“The Yellow Wallpaper” was “not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy.” -Charlotte Perkins Gilman
It turns out I was reading feminist literature much earlier than I thought. Lemme ‘splain. My mom was a huge believer in reading (thanks, Mom!), so she kept my room well-stocked with books. I had a huge set of bookshelves that took up nearly an entire wall, crammed full of various tomes. Sometimes, you’d find a fat green volume with 1000 Page Book of Stories stamped on the cover. I say sometimes, because I read that thing until it was brutally battle scarred. I forgot it ever had a dust cover. It was one of my favorite books for probably the better part of a decade.
And right now, I can only remember one story in it.
I mean, I’d probably recognize the others, if I saw their titles. I read them dozens of times. I probably have appreciable parts of them memorized, just waiting for a hint to unlock. But this one never needs a hint. I never forget this story was in it, never forget its details or atmosphere.
Unzip your mind. Sit back, relax with your drink of choice, and read the following with a healthy spirit of inquiry. Many of you won’t even need to do that much – you’re kinky yourownselves, and you’re ready to go dive into the book without advance preparation. Some of you aren’t kinky at all, or haven’t ever discovered more than a mild, currently socially-acceptable kink within yourself (fuzzy handcuffs, eh? Nice!). Some of you have been conditioned to believe kink is sick and horrible and never ever good.
As with many things, you’ve been lied to. And Greta will attempt to explain why this thing you think is no fun at all is actually very fun and healthy and mucho bueno for many folks. Ready? Then go:
Why Is Kink Fun?
Guest post by Greta Christina
Why is kink fun?
Why is it that some people — in very specialized, negotiated, enthusiastically consensual circumstances — find it not just acceptable, but actively and deeply pleasurable, to be controlled, dominated, physically hurt, used, objectified, shamed, humiliated, and/or have their freedom curtailed?
Quick bit of background. I’ve recently published a collection of erotic fiction — mostly kinky — titled “Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.” (Currently available as an ebook on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords — audiobook and paperback are coming soon.) The book has gotten an excellent reception so far, with lots of lovely gushing reviews. But it’s also been received with some bafflement, and in some cases even hostility, from a few readers and people who’ve seen excerpts or read what I’ve written about it… and who don’t understand how it can be healthy to get sexual pleasure from experiences that are so obviously unhealthy and negative and bad. Example: I got this message on Facebook recently, which I’m printing with the senders permission (anonymously at their request):
I am right in the middle of your book “Bending”. As someone who has a very “vanilla” sex drive with no kinks (literally, none.. I’m as bland as they come) I don’t quite see the appeal to feeling shame that comes with BDSM-style punishment and discipline. As someone who’s been shamed in real life by religion in years past, and by friends and family who don’t understand my hobbies and quirks, I find it hard to empathize with how shame can be a turn-on for some people.
I ask this in the most non-judgmental way possible… but, what is the appeal? I’m a little hung up on your book because I don’t understand how humiliation can be erotic. I think the book is very well written but I’m just having a hard time reading through it because there is a stark disconnect between my sexuality and the sexuality of the characters portrayed in your short stories.
Thank you very much for your time. I love the work that you do and look forward to possibly hearing back from you.
I’ve been doing kinky sex for so long, I sometimes forget how incomprehensible it sometimes seems to people who aren’t into it. But I do recognize why this might be hard to understand. In some ways, consensually sadomasochistic sex can almost be defined as sex that eroticizes, and makes pleasurable, experiences that would normally be actively unpleasant, and in some cases even horrific.
What about that feels good?
There’s a limit to how well I’m going to be able to get this across. Sex is such a personal, subjective experience. Explaining why you like any kind of sex that someone else doesn’t — kinky or otherwise — is tricky at best. Try explaining why you like sex with someone of the opposite sex — or the same sex — to someone who really, really doesn’t. It’s like trying to explain what it is that tastes good about broccoli, to someone who totally loathes it. But I’m going to take a stab.
