Tag Archives: Safe/Ward

Safe/Ward Blog Carnival 2, Part 3: Porn and Prejudice (trigger warning)

So this post will bring the second Safe/Ward blog carnival to a close- please check out part 1 and part 2, and thank you for all who contributed by sharing deeply personal stories.

I felt like this story deserved its own entry, in part because it highlights how entitlement culture is not just an issue with BDSM, but an issue in altsex generally and society at large. I also think it’s important to outline that boundaries and clear limits are complicated- for example, in this situation, it’s not just the way he keeps badgering her after she says no, it’s also the consequences of her no that she worries about, which leads her to say yes.

I used this image, which is a Slutwalk sign, because it quotes one of the videos we use for Safe/Ward, an “Always Sunny in Philadelphia” segment that, to me, highlights why a yes may not be a 100% consensual yes. To ignore that a yes may be coming from a place of uneven power distribution is a dangerous thing.

“If I can’t say no, I can’t really say yes” is a phrase I use a lot.

I’m an adult actress in San Francisco and while I now focus on my own projects, there was a time when I mostly worked for other people. I was exclusively a girl-girl and solo performer for the first few years before I told my jealous partner that it really was just work and I wanted to earn the higher pay rates given to performers in boy-girl scenes and sleeping with a bunch of handsome, well-hung men who wouldn’t be bothering me the next day was just icing on the cake.

At every single adult company I worked at, condoms were routinely–mandatorily–used on toys, but male partners only wore one when requested. I had always been told that it wasn’t a big deal and wouldn’t prevent me from getting work, so when I did my first boy-girl scene, I asked that my co-performer wear a condom. I mean, why not? It was just an extra layer of protection. I also wanted to maintain something private for my long-term partner. Yet if someone had asked me point blank why I wanted my co-star to wear a condom, I’m not sure that I would have been able to articulate just why that bit of latex seemed so important, yet also so inconsequential.

The producer-director was a former adult actress and very understanding of my limit. She told the guy I was working with in advance, along with my few other limits. From working with her in the past I knew that she had a few little tricks here and there to make shooting easier and I was sure she would be a great facilitator for my first boy-girl shoot and I still think that she did her best.

I arrived on the set on time, picked out my wardrobe, and sat down to talk to my co-star about our limits and what we wanted to do. He asked a few times if I was sure that he had to wear a condom. I said yes and we got into position.

As we began setting up the scene, he started talking about how dirty I was, how I was probably crawling with venereal disease. The director cut the scene and asked him what the hell he was doing. “Well, there has to be a reason why I’m wearing a condom.” She told him not to question my health. He’d seen my test and I was clean. Anyway, the audience didn’t want to fantasize about some disease-riddled girl.

We started again. It was some of the best sex I’ve ever had, rough but with lots of kissing. One of the best parts was that he wanted to continue off-camera. I was used to working with girls who mostly made it very clear that I was not to touch them off-camera and the few girls who were interested in continuing on our own had been working with me for months before we got to that point. It was fun to be with someone who just wanted to fool around. Every ten minutes or so he asked if he could take off the condom. I continued to say no.

At some point, the director pulled me aside. “You don’t have to keep playing with him off-camera, you know. He’s taking advantage of you because you’re new.” I told her that I was thrilled to be having sex with this guy. He was hot, enthusiastic, and knew what he was doing. I could tell that he was a jerk, but we were both going home at the end of the day and he would be someone else’s problem.

I was enjoying myself, but it was still a long day. There were a lot of difficult positions and really deep face-fucking. I threw up. I was getting tired. He kept asking to take the condom off. I kept saying no.

When we moved on to the anal scene, he took the rubber off and looked me in the eye. “Please.” He looked at me hard, staring me down.

The director asked, “It’s just to prevent pregnancy, right?” That sounded like a much better reason than, “I just want him to.” After all, I’d seen his test. He was a professional. I was insulting him. This was my first boy-girl scene. I didn’t want to fuck it up. I wanted to get more work. He’d been asking all day and if I said no now, he’d just keep bugging me. He might even tell other male talent to avoid me. Maybe he already would. It would cost me money. Perhaps it would affect my girl-girl and solo work, too. Maybe it really was unusual to use condoms on set. Was I implying to the audience that I had a disease? Would I get a bad reputation? Was I just slowing down the whole shoot? I wanted to go home.

