SUNDAY INTERVIEW -- Probing Limits Of Pleasure And Pain Dossie Easton has the upper hand on S/M, or sadomasochism, a touchy issue for many straights and gays -- and on the roles of villain and victim, bound inextricably together David Tuller, Chronicle Staff Writer
Dossie Easton is a 53-year-old therapist, an advocate for battered women, a self-described pagan -- and an aficionado of sadomasochism.
A Massachusetts native who has lived in the Bay Area for more than 25 years, she is the co-author, with Catherine Liszt, of three popular books that explore alternative sexual lifestyles: "The Bottoming Book, or How to Get Terrible Things Done to You by Wonderful People," "The Topping Book, or Getting Good at Being Bad" and "The Ethical Slut: A Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities."
Easton, who laughs easily and looks very unlike anyone's stereotype of an S/M expert, has been an active member of San Francisco's lesbian community since the early 1970s. She lives with her partner in West Marin and maintains a private counseling practice in San Francisco. In a recent interview with The Chronicle, she discussed endorphins, the Marquis de Sade, drill sergeants and gourmet food.
Q: How did you first become interested in S/M?
A: In 1972, I started working with San Francisco Sex Information, which is a very good switchboard that still exists. Because we were in training to speak to anyone who called in with whatever issue, we were trained to deal with the entire range of human sexual behavior, however obscure or ill-understood. And that was what initially got me fascinated. It was like, oh, wow, there's a whole world of things that I never even heard of before! So starting from there, I just thought it was really interesting and very growthful for me, and I became just fascinated by the wealth and range of human sexual experience. And it's really kind of wonderful.
Q: Let's talk for a minute about the Jack Davis party.
A: My biggest issue with that was the issue of consent of the witnesses. If somebody goes to Bondage A-Go- Go, they know what they're going to see. They have consented after a fashion. If someone goes to a political birthday party, they didn't go there presumably expecting to see live sex acts. And so the people who came there were not consenting, and they saw acts that would reasonably scare someone who didn't have information to know how and why those acts could be considered safe. So I think it was inappropriate.
Q: How did you feel the media responded?
A: I thought by and large it was pretty appropriate. I heard a lot of concerns, complaints, questions raised (about the context), but I didn't hear a campaign of moral outrage or condemnation of S/M or blanket statements like, "This is why earthquakes come to San Francisco, because God is punishing us for being evil." People said, "Gee, that was outrageous, are we supposed to accept that as OK at a birthday party, and for an audience?"
Q: So what exactly is S/M, or sadomasochism?
A: S/M is the preferred term, because the term sadomasochism in the psychological literature has become pathologized. Masochism has come to mean a self-destructive person. Sadism has come to mean a destructive person. Consensual S/M is not about destruction or endangering anyone. It's a sexual practice involving playing with power. One person plays powerless, and the other person plays all-powerful. It's about the bringing into reality in some way of fantasies, self-images, parts of yourself that don't have any other way to be unless you set up some sort of a psychodrama theater. And that's what S/M really is. It's psychodrama theater.
There are two ends of it. The physical end is where people explore unusual and intense stimulations, which could be very sensual or very scary. And if you're not familiar with some of them, they would seem almost ridiculous. I have learned over the years that if I see people I know to be sane doing an activity I don't understand, it probably means that if I asked them, they could tell me how they make that safe. Or how it works.
The other side is psychodrama. Most people discover their interest in S/M through their fantasies. They have fantasies which often scare them. I see a lot of people in my practice who come in and say, "I don't know why I have these fantasies. It doesn't make sense to me." So that's what we explore in therapy.
It reminds me of something that Carl Jung wrote about. He posited that people have a "shadow" that rests inside them like an iceberg with just a little tip poking up into consciousness. The shadow essentially contains everything that we have decided that it's not safe or acceptable to be aware of -- from embarrassments to childhood trauma to weird scary stuff. So it's not surprising that this shadow -- this very difficult and conflictual material that we have forbidden to consciousness -- should show up in places like fantasies, dreams, sexuality. And if we posit that people have an innate drive toward integrity and toward wholeness, and that what we're looking for is to become the most completely ourselves we can be, then part of that process has to be fishing out these things from the shadow and reclaiming them. Digging them up and coming to terms with that.
