Category Archives: Sex

Stories and essays in which sex is the central theme, either for its own sake or as a lens through which to view culture, society, identity and self.

Technicolor Sex

Marilyn Monroe in a read dress against a green floral background for Technicolor Sex by Malin James

Marilyn Monroe, circa 1952. Image courtesy Getty Images.

You know how sometimes, every now and then, sex can light you up? It’s the kind of sex that squeezes your heart and gobbles it whole. Sublime, intense, shattering sex that leaves you wrecked and soaked and scratched and bruised and so happy you could cry?

Yeah. I love sex like that.

I used to associate catastrophically good, mind-altering sex with kink because, when I was younger, the only time I experienced it was in kinky situations. The impact it made on me drove me to experiment with all sorts of sexual deviance, which was great and profound in its own way, but it also kept me from understanding my natural sexual wiring until much later.

Recently, I’ve come around to realizing that, while I am definitely a kinky person, kink isn’t actually what drives my sexuality. Intensity does, and kink is one possible way for me to get a hit of that drug.

Note: When I say “kink”, I’m referring to all of the kinks I enjoy, plus the million other kinks that fall under the term’s umbrella. Unless I specify a particular kink by name, just figure I mean it as a placeholder for anything that falls outside the sexual mainstream, whatever that is….

Some people have a central kink around which other kinks play out, like the sub who loves spanking but isn’t into service. I don’t have a central, identifying kink. I have a spectrum of equally weighted, kinky options. That’s because, for me, the turn-on isn’t the kink itself, but the intensity that comes from engaging it.

I’ve written before about how I don’t identify as a Domme because it comes with a set of expectations that don’t consistently apply. While I enjoy playing that role, I slide in and out of sexual dominance depending on what I’m doing and who I’m with. For me, sexual dominance is an impulse—awesome when it’s instinctive with a partner, but not necessarily something I pursue for its own sake.

Unlike someone whose sexual identity is fairly set, my sexuality is fundamentally intuitive. I’m kind of like a tuning fork—I ring at different frequencies with different lovers because different people tap different aspects of my sexuality. This isn’t to say that I don’t have my own preferences and boundaries. It’s no secret that submission isn’t my thing. Masochism, however, is. I like pain – both dishing it out and taking it – but only if it’s part of my natural dynamic with a partner.

And that’s really the thing for me—my dynamic with my partner. It doesn’t matter if it’s a one-time thing or a long-term relationship, more than anything, I respond to connection – that humming recognition that you both want to fuck. While I really enjoy a lot of different kinks, the intensity I crave has more to do with a feedback loop than with the kink itself, and what creates that delicious feedback loop changes from partner to partner and moment to moment.

So, when I say that my sexuality is intuitive rather than definitive, I really mean that my sexual response cues off a feedback loop. Kink can, and often does, form the basis of that connection, but sometimes it just happens out of the blue. It’s a lot like dancing – you move with each other’s impulses and improvise, so dancing with one partner is nothing like dancing with someone else. I’m hyperaware of my partners’ impulses, and that awareness shapes my response. It creates a sort of bespoke sexual experience, but what fits one partner in one moment, won’t necessarily fit another.

That’s why, while I love rough sex, I’m only going to want it with certain people because it’s not about rough sex, per se. It’s about rough sex with someone I want to have rough sex with. So, as much as I enjoy restraint and watching and being watched and group sex and fucking in places you shouldn’t be fucking, I love vanilla too. For me, it’s not about what we’re doing; it’s about how it feels while we’re doing it.

If I get that intensity through missionary with unbroken eye contact, fine. If I get it through edge play, voyeurism, or trusting a partner enough to push my own boundaries, fine. In the end, it’s all just a gateway to the kind of intensity that makes for the kind of sex that dismantles your brain and turns you into a cock or a cunt and the basic need to fuck.

That isn’t to say that I can’t enjoy kink or have amazing sex without that brain-dismantling intensity because I can and have and will. In the end, I love sex—kinky sex, or sex that’s as vanilla as it gets. The kind of sex that I’m talking about here is just one variation in a million. I just happen to love it because it’s as context dependent as I am.

For me, at its best, sex is a function of impulses and variables and kink is just one of those variables. While I genuinely enjoy kinky, filthy filth, the intensity I want is a product of dynamic and connection, informed by, but not dependent on kink. It’s just as likely to happen with eye contact as it is with anything else.

I like it when sex is the unpredictable product of impulse and instinct. I like it when sex surprises me. Within the boundary of certain hard limits, my sexuality is fluid enough that it doesn’t hold a definitive shape, which means that sex is always something of an adventure. Even if I’ve been with someone for years, something – an emotional quirk, a request, whatever – can hit me in a way I didn’t expect. That sudden change in frequency is the shot of sexual adrenaline that starts the rest of the feedback loop.

