Rome Open City, 1945) the evil Gestapo officer pursuing the film’s protagonists is played in a distinctly camp manner by Harry Feist; his accomplice Ingrid is a gaunt but glamourous vampiric ice-maiden implied to be the lesbian seducer and drug pusher of the frivolous Marina whose indulgence, love of luxury and narcissism lead her to denounce her ex-lover Giorgio, a communist resistance leader, to Ingrid and the SS. Homosexuality, drugs and decadence are clearly aligned in the film with Fascism and Nazism, in opposition to the virility, Catholicism, virtuousness and heterosexuality of the resistance. Cinematic visions of Fascist sexuality frequently invoke sadomasochism and homosexuality simultaneously. In Liliana Cavani’s Il Portiere Di Notte (The Night Porter, 1974), the ex-Nazi SS officer at the centre of the narrative (played by Dirk Bogarde) is shown sodomising men in his concentration camp past, as well as binding, beating and sexually dominating his ex-prisoner Lucia (played by Charlotte Rampling) when they are reunited in the present tense of the film. Numerous other films could be cited in a discussion of sexually pathologised visions of Nazism, from the theme of sexual decadence in Tinto Brass’ Salon Kitty (1969), to the implied homosexuality, paedophilia and transvestism in Visconti’s La Caduta Degli Dei (The Damned, 1969), or most saliently, Pier Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3 Paolo Pasolini’s Salò (1975) which explicitly allorgised the decaying Italian Fascist regime of the 1943 Republic of Salò in an adaptation of de Sade’s Cent-vingt Journées de Sodome (120 Days of Sodom). Thus Pasolini’s fascisti became the libertine aristocrats of Sadein fantasy – bisexual, paedophilic, anally fetishistic, sadistic, coprophilic and ultimately murderous. More broadly still what has contributed to the slippages between Fascism/Nazism and sadomasochism is the use of sexualised terms like ‘sadism’ in Holocaust historiography to describe any apparently gratuitous violence inflicted upon victims by Nazi Gestapo and SS personnel. In invoking the name of de Sade to describe the torture that occurred in secret police interrogations and concentration camp punishments, the experience of the torturer is implied to be one of (perverse) sexual pleasure. However, nowhere do such texts ever present any evidence to suggest that the perpetrators really did experience their work in any way remotely connected to any kind of sexual desire, let alone a specifically sadomasochistic one. Thus for German ex-political prisoner Eugen Kogon writing in 1950, explicit description of the ‘perverted’ nature of Nazi crimes is seen as a risk because it might ‘satisfy esoteric tastes’ (Kogon, 1960, p.11). Kogon claimed that promotion within the SS was based primarily on the criteria of ‘sadism’ (p.31), and that ‘there was scarcely a form of perversion and sadism which the SA failed to practice.’ (p.34) For Lucy Dawidowicz, Nazism was driven by ‘sadists’ and its memory continues to inspire others to ‘sadistic’ violence (Dawidowicz, 1977, p.224). Abba Eban, the liberal Israeli exMinister of Foreign affairs, described violence against Palestinian refugees as ‘administered with ‘Nazi-like sadism.’’ (Time, 1983, p.36). For Aloysio Quintao Bello de Oliveira writing about Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi war criminal was ‘sadistic’ and ‘perverse’, experiencing genocidal killing as a kind of Lacanian ‘jouissance’ (Bello de Oliveira, 1999, pp.81–84). Clearly the use of 165

Alison M. Moore the word ‘sadist’ to describe non-consensual aggression and violence is a practice established by psychiatric and psychoanalytic writing since the word was first coined by Richard von Krafft-Ebing in 1894. In this way the pathologisation of a sexual desire has been asserted through a linguistic slippage that equates a particularly elusive variety of extreme non-consensual violence with the equally elusive consensual sex-play of sadomasochism. able is often a sexualised metaphor, ‘sadism’. Furthermore descriptions of such violence are experienced by many as a sort of sexualised assault on the reader because no other framework appears to account for the experience of rupture, violation and fascination such images invoke. Constructions of Nazism as a form of sexual pathology have also dominated psycho-historical analyses. In 1971 ‘psychohistorian’ Peter Loewenberg argued that a part of the attraction of inter-war German Youth to Nazism was a homosexual longing induced by the absence or humiliation of their fathers during the First World War (Loewenberg, 1971, pp.31, 47). Psychiatric biographer Fritz Redlich ascribes Hitler’s annihilationist antisemitism to anxieties surrounding his own sexual health and penile normality (Redlich, 1999). Klaus Theweleit’s Männerfantasien (1977–1978, translation Male Fantasies, 1987–1989) deconstructed the sexual repression of the post-war generation by showing its psychocultural continuity with the pre-Nazi Freikorps men’s anxieties about the viscousness of bodies, about women and about sexual danger. Sexuality historians remain deeply divided over the question of whether Nazism can be characterised as sexually repressive, conservative, traditionalist (Theweleit, 1987–1988; see also George Mosse, 1985), or radical, ambiguous, perverse (see Herzog, 2002). Specific historical debates about Nazi sexuality clearly operate on a different level to filmic and fictional representations or to more casual remarks that attempt to demonise Fascism through the use of sexual innuendo and homophobic stereotypes. Neither Loewenberg, Theweleit or Herzog are interested in trading on the nonrespectability of any kind of sexual desire in the service of a sensationalist image of Nazis. Clearly though the pervasive sense that Nazism can be explained sexually has fed into both academic and popular representation. Sexuality has been extensively invoked as the visor through which the hyper-aggression of Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Sexual alibis for the ‘unspeakability’ of the Holocaust

Some sadomasochists, in recognition of this problem have reverted to euphemisms such as Dominance and Submission, Bondage and Discipline, Sensual Magick, etc., in order to avoid being aligned with hateful killers (e.g. Brame et al., 1993; Graham Scott, 1994). But what is clear from reading broadly across various forms of Holocaust representation (historiography, testimony, cinema), is that while likening sadomasochism to the sexual practices of the Marquis de Sade may not always be satisfactory, likening genocidal killing to them is plainly inappropriate and yet bizarrely ubiquitous. As Andrew Hewitt has argued, Adorno’s famous claim to a void in language after the Holocaust requires emendation: the linguistic void is in fact around Nazism itself, and I would add a further emendation to Hewitt’s: the linguistic void is specifically around the experience of the Nazi perpetrator of genocide (see Hewitt, 1996, p.17). The sexualised metaphor of violence that the term ‘sadist’ represents acts as stand-in explanation for the perverse and unnamable experience of the genocidal killer. Thus the very rare historical works that have in fact focused on genocide-perpetrator motivation (e.g. Goldhagen, 1997) have invariably attracted inordinate public attention, and been accused of ‘voyeurism’ or ‘pornography’ in their graphic descriptions of violent acts (see Dean, 2004, pp.43–75). In the face of a void in language for describing extreme violence, the closest equation avail166

Visions of sadomasochism as a Nazi erotic Fascism/Nazism can be metaphoricised, explained, understood. And while the 1970s saw an explosion of sexualised representation of Nazism, the fascination has not been exhausted yet. In March 2004 a minor scandal erupted in the German press surrounding the publication of Thor Kunkel’s novel Endstufe (The Final Stage). Kunkel claims to have uncovered documentation that demonstrates that Nazi officials sponsored a minor pornography industry, and to have located one of the actresses who performed in a Nazi pornographic film in which she and another young woman appear bound to a tree, though debate has circulated as to the authenticity of the films Kunkel has provided as evidence (Berg, 2004). have insisted upon the supposedly inherent homosexuality of the Nazi party (see for instance Lively & Abrams, 1997; Lehrman, 2003). The initial Nazi tolerance of gay men in the Stürmabteilung (SA), prior to the assassination of the Eric Röhm faction, has proven to be the most common source of ‘evidence’ invoked to support a connection between Nazism, sadomasochism and male homosexuality, as well as contemporary sources in which Nazism and homosexuality are constructed as one and the same problem (see Lehrman, 2003, pp.50–52). Sadomasochism in these accounts is thrown in to the picture of Nazi homosexuality through vague allusions to ‘perverts’ and ‘mass perversion’ in Nazi society which, it is claimed, explains why the Nazis committed ‘sadistic torture, rape and murder’ (Ludwig Lewinson, 1933 cited by Lehrman, 2003, p.50). In these examples, the practice of sadomasochism is not directly stated but rather assumed as the natural predilection of the Nazis as homosexuals, a slippage, as I have shown, common in cinematic representations as well.

Invoking Nazism to construct sexual pathology

In a different variety of writing, homosexual and sadomasochistic qualities have been imputed to Nazism as a means to discredit not Nazism itself but rather sexual minority claims for societal acceptance. Since Nazism is understood as the ultimate evil of the modern age, evoking it often functions as a rhetorical device in reactionary arguments aimed at demonising any opponent (see Rosenfeld, 1985, p.109), and even from leftwing perspectives, as in 2002, when German Justice Minister Herta Däubler-Gmelin accused the Bush-junior administration of using Hitler tactics in Iraq (see Galen Carpenter, 2002, p.1008280). But in the English-speaking world since the late 1970s, with the rise of lesbian and gay mass political movements, evoking Nazism has also become an especially useful device for critics seeking to pathologise homosexual and sadomasochistic practices. In spite of a substantial body of thorough historical scholarship about the overwhelming Nazi persecution of homosexuality between 1934 and 1945, and in spite of the clear evidence that thousands of gay men and lesbians were killed in Nazi concentration camps (Lautmann, 1988; Plant, 1988; Micheler, 2002), homophobic ideologues Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

SM as the erotic aesthetic of Nazism?

Nazis as evil because sexually perverse, homosexuals and sadomasochists as unacceptable because perverse just like Nazis – the circular logic has thus been exploited for discrediting or demonising both groups. What then are some of the particularly clear examples of where sadomasochism has been explicitly rejected on the grounds of being proto-fascistic? Susan Sontag (1980) claimed that the visions of Nazism as evil, dark, demonic, powerful, death-driven, perverse, violent, cold and cruel bears an undeniable resemblance to the aesthetics of certain sadomasochistic fantasies. She further asked, ‘How could a regime that persecuted gay men become a gay turn-on?’ (Sontag, 1980, p.102). Sontag questioned the growing popularity of the Leatherman look in gay communities of SM which she viewed as representing a uniquely fascistic aesthetic: ‘The colour is black, the material is leather, 167

Alison M. Moore the seduction is beauty, the justification is honesty, the aim is ecstasy, the fantasy is death’ (p.30). Sontag’s claim, exaggerated and developed by later Radical Feminist critics (see below), is that by eroticising violence and abuse, sadomasochism resembles the seduction of populations by brutality that characterises the rise of Fascist regimes, hence ‘Between sadomasochism and Fascism there is a natural link’ (Sontag, 1980, p.103). Sontag’s observations are in fact rich, subtle and motivated by an open-minded curiosity about historical motifs within sadomasochistic fantasy. In much more blunt agenda-driven writing, however, invocations of Nazi sexuality appeared repeatedly in ‘Radical Feminist’ criticisms of SM during the 1980s and 1990s. In response to the demands of lesbian sadomasochists to be part of lesbian feminist political organisations in the US, a group of lesbian feminist women published a series of writings, Against Sadomasochism (Linden et al., 1982), followed by a further collection Unleashing Feminism (Reti (Ed.), 1993) In these and other writings by anti-SM feminists it is the ‘Nazism’ of SM, as well as internalised misogyny, that makes it so objectionable. Hence Irene Reti asserts that ‘… sadomasochism fuelled the Holocaust …’ and that ‘… there were many ‘real Nazis’ involved in ‘kinky sexual scenes’.’ (p.91). She knows this to have been the case not because of any resort to historical sources, but rather because the Nazis used ‘… whips, chains, racks, shackles and other instruments of torture …’; and hence it is that SM was also popular ‘… in the Roman Empire and during the medieval Inquisition … Sadomasochism has been around for a long time, but the Holocaust was a particularly recent and virulent occurrence of SM.’ (p.81). For D.A. Clarke, SM has ‘… the ‘look and feel’ of fascism …’ (Clarke in Reti (Ed.), 1993, p.123). For Andrea Dworkin, all ‘mainstream’ sexual culture is both sadistic and based upon the image of the ‘… concentration camp woman … covered in her own filth and cut up and whipped and stomped on and punched out 168 and starved …’ who has become ‘… the hidden sexual secret of our time’ (Dworkin, 1982, p.144). For Susan Griffin concentration-camp life was ‘pornographic’ because ‘… men and women were chained and shackled … the SS officer, who wore high leather boots, carried a whip’ (Griffin, 1981, p.189). Indeed the condemnation of SM specifically through likening it to Fascism has become a staple of a very great deal of Radical Feminist writing throughout the English-speaking world. Australian lesbian feminist Sheila Jeffreys devotes considerable space to the question in both Anticlimax: A Feminist Perspective on the Sexual Revolution (1990) and in The Lesbian Heresy: A Feminist Perspective on the Lesbian Sexual Revolution (1993). Terming sadomasochism ‘the erotic cult of Fascism’, Jeffreys recounts how she confronted a group of Amsterdam lesbians during a 1981 women’s festival for their use of leather aesthetics and SM paraphernalia, and was surprised to find that they did not agree with her that there was any connection between their practices and the racist attacks on immigrants occurring in that same week in the Netherlands capital (Jeffreys, 1993, p.172). Jeffreys, like the other Radical Feminist writers cited here, assumes that it is enough to construct a surface comparison between the visual components of an SM scene and a survivor’s account of Nazi violence to prove the point that SM is Fascist. The likeness is clear from the whips, chains, roles, uniforms, beatings, etc., and yet the obvious difference in the motivation and experience of the participants, in the context in which the beating occurs, is considered insignificant. Clearly, while likening SM to Fascism has formed a central rhetorical device in Radical Feminist writings, their objections to sadomasochism are based on a broader set of condemnations of sexuality deemed ‘patriarchal’, including female-to-male transgenderism, sex with men, butch/femme roles, penetrative sex and pornography. Hence Jeffreys emphasises the gay male origins of Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Visions of sadomasochism as a Nazi erotic the leather ‘look’ as a signifier of its essentially masculinist properties (Jeffreys, 1990, pp.210–211), and D.A. Clarke attributes lesbian SM to the influence of ‘gay male militarism’, a tradition she claims began in ancient Greece and has pursued a direct lineage through to Nazism (Clarke in Reti (Ed.),1993, pp.120–121). Recognising this broader underlying basis to Radical Feminist objections, lesbian sadomasochists, many identifying as radical feminists themselves, have addressed the question of patriarchal sexuality more generally, without specifically addressing (or rather crediting) the Radical Feminist accusations of Fascism. Pat Califia, Gayle Rubin and other founding members of the San Francisco lesbian SM group SAMOIS countered claims about the supposed anti-feminist, patriarchal character of sadomasochistic desire, defending their practices by emphasising the radical feminist ‘liberationary’ potential of women’s freedom to recognise their deepest sexual needs in opposition to the repression they saw operating in ‘vanilla’ visions of lesbian sex. Hence Califia claims that much ‘feminist erotica’ ‘… reads as if it were written by dutiful daughters who are trying to persuade Mom that lesbian sex isn’t dirty, and we really are good girls, after all’ (Califia, 1988. p.13). Dorothy Allison writes, ‘I don’t want to claim a safe or comfortable life for myself that is purchased at the cost of some other woman’s needs or desires …’ (Allison, in Vance (Ed.), 1984, p.109). In this vision, SM is thus the crux of a drive towards an uncompromising pursuit of sexual pleasure in which the gaze of parental imagos and all concern for ‘respectability’ is defied, in which women’s real sexual needs are finally conceded their full importance in struggles for political and sexual-minority freedom. In opposition to the Radical Feminist claims that SM replicates real-life abuse and violence, lesbian sadomasochists have also countered that SM can function therapeutically by creating a safe dynamic for the acting-out and hence resolution of feelings of shame and powerlessness that are a Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3 remnant of a past where actual non-consensual victimisation was experienced. Thus Wickie Stamps declares, ‘ In sadomasochism, I am finding my voice. I write the scripts, cast the characters, orchestrate and demand that – for once in my life – my rules by acknowledged, respected, and obeyed. Forty years of abuse by others is held at bay, and I become someone important, somebody strong, somebody that no one will ever hurt again. There are no victims in my scene, only survivors.’ Speaking of her love of erotic cutting and blood-play Stamps declares ‘I have retrieved this cherished womanly act from the undeclared war zone called my past’ (Stamps in Thompson (Ed.), 1991, pp.185–187). Carol Truscott likens some SM to the games she played as a child during the polio epidemics of the 1940s, in which she and her brothers play-acted becoming crippled as ‘a way of coping with the frightening possibility that I might lose the use of my legs, as had the mother of one of our playmates’ (Truscott in Thompson (Ed.), 1991, p.17). In this vision, defenders of SM acknowledge that their fantasies are indeed modelled on real-life instances of powerlessness, terror and abuse, but rather than support or feed into these realities, it is claimed, SM in fact transmutes, neutralises, and makes safe the fear that practitioners experience from living in world where real violence occurs, where violence against women is common, and where racism is clearly operative. There is no evidence to suggest that SM practitioners are more commonly survivors of childhood abuse, and nor that their sexual life is any less a pursuit of pleasure and fun than other kinds of libido (e.g. Gosselin & Wilson, 1980). But the claim that SM can function as a remedy to life in a world, where real social inequalities and violence occur, is regularly invoked by SM writers in response to accusations of abuse and misogyny. Some heterosexual SM practitioners have claimed that the acting-out of dominant-submissive scenarios under erotic conditions renders the participants resistant 169

Alison M. Moore to real-life patterns of domination or humiliation by providing a therapeutic release for aggressive and self-injurious drives. In this way, writes Ian Young, ‘SM can be part of an outright rebellion against social, structuralised oppression, which is part of the reason anarchists and libertarians are overrepresented among SM people’ (Young in Jay & Young (Eds.), 1978, p.104). Nor is there any evidence to suggest that SM practitioners are more likely to be motivated to act sexually by social critique than any other sexual orientation. It is important to recognise that this reasoning is more commonly a response to attacks in the field of political debate. Even within these debates moreover, SM practitioners have often rejected the temptation to be drawn into ideological self-justification. In the face of mounting opposition, Califia and Rubin finally rejected the very premise on which the critiques were founded, in other words, the very notion that sexuality can or should ever represent a social-revolutionary praxis. ‘There is nothing inherently feminist or non-feminist about SM …’ writes Rubin. ‘The idea that there is an automatic correspondence between sexual preference and political belief is long overdue to be jettisoned’ (Rubin in SAMOIS, 1987, p.215); and Califia: ‘I do not believe that we can fuck our way to freedom …’ (Califia, 1988, p.15), nor presumably, one might add, to ‘un-freedom’. Countering the critiques in this way, lesbian SM writers have avoided denying that their fantasies rely on imagery from examples of real life violence. The SM of this vision is indeed confronting, does indeed draw on dark realities, transmuting these into a form of mutual sexual exchange that is both pleasurably discomforting yet profoundly intimate. growth of historical scholarship about the Nazi persecution of homosexuals, some gay men in SM communities have openly acknowledged the problematic use of Nazi symbols in the leather aesthetic. Arnie Kantrowitz complains that ‘… a persistent Germanophilia pervades the leather subculture …’ (Kantrowitz in Thompson (Ed.), 1991, p.198), a phenomenon he deems offensive both because it fails to consider the associations of such imagery for Holocaust survivors and their descendents, and because such imagery ‘reduces history to a sexual aid’ (Mass, 1990, p.204). Kantrowitz describes the numerous instances he has encountered of SM practitioners wearing swastikas, citing examples of gay SM pornography throughout the 1980s, in Drummer magazine, Honcho, Manpower: The Leather File and RFD, in which explicit Nazi insignia and uniforms appear on gay erotic models (see Mass, 1990, pp.200–201). As Kantrowitz notes, there is no ‘explicit organised leatherworld support for causes that are Fascist.’ (Mass, 1990, p.209). Yet names of SM clubs and bondage houses are often referenced to Nazism (e.g. Salon Kitty, The Eagle’s Nest), while SS uniforms, shiny black boots and giant swastika flags are sometimes found in SM fantasy scenarios. Consideration of gay leather clubs’ roots in American biker culture of the 1950s helps us appreciate part of the reason Fascist insignia has at times appeared in gay SM communities. Biker groups like the Hell’s Angels and the Iron Cross appropriated the swastika and Luftwaffe pins, at times because they identified with the racist and aggressive aspects of Nazism, at times for apolitical reasons – because in the environment of immediate post-war America, they saw Nazi insignia as symbols of taboo, shock-value, destructiveness and outcast association (see Saxon, 1972, pp.57–58). The association of bikers with Nazi symbolism became widely known in the English-speaking world after the 1966 Roger Corman film The Wild Angels, in which Bruce Dern’s character is buried with a giant swastika flag draped over the Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Nazism and gay male erotica

In a parallel though unrelated discussion, gay male sadomasochists have addressed the implications of their sexuality for political struggles and in relation to comparisons with real-life violence, though in this case with specific reference to Fascism. Following the 170

Visions of sadomasochism as a Nazi erotic coffin (see Osgerby, 2003, p.103). This too then may be part of the explanation for why Nazi insignia has at times appeared in gay sadomasochist pornography and in leather fashion. Within the broader politics of gay men’s communities SM tends to be aligned with a rejection of respectability, with a rejection of gay marriage campaigns and other forms of self-identification deemed to pander to notions of heteronormativity (see Grindstaff, 2003, pp.270–271). Nazi insignia clearly helps to send this message both to others within gay communities and to the society as a whole: that here are a group of men who will not compromise their desire for the sake of acceptability, who are happy to occupy an outcast status if it allows them full libidinal freedom. As veteran SM writer John Preston remarked, reflecting on his own introduction to the leather scene in the 1960s: ‘The original leather bars were places where men could gather and, in sharp contradiction to those positions [pleas for social acceptance in broader gay community], say: in your face! Leather was gay sexuality stripped of being nice. It offended. It confronted. It took sex as its own ultimate value’ (Preston in Thompson (Ed.), 1991, pp.212–213). It is unsurprising, therefore, that Leather subcultures borrowed from biker culture the habit of adopting Nazi insignia as anti-conformist symbols, but then transmuting them further into uniquely erotic icons. The difference in the way lesbian and gay male SM practitioners have written about the ideological accountability of their desire may be in part because gay male SM practitioners have not faced the same multi-faceted critique from within broader lesbian/gay communities as those faced by lesbians SMers in relation to the disputes with antiSM Radical Feminists. But it is also undoubtedly because the parallels between Fascism and SM throughout historical memory – as in the examples discussed earlier – often bear especially upon male homosexuality. In other words the gay man who practices SM is imagined (e.g. in cinema, by Sontag) to be Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3 the ultimate archetype of the Fascist sexual and aesthetic inheritance. Clearly in other ways though, gay male responses to the broader issue of the ideological accountability of SM share common themes with lesbian responses, as when the potential of SM to transmute the trauma of real-life violence and act therapeutically is invoked. Gay sadomasochist and therapist Guy Baldwin noted that ‘… the incidence of child abuse in the histories of practitioners of the SM/leather/fetish sexualities is astounding.’ (Baldwin, 1993. pp.43–45). Similarly John Preston remarks: ‘… the men who initiated me into SM did so at my request, with my compliance, a stark change from the men and women who had emotionally abused me without my consent or even knowledge’ (Preston in Thompson (Ed.), 1991, p.213). Again, while there is no reason to imagine such abuse more common among SM practitioners than others, the claim that SM can function therapeutically is commonly made in SM writings, in particular in response to pathologising critiques from the broader gay community or from feminist organisations. One of the key ways in which sadomasochists of all genders and persuasions have categorically refuted claims that SM feeds into any kind of real-life violence is by emphasising the consent and importance of submissives/bottoms/masochists in constructing SM scenarios and communities. Hence Rubin remarks: ‘The idea that masochists are the victims of sadists underlies much of the debate about SM. But tops and bottoms are not two discrete populations … Most SM people have done both …’ (Rubin in Coming to Power, 1987, pp.223–234). Califia remarks, ‘It is the focus on the bottom’s desire which distinguishes SM from assault,’ (Califia in Thompson (Ed.), 1991, p.232), while acknowledging that ‘for some people … the fact that it is consensual makes it even more appalling.’ (Califia, 1994, p.168). The men interviewed by Geoff Mains in Urban Aboriginals are likewise emphatic in distinguishing the pain they enjoy erotically from that inflicted on unwilling victims of abuse 171

Alison M. Moore (Mains, 1984, p.49). In the widely read Leatherman’s Handbook, written in 1972, Larry Townsend related a vision of SM as a healthy sexual manifestation of the same drives that produced the non-consensual brutalities of the ancient world, the Spanish Inquisition and Nazi Germany (Townsend, 1993, pp.6–11). Here is yet another variation of the notion of therapeutic potential in sadomasochism that is often invoked in SM writing: SM is not complicit in real-life violence because it is rather the antidote to it. about Auschwitz, ‘replete with perverse sex and sadistic violence’ proliferated in Israel during the 1960s. ‘Nothing could be greater taboo than deriving sexual pleasure from pornography in the context of the Holocaust’, he remarks (Bartov, 1997, p.49). These forms of explicit eroticisation of Nazism suggest a simple taboo reading to be appropriate, but the fact that their heyday has clearly passed is also indicative of the obsolete nature of representing SM in this way pornographically. In heterosexual pornography of the 1960s and 1970s, Nazi imagery acted as the means to express sadomasochistic fantasies in lieu of a developed language for doing so in any other way. Popular and historical representations of Nazism as perverse fed into this tendency, allowing for the development of a pornographic short-hand that is no longer required now that SM porn has proliferated through the internet, indeed even before this, with the growing culture of SM porn in the 1970s and 1980s. On the whole though, where organised communities of self-defined SM practitioners control their own erotic representation, explicit images of Nazism are a lot more rare than the more generic black, gothic, leather, latex and militaristic apparel which many critics of SM assume to be fascistic. Indeed, it is also commonly charged that contemporary sadomasochism draws upon fascistic aesthetics through the fetishisation of black uniform-like clothing, leather boots and gloves and SS-style caps (Sontag, 1980, p.102). Clearly though there is an appeal that Nazi aesthetics hold for a certain vision of masculinity that may be attractive to many gay SM men, indeed to sadomasochists of all persuasions, and it is perhaps no coincidence that the leather ‘uniform’ bears a closer resemblance to the uniforms of the Nazi SS than any other. The black uniforms of the SS emphasised a crisp, cold and severe militarism that both drew upon older Prussian associations of military aristocracy (tall boots and stiff fabric) and played on a mystique of death in the choice of colour Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

How can Nazism be arousing?

SM writers have hence taken great pains to distinguish what they do from real-life regimes of violence. While this article does not attempt to provide a definitive explanation for why Nazi imagery sometimes appears in SM representation, it does propose that a significant part of this puzzle is attributable to the dynamics of respectability in gay and lesbian communities, and to the perception of sexual taboo in contemporary Western cultures. The use of Nazi symbolism in fantasy imagination of any kind is frequently a shorthand signifier for anti-bourgeois, non-respectable, morally unrestrained pleasure that broaches taboo and teases out the forbidden, and for this reason it lends itself well to sadomasochistic sub-groups who seek precisely this form of freedom and excitement. While Kantrowitz considers gay SM representation of Nazi fantasy to be common, nowhere has it been more ubiquitous than in a certain genre of heterosexual pornography produced during the 1970s. The 1974 American porn flick Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS tells the story of a mythologised real-life Nazi camp commandant’s wife who, in the fictional narrative, is a sexually-dominant bisexual nymphomaniac who forces prisoners to gratify her then kills them. An entire genre of cheaply made and intensely kitsch cinema was spawned following this production, with titles such as SS Hell Camp, Nazi Love Camp 27 and Schindler’s Lust (Rapaport, 2003, p.57). Omer Bartov notes that pornographic literature 172

Visions of sadomasochism as a Nazi erotic and in the reproduction of the deaths-head insignia. SS uniforms were exquisitely tailored; they were not ‘issued’ but had to be purchased from specialised military tailors at the selected candidate’s own expense. The runic SS symbol emphasised ancient bloodlines and exclusivity (see Kogon, 1958, p.18). As Sontag remarked, ‘SS uniforms were stylish, well-cut, with a touch (but not too much) of eccentricity. Compare the rather boring and not very well cut American army uniform … essentially civilian clothes … SS uniforms were tight, heavy, stiff …’ (Sontag, 1980, p.99). Gay male arousal at fascistic imagery may be nothing more mysterious than an arousal produced by any kind of hyper-masculinist, militaristic aetheticisation of male bodies, something in which the Nazi regime clearly excelled. As the work of Klaus Theweleit has shown, Nazi masculinities derived heavily from the inter-war Freikorps, the militias composed largely of World War I veterans bonded in the experience of blood and sacrifice who adopted the deaths-head as their symbol (Ehrenreich in Theweleit, 1987, p.x, 1989, p.xv). Freikorps leaders formed the central nucleus of the SA, that section of the original Nazi party in which some homosexuality was initially tolerated prior to the assassination of the openly bisexual Röhm. While homosexuality became thereafter a major target of attack under the National Socialist regime, a unique masculinist imagery did not disappear from their aesthetic universe. Nazi representation of male bodies emphasised athleticism, a clean, blonde, ‘Aryan’ vision of handsomeness, a celebration of virility combined with a worship of masculine beauty. Curiously though, while the pre1934 period of the SA was the only situation in which homosexuality was tolerated within Nazism, it is the image of the SS that has been overwhelmingly invoked in cinematic depictions of Nazi sexual perversion, and indeed it is the SS uniform that more obviously inspires SM leather culture aesthetics than the bland brown uniforms of the SA (Sontag, 1980, p.99). Hence while it may be Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3 tempting to theorise some unique appeal of Nazi imagery for gay male sadomasochism on the grounds that Nazism itself contained homoerotic elements, it is clear the primary symbols of Nazism that have been appropriated by pornographic representation are neither unique to gay men, nor historically logical in their selection. Acknowledging the potential appeal of Nazi imagery for SM fantasy may appear to play into stereotypes about a Nazi cultural inheritance in contemporary practices of sadomasochism. But to concede that Nazism has been a source of erotic material is a far step from claims that SM practitioners themselves keep alive the spirit of Nazism through their sexual behaviour. Anti-SM critics frequently achieve their reduction of SM to Nazism by splicing parallel passages from the memoirs of Holocaust survivors with passages from SM fantasy stories. In anti-SM Radical Feminist analyses, the desire and consent of the masochist is dismissed as internalised misogyny and a manifestation of the passivity often found among those who are made powerless, hence categorically rejecting the possibility of masochistic sexual agency (see Evans in Reti (Ed.), 1993, p.76). To insist upon such an agency, they claim, moreover is an insult to those who have suffered under non-consensual domination, since it reinforces the misogynist and racist belief that the victim of rape or violence really wanted it or ‘asked for it’. Reti states: ‘To play masochist in bed is to endorse the Nazi picture of reality in which there are sadistic torturers who believe their victims enjoy being punished and humiliated’ (Reti (Ed.), 1993, p.93). But Reti’s assumption that sadomasochistic desire fuelled the Holocaust is an anachronistic reversal of reality. Such critiques never consider the equally likely possibility that sadomasochistic desire (in which the pleasure of the masochist is acknowledged) is a response to, a transmutation of, the myths of victim-consent. In spite of the linguistic slippages in descriptions of Nazi ‘sadism’, there is no historical evidence to suggest that sexual pleasure of a perverse 173

Alison M. Moore (or indeed any) variety was the source of the highly efficient genocidal war machine that was Nazi Germany. Undoubtedly there are superficial material objects common to both the SM scene and the concentration camp. But such comparisons merely succeed in showing that sadomasochist fantasy references itself to real-life violence and domination, something no self-defined practitioner ever denies. What SM critics refuse to concede is that SM practitioners do not partake in the violence they mimic, are not complicit in the politics that is inherent to that violence when it occurs in real life: SM appropriates the symbols of non-consent for the purpose of constructing an erotic fantasy, mutually arousing to both parties, in which a parody of such violence is enacted in circumstances where the original context of actual abusive degradation is neutralised. While this may not represent an especially revolutionary praxis, it is not the source of a perpetuation of racism and hatred. What SM critics often interpret as fascistic is really a more generic military/policeman ‘look’ that appeals to some sadomasochists’ fantasies because of its investment with notions of the power and self-containment idealised in the dominant partner. Additionally what many of the critics of SM as Fascism fail to realise is precisely the range and diversity of sadomasochistic fantasies. If SM practitioners draw occasionally on Nazi or fascistic imagery, so too do they construct fantasy games inspired by other forms of power exchange such as school, medicine, class difference, gender inequality, parenting or work hierarchy, though these visions of SM desire may be less visible. There is no one SM fantasy, something perhaps obscured by the iconic status of the ‘leather’ look that has emerged in the past 30 years as the public symbol of selfidentifying SM communities. To the extent that Fascist aesthetics play a role in the activation of repressed desires of domination, this should be recognised as a sign of the taboo that surrounds the historical memory of the Holocaust in the contemporary world. Erotic representations of Fascism in any context are not a pathology in themselves but a symptom of a broader cultural phenomenon in which metaphors of sexual perversion have become the dominant way to capture something of the elusive deathdrive that the Nazis are understood to embody. While Kantrowitz raises valid concerns about the lack of historical awareness betrayed in pornographic reproduction of Nazi insignia, debates surrounding the fascistic aesthetics of lesbian and gay SM reveal that the drive to resist the subordination of desire to ideological responsibility and respectability is often at the crux of the problem. Andrew Hewitt writing about the political ambivalence of Jean Genet remarks, ‘We should resist simplifying homologies in which transgressive sexualities translate necessarily into transgressive or subversive politics.’ (Hewitt, 1997, p.122). To put this statement in the terms of the SAMOIS women, no harm will be done and we will all gain a much greater sexual happiness once relieved of the onus to ‘fuck our way to freedom.’


Dr. Alison Moore is a research fellow at the Centre for the History of European Discourses (CHED), at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. Her current work is both about visions of sexual ‘perversion’ in the politics of historical memory of the Second World War, and about shifting attitudes to excretion in Europe from the late 19th century. She has published articles about toilet taboos in the 19th century, about erotic symbolism in French medieval literature, and about the representation of women as sexual traitors in France at the end of the Nazi Occupation. She has lectured in French at the University of Wollongong and in History at the University of Sydney.


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Visions of sadomasochism as a Nazi erotic Dr Alison Moore Centre for the History of European Discourses, Level 5 Forgan Smith, University of Queensland, St. Lucia 4072 QLD, Australia. E-mail: ali.moore@uq.edu.au

Adorno, T. (1974). Minima moralia (Trans. E. Jeffcott). London: NLB. Adorno, T., Frenkel-Brunswick, E., Levison, D. & Nevvitt Sanford, R. (1950). The authoritarian personality. New York: Harper & Row. Anon (1983). ‘Harsh truth’: Abba Frank’s words. Time Magazine, 121, 11 April, 36. Baldwin, G. (1993). Ties that bind; the SM/leather/ fetish erotic etyle; Issues, commentaries and advice. Los Angeles: Daedelus Publishing. Bartov, O. (1997). Kitsch and sadism in Ka-Tzetnik’s other planet: Israeli youth imagine the Holocaust. Jewish Social Studies, Spring, 42–76. Bello de Oliveira, A. (1999). Sobre e sob encatamento do totalitarianismo: Eichmann, o extermindaor, com Kant, Sade e o Outro. Revista de Psicanalise, 11(22), 81–84. Berg, A. (2004). Novel about Nazi pornography scandalizes German literati. New York Times, 2 March, E5(L). Brame, G., Brame, W. & Jacobs, J. (1993). Different loving: A complete exploration of the world of sexual dominance and submission. New York: Villard. Califia, P. (1988). Macho sluts. Boston: Alyson Publications. Califia, P. (1994). Public sex: The culture of radical sex. San Francisco: Cleis Press. Dawidowicz, L. (1977). The Jewish presence: Essays on identity and history. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston. Dean, C. (2004). The fragility of empathy after the holocaust. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Frost, L. (2002). Sex drives: Fantasies of fascism in literary modernism. New York: Cornell University Press. Galen Carpenter, T. (2002). Outside view: False analogies on Iraq. United International Press, 7 October , 1008280. Goldhagen, D. (1997). Hitler’s willing executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. London: Abacus. Gosselin, C. & Wilson, G. (1980). Sexual variations: Fetishism, sadomasochism and transvestism. London: Faber & Faber. Graham Scott, G. (1994). Erotic power: An exploration of dominance and submission. New York: Carol Publishing. Halle, R. (1995). Between Marxism and psychoanalysis: Anti-fascism and anti-homosexuality in the Frankfurt School. Journal of Homosexuality, 29(4), 295–318. Hewitt, A. (1996). Political inversions: Homosexuality, Fascism and the modernist imaginary. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Hewitt, A. (1997). Sleeping with the enemy: Genet and the fantasy of homo-Fascism. In M. Hawthorne & R. Goslan (Eds.), Gender and fascism in modern France (pp.119–140) Hanover, NH: University Press of New England. Herzog, D. (2002). Hubris and hypocrisy, incitement and disavowal: Sexuality and German Fascism. Journal of the History of Sexuality, 11(1–2), 3–21. Herzog, D. (2005). Sex after fascism: Memory and morality in 20th-century Germany. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Jay, K. & Young, A. (Eds.) (1978). Lavender culture. New York: Harcourt Brace. Kogon, E. (1958). The theory and practice of hell: The German concentration camps and the system behind them (Trans. H. Norden). New York: Berkeley Medallion. Lautmann, R. (1988). Homosexuals in Nazi Germany. Simon Wiesenthal Center Annual, 5, 269–275. Lehrman, N. (2003). Victims but no gay villains in Holocaust museum exhibit. Insight on the News, 19(4), 4 February, 50–52. Lively, S. & Abrams K. (1997). The pink swastika: Homosexuality in the Nazi party. Oregon: Founders Publishing. Mains, G. (1984). Urban aboriginals: A collection of leathersexuality. San Francisco: Gay Sunshine Press. Mass, L. (1990). Homosexuality and sexuality: Dialogues of the sexual revolution, Volume 1. New York: Hawthorne Press.

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Alison M. Moore
Micheler, S. (2002). Homophobic propaganda and the denunciation of same-sex desiring men under National Socialism. Journal of the History of Sexuality, 11(1–2), 105–130. Osgerby, B. (2003). Exploitation, ‘otherness’ and transgression in the 1960s biker movie. Journal of Popular Film and Television, 31(3), 98–108. Plant, R. (1988). The pink triangle: The Nazi war against homosexuals. New York: Henry Holt & Co. Rapaport, L. (2003). Holocaust pornography: Profaning the sacred in Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS. Shofar, 22(1), 53–79. Redlich, F. (1999). Hitler: Diagnosis of a destructive prophet. New York: Oxford University Press. Reich, W. (1970). The mass psychology of fascism. Trans. V. Carfagno. New York: Farrar Strauss & Giroux. Reti, I. (Ed.) (1993). Unleashing feminism: Critiquing lesbian sadomasochism in the Gay Nineties. Santa Cruz: HerBooks. Rosenfeld, A. (1985). Imagining Hitler. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. SAMOIS (1987). Coming to power: Writings and graphics on lesbian SM. Boston: Alyson Publications. Saxon, K. (1972). Wheels of rage: The true story of the Iron Cross M.C. Richmond: Kurt Saxon. Slade, J. (1997). Nazi imagery in contemporary culture: The limits of representation. Dimensions, 11(2), 9–15. Sontag, S. (1980). Fascinating fascism. Under the sign of Saturn. New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux. Theweleit, K. (1987). Male fantasies, Volume one: Women, floods, bodies, history. Trans. S. Conway. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Theweleit, K. (1989). Male fantasies, Volume two: Male bodies: Psychoanalyzing the white terror. Trans. E. Carter. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Thompson, M. (Ed.) (1991). Leatherfolk: Radical sex, people, politics and practice. Boston: Alyson Publications. Townsend, L. (1993). The original leatherman’s handbook. Beverly Hills: LT Publications. Vance, C. (Ed.) (1984). Pleasure and danger: Exploring female sexuality. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul.


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Unleashing gender: Dependency, subjectivity and recognition in dominant/ submissive relationships
Sarah A. Smith
Within psychoanalysis, BDSM (bondage, dominance, submission, sadism and masochism) has typically been interpreted as pathological, resulting from the (gendered) tension between assertion and recognition developed in the oedipal phases and enforced in dominant ideology. To practitioners, however, BDSM recognises the physical and psychological dependence of people on each other. The tasks inherent to successful BDSM redefine traditional masculine and feminine identity; dominants recognise their own dependence and submissives are independently powerful. Expanding on feminist psychoanalytic theory, this paper argues that BDSM relations may embody the psychologically ideal state of ‘mutual recognition.’ Practitioners take pleasure in connection without the threat of engulfment. Significantly, the skills developed in BDSM may help mediate a variety of interpersonal and institutional power relations. Keywords: gender, feminism, mutual recognition, psychoanalysis, sadomasochism.


S OTHER PAPERS in this issue have noted, we are in a period in which bondage, dominance, sadism, submission and masochism (BDSM)1 are viewed as simultaneously pathological and harmless, evil and inane. In part, this paradox is the result of definitional ambiguity. BDSM is commonly used to describe a wide range of behaviours and desires; and although most are probably benign, some are undoubtedly ‘sick’. After all, most people would agree that taking pleasure in the non-consensual torture of another is wrong. Even BDSM practitioners acknowledge that a few of their own behaviours ‘get out of hand’ and become violent towards themselves or others (Taylor, 1997). Yet the emerging body of ethnographic research on BDSM suggests that such occurrences are rare, and that many, if not most, practitioners do not suffer from mental health disturbances and are relatively well-adjusted (Apostolides 1999; Brame et al., 1993; Moser & Levitt, 1995; Stoller, 1991).

The problem of terminology is made more acute by the relative stasis of psychological thought on BDSM. With few exceptions (Bader, 1993; Weille, 2002), the psychological disciplines have typically interpreted dominance and submission or sadism and masochism as perverse, deviant compromise formations. Although there have been competing theories on the etiology and relative pathology of BDSM (de Masi, 2003; Noyes, 1997), the psychoanalytic perspectives developed by Freud and object relations theorists influenced by his work continue to dominate the literature on the subject (Apostolides, 1999; Benjamin, 1988, Chancer, 1992; de Masi, 2003; Ross, 1997). And in both the traditional and feminist psychoanalytic veins, BDSM is viewed as a ‘traumatically induced, preoedipally fixated form of acting out that, despite its orgiastic pleasures, leads to a restricted capacity for meaningful relationships’ (Weille, 2002, pp.131–132). Weille (2002) argues that in the psychological disciplines BDSM indicates pathology

1 Although there are important differences between these behaviours, I will use BDSM, sadomasochism (SM), and dominance/submission (D&S) interchangeably throughout this paper since it is not my goal to seek distinctions (see Brame, Brame & Jacobs, 1993; Kamel & Weinberg, 1995; Stoller, 1991, for elaboration on the differences between specific behaviours and identities).

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Sarah A. Smith in part because theories of sadism and masochism are based on clinical case studies. When individuals presenting mental health disturbances are used as the evidence for psychological theory on BDSM, it is not surprising that BDSM practitioners feel stigmatised and often reject psychological understandings completely (Langdridge & Butt, 2004; Taylor, 1997). However, the problem is more complicated than just simply researching non-clinical samples. Doing so may reveal ‘healthy’ individuals, but it does not address the theories behind the psychological stigma of BDSM. If we do not analyse these theoretical histories we risk moving too quickly to categorisation in which neat lines are drawn around normal and abnormal. Framing BDSM this way is problematic because it fails to address the complexity of lived experience captured in interview data and ethnographic research. A more productive stance, adopted recently by some psychoanalytic theorists, is to refuse the urge to classify by developing psychoanalytic theory that embraces multiplicity (O’Connor, 1995; Weille, 2002). Influenced by postmodern theories on subjectivity and power, these theorists resist facile categorisation. As O’Connor (1995) remarks, ‘emphasis on the linguistic/social character of subjectivity maintains shifting complexities and, through questioning fixed assumptions of the ‘human,’ allows for wider theoretical development’ (p.168). In other words, by moving away from the modernist view of the rational subject with a stable identity, deeper understandings of the complexities of sexuality emerge. I suggest that this perspective allows a reexamination of BDSM without the pitfalls of categorisation or universalising theories of development. This does not mean that all psychoanalytic theory on sadism and masochism is necessarily inaccurate. Rather, if we suspend the tendency to pathologise and read psychoanalytic theory with the ethnographic data on BDSM practitioners, we can begin to see the ways in which BDSM 178 may be psychologically effective. I argue that when the voices of BDSM practitioners are compared to the psychologically ideal state of relationality, as characterised by Jessica Benjamin’s (1988) concept of ‘mutual recognition’, significant parallels emerge. In doing so, psychoanalytic theory, including the feminist critique of BDSM, is reframed. The remainder of the paper will explore some of the ramifications of this perspective, including how BDSM can be a relationship structure that redefines traditional masculinity and femininity. I begin by establishing the possibility of mutual recognition in BDSM relationships.

Mutual recognition in BDSM

In the pre-oedipal and oedipal phases of selfdevelopment, we all face the existential dread caused by the tension between self/other. Theoretically, the first ‘other’ is a parent, most typically the mother. In the beginning, the infant’s needs are simple and are joyfully fulfilled by the other, creating what Freud called ‘oceanic’ oneness. Inevitably, however, the infant’s wishes are denied and the infant must confront the fact that his or her needs are not the same as the other’s. They are different. This first recognition of the other’s (potentially threatening) subjectivity is what spearheads self-identity development, or subjectivity; however, the existential dread follows us throughout our lifetime and can lead to pathology if not successfully resolved. We mourn the fact that self and other are not identical and fear the other’s power to deny our recognition or eradicate us completely. One such pathological resolution to this dread is the sadomasochistic dynamic (Alford, 1997; Benjamin, 1988; Chancer, 1992; de Masi, 2003; Noyes, 1997). Jessica Benjamin’s work on the sadomasochistic dynamic has been particularly influential to contemporary feminist psychoanalytic thought. She suggests that the desire for submission and dominance stems from the unsuccessful resolution of pre-oedipal and oedipal development crises. In the Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Unleashing gender: Dependency, subjectivity and recognition in dominant/submissive relationships tedious process of self development, separation/individuation becomes embattled with, and perpetually opposed, to connectiveness. The sadomasochistic dynamic is ‘a negative cycle of recognition, a person feels that aloneness is only possible by obliterating the intrusive other, that attunement is only possible by surrendering to the other’ (Benjamin, 1988, p.28). The sadist is so overwhelmed by the other’s assertion that his or her own subjectivity/identity is threatened. His or her sadistic solution is annihilation or absorption of the other. The masochist, desperately trying to prevent abandonment, allows his or her own subjectivity to be wholly consumed by the other. Alternatively, ideal resolution of preoedipal and oedipal development leads to the capacity for mutual recognition, ‘the necessity of recognising as well as being recognised by the other’ (Benjamin, 1988, p.23). In this ‘ideal balance, a person is able to be fully self-absorbed or fully receptive to the other, he is able to be alone or together’ (Benjamin, 1988, p.28). Benjamin attributes this suspension of non-contradiction in mutual recognition to Winnicott’s (1953) concept of the ‘transitional object.’ Transitional objects or phenomena ‘belong to that intermediate area of experience to which inner reality and external life both contribute’ (St. Claire & Wigren, 2004, p.73). As an infant, the terror and frustrations caused by the other lead to fits. If the other survives this narcissistic/sadistic rage, the relationship strengthens. Their survival, evident in the other’s continued subjectivity, reassures the infant and makes recognition more meaningful. The other’s subjectivity is not threatening and we are able to appreciate the other’s, and our own, full subjectivity/identity. In the state of mutual recognition we possess effective life-management skills because equilibrium between connection and separation is reached. For Benjamin, this is what successful resolution of the pre-oedipal and oedipal crises looks like and what is necessary for psychological growth and healthy relationships. Although the work of Benjamin and other theorists like Nancy Chodorow (1994) revolutionised both psychoanalytic and feminist theory by explaining how separation and identity are gendered under patriarchal conditions2, feminist psychoanalysis also reads female masochism and male sadism as exemplary patriarchical identities, not positions of health and growth. From this perspective, BDSM relationships in which the male is dominant and the female is submissive are replications of gendered power relations. And, simply reversing the terms is not necessarily healthy either: male masochism and female sadism can easily be read as sad copies that ultimately reify that patriarchical order. Even in a same-sex relationship, the sadist and masochist affirm heterosexual patriarchy by enacting roles that are always, and already, gendered (Jeffreys, 1993, 2004). Feminist psychoanalysts negatively critique BDSM because the roles appear to enforce patriarchal gender. They offer mutual recognition as the egalitarian alternative. The sadomasochistic dynamic is supposed to be antithetical to mutual recognition; however, the emerging ethnographic research on BDSM practitioners reveals some noteworthy similarities between BDSM and mutual recognition, as well as the possibilities of expanded gender expression. In other words, there is an obvious impasse between theory and ‘real people.’ Thus, reading the ethnographic literature against Benjamin’s concept of mutual recognition is a productive first step to revising psychoanalytic theory on BDSM. For example, in this intersubjective approach of mutual recogni-

2 The body of feminist psychoanalytic theory that has developed from Benjamin’s analysis emphasises that masochism is feminine and sadism is masculine because we live in patriarchical society (Chancer, 1992; Chodorow, 1994). In our culture, mothers (and thus femininity) have been associated with nurturance and dependence, and fathers (and thus masculinity) with strength and independence. ‘Separation-individuation thus becomes a gender issue, and recognition and independence are now organised within the frame of gender’ (Benjamin, 1988, p.104).

