There is a common misconception that submitting in the bedroom makes a person weak.  Frankly, the myth isn’t surprising.  In our society, kink is often so taboo that sex education rarely covers the topic.  And if you’re not in the habit of crying, “Spank me now!” it can be hard to wrap your head around submissive empowerment.  The truth is that most of us submit or dominate in one form or another – if not in the bedroom, then in the rest of our lives.

Even if you don’t buy into BDSM, you might well have been touched by submission and domination.  Have you ever longed for a lover to throw you against the wall, or bite your neck, or order you around?  These acts are absolutely domination and submission.  You choose to either submit or master.  In fact, the notion that submissives don’t choose their suffering is entirely erroneous.  Ever heard of the phrase topping from the bottom?  It’s used to describe a situation in which the submissive is ordering a dom around, insisting, “Tie my handcuffs more tightly!” or “You’re just not spanking me right!”

Perhaps BDSM can be tough to come to terms with when it involves violence and pain.  That said, the power to withstand pain is a very favourable characteristic in everyday life. Think of ear piercing or training for a marathon – these are all chosen acts of suffering.  In fact, I’ve heard Greta Christina argue that submission is rather like eating spicy food.  Once you can withstand a certain heat-level, you crave a hotter dish.  Apparently, the reason chili peppers are spicy is because they contain a chemical that directly triggers our pain receptors.  Think about that a moment.  We eat curry because we love the pain.  And what about stiletto heels and Brazilian waxing?  As for the latter, Rachel Kramer Bussel says it best:  “Because I lean toward being a masochist, sometimes I can eroticize the pain [of Brazilian waxing]. I think of it like candle wax in a scene, and use my kinky training to get through the momentary pain for the reward of sleek skin.”  You can read more at Rachel’s column at Sexis, which I heartily recommend.

Of course, the ultimate infliction of pain is the non-consensual kind – and that is chilling stuff*.  Outside of the bedroom, social attitudes towards brutality are often clear.  For instance, fans of the 2006 remake of Casino Royale (directed by Martin Campbell) will remember the scene in which James Bond (Daniel Craig) is bound to a chair and brutalised.  In spite of agony and restriction, he goads his torturer – and that’s “topping from the bottom” on a grand scale.  Considering our society views Bond as resilient in these moments, it is surprising that those of us who cry “Bring on the pain!” are so often dismissed as weak.

As a matter of fact, submission can be tremendously healing.  The first time I subbed was a direct result of watching the movie Secretary (directed by Steven Shainberg).  To give you the gist, a young woman starts taking charge of her life because her boss starts to spank her for minor transgressions.  Talk about hot!  I had never believed that pain could bring such pleasure, and once I’d had a go at masochism, I was surprised by how it affected my life.  Subbing taught me a lot about sexual assertion because I learnt to be both upfront and tuned into what I do or don’t want.  With a safe word, it’s not so difficult to learn to actively say no with words like “Enough,” or “Not so hard,” and this spilled over into the rest of my life.  (These are issues of consent – read more here). A friend recently told me that she was amazed I subbed in the bedroom because I’m such a dom when I’m teach, so I told her that part of being a sub is learning to assert yourself.  I’ve become a lot better at expressing my needs and defending others since I learnt to withstand erotic pain.

And if you think BDSM can’t be inspiring, think again.  When a lover finally ties you up, just as you’ve always wanted, and takes you with rough passion, the bond can be quite powerful.  You yield to your partner, who expresses his/her aggression directly – and that’s pretty intense.  In truth, this faith runs in both directions:  When, as a dom, you hit someone in the bedroom, you trust that they’ll say what they need.  You also trust that they’ll know this is a scene, not a real-life conflict, and that this violence is an expression of intimacy and passion.  In fact, I’ll leave it to Anais Nin to show us how subbing/domming can be breathlessly romantic.  Check out this excerpt from Henry & June, her unexpurgated diary 1931-32:

“He asks to see me again.  When I wait in the armchair in his room, and he kneels to kiss me, he is stranger than all my thoughts.  With his experience he dominates me.  He dominates with his mind, too, and I am silenced.  He whispers to me what my body must do.  I obey, and new instincts rise in me.  He has seized me.  A man so human; and I, suddenly brazenly natural.  I am amazed to be lying there in his iron bed, with my black underwear vanquished and trampled.  And the tight secrecy of me broken for a moment, by a man who calls himself the ‘last man on earth.'”