It’s like alchemy and it’s different with everyone. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does, it reminds me what having a body is all about. That’s when you get sex that’s shattering and cathartic; sex that’s so intense and so fucking good you have to check for a heartbeat after. That’s sex in blazing Technicolor. Kink or no kink, I love Technicolor sex.

On Submission, Strong Women & The High Alpha Male

Black and white of a woman wearing black boots and ball and chain by Ellen von Unswerth for On Submission, Strong Women and The High Alpha by Malin James

Ellen von Unwerth, from Revenge

I had a brief conversation the other day that got me thinking. I’m going to paraphrase chunks of the exchange rather than quote directly (because consent), but I’ll stick as close to the original as I ethically can.

So, here’s the opener:

Hi Malin. As a high-alpha male, I appreciate strong women. Dominant women are a rare challenge. I love your work – it gives me a lot of insight into how strong women tick. 

Given my initial response, the smart thing to do would’ve been to ignore it and move on. Unfortunately, those three sentences annoyed the fuck out of me so I responded with this:

A rare challenge…interesting. Care to unpack that?

Here’s his response:

Sure! For alpha males there’s nothing as exciting as an alpha female. Alpha females handle themselves, which is great (and rare with women in my experience, IMHO), but even more exciting is the challenge I mentioned. When a strong woman breaks and submits to you, that’s the biggest high you can get as a Dom. All women, alpha or not, want to submit to a strong man and being the only man that an alpha female submits to is a fucking high.

So…setting my visceral response aside, what he’s essentially talking about is a fetish for strong women. That, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing. Strong women rock in all kinds of ways because there are all kinds of ways in which women are strong. Where it goes wrong for me is in why he appears to fetishize a particular kind of female strength.

He doesn’t love strong women because he thinks strong women are interesting. He doesn’t love strong women because he wants to submit to a worthy Domme. He doesn’t even love strong women because he thinks an alpha female is the only kind of woman who can match his “high alpha” self. He loves strong women because they’re a challenge.

Let me rephrase that. He loves strong women because making a strong woman “break and submit” to him is a challenge.

The attraction isn’t in the woman. It’s in a narcissistic fetish for a certain kind of power. He wants to be the very special, uber-alpha male who breaks an unbreakable woman and makes her submit. He’s not fetishizing her strength, he’s fetishizing the idea of being the only one who can strip her of it.

Needless to say, I’ve got a few issues with this. The first is that it devalues the actual submission of actual female subs (many of whom are fucking bad-asses). The second is that it makes the “strong woman” in question a challenge (ie: a thing to surmount) rather than a person, and any view that reflexively turns a person into something other than a person is pretty much a no-go for me. The third is that this appreciation for strong women is entirely ego driven. Here’s what I mean….

If you work from the stated assumption that “all women, alpha or not, want to submit to a strong man” (*eye roll*), you get the implication underlying the attraction –  that any guy can make a submissive woman submit because women are, by nature, submissive. It takes a “high alpha male” to break the “rare” dominant woman.

That particular appreciation for female strength has nothing to do with respect or actual, you know, appreciation. It’s a purely reflective thing – the value of her strength is in how brightly it highlights his.

Full disclosure: I have a button here. Though I’m not a Domme, I am naturally dominant with a wide streak of  don’t-tell-me-what-to-fucking-do. I’ve written about how my natural dominance attracted an ex who was, to put it bluntly, a diagnosed sociopath who loved me best when I was needy (“but only for him”) and who wanted to “crush me and break me and make me his”. (Direct quote. Fuck it).

That’s not to say that this gentleman is a sociopath. To be honest, I don’t think he really understood what he was saying. It just rubbed my fur backwards and, once I got over my initial annoyance, I didn’t like how it unpacked.

Essentially, this kind of attraction turns a very specific form of female strength into fetishized commodity while dismissing all the other ways in which women are strong. In other words, it turns female dominance into a kind of drug that makes a certain kind of man feel special. It has nothing to do with the woman or her dynamic with that man. It has to do with the ego boost that comes from fucking her in a particular way.

It also turns the “rare” alpha-female one of two things:

  1. a disposable experience, or
  2. a possession to groom and keep.

Either way, it’s no good. Every woman does not crave submission, and those that do should have autonomy within their submission. Anything else falls back on a cultural mode that normalized a husband’s right to spank his wife for failing to make the perfect pot roast.

In the end, there’s a fundamental difference between spanking Lara Croft and spanking Lara Croft’s alpha female glory to the breaking point. The spanking isn’t the issue – it’s the motives behind it that makes the difference between awesome and toxic. If a dominant woman (or man) trusts you enough to submit to you, even if only for a night, that should speak to the connection and trust between you, not to your prowess as an alpha.