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Sarah A. Smith tion, the ‘individual grows in and through the relationship to other subjects. Most importantly, this perspective observes that the other whom the self meets is also a self, a subject in his or her own right … a subject meeting another subject’ (Benjamin, 1988, pp.19–20). Significantly, recognising the other’s subjectivity is a core assumption in BDSM. Practitioners quite frequently attribute the ‘thrill’ of BDSM precisely to the fact that this other person is willingly submitting, or lovingly controlling as the case may be. As an informant in Brame et al.’s (1993) study of sexual dominance and submission elucidates: For me, submission is not about being passive or giving up because you’re weak. It’s about voluntarily turning over your own power to somebody else. When I bottom I do [it] from the point of view that I have great power and give it as a gift with full trust that the top will respect and appreciate the gift of my vulnerability. As a top, I’m interested in people giving me their power. I don’t need to rip it from them. I don’t elevate myself by putting them down. (p.76) Thus, for many practitioners of consensual BDSM, the erotic and emotional satisfaction of sadism/dominance and masochism/ submission is derived from the exchange of power between two subjects. Recent qualitative research reveals that the negotiation of the power exchange and quest for the mutual satisfaction of all parties, both of which imply mutual recognition, are prevalent themes in BDSM relationships (Bader, 1993; Kamel & Weinberg, 1995; Weille, 2002). Weille’s (2002) ethnographic study suggests that BDSM play ‘by nature involves the mutual recognition of subjectivity – as demonstrated by the respect and listening involved in prior negotiation and the intense, loving intimacy felt after a scene’ [italics in original] (p.156). From previously outlined positions (e.g. dominant and submissive), two ‘opposites’ exchange particular forms of power, and in doing so create both a fuller sense of self and a 180 capacity to share in the experiences and emotions of the other. Because of this, the function of dependency and complexities of subjectivity become salient in BDSM relationships, not suppressed. Contrary to reading the dominant/submissive dynamic as ultimately and inevitably destructive, both parties must not only understand, but also remember that this exchange is only possible between two subjects. Recognition is not possible if one party lacks self-identity. In BDSM relationships, subjectivity is largely marked by the continued negotiation and consent in the relationship (Brame et al., 1993; Kamel & Weinberg, 1995; Langdridge & Butt, 2004; Weille, 2002). Submissives who are capable of making decisions and interacting independently when needed, or ordered, are most successful and desirable (Brame et al., 1993; Kamel & Weinberg, 1995). Brame et al. (1993) claim that ‘most of the dominants we spoke with stressed that they seek equals as partners, people who are in control of their daily lives’ (p.78). This implies that the submissive has the agency to consent and be an ‘active’ partner in the exchange of power. As Brame et al. (1993) find: The submissive in a consensual relationship does not relinquish social or professional power, nor is she likely to accept authority from anyone but her dominant. Many submissives told us that the ability to surrender sexual power privately and to fulfill taboo fantasies is a profoundly empowering experience. (p.54) Contrary to the image of the masochistic submissive whose subjectivity and personal identity become erased in the BDSM dynamic, ethnographic research reveals strong-willed, integrated submissives. As one of Brame, Brame and Jacobs’ interviewees complains, ‘Some people imagine [D&S] to be [that] you give up your career and basically spend your time at the woman’s feet. A woman who could enjoy that would not have the respect for me that I [want]. The roles are defined, but she wants me to be successful; she wants me to enjoy myself’ (p.166). Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Unleashing gender: Dependency, subjectivity and recognition in dominant/submissive relationships As the ethnographic literature highlighted above shows, a core assumption of BDSM play is the recognition of mutual subjectivity. Additionally, the emerging body of research on how socialised positions of desire, such as gender, are experienced by BDSM practitioners suggests a much more complicated picture than previously assumed. For example, Damon’s (2002) study with 342 heterosexual men involved in sadomasochism tested the psychoanalytic assumption that the need to dominate women is related to low self-esteem and sexist beliefs about women. Contrary to expectations, dominant men scored significantly higher on self-esteem measures and had fewer sexist beliefs about women than submissive men. Stereotypes about the role and ‘nature’ of women were less pronounced among dominant men, suggesting a particularly nuanced conceptualisation of gender in BDSM relationships. Although feminist psychoanalysts offer mutual recognition as an alternative to the sadomasochistic dynamic, there seem to be more similarities than differences. These parallels are possible because both BDSM and mutual recognition operate from similar understandings of subjectivity. Both abandon the modernist human in favour of a more fluid model of subjectivity in which social and interpersonal forces both create the subject and are changed by the subject. Because of this, in BDSM relationships gender can be ‘unleashed’ from patriarchal binaries, as it is in the state of mutual recognition. nise it’ (p.33). Likewise, the dominant or ‘master’ in the BDSM relationship can only exist in the presence of a willing submissive. ‘The man or master needs recognition from a strong other capable of independently giving it, and the objectification of his female partner (the ‘slave’ in Hegel’s essay) deprives him of this recognition’ (Bader 1993, p.282). If the submissive lacks such subjectivity, she will also lack the ability to recognise her master3. If she has nothing to give, no power, there is nothing to exchange in the ‘power exchange.’ The key to successful BDSM relationships then is recognising the inevitability of dependency, as it is the only route to subjectivity. As Renata Salecl (1998) so eloquently writes, ‘The problem of the subject is that he or she is nothing except through the love and desire of others’ (p.63). Another subject must ‘see’ us as such before identity is actualised because subjectivity is inherently dependent on ‘objectification.’ This is the ultimate irony of identity and is a fact that is particularly uncomfortable to feminist theorists, including Benjamin. It implies that our interpersonal relationships are always affected in ways that prevent the realisation of mutual recognition. However, by turning to theories of subject formation outside the psychological disciplines, it becomes possible to reframe the theory to account better for the experiences of ‘real people.’ In doing so, a more nuanced expression of gender that (potentially) can mediate social and institutional constraints becomes possible. Contemporary postmodern theory suggests that identity is essentially the result of power relations; thus, self-identity is only possible in the presence of others who acknowledge your ‘self.’ Otherwise we remain invisible, unseen, unacknowledged. Judith Butler calls this subjection. According

Interpellating gendered subjects

One of the most striking similarities between BDSM and mutual recognition is the observance of dependency in subject formation. As Benjamin (1988) notes, ‘at the very moment of realising our own independence, we are dependent upon another to recog-

3 From here on I will tend to use ‘he’ for the dominant and ‘she’ for the submissive because, as mentioned earlier, such relations appear to be the epitome of patriarchical relationships. In other words, many feminists find male dominant/female submissives relations particularly difficult to accept. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that many women are dominant and many men are submissive; and that, in fact, there is significant evidence that ‘switching,’ identifying sometimes as dominant, others as submissive, is very common (Sandnabba et al., 2002; Sandnabba et al., 1999).

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Sarah A. Smith to Butler (1997), subjection is the ‘simultaneous subordination and forming of the subject’ (p.7). The ‘other’s’ recognition is a productive power that enacts the individual into being. This suggests that identity is the result of a variety of ‘others’ at the interpersonal level, as well as the ‘Big Other’ in the wider social sense of institutional power. The idea that identity is socially constructed, entirely dependent on some other, is uncomfortable because it suggests the concept of ‘I’ is less stable and more vulnerable than most of us would like to admit. It also implies that ‘there is no formation of the subject without a passionate attachment to those by whom she or he is subordinated’ (Butler, 1997, p.7). This is particularly problematic to social critics, including feminists, who seek to minimise the effect of what Althusser (1971) called the ‘ideological state apparati’ (i.e. churches, schools, government, etc.). As Butler (1997) notes, the psychoanalytic paradox of subjectivity ‘resonates with a larger cultural and political predicament, namely, how to take an oppositional relation to power that is, admittedly, implicated in the very power one opposes’ (p.17). If subjectivity is determined by objectification, how is resistance truly possible? This paradox is also why Benjamin (1998) and Chancer (1992) question the possibilities of mutually recognising relationships. Although Benjamin (1988) acknowledges that ‘the conception of equal subjects has begun to seem intellectually plausible only because women’s demand for equality has achieved real social force,’ the possibilities of gender expression in mutual recognition remain an ideal (p.221). Likewise, Chancer (1992) claims that ‘a new paradigm is required if compulsively sadomasochistic tendencies are not to be reiterated’ (p.205). How gender is expressed and experienced in states of mutual recognition cannot be fully understood as long as the gendered dominant/submissive dynamic pervades interpersonal and social relations. From this perspective, mutual recognition is fundamentally impossible as long as we live in a patriarchal society. 182 However, Butler (1997), employing Foucault’s theories on power, is able to find space for agency in this rather dismal perspective of identity development. Butler’s analysis suggests that the type of power that constructs the subject may not (necessarily) be the power that the subject expresses. There are many forms of power: productive, repressive, authoritarian, subjectifying, etc. Although power is key in the psychic formation of identity, she argues that powers at work in subjectivity may not have the repetitive quality feminist critics fear. Butler (1997) states: Assuming power is not a straightforward task of taking power from one place, transferring it intact, and then and there making it one’s own; the act of appropriation may involve an alteration of power such that the power assumed or appropriated works against the power that made that assumption possible (p.13). Thus, power can be ‘negative’ in its objectifying or repressive manifestations, but it may also be subjectifying, and there is no guarantee as to what the subject’s power will look like. Like a rebellious child, the subject’s power may overcome the power that created it-subjectivity as power’s potentially errant spawn. This insight carves space for agency and resistance in psychoanalytic theories of subject formation. The significance of the act of ‘recognition’ can be read in the play scenes and even lifestyle arrangements of BDSM practitioners. For example, metaphors of seeing, exposure, and the ‘gaze’ figure predominately in BDSM representations and discourse (Brame et al., 1993; Kamel & Weinberg, 1995). This is particularly interesting because the ‘gaze,’ according to feminist theory, is a way to articulate power. The gaze can of course objectify, but as theories of subject formation make clear, and as BDSM play acts out, it can also be an acknowledgement of recognition. In order to cultivate individual growth, the boundaries of subjectivity remain a focal point, and the metaphor of seeing the other is used to structure the Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Unleashing gender: Dependency, subjectivity and recognition in dominant/submissive relationships play. For example, the submissive may improve her own self-image and become more comfortable with her physicality when, at the request of her dominant, she agrees to revoke all privacy and allow her body to be examined in detail by her Master. The play is a way to process the dialectic of subjectivity/objectification, to digest both sides more effectively by lingering in the middle. In this sense, some BDSM play seeks to differentiate the gaze of subjectification from the gaze of objectification. Secretary (2002), directed by Steven Shainberg, is an excellent representation of this subjectifying gaze in BDSM. Although it is a fictional account, the film closely approximates some of the themes uncovered in qualitative research on BDSM practitioners. The story follows the relationship that develops between Mr. Grey (James Spader) and his younger, inexperienced secretary Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhal). During the first half of the film, there are repeated shots of Mr. Grey inspecting his orchids4. These shots function to highlight his concern and attention to detail as he uses an assortment of tools such as a magnifying glass, syringe, and mister to observe, protect, and encourage the bloom of the delicate flowers. However, as Mr. Grey and Lee’s love affair sprouts during the latter half of the film, shots of Mr. Grey gazing at Lee begin to dominate. Like those in the first part, these shots are usually long in duration from a medium-close distance, suggesting intimacy. The gaze shots function to parallel Mr. Grey’s care for his orchids to Mr. Grey’s care for his submissive, and highlight the ways in which masculine dominance can be nurturing. In this instance, the male dominant’s gaze functions as a nurturing gaze that ‘interpellates’ the submissive, Lee, into subjectivity. Viewers are assured that Mr. Grey’s gaze is nurturing by Lee’s metamorphosis from a
4 5

depressed, naive little girl to a self-assured young woman. Her budding sense of confidence and autonomy is marked both visually and narratively. For example, Lee’s costume changes from drab and dumpy to sophisticated, indicating her newfound maturity and poise. In voice over she explains that it is the first time in her life she has felt ‘free.’ Her transformation serves as evidence that their power exchange is affirming and consensual, and is an example of the paradox of subjectivity5. The film plays with the gendered nature of subjectivity, offering a powerful counterpoint to psychoanalytic theories on BDSM. BDSM participants may enact roles that mirror (or mime) socialised gender, but when they achieve mutual recognition, gender expression is experimented with, put into play. The construct of gender remains because we are social beings; however, options for experiencing and expressing gender open up in mutual recognition. In doing so, feminine behaviours and emotions can be read in both the sadistic and masochistic identity; and masculine traits become apparent in both submission and dominance. For example, the male master must take up the role of caring for the needs and desires of the submissive. If he fails this, the female submissive will cease giving submission, rendering him powerless. As an interviewee in Brame et al.’s (1993) research relates, ‘A lovely phrase that someone [used during] a lecture on the subject was, ‘Try not pleasing your submissive one time, and find out who’s actually in control. They won’t be around very long!’’ (p.79). Because the submissive can always revoke consent and withhold her surrender of power, the control the dominant has is always provisional. This is why ‘[m]embers of the D&S communities frequently debate exactly how much power a dominant genuinely possesses. Many …

Orchids are a significant choice in the film because the flowers also represent male sexual obsession.

Interestingly, such attention to Lee’s subjectivity also suggests that the film is acutely aware of the gender politics surrounding BDSM. In the finale of the film, while Lee is proving her consent to the relationship by sitting at Mr. Grey’s desk for many days and nights, there is even a representative feminist figure that visits Lee and urges her to read about ‘women’s liberation.’ But for Lee, liberation comes in the form of submission to Mr. Grey.

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Sarah A. Smith [feel] that in the final analysis, the submissive runs a D&S relationship’ (Brame et al., 1993, p.78). Thus, the caring required of the male master significantly redefines traditional masculinity. Likewise, the female submissive is required to be aware of and articulate her limits and desires. That is, she must speak up for herself. Such self-awareness radically redefines traditional femininity. Gender may continue to be present, but it cannot be played out to the objectification of either participant. After all, the BDSM power exchange is about the perpetual struggle for balance and growth, not annihilation. If, in the course of the power exchange, one partner becomes an object to the point that his or her self-identity dissipates, the exchange ceases (Kamel & Weinberg, 1995). Although Benjamin (1988) theorises that all BDSM relationships inevitably implode as the submissive becomes nothing, and thus uninteresting to the dominant, the ethnographic literature suggests that BDSM relationships can be extended and renewed, rather than used up, because they play with mutual tension and not imbalance. Recognition of this is essential to the longevity and overall health of the relationship because without each other, neither exists. For the relationship to last, the position or role of dominant is entirely dependent on his/her partner’s continued submission, and vice versa. Feminist psychoanalytic theory questions the possibility of female subjectivity because the tension between self and other manifests into culturally-specific power relations organised along axes of difference such as gender. That is, differences between self and other are articulated in terms of gender, race, class, (dis)ability, and so on, causing institutional inequality and discrimination. Yet, as outlined above, the paradox of subjectivity is that such differences may be psychologically necessary. If the self/other binary is psychologically essential and inevitable, the task becomes managing a balance or ‘constant tension’ between attunement and separation. Balancing dependency and subjectivity in mutual recognition therefore requires the negation of complex social hierarchies that are imprinted on every interpersonal relationship. According to the feminist psychoanalytic perspective, mutual recognition contains this tension, making psychological growth and the expression of non-conventional gender possible. As the next section will illuminate, the power exchange of the BDSM relationship can provide a structure, similar to mutual recognition, which maintains the constant tension between attunement and separation. This structure contains the paradox of subjectivity by symbolising it with the rituals, language, and gazes of BDSM.

Possibilities for growth and resistance to gender norms occur because the rituals and language of BDSM emphasise relationality and exchange. For example, the act of ‘collaring’6 a submissive usually includes conditions of submission and the responsibilities of the dominant. The collaring ceremony may even include the signing of a contract in which the terms of the relationship are explicitly written. To the outsider, being ‘owned’ may seem pathologically dependent. But to the practitioner, it is a relationship that has been clearly defined and acknowledged. Their relationship recognises all people are physically and psychically dependent on others, contracts and collaring simply articulate the terms of the ‘dependence.’ Such ‘articulation’ or ‘symbolising’ of dependence and connection is another key feature of BDSM. Practitioners role-play in ‘scenes,’ co-opt tools such as riding crops and handcuffs, and

Unleashing gender

6 Collars (leather or metal dog-collar style) are popular submissive apparel. They are often worn in the BDSM scene to heighten the experience of being controlled or owned by another person. In a collaring ceremony the dominant places a more permanent collar (perhaps even a necklace that can be worn in public) on his or her submissive. In many ways, this is analogous to a wedding ring.


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Unleashing gender: Dependency, subjectivity and recognition in dominant/submissive relationships create language (e.g. ‘Top,’ ‘Bottom,’ ‘Switch’) to represent both subjects’ relative dependence and control in the power exchange. BDSM customs seek to put into the symbolic realm that fundamental paradox of self and other captured in ‘mutual recognition.’ In essence, BDSM may have the same ‘skills building’ function as child’s play. The structures that characterise BDSM create the non-threatening open space of mutual recognition. Participants in the exchange are able to explore safely the tension between assertion and recognition. Although there are many reasons people might engage in BDSM, research suggests that for some abuse survivors BDSM can be potentially ‘reparative’ (Bader, 1993; Weille, 2002)7. Bader (1993) claims that for some patients in his practice, ‘erotic sadomasochism represents a psychological advance, a movement towards greater selfassertion, and a significant freeing up of their capacity for sexual pleasure’ (p.296). In other words, some BDSM play can be ‘adaptive’ in that it seeks to rewrite a variety of childhood and interpersonal traumas (i.e. abuse, humiliation, rejection, emotional absence, etc.). Likewise, Weille’s (2002) ethnographic research reveals the themes of ‘repetition’ and ‘repair’ in BDSM play. Practitioners frequently use frameworks of dominance and submission to repeat past (perhaps childhood) traumas in an effort to repair their damage. Just as Winnicott’s transitional realm offers children a way to explore the tension between assertion and connection, Weille (2002) argues that ‘the construction of these play scenarios can involve the same capacity for symbolising, activating both the recognition of difference and identification’ (p.140). BDSM can be a high-functioning relationship form because it is able to symbolise that tension between self and other that everyone experiences. It is a form of creative play and lifestyle that, much like art, music, and writing, helps deal with dread (Alford, 1997). By attempting to symbolise it, the creator initiates a process of mental containment in which the fear remains, but becomes less threatening to the self. One is able to experience another’s subjectivity as pleasurable, instead of threatening, able to experience the reality of contradiction without falling into a state of existential despair. Similarly, Renata Salecl (1998) suggests that BDSM play that involves pain may function to bring the body and its experiences into the symbolic. Identity may be, essentially, a ‘fiction,’ but it is nonetheless experienced as real. A cut, bruise, or mark helps symbolise the experience of reality and reaffirms corporeality. The ability to symbolise the fundamental paradox of identity provides the psychological space to balance the boundaries between self and other. It is from this position that the capacity for mutual recognition becomes possible, as we are able to experience attunement and separation in the presence of another subject. The rituals, customs, and structures of BDSM may function to symbolise this paradox, contain dread, and facilitate mutual recognition. In this sense, BDSM is a way to ‘negotiate’ the very real effects of social power. Although BDSM may not necessarily overthrow hierarchical power relations, it may be an effective reaction to social power. In their interviews with practitioners and experts on sexual dominance and submission, Brame et al. (1993) found that contrary to popular stereotypes: Lifestylers generally feel that the clear delineation of power issues at home liberates them socially. In effect, once the submissive grants power to the dominant, there is no reason to cede power to any other. They also believe that the communication needed to make a D&S

7 This does not mean that survivors of abuse are any more likely than non-abused invidiuals to have BDSM desires and behaviours. To the contrary, there is considerable evidence that BDSM practitioners do not have a greater incidence of childhood trauma than non-BDSM individuals (Moser & Madeson, 1996; Sandnabba et al., 2002).

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Sarah A. Smith relationship work effects immense positive changes in their daily lives. For them, D&S may help resolve larger control issues (p.166). The dynamic of interpersonal relationships helps manage social and cultural constraints. As another interviewee in Brame et al.’s (1993) study notes: ‘I often feel ineffectual, that the world goes on, and no matter what I do, I cannot influence it. So when I see clearly that there’s even one person who I can exert an influence on and to whom my every action is very important, it’s satisfying. It’s a feeling of affirmation’ (p.78). Thus, the roles adopted in the interpersonal relationship can mediate the roles enforced in our social world. Although BDSM practices may appear to invoke patriarchal gender, the space created in relationships characterised by mutual recognition allows participants to mediate and change gender expression. A more thorough incorporation of psychoanalytic theories of subjectivity, identity, and relationality expands the definition of masculinity to contain a particular type of male care, or dominant nurturance. Likewise, femininity is expanded to contain particular types of female strength, or submissive autonomy. In BDSM, masculinity is not synonymous with ‘independence,’ nor is femininity the same as ‘dependence.’ Gender still functions in BDSM relationships, but not necessarily as generally defined. Dependency and subjectivity are highlighted in the terms of BDSM relationships, creating the capacity for mutual recognition, as well as the opportunity to explore and expand sociallyconstructed positions of desire such as gender. Gender may be experienced as repressive and restrictive in the social world; however, as I have argued throughout this paper, the experience and meaning of gender in the interpersonal relationship can be productive. Theoretically, BDSM relationships may have similar effects on other aspects of socialised desire, such as (dis)ability, class, or race. Consider, for example, the meaning of 186 physical disability to a male dominant/sadist. Met with messages of inadequacy in the social world, the recognition and deference afforded him in a BDSM relationship may positively impact his mental health and ability to deal more effectively with discrimination. His dominant role in the intimate relationship can help manage the stress of cultural invisibility. Interestingly, if he partners with an able-bodied submissive, their BDSM relationship changes the concept of caregiving into erotic servitude, possibly foregoing common problems experienced by caregivers (e.g. ‘burnout’). Although more research is needed, it may be that play provides a way to symbolise (dis)ability tension, to put it into the space of mutual recognition, in order to qualitatively alter the experience of bodily subjectivity.


My intent throughout this paper has been to suggest that contrary to psychoanalytic expectations, mutual recognition can be read in the emerging ethnographic data on BDSM practitioners. The paradox of subjectivity and notions of dependency complicates the possibility of mutual recognition, particularly in a society so saturated with inequality and prejudice. However, by adding a more nuanced understanding of subject formation and power, and by suspending the urge to pathologise, aspects of mutual recognition in BDSM are uncovered. Significantly, BDSM relationships that embody the concept of mutual recognition also have the capacity to expand and change various positions of desire, such as gender. Thus, even when the roles enacted in BDSM appear to mimic stereotypical gender, it is important to analyse the ways in which gender is expressed and experienced by practitioners in states of mutual recognition. With this insight, we can develop more informed understandings of the psychological experience of desire, subjectivity, and dependency in interpersonal relationships.

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Unleashing gender: Dependency, subjectivity and recognition in dominant/submissive relationships


Sarah Smith, MA, is currently pursing her PhD in Women’s Studies at The Ohio State University. Her research interests include feminist political theory, visual and narrative culture, disability studies, and sexuality studies, specifically focusing on marginalised sexual communities.

Sarah A. Smith Department of Women’s Studies, The Ohio State University, 286 University Hall, 230 N. Oval Mall, Columbus, Ohio, 43210. E-mail: smith.2447@osu.edu

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Sarah A. Smith
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The erotic imagination: An existential phenomenological perspective
Trevor Butt
Sexual fantasies, particularly those with a sadomasochistic component, are difficult to research and not well understood. Psychoanalysis has provided some of the most interesting accounts of such fantasies. However, even the richest and most empathic of these are couched in the vocabulary of pathology and within the context of normative genital maturity. In this article, the work of Robert Stoller is reconsidered from the theoretical perspective of existential phenomenology. It is argued that a recognition of the ambiguity of experience and perception helps make sense of the erotic imagination in a way that does not pathologise it. Keywords: Merleau-Ponty, Robert Stoller, sexual fantasy, sadomasochism. Imagine, if you will, a panel of matched penises entering an equal number of a matched or randomised vaginas: the penises all thrust the identical number of thrusts, all simultaneously achieve orgasms of equal magnitude, and all withdraw at the same time, leaving all vaginas in an equal state of indifference. What can we possibly know about the character of any of these acts? Or any of the involved actors? Let me, if I may, suggest some reasonable candidates for this panel: a lower class male, having a mild sensual experience, though glowing with the anticipation of homosocial acknowledgement he will receive as long as the vagina did not belong to his wife. An upper class male crushed by his inability to bring his wife to orgasm. A male achieving unusual orgasmic heights because his partner is a prostitute or someone of equally degraded erotic status. A stereotyped Victorian couple ‘doing their thing’ – or is it ‘his thing’? – or possibly natives of rural Ireland. A husband fulfilling his marital obligations while dreaming dreams of muscular young truck drivers. A couple performing an act of sexual initiation in the back seat of a VW. A Belgian nun being raped by a Hun. (W. Simon: quoted in Plummer, 1982, p.231.) N THIS VIVID QUOTE, we are alerted to both the contextual meaning of action and the difference between behaviour and action. Psychologists’ focus on behaviour was meant to give us a disinterested external observer’s perspective that was publicly available to all. But action is a phenomenological concept: behaviour infused with meaning. Carrying out the same behaviour can mean entirely different things to different people. What is more, the same action can at the same time have more than one meaning for any particular person. This is partly what MerleauPonty (1962) meant by asserting that the lived world was ambiguous. In this article, I want to consider this ambiguity in perception, and how it applies to sexual fantasies. I will argue that psychoanalytic accounts of fantasy (Stoller, 1975, 1979, 1991) are useful in understanding fantasy, but that they can and indeed should be viewed from the existential phenomenological perspective of MerleauPonty (1962). I will focus on sadomasochistic (SM) fantasies. Fantasy is clearly integral to SM activity (see Brame et al., 1997), even though it might stand on its own as a private reverie. And according to psychoanalytic theory, a SM component in sexual life is very common, perhaps even inevitable (Freud, 1905/1977). I will begin by thinking about why this is a difficult area to research, and why people might be reluctant to elaborate any SM fantasies they may have. 189


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Trevor Butt There are various reasons why people may feel uncomfortable with fantasies with a sadomasochistic theme. Individuals do not exist insulated from society. Each person develops their own self-theory or narrative with reference to which they chart their conduct, and these narratives draw on societal resources (Butt & Langdridge, 2003; Butt, 2004). Of course, people do not just soak up prevailing cultural values like blotting paper; there exists a complicated articulation between personal and social construction. But social currents can be so strong that only forceful swimmers can overcome them. Butt and Langdridge (2003) argue that the British comedian Kenneth Williams, whose diaries were published posthumously (Davies, 1994), can be seen as someone who came to hate himself because these currents ran so powerfully through him. He made shameful and coded reference to sadomasochistic fantasies that led to desperate attempts to lead a celibate life. What are the strands of these currents? We can perhaps, identify three: the pathologising influence of psychiatry, the notion of development towards ‘full genital maturity’ enshrined in psychoanalysis, and the idea that in some way fantasies betray the intentions of a real self in Cartesian dualism. Pathologising in psychiatry The terms ‘sadism’ and ‘masochism’ were coined by Krafft-Ebbing (1897). Early psychiatrists like Krafft-Ebbing categorised human behaviour as though they were making medical diagnoses, and were swift to label anything other than missionaryposition intercourse between a man and a woman as perverted. Following the morality of the time, sex was seen as being about reproduction, not pleasure. Any sexual activity not tied in to reproduction was perverted. This medical framework became hegemonic in the discussion of sexualities, authorising prevailing cultural values. Any pretence at natural science objectivity was surely belied when in the 1970s, the American Psychiatric Association voted to 190 exclude homosexuality as a mental illness. Is it possible to imagine voting on whether, say, smallpox was a disease? Even as late as the 1960s, psychiatry pervaded all coverage of SM. Even texts tailored for a salacious interest were written from the point of view of the medical observer, allowing the reader to indulge in the thrill of SM under the cover of lofty disapproval, much in the style of licentious tabloid journalism. It was as though any legitimate enjoyment in this area was impossible to imagine. People with SM fantasies could not read truthful accounts from other enthusiasts, and had to conclude that there was something wrong with them, even if it was an illness and therefore not their fault. Immaturity in psychoanalysis For the psychoanalysts, fantasy and its associated masturbation is seen as regressive, belonging to an early stage of development. It binds the person to internalised objects, and stands in the way of developing satisfactory relations with external objects: real people in the real world. Freud (1905/1977) thought the problem with masturbation was that it preserved an ‘excellence’ of the object that could never be encountered in reality. In a sense, this mirrors the popular idea that masturbation is always a substitute for ‘the real thing’, and thus a sign of arrested development. The adult then, should be able to leave masturbatory fantasy behind in ‘natural’ development. The child also has successive foci for its sexual development: the mouth, the anus and finally, the genitals. Full genital maturity is the goal of successful development. Object relations theory (see Bott Spillius, 1988) underlines the importance of preoedipal development, the period in which ‘perversions’ supposedly develop. It argues that the infant’s relations with its objects (that is, objects of its libido) lays down a template that is likely to determine future relationships. In its later development, these objects are people, primarily the mother. But before the infant has a conception of a Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

The erotic imagination: An existential phenomenological perspective person at all, it is in relation with ‘partobjects’, principally the breast. The move from relations involving part to whole objects enables a development from the ‘paranoid schizoid’ position to the ‘depressive’ position. In the former, the infant is at the mercy of rages and terrors that accompany deprivation and discomfort. It indulges in phantasies (unconscious fantasies) of revenge and damage that lead inevitably to the fear of reprisal (hence the components of paranoia and splitting). The achievement of the depressive position is accompanied by a realisation of the potential damage to the person it loves, the whole object. Now it is important to note that these are not developmental stages in the Piagetian sense, but ‘positions’. We do not move once and for all from one to the other, unable to capture the naïve perception of a former stage. Instead, we move from one position to the other throughout life. Nevertheless, the mature individual is one in whom the balance is such that life is lived predominantly from the depressive position. Real selves in Cartesian dualism It seems entirely reasonable that we should always treat others as whole individuals, not merely as ‘sex objects’. The taboo nature of SM is perhaps that it appears to treat others as part-objects and merely as vessels for selfish gratification. In contemporary culture, the treating of others as ‘sexual objects’ has been derided in feminist literature (e.g. Brownmiller, 1975). But as we will discover in our discussion of the work of Stoller below, this fetishising is perhaps a feature of most, if not all sexual excitement. What is vital is that this aspect of sexuality is recognised and managed. In fact, Giddens (1992) suggests that SM might paradoxically pave the way for what he calls the pure relationship, in which power and respect is reciprocal. This is because so clear and unavoidable are the power relations inherent in SM that these have to be dealt with explicitly in any legitimate consenting relationship. Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3 But why should fantasy enjoyment have implications for how we think of ourselves? After all, most of us can tell the difference between fantasy and action. Perhaps we can find an answer to this conundrum by considering the assumption of Cartesian dualism that most people hold uncritically. Folk (and indeed some brands of academic) psychology holds that each person’s body is in a sense the container of a self. We talk of being true to, finding and discovering ourselves. Contrary to the position I have taken (that individuals each construct a private self theory using materials from the public sphere), it is generally held that some entity inside us guides our action. This view persists despite being discredited by philosophers from a wide range of schools (Ryle, 1949; Dewey, 1957; Mead, 1982; Wittgenstein, 1953; MacMurray, 1957; MerleauPonty, 1962). Following Descartes, most people privilege the private sphere over the public. It is as though what you think and fantasise about tells you more about a mythical ‘real self’ than how you act. Your sexual fantasies thus become an index of what you are ‘really like’. What all this suggests is that it is impossible to estimate the incidence of fantasies with an SM component. A century ago, Freud claimed that: ‘The history of civilisation shows beyond any doubt that there is an intimate connection between cruelty and the sexual instinct’ (1905/1977, p.72). Yet 100 years later, Denman (2004, p.207) notes that the Christian right, the lesbian left and the psychoanalytic mainstream are united in their condemnation of SM. There is little understanding of the phenomenon. Interestingly, one of the best attempts to make sense of it comes from the psychoanalytic camp. One researcher who has studied the erotic imagination is Robert Stoller. Stoller’s (1975, 1979) investigations began in psychoanalysis but moved to ethnography (1991).

The work of Robert Stoller

As an analyst, Stoller persisted in using medical terms, referring to ‘perversion’. 191

Trevor Butt But importantly, unlike the psychiatric establishment, he refused to categorise perversion in terms of a description of behaviour. So he insisted for example that homosexuality was not in any sense a perversion. Instead, he defined the perverse phenomenologically; in terms of the intention of the person. He claimed that perversion is constituted by an intention to harm one’s objects. For Stoller, sexual perversion occurs when our fantasy centres on part-object relations; in everyday language, treating people as objects and not people like us. His belief was that this results from early trauma in which the infant’s gender identity has been threatened by some real or potential attack. It is hostility – the desire, overt or hidden, to harm another person – that generates and enhances sexual excitement. The absence of hostility leads to sexual indifference and boredom. The hostility of eroticism is an attempt, repeated over and over, to undo childhood traumas and frustration that threatened the development of one’s masculinity and femininity. The same dynamics, though in different mixes and degrees, are found in almost everyone, those labelled perverse and those not so labelled. (Stoller, 1979, p.6) So he argued that perverted fantasy was ubiquitous. Kissing, flirting and missionary position intercourse are all behaviours that can well carry perverted intention. Indeed they do so regularly. The very notion of ‘possession’ is a form of hatred in Stoller’s object-relations terms. Damage to one’s objects then, is not necessarily literal damage to another person. The damage is in fantasy. His explanation for the commonplace of perversion lay in the corresponding commonplace of gender-threatening trauma that occurred in childhood (Stoller, 1975, 1979). Thrill, he contended, was the person’s attempt to master their terror at early trauma. The compulsion to repeat was a strategy designed to meet and deal with the threatening event again, this time safely framed in fantasy or game-playing. The horror film, fairground rides and dangerous sports can all be seen 192 from this perspective. In each case, the person seeks an experience in which some dread (say, ghosts, speed or heights) is encountered in a regulated way, enabling mastery. Sexual thrill is no different. The thrill of a rape, a beating or being restrained all repeat some real or imagined horror in the haven of fantasy. The sexual component is however characteristic of a certain type of trauma management: that in which the child’s gender identity was at risk. Some degradations and humiliations rock the foundations of a child’s core gender structure, and it is these that are repeated in the ‘perverted’ sexual fantasy. The triumph is in the orgasmic transformation of a previously terrifying event. Stoller’s evidence for this hypothesis came from his clinical practice. He claimed that time and again, the structure of a fantasy mirrored an earlier traumatic event. The fantasy condenses all the relevant features of this event. Stoller uses the metaphor here of a ‘microdot’: Microdot, more than fantasy, implies all at the same instance; an ability to condense masses of data; to be retrieved instantly into consciousness for actions, affects and inspiration; to be moved around weightlessly and slipped into situations in which it brings about the desired results. (1979, p.166) Everyone knows of the microdots of sexual excitement: a genteel clean woman in a quiet marriage of low erotic intensity is stabbed with excitement at the look and smell of a physically disreputable man of clearly lower class; a 12-year-old boy puts on his sister’s clothes, never before having cross dressed, and has an instantaneous, spontaneous orgasm, his first; a 40-yearold woman, well experienced in sexual activity, is with a new man, who, without warning, gives her a vicious slap on the buttocks, causing her to experience simultaneously, rage, humiliation, and fierce genital excitement; a man looks at a woman with a certain hairstyle and becomes nauseated … The number of examples is endless. (1979, p.167) Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

The erotic imagination: An existential phenomenological perspective For Stoller, the microdot has the added significance of being a code. Meaning is smuggled in, information avoids the attention of a censor. The full meaning of the fantasy is not spelled out for good reason. This is that the person wants both to have their cake and to eat it. He or she gets the gratification without reflecting on what all this is about; the terror of the original trauma. Now it is beyond the scope of this article to try to establish the usefulness (let alone the truth) of Stoller’s claims. Certainly the only evidence for it comes from clinical sources like his; other research fails to show any support whatsoever for it. This article will, however, consider the paradox that Stoller ends up with: that everyone is more or less perverse. Now this surely brings into question his terminology of perversion, drawing as it must on the discourse of the natural. When sexuality is seen as a drive, it becomes possible to contrast its natural course with perversions and deviations from that course intended by nature (Plummer, 1982). However, when ‘almost everyone’ is subject to the same dynamics, the very notion of perversion becomes meaningless. Stoller’s view became that humankind just is not a very loving species, and paradoxically, is ‘at its least loving when making love’ (Stoller, 1979, p.35). The perverse is statistically normal – Stoller (1979, p.34) quotes Devereux: ‘only an infinitesimal fraction of mankind is capable of behaving and experiencing even occasionally in a mature manner befitting genital characters’. The ‘natural’ is not normal, but an ideal that is rarely if ever achieved by normal mortals. both reiterated and elaborated his earlier stance towards psychoanalytic thought (Merleau-Ponty, 1962, 1963). On the one hand, he was drawn to and fascinated by psychoanalytic thought. He particularly applauded the unique way in which it took the body-subject seriously. But on the other hand he totally rejected the objective thought in which Freud cast his theory. Objective thought is that doctrine which assumes that the world is made up of separate objects, and that causal relations exist between them. This has become an accepted aspect of modern thought, as it is a keystone of natural scientific thinking. In physics, engineering and chemistry, it has proved itself to have a strong pragmatic value, even if its ultimate truth may be called into question in theoretical physics. However, Merleau-Ponty’s claim is that it has no place at all in an understanding of the ‘lived world’, or the psychology that tries to make sense of it (Butt, 2004; Hammond et al., 1991; Merleau-Ponty, 1962). So when, for example, we consider emotions, it does not help to think of them as like colours, which some psychologists have done (Kaufman, 1993). In this system, we would have a finite number of primary emotions (each of course, with a clear physiological basis), that might be mixed in any number of varieties, giving us the rich and diverse range of feeling that we can experience. At first glance, this might seem like a plausible proposition. But our experience (the lived world) tells us otherwise. We know that we can feel extreme irritation and love for the same person, almost simultaneously, and the two do not in any way cancel each other out. In fact what can make life so uncomfortable for us so much of the time is precisely that we feel apparently incompatible emotions in this way: lust and dislike, disgust and attraction, love and hate. Neither does it make sense to think in terms of causal (or what Merleau-Ponty termed ‘external’) relations. Psychologists have divided the lived world into the separate faculties of cognition, behaviour and affect. 193

The work of Merleau-Ponty

I will now draw on the thought of MerleauPonty to try to understand this paradox. Unlike Sartre, who was his contemporary, Merleau-Ponty was generally sympathetic to the project of psychoanalysis. One of Merleau-Ponty’s last pieces of writing was his preface to Hesnard’s Oeuvre de Freud (Merleau-Ponty, 1993). In this preface, he Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Trevor Butt They then inquire into the causal relations between them. Skinner (1974) famously contended that cognition and affect changed in the wake of behaviour, while contemporary cognitive therapists (Ellis, 1975; Beck, 1976) argue for the primacy of cognition. ‘Common sense’ which has accepted objective thought here as the natural attitude, inclines us to think that we can be overwhelmed by emotion that changes how we then think and act. But Merleau-Ponty (1962) rejected both these distinctions and any causal connection between cognition, affect and behaviour. This was the point, much misunderstood, that was made by William James more than a century ago. James (1982) was unhappy with the Cartesian dualism that separated mind from body, and insisted that emotions were rooted in the body. It was not that running away caused us to feel afraid; rather the emotion of fear is constituted by our action. Similarly, Merleau-Ponty (1962) stressed that we should think of the person not as a mind inside a body, but instead as a lived body. It is not that our body is powered and directed by some inner mind. Instead, we find ourselves already engaged with the world without necessarily reflecting on this engagement. What goes on between people precedes what goes on within them. Merleau-Ponty’s claim was that objective thought did not do justice to how we find ourselves in the lived world. Each bodysubject perceives the world as fraught with ambiguity. Just as the Necker Cube can be seen in many different ways (Ihde, 1986), so we can and often do perceive the world in different ways at the same time. We can see the Necker cube change rapidly from one common inversion to the other, and with a minimum of suggestion, see less obvious inversions as well. Furthermore, we are in no simple sense in control of these different perceptions; instead the world presents itself to us in different ways, and we are aware that the ambiguous nature of the figure makes it open to different meanings. We can, to some extent, train ourselves to see different inver194 sions. So by focusing on a particular facet of the cube, we can bring out a particular perception. But we cannot will particular versions not to appear. This is what MerleauPonty (1962) meant by ‘the primacy of perception’. Neither our intellect nor the features of the world itself cause perceptions. Rather, we are connected to the environment in such a way that it is our interaction with it that underlines the ambiguity of the lived world. One could talk of being unconscious of some meanings of a configuration. But it would be a mistake to think that we should look ‘inside’ a person to discover the root of this ‘unconscious’. This would be to commit us to the sort of Cartesian dualism that Merleau-Ponty wholeheartedly rejected. He cautiously accepted the term ‘unconscious’ as a code for the recognition of the ambiguity of the life-world. It is ‘an index of an enigma’ (1993, p.71). We can translate the psychoanalysts’ idea of an unconscious mind into Merleau-Ponty’s concept of the prereflective body. Without necessarily being able to articulate its connection with the world, each body-subject anticipates and reacts to events in an intentional manner. When I move my eyes, I take account of their movement, without being expressly conscious of the fact, and am therefore aware that the upheaval caused in my field of vision is only apparent. Similarly, sexuality, without being the object of any intended act of consciousness, can underlie and guide specified forms of my experience. Taken in this way, as an ambiguous atmosphere, sexuality is coextensive with life. In other words, ambiguity is of the essence of human existence, and everything we live or think has always several meanings. (1962, p.169) We can see here both the similarity and difference between the thought of Freud and that of Merleau-Ponty. Merleau-Ponty thought Freud correct in sexuality pervading all aspects of existence – for example, in dreams, symbols, and the sensations of different mucous membranes. But this does Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

The erotic imagination: An existential phenomenological perspective not mean that sexuality lurks behind existence, at its foundation, albeit repressed. Sexuality is not a central drive, the natural course of which can be dammed up and perverted. It is not a separate sphere of existence that causes ripples in other spheres, as objective thought would have us believe. From Merleau-Ponty’s perspective it is not so much figure as ground in our perception. It is instead ‘an atmosphere’, one that frames our perception and action. Stoller’s examples of microdots – a slap, cross-dressing, a particular hairstyle – will not appear as in any way sexual to many people. And to those for whom they are microdots, they will not appear necessarily as exclusively sexual. In his example above, they may lead simultaneously to ‘rage, humiliation, and fierce genital excitement’. Feelings, which, to an observer might appear incompatible, are experienced forcefully together. It is this ambiguity that the object relations theorists have attempted to capture in talking of part-object relations. Backed up with speculation about early infant development and an assumption about an ideal of ‘full genital maturity’, they have pathologised sadomasochistic and other ‘paraphilias’ as perverse. As we have seen, they might find this perversion to be the norm, but they speak from the moral heights; humankind is at its least loving when making love. But if it is misleading to think of sexuality as a fundamental force behind existence, it is also wrong to see it as simple reflection of existence: ‘life is particularised into separate currents … there can be no question of allowing sexuality to become lost in existence, as if it were no more than an epiphenomenon’ (1962, p.159). Sexuality in no way represents what a person is ‘really like’. So discovering that a politician has been sexually unfaithful does not mean that we have to re-assess all their actions as in some way untrustworthy. The ambiguity of the lifeworld extends to these ‘particularised currents’. A person’s sexual masochism does not indicate something about his or her basic nature, and neither does it balance any Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3 dominance in other domains of a person’s existence. Too often we see caricatures of masochists as frustrated old colonels or judges whose sexual life provides a necessary counter balance to their exercising of power in the real world. The developmental model of the psychoanalysts encourages us to look for causal explanations in a person’s history. It is just too easy to see upper class men as maternally deprived and trying to return to the punitive but comforting care of a nanny. Perhaps the English upper classes have in the past been most likely to have had the money, opportunity and culture to allow them to elaborate a fantasy life. Similarly, Freud’s patients who relished the imagined punishment of a rival child were not betraying some deep sadistic flaw in their makeup.