Caveat #1: I’m just talking about myself here. I know that my experiences are shared by many, but I don’t presume to speak for all kinky people. Caveat #2: This is a complicated issue — what’s the phrase the social scientists use? Multi-factorial? — and anything I say to explain this is going to oversimplify pretty much by definition. All that being said, I’m going to take a stab.
For me, much of what it comes down to is intimacy.
The thing about pain is that it gets through. I can be a very well-defended, self-contained person: I don’t let myself get close to people very easily, and it’s hard to just let those walls down and let someone else in. But pain gets through. It’s impossible to ignore. The very intensity of it — the fact that my body is processing the sensation, on some level, as unpleasant — grabs my attention, wakes me the fuck up. If someone is hitting me, I can’t tune out the fact that they’re touching me.
And it isn’t just pain I’m talking about here. In my experience, most forms of sadomasochistic sex have to do with breaking down barriers. Shame and humiliation break down the barriers of dignity and composure. Bondage and domination break down the barriers of self-containment and self-possession. There is an intense intimacy in putting yourself in someone else’s hands, handing over the reins, letting them control what you’re going to be feeling for a while. And again, the very intensity of the experience, the fact that some small part of my brain is screaming, “This is not okay! Get away from this now!”, can — again, in the right circumstances and with the right person — be an intensifier, a magnifier of experience. Including the experience of intimacy, of connection, of being touched by another person.
There’s a lot more going on here, of course. I’ve found that I tend to fantasize about what I don’t have — and when my life is micro-scheduled and overloaded with responsibility, as it so often is, it can feel like a huge burden being lifted to just let go and let someone else be the decider for a couple/ few hours. (You know the cliché of the high-powered business executive seeking out a dominatrix, to relieve him of responsibility for a short while? It’s a cliché for a reason.)
Also, I should point out that kinky people aren’t the only ones who think power is sexy. Humans are hierarchical apes. Get three of us in a room together, and we’ll create a dominance structure. It’s not hugely surprising that many of us would eroticize power. And it’s not hugely surprising that some of us would eroticize power in an overt, explicit way: not simply by being attracted to politicians or moguls, but by being aroused by a person standing over us with a whip.
Then there’s endorphins: the brain’s natural opiates, which kick in as a response to pain, and which under the right circumstances can get us high. And which sexual masochists will tell you about in loving detail, and at great length. If you understand why many athletes experience pain — and pushing through pain to get to the endorphin high — as a pleasurable experience… then you can understand at least part of why sexual masochists experience pain as a pleasurable experience.
And for me at least, there’s a certain hard-wired quality to these experiences that’s fundamentally inexplicable. I have been aware of being kinky for as long as I’ve been aware of being sexual. And I don’t mean since I was eighteen, or since I was thirteen. I mean since I was eight. I have been aware of being kinky for about as long as I’ve been aware of being queer. That isn’t true for every kinky person — but it’s true for a lot of us. I don’t entirely understand this stuff myself: yes, I have intimacy issues, but I think pretty much everyone has intimacy issues, and most people don’t handle those issues by intentionally eroticizing getting beaten and pushed around. Most people probably couldn’t eroticize pain and submission and humiliation, even if they wanted to. (There are people who come to kink later in life, and who nurture a kinky sexuality intentionally — in response to a partner who enjoys it, for instance — but in my experience, most of them had at least a seed of kink to start with.) The way my body processes pain, the way my mind processes power… I can’t entirely explain it, any more than I can explain why I like girls. The clit has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing.
But what it mostly comes down to, for me, is intimacy. Kink gets through. It breaks down my walls. I have formidable walls at times… and the intensity of kink sets dynamite underneath them.
I’ve so far been writing about this from the bottom’s perspective: explaining why it feels good to receive pain, to be humiliated, to be controlled. But I’m a switch, and I can tell you that it feels good on the other side as well… and for much the same reasons. Just as it feels good to both penetrate sexually and be penetrated, it feels good to be on both sides of the connection of sadomasochism. It feels good to break down walls, just as it does to have your walls broken. It feels good to touch, with the intensity of pain or power, just as it does to be touched.
