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Dinner Parties that Turn into Orgies

Amophrast's picture

I started out with questions about porn: Can porn ever be feminist? If so, what makes it feminist? Is kink contrary to feminism?

After reading MacKinnon, however, I realized that this was turning into a conversation about feminism and BDSM/kink, not just porn.

Catharine MacKinnon talks about pornography in her book Only Words from what seems like a limited standpoint, in my opinion. However, instead of focusing on all the people and identities she ignores, I will try to meet her at her standpoint.

“…Andrea Dworkin and I have proposed a law against pornography that defines it as graphically sexually explicit materials that subordinate women through pictures or words” (22). (Emphasis mine)

She starts out the first chapter of the book describing some scenes, and the first few pages are written in a second person perspective:

“…your husband ties you to the bed and drips hot wax on your nipples and brings in other men to watch and makes you smile through it" (3).

Woah woah woah--wait. MacKinnon just described a scene involving bondage, wax play, nipple torture, and voyeurism. I know people (feminists) who love these acts.

Fetlife snapshot of "bondage" fetish--184,810 people getting their kink on

Fetlife snapshot of "Candle wax" fetish--114,248 people getting their kink on

Fetlife snapshot of "Breast/nipple torture" fetish--101,945 people getting their kink on

Fetlife snapshot of "voyeurism" fetish--72,128 people getting their kink on

Note: These numbers come from users of any gender specified either being into or curious about a specific kink. Users may also specify what they like about the kink--giving, receiving, watching, wearing, watching others wear, or "everything to do with it."

MacKinnon also talks about any sort of power play in a relationship or sexual practice as unequal and discriminating towards women. It's degrading.

Fetlife snapshot of "consensual nonconsent" fetish--37,466 people getting their kink on

Fetlife snapshot of "verbal humiliation and degradation" fetish--184,810 people getting their kink on

Let me introduce you to something called Fetlife. It's a website that's only a few years old, but has many users (often referred to as fetlifers). It is primarily a social networking site, though many find future or potential partners through the website. Despite this, there are many people who say (who feel the need to say) very explicitly on their profile, "No, I do NOT want to fuck you." There is also a bit of a judgmental attitude (depending on group, circles, users) toward people who only use pictures of their genitals as their main profile picture and whose profile only highlights their fetishes and no sense of personality.

Fetlife sign up description

As you will see if you explore, Fetlife currently has this information available for setting up a profile, though only basic things such as name are actually REQUIRED:

Gender: male, female, crossdresser/transvestite, trans - male to female, trans - female to male, transgender, gender fluid, genderqueer, intersex, butch, femme, not applicable

Sexual orientation: straight, heteroflexible, bisexual, homoflexible, gay, lesbian, queer, pan, fluctuating/evolving, asexual, unsure, not applicable

Role: dominant, domme, switch, sub, master, mistress, slave, top, bottom, fetishist, kinkster, sadist, masochist, sadomasochist, vanilla, unsure, not applicable

As you can see, there's no need to distinguish yourself as a particular identity or a particular role. You can be straight, cisgendered, and vanilla and still be on Fetlife.

Maybe I'm getting a little bit ahead of myself.

What is BDSM?

  • Sometimes referred to as S&M (see: Rhianna)
  • Bondage, discipline, dominance/submission, sadism, masochism

The unofficial motto for the BDSM lifestyle, whether it’s a one-time thing or something to live 24/7, is safe, sane, and consensual. What does this mean?

  • Communication
  • Safe words (or gestures, etc. if gagged or unable to talk) (definition)
  • Education (it’s not a good idea to do suspension rope bondage if you’re using shitty rope, cheap hardware, etc.)
  • Aftercare (definition)
  • Good judgment (no alcohol, no drugs--"sane")
  • "Consensual means that you are sceneing because you want to, with someone who wants to, that everyone involved is willing to go ahead with the scene. If you are in the least bit unsure, stop and talk. The time to clarify consent is before a scene, not after."

And something that is almost always intended if not explicitly said: trust.

Fetlife snapshot of "filthy perverts who are also good people" fetish--2,056 people getting their kink on 

In Only Words, MacKinnon seems to be particularly addressing the problem of women subjugated to violence through sex, sexual harassment, and porn. However, the way she address it generalizes and diminishes the experience of EVERYONE, not only women. Trans* folk are completely ignored. Male submissives, female dommes and dominatrixes (including professionals) are ignored. Penetrative sex is not described as such, but often as a penis “ramming” into a vagina (27). All sexual acts in which there is a power discrepancy are being reduced to a category that is “violence against women.”

Fetlife snapshot of "male submission" fetish--12,610 people getting their kink on

Fetlife snapshot of "rough sex" fetish--66,863 people getting their kink on

MacKinnon also attacks the claim that pornography is “simulated” sex. She says, “We are told unendingly that the women in pornography are really enjoying themselves (but it’s simulated?). Is the man’s erection on screen “simulated” too? Is he “acting” too?” (27). It is true that not every single porn you will encounter will involve women actively enjoying what they are doing or what is being done to them. However, as I once heard a feminist I know say (paraphrased) “today I got paid to play with a pretty girl while it was filmed. First time doing porn!” She didn’t experience it as something that was forced on her or something that constituted abuse. It seems like a positive experience in all regards.

