Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Cosmocking: "S&M"!

The new Cosmo is here! Joy! I don't have time to do a full Cosmocking before work! Sorrow!

So I'll just do one article, because, well. The title is "Whips, Chains, Cages... Whoa" and it's about "S&M" in the media. They say "S&M" many times and each one is like aluminum foil in my teeth.

Quick terminology lesson: weird mean sex is generically called "BDSM." (Or more expansively "kink", or various evasions like "What it is that we do.") This consists of:
-"B/D", which is "bondage and discipline" and the part of the acronym that no one ever uses.
-"D/s", which is "dominance and submission" and refers to psychological control and power exchange. (Note goofy capitalization convention. Because a Dominant gets the Big Important Letters, and a submissive is only worthy of tiny puny letters.)
-"S/M" or just "SM", which is "sadism and masochism" (or "sadomasochism") and refers to the painful stuff. This is pretty much never, ever, ever called "S&M" or "S and M" by anyone in the community.

So saying "S&M" has roughly the same effect on dedicated perverts as saying "Captain Kirk, from The Star Wars." Bear that in mind as I finally get to the actual article.

When Rihanna appeared on the cover of one of her singles wearing barbed wire, our first thought was just, "Huh, that's racy." But combined with Shakira's recent cage dancing and Christina Augilera throwing on a sex hood and caressing a bound chick in a music video, it all points to a troubling trend.
Yes, it is troubling when people half-assedly appropriate BDSM imagery without knowing what the fuck they're actually referencing. It simultaneously creates the conceptions in the public minds that "BDSM is totally crazy and dark and underground" and "BDSM is basically just sex only sexier." And worst of all, "BDSM is a costume and a set design, but all anyone actually does is sort of stand around and wiggle."

These stars are successful enough that they can call the shots when it comes to what they wear and what themes they explore. Why, suddenly, are they embracing S&M?
Because they don't "call the shots"--no one in commercial entertainment does. They can't say "I'd like to do this one in a comfy t-shirt and gym shorts," because that's not what the Marketing Oracles are favoring this week. They have to constantly get attention to keep making money, and dressing up in My First Dominatrix Costume is one way to do that.

That they're tying themselves up makes a difference. According to psychologist James Houran, PhD, bondage circles call this topping from the bottom, which means the person who's being submissive is really in control.
Okay, that's not remotely what "topping from the bottom" means. Topping from the bottom means being bossy and fussy while nominally on the bottom, and is generally considered obnoxious behavior.

Also, I can't even express how annoyed I am that they consulted a psychologist instead of, you know, a kinky person. We can speak for ourselves, assholes; we don't need you to send in an anthropologist in a pith helmet to study our quaint ways.

When stars pose in PVC or handcuffs, they're pushing our buttons, not the other way around.
Sure, because they're not really kinky. I can't speak to PVC because I don't have much interest in that fetish, but when I wear handcuffs, I sure as hell get my buttons pushed.

And that's a good thing. If I were wearing handcuffs and didn't give a crap, well, that's kind of sad, isn't it? There's this weird media ideal that the woman with no desire of her own is the master of men, but really, having sexual power shouldn't preclude experiencing pleasure yourself.

"Men like the fantasy of a submissive woman, while women feel powerful when they're wanted," he says.
In other words, men are all tops and women don't really have sexual desires but like to be pretty. Or maybe this is just rationalizing a way to say "kids, kids, you're both the top" rather than admit that sometimes submission does actually mean, you know, submitting. Because it would be so wrong if that happened.

"People are interested in eroticizing their fears, but hurting someone or wanting to be hurt is unhealthy, so S&M remains unacceptable to most people," says Christopher Ryan, PhD.
Man, I always thought PhDs required a lot of work and research, but apparently I could get one just studying my own Saturday nights.

Anyway, the question of what "unhealthy" really means or why this might or might not be true is a big complicated one, so let's just go back to our safe place of "it's okay to wear slutty black clothes, but not if you actually enjoy it." Women should be seen and not come.

Whether you realize it or not, you may indulge in some aspects of S&M yourself.

Just like how barely there hoo-ha hair came from porn, nose piercings, cutout dresses, and zip-up strappy heels got their start in S&M.
It really is just a fucking costume, huh?

The last time I indulged in some aspects of S&M, I was wearing a cotton sundress and my partner was in a geek-logo t-shirt and cargo shorts. It's too bad I left my zip-up strappy heels at home, because otherwise the way I was slapping and biting him could have been kinky or something!