“Yeah. It’s to prevent pregnancy.”

We finished the shoot sans condom. I went home and took a shower. I updated my blog. I reassured my partner and we went to sleep.

It seemed that everyone was excited to hear about my first boy-girl scene, like it had been a first date or something. I’d been around for a long time before actually taking the plunge, but when I told female talent who I had worked with, they all turned their noses up. One woman said, “There are two guys on my no-go list: that guy and my brother.” A few months later I heard that there had been some sort of problem between the female director and the co-star where she had laughed him off the set as he cussed her out.

Evidently he was not a nice fellow, but no one had told me anything about him until afterward, like I had to go through a rite of passage in order to be told these things. Perhaps I would still have worked with him, but I would have also been much more assertive and committed to proclaiming my limits, or maybe I just would have gone in knowing it was futile, that he was going to pick and pressure until I gave in. I went on to work with other male performers, but I didn’t bother having the condom argument again. I like to think that other performers were nicer just because they were nice guys, but it may be that I didn’t insist on safe sex. A few even told me that I was their favorite performer to work with. I’m back to performing exclusively with women and on my own, so I suppose that I’ll never know if they would be just as nice if there was a thin layer of latex involved.

Playing with Fire

So this is Kitty Stryker speaking here.

I wanted to maybe encourage other people, Dominants particularly, to speak up for the Blog Carnival with a story of my own. It’s a time that I violated boundaries in a scene (ignorance? not bliss, people), and discovered how complicated safewords and consent can be. I thought about submitting this story anonymously, but then I felt pretty strongly that I wouldn’t be taking ownership. To not add my own voice to this would be against why I want other people to speak out, and I think hiding behind anonymity would be a betrayal to the consent culture I want to work towards. Activism starts with you, be the change you want to see and all that.

I was playing with a woman who was younger than me by a few years, 20 to my 25 or so. I knew she had a history of abuse, having been groomed by a paedophile, and I knew that she liked some really dark play, something I have experience in both as the bottom and as the top.

Still, I overestimated my ability to hold a container for the scene… and if I felt unsure in my gut that I didn’t have enough information, I should have waited until I did. She was cute, and I was so excited to play with her that I pushed common sense to the side. We had played before, some lighter stuff, and I said to myself that we had enjoyed that so we could take it down a notch.

We discussed playing with a guy we both thought was pretty, and who was a switch, so we invited him along. We discussed limits (no vaginal penetration, anal was ok, bondage was good, sadism was good) and looked at the playspace together. I made sure we had chocolate on hand, a blanket, and a first aid kit, the practical, physical things a Responsible Dominant has around the place.

The scene maybe took an hour and a half in total. I bound her fingers with zip ties (something I had seen in a kink.com video- yeah, they are not easy to get off) and spanked her til she was pink and crying. Worried about the crying, I checked in, probably in a very mother hen sort of way and she told me she was fine. We had a safeword in place, so we kept going.

I remember he did something sexual to her- perhaps it was fingering her ass?- and slapped her face while she sobbed. I remember being really worried that she was in a place where she couldn’t safeword, and equally worried to assume she was and stop things only to have her dismiss me as a bad Dominant. I wanted to play with her again, to impress her, and him, and maybe myself. There was never a safeword used.

But I should have used my own safeword. I didn’t because I wanted to be the hard Dominant, I wanted her to want me. And I should have trusted my gut instead, because she had been struggling, she didn’t have fun, and I felt like a total shit. Even so, my first internal reaction was a defensive one- “well, she didn’t safeword, so that’s on her!” I said to myself, frustrated.

Then I stopped. And I thought about that, and about rape culture, and about why someone wouldn’t safeword. I thought of some of my own experiences, where I didn’t because I didn’t want to disappoint my Dom… or, worse, because I was scared if I did say something, and they kept going, I might get it worse. I realized I might be that person for this girl. And I didn’t know what to do.