*I don’t think this can be reiterated enough:  You must always be aware of your power and rights in a BDSM scene.  Have a safe word and use it when you don’t consent.  This is key.  For more on consent, look up Charlie Glickman’s blog.

Photo on main page: Clarence Risher (via Wikimedia Commons)

Of course, Valentine’s Day ain’t just about romance. Other kinds of love count just as much – or even more. In fact, I treat Feb 14th as a great time to remember those who’ve influenced my sexual life, which is why I thought I’d share a few of my heroes with you. Frankly, if it wasn’t for the folks below I probably wouldn’t be writing this column. So here we go. I’m sending a valentine to…

Betty Dodson

If you’ve ever read Betty Dodson’s work or heard her interviewed, you’ll know how grounded, warm and wise she is about sex. From singing the praises of solo sex to encouraging us to value friendship rather than searching for an “other half” (see the videos on her site), Betty speaks her mind with spirit and integrity. The following quotes come from Sex For One, her groundbreaking book that has transformed attitudes towards solo sex:

“We have been so brainwashed by romantic love that when I talk about the importance of couples continuing to masturbate alone, and learning to share masturbation together, some assume I’m against ‘regular sex.’ Not true. I’m all for any sexual activity that makes both partners happy.  What I don’t support is ‘compulsive intercourse’ as the only way to be sexual. Instead of assuming the word sex means a penis inside a vagina, we need to realize that there are an infinite number of ways to express our sexuality.”

“Organized opposition to masturbation, like opposition to pornography, is actually opposition to sexual arousal; to be turned on is somehow considered antisocial. In truth, it’s just the reverse: to be sexually repressed is antisocial.”

Stephen Elliott

Stephen Elliott is a sexual hero of mine because of how totally he owns his sexual identity. He also writes like a flipping genius. His story collection, My Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me Up, contains stories about a sexually submissive guy who derives pleasure from pain and violence during sex. A friend of mine once complained that he’d gone to one of Stephen’s readings and noticed the writer was all cut and bruised. But I was impressed to hear this! By modelling pride, Stephen Elliott liberates others to do so, including my own kinky self. (Pass me that paddle, will you?).

The following is from the title story in Stephen Elliott’s collection, My Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me Up.

“She keeps going. Spanking me really hard, tying up my penis and balls, dragging me around the apartment by my hair. And it’s hours later when we go to sleep and she’s missed her train home.

“I sleep on the inside of the spoon. She’s my abusive boyfriend and I feel safe, her arms wrapped around me. She looks wonderful in her underwear. Her skin is warm, brown, and smooth. She smells so good. In the morning I don’t want her to leave. I slide my face between her naked legs. She opens her eyes and looks down on me. It’s only six and the alarm will soon ring. “What do you think you’re doing?” But she doesn’t make me move. She grabs my hair and closes her eyes.”

Susie Bright

Susie Bright, the famed feminist sex educator, is one of my heroes because of the ways she speaks out about sex. She takes sex seriously, but can also laugh about it. In her fabulous, worldly wise audio show, In Bed With Susie Bright, she is open about sexual politics while also encouraging others to speak their mind. Perhaps what I love most about Susie is her absolute commitment to helping us explore our sex-lives with compassion and excitement.

The following quote is from Born-Again Virgin, an essay in The Sexual State of the Union, by Susie Bright:

“The openness of lust, of sexual attraction, is often the way we learn to love somebody, and that’s no small feat. It is very difficult to love people, even though our communal evolution and ego lead us there in many ways. It is so much easier to be impatient, to discriminate, to draw as many lines in the sand as we can. For even the awareness of not loving someone, of one’s loss, is compassionate compared to the demands of shame and blame.”

