Beyond the commodification of female sexuality

I recently read Lipstick and Ligature’s post on The Problem with Kink and it made a few things click for me that I want to explore here. Most importantly, she said this:

I was told by certain sources that “oh, you’re a dominant woman?!  Congratulations, now you can become a pro-domme and earn money off your sexuality like women are supposed to do. Because, hey? What kind of woman actually wants to enjoy sexual pleasure with a submissive man anyway.

This reaction to finding out that a woman is sexually dominant is not uncommon. It’s happened to me multiple times, and Dishevelled Domina has talked about it as well. It’s always at least somewhat irritating – not because it’s such a bad thing to be a pro, but because it belies the thought that if a woman is dominating a man she needs to get something in return. When someone suggests I go pro they don’t think about the unadulterated pleasure I take in getting exactly what I want. They often don’t understand sadistic joy (or perhaps just don’t associate it with women). They don’t get how much I love the sight of a beautiful strong creature bound and at my mercy. They just think, “What’s in it for her?”

However, I don’t want to judge these questioners too harshly. I myself have fallen into a similar trap before. I have, on occasion, had a one-night stand. All I wanted was sex. One particular instance I got it (and it was great), but we never saw each other again. I couldn’t help feeling slightly used despite the fact that I was using him as much as he was using me. I felt like I should get something in return for our night of bliss; not money, but some sort of ongoing relationship of the fuck-buddy variety. Luckily I soon realized that great sex is enough when that’s all you’re really looking for and got over it.

Even women who are pretty accepting of themselves as sexual beings (like myself) occasionally expect something in return for a sexual experience in order for them to make them feel better about themselves. Passionate sex with a near-stranger doesn’t feel quite as dirty after you’ve had dinner with him. I think this is because it gives us an excuse. “Well, I’m not really a slut, it was just a really good dinner”. This could ultimately come down to extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation.

In a classic experiment, participants were instructed to work on an interesting puzzle. Some participants were paid, while others were not. Those who were not rewarded continued to play with the puzzle during a “free period”, while paid participants did not (Deci, 1975). In another experiment (for which I could not find a citation, my apologies) actually found that people enjoy a boring task more when they are paid $1 to do it than when they are paid $20 to do it. Money and other types of external rewards act as extrinsic motivation, while pure enjoyment acts as intrinsic motivation. Furthermore, when we receive very little to no reward for something that wasn’t very interesting we think that we must have enjoyed it because why else were we doing it for such little compensation (this phenomenon is known as cognitive dissonance). Conversely, if we are paid for something we do enjoy, we begin to enjoy it less because we think we must be doing it for the money (see Deci, Koestner and Ryan, 1999 for a meta-analysis).

Women often receive pre-emptive external rewards for having sex. Whether it’s flowers, drinks, dinner, or even a diamond ring, women are often ‘paid’ in some way for sex. This could lead to actually enjoying sexual interactions less because of an underlying feeling of having been compensated. Commitment can also act as a form  of compensation. When I was a teenager I kept track of how many people I’d kissed, how many people had touched my breasts, etc. I wanted this number to be as small as possible because of various cultural influences – my church probably being the strongest. If I kissed someone, it had to be ‘worth it’. I almost always expected a commitment in return. I couldn’t just give my kisses away to anyone who wasn’t willing to foot the bill of being with me for an extended period of time. This kind of thinking is harmful, and as my one-night stand experience shows, still effects me today. In fact, I’ve still only ever been vaginally penetrated by men with whom I have had long-term relationships. Oral sex I’ve learned to give away as freely as I want, but vaginal penetration is still emotionally loaded.

Ultimately I think a lot of people find the idea of women enjoying sex for the sake of sex to be a scary prospect. I’m not quite sure why that is. For myself I used to treasure a self-image that was purely good and wholesome. Being a living breathing sexual being seemed to tarnish that. In relationships I’ve gotten to a place where it feels wholesome to be a pair of sexually satisfied individuals who are crazy about each other. Outside of relationships it’s a little harder.

For men the idea of a woman enjoying sex for the sake of sex seems initially like a dream come true, but I think this idea scares a lot of men too. I can think of a few reasons why this might be. When a woman loves sex she can become insatiable. This could create a fear that her partner might literally not be able to satisfy her. And indeed, I’ve been with men who just weren’t willing to have sexathons with me. This makes it hard for me to go back to vanilla or even dominant men. Dictating exactly how our sex happens means that I can also dictate exactly how long our sex happens, and I like it that way.

To bring this discussion back to female domination, a woman with whips and rope is scary enough. A woman with whips, rope, and intrinsic enjoyment? Terrifying. In mainstream media dominant women are almost always professionals (and submissive men are almost always sniveling worms, but that’s another topic for another day), and I think this is because it’s more comforting that way. Why would a woman do that? Ah of course, because she’s gettin’ paid the big bucks.

