Karma Police (Educating the sex educators about kink).

Posted: July 22, 2010 in Blogging, Desire, Kink

We all have sexual fantasies right? I remember fantasising before I even started masturbating.  I might have been nine or ten. Or eleven. It doesn’t really matter does it?  Our sexuality starts in childhood and carries on from there.

Recently I spotted a link to this piece by sex educator and therapist, Dr Castellanos, on the role of 
fantasy in our sex lives. I was pleased someone was tackling the subject and sharing her knowledge. Then I read it.

The article starts off ok.  ‘Learning  a little about sexual fantasies may help you become more comfortable with your own fantasies’ writes Dr Castellanos. Unless you learn that your fantasies are wrong, or signs of psychological problems, maybe?

She then goes on to look at ‘rape’ fantasies, saying ‘a fairly common fantasy for some women is that might [sic] be ravished or raped. For many women, this fantasy represents the desire to be so attractive and desirable that their partner (or others in the fantasy) would not be able to resist them. It does not automatically mean that a woman would want to be raped or would enjoy being raped’.

The problem I have with this ‘analysis’ is that it totally ignores the role of violence in many people’s  fantasies, from an S and M, or kink, point of view. Castellanos tiptoes over the fact that some of us fantasise about being ‘ravaged’ or ‘raped’, not because we want to be ‘irresistible’ but because we like the idea of being taken by force, beaten, hurt and violated, against our will. We like the idea. We may even re-enact this idea in a role-play scenario. We might write stories about it.  The Doctor is right. It doesn’t mean we want to be raped, or to rape.  But it does mean we are prepared to entertain the idea of forced, violent, non-consensual sex. This is not a crime, unless you are the thought police.

I originally intended to write this post in a friendly, accessible, non-violent manner, so that other sex educators might read it and learn from a practioner of kink, and writer of kink pornography, how violent fantasies are perfectly natural and can form part of a ‘healthy’, BDSM role-play sex life. But I found Dr Castellanos’ version of kinky fantasy so inaccurate, patronising and pathologising of my and many other people’s sexuality that I don’t think I am going to be able to achieve my original aim.

Later in her piece Dr Castellanos writes:

‘There are many things that people fantasise about that they would not look to carry out in real life. But that  does not mean you cannot use your fantasies to heighten your experience for you or your partner. Fantasy is just that, fantasy-not reality, it is a creative space in your mind that you can use to pretend and to create exciting stories, and have fun’.

(‘This article refers to fantasies that do not involve harm towards yourself or another person, or fantasies that involve inappropriate partners, such as children or animals. If you are having such fantasies, they should be discussed with a therapist to prevent any dangerous or harmful behaviour or any anxiety or depression that result from them)’.

Thankfully the article ended there, because I think if it had have carried on it would have tied itself into even more convoluted and confusing knots. And I might have committed an act of violence against my computer.

I have tried to give her the benefit of the doubt, but I can only conclude that Dr Castellanos is saying that S and M fantasy, if not done ‘properly’, and if translated into ‘reality’, is wrong, harmful and requires the fantasiser to seek medical and psychological assistance. If that isn’t pathologising people’s sexuality I don’t know what is.

Kink does involve turning our fantasies into ‘reality’ to a degree. Not literally of course. But in role-play such as ‘rape play’ , ‘kidnapping’, ‘interrogation scenes’ etc sadists ‘harm’ masochists. A key point is that they do so with full consent of the person on the other end of the violence.  But still, it is worth noting that it is this very ‘real’ violence that the masochist desires. Try hitting a masochist with an ‘imaginary’ cane/flogger/crop and s/he won’t be very happy!

I know sex educators have a responsibility to advocate awareness of danger, risk and safety in all matters of sex and sexuality. But in my view, the most dangerous thing in our sex lives is ignorance, and Dr Castellanos’ ignorance of kink and BDSM sexuality screams out from her article. Also the fact is that when it comes to awareness of ‘harm’ and the potential for S and M sex to do physical, and psychological damage, it tends to be practitioners of kink who know the most about this and how to minimise adverse effects. Just as sex workers are often the most expert of groups in contraception and STI prevention, so are kinky people often the most knowledgeable about the potential dangers involved in S and M. Not all of them. But there are many responsible, articulate kink practioners and bloggers who could have dealt with this subject much more informatively than Dr Castellanos. Maybe she should have asked them for some advice?

As for her assertion that we should not fantasise about sex with ‘inappropriate partners’ such as children or animals. This is a highly controversial subject. But I retain the position that even if we try to police our thoughts and our imaginations, we cannot, and should not prohibit or denigrate anything that goes through our minds. Novelists, artists, musicians, all deal with the darker sides of our imaginations. Are they to be told they shouldn’t have such ‘inappropriate’ thoughts as well? What about the  Murder Ballads ?  Or Lolita? Or the work of Mat Collishaw ? Or is the doctor saying that ‘art’ and ‘pornography’ ‘imagination’ and ‘fantasy’ are completely separate distinct things? I don’t see how they can be, as they all stem from the same source.