If this still doesn’t make sense: There’s an analogy that some of my readers have made in some other conversations about this. Kink is like a rollercoaster, or a horror movie. It can be fun and exciting to subject yourself to otherwise unpleasant emotions — like fear — in a safe, controlled setting. There is a thrill to fear, a rush… and when you can experience that rush with people you trust, in a place where you know you’re safe, it can filter out the unpleasantness, and leave only the thrill.
Ultimately, it may not be possible to really convey what this experience is like. I will probably never understand on a visceral level what it feels like to enjoy broccoli, or what it is that people find pleasurable about that experience. And someone with no interest whatsoever in kink may never understand on a visceral level what it feels like to enjoy getting beaten or shamed or controlled.
And it may not matter that much. As long as you have an intellectual understanding of this stuff; as long as you have an understanding of the basic fact that people do like different sexual things from you, and that this doesn’t make them sick or bad; as long as you understand that there is literally no medical evidence suggesting that kinky people are sick or bad, and in fact plenty of evidence pointing to the conclusion that we’re every bit as healthy and good as everyone else; as long as you understand that no matter what your sexuality is, there is someone in the world who finds it incomprehensible and weird — and as long as you can use that understanding to accept kinky people and treat us with decency — I don’t know that it matters that much whether you can deeply, viscerally grasp what it is about this experience that people get off on.
But getting a glimmer of the visceral experience can help with the intellectual understanding. It may even help people who do have kinky feelings, and who have been shamed into thinking that they’re sick or dangerous or wrong, come to an acceptance of them, and feel more comfortable exploring them.
And anyway, it’s just fun to think about.
“Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More” is currently available as an ebook on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords. Audiobook and paperback are coming soon!
I’m rather a bit in love with a dead woman. I met her in a moment of desperation, when I was running low on Dame Agatha Christie and had finished all of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stuff, and still had a yearning for turn-of-the-last-century detective literature. There she was, one of the helpful recommendations on my Kindle Fire: Mary Roberts Rinehart, mystery writer.
And I was like, meh. She was an American author. I wanted British. But I looked her up, and there were these little hints of someone I should get to know – American Agatha Christie, inspired the whole “the butler did it” meme. Also, Batman.
Well, a Batman fan such as myself can’t resist that siren song. I downloaded The Circular Staircase and got to reading. I didn’t know I was embarking on a journey that would lead from a murder scene in the billiard room of the moneyed leisure class to the crest of the Cascades, or that I would find myself enthralled not just by her writing, but her life.
I’ve got nothing, really. I was supposed to be watching a movie with a friend who’s in from out of town, but his family kidnapped him. I’ve spent the time finishing The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rhinehart, who has somewhat restored my faith in mystery novels written by late 19th – early 20th century women. I still prefer British authors, but how can I fail to love the woman who inspired Batman?
As a fake excuse for why I haven’t yet written about Darwin and geology, I present photographic evidence that my help was hindering:
You see that nice, fresh, shiny white notebook she’s lying on? I’d put that down not two seconds before, preparatory to picking up the Kindle and furiously taking notes. I know you can take notes on the Kindle, but it’s slow. Not quite as slow, though, as trying to take notes upon a notebook the cat has claimed.
I truly did mean to get a wonderful post up on Darwin and his geological researches. Had a goodly amount of research done and everything. Then I made a serious mistake – I started Wilkie Collins’ TheMoonstone as a bit of light reading over lunch on Saturday.
I’ve meant to read it for a long time, ever since I saw it mentioned by John Douglas in Mindhunter. It’s one of the first – arguably the first – English-language detective novel. Its Sergent Cuff, brilliant member of the Detective Police, is based on Inspector Jonathan Whicher, a Scotland Yard detective whose obsession over a nightgown seems to have made something in Wilkie’s imagination go ping.
I figured it would be worth reading for strictly historical interest. If I’d known I’d become as obsessed by the story as Wilkie was over nightgowns, I’d have waited until after Darwin Day.