I asked her what I could do to make her feel safe, encouraged her to talk about it with others if she wanted to, asked her if she needed space from me or to process with me. And I pulled away from Topping for a while to reflect on it all. It was one of the hardest things. I’m still processing it.

Sometimes, playing with darkness, we can discover just how dark we can go. It scares us, and we worry about it scaring other people, so we clam up and walk away pretending we never saw Mr. Hyde lurking within. To combat that silence is to admit that you’re not always entirely sure if you’re a sadist or a serial killer. I admire respect the guts of one blogger who wrote about the time he almost raped and killed a woman- he posted the story of the experience on his blog, and did an interview about it. I think it’s a horrible story. He knows it’s a horrible story. He said any comments posted that eroticized the event would be deleted and the people who posted them banned. It’s not a sexy story, it’s a terrifying one. It was hard to read, incredibly hard, not just because of the story but because I realized- this guy is talking about it… but he’s not the only one who’s been there.

What makes me sad is that now those links to his posts are gone. Why? Because people used his honesty to tear him apart, as we do to people who express their darkness. It’s extremely vulnerable to say “I have thought/done some fucked up things”. I hope he allows these posts to be public again soon, because I think they’re a HUGELY important part of the puzzle, and how can we talk openly about consent unless we talk openly about when consent is ignored/ broken, or betrayed?

Or there’s the other side- we eroticize it, present Hyde as a frightening but charismatic Dominant figure. Sociopaths are so sexy, after all. So rather than be seen as a n00b Domme, I continued to smack her while she sobbed, because she didn’t safeword so it was ok, right? But it wasn’t. Why did I not safeword myself? Because I wanted her to find me sexy, scary, fun to play with. I knew that it can be hard for many reasons for a submissive to safeword in scene and I kept going anyway. That’s hard to sit with.

Even when you know all the techniques… you can still fuck up. And it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, or that your submissive is a dangerous bottom. It doesn’t mean it should be blown off as “oh, BDSM is playing with fire”- ok, sure, but that doesn’t mean we should have fire extinguishers or that we start giving matches to arsonists. It means that we live in a society that puts pressure on women to please their partners and on men to be tough and hard. It affects all of us. Of course it does. And we need to reflect on how those social norms affect us within BDSM… whether or not we realize it.

Please consider submitting your story to the Safe/Ward blog carnival. It’s anonymous, after all, but it’s a major first step in pulling back the curtain.

Safe/Ward, Safewords, and the Battle of Community Accountability

Normally I wouldn’t repost a whole blog entry, but I think this is important enough to. If you agree, please consider funding our work?

There’s a Salon article out right now. Maybe you’ve seen it- “When Safe Words are Ignored”, safewords being those things that help people doing play communicate their boundaries while play is taking place (often after some discussion about what’s going to be happening). Anyway, this article. It’s been taking the kinky internet by storm, and there’s a lot of backlash… again. Surprised? Not remotely, except perhaps at the fact that some of voices rebutting us the loudest are… well, you guessed it, pillars of the community, like respected author and presenter Janet Hardy.

Janet originally commented on a Bay Guardian piece about the consent culture fundraiser Maggie and I did last week. I was honestly kind of shocked about what she said-

A bottom who has withdrawn consent and is not safewording is abusing his or her top, by turning the top into a rapist without the top’s consent. Moreover, if you are a bottom who is unwilling or unable to safeword, you are not a safe bottom to play with, any more than a top who ignores a safeword is safe to play with. At minimum, you need to tell your top up front that you have this disability, so that your top can choose whether or not they’re willing to take the chance of playing beyond your consent.