The SM story and fantasy

The prevailing model of the person is set in a Cartesian dualist framework that inclines people to think of their sexual fantasies as an index of a true self. Our ‘natural attitude’ is to privilege the Cartesian private sphere, privileging imagination over action. Denman (2004, p.210) notes how objectrelations thought has underlined this myth: ‘when sex is in question, the tone of discussion by the analysts is so relentlessly hostile, contemptuous and denigratory that all the patient’s sexual and other life is at once prejudged as hopelessly pathological and contaminated’. The work of Stoller has been useful in that it has opened up the workings of the erotic imagination, showing the ubiquitous nature of what he called ‘perversion’. His research led to the paradoxical conclusion that everyone is perverse. The main aim of object relations therapy is to get us to accept ourselves; its proposition is that we are a dangerous species and have to come to terms with what we are. Only in this way can we think about and manage ourselves (Freud’s adage of ‘where there was id there shall be ego’). But the pathological vocabulary of this theoretical framework, along with its clinical 195

Trevor Butt context in which SM fantasies are presumed problematic, provides further resistance to their acceptance. Denman (2004, pp.207–208) underlines the perils of confusing the erotic imagination with practice; there is a world of difference between the criminal sexual sadist and the SM enthusiast. The former seeks unwilling victims, is cold and emotionally detached, and has no inclination to switch and take the role of the bottom. SM devotees by contrast, are interested in consensual role-play in a sexual context, taking measures to ensure safety, and taking the role of the other. Their role play is infused with fantasy, which endows it with sexual excitement. Denman recommends a sharp distinction between transgressive and coercive sex. Whereas coercion is to be deplored, transgressive sex transgresses contemporary social mores. And what Stoller has shown is that the erotic imagination invariably has a transgressive component. Denman (2004, p.92) argues that the strength of Stoller’s contribution to the understanding of SM lies not in his psychoanalytic theory (with which he became increasingly critical), but in his careful observation of phenomenological detail. MerleauPonty’s thought helps us make sense of Stoller’s paradox. The lived world is ambiguous. It is no surprise that at the same time a sexual partner can appear both as a ‘sex object’ (or part-object) and a person like us (a whole object). It is not surprising that one might switch from being dominant to submissive, and then to neither. Only if we adopt objective thought do we think in terms of inhabiting either the paranoid-schizoid or the depressive positions. In the ambiguous lived world it is more appropriate to think in terms of ‘both/and’ rather than ‘either/or’. Sexuality is not a driving force that tells of a deep-seated truth within us, but an expression of the ambiguous way in which we are connected to the world.


I am very grateful to Dr Darren Langdridge for his comments on an earlier draft of this article.


Dr Trevor Butt is Reader in Psychology at the University of Huddersfield. He has published extensively in the field of Personal Construct Theory and phenomenology. He is the author of Understanding People (Palgrave) and, with Vivien Burr, An Invitation to Personal Construct Psychology (Wiley). Dr Trevor Butt Department of Behavioural Sciences, The University of Huddersfield, Queensgate, Huddersfield HD1 3DH. E-mail: T.Butt@hud.ac.uk

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Actively dividing selves: S/M and the thrill of disintegration
Darren Langdridge
This paper examines the ways in which a divided self may be actively cultivated for thrill in sadomasochistic scenes. In The Divided Self, Laing (1959/1990) presented an existential theory of schizophrenia and personal alienation describing a process where there is a separation of self/body amongst the ontologically insecure outsider. Whilst Laing’s theory concerns an experience of deep despair, van DeurzenSmith (1991) argues that the theory should be reconceptualised as a way of understanding the existential anxiety common to all human experience rather than just the extreme experience of psychosis. In this paper I draw on some of Laing’s ideas to look at the way in which the splits between the self/body might be deliberately cultivated during sadomasochistic sex scenes amongst ontologically secure individuals. In addition, I explore the ways in which ‘petrification’ (Laing, 1959/1990) and ‘the look’ (Sartre, 1943/2003) might also be key parts of the sadomasochistic experience. Keywords: existentialism, divided self, Laing, Sartre, S/M. AING WROTE A widely-known classic of psychological literature, The Divided Self (Laing, 1959/1990). In it Laing presents an existential theory of schizophrenia and personal alienation describing a process where there is a separation of self/body amongst the ontologically insecure outsider. Whilst Laing’s theory concerns an experience of deep despair, van Deurzen-Smith (1991) argues that the theory should be reconceptualised as a way of understanding the existential anxiety common to all human experience, rather than just the extreme experience of psychosis. In this paper I draw on key ideas from Laing’s theory to look at the way in which the splits between the self/body might be deliberately cultivated during sadomasochistic sex scenes amongst ontically1 secure individuals. To this end, I employ descriptions of sadomasochistic (S/M) sex practices and scenes to illustrate the ways in which dividing the self might be actively cultivated in order to experience the thrill that can be generated from facing such existential anxiety. Laing argues that there are


three forms of anxiety that are particularly likely for the ontologically insecure individual: engulfment, implosion and petrification. These forms of anxiety, and especially petrification, are, I will argue, used in creative ways in some S/M practices. I explore the relationship between Laing’s (1959/1990) notion of ‘petrification’ and ‘the look’ (Sartre, 1943/2003) and their creative use in sadomasochistic sex play. This paper presents an attempt to psychologically theorise (some) sadomasochistic sex practices from a non-pathological perspective. By using existential theory, grounded in the phenomenology of the practitioner’s themselves, it is possible to attempt to understand the appeal of S/M practices without rushing under the skull for unconscious motivations. The focus is on practices rather than practitioners, whilst accepting that the former implicates and implies the latter, and whilst I believe the theorisation to be strong it can not and should not be seen as the final word. The paper is theoretically, rather than empirically driven and only considers a limited range of

1 Laing refers to ‘ontological insecurity’ rather than ‘ontical insecurity’. It is this error that van Deurzen-Smith believes led Laing to associate a divided self with schizophrenia. This is an important distinction that will be discussed later in the paper.


Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3 © The British Psychological Society 2005 ● ISSN 1467–2472

Actively dividing selves: S/M and the thrill of disintegration sexual practices – in the main sadomasochistic sex practices. But the theorisation is a sympathetic one coming from a writer comfortable with their own gay sexuality and positively ‘attuned’ (Heidegger, 1962) to the meaning of such practices. This is important since previous psychological theorisations have been driven by a pathological ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’ (Ricoeur, 1970) that has unfortunately resulted in explanations in search of cure. I have no such aim, believing that these practices represent some ‘truth’ about human sexuality. My aim, therefore, is to attempt to produce a psychological theoretical understanding of the appeal of such practices. This theorisation does not supersede alternative non-pathological explanations such as those from psycho-physiological, anthropological or spiritual perspectives. Instead, I believe this theorisation can be seen to provide a missing middle between physiological and social explanations by providing a nonpathological psychological understanding. I begin by discussing previous attempts to explain the appeal of S/M and the tendency to pathologise the experience. I outline key features of Laing’s (1959/1990) theory of the divided self and then move on to discuss van Deurzen-Smith’s (1991) argument that Laing’s theory had such an impact because it spoke to a universal experience of existential anxiety rather than one of psychopathology. I then introduce Sartre’s (1943/2003) notion of ‘the look’ and discuss the similarities between this and Laing’s notion of ‘petrification’. Finally, I suggest that part of the appeal of particular sadomasochistic sex practices comes from the way they exploit the possibility of dividing one’s self and experiencing the process of petrification in order to come face-to-face with the existential anxiety that these processes produce. To this end, I argue that coming face-to-face with existential anxiety is not simply uncomfortable and challenging but also thrilling and creative.

Explaining sadomasochism

Psychological and medical perspectives on S/M have historically been concerned with understanding it as a form of psychopathology. Originally (but still often today) studies of S/M were concerned with extreme and most often non-consensual acts. Psychomedical analyses of these non-consensual acts were then invariably applied to consensual sadomasochistic sexual acts. Sexual sadism and masochism are still classified as psychiatric disorders within both the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM-IV) and the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10). Like homosexuality some 20 years ago, sadomasochistic sex is considered alongside rape and child sexual abuse as individual sexual pathology in need of explanation, treatment and cure. Explanations for sadomasochism have come from a wide variety of different theoretical perspectives including Freudian and object relations theories (Freud, 1905, 1920; Sack & Miller, 1975; Sadger, 1926), which have suggested it is due to psychic conflict within the individual, unification of love and hate in one’s earliest object relations and/or fear of object loss. Other psychoanalytic writers (e.g. Stoller, 1975) have suggested S/M may be due to a need to re-enact early trauma. Behavioural theorists have also attempted to explain S/M, in terms of paired association and reinforcement of early trauma (Jaspers, 1963; Sack & Miller, 1975). Finally, there have been attempts to understand S/M as the result of differential brain pathology (e.g. Goodman, 1987). See Taylor (1997) for a review and critique of all of this work (and discussion of non-pathological psycho-physiological, anthropological and spiritual theories of S/M). None of these theories have a great deal of empirical support and have also predominantly focused on people engaged in S/M who feel it is an unwanted and problematic part of their lives and/or those who engage in nonconsensual acts of sexual violence. More recently, Taylor (1997), Taylor and Ussher (2001), Beckman (2001), and Langdridge 199

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Darren Langdridge and Butt (2004, 2005) have published research, grounded in the experience of the participants, which explores the discursive construction of sadomasochism. This research has sought to understand the stories practitioners themselves tell of their lives and sexual practices rather than rely on pathologising psycho-medical explanations. The present paper builds on this later work in an attempt to provide a phenomenologically grounded explanation for the thrill that may come from particular sadomasochistic sex practices. It is important to note, however, that this is not an explanation for S/M as a whole. The focus in this paper is on providing a non-pathological psychological explanation to help understand the appeal of some, but not all, S/M practices. As Langdridge and Butt (2005) point out, S/M practices, people and communities are as varied as heterosexual practices, people and communities and any explanation must, therefore, be provisional and contingent. disturbance most commonly understood as psychopathology. Laing (1959/1990) begins The Divided Self with an outline of his phenomenological programme of research concerned with understanding the experience of what is commonly termed schizophrenia. He then moves on to define ontological insecurity, a key concept in the divided self. Laing thought that most people live in a state of ontological security where their sense of self is real and substantial, stable and secure. There is also, crucially, a sense of being-inthe-world-as-embodied, where persons feel they are co-extensive with their bodies. However, Laing thought that some persons, for a variety of reasons, but principally due to problems with early family relations, do not experience such a state of ontological security and instead experience themselves and the world as unreal and insubstantial, unstable and insecure. With this ontological insecurity comes a feeling of separation, or split, between self and body, as the body becomes just another object in the world. In this position the individual experiences his self as being more or less divorced or detached from his body. The body is felt more as one object among other objects in the world than as the core of the individual’s own being. Instead of being the core of his true self, the body is felt as the core of a false self, which a detached, disembodied, ‘inner’, ‘true’ self looks on at with tenderness, amusement or hatred as the case may be. (Laing, 1990, p.69) The ontologically insecure person is, according to Laing (1959/1990), particularly vulnerable to three forms of anxiety: engulfment, implosion and petrification. Engulfment is where the ontologically insecure individual feels they might be overwhelmed by the other; and with this loses their sense of identity. Laing argues that the ontologically insecure individual comes to dread relating to others as a consequence and uses isolation as the main strategy for ameliorating the effect of this particular form of anxiety. Implosion is, similar to Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

The Divided Self

R.D. Laing was probably the greatest promoter of existential therapy in Britain and, together with David Cooper and Aaron Esterson, a significant figure in the antipsychiatry movement (van Deurzen-Smith, 1997). His work was strongly influenced by existentialism, particularly the work of Heidegger and Sartre, but also object relations theory, and the work of Winnicott, his first supervisor. His work suffers, existentially speaking, at times from the influence of object relations theory but he was still tremendously important in the development of existential ideas in Britain in the late 1950s and 1960s. Probably his best, and certainly his most well known, work is The Divided Self. This is a classic piece of psychotherapeutic literature with much in it that is relevant to therapists and psychiatrists working with people suffering from psychosis today. This work was influential in the developments of Kingsley Hall and the Philadephia Association, experiments in living for people experiencing psychological 200

Actively dividing selves: S/M and the thrill of disintegration Winnicott’s notion of impingement, where an individual feels empty, wants the emptiness to be filled yet fears this since they are their emptiness. Petrification and depersonalisation come in three forms: the terror of being turned to stone, the dread of this ‘petrification’ happening, and the ‘magical’ act where one turns ‘the other’ into stone. Laing distinguishes the everyday experience of depersonalising the other, which he recognises is similar to Sartre’s (1943/2003) notion of ‘the look’ (described below), and the extreme petrifying experience of individuals constantly faced with such threats. The ontologically insecure individual needs to ‘petrify’ the other in order to sustain his or her own sense of identity, which might otherwise be drained away as one becomes an object in ‘the look’ of the other. If the other is no longer a free agent then they no longer have the power to turn their look on another person and turn them into an object. sophically. This, in turn, led Laing to (principally) relate the experiences of dividing self and body, engulfment, implosion and petrification with psychopathology founded on a different (insecure) ontology. So, for Laing, there was something inherently different about the being of people who are ontologically insecure, in a way that is to a certain extent unknowable to those of us whose being is ontologically secure. But, a different ontological state can only be known philosophically, since empirical data will do little to enable us to understand the ontological status of ourselves or any other and this is the error that Laing made in The Divided Self. Those ontic qualities, like our particular form of embodiment, our particular place in the world, our particular familial relationships and so on, that make up our existence and understanding of the world are, however, accessible to experience. And with this, we can recognise a common everyday experience of ontical insecurity leading to existential anxiety and the possibility of a divided self. This distinction is vital if one is to argue, as I do in this paper, that there is an everyday experience of existential anxiety, which is accessible to all, and not just those individuals who have the misfortune to be ontologically insecure, that may lead to experiences such as those described vividly in The Divided Self. I began to see how Laing had put his finger on the core of human experience, but had failed to see the value of this. Whilst people reproached him for having idealized the experience of the schizophrenic, I began to reproach him for having mystified the experience of ontological insecurity by linking it indissolubly with schizophrenia. To me, what Laing was describing was pure existential anxiety, but while Laing described the terror of existential anxiety, as clearly as Kierkegaard had done a century earlier, he insisted on medicalizing it by tying it to a pathological condition. … By equating ontological insecurity to the onset of 201

The universal experience of The Divided Self

Laing’s (1959/1990) work is principally concerned with experiences traditionally thought psychopathological and at times involve a somewhat uncomfortable mix of existentialism and object relations theory. With this in mind, van Deurzen-Smith (1991, 1997) argues that Laing’s notion of ontological insecurity should be understood more properly as a characteristic of ordinary human experience. She believes that much of the popular appeal of Laing’s work was due to his sympathetic understanding of the essential human difficulties we must all face, if we are willing to come face-to-face with an ‘authentic’ way of ‘being-in-the-world’ (Heidegger, 1927/1962). As van DeurzenSmith (1997) states, Laing confused the ‘ontic’ with the ‘ontological’ (Heidegger, 1927/1962): the ‘ontic’ being the particular factical existence of entities, that may be understood through empirical investigation and the ‘ontological’, that which pertains to being and can only be understood philoLesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Darren Langdridge schizophrenia Laing had in fact achieved making existential anxiety more taboo, isolating it, as it were, in a psychotic ghetto. (van Deurzen-Smith, 1991, p.42) van Deurzen-Smith is also keen to challenge the either/or understanding of ontological insecurity in Laing; that is, we either conform to the everyday as part of ‘the they’ (Heidegger, 1927/1969) or we rebel, face the anxiety of authenticity (Heidegger, 1927/1969) and risk psychopathology. Instead, she suggests that it is possible to be sensitive to the human condition, break free of ‘the they’ and express these insights in a creative manner. Schizophrenia may be due in part to a special existential sensitivity but as van Deurzen-Smith (1991, p.44) states ‘Schizophrenia seems to me a special sensitivity with quite a lot else on top’. Heidegger (1927/1969) and Sartre (1943/2003) emphasise the empty nature of the self that results in our freedom and responsibility, should we be prepared to accept it. Existence is, therefore, verb-like, rather than noun-like, strictly speaking we are ‘selving’ beings rather than a ‘self’, or as Sartre (1943/2003) simply says ‘Existence precedes essence’. But with this empty existence, freedom and responsibility comes ontical insecurity and existential anxiety. This freedom requires creative experiments in living if we are to recognise an ‘authentic being-in-the-world’ where we understand the limits of our existence and meet them with courage. footsteps and finds himself subject to the look of another and with the transition from observer to observed, from subject to object, feels deep shame. The observer now becomes aware of himself as they are seen by another and feel shame of self through recognition that they are that object observed by the other. Later they may be able to use ‘bad faith’ to hide the experience from themself. However, for now, the observer turned observed comes to realise the unpredictability that comes from the fact that the other is free. The individual is no longer ‘master of the situation’ and has to face the fear and fascination that this produces (Sartre, 2003, p.288): Two important consequences result. The first is that my possibility becomes a probability which is outside me. In so far as the Other grasps it as eaten away by a freedom which he is not, in so far as he makes himself a witness of it and calculates its results, it is a pure indetermination in the game of possibles, and it is precisely thus that I guess at it. Later when we are in direct connection with the Other by language and when we gradually learn what he thinks of us, this is the thing which will be able at once to fascinate us and fill us with horror. Sartre, unlike Laing, emphasised the everyday quality of being objectified and objectifying the other. His focus was, rather typically, on the negative emotional consequences of such a phenomena. For Sartre, shame was key in understanding the transition from subject to object even though he recognised a role for pride. But can we not also see the possibility for another emotional response to being objectified and objectifying the other, implicit in Sartre and Laing and also there in our own experience, the possibility for thrill? Surely, part of the reason observing another through a keyhole is appealing in the first place is the thrill that comes from, not necessarily conscious, knowing that we might be caught and turned into an object? For if there is no emotional benefit in risking objectification then what is Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

The Look

Laing himself recognises the similarity between his concept of petrification and Sartre’s (1943/2003) notion of ‘the look’. In Being and Nothingness, Sartre (1943/2003) vividly recounts the experience of a man secretly looking through the keyhole at another. He excitedly captures the other that he is observing through the keyhole in his look, objectifying them. They are caught up in the act of observing the other and lose the sense of being a self inhabiting consciousness. However, the observer suddenly hears 202

Actively dividing selves: S/M and the thrill of disintegration the motivation behind such behaviours? Experience tells us, I believe, that there is indeed the possibility of shame through objectification but also, rather crucially, considerable excitement through risking the possibility of experiencing such shame. This idea and others from Laing are pursued further below as I turn to illustrate my argument that dividing a self and becoming an object for the other/being objectified by the other might be as thrilling as much as they are terrifying. rather than the practitioner, even though the practitioner is of course necessarily being theorised. It is also worth noting that several of the practices considered below may not be considered sadomasochistic practices and indeed I am not attempting to argue that they should be. Instead, I am using these practices to illustrate the dimensional nature of the phenomena, and hence my theorisation, where clear categories of practice and meaning become problematic. That is, I argue that it is impossible to simply categorise S/M practices differently from non-S/M practices since, as previous research has demonstrated (see Langdridge & Butt, 2004, for instance), these practices exist on a continuum, both experientially and theoretically, with non-S/M practices. Experientially, many people understand and incorporate S/M practices (like spanking, submission and dominance, bondage and so on) into their ‘everyday’ sex lives, not recognising them as particularly different or distinct ways of relating to their partner/s sexually. Instead, they are simply existing aspects of or extensions to ‘vanilla’ sexuality. Theoretically, the core of the argument advanced here is that the existential anxiety that underpins many S/M practices is accessible to us all and can therefore be experienced by us all when engaging in a range of sexual practices, from the non-S/M to the S/M. In spite of this, however, most of the practices described here are sadomasochistic for the practitioners. Dividing Self and Body A number of S/M scenes and practices, broadly defined, demonstrate the intentional splitting of self and body. In the following discussion of sadomasochistic practices, we can see a move from partial splitting towards a total division of self and body. This graduation is important in understanding the existential thrill that may be found in practices which seek to cultivate a split between self and body. Existential anxiety is there in all aspects of life as an ontological given (Heidegger, 1927/1962) but only 203

Actively Dividing Selves

In the following section I seek to explore the ways in which the divided self, ‘petrification’ and ‘the look’ can be used as an ‘active hermeneutic’ for understanding the root location of the thrill that may be experienced with particular sadomasochistic sex practices. That is, these theories will be used to identify and interrogate particular experiences of S/M practice in order to further explain the meaning inherent in such practices. I use examples of practices and scenes from the web and a selection of texts to illustrate my arguments. These texts are used simply to illustrate particular S/M practices to the reader unfamiliar with them. I focus on male S/M, and mostly gay male, rather than female heterosexual, bisexual or lesbian S/M. This is mostly a matter of convenience but also represents a desire to limit the boundaries of the analysis. Previous literature has suggested that it might be wise for future work on S/M to take care not to conflate the experiences of men and women (Langdridge & Butt, 2004). This argument, and the fact that my understanding of S/M practices is bounded through my position as a gay man, has led me to focus exclusively on male understandings of these practices. However, in spite of this, I would want to (tentatively) suggest that the arguments made in this paper should be equally applicable to the experience of men and women, gay and straight, when engaged in the particular practices described herein. My focus is on the practice and its ‘ontic meaning’, Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Darren Langdridge becomes readily apparent as we begin to glimpse those moments of authentic living. Glory holes and cruising often involve the separation of part from whole and with that the partial separation of self from body. The particular appeal of these practices is the anonymous satiation of desire that they provide. There is no attempt to see self and other as persons with hopes and desires but to see self and other as only flesh, or part flesh, seeking the pleasures that come with such ways of encountering the other only as a body-object. It started, as many another weird adventure has started, online. I was invited over to a guy’s house to stick my cock through his homemade glory hole and get sucked off. … So I do. From what I can see through the glory hole, he’s an attractive man, the kind of guy I’d want to approach in a bar. But that isn’t the point. The point is that I’m a dick, he’s a mouth, and that’s all there is to that. … But at the moment, he and I aren’t fully rounded people with complex emotional lives. He’s a mouth. I’m a hard on. Kinkorama – Sheppard (2003, p.7) Edmund White (1998: 399) describes a similar experience in his autobiographical novel The Farewell Symphony: One wall was perforated with saucer-sized holes at waist height – glory holes. Guys would stick their cocks through these holes and get sucked off by unseen mouths on the other side. Drug assisted divisions are also used by some men engaged in S/M sex play. Drugs like ketamine, a dissociative anaesthetic, in particular engenders a sense of dissociation and a feeling that one is floating outside one’s body, observing the action but unable to intervene. The ‘K Hole’ is the experience of being high on ketamine, totally incapacitated and no longer a person integrated with their body. Users report feeling far away or floating above their bodies and unable to move the body they see below them. Putting aside the question of whether it is desirable to use ketamine, this extreme sense of 204 mind/body separation is sought out by some men, and particularly some gay men, engaging in S/M practices. The thrill appears to come from watching one’s own body being enjoyed by others, knowing that you are helpless to intervene, or being an observer on the body-object that was formerly one’s own body-self. The self is, therefore, divided from body and this in particular appears to engender a particular sexual thrill. But here, unlike schizophrenic dissociation, there is the possibility of managing the division, inducing the experience through self medication and then returning to a sense of ontical security when the effects of the drug subside. Pain play may also involve the separation of self and body. Through the increasingly heightened use of pain, the person experiencing the pain may come to feel they are a consciousness outside their body. The ‘new primitives’ movement, which is considered by many within SM communities to represent the extreme spiritual end of the S/M spectrum, is particularly keen on embracing a re-turn to these practices. In another body ritual, I invited trusted friends to pierce my chest with two large hooks and suspend me by these piercings in the style of the Ogalala Sioux Sun Dance and Mandan O-Kee-Pa ceremonies. That experience proved to be truly transformative; life-altering. After I swung free it took only about 10 seconds and I was lifted out of my body where I drifted up to a White Light that radiated incredible love and understanding. The Light said, ‘Hello, I am you and you are me. And I am as close to God as you will ever be!’ Fakir Musafar, from http://www.bmezine.com/news/fakir/ 20030814.html This particular practice is probably the most extreme and deliberate attempt to split self from body. It is also probably the most obvious way of coming face-to-face with the pleasures and dangers of such self/body splitting. Reports of such practices (see Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Actively dividing selves: S/M and the thrill of disintegration Bean, 2001, along with Fakir Musafar’s website) indicate that there is a crucial moment where one must let go and allow the split to occur, panic can and does set in at this moment as the fear of facing death becomes apparent. But reports show that if the individual can allow him or herself to let go and experience this most extreme example of dividing self from body then they can also experience some of the most profound aspects of this particular disembodied way of being-in-the-world. The Look and the Process of Petrification A number of common S/M practices involve playing with ‘petrification’ (Laing, 1959/1990) and ‘the look’ of the other (Sartre, 1943/2003). The use of restraint, hoods, gags, suspension and mummification all can involve the deliberate depersonalisation of one by another. Mummification is probably the most extreme form of restraint and I think the practice that most obviously involves petrification. The aim is to totally immobilise the body of the mummee. Most often this involves the use of cling film and gaffer tape or rubber bandages or rubber sleep sacks. These all entail the close control of all aspects of the mummee. Traditionally, the only exposed parts of the mummee would be the genitals, nipples and buttocks. The face would be covered and mouth often gagged with only the necessary holes to prevent suffocation. The mummee is almost literally turned to stone as they are totally silenced, depersonalised and immobilised. Figure 1 (overleaf) describes the process of mummification in more detail and also includes a conversation between a mummee and top after their first mummification session. In the case of mummification, there is the attendant anxiety that comes from the fear of being turned to stone along with, for the top, the magical sensations of turning the other to stone. The power experienced from taking control and objectifying the other is particularly clear with this particular sexual practice. Conversely, the powerlessLesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3 ness that comes from being objectified in the look of the other is apparent but not simply terrifying, though in part it is, but also thrilling and a release from the day-to-day need to live dialectically with being an object and objectifying the other, that is an intrinsic part of life. The sense of wholeness that emerges upon release can also be seen here, as it can with the other practices described in this paper, as the experience of petrification is temporary and therefore not truly terrifying, as it might be if there was no escape. Without the full range of features of personhood it is particularly easy to depersonalise and this probably accounts for the extensive use of masks in sadomasochistic sex play. Tops and bottoms may wear masks, along with restraints of various kinds, to limit their ‘probable ways of being’ (Sartre, 1943/2003) to a range of ‘possibles’ that fall outside their control. The top gains pleasure through objectifying the other, seizing them in their gaze and controlling them as object. The bottom gains pleasure through becoming an object, perhaps being petrified, and certainly losing him or herself in the control of the other and their look. The Thrill of Existential Anxiety What I think these practices demonstrate is the way in which existential anxiety may be actively cultivated. Previous writers have recognised the need to engage vigorously and creatively with life and face the anxiety that comes with such ways of living. It is all too easy to fall in with the crowd, or ‘the they’ (Heidegger, 1962) in order to avoid the existential anxiety that comes from authentic living. This applies as much to our sexualities and sexual practices as it does to any other aspect of our experience. What has not really been highlighted in previous writing is the potential for thrill in deliberately encountering the limits of existence. If there were no thrill to be found in facing existential anxiety why would anyone face it at all? Laing and Sartre have vividly captured some important aspects of the human condition in their phenomenological descriptions 205

Darren Langdridge

Figure 1: A Mummy Speaks. From http//:www.smgays.org/infosheets/mummification.asp
Extracts from a conversation recorded after a two-hour session. The mummee, who had never been mummified before, had been apprehensive about the idea before the scene began. The mummification had started by encasing his head: a clean, dry muslin cloth was cut open and placed over the head, and used as a base for wrapping the gaffer tape around (ensuring that when the gaffer tape was removed, hair and skin would not be affected). The head was the critical part of the anatomy – the gaffer tape needed to be applied carefully to block out all light, while ensuring that breathing through the nose was possible. Then the whole body had been encased in a layer of clingfilm, around which strips of gaffer tape were applied. Starting at the shoulders and working down to the toes, the procedure took about 45 minutes. Holes were carefully cut to expose the tits, and cock and balls were left exposed. Once encased, the Top toyed with the mummee for an hour or so before jerking him off and slowly cutting him out of the encasing material using blunt-ended scissors. Top: Once you were wrapped up, how did it feel? Mummee: Well, it was warm, very enclosed, felt good. Especially as I felt you had been servicing me. I didn’t need to worry, I wasn’t in control, I was at ease. You were there for me. Then you started playing with my tits, the candle wax on my cock and so on, suddenly the tables were turned. There was this constant stimulus which made me flick back and forth from feeling protected and warm to feeling exposed and vulnerable. Top: After you came, what did you feel? Mummee: Very high, very relaxed, exhausted. I wanted to stay wrapped up like that forever. But then I started to feel a bit sweaty, a bit cramped, a little uncomfortable. Top: How did you feel being cut out? Mummee: That was probably the most interesting part – I wasn’t prepared for those emotions. Though I was concerned when you were cutting up between my legs towards the cock. It was like coming out of a chrysalis. Feeling the air on your skin. Regaining your sight, your consciousness of your body. It felt like I’d had a really good massage.

of divided selves and the look. Their descriptions resonate with us because they capture something we all understand even if we have been hitherto unable to articulate it. But both Sartre and Laing failed to recognise the ambiguity of the lived world (Merleau-Ponty, 1962/2000), especially concerning our emotional response to it. If we move beyond the overly simple view that we can only experience a single emotional response to an object or experience and recognise the complexity of our lived experience then we can start to understand the appeal of S/M practices. Fear and anxiety, for instance, may, for some, become experienced as thrill. The 206

psychoanalyst Robert Stoller (1975) recognised the way both love and hatred may be implicated in sexual excitement. Without recognition of the ambiguity of our emotional being-in-the-world and how, for instance, we can simultaneously feel attraction and revulsion, fear and excitement and pleasure and pain, so much of our sexual lives remains beyond comprehension. Sadomasochistic practices demonstrate ambiguity and only really become comprehensible when we recognise such emotional complexity of this kind and how people actively seek it out in their sex lives. S/M practices like those described above Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Actively dividing selves: S/M and the thrill of disintegration operate in two ways to enable practitioners to come face-to-face with existential anxiety. First, practices involving boundary challenges which problematise notions of ‘safe, sane and consensual’ practice (see Langdridge & Butt, 2004, 2005) may involve a very real engagement with the limits of existence. That is, if practitioners choose not to play safe and instead give themselves completely over to the other then they really will be coming face-toface with the anxiety that comes from recognition of the limits of our embodied being-in-the-world (Heidegger, 1962). Second, practitioners may, through fantasy play, be able to believe that they are facing these limits even when in reality they are not. There is much fantasy play in S/M and it may be that it helps practitioners to move beyond the safe confines of their everyday ‘sincere’ self (Sartre, 1943/2003) – where man (sic) does not and/or can not experiment with his identity – to an ‘authentic’ self (Sartre, 1943/2003) – where man (sic) creates himself, transcending his objective essence and invents new identities to enable him to achieve his fundamental ‘project’. In a sense, this is a move from ‘modern man’, fixed and necessary, to ‘post-modern man’, mutable and sufficient. Through such a fragmented self a person may be better able to confront difficult but also exciting aspects of their experience of the lived world. Of course, not all S/M practices (or practitioners) are ‘authentic’, or in any way engage with these fundamental aspects of our being-in-the-world. Like much ‘vanilla’ sex, much S/M sex is fairly mundane. We cannot expect to face our limits every time we have sex; some of us have work the next day. Nor can we expect this to be a goal for everyone who enjoys S/M play. Nor should we. If we were to place these expectations upon S/M then we would be doing nothing more than making it and those who practice it part of ‘the they’ (Heidegger, 1962). Califia’s (1993) essay on modern primitives rightly recognises the ‘dangers’ of an S/M which is nothing more than fashion and ritual and which produces an exclusive, Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3 predominantly non-sexual, sub-culture that bears little relation to the mother culture that gave birth to it. However, with this caveat in mind, what I believe we can see amongst some S/M practitioners is a willingness to live vigorously and creatively, a willingness to come face-to-face with the fear and thrill of existential anxiety, and a willingness to throw off the shackles of ‘the they’. This lifestyle and these practices may not be for everyone, but I believe it is important that we have these new ‘urban aborigines’ in our societies showing us at least one way to be authentic in the face of the inevitable anxiety of existence.


In this paper I have sought to further understand the thrill of particular sadomasochistic sex practices. To this end, I have employed key ideas from Laing (1959/1990) and Sartre (1943/2003). In particular, following van Deurzen-Smith (1991), I have argued that dividing self from body and experiencing ‘petrification’ may not only frighten but also thrill. Previous attempts to understand the thrill of S/M have invariably pathologised the participants and practices. This paper has instead sought to locate the thrill of these practices phenomenologically in the practices and experiences of the participants themselves and then suggest that much of what is thrilling in S/M is simply an elaborate extension of what is most challenging and thrilling in everyday life. Once again, it is important to note the limits of this analysis. There has been no attempt at a grand theory here; a theory of everything that is S/M. The analysis should be seen for what it is; an analysis of particular S/M practices enjoyed by some, and not all people, who may, or may not, be part of an S/M community. Whilst recognising this important caveat, I hope that I have shown how people can play with existential ideas in a very real way and realise the thrill that can be cultivated from coming face-to-face with the existential anxiety inherent in splitting self from body and becoming ‘petrified’ by the look of the other.


Darren Langdridge


This paper was first presented at the half-day conference on sexualities at the University of Huddersfield, 28 June 2004. Thanks are due to all present on the day and particularly Dr Trevor Butt for organising the event.

‘alternative’ family forms. He has published widely on these topics and is the author of Phenomenological Psychology: Theory, Research and Method, which will be published by Pearson Education later this year. Darren Langdridge Faculty of Social Sciences, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA. Tel: +44 (0)1908 652126 E-mail: d.langdridge@open.ac.uk


Darren Langdridge is a Lecturer in Social Psychology at the Open University. His main research interest is in bringing existential hermeneutic phenomenology, particularly the work of Paul Ricoeur, to focus on issues in sexualities and the construction of

Bean, J.W. (2001). Magical Masochist: A conversation with Fakir Musafar. In M. Thompson (Ed.), Leatherfolk: Radical sex, people, politics and practice (pp.303–319) Los Angeles: Alyson Books. Beckman, A. (2001). Deconstructing myths: The social construction of ‘Sadomasochism’ versus ‘Subjugated knowledges’ of practitioners of consensual ‘SM’. Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 8(2), 66–95. Califia, P. (1993). Modern primitives, latex shamens and ritual S/M. In P. Califia (1994), Public sex: The culture of radical sex (pp.231–241). Pittsburgh: Cleis Press. Freud, S. (1905). Three essays on the theory of sexuality. Standard Edition, Vol. 7 (Ed. & Trans. J. Strachey). London: Hogarth Press. Freud, S. (1920). Beyond the pleasure principle. Standard Edition, Vol. 18 (Ed. & Trans. J. Strachey). London: Hogarth Press. Goodman, R.E. (1987). Genetic and hormonal factors in human sexuality: Evolutionary and developmental perspectives. In G. Wilson (Ed.), Variant sexuality, research and theory (pp.21–48). London: Faber & Faber. Heidegger, M. (1962). Being and time. Trans. J. Macquarrie & E. Robinson. Oxford: Blackwell. Originally published in German in 1927. Jaspers, K. (1963). General psychopathology. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Laing, R.D. (1990). The divided self. London: Penguin. First published in 1959. Langdridge, D. & Butt, T.W. (2004). A hermeneutic phenomenological investigation of the construction of sadomasochistic identities. Sexualities, 7(1), 31–53. Langdridge, D. & Butt, T.W. (2005). The erotic construction of power exchange. Journal of Constructivist Psychology, 18(1), 65–73. Merleau-Ponty, M. (2000). Phenomenology of perception. Trans. C. Smith. London: Routledge. Originally published in English in 1962. Ricoeur, P. (1970). Freud and philosophy: An essay on interpretation. Trans. D. Savage. New Haven: Yale University Press. Sack, R.L. & Miller, W. (1975). Masochism: A clinical and theoretical overview. Psychiatry, 38, 244–257. Sadger, J. (1926). A contribution to the understanding of sadomasochism. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 7, 484–491. Sartre, J.P. (2003). Being and nothingness. Trans. H.E. Barnes. London: Routledge. Originally published in French in 1943. Sheppard, S. (2003). Kinkorama. Despatches from the front lines of perversion. Los Angeles: Alyson Press. Stoller, R. (1975). Perversion: The erotic form of hatred. New York: Dell. Taylor, G.W. (1997). The discursive construction and regulation of dissident sexualities: The case of SM. In J.M. Ussher (Ed.), Body talk: The material and discursive regulation of sexuality, madness and reproduction (pp.106–130) London: Routledge. Taylor, G.W. & Ussher, J. (2001). Making sense of S&M: A discourse analytic account. Sexualities, 4(3), 293–314. van Deurzen-Smith, E. (1991). Ontological insecurity revisited. Journal of the Society for Existential Analysis, 2, 38–48. van Deurzen-Smith (1997). Everyday mysteries: Existential dimensions of psychotherapy. London: Routledge. White, E. (1998). The farewell symphony. London: Vintage.


Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Women who engage in S/M (sadomasochistic) interactions for money: A descriptive study
Kathy Sisson & Charles Moser
Previous research has not systematically studied S/M (sadomasochistic) professionals. In this questionnaire study, 31 women who engaged in S/M interactions for money on a regular basis were obtained by a variety of sampling techniques. Results show that these women were S/M practitioners and tended to be dominant in their personal lives. They maintained primary relationships, reported satisfaction with their lives, tended to be sexually adventurous, and often had experience in other areas of sex work. They saw themselves as different from traditional prostitutes. They were no more likely to report a history of sexual abuse than women in the general population. The implications of these results are discussed and possibilities for future research outlined. Keywords: BDSM, prostitute, sadomasochism, sex work.


LTHOUGH S/M (sadomasochism) is a relatively modern term and should not be imposed on earlier behavioural patterns, similar behaviour descriptions can be designated as S/M-type behaviour. S/Mtype activities have probably existed throughout history; suggesting that some individuals would have requested these acts and some prostitutes probably offered these services. Ancient Greek vases (~450 B.C.) depict scenes of hetaera (prostitutes) being beaten or appearing to be forced to engage in certain sex acts (Keuls, 1985). From the 1700s until the present, there are numerous reports of brothels and prostitutes catering to customers requesting bondage or flagellation (Chivers & Blanchard, 1996; Gebhard, 1969; Krafft-Ebing, 1965; Stein, 1975; Tannahill, 1982). It should be noted that these individuals were prostitutes in the usual sense of the term and probably provided other sexual services to their nonS/M clientele; we do not know if these women were involved in S/M activities in their private lives. Stein (1975) clearly indicated that her participants were motivated by money not personal interest. Studies of S/M practitioners have suggested the existence of individuals who

provide S/M interactions for a monetary fee (Breslow et al., 1985, 1986; Spengler 1977; Weinberg et al., 1984; Weinberg & Falk, 1980); we define these individuals as S/M professionals. Spengler (1977) distributed an anonymous questionnaire by responding to personal ads and having the questionnaire distributed to S/M club members. He was able to secure a sample of 245 West German men. He found that 13 per cent of his total sample reported engaging ‘prostitutes’ as S/M partners, although a larger percentage (23 per cent) of the male heterosexual subsample reported this behaviour. Breslow et al. (1986) used a variety of methods (reprinting the questionnaire in S/M magazines, sending the questionnaire to members of the mailing list of another magazine, answering personal advertisements in S/M magazines, and distributing them to members of S/M clubs) to obtain their sample. They found 34 per cent of the heterosexual participants, 31 per cent of the bisexual participants and 12 per cent of the homosexual participants used the services of S/M professionals. Some early researchers believed that the vast majority of women involved in S/M were prostitutes. To challenge this, other studies 209

Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3 © The British Psychological Society 2005 ● ISSN 1467–2472

Kathy Sisson & Charles Moser removed S/M professionals from their survey studies of S/M practitioners. Breslow et al. (1985) excluded 12 of 52 (23 per cent) female respondents, who affirmed being prostitutes. Levitt et al. (1994) excluded 11 of 45 (24 per cent) women who reported a large number of sexual or S/M partners as possible prostitutes. Nevertheless, these excluded respondents may also have been involved in personal (non-professional) S/M activities. From the literature and our own previous fieldwork in this area, we know that contemporary S/M professionals who do not overtly offer other sexual services exist. These individuals may be S/M practitioners in their private lives as well as providing these experiences to others for a fee. Their professional activities provide an income source and may facilitate their own personal S/M exploration. They provide an opportunity for individuals experimenting with S/M to engage in the behaviour in a relatively safe environment. Some S/M practitioners believe that S/M professionals are usually submissive or not actually interested in S/M in their personal lives. Until now S/M professionals have not been systematically studied. placed by S/M professionals in local adult media, and by asking respondents to invite other S/M professionals to participate in the study. The authors sought cooperation from individuals who managed professional houses to distribute their questionnaires. These houses provide safety, access to specialised equipment, an opportunity for group advertising, and a sense of community. One manager distributed questionnaires to the women working in her house, as well as to women working in similar establishments in the San Francisco Bay Area. One of the authors (KS) responded to all of the professional S/M advertisements in an issue of the major local adult newspaper and on a local adult entertainment website. This resulted in 50 telephone contacts, 13 did not respond to a message and there were 37 direct conversations. Of the 37 telephone conversations, 21 women requested to receive the questionnaire by mail, one completed it in person, one completed it over the phone, one completed it by e-mail, 10 indicated they already had received the questionnaire through other means, and three declined to participate. The mailings consisted of a brief covering letter assuring confidentiality, contact information for the authors, the questionnaire and a stamped self-addressed return envelope. All data were collected in 2000. The survey instrument (see Appendix A) was created specifically for the present study; it consisted of a four-page questionnaire with approximately 100 multiple choice, oneword fill-in and checklist-type questions. Participants The respondents comprised a convenience sample of 31 biological females, ranging in age from 21 to 56 years old; the mean was 34.2 (SD=8.60). The respondents largely selfdefined as Caucasian (74 per cent, [23/31]), with two Asian, two Hispanic, one AfricanAmerican and three mixed-race respondents. A majority of the respondents indicated that they had never married (55 per cent [17/31]), but eight were currently Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3


Procedure The present study arbitrarily defined an S/M professional as an individual who engages in S/M interactions for money on a regular basis. Attempts at securing a male sample were not successful. All the potential male participants we approached were fearful that we were police agents trying to entrap them; we must assume these individuals are more prone to arrest or police harassment. We excluded two transgendered respondents from the present analysis, as we believe the transgendered professional population has unique features which will be explored in future research. We recruited a convenience sample by contacting ‘professional houses’ (venues specifically set up for professional S/M interactions), responding to advertisements 210

Women who engage in S/M (sadomasochistic) interactions for money married (four for the second time), one was currently separated, and five had been through a divorce. While not necessarily married, more than three-quarters (24/31) of the respondents reported a personal primary relationship. Their reported total income (all currency data presented is in US dollars) for the previous year ranged from $3500 to $80,000, with a mean of $29,852 (Mdn=$25,000). Professional S/M was the only source of income for 31 per cent (9/29) of the sample; the women with other sources of income reported a mean of 63 per cent of their total income came from professional S/M activities. Other sources of income included employment as an emergency room technician, web designer, writer, actor, computer programmer and stripper. All but one respondent had completed some college education, 11 had graduated from college and two had Master’s degrees. Approximately 32 per cent (10/31) were currently students. interest in men, 10 per cent (3/31) exclusively. An exclusive sexual interest in women was reported by 16 per cent (5/31) of the sample and an additional 16 per cent (5/31) reported a predominant or equal interest in female sex partners as compared to male sex partners. Grouping the respondents by predominant sexual interest, those interested in men (0–1) comprised 35 per cent (11/31) of the sample, those interested in both men and women (2–3–4) and those predominately interested in women (5–6) comprised 45 per cent (14/31) and 19 per cent (6/31) respectively. The respondents’ personal S/M interests clustered towards the dominant end of the continuum, with 57 per cent (16/28) of the respondents indicating that they were exclusively or predominantly dominant, 25 per cent (7/28) equally dominant and submissive, and 18 per cent (5/28) exclusively or predominantly submissive. Only two women described themselves as exclusively dominant and one woman described herself as exclusively submissive; three respondents did not answer the question. The questionnaire elicited the number of different personal sexual and S/M partners they had interacted with over the past six months. The respondents reported a range of 0–30 non-S/M sexual (NSMS) partners and 0–31 S/M partners. Half (15/30) of the respondents reported NSMS interactions with a male partner, 32 per cent (9/28) with a female partner, 10 per cent (3/30) with both male and female partners, and 32 per cent (10/31) reported no NSMS interactions. Similarly for S/M interactions, 10 per cent (3/31) did not engage in personal S/M interactions, 30 per cent (9/30) with men only, 23 per cent (7/31) with women only, and 37 per cent (11/30) with both men and women. One woman reported one S/M interaction with a transgendered partner. Only one woman did not participate in interpersonal sexual interactions in the prior six months. When asked if they had had sexual interactions with adults when they were minors, 57 211


Throughout this paper, we make a distinction between ‘personal’ and ‘professional’ lives. ‘Professional’ pertains to the S/M acts the respondent engages in for money. ‘Personal’ pertains to the acts in which the respondent freely chooses to engage. The ‘professional’ acts may or may not be an accurate portrayal of the individual’s core S/M interests. ‘Personal’ also includes the effect of being a ‘professional’ on the life of the respondent. Personal life Sexuality We constructed two different seven-point scales (0–6), analogous to the Kinsey et al. (1948) seven-point heterosexuality – homosexuality scale, to measure relative selfreported preference for male versus female sex partners and for sexual dominance versus sexual submission. All these terms were self-defined by each respondent. More than two-thirds (21/31) of the sample reported a predominant sexual Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Kathy Sisson & Charles Moser per cent (17/30) of the participants responded affirmatively; of these, 53 per cent (9/17) felt those interactions were harmful to them. Childhood sexual interactions with another minor occurred for 77 per cent (24/31) of the sample with 25 per cent (6/24) of those reporting that they felt the interaction had been harmful to them; 8 per cent (2/24) felt the interaction was harmful to the other minor. Of the entire sample, 14 (45 per cent) reported harm from either an experience with an adult or another minor or both; 9/30 (30 per cent) reported harm only from interactions with adults. The terms ‘minor’ and ‘harmful’ were left to the respondent to interpret; we recognise that these terms are quite imprecise. The definition of ‘minor’ varies among states (see http://www.ageofconsent.com/ageof consent.htm) and has changed over time; we did not ask if these acts took place in the US. Our purpose was to take a first step towards addressing the belief that child sexual abuse is a cause of both S/M and engaging in sexual activities for money. Life satisfaction The respondents rated their levels of satisfaction with four aspects of their lives (sex, S/M, friendships, and intimate relationships). Of the 30 participants who responded to these questions, none reported that they were completely dissatisfied with any of these aspects of their lives. Two respondents reported some dissatisfaction with sex life and intimate relationships, three respondents reported some dissatisfaction with their S/M life, and one reported some dissatisfaction with her friendships. We then asked about the impact being an S/M professional had on 14 other aspects of the respondents’ lives (see Table 1). With the exception of the respondents’ relationship with their families, they reported that being an S/M professional exerted positive effects on these other aspects of their lives. A highly positive effect (≥90 per cent) was reported for ‘overall quality of life,’ ‘acceptance of others sexual interests,’ ‘feelings about self,’ and ‘personal S/M life.’ However, only 13 per cent (4/30) of the respondents felt that

Table 1: Professional S/M’s impact on their personal lives.
Positively (%) Personal S/M life Personal sex life Personal Dominant S/M interest Personal Submissive S/M interest Personal S/M identity Acceptance of others sexual interests Friendships Feelings about women Feelings about men Social life Relationship with family Feelings about self Feelings about future Overall quality of life 90.0 67.7 83.3 60.0 83.3 90.3 58.1 65.6 58.6 61.3 13.3 96.5 73.3 90.3 Negatively (%) 6.7 9.7 0 0 0 0 9.7 0 13.8 6.4 23.3 0 3.3 0 No effect (%) 3.3 22.6 16.6 40.0 16.6 9.7 32.2 34.5 27.6 32.2 63.3 3.4 23.3 9.7


Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Women who engage in S/M (sadomasochistic) interactions for money the impact on their ‘relationship with family’ was positive, and 63 per cent (19/30) felt it had no effect. Relationships More than three-quarters (24/31) of the respondents reported a personal primary relationship, 19 with male sex partners and five with female sex partners. None of the five same-sex relationships was sexually exclusive and all involved S/M (the respondent was dominant in two, submissive in one, and switched roles in two). Of the 19 respondents with a male primary partner, 10 were sexually exclusive and 13 indicated their relationship included S/M. Of these 13 primary relationships involving S/M, the respondent assumed the dominant role in nine, the submissive role in one, and switched roles in three. Respondents attempted to live these roles full-time in three of these relationships, assuming the dominant role in two and the submissive role in one. All of the primary partners were aware of the respondents’ professional S/M activities. It was a source of conflict with three of the male partners and ‘sometimes’ a source of conflict with one of the female partners. Alcohol and drug use When asked about alcohol or drug use, 29 per cent (9/31) of the respondents reported that it had been a problem; 10 per cent (3/31) reported never using either. In their professional sessions, 26 per cent (8/31) indicated that clients had brought drugs to a session; four of these said they had used the drugs with the clients, though not necessarily during the session. Only two respondents conducted professional sessions under the influence of drugs or alcohol in the last year. There was no correlation between having a history of alcohol or drug problems and having a history of sexual contact as a minor. Sessions The respondents reported working in commercial S/M from two months to 35 years (Mdn=3 years; M=5.2 years). The number of professional S/M sessions they conducted over the previous six months ranged from five to 200, with a mean of 74 – approximately three sessions per week. Extrapolating from the maximum, 200 sessions in 26 weeks, results in a frequency of slightly more than one a day. Over the previous six months, respondents indicated a range of four to 140 different clients with a mean of 44. The vast majority of clients were men, although five participants reported occasional single female clients and 15 reported seeing couples. Nearly all (29/31) participated in professional S/M sessions involving another S/M professional in the previous six months. The respondents used the Internet and referrals from their professional S/M houses as their primary methods for soliciting clients. Most (48 per cent, 15/31) saw their clients in a professional S/M house; 29 per cent (9/31) saw clients in a rented ‘dungeon’ space and 23 per cent (7/31) in their own ‘dungeon’ space. The mean percent of initial inquiries leading to a professional session was 39 per cent, with a mean of 36 per cent of these becoming ‘regular clients’. ‘Regular clients’ averaged 1.76 sessions per month. The median length of a session was one hour; the shortest session was 50 minutes and the longest was three hours. The mean fee in US dollars per session was $156 (Mdn=$150, range=$70 to $300). To verify the income estimates, we multiplied the average fee by the average number of sessions, which, extrapolated to one year, was $23,088. This was not significantly correlated (r=0.39) with the $16,958 income estimate calculated by multiplying the respondent’s estimated yearly income by the estimated percent of the total income derived from professional S/M activities. This suggests that the differences in the estimates were random; there was no tendency for the 213

Professional Life Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Kathy Sisson & Charles Moser respondents to over or underestimate their income from S/M professional activities. We found 14/30 women had assumed the submissive role during their professional sessions in the last six months. They indicated the number of ‘submissive’ sessions ranged from one to 110; the mean was 36. By extrapolation, in about 22 per cent of all professional S/M sessions reported, the S/M professional assumed the submissive role. Two women worked exclusively as submissives; one reported five sessions and the other reported 50 in the last six months. Both these women reported their personal S/M orientation as predominately, but not exclusively, submissive. Although all the ads we contacted specifically indicated ‘no sex,’ we asked about the likelihood of the male client’s erection and orgasm, and the respondent’s sexual arousal and orgasm during professional interactions on Likert scales (1=never and 5=always). The respondents reported frequent client erections (M=4.0); 97 per cent (30/31) allowed their clients to masturbate during a session and the clients usually reached orgasm (M=3.9). The respondents reported personal sexual arousal ‘sometimes’ (M=2.8), but rarely achieved personal orgasms during professional interactions (M=1.7). Only one woman indicated she had never been aroused during a session. When asked if they would engage in sex with clients if it was ‘absolutely legal,’ 14/30 indicated that they would not, 15/30 indicated that they would do so only rarely with the right partner, and one indicated that she already had engaged in sex with clients. As expected, the client’s erection and orgasm were significantly correlated (r=0.66), but there were no other significant correlations among these variables. Branding, kissing, forced gay sex and scat play were among the least common behaviours reported; bondage, cock and ball torture and spanking were among the most common. Interestingly, kissing on the lips was correlated (r=0.52) with allowing the client to masturbate the respondent, but we 214 found no other significant correlations among S/M behaviours and masturbation. See Table 2 for a complete list of professional activities. Clients The respondents reported a variety of extraprofessional interactions with clients. These included friendships (58 per cent [18/31]), seeing the client socially (42 per cent [13/31]), having an S/M session without charging (35 per cent [11/31]), and using the client’s business or professional services (35 per cent [11/31]). Additionally, some respondents reported having a personal S/M relationship with a client (29 per cent [9/31]), having a personal sexual relationship with a client (19 per cent [6/31]), and falling in love with a client (10 per cent [3/31]). All the respondents that fell in love had both a sexual and S/M relationship with the client. Other sex work A majority of respondents (74 per cent [23/31]) reported having engaged in other sex work. Of these, 14 had worked as exotic dancers (three concurrently with being an S/M professional), eight as phone sex workers, five as adult movies/video performers, four as prostitutes, four as escorts, and five in other, unspecified types sex work. Approximately 35 per cent (11/31) reported a history of at least two other types of sex work. Satisfaction The majority of women reported positive feelings about engaging in professional S/M. Of these, 29 per cent (9/31) said, ‘It was the best job they could imagine,’ and 68 per cent (21/31) said they ‘liked most aspects of it, but that it got to them on occasion.’ Only three per cent (1/31) said they could ‘imagine better and worse jobs.’ The respondents expected to continue working as S/M professionals for a median and mode of five more years (range three months to 100 years).

Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Women who engage in S/M (sadomasochistic) interactions for money

Table 2: How often do you include the following acts during your Professional S/M sessions? (N=30)
Activity Never Rarely Sometimes Frequently Always No data

Anal Fisting Anal Play Bondage Breath Play Branding Caning Cock & Ball Torture Cross-Dressing Dildo Play Electric Play1 Enemas Face Slapping Fetish Play Flogging Forced Gay Sex2 Hot Wax Humiliation Ice Infantilism3 Kissing on Lips Masturbation by client of client by client of you by you of client by you of you Oral–Genital Contact your genitals client’s genitals Piercing or Cutting Scat (Shit) Sensory Deprivation Sexual Intercourse Sex with Animals Spanking Vaginal Fisting Water Sports (Urine) Whipping Worship
1 2 3

12 7 0 4 28 1 1 1 3 11 14 2 0 1 22 11 2 5 13 21 xxx 1 26 27 14 xxx 30 29 13 27 0 30 30 1 20 4 6 1

11 4 0 10 2 6 2 5 4 7 11 8 3 0 5 8 9 9 12 5 xxx 1 3 3 7 xxx 0 0 11 2 4 0 0 1 7 4 9 2

7 7 1 7 0 13 2 13 12 9 5 14 5 5 3 6 9 10 4 1 xxx 4 0 0 5 xxx 0 0 4 1 17 0 0 19 1 13 14 7

0 11 25 8 0 9 21 10 10 3 0 6 18 23 0 5 9 5 0 2 xxx 17 1 0 1 xxx 0 0 2 0 8 0 0 9 1 7 1 17

0 1 4 1 0 0 4 1 1 0 0 0 3 1 0 0 1 1 0 0 xxx 7 0 0 0 xxx 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 2 0 3

0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 xxx 0 0 0 0 xxx 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

Use of devices that deliver electric shocks. Forcing a heterosexual to engage in homosexual acts for its humiliation value. Acting, dressing, and playing the role of an infant.

Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3


Kathy Sisson & Charles Moser


The present study investigated a small, geographically specific, convenience sample; the generalisability to the population of S/M professionals is not clear. Our estimate, which was supported in our interviews with several S/M professionals, is that we sampled approximately half of the San Francisco Bay Area population of female S/M professionals active at that time. Our data is selfreported and the respondents may not have been completely honest. Additionally, some women may have tried professional S/M, had negative experiences, and stopped the activity. These women would not have been sampled by our method. The authors are aware of several women who support themselves full-time by their professional S/M work. These women furnish and maintain ‘dungeons’ for these activities, which require significant capital expenditure. They are supported by a small number of regular clients, do not advertise, and accept new clients only on referral from trusted sources. Our survey techniques would have missed these individuals. Comparisons to non-professional female S/M practitioners Comparisons to the two descriptive studies of non-professional female S/M practitioners in the literature (Breslow et al., 1985; Levitt et al., 1994) are problematic due to differences in the methods and small sample sizes. Nevertheless, the comparisons are intriguing, see Table 3. The belief that female S/M professionals are inherently different from other S/M practitioners was not confirmed. Both Breslow et al. (1985) and Levitt et al. (1994) removed S/M professionals from their samples to show that non-professional female S/M practitioners existed. Their samples suggested that S/M-identified women are more likely to selfidentify as submissive. However, by their removal of probable S/M professional women, who probably identified as dominant, they may have introduced selection bias. The present sample by its methods may have intro216

duced the opposite selection bias, towards self-identified dominant women. It is reasonable to conclude that S/M-identified women are more evenly distributed along the dominant and submissive continuum than previously thought. The belief, that S/M professionals are usually submissive in their personal life, is not supported. In comparison to Breslow et al. (1985) and Levitt et al. (1994), S/M professionals have more formal education, but all three samples are better educated than the general population. S/M professionals marry less often, but many maintain primary relationships (not asked in the previous studies). They also are more likely to have an interest in same-sex sexual activity more frequently than the women in the other studies. All samples reported similar ages and frequency of personal S/M experiences. Comparisons to traditional prostitutes In our preliminary interviews with S/M professionals, these women made it exquisitely clear that they did not consider themselves prostitutes. They denigrated women who engaged in sex with their clients as ‘prostitutes with whips.’ They were adamant that they did not provide genitally focused activities for money, but rather allowed for role play and fantasy enactment. In the same way that a customer may find a nude dancer a fantasy object, the women we studied felt they were providing their customers a fantasy object. They did not feel that the sexual gratification of the client was their goal and they made no agreement to provide sexual services for a fee. If the customer achieved sexual gratification it was merely an artifact of the interaction to which they paid little attention. Accordingly, our participants felt their activities should not be subject to local prostitution laws. They clearly drew a distinction between overt sexual acts with clients and fantasy fulfillment. The law draws the same distinction. In most jurisdictions it is legal to engage in erotic dance, telephone sex, make a sexually explicit film or video, or act as an Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Women who engage in S/M (sadomasochistic) interactions for money

Table 3: Comparison to non-Professional S/M samples.
Breslow et al. (1985) Levitt et al. (1994) Mean age (years) Educational level High School & < Some college College graduate & > Marital status Currently married Divorced/separated Never married Mean income Sexual orientation Heterosexual Bisexual Homosexual S/M orientation Dominant Interest in both roles Submissive No. of personal S/M contacts in the past year

Current study 34.2 3.3% 53.3% 43.4% 25.8% 19.4% 54.8% $29,8525 35% 45% 19% 57% 25% 18% 1366

33.4 35.6% 35.5% 28.8% 57.5% 22.5% 20.0% $32,3651,2 57.9% 39.5% 2.6% 27.5% 32.5% 40.0% 53

30.7 11.8% 47.1% 41.1% 32.4% 26.5% 41.2% $26,9891,3,4 67.6% 20.6% 11.8% 11.7% 41.2% 47.0% 1326

2 3 4 5 6

Mean income was corrected for inflation using the inflation calculator located at http://www.bls.gov/ Corrected for inflation 1983-2000. Corrected for inflation 1978-2000. Excluding the probable prostitute subsample Data collected in 2000. Extrapolated to one year. The willingness of some of our respondents to adopt a submissive role during a professional session also distinguishes them from traditional prostitutes (see Stein, 1975). The number of women in our sample, who engaged in professional sessions as a submissive, and the number of those sessions, is surprisingly large. The submissive role is clearly more dangerous; an inexperienced customer may accidentally cause a real injury, a customer with mental health problems may truly want to injure the professional, and the physical demands on the body probably affect the submissive more than the dominant. Our respondents usually 217

escort. These acts may lead the client to become aroused and/or masturbate, but all without direct physical contact between the sex worker and client. Different from most other forms of ‘legal’ sex work mentioned, however, these women did allow the client to masturbate openly in their presence. Most state and community laws do not clearly address the legality of S/M activities in general or the specific activities of S/M professionals. The authors are aware of several S/M professionals who have been arrested and charged with prostitution in the absence of allegations that they engaged in coitus, oral sex, anal sex, or manual sex. Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Kathy Sisson & Charles Moser identify themselves as professional dommes (dominants), present a dominant persona to the world, self-identify as dominant in their personal life and rarely advertise the availability of submissive sessions. It is also unusual for prostitutes or other sex workers to allow professional relationships to evolve into personal relationships. S/M fantasies often involve the client ‘serving’ the professional; it is a small step for the client to offer his services, which can lead to other contacts outside the professional interaction. These services can be worth much more than the session fee. Additionally, a personal S/M relationship with a ‘client’ does not eliminate the possibility of receiving financial assistance or other benefits, as part of the relationship; it does suggest that the previous agreement for the exchange of money for the professional’s time has changed. Unfortunately, we did not ask our respondents if they identified as sex workers. Nearly three-quarters of them had engaged in some type of sex work, but it is not clear if, or how, they saw their professional S/M work differently from these other occupations. However, we conclude our respondents do not practice prostitution in the conventional sense. Personal motivations Financial security may not be the primary motivation for the present sample of S/M professionals. Levitt et al. (1994) analysed the income of their probable prostitute sample and found it had a reported yearly mean income of $25,818, which corrected for inflation is $68,188 (http://www.bls.gov, 1978–2000). The average total income of $29,852 in our sample is less than one-half of that and is barely sustainable in the San Francisco Bay Area. The number of sessions, fewer than two per week, suggests that professional S/M provides extra money, but is not a dependable source of income for these women. The longevity of women’s participation and their own assessments suggest they find the work enjoyable. Since many of these women had been involved in 218 other sex work, which often provides a more substantial income, we assume that monetary reward is not the main reason they participate in professional S/M. The respondents appear to be sexual adventurers. Most report non-S/M sexual interests, personal participation in S/M, and exploration of both sexual dominance and submission with both male and female partners. The large percentage (45 per cent) who reports an interest in both male and female sexual partners needs to be balanced by the relatively smaller number that engaged in non-S/M interactions with both men and women (10 per cent). When considering their personal interest in S/M partners, 37 per cent indicated they had had both male and female partners. We conclude that a significant part of their ‘bisexuality’ relates to an interest in S/M with less focus on the gender of their partner. Their ‘bisexuality’ was less pronounced in their non-S/M sexual interactions. The respondents tended to participate in multiple relationships, but were able to maintain primary relationships. We believe that their interest in sexual exploration can partially explain the motivation of those women who developed personal sexual relationships with clients. The positive impact they report their professional S/M activities have on their personal lives further suggests those activities facilitate personal growth for many of these women. Childhood sexual experiences The present study inquired only superficially about childhood sexual experiences; it did not collect data on specific events and did not define the concept of childhood sexual interactions. While some respondents reported harm, the nature and degree of harm is not known. Koss (1990) in her review of the literature indicates that 38 per cent to 67 per cent of adult women recall sexual abuse and assault prior to age 18. In our sample 45 per cent indicated they were harmed by their childhood sexual experiences with either an adult or minor. This is Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Women who engage in S/M (sadomasochistic) interactions for money not different from the expected result of a general sample of women. The belief in both the professional literature and the lay press that women who engage in sex work must be victims of childhood sexual ‘abuse’ is not substantiated by the present study. It is not clear what role, if any, respondents’ childhood sexual experiences played in these women becoming S/M professionals. By the respondents’ own assessment of their lives, any harm suffered appears to have been significantly mitigated. A more complete study of the influence of childhood sexual experiences on adult sexuality is needed for the general population as well as in specific subgroups. 6. How are women who engage in S/M for money different or similar to other sex workers? What are the differences between S/M practitioners who have a specific interest in S/M versus those who primarily are interested in exploring ‘new’ sexual activities? Describe the continuum of S/M role preferences among S/M practitioners. Compare and contrast female, male, and transgendered S/M professionals. How do the individual’s gender and the partner’s gender affect S/M interests? Determine the reasons and mechanisms that being an S/M professional exert a positive effect on the individual’s personal life. What effect does being an S/M professional have on the individual’s primary relationship? What are the characteristics and effects of substance use, abuse, and misuse in the S/M population in general and S/M professionals specifically? Who are the clients of S/M professionals? How do the sexual interests of the S/M professional influence the activities within the S/M professional interaction and vice versa? What factors led the respondents who had a history of sex work to choose professional S/M work at this time?


8. 9. 10. 11.


The women in the present sample are generally happy with their lives, and indicate that their professional S/M work has an overall positive effect on them. Most have other jobs and many are students; their professional S/M activities provide a significant, but not necessarily the primary, source of income. They maintain personal primary relationships in which they are open with their partners about their professional activities. They are most likely members of the S/M subculture, and except for being more likely to identify as a dominant and express greater interest in same-sex partners, they differ little from other S/M-identified women who do not engage in professional S/M activities. Future research issues and questions include: 1. What are the motivations for becoming an S/M professional, if money is not the primary motivation? 2. What is the influence of gender on S/M partner choice? 3. What is the role of non-S/M sexual activity during S/M interactions? 4. How does a history of child abuse or child-adult sexual activity affect the S/M desires and expression? 5. How are women who engage in S/M for money different or similar to other S/M participants? Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3



14. 15.



Kathy Sisson is an independent scholar in California. She is on the Board of Directors of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality and currently serves as programme chair for its Western region. She is also on the Board of Advisors for the Woodhull Freedom Foundation, an international sexual advocacy organisation. Her research focuses on alternative sexualities. Kathy Sisson 640 Fathom Drive, San Mateo CA 94404. E-mail: kisson@comcast.net. 219

Kathy Sisson & Charles Moser Charles Moser, PhD, MD, is Professor and Chair of the Department of Sexual Medicine, Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, San Francisco. He also maintains a private practice in Sexual Medicine and Internal Medicine, in San Francisco. His research focuses on BDSM, sexual minorities, classification of unusual sexual interests, and the practice of sexual medicine. Dr Charles Moser 45 Castro Street, #125, San Francisco, California, 94114, USA. E-mail: docx2@ix.netcom.com

Appendix A: S/M Professional Questionnaire.
For the purpose of this questionnaire, an S/M Professional is someone who engages in S/M interactions for money on a regular basis. This questionnaire distinguishes between your Professional interactions (what you do for money) and Personal interactions (what you do for yourself). Please look for these distinctions. Many people have strong feelings concerning the correct term to describe their S/M or sexual orientation. We apologise if we have not used your preferred term; please answer the question as best you can with the terms provided. All responses are anonymous and confidential.

Part I – The following questions pertain to your Personal life
Do you define yourself as an S/M professional? What is your current age? How do you define your gender? What is your marital status? (circle all that apply) Yes ■ No ■

___ years old Male ■ Female ■ Transgendered ■

Never Married Married (no. of times ____) Separated (no. of times ____) Divorced (no. of times ____) Caucasian/White Hispanic African American Asian Other_____________________ Alone Sexual partner(s) S/M partner(s) Friend(s) Roommate(s) My children Other children Adult family member(s)

What is your race?

With whom do you currently live? (circle all that apply)

Last grade of school you completed?

Did not finish High School College Graduate High School Graduate/GED Master’s Degree Some College Doctoral Degree Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3


Women who engage in S/M (sadomasochistic) interactions for money Are you currently a student? Yes ■ No ■

What was your total income last year from all sources? $___________(guesses OK) What per cent of your total income comes from Professional S/M work? _________% Besides working as an S/M Professional, do you work at another occupation? Yes ■ No ■ If yes, please specify the other occupation_______________________________________________ How do you define your personal sexual orientation? ■ Exclusively interested in men ■ Predominantly interested in men, only insignificantly interested in women ■ Predominantly interested in men, but with a significant interest in women ■ Equally interested in men and women ■ Predominantly interested in women, but with a significant interest in men ■ Predominantly interested in women, only insignificantly interested in men ■ Exclusively interested in women ■ I am not interested in personal sexual interactions with either sex How do you define your personal S/M orientation? ■ Exclusively submissive ■ Predominantly submissive, only insignificantly dominant ■ Predominantly submissive, but with a significant dominant component ■ Equally submissive and dominant ■ Predominantly dominant, but with a significant submissive component ■ Predominantly dominant, only insignificantly submissive ■ Exclusively dominant ■ I am not interested in personal S/M interactions with anyone In your personal life, during the last six months, how many times have you engaged in the following behaviours? (guesses OK) (If you have not engaged in the behaviour, please write zero in the appropriate space) Masturbation? _____times Heterosexual intercourse? _____times S/M play as a dominant? _____times Heterosexual sex acts? _____times S/M play as a submissive? _____times Homosexual sex acts? _____times In your personal life, during the last six months, how many different partners have you had? (If you have not had any partners, please write zero in the appropriate space, guesses OK) _____Male Non-S/M sex partners _____Male S/M partners _____Female Non-S/M sex partners _____Female S/M partners _____Transgendered Non-S/M sex partners _____Transgendered S/M partners On a scale of 1–5, how satisfied are you with the following aspects of your personal life: (1 = completely dissatisfied to 5 = completely satisfied) Sex life 1 2 3 4 5 S/M life 1 2 3 4 5 Friendships 1 2 3 4 5 Intimate relationships 1 2 3 4 5

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Kathy Sisson & Charles Moser Has alcohol or drug use ever been a problem for you? Yes ■ No ■ Never used ■ Yes ■ No ■ No ■

As a minor, were you ever involved in sexual interactions with an adult? If yes, do you feel it was harmful to you? Yes ■ No ■

As a minor, were you ever involved in sexual interactions with another minor? If yes, do you feel it was harmful to you? Yes ■ No ■ If yes, do you feel it was harmful to the other minor? Yes ■ No ■

Yes ■

Are you currently involved in a Personal Primary relationship? Yes ■ No ■ (If yes, please answer the following questions): What gender is your primary partner? Male ■ Female ■ Transgendered ■ Do you live with your primary partner? Yes ■ No ■ Do you engage in S/M with your primary partner? Yes ■ No ■ If yes, which role do you usually assume? Dom ■ Sub ■ If yes, do you attempt to live in S/M role all the time (24/7)? Yes ■ No ■ Do you engage in non-S/M sex with your primary partner? Yes ■ No ■ Do you and your partner have an agreement to be sexually exclusive? Yes ■ No ■ Is your primary partner aware of your professional S/M activities? Yes ■ No ■ If yes, has it been a source of conflict in the relationship? Yes ■ No ■ How has being an S/M Professional impacted your personal life? Positively My personal S/M life My personal sex life My personal dominant S/M interests My personal submissive S/M interests My personal S/M identity My acceptance of the sexual interests of others My friendships My general feelings towards women My general feelings towards men My social life My relationship with my family How I feel about myself How I feel about my future Overall quality of my life Negatively No Effect

Part II – The following questions pertain to your Professional S/M activities
How long have you been involved in Professional S/M? ______years ______months

Over the last six months, what is the total number of Professional S/M sessions you have done? ______ (guesses OK) Over the last six months, what is the total number of different S/M clients you have seen? ______ (guesses OK)


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Women who engage in S/M (sadomasochistic) interactions for money Over the last six months, what is the total number of Professional S/M sessions as a submissive you have done? ______ (guesses OK) Over the last six months, number of your Professional S/M clients that are single women? ______ Over the last six months, number of your Professional S/M clients that are couples? ______ Over the last six months, how many Professional S/M sessions have included one or more other S/M Professionals? ______ (guesses OK) Per cent of initial inquiries that culminate in a Professional S/M session? ______% Per cent of first-time clients that become regular clients? ______% On an average, how often do you see a regular client? ______ times a ______ week/month/year Your primary source for obtaining new clients is: (please circle one) The professional house refers Internet S/M parties Other clients refer Newspaper advertising S/M organisations Other dom/mes refer Other (please specify) _____________ What is your average fee for a Professional S/M session? $_________ What methods of payment do you accept? Cash ■ Credit Card ■ Check Barter ■ No ■

Do you always insist on payment at the time of the session? Yes ■

What is the average duration of your Professional S/M sessions? ____hour(s)____minute(s) Where do you usually conduct your Professional S/M sessions? (please circle one) Own space ■ Rent dungeon space ■ Client’s room/house ■ Professional house Other_____________________________________________________________________________ During your Professional S/M interactions, how often do you engage in formal role-playing? (e.g. mistress/slave, owner/pet, parent/child, lady/servant, school room, nurse/patient) Never ■ Rarely ■ Sometimes ■ Frequently ■ Always ■ During your Professional S/M interactions, how often do male clients have an erection? Never ■ Rarely ■ Sometimes ■ Frequently ■ Always ■ During your Professional S/M interactions, how often does the client have an orgasm? Never ■ Rarely ■ Sometimes ■ Frequently ■ Always ■ During your Professional S/M interactions, how often do you become sexually aroused? Never ■ Rarely ■ Sometimes ■ Frequently ■ Always ■ During your Professional S/M interactions, how often do you have an orgasm? Never ■ Rarely ■ Sometimes ■ Frequently ■ Always ■

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Kathy Sisson & Charles Moser If sex with clients was absolutely legal, would you consider it? ■ Absolutely not, never ■ On rare occasion with the right partner ■ Only if I had to, so as not to lose my clients ■ Probably, with appropriate guidelines ■ Yes, I would ■ Already engage in sex with clients Have you ever had an S/M interaction with a client without charging? Yes ■ No ■ Do you ever see your clients socially? Yes ■ No ■ Have you ever developed an ongoing friendship with a client? Yes ■ No ■ Have you ever developed a personal S/M relationship with a client? Yes ■ No ■ Have you ever developed a personal sexual relationship with a client? Yes ■ No ■ Have you ever fallen in love with a client? Yes ■ No ■ Have you ever lived with a client? Yes ■ No ■ If yes, did this involve S/M interactions in exchange for rent? Yes ■ No ■ Do you ever use the business or professional services of your clients? Yes ■ No ■ Have the police ever discussed your Professional S/M activities with you? Yes ■ No ■ Have your Professional S/M activities led to police ‘pay offs’ by you or others? Yes ■ No ■ Do clients ever bring drugs or alcohol to your Professional S/M sessions? Yes ■ No ■ If yes, do you ever use the drugs or alcohol with that client? Yes ■ No ■ Do you ever engage in Professional S/M while under the influence of drugs/alcohol? Yes ■ No ■ If yes, please circle one: Never Rarely Sometimes Frequently Always Have you ever worked as any of the following? Stripper/exotic dancer Phone sex worker Adult movie/video performer Prostitute

Escort Other sex work__________________

How long do you expect to be doing Professional S/M work? _____more months/years Which statement best describes your feelings about being an S/M Professional? ■ I love it, the best job I could imagine ■ I like most aspects of it, but it gets to me on occasion ■ I can imagine better and worse jobs ■ It is clearly just a way to make money ■ There are many problems with it, but it will do for now ■ It is pretty awful and I want to get out of it as soon as possible


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Women who engage in S/M (sadomasochistic) interactions for money How often do you include the following acts during your Professional S/M sessions?
Activity Never Rarely Sometimes Frequently Always

Anal Fisting Anal Play Bondage Breath Play Branding Caning Cock & Ball Torture Cross-Dressing Dildo Play Electric Play Enemas Face Slapping Fetish Play Flogging Forced Gay Sex Hot Wax Humiliation Ice Infantilism Kissing on Lips Masturbation by client of client by client of you by you of client by you of you Oral–Genital Contact your genitals client’s genitals Piercing or Cutting Scat (Shit) Sensory Deprivation Sexual Intercourse Sex with Animals Spanking Vaginal Fisting Water Sports (Urine) Whipping Worship












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Breslow, Evans & Langley (1985). On the prevalence and roles of females in the sadomasochistic subculture: Report of an empirical study. Archives of Sexual Behaviour, 14, 303–317. Breslow, Evans & Langley (1986). Comparisons among heterosexual, bisexual, and homosexual male sadomasochists. Journal of Homosexuality, 13, 83–107. Chivers, M. & Blanchard, R. (1996). Prostitution advertisements suggest association of transvestism and masochism. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 22(2), 97–102. Gebhard, P. (1969). Fetishism and sadomasochism. In J.H. Masserman (Ed.), Dynamics of deviant sexuality (pp.71–80). New York: Grune & Stratton. Gosselin, C. & Wilson, G. (1980). Sexual variations: Fetishism, sadomasochism and transvestism. New York: Simon & Schuster. Keuls, E.C. (1985). The reign of the phallus: Sexual politics in ancient Athens. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Kinsey, A.C., Pomeroy, W.B. & Martin, C.E. (1948). Sexual behaviour in the human male. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Co. Koss, M.P. (1990). The women’s mental health research agenda: Violence against women. American Psychologist, 45, 374–380. Krafft-Ebing, R. von (1965). Psychopathia sexualis (Trans. F.S. Klaf). New York: Bell Publishing Company, Inc. Translated from the 12th German edition; original work published 1886. Levitt, E.E., Moser, C. & Jamison, K.V. (1994). The prevalence and some attributes of females in the sadomasochistic subculture: A second report. Archives of Sexual Behaviour, 23, 465–473. Spengler, A. (1977). Manifest sadomasochism of males: Results of an empirical study. Archives of Sexual Behaviour, 6, 441–456. Stein, M. (1975). Lovers, friends and slaves. New York: Berkeley Publishing Corporation. Originally published 1974. Tannahill, R. (1982). Sex in history. New York: Stein & Day. Weinberg, M.S., Williams, C.J. & Moser, C. (1984). The social constituents of sadomasochism. Social Problems, 31, 379–389. Weinberg, T.S. & Falk, G. (1980). The social organization of sadism and masochism. Deviant Behaviour: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 1, 379–393.


Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Feminist SM: A contradiction in terms or a way of challenging traditional gendered dynamics through sexual practice?
Ani Ritchie & Meg Barker
Much academic literature on SM (sadomasochism) still portrays it as anti-feminist with authors arguing that, for example, SM reproduces and reinforces heterosexual gendered hierarchies and power imbalances. This study explored how women who identify as SMers understand and explain their practices in relation to feminist principles and gendered dynamics. An in-depth focus group discussion was conducted with a group of women who practice SM. Participants were involved in designing and managing the discussion and in analysing the transcripts. It is clear that these women did not perceive their SM practices to be necessarily incompatible with a feminist agenda. The potential for SM scenes to subvert or reveal traditional gendered dynamics was discussed and themes of distinguishing fantasy from reality and the importance of choice emerged. Keywords: Gender, feminism, sadomasochism (SM), women. HE RESEARCH WE present in this paper forms part of an on-going project exploring female sexuality. Our research aims to consider the role of feminism in women’s sexual and relationship practices. We focus primarily on women with non-normative sexual identities (e.g. bisexual, SM) and those with alternative relationship structures (e.g. polyamorous). We also explore the potentials of using participant-owned methods to conduct research within a qualitative, feminist framework (Ritchie & Barker, 2005). Here we present the findings of a participant-led focus group discussion on issues of feminism and SM which we conducted with a group of women SMers. Because SM is still pathologised in the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV-TR, 2000), much past research has concentrated on clinical populations, assuming that people engaging in SM are psychologically unwell (Taylor & Ussher, 2001). This is despite evidence demonstrating the relative psychological health of those involved in SM (Gosselin & Wilson, 1980; Moser & Levitt, 1995). There is a small, but increasing, body


of research investigating the experiences and understandings of those in the SM communities themselves. Taylor and Ussher (2001) explored the ways in which SMers constructed their sexualities: as deliberately going against the societal norms of heterosexual sex, as pleasurable, as an escape from everyday life, as transcending to a heightened state of consciousness, as a learned behaviour or pathology, and as inexplicable. Their analysis uncovers personal theories of SMers themselves, as does that of Beckman (2001). Beckman identifies five motivations for engaging in SM: as an alternative to ‘normal genital sexuality’, as a safer form of sex, as a way of exploring sensual bodily experiences, as a way of transgressing stereotypes of (particularly lesbian and gay) sexuality, and as offering transformative possibilities such as tension release. Langdridge and Butt (2004a) take this kind of analysis further to consider what is gained from the various ways SMers present their sexuality. Their examination of the ways in which SMers represent themselves on the internet suggests that they dismiss and draw on certain available discourses in order to portray their sexuality 227

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Ani Ritchie & Meg Barker in some acceptable way which might help gain them recognition as sexual citizens. For example, Langdridge and Butt found that SM websites explicitly rejected the notion of SM as pathology and something with identifiable causes (part of the psycho-medical discourse). Also, websites focused on the consensual nature of SM, and SM as involving power exchange rather than sexual violence and pain (Langdridge & Butt, 2004b). In our wider research we have found that SMers counter common stereotypes associated with their sexual identities and practices by presenting SM as safe rather than dangerous, psychologically healthy rather than disordered, actively chosen rather than the result of abnormal drives, controlled rather than violent, and consensual rather than coercive (e.g. Barker, 2004a). her boyfriend with a crop and then penetrates him with a strap-on dildo reproduces ‘the hierarchical ordering of gender’ nor how a scene where she slowly pierces the skin of her girlfriend’s arms and chest with medical needles ‘eroticises the crude power difference of gender’. Alongside this reinscripion of (unequal) heterosexual tradition, these theorists claim that SM and feminism are mutually exclusive, and that lesbian SM is symptomatic of internalised homophobia and self-hatred (Russell, 1982). The common SM discourse of consent is of little weight with feminists who feel that this made it worse: that women deliberately seek out situations where they could be powerless victims due to internalised hatred. In addition feminists have claimed that the very notion of consent has historically been used to justify women’s inequality, naturalising oppression. Russell (1982) suggested that consent is not an indicator of equality; just because SM involves consent ‘does not mean that it has overcome heterosexual power dynamics’ (Butler, cited in Sullivan, 2003, p164). Here we are not dismissing the existence of gendered power imbalances in SM play. It is unlikely that any group in society is able to escape these entirely. As Rubin (1984) argues ‘erotic minorities such as sadomasochists … are as likely to exhibit sexist attitudes or behaviour as other politically random social grouping’ (p.302). However, we would challenge the continued assumption of SM as inherently anti-feminist and the ignorance of practices other than those which reproduce the heterosexual norm of a dominant man with a passive woman. The reflections of our participants which we will present shortly, engage critically with both of these issues, demonstrating awareness of the complex nature of ‘consent’ and interrogating at length those SM practices which appear to reproduce gendered power imbalances. The only past participant-based work on SM reviewed here which mentions feminism and SM explicitly is Taylor and Ussher’s (2001) paper. In their exploration of the discourse which positions SM as ‘dissidence’ Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

SM and feminism

Historically, SM has been marginalised and stigmatised for being anti-feminist as well as pathological. Back in 1984, Gayle Rubin, argued that SM was presented in most academic writing as ‘inherently anti-feminist’ (p.302) and countered this with her own ‘pro-sex’ position. Califia (1980) wrote that SM was perceived as ‘the epitome of misogyny, sexism and violence’ (p.169). Califia went on to claim that her (at the time) own openness about her SM lost her friends, a lover, a publisher, an apartment, her membership of the lesbian-feminist community, and her good name. SM was central to the feminist sex wars and is still seen, by many, as inherently anti-feminist and objectifying. There remains a strong academic voice condemning SM from a feminist perspective. Jackson (1996) argues that SM reproduces ‘the hierarchical ordering of gender’ (p.25), and Jeffreys (1996) that SM ‘eroticises the crude power difference of gender which fuels heterosexual desire, reinforcing rather than ending it’ (p.86). Both these quotes display a distinct lack of knowledge or understanding about what actually goes on in SM. We are not clear how a scene where a woman beats 228

Feminist SM: A contradiction in terms … they report how primarily female participants drew on a different feminist discourse to the anti-SM position outlined above. Participants presented SM as part of pro-sex feminism, consciously transgressing conventional heterosexuality and ‘parodying sexual relations considered as traditionally subjugating, oppressive and exploitative of women’ (p.303). Taylor and Ussher’s female participants spoke about how they were able to be the active person with the ‘cock’, how SM sex could mean they did not have to have penetrative sex, how they dominated men in order to hold power over them, and how their playing with experiences like wife-beating highlighted a cultural shift away from gender oppression. SM was presented as ridiculing, undermining, exposing and destroying patriarchal sexual power. Some similar themes emerged in our current research which undertook a fuller examination of women’s understandings of their (gendered) SM practices as potentially feminist. we recognise that we are treading a difficult and dangerous line by being open about our own sexual stories. As Plummer reminds us, ‘the outcome of telling a story is never clear in advance but is always under different degrees of contestation and conflict’ (Plummer, 1995, p.28). Since telling SM stories can involve describing activities which are still illegal in the UK (any practices which might leave marks on the body which are more than ‘transient or trifling’ are currently illegal – see Chaline, this issue) we have used pseudonyms for ourselves and our participants in the paper, and negotiated a level of anonymity for those involved in the research by removing identifying details about family and partners. Focus group methodology has been advocated in sex research since it offers ‘conditions under which people feel comfortable discussing sexual experiences’ (Frith, 2000, p.277). Frith also argues that the format might encourage participants to discuss ‘socially sanctioned’ sexual practices when group members have shared experience, and Basch (1987) claimed this is particularly apparent when the views expressed by group participants are in opposition to the mainstream. Folch-Lyon and Trost (1981, p.445) suggested that focus group discussions help participants to feel ‘less on guard against personal disclosure’ and it is suggested that group members who know each other well (as ours did, in several cases intimately) might encourage more detailed and honest disclosure (Kitzinger, 1994). The focus group comprised seven women, ranging in age from late teens to mid-40s. Participants were approached through an online forum and much of the preparatory work for the focus group (for example generating discussion questions) took place online. The focus group itself took place in the living room of one of the participants (Joanne) and was facilitated by another of the participants (Katherine). We constructed a participant group that covered a range of different experiences; some members of the group had been practicing 229

The current research

This paper draws on material taken from a focus group discussion, in which we had a participant focus on women who practiced SM, and a discussion focus on the relationship between SM and feminism (Frith, 2000). Our study differed from empirical work presented above in its employment of feminist participant led methods. As in our previous research (Ritchie & Barker, in press) we have attempted to reduce researcher-researched hierarchies by giving our participants control of the research process, from generating discussion questions and moderating the focus group, to analysing the transcript and reflecting on draft papers. In addition we include our own stories here, practicing what Lambevski calls ‘an act of ethnographic honesty’ (Lambevski, 1999, p.399). As autoethnographers we value methodology which ‘legitimises and encourages the inclusion of the researcher’s self and culture, as an ethical and politically sound approach’ (Etherington, 2004, p.141). However, like Califia Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Ani Ritchie & Meg Barker SM for a number of years, some had more limited experience. Several of the women in the group were involved with each other and, therefore, had experience of playing (engaging in SM) with each other which came up in the discussion. Pearl and Gabrielle are life partners, as are Joanne and Laura, who are also currently involved with Jane. Joanne and Elizabeth have played together, as have Gabrielle and Katherine. Such an involved group is not without its complications and tensions, however, it is our experience that in closely networked groups the potential for participants to challenge each other based on shared knowledge is a powerful dynamic (Ritchie & Barker, in press). Clearly there are ethical issues when we research those who form part of our own social (and sexual) networks. Bolton (1995) suggests that researchers in the field of sexuality should ask themselves: [w]hat right do we have to enquire into the sex lives of Others, whether in our own culture or in some exotic distant realm, if we insist on our own right to privacy, to remain silent about our own intimate lives? (p.161) Since part of our agenda is one of autoethnography, in which to tell our own sexual stories we would inevitably be telling the stories of our lovers, play partners and friends, it seems more honest to allow those women into the story construction, and invite their lovers in to collaborate in telling their own stories too. One of the present authors has spoken elsewhere about the tensions of being both a storyteller and a story coaxer (Barker, 2004b). Plummer himself questions the extent to which stories told to ‘coaxers’ in social science research might be ‘more like the researchers’ stories than the subjects’ (Plummer, 1995, p.29). In viewing the storytelling process as one of collaboration, and focusing on the role of what Plummer would term ‘joint actions’ in storytelling we hope to explore the construction of stories as more complex productions than simply something ‘told’ or ‘heard’. Later in the paper we will describe several 230 examples of this shared construction of meaning. The analysis we offer below is also a process of collaboration, we asked participants to perform a simple thematic analysis on the transcripts (as outlined in Langdridge, 2003) and they were also given the opportunity to reflect and comment on drafts of the paper as it developed.


We will begin, as the focus group itself began, by setting the parameters for analysis by considering the participants’ self-definitions in relation to SM and feminism. We will then outline the two themes emerging from the analysis which participants felt were central to the discussion. These were: ● Countering misconceptions about SM (our own misconceptions, those we perceived to come from anti-SM theorists and those we felt were common in wider society). ● The distinction between fantasy and reality, linked to the notion of ‘choice’ (particularly the choices available to women through feminism and choice as power in SM).

Setting the parameters for discussion: Definitions

In this section we explore the participants’ definitions of SM, and self-definitions in terms of feminism, sexuality and SM roles. SM can be a difficult term to define because it means different things in different contexts. The group began their discussion with a consideration of how they used the term. Katherine proposed that ‘we’re using SM as shorthand for BDSM’. However, she went on to say that she personally tended ‘to use DS for mind games, dominance/submission, B&D for bondage and discipline, and SM for sadomasochism, and they’re quite, three separate things in my head,’ whilst Laura responded ‘I understand what you mean but I don’t really differentiate those categories very discreetly.’ Relating to terms used for different SM roles, Gabrielle suggested that ‘people will say top and Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Feminist SM: A contradiction in terms … bottom is more about physical sensation, which might or might not include pain, and dom(me) and sub is more about psychological control.’ Jane agreed, ‘again I think it’s a definition you don’t always use in practice but theoretically I think that would be where the distinction was.’ Therefore, in this paper, we will use the term SM to encompass various types of play involving pain, power exchange, restriction of movement and punishment. The terms ‘top’ or ‘dom(me)’ will be used to refer to the people who give the sensation or exert control, and the terms ‘bottom’ or ‘submissive’ will be used to refer to the people who receive the sensation or give up control, although, as we will see, that there is much debate over who holds power in an SM scene. After these discussions we asked each member of the group to give a description of their self-identity. Several participants commented on the role of feminism in their identity, Jane said that in addition to being a ‘bi female poly switch’ she was ‘also very much a feminist’, claiming that feminism was ‘a reasonably strong part of [her] identity’. Most of the participants made reference to their SM practices and roles in their introduction to the group; here, for example, Joanne comments: I’m bisexual, female, poly, um, SM is a very important part of my identity, my SM identity. I’m a submissive bottom, um, I do switch but it’s probably a less fundamental part of my identity to top. All of the participants identified as switch to a degree with the exception of Laura who said ‘I sometimes define as a dominatrix, and sometimes as a femme top, although, you know, I do occasionally bottom, I am even butch occasionally, but I don’t define as switch, it just doesn’t feel right.’ Gabrielle and Pearl both felt that they switched ‘pretty equally’ whereas Elizabeth, Katherine and Jane all echoed Joanne’s comment above in claiming that they felt more strongly sub or bottom. In terms of sexuality, the majority of the group identified as bisexual although Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3 Gabrielle identifies as lesbian and Laura said that whilst she now identified as bisexual she had in the past identified as lesbian: ‘I used to think of myself as a failed lesbian but I’m coming to terms with it.’ Most of the participants had experience of playing with men and women. For Gabrielle the negotiation of her (limited) experiences of SM with men required some reflection on her construction of ‘lesbian’ identity. In the following extract she is encouraged by Pearl (her life partner) to offer a description of the definitions and boundaries she set around a shared experience of topping Pearl’s male partner. Gabrielle: The stuff around where we draw the lines between SM and sex and what that does in terms of identity is really interesting too, I mean, I wound up accidentally topping Pearl and Earnest, by accident, by accident! And that … wasn’t sexual – well it was Pearl: He was wanking. Gabrielle: It was quite sexual for you [Pearl]. Several voices: [laughter]. Gabrielle: I had some kind of arbitrary line which was like I wasn’t being sexual with him … and I managed to make that not threaten my lesbian identity which is really really important to me, but it raised interesting questions around where I do put those boundaries … and where I’m drawing those lines, and what it would feel ok to do with him and what it wouldn’t feel ok to do with him … the SM bit felt very very clear, the slightly sexual bit, I think what I did in my head was just feel like ‘No, what I’m doing now is being sexual with you [Pearl], and he’s here, and I’m allowing him to be sexual on his own, quietly.’ Several voices: [laughter]. Pearl: With your fingernails in the back of his neck as I recall. Helping. Katherine: Just being friendly. Here then, Gabrielle is challenged to justify her claim that the experience of topping Earnest was not (for her) sexual by Pearl 231

Ani Ritchie & Meg Barker who points out the potential contradiction in her narrative. Pearl can only recognise the disparity between what Gabrielle says and the ‘real’ story because Pearl is herself part of the story. Katherine has also heard the story before (she is an ex-lover of Gabrielle’s) and adds to the retelling of it by supporting Gabrielle’s position that the experience was not (for her) sexual but ‘friendly’. These kinds of challenges mirror those found in Kitzinger’s (1994) study on HIV prevention where the participants in her focus groups were able to point to contradictions between what health workers said they did (in the research group) and what they were known to do outside of the research group. Frith (2000) suggests that the potential of focus group research to draw on such interaction is one of its major strengths in sex research, claiming that the interactive nature of the data gathered by these methods ‘can provide researchers with detailed information not only about sexual activities but about the way these activities are understood by participants’ (p.291). Drawing on these ‘joint action’ moments allows us to explore the shared construction of sexual stories and social meaning between this closely networked group. It also allows our participants to explore and explain their own understanding of SM activities in different ways, as in the example above. each other’. Pearl drew on academic research, agreeing with Laura that the debate was played out less intensely, but more insidiously, in current academic circles: [In a recent review of literature] it wasn’t so much that there were big rants about SM but more that it was just accepted […] throwaway statements of like, ‘SM: that’s oppressive, that’s anti-feminist’, so it’s still something that’s out there, I think, in a way that’s not passionately discussed but just kind of assumed. Katherine asked ‘what are the assumptions based on, do you think?’ The first perception the group came up with is that SM is about men dominating women, and is, therefore, ‘disempowering to women’ (Katherine). Jane: And if you’re a feminist and you’re involved with a man, and they’re actually going to be topping you, then you can see … Pearl: This book was on heterosexuality, I think it was assuming that all SM and heterosexual relationships was the men being dominant. Jane: That was the thing I was going to say. That sounds like it’s working on the male top, female bottom/sub, whatever … Joanne: That’s just such a surprising assumption. Gabrielle: But it’s a really strong assumption. To counter this assumption that tops/dom(me)s were always men and bottoms/submissives always women, Joanne drew on her own initial preconceptions about SM: Well, when I first became aware of SM and DS, and before I really met people, my image of it, was dominant women and submissive men, and I wondered how I’d fit into that as a woman who was submissive. Elizabeth offered support here, claiming ‘all the phone cards you see, it’s always dominatrix’ to which Joanne responded ‘Yeah, woman with the whip.’ When we discussed Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Countering misconceptions about SM

In our previous work with polyamorous women (Ritchie & Barker, 2005), the issue of exploring and then countering stereotypes became a recurring theme. In this research there were similar attempts by the group to set out and then counter common stereotypes and misconceptions about SM. Early on in the discussion Laura, Gabrielle and Pearl each described what stereotypes they understand the feminist sex wars to be based on, in relation to SM. Laura suggested that although ‘it does seem like the battle’s moved on’, she had read an online feminist critique of SM and concluded ‘I really don’t see how feminists can do this sort of thing to 232

Feminist SM: A contradiction in terms … participants’ own practices it was clear that whilst in some relationships women might exclusively bottom or submit (as seems to be the assumption in the feminist anti-SM literature) to a male partner, those same women might have relationships in which they exclusively top or dominate a male submissive partner. Pearl for example, has bottomed casually to Katherine’s male partner Chris, but predominantly tops within her long-term relationship with Earnest. Since the majority of the participants switch to a greater or lesser degree, they reject any explanation of SM which is based on assumptions that female SMers only bottom. Jane pointed out that the common assumption that SM was anti- feminist since it disempowered women by making them submissive to men was grounded in another misconception: Part of that’s also the assumption that even if it is woman sub, that subs don’t have any kind of power and it’s more complicated than that … You do have a certain amount of power as the bottom in the scene, part of it’s power you’re sort of giving over to the top, but it’s not … it’s a lend. So there is another important inaccuracy in how the group feel SM is perceived: the idea that submissives have no power. Again Joanne drew on her own experiences to counter this assumption: ‘That was one of the first things I remember hearing…during the SM workshop where I met Laura and the guys: the idea that it’s actually the bottom who has the power’. Laura supports this saying that ‘everybody knows the bottom really runs the scene.’ Participants suggested that SM was ‘not about the bottom, particularly the stereotype of the woman [bottom] … lying back and going ‘do what you want, master’’ (Jane), and talked at length about the ways in which SM scenes were negotiated to accommodate the desire of both dominant and submissive participants. In fact the issue of negotiation was so central to the group that we plan to devote a separate article to its exploration. Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3 As Langdridge and Butt (2004a) and Beckmann (2001) found, consent is a major discourse in the SM literature and websites, probably because it counters the common perception that SMers may rape or abuse others. Moser and Kleinplatz (2003) argue that this perception is perpetuated by the DSM (2000) which inappropriately categorises together individuals who take part in consensual SM with those who engage in non-consensual activities such as rape. The third stereotype the group engaged with was one which emerged from our summary of the academic literature. Pearl had suggested that SM was negatively viewed by some feminists because it ‘reproduced gendered, power gender dynamics, that were negative’ (Jackson, 1996; Jeffreys, 1996) and, like Taylor and Ussher’s (2001) participants, the group challenged this perception that SM reproduces conventional gendered hierarchies by drawing on their experiences of subverting these roles. Pearl spoke of SM enabling men to cry and experience vulnerability, and of her experiences of being a woman who penetrates rather than is penetrated, and who can ensure physical control over her male partners through the use of bondage. Laura said ‘one of the things I really enjoy about slave training with men is I’ll redress the orgasm balance … definitely part of dominating men for me is about redressing that balance’. She makes submissive men ask for permission to orgasm and ensures that she orgasms first and more often. Gabrielle said that SM in woman-woman relationships had been criticised by anti-SM feminists with the argument that ‘anything that reinscribes some difference of power between two women, is argued, in that school of feminism, to be reinscribing heterosexuality onto it, so it’s becoming as damaging as heterosexuality was.’ As Califia (1980) reported, SM is accused of being violent as opposed to the equal, gentle sex that feminist lesbians should be engaged in. Gabrielle challenged this idea herself questioning the assumption it is rooted in: that ‘two women 233

Ani Ritchie & Meg Barker having [non-SM] sex must be about two equals having sex’. She argued that ‘that just isn’t borne out in reality’, suggesting that power dynamics will come in to any form of sex. Laura also dismissed the idea that any relationship could be without power imbalances. SM might be understood as rendering more visible (and potentially undermining) broader ‘structural inequalities’ in society (Langdridge & Butt, 2004a, p.48). Participants also highlighted the notion that ‘[in SM] power is not connected to privilege’ (Sullivan, 2003, p.161), particularly in relation to gendered hierarchies of power. Participants were not claiming that SM was automatically feminist however, as we will illustrate in the next section, they also told stories of dominant men who were anti-feminist and men who avoided topping because of their physical strength and cultural links between masculinity and violence. Some participants spoke of finding it more difficult to trust dominant men than women, or finding it harder to be a ‘scary’ top as a woman than as a man, suggesting that it is extremely difficult to completely escape gendered expectations and dynamics. However, overall, both dominant and submissive SM roles were presented as compatible with a pro-sex feminist agenda and as a potential way to reveal and subvert gendered power dynamics. mann’s (2001) finding that her participants drew clear borderlines between fantasy and reality to present SM as consensual and harmless rather than coercive and potentially dangerous. As we said earlier, many of our participants used ‘feminist’ in their self-definitions, and all of us made reference to our SM identity. We were particularly interested in how, as feminist women, we negotiated SM practices which might be seen as anti-feminist. In our group, the separation between fantasy and reality was particularly strongly emphasised when participants discussed practices that might be viewed as anti-feminist (specifically rape scenes, domestic abuse scenes, and 24/7 female submission) or as otherwise potentially exploitative (age-play, racial slavery play, and wearing SS uniforms1). Participants echoed Califia’s (1980, p.174) argument that ‘meaning is derived from the context in which it is used’, where she points out that the historical oppressors (wifebeaters or Nazis) may not be the top in an SM encounter and, even if they are, SM acts as a parody rather than a reproduction or reinforcement of that oppression. Generally participants suggested that practices (even those which drew on gendered power imbalances) which were about fantasy were acceptable (and could be deemed feminist) but these were very clearly set in opposition to the reality of male dominated society. As Joanne summarised, ‘it’s the distinction between fantasy and reality … if I want to submit to a man I might get off on power play that is to do with stereotype images of men but it’s a fantasy, it’s not real life.’ The specific example of prostitution came up several times in the discussion, Elizabeth said: I play with that a lot because I’ve got a huge prostitution kink [Laura: You’re not alone] I don’t feel in any way as though it’s demeaning to me … I don’t play it like that … in that particular context, I feel so powerful.

