Category Archives: kink

thy rod and thy staff

It’ll tell you something about how my life is going lately when I tell you that on Friday my computer broke and then I went to a memorial service for someone almost young enough to be my daughter, almost. It’s been rough. But that doesn’t stop me noticing blog material!

At the service, we said Psalm 23. For those not familiar, here is the text:

The lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the lord for ever.

My first thought as I considered these words was actually, “Wow, it’d be nice if my dog felt like that about me.” Really, for a rescue dog the idea of having a house that you dwell in FOREVER is a big fucking deal.

I went so far as to imagine what it would be like on the other end of the leash, clipped to a collar, to follow and trust that yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me. Crikey. A tug on the leash, and I follow with absolute trust, without fear, without question. I would love for my dog to feel that way.

And of course my thoughts went from there to BDSM relationships. Please don’t take that the wrong way.

When I talk to students who are unfamiliar with the kink community, they tend to wonder if there isn’t something fundamentally wrong with a person who eroticizes pain or who enjoys being humiliated or who wants to be controlled. I’ve tried explaining it in a variety of ways, but I think the next time it comes up I’ll try using Psalm 23 to explain it. Like:

Who could fail to feel something compelling in the notion that you could be safe and loved FOREVER, and all you have to do is follow the source of the safety and love? All you have to do is submit to a will stronger than your own, and your cup will run over, you will not want for anything.

I mean, “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” This might mean a physical correction or it might be plain old authority, but it definitely means something about how the ways you control me make me feel safer.

I’m convinced that a great deal of this dynamic has to do with attachment and our essential desire to connect deeply with other people. Because our experiences of sensation are contextual – what in one context might hurt in another context may arouse – we can put nearly any sensation in an erotic context and experience pleasure. And what could be more obvious as an erotic context than one where you’re asked, as the submissive, to abandon all control, relax into absolute trust (ie, turn off the brakes) and experience sensation? Or where you can allow yourself to tune in your partner and create a context SO erotic that even the burning sting of a whip or a paddle feels sexy, treading that precarious line between pleasure and pain, so attuned to your partner’s mind and body that you know exactly what to say and do?

Of course some students might feel, uh, a little uncomfortable with the comparison of a psalm to a kinky relationship.

My sister went to a memorial service on the same day – a different service. Her choir sang this, which I think is very nice:

too rough, too rude, too boist’rous

It’s the kink lecture today.

Students have informed me that they’ve been anticipating it all semester.

Well of course no lecture can stand up too extravagant expectations, but I’ve done my best, including creating a visually interesting PPT presentation.

All semester, I’ve illustrated my lectures with images by Michael Rosen, an erotic art photographer based in San Francisco. Why him? Well there are lots of reasons, but a primary reason has to do with my reason for doing a lecture on kink in the first place. My main purpose in talking about kink is to show the universality of the experience – that despite all the equipment, costumes, scripts, roles, and fluids, there is an essential, universal humanity. Michael, he captures the internal experience of kink, the intimacy between partners, the love.

Here, look:

I mean… so great.

I also use the lecture to talk about the construction of “normal,” which in turn relates to the medicalization of sexuality. Very academic, heady stuff.

But when you get right down to it the main reason I teach about kink, the main reason I show kinky pictures, is to break down students’ walls. I totally have an agenda; I totally want them to let go of their judgments of other people, relax into an infinitely diverse sexual world, and expand their sexual potential, even just a little bit, because they know that in fact there aren’t any rules about what’s okay and what isn’t, apart from consent.

Yes, an entire lecture whose primary function is to serve as a permission slip, for students to attend their own sexuality.

i like the sticky

This is a less sciencey, more airy fairypost. My sister would call it “fruity.” Touchy feely. Because I had a rough night.

See, I like the sticky – I mean, the sticky aspects of being human and having sex. It’s a thing for me; part of being sex positive is being comfortable with the organic parts of sex. As part of a lovingkindness meditation, though, I tried imagining the experience of a person who genuinely believed her body’s fluids were disgusting and that it was RIGHT to find her fluids disgusting.

