I’m a submissive and a feminist. This often confuses people (both in and out of the fetish scene) and sometimes it confuses even me. I feel guilty about wanting to be spanked, to be ordered around, to be disciplined. I’m not the only one struggling with a seeming mismatch between her daytime persona and her evening desires; Jessica Wakeman talked about exactly this topic in The Frisky and Jezebel. I’ve been reading these debates with considerable interest, and they’ve helped to frame some thoughts about my own sexuality.
As long as I can remember, I’ve always desired pleasure and pain in equal measure. Even before I really understood what sex was, I wanted to be spanked and punished. My family was a relaxed one and discipline very rarely featured; I was never spanked by any family member growing up, but I yearned for that experience. And we could theorize and come up with facile pop psychology explanations about how I desired boundaries or wanted attention that I wasn’t given, but the crux of it is that my sexuality formed around this desire. It’s an innate and seemingly permanent part of my sexual identity.
I was lucky enough to be married for eight and a half years to a man who was that hoary old cliché - my best friend, as well as my lover. I had dabbled in fetish play and BDSM before, but he was the first person that I felt comfortable enough with to open up fully about some of my desires. I was always the instigator, but I always felt able to ask for what I wanted and he was generally more than happy to try a little spanking or some bondage. We explored many things together – some that worked and some that didn’t, like caning (!) – in the way that two people who get married at 23 do. He passed away three years ago from cancer, and my world ended for a while.
And for months I thought I would never date again. The idea of having sex with someone who wasn’t my husband was abhorrent to me. But those pesky sexual urges never did go away, and over time masturbation just wasn’t enough. No one had warned me, but grief can do funny things to your hormones and I was like a teenager in heat. I wanted sex – not just climax, but physical contact with another human. And with that, all of these questions about my sexuality surfaced again.
This was the first time in my life that I really gave consistent, considered thought to what my fetishes mean. I hadn’t had the vocabulary to truly explore them in that light as a teen, and I had never questioned them in my marriage. But now, I wondered, was my desire to be punished some kind of sublimated guilt about my husband’s death? Did I want a man to hit me simply to remove any possibility of emotional closeness? Was I looking for a dominant man to allow me to give up responsibility for my sexual desires? Did all of this make me a bad feminist?
But the problem with these questions is that they have no quantifiable answers. And while I would certainly agree that what a woman chooses to do in the bedroom is not a choice made in a vacuum, that patriarchal norms and misogynistic societal images influence even the most self-reflective of us, I can’t stop myself being turned on by kink. All I can do is try to think critically about it and examine how these images have filtered down to me from a culture steeped in male dominance and female submission.
Though I can’t really speculate on what led me to kink in my formative years, I can reflect on how and why these images continue to resonate with me in adulthood. I could make the argument that I enjoy being topped by both men and women in equal measure, and that therefore it has nothing to do with patriarchy. But that would be somewhat disingenuous – while I’m frequently aroused by women, my mental images of BDSM are generally male-focused. The ideal in my head is a man wearing a suit, using his tie to restrain me, bending me over his knee to spank me. It’s an image that many would find to be retrograde and unpleasant, not to mention rife with uncomfortable symbolism.
In many ways, I would compare this fantasy to a kind of drag. It’s a scenario in which roles are heightened and exaggerated. The traditional man-in-charge becomes a disciplinarian, an almost 50s pastiche of the head of the household. It’s a safe way to explore what feels to me a subversive image, because in my daily life I’m the disciplinarian. I have a demanding job where I’m responsible for many people, projects and budgets. Giving up control in the bedroom is a few hours where I finally don’t have to be in charge of myself or other people, and it is utter bliss.
Outside of the bedroom, my partner and I put on our clothes and we return to life as independent, autonomous, equals who are both very in charge of themselves. And that is just as hot.
By Katy O'Neil , part-time writer and full-time good-time girl, lives in misty Scotland and dreams of sunnier climates.