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Thinking Kink: Some Like it Rough

[TRIGGER WARNING: Descriptions of rough/violent sex]

"Baby when it's love, if it's not rough it isn't fun" – Lady GaGa, "Poker Face"

In her essay "Brutal Affection: Playing With Rough Sex"* Felice Shays notes that "ads and movies are filled with images of rough sex," the commercial appeal being that "it is still considered deviant behavior." Indeed, the moment I start searching for pop culture examples, my brain fills with portrayals of sexual encounters which, while not always fitting exactly into a BDSM paradigm, definitely aren't nice, gentle "vanilla" sex either. For some, this growing demand for edgier sex is evidence that violence against women is increasingly eroticized. For others, it's just a sign that people are coming out of the closet and getting honest about the fact that there's a beast inside many of us that needs a little heavy handling from time to time.

Women "liking it rough" in the bedroom is a pretty standard TV-and-movie storyline—hell, it even made it into Scrubs! In one episode, JD is in bed with sometime-girlfriend Danni (Tara Reid), when she bellows at him to "GIVE IT TO ME!!". JD slaps Danni hard in the face, then promptly cowers over her in guilt, whimpering "I'm so sorry, I thought this was what you wanted." Danni's eyes light up with mischievous glee and she purrs "It was," before treating us all to the spectacle of Zach Braff having his nipples twisted until he hollers. So far, so slapstick—and at least we see both partners getting roughed up.

However, it can be harder to stomach a taste for rough sex when all the violence is going in one direction—towards the female partner. When I read Belle De Jour's Secret Diary of A  Call Girl, I expected to be disturbed by her accounts of how her clients treated her, but her "professional" liaisons were all pretty inoffensive; if you consider an entirely uncritical approach to men who buy sex inoffensive, that is. It's Belle's description of a private relationship which "was GBH with kissing" that's far more eye-popping. Belle writes, "I could not stop thinking of him hurting me, and the thought made me sick. It also turned me on."

Belle's descriptions of her partner's sexualized violence towards her does sound eerily close to narratives of domestic abuse at times: "He'd smack me one. My knickers were always sopping wet after. I couldn't explain the bruises. 'Ran into the door' I shrugged." However, as Felice Shays point out, although it may sound and present like abuse, rough sex is "not payback or punishment. Rough sex is consent and desire. Rough sex treads on taboos, giving them a wink and a finger." And in the case of Belle, who we have no reason to believe is anything but consenting and contented, the reader has to consider that however distasteful it sounds, "the eye-wetting sting of pain, the warm glow of heat there afterwards" is exactly what some people want from sex.

A quick flick through Nancy Friday's My Secret Garden implies Belle is not alone—although it's important to note that she chose to make her fantasy a reality, which is not by any means the goal of everyone who dreams of rough sex. In Friday's collection of women's fantasies (published in 1976, before Internet porn, kids!), interviewee "Rose Ann" describes the contrast between her fantasy life, where she dreams of being abused so roughly her bones break and her skin rips, and her actual sex life, where her husband is "so loving to me." Admitting that you don't want nice, gentle, doves-singing sex is a confession fraught with danger for women, lest that confession be hijacked by rape apologists who are looking for any excuse to say that women enjoy or invite real violence, or that, because we might want (staged) rough treatment in the bedroom, we obviously don't really want respect in other avenues of our lives.

It's not just heterosexual women who get it in the neck for daring to admit to liking sex in ways "that tenderness doesn't always reach." A gay man who likes it rough gets accused of having "internalized society's self-hatred of him as to offer his own body for a beating." Lesbians who don't fancy gentle, lavender-scented sex with each other have also been condemned, with anti S/M feminist Marissa Jonel stating that "There's something wrong with a woman who has an orgasm while beating or fist-fucking another woman."

For me, the only real problems with depicting rough sex in the media are: a) when it's shown as the only truly "sexy" type of sex to have, rather than merely one option of many, and b) when active, enthusiastic consent from both parties is not shown. What do you all think?

Previously: Moving Beyond Abuse with BDSM, Is BDSM Therapy "A Dangerous Method"?