I had to cut the meditation short and switch to a body-positive meditation because I felt like I was poisoning myself, so powerful was the sensation of rejecting my own organism; and still the feeling of self-hatred clung to me all night, like a lingering cold or a well-aimed kick.

How wrenching it must be to live inside a body whose functioning causes disgust, how raw, how crippling. During my meditation, I literally gasped for air, flooded and drowning in the need to love ALL OF YOU out there, as if I could heal with love and acceptance all of you who reject your own organism, or who have been rejected for your organism. I love you, my heart chants to the universe, I love you all, you’re safe, you’re well, you’re loved, you’re home, home because you’re in your body.

If I love you, there’s room in my heart for the inevitable byproducts – sticky, wet, aromatic – of being alive. While your pulse beats, your body battles infection and digests nutrients and absorbs water and cools and heats itself; while you live, in other words, you produce fluids, and those fluids have taste and smell and texture and temperature. And while your pulse beats and I love you, I love the blood and mucus and myoglobin and sweat and acids that thrum with salts and electricity to keep you here on the earth with me.

Love is messy, friends. I hope, I hope, I desperately hope that you are loved.

I want the world to be learned, impartial, and very relaxed about fluids. I want my ER nurse to be utterly cool if I come in with a nearly-severed finger. I want my ob-gyn to take it in her stride when she’s dealing with blood, baby, placenta, and vagina. I want my partner to say yes to sex when I’m menstruating. I want YOUR partner to say yes to sex when either of you is menstruating. I want love to include, to embrace, to relish the bodies of lovers.

My sister said, “You should quote ‘The Body Electric.’” Yeah I should!

Be not ashamed women, your privilege encloses the rest, and is the exit of the rest,
You are the gates of the body, and you are the gates of the soul.
If any thing is sacred the human body is sacred,
And the glory and sweet of a man is the token of manhood untainted,
And in man or woman a clean, strong, firm-fibred body, is more
beautiful than the most beautiful face.

The sag. The jiggle. The ooze. The wet spot. I had a rough night last night, see. That happens when I’m confronted with the punishing scale of the things I’m trying to change out there.

I think bodies are gifts, and I want you to believe it too. I like the sticky.

No. No. I LOVE the sticky.

excellent torture

I’ve been pretty heavy on the nerd lately, and not paying as much attention to the sex. Let’s fix that.

How to maximize your torment of your partner.

Haven’t you wanted to be in that position of power where you stand at the gate of your partner’s orgasm, tempting them gradually closer, then wickedly slamming the gate in their face and sending them to the back of the queue, only to draw them, even more eager, forward, over and over, until they hate you and love you in equal measure and they can’t think and can’t move and are begging you in choked gasps in end their torment?

Sure you have. Here’s how.

When you partner is at the breath-holding stage of the proceedings, that indicates that waves muscle tension are causing the contraction of both the thoracic diaphragm and the pelvic diaphragm. If that sentence made no sense, don’t worry, just notice that your partner has gotten to the breath-holding stage of the proceedings. Each held breath slightly escalates tension, edging your partner closer to the threshold of orgasm (which is not a fixed point, but don’t worry about that for now).

When giving beginner advice, I generally say that breath-holding is exactly the time to KEEP DOING EXACTLY WHAT YOU’RE DOING. Same speed, same pressure, same everything.

For the more advanced student, you can use this phase to take the reins of your partners orgasm.

Necessary Supplies. In addition to the confidence and joy necessary for all excellent experiences, it requires a great deal of attention to muscle tension and breath. Those who practice mindfulness will therefore be better at this than everyone else because they’re trained to be more sensitive to sensory stimuli and I therefore suggest that all of you start practicing mindfulness meditation every day for the rest of your lives. (Also, with dudes you can pay attention to genitals as well as breath and tension. Not so much with chicks.) So:

Your supply list:

  • Confidence
  • Joy
  • Your willing, relaxed partner
  • Well-tuned Attentiveness to your partner

Arritey. Now.

Step 1. When they’re well entrenched in a pattern of breath-holding, notice how long your partner is holding their breath. (If noticing how long the breath is requires counting seconds in your head, that’s okay, but ideally you’ll be so intuitively connected with your partner that you don’t need to count. You just KNOW, you know?)

