Oct 302012

This week I received an excellent question from a university student that I would like to answer on the blog.  All of their identifying information has been removed/changed, which means that some of the wording in their question has also been removed/changed.  If you have any further resources or information about this question, I encourage you to share it in the comments section.

“…My interests are in the field of sexuality and I would like to discuss BDSM in relation to intimate partner violence from the perspective that BDSM is NOT the same thing as abuse. I am just curious if you have noticed in any of your research that women who have been sexually victimized are drawn to BDSM or may use it as an agency to help ‘deal’ with their sexual history – or if you think there is a relationship there at all.”

Thank you for your excellent and extremely important question.  I’m glad you’ve asked it, and I’m grateful that you’ve given me the opportunity to answer it.  This is a very common question to which folks often bring strong opinions, many of which may be based in fear and misunderstanding around both the topics of (1) violence and (2) BDSM.

It’s important to ask an expert’s background when it comes to loaded topics like these, so you can judge for yourself how to receive their answer.  If you’re not interested in this info then skip on down to the next paragraph, please.  In a very tiny nutshell: I have studied both of these areas for years and have publications and presentations in both (I can provide a CV to anyone who is sincerely interested).  In fact, this upcoming February I will be presenting at the Family Therapy World Congress about the topic of kinky and open relationships to an audience of mental health professionals.  My Ph.D. is in Family Development with a doctoral certificate in Family Therapy (and another in Qualitative Research).  On top of that, I have worked with (as clients, as well as alongside of), researched with, and socialized with a large number of intimate partner violence and sexual violence survivors as well as a large number of kinky folks, many of which enjoy BDSM.  I’ve been spending time with both types of folks (and folks who identify as both), professionally and socially, since at least the mid/late 1990s.  So… that’s a quick summary of my background in these areas for you to make of as you like.

Now let’s dive in by sharing some definitions and facts that address your question:

Sexual violence includes more acts than sexual assault and battering; it’s not actually about hitting at all: I define “violence” using Maturana’s concept of acts of imposing one person’s will over another’s.  (See the footnotes of this paper http://www.familytherapy.org/documents/LoveDares.PDF for citation of this concept back to Maturana)  This is a very broad definition and does not require physical force to commit violence, though it can certainly be included.  Using this definition, all kinds of violence, including sexual violence, are extremely common.  Sexual violence is based around at least one person deciding to inflict their will on another who does not want it, using means that have sexual connotations.  This can include hitting and other physical acts, but it can also include things like verbal violence, financial violence, social violence, political violence, and more.  That’s because it’s not about a single act that equals violence, it’s about one person (or more) inflicting themselves on  another sexually in any of the many, many ways that can happen.

Sexual violence against women is extremely common at every age and in every culture on which I’ve seen reliable data:  While it may be more common in some cultures, or if certain other risk factors (usually related to the perpetrator/s) are present, it is not an exaggeration to say that it happens to the majority of women at least once during the lifespan.  By some definitions and research, it can truthfully be said that sexual violence happens to all or nearly all women and can be expected to happen repeatedly.  You have asked specifically about women in this question, but I will add that it is also common against men and gender-queer people, although we have even worse data about exact numbers for them than we do for women.  Most of our big studies have major limitations, and focus only on one aspect of sexual violence: sexual battering.  Even this is very common (cited US data).  Sexual violence is so common that some feminist academics and writers refer to it bitingly as a terrible rite of passage for women in Western cultures (also in other cultures, but that is beyond my area of expertise so I’ll leave that to others who can better address it).   This means that every community and every population is full of sexual violence survivors, sad to say.  In other words, the fact that a community has a lot of sexual violence survivors could mean more about our world than about that specific group of people.

BDSM (kinky erotic acts that may include bondage, taking/giving directives, and negotiated activities involving pain) is not the same thing as violence, in that all participants actively seek and desire to be involved in the scenario and/or relationship/s.  BDSM can look very scary from the outside, and unrealistic media images of BDSM have helped to encourage a mistaken idea of what it BDSM can look like.  A healthy, caring BDSM relationship, scenario, or hook-up is composed of things like open communication, mutual desire to have fun/sexy feelings about the activities/relationship, mutual happiness and excitement, and certainly mutual respect for each other’s well-being and satisfaction.  Sometimes the people involved in BDSM will act out scenarios in which they pretend to have no respect for each other, but that scenario is still based on careful communication between people who both/all really want to be there doing exactly that stuff in that moment with each other.  In the case of sexual violence, at least one person does not want to be there doing that right then with the other person/people involved, or they feel they have no free choice about it, or they feel that not being there could result in something even worse.  There is a big difference there!