Incorporating S&M into fashion is one way for us to show you're badass without venturing too far into taboo territory.
But you're not badass! I'm badass! I have been set on fire! (Actually not particularly painful with alcohol fuel. But still. It takes nerves of steel, if nothing else.) You want to be badass, go get set on fire and then wear your goddamn strappy heels.

There's nothing wrong with not being kinky. Most people aren't. It doesn't make your sex less interesting or less intense or less anything. But don't go putting on some goofy costume and telling me you're a super kinky "S&M" badass now. That's posing, it's insulting, and it's really really dumb.


  1. "S&M" may be outsider-speak, but I don't find it unforgivably grating. It's no different from how 90% of my life is "working on the computer" to my grandmother. It's not how I would put it, but it's not worth correcting them... I'm not a very dedicated pervert though.

    But I've been on fire! Err, accidentally though... But it weren't no thang. I would have beat the fire out and gone about my business, if everyone hadn't started laughing at how nonchalantly I handled being aflame. Because I'm just that badass.

  2. The Christopher Ryan being quoted is the author of the book Sex at Dawn which looks totally awesome. So I'm imagining his quote just sounds a bit stupid in the stupid context of stupid Cosmo.

    Anyway. Yeah. Wow. Usually I just have a laugh when reading your cosmocking entries but I just got depressed during this one! From the moment I read "it all points to a troubling trend." I knew this would be a downward spiral. Curse you, Cosmo, you ruined my day off work!

  3. Um, I should clarify, I ASSUME it's the same Christopher Ryan!

  4. Two thoughts.
    First off, the article just says "Christopher Ryan, PhD" (at least what you excerpted). PhD in WHAT???? Did you know they give out PhDs on whole slews of topics (not just one slew, multiple slews!)? It's true. From Beowulf to Quarks. You know what lots of those PhDs share? Having specialized (intensely I might add, which doesn't exactly lend oneself to broad knowledge bases at the end of the experience) in things TOTALLY NOT RELATED TO SEX. I mean sure, there are the occasional sex related PhDs, but I'd say a majority are not sex related. So Cosmo, I need to ask, what EXACTLY is his PhD in (even if they mention later, it's just such a blatant appeal to authority I want to shake them)?

    My second thought is related to how not much I am not into therapists and social workers and psychiatrists etc. saying that kink is inherently bad. I had a *terrible* professor last semester (in my MSW program) who gave an example about how sometimes one just doesn't mesh well with a client and just has to help them find someone else. The example he gave was of a middle-aged male sadist/dominant (he wasn't clear) who had just been broken up with by a much younger female masochist/submissive. The salient point for him was obviously "icky icky kink!!! ewwww." He told this anecdote as a throw away thing. It was meant to be oh-so-obvious to us all that one wouldn't want to work with such a gross person. Which totally ignored the fact that some of us in the room might BE sadists or masochists. Fuck that noise.

  5. This reminds me of something Zompist wrote about appropriation in the guise of openness to non-Western cultures: "Many people seem to display their feng shui consultant or their shaman in much the spirit as they used to decorate with Japanese lacquerware or African masks." I like the look of Japanese lacquerware as much as the next person, but... *cringe*

  6. I wonder if that "S&M" cringing is a regional thing, 'cause I've been into kinky sex for nigh on 20 years, and that's generally how I refer to it.

    Of course, on the other hand, at that age, my only access to that universe was a somewhat rather less developed internet, so it's possible everyone else I was interacting with at that time (through, dear god, usenet) was also doing it wrong and it's just stuck in my head that way. But I'm pretty sure I've used that phrase even in SFO, and gotten nary a sneer of contempt for it. *shrug*


    They have to constantly get attention to keep making money, and dressing up in My First Dominatrix Costume is one way to do that.

    I'm really not looking forward to when this becomes mainstream enough for the Prostitot set to end up decked out like that. *shudder*

  7. I'm slightly wary of dropping the acronym "BDSM" into conversations with certain friends because I feel like it's an admission that I'm involved in it, or at least that I've done the necessary research, whereas ess and emm is a term that you can imagine a clueless outsider using. (When I say certain friends, I'm referring to the kind of people who might actually ask me "What's that?" if I were to use the term BDSM.) I think the usage might be a kind of shibboleth, separating practitioners (and interested third parties) from the general public.

  8. I think I just died a little inside.
    They get the terminology wrong... but for vanilla people who have no clue what they're talking about... that is understandable.

    But the absolute garbage and falsehoods they come up with trying to explain things... is just ridiculous.