So Betty, Stephen and Susie, you’re all getting valentines.  And I’ll also be sending a heart-shaped box of thank you’s to:

  • Anais Nin, who I have raved about recently at Erotica For All.  If she were alive, I’d have a massive crush.
  • Violet Blue, who, as you may well already know, is the famous pro-porn feminist and expert on sex and the web.
  • Steve Almond, who is master of the emotionally meaningful sex scene.  Check out his delicious little chapbook This Won’t Take But a Minute, Honey.
  • Jennifer Lyon Bell, who makes beautiful erotic movies at Blue Artichoke Films and has a wonderfully wise and feeling attitude towards sex.
  • Freud, who, as we know, was a sexist old bugger, but he was one of the first people to state that our sexual identities matter and are utterly linked to our holistic health. In Victorian society, that must have taken balls of steel.

Do you have sexual heroes of your own? Movie stars? Directors? Sex activists? Artists? I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.

Hearts and flowers, all. Enjoy Feb 14th, whether with others or alone.  Mind you, the 13th has particular potential if you’re a solo lover… Plus if you want to create romance without necessarily having it, join me for some romance writing here.

The picture on the main page is by Fecuop, via Wikimedia Commons.

Dear Herman Miller:

I am writing to ask if you would please send me one of your Embody chairs. For free.

Before I proceed, I want to assure you that I realize that the Embody chair is a work of high art and should not be granted to just anybody. With a price tag of $1100-$1600 there can be no question in anyone’s mind that Bill Stumpf’s last design was created for a distinct class of the seated elite. That Backfit frame that adjusts so perfectly to the Pixel-Matrix Support pads could only have been hatched by an ergonomic genius. And with seven different possible adjustments, every conceivable curve and contour of the back is cradled by attentive efficiency, leaving only the soul jonesing for more and left to cry out for the fulfillment of productivity. Well worth the money…I don’t have.

With the success of the uber-popular Aeron chair hatched in the 90s, you have by now no doubt had hundreds of thousands of clients at Herman Miller. I read recently that the Aeron chair itself boasts over 50,000 clients. The fact alone that you can refer to one who sits in a Herman Miller chair as a “client” speaks volumes – as if the person is being served by an accountant or possibly a psychologist. I imagine that a client of the Embody chair doesn’t even need a psychologist, as the chair itself is a psychologist. Have studies been done on this? Do clients of the Embody chair need less psychological help? Does the Embody chair pay for itself in a matter of only a few spared sessions of therapy?

I realize that I am asking for a lot. I am not a particularly lucky person or habitual prizewinner, nor am I accustomed to receiving free things, unless you count coffee or socks. Perhaps you do not care to know about such things, but I do feel it is important to be honest with you if we are going to start off on the right foot. The socks were from an over-zealous store clerk who then wanted, in exchange, my phone number. He was clearly a college boy who did not realize that I was at least 10 years his senior and, by the way, married. His mistake was giving me the socks first and then asking for my number. By the time I set him right it was too late to ask for the socks back. He was brave through his inflamed acne-scarred cheeks and even stammered that, if I wanted, we could still go get coffee (his treat) after he got off work “as friends”. The socks were of the water-wicking wool variety. And comfortable.

At any rate, I do not frequently come across free things nor am I a woman of means. I am a writer, as well as a struggling entrepreneur. When I’m not blogging about what it was like to grow up so religious that I wasn’t even allowed to use a Speak N’ Spell because it contained the word “spell” and talked like the devil, I help run a rural ISP in the mountains west of Boulder from a bulky mess of a chair I purchased over 12 years ago from Office Max. Even as I sit here now, the chair wheezes and swivels habitually to the left toward my bookcase whereupon I am subject repeatedly to the temptation of literary escapism. That I can finish this letter at all in the face of such partisanship is a small miracle.

Even so, in 2008 – in the face of distraction from my left leaning chair – I co-founded a web-based social lending company, which ended up being named as one of Colorado’s most innovative companies in the same year. This was fantastic and would have been upgraded to positively thrilling had we actually been funded as a result of the honor. Unfortunately, I and my co-founders needed to eat so the company is currently treading water. I am not saying that possession of a Herman Miller Embody Chair, or possibly an extra in carbon balance fabric with an aluminum base on a graphite frame for one of my co-founders, would help the company get back in the race, but I am not saying the opposite would be true, either.