The distinction between fantasy and reality

The distinction between fantasy and reality came up at least 15 times in the discussion, in contexts such as when Joanne responded to an initial question about the relationship between feminism and SM with ‘I don’t have a problem reconciling my feminism with my submission because I see them as reality and fantasy’. After reading the final transcript, Jane said that ‘the distinction between fantasy and reality is really vital’. This reflects distinctions made in SM literature (e.g. Easton & Hardy, 2001, 2003) and Beck1

See Moore, this issue, for a detailed discussion of Fascism and SM.


Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Feminist SM: A contradiction in terms … So the idea of playing with these situations and roles was explicitly set against the realities, Katherine later commented: ‘we’ve been talking about fantasy scenarios … obviously we’re not saying that all prostitutes find sex erotic, because that’s clearly not the case’. Several of the participants drew on their experiences of the line between fantasy and reality being crossed. One mentioned her experiences as a sex worker, and Elizabeth spoke about a non-consensual encounter with a dominant male: I’ve got a kink about domestic violence and I would love to do scenes that were fantasy with that, but I had someone offloading their own personal domestic violence on me non-consensually the other week and it was a very very big lesson in the difference between fantasy and reality. It was horrible … but I still want to do it as part of a scene … I think it’s still possible, so long as they understand, so long as they know that it’s fantasy as well. Some authors caution, however, that it is important to recognise that this parody or ‘theatre’ of SM ‘is not the opposite of life as it is sometimes posited. Nor does ‘playing a role’ take one out of the ideological circulation of the dominant culture’ (Hart, 1998, cited in Sullivan, 2003, p.160). There was some discussion in the group about how these fantasies could be explored safely, specifically participants talked about whether playing with male domination in this way might tap into some ideologically naturalised ‘maleness’, as Elizabeth comments here ‘you just have to find the ones who can put it on and take it off rather than the ones with whom it’s inherent. It’s hard, it is hard.’ Katherine reflected this back to the group later; ‘that’s part of why subbing to men is, can feel more dangerous, because you feel like you can’t, as Elizabeth said, there’s a feeling that you can’t really control what they’re going to do.’ These discourses of ‘natural’ male aggression seem to conflict with the possibility of playing with gender mentioned earlier, displaying how particiLesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3 pants drew on both alternative and more traditional discourses of sex and gender in their talk. Several participants spoke about how they would not be involved with men who seemed to genuinely enjoy abusing women. It was clear that they did not want to play with somebody who would not look after them, as Katherine put it, ‘there’s no point someone going away and leaving you tied up if they genuinely don’t care’. These discourses emerged again in the group’s consideration of the one practice which a number of participants felt might be anti-feminist: 24/7 relationships where a woman submitted to a male top or dom all of the time. Laura said: ‘I still wouldn’t go as far as to say that it’s always and automatically anti-feminist to be in a 24/7 female sub relationship, but if I had to name something that was suspect, that would be it’. The defining line here again seemed to be about empowered choice, Laura went on to comment ‘if it’s negotiated, consensual and everything I don’t know if I can really say ‘no, sorry, that’s anti-feminist’, if that woman has chosen to be a 24/7 submissive …’ Pearl said: One of my biggest fantasies recently was just total domestic servitude to a man 24/7 … it’s totally anti-feminist-seeming, but I’m really comfortable with me wanting that kind of thing. It’s when it just comes out from a bloke and it’s not been negotiated first and it’s not been me asked for it, that’s when I feel uncomfortable with it. When I’m wanting it I don’t actually feel that it’s a problem … Women are traditionally oppressed by men, so whereas I think it’s ok for me to want it. It may be more troubling if they’re just doing it. Jane offered support for this idea: ‘It’s ok from the point of view of the exploited one to say ‘ok, this happened, and I want it anyway.’ Fantasy then (24/7 female to male submission) is distinguishable from reality (patriarchal oppression and traditional domestic servitude) when it involves choice. Clearly participants felt that as women they had the right to choose to play with gendered power, 235

Ani Ritchie & Meg Barker but were concerned by scenarios where men chose to impose this. As this illustrates, the distinction between fantasy and reality was very much bound up in whether people had actively chosen to take part in an activity or not. Jane’s analysis of the transcript following the focus group highlighted this ‘idea of choice’ as a key area for exploration drawing on sections of the discussion such as the following extract from Laura: It’s a bit like the whole thing about feminism being about more choices for women, so that there’s a really big difference between a woman who chooses to stay at home and look after her children, be a full-time housewife now when arguably she does have a range of choices that she didn’t have in the 50s. Jane claimed that ‘feminism is surely partly about being able to choose what you want to do and what you want to be’ and for many of the participants it seemed that there was a similar emphasis on choice in SM. In the following exchange, Laura and Katherine return to the issue of submissive power in their discussion of the importance of choosing to submit. Katherine: I can understand, because as a sub, for me, part of it is about complete loss of control, not actually having it, but, you know, at least feeling that I have lost control of the situation. Laura: But it’s that power of actually choosing to lose control … Katherine: Exactly. Jane summarised this issue, writing in her reflection on the transcript: ‘the idea of power and power exchange [is important] it’s about choosing that exchange rather than having it forced on you.’ The ability to choose submission was thus central to our participants understanding of SM as empowering and feminist. the oldest participant in our group, spoke of her experiences of ‘the whole sex-positive, sex-negative SM feminism thing’ and the difficulty of reconciling her SM practices and feminist politics in the 1980s. Twenty years later we suggest that dominant academic discourse still assumes that SM is inherently anti-feminist. The participants in this research attempted to negotiate their identities as feminist and SM, recognising the tensions in doing so. Elizabeth, who at 19 was our youngest group member, highlighted this in her discussion of dominance and submission when she said ‘I find it really hard, really hard to work out how I can do that and want that and still try somehow to define as feminist.’ Langdridge and Butt suggest that ‘the story of S/M can be seen as a battleground for the transformation of intimacy’ (2003a, p.48). Particularly important in this battleground, we suggest, are the issues of choice and the carefully policed boundaries of fantasy and reality. Our participants privileged the notion of choice in their understanding of feminism and SM. They recognised the tensions in this position, however, for example in the extract concerning 24/7 cited earlier, Laura suggested that she would find it difficult to claim that practices such as 24/7 female to male submission were inherently anti-feminist ‘if that women has chosen’ to submit. Nonetheless there remained some concerns amongst the group about some of these practices. Butler (1982) asserted that the notion of consent in SM ‘does not mean it has overcome heterosexual power dynamics’ (cited in Sullivan, 2003, p.164). In the group this idea was explicitly challenged by participants’ accounts of the potential for SM to reveal and subvert heterosexual and patriarchal power imbalances, for example Laura’s attempts to ‘redress the orgasm balance’. Participants also explored tensions in relation to who has the power to choose. For example, Joanne, Pearl and Elizabeth all spoke about enjoying scenes which played with domestic abuse, servitude or prostitution, but only when they chose to, not ‘when it just comes out from a Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3


During the feminist sex wars of the late 1970s and 1980s Califia (1980, p.166) wrote ‘it’s difficult to discuss sadomasochism in feminist terms.’ Like Califia, Laura, who was 236

Feminist SM: A contradiction in terms … bloke’ (Pearl). This issue is closely linked with the second key point made by our participants, the ‘very very big lesson in the difference between fantasy and reality’ (Elizabeth). Participants drew careful lines around practices which they felt played with or parodied power dynamics (fantasy), and those which they deemed to reproduce structural inequalities (reality). Discussions echoed Hopkins’ (1994) claim that ‘similarity is not sufficient for replication’ (cited in Sullivan, 2003, p.160). Again we recognise tensions in this position however, as was highlighted in our participants discussion of the need to find male dominants ‘who can put it on and take it off’ (Elizabeth). Sullivan (2003) suggests we might think of SM roles as ‘not an expression of one’s inner self, but rather … [as] fluid, non-essential, freely chosen, subject positions’ (p.161). This idea, supported by the work we present here, offers some challenge to the assumptions that underpin the feminist condemnation of SM as reproducing and perpetuating heterosexual and patriarchal power hierarchies. The women SMers whose voices we share in this paper are freely choosing subject positions which they suggest have the potential to recognise, challenge, subvert, parody and transgress these hierarchies of power (see Smith, this issue, for a more detailed theoretical consideration of such issues of choice and freedom in gendered SM play). In her groundbreaking paper in 1984, Rubin argued that a sex hierarchy existed which rendered anything other than monogamous, heterosexual sex in the ‘outer limits’: bad, abnormal, unnatural and unacceptable. Psychiatric categories, mainstream psychological writing and academic feminist theories still place SM firmly in these outer limits, meaning that people like ourselves and our participants continue to be pathologised and criminalised, unable to safely and openly express our sexuality. As Califia (1980, p.180) argued, SMers are the ‘victims of sexual oppression not the ones to blame for it’. Twenty years on, the conclusion to Rubin’s paper still holds, and is something Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3 today’s feminists should take note of: ‘Those who consider themselves progressive need to examine their preconceptions, update their sexual educations, and acquaint themselves with the existence and operation of sexual hierarchy. It is time to recognise the political dimensions of erotic life’ (p.310). It is this political dimension that participants highlight throughout this paper, in their consideration of how power and gendered dynamics may play out, or be subverted, in their sexual practices. We hope this paper will go some way to providing Rubin’s requested sexual education and will help readers to examine their preconceptions about women SMers.


Ani Ritchie is a Lecturer in Media With Cultural Studies at Southampton Solent University. Her research focuses on the construction and negotiation of sexual identities in women with a specific interest in women who identify as lesbian, bisexual, SM and/or polyamorous. Ani Ritchie Faculty of Media, Arts and Society, Southampton Solent University, East Park Terrace, Southampton SO14 0YN. E-mail: Ani.Ritchie@solent.ac.uk Dr Meg Barker is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at London South Bank University. She is the honorary secretary of the Lesbian and Gay Section of the British Psychological Society and associate editor of their journal, Lesbian and Gay Psychology Review. Her research focuses on sexual communities specifically the bisexual, polyamorous and SM communities. Dr Meg Barker Department of Psychology, London South Bank University, 103 Borough Road, London SE1 0AA. E-mail: barkermj@lsbu.ac.uk 237

Ani Ritchie & Meg Barker

American Psychiatric Association (2000). DSM-IV-TR (text revision). Accessed from http://www.behavenet.com/capsules/disorders on 21 May 2004. Banister, P., Burman, E., Parker, I., Taylor, M. & Tindall, C. (1995). Qualitative methods in psychology: A research guide. Buckingham: Open University Press. Barker, M. (2004a). Revisiting Rubin: Are S/M, nonmonogamy and bisexuality still in the outer limits? Presentation to the Pleasure and Danger Conference, Cardiff, July 2004. Barker, M. (2004b). Being S/M/Doing S/M: Still in the societal/academic outer limits? Presentation to the Constructing Sexualities Conference, Huddersfield, June 2004. Basch, C. (1987). Focus group interviews: An underutilised research technique for improving theory and practice in health education. Health Education Quarterly, 14(4), 411–448. Beckmann, A. (2001). Deconstructing myths: The social construction of ‘sadomasochism’ versus ‘subjugated knowledges’ of practitioners of consensual ‘SM’. Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 8(2), 66–95. Bolton, R. (1995). Tricks, friends and lovers: Erotic encounters in the field. In D. Kulick & M. Willson (Eds.), Taboo: Sex, identity and erotic subjectivity in anthropological fieldwork (pp.140–167). London & New York: Routledge. Butler, J. (1982). Lesbian S&M: The politics of dis-illusion. In Lindon et al. (Eds.), Against sadomasochism: A radical feminist analysis (pp. 168–175). San Francisco: Frog in the Well. Cited in Sullivan (2003). Califia, P. (1980). Feminism and sadomasochism. In P. Califia (2000), Public sex. San Fancisco: Cleis Press. Denzin, N.K. & Lincon, Y.S. (Eds) (2000). Handbook of qualitative research (2nd ed.). London: Sage. Easton, D. & Hardy, J.W. (2001). The new bottoming book. California: Greenery Press. Easton, D. & Hardy, J.W. (2003). The new topping book. California: Greenery Press. Etherington, K. (2004). Becoming a reflexive researcher: Using our selves in research. London: Jessica Lingsley. Folch-Lyon, E. & Tross, J.F. (1981). Conducting focus group sessions. Studies in Family Planning, 12(12), 443–449. Frith, H. (2000). Focusing on sex: Using focus groups in sex research. Sexualities, 3(3) 275–297. Gosselin, C. & Wilson, G. (1980). Sexual variations: Fetishism, sadomasochism and transvestism. London: Faber & Faber. Hammersley, M. & Atkinson, P. (1995). Ethnography: Principles in practice. London: Routledge. Hart, L. (1998). Between the body and the flesh: Performing sadomasochism. New York: Columbia University Press. Cited in Sullivan (2003). Hopkins, P. (1994). Rethinking sadomasochism: feminism, interpretation and simulation. Hypatia, 9(1), 116–139. Cited in Sullivan (2003). Jackson, S. (1996). Heterosexuality and feminist theory. In D. Richardson (Ed.), Theorising heterosexuality (pp.21–38). Buckingham: Open University Press. Jeffreys, S. (1996). Heterosexuality and the desire for gender. In D. Richardson (Ed.), Theorising heterosexuality. Buckingham: Open University Press. Kitzinger, J (1994). The methodology of focus groups: The importance of interaction between research participants. Sociology of Health and Illness, 16(1), 103–121. Kitzinger, J. (1995). Qualitative research: Introducing focus groups. British Medical Journal, 311, 299–302. Lambevski, S.A. (1999). Suck my nation – masculinity, ethnicity and the politics of (homo)sex. Sexualities, 2(4), 397–419. Langdridge, D. (2003). Introduction to research methods and data anaylsis in psychology. London: Prentice Hall. Langdridge, D. & Butt, T.W. (2004a). A hermeneutic phenomenological investigation of the construction of sadomasochistic identities. Sexualities, 7(1), 31–53. Langdridge, D. & Butt, T.W. (2004b). The erotic construction of power exchange. Journal of Constructivist Psychology, 18(1), 65–74. Moser, C. & Kleinplatz, P.J. (2003). DSM-IV-TR and the paraphilias: An argument for removal. Presentation to The American Psychiatric Association’s Annual Meeting, San Francisco. Obtained from http://moser.gelteve.org on 2 January 2005. Moser, C. & Levitt, E.E. (1995). An explanatorydescriptive study of a sadomasochistically oriented sample. In T. Weinberg (Ed.), S&M: Studies in dominance and submission (pp.93–114). New York: Prometheus Books. Plummer, K. (1995). Telling sexual stories: Power, change and social worlds. London: Routledge. Ritchie, A. & Barker, M. (2005). Explorations in feminist participant-led research: Conducting focus group discussions with polyamorous women. Psychology of Women Section Review, November, 2005. Rubin, G. (1984). Thinking sex: Notes for a radical theory on the politics of sexuality. In C. Vance (Ed.), Pleasure and danger: Exploring female sexuality (pp.267–319). London: Routledge.


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Feminist SM: A contradiction in terms …
Russel, D.E.H. (1982). Sadomasochism: A contrafeminist activity. In Linden, Robin Ruth et al. (Eds.), Against sadomasochism: A radical feminist analysis. San Francisco: Frog in the Well. Sullivan, N. (2003). Sadomasochism as resistance? In N. Sullivan, A critical introduction to queer theory (pp.151–167). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Taylor, G.W. & Ussher, J.M. (2001). Making sense of S&M: A discourse analytic account. Sexualities, 4(3), 293–314.

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Researching sexual difference: A survey of gay S/M in the UK
Eric Chaline
This paper presents the preliminary results of an empirical survey conducted on gay S/M in the UK in 2004–2005. The survey is part of a broader study, which includes both quantitative and qualitative research methods. This paper presents selected survey findings, comparing them with those produced by earlier quantitative work on gay S/M conducted in the US and Europe since 1975 to discover if there have been any major changes in the demographic profiles of participants on the scene, their preferred activities and their attitudes to key aspects of S/M. Methodological issues relating to quantitative research in the area of sexualities and sexual identities are also discussed. Keywords: empirical surveys, male-to-male sexualities, quantitative research, sadomasochism (S/M), social constructionism. N THE PAST three decades, social scientists have applied constructionist approaches to the study of a wide range of sexualities and sexual identities (Foucault, 1998/1976, 1992/1984, 1990/1984; and Weeks, 1977, 1981, 1985, 1995, 1998, 2000). However, research on one group of sexualities and sexual identities has been conspicuous by its scarcity, and that is both heteroand homosexual sadomasochism (S/M). Until very recently, most of the work on the topic had been conducted from sexological and psychiatric perspectives, which attempted to formulate unitary, ahistorical and acultural models of S/M sexualities and identities that have little or nothing to say about the social aspects of contemporary S/M sexualities, or about the formation and evolution of the several S/M ‘scenes’, or communities, in the UK. The present study focuses on one aspect of S/M in the UK in the postwar period: male homosexual sadomasochism-gay S/M. My aims include updating and expanding the existing quantitative data, providing an ethnographic description of the contemporary scene, defining gay S/M sexualities and identities and examining their social construction through a combination of qualitative and quantitative research. This paper will present the preliminary findings of the 240


quantitative component of the study, collected by a survey questionnaire between February 2004 and May 2005, and compare them with earlier quantitative data. In my initial proposal for the study (April, 2002), I hypothesised that there had been a change from the stereotype of the gay S/Mer as a middle-class, middle-aged white male (a stereotype confirmed by the existing quantitative data), to a younger, more ethnically and socially diverse profile. As a first step in testing this hypothesis, and to begin identifying the major themes of the research to be covered by qualitative work, I decided to conduct an exploratory empirical survey of the scene. The findings reported here represent only the part of the quantitative data obtained so far that are directly comparable to earlier data to highlight the similarities and differences with previous findings. The remainder of the quantitative findings, once integrated with the findings of the qualitative components of the study (described at the end of the paper), will be presented upon the completion of the project, forecast to be in 2007.

Existing quantitative data on S/M

There are four main survey-based studies on S/M sexualities and identities in the litera-

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Researching sexual difference: A survey of gay S/M in the UK ture, covering the US, UK and continental Europe: the earliest was conducted by Spengler in the former West Germany in 1975 (1977); Moser and Levitt collected data in the US and Europe in 1978 (1987)1; Breslow et al., in the US, between 1982–1984 (1986); and Hunt/Sigma, in the UK in 19902. Data from a non-academic survey on ‘leather’3 sexuality by Larry Townsend has also been used. Townsend has appended the survey to the end matter of The Leatherman’s Handbook since the first edition (1972); I have used the results he published in the Handbook’s Silver Jubilee Edition (2000). Respondents to the earlier academic surveys were chosen on the basis of their selfidentification as S/Mers and were recruited through direct contact at S/M social groups, specialist retail establishments and commercial venues, or by placing ads in specialist magazines or contacting advertisers. The Townsend survey invited readers to answer a questionnaire included at the back of the Handbook. The academic questionnaires covered similar areas: age of first interest and participation in the scene, activities and material cultures, partners and attitudes, although the phrasing of questions differed in each questionnaire. The Hunt/Sigma survey had a section dealing with participation at meetings of S/M-Gays in London and their data was collected exclusively from members of this group. The Townsend survey is a more practical instrument, which can be used by players to inform partners of their preferences, so it gives a great deal of details on practices, material cultures, and role plays. Other significant differences between the earlier surveys and the present survey (except for Hunt/Sigma), was the absence of data relating to ‘recreational’ drug use, safe sex and HIV-AIDS, and the Internet, as several of these developments post-dated the data collection.


As there was no way to evaluate the total population to survey, I decided on a purposive sample (May, 2002a, 2002b) of men who were self-identified as members of the gay S/M scene or ‘community’, as well as men who, although they might not be self-identified as gay S/Mers or on the scene, were engaged in S/M activities with other men. I began soliciting survey respondents in February 2004, and will continue collecting responses until the end of 2005/beginning of 2006. However, by May 2005, I had reached the target of 100 respondents that I had set to conduct an initial statistical analysis. I solicited respondents who were self-identified as gay S/Mers by direct approach in commercial venues, at social and political groups, and by contacting men online living in the UK who had profiles on specialist websites. Additional respondents were recruited by snowballing once the survey had got underway and through my own personal networks.4 I initially sent out and collected surveys by e-mail but in April 2004, I rented a PO box after several requests by men without Internet access. The questionnaire was based on three of the academic surveys cited above (I was not aware of the Hunt/Sigma survey when I designed the present survey) with additional questions on safe sex, drug use, the Internet and the Spanner case (see my interview with a Spanner trustee elsewhere in this issue for details) to bring it up to date, and provide

1 Because the male sample from this study has the smallest proportion of self-identified homosexual or bisexual men (12.9 per cent and 2.2 per cent), I have not always used their data for comparative purposes. 2 Spengler and Hunt/Sigma were all-male surveys, while the others included both male and female respondents, who identified themselves as homosexual, bisexual or heterosexual. I have selected data for male and self-identified gay respondents whenever possible. 3 In the US, the term ‘leather’ is understood by many participants as synonymous with gay S/M. To a lesser extent, this is also true in the UK (see Table 1). 4 I only approached personal contacts when I felt that the person concerned represented a type of S/Mer that I would not be able to contact in any other way, e.g. someone not participating on the scene and not self-identified as a gay S/Mer but taking part in male-to-male S/M activities.

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Eric Chaline information specific to the UK. The survey consisted of 30 questions divided into three sections: (1) Personal information; (2) Practices, partners and material cultures; and (3) Attitudes, knowledge and comments. The response rate for respondents recruited directly at social events and at commercial venues was much higher than for Internet solicitations by a factor of approximately two to one. However, I was able to contact many more individuals through the Internet, and obtain a much greater geographic coverage, so that the respondents recruited through Internet sites account for approximately twothirds of the total number of respondents. While the demographic information collected is comparable with earlier findings, there are problems in analysing many of the other data collected because of the different interpretations of the terms used. To give a couple of simple examples, many respondents in the survey answered that their activities included ‘bondage’ and ‘master/slave role-play’, but what these actually meant in practice varied widely. It became clear from follow-up interviews that ‘bondage’ could be everything from a token binding of the hands, from which the person could escape from at will, to total restraint and immobilisation and encasement with no chance of escape. Likewise, master/slave role-play could be a full-time lifestyle choice or a short-lived power-exchange game played during an S/M encounter. While these problems will remain, the survey findings, once integrated into and qualified by the qualitative data, will prove invaluable in defining gay S/M in the UK, and will provide insights into areas including the demographic profiles of participants, practices, partners, material cultures and attitudes to safe sex, drug use, risk, consent and the law.

Demographic data The size of the present survey sample of 105 men is on par with earlier reported samples. The 1982–1984 study by Breslow et al. survey included 91 self-identified ‘homosexual men’5; of Moser and Levitt’s of 178 men (data collected in 1978), 23 identified themselves as ‘predominantly’ or ‘exclusively homosexual’; in Spengler’s sample of 245 men, 93 identified themselves as ‘exclusively homosexual’; and the Hunt/Sigma study of participation in S/M activities conducted in 1990 with the London-based S/M-Gays, 99 men out of the sample of 104, identified themselves as predominantly or exclusively ‘gay’. I had not included a question on sexual identity, as the title of the study on the questionnaire and the approach I used made it clear that I was primarily interested in selfidentified gay S/Mers. I did, however, obtain two responses from men who were active on the gay S/M scene but identified themselves as bisexual. Contradicting my initial hypothesis that I would find a younger, and more ethnically and socially diverse sample than the earlier surveys, the demographic profiles of my respondents were strikingly similar to those from the earlier data. The average age was 40.17 years, compared to Hunt/Sigma, 42; Moser and Levitt, 38.2; and Spengler, 39. Information on income, education, race and religion, which I included in my survey, was covered by several of the other surveys, though none included all of these questions. Spengler and Moser and Levitt reported higher-than-average educational attainments and incomes for their samples, I returned 62.8 per cent with graduate qualifications or above6, and 40 per cent of the sample with average incomes of £31K and over7. The earlier samples either did not report ethnic group or were predominantly ‘Caucasian’,


5 6

When reporting the results of previous surveys, I have used the authors’ terminology and categories.

The Office of National Statistics (http://www.statistics.gov.uk) gives a national figure of 37 per cent for those entering the tertiary sector in 2001–2002.

Average UK earnings for men for 2001 were £26,587 p.a. (ONS).


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Researching sexual difference: A survey of gay S/M in the UK which was also my experience. Despite my efforts to include more members of other ethnic groups, only three of my survey respondents identified themselves as belonging to ethnicities other than white. Moser and Levitt were the only researchers to report on religious affiliation, giving a figure of 57 per cent with some religious belief. In my own data almost half the respondents (44.8 per cent)8 identified themselves as atheists, and another 15.2 per cent as agnostics. The remainder was split between the major Christian denominations (21 per cent), Judaism (2.9 per cent), Buddhism (2.9 per cent), and Paganism (2.9 per cent). Both Spengler and Moser and Levitt raised the issue of higher-than-average incomes and educational attainment, suggesting that either some link could be made between these characteristics and S/M, or that ‘better educated individuals (who are more likely to be affluent) may be more willing to participate in scientific research, more likely to join an S/M support group, or simply more likely to define their sexuality as S/M’ (Moser & Levitt, 1987, p.107). Initially, I had reached similar conclusions but then I asked myself, why there had been no significant shift in demographic data since 1975. It is undeniable that there has been a transformation of both the straight and gay S/M scenes in the UK since 1975 (Beckman, 2001), with the appearance of a relatively large national commercial scene in the past ten to 15 years and of many specialist sites on the Internet since the mid-1990s, which together make access to S/M activities much easier than in earlier periods when participants had to join private members’ clubs or special-interest groups, such as gay bikers’ groups (e.g. Motorcycle Sporting Clubs), which had links with male-to-male S/M sexualities. My own observations of the scene in the UK indicate that there are many more
8 9

participants in younger age groups and from minority ethnic groups, but this has not been reflected in the survey data. While the issue of the type of person who is likely to take part in a survey of this kind must play a part, there must also be additional factors that explain why the typical gay S/Mer remains, on average, a 40-year-old white, affluent graduate. The possible explanations that come to mind are: (1) financial: the cost of the clothing and equipment required for S/M is such that it still prevents younger participants from identifying fully as S/Mers; (2) stigma: the social constraints against S/M are still strong enough to require a certain period to elapse before a clear S/M identity is accepted and publicly advertised (similarly, social and cultural stigma may explain the relatively low participation of members of other ethnic groups); (3) that the increased visibility, acceptance and access to S/M activities (both on and off the scene, and particularly through the Internet) no longer require men to identify themselves as S/Mers to become participants; (4) that the process of socialisation into S/M takes a number of years to complete9; or (5) late entry: that the assumption of a gay S/M sexuality or identity by men aged 30 and above will always increase for the average age of participants. Practices, partners and material culture The first question in this section asked respondents to choose from a list of possible names the one they would usually use to describe their sexuality/sexual identity (or to suggest their own). This was not replicated in any other survey; the closest was a question in Hunt/Sigma asking the respondent’s view of the ‘essence of S/M in his own words’. I did not include this kind of question because I had decided that this would better be explored in qualitative work. The preferred names are given in Table 1.

ONS data for 2001 gives a national figure of 15.5 per cent for ‘no religion’.

In Weinberg et al., 1995, Kamel makes a similar point in his description of the ‘coming out’ process into S/M; however, his description of a six-stage career is not supported by the qualitative evidence I have collected so far.

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Eric Chaline

Table 1: Preferred name (N=105).
Name S/M or S&M BDSM Leather Slave/master play Own name Sleaze Sadomasochism Role play No name Rubber Fetish Kink Missing % 29.5 14.3 13.3 10.5 7.6 6.7 3.8 2.9 2.9 1.9 1.9 1.0 3.8

Since the first definition of sadomasochism given by Krafft-Ebing in 1890, researchers in the field have argued over whether sadism and masochism were two aspects of the same phenomenon, or two quite distinct ‘conditions’ with different ‘etiologies’. The matter was further confused because of the gendering of sadism and masochism in sexology and psychiatry, making sadism ‘masculine’ and masochism ‘feminine’ (Krafft-Ebing, 1947 (1886, 1890); Havelock Ellis, 1936 (1903); Freud, 1938; Fenichel, 1945; Socarides, 1978; Rosen, 1979). One of the results of this gendering was to associate homosexuality with masochism. Findings in all surveys, including my own, contradict this view of an exclusive preference for one role or the other (expressed in my survey as a scale of dominance and submission). In previous data, 12.2 per cent of Breslow et al.’s homosexual sample were ‘dominant’, 12 per cent for Spengler’s ‘exclusively active’; Breslow et al. found 21.1 per cent, ‘submissive’, and Spengler, 13 per cent ‘exclusively submissive’. I used a scale of dominance and submission (see Table 2). 8.6 per cent were ‘100 per cent dominant’ and 9.5 per cent, 244

‘100 per cent submissive’; Hunt/Sigma, which used a similar scale obtained a majority of predominantly ‘bottom’ (52 per cent) over predominantly ‘top’ (30 per cent) with 16.3 per cent as ‘equally top and bottom’. Spengler’s sample was 37 per cent versatile, and Breslow et al.’s, 41.1 per cent; taking those on either side of 50/50 (to 70 per cent), my own figure is 42.9 per cent, with those more submissive, 29.5 per cent, and more dominant, 27.7 per cent. Townsend gave 40 per cent as ‘sadists’ and 85 per cent ‘masochists’, explaining that the extra 25 per cent represented switches, but he did not break down the figures any further. Along with the related area of exclusivity (see below), the presumption that S/Mers would be either dominant or submissive in the early literature, was a misconception created by the construction of theories of sadomasochism as ahistorical, universal categories related to what were held to be ‘naturally’ masculine or feminine characteristics.

Table 2: Sub-dom scale, comparison Hunt/Sigma and the present survey (N=105).
Sub-dom 100% Sub 90% 80% 70% 60% 50/50 60% Dom 70% 80% 90% 100% Hunt/Sigma %* 8.6 27.9 –** 15.3 – 16.3 – 21.5 – 3.8 4.8 Present survey % 9.5 11.4 8.6 9.5 6.7 19.0 2.9 4.8 8.6 10.5 8.6

* Two respondents did not answer. ** The figures for 80% and 60% were not given in the Hunt/Sigma findings.

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Researching sexual difference: A survey of gay S/M in the UK The next two questions in this section asked the ages of ‘first awareness of S/M’ and of ‘first S/M encounter’, which were also given in other surveys with some variations (see Table 3). Again my expectation was for my sample to reveal a narrowing of the gap between first awareness and experience, because of the increased access to S/M through the Internet and the commercialisation of the scene. Both Spengler and Breslow et al. found that a significant number of their respondents had discovered their interest in S/M by their teens (‘first awareness’ in Spengler: 43 per cent by age 16, and 76 per cent by age 24; Breslow et al.: 45.5 per cent by age 13, and 84.6 per cent by age 24). My own data are in line with their results: 36.2 per cent by age 15 and 76.2 per cent by age 25. The average age of first awareness in the Spengler sample was 20.3 and my own was 19.75. Spengler did not have an ‘age of first S/M encounter’ but my ‘first S/M encounter’ was 59.1 per cent by age 25, which was very close to Moser and Levitt’s ‘first experience’, which was 57 per cent by age 24, their average ‘age for first experience’ was 22.9.10 Hunt/Sigma reported average ages for ‘first realised into S/M’ (23 years) and ‘first S/M experience’ (26), which were in line with my own figures of 19.75 and 25.75 respectively. As for the findings on the demographic profiles of gay S/Mers, I was surprised to find no appreciable differences in the ages of first S/M awareness and first S/M experience since the mid-1970s. While the visibility, size and accessibility of the gay S/M scene has greatly increased, the major developments in this direction have taken place in the past 10 to 15 years, with the opening of new commercial venues, and in the past five to 10 years, with the large-scale use of the Internet and the appearance of specialist S/M contact websites. Because a significant part of my sample (average age 40.17 years) would have been socialised into S/M before these developments, when the scene

consisted of private members’ clubs, private networks, and special-interest groups with links to S/M sexualities (see above), the time needed to construct a S/M sexuality and identity would have been roughly the same from the immediate post-war period until the early 1990s. If we look at the corresponding figures for men in the sample aged 30 and under, the ages of first interest and first experience are 16.95 and 19.95, showing a reduction of the interval between the two ages from just over six years to three. However, as the sample of men of 30 and under in the survey is low, at 19 respondents, these findings must be treated with caution. Another possible explanation for the relatively late age for first S/M experience could be the significant number of men who have adopted an S/M identity at a later stage in their sexual careers. Spengler reported 27 per cent of his homosexual sample had become aware of their interest after the age of 25, matching my figure of 25 per cent becoming aware after the age of 26. Breslow et al.’s figure for first interest was 13.8 per cent at 25 and older, which raises the possibility that Spengler and the present survey results might be due to sampling variation.

Table 3: Ages of first S/M awareness and first S/M encounter (N=105).
Age missing 0–10 11–15 16–20 21–25 26–30 31–35 36–40 41–50 51–60 1st awareness 1.0% 10.5 25.7 21.9 18.1 12.4 6.7 1.9 1.0 1.0 1st encounter – 1.9 5.7 22.9 28.6 18.1 13.3 3.8 2.9 2.9

Moser and Levitt also reported an average age of 25.9 for ‘coming out as an S/Mer’ in the same sense as ‘coming out’ as gay.

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Eric Chaline Spengler and Moser and Levitt both had sections detailing practices, role-plays and material cultures, and I followed suit, because I wanted to explore any changes in these areas in the past three decades. I have pointed out above that there are particular difficulties in interpreting answers as the meaning of terms can vary widely from respondent to respondent, and that my preferred method of investigating these areas in detail will be through qualitative work. However, if there had been any major shifts in areas such as practices or number of partners, they would have registered here. Spengler made a distinction between ‘practices’ and ‘fetishistic preferences’, which I do not think can be sustained under close scrutiny but can be explained by the divisions between sadomasochism and fetishism maintained at the time (Gebhard, 1969; Gosselin & Wilson, 1980; Wilson, 1987). Moser and Levitt had sections on ‘role-playing’ and ‘various sexual behaviours’, for which they reported data for ‘tried’ and ‘tried and enjoyed’. Townsend gives a very long list of ‘leather’, ‘clothes’, ‘equipment’ and ‘scenes’, giving a breakdown of responses for active and passive partners. My own division was into ‘activities’, ‘clothing’, ‘equipment’ and ‘role-plays’, for which I asked respondents to indicate use on a four-point frequency scale. Spengler only gave a few practices and his figures are difficult to interpret without additional information. These included 66 per cent for ‘whip’, 60 per cent for ‘bonds’, 9 per cent for ‘nipple torture’, and 6 per cent for ‘needles’. His section of fetishistic preferences included 50 per cent for ‘leather’, 12 per cent for ‘rubber’, 10 per cent for ‘water sports’, and 5 per cent for ‘coprophilia’ (scat). Moser and Levitt gave a more complete list of ‘sexual behaviours’ and a separate section on role-plays. The table also includes data from Hunt/Sigma, which asked about equipment and activities used in S/M encounters in the past year. I have given those directly comparable to my own findings in Table 4. 246 There were few variations between the data sets for activities, but there were two major omissions in Moser & Levitt, considering their popularity in other survey data. These were TT (tit torture) and CBT (cock and ball torture). Townsend’s figure for WS is 74 per cent, 90 per cent for TT and 78.75 per cent for CBT (these figures are averages of ‘enjoy giving’ and ‘enjoy receiving’). While a core group of S/M activities and role-plays have remained unchanged over the period covered by the surveys, there has been an increase in the use of specialist S/M equipment, such as hoods, gags, and handcuffs, which are now much easier to obtain from specialist retail outlets, by mail order or on-line shopping, and are now much cheaper. The one activity that has shown a major increase is ‘group sex’, though it is unclear whether this is a real change or a sample variation. Moser and Levitt and Spengler both gave figures for ‘leather’: 49.2 per cent and 50 per cent respectively, which was close to my own of 45.75 per cent (an average of the use of two common items of leather worn half the time of more often during S/M sex); the relevant figures for rubber were: Spengler, 12 per cent, Moser and Levitt, 30.5 per cent and my own, 52.4 per cent. Again the greater availability of rubber items probably explains this difference. Breslow gave three figures for master/slave role-play (mental: 68.3 per cent; physical 60.5 per cent; and combined 46.3 per cent). In my opinion, embodied role play of this kind always combines both mental and physical elements, so I was not convinced that you could make a clear separation between the mental and physical aspects of master/slave role-play, so my question on role-plays asked respondents to rate their participation in a variety of common role-plays. 86.6 per cent of respondents had experienced what they defined as master/slave role-play and 76.1 per cent used master/slave role-play half the time or more. Other role-plays, including ‘father/son’ and ‘dog training’ were far less Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Researching sexual difference: A survey of gay S/M in the UK

Table 4: Activities, role-plays and equipment – comparative table for Moser and Levitt and the present survey (N=105).
Moser & Levitt Activity, equipment, role-play and clothing Bondage Spanking Whipping Tit torture (TT) Cock and ball torture (CBT) Water Sports Scat Piercing Branding Group sex Hood Gag Handcuffs Blindfold Pins Master/slave* Leather Rubber ‘Tried’ 77.4 81.9 65 – – 44.6 12.5 14.7 10.1 40.1 27.1 49.2 54.2 53.1 18.1 68.3 60.5 49.2 30.5 ‘Tried and enjoyed’ 65.0 66.1 49.7 – – 33.3 8.5 11.3 7.3 29.4 19.8 36.2 44.6 42.4 13.6 57.6 52.0 42.4 19.8 Hunt/Sigma In the past year 52 61 – 59 49 44 12 – – – 48 – 55 – – – 59 40 Present survey ‘Tried’ 91.4 86.7 70.4 90.4 88.6 69.5 18.1 17.2 5.7 79.1 67.5 74.3 85.7 80.9 20.0 86.6 61.0** 52.4 Half the time or more 72.4 54.3 39.0 78.0 72.4 40.0 5.7 6.7 1.9 34.3 48.5 55.3 68.6 62.8 7.6 76.1 45.75 29.5

* They gave separate figures for ‘mental’, ‘physical’ and ‘combination’. I have given the figures for the first two. ** Average of leather ‘trousers’ and ‘chaps’.

popular, with regular participants (half the time and more) reported at between 16 per cent and 19 per cent. Many other items were included in my own data set for the categories included in this section, and these will be published at a later date once they have been integrated with the qualitative data. The findings for numbers of S/M partners over a one-year period showed similarities across all the academic surveys. Breslow

et al.’s homosexual sample reported an average of 15 partners, with 28.9 per cent reporting more than 11 S/M partners in the preceding year. Hunt/Sigma gave an average of 15 non- S/M sex partners and 8.5 S/M partners.11 My own figures for non-S/M and S/M partners were 14.27 and 14.08 respectively. Thirty-eight per cent of Spengler’s homosexual sample had had more than 10 S/M partners in the 12 months preceding

As in my own findings for partners, they reported a huge variation that distorted their figures. The largest number of partners reported by them was 60; in the present survey it was 250. The median for S/M and vanilla partners was 6 and 2 respectively.