Step 2. When your partner is approaching the end of a long breath-hold – so they’ve been silent for, what, like 8 seconds-ish, that’s when you STOP. Make it nice recognizable full stop so they don’t think you’ve just made a mistake or are changing position or whatever. Just stop. Keep physical contact with them – if this is oral sex, keep a hand on their thigh or something; if it’s penetration, stay totally still but make direct eye contact.

You stop at the END of the held breath, because tension is at its maximum then. If you stop after they’ve released a breath, they’re already on a down-wave of arousal and you’re not interrupting anything.

Step 3. Wait. Without breaking contact, watch the tension ease from their muscles and face, listen to their breathing steady. If they ask what you’re doing, lie. Say, “Nuthin’” or just smile at them or say “takin’ a break” or “What are you doing?” If they say “I was about to come,” that indicates that your timing is SUPERB; feel free to boast about this. Give your partner a villainous grin and say, “Yeah I know.”

Step 4. Start again. When they’re less definitely aroused (but still SOMEWHAT aroused), start again, slowly at first. Gently. Gradually increase intensity. When they get back to a stable breath-holding rhythm…

Step 5. Near the end of another held breath, stop again. Stop. They may, at this point, give you a dirty look. That means you’re doing it right. Be sure to answer their glare with a smile. Shows you’re friendly. We don’t want open hostility after all.

Step 6. Wait again. Watch their arousal dissipate. Allow time for dirty looks, questions, bafflement. Be sure to stay in contact, physically and emotionally. Run your hands over any number of body parts not ordinarily considered “erogenous.” (Remember, arousal is context dependent, so by the time you get done, EVERYWHERE will be erogenous.)

Step 7. Start again. You may prefer to start VERY INTENSELY this time, to switch things up, keep them guessing. Or not. You decide. Don’t let anything your partner says sway you – unless you want to.

Repeat Steps 5-7 as long as necessary/fun/physically tolerable/your partner doesn’t grab you, pin you down, and either beat the shit out of you or torture you in return.

The art of this strategy lies in the management of your partner’s arousal level. Pay close attention, feel their arousal without becoming so aroused yourself that your judgment clouds.

Something to note: The longer you continue, the more slowly their arousal will dissipate and the faster it will return. Eventually you’ll be able to do almost nothing and send them instantly to the tearing, thrashing edge. That’s fun. Also, the longer you do this the more intensity they will (probably) be able to tolerate, so feel free to escalate if you like.

There you go. Some (nearly) science-free sex stuff. Happy Wednesday.

(Note: I recently learned that my mother regularly reads the blog, so I would therefore like to make it clear that I never have and never will do anything like what I’ve just described. And preemptively let me say: shut up Bill, that’s not funny.)

the experience versus the memory

Nobel prize winner and psychologist extraordinaire Daniel Kahmeman talks about the distinction between the experiencing self versus the remembering self in the context of happiness – happy in your life (experience) versus happy about your life (remembering).

Of course I’m a sexuality person so I wonder how this relates to sexuality. Given the importance of self-reported “distress” in the diagnosis of sexual dysfunction (PDF of paper by Cynthia Graham, my clinical supervisor in grad school and one of my heroes), it’s likely that a difference between the experience and the memory would have significance for the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of sexual dysfunction (and indeed for the social construction of sexuality).

But I think it also has rather more playful implications. Allow me to speculate wildly for just a moment:

What if we had sex for the remembering self, rather than the experiencing self, like having a vacation for the remembering self rather than the experiencing self? Say the idea of having sex in a public bathroom turns you on, but you feel too nervous about someone walking in to get all that turned on while you’re doing it. Maybe the memory of that sex can fuel fantasies and erotic connection with the partner you shared it with, for future pleasure.

“We did that naughty thing together,” you can giggle as you eye your partner from a distance at a party. “We are the hotness.” And good sex that night becomes much more likely, as a consequence of the remembered sex.