While I think that in some ways Janet and I agree- that part of the problem is bottoms not safewording when they should- I think that what we believe should be the response to that is vastly different. I’ve played with someone and they didn’t safeword and turned out to have had an awful time, and it sucked, I felt awful, and, at first, I was pissed off at the bottom for not telling me what was going on. But then I reflected on it. Why didn’t she tell me? Did she want to please me? She had a trauma history- did I trigger her without either of us knowing until it happened? Did the culture we lived in give the impression that safewording showed weakness? I didn’t blow it off as “oh, she’s just an unsafe bottom to play with”- I began to realize when I unraveled the situation that the kink culture has some deep underlying issues around consent, sometimes.

When I bottomed, I know I used to hear Doms tell me that they were proud of me for not safewording, or that true submissives don’t safeword, that safewords were for tourists. We need safewords, was the general consensus among people I met, but they’re kind of a killjoy. Hm. I have safeworded and had it ignored, and I have not safeworded because they had violated our very clear agreement, I was afraid for my safety, and why bother, if they were going to rape me they were going to rape me. Safewording and having it ignored was endlessly more traumatic. It proved that they were only as good as the respect the other person had for them, and for me- and that a predator can wear a very convincing mask, until they don’t want to anymore. As a Domme now, I worry about whether or not bottoms I play with will be able to let me know if their boundaries are being crossed. I’m also aware enough to know that things can go pear-shaped and it’s no one’s fault. Trauma responses and triggers can manifest after years of being shut away. Not everyone feels safe saying they’ve been assaulted in the past. I can only do the best I can do, and if that’s not enough, then I deal with the fallout.

I admit in my blog, often, that I am not perfect- that I have been and can be manipulative sometimes, that I worry about my controlling nature and wonder if it’s always coming from a healthy place. But I would never, ever say the bottom is just unsafe to play with- that would effectively encourage them to keep being silent! I would take responsibility for my part, and ask them how I can help them feel safe now. That seems obvious to me, but maybe it isn’t.

As I told Tracy in part of the interview that she didn’t use, nobody likes safewords. It sucks having to use one, and it sucks hearing one from your partner. They are, however, an incredibly useful tool for facilitating extreme play (especially play with the fantasy or appearance of nonconsent, where “no no!” may mean “hell yes!”), a firewall that divides abuse from Eros – so we use them anyway, and I only wish that the non-BDSM world would do the same. Many longtime partners haven’t needed one in years, because they know one another’s reactions well enough that they can back off before matters get to that point… but anyone who plays with someone new, or does extreme play with a flavor of adversarialism or nonconsent, is playing with a particularly nasty kind of fire. -Janet Hardy- read the comments on Salon here for full context

“Nobody likes safewords”. I find that an interesting attitude to have, personally. Because if even a community leader is saying that safewords are sucky, then that adds to the issue I want to talk about further- this attitude that being at a safe place where playing without a safeword is perhaps more intimate and more desirable. And if that is the attitude, does that not promote an unspoken attitude that while playing with safewords is important and safer, playing without them is desirable?

Like with condoms- if you say “everyone hates condoms, but, you know, they keep you safe. However, people who trust each other sometimes become fluid-bonded”, you’re not saying that condoms are bad, but you’re saying that without condoms might well be better. I mean, I spend a lot of time people how to enjoy negotiating in a way that’s both sexy and effective, and how to have hot safer sex discussions and practices- I think that making safer measures part of foreplay is an important aspect of this discussion. And hey, look at that, I like safewords and condoms. Coincidence? I think not. Sure, I can appreciate that people want to feel like they’re in sync sexually, that unspoken communication is enough- and it’s certainly possible to have that rapport with a partner. But how long do you need to know someone before that rapport is something you can trust? What signifies that you’ve done that legwork? How does one get to that safe place?