– For folks who have never been in or witnessed this kind of healthy BDSM interaction, it can be hard to imagine such a thing based on the wild/violent assumptions and stereotypes of BDSM that are out there.  Nonfiction books by beloved BDSM experts and community members, like Playing Well With Others, can help you to learn more about healthy, happy BDSM. So can the trio of excellent sites by Kali: PassionateU, KinkAcademy, and 50 Shades of Romance. Educating yourself like this will help clear up confusion and inaccurate stereotypes.  In case you aren’t ready to read a whole book yet, here is quick example of a common act of communication found in BDSM interactions/relationships: negotiation.  I wish it were more common in non-BDSM sexy times, too!  It’s a special conversation in which all parties explore, ask, and share what they want to happen and then work together to see if they all want to have sexy times together and (if so) how to proceed.  When I teach some of my workshops (like “Sexy Spanking for Foreplay”) I offer this list of questions to use when negotiating a scene.  (A “scene” is a kinky interaction, by the way.)

  • Are you feeling toppish or bottomish for this scene?
    • What does a toppish/bottomish person do/act like/feel/say?
  • What would make this scene hot for you?
  • What could happen before and after the scene to make this hot for you?
  • What needs to be avoided – anything, any words, and any places at all?
    • Where can I touch you on your body?  Where should I not touch you, or only touch you in certain ways?
    • Show me all of the fussy parts of your body, emotionally and physically.  Introduce me and tell me what they need.
    • How will I know if we’re wandering into troubling places, emotionally or physically?  How will I tell you if I feel that happening?
  • How can I best take care of you afterward?  How can you best take care of yourself?  How can you best take care of me?  How can I best take care of myself?
  • In what ways is it ok to talk/share/post about this scene later?

I learned about questions like these from people like Midori, Lee Harrington, Molina, Princess Kali, and Tristan Taormino, all of which are fantastic BDSM and sex-positive resources.  You will notice that some of my questions sound similar to those recommended by these great folks – that’s because I learned from them!

-It may be hard to imagine healthy BDSM if you do not find any of the interactions of activities associated with BDSM to be desirable.  That’s ok!  I don’t understand why some people love to eat pickles, and the idea of eating them is quite distressing to me.  Sometimes when I see someone really get into eating pickles it makes me feel a bit sick and I can’t stand to watch or listen because it grosses me out.  Especially spicy pickles!  At the same time, I respect that some folks honestly do enjoy pickle-eating, they have pickles they like and don’t like, and they have times when they want pickles and times when they don’t.  Even spicy pickles.  BDSM is the same – you don’t have to understand it or want it to stand by the rights of others to enjoy it in ways that are healthy and happy for them, even if it would not be good for you.  Although I do not like pickles at all, I am happy that pickle-eating makes some of my friends (and even my mom!) happy.  If someone tried to ban pickles, I would help defend others’ right to eat the pickles they want when they want to eat them, because I recognize that their love of pickles can readily co-exist with my dislike of pickles.

-Violence can happen in all types of relationships and interactions, including both BDSM and non-BDSM relationships.  That does not make either type innately violent.  It just means that violence can happen in any unhealthy relationship or interaction.  I have written about violence in the BDSM community and how that community might consider stepping up to better address it, and I have also written about intimate forms of violence in the general public (one example of my research).  We must all work together in all of our main communities and sub-communities to nurture relationships and interactions based on respect, trust, and care instead of unconsensual, unnegotiated aggressions of power and control.

– Sexuality, in its many forms, can be a wonderfully healing thing for many people.  For some people, a soft kiss from a caring other provides relaxation and there is nothing wrong with that.  For some people, a nice round of masturbation helps to ease stress and feel good about one’s body and there is nothing wrong with that.  For some people, hot sex (whatever is hot to them) provides relief from chronic pain and/or a sense of bonding with their partner/s, and there is nothing wrong with that.  Heck, for some people, soft and sensual sex with special loved ones helps them heal from trauma and there is surely nothing wrong with that.  And for some folks, certain kink acts done in certain ways (all variables depend on the folks involved, same as any other example here, of course) can also provide opportunities for healing and processing of trauma.  There is also nothing wrong with that.  Thankfully we live in a world full of diverse people with diverse tastes, and all of us are always changing so long as we are open to the idea (and sometimes if we aren’t).  It would be very boring if this were not the case.