    I've been in the lifestyle since high school myself. I've been a Dom and Master to quite a few girls in my time... it's the D/s that appeals to me most, but I enjoy dealing out a little pleasurable pain. And I really think that articles like the ones they wrote are giving people a downright WRONG vision of what the lifestyle is about.

    I'm generally in jeans and an "All your base are belong to us!" T-shirt when I'm giving a flogging. So I don't know where all this crap about the outfits comes in.

    And a woman shaving her privates comes from porn? Really? And here I thought it was from not wanting her partner to choking on hairs when they go down on her.

    I wonder if Cosmo would ever allow actual people from the BDSM community to set them straight on the facts?

  9. Anon 12:35 - I've been on fire accidentally as well! Er, semi-accidentally. My friends and I had a fireplace lighter that was almost out of fuel and only lit up like a tenth of the time, so we were playing Russian Roulette. I lost and set my hair on fire. I just slapped it out and didn't get hurt.

    Nio - It is the same Christopher Ryan! But unfortunately, much of "Sex at Dawn" is horseshit.

    Perlhaqr - It might be a generational thing as well; most of my kinky friends are of a "grew up with the Internet" age.

  10. IDK, I'm mostly vanilla but I think there must be more overlap than these kind of articles suggest. My experience would suggest that the people (in the age of the INTERNET, seriously) who are hand-wringing and hush-hush about kink are a much more isolated subset of the population than kinky people.

    Then again, I'm a nerd and an internet fangirl, so my perspective could be skewed...

  11. Holly, have you read "Sex at Dawn"? I checked out the link you posted but decided not to be convinced by the Atomic Nerd guy's argument after he said he hadn't read the book and didn't plan to. It seems quite unfair to quote the parts of "Sex at Dawn" where Ryan & his co-author state their thesis, decline to read the parts of the book where they present detailed evidence for their thesis, & then complain because "they don't give any evidence!" N.B. I haven't read the book either, but I'm planning to read it at some point and then form an opinion.

  12. "It really is just a fucking costume, huh?"

    To Cosmo, isn't everything just a costume?

  13. I didn't complain because they don't give any evidence, I complained because the portions of their thesis and their condensing of the evidence was at direct odds with known primatology and cultural anthropology. When an author's interview consists of a combination of wild distortion, direct bullshitting, and pop-culture mythologizing that would be trivial to debunk, I'm not going to come to the conclusion that the unsupported assertions that remain would be rigorously supported if I were only to read the book.

    He makes claims about modern hunter-gatherers and wild apes that are just flatly wrong in order to justify his thesis. You can get a more accurate education in a 101 course in any remotely modern anthropology department. If you are willing to give authors more benefit of the doubt after that, be my guest.

  14. Adam, the shaving trend was at least somewhat influenced by porn, at least in Australia. Not sure about everywhere else. Visible pubic hair was one of the boundaries between hardcore and softcore porn. Softcore magazines have lower age limits, so they can reach a wider audience. They started having their models shave more and more hair off so the pictures and poses could be racier and they could compete better with other magazines. Now that the standards have shifted and no hair is the norm in these magazines, they've had to redefine the boundary between soft and hardcore magazines. It's something about only allowing discreet genital details to be visible. I forget the exact wording. Anyway, that standard is basically being translated to "no visible labia minora." Models with labia minora that poke out have to have them photoshopped away to stay in the softcore magazines. This means people are starting to think that long labia minora are abnormal (they're not), and there's been a spike in labiaplasties in Australia.

    So, yeah, the increase in pubic shaving rates was probably, on some level, influenced by the trend in porn. Not completely disagreeing with you about improving oral influencing the shaving trend, though. I get the feeling that oral sex rates have increased in the past couple of decades, too, considering my parents' reaction when they accidentally walked in on me in high school. According to them, oral should be very rare and take place years after PIV sex because it's "a much more intimate act." Friend's parents seem to hold similar ideas so, anecdotally, oral seems more common for my generation than theirs. Blame/thank Bill Clinton, maybe?

  15. I'm not defending Cosmo in the least, but I think the issue with S&M/BDSM in mainstream media is that it represents (or is misinterpreted as) some form of non-concensual behaviour. Removing the sexual context from the visual images of a person in leather, chains, cuffs or what have you, creates a sense that they are appearing like this against their will. As a Vanilla, I myself find watching BDSM acts very disturbing. However I can understand that beneath this appearance is typically an act (as Holly so wonderfully describes) that is mutually concensual and enjoyed by all parties. Cosmo does a terrible job of separating the difference between the un-concensual appearance of BDSM, as portrayed by Rhianna for example, and the actual agreeable fetish of 'real' S&M.