Or what if quickies benefited from the bias of the remembering self? The sex that happens during quickies may often be kinda mediocre by some standard measures, given that a decent rule of thumb is that the longer it takes to get to orgasm, the more intense that orgasm will be. If it takes you 5 minutes, it just won’t be as explosive as an orgasm that builds up over hours – and for most women it won’t be enough time to have any orgasm at all unless you’ve spent a great deal of time beforehand getting very riled up indeed. (Not that orgasm is a good measure of the quality of sex, it’s just an example.)

But the remembering self looks back on that quickie remembers not just the experience, but also the context, the cultural meaning, the IDEA of the quickie, and makes it hotter.

How hot was that quickie? How aroused were you? How intense was that orgasm? How long did intercourse last?

This is all speculation. To my knowledge, no one has studied the relationship between the experience and the memory of sex. There are TONS of questions that need to be answered.

I’d ask ya’ll to tell me your experiences with experience v. memory, but of course all you’ve got now is the memory. We need SCIENCE! Get cracking.

pedal pushing

From the enthralling world of News that Doesn’t Matter, pedal pushing is finally getting the attention it doesn’t deserve.

Which brings me to foot fetishes.

There are lots of stories about the various fetishes in the world, and there are very many, and very varied fetishes. Every body part, every fluid, and every social phenomenon can be eroticized. But the foot fetish is one that I think is quite simple to explain – or as simple as anything so rare and complex can be.

My explanation is this:

The somatosensory homunculus

(a favorite phrase of mine because it’s fun to say and makes you sound like a real smarty pants too)

is the sensory map of your brain in your body. You’ll notice that the feet are immediately adjacent to the genitals. So even though your feet are at one end of you actual body and your genitals are in the middle, as far as your brain is concerned, they’re right next to each other.

A phenomenon known in the nerd world as “spreading activation” takes us the rest of the way along this story. The foot sensation part of your brain “lights up” and lights up a little bit of the genital part of your brain along with it, or vice versa, and suddenly there’s a link between sexual arousal and foot sensations.

And so over time the guy (it’s usually a guy – not always, but usually) begins to feel sexual desire around feet, in the same way that he feels sexual desire around the genitals of his partner.

This isn’t a complete story, obviously – there’s a lot of social stuff I’m not even mentioning, like it’s probably only a small part of the explanation for the role of the car in the pedal pushing fetish – but I think it’s an important piece of the story. It’s a piece of the story that’s essentially overlooked in the Daily Beast’s take on things.

Similar stories, from my point of view, account for feces or urine fetishes, smoking fetishes, and fingernail fetishes. Body parts and sensastions not necessarily linked with sex come to be linked through accidents of spreading activation and associative learning.

Mmmmmh, spreading activation….


This is another one of those things I forget people don’t know.

Sensation is contextual.

What I mean is, you know how when someone tickles you and you’re feeling all playful and fun and it’s enjoyable? And then there’s other times when you might be annoyed or bored and someone tickles you and it just pisses you off? Same sensation, different context, therefore different experience. Sensation is contextual.

It’s true of pain, as well as tickling.

See, experienced sensation can be described with two different vortexes – intensity and valence. Intensity is the scale of the experience and valence is the direction (good or bad) of the experience. Both are relative and contextual.

Papercuts hurt, but not as much as a papercut plus lemon juice, which itself is not as bad as banging your thumb with a hammer, which is not as bad as breaking your leg, which is not as bad as childbirth. That’s intensity.

In an ordinary context, a spanking is a slap and a sting. It hurts. But say you’re all turned on and good sexy things are being done to you by a partner you like and trust, and then they slap you on the ass. In an erotic context, it’s still a slap and a sting, but your brain, primed for erotic sensation, interprets it as erotic.

Let’s see if I can remember my neuroanatomy: there are two basic streams for sensations, one that responds to light touch and one that does deep touch, aka pressure. Tickling is light touch. Slapping is deep touch, as is massage. Stroking is light, squeezing is deep. Note well: sensations are not divided up by “pleasurable” and “painful,” but by light and deep. Pleasure and pain are your brain’s interpretation of sensation, they are not characteristics of the sensations themselves.

As someone recently said when she learned this, “That makes sadomasochism seem less freaky.” Yes indeed. It’s just an erotic context for what isn’t ordinarily sexy.

This will relate to g-spot stuff when I wrote about that, which I will at some point.