[This is the text of the book review from episode 34.]
This week’s review is Sexual Outsiders: Understanding BDSM Sexualities and Communities by David M Ortmann and Richard A. Sprott.
This was an interesting read. The authors are therapists who see patients who identify as kinky or who want help integrating the kinky aspects of themselves into a more whole version of who they are.
It’s the first time I’ve read a book about kinky people that wasn’t written by a kinky person. Or if the authors were kinky they did an outstanding job of writing like dispassionate observers.
It was as though the authors were trying to strike a balance between being too academic while still maintaining academic integrity. For example, transcripts of interviews were verbatim, which came across as stilted, but then they spelled come with a ‘u’, which I associate with high school bathroom walls and informal writing.
It’s priced as an academic text—the paperback is $23 and the ebook is $15.84. That’s what you charge when you expect a book to be used in a classroom. Which may be the point—something the authors talk about it how little instruction psychologists and psychiatrists get when it comes to human sexuality—forget BDSM. They get six-to-ten hours of instruction. That’s it. People need more instruction in this area if you’re providing mental health care to human beings, who do indeed have sex and care a lot about it.
There were lots of sources—I do like my sources—so those were appreciated. Notes were made on other things to read.
Let’s do some quotes and things, shall we?
Near the beginning David talks about the difference between the sexual and the erotic.
‘The erotic is conceptual in that it thrives in a world of abstraction, imagery, and symbolism. The erotic is subjective and playful by its very nature. Sexuality is the embodied, more concretized way in which people experience the erotic. It inhabits the objective, biological, physiological, and physical realms. I often see sexuality as technicality and mechanics, whereas the erotic is more about the mystery surrounding what the mechanic might do to us.’
He then says:
‘We need to make the distinction between the sexual and the erotic because in BDSM, Fetish, Leather, and Kink communities there are many practices and activities that are not sexual, but may be experienced as extremely erotic.’
I really liked this, because the idea that sex is intrinsic to kink is pervasive, but it’s not. It reminds me of the scene in Secretary where Lee’s fiance is looking at her—she’s sat at her boss’ desk because he told her not to move until he came back—and her fiance, the most boring guy on the globe—asks, ‘Are you doing something sexual right now?’
She responds, ‘Does this look sexual to you?’
Much of the book was just good advice—there’s no one way to be kinky, people who are only kinky once a year are just as kinky as people who are 24/7, etc. Then occasionally, something like this would come out of nowhere:
‘What we ignore out of fear ultimately has more control over us than what we acknowledge, honor, and accept.’
Ain’t that the truth.
One section that was particularly interesting was a section on how stigma is created. I find human anthropology and sociology fascinating so this sort of thing is always going to get my attention.
So. Creating stigma. First you name the characteristics of what makes a ‘good’ person. Or in this case, a ‘bad’ person.
Then the authors say:
‘The next step is to connect the name or label with a negative stereotype. The label then describes part of a person, and that part comes to stand for the whole person. Taking one part of a person and using it to explain or describe who he or she is, in every action and situation, is the process of marginalization.
‘But in order to create a fully realized social stigma, this dismissed or rejected person needs to be seen as part of a whole group that is nasty, spoiled, degenerate, evil, or sick. This is the third step, the creation of an in-group (the good people) and an out-group (the bad people).
‘The last step of stigmatization is for society to start creating rules, laws, structures, policies, and regulations that enforce a hierarchy of groups within the society.
‘Those who have higher social status are governed by “different rules” than those in lower social status groups, and often suffer different punishments or consequences when they break laws and rules.’
Holy crap, you guys. That’s the way the whole damn world works. You guys. (And for me, “guys” is not only gender-neutral, it applies to inanimate objects—when I want a pastry I don’t know the name of I’ll say, ‘Give me that guy there.’)
The next time someone tries to throw some stigma at you—or anyone—just be, ‘Look there, Judgerson, who put you in charge of the ‘Good Quality Squad’ Sling it, titstick!
They go on to talk about the way to combat that stupidity in order to be your awesome self:
‘The process involves separating from the mainstream, claiming an alternative identity that is contrary to the stereotyped images of that rejected category, finding others who share that alternative sexuality, and claiming goodness and pride in that alternative. The process continues as the person integrates that former “spoiled” identity, now “good” identity, into their understanding of themselves as whole people with several roles and identities.’
And they kept up the melting my brain by telling me about exactly what I did, put Miss Cleo out-of-business-you-psychic-fuckers, with this:
‘We argue that, for some people who feel that their BDSM sexuality is highly significant, they will need to go through a similar coming-out process. It may be necessary to guide and support kinky people as they “separate” and challenge the stigma, and it may be necessary to guide and support kinky people as they integrate a good, healthy BDSM identity as part of who they are as whole persons. BDSM social and educational groups, kinky art and literature, networks and channels of connecting in safe environments—all of these become important for everyone to support, as they enable and encourage the process of coming out for those people who identify their BDSM sexuality as central to their way of being in the world.’
You think you know yourself then some fuckers explain yourself to you.
There’s a whole section about disassociation that was really interesting, but I won’t read to you. I did learn a new word—alexithymia, it’s a condition where a person is unable to describe their feelings or put their emotional experiences into words.
Hi, hello, hi there.