Of course, I would never ask for something for nothing, Herman Miller, and I realize that with a free Embody chair would come grave responsibility. I assure you, I am an avid user of several social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and would vow to regularly broadcast praises about the Embody chair while simultaneously typing from the comfort of one. Also, I would commit to end every blog post on TheNervousBreakdown.com and elsewhere with the tag, “This post was written from the blissful comfort of a Herman Miller Embody Chair and is certifiably 100% ergonomically correct.” In addition, my memoir about growing up Evangelical is due out from Emergency Press within the next 12 months, in which I will also happily make an endorsement of comfort.

Herman (may I call you Herman?), I realize it is not your policy to send out a free chair(s) to every person who asks for one (or two). In this case, however, I would like to offer that this could be a mutually beneficial exchange with potential for a lasting and, dare I say, passionate relationship. In other words, I will happily play Anaïs Nin to your Henry, er, Herman Miller.

If you will have me, that is.

 

Warmly (Not to be confused with the warmth that comes from constantly overcorrecting to the right),

– Erika Rae

 

 

PS – Should you decide me a worthy recipient, I will gladly cover shipping charges. Please email me at erae [at] thenervousbreakdown [dot] com or find shipping instructions in a subsequent post entitled, “Dear FedEx”.

 

 

On the subway last week, the man sitting opposite was ranting about his groin. “See this?” he asked me, pointing at himself. “Think I don’t have anything? Well, you’re wrong. This is mine.” As he continued to spout I got out my book (Anais Nin’s Fire, since you ask) and walked to the other end of the train, before I heard him move on to the next poor soul. He was right, of course. He does own his groin. But how sad that he had to announce it.

Like it or not, there’s often a sexual vibe on the subway. Of course, sex on the train is a classic fantasy, which, during rush hour, can give rise to as many furtive looks as you’d find in a busy bar. I suppose being sealed into a compressed space and traveling superfast is a recipe for lust, particularly when you find yourself face-to-crotch with a stranger. (Depends on the stranger! Depends on the crotch!). And perhaps being in the underbelly of the city releases all those urges we attempt to suppress. In London the subway is called the Underground, a word that also connotes spycraft – rather fitting, considering the amount of watching going on.

As it happens, I’m all about sex on the subway, but there’s a context. I use my commutes to catch up on my reading, which is often about sex and sexuality. The written word offers us a wonderful way of revitalizing and nurturing our sexual imagination, broadening our erotic focus and challenging our assumptions.  As an activity that can be solo, reading is also a great reminder that our sex lives lie within ourselves – we can still experience rich sexual worlds when we’re alone, and beautifully at that.  So, seeing as I love book recommendations, here are some quotes from great sex books/stories I’ve been reading on the train:

From “Dumbrowski’s Advice” by Steve Almond, in This Won’t Take But a Minute, Honey:

“At the hospital, you told Dumbrowski: I met a girl, which might have been the truth from time to time, though really you dreamed of the waitress, your waitress, sweet greasy onion rings on her fingers as you lay in a pool of your own heat.”

Riki Wilchins in Genderqueer, ed. Joan Nestle, Clare Howell, and Riki Wilchins:

“…I am speaking, of course, of intersexed infants. Such children, who are not clearly male or female, occur in about one in every 2000 births. Because anything that is not male or female is not a true sex, we pronounce them ‘abnormal,’ fit them legally into male or female, and fit them physically into boy or girl by cutting them up at a rate of about five a day. Thus are ‘natural’ males and females maintained…”

From “Lina” in Little Birds by Anais Nin:

“She bought herself a black lace nightgown like mine. She came to my apartment to spend a few nights with me. She said she had bought the nightgown for a lover, but I saw the price tag still fastened on it. She was ravishing to look at because she was plump and her breasts showed where her white blouse opened. I saw her wild mouth parted, her curly hair in a wild aureole around her head. Every gesture was one of disorder and violence, as if a lioness had come into the room.”