Q: Many people would say, "Why does that have to involve exploring it sexually, not just acknowledging they have the fantasy?"
A: Well, it doesn't. Some people decide they want to keep that as a fantasy and not bring it into reality. For other people, bringing it into reality allows them to be or to act that part of themselves, and eroticizing something can lead to transformation and healing. When they enact this kind of a drama, they have choices about what the end of the story is, what feels safe to play with.
It's not like real child abuse, for instance, or real rape, or real assault. This is something people negotiate and agree to do, with tremendous regard for personal safety, at least if they're responsible. For example, victims and villains is the most common S/M game. In S/M, we get to tell our villains, "Oh, this is a little too villainous for me. Can we back off a bit, please?"
Q: But the popular image is that it gets out of control, that it's one person doing stuff to the other person, who is powerless.
A: I'm not saying that non-consensual stuff doesn't happen. It does happen -- just like anywhere else. Some people believe that S/M leads to abuse. Abuse and domestic violence do exist in the S/M community, but I certainly do not think there is any more of it there than in any other community. That's why I absolutely don't advocate doing this with people you don't trust. I think that's dangerous. (But again, that's not limited to S/M.) You can pick up Mr. Goodbar in a fern bar. In a nice suit and tie, or whatever one wears to fern bars these days. I've said for years that the way you can distinguish between S/M and abuse is the same way you can distinguish between love and rape. On the one side, people are happy, and they're saying, "Oh this is wonderful, isn't it great!" And on the other side, people are saying, "This is terrible, I'm frightened, my self-esteem is falling apart." So it's not hard for me to figure out the difference.
Q: How does someone signal if it's uncomfortable and they want it to stop, so that the other person knows it's not just part of the encounter?
A: "Safe words" are very important. Many people choose a word that is a signal. They don't use words like, "No, no, please stop, no!" because that may be something people might like to say as part of the fantasy. So they choose another word -- red, yellow and green are very commonly used. Red means "Eeek, stop, this is an emergency!" Yellow means "Slow down a bit," and green means ``More, more, more. Go!"
The other way that people can express non-consent is by simply dropping out of role and saying, "This isn't working for me, I need a break to talk to you for a minute."
Q: What about the pain element?
A: People theorize that something is different about people who enjoy painful stimulations in S/M, as if they are somehow constructed differently from other people. I don't think that's true at all. Most of us have experiences of choosing to deal with pain voluntarily for some benefit we get out of it -- when we go to the dentist, when we have a blood test, when we do intense exercise, people doing marathons and hitting the wall. All of those are painful experiences. Aerobics classes could also qualify, right?
Pain within a limit that you have chosen and can handle, with safety and consent, is a real different experience from getting hit by a car. You have some guarantee that your body is not going to be damaged, which puts you way ahead of skiers. And you have control about how long it lasts. So what happens is that there is a reward for that.
Runner's high is a good example of something that might be close to what people get out of the S/M stimulus. People's endorphin systems kick in - endorphins are the opiates that your body naturally produces, and a lot of research is being done on how that works.
In the S/M community, one of the important functions of the various support groups is to provide education, so people who want to tie up their friends can learn from responsible people the safe way to do it. It's not about damage to the body. People do things like piercings, tattoos, but that's different. All your fingers and toes are there, your muscles work, your body works. People imagine S/M to be dangerous, but it can be among the safest sex there is. Once you start playing with toys, you have a lot of options that don't involve the transmission of body fluids. So safe sex does not necessarily become something really boring.
Q: Many people who watch the Gay Parade are familiar with the Dykes on Bikes, which is now called the Women's Motorcycle Contingent. They also see all the men dressed up in leather.
