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Dear Readers:

I've had a seemingly endless stream of these beginner S–M questions lately. So while I'm on break, I thought I'd run this one (originally printed 6/13/07), which could have been written in response to several of them. Carry on!

Love, Andrea

Dear Andrea:

I just saw Secretary yesterday, then read your column that mentions the same movie and similar sentiment ["Thwang," 5/30/07]. My situation is a bit different because I've known how I feel for a while but have never seen or experienced it. Also, I'm a stripper and rarely have sex, although I am extremely sexual. I've got a serious lust affair with the eroscillator, but I think I may have given up on a love that will be feminist but dominating and aggressive. In the movie, Maggie Gyllenhaal is looking through classifieds for a partner, and that is way too dangerous for me. How do I quiet the arguments between feminism and being truly submissive? Also, having to be seriously up-front about wanting some serious kink might kill the whole deal for me. Do these relationships actually happen in real life? How?

Love, Sub Grrrl

Dear Grrrl:


There was a moment when every other conversation, magazine article, and academic conference was devoted to exploring the conflicts and connections between radical feminism and radical sexuality. It was called "the '80s." You probably missed it since you probably weren't born yet, but that stuff is still in print, so whatever is or isn't gathering dust in the sorts of used bookstores heavily populated by overweight cats should be easy to find. Most of the best-known pro-kink feminists of the time were very, very lesbian (see Gayle Rubin on the academic side and Pat Califia for "literotica"). But that doesn't mean they didn't have anything to say to straight women.

Of all the possible permutations, male dominant–female submissive is likely the most discomfiting to you. Happily, the flip side of the "this weird sex thing goes against every political, ethical, or religious principle I consider right and true" coin is frequently the Big Hot. Go to any upscale S-M party (yes, these really do exist) in San Francisco or Seattle, and at least half the women crawling around their master's boots begging to be punished 'cause they've been very bad are in real life junior partners at onetime all-male law firms, or teach gender theory at small but prestigious liberal arts schools. In other words, they are quite fully "empowered," thank you very much, which doesn't keep them from voluntarily surrendering said power come Saturday night. And that may in fact add to the appeal. The classic, even clichéd, old-style S-M enthusiast, after all, is a member of Parliament who reports like clockwork to the bawdy house every Thursday afternoon for a brisk caning ...

Um, yes. Where were we? I'm not sure where you, who perform naked for sexually aroused strangers for a living, got the idea that playing the personals is particularly dangerous. Perhaps from the same episodes of Law and Order in which a few pieces of S-M gear stashed under a suspect's bed signal that a severed head in a shoe box cannot be far off? I would never suggest that you meet someone for coffee and immediately go home with him to check out his cool dungeon. Far from it. But the meeting-for-coffee part is perfectly safe. After that you proceed as normal, which includes sharing your interests and aspirations ... which is the next place we're going to have some trouble, I see.

If being up-front about your weirditude is a potential deal-breaker for you, then I suspect you are a spontaneity freak. They are common, but many or most can have the need to proceed by whim or fancy beaten out of them by a stern application of reality.

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