You shouldn’t even be having SEX, much less any sort of power exchange, if you don’t know who you are and how you expect to be treated… The community provides LOTS of resources, from books, to Fetlife groups, local munches, discussion groups, and educational events. Virtually every state has at least one, if not multiple educational conferences a year, most run by intensely ethical people whose mission is to educate. And I don’t know of a single one that hasn’t banned people for inappropriate behavior. Newbies don’t get in trouble because nobody offers to teach them…but they often do when they refuse to take the time to learn, to observe, and to develop relationships and friendships with people of integrity and real knowledge before diving in. -read Assent Matters on fetlife for full context

Again, there’s this expectation that if you do enough work, you’ll be prepared and these things won’t happen to you- or, if they do, you’ll be the perfect victim. Who can possibly say when you know yourself enough to give full, enthusiastic consent? We don’t live in a vacuum, here! To expect that no one will have sex until they are completely self-aware- well, fuck, I guess I should stop, then, cause I haven’t reached enlightenment. I’m still figuring out who I am. Isn’t, well, everyone? “Who you are” and “what you want” is often somewhat fluid.

I was told that in my case I didn’t do a good enough job getting to know my first Dominant rapist- I had gotten references, I had taken time to get to know him (months, mind), I had safecalls and safewords in place and several play sessions under my belt before I ever let him tie me up. I was told, am still being told, over and over again, often by women who have themselves been abused, that I exercised poor judgment, that I didn’t do enough to protect myself.

So when do you know someone, exactly? If a couple of months of getting to know this person, and three one on one dates with all the “correct” precautions in place isn’t enough for bondage, what is? Six dates? Ten? If having several references isn’t enough, how many is appropriate to be exercising good judgment? Should you only play in public? Are public spaces safe? What do you do when the abusers are friends with the DMs, or, worse, the DMs themselves?

I know of at least two conferences that have not banned someone from presenting despite getting feedback that the presenter was abusive- both cited not wanting to get involved in personal issues as their reason. And, as I keep hearing, we don’t have any tribunal, any way to sort through these issues in a way that’s not biased, so spaces muddle through dealing with consent issues individually, not communicating with each other, each one making its own choice. I’ve seen both members of an abusive relationship banned from a community space in the interest of “avoiding drama”, even though legal orders were in place. I’ve seen spaces ban the abuser. I’ve seen mediation happen, as well. I’ve unfortunately seen the abuser be allowed to stay and the victim told to leave because the abuser was well-liked by the right people.

I also keep hearing the argument “well, this stuff happens in all communities, so…” Yeah, this is true. Entitlement culture is everywhere- churches, schools, the police, the government, swingers, and, yeah, the kinky community. Except those other communities don’t underline the idea of consent all the time. Safe sane and consensual, or its buddy, risk-aware consensual kink, share the idea that consent is pretty important, hence why it’s something we’re trying to bring some light to.

It’s fascinating how defensive people are about this idea, though. We agree that rape is bad, yes? And less of it would be good? So why then not discuss ways that consent can be treated like it’s important in this scene? I’m all for personal responsibility, and safewords, and also not blaming victims and not creating a culture of isolation and slut-shaming. Isn’t that a good thing? More to the point, I’m not just complaining- I’m actually proposing things communities can actively do to be more supportive. Why on earth is that being treated as an offense, exactly? Worst of all, many of these community members seem to be pointedly ignoring that most rapes happen with someone you know. Not a stranger. Someone you know, often well. So what then, exactly? How do you combat this issue when some of the predators are the ones in charge? And doesn’t that sound an awful lot like the way we as a society generally respond to rape..?

When we live in a world where fake, melodramatic rape accusations outnumber real rapes, then maybe we can have a discussion about worrying about that. But as of now, suggesting that people should deal with it internally, suffer being blamed and silenced, and be nice about it in the name of avoiding so-called “he said she said drama” means actively that real abuse is being ignored and enabled. And that is actively dangerous. Would you tell people who have been raped in any other setting not to report unless they’re the perfect victim and have perfect proof? Are you suggesting that the police are perfect at dealing with these situations, especially if kinky sex is or has been involved?

I was with a woman a month ago who reported rape to the police. It was someone she knew, and had a kinky relationship with once upon a time. We went to the hospital and waited for hours to be told we were in the wrong place but that the station was ready for us and had a female officer to talk to. Then we went to the police station, where we spent a total of 5 hours locked in a room- a room locked on the outside- while the all-male cops made statements that suggested she was somehow at fault. She, trying to do the right thing, didn’t wipe when she peed or shower from when the assault happen to when we got to the hospital- where she was given a rape kit 12 hours after we started the whole process.