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Eric Chaline the survey. As with the previous section on activities and role-plays, the exact interpretation of what constitutes S/M and non-S/M sexual encounters varies widely; hence, in my view, it will be better addressed in detail by qualitative research. In addition to absolute numbers, I also asked for the longest relationship with an S/M partner, which returned 47.6 per cent of respondents with relationships of one year or more. Hunt/Sigma included a question on who respondents were having S/M sex with, giving 26 per cent only with casuals, 20 per cent with regulars and 54 per cent with both. The usual means of contacting S/M partners has shown a dramatic (though expected) change. Spengler’s sample reported 60 per cent for (press) ‘contact ads’ and 33 per cent for ‘special bars’; Breslow et al.’s 45.6 per cent for ads and 27.2 per cent for S/M bars; Hunt/Sigma returned 51 per cent for contact ads, 60 per cent for pubs/clubs (whether S/M or general was not stated), 18 per cent for phone ads and 8 per cent for ‘computer ads’. My own data returned 62 per cent for ‘Internet contact’, with contact ads down to 3.8 per cent and S/M bars, 16.2 per cent. This is a relatively recent change as the results for the question on how respondents had contacted their first S/M partner are shown in Table 5. The data for means of first encounter confirm that many men in the present sample were socialised into S/M before the major developments of the scene and Internet in the 1990s. Three areas that I wanted to include in this section to bring the survey up to date were drug use, safe sex and Internet use. Hunt/Sigma and Townsend are the only other surveys that mention drug use. I listed all substances commonly used and asked respondents to indicate frequency of use. The most common substance used was poppers: 73.3 per cent have tried poppers, and 56.2 per cent use them regularly; Hunt/Sigma reported 53 per cent had used poppers in the last year. The common ‘club drugs’, cocaine, ketamine, ecstasy, crystal meth, GHB (Gamma Hydroxy Butyrate), 248

Table 5: Means of contact of first S/M partner and most common form of contact at time of survey (N=105).
Means of contact Missing Bar or club Contact ad Phone ads Friends S/M group Other
* S/M bar

1st encounter 1.0 38.1 12.4 9.5 5.7 3.8 11.4

Most usual 3.8 16.2* 3.8 – 61.9 2.9 4.8 6.6

Internet contact 18.11

showed very low use: between 75 per cent and 90 per cent of respondents reported never using these substances recreationally or for sex. Regular use of marijuana and speed did not exceed 15 per cent of the sample. Regular users of Viagra and similar medications were 20 per cent, and 65 per cent of the sample had never used these substances. Hunt/Sigma did not give a breakdown of individual substances, reporting that 22 per cent had used ‘other’ drugs. My sample response for safe sex (scaled: ‘never’, ‘sometimes’, ‘most of the time’, ‘always’) gave 1 per cent, 10.5 per cent, 20 per cent and 68.6 per cent, with the vast majority of the sample usually or always following safe-sex practices. Hunt/Sigma’s results for condom use were: 28 per cent for ‘never use’, 24 per cent for ‘sometimes use’ and 47 per cent for ‘always use’. Combined with the data for drug use, the safe-sex data confirms that there was no major association between S/M and transgressive sexual behaviours such as PNP (party and play - sex using large amounts of recreational drugs) and ‘barebacking’ (unprotected anal sex). However, once again we should treat these findings with caution, because of the small size of the sample. Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Researching sexual difference: A survey of gay S/M in the UK Attitudes, knowledge and comments The image of S/M painted by the psychiatric disease models cited above is of a solitary, alienated, dysfunctional, compulsive and escalating sexuality. The present survey, like the earlier academic surveys, found that rates of self-acceptance of S/M were high, and that negative effects, such as the incidence of depression or negative attitudes to S/M were low. The questions in the Attitudes Section were concerned with the respondents’ views of S/M and of their own participation. It consisted of a set of statements that respondents had to rate on a five-point scale (‘disagree strongly’ to ‘agree strongly’). The knowledge section was included to test their knowledge of the Spanner case and the precedent on consent and S/M that the Spanner judgments established in the UK. Finally, a space was provided for respondents to write their own comments on the survey and/or aspects of S/M not covered in the survey. When asked whether they were depressed by their participation in S/M, 4 per cent of Spengler’s sample answered in the affirmative; the figures for ‘agree’ and ‘agree strongly’ for this question in my survey were 7.6 per cent and 1 per cent respectively. Breslow et al. asked respondents to rate their overall frequency of depression. Their homosexual sample returned 4.5 per cent ‘always or often’.12 When asked if they had sought medical or psychiatric help because of their S/M, 90 per cent of Spengler’s sample responded ‘never’; my own sample returned 93.3 per cent (‘disagree’ and ‘disagree strongly’) to a similar statement; my sample returned 89.5 per cent (‘disagree’ and ‘disagree strongly’) to the statement ‘S/M is a mental illness’. Several early theorisations of S/M characterised it as an exclusive sexuality, and the earlier surveys had questions dealing with this issue. Spengler reported 16 per cent of his sample indicated an exclusive preference for S/M and 32 per cent a predominant prefer12

ence. Hunt/Sigma returned 12.5 per cent as ‘exclusively S/M’ and 28.8 per cent as ‘mainly S/M’. Breslow et al. asked their sample if S/M facilitated their orgasm during sex or masturbation, to which 95.3 per cent of their homosexual sample agreed The results for my question in this area are given in Table 6.

Table 6: ‘I can only come when I am taking part in an S/M scene’ (N=105).
Disagree strongly Disagree Neither agree/disagree Agree Agree strongly 64.8% 21.9 7.6 1.9 3.8

Spengler had a series of questions on ‘self-acceptance’ several items of which I replicated in the Attitudes section of the present survey. In giving his results, he did not break them down by sexual orientation. 41 per cent of his sample thought that S/M was ‘absolutely normal’, and 78 per cent felt that it was ‘different but all right’. Seventynine per cent of my sample agreed or agreed strongly that S/M was ‘natural and healthy part of human sexuality’. When asked what they would do if they could freely choose their ‘sexual disposition’, 70 per cent of Spengler’s sample accepted their orientation (20 per cent rejected their orientation and 9 per cent did not know); I used two statements to test self-acceptance, the first ‘I wish I was not into S/M’, which returned 2.9 per cent ‘agree’ and 1.9 per cent ‘agree strongly’; (Moser & Levitt’s sample returned 5.8 per cent for this question). The second statement was the more positive ‘S/M enriches my life’, to which 83.8 per cent answered ‘agree’ and ‘agree strongly’. As in other findings, the data for various attitudes to S/M have remained very stable since the mid-1970s, with high self-acceptance rates for self-identified S/Mers.

The figures for heterosexual and bisexual were 5.1 per cent and 8.9 per cent respectively.

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Eric Chaline


My initial conclusions from this exploratory description of the quantitative data are that it is strikingly similar to earlier findings, in terms of the demographic profiles of participants, the ages at which they became aware of their interest in S/M and had their first S/M experience, the S/M activities they engage in, the number of S/M partners they interact with, their material cultures and their attitudes to their participation in S/M, indicating a remarkable continuity in the type of gay men who identify themselves as S/Mers. I have suggested several reasons above to explain why there has been no major shift in the profiles of self-identified gay S/Mers, and the two that I shall concentrate on in the qualitative work are: the process of socialisation into S/M and the phenomena of late entry into S/M. The few changes that I have recorded in the quantitative findings have been in the areas of means of contact, where the Internet, as expected, has replaced other means of remote contact such as phone and press contact ads; and in the increased used of items of specialist material culture – equipment and clothing – which are now much more easily available and cheaper. If there has been an increased participation in male-to-male S/M and a change in the profiles of participants, as I still believe there has based on my observations of the scene, it is among men who take part in S/M activities but do not identify themselves as S/Mers, go to S/M groups, or frequent the commercial scene on a regular basis. As I stated in the introduction to this paper, I have tried to include these types of men in the study, but because it is impossible to contact them through S/M social groups, commercial venues and specialist Internet sites, I have had to resort to personal networks to reach them. They naturally only represent a fraction of the survey respondents; however, I have been fortunate to include several of these respondents among the sample selected for follow-up qualitative interviews. 250

I have already mentioned the problems of interpretation that survey data present, another area that quantitative data underplays is the diversity of the contemporary S/M scene. Rubin had already pointed out that the gay S/M scene (in the US) was composed of several overlapping groups (1994), which is also true for the UK, and the process of fragmentation of the scene has continued with the appearance of many subgroups, increasingly with presences on line. These developments, however, can only be investigated in detail and analysed by qualitative work. Qualitative research is not new in the field of research into sexualities and sexual identities. The earliest researchers used autobiographical documents and interviewing techniques (Krafft-Ebing, 1947 (1886, 1890), Freud, 1938). The modern study of sexuality begins with Alfred Kinsey (1948), who although a natural scientist wedded to quantitative methods, bequeathed us a body of qualitative work on sexualities, including S/M (Bullough, 1994). In the US the sociology of S/M has been the special subject of Thomas Weinberg, who has edited two collections on the subject (1983, 1995), which included both qualitative and quantitative studies of S/M; the history and anthropology of the San Francisco leather scene has been charted by Gayle Rubin (1994, 1997, 1998). In the UK, Bill Thomson wrote one of the first major studies of S/M in the aftermath of the Spanner case (1994), and more recently, Taylor and Ussher (2001), Beckman (2001) and Langdridge and Butt (2004), have applied constructionist approaches to the study of S/M. In the present study of gay S/M in the UK, I have followed Layder’s recommendation of a mix of quantitative and qualitative research methods (1997). Hence, I have used the survey described above as an exploratory tool for later qualitative work, including observation and participant observation of the scene, following the methods pioneered by Humphreys (1970), Styles (1979) and Bolton (1995), and the collecLesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Researching sexual difference: A survey of gay S/M in the UK tion and analysis of personal narratives of identity and sexuality through interview, following the methods advocated by Plummer (1995, 2001). The survey has been an invaluable tool for accessing parts of the scene that I had not previously frequented, either because of geographical reasons or personal preferences. In addition, the survey has been my main means of recruiting interview respondents and has provided a basis for the semistructured interviews that I have been conducting since May 2004. The findings of the study, including a detailed analysis of the remaining survey data will be published in the course of 2007. Finally, in spite of the limitations of quantitative work in the study of sexualities referred to above, the survey data analysed so far has provided me with a number of surprises and triggered valuable insights that have contributed to the formulation of qualitative research strategies.


Eric Chaline is a postgraduate student at London South Bank University. The focus of his current research is the social construction of male-to-male sexualities and sexual identities, in particular male-to-male sadomasochism-S/M. E-mail: chaliner@lsbu.ac.uk

Beckman, A. (2001). Deconstructing myths: The social construction of ‘sadomasochism’ versus subjugated knowledges of practitioners of consensual ‘SM’. Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 8(2), 66–95. Breslow, N., Evans, L. & Langley, J. (1986). Comparisons among heterosexual, bisexual, and homosexual male sado-masochists. Journal of Homosexuality, 13(1) (Fall), 83–107. Bolton, R. (1995). Tricks, friends and lovers: Erotic encounters in the field. In D. Kulick & M. Willson (Eds.), Taboo: Sex, identity and erotic subjectivity in anthropological fieldwork (pp.140–167). London & New York: Routledge. Bullough, V.L. (1994). Science in the bedroom. New York: Harper Collins Ellis H.H. (1936/1903). Studies in the psychology of sex, Vol. 2, Part II, Analysis of the sexual impulse – love and pain. New York: Random House. Fenichel, O. (1945). The psychoanalytic theory of neurosis. New York: Norton. Foucault, M. (1998). The will to knowledge: History of sexuality, Vol. 1. (Trans. R. Hurley) (first pub. as La volonté de savoir, 1976). London & New York: Penguin Books Foucault, M. (1992). The use of pleasure: History of sexuality, Vol. 2. (Trans. R. Hurley) (first pub. as L’usage des plaisirs, 1984a), London & New York: Penguin Books. Foucault, M. (1990). The care of the self: History of sexuality, Vol. 3. (Trans. R. Hurley) (first pub. as Le souci de soi, 1984b), London & New York: Penguin Books. Freud, S. (1938). The basic writings of Sigmund Freud. Ed. and trans. by A.A. Brill. New York: The Modern Library. Gebhard, P. (1969). Fetishism and sadomasochism. In J.H. Masserman (Ed.), Dynamics of deviant sexuality (pp.71–80). New York: Grune & Stratton. Gosselin, C. & Wilson, G. (1980). Sexual variations: Fetishism, sadomasochism and transvestism. London: Faber & Faber. Humphreys, R.A. (1970). Tearoom trade: Impersonal sex in public places. Chicago: Aldine. Hunt, A.J. (1990). Gay men and SM: A survey of gay men participating in sado-masochistic activities. Project Sigma Working Paper Number 26, London: South Bank Polytechnic. Kinsey, A. (1948). Sexual behaviour in the human male. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders. Krafft-Ebing, R. von (1947/1886). Psychopathia sexualis: A medico-forensic study. New York: Pioneer Publications. Langdridge, D. & Butt, T. (2004). A hermeneutic phenomenological investigation of the construction of sadomasochistic identities. Sexualities, 7(1), 31–53. Layder, D. (1997). Modern social theory: Key debates and new directions. London: UCL Press. May, T. (2002a). Social research. Buckingham: Open University Press. May, T. (2002b). Qualitative research in action. London: Sage. Moser, C. & Levitt, E. (1987). An exploratorydescriptive study of a sadomasochistically oriented sample. The Journal of Sex Research, 23, 322–337. Cited in Thomas Weinberg (1995), S&M: Studies in dominance and submission (pp.93–112). Amherst: Prometheus Books. Plummer, K. (1995). Telling sexual stories: Power, change and social worlds. London & New York: Routledge.

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Plummer, K. (2001). Documents of life 2. London: Sage. Rosen, I. (Ed.) (1979). Sexual deviation. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Rubin, G. (1994). The Valley of the Kings: Leathermen in San Francisco, 1960–1990. Unpublished dissertation, University of Michigan. Rubin, G. (1997). Elegy for the Valley of the Kings: AIDS and the leather community in San Francisco, 1981–1996. In M.P. Levine, P.M. Nardi & J.H. Gagnon (Eds.), Changing times: Gay men and lesbians encounter HIV/AIDS. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Rubin, G. (1998). The miracle mile: South of market and gay male leather in San Francisco 1962–1996. In J. Brook, C. Carlsson & N. Peters (Eds.), Reclaiming San Francisco: History, politics, culture. San Francisco: City Lights Books. SAMOIS (1982). Coming to power. Boston: Alyson. Socarides, C.W. (1978). Homosexuality. New York: Jason Aronson. Spengler, A. (1977). Manifest sadomasochism of males: Results of an empirical study. Archives of Sexual Behaviour, 6(6), 441–456. Styles, J. (1979). Outsider/insider: Researching gay baths. Urban Life, 8(2), 135–152. Taylor, G.W. & Ussher, J.M. (2001). Making sense of S&M: A discourse analysis. Sexualities, 4(3), 293–314. Thomson, W. (1994). Sadomasochism: Painful perversion or pleasurable play. London: Cassell. Townsend, L. (2000/1972). The leatherman’s handbook – silver jubilee edition. Los Angeles: L.T. Publications. Weeks, J. (1977). Coming out: Homosexual politics in Britain from the 19th century to the present. London: Quartet. Weeks, J. (1981). Sex, politics and society, the regulation of sex since 1800. Harlow: Longman. Weeks, J. (1985). Sexuality and its discontents, meanings, myths and modern sexualities. London: Routledge & Keegan Paul. Weeks, J. (1995). Invented moralities: Sexual values in an age of uncertainty. Oxford: Polity Press. Weeks, J. (1998). The sexual citizen. Theory, Culture and Society, 15(3-4), 35–52. Weeks, J. (2000). Making sexual history. Malden: Blackwell Publishers. Weinberg, T.S. & Kamel, G.W.L. (Eds.) (1983). S&M: An introduction to the study of sadomasochism. Amherst: Prometheus Books. Weinberg, T.S. (Ed.) (1995). S&M, studies in dominance and submission. Amherst: Prometheus Books. Wilson, G.D. (1987). Variant sexuality: Research and theory. London: Croom Helm.


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Is an interest in BDSM a pathological disorder or a normal variant of human sexual behaviour?
Martin Baggaley


T IS APPARENT from the material available on the internet (Langdridge & Butt, 2004) as well as from material available from ‘sex shops’ (see Storr, 2003) that BDSM is a relatively common sexual variation. The term BDSM encompasses a wide range of behaviours, which vary in intensity from the occasional use of handcuffs as a ‘marital aide’ to a lifestyle. As well as the infliction/receiving of pain, bondage and restriction and verbal humiliation it also can include an interest in uniforms (nurse/ schoolgirl/pvc/rubber/leather), urophilia (‘water sports’), coprophilia (‘hard sports’), ‘foot worship’, blood play, and forced medical examinations and procedures. It is a mistake to assume that all practitioners of BDSM are interested in the same activities. Often people have a particular set of scenarios and activities, which interest them and arouse them whilst other BDSM activities would either not be arousing or be actually aversive. There is also variation in whether sexual arousal is dependent on engaging in the activity or whether it is an occasional activity in the context of a more conventional sexual relationship (so-called vanilla sex) One question of interest is why do some people develop an interest in BDSM and others not and if they do, why are the interested in say being tied up in rope as opposed to caned by a school teacher figure. A further question is whether or not such interest could be considered as a psychiatric disorder, or indicates some dysfunctional personality type.

The scientific literature on the subject is in my opinion unhelpful. There are a number of studies from forensic psychology and criminology on so-called sexual sadists. There may be some people who are genuine sadists, some of whom inflict pain for pleasure, but there is little evidence to link this small population with those who engage in BDSM (see Kleinplatz & Moser, this issue, and Denman, 2004, for more on this). The other factor that may have lead to the view that BDSM is indicative of psychopathology is psychoanalytic theory and writing. Freud (1905/1977), Winnicott (1953) and others have written about sadomasochism. There has been a suggestion that sadism is a masculine trait and masochism feminine. Sadomasochism has been suggested as a defence mechanism related to threat of early loss. Many of these writings relate as much to personality traits as sexual behaviour and are not, in my view, supported by much empirical evidence. BDSM is usually associated with giving away power and control. However the man or woman who is submissive often has the power to decide the format and outcome of the activity, i.e. the apparent ‘bottom’ is ‘on top’. It is often suggested that the choice of sexual deviation is caused by the association of the fetish object with sexual arousal. Thus, a young boy might get aroused if caned as a child or witnessing a caning. If this were true, one might expect a reduction in such interest as corporal punishment disappears from the education system. There is little evidence to support this suggestion and in 253

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Martin Baggaley my clinical experience most people with such deviation cannot remember any such formative event. Can an interest in BDSM be a psychiatric disorder? Many people do not seem be distressed about their behaviour and positively enjoy it (Polhemus & Randall, 1994), although they may keep it secret from their partner. In my experience, there are relatively few referrals to psychosexual clinics with such problems and those who do get referred usually do so because their partner finds it unacceptable. Some may have ‘sex addiction’ or only achieve arousal through the behaviour; then it would be considered a fetish. Levitt (1994) surveyed 45 women involved in BDSM and most became aware of their interest in early adulthood, and most were satisfied with their behaviour. Some BDSM behaviour can be dangerous (for example auto asphyxiation). I was referred a man who self flagellated with nettles to the degree that he developed life threatening anaphylactic shock. However this is rare and most practitioners have, at most, transient bruising. There is the theoretical risk of transmission of infection (Hepatitis B, HIV) through contaminated needles, canes, etc., although this is rare. Medical play (the use of needles/enemas, etc.) might be dangerous in unskilled hands. There is an argument that many other leisure pursuits result in equal or more physical harm. Whether or not BDSM is a disorder, are there any useful ‘treatments’ available? Given that it is often the partner who is distressed, couple therapy can be helpful. A general approach might be to try to encourage more satisfactory ‘vanilla’ sex with their partner whilst trying to either give up the behaviour, trying to encourage the partner to attempt to engage with BDSM or seek tacit approval to engage in activity with professional dominatrices or submissives without their partner. In summary, most people seen in psychosexual clinics who engage in BDSM do not appear to have a psychiatric disorder or an unusual personality. Many seem to lead high functioning lifestyles and there is, in my view, little evidence to support the idea that BDSM represents a disorder. I would suggest that BDSM might follow oral sex, anal sex and homosexual sex in moving from a disorder to a variation of human sexual behaviour.


Dr Martin Baggaley MB BS, BSc, FRCPsych, is a Consultant Psychiatrist working for the South London & Maudsley NHS Trust. He has worked in the Sexual & Relationship Problems clinic at Guy’s Hospital for over 15 years and has been Director of the clinic for three years. Dr Martin Baggaley Sexual & Relationship Problems Clinic, Guy’s Hospital, South London and Maudsley NHS Trust. E-mail: m.baggaley@btinternet.com

Denman, C. (2004). Sexuality: A biopsychosocial approach. Basingstoke: Palgrave. Freud, S. (1905/1977). Three essays on the theory of sexuality. In A. Richards (Ed.), On sexuality. London: Penguin. First published 1905. Langdridge, D. & Butt, T.W. (2004). A hermeneutic phenomenological investigation of the construction of sadomasochistic identities. Sexualities, 7(1), 31–53. Levitt, E.E. (1994). The paraphilias. In J. Ronch, W. W. van Ornum & N.C. Stilwell (Eds.), The counseling sourcebook: A practical reference on contemporary issues (pp.476–483). New York: Crossroad. Polhemus, T. & Randall, H. (1994). Rituals of love: Sexual experiments, erotic possibilities. London: Picador. Storr, M. (2003). Latex and lingerie: Shopping for pleasure at Ann Summers. Oxford: Berg. Winnicott, D. (1953). Transitional objects and transitional phenomena. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 34, 89–97.


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Is SM pathological?
Peggy J. Kleinplatz & Charles Moser


RE SEXUAL SADISM and sexual masochism [SM] pathological? To some, even the question must seem absurd. It is already a foregone conclusion. Sexual sadism and sexual masochism have been classified as pathological by the various editions of the major psychiatric nosologies, currently the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2000) and the ICD-10 (the International Classification of Diseases, produced by the World Health Organisation). Popular opinion would indicate that SM seems ‘weird’ or ‘sick’. But by what criteria should we be making such determinations and who should be designated to make these assessments? One of the difficulties in designating any set of proclivities as pathological is the lack of criteria for what constitutes ‘normal’ or ‘healthy’ sexuality. Although there are some parameters for normal physiological responses, sexology is sorely lacking in models covering the spectrum of sexual interests, desires, and behaviours, that are problematic to ‘normal’ and ‘optimal’ sexuality. The lack of objective criteria makes it all too easy for mental health professionals to rely upon predominant cultural values to guide assessments (Moser & Kleinplatz, 2002; Moser & Kleinplatz, in press). Also missing are ways to distinguish ‘inherently’ problematic interests from the problems caused by discrimination against sexual minorities. At present, Western clinicians tend to think of ‘normal’ sexuality as monogamous, procreation-oriented intercourse, featuring the heterosexual, young (but not too young) and able-bodied. Attempts to regulate

human sexuality, to greater or lesser degree, have always been with us, but have caused great hardships to sexual minorities. Although two thousand years of Christian history dictated prohibitions against sexual sins, chief among these was lust – sex for its own sake. During the Victorian era, new social domination by the natural sciences evoked the need to justify oppression, repression and suppression of human sexuality in pseudoscientific terms; thus, there was an emphasis on ‘science’ and ‘social hygiene’, even if the same old taboos were now justified in new terms. Over the last 100 years, a wide variety of sexual ‘disorders’ have gone in and out of fashion and correspondingly, in and out of psychiatric focus. These include nymphomania, satyriasis, masturbation, oral sex, homosexuality, hypersexuality, sexual addiction and the entire category of unusual sexual interests known collectively as the ‘paraphilias’. This latter category includes sexual sadism and sexual masochism. Some of these were quietly removed from the psychiatric nosologies, others with great fanfare (e.g. the controversial removal of homosexuality from the DSM by the APA in 1973) while still others, including SM, continue to be classified as pathological. But other than social convention, by what criteria are behaviours to be judged as pathological? Originally, the DSM was based in psychoanalytic theories of psychopathology. Currently the DSM is intended, ‘… to be neutral with respect to theories of etiology’ (APA, 2000, p.xxvi), based on objective observation, and able to support its statements with empirical research. However, various critiques have questioned whether 255

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Peggy J. Kleinplatz & Charles Moser science can ever be value-free (e.g. Dineen, 1999; Kutchins and Kirk, 1997). Even when we attempt to rely on allegedly empirical criteria, the application of them requires human judgment. For example, some would claim that statistical criteria are important. However, this line of reasoning, even if it were to be applied consistently – and it is not – is irrelevant. Uncommon phenomena or attributes might be considered more worrisome, but there are many rare entities that are perfectly healthy (e.g. an IQ of 160, a natural blonde). Masturbation and a preference for oral sex were deemed pathological at one time even though they were widespread. Correspondingly, many pathological conditions are quite common (e.g. cancer, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia). This criterion of prevalence is questionable. Nevertheless, SM is not rare. Statistics on its prevalence are typically estimates. Kinsey et al. (1953) found that 22 per cent of the men and 12 per cent of the women in their sample had at least some erotic response from sado-masochistic stories, and 50 per cent of men and 55 per cent of women reported having at least some erotic response to being bitten. Janus and Janus (1993) reported that 14 per cent of men and 11 per cent of women in their sample had personal experience with sadomasochism. More recently, Renaud and Byers (1999) found that 65 per cent of Canadian university students have fantasies of being tied up and 62 per cent have fantasies of tying up a partner. ‘These individuals are rarely self-referred and usually come to the attention of mental health professionals only when their behaviour has brought them into conflict with sexual partners or society.’ Furthermore, when distress is manifest, it may result primarily from social stigma surrounding SM. This phenomenon is akin to internalised homonegativity in gay and lesbian individuals (Kleinplatz & Moser, 2004; Nichols, in press). The recommended ‘treatment’ is to validate the distress rather than to ‘cure’ the SM desires (Moser, 2001). As for impairment, this criterion is particularly noteworthy in illustrating the social biases that continue to pervade the DSM. For example, the DSM considers it a sign of impairment if SM is ‘obligatory’; why single out some behaviours as pathological when required for sexual fulfillment and not others? Why not decree that people who cannot reach orgasm during heterosexual intercourse are pathological? Actually, that was precisely the case during the 1950s when women who ‘failed’ to achieve orgasm during intercourse were labelled ‘frigid’. Both increases in scientific knowledge – including knowledge based in self-report data – and changing social mores led to expanding visions of female sexuality. In any case, Langevin et al. (1998) demonstrated that most sex offenders sexually aroused by the paraphilias are also aroused by more ‘conventional’ sexual stimuli. The exclusivity criterion is thus unsustainable either theoretically or empirically. The next sign of impairment is that the paraphilia ‘result in sexual dysfunction’. There is no data to support this assertion, particularly as worded, so as to suggest a causal link. Given the high prevalence of sexual dysfunction in population studies, it is striking that SM participants are not presenting in therapists’ offices more often. The stipulation that a diagnosis of sexual sadism or sexual masochism requires participation of non-consenting individuals is similarly odd on several levels: This criterion refers to a crime (i.e. a conflict between the Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

The DSM uses the criteria of distress and impairment/dysfunction: ‘Fantasies, behaviors, or objects are paraphilic only when they lead to clinically significant distress or impairment (e.g. are obligatory, result in sexual dysfunction, require participation of non-consenting individuals, lead to legal complications, interfere with social relationships)’ (APA, 2000, p.568). According to the DSM, there is little evidence of distress (APA, 2000, p.566): 256

Distress and dysfunction/impairment

Is SM pathological? individual and society) which is specifically excluded from the definition of a mental disorder. It is all too easy for societies to criminalise and pathologise socially unacceptable behaviour. It is to the APA’s credit that they objected to just such mis-use of psychiatry to pathologise and thereby silence dissent in totalitarian regimes. More fundamentally, this criterion suggests a basic misunderstanding of SM. One of the basic tenets of the vast majority of SM practitioners is that all activities be ‘safe, sane and consensual’. Any violation of the consent imperative is unacceptable within SM communities (Wright, in press). The next two indications of impairment, that SM ‘lead[s] to legal complications’ or ‘interfere[s] with social relationships’ are equally fraught with bias. Of course, any stigmatised behaviour may lead to legal or social problems. Indeed, SM participants do suffer legal complications; they lose custody of children; they lose their jobs; they lose security clearances. In court cases, the expert witness for the opposition often states, ‘We would not be here if SM were not a mental disorder and a psychiatric diagnosis.’ This is circular reasoning. One must grapple with whose problem is really in evidence in such cases – that of the actor or that of the perceiver? This final sign of impairment, that is, ‘interference with social relationships’, is worthy of special attention. It brings forth many of the myths about SM participants which are then used to justify their need for psychotherapy. The commonality is the notion that SM participants are unable to maintain ‘normal’ intimate relationships, referred to in the DSM as the capacity for reciprocal, affectionate sexual activity’ (APA, 2000, p.567). They are also described as having ‘pair-bonding disorders’ (Schwartz & Masters, 1983) and a ‘courtship disorder’ (Freund, 1990). However, there is no evidence that individuals involved in SM have greater difficulty establishing intimate relationships than other people, nor that SM relationships are pathological. Furthermore, roughly half of all American marriages end in Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3 divorce (National Center for Health Statistics, 2005). The average American relationship may not be any more ‘healthy’ or ‘successful’ than the average SM relationship. SM activity is often construed as evidence of sex used in service of affect regulation, self-medication, escapism, acting out and sexual addiction (Carnes, 1991; Goodman, 1992; Hastings, 1998; Levine et al., 1990). This criticism presupposes that mental health professionals have some idea of what proper uses of sexuality ought to be; again, the implication is that sex ought to be reserved for ‘sexual’ purposes (i.e. tension release, orgasm, procreation) in the context of normative, monogamous, heterosexual relations. It is noteworthy that mental health professionals often refer to behaviours as ‘acting-out’ or ‘escapist’ when these forms of behaviour make the disapproving professional uncomfortable. This sort of terminology tends to be employed when certain forms of sexual expression are disturbing to us. This language also is used when mental health professionals act as agents of social control, providing clinical justifications for pathologising what the broader society finds distasteful. What is conspicuously absent from the clinical discourse is the subjective meaning(s) of SM as described by participants. Instead of pathologising SM or reifying viewers’ and clinicians’ visceral clutch, consider the accounts of participants who indicate that SM may be growthenhancing and life-affirming. SM participants often describe their experiences as ‘coming home’ (Kleinplatz, in press).

But it is wrong to hurt people … isn’t it?

Notwithstanding the lack of empirical evidence of psychopathology among SM participants, the visceral clutch is overwhelming when contemplating giving or receiving pain or enacting dominant-submissive roleplays. It seems ‘sick’ to get aroused by hurting people or by being subjected to pain. But we attach different interpretations 257

Peggy J. Kleinplatz & Charles Moser to pain in different situations, based on our intuitive understanding of pain mechanisms as well as because of moral judgements. Pain is regarded and indeed, processed differently depending on the participants’ state of consciousness. The meanings we attach to a given ‘painful’ event (e.g. athletic competition, ballet performance) help to shape experience. For example, one’s mindset affects perceptions of pain in childbirth: An 18-year-old who had endured an unplanned pregnancy, giving birth, alone, with no childbirth education will have a significantly longer labour and require significantly more analgesia and anaesthesia than a wellprepared woman who has a partner and anticipates the birth of her baby eagerly. Does it ‘hurt’ in both cases? Obviously, it does, but it is not the pain that is front and centre for the latter woman. Many people commonly engage in activities which could be construed as painful by the naïve observer but which are not experienced that way by the participant, e.g. long-distance running. In addition, levels of sexual arousal influence perceptions of pain. Pleasurable stimulation elevates pain thresholds over 80 per cent and orgasm elevates pain thresholds by 100 per cent (Whipple & Komarisuk, 1985, 1988). Even the SM participant who ‘likes’ pain does not necessarily enjoy dental procedures any more than the average person would. Context modulates experience. It is essential to attend to that context before determining what is truly harmful versus that which produces intense sensation but causes no danger. Notably, the emergency rooms are hardly overflowing with people hurt in SM scenes. Sports injuries are far more likely to lead to emergency room visits but weekend athletes are not automatically diagnosed with mental disorders. Sports are acceptable, even given all the inherent risks. Not unlike SM, participation in sports requires informed consent. In SM consent is utterly crucial (Wright, in press). It is precisely this context which illuminates the real basis for the discomfort 258 surrounding the ‘pain’ of SM as perceived in our society and as reified in psychiatric and legal codes. In non-sexual situations, Western society often tolerates and even supports pain-producing activities. British law has specifically exempted boxing, football, military service and, in previous years, parental chastisement from legal liability notwithstanding the pain involved; these activities are judged to be in the public interest (White, in press). By contrast, in the infamous Spanner case in the UK, the defendants were SM participants, arrested for their ‘violent’ acts, who claimed exemption given their mutual consent and well-being. The Spanner case put consent on trial. In appeal after appeal, British courts refused to accept consensual sexual pleasure as a valid exception to the rules prohibiting acts of violence; presumably, unconventional sexual pleasure among men was not seen as in the public good (White, in press). This case highlights the underlying discomfort with SM, such that we criminalise and pathologise that which we collectively cannot abide. When pain relates to sex, then it is pathologised. Ironically, the emerging empirical evidence indicates that it is not typically the pain which provides arousal in SM interactions but what it represents – the exchange of power. Cross and Matheson (in press) found no evidence of psychopathy, escapism or any form of psychopathology among SM participants. Instead, Cross and Matheson found that power play provided the primary motivation and source of fulfillment.


In the absence of theory or research demonstrating what constitutes ‘normal’ sexuality, it is all too easy to pathologise the unconventional based on prevailing social currents. SM is particularly liable to being stigmatised in societies uneasy with sexual pleasure for its own sake. Individuals who are labelled and treated as mentally ill are entitled to feel significant distress about societal perceptions of them; that distress does not signify psychopathology per se. The discomfort that Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Is SM pathological? SM induces in others does not justify the legal and clinical opprobrium typically meted out to sexual minorities. There is no evidence to demonstrate that SM, however common or uncommon, creates personal distress or dysfunction for participants, or otherwise endangers consenting individuals any more than occurs in the course of other, socially sanctioned pastimes. As such, one can only conclude that SM is not pathological. Clinical integrity requires that SM be removed from future editions of the DSM and ICD. tions in Sex Therapy: Innovations and Alternatives, and with Dr Charles Moser of the forthcoming Sadomasochism: Powerful Pleasures. Dr Peggy J. Kleinplatz 161 Frank Street, Ottawa, Ontario, K2P 0X4, Canada. E-mail: kleinpla@uottawa.ca Charles Moser, PhD, MD, is Professor and Chair of the Department of Sexual Medicine, Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, San Francisco. He also maintains a private practice in Sexual Medicine and Internal Medicine, in San Francisco. His research focuses on BDSM, sexual minorities, classification of unusual sexual interests, and the practice of sexual medicine. Dr Charles Moser 45 Castro Street, #125, San Francisco, California, 94114, USA. E-mail: docx2@ix.netcom.com


Peggy J. Kleinplatz, PhD, is a Clinical Psychologist, AASECT-certified sex therapist and sex educator. She teaches in the Faculty of Medicine and in the School of Psychology, University of Ottawa, Canada. Dr Kleinplatz has been teaching Human Sexuality since 1983 and was awarded the Prix d’Excellence by the University of Ottawa in 2000. Her work focuses on eroticism and transformation. Dr Kleinplatz is the editor of New Direc-

American Psychiatric Association. (1980). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association. American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text revised). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association. Carnes, P. (1991). Don’t call it love. New York: Bantam. Cross, P. & Matheson, K. (in press). Understanding sadomasochism: An empirical examination of four perspectives. Journal of Homosexuality 50(3/4). Dineen, T. (1999). Manufacturing victims. London: Constable. Freund, K. (1990). Courtship disorder. In W.L. Marshall, D.R. Laws & H.E. Barbaree (Eds.), Handbook of sexual assault: Issues, theories, and treatment of the offender (pp.195–207). New York: Plenum. Goodman, A. (1992). Sexual addiction: Designation and treatment. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 18(4), 303–314. Hastings, A.S. (1998). Treating sexual shame: A new map for overcoming dysfunction, abuse, and addiction. Northvale: Jason Aronson Inc. Janus, S. & Janus, L. (1993). The Janus Report. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Kinsey, A.C., Pomeroy, W.C., Martin, C.E. & Gebhard, P.H. (1953). Sexual behaviour in the human female. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company. Kleinplatz, P.J. (in press). Learning from extraordinary lovers: Lessons from the edge. Journal of Homosexuality, 50(3/4). Kleinplatz, P.J. & Moser, C. (2004). Towards clinical guidelines for working with BDSM clients. Contemporary Sexuality, 38(6), 1–4. Kutchins, H. & Kirk, S.A. (1997). Making us crazy. London: Constable. Langevin, R., Lang, R.A. & Curnoe, S. (1998). The prevalence of sex offenders with deviant fantasies. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 13(3), 315–327. Levine, S.B., Risen, C.B. & Althof, S.E. (1990). Essay on the diagnosis and nature of paraphilia. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 16(2), 89–102.

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Peggy J. Kleinplatz & Charles Moser
Moser, C. (2001). Paraphilia: A critique of a confused concept. In P.J. Kleinplatz (Ed.), New directions in sex therapy: Innovations and alternatives (pp.91–108). Philadelphia: Brunner-Routledge. Moser, C. & Kleinplatz, P.J. (2002). Transvestic fetishism: Psychopathology or iatrogenic artifact? New Jersey Psychologist, 52(2), 16–17. Moser, C. & Kleinplatz, P.J. (in press). DSM-IV-TR and the paraphilias: An argument for removal. Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality. National Center for Health Statistics (2005). http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/divorce.htm. Accessed on 20 August 2005. Nichols, M. (in press). Psychotherapeutic issues with ‘kinky’ clients: Clinical problems, yours and theirs. Journal of Homosexuality 50(3/4). Renaud, C.A. & Byers, E.S. (1999). Exploring the frequency, diversity and content of university students’ positive and negative sexual cognitions. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 8(1), 17–30. Schwartz, M.F. & Masters, W.H. (1983). Conceptual factors in the treatment of paraphilias: A preliminary report. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 9(1), 3–18. Whipple, B. & Komarisuk, B. (1985). Elevation of pain threshold by vaginal stimulation in women. Pain, 21(4), 357–367. Whipple, B. & Komarisuk, B. (1988). Analgesia produced in women by genital self-stimulation. Journal of Sex Research, 24, 130–140. White, C. (in press). The Spanner trials and the changing law on sadomasochism in the UK. Journal of Homosexuality, 50(3/4). Wright, S. (in press). Discrimination of SM-identified individuals. Journal of Homosexuality, 50(3/4).


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Does heterosexuality belong in the DSM?
Charles Moser & Peggy J. Kleinplatz


NUMBER OF RECENT articles have criticised the DSM (American Psychiatric Association [APA], 1994; APA, 2000) sex and gender diagnoses in general and the paraphilia section in particular (Davis, 1998; Gert, 1992; Moser; 2001, Moser, 2002; Moser & Kleinplatz, 2002; Moser & Kleinplatz, in press). These classifications have been criticised for being based on social convention rather than upon a foundation of empirical data contrary to the stated agenda in the DSM. In the DSM it is written that, ‘the utility and credibility of the DSM-IV require that it … be supported by an extensive empirical foundation’ (APA, 2000, p.xxiii). The diagnostic process is unduly influenced by clinical, personal and social bias, rather than by objective parameters. If in fact the diagnostic process can be demonstrated to be subjective or arbitrary, then it calls into question the utility of the DSM diagnostic nosology. The purpose of this paper is to scrutinise the criteria of the DSM paraphilia section by applying them to a common sexual phenomenon, not currently listed in the DSM, and not considered to be a mental disorder but associated with distress and dysfunction as will be discussed below. This paper argues that the strict application of these DSM criteria leads to the conclusion that heterosexuality is a mental disorder. Similar reasoning was used to argue against inclusion of proposed diagnostic criteria for sexual addiction, by showing that newlywed heterosexuals met those criteria (see Goodman, 1992; Moser, 1992). If heterosexuality fits the diagnostic criteria for a mental disorder and specifically for a paraphilia, the validity of all the other paraphilia diagnoses is called into even further question.

Every human society has attempted to regulate the sexuality of its members. Obviously conventional forms of sexuality in any given society are not likely to be deemed sinful, criminal, or pathological, but the characteristics of the dominant form change from society to society and from time to time. Although societal attempts to control the sexuality of its members are usually ineffective, these efforts can cause incredible hardships to those unfortunate enough to have their activities exposed. Questioning whether the diagnostic criteria are logically consistent is not an academic exercise; what is and is not a mental disorder has significant legal, social, and political ramifications, in addition to implications for psychiatric practice. The DSM is used by the courts, insurance companies, other mental health disciplines, government, other psychiatric diagnostic nosologies (i.e. ICD), among other entities. If the logic and science which underpins the DSM is faulty, then the editors have done a disservice to their patients, their colleagues, medicine, society, and science. About 250 years ago, medicine and especially psychiatry were responsible for transforming masturbation from sin to pathology (Bullough & Bullough, 1977). Rationales provided by early psychiatrists led to draconian measures to prevent children from touching their genitals. The persecution of homosexuals was condoned and justified for decades by the listing of homosexuality in the DSM. Other psychiatric follies concerning sexuality from the past include involutional melancholia, promiscuity, oral sex, nymphomania, frigidity, to name just a few. Relying on the clinicians’ own behaviour and experiences to guide 261

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Charles Moser & Peggy J. Kleinplatz assessment – rather than upon objective criteria – has led to a conspicuous pattern of diagnoses: ‘too much masturbation’ has been deemed excessive; ‘too many partners’ demonstrates ‘promiscuity’; ‘too frequent sex’ has been diagnosed as nymphomania or satyriasis; ‘too little response’ is judged as an arousal disorder; ‘too little desire’ is labelled inhibition; ‘too few orgasms’ were considered frigidity and ‘too different’ sex is called perverted or paraphilic. between the individual and society, so it does not meet that DSM exclusion criterion. The question then becomes, is heterosexuality associated with present distress or disability? The paraphilia section of the DSM is concerned with specific sexual interests and activities. The diagnostic criteria for all the paraphilias include a criterion that the sexual interest leads to distress or impairment (disability). Meeting the distress and impairment criteria for a paraphilia would satisfy the requirement that heterosexuality also meets these criteria for a mental disorder. Thus the question is reduced to, Does heterosexuality meet the diagnostic criteria for a paraphilia?

Is heterosexuality a mental disorder?

The following are the diagnostic criteria of the proposed, new diagnosis of heterosexuality. The wording is borrowed directly from the diagnostic criteria describing other paraphilias. Diagnostic criteria for 302.1 Heterosexuality A. Over a period of at least six months, recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving sexual activity with an adult of the other sex. B. The person has acted on these sexual urges with a non-consenting person, or the fantasies, sexual urges, or behavior cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. The DSM definition of a mental disorder is: ‘… a clinically significant behavioral or psychological syndrome or pattern that occurs in an individual and that is associated with present distress (e.g. a painful symptom) or disability (i.e. impairment in one or more important areas of functioning) or with a significantly increased risk of suffering death, pain, disability, or an important loss of freedom … Neither deviant behavior (e.g. political, religious, or sexual) nor conflicts that are primarily between the individual and society are mental disorders …’ (APA, 2000, p.xxxi). Heterosexuality is obviously a clinically significant behavioural and psychological pattern. Heterosexuality is not deviant behaviour nor does it qualify as a conflict 262

‘The essential features of a paraphilia are recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors ...’ (APA, 2000, p.566); heterosexuality fits this description. The DSM then adds the following qualifier, ‘… generally involving: (1) non-human objects; (2) the suffering or humiliation of oneself or one’s partner; or (3) children or other non-consenting persons that occur over a period of at least six months’ (APA, 2000, p.566). These qualifiers do not necessarily exclude heterosexuality. The DSM uses the following criteria to define the paraphilic pathological state, ‘Fantasies, behaviors, or objects are paraphilic only when they lead to clinically significant distress or impairment (e.g. are obligatory, result in sexual dysfunction, require participation of non-consenting individuals, lead to legal complications, interfere with social relationships)’ (APA. 2000, p.568). Do these ‘distress or impairment’ criteria apply to individuals with heterosexuality?

Is heterosexuality a paraphilia?


All the psychogenic sexual dysfunction diagnoses (i.e. those not caused by a general medical condition or by substance abuse) include the same diagnostic criterion: ‘B. The disturbance causes marked distress Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Does heterosexuality belong in the DSM? or interpersonal difficulty’ (for example see, APA, 2000, p.541). Sexual dysfunctions are found among individuals across the entire spectrum of sexual interests, but the scientific literature focuses on reported sexual dysfunctions among heterosexuals, which can affect as much as 43 per cent of the women and 31 per cent of the men (Laumann et al., 1999). Individuals who experience sexual dysfunctions do not always seek out sex therapy; this choice does not reveal whether or not these individuals are distressed. It is generally believed that embarrassment, lack of mental health coverage, cost, fear that they are beyond help, and resignation to living with their dysfunction are prime reasons for not seeking sex therapy. Heterosexuals are also distressed about not having sex, not having enough sex, having too much sex, wanting sex too much, not wanting sex enough, and wanting the ‘wrong’ type of sex. Some of these concerns are vying for their own DSM diagnoses (see Kafka & Hennen, 1999), others have been classified as pathological in the past, and some are still listed as mental disorders. Without understanding what constitutes ‘normal’ sexuality, it difficult to discern what is ‘abnormal’ sexuality. It appears that social trends rather than empirical science have dictated what constitutes ‘normal’; psychiatry has followed these trends rather than demanding objective scientific benchmarks. Is heterosexual distress caused by the individual’s unwanted (i.e. ego-dystonic) heterosexual arousal, rather than distress from conflict with social expectations? The DSM-III (APA, 1980) contained the analogous homosexual diagnosis, ‘Ego-dystonic Homosexuality,’ but it was removed from the next edition (DSM-III-R, APA, 1987). Therefore, it seems improbable that the editors would want to create an ‘Ego-dystonic Heterosexuality’ diagnosis. In addition, ‘Persistent and marked distress about sexual orientation’ is specifically included under Sexual Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (APA, 2000, p.582). Logically, there is no Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3 reason to have two diagnoses that describe the same mental disorder, so we must reject the idea that heterosexuality is diagnosable as a mental disorder only when it is egodystonic. Attempts to reconcile one’s own sexual interests with the norms of the entire society or segments of society (e.g. partners, family, religion, or other social groups) can eventuate in an ego-dystonic state. This leads to the philosophical question: Is it healthier to follow the social norm or to stand up for one’s own beliefs (Reiss, 1990)? Choosing either option does not indicate the presence of a mental disorder and is another example of the confusion between science and subjective morality. As described in the DSM, ‘Many individuals with these disorders [paraphilias] assert that the behavior causes them no distress …’ (APA, 2000, p.567). ‘These individuals are rarely self-referred …’ (APA, 2000, p.566). From these statements, one can conclude that personal distress severe enough to lead the patient to psychiatric consultation is rare. If the distress results from conflict between the individual and society, then the diagnosis conflicts with the DSM definition of a mental disorder, which specifically excludes ‘… conflicts that are primarily between the individual and society …’ (APA, 2000, p.xxxi). Given that American society approves of heterosexuality, personal distress from this sexual interest must be even rarer than what is seen with other paraphilias. In summary, personal (ego-dystonic) distress is rare and already covered by another non-paraphilic diagnosis. Distress related to the internalisation of societal values is a conflict between the individual and society, which by definition, does not constitute a mental disorder. Logically, this would appear to preclude distress as a criterion for deciding if any unusual sexual behaviour is necessarily pathological.