A: The first appearance of women on motorcycles was in the late 1970s, the year of Anita Bryant. It was a very high-energy event. The dykes on bikes roared around the corner, and when I saw them, I cried. It was a wonderful thing to put up front, because it wasn't a cleaned- up image. It was a very powerful image of women looking strong, riding powerful machines making a big rumbling noise. So there was a breaking down of stereotypes. I guess the image still works for folks. Now each year there are hundreds of them. They may or may not be into S/M. Some people might discover S/M because they join a motorcycle club and find some of the members are into it. Other people might get into S/M and decide they simply must have a Harley to live out their fantasies.
Q: How does leather come into it?
A: People forget that motorcycle leathers have a practical purpose, which is that they are protective gear in case you take a spill.
Even when I first was aware of S/M, there was not the proliferation of leather crafts and businesses serving the community that there are now. You could always get the jackets and the chaps, because they've been fashionable for a long time. Harnesses and display clothing were much much harder to get. But people into leather are not necessarily also into S/M.
Q: What's body modification about?
A: A lot of people use body modification, piercings, tattoos, scarifications as more than just jewelry, as a rite of passage. Many people who are extremely body-modified can tell you what all their different rings and tattoos signify, the occasion when they got them, what it meant to them.
Some people choose to do that, have a piercing installed or tattoo done in an almost ritual environment. I recall seeing a group of people chanting as a woman got pierced. She asked her friends to chant, "No more rape! No more rape!" over and over again, because for her, it was a way of reclaiming her genitals from a previous trauma.
Q: Piercing and leather attire have become very popular in the general culture. Why do you think that is?
A: A lot of that is not coming out of S/M. A lot is coming out of the punk movement, and the modern primitive movement. But I think that everybody has always had S/M fantasies. You only have to look at Hollywood movies to see that S/M fantasies, about power and powerlessness, villains and victims, are all over the place. And if you think about archetypal figures, the S/M characters really fit that. You know, the Countess. The Marquis. Nurse Nasty, the Wicked Doctor. The Prison Matron. The Girl in the White Nightie. The Drill Sergeant. Even romance novels are called "bodice rippers." Romance heroines are always being kidnapped and sexually assaulted. What is that but S/M?
So I don't think people who have S/M fantasies are some bizarre little corner of people. S/M is quite mainstream. So it does not surprise me that these images and accoutrements should become fashionable. If S/M were not treated like cause to automatically presume that someone is incompetent, pathological, whatever, I wonder what percentage of the population would be into it.
Q: Why has the issue of S/M been so controversial among lesbians?
A: A lot of feminists saw S/M imagery as part of the oppression of women. As a feminist since the late '60s, one of the things I wanted to find ways to do was to grasp a woman's sexuality. Because the previous images of women's sexuality were passive, like Sleeping Beauty.
But there was a whole school of feminism that seemed to want to get away from sex as far as they could get. They didn't see how intercourse or penetration between a man and a woman could not be about patriarchal overpowering, and they saw lesbians engaging in S/M as reinventing the patriarchy.
Q: It's also been an issue in the gay men's community. A lot of gays prefer those images not be seen publicly.
A: This has been going on since Day 1. Drag queens and leathermen are not supposed to march in the parade, right? People don't want to be stereotyped. I wouldn't like it if I was a non-S/M gay man and everybody I met who knew I was gay assumed I was either a transvestite or some kind of S/M person.
When you hear that someone is heterosexual, you don't then wonder if they're into S/M or cross-dressing or something. So people are protecting themselves from what is essentially political oppression, because that's what stereotyping becomes in the long run.
Q: What about in the straight community? Is it popular?
A: Yes, definitely. The straight S/M scene is often typified by dominant women, just because that's counter to the stereotypes of the culture, and because submissive men have to look hard to find a woman willing to be dominant or who are comfortable with that. There are a lot of submissive straight men out there with some very unfulfilled fantasies. And when people regard these relationships as peculiar, I say, think of Suzy Homemaker. And the Total Woman. The old housewife roles are roles of lifetime slavery.
There used to be a belief that a husband could not rape his wife -- by definition. Because she was supposed to say yes, so how could it be rape? If a woman's job is to clean house, cook and be available to everyone else and not have any needs herself, I fail to see how that is different from an S/M slave role.
Q: So was the Marquis de Sade really a sadist?