However, I acknowledge that I have the privilege of being in an environment where women are selling sex because they want to rather than they are being forced to. Throughout college, I have been exposed to issues such as BDSM and sex work as positively as possible. I am biased in the fact that most, if not all, kinksters I have come in contact with are generally liberal, sex-positive, queer or queer-positive feminists. I have never knowingly met someone or had a discussion with someone about child pornography, sex trafficking, and sexual abuse. MacKinnon believes that when men consume porn (including snuff films, incest, bestiality), they wish to carry out these fantasies in real life, continuing to hurt more women. However, I think that when these desires are re-directed as kinks, they can be carried out more or less safely. Instead of consuming child pornography, one could safely pursue sex that involved infantilism. Instead of consuming bestiality, one could safely pursue sex that involved pony play or puppy play. I believe that for most deviant forms of sexuality and sexual expression, that is a safe way to practice it through kinks.

Gayle Rubin has something else to say about pornography.

When the anti-porn movement started in the late 1970s, it was led by feminists who didn't want pro-women or feminist porn, but who wanted to get rid of porn altogether. Rubin says several distinctions were usually blurred by this type of feminism:

  • sex/violence
  • image/act
  • harmless fantasy/criminal assault
  • sexually explicit/explicitly violent

Rubin claims that very little pornography actually depicts violent acts. This is where the discourse gets a little muddled. If Rubin and MacKinnon were both at the dinner table, MacKinnon would get pretty angry. To MacKinnon, the act of PIV (penis in vagina) sex seems to be violent in and of itself, along with any act that has a woman submitting to a man or a woman being filmed. She seems to argue that there is no scene of domination in porn in which a woman is truly expressing pleasure. The woman is always acting or pretending to enjoy it because she is either being paid or being abused.

However, when Rubin talks about porn with violent acts, she is referring to BDSM, or as she calls it, SM porn.

"SM materials are aimed at an audience that understands a set of conventions for interpreting them. Sadomasochism is not a form of violence, but is rather a type of ritual and contractual sex play whose aficionados go to great lengths in order to do it and to ensure the safety and enjoyment of one another. SM fantasy does involve images of corecion and sexual activities that may appear violent to outsiders" (22).

Additionally, when SM porn is made by people who are not practitioners of sadomasochism, it "often reflects the prejudices of its producers rather than common SM practice."

When feminists fight back for porn, I have heard them say:

  • You are being infantilizing to women, assuming that they can’t make their own choices.
  • Keep in mind that most models and actors of BDSM sex have a higher/different pain tolerance than the average person

Rubin also traces a short history of the word pornography, due to the fact that anti-porn feminists often seem to have varying definitions of porn. The word was once used for sexually explicity Greco-Roman artifacts. In the late 1800s, sexually explicit materials were rare and expensive, "accessible primarily to wealthy and educated men." What do you think, Virginia? Should the daughters of educated men fight against their dad's stash, or fight to obtain access to it? Porn has only had the connotation of being cheap and trashy since WWII.

On a legal note:

One might argue against BDSM for legal reasons. In the U.S., laws concerning pornography vary by state. In the U.K., many forms of BDSM are illegal under a law that does not recognize the possibility of consenting to bodily injury. On the other hand, how is it likely that this is going to be enforced? As my sociology professor said the other day, law enforcement usually depends on complaining victims. If a “victim” complains about BDSM, then this implies that there IS a reason for worry—abuse or trauma might have occurred. 

So will we bring porn and kink to the table? What would our dinner party turn into?

Fetlife snapshot of "dinner parties that turn into orgies" fetish--24 people getting their kink on

Sources used:

Catharine MacKinnon, Only Words

Gayle Rubin, Bad Girls and Dirty Pictures: The Challenge to Reclaim Feminism


For further information:

Fetlife Terms of use:

“Slippery Slope,” dir. Sarah Schenck (BMC alum)

How can you tell when a BDSM relationship has turned unhealthy or abusive?:

Good for Her, online store:

Good for Her, Feminist Porn Awards:

Lori Adorable, kinky feminist, writer, model:

Pro-SM Feminist Safe Spaces:


Anne Dalke's picture

Fetlife, plus

This is a rich and wide-ranging project; I like very much how you've brought the two by-now classic (and somewhat ossified?) positions re: feminist porn (MacKinnon and Rubin) into contact (if not exactly conversation!) with a range of contemporary BDSM sites. Lots of material here, to think with-and-about, to explore further....

...and so of course you won't be surprised by my question. You bring so much porn and kink to the table, but/and you end w/ a question you don't try to answer. What does this topic do to-and-with our dinner party? Is the next step in this project/process (do you want to take a next step?) to conduct a survey among your classmates or hallmates or all BMC students or....? What theoretical framings (re: power? consent?) are needed to help others think through what they feel about the issues that MacKinnon, Rubin, Fetlife and you have placed on our shared table?

I've also just suggested to buffalo that the two of you might talk (on- or off-line). Seems to me that her project, seeking a feminist perspective on sex work, might offer some interesting extensions for your exploration of feminism and pornography. Talking with one another might achieve something of what Kamala Kempadoo does in her essay, "Women of Color and the Global Sex Trade," which asks us not only to consider women's sexual agency, needs, and desires, but also sex work as an income-generating activity....