The remarkable popularity of E.L. James’ kinky novel, 50 Shades of Grey, left me with a lot of questions regarding the marginalised world of the fetish, and particularly BDSM (an overlapping acronym combining Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, Sadism and Masochism). Like many, I had been quick to dismiss it with the sort of mild disapproval that seems appropriate in the suburbs of Surrey.
However, my friend recently introduced me to a sex blog which has become daily reading, and was quick to dispel my Surrey-born conservatism on the topic of kinky sex. Slutever.com is a sex blog written by twenty-something New Yorker Karley Sciortino. Though wildly popular, the blog is not for the faint-hearted, with detailed accounts of bondage and domination posted alongside a selection of more approachable sex advice columns, interviews and short films.
Sciortino has experienced huge success as a result of the website; she writes for Dazed and Confused, makes regular videos for the magazines Vice and Purple, and has appeared in several high-end publications. Her blogging journey began in a London squat (brilliantly titled ‘Squallyoaks’) and continues from an apartment in Williamsburg.
Her candid writing about sex quickly attracted the attention of the blogosphere’s underbelly, and soon there were men begging her to let them be her slaves. One of these men, a so-called Cash Pig, got off by spending money on other people. He earned the name “Book Bitch” by buying Karley any book that she wanted off Amazon, and loved spending his money on her so much that he even paid her rent for a while in return for nothing but degrading emails. Win win, no?
There have been a host of similar cases, such as an Australian who “paid $75 for a piece of paper with spit and cum on it”, and a man who was turned on by cleaning Slutever’s flat whilst being told how shit a job he was doing.
When writing about these slaves, Sciortino has developed an interesting tone. On the one hand she is presenting them to the world without judgement, but at the same time she mocks them with occasional jabs of LOL and WTF, because ultimately it’s humiliation, not sympathy, that they desire.
Left fascinated by her ‘training-bra-level’ encounters with the BDSM world, the blogger took things further. Spending a few days working with a professional Dominatrix, or Domme, who goes by the alias Mistress Dee, she journeyed deeper into the world of domination and subordination, and her unflinching accounts of Dee’s BDSM sessions make it clear that there really is an art to sex work. There’s so much to master, like conveying the perfect balance of disinterest and occasional engagement through your face, chugging the right amount of water to warrant urination precisely when it’s needed, administering pain (but not too much pain) and looking smouldering hot the whole time. The first session is an eye-opening one. There are ‘humbling’ contraptions, unfamiliar rituals, some pretty strange goings on involving a rainbow-striped lollipop, and the slave is taken to a fetish shop to sing this little ditty to the unfazed, seen-it-all-before shopkeeper:
“I’ve got all holes available
Tell all your friends I’m salable
I want to be used, abused, bent over your dinner table
A faggy slut with all holes available.”
But don’t stop reading just yet; I’m about to get to the meaningful stuff, promise.
Dee explains that she had to go through a short but intense period of desensitization in order to become good at her job. So, whilst the Domme works to strip away all sense of shame that is pushed upon her by society, her client thrives on it and the resultant humiliation. In fact, the reason that Sciortino managed to get in on Dee’s sessions was because having a ‘civilian’ (no leather, no whip) watching allows the slave’s feeling of humiliation to be enhanced. There’s certainly more to this relationship than meets the eye. Whilst snacking from a box of Godiva chocolates and using a hunchbacked man as a foot rest, Mistress Dee reflects: “The thing is, all of this — BDSM, humiliation, degradation, sensory deprivation — it’s about getting outside yourself. And when it’s good it can be an out-of-body experience. For some people it’s about separating themselves from reality so much that they cease to exist.”
Maybe the Dominatrix is a sort of latex-clad therapist. She indulges the deepest desires of otherwise normal people, helping them to deal with an integral part of themselves which they often have to hide from their closest friends, family members and even partners. Though it can be hard for a ‘vanilla’ — what the world of kink has christened those who lead fetish-free sex lives — to understand the appeal of some of BDSM’s grittier practices, it is easy to admire the bravery of people who recognise and act upon their desires, however unconventional. The Domme session is a time of unadulterated fantasy, where the real world is left behind and power is instantly transferable. Men who are powerful by profession are reduced to helpless slaves at the mercy of women who would ultimately find it harder to gain power in the real world. Slutever points out that the dominatrix isn’t sexually aroused during her sessions. Instead, in a temporary reversal of patriarchy, she experiences an‘arousal of the ego’.
Maybe I’m speaking as your run-of-the-mill, feminism-peddling Literature student here, but reading about this sort of subversion is pretty interesting to me. The hugely successful 50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James, in contrast, presents a patriarchal male-dominant in an intense sexual relationship with a female slave. Of course there’s nothing wrong with a woman who enjoys sexual subordination, just the same as men, but when I put my feminist hat on and see the widespread assertion that the novel is fulfilling some deep female desire to be servile, I can’t help but sense that there is misogynistic ideology at play.
Gender concerns aside however, the increasing popularisation of the BDSM world highlights the fact that ‘vanilla’ sex isn’t entirely natural, and it isn’t what we all want. Personally, I would suggest that we all add a bit of sexually deviant literature to our reading lists, and live a little.