Cruisin’ for a bruisin’

Dr. Daley on Sex and Relationships

Cruisin’ for a bruisin’

Dear Dr. Daley: I’m a 22-year-old single gal and a recent college grad. I’m cute, and I have a supportive upper-class family and world-class friends. But I’m having trouble reconciling my sexual interests with the rest of my life.

Even though I graduated with a degree in sexual psychology, my professors never delved much into the fringe of sexuality. I’ve been going to BDSM and fetish meetings on my own and seem to only meet wrinkly old bikers. Are young people genuinely not interested in ultra kink? Do you think it’s unhealthy for me to pursue interests that even I consider a bit perverse? Should I spend less time seeking abusive sex and more time in therapy? I don’t like to bring these issues up with people because they’re met so negatively, but sadly I think vanilla sex is mostly boring.

P.S. Even though I’m not a vampire, my ultimate fantasy is to writhe around in warm blood. (And I’m going to be working in the medical field!)

On my bookshelf is a riveting little number called The Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. It describes, among a thousand other things, what shit tastes like. It was written by a woman named Brenda Love.* Just goes to show you, girlfriend, you haven’t cornered the market on sexual contrasts.

Having studied the psychology of sexuality, surely you are aware that for the vast majority of humans, sexuality involves all manner of bad manners, whether they admit it or not. Lots of people keep these things safely locked away in their imaginations – maybe that’s why so many people are nervous about anesthesia. What if you start muttering about Mutter while you are under the influence? Lots of people enact many fantasies as part of an intimate, trusting, and exciting sex life.

For all you pitiful fans of “vanilla sex,” BDSM covers an array of sexual practices, including Bondage, Domination, Submission, Sadism, and Masochism. Let’s get technical about the last two: A sadist is a person who is sexually aroused by someone else’s pain/suffering/humiliation; a masochist is someone who is sexually aroused by receiving pain/suffering/humiliation. You can see some tepid versions of this duo on cable programs. They usually involve people in strange outfits who are mutually consenting, bored with “vanilla sex,” and in possession of a code word that means Really stop. In the real world, there are sadists who are not interested in stopping and masochists who would find such good manners really way, way too vanilla. You don’t need a calculator to realize that the level of risk increases exponentially as people graduate from sex clubs to seeking out strangers with whom to enact their sexual fantasies.

(Aside to readers: I’m having a hard time figuring out into which category our writer falls. What do you think?)

Bondage, of course, means someone in the room likes to be tied up, held down, masked, handcuffed, etc. Domination and Submission cover a wide spectrum – as do all these practices – ranging from “Daddy, I’ve been a bad girl today, and I think you need to teach me a lesson,” to “Shut up you fucking cunt and bend over,” to “Get over to my place right now – I need you to lick these ashtrays clean, and I mean clean!” I guess you mainly want to keep track of how you feel afterward. Do you feel happy, understood, and fulfilled? Or are you so filled with shame and self-loathing that you will have little choice other than seeking out a newer, nastier encounter tonight?

The theme here is power: having it, liking it, turning it over, testing it, pushing its edges. The power to control, to be controlled, to manage pain, to capture someone else’s imagination. There’s a high in all this that can be quite compelling. Addictive, to some.

Physical risks range from bruises that make you smile to yourself all the next day, to incurable infection, to – in rare cases – death. Assessing one’s level of risk requires a certain amount of rigorous honesty, which is especially difficult when you are not pursuing your sexual dreams within the context of a loving relationship. Once you have started attending “meetings” at which you engage in sexual activities with “wrinkly old bikers” or anyone else you wouldn’t speak to in a million years if it weren’t for your sexual jones, honesty might be the last thing on your mind. In this case, I would be curious about what your world-class friends think of your sex life. Or perhaps your therapist’s opinion.

Oh damn, now I sound all old-fashioned and unimaginative and vanilla. I hate sounding vanilla. But you ask for it when you write things like “interests even I consider perverse” and “Should I spend less time seeking abusive sex?” Like the word “suicide,” the word “abusive” tends to wake up even the laziest professionals. At least, it should.