Putting all of these points together yields my answer to your question:

Folks who have survived sexual violence are one distinct group.  Folks who enjoy  some form of BDSM are a different distinct group.  Being in one does not cause being in the other.  However, folks can also be a member of both groups.  It is possible that someone may be drawn to BDSM because they feel in their gut that it might help them process or heal from a past trauma, and that’s ok.  It doesn’t mean the trauma made them like BDSM, it means they are proactively seeking creative and potentially enjoyable ways of healing and growing and they have identified BDSM as something that may work for them.  If a BDSM interaction or relationship goes wrong and becomes abusive, it’s not because it was BDSM.  It’s because it was abusive.  The same rule goes for any type of relationship.

Thanks for your great question.  I hope that my answer helps you have great conversations and exploration around this topic!  If you feel like it, I’d love to hear your thoughts, and I also welcome thoughts from anyone else reading this post.

Dr. Ruthie

Feb 092011

We’ve all heard the experts tell us that sexy lingerie is the key to confidence, no matter what you have on over it.  But what if you could send a naughty little signal to those in the know and wear your kickass accessories on the outside?  The Lash Belt offers you the opportunity to wear a light, snappy fantasy accessory as an eye-catching decorative belt.  While it’s not for heavy use, it’s sure to get your point across.

  • Toy: Lash Belt (sent by Babeland.com for review)
  • Type: Fashion accessory and light BDSM whip
  • Manufacturer: Incoqnito
  • Material: Sterling silver-plated metal, leather
  • Price: $89
  • SMT rating: N/A

The Incoqnito Lash Belt lets you wear a sexy accessory with a kinky twist

The final Incoqnito item for tonight is the Lash Belt, a leather belt with metal handles that also functions as a light whip for BDSM fantasy play.  More than anything else, this toy requires the reminder that Incoqnito does not make heavy-duty BDSM toys, but rather fashion accessories with a kinky bent.  If you are looking for a functional whip for BDSM-play, you will want to look elsewhere.
The Lash Belt is a cute, eye-catching accessory when worn as a belt.  It can be adjusted to a large variety of body sizes (you’ll need to unclip the handles to adjust it: watch the video to see how).  The metal handle is pretty, and is held together by magnets so it can be easily split to take the belt off and adjust.  Using the Lash Belt as an accessory would make it easy to go from sexy cop to bad cop in a matter of seconds in a good fantasy scene!
Unfortunately, while the Lash Belt is a pretty, naughty fashion statement, its usefulness largely ends there.  The leather is a cheap, painted quality that shows wear when the belt size is adjusted with the little metal clip.  This metal clip, by the way, must be moved to the base in order to be able to use the Lash Belt at all safely as a fantasy whip.  Personally, I also sometimes had some trouble getting the magnets to line up correctly when putting the handle back together.
If you’re looking for a fun accessory to wear out that might communicate a bit about your naughty side, then the Lash Belt will work just as you desire.  It’s cute and noticeable when worn as a belt and when turned to its whip form definitely communicates a certain carnality.  But as an actual BDSM toy, the Lash Belt is somewhat flimsy, easy to wield unsafely if you forget to move the clip, and isn’t as easy to use as one could wish.  If you’re looking for a BDSM toy, you’re advised to keep searching.
Feb 092011

I’m probably dating myself in one direction or another, but as a young adult, I was a big fan of some of Nine Inch Nails’s videos.  Say what you will about that, but it’s as good a segue as any to introducing this fun, creepy-yet-sexy little skin stimulation toy.  It’s a nice combination of classy, yet suitable for your fantasies about torturing Mr. Bond, Trent Reznor, or whoever works for you.

