By the time I was out of my early twenties, I'd done some fairly hardcore BDSM. I'd been beaten, whipped, cut, bound, shocked, peed on, done most of the above naked in front of strangers, and frequently during sex. Which raises the question--where do you go from there? When you're so young, and you've already had such intense experiences, what's left
Cuddling on the couch, for one. Or having slow sleepy sex at the end of the day. Or--not to make this sound like "but then I discovered that sweet gentle love was the most daring of all!"--getting beaten some more, not necessarily in a harder or more shocking way than before.
One of the many, many unspoken assumptions out there about sex is that it's an escalating process. Think about how kids talk about it when they're starting to experiment--how far
did you go? Did you get to second base? Third? Did you go all the way
? It implies a system where oral sex is more
sex than a handjob, and should be an experience you have later.
(This ended up being rather hurtful for me when I gave a guy a handjob before ever having a real kiss, and went through quite a bit of "does that mean I'm too dirty and corrupt for anyone to kiss now?" internal strife before discovering that kissing was still available to me and quite nice.)
The assumption doesn't really go away when you grow up. It just adds on the idea that you have to stop at an appropriate point on the escalator, or you'll end up on a slippery slope. ...Which sounds like an awesome waterslide to me. But the point is supposed to be that if you go "past" penis-in-vagina intercourse by too much, you'll have gone "too far" and you might never return.
Then the inclined planes metaphor turns into a drug metaphor, and you get the idea that "overdosing" on sexuality will make you build up a tolerance, and then "normal" sex won't get you high any more. You'll have to start fucking donkeys or something just to feel anything. (I think this has some kind of folkloric connection to the frat-boy myth that vaginas are single-use and will always be the size of the largest object that ever penetrated them.) If your sex tolerance gets too high, you'll keep doing more and more depraved things, until kinky has given way to outright evil, your life falls apart completely, and you become a sex addict and maybe a sexual predator.
There's all kinds of micro-fuckups built into this macro-fuckup paradigm. Like how sex with people of the same gender, people of a different race, trans people, or people with certain disabilities gets moved to the "more depraved" side of the escalator. Or how activities people didn't consent to are counted as moving them up the escalator; or someone's position on the escalator is used as an excuse to ignore their consent. Or, of course, how all this is much
more intensely and dangerously enforced against women than men.
Or how something's position on the escalator, rather than its potential to harm, is used as a benchmark of "obscenity." Or how relationships are expected to escalate, and failure to gradually ramp up the escalator to a certain point ("spicy," which is just a couple steps above center) is taken as failure of the relationship. Or how even individual sex acts are supposed to have their own escalation, and after you've started groping you're not ever supposed to go back to just kissing.
Or how child molestation and rape are sometimes described as the end of the escalator, like they're what happens when kinkiness goes "too far." and oh my god fuck everything about tha
t. Or how PIV intercourse is positioned at the exact center, the gold standard which no man should fall short of and no woman should exceed.
Or how lost you can get saying "we shouldn't consider X dirtier than Y," when you ought to be setting the entire idea of sex-as-escalation on fire.
(So it's a baseball game, an escalator, a waterslide, a drug, gold, and it's on fire. Work with me here. Take some Claritin if you can't handle analogy.)
In the end, sex is like... it's not really like anything. Freed from analogies and paradigms and fixed linear progression, sex can get amorphous. There's no order to do things in, no right or wrong (consensual) things to do, no guarantee of how it will or won't change you, no idea how it does or doesn't correlate with romantic attachment, no guide to what will come next. It's not even entirely clear what sex is. Sex could be freakin' anything
if the people doing it want it to be.