Disability or impairment

Heterosexuals seek out therapists because they cannot find partners, they cannot find 263

Charles Moser & Peggy J. Kleinplatz the ‘right’ partners, they are not attracted to appropriate partners, etc. Doubts and insecurities about making or keeping relationship commitments and subsequent attempts to save damaged or dysfunctional relationships appear to be common problems among heterosexuals. ‘The capacity for reciprocal, affectionate sexual activity’ (APA, 200, p.567) is often quoted as a sign of healthy functioning, but more than half of all American heterosexual marriages end in divorce (National Center for Health Statistics, 2005). The usual anger and disdain which characterise partners’ interactions during and after the divorce process are further signs of relationship dysfunction. Furthermore, many individuals suffer endlessly in heterosexual relationships whether or not they eventually terminate them. In the occupational area, sexual harassment complaints against heterosexuals are all too common, unfortunately. One’s emotional reactions to a new relationship, the ending of an existing relationship and not being able to find a relationship can cause profoundly deleterious effects on job performance. There is little argument that heterosexuality tends to be obligatory; it is uncommon for heterosexual practitioners to seek other sexual outlets. Even when a heterosexual partner is not available, heterosexual fantasies typically accompany masturbatory behaviour or other sexual acts. The strict interpretation of this criterion suggests that limiting oneself exclusively to a particular sexual pattern (e.g. heterosexual) indicates impairment. Given the high prevalence of sexual dysfunction among heterosexuals, discussed above, heterosexuality presumably is associated with sexual dysfunction; though it is not clear that heterosexuality or any other sexual interest actually causes sexual dysfunction as implied in the DSM. It is also not clear that the prevalence of sexual dysfunction among heterosexuals is higher than found among practitioners of other sexual interests. 264 Heterosexuality does not require the participation of a non-consenting individual, although the majority of sexual assaults are committed by heterosexuals. A non-consensual heterosexual act constitutes a sexual assault (or rape), which is a crime and, as such, is not specifically listed in the DSM-IV-TR (APA, 2000). Committing a sexual assault does not mean that the individual suffers from a mental disorder. The nature of the assault does not necessarily reveal anything about that individual’s primary sexual interests. There is another way of interpreting this ‘non-consenting’ part of the diagnostic criteria. If heterosexuality is a mental disorder, can an ‘afflicted’ individual freely provide informed consent to heterosexual acts? Does the mental disorder affect the individual’s ability to make rational decisions or give informed consent? There are many examples of individuals making dangerous choices and acting in an unhealthy manner (e.g. exposing these individuals to the risks of sexually transmitted infections including HIV, unwanted pregnancies, date rape or other violent acts). Such behaviours cast doubt on the capacity for individuals with heterosexuality to make competent decisions. Can heterosexuality lead to legal complications? Divorce is an excellent example of possible civil legal difficulties. Sexual harassment, breach of promise, and child custody are other common examples. Criminal legal difficulties include not only sexual assault, discussed above, but sex work (working in adult films, prostitution, ‘strip’ clubs), statutory rape, obscenity, indecency, and sodomy. The final sign of impairment, ‘interference with social relationships’, is worthy of special attention. Aside from the problems facing heterosexuals within heterosexual relationships, it would appear that heterosexual proclivities can affect other social relationships: Social or work contact can tempt individuals to violate healthy boundaries and to engage in inappropriate sexual relationships (e.g. teacher-student, professional-client, employer-employee, adultery). Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Does heterosexuality belong in the DSM? Concerns about the possibility of initiating this contact or the probable consequences of prospective contacts, has led to restrictions in social and occupational contact between heterosexual men and women. These difficulties in one or more important areas of functioning thereby fit the disability criterion for a mental disorder. Examination of the popular literature suggests that few heterosexuals actually avoid these problems and concerns, but only a fraction of those affected seek treatment and would thus be subject to diagnosis. is hard to imagine that such a profound change would not cause new distress and disability symptoms. This raises the question of why any of the paraphilias are identified by their associated sexual behaviours. There is no indication that ‘paraphilic’ behaviours are related to the distress and disability symptoms required for the paraphilia diagnoses. Considering that not all practitioners of the identified behaviours meet the DSM diagnostic criteria, there must be ‘healthy’ individuals who exhibit ‘paraphilic’ behaviour and are inappropriately stigmatised by the association of their behaviour with a mental disorder. The DSM provides no guidance on how to distinguish ‘healthy’ from ‘unhealthy’ individuals with a paraphilic interest. Clinicians need unambiguous diagnostic criteria to distinguish ‘healthy’ from ‘unhealthy’ individuals with all sexual interests or the present confusion will continue to be propagated.

The DSM editors do recognise there is a difference between the arousal patterns of individuals with a paraphilia from ‘… the non-pathological use of sexual fantasies, behaviors, or objects as a stimulus for sexual excitement in individuals without a Paraphilia’ (APA, 2000, p.568, boldened in the original). Unfortunately, the DSM provides no guidance for the clinician to make that distinction. If, however, the paraphilia diagnostic category can be construed to include all sexual interests, including heterosexuality, then the DSM distinction between ‘paraphilic’ and ‘non-paraphilic’ arousal becomes conceptually meaningless and clinically useless. Is it the heterosexuality itself which is pathological? Or is this a case of correlation between heterosexuality and impairment rather than causation? Just because relationship and occupational problems are endemic among heterosexuals does not mean that the heterosexuality is the cause of these problems. Furthermore, it is improbable that ‘converting’ from a heterosexual arousal pattern to another sexual arousal pattern, would resolve these problems or impairments. Analogously, it is unclear if changing other paraphilic arousal patterns (even if that were possible), would resolve the distress or impairment from which those individuals reportedly suffer, except for potential legal complications inherent with paraphilias which involve illegal activities. It Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Differential diagnosis

This discussion leads inevitably to the conclusion that heterosexuality meets the DSM-IV-TR (APA, 2000) definitions of both a mental disorder and a paraphilia, at least as well as the other listed paraphilias. Previous literature has catalogued the problems in the DSM diagnostic criteria as applied to those with unusual sexual interests (Moser & Kleinplatz, in press). These same flawed criteria also lend themselves to diagnosing more common sexual interests, not usually believed to be mental disorders, and specifically, as paraphilias. Diagnostic criteria that could include everyone or could be used to pathologise anyone, which cannot reliably and appropriately distinguish between those with a mental disorder from those without one, are fatally flawed and clinically useless. These diagnoses do not appear to be based on any objective scientific definition of disease; these criteria are not capable of distinguishing disease from normal variants. The obvious conclusion is that classification of 265


Charles Moser & Peggy J. Kleinplatz the ‘paraphilias’ as mental disorders appears to be an attempt at pathologising unusual sexual interests and provides a vehicle for social control. The act of specifically pathologising unusual (as opposed to the common, conventional and accepted) sexual interests obviously serves to regulate them. The omission of heterosexuality exemplifies the underlying heterosexual bias which pervades the DSM nosology. The possibility that heterosexuality could be a mental disorder is not mentioned in the text and it appears no one even conceived of it as a possibility. For the record, this is not a proposal to reclassify heterosexuality as a mental disorder or to include it in the next edition of the DSM. Concluding that heterosexuality is a mental disorder, according to the DSM criteria, does not imply that heterosexuality meets other definitions of a mental disorder. Similarly, the other paraphilias may or may not fit these other definitions. Some might argue that it is important to keep the paraphilia section in the DSM because identifying perpetrators as ‘sick’ is necessary to keep ‘sex crimes’ illegal. We believe that criminal acts should be adjudicated in the criminal justice system and society should not use psychiatric diagnoses to justify criminalising unusual sexuality. The current DSM (APA, 2000) appropriately distinguishes crimes from psychiatric disorders; the paraphilia section confounds mental disorders with crimes. Any interpretation that this article supports any criminal behaviour is incorrect and misguided. Such allegations misconstrue our position and deflect attention from the substance of the arguments presented here. This article asserts that diagnosing heterosexuality as a paraphilia according to the DSM-IV-TR (APA, 2000) criteria demonstrates that they are illogical, inconsistent, unworkable, conceptually unsound, and lack construct and discriminant validity – but no more so than using these criteria to pathologise other sexual proclivities. This expands upon previous criticism of the DSM-IV-TR 266 (APA, 2000) diagnostic criteria by demonstrating their selective application and how general these criteria actually are. If the DSM is to be seen as a credible and clinically useful reference, its editors will have to demonstrate how the paraphilia diagnoses actually distinguish pathology from normal variations.


Charles Moser, PhD, MD, is Professor and Chair of the Department of Sexual Medicine, Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, San Francisco. He also maintains a private practice in Sexual Medicine and Internal Medicine, in San Francisco. His research focuses on BDSM, sexual minorities, classification of unusual sexual interests, and the practice of sexual medicine. Dr Charles Moser 45 Castro Street, #125, San Francisco, California, 94114, USA. E-mail: docx2@ix.netcom.com Peggy J. Kleinplatz, PhD, is a Clinical Psychologist, AASECT-certified sex therapist and sex educator. She teaches in the Faculty of Medicine and in the School of Psychology, University of Ottawa, Canada. Dr Kleinplatz has been teaching Human Sexuality since 1983 and was awarded the Prix d’Excellence by the University of Ottawa in 2000. Her work focuses on eroticism and transformation. Dr Kleinplatz is the editor of New Directions in Sex Therapy: Innovations and Alternatives, and with Dr Charles Moser of the forthcoming Sadomasochism: Powerful Pleasures. Dr Peggy J. Kleinplatz 161 Frank Street, Ottawa, Ontario, K2P 0X4, Canada. E-mail: kleinpla@uottawa.ca

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American Psychiatric Association. (1980). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association. American Psychiatric Association. (1987). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (3rd ed., revised). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association. American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association. American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text revision). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association. Bullough, V. & Bullough B. (1977). Sin, sickness and sanity: A history of sexual attitudes. New York: New American Library. Davis, D.L. (1998). The sexual and gender identity disorders. Transcultural Psychiatry, 35, 401–412. Gert, B. (1992). A sex-caused inconsistency in DSM-III-R: the definition of mental disorder and the definition of paraphilias. Journal of Medical Philosophy, 17(2), 155–171. Goodman, A. (1992). Sexual addiction: Designation and treatment. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 18(4), 303–314. Kafka, M.P. & Hennen, J. (1999). The paraphiliarelated disorders: An empirical investigation of nonparaphilic hypersexuality disorders in outpatient males. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 25, 305–320. Laumann, E.O., Paik, A. & Rosen, R. (1999). Sexual dysfunction on the United States: Prevalence and predictors. Journal of the American Medical Association, 281(6), 537–544. Moser, C. (2001). Paraphilia: A critique of a confused concept. In P.J. Kleinplatz (Ed.), New directions in sex therapy: Innovations and alternatives (pp.91–108). Philadelphia: Brunner-Routledge. Moser, C. (2002). Are any of the paraphilias in the DSM mental disorders? Archives of Sexual Behaviour, 31(6), 490–491. Moser, C. & Kleinplatz, P.J. (2002). Transvestic fetishism: Psychopathology or iatrogenic artifact? New Jersey Psychologist, 52(2) 16–17. Moser, C. & Kleinplatz, P.J. (in press). DSM-IV-TR and the paraphilias: An argument for removal. Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality. Available at: http://home.netcom.com/~docx2/mk.html National Center for Health Statistics (2005). http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/divorce.htm. Accessed on 20 August 2005. Reiss, I.L. (1990). An end to shame: Shaping our next sexual revolution. New York: Prometheus Books.

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Developing an SM awareness tool
Meg Barker
N THE SUMMER of 2004 a colleague who knew of my research with members of SM communities (see Ritchie & Barker, this issue) asked me to provide a training session to her group of clinical psychologists, medics and sex therapists. I took the opportunity to develop a workshop which could be used by myself on future occasions and by other people providing awareness-raising sessions on SM. There is a tradition of lesbian and gay awareness training within equal opportunities, medical and educational contexts (Peel, 2002). However, I could find no past awareness-raising sessions on SM. Most workshops about SM take place in SM community contexts with people who are either already involved in SM or who are strongly considering it. I had attended several of these myself at events like the annual UK Kinkfest (2005) and BiCon (2005). Mostly these focus on introducing attendees to SM techniques and how to use these safely; occasionally they involve discussion of the legal or medical perspectives on SM which people in the communities need to be aware of. However, there seemed to be little material available aimed at people outside the SM communities themselves. Bridoux (2000) argues for greater acceptance and awareness of SM amongst therapists and counsellors, proposing that they apply ‘kink affirmative’ therapy which respects clients’ practices. He highlights the danger of therapists seeking to ‘treat’ SM and seeing it as inevitably part of the client’s problems. There is a need for awarenessraising in several other contexts beyond psychotherapy. It is important within sex education so that those with SM-related desires may feel less marginalised and more able to make informed, safe choices about 268


what they do. SM awareness would be helpful within law enforcement so that police officers and lawyers are aware of the existing legislation around SM, and what differentiates SM from sexual abuse or violence. Doctors are another group who could benefit from an understanding of the meanings of SM for SMers since they may see patients with SM related marks. Many participants in my research so far have mentioned negative experiences with counsellors, police officers or doctors who have shown prejudice and insensitivity when they have revealed their involvement in SM. Of course, we live in a society where pain or injury as a result of SM that lasts for more than a ‘trifling or trivial’ amount of time are classed as assaults against the person (Spanner Trust, 2004) and where sexual sadism and masochism which cause significant distress and impairment are classed as psychiatric disorders (DSM-IV-TR, APA, 2000). As well as activists fighting for the decriminalisation and depathologisation of consensual SM it is important that they raise levels of awareness and acceptance of SM amongst key groups so that they will not make decisions based on misconceptions or prejudice. Peel (2002) states that the aims of lesbian and gay awareness training include: identifying stereotypes, replacing these with ‘positive’ or factual information, encouraging empathy, and adopting practical strategies for challenging prejudice. She also mentions that trainers often use exercises within training in order to encourage attendees to realise their existing stereotypes, gaps in their knowledge and so forth. In my experience, some of the most useful and powerful training exercises on aspects of sexuality are

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Developing an SM awareness tool those which challenge stereotypes and myths by envisioning what life would be like if these were reversed. The much used heterosexuality questionnaire, attributed to Rochlin (1977), asks respondents questions such as what caused their heterosexuality, whether it might be a phase, and why they flaunt it. This enables them to imagine an alternative reality in which heterosexuality was treated as homosexuality is in this one, encouraging empathy and drawing attention to the problematic assumptions that lie behind people’s views on homosexuality. Butler’s (2004) ‘homoworld’ ‘attempts to give heterosexuals a taste of what it would be like to live outside of the dominant norm regarding their sexuality’ (p.15) by describing the day in the life of a heterosexual person who lives in a world where homosexuality is the norm and saturates everyday conversation and popular representations in the way that heterosexuality does in our world. Rothblum’s (1999) ‘friendship planet’ exercise similarly turns monogamy on its head by imagining a planet where people treat lovers as we do friends and vice versa (so they look for one true friend, deny themselves friendships on the side, try to avoid friendliness with inappropriate people, and have a number of uncomplicated lover relationships). I wanted to begin my awareness workshop with a comparable exercise which would help attendees to become aware of their existing assumptions about SM and begin to challenge these. I felt that it would be more powerful if attendees saw for themselves the problems with the common myths around SM rather than me telling them directly that these were problematic. Specifically I wanted to highlight some of the popular misconceptions highlighted in Bridoux’s (2000) chapter (p.33), in Kleinplatz and Moser’s article and elsewhere in the current issue, for example, that SM always involves extreme amounts of pain or lasting damage, and that it is violent, non-consensual and unsafe. Like Kleinplatz and Moser (this issue) I decided it would be useful to contrast SM practices with culturally acceptable practices like sport and Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3 leisure pursuits to challenge participant’s criteria for deeming SM dangerous, wrong, sick or otherwise troubling. I developed the exercise myself and then passed it by a number of friends in the SM communities and incorporated their feedback in the final version. I have used the exercise twice since the original awareness training session, once with university students and once with a group of film classifiers who were dealing with SM related material. In the latter case I asked them to consider which scenes would concern them if depicted on screen and why. Following presentation of the exercise itself I will reflect briefly on these experiences and the feedback I obtained from attendees in these sessions.

SM awareness exercise

Read the following descriptions of scenes. For each one decide whether you would be concerned or not if a client/friend revealed taking part in this activity. 1. An individual gets a rush out of being put in terrifying situations which makes him scream and cry out in fear. He engages other people to put him in a special device which will result in these effects. When his time in the device is up, his face is white and he has tears in his eyes, but he begs them to let him go through it again. 2. An individual pays a stranger to carefully insert sharp pieces of metal into parts of their body. This leaves permanent scarring and sometimes results in infection. 3. A man dresses his female lover in revealing clothes and a collar, telling her that she is to obey him for the evening. He takes her out to a club where he parades her round and makes her fetch his drinks. Later he has her publicly strip and perform sexual acts on him. She leaves the club feeling very proud of herself and her body. Back home the scene is over and she takes the dominant role when they have sex. 4. Two people arrange to take part in a 269

Meg Barker public scene. They spend a great deal of time preparing separately in advance. On the night they dress for the occasion in clothes made of satin. Watched by a gathered group of people they strike each other. The scene is considered successful if one of them briefly loses consciousness. The beatings are so severe they can result in permanent damage. A group of men go out for a night with the intention of humiliating one of their number. The victim is aware that he is to be put through a gruelling process and implicitly consents to it, despite not knowing quite what events are to unfold. He is eventually stripped naked, handcuffed, chained to a post and left alone and unprotected on a public street. A woman slowly inserts 20 needles just below the skin of her friend’s arms and chest, being careful to use new needles and antiseptic wipes. The friend feels that she has gone into an altered, almost spiritual, state of consciousness. Once the needles are removed and appropriately disposed of she feels extremely relaxed and pleased with what she has endured. A small group of people arrange to meet in a private space in order to watch others role-playing being raped, humiliated and tortured. They find this an enjoyable way of spending their evening. An individual gives his life over to his master. He won’t do anything that is disapproved of under to code of rules his master has set. He won’t allow himself to experience sexual satisfaction until he has undergone the procedures his master sets out as necessary, although he often finds himself in a state of arousal and wishes he could. He mostly spends time with other people who have also pledged themselves to the same master, although none of them has ever met him in person. A woman restrains a man and beats him on various parts of his body, telling him he deserves to be punished and carefully but firmly slapping his face if he disobeys. Eventually he breaks down crying. At this stage the scene ends and she holds him and speaks kindly to him, encouraging him to explore the emotions it aroused. He loves these scenes as they are the one time in his life when he doesn’t feel he has to be in control and responsible. 10. A woman spends several hours preparing her appearance in the hope of pleasing her lover. She chooses from items of clothing on which she has spent several thousand pounds, all of which painfully restrict parts of her body, forcing it into an unnatural shape and making it impossible for her to function normally. Over an extended period of time she knows this will damage her permanently. She winces as she walks towards him but smiles when she sees that she has been successful. 11. A group of people use ropes and harnesses to dangle themselves from the ceiling or other dangerous heights. Although they know this can result in broken limbs or worse, they continue to do it, enjoying the immense buzz of physical and psychological excitement they get from putting their lives at risk. This particular fetish results in a number of deaths each year. 12. A woman asks strangers to cause her extreme pain to her genital area. She does this regularly, as she feels more attractive following the painful session. Sometimes, she’ll even do it to herself. If it’s done right, no permanent harm results. 13. During the evening at a London venue the clientele encourage each other to push their bodies to the limits with various different activities, some of which cause a great deal of pain, others which they know will significantly decrease their life expectancy. By the end of the evening some have had unprotected sex with anonymous strangers and several of the group have become violently ill following their activities. Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3







Developing an SM awareness tool When I run this exercise I divide attendees into small groups and give each of these four of the ‘scenes’ presented above to discuss. I encourage them to ask questions such as which scenes are most and least concerning, and what aspects of the scenes worry them. Following these discussions the small groups feed back to the group as a whole on the scenes they have considered. I find it useful at this point to compile a list of the most concerning scenes and to write down the issues that emerge in the discussion of why these are concerning. Attendees generally raise issues around consent and negotiation, physical and psychological risk and harm, sobriety and safety. At some point in the discussion one or two attendees suggest that some of the scenes could refer to culturally acceptable practices. At this point I tell them that, in fact, only three of them are descriptions of SM scenes and ask them to pick which ones (3, 6 and 9). They then go through the others and see that these describe a fairground ride (1), tattooing or piercing (2), boxing (4), a stag night (5), watching a video such as Basic Instinct (7), many religious lifestyles (8), the wearing of fashionable clothes such as high-heeled shoes (10), rock-climbing (11), bikiniwaxing (12), and an evening out at a nightclub with excessive drinking and smoking and eating the hottest curry available at an Indian restaurant (13). The exercise points out the fairly arbitrary distinctions made in our culture between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. My main concern about the exercise before I used it was that attendees would feel ‘tricked’ and this would make them less rather than more likely to challenge their assumptions. However, I was pleased to find that attendees fed back that they had found the exercise powerful and thoughtprovoking and found the experience of having their initial perceptions turned on their head interesting and challenging. I also worried that it would be too obvious what the examples referred to. I did not want to be dishonest and claim that they definitely were Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3 SM practices, but the term ‘scene’ might not have been ambiguous enough. However, the context of the workshop seemed to lead attendees to assume that they were reading about SM scenes and most did not figure out the exercise, over and above a couple of them saying something like ‘of course people do things like number 5 on a stag night’. Before they were told that these were not ‘real SM’ practices, attendees listed the scenes they were most concerned about. These never included any of the actual SM scenes but rather those in which somebody had not given consent to everything that happened to them or where they might be physically or psychologically harmed long term. However, attendees did express concern over whether behaviours were sexual or not. Behaviours that were completely acceptable otherwise were deemed very concerning and problematic if those involved were deriving sexual pleasure from them. SMers themselves often play down the sexual element of their activities (Langdridge & Butt, 2004), emphasising power exchange or the SM identity rather than sex. This could well be a response to this demonising of any painful/powerexchange activity involving sexual pleasure. The problem of pain or ‘violence’ being tied to sex is discussed further in Kleinplatz and Moser (this issue). Following the exercise I summarise information about the legal and psychiatric position of SM as well as research findings on the diversity of SM practices and motivations for people taking part in SM. I find that most of the key themes are raised by attendees themselves following the exercise, so I am able to pick up on these and talk about them in dialogue with attendees rather than in a lecture format. This also increases attendees’ involvement and the sense that they are challenging themselves and each other and actively seeking additional knowledge, rather than positioning me as an expert who is attempting to persuade them of something they are reluctant to believe. 271

Meg Barker The first time I ran the workshop I decided to be out about my own involvement with SM communities, because this is the position I take in my research and related activities. Also, it enables attendees to be open about their own practices and to ask questions, as well as bringing them up against any of their assumptions if they find themselves starting to make a joke or say something which they realise might be offensive to me (and, therefore, possibly to a client or friend who practices SM). However, like Peel’s (2002) lesbian and gay awareness trainers, I was concerned that attendees might see me as representative of all SMers, and that my decision to challenge myths by not conforming to any stereotypical SM appearance could be problematic in implicitly suggesting that SMers should not be able to wear signs of their identity/practices proudly in their day-to-day life. The other times I ran the workshop I did not mention my own involvement in any way. On this occasion I was talking to a group of people who had more diverse views on SM (whereas the psychologists and therapists were generally positive and wanting more information). In the report that I wrote afterwards for the people I ran the exercise for I said: I did not feel comfortable enough to be ‘out’ about my SM with the entire group, although I answered individuals honestly afterwards when they asked whether I practiced SM myself. I felt, rightly or wrongly, that some people present might dismiss the evidence I presented if they knew that I practiced SM as well as researching it. I personally feel my own involvement in SM gives me more expertise from which to speak as I understand the language and what it actually feels like to take part in some of these scenes. I believe that it would be acceptable for a black person to research and speak about the experience of being black in the UK and the representation of black people, and the same would be true for a gay person or someone involved in a certain sport like boxing. I hope that the same is true for someone, like me, who is involved in SM … I felt that my reservations was justified when I overheard one individual saying afterwards that despite what [the psychiatrist] and I had said, he knew that SM practitioners were ‘sick’. I hope that others will find the exercise useful and will feel free to adapt and develop it to suit the context of their awareness training or teaching. I would be very grateful for any further feedback and I am happy to provide people with more detail of the way I run the session as a whole.


Many thanks to the people who helped me to develop the original questions for this exercise, particularly Ani Ritchie, who helped me to come up with the scenes, Erich, who thought of mixing real SM scenes in with the culturally acceptable ones, and my Mum who showed me how well the exercise worked when she responded that all of the (culturally acceptable) scenes would concern her and that she hadn’t realised that SM involved such worrying and dangerous practices!


Dr Meg Barker is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at London South Bank University. She is the Honorary Secretary of the Lesbian and Gay Section of the British Psychological Society and associate editor of their journal, Lesbian and Gay Psychology Review. Her research focuses on sexual communities specifically the bisexual, polyamorous and SM communities. Dr Meg Barker Department of Psychology, London South Bank University, 103 Borough Road, London, SE1 0AA. E-mail: barkermj@lsbu.ac.uk


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American Psychiatric Association (2000). DSM-IV-TR (text revision). Accessed from http://www.behavenet.com/capsules/disorders on 21 May 2004. BiCon (2005). Details available from http://www.bicon2005.org.uk/. Accessed on 29 July 2005. Bridoux, D. (2000). Kink therapy: SM and sexual minorities. In C. Neal & D. Davies (Eds.), Pink therapy 3: Issues in therapy with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender clients (pp.22–34) Buckingham: Open University Press. Butler, C. (2004). An awareness-raising tool addressing lesbian and gay lives. Clinical Psychology, 36, 15–18. Kinkfest (2005). Details available from http://www.unfettered.co.uk/kinkfest2.htm. Accessed on 29 July 2005. Langdridge, D. & Butt, T. (2004). The erotic construction of power exchange. Journal of Constructivist Psychology, 18(1), 65-–74. Peel, E. (2002). Lesbian and gay awareness training: Challenging homophobia, liberalism and managing stereotypes. In A. Coyle & C. Kitzinger (Eds.), Lesbian and gay psychology: New perspectives (pp.255–274) Oxford: BPS Blackwell. Rochlin, M. (1977). Heterosexuality questionnaire. Obtained from http://www.pinkpractice.co.uk/quaire.htm. Accessed on 29 July 2005. Rothblum, E. (1999). Poly-friendships. In M. Munsen & J.P. Stelbourn (Eds.), The lesbian polyamory reader (pp.71–84) New York: Harrington Park Press. Spanner Trust (2004). http://www.commex.org/whatever/spanner/ spanner.html. Accessed on 20 June 2004.

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Kink therapy and me: Outing myself as a ‘kinky client’
Pushpa Mitra
I have seen SM as a key part of my identity for many years now. In fact, I feel that it forms the most stable part of my sexuality. My patterns of attraction are defined much more by the SM dynamic between myself and another person than by the gender of that person, and, therefore, I consider SM as closer to a defining sexuality, for me, than a label such as gay, straight, bi, or queer. SM has me brought joy, ecstasy, connection, self-knowledge, social connections, friendships, love and much more. In this article I want to reflect on my experience of coming out about my SM in psychotherapy.

HAD NEVER SPOKEN about SM in counselling, despite its central role in my identity, and despite the fact that my present counsellor, S, has always provided a safe space for me and I have never felt judged by her, no matter what I have revealed. Counselling space is where I have spoken my worst fears and most powerful self-hatreds, and voiced things about myself that have disgusted me. This space has, above all, been where I have wrestled with my deep fear of rejection. I decided, one day, to tackle this head-on. I felt that it was ludicrous to hold a major part of myself aloof from the process in a relationship that was so trusting and fruitful, and that it could be retarding my healing to do so. However, although I could appreciate this on an intellectual level, I remember ‘marching’ into the room that day feeling that my place of safety and acceptance had suddenly become an arena, a place of challenge. I announced boldly and quickly that today we were going to talk about SM, and my being a SMer. In retrospect I was presenting my identification as an SMer, proclaiming that for me it is an identity, as much or more than it is ‘things I do’. This is not to suggest that either perspective is more valid or widespread, so much as to say that 274

The encounter: Taking my SM sexuality into the therapeutic space


for me and many people this moment of coming out is a ‘showing of a self’ rather than a describing of actions. By claiming the identity I was saying ‘HERE I AM’. This was the first time in a long time, probably since my early experiences of counselling and my earliest days with my present counsellor that I had felt in danger of being rejected, judged, pathologised or told that the difficult circumstances of my life had made me abnormal or damaged. S did not interrupt, understanding that I needed to speak until I felt able to stop. She then sat with me and allowed me to be quiet. There was silence. I felt like I had jumped out of a plane. I was terrified, absolutely terrified. I waited nervously for her response. S acknowledged that this was very difficult for me and we looked at why it was so challenging. She asked me what I had thought her reaction would be. I explained that I had thought that she would think I was a freak and damaged and that she would pathologise me. I expressed my worry that she might see my SM in terms of me playing out my pain on other people and that she might be disgusted by me.

Outside these walls: The context

Looking back on the counselling encounter described above, and concluded below, I recognise that I was not expressing my own

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Kink therapy and me: Outing myself as a ‘kinky client’ views about SM but rather the societal norms surrounding it. Despite my acceptance of SM as a legitimate sexuality for myself and others, I could not seem to bring this perspective into the counselling situation. Bridoux (2000, p.23) notes that ‘many are still unable to openly admit to their SM practises […] because of the links people continue to make with sexual violence and abuse’. And further that ‘the reasons for this confusion over pain and SM are mainly to do with popular myths and the fact that sadomasochism has been a political battleground for at least the last 20 years.’ This is very much how I felt. I am a mental health worker myself and I find that these issues are often invisible or discussed only in terms of deviant sexuality (Bridoux, 2000; Barker, forthcoming, 2006). The encounters with mental health service professionals that I have heard about anecdotally through the kink community are overwhelmingly negative. Friends report a concentration on their sexuality, even if it is irrelevant to the issues they are presenting with, as well as a lack of willingness of the counsellor to engage with their SM except in attempts to ‘cure’ it. A further issue is the ‘grey area’ status of SM under the DSM-IV. SM is considered pathological only if it causes ‘marked distress or interpersonal difficulty’. But, like the previous category of ‘ego-dystonic homosexuality’, this still suggests that SM can be pathological in a way that non-SM sex cannot (Barker, forthcoming 2006). It also groups SM as a ‘paraphilia’ alongside non-consensual activities, and fails to acknowledge the very real distress SMers face when dealing with external perceptions of their practices and identities. Such distress is likely to be at its height, as in my experience, in ‘comingout’ scenarios. testament to the trust and connection that a productive counselling process can establish. Returning to my experience, having got this far I was left still very scared but reassured that S had not already run screaming from the room. Finally, she gave me her response. She said: ‘You have had a life that has left you with a lot of anger, and hurt, and has often prevented you from showing and accessing your strength. And what you have done, on your own, is to find your way to a space where you can channel that anger and use your powerful aspects consensually with people who value and love you for them.’ This silenced me. I was astonished. Speaking from my fear, this was the last response that I could have imagined. It was, however, utterly congruent with the relationship we had. Writing these words now, I am still amazed. We sat in silence, while I allowed her response to wash over me. She then carefully began to ask me about the negative expectations I had had about her response, to see if we could take them apart to explore where they came from and whether they had any basis. S and I explored my feeling that coming out as a dominant SMer was the hardest part of the process. I define as a switch, which means that I take both dominant and submissive roles in SM. However, we discovered that it felt easier for me to out myself as the receiver than as the instigator. I felt that perhaps S would see my dominance as evidence of a dangerously violent streak or as me ‘taking out’ my pain and anger on others. There was also a feeling, as Califia (2000, p.160) notes that ‘people […] get a more sympathetic hearing if they identify as bottoms. This makes sense in a twisted kind of way. The uninitiated associate masochism with incompetence, lack of assertiveness. But sadism is associated with chainsaw murders. […] (someone) listening to a masochist may feel sorry for her but will be terrified of me.’ S’s response to this fear was to ask if I was generally aggressive with people. Did I start arguments and fights or abuse people? To this I had to answer ‘no’. It is not that I never 275

What can I do for you: The response

‘Coming out’ as an SMer in this environment was, therefore, a very difficult and frightening process to undergo. That I was able to do so, with such positive results, is Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Pushpa Mitra display these behaviours; more that I do not do so any more than I think the average person does, if any such thing exists. S enabled and encouraged me to recognise that I am not uniquely or extremely antisocial or abusive in my personality. S also queried my feeling that it was ‘easier’ to come out as submissive although I enjoy (insofar as these things are quantifiable) both roles equally. She pointed out that women are socialised to feel that anger is bad, and that turning it outwards is deviant or wrong. Thus, as a woman, it is socially more acceptable to cast myself in the ‘receiver’ role. This allowed me to explore the notion that while this might explain my relative willingness to discuss subbing/ bottoming, a sense of passivity is not what I associate with being in these roles. I find that submissive roles can feel very powerful. Also, I expect people who I allow to dominate me to treat that responsibility very seriously. Building on this, S pointed out repeatedly that I had consciously sought out consensual space, one that is not very visible or easy to find. She suggested that it is, in fact, much easier to find non-consensual violence. She further suggested that SM was a sphere in which I had been much more consistently able to assert my worth than others in my life. This was a real ‘magic moment’ for me. I had imagined many responses but nothing like this, and I had never made the connection between seeking out consensual spaces with my previous history, or seen this as such a positive thing. counselling provides to gain insight in a number of areas: I am able to examine why my sexuality leans strongly towards SM. Also, I have begun to appreciate how the positive lessons learnt early in my experiences of SM have provided me with new and useful scripts in other areas of my life. This is particularly striking when I consider how SM prioritises communication and negotiation. In ‘scene’ I have rarely found it difficult to ask for what I want or explain what I can give, or to value my needs and desires. This was not reflected in many other areas of my life for a long time. Through counselling I was able to consider that perhaps I ‘imported’ those skills from SM as I became more able to communicate and set boundaries in friendships, intimate relationships, professionally, etc. As Bridoux notes (2000, p.30): ‘It may be that, contrary to being part of the problem, this lifestyle is part of the solution.’ Learning to handle ‘mistakes’ in SM has also taught me much about taking adult responsibility for success and failure rather than aiming for an unrealistic perfection or taking refuge in childish postures of excusemaking. This realisation mirrors others that have been at the heart of my therapeutic process in counselling. I am now able to see that, even in situations where my capacity for these skills was at its lowest, I was generally still able to exercise them in setting up and participating in ‘scenespace’. I am still unsure as to why this was so. One factor I am aware of is that SM was also probably one of the first environments in which I was able to value myself, my skills and abilities as well as to receive positive feedback. SM can (although it will not necessarily) require a high level of technical skill, creativity and imagination. In the SM sphere I have generally felt confident of my abilities as well as comfortable in asking for helping and admitting my limits. In this way, along with my work, SM has been a valuable part of my process of learning ‘how’ to value myself, a process which has, in recent years, spread to much of Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

New beginnings: What my therapy can say about my SM

I feel that this moment in therapy has freed me in a number of ways since. I have felt able to make connections between my sexuality and other aspects of my life story. Bringing my kink identity and experiences into counselling removed the need for me to set up and maintain an unhelpful barrier between my sexuality and sexual life and my other scripts. Also, having safely ‘outed’ myself, I am now able to use the unique space that 276

Kink therapy and me: Outing myself as a ‘kinky client’ how I view my life. These are all areas with which I have struggled in most other parts of my life in the past. Participation in the counselling process, my work and my experiences in SM have been three of the main motors in my vast improvements in this. This process of revelation is very much ongoing, and I feel that I am only at the beginning of a very profitable engagement between my counselling and my sexuality, one that has been made much richer and safer by the way in which my coming out was received. It was an unusual situation in that often the counselling space has been a rehearsal for coming out about aspects of myself that have shamed me, whereas in this case, it was one of the last spaces in which I had outed myself. This, I think, has a lot to do with anecdotal knowledge of other’s negative experiences with this process and with the still-dominant medical discourse around SM in therapy and psychiatry, as explored above. When I engaged with the reality of the situation: S and me, a room and my process, the results were as far away from those fears as I could have imagined. My experience has enabled me to safely incorporate the examination of my sexuality into my wider process, and receive the benefits therein. I can do this, confident that my sexuality will not be viewed as a problem to be solved, nor as my single defining characteristic. provide a safe and incredibly constructive space for the client. To quote Oxley and Lucius (2000, p.125), I feel that ‘good therapeutic practice in the area […] should be the same as good practice with other client issues’. I would further point therapists to Oxley and Lucius’ good practice checklist (p.126) which, while written with reference to bisexual clients, is an excellent starter for those working with kinky clients. In writing this, I note that many of the points raised are ones that my counsellor has exemplified. Paradoxically the process of coming out as an SMer has brought me back to being simply a client, able to continue my process, drawing on my sexuality if relevant, but leaving it aside when it is not. Following Bridoux (2000), I would urge professionals not to intrude their own worldview (of kink sexuality), whether negative or positive, on their clients. This is likely to be frightening, damaging and destructive of previous and potential growth. I would be unable to share this experience had my coming out not freed me to do so. I will always be enormously grateful for this, and fully expect to continue to benefit from the richness of the counselling space.


Conclusion: A firm foundation

Thus, in outing myself as a kinky client, the wonderful discovery has not been of a distinctively effective response but rather that the core fundamentals of good counselling practice, carried out with congruence and care, are available and sufficient to

Pushpa Mitra is a mental health worker and online journalist. She currently works in a voluntary capacity as a drop-in worker for a women’s mental health initiative, providing support and listening skills to a broad range of clients. She also writes about visual culture and contemporary art/performance, and has recently been published by various arts and heritage websites. She regards SM as her primary sexual identity.

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Pushpa Mitra

Barker, M. (forthcoming, 2006). Rethinking gender, sex and love: What can psychology learn from the bi, poly and SM communities? In V. Clarke & E. Peel (Eds.), Out in psychology: Lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans perspectives. Chichester: Wiley. Bridoux, D. (2000). Kink therapy: SM and sexual minorities. In C. Neal & D. Davies (Eds.), Pink therapy 3: Issues in therapy with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender clients (pp.22–34) Buckingham: Open University Press. Califia, P. (2000). A secret side of lesbian sexuality, from public sex: The culture of radical sex. San Francisco: Cleis Press. Oxley, E. & Lucius, C.A. (2000). Looking both ways: Bisexuality and therapy. In C. Neal & D. Davies (Eds.), Pink therapy 3: Issues in therapy with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender clients (pp.115–127). Buckingham: Open University Press.


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Total power exchange in a modern family: A personal perspective
Rachel Green


HE TERM ‘Ds’ might mean different things to different people, I am using it here to refer to dominance and submission in a total power exchange (TPE) dynamic where one (or more) people in a relationship give their personal power freely to another. The popular SM guide, Screw the Roses, Send me the Thorns, defines TPE as ‘the empowerment of the Dominant BY the submissive’s surrender to His/Her control. The power exchange is consensual and should be well negotiated. The depth of power yielded by the submissive is equal to the level of responsibility assumed by the Dominant’ (Miller & Thorn, 2002, cited on Fetishopedia, 2005). The care of the dominant for their submissive in such an exchange occurs not only in the bedroom but also in the safety, attention and support afforded to the submissive in everyday life, in some cases as far as including money, property, decisions and careers. TPE is not slavery, and either party may always ask for clarification and/or time out to reassess their needs. I feel it is important to consider TPE as on a continuum with the power dynamics inherent in relationships more broadly. It seems to me that many couples, whether in opposite or same sex relationships, will recognise that one of them takes more control than the other. This too is a power exchange, though not necessarily a complete one. The division of responsibilities in any relationship may indicate underlying currents of a power exchange; one partner, for example, might choose to allocate responsibilities as they see fit, whilst another accepts the decisions thus made.

In my own situation, Ds is combined with polyamory, so multiple partners are involved. In polyamorous situations a hierarchy of control develops, with one person or couple having control over the relationships of and between the others. I have found that an openly acknowledged Ds relationship can smooth many difficult areas, where the abdication of control allows partners of the dominant person to accept their guidance for the benefit of all. This is by necessity a generalisation, because there are many other issues that need to be worked through before nonmonogamous relationships become stable, not least of which is the jealousy that one member of the unit will feel towards another when it appears that the power dynamics are unbalanced, or that X receives more attention than Y. In my experience, such problems need to be worked through by all the parties involved, though if the trust in the dominant party is correctly placed and earned, these difficulties can be addressed and worked through. A good example of this hierarchy in my own situation is the ‘marital’ bed, hand-built to sleep three. As two of us were an established couple before the third joined us as a submissive, her third of the bed is slightly lower than the rest as a permanent reminder of her submission to us. She wouldn’t have it any other way.

The place of SM in wider culture

There are many influences in our society to guide people onto the path of ‘normal’ vanilla relationships. As soon as we are born we are bombarded by messages from the media, and those around us, to conform to 279

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Rachel Green gender stereotyping and heterosexual monogamy. I feel that it takes a great deal of courage to step outside of socially enforced boundaries to venture into relationships outside of the stereotypes. Gay sexuality still attracts negative attention and stigma, and the exploration of sexuality outside the accepted ‘norm’ can lead to many difficulties. Although being gay is no longer seen as a crime or disorder (at least in the UK), the same-sex relationships I am involved with still invite suspicion from our neighbourhood, particularly from members of the church and those who feel threatened by them. Until the repeal of Section 28 of the Local Government Act schools were prohibited from ‘promoting’ homosexuality and gay family relationships were labelled as ‘pretend,’ and we still feel the legacy of this, for example, in recent calls for local governments to ban the inclusion of books promoting gay positive literature in school libraries.1 In my experience, those who openly embrace fetishism and sadomasochism are stigmatised even further, being instantly labelled as ‘perverts’ and relegated to a similar pigeonhole in society as child abusers and serial killers (see, for example, the positioning of SM with sadistic rape and paedophilia in the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-IV-TR, and the links made between SM and serial killing in the popular TV series Wire in the Blood, 2002). Even though sadomasochism (SM) is widely practised by consenting adults behind closed doors and in adult-only clubs, to participate in SM to invite condemnation by the culture that surrounds the practitioners. This demonisation and pathologisation has led to an underground subculture. However, the recent trends in club wear have done much to promote acceptability of the fetish scene. It is now possible to purchase collars, cuffs, handcuffs and even whips from formerly disapproving High Street stores (see Beckman, 2001). Many practitioners of SM would not even think the term applied to them, and that tying a partner to the bed with silk scarves, or the purchase of a pair of fluffy handcuffs was merely ‘amusingly kinky’ (see Storr, 2003, for an in-depth analysis of the way Ann Summers shoppers talk about such purchases and practices). I feel that it would serve SM activism well to show that most practitioners of such kinky games, and by extension, SM, have merely utilised a way of engaging in great sex. It is not necessarily ‘scary and deviant’ but can equally be ‘fun and normal and happy’.

Incorporating Ds into a modern family

A relationship that includes TPE relationships can also include children, but I feel that awareness of SM practices should be managed carefully in relation to children because of the continued pathologisation and demonisation highlighted above. In my case, the dominant partner is a woman with children who has taken two permanent female partners to share the same living space, and a number of semiregular submissives, of both sexes, who join us for periods of time from a weekend to a fortnight to learn the dynamics of submission in a 24/7 family situation. Although hesitant at first, the children soon learned to both accept and value the new family set-up. Rules were given by the biological mother and filtered down throughout the rest of the new non-nuclear family. The children found that there was always an adult to talk to about anything they wished, and that they had access to a wealth of help and information that was not available previously. One adult had a thorough knowledge of English, another of Mathematics, and another of sports, for example. There was always someone to watch over them, to cook for them and to provide for their needs. Also, the multiple income sources from those

1 See, for example, ‘Gay Times removed from college’: http://www.thefileroom.org/html/650.html. ‘Harry Potter book ban’: http://www.sundayherald.com/35279. ‘Schools ‘gay month’ fury’: http://www.thesun.co.uk/article/ 0,,2-2005031608,00.html.


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Total power exchange in a modern family: A personal perspective adults who worked increased the well-being of the family as a whole, both materially, in the purchase of a bigger house or second car, and spiritually, in the provision of holidays and outings. If children received a ‘no’ from one adult, they would work their way up the hierarchical chain, but the buck stopped with the dominant adult. When Mum said no, it was a definite no! The respect, trust and honesty that such a relationship demanded was a good platform for the children to learn personal values. Although they were never privy to the outward trappings of Ds, other than the necklaces that the adults wore, I feel that the respect shown towards their mother taught them the values that they would need to be responsible adults themselves. Problems came when the children were faced with external pressures. Neighbours would occasionally be jealous of the affluence and structure of the family and cause a nuisance by writing to the local authorities. Visits from social welfare officers would result in glowing reports of the contentment of the children, and schools were impressed by the diversity of the children’s home life and education, especially when one or more of the parents were able to help the school via the PTA. Other problems for the children came as the result of peer pressure. Their classmates did not believe that they had ‘more than one mum’ and often ostracised them as ‘different’. Again, when the adults engaged the local community, showing that they were just people like any other, and well-adjusted ones at that, the pressure on the children to conform to majority views subsided. certain of their aims. Sadly it still seems to be that the best policy at present is to keep everything that does not adapt to the overriding society morality behind closed (and preferably locked) doors. Being gay is no longer a crime, and it possible to complain if you are discriminated against because of it. Being polyamorous, however, is far less accepted. It does not matter, it seems, if everything of an adult nature is behind locked doors, for it crosses a distinct line of social mores relating to monogamy. The course we have chosen, at least until legislation referring to polyamory is revised, is to adopt a distinct couple as the public face of the relationship when it comes to issues such as parenting. It is possible to obtain a residence order from the family court, giving all the adults in the relationship parental responsibility for the children, but people have to be prepared for a long battle to obtain one. I feel that adult pursuits, particularly those pertaining to SM, must always be behind locked doors and locked bookcases. A five-year-old may well ask an innocent question of a teacher that has disastrous consequences for the family unit. In our case we try to be honest with the child, but also to be aware of their maturity. If they are old enough to ask the question, they are probably old enough to be given some sort of satisfactory answer. I feel that my seven year old showed a very healthy attitude, for example, when she said ‘when I grow up, I’m going to buy a house with my boyfriend or girlfriend’.



I feel that it is more than possible to integrate alternate lifestyles into the modern family, but the people involved must be very

Rachel Green is a lesbian and lives in Derbyshire with her two co-dominant female partners and their male submissive, three children of various ages and a host of animals.

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Rachel Green

American Psychiatric Association (2000). DSM-IV-TR (text revision). Accessed from http://www.behavenet.com/capsules/disorders on 21 May 2004. Beckmann, A. (2001). Deconstructing myths: The social construction of ‘sadomasochism’ versus ‘subjugated knowledges’ of practitioners of consensual ‘SM’. Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 8(2), 66–95. Miller, P. & Devon, M. (2002). Screw the roses, send me the thorns. CT, US: Mystic Rose Books. Cited on Fetishopedia (2005) http://www.fetishschool.com/frames/02_tools/a_fetishopedia/ contentFrame.htm. Accessed on 5 August 2005. Wire in the blood: Mermaids singing (2002). Revelation Films for ITV, screened in 2003, directed by Andrew Grieve. Storr, M. (2003). Latex and lingerie: Shopping for pleasure at Ann Summers. Oxford: Berg.


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Focus on Activism

Spanner: SM, consent and the law in the UK
Eric Chaline in conversation with John Pendal
The Spanner Case

HE UK, LIKE THE US, has been subject to periodic ‘moral panics’ (Weeks, 2000; Rubin, 2002). The moral panic that occurred in the late 1980s, during the last Conservative Thatcher government, featured a range of issues related to sexuality, including ‘Satanic abuse’, ‘the gay plague’, the ‘paedophile threat’ and ‘snuff videos’, and was the background to the Spanner Case (R. v. Brown and Others (1992) 94 Cr. App. R 302 CA; (1994) 1 AC 212 HL; see also, Law Commission Consultation Papers Nos. 122, etc.). The discovery by the police of an amateur SM video in the home of a gay man led to a four-year investigation rumoured to have cost £4 million. It was initially a murder investigation but within 48 hours was scaled down into an investigation into sexual offences. Although the investigation revealed that no murders had been committed and that all the persons present were adults and had consented to the SM practices they had taken part in and videotaped, the police went ahead with a prosecution. The men were charged with offences under sections 20 and 47 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, the provisions of which deal with assault and other forms of non-consensual crimes of violence against the person (Thompson, 1994). The defendants and their legal team based their defence on their consent to the SM activities they had taken part in. The whole of the police case was based on the defendants’ own freely-given statements and
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a large number of videotapes of SM practices, from which the police spliced the most hardcore scenes together into one videotape, which was then presented to the court. The defendants admitted having made the videotapes because they were so confident of acquittal. Having been advised to plead guilty to a number of offences, 16 of the defendants were shocked to receive custodial sentences, suspended custodial sentences or fines for assault or aiding and abetting in their own assault. The defendants appealed against their convictions, taking their case to the Court of Appeal and to the UK’s highest court, the House of Lords. In each case, the judges involved decided that it was not possible to consent to an assault that led to injuries that were more than ‘trifling or transient’ if sexual pleasure was the aim. However, in non-sexual contexts there were exceptions, such as injuries resulting from medical practice, as well as consenting to being injured in sports such as boxing and rugby, ‘entertainments’ such as knife throwing, and cosmetic procedures, such as tattooing and piercing1. Comments by several of the judges made it clear that questions of sexual morality had played a significant part in the decisions, and decisions in later cases involving married heterosexual couples2 have since showed that homophobia was almost certainly also a factor. The defendants attempted one final appeal, to the European Court of Human Rights, on the grounds that the convictions infringed Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to respect

See Barker, this issue, for discussion of an awareness-raising exercise based around this point.

