BDSM: Deconstructing the Stigma Pt. II –Politics of the Bedroom

Current Events Reporter Charlotte Kissick-Jones is a second year studying English at KCL, and the author of this three part investigative series on the BDSM scene in central London. This piece explores the feminist implications of BDSM from the perspective of students here at King’s College London.

[Featured Image: A young person in all black sitting on the floor. Their legs and torso are strung up by different pairs of stockings.]

Donald Trump’s reaction to the 2013 Celebrity Apprentice contestant Brande Roderick kneeling and begging not to be fired is one of the many misogynistic comments that the US President has publicly made. The line ‘must be a pretty picture, you dropping to your knees’ establishes the inability of many male chauvinists to separate politics and the bedroom when it comes to women in positions of power. The historically masculine-dominated sphere of politics is still as prominent today, with women making up only 24% of all Republic elected officials (2017 statistic) and 32% of all elected representatives in the House of Commons (2018 statistic). This gender disparity regarding politics similarly transitions into the bedroom, with the orgasm gap between men and women being an ever-present issue. According to a study initiated by the New York Times, 40% of women successfully had an orgasm during the last time they had intercourse, in comparison to the 80% of men who stated they had. The statistics clearly point towards the large proportion of men who prioritise personal satisfaction over that of their partner’s. It is widely known that the majority of men receive orgasms through penetration, whilst women require a combination of clitoral and vaginal stimulation. This anatomical difference should offer no reason for men to deny women the same opportunity to reach sexual satisfaction.

In a survey of 2,000 men and women across Europe, 68% of women admitted to faking an orgasm with a partner at some point of their sexual life. Consensual ‘forced orgasms’ is a type of BDSM scene that focuses on the forced climaxing of the submissive. Regardless of whether the sub is male or female, this play session promotes equality of pleasure and removes the gendered politics of the bedroom. Dr Justin Lehmiller conducted the largest sexual study in the US, with more than 4,000 participants, which concluded that women report more submissive tendencies than men. Rather than an unconscious expression of the patriarchy, the act of submission enables sexual freedom without the social expectations of female sexuality. One anonymous interviewee responded to the gender politics of bedroom with her observation that ‘In gay relationships you come in as an equal, whilst in a straight relationship there is a masculine dominance. It has made it more comfortable to make it my personal decision to be submissive and take control back that way. Once I was consciously taking control of that position it really helped me, I see a lot of power in submission.’

The assumption that women should pleasure men is present in the action of forcing a woman’s head down to encourage oral sex. This clearly challenges the consent established between sexual partners. With blowjobs being a performative act, this abuse of power in the bedroom proves the expectation of men to fulfil a dominant role. Professor Hay refers to the socialisation of women to put the needs of others before theirs as the “sexual politics of heterosexuality”. This common act should also act as a warning sign for the inability of sexual partners to communicate their desires. Another practiser of BDSM interviewed for this article observed that ‘BDSM is about talking about what you want to establish, going through it all, and if you change your mind there is a conversation to back it up. Vanilla sex makes me nervous, it is not a given you are going to have a conversation about it.’ In the case of BDSM, many partners enjoy physical enforcement when it comes to expressing sexual preferences. However, this comes along with clear consent and mutual understanding.

The feminist slogan of ‘the personal is the political’ highlights the issue in hand- how can there be equality in the boardroom without it being present in the bedroom? Whether an individual chooses to be dominated or not, equality comes through their desires being heard and appreciation of their sexual autonomy. The eroticisation of voluntary power differences and the presence of consent is what politicises BDSM. This reasserts that power dynamics do not exist solely in public contexts like party politics but also in personal aspects of life. Inserting US politics into the bedroom, one article in ‘Politico Magazine’ studied the sexual fantasies of Democrats and Republicans. An overwhelming majority of Republicans recorded that their fantasy was to engage in activities that involved sex outside of marriage. Democrats, on the other hand, were more-likely to fantasise about BDSM activities. The connection between the processes that drive our sexual fantasies can be seen through this article as a desire for aspects of life which one does not have. Regardless of the reason for the subversion of taboos into objects of fascination, the relationship between politics and sex remains. This should be regarded as an efficient way to confront the inequalities in the bedroom in the effort to advance the politics of the boardroom.

 

[Image Source: http://sengasenga.com/gallery.html ]

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