  • Toy: Razor (sent by Babeland.com for review)
  • Type: Portable claw & pinwheel
  • Manufacturer: Incoqnito
  • Material: Gold or sterling silver-plated metal
  • Price: $89-99
  • SMT rating: N/A

The Razor is an intimidating but sexy toy from Incoqnito

After kink-ing up the necktie, Incoqnito decided to also give us a sexy, naughty twist on the Swiss Army knife.  The Razor is a classy-looking metal sheath that comes in a reusable fabric bag.  But when you unfold the sections of the Razor, you’ll see it’s no Boy Scout toy, but rather a couple of sexy sensation toys!
The Razor has two “arms,” both of which are metal: a sharp claw, and a small spiky pinwheel.  Both of them are attention-grabbing without being too nasty in terms of how harsh they are on the skin (though, of course, you should always be mindful of how much pressure you put behind them).  It has a lovely metal design (in either silver or gold plating) and is easy to use.  It’s nice to have the portability of these toys, since all folded up they won’t accidentally poke you in your pocket or bag.  The Razor looks very intimidating, in a delicious way, but isn’t too mean in the touch, making it just perfect for some kinky fantasy play that doesn’t get too heavy.
As with all Incoqnito toys, the manufacturer wanted me to remind you that the Razor is a fashion accessory with a kinky twist, and isn’t meant for heavy BDSM play.  Be mindful of this when using it, and look elsewhere if you’re looking for something for a big, hardcore kink scene.  But as a fantasy tool and light sensation toy, the Razor is a classy-looking, fun, and easy-to-carry toy!
Feb 092011

Subtly kinky toys and accessories can lead to some very hot flirting and fantasy play.  Incoqnito is looking to help you launch into some sexy roleplay with their new line of kinky goodies that could pass for vanilla items.  They recently send me the Necktie, which will be a good choice for certain kinksters with a fetish for business suit attire.  Read on and watch the video to see if this product is a good fit for you.

  • Toy: Necktie (sent by Babeland.com for review)
  • Type: Adjustable fashion necktie/light bondage leash
  • Manufacturer: Incoqnito
  • Material: Polyester and rayon, sterling silver or gold metal portion
  • Price: $54-59
  • SMT rating: N/A

The Incoqnito Necktie can be a classy way to lead your sweetie around

Before heading into this review, let me share a caveat that Incoqnito sent me with regards to their toys: all of their subtly-kinky toys are meant as kinky “fashion accessories,” and are not suitable for hardcore S&M folks who would put a lot of stress and strain on the toys.  This applies to all three of the Incoqnito toys I’m reviewing.  So, just you’re heading into your Incoqnito accessories on the right foot, keep in mind that they’re fantasy items, meant for light play and not for big scenes.

The Incoqnito Necktie appears at first glance to be exactly what it sounds like: a fashion necktie made out of nice, slightly shiny black fabric, with either a sterling silver or a gold “knot.”  It’s cute and fashionable, and the metal slider means that you don’t have to know about full-Windsors or anything else regarding tying a tie.  You just slide the metal bit up and down to change the size of the neck hole and shorten or lengthen the tie.  But the naughty side to this nice fashion statement is that the Necktie isn’t just meant to be worn, it’s also meant to function as a sexy leash!  The back of the neckhole portion of the tie unfolds to disperse pressure, and the tie is made out of a thick, sturdy fabric that will stand up to some tugging.  It’s a sexy idea, and the Incoqnito Necktie is made to stand up to some sexy pulling without getting bent out of shape (though, again, it isn’t meant for more heavy play).

I do find, however, that the Necktie runs into some sizing issues: it tends to run pretty small.  If you have a larger noggin, you might be subject to some unsexy struggling to get your head into it, even if you loosen it a bunch.  And the length of the tie will probably be shorter than a normal, professional tie on most medium-height or tall people.  For reference, I’m 5’7″ and found the tie to sit too high to pass as a real tie on myself.  It would, of course, still function as a leash even if it wouldn’t be business-appropriate, and shorter people who find most ties too long will be pleased as punch with this!

Overall, the Incoqnito Necktie is a sexy idea, and is well-made for light domination fantasies.  The biggest problem with this toy is that it may be too small (either in worn-length or to get it on over the head) for many people, and hardcore kinksters are warned to find something more heavy-duty for their more rigorous scenes.

Nov 232010

It’s pink. It’s glass. It’s a tentacle. What more can I say? This little wonder is a surprisingly dynamic toy but at it’s heart it IS a pink, glass, tentacle dildo!

