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?”