A: He did some whipping and was arrested for it. He wrote about things that we would call S/M today, although he certainly did not write about consent or negotiation.
But it's unclear how much in the books is fantasy and how much is political satire or commentary. He was writing in the years before and during Robespierre's Reign of Terror, when people were being guillotined and tortured to death routinely. So it's hard to evaluate what Sade was in our modern context.
It's clear from other early pornography that houses of domination existed in the 18th and 19th century. Birching -- flogging with birch twigs -- was very common in prostitute culture. You can get back to "Moll Flanders" and other 18th century novels and find that it there in the imagery. There's a woman holding a whip in a fresco in Pompeii.
Q: Do people who are into S/M think that it's something that everybody could benefit from?
A: I don't think that everyone would be into it. I think a lot more people would be if it weren't so forbidden, but not everyone. There's a metaphor I use that is sometimes helpful. Some people like to eat fast food, some people like to eat food like their mother made it, some like food from all kinds of exotic locations.
Some like gourmet food and spend a lot of time fussing over it and getting into obscure ingredients and reading books and going to cooking classes and expensive restaurants. They expend an enormous amount of energy on food. You also have your health foods and organic people and vegans. There are many ways people approach the common experience of nourishment. If I take that same metaphor and apply it to sex, there are some people who want to have sex in a way that feels spontaneous and simple. Other people have a particular kind of sex they like, and that's the kind they want to have over and over again, like people who want to eat the same food over and over again.
And there are some people who, like the gourmets, invest an enormous amount of time and energy on developing their sex lives -- using an elaborate technology, an enormous amount of information. They wear costumes, they play characters and roles. S/M probably fits in that category more than anything else.
1944: Born February 26, in Andover, Mass. -- 1967: Moves to San Francisco. -- 1972: Joins staff of San Francisco Sex Information, a telephone switchboard. -- 1975: Receives B.A. in Human Behavior from New College of California. -- 1989: Receives master's in counseling from the University of San Francisco. -- 1991: Opens private psychotherapy practice in San Francisco. -- 1995 -- 1997: Co-authors three books on alternative sexual lifestyles.
The Chronicle Publishing Company
Ihr habt es vielleicht schon mitbekommen: Wir haben alles Stories & Reports von dem Server entfernt. Der Grund dafür ist ein wenige Ärger mit dem Staatsanwalt wegen "Verbreitung gewaltverherrlichender und pornografischer Schriften über das Internet".
Unser Webmaster wartet nun auf einen Bußgeldbescheid und wir fragen uns ernsthaft, was in "diesem unserem Lande" los ist. Diese Behörden sollten sich eher um die Kinderschänder und Nazis im Web kümmern!
Wie dem auch sei: Die Stories werden wieder kommen. Allerdings nach leichter Überarbeitung und dann auch nur in unserem geschlossenen Benutzerkreis. Unseren fleissigen Autoren werden wir dann nach und nach einen freien Zugang für ein halbes Jahr als Dankeschön einrichten.
Solidaritätsbekundungen im Gästebuch sind übrigens ausdrücklich erwünscht :-)))
So mancher von Euch dürfte die Website members.aol.com/femdommar/ kennen. Diese wird auch auf unserer Pranger-Seite "gewürdigt" und das vollkommen zu Recht, wie uns eine EMail aus der Schweiz kürzlich bestätigte.
"Domina Marion" bietet auf ihren Seiten unter anderem Bezugsmöglichkeiten für Fetisch- und SM-Artikel an. Diese laufen NUR per Vorkasse!!
Wie uns ein Besucher von Golden-Gate nun berichtet, hat er dort bestellt und 498,-- DM überwiesen. Das war vor gut zwei Monaten und geliefert wurde bis dato rein gar nichts! Diverse EMails gingen hin-und-her, es wurde vertröstet, angeblich kein Zahlungseingang usw. usf....
Nun wird wohl eine Anzeige wegen Betruges folgen und wir hoffen wirklich, daß auch AOL ENDLICH aktiv wird und diesen Fake aus dem Internet verbannt.
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