About your “ultimate fantasy”: I hate to intrude upon your sense of being extra unique, but I refer you to the historical accounts of people who have had a particular penchant for blood. Okay, you say you aren’t a vampire, and I’ll believe you. We might deal with the consumption of blood in a future column. (Who knows what the people who run this publication will make me do? But I love it when they tell me what to do. But what if I am very, very bad and don’t do what they tell me to do? Oh, I hope they will keep telling me what to do, and tell me what they will do to me if I don’t do what they tell me to do!)

It has long been believed that blood, being basic to our kind of mammalian existence, is a very powerful signifier. Mysterious, unspeakably potent, associated with all kinds of mojo. As modern day humans, we may not believe that a menstruating woman is capable of killing a man just by looking at him (hmph), but we still get pretty worked up over blood. Life itself! Vitality! Primitive fluids! Life in the womb, who knows? Some masochists can’t get off without shedding some; some sadists can’t get off without drawing some.

In re: people who like to roll around in it, I refer you to histories like that of Elizabeth Bathory (1560-1614), born to the Hungarian elite and married into aristocracy. Bored, lonely, 10 years younger than her husband the Count, Elizabeth was a wild and horny young thing. As middle age encroached and there was no Dr. 90210 to restore her to some weird semblance of her beautiful 20-something self, Elizabeth happened into a common delusion: That blood was a veritable fountain of youth. Bathe in it, drink it, whatever. Good for the complexion, not so good for the (perhaps) several hundred young women who died deaths we won’t go into just so Elizabeth could indulge her apparently insatiable appetite. Run a Google on her.

The desire to “writhe around in warm blood” may be a primitive longing to immerse yourself in the fundamental stuff of human vitality, but I trust you will agree that this is one of your fantasies that ought to remain in the fantasy realm. It could be prenatal, for all I know, but no matter what its source I don’t mind saying I am a little nervous about your emphasis on your intentions to enter the medical field. Is there any place on a med school application that asks about stuff like this? I realize I am very sensitive on this point, as a long-time vegetarian who doesn’t think people should even consume non-human blood – but still.

Look, girlfriend, I am sure you are a fine person with a rich, diverse, complex, un-vanilla sexuality who thrives on exploring the limits of power, pleasure/pain, and the vast range of sexual experiences. What I’m not so sure about are the origins of your need to be abused. What do you understand about it? Is it a Mean Old Daddy thing, or do you just want to prove that you can do all sorts of things other people can’t? Is there a part of you that feels your sexuality needs to be punished? A conflict about your “upper class” origins and all that that entails? These are the things I think would make interesting material in therapy. Just be sure when you are interviewing therapists that you find one who will not become paralyzed with anxiety or vicarious arousal. You need one who is genuinely comfortable with the verbal exploration of sex and its fringes, and who will keep you safe as you seek to better understand your sexuality.

*It was not Brenda Love who offered the first-hand account, FYI.

About the author Dr. Nancy Daley is a licensed psychologist and adjunct assistant professor who teaches Human Sexuality at The University of Texas at Austin. If you would like to submit questions for her to answer in this column, please send them to drdaley at thatotherpaper dot com.

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Anonymous's picture

As a practitioner of kink in the Austin area, I would mention that there are more kinky folks out in the scene than just wrinkly old bikers. I’ve found some young and cute folks, some old and wise folks, some weird but nice folks, some punky transgendered, cross dressed banker types and, and, and you get the picture.I think there’s even a group/list serv dedicated to kinky folks under 35.

You just have to know where to look. I’d start with talking to the wonderful folks at Forbidden Fruit or Sinsations.They have great books and often they’ll teach classes and know the major groups in town.

As for safewords, the community I’ve played with in never leaves home without them, and I’ve seen some pretty extreme stuff. Its always, say it with me, Safe, Sane and Consensual.I’ve been impressed with the level of ethics I’ve seen here.

I’ll agree that you risk a great deal if you just hook up with strangers. Not recommended.

Keep exploring, use therapy if you like, but try not to treat your sexuality as a symptom of something wrong (necessarily). You might just be a kinky kid.