But women who enjoy dominating men do exist (as do women who enjoy dominating women and non-binary peeps). When you get to know us we’re not that scary. Sure, we might laugh at pain sometimes and might enjoy the thought of our partner tightly bound and wriggling to get free, but we live pretty normal lives. We work and/or raise kids. There’s still a give and take in our relationships. Ideally we find partners who love our our joyful torture as much as we relish administering it. And when you ask us, “Why don’t you try pro-domming?” we will say, “Why would I want to get paid for something that’s so much fun to do for free?”

Posted on January 25, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. For men the idea of a woman enjoying sex for the sake of sex seems initially like a dream come true, but I think this idea scares a lot of men too.

    One of the problems is that if a dude acknowledges that a woman enjoys sex for the sake of sex, then he is faced with the scary prospect that the woman expects sex to be pleasurable. And then the guy has no excuse to consider her pleasure as any less important than his pleasure.

    The way sex is framed in society is very much centered on male pleasure, and any pleasure a woman gets from sex is seen as incidental and even optional. A lot of men (even the more enlightened ones) are quite resistant to any challenge of this idea.

    It lowers the bar for them. It means a woman will often be incredibly grateful when a dude shows any concern whatsoever for her sexual pleasure. Which is unfortunate because sex is *supposed* to be pleasurable for both parties.

    Anyway, these are my grouchy and rather cynical thoughts on the matter :)

    Interesting post, btw. When I finally admitted to myself that I was dom, I actually did look into going pro, and it was because I got similar comments to lipstick and ligature.

  2. Yes! This! Thank you for the nod by the way! :D
    I think that one of the big issues with women’s sexuality today, as you say, it that people really, really have trouble accepting women’s sexuality and the idea that women like sex for sex’s sake. Even women feel like there has to be at least something “empowering” about it. And while I’m not saying that sex cannot be empowering I think, again, it is empowerment for empowerment’s sake. Women are still very afraid to say that sex is nice or fun or delicious or delightful. Because once she does then her appetites are revealed and *whisper it* people might think she’s slutty. And gagh, that’s so 1892 isn’t it? We are not amused.

  3. Women are scary because they can make us feel happy or sad. But I do not see a woman as scary because she loves sex a lot.

    I love sex with someone who loves it. I want her to feel right. My part (or a part of my part at least) is to help her to feel right. If she felt just what a card board cut-out of a woman would feel then she might just as well be a card board cut out not a woman. I never had sex like that. I never had sex with a woman who was not getting fun from it. I would not feel right with that. It would put me off. It would feel humiliating too. It would feel like letting her down.

    Satan

  4. If we look at patriarchy as the control of women’s bodies, then we’ve got a social order where women nurturing our own desire is a categorized as a terrible threat. How do you keep the women down on the farm growing male heirs and avoiding sex with anyone but their husbands once they’ve had and owned pleasure as an end unto itself? We have DNA tests now, so controlling women as a way to ensuring “legitimate” heirs is gone, but the entire culture of women as objects sought after and controlled by men–with honor afforded to women for their obedience to control, and honor to men for their mastery–continues.

    An associated issue is that sexuality, like many things, is All About Men right now. Pushing dominant women into the role of pro-dom is a way of putting dominant women in a category of worker who provides services to a clientele presumably largely composed of men. It’s making dominance safe because it’s only ever what a man wants, what a man paid for. Men and their desire, which we’re all taught to understand and celebrate, remains at the center of the discussion and ostensibly at the center of dominant women’s lives. It’s a mostly subconscious way to resolve the cognitive dissonance presented by sexually assertive women, IMO.

    • It’s a mostly subconscious way to resolve the cognitive dissonance presented by sexually assertive women, IMO.

      Cognitive dissonance! That’s just the phrase I was looking for to explain people’s deep discomfort with a woman who tops just because she enjoys it, without interest in monetary reward.

  5. I don’t want to turn woman into a frigid wife to give me a son. I don’t want woman to be a sex worker. Nor do I like the social order. A vital part of our culture is to rebel against the social order.

    Desire should be mutual.

    I like closeness.

    Up the revolution!

    Satan

    • Yes, and it’s lovely that there are people who feel that way! Unfortunately, on the macro scale, I believe social values continue to be shaped by history. So much so that even within sub-cultures we still have those values internalized — reacting to something, after all, isn’t the same as being *free* from it. To truly be free from it would be to live in a world where we didn’t have to think of it at all. And forming a reaction to something still places you in intimate relation to it, I think. We are not mainstream, but the mainstream (its patriarchy, heterocentrism, etc) is inside us whether we like it or not.

      There are strict anti-capitalist men who still want women to look “attractive” in ways that are constructed by capitalist mass media and which can only be achieved by the careful application of expensive consumer goods. There are kinky people who continue to believe in gender essentialism. There are kinky people who, not even meaning to, box dominant women into more comfortable categories of economic service to male desire.

      Dom or sub, culture is the ultimate toppy mindfuck of us all lol

  6. Thank you. It’s easy to forget. I can say I feel this or I want that. Yes. But something must shape my wants. Let’s say that our wants were just hard wired. That is biology. Of course biology shapes us all. It is one thing that shapes us all. But we learn from our lives too. To put it another way our history shapes us all too. We are hard wired and we learn. It is just a bit of both.