It turns out that 2011 may be a good time for us bookish types to bask in the limelight. Sex expert Petra Boynton predicts this will be a year of sexual introspection: “…I think we’ll see the idea of self reflection and sexual diary keeping become more of a mainstream phenomena.” Self-help, philosophy, guided explorations…these may well be the kind of texts we’ll see reflected in print and online. In fact, Susie Bright recently brought out a 2011 sex journal, entitled Love & Lust, which provides prompts and guides for exploring your sexual self – my copy’s on its way and I’m excited to get started. So we don’t have to shag in public to be sexual while we commute…though maybe a few of us will get to do both! But as sex-positive readers with a mischievous streak, we can always tell our friends, “I had sex on the train today…” before pausing for effect, and adding, “vicariously, of course.”

The photo on the main page is by By Étienne ANDRÉ

I went red-eyed and messy-haired to my kitchen this morning to make coffee wherein I saw a large cockroach lying upside-down on my breadboard writhing in the throes of Death. 


I had laid poison last night and it was now taking effect on this roach’s entire system, his whole way of Being. And here I was to actually witness it. Christ. Face-to-face with the big consequences. On my breadboard. First thing in the morning. Jesus.

He was flat on his back, pedaling his legs in a medicated slow-motion Hell dance; his verve, his quickness, a bleary memory from another time– yesterday. I’m pretty sure this was the same commando roach I would see on reconnaissance missions in the pantry between the plastic bags of tomato ramen. I bet that just a few hours ago, he was wheeling and ruling in his headquarters under the refrigerator, telepathing suggestions to his underlings and just doing his ‘survival thing’. Now here he was, dying and double-clutching on my breadboard. This was all so very disconcerting to me…and utterly fascinating.

I ambled quickly to my bedroom to get my deluxe Swiss Army knife with the 10X power magnifying glass. I hurried back and flicked the magnifying glass out so that I might fully examine this Socratic insect on his final deathbed, choking on the Hemlock I had thusly administered. Amazing detail, I thought, as the eastern sun filtered through the kitchen window, conveniently illuminating this Stygian peep show. In one way, I felt slightly morbid and a bit sadistic doing this, as it was I who had plotted to kill him, to extinguish his fire, to effectively block his Life Path. It was I who had gone to the Thrifty on Vermont and Hollywood and picked out the most expensive roach bait traps, the shiny black boxes, the ones with the cartoon renderings of the little purple bugs with the Xs in their eyes.

I was faced with what I viewed as ‘personal enc-roachment’. I actually didn’t mind the little guys all that much but I was tired of girls saying how gross my kitchen was, they shrieking at the crawlers and stabbing at them with their high-heeled shoes. I had had enough. And I admit, I did this all with forethought and malice, moving with blinders past the ‘guilt factor,’ as I realized I was somehow bearing justice and wreaking truth. So there I was, bearing justice and wreaking truth and peering like some Cyclops god through the looking glass at this beautifully ugly hi-tech insect passing onto his reward on my crumby breadboard. Some reward, I thought. This was all so fucking disconcerting.

So I pull in nice and tight right up to his translucent orangey-brown face and Socrates looks me right in the eyes and curses me with his churning mandibles: One day, all this will be yours, Sonny boy. That’s right Mr. Curious, Mr. Pious, Mr. Cyclops God, Mr. Mercenary Jester who hath poisoned Gregor Samsa, King of the Roaches, you too will have your day under the glass, under the sun, under the gun, under the scrutiny of your malevolent peers. And hopefully you’ll be in that predicament before you’ve had a chance to leave a real legacy behind and then you’d be sorry that you had procrastinated so long and you’d fight to hang on and pedal your skinny legs so that you could continue to live and strive for glory but it would be too late by then because you would be paralyzed by the Anti-forces dripping coagulants into your nostrils and making you breathe noxious molasses until you choked on your own blood.

Well, I thought, today is Gregor Samsa’s day to die, and I am sorry for this, but I suppose I should grasp this opportunity to thoroughly examine his cephalothorax and the dwindling state that he’s in. And so I did, moving my monocle down past his hair-hinged V-legs to his abdomen, which was twitching and heaving with much melodrama. Lean and ridged and slightly pointed but rounded-off oh so elegantly. Pure precision design.