  • Toy:  “Icicle” Octopussy Dildo (sent by Babeland.com for review)
  • Type: Hand-blown glass, tentacle-themed, textured, innie dildo
  • Manufacturer: Babeland
  • Material: Pyrex glass
  • Price: $50

Perfect for your undersea adventure fantasies

Sometimes you need just the right toy to build up the fantasy you want to play with during intimacy.  This can particularly be the case if your fantasy is something a little less mainstream than penile penetration.  Tentacle fantasies can be fairly common, and erotica relating to tentacles dates back as early as the early 19th century.  If you’re intrigued by tentacles and are looking for a toy that might help those fantasies really come closer to life, the Octopussy Dildo (also known as the Icicle) may be just what you’re looking for.

The Octopussy is a 6-1/4″ long,  7/8″ wide dildo made of hand-blown Pyrex glass.  It has a rosy quartz hue, a series of rounded bumps on the top, and vein-y ridges along the bottom edge.  It also, thankfully, has a curved finger-loop on the smaller end to help control and hold the toy.  Due to the curved loop end, only about 4-1/2″ of the toy are actually insertable.  Finally, note that the toy isn’t perfectly circular, but rather is wider than it is tall, giving the insertable end a slightly flattened look.

Since the toy is made from glass, the Octopussy is a very firm toy.  Also, glass gives the toy a unique slickness when it is lubed; the combination of the slippery smoothness of wet glass combined with the heavy texturing gives the toy a feeling unlike most others.  This makes the finger-loop on the Octopussy a particularly important addition, as slick glass can be very difficult to keep a grip on.  With the loop, however, the Octopussy is easy to control even when slick.

The glass nature of the toy also makes for interesting play possibilities.  It can be immersed in cold or hot water to lower or raise its temperature to match your fantasies or just play with sensations.  Also, the glass makes the Octopussy easy to clean, and it can even be boiled for sterilization. Pyrex is a pretty sturdy glass (as those of us who use Pyrex cookware know), but you’re still advised to be careful when using the toy near hard surfaces to avoid chipping.

Though the toy is clearly meant to be insertable, its nice texture lends itself well to being rubbed along the clitoris and labia when it’s slicked up.  It could also be used for anal play, since the finger-loop provides a thick enough base that it is safe for anal use; however, it should be used very slowly and gently, since the glass has no give to it, and the heavy texturing may prove to be a bit much for some.

The only possible warnings or downsides about the Octopussy have been stated before.  Namely, care needs to be taken when cleaning it, as dropping it in the sink and chipping it would mean that the entire toy needs to be tossed.  And, again, the texture on the Octopussy is heavier than on many other toys, particularly since it’s made out of hard glass, and so those who are sensitive to texture may find it a bit overwhelming.

Overall, if you’re looking for something tentacle-related, or a glass toy that has lots of texture, the Octopussy may be just what you’re looking for to help it feel better down where it’s wetter.

May 162010

It’s May 16th and that means it’s my turn to host the blog book tour for Please, Sir right here at my blog!  In this case, you can most certainly judge a book by its cover.  And thank goodness, because that is one sexy cover.  Yes, Sir contains 22 lusciously kinky short stories of strong, sexy, sassy women who totally get off on submitting to the strong, dominant men in their lives who love to pleasure them.  Sometimes it’s a one night stand.  Sometimes it’s a long term relationship.  Yes, there are a few dungeons, but the stories in this book go way beyond that in creativity.  I was delightfully surprised by the range and diversity of these stories, as well as the form.  Each is relatively short, beginning with enough background to give a bit of connection to main characters, progressing to intense moments of pleasure (including lots of orgasms and kink), and ending in a prompt yet satisfying wrap-up.

True, there are a few stories that I liked less than the rest, but that’s bound to happen in any compilation since you just can’t please everyone all of the time.  Of course, as an educator I would have also liked the editor to have skipped any stories in which spit passes for vulvic lube and spit or her vulvic juices pass for anal lube. Please, can we retire that convention?  I make a lot of money on it as an educator from folks who struggle to try and make that work, but I would gladly give up that income for a better informed public that doesn’t suffer from so much chafing.  But I was thrilled that some of them included lube, and even the sexy use of condoms!  And in the end, it’s a fantasy book not meant for education, right?

This was an enjoyable compilation and I look forward to seeing what else I can dive into from her collections.  I see from Amazon that the editor is coming out with a book featuring submissive men and dominant women soon, so you can bet I’ll be the first in line for that one!

And don’t forget to Enter this month’s contest for a surprise premium toy set (it’s a really exciting one) AND a free full session in my online office!