    Cosmo also fails to state the obvious that it's not a problem for Rhianna to dress in whatever the fuck she wants for adults. It's a problem when twelve year old little girls are watching this and don't have the mental capacity to understand that a very different act is going on underneath the surface.

  16. I kinda like "S&M" - I tend to say it more S 'n' M. Does that make me not a proper kinky person? Am I one of the uncool kids?

    Also bloody fucking awesome post, as always. Love love love "Women should be seen and not come."

  17. Hmmm, well I'm still going to read the book and not let one blogger on the internet sway my opinion -however- there are certainly some points they made that are well worth considering and I'll keep them in mind when I read the book for some perspective. Cool!

  18. Aebhal,
    You're a a nerd and an internet fangirl AND my best friend. You are totally skewed.

  19. I think Alice makes a good point. An explanation of safewording including yellow/red would make for an enormously more informative article. From outside, it seems to me it's one of the most important keys to understanding what the BDSM community is actually about. I don't know whether there was one because I don't have the article. But I'm kind of assuming not, because it's Cosmo.

  20. Oh god. I just imagine some kid reading this in the grocery line and thinking about how sick and perverted she is. HATE HATE HATE.

  21. From this clued-in outsider's perspective, "S&M" strikes me as the sort of appropriated usage that indicates that it's going to be about "sexy sex" as represented by tight black costumes, but not actually BDSM.

    That, or it just means Sam & Max.

  22. I know your computer is borked out right now but you might want to keep an eye out for an upcoming issue. It *may* feature some work by Marty Klein and I'm curious to see if it makes it in there... One dimensional men & women

    I am almost positive that he is referring to Cosmo.

  23. The last time I indulged in some aspects of S&M, I was wearing a cotton sundress and my partner was in a geek-logo t-shirt and cargo shorts.

    I've heard a joke that hardcore BDSM fetishwear for men in this region is blue jeans, a black t-shirt, and a duster. :)

  24. i'm not kink myself, *except* very specifically fire-play.


    it does drive me nuts when people say assinine things about kinksters, or "S&M" or call it ALL "sadomasochism" and etc. because, while i myself don't qualify as hard core, i've been there, done that. worked as a Domme for years [almost exclusively setting people on fire :) and occasionally getting a *very* trusted group to set me on fire - it's *VERY* theraputic, like using a heating pad or hot tub for an hour, in the span of a few seconds!]

    but i *also* get pissed off because it's all about judging the thing you don't "know", because if *you* [generic you] don't do it, and don't know about it, it can't be good. and my favoritest thing to do to assholes who get all freaking pride-ish about being prudish is to find out what THEY do, that qualifies as "kink".

    heh. turns out my mother likes "dirty talk" and my trying-to-not-be-a-patriarichal-fundamentalist-submissive-christian friend loves toys and finds women much more attractive than men, for the specific reason that feels more powerful in bed with women - she gets off on dominating women. :D

    i'm probably an evil bitch for doing it, but for fuck's sake, it's NO ONE ELSE'S BUSINESS except those involved!

    ps: Hi, Holly - i've been gone a long time, with medical BS, that'd probly be boring. i missed you and your great blog, and i hope your laptop is working again soon! i know that pain :(

  25. "People are interested in eroticizing their fears, but hurting someone or wanting to be hurt is unhealthy, so S&M remains unacceptable to most people," says Christopher Ryan, PhD.

    I wish that mainstream people had as healthy a view of sexuality as most BDSM people. Most of the emotional damage I went through in relationships had to do with our culture's weird ideas about sexuality, and Cosmo was/is one of the worst offenders.

  26. I understand why some might not like the usage of S&M. To me, S&M is to BDSM as "soldiers" is to service members--it's not entirely correct but it's understandable.

    However, the way they try to explain anything is laughable. PLUS, and this really gets me, they act like BDSM has never infiltrated the mainstream before. Does no one else remember MADONNA?

  27. "People are interested in eroticizing their fears, but hurting someone or wanting to be hurt is unhealthy, so S&M remains unacceptable to most people," says Christopher Ryan, PhD.

    So, "Dr." Ryan, where'd you get your PhD, from sending in cereal box tops? I've never been as emotionally healthy and happy as I am in my relationship now, in which I am whipped, spanked, and otherwise caused physical pain regularly.

  28. "Women should be seen and not come."

    It made my day. Very witty.