At that point, of course, the kit showed nothing. There was no case- not because of anything she did, but because of bureaucracy and police fuckups. Had I not been with her supporting her, she would’ve dropped it anyway, simply because of the way to cops talked to her (and as a witness, they were pretty fucking awful). The pamphlet with info on what to do after a sexual assault? All the numbers and links were no longer valid. That’s what we’re dealing with, here.

All I could think was “if this had happened in a dungeon…”

DMs aren’t trained in first response. You’re told as a victim that we can deal with these things among ourselves, we don’t need to talk to the cops (cause in many places the cops will already be suspicious of kink generally- see Paddleboro). And then we don’t deal with it- we leave victims to drown on their own, keeping quiet because, well, you don’t want to be ostracized, do you?

Why are people reacting so poorly to this? I suspect that it’s because when you really sit and think about it, as Maggie and I did months ago when we started this project, about how many dimes you would have if you had a dime for every time you were sexually assaulted within the kinky community… well, you’d have a hell of a lot of dimes. And if you took one away for each time you told someone, you’d probably still have a lot of dimes. And if you put back a dime for each time you told someone but didn’t call it rape?

Yeah. It fucked with our heads too.

Because if you have safewords in place, and respected references, and the person is well-liked by the community and seems good at what they do (maybe even presents workshops), and you’ve negotiated and read all the books and done all the stuff you’re “supposed” to do, we expect that these things won’t happen. That we’re safe. And sadly, that is not the case. I don’t think we, as a “community”, want to hear that, because it is fucking terrifying.

A lot of this is wrapped up in the fact that, as Maggie said to me, “we’re a community until something goes wrong- then, we’re all individuals”. That’s really interesting to me from a culture standpoint, and I’ll be writing more on exactly that soon. How can I in good faith say to radical feminists “no, you don’t understand, kink isn’t abuse because of consent and safewords and our focus on mutual respect” when, in fact, the community for the most part has proven me utterly wrong?

Keep an eye open for a post on community, “community”, and what that means for accountability.

This is why I’m so angry. Because if I wasn’t angry, I think I would lie down in the fetal position, so consumed by depression and sadness that I’d give up. And I can’t give up. We can’t give up.

-Reposted from Purrversatility

Consent Culture wants to Go On Tour!

So Maggie Mayhem and Kitty Stryker did a Safe/Ward workshop discussing consent and entitlement in the kink community a few months ago and it was a roaring success. They pitched it to the feminism and sexuality conference Momentum at the same time. It was accepted, which is awesome- but they need some help getting there… so they’re having a party!

Expect to see their usual awesome gift basket raffles of local sex and sensuality businesses as a way of saying “hey, sex *can* be hot, fun, and consensual” while helping them raise money to take trains, planes and automobiles to spread the word about consent culture. They have offerings ranging from body work to fancy sex toys, from companies like Crash Pad, Vixen Creations, Crystal Delights, Cleis Press, Padded Kink, Femina Potens, Rodeoh, and more!

Curious what Safe/Ward is all about? They’ll be putting together a brief overview of what Safe/Ward is and why combating entitlement culture is important (you can read more about the last one Kitty did with Maggie Mayhem in San Francisco at SF Weekly.). Maggie and Kitty also plan to have various performances by their friends, and maybe, just maybe, a kissing/spanking booth- ooh la la!

The mini workshop and fundraiser event is on Jan 24th at the Center for Sex and Culture, and they’re raising money to present it at Momentum March 30-April 1st in DC. Beyond that, they hope to take this workshop elsewhere- Maggie’s going on tour this summer, and Kitty’s sneaking out of SXSW to present Safe/Ward in Austin. Help them spread the word about how to make the BDSM/altsex scene a safer, more enjoyable space… for all.

Come have some drinks, watch some performances, buy some art, and bid on our raffle!

Can’t come to our event? Please consider donating! This allows us to travel to communities that might not be able to afford to fly us out or house us, but really need our help promoting consent culture in their playspaces!