Looking closer still, his abdomen metamorphosized into the face of a woman before my very eyes. A moon-faced woman with a little Flip Do from like, the 30’s, and she had a beauty mark on her cheek, on both of her cheeks actually, perfectly symmetrical beauty marks, and she closed her eyes as if she were listening to some strange music that she had never heard before and she cooed and pursed her lips and moved the back of her hand over her forehead and she sighed and batted her lashes until they came completely open and just then it struck me, she looked just like Anais Nin, 

 

 


 

Anais_nin

perky and beautiful and classic and avante garde in a totally new Silver Lake kind of way and she poofed her cheeks out and then she sucked them in and became pouty like a French postcard girl who had so much laundry to do that she didn’t know what to do and because she had absolutely nothing clean to wear, she had to do her laundry in the nude, bending over, lathering and squeezing and rubbing her garments down into the soapy water, then pulling them up, letting them drip, and then she would push down on them again and they would bubble out of the water like the lively little breasts that she herself possessed and she would clutch at them and scrub her fine garments clean and careful not to get her forehead wet with soapy water, she would take the back of her wrist and dab the sweat from her brow and sigh and bend over again and then come back up and then go back down again and then come back up to wring them out. She shuffled in her woodblock slippers across the hardwood floor like a veritable white-faced Geisha, bobbing and delicately swaying in front of the plate glass windows where she looked out to her garden to see Juniper bushes and Japanese Sand pear trees and Japanese water and Japanese stone and Japanese lifeblood and Japanese bone and Japanese beauty and Japanese pain and Japanese sunshine and Japanese rain.

The light through the kitchen window dimmed behind a cloud and the room darkened down a bit so I pulled the magnifying glass to the side and viewed the cockroach once again whole with Naked Lunch eyes and I could see that he was now through trying. He was a bumming boy, obviously in a great deal of pain. He was bushed, he was whipped and I didn’t blame him. I mean, how could I, after all that we had been through together? He had put up a formidable fight and for this I admired him. I looked down at him and sort of wished that we could be friends, colleagues, drinking buddies or some such stature of equal footing, as I was now uncomfortable and feeling terrible pangs of remorse for inflicting the Death Penalty on a being who was guilty of no crime except natural cohabitation. Was this sentence of Death a mortal sin or could this be classified as venial?

I mean, he was always pretty considerate of me, skittering out of the way when the kitchen light came on to make way for me, just doing his thing like anyone else in Los Angeles, fending for himself and basically getting what he could get. Was I too fucked-up and desensitized to realize that this being was no less important than me, or a CEO of some massive corporate enterprise of for that matter, a revolutionary spiritual leader? What had I been thinking? Had I gone too far with my paranoia and glossy pride? Where had my values gone? I didn’t normally prescribe to hierarchies or human constructs. I’d like to think of myself as being a peaceful, justice-oriented person. Laissez-faire. I’m from San Francisco, for God’s sake. I’m into Fugazi. I revere the principles of Dr. King and Gandhi.


 

Mlkghandhi

 

I am not built upon a foundation of hubris. I am not a killer. Jesus, I am a vegetarian, a martyred protector of my animal/fish/bird/insect brethren and now this because I briefly considered this living being not worthy of sharing my space and placing importance on what other people might think. Who the fuck am I to do this? Who the mother-fuckin’ fuck am I? I mean, I relocate spiders, don’t I? Why is this different? Fucking shit. I had no idea of the repercussions involved. I thought roaches were somehow omnipotent, able to withstand a nuclear blast where humans would melt into ash. I didn’t realize they could experience real pain and suffering. Yet my selfish whimsy was halting a formidable Life force. Who the crappin’ Hell am I to do such a thing as this? Shit. I might as well be a power-drunk occupational jar head.

At that moment of my consternation and self-immolation, the King seized. Gregor Samsa ceased to live. Anais Nin was still. Socrates closed his eyes for the final time. I touched his V-leg and he did not respond. I flicked his ribbed antennae and it was limp. The cloud moved past the sun, bringing full illumination to the cutting board. Long shadows cast upon him summoned the brittle body of Jesus. I, a societally-pressured Pontius, swallowed a stone and grabbed one of his legs between my forefinger and thumb and lifted him gently up. I took one last look at him from another angle and then I dropped him down into the brown paper garbage bag underneath. I asked God to bless him, and to forgive me, and then I put on some coffee.


 

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