It’s a sign of genius when, although the narrators either annoy or infuriate you, you still can’t stop reading. Between the Robinson Crusoe addict who couldn’t stay on topic and the religious fanatic who made me wish fervently for a handy murderer, there should have been plenty of reason to put the book down and do up Darwin. This was, alas, impossible. I wanted to strangle certain characters too much, for one, and got too involved with the puzzle, for another. Then came folks I genuinely liked, some I even came to love. And, every time it seemed Wilkie was gonna weasel and do something weak, lame or both, he’d do something brilliant instead. The constant threat of the paranormal, amnesia and sleepwalking hang over your head. But he’s not a crude writer. He doesn’t choose the easy way out. He’s clever. I like that in a writer, especially a Victorian-era one.
In the end, I finished satisfied, if a bit stunned by the lack of bodies – I’ve read so much Agatha Christie that I automatically assume that the morgue should be filled to bursting by the end of the book, and winced every time someone delayed in telling somebody something, sure this meant their imminent demise. Wilkie however, manages a ripping good tale with few fatalities. It’s a refreshing change.
Anyway. I swear to you, I’ll have ye olde belated Darwin Day post up soonish. In the meantime, if you’re desperate for something to read, go hunt up a copy of The Moonstone. It’s free at the Kindle store, or available through Project Gutenberg. There’s even some geology in it – very nice use of some suspect sand on the Yorkshire coast. Not to mention an enormous chunk of carbon at the heart of everything. It’s amazing the shenanigans people get up to when enormous chunks of crystalized carbon are involved. Atheists in the audience will appreciate the treatment of the above-mentioned religious fanatic and other sundry fanatics. Writers will thrill to the fancy literary footwork in which, even in the first person, the author manages to get across things about the narrator that the narrator doesn’t realize about him-or-herself, allowing the audience to snigger behind their hands without feeling ill-used. And fans of Robinson Crusoe will find their adoration shared by a venerable old gentleman who swears that book holds all the answers one could ever need in life.
I’m not willing to go quite that far with The Moonstone. But I will avow it’s a book that any person interested in detective fiction or the art of writing should certainly read at least once. Even if it does mean that some prior obligations must be punked off due to the unfortunate fact that the bloody thing’s impossible to put down once fairly underway.
Literati observing me as a youngster might have despaired. I had no real interest in musty old tomes. For a long time, my tastes ran to mysteries and Westerns. Then I became addicted to fantasy and science fiction. I still adore all that stuff, and I believe some of the best fiction ever written is genre. Michael Hann and his ilk would faint at the idea. These, mind you, are the very same people who wouldn’t be ashamed to see clutching Homer in public – a patina of age, apparently, puts a suitable shine on monsters, demigods and other tropes of fantasy.
The poor buggers will need a fainting couch when I tell them it’s a Western writer who helped get me hooked on ancient literature. But it’s true. Louis L’Amour wrote The Walking Drum, which brought some very old texts to vivid life. I’ve sung that book’s praises more than once, and I’ll sing them again: it was one of the best books I’ve ever read.
While the Michael Hanns of the world clutch their Trollope and Proust, I’ll turn to my fantasists, thanks ever so much. Guy Gavriel Kay. Susanna Clarke. That’s all I’m saying. Oh, and these folks, too, among about a billion others. I’ll put the best SF authors in a ring with your literary greats any day, and I know who I’m putting my cold hard cash on.
So yes, I loves me my modern SF, and quite a lot of genre (excepting most romance, although there was that one book by Catherine Coulter that I picked up and read because the blurb contained this aside: “What is a marten, you ask? A marten is a sable; a sable is a weasel. What is a weasel, you ask. See marten.” And I figured anything that snarky couldn’t be half bad, and it actually wasn’t). But there are times when I love to immerse myself in ancient literature.
Update: Bonus fun! “Womanspace” author Ed Rybicki has appeared in the comments, trying to sockpuppet himself some support under the handle “Disappointed.” Be sure to take this opportunity to speak your mind directly to the responsible party. Enjoy, everyone!
You may wonder what I’m doing here with a can of kerosene in one hand and a match in the other. Why, I’m about to burn a bridge.
