Masochist courtesans? Count me in!

For the most part, people, I think, don’t really get what BDSM is. They will probably know that the term has something to do with kinky sex (the BDSM=kink definition is one you encounter a lot), but aside from that, it’s all slightly blurry. So here is a little starter-guide on BDSM, my thoughts thereon, and a couple of personal experiences. Use however you see fit.

BDSM is really a blanket term for a whole lot of stuff. It stands for Bondage, Dominance/Discipline, Submission/Sadism, Masochism. So yes, it’s ‘kinky’. Except, sex in public is kinky. Eating ice cream of your partner’s stomach is kinky. Engaging in elaborate role play where you’re part of a conspiracy to overthrow the Roman Emperor Caligula is kinky. (I have not done the last one, but damn it, I wish I had.) None of these things are, necessarily, anything to do with BDSM. BDSM is, on a most basic level, about pain and/or control that is somehow related to sex or something that feels a lot like sex. The ice cream is optional.

At this point I’m going to direct people to Clarisse Thorn’s blog. Clarisse is an amazing feminist blogger, who writes about what I would call ‘hardcore’ BDSM, the BDSM community, and her extensive experiences with both. It is definitely worth reading, and I am happy to say that I continue to learn from Clarisse, and am really pleased she’s out there writing. I’m not going to attempt to compete with her, because I don’t have anywhere near her level of expertise on the subject. But I can share my own experiences, and this is really a blog about talking about sex as much as possible in order to normalise the idea that women enjoy sex and this is okay. Not just okay, but amazing.

So, me and BDSM. As I have mentioned before, I had a slightly unusual sexual education. I read fanfic, although at that point, I wasn’t very good at working out what kind of fanfic I liked and how to find what I wanted, so I basically just read everything, and a lot of it was fairly awful. Also, it was that alternative stuff on the internet, rather than mainstream culture, so while I was really pleased to be reading sexy stories about lesbian schoolgirls, part of me felt that it wasn’t really valid because I wasn’t seeing these ideas anywhere else. And I was so confused and innocent that I sort of felt that, if it wasn’t in mainstream culture, it wasn’t ‘real’.

Now, I was obsessed with fantasy novels. I discovered Lord of the Rings at age twelve, and quickly became an absolute fanatic. I used to hide in the SciFi & Fantasy section of the bookshop, flicking my way through endless titles about alternative universes and magical worlds. Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind, Robin Hobb, Carol Berg, Jane Lindskold – I read them all, regardless of whether or not they were actually any good. You often get sex scenes in fantasy novels that are more graphic than you would find in any genre other than trashy romance (and I mean that as the name of the genre – I like trashy romance as much as anyone). I don’t know why this is, maybe it’s something to do with the fantasy setting lending itself to actual fantasies? Who knows. I was a horny fourteen-year-old, and I would latch onto to any books I thought might have sex scenes. So when I found a book with a cover illustration of a topless girl with downcast eyes, I bought it without hesitation.

This was my introduction to the Kushiel’s Legacy series by Jacqueline Carey. These books (there are three in the first series, and another two trilogies set in the same world) quite literally changed my life. The protagonist is a masochistic courtesan called Phedre who becomes a spy and has to try to save her country from political disaster, again and again. And there is sex. Lots and lots of sex. If I try to describe Phedre, I will probably make her sound like a classic Mary Sue, but somehow that doesn’t come across in the writing at all. And I think part of that is due to the universe that Carey creates. In this culture, sex is a sacred and divine act, and the aim is to have lots of it and enjoy it as much as possible. Phedre is a courtesan, and that is considered an honourable and high-class profession. She is a very good courtesan. The entire population seems to be pretty much bisexual, and the complete lack of shame in this fictional culture is astounding. It really made me realise how sexphobic the real world is. I guess only in a fantasy world is it possible to honour sex workers and treat all consensual (consent is a massive deal in these books, and rape is an act of both heresy and treason) sex acts as not only normal, but beneficial and enlightening.

As I said, Phedre is not only a highly skilled courtesan. She is also a masochist. This is a mainstream book, being sold on the shelves of all major bookstores, containing graphic (though beautifully written) sex scenes involving hardcore BDSM. And I mean seriously hardcore. I don’t want to write too much for fear of spoiling the plot or triggering anyone, so I will just say that as well as spanking and whipping, there is strangulation and some interesting work with razor blades. And it’s all portrayed as totally normal.

Now, I’m not saying that all sex ought to involve a healthy session with the riding crop, and speaking from a personal perspective, 90% of what is in this novel is far too extreme for my tastes. But it is hot to read, and because of the setting, it made me seriously think about what ‘kinky’ things I might enjoy without feeling ashamed by it. It also taught me the importance of a safeword (Phedre’s is ‘hyacinthe’, mine is ‘pepsi’, although I tend to only use it if I am being tickled). More than anything, these books gave me the vocabulary to talk about this stuff, to have discussions about negotiating boundaries and trying out new ideas. And I cannot emphasise enough how valuable that is. People who know what they like have the internet now, a treasure trove of information. But you have to actively look for it, and there’s no way you’re going to do that if you still have no idea what BDSM is, or think it’s only something for weird people who go to fetish clubs. (Fetish clubs, by the way, can be awesome. They can also be terrible. You have to pick the right place and the right people to go with, I think.) As a teenager, being able to pick up a book like this from a shelf really opened my eyes to well, everything. I would definitely recommend the whole series – hell, the plot and characterisation aren’t half bad either.

Flash-forward six or so years, and I own my own set of handcuffs, as well as a choke-collar and riding crop. I’ve been whipped to the point of having bruises a week later, scratched so hard it’s drawn blood, and choked almost to unconsciousness. I’ve also engaged in hardcore rape fantasies, but that is another story for another post (and believe me, there will be another post). Not all the sex I have is kinky, and not all the kinks I engage in fall under the BDSM umbrella, but it’s enough for me to be considered, well, unconventional. I can’t imagine giving all that up to have so-called ‘normal’ sex, because kinky sex is fun. At least for me. And I would never even have discovered it if it hadn’t been for those fantasy books.

Again, if you want a deeper analysis of BDSM and the culture associated with it, see Clarisse’s site. I’m more of a ‘try anything once’ kinda girl, and though I certainly wouldn’t want to pressure anyone into doing anything they’re uncomfortable with, I would suggest taking a closer look at any boundaries you may have. It may well be that they’re not really your boundaries at all, and if that’s the case, a little experimenting goes a long way.

Vanilla ice cream is delicious, but it’s even better with sprinkles.

2 thoughts on “Masochist courtesans? Count me in!

  1. Thanks for the linkback! : ) I liked the Kushiel series, although there are two things that I wish weren’t true about it:

    — I wish her most intense BDSM relationship was not with her greatest enemy
    — I wish Phedre’s desires were portrayed as a little more normal and less god-endowed (because I don’t think she’s actually very different from any other relatively hardcore masochist I’ve met)

    But I’m glad those books are out there, for sure. And I’m also glad you’re putting your own perspective out there.

  2. I absolutely love your blog – thank you so much for writing it. Your post on learning to orgasm was brilliant, and so true.

    I also wish that Phedre’s masochism was portrayed as being more natural, not just a gift/curse from a god. But despite that criticism, I think the sex positivity of the culture is amazing, and I love that they’re out there. Thank you for reading.

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