    Now we have the great fight for the survival of the fittest capitalist’s enterprise. That fight is changing all culture now and far faster than just biology could do.

    Satan

    • I’m not sure how biologically hardwired anything is. If you look at one country’s culture over the course of a mere 50 years, you will see vast changes in attitudes regarding what looks are attractive and what looks are appropriately masculine or feminine. If you take a look at a longer period of time–say, several hundred years–you have massive, massive differences which cannot be explained by evolution because, while a century might seem like a long time to humans, it’s nothing to the geologic time scales involved in evolution. And I’m just speaking about change over time within one culture here: if you include the massive differences *between* cultures, it becomes incredibly tough to pin down what things remain the same enough of the time that they could be considered hardwired.

      Culture has the magic of being endlessly variable between groups and endlessly changing over time within groups yet its current standards also take on the feeling of *naturalness* to people within its grasp. So that a man who says pubic hair on a woman is dirty and gross is truly communicating something that he feels very deeply — he’s also communicating something that is only “true” (inasmuch as anything having to do with aesthetic preference is true) only for some people and only within a very narrow window of 21st Century mass media influenced Western culture. He thinks that his gut feeling is some indicator of truth — he feels it is dirty and unattractive, therefore it is and all right-thinking men should agree with his gut. But this gut feeling has all the biologically eternal substance of a puff of smoke. It can’t be traced back through cultures where things were not perceived that way to some pre-historical hardwiring. And gut feelings are no good reason to police other people for having different gut feelings.

      Your notion of capitalist’s greatest enterprise makes me think of Social Darwinism, which is a vicious way of looking at people that has no grounding in genuine Darwinian thinking and which has been morally and intellectual bankrupt since privileged people first started preaching it in the late 19th Century.

      • Well said. Yes. That’s right.

        The capitalist who’s means are out of date is out of business. His firm is extinct. A more profitable firm stands in its place.

        This may make us think of biology or of bogus ideas of biology. Of course it is neither.

        It is going on in front of our eyes. And it is fast too.

  7. I love and agree with this post.

    More thoughts:

    What I hate most about the “you should be a pro domme!” thing is that pro-domming is essentially a customer service job. If you don’t domme a client exactly the way they want, you’ll lose their business – therefore you’re catering to them, not the other way around. So basically it’s as if I’d said “I love feeling empowered and doing whatever the hell I want!” and my friend replied “OMG, you should totally work in this field where your behaviour is completely dictated by other people!” It just doesn’t make sense.

    A good friend of mine is just starting out as a pro domme. I’ve offered to work with her on occasion if she’d like a partner. I want this because it’s good money and I have some relevant skills, but – let’s be absolutely clear here – I do not expect any pro domme work I do to be sexually fulfilling.

    My personal domination style tends to be fiery and extremely physical. Biting, slapping, choking, hair-pulling. Alternately telling my partner that he’s my precious, perfect boy and that he’s a fucking whore. Never having to raise my voice because my lips are already right against his ear. Wearing whatever the hell I want, because I’m there for my own pleasure, not as eye candy. Conversely, if I do any pro domming, I expect I’ll have to put on something slutty, act cold and haughty, and loudly order the clients around – with a minimum of physical contact (which is fine because I don’t get to select for attractiveness).

    I’m sure there are women out there who love to dominate in the stereotypical ice-princess-in-stilettos way, but for me and many others, pro domming is a completely different animal from anything we’d choose to do in our personal lives. So even putting aside the dynamics of control, at best the “you should be a pro domme!” conversation translates to “Oh, you like to do photorealistic oil paintings? You should be a graffiti artist!” Doesn’t. Make. Sense.

  8. I’m just old enough that I can remember the “debate” in the 1970s over whether or not women were able to have “vaginal” orgasms. Masters and Johnson published their research showing that women were, in fact, capable of having orgasms (of any kind) only 1966. As I recall, a lot of men, and quite a few of women, were threatened by the idea that women could derive physical pleasure from sex (as opposed to purely emotional pleasure).

    I realize that is forty years ago. But that is a VERY short time for culture to try and adapt to anything as basic as the sexuality of women.

    On that topic, I am generally for it.

    • Wow, you’re old! Unfortunately, I also happen to remember this – I had actually forgotten about it, but your comment brought back memories of talking to women about the emotional vs physical aspects of sex. And that led to the idea that “women were responsible for their own orgasm” which also led to some stress and pressure on women who began to feel pressured by their partners to have them.

      • OLD?!?!?! If I didn’t have to get those kids off my lawn, I’d give you a piece of my mind, whipper-snapper! Turn down that music! Pull up those pants! I remember when a dollar could buy…

    • Look a bit further back to when capitalist production was just trying to stand on its own feet. The 17th century capitalist was a sour penny pinching kill-joy. He was obsessed with gain and thrift. So he could even state with a straight face that females’ pleasure from sex was a myth. He left a mark on our culture.

      A proper capitalist loves to spend his cash that he did not need to work for. Fun makes sense to him. Female pleasure from sex makes sense to him too.

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