In one of the final scenes of the classic kinky rom com Secretary, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character tries to prove herself to the man she wants to become her Dom by remaining seated and unmoving for… a really long time. She’s haunted by various hallucinations while she sits there, one of whom asks, “Lee, are you doing something sexual right now?” Fiercely, she responds, “Does this look sexual to you?!” The question is left rhetorical in the film, and I’ve never been satisfied with my own answer to it. She’s sitting, fully dressed in her wedding dress, swaying with exhaustion, and the film even shows her peeing herself at one point. But my gut response to her question has always been an uncomfortable and unsatisfying, “Well, maybe-sort-of-kind-of-a-little-yeah.” I found the question so thought-provoking that I made it one of my research questions for my project on BDSM. I also meandered around the question a bit recently when I was interviewed by The People of Kink
But this post isn’t about other people, or what BDSM means to other people, or how different BDSM microcultures construct sex and sexuality. I just spent the last month frantically assembling that shit. This post is about me, dammit. Because the whole time I was putting that darned presentation together, I kept asking myself how would I answer the question–is BDSM/kink sexual/about sex–if I interviewed myself. And this post is what I would say.
When I first entered the Scene several years ago, it never in a million years crossed my mind that kink could be anything other than sexual. At that point, kink was all about sex for me: what could make me cum harder, what could make my partners cum harder, what could make them aroused and wanting to fuck me? Whether playing with violet wands, getting poked with needles, getting my clothes cut off with knives, or scratching people with my claws: it was really all about sex for me. The first time I got suspended in rope, I got fucked with a glass dildo; the third time I got suspended, it was so I could fuck a girl in the air. I really had no idea there were kink events that forbade sex, and I couldn’t really wrap my brain around the idea that there were BDSM activities that people engaged in for reasons other than sex. Once I started talking to people who claimed that they engaged in BDSM for non-sexual reasons, my brain tended to give them patronizing looks even as the rest of me sometimes tried to hang on to a poker face. Why the fuck were they doing this shit if not for sex?
Then one night I flogged a guy I wasn’t attracted to just because my fingers were itching to beat the crap out of someone. It was sexy to hurt someone like that, but I don’t know that I could really call it sexual. It made me excited, but I couldn’t really say that it made my clit hard. Pretty much the same thing happened a few weeks later when I got tied up in a really uncomfortable position for the first time: it was sexy and fun and exciting, but I couldn’t really say it got me hard. In both cases, the exhiliration I experienced wasn’t that different from doing other things that I find really sexy that are physically challenging, like poledancing or dancing with fire. The analogy is extremely apt for me: I’ve done competitive poledancing, which didn’t get my clit hard at all–it’s art and an athletic competition; it’s sensual and fun, but that’s it. But I’ve poledanced at kink events, and it’s an entirely different experience that leaves my pussy smelling like I’ve just been fucked. Ditto with firedancing. For both poledancing and firedancing, I will readily admit that I’ve jerked off fantasizing about doing those things in specific contexts, but they certainly aren’t inherently sexual. And I’ve learned to think of a lot of kink activities the same way.
Conversely, I’ve done scenes that I didn’t expect to get my clit hard that did. One of the first fetish photography shoots I did was mostly just me, naked, doing sensual and sexy things that I enjoy for three enthusiastic photographers. Totally unattracted to anyone there, I was startled when I got dressed later and realized that I smelled like I had been having sex. I didn’t just smell like I was aroused; I smelled like I had actually been having sex. The same thing happened when I just observed at a kinky wrestling party (I reeeeeally like to watch sexy people wrestle sexily…). Then another time, a couple of years ago, I bought a single-tail, and my friend InspiredIniquity gamely volunteered to let me hit him with it, even though I’d never wielded one before. I was really a downright lousy whip top, and he was being very good about letting me know what I was doing wrong and what I needed to modify, and he and I were just friends… but somehow, whip practice devolved into something that felt supiciously like a scene that definitely left both of us panting. There was absolutely nothing overtly sexual about what we were doing–we were standing a good 3 feet apart–and yet both of us left with hard-ons. We both like single-tails a lot, but much more was happening than a shared kink: there was chemistry in that interaction that had nothing to do with the whip. (He quipped that he could have been teaching me to sautee vegetables, and it still would have been arousing, because that’s what the best chemistry does).
The weirdest point of convergence for me happened just a couple of weeks ago at Winterfire. I arrived there wicked horny because my pre-birthday orgy got genitalia-blocked by a snowstorm. I started asking around for “Trouble” (it’s my generic term for kink and/or sex), and B offered me rope. Now, a sensible person would have said, “Could there be sex first, please?,” but I’m not always a sensible person. I’m a spoiled slut, and I’ve learned that sometimes, sexy, weird, and delightful things come my way when I don’t ask for what I want (it’s not a strategy I’d recommend to other people. I live a strange life). The thing was, I’d never done a rope scene with him when I was that horny since he and I started sleeping together, and I wanted to see what it would feel like. And…alkalgohotgih… that’s not a typo. That’s my brain on rope. It’s just a scramble of unwords…
He was fully clothed and I was still in my underwear, but whatever it was we were doing felt far more intimate than sex. I’m not normally a twue rope slut (people who space out just from the pleasures of rope on their skin), but the moment his ropes touched my flesh, I felt like I was being completely encased in his body. I started spacing out from a simple TK, which is a tie I don’t even like very much. In no time, I found myself wishing that he would choke me, and without me ever saying a word, he did. I don’t really have a clue what that tie consisted of. It started out with me hanging low, then hanging higher, then higher still, with my back got arched at some fairly outrageous angle. But while I usually let myself have an energy orgasm in rope like that, this time, I kept holding back, torturing myself with energy and desire and letting myself be relatively gently tortured with rope and manipulated desires that I couldn’t control. By the time he let me down onto the ground, still very tied, I found myself desperately grinding my crotch into the top of his boot. I never did quite orgasm from all of that, but when all was said and done, I felt like rope had been a dizzying and intense substitution for sex. “Substitution” is a major disservice there. Maybe I should say that it was a dizzying and intense “upgrade.”
…And so that is the gamut of my experience with the relationships between sex and kink: from obviously kinky sex to not particularly sexy kink to kink that just plain felt like sex. To this day, 99% of my non-rope bottoming is sexual, and the idea of taking most forms of pain without getting to cum is just awful, and I can take a lot more pain when I get to cum. However, about 80% of my rope bottoming is not-very-sexual (although I usually have energy orgasms from it, which certainly calls the “non-sexual” part into question). Pretty much 100% of my switching is sexual. I actually mostly refuse to wrestle people I’m not at least minimally sexually involved with because it feels too much like sex to me (although I feel the same way about most forms of partner dancing as well). At the same time, about 75% of my (unswitchy) topping is not-very-sexual. I’ve even made people cum by hurting them without getting a particularly sexual thrill out of the experience (although it was certainly enjoyable for other reasons).
Does it look sexual to me? Much of the time, yes. But so does wrestling, massage, most forms of dance, many sung duets, and lots of other creative and sensual things that people do together. I still mostly do kink because of sex and because of the intimate and sexual connections I feel with people when I do it. Even ostensibly “non-sexual” scenes almost always lead me to just go off and fuck somebody else. When I kink with people I have sexual chemistry with, the scenes pretty much always make me obviously aroused; when I kink with people I’m not sure if I have sexual chemistry with, the scenes often leave me feeling vaguely aroused; and when I kink with people I’m definitely not attracted to, the scenes often leave me feeling excited, but not particularly aroused. So I guess my final answer my own question is: kink isn’t inherently sexual, but it’s mostly sexual for me most of the time.