*Felice Shays' essay appears in the excellent BDSM guide The Ultimate Guide To Kink, ed. Tristan Taormino

Top image from Wikimedia commons user G.dallorto

Bottom image from Wikimedia Commons user Vitaliy Ragulin

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Comments

10 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Whats the big deal? If both

Whats the big deal? If both partners like a bit of slap and tickle, i say go for it. As it pertains to the media, i can say i don't enjoy portrayals of a woman being very roughly used, or 'taken'. It implies a certain amount of arrogance to me, that she didn't know what she wanted, so i gave it to her. That makes the female character weak and just less.

I am a sex worker who began

I am a sex worker who began work in the trade when I was with THE MOST VANILLA romantic partner I've ever had. My desire to do this work was coming from a place of wanting to explore my inner sexuality, kinks and BDSM desires. Though my partner was sweet and loving to me, none of my weird, inner kinks were being fulfilled (sometimes, you just gotta have someone lick your hairy armpits, ya know?!).

Since then, I have experienced many things on the sexual spectrum, from boring vanilla cowgirl sex to ass whipping, bruises and cigarette burns. I have to say that for a person who spends her entire life living off her vag, it feels pretty good to be turned on sexually without someone touching my junk for once. I love using riding crops, whips, hands, nipple clamps, cigarettes, medical books, fish filleting knives (be very careful and communicative about this one...) or any other prop to experience not just a pain, but an intense nerve sensation in areas of my body aside from my clit. Once you get past the pain, it becomes extremely enjoyable. If done in a consensual way, this type of rough sex can really accentuate your passion and drive for your sexual partner. It also allows you to get creative -- "hey baby, instead of having sex in the bed tonight, want to go to our friend's party and you can cut my shirt off, throw me in their vegetable patch and have your way with me?"

In terms of how rough sex is portrayed in the mainstream media -- like any other type of porn -- of course it's going to be degrading. That's what mainstream porn is for the most part. We live in a misogynist, patriarchal, homophobic and transphobic society -- these things are reflected in the sex that we see in the media, whether we always recognize it or not.

I think most people tend to name these -isms when witnessing depictions of rough sex in the mainstream. However, most of these problems are present in all aspects of the porno industry (unless ofcourse you are watching queerporn.tv or some other awesome queer-posi porn).

OK in the bedroom, not OK in the media?

LOL @ vegetable patch comment! I find it very interesting that both yourself and the previous poster think there's nothing wrong with rough sex, EXCEPT the way the media portrays it. This disconnect is what I'm most interested in. Why does a sexual act go from being sexy, empowering and fun in the bedroom, to being 'degrading', 'misogynist' or 'patriarchal' as soon as it's shown on TV?
Does this imply there's something inherently misogynistic about rough sex to begin with? Or that our society is just too eager to believe that women like real violence, that most people are unable to watch rough sex and view it as consensual rather than coercive? These are the questions that I'd really like to hear people's thoughts on.

Hi, I am doing some research

Hi,

I am doing some research in to CP and BDSM with a view to producing something non-judgmental and authentic for the mainstream media. Please don't run a mile when I say that, I know that journalists are regarded with deep suspicion by people in these scenes, and rightly so. This is my position: that these natural urges continue to be portrayed as deviant or dangerous is unhelpful. That people risk losing their jobs and their friends if they are outed is unfair. That one can be prosecuted for consenting to inflict pain upon oneself in consensual CP or BDSM scenarios is ... weird ...

In general, peoples attitudes are antiquated and that is because they are ill- or misinformed and I would like to try and help change that. But I need to speak to some genuine players to help me get there. Would you talk to me, anonymously? Do you know anyone else who would? My email is [email protected]. Many thanks

Quibbling

I hate it when BDSM is presented as an either/ or situation for "lavender-scented, doves-singing" sex. If I could find a partner who could be erotically present in both, I'd feel like a very fortunate person.

Interesting point.

As I say in my post, the scramble to show 'edgy' sex means one could end up thinking there is no other type of sex to have, or that it's impossible to have both.

You might also be interested in this post - several commenters implied that reducing sexual categories to 'either/or' doesn't account for the full range of people's tastes.

http://bitchmagazine.org/post/thinking-kink-vanilla-sex-bdsm-feminist-ma...

Comfortable at home, yet uncomfortable to see portrayed.