Writers are typically advised against doing so, as the person you’re pissed at today may have been the person who’d publish you tomorrow. And yes, it would have been nice to be published alongside our own Stephanie Zvan someday, as I’d figured any publication wise enough to choose one of her stories might prove an attractive market for my own fiction, should I be fortunate enough to make the cut. However, there’s the matter of the other company I’d be keeping. I refer, of course, to the wretchedly sexist story “Womanspace” that appeared in your formerly-august pages in September. No, I won’t link to it. Interested readers will have no trouble finding it, by way of Dr. Anne Jefferson’s masterful takedown of it.
I gave the story a glance. It’s one of those stories in which a writer masturbates to the tune of exhausted stereotypes, and believes the resulting mass is original simply because it emerged from them, and they haven’t got out much. It contains the kind of overdone sexist humor that tickles the underdeveloped funnybones of men who are too inept to figure out teh wimminz. I understand the author’s wife giggled. I’m certain she did. If she hadn’t learned to laugh at her husband by now, she’d be a divorcee. A laughing spouse, however, is no guarantee of quality, a fact which writers who attempt to publish in professional fiction magazines soon learn to their sorrow.
Neil Gaiman’s trying to own Halloween. I intend to help him. This is a tradition I’d very much like to see become as much a part of Halloween as the costumes and candy and strangely-carved pumpkins. The premise is simplicity itself:
That’s it: just give someone a scary book. Last year, I gave my intrepid companion the book Why Buildings Fall Down. Buildings falling down are fairly scary, and it’s a book appropriate to his interests. See how that works?
You can give a book to kids, adults, undecideds… anyone you like.
And, if you’re in the Seattle area, you could give them their scary book whilst taking them to Frankenstein, which would be double the awesome.
Whatever you do, just have fun. Halloween’s all about the fun. And the scary stories we tell each other with the lights off and possibly some peeled grapes at hand for props.
We’re going to follow up here today with a fantastic post that inspired me to post that one. It’s called In Defense of Geekery: Why Society Needs SF/F. It’s written by Becky Chambers. I want to buy her a drink. I want to buy her several. Because she managed to say what I needed to say in far fewer words:
I don’t know who she is, only what she has done. And what she has done is this: become a banned book library. When her school decided upon a list of things the kids absolutely must not read, due to parental outrage and a belief kids can be kept from great literature and harsh truths, she tested their limits by bringing in a copy of The Catcher in the Rye. When it caught the eye of a fellow student, she lent it out. And then things snowballed, and she now runs a clandestine locker-library full of banned books, which kids who had no interest in good books until they were forbidden to read them are now thoroughly enjoying.
Firstly, we have a young woman who’s passionate about books. I already love her.
Secondly, we have a young woman who’s not prepared to be told what she can and cannot read. Love kicks up a notch.
Thirdly, we have a young woman who’s getting other young men and women reading intensely. Love shoots through the roof and becomes adoration.
I have news for parents and school authorities who believe they can shelter children from things they think are too awful for young minds: you’ll fail. You have failed. You’ve always failed. Unless this was a very clever reverse-psychology ploy to get kids interested in books, in which case you’ve succeeded brilliantly. Bravo. A cunning plan – quite evocative of the way the potato was introduced to Greece.
Too bad I doubt the administration was that smart.
We jaded adults may believe kids these days are incapable of deep thought and literacy and scholarship, and we are so very, very wrong if we believe that. Look at this student. Look at what she and her fellow students are doing. Look at how much books matter to them. Enough to take not-inconsequential risks for. And they are smart enough and confident enough to decide what they can and cannot read, all for themselves, to hell with the naysayers.
I love this to pieces. It tells me that, despite rumors to the contrary, we’re not raising a nation of apathetic know-nothings, although we’ve been trying very hard to do so. No, we’ve got a crop of brilliant, bold, and brave kids coming up, and the world will be better for them.
I just hope that once my books get published, they’re summarily banned. I’d like to have this kind of readership. I want kids like this at my signings. Unleashing that wise, unruly literary mob upon the unsuspecting citizens of this increasingly stifled country would make me twelve kinds of happy, and prouder than I’ll ever have words to express.