Something else they say on more than one occasion is that BDSM is neutral—it’s neither good nor bad—it’s what people bring to it, which I think is true about many things. Religion is one of them. If you’re a miserable dickbasket then, it’s weird, but you’re probably going to wind up following the parts of whatever religion you find that says people unlike you are a bunch of useless sinners. Whereas, if you’re a generally upbeat person, somehow, you’ll wind up focusing on the parts of your specific religion that says we should all be nice and everyone can get along because we’re all brothers. And nearly every religious belief has both sides.
You get out of it what you put into it.
What they say about kink is this:
‘One of the main ideas we want to underscore is that BDSM is neutral. It can be used for healthy goals and motivations, or it can be expressions of suffering and dysfunction that can cause harm or prevent growth. Therefore, we can’t recommend that BDSM is an appropriate tool for personal growth for everyone, or for every situation.’
The book has several stories and fantasies from clients and they do indeed tell one couple that BDSM isn’t right for them. I would agree. Actually, I would have gagged both of them. They were horrible.
I love statistics, so here’s one for when you have to deal with a Judgerson who’s trying to save you from yourself. They’re just so gosh-darned helpful.
‘in 2005 there were about 152 deaths per 1 million people in the United States from motor vehicle accidents. That same year, there were almost 2 deaths per 1 million people from accidents involving autoerotic asphyxia, probably one of the more dangerous BDSM-like activities that we can get records on. This is equivalent to the rate of people killed by a fireworks mishap, and a little less than the rate of people dying from skydiving.
‘Involvement in adventurous activities like mountain climbing or skydiving, furthermore, are not classified as psychological disorders; involvement itself is not a symptom of any mental disease. Involvement in sexual adventures, however, can be classified as mental disorders, which underscores that the DSM is influenced by more than a psychological or scientific agenda. There are political, moral, religious, social, and legal influences, as well, in the assessment and diagnosis of mental illness.’
I know someone with a friend working on the DSM-V. There are some serious politics going on with that thing. I used to put so much faith in it because I love classifications, but holy hell. It’s such a product of its time and the bullshit happening behind the scenes.
The book briefly goes into particular types of BDSM like 24/7, age play, voyeurism and exhibitionism and others.
The 24/7 section was quite enlightening—it was clear the authors had a good understanding of the way the relationships worked. They called into question our culture’s assertion that individuality was more important than putting another person or a relationship first.
‘In order to maintain a power exchange, both parties make different but complementary promises. The promises are not the same, but their difference allows for the two people to maintain a polarity in power. By promising and committing to portray different roles, to be held to different standards for each other, but still promising to be steadfast and to place the other as important, the 24/7 vows are in some ways similar to vows from earlier times or from other cultures. These vows are in some ways noticeably different from the twenty-first-century Western vows that emphasize both partners making the same exact promises as signs of equality between independent, autonomous selves.’
I really enjoy the phrase ‘complementary promises’, because that’s exactly what a power exchange is. Two people whose role complement one another.
In the Age play section they say:
‘If we sound offhand about a serious topic, it’s because we write from a confusing cultural binary. Our society is alternately in states of sexual saturation and sexual denial. We face the same conundrum with age play and age-related discussions of sex, eroticism, and beauty. How can we deny or claim to not see the Eros in youthful beauty when we live in a culture and society that literally deifies it? We cannot worship it on one hand, and on the other hand pretend that it’s not really there to begin with. It’s illogical and crazy-making.’
Seriously, okay? What. The. Men. Said. Stop making everyone crazy, you big doofuses. You can start by acknowledging the fact that older women are attractive due to their wisdom and intelligence and put more of them in films and on television.
Preferably in pinstripe suits.
One of the authors, Richard Sprott, founded the Community Academic Consortium for Research on Alternative Sexualities, which is a non-profit that aims to educate therapists for serving patients in the BDSM community. They say:
The project documents best practices for therapy, from the dual points of view of members of the Kink community and therapists with extensive experience with BDSM sexualities.
Which is how this book is geared—it can be read by both kinky people looking for a good therapist and therapists who want to know more about how to provide better service to the kink community. That’s probably why the tone is half academic half informal.
They still could have spelled come with an ‘o’, though.
The authors recommend the Kink Aware Professionals database, which is an excellent resource to help people find kink-friendly professionals of any sort. Support those who support us, is what I say.
There’s information for people seeking a therapist on signs your current therapist isn’t kink-friendly—that’s very helpful.
One note about the ebook version—some paragraphs were repeated. They’d be in their correct place, then roughly a page later they’d appear again. I’m guessing that wasn’t true for the print version, but it was a little jarring in terms of, ‘Well that doesn’t even make sense’. They may have fixed it by now—I purchased the book awhile ago because as soon as I saw it I went: yoink!
Is it worth $16 digitally? Some of the insights into why people are into various types of kinks were eye-opening and lots of other information was thought-provoking. Academic books take more work in terms of reading papers and referencing sources than fiction (I write fiction—don’t hate on me for saying that). If you’re looking for a therapist—or are a therapist you’ll probably get more out of it. What they’re trying to do is definitely worthy. You’ll have to make that decision for yourself. I wound up with 18 pages of kindle highlights and am certainly glad I read it.
I’ll give it a 4/5.
If someone were really interested in a crash course on BDSM I’d hand them Different Loving and this and smile really big.