My partner and I have a few kinks that are completely comfortable in the bedroom but nearly unbearable to see portrayed elsewhere. I've often wondered why, but have also noticed that everyone's got kinks. Maybe part of what makes it fun in the bedroom is feeling as though you've conquered some squeamish personal hangup...that we're in control of how/if this thing continues. Maybe seeing those darkened little corners of ourselves played out...wherever..feels vulnerable and out of our personal control. I may just be projecting, as my kinks go no where near the BDSM realm, however weird they may be. I can barely watch BDSM without getting angry at one party or the other. (Which, I realize is a personal judgment I keep to myself) I have a high threshold for physical pain, but the intentional infliction of pain comes off as emotional pain to me, for which my threshold is remarkably low. Just my 2 cents. Feeling chatty today.

I think you've hit on something important.

In our personal lives, we at least feel in control when we participate in taboo activities. We're the ones writing the script, setting the rules, and working out scenes that are pleasurable and fun. Once the media gets hold of those same activities, like you say, they're out of our control, and vulnerable to manipulation by retrogressive forces. If those 'darkened little corners' of myself are going to be hijacked by a media that wants to imply, for example, women actually enjoy violence, then that's not going to sit well with me.

"I can barely watch BDSM without getting angry at one party or the other." - it's very honest of you to admit this. I think if a lot of folks did come forward and say 'watching kink makes me uncomfortable', then we could have much better conversations about this - as it is, I think a lot of people disguise their discomfort by just saying 'kink is wrong/abusive', which shuts down any possibility for exploration. I also would like to add that I can participate in many things myself, but often I can't comfortably watch others participate in identical actions; at least not without feeling anxious, viz 'Is the person really enjoying that?' 'Do they really want to do this?'.

I guess it's easier to ascribe agency to ourselves because we're in our own heads and know what we like, enjoy and have asked for. Watching someone else when you only have their squeals and writhing to go on, which could be evidence of either pleasure or pain (or both), makes it much more difficult to say 'It's OK, they like this, they have asked for it'. Perhaps that's why for me, it's crucial to see clear indicators of consent and pleasure wherever BDSM is depicted - so I can be certain that the participants are feeling the good feelings I would be feeling in the same situation, not fear or distress.

I agree with you that it's

I agree with you that it's easier to ascribe agency to ourselves when we know what we have asked for as opposed to when we see something being done to someone else, and seeing clear indicators of consent in others' actions (in media and otherwise) goes a long way toward alleviating my discomfort.

That brings me to what I think is really different about BDSM-flavored media that I dislike versus what I enjoy - when the various aspects of a scene communicate a certain degree of respect for all the participants and cognizance of the messages that may be sent by what is being shown, I can appreciate the scene regardless of how the roles shake out in terms of gender, race, etc. That can be something like an explicit exchange of consent, or more subtle things, like what is emphasized visually, contextually, or otherwise. As a negative for-instance - I find most mainstream femdom just as unpleasant to watch as mainstream male-dom, if not moreso, because the way the scenes are constructed tends to scream THIS WAS CREATED FOR THE MALE GAZE. The fact that images of apparent female "power" tend to be twisted to objectify the female dominant to me underscores the overarching social inequity even more firmly than an image of a m-dom/femsub interaction (even though the latter also tends to be extremely male gaze-oriented, as well).

(Actually. Now as I'm writing this and thinking about it, that might be a simpler way to sum it up - images and scenes that clearly cater to the heterosexual male gaze above all others pretty much universally are unpleasant for me. I'm queer and certainly like looking at naked women! But I like looking at naked women who are engaged with their partners rather than the audience of the scene, and that's something I see a *huge* difference in among the creators of still art.)

I think that if we can get to the point where the het male gaze is not the overwhelmingly privileged one in nearly all mainstream media, a lot of the "grey areas" of objection (clearly consensual femsub, for instance) will bother people (or at least, people who are okay with BDSM to begin with) a lot less. From where I'm sitting, the existence of such imagery isn't the problem - the problem is that when it's the only flavor that's readily available, it sets a pretty rigid expected script for real-life interaction.

Thanks for sharing your views!

Some very interesting stuff here. I think you might enjoy some of my other posts, if you haven't come across them already -

http://bitchmagazine.org/post/thinking-kink-lesbian-bdsm-male-gaze-femin...

http://bitchmagazine.org/post/thinking-kink-female-dominant-pop-culture-...

Happy reading! x