I wanted this post to be educational. I am worried it has turned into a rant. But after reading Dr Castellanos piece, I felt a degree of ‘anxiety’ and ‘depression’ myself. I had a brief flash of doubt about the ‘appropriateness’ of my own fantasies and my sexuality. I did seek counsel as well, but luckily not from Dr C. I spoke to someone who writes about kink sexuality who I knew would not tell me I needed ‘help’ with my ‘problem’. I am a confident and aware person but I haven’t always been so, especially not in relation to my interest in S and M. If someone new to this kind of sexual expression read Dr C’s article, I think s/he could feel very unnerved about the kinds of things s/he thought about, desired, and wished to do.

Here, then, for anyone that is interested, is a list of sources of information about kink, S and M, BDSM sexuality. The sex educators could benefit from some education from those who know what they are talking about!

Clarisse Thorn: http://clarissethorn.wordpress.com/

Remittance Girl: http://remittancegirl.com/

Informed Consent: http://www.informedconsent.co.uk/settings/sign-in/

Let The Eat: Pro S and M Feminist Safe Spaces: http://sm-feminist.blogspot.com/

Pandora Blake: Spanked, not Silenced http://pandorablake.blogspot.com/

Thinking About My Kink http://thinkingaboutmykink.blogspot.com/

Oh, and if you have any queries about S and M/Kink you can always talk to me. I may not know the answer to your questions; I will know someone who does!

  1. yearzerowriters says:

    The key phrase for me in your piece was ‘the pathologising… of sexuality’.

    That in a nutshell is everything about the issue. A narrow band of socially defined/accepted sexual activities, so that anything not in this list is automatically labelled ‘deviant’ as in it deviates from the straight & narrow (literally). It marks all its practitioners as pathological, ie ill, dis-eased and deleterious to one’s own health.

    Bottling up such fantasies for fear of social reprisal or excommunication, is almost guaranteed to lead to ill-health, rather than the healthy course of giving them expression.

    Pathology is a word that ought to be expunged from our language. Who is anyone to tell me my feelings are dis-eased or cause me suffering? Least of all a society in what must be the most value-laden of all judgments.

    marc nash

  2. Hi Marc
    Thanks. I took a while to get round to writing this, partly because I didn’t want to be undermining the work of a ‘sex educator’. But on this issue I think she is really wrong and her version of our fantasy life could lead to people suffering, as you say too.

  3. Dan Holloway says:

    I don’t think this piece comes across as a rant at all. I think you put across a point for candour very strongly – and candidly. It’s such a sensitive topic, and so many of the would-be de-pathologising texts I read I think would have been better not written, because they instantly undermine themselves with “of course I don’t mean fantasies about…”. I’m not enough of an educationalist or developmental psychologist to know the who and how of starting to get people thinking about the ways in which their nascent fantasies begin to be brought into some kind of kilter with physical experimentation, but I DO think it may be worth starting to look beyond sex as a “special case”, to be treated differently from other forms of development – that can only serve, as sexuality develops, to reinforce both stigma and an inability to articulate free of that stigma, which in turn makes the “difference” of sex from other parts of an integrated life a reality.

  4. Hi Dan
    Thanks. I know exactly what you mean. But I guess we have centuries of treating sex as a ‘special case’ that are very difficult for people to ‘unlearn’. I chatted to a gay writer about this piece and he just laughed and said therapists have been instrumental actors in pathologising homosexuality historically, and they do it with other ‘minority’ sexualities too.

    I agree, some people don’t help ‘our’ case by writing about sexuality either in a dramatic and/or a censorious way, even when trying to suggest all forms of sexuality are acceptable. But I guess that’s because socially, they’re not!

  5. rob says:

    Some random thoughts:

    I agree with you that glossing over the fact that some people get their fun though kinky sex does the reader a disservice. However, I also think that the whole issue of informed consent is the key missing element, and it’s ignored by Dr. Castellanos in her catch-all last paragraph.

    Informed consent (IMHO) separates what I would call “healthy” kink from what really is stuff that needs treatment. The latter includes pedophilia, rape, necrophilia and bestiality, to name a few. In practice, children, rape victims, corpses and animals cannot, and do not, consent. However, acting out kinky fantasies in a safe, sane and consensual way is I suspect likely to be a more effective long-term strategy than simply assuming that one’s fantasies are wrong and hoping (in vain, inevitably) that they will somehow just go away.

    OTOH, the good doctor does allude to the fact that some people on occasion engage in riskier sexual behaviours because of real psychological ailments – she names anxiety disorders and depression, and I would also add bipolar disorder to that list. In those types of cases, I think that there is probably some justification for looking at sexual activity through the prism of medicine.

  6. Hi Rob
    thanks for your comment.
    I mentioned consent yes because Dr C didn’t.

    Also I think we need to be clear about the distinction between ‘fantasy’ and action. She is making a link between our fantasies and feelings of depression/anxiety due to the nature/subject matter of what we fantasise about, not our general state of mental health or actions we take in life. This is what I find most concerning in the article.

  7. Mark says:

    ‘A key point is that they do so with full consent of the person on the other end of the violence. But still, it is worth noting that it is this very ‘real’ violence that the masochist desires. Try hitting a masochist with an ‘imaginary’ cane/flogger/crop and s/he won’t be very happy!’