In two later cases a man had placed serious marks on his female partner’s body in the course of a consensual SM scene, (one couple was married, the other was not). In each case when they came to trial the judge ruled that what took place within the confines of a consensual private relationship was of no concern to the court.

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Eric Chaline in conversation with John Pendal of private life. However, this appeal also failed.3 John Pendal became a well-known figure on the gay SM scene in Europe and the US after he won the ‘International Mr Leather’ (IML) contest in 2003.4 He became a Spanner Trustee in 2004. In addition to his work for the trust, John is involved in SM education in the UK. I began the interview by asking him to give me some background on the Spanner Trust and its work in the UK. given to the examiners at the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) on the difference between consensual SM and abuse. The latter resulted in a change in the BBFC guidelines about the rating certificate given to consensual SM videos. EC: How is the trust funded? JP: We are funded by private donations and fundraising events put on by the community. EC: What are the current aims of the trust? JP: To effect a change in the UK law as it affects consensual SM activity during which injury takes place; to provide education about the current state of the law to the UK SM community; to help anyone in difficulty because of their SM activities in the UK; and to provide education to the wider world on the differences between SM and abuse, and between injury and harm.5 EC: How did you get involved in SM activism and the Spanner Trust? JP: I had been attending a leather bar in South London called ‘The Hoist’ on a regular basis for several years. In February 2003 I won the annual ‘Mr Hoist’ contest. The winner qualifies for a place at the ‘International Mr Leather’ (IML) contest held every year in Chicago in May. The IML judges look for contestants who have a history of community involvement and a thorough knowledge of current issues and lobbying groups. The Spanner Trust was one of the organisations that helped in my preparation. After winning IML 2003 I gave up my job and travelled full time to leather events, networking with community groups and learning about SM and activism around the world. It has been a steep learning curve ever since. After stepping down as the current IML in 2004 I became a Spanner trustee, as I desperately want the law to be changed in the UK so that we can play legally at the level that they do in other countries.

The Spanner Trust

EC: Could you tell me about the original aims of the Spanner Trust? JP: The trust was originally set up to look after money donated to the Spanner Defence Fund. I believe that some American benefactors requested the formation of a trust before they would hand over funds raised in the US. Since then the Spanner Defence Fund has ceased to exist, and the trustees have taken on the task of campaigning to change the law, as well as looking after the money. EC: Can you give me an outline of the work of the trust since the Spanner Case? JP: Our work has included lobbying members of both Houses of Parliament, networking with other civil-rights groups, ongoing work with a senior Queen’s Counsel and making a submission to the Home Affairs Select Committee that was lodged in the House of Commons library. We have helped individuals who contacted the trust for legal advice or who were experiencing a range of problems due to their SM activities. For example, custody cases, possible blackmail or having videos impounded by HM Customs and Excise. Another aspect of the trust’s work is holding educational workshops on the topic of ‘BDSM and the law’ at SM gatherings and events, and presentations to official bodies, such as the recent one
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The judgment and dissenting opinion are reproduced in full on http://www.spannertrust.org.

The IML contest is held in Chicago every year in May. The winner spends his year as titleholder traveling to SM events worldwide, and plays the role of ‘ambassador’ for the leather community.

See www.spannertrust.org/documents for a discussion of these issues.


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Focus on Activism

Gay men and SM in the UK

EC: How did you get involved in SM? JP: I have had SM fantasies since the age of four-and-a-quarter. I started to act on them only in my mid-20s after coming out as gay, meeting my partner and dragging him onto the leather scene. I knew that it was something I wanted to explore. After winning IML I was introduced to a deeper level of SM play that is not readily available in the UK and loved it. EC: What is the state of the gay SM scene in the UK? JP: I cannot speak for the whole of the UK, only for myself. I find it very frustrating that we cannot have any gay SM clubs, groups, societies or mailing lists here. It prevents SM players from networking or building a community. It makes educating newcomers about the difference between SM and abuse, or ways of reducing risk in SM play, very difficult. There is very little SM play in gay clubs. Most SM play takes place in people’s homes and some of the activities I have seen are unnecessarily dangerous, due to lack of education or exposure to safer ways of playing. The good SM players I have met in the UK are those who have travelled abroad, but they tend to keep a low profile so it is difficult to seek them out. EC: How does the scene in the UK compare to those in the US? JP: In America it is possible to attend a different SM event with workshops and playspaces almost every weekend of the year, if you are prepared to travel. Different fetish clubs and organisations put on weekend activities in many cities, inviting highly skilled presenters to come and teach. On top of that most major cities have at least one SM or leather club where skills are passed on. Some of the clubs own a playspace that can be used privately by members or for
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group events. In my experience the clubs are highly regulated with many safety rules, for example ‘no electric play above the waist’, ‘no object made of breakable material may be inserted into any body cavity’ and ‘sex toys cannot be used on more than one person without sterilisation’. The playspaces are fully stocked with safety equipment such as sharps bins6, spray bleach, latex gloves, etc. Monitors patrol the space throughout the event with the power to stop any scene that is deemed to be dangerous – or even shut down the whole event if necessary. Compare that to the UK where people meet in private homes without tuition, safety equipment or a monitor to stop proceedings if things are going wrong. In America it is illegal to have your genitals uncovered in any licensed area, whether or not alcohol is being served. That means that there is no sex in gay bars, but often you will see BDSM demonstrations in their place. In the UK the reverse is the case. Most BDSM is illegal, but gay bars are often very sexual places with many men cruising each other for vanilla sex. EC: What is the status of SM education in the UK and how could it be improved? JP: In my opinion there is very little SM education in the UK. One group of volunteers put on SM demos once a month7, but there is almost no instruction given alongside the demos. Another group runs weekend courses, but you are not allowed to take any notes during the course in case you are a journalist!8 I have yet to see any safer sex campaign in the UK explain how to minimise the risks of transmitting bloodborn viruses or other sexually transmitted infections during SM play. Where do people here learn how to clean floggers and whips to remove the risk of hepatitis and HIV transmission, or how to dispose of needles safely?

To dispose of equipment used in SM play, such as needles that have been contaminated with blood.

SM Gays hold Discovery Nights on the third Thursday of each month in Vauxhall, South London. Full details can be found at www.smgays.org.

GMFA runs ‘Bondage for Beginners’ and ‘SM for Beginners’ weekend courses. Details can be found at

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Eric Chaline in conversation with John Pendal The education I have seen is restricted in range and depth. Some subjects are almost never covered (such as breath control)9, despite the fact that a quick search of the Internet will show those activities are popular in private. The subjects that are covered are usually demos with little of what I would consider to be essential safety information imparted. It is a real shame that so many people here are self-taught and making inaccurate risk assessments about the play that they do. I know highly-skilled SM presenters abroad who are willing and able to teach in the UK, but there is no way we could publicise the event while those activities are illegal. EC: Is there value in academic research into SM from a psychological or sociological perspective? JP: Definitely. The legal and psychiatric professions work hand-in-hand, in my opinion. While SM is still listed as a mental illness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (1994) and the International Classification of Diseases (1990) it will be much harder for SM players to win custody cases, refute allegations of assault following a consensual scene or for the UK law to be changed to legalise SM where injury occurs. EC: Does academic research have a role in changing the legal position of SM in the UK? JP: If the Spanner Trust is successful in bringing an application to the High Court under the Human Rights Act (1998), then we will need statements from academics to support our claim that SM play where injury occurs does not necessarily cause harm and should not be criminalised. We also need to ensure that academics gather their data from the whole of the SM community, and not just the self-selecting group who are seeking psychiatric help. One of the problems at the moment is that the majority of data is drawn from people who have sought help, so it is no surprise that the conclusion drawn is that SM play is bad for you! More information about the Spanner Trust can be found at http://www.spannertrust.org.

SM, psychology and the law

EC: In earlier conversations, you mentioned the role of SM as a healing process, could you elaborate on this? JP: Please do not misunderstand what I am about to say. I think if you need therapy you should seek out a therapist to help you. But I have seen how SM play has helped many people. It has given them more confidence, helped them become more self-aware, given them increased negotiation and people skills, and helped them to overcome their fears. On a personal level SM scenes have taught me to face up to several phobias which years of cognitive, behavioural and hypnotherapy have been unable to cure. It is amazing how much of a motivation having a big, horrible sadist standing next to you can be! EC: Do you think psychology and psychotherapy have a positive role to play in SM in the UK? JP: Oh yes. There is still a huge reservoir of opinion within the general population that SM is bad for you, a side effect of childhood abuse or a sign of a flawed personality. I think we need psychologists to recognise that SM play can be a normal facet of sexuality for some people, and help to overcome the stigma against folks who like to explore this area of their sexuality.


Eric Chaline is a postgraduate student at London South Bank University. E-mail: chaliner@lsbu.ac.uk John Pendal is a 34-year-old leatherman, Spanner trustee and SM player. E-mail: john@iml2003.com


The use of asphyxia in erotic play.


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Focus on Activism

American Psychiatric Association (2000). DSM-IV (1994/2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association. ICD-10 (1990). International Classification of Diseases. Geneva: WHO. Law Commission Consultation Paper 122 (1992). London: HMSO. Law Commission Consultation Paper 134 (1993). Consent and Offences Against the Person. London: HMSO. Law Commission Consultation Paper 139 (1995). Criminal Law: Consent in the Criminal Law, London: HMSO. Law Commission Consultation Paper 218 (1993). Legislating the Criminal Code. London: HMSO. Rubin, G. (2002). Thinking sex. Notes for a radical theory of the politics of sexuality. In K. Plummer (Ed.), Sexualities, Vol. 2 (pp.188–223). London: Routledge. Thomson, B. (1994). Sadomasochism: Painful perversion or pleasurable play? London: Cassell. Weeks, J. (2000). Sexuality. London: Routledge.

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Book Reviews
Sexuality: The Essential Glossary
Jo Eadie (Ed.) (2004) London: Arnold. ISBN: 0-340-80676-1 (pbk) £19.99 Reviewed by Bobbie Petford Sexuality: The Essential Glossary deserves a place on all our bookshelves, be they at home, in the workplace or the library. It is a thoroughly useful volume that balances brevity of style with depth and integrity of content. Eadie states in the Preface that the glossary ‘takes its lead from what we might call a postfoucauldian, post-queer – but emphatically not post-feminist – consensus across … disciplines’, and that it is ‘an assertion of sexual pluralism’. It covers ‘academic concepts’, ‘the central debates’, ‘everyday sexual culture’, ‘slang from … sexual subcultures’, and consists of over 400 entries backed up by 1000 references. Eadie makes it clear from the start exactly what has been included and excluded, and explains his intention to complement existing similar volumes, avoiding any overlap, saying ‘hence, oddly, we have a glossary of sexuality without ‘fuck’ in it.’ The 46 contributors represent a very broad range of interests and disciplines, but as with many books published in English, almost all hail from the developed world, and Eadie acknowledges that the glossary, along with most formal study of sexuality, is rooted in western soil. Sexuality: The Essential Glossary is inevitably of its own time and context, and as with other lexicons, it can’t remain a state-ofthe-art tome in the long term. However, it succeeds in drawing on the past to assemble definitions that reflect the complexities of contemporary theory, politics and experience, and as such, it may yet prove to be both durable and influential. The look of the Sexuality: The Essential Glossary (in paperback) is fresh and uncluttered, with a typeface and layout that is easy on the eye when scanning pages. It feels 288 comfortable to handle and has a quality all too often missing from other dictionaries, companions and readers, a delightful flickability of non-sticky pages. The structure of the glossary provides the reader with accessible routes around the entries, to make it easy to find particular words and phrases, or play dot-to-dot with interconnecting themes and definitions. The Preface details five sections into which the entries are grouped: 1. Theoretical concepts; 2. Identities, acts and orientations; 3. Sexual culture; 4. Sexual politics; and 5. The body, to enable the reader to search according to theme. All entries are cross-referenced to others, and many give suggestions for further reading. Sexuality: The Essential Glossary offers a joyride to readers who relish books of big ideas. There are some fascinating histories of the usage of very familiar phrases, as well as many more recent and unusual words. Two entries stood out from the latter crowd: ‘teledildonics’, sexual activity in cyberspace, and ‘pomosexual’, a postmodern ‘contemporary experience of sexual identity’ that can ‘cross boundaries of sex, gender and sexuality’, and where ‘neither identity or ego is stable’. However, some other definitions gave cause for concern. For example, the entry on ‘paedophilia’ accurately describes how the age of consent or perceived readiness for sexual activity has changed over time and varies geographically, and differentiates it from ‘sexual abuse’, which can involve people of any age. But it fails to make any mention of the impact on the well being of those who become the object of paedophiliac desire and/or are sexually abused, which, as those with any personal or professional experience of paedophilia or sexual abuse will know only too well, is almost always detrimental. Additionally, Sexuality: The Essential Glossary persists, along with many other works, in citing an irritating surplus of Freudian theory. We know Sigmund, Anna and their analyst peers were

Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3 © The British Psychological Society 2005 ● ISSN 1467–2472

Book Reviews very influential in psychological and sexual theory, but surely by now, their hegemony ought to be diluted by other equally important paradigms? Sexuality: The Essential Glossary should nonetheless appear as a staple on reading lists this autumn. It makes an honest and valuable contribution to the study of sexuality by utilising the findings from a variety of disciplines. The glossary is undoubtedly a useful resource book for students and those who are new to the field, but it would serve equally well as a desk reference for academics, general readers, and practitioners alike, however expert they feel themselves to be. Sexuality: The Essential Glossary rises to meet the challenges of academic rigour and equity, but is written with a light touch in a style that is comprehensible and doesn’t take itself too seriously. This ethos is best demonstrated with Eadie’s own words … ‘Why read? And finally, no-one should overlook that most primal of childhood pleasures: leafing through a dictionary to look up dirty words.’ … And if you need more evidence, a houseful of teenagers somewhere in the Black Country are giggling in agreement! Bobbie Petford is a bereavement counsellor for older people at Wolverhampton City NHS Primary Care Trust; visiting lecturer at University of Central England, University of Wolverhampton and Worker’s Educational Association; and an independent supervisor and trainer. E-mail: bobbiesthere@blueyonder.co.uk

Plural Loves: Designs for Bi and Poly Living
Serena Anderlini-D’Onofrio (Ed.) (2004) New York: Harrington Park Press. ISBN: 1-56023-293-5 (pbk) £17.17

Reviewed by Helen Bowes-Catton Serena Anderlini-D’Onofrio’s latest collection brings together historical, theoretical, literary, fictional, and activist writing in an examination of the common ground between bisexuality and polyamory, with the aim of setting out ‘designs for bi and poly living’ for the new millennium. As a collection addressing the relationship between two under-researched areas of sexuality, Plural Loves is likely to be of interest to many readers of Lesbian and Gay Psychology Review. The book’s central thesis is that bisexuality and polyamory share a great deal of theoretical, political, experiential and spiritual common ground, due to their parallel historical development. The history of US polyamory, from 1970s poly-fidelity in the Kerista commune and the Church of All Worlds, to the more diffuse contemporary movement, is outlined in Suzann Robins’ article ‘Remembering the Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Kiss …’ Given the relative separation of the bisexual and polyamorous movements in the US, however, a similar retrospective on the development of the bisexual movement, which would have allowed the reader to trace for him/herself the parallel trajectories of the two communities described by the editor in her introduction to the collection, would have been a useful addition here. While bisexuality has been historically more visible than polyamory, AnderliniD’Onofrio asserts, polyamory has been ‘more daring in the utopian practices it propose[s]’ (p.5). These radical ‘designs for living’ are a focal point of this collection, with several contributors outlining alternative models of social organisation for polyamorous bisexual living. Deborah Taj Anapol reflects on poly life in Hawaii in the context of its pre-colonial culture, while Annina Sartorious, writing from a European perspective, provides a history of the transnational Komaja community. Numa Ray and Konstanza, meanwhile, provide interesting and frank accounts of life within Komaja’s system of group marriage. The relationship between sexuality and spirituality is another central theme of this 289

Book Reviews collection. Alternative communities like Komaja, which take as their model premodern forms of social organisation, are often linked to pantheistic spirituality and an emphasis on global harmony, notes the editor. Komaja’s group marriages are also tantric circles, while Anapol associates polyamory on premodern Maui with precolonial polytheism. The editor’s own contribution to the collection, ‘Sacred Bi Love: An Erotic Journey’, is a self-indulgent memoir of her affair with a Catholic priest, which draws on Catholic imagery to position sex as analogous to Holy Communion. Two interesting articles on masturbation by Betty Dodson and Eric Francis also reflect this emphasis on spirituality and world harmony. Dodson, a veteran solo sex activist, points out the role of masturbation in ancient Egyptian creation myths and their associated rituals. For Francis, the increasing interdependence of globalisation is reflected in group masturbation sessions, which constitute ‘the future of sex’. The representation of bisexuality and polyamory in the arts and the media is another area examined in this diverse collection. Hasan Al-Zubi’s chapter ‘Sweet Dreams’ examines how metaphors of bisexuality and fetishism are employed in two 19th century novels by J.K. Husmans and Leopoldo Alas, while Wayne M. Bryant discusses the portrayal of polyamorous bisexuality in film since 1968. Sam See, meanwhile, rebuts conventional gay and lesbian readings of three mid-20th century British plays, Noel Coward’s A Design for Living, Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey, and Joe Orton’s Entertaining Mr Sloane, arguing that, by reading polyamorous and bisexual themes and characters in these plays as indicative of repressed homosexuality rather than an emergent queer identity and politics, gay and lesbian scholars are ironically complicit in the marginalisation of nonheterosexual lives. The strongest contributions to the volume are those which examine the discursive politics of bisexuality and polyamory in relation to 290 dominant discourses. Pepper Mint’s valuable article on cheating, like Dodson and Francis’ contributions on masturbation, applies bi and poly discourses to a culturally proscribed yet universal practice in its examination of the power relationships of cheating. Mint discusses how, in US culture, cheating is both illicit and ubiquitous, a cultural spectacle which functions to reinforce monogamy. Bisexual and polyamorous activity is often positioned within discourses of cheating, while monogamy is constructed as a virtuous alternative. In reality, however, monogamy and cheating are interdependent, and, by drawing attention to this, bisexual and polyamorous people can effectively resist being positioned within the cultural script of cheating. Similarly, Nathan Rambukkana’s contribution deals with the discursive construction of polyamory and bisexuality as contested identities bridging queer and straight discourses, discussing the pressure on straight polyamorists to conform to queer discourses of poly, and noting the similar coming-out experiences of bi and poly people, who risk alienation from both the straight and gay worlds as they attempt to ‘bridge discourses that, at the best of times, resist being bridged, and at worst, want nothing to do with each other’ (p.144). Although some of the contributions to this collection are excellent, the organising principle of the book is unclear, and the resulting lack of focus makes for a frustrating read. Rather than being grouped by topic, articles on representation, discourse and models of living are scattered throughout the book, making it difficult to follow the line of argument being advanced. The editor’s contributions to the book contain some surprising and distracting elements, such as her casual disavowal of the transmission of HIV through bodily fluids, while typographical and grammatical errors, and the occasional clumsy sentence, further weaken the book’s impact. A further shortcoming of this collection is that, in their eagerness to establish Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Book Reviews common ground between bisexuality and polyamory, contributors often conflate the two, so that the book is more a collection of essays about bisexual polyamory than the exploration of the common ground between two movements that the jacket blurb suggests. Engagement with the tensions within and between the two communities, such as the debates within bisexuality over non-monogamy, would have added a welcome critical dimension to the volume: at times, contributors to the volume are patronisingly dismissive of non-polyamorous bisexuality. Francis, for example, asserts that, ‘While it is possible to segregate relationship experiences, to switch sexual orientations every 10 years … when we get honest all that denial is seen for what it is. Bisexual means both genders and both genders means more than one person’ (p.172). As Rambukkana (p.146) points out, many polyamorous people feel pressured to identify as bisexual. What this volume lacks is the acknowledgement that the reverse is also true. Overall, this varied collection provides an interesting case study of the relationship between academia and activism in the bi and poly movements, and some aspects of the common ground between the two movements. It would be most suitable for academics and activists interested in bisexual and polyamorous lifestyles, politics, and philosophies. Helen Bowes-Catton is a postgraduate student in the Department of Social and Policy Studies at London South Bank University. E-mail: helenbowescatton@yahoo.co.uk

Men, Homosexuality and the Gods: An Exploration into the Religious Significance of Male Homosexuality in World Perspective
Ronald E. Long (2004) New York: Harrington Park Press. ISBN: 1-56023-152-1 (pbk) £11.99 Reviewed by James Lea This relatively short book takes the reader on a whistle-stop tour of the history of male homosexuality, focusing on how it has been constructed within different cultures and religious practices. As an ending to the text, the author discusses possible reasons for the social beliefs and restraints imposed on the American homosexual community, in light of these cultural and religious notions. Long begins the text by defining what he means by male homosexuality and religion. Although at times this exploration was difficult to understand, it was a thoughtprovoking account of how male homosexuality (like heterosexuality) has been conceptualised within a religious framework; and the sanctions placed upon male homosexuals are ultimately based on Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

past and current religious beliefs. This discussion also invites the reader to think about the way in which ‘religious evaluations of homosexual love and sex depend upon the way male ‘bottoming’ is constructed’ (p.14). This idea is central to Long’s entire argument, and the aim of the text is to support this hypothesis using metaphors, anecdotal evidence, as well as historical and anthropological research findings. To support the above thesis the religious practices of the Sambians of Papua New Guinea and the Taoists of ancient China are discussed. Within both of these cultures there is an inherent belief that semen has some ‘magical’ function. Long proposes that these religious beliefs significantly influence male homosexual practices in both cultures. Performing oral sex, Sambian boys must ingest the semen of older men to develop into a ‘real man’, and within the Taoist dogma male homosexual sex with a younger boy is acceptable as long as ejaculation does not occur, and, therefore, life giving semen is not lost. Both Sambian and Taoist culture validate and actively support male homosexual sex due to the religious significance of 291

Book Reviews semen. Essentially, semen and male homosexual sex allows boys (sexual bottoms) to develop into men by being sexually ‘topped’ by older men. However, Long then describes that if an older man is penetrated by a younger man this act is deemed unacceptable as it questions the older man’s masculinity. In these cultures men should be active penetrators both sexually and in warfare. To be penetrated is viewed as a weakness or insult to his manhood. Long’s description and discussion of the religious significance of male homosexual sex within these cultures is clear and accessible. Furthermore, at this early stage of the argument the reader is clear that if male sexual receptiveness is viewed as useful or essential due to religious ideas, it is culturally acceptable. However, by the same token if sexual receptiveness of a man questions his masculinity it is deemed as unacceptable. Long continues his discussion with a review of the way in which male homosexual sex was viewed in ancient Greece. Although at times this portion of the text was confusing, the reader should be able to elucidate the salient points relating to Long’s overall argument. Similar to the Sambians and Taoists, within ancient Greece to be a male penetrator was masculine and to be penetrated was ‘boyish.’ Furthermore, in ancient Greece the obvious age gap between sexual top and sexual bottom was functional, and this is explained in relation to attraction issues. The young inexperienced boy was able to obtain learning and wisdom, and was supposedly never sexually or physically attracted to the older man. However, the older man initially could be attracted to the younger boy because of his beauty and youth; yet with time the older man ‘will now see his beloved … not as the object of his sexual desire. He will turn to him as a potential fellow philosopher and engage him in that more chaste form of intercourse, philosophy’ (p.39). Long’s discussion here is eloquent and engages the reader as he invites them to ponder about the complex explanations the people of ancient Greece 292 used to describe male homosexuality. Ultimately, male homosexuality was performed for the purpose of obtaining reciprocal wisdom and learning, which was a cultural and religious ideal in ancient Greece. The book continues to illustrate religious and historical examples of male homosexuality, all of which are thought provoking for the reader. Long argues that all of the ‘religious traditions explored in the course of this book resemble nothing so much as a set of variations upon a common theme … masculinity is defined in terms of the sexual role (penetrator). A sexually receptive male is somehow other than a real man’ (e.g. a boy or feminine) (p.144). It seems that Longs general thesis is supported, as the way in which the sexually receptive male is conceptualised by religion denotes they way in which male homosexuality is viewed by society. At the end of the book Long continues his exploration in an attempt to explain the current religious and social views of male homosexuality in the western world. Long proposes that ‘in modern Western culture in general, the sexually receptive male would be assimilated to that which is paradigmatically ‘other’ than masculine, i.e. the female’ (p.145). Furthermore, Long hypothesises that just as men historically were viewed as masculine warriors (via warfare or intellect) and sexually dominant in all aspects of life, men now who are sexual ‘tops’ can be integrated into the category of men. However, historically and currently sexually receptive men cannot be integrated into this classification; therefore they are not real men. This theoretical stance is applied to explain the apparent homophobia with the US army currently, suggesting that it is due to the idea that to be a sexual ‘bottom’ is somehow weak, and that these sexually penetrated men will somehow weaken the army as a whole. Evaluations such as this by Long further engage the reader, and although no concrete explanations are given the latter part of the book is effective at giving the reader points to ponder. Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Book Reviews This book is a must read for anyone interested in the historical and religious explanations of male homosexuality, or students studying theology or sexuality. Generally, the book gives a concise account of the way in which religious beliefs have moulded our acceptance or intolerance to male homosexuality. The book is accessible as it assumes no prior knowledge of male homosexual practice, yet at times the book is difficult to read due to the sophisticated language used. In conclusion, the book fulfils its aims and is engaging. The readers beliefs will be challenged, and many of their questions answered, however, on a frustrating note they will be left with some new questions. James Lea is an Assistant Psychologist working in Adolescent Mental Health at a site in North Wales. He is interested in constructions of sexuality for Deaf and Hearing adolescents, and also how sexuality influences mental health. E-mail: jpsych757@hotmail.com

Transgender emergency: Therapeutic guidelines for working with gendervariant people and their families
Arlene Istar Lev (2004) New York: Haworth. ISBN: 0-789-02117-X (pbk) £22.90

Reviewed by Dr Natasha Alexander Over the last decade or so, there has been an increased interest in transgenderism, an umbrella term that includes many categories of people who are gender variant, including people who identify as transsexuals, crossdressers, intersexed and other differently gendered people. Within the media there has been an increase in documentaries, films and even Coronation Street has made an attempt to explore the issue of transgenderism with its characterisation of ‘Hayley’ a few years ago. Many transsexuals have spoken of their dissatisfaction with professionals and according to Lev (2004) ‘the transgender movement is shaking the foundations of the mental health system in much the same way that the feminist movement and the gay liberation movement did in the past 30 years’ (p.3). The term ‘transsexual’ first appeared in the medical literature in 1954 in a paper written by Harry Benjamin, an endocrinologist and supporter of many transsexual people (Whittle, 2000). Harry Benjamin was a pioneer in the compassionate treatment of gender-variant people, and first presented the idea that ‘true’ transsexuals could not Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

adjust to their birth sex regardless of psychotherapy and other interventions. This has been the basis of modern medical and therapeutic treatment of transsexual people, which unfortunately tends to describe gender variance as ‘disordered’ and surgical reassignment is framed as the cure. Lev’s book, Transgender emergence: Therapeutic guidelines for working with gender-variant people and their families is an ambitious, comprehensive book that is written for therapists working with gender-variant people and their families. The 10 chapters are devoted to examining ‘the theoretical and clinical issues concerning transgendered, transsexual, and intersexed people, the relationship of gender identity to sexual identity, and the systemic impact of these issues on family life-span development’ (p.1). As a clinical psychologist who uses a systemic model of working, I was pleased to see that the premise of the book seemed to fit with the way I approach my work, drawing on a social constructionist framework within which to understand gender-variance as a normal and potentially healthy expression of sexuality, moving away from individual pathology towards considering the influence of constructions of sex and gender in society on our understanding of transgenderism and the nature of interventions. As Lev states early on in her introduction, ‘instead of examining transgendered and intersexed people through a lens of disorder and dysfunction, clinicians need to ask what it 293

Book Reviews means to be a healthy, functioning, gendervariant person within an immutable dualgendered world’ (p.4). She goes on to argue that guidelines that talk about the treatment or management of transgendered and intersexed people that do not address the issues of their family members in supportive and systemic manner are inadequate and disrespectful. The 10 chapters are organised in three parts, with Part 1 setting the historical and current context of transgenderism, considering theoretical understandings and definitions of transgenderism and related concepts. In Chapter 1, Lev gives brief clinical examples of dilemmas faced by therapists and reasons why clients may seek professional help and discusses different forms of treatment for transsexuals, focusing on medical and psychological interventions. The chapter is interspersed with useful guidelines for clinicians based on the standards of care suggested by the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association, of which she is a member, and considers the different roles and responsibilities of mental health professionals wanting to work respectively and compassionately with this particular client group. Chapter 2, ‘The legacy: Gender variance in history’, gives an interesting cross-cultural historical background to transgenderism, and chapter three provides a deconstruction of sex and gender, considering definitions of gender, biological and natal sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation, discussing the assumptions that are often made about the congruence of these concepts. Throughout, Lev integrates her deconstruction of sex, gender and sexual orientation, highlighting her argument with an observation that same sex relationships are different from same gender relationships using an analysis of ‘butchfemme’ lesbian couplings as a same sex yet opposite gender relationship. Part 2 discusses issues relating to diagnosis and assessment, examining and critically evaluating classification systems that ‘diagnose’ and frequently pathologise 294 various forms of gender expressions. Chapter 4 discusses aetiologies and categories, discussing a number of theories and research data, including biological, psychological, social learning and feminist theories, highlighting the bringing together of nature and nurture debates in her description of gender-variant behaviour as ‘essentially constructed’. The following chapters of this section provide an critical evaluation of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Disorders (DSM), the dominant classification system of psychiatric disorder in America; and an interesting deconstruction questioning whether the DSM is an instrument of social science or social control, highlighting the inherent racism, sexism and heterosexism in diagnostic classifications, using historical examples of diagnoses of, for example, ‘drapetomania’ the ‘mental illness’ identified by its primary ‘symptom’ – the urge of African slaves to escape slavery. Part 3 looks at treatment issues, outlining respectful and ‘compassionate’ models that honour gender diversity and acknowledge the trauma and difficulties caused by being differently gendered in a ‘gender dimorphic culture’. This latter section includes issues faced by families, transgendered children and youth, and the treatment of intersexed people. In the chapters of this section, Lev discusses the importance of listening to gender narratives, allowing clients to ‘examine, interrogate, and evaluate their gender identity and expression, within their own etiological frameworks and definitions of meaning’ (p.185). She goes on to provide a model of the developmental process of therapeutic interventions with this client group, using a stage model of transgender emergence and associated stages and goals of therapy, that while is very useful for clinicians, may seem to be slightly at odds with a systemic/narrative framework. This could be viewed, however, as illustrating the eclectism of her framework of working with clients with issues of gender-variance. Other chapters in this section provide an account of issues to be considered when working with Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Book Reviews the families of gender-variant people, an area which has received little attention in the medical literature, and also issues particularly relevant to transgendered children and youth, an area surrounded by controversy and anxiety. The final chapter of the book calls for a new paradigm for thinking about and working with intersexed people, a term referring to ‘congenital anomalies of the reproductive system which can sometimes involve genital ambiguity’ (p.353). Overall, I enjoyed reading this book and thought that it would probably be useful for a wide audience, including not just professionals in psychology, family therapy and social work, but also clients who may want to make informed choices about the type of help they would like and the sort of support they would benefit from. As a clinician, I would probably use at as a resource guide to think about issues that clients may bring, to increase my understanding of the area, as well as to promote my own reflexivity within the therapeutic process. As a clinical psychologist working in a community learning disability team, with an interest in issues of sexuality and gender, I would have liked to have seen some reference to issues relating to people with learning disabilities who present with issues of gender-variance, even if this was in the form of an acknowledgement of the lack of research in this area. Lev’s book is thoughtful and relatively comprehensive, and will contribute positively to the promotion of debates that integrate factors relating to an individual’s biology with explorations of the cultural and social aspects of transgenderism. As such, it represents a significant step in the move towards honouring diversity, encouraging empowerment and collaborative working with issues of gender-variance. Dr Natasha Alexander is a Clinical Psychologist working in London for the Newham Community Health Team for People with Learning Disabilities. E-mail: natasha.alexander@newhampct.nhs.uk


Whittle, S. (2000). The Transgender Debate: The crisis surrounding gender identities. Reading, UK: Garnet Publishing Limited.

Community Organising Against Homophobia and Heterosexism
Samantha Wehbi (Ed.) (2004) New York: Harrington Park Press. ISBN: 1-56023-269-2 (pbk) £10.00

Reviewed by Stanley Richardson ‘This book taps into the tremendous courage which channels energy and commitment towards action for the eradication of homophobia, heterosexism and other forms of oppression’ (p.xvii). Dr Wehbi has assembled in 102 pages five papers, preceded by a Foreword and her Preface, on a vital topic encompassing activities in Peru, Canada, Holland, Hong Kong and Zimbabwe. The Foreword is by Ben Carniol from Toronto. He says the book is neither neutral nor ‘objective’. It takes a partisan position in Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

favour of eradicating homophobia and heterosexism. He says this collection ‘helps us to better understand how to engage in sexual and gender emancipation, taking into account the relevant cultural and other factors unique to each situation’ (p xviii). Dr Wehbi’s Preface (pp.xix-xxiv) is an incisive discussion of the stereotypical view that respect for human right is equated with the North and only ‘poor Southerners’ (p.xxi) suffer oppression. Her five contributors have been active in resisting homophobia and heterosexism in their respective countries. She argues that understanding of oppression makes alliances against it essential, despite the problems involved. A common theme, she says, is ‘the transformation of individual efforts to deal with oppression into nascent movements’ 295

Book Reviews (p.xxiii) capable of attracting many member and allies in fighting homophobia and heterosexism. The paper by Nelly Jitsuya and Rebeca Sevilla (pp.1–28) traces the history of GALF (Grupo de Antoconciencia de Lesbianas Feministas) (founded 1983) a Peruvian feminist lesbian group showing its change from an awareness group into a social change group. The authors concentrate on the alliances that GALF has tried to build with the gay movement and heterosexual feminist groups. The paper underlines the enthusiasm of the group and the problems faced, not least their lack of literature. Most of their literature came from Europe and the US and needed translation. Early meetings are described and the evolution of the original group resulted in increasing group cohesion and publishing a news letter. Lesbians had their own ‘Stonewall’ in 1986 resulting in a new movement of lesbians and gays. The authors believe that the democratic process that began in Peru in 2001 will help GALF to become a more formal organisation. A paper from Canada by Fiona MeyerCook and Diane Labelle (pp.29–51) describes ‘Two-Spirit’ organising in Montreal. ‘Two-Spirit’ is often used by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) people of aboriginal descent in Canada and the US. Some of such people have a spiritual role to play in their communities, although many such traditions are buried and difficult to find especially when they have been overlaid by racism, sexism, and classism reinforced by Christian Europeans bent on controlling cultures they didn’t understand (at best). The residential missionary schools took three generations of Aboriginal children from Aboriginal homes; Church and State tried to change them into replicas of their colonial masters, without their consent. Not surprisingly, ‘There is a tremendous amount of pain still evident … Two-Spirited people today are dealing with the impacts of these practices, including ongoing discrimination against their sexual orientation …’ (p.37). 296 The remaining three papers come from widely different countries, yet two are concerning with changes designed to give new rights to minorities. Omar Nahas discusses a Muslim response to homosexuality in the Netherlands (pp.53–64). It contains information on the work of the Yoesuf Foundation, an organisation attempting to bridge the gap between Holland’s Muslim Community and Dutch society at large. Chung To’s paper concerns increasing equality for the Tongzhi (LGBT) community in Hong Kong (pp.65–74). He stresses the cultural differences between Hong Kong and the West. ‘For example, while a GLBT (sic) pride parade may not be necessary or feasible’ (p.66) in Hong Kong, other stategies are more appropriate, he says. He describes the territory’s first tongzhi-led campaign supporting protongzhi candidates for seats in the Legislative Council, and other activities of the wide-spread movement, including tongzhi groups among high school and university groups – perhaps the first such groups in China. The last paper is about the gay movement in Zimbabwe (pp.75–98) but with significant detail from other parts of sub-Saharan Africa including a discussion of precolonial times to 1980. The bulk of the paper relies on archival documents as well as the author’s involvement in the gay struggle in Zimbabwe and the reactions of the media and the state. The author’s description of his activities reads somewhat like a diary – realistic for some, verbose for others, fascinating for your reviewer. Despite their cultural and geographical differences all five papers in this book stress the similar problems that the various countries have faced. It’s quite clear that homophobia has been more easily overcome in Europe than in most other parts of the world. The editor and contributors should be congratulated on the insights they have given into the journey ‘From Decriminalization to Equality: Still a Long Way to Go’ (p.72). Your reviewer recommends the book Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Book Reviews to all who want to eradicate oppression. It should be useful to those teaching or studying courses in feminist intervention, social justice and social work, etc. Dr Stanley Richardson is a Chartered Psychologist who heads Stanley Richardson Management Consultants, Singapore. E-mail: twinland@tm.net.my

Reeling in the Years: Gay Men’s Perspectives on Age & Ageism
Tim Bergling (2004) New York: Harrington Park Press. ISBN: 1-56023-371-0 (pbk) £9.99

Reviewed by Stanley Richardson Bergling discusses the plight of older gay men, and what younger gays have to offer the community. This book is written in American journalese, about the US and this will be easy reading for some (the young?) and may annoy others (the older?). Perhaps the author should have included a glossary of terms such as ‘narc’, ‘NSYNG’, ‘J.Lo’, ‘a bit longer than buzzed’ (pp.8–9). Like the author, your reviewer admits turning 40 a few years back – the generation gap is real for both of us. And that’s what this intriguing book is about, and about gay culture in general. The data presented in the book were obtained via a web survey, postal survey and interviews. ‘I would be the last to claim that the polls are, by any definition of the word, ‘scientific’ (p.15). The author defines ‘anyone from the age of 40 and up to be older, anyone age (sic) 29 and below as younger …’ and the others ‘… somewhere in between …’ (p.15). He assumes ‘… that more gay men will gather at bars and nightclubs on any given weekend night than they will anywhere else’ (p.16) without justifying his statement. The theme of the book appears to be, ‘can you truly be friends with somebody you have the potential to have sex with? … Perhaps this book will only confirm your opinion, but, just possibly, it could change your mind’ (p.x). This paragraph of this review is deliberately disjointed and fragmented in an attempt to convey the flavour of much of Bergling’s writing The author talks about ‘… what is often called the ‘Greatest Generation’ of AmeriLesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

cans – those who weathered the Depression, then fought and won World War II …’ (p.18). He contrasts this with the mind-set of those born in the 1980s who ‘can’t fathom a time before everyone had a cell phone, computer, VCR and there was an ATM on every other street corner’ (p.16). He has produced a ‘veritable almanac of attitudes’ (as the Foreword puts it), and this is the essence of the book: ageism in the US’s gay community, and (perhaps) in other countries too. Various myths are examined and many condemned as ‘dangerous, in that they perpetuate such negative concepts as to cut off any possibility of true communi-cation’ (p.28). The author attempts to explode the myths that ‘coming out today is any less difficult today than it was in the past’ (p.31); that older men are all ‘chicken hawks’ (p.38 et seq); and ‘the idea that, whatever passes for gay culture these days, it by and large worships at the altar of youth in its hottest clubs, music …’ etc. (p.41 et seq). Most of the book contains advice to older men looking for young new partners. The advice is interspersed with political jibes mentioning, for example, a Mr G.F. Will who said that adults increasingly dress like children: ‘He’s a Republican, which is bad enough, but he’s been spotted wearing a bow tie in public …’ (p.61). The book has no index so there maybe other such irrelevant remarks. Researchers will be interested in Bergling’s final chapter. It reports the results of his survey to which about 2000 people responded. They were divided into five age groups, the youngest being 13 to 23-yearsold. The author says ‘… this is by no means a ‘scientific’ poll; I really have no idea what margin of error might be included in the mix … (but) as weeks went by, the various percentages stabilised and the result remained stable, even as more and more 297

Book Reviews people responded’ (pp.220–221). The questions in the poll covered relationships between younger and older men, and with their families; attitudes towards drugs, protection, HIV/AIDS, monogamy, looking younger, and growing old, etc. Few people would describe this book as beautifully written. Many will be annoyed by its brash style. In some ways it’s a very sad book. But for anyone with a professional interest in ageism this book is thoughtprovoking at least. Bergling’s book is worth reading by anyone interested in ageing gay men. It should be a useful reference for those engaged in counselling gay men and those studying ageism. Dr Stanley Richardson is a Chartered Psychologist who heads Stanley Richardson Management Consultants, Singapore. E-mail: twinland@tm.net.my


Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3

Books for Review
Help! I have an ever-increasing pile of books of interest to Section members which have been sent by publishers for us to review. If you are interested in reviewing books for Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review, please get in touch with Sonja (e-mail: S.J.Ellis@shu.ac.uk), who can also provide assistance to those who have never written a review before. Remember that reviewers are allowed to keep the copy of the book they review, so it can be a good way of adding to your book collection at no cost! The following texts are currently available for review:
Alizade, A.M. (2003). Masculine scenarios. London/New York: Karnac. Alizade, A.M. (2003). Studies on femininity. London/New York: Karnac. Besen, W.R. (2003). Anything but straight: unmasking the scandals and lies behind the ex-gay myth. New York: Harrington Park Press. Binnie, J. (2004). The globalisation of sexuality. London: Sage. Burleson, W.E. (2005). Bi America: Myths, truths and struggles of an invisible community. New York: Harrington Park Press. Clunis, D.M., Fredriksen-Goldsen, K.I., Freeman, P.A. & Nystrom, N. (2005). Lives of lesbian elders: Looking back, looking forward. New York: Harrington Park Press. Cohen-Kettenis, P.T. & Pfafflin, F. (2003). Transgenderism and intersexuality in childhood and adolescence. Thousand Oaks: Sage. Conner, R.P. (2004). Queering creole spiritual traditions: Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender participation in African-inspired traditions in the Americas. New York: Harrington Park Press. De Masi, F. (1999). The sadomasochistic perversion: The entity and the theories. London: Karnac. Dimen, M. (2003). Sexuality intimacy power. Hillsdale: The Analytic Press. Florsheim, P. (Ed.) (2003). Adolescent romantic relations and sexual behaviour: Theory, research and practical implications. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum. Goldstein, E.G. & Horowitz, L.C. (2003). Lesbian identity and contemporary psychotherapy: A framework for clinical practice. Hillsdale: The Analytic Press. Gottlieb, A.R. (2005). Side by side: On having a gay or lesbian sibling. New York: Harrington Park Press. Matthis, I. (2004). Dialogues on sexuality, gender and psychoanalysis. London: Karnac. Morrison, T.G. (2004). Eclectic views on gay male pornography: Pornucopia. New York: Harrington Park Press. O’Connor, N. & Ryan, J. (1993). Wild desires and mistaken identities: Lesbianism and psychoanalysis. London: Sage. Oswald, R.F. (Ed.) (2003). Lesbian rites: Symbolic acts and the power of community. New York: Harrington Park Press. Padilla, Y.C. (2004). Gay and lesbian rights organising: Community-based strategies. New York: Harrington Park Press. Peniston, W.A. (2004). Pederasts and others: Urban culture and sexual identity in 19th-century Paris. New York: Harrington Park Press. Perlman, G. & Drescher, J. (2005). A gay man’s guide to prostate cancer. New York: Harrington Park Press. Pilcher, J. & Whelehan, I. (2004). Fifty key concepts in gender studies. London: Sage. Ridinger, R.B. (Ed.) (2004). Historic speeches and rhetoric for gay and lesbian rights (1892–2000). New York: Harrington Park Press. Schacht, S.P. & Underwood, L. (Eds.) (2004). The drag queen anthology: The absolutely fabulous but flawlessly customary world of female impersonators. New York: Harrington Park Press. Sullivan, M. (2003). Sexual minorities: Discrimination, challenges and development in America. New York: Haworth Press. Sycamore, M.B. (Ed.) (2004). Dangerous families: Queer writing on surviving. New York: Harrington Park Press. Vargo, M.E. (2005). Noble lives: Biographical portraits of three remarkable gay men. New York: Harrington Park Press. Winfield, L. (2005). Straight talk about gays in the workplace: Creating an inclusive, productive environment for everyone in your organisation (3rd ed.). New York: Harrington Park Press. Yep, G.A., Lovaas, K.E. & Elia, J.P. (Eds.) (2003). Queer theory and communication: From disciplining queers to queering the discipline(s). New York: Harrington Park Press.

Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review Vol 6 No 3 © The British Psychological Society 2005 ● ISSN 1467–2472


The editor of Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review invites empirical, theoretical and review articles on any aspect of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer psychology. The editor would also like to encourage the submission of book reviews, bibliographic articles, short articles on relevant research papers for ‘Research in Brief’ (see Vol. 1, pp.21–22 for an example), conference reports, letters and notices of events and activities likely to be of interest to members of the BPS Lesbian & Gay Psychology Section.

Academic submissions
Manuscripts (maximum 8000 words including references) should be typewritten, double-spaced with 1" margins on one side of A4 paper. Each manuscript should include a word count. On a separate sheet, include the author’s name, professional address, telephone number, e-mail address and current professional activity. As academic articles are refereed, the rest of the manuscript should be free of information identifying the author(s). Empirical, theoretical and review articles should include an abstract (maximum 120 words) and up to six keywords that describe the paper (for indexing purposes). See also the review’s website at www.bps.org.uk/sub-sites$/lesgay/lg_review/lg_revew_home.cfm. Graphs, diagrams, etc., should be supplied in camera-ready form. Written permission should be obtained by the author for the reproduction of tables, diagrams, etc., from other sources. Full bibliographic references should be contained in the list of references at the end of each article. They should be listed alphabetically by author, be complete, accurate and in APA format (see www.apastyle.org). If in doubt about any formatting issue, authors should either consult the editor or should adhere to the format used in articles published in Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review. Three copies of the manuscript should be submitted by post or as a Word-ready e-mail attachment to the editor. A copy should be retained by the author.

Other submissions
Book reviews, bibliographic articles, conference reports, contributions to ‘Research in Brief’ and ‘Focus on Activism’, letters and notices about courses, conferences, research and other forthcoming events are not refereed but are evaluated by the editor. However, book reviews and all other reports should conform to the general guidelines for academic articles. Deadlines for notices of forthcoming events and letters are listed below. For publication in: Copy must be received by: March 5 November July 5 March November 5 August Authors should not use sexist, racist or heterosexist language and follow the BPS guidelines for the use of non-sexist language contained in the booklet Code of Conduct, Ethical Principles and Guidelines. Articles and general submissions should be sent to Lyndsey Moon, e-mail: ltmoon24@hotmail.com, Darren Langdridge (D.Langdridge@open.ac.uk) or Meg Barker (barkermj@lsbu.ac.uk). Book reviews submissions should be sent to Sonja Ellis (s.j.ellis@shu.ac.uk). Research in brief submissions should be sent to Darren Langdridge (d.langdridge@open.ac.uk). Focus on activism submissions should be sent to Meg Barker (barkermj@lsbu.ac.uk).

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