    I’m so glad you abandoned the friendly, non-violent approach with this muddled sex therapist and thwacked her across the buttocks with your argument instead. Even if it was without her consent.

  8. Thanks Mark. I hope she didn’t enjoy it too much. You never can tell what lurks beneath the surface of a puritanical tight-ass.

    Talking of asses I read your piece on anal sex from Sex Terror, online. That Dutch bloke was hilarious (as presented by you anyway!)

  9. Mark says:

    He actually exists. And funnily enough, I went to see him in Holland t’other week.

    Where did you find the piece btw?

  10. In The Stranger – link in the Sex Terror section on your blog!

  11. […] gives us “Karma Police (Educating the sex educators about kink)“: Kink does involve turning our fantasies into ‘reality’ to a degree. Not literally of […]

  12. ROTFLMAO. Okay, well, you’re the one who REposted this article. Don’t blame me! Gotta love this:

    [from the article being reviewed If you are having such fantasies, they should be discussed with a therapist… you replied […] I might have committed an act of violence against my computer

    And I should certainly hope you’d have gone to see a therapist about that violent act immediately thereafter. LOL. Ahhh, some people (like this Castellanos twit) really don’t get it. In fact, I used to think best-seller/mega-popular mainstreamer Tracey Cox “got” it but she doesn’t really either.

    I dont’ think it’s possible for mainstream AND edge to co-exist in the same article. They are written for two entirely different audiences and I sincerely believe the two audiences are extremely judgmental of the other. I suppose I could be wrong, but given I come off IRL like some conserative, straight-laced, zipped up tight-ass (oooh, I *hope* my ass is tight! *hee hee*) and yet in reality I’m something else entirely, kinda lets me see both sides sometimes. Not often, but I can definitely get this Castellanos’s perverse opinions. She really believes she’s right–and kind. This kind of writer doesn’t get how insulting they are being. By the same token, to call the vanilla world “unenlightened” would also be wrong. It’s a choice or at least, it’s a preference. It’s the same as any OTHER sexual orientation – it’s just the way you ARE. Someone like myself who cannot handle pain–at all–would never be happy with your masochistic fantasies being played out on me. By the same token, I don’t have to be the one enjoying the pain to inflict it. I just have to enjoy my partner’s enjoyment of it.

    I think that’s the biggest difference between edge-play and vanilla sex. Edge-play, BDSM, Power Exchange or anything else you want to call it is all about an exchange, an agreement, a meeting of minds BEFORE there’s a meeting of bodies. It’s a much more cerebral sexual experience. In vanilla sex, it’s much more raw, basic animalistic behavior, maybe reserved, maybe “ravaging” but definitely not deliberated on and executed like a plan of attack in a battlefield (and I definitely feel like I’m making/anticipating strategic strikes when I’m in Scene)

    Anyway, thanks for your review of this “thought police” chick. What a kicker.

  13. btw, QRG, why did you call this KARMA police when really, it’s about the THOUGHT police?

  14. Hi Sarah
    thanks for your comment. I called it Karma Police because that is a song by Radiohead and I like the title! But also it gives me a bad feeling, this kind of prejudice, a bad karma…

  15. And since there were multiple remarks about it, I just *had* to go find Mark Simpson’s article on Anal Sex. *WHAT* a riot. Thanks, Mark 🙂 I loved this part about guys who actually LIKE anal sex “…[are] usually straight. Maybe that’s my problem. Maybe I’m just not man enough to take it like a man.” hahahahahahaha, ahhh, too true. It is usually serious masochists who enjoy it but as a hetero female, my only experience is with hetero male masochists so maybe I’m generalizing. I’m also American and hey, what do we know? Most of this country is still too sexually repressed to even SAY “anal sex.” Just look at the whackos running for office (sez she thinking of Christine O’Donnell who says masturbation is adultery and homosexuality is, get this, an IDENTITY DISORDER. WTF? Yeah, I have no idea. She’s a lunatic, clearly).

    Thanks for the article and for mentioning it here so I could go digging through your site and The Stranger’s site to find it 😉 Couldn’t you just link to it? You know, make it EASY on us lazy-ass grrls? 😀 Watch, it’s not hard:


  16. I have so many links to Mark’s work on this blog, I thought people could find that one for themselves!

  17. Thank you so much for all the attention to my blog. It is interesting to see how a blog post becomes a projective test and how people reveal so much about themselves in making their own interpretations. Note that I did not define “harm” in my (legally necessary) disclaimer. You, on the other hand, interpreted that the word “harm” was somehow applying to you and your activities, and then took great offense to your own interpretation. The purpose of that particular post was to give permission for people out there to give a voice to their fantasies, not the other way around. BTW, your link is broken. Here is the new one:

  18. ‘harm’ is a very loaded term and despite the need for therapists to have legal disclaimers the word casts aspersions on people’s sexualities. do you have that disclaimer on every post about heterosexual ‘vanilla’ sex for example?

    I dont think people need permission to voice their fantasies either.

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