Fetishize power in a partner. Revel in it. Love strong women. Love strong men. Just don’t turn whatever happens into proof of your Domminess. Don’t fetishize the ego boost that comes with “breaking” someone you perceive to be strong. Sex and submission aren’t about how alpha you are. They’re about feeding off each other’s strengths – that’s the real fucking high.

NB: I realized after I posted this that I should clarify some terminology as usage in that conversation got fairly muddy.

“Alpha male” and “alpha female” don’t equate to Dom and Domme (or sadist or top). All alpha means it that someone has what might be called a dominant personality. Some alphas have personalities that are more dominant than others, as do some betas, etc. All dominant people are not alpha, nor are all alphas dominant.

Alpha, dominant and Dom are often equated in casual conversation, which is fine insofar as it goes. It’s just important to acknowledge that a person’s alignment in social hierarchies may differ than their (natural or chosen) position in sexual power dynamics.

As for the term “strong women”, it most definitely does not apply exclusively to dominant women or alpha females. Some of the strongest women I know are subs. Sexual wiring has little, if any, bearing on a woman’s integrity, resilience or strength.

Unbearably Sexy

Black and white photograph of Michael Fassbender for Vogue issue April 2012 for Unbearably Sexy post by Malin James

Michael Fassbender & Natalia Vodianova for Vogue, April 2012

I should preface this by saying that this isn’t what I’d call a proper post. It’s more of a message from my id…. Carry on.

Yesterday, I stumbled over this photograph of Michael Fassbender and Natalia Vodianova from the April 2012 issue of Vogue. It’s gorgeous, dramatic and ambiguous – just the sort of thing I love. But “gorgeous, dramatic and ambiguous” makes it sound like my response to it was  dreamy and appreciative in a purely aesthetic way.

It wasn’t.

My response was an immediate shot of violent arousal. It’s the sort of feral jolt I don’t usually get unless the source of my arousal is either very personal or touchably in front of me.

In the wake of this fantastically primal response, I tweeted the photo with the caption “This is unbearably sexy” because that’s exactly how it felt – unbearably sexy. This image is so sexy that it was literally difficult for me to bear. For some reason, it taps into every dark, delicious, predatory instinct I have. Even as I type this, I feel sharp and edgy.

I ended up DM’ing a bit later with a couple of women who had similar reactions – similar, but not quite the same. While we all got that holy hell, FUCK ME shot of arousal, the women I chatted with were pretty open about the fact that it was because they identified with, or wanted to be, Natalia Vodianova.

This is very much in keeping with what I assume to be the intention of the image given that it’s part of that issue’s cover feature on Michael Fassbender. Of course, the female reader is meant to identify with Vodianova. Who wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of Fassbender’s sleek concentration?

That’s what underpins the image’s visible cues – his control and her softness, the way he’s holding her still, her pretty glove on his sleeve, the precision of his hand vs. the carelessness of his writing…. I see all of those things and feel the pull of the same response – the one I should be having:

Let it be my hand on his sleeve and my temple he’s writing on. 

But it’s not. I’m reacting to something else – something I’ve manufactured in response to the image. Yes, it’s fed by his apparent control but it’s not because I want to be the lovely, pliant recipient of that attention. I don’t want to be the woman he’s doing it to, I want to be the woman he’s doing it for. I want to watch him while he does it and know that I’m under his skin.

Despite how that probably sounds, that desire doesn’t come from a place of dominance. It comes from the fact that I love power and confidence and force of will. I love prowess, and I love watching my partners exercise their prowess. It’s intensely exciting to me because equality is exciting to me – there is nothing as intimately hot as knowing that I am with someone whose will is as strong as mine, someone who can meet me step for step wherever we happen to go, especially when he trusts me to take the lead.

This photograph is not an image of that equality – it’s of a magnetic man exercising his prowess. Fassbender’s control, his focus, intensity and aloofness, the way he makes an object of her…it’s beautiful in the way a painting is beautiful. And so is the softness of her compliance. They are the picture of a dynamic that I would love to watch unfold…and, more importantly, that I would love to control.

So, where would I be in this picture?

Under his skin and in the back of his mind. In the pressure of the quill and his furrowed brow. In the drop of his shoulder and his barely parted lips.

He would bring me the taste of her perfume, like a token or a gift. He would bring me smudges of India ink, and I would lick the ink from his fingers and the perfume from his skin. I don’t own him. I wouldn’t want to. I love that he can’t be owned. But I’m in him; and in the ink; and in his impulse to write – by choice as much as will. And were I in his place, he would be in me too.

Muscle Memory

Earlier this week, I realized that I’ve run at least thirty minutes every day (often more) for a month. I’m not doing it to challenge myself, or even meet a private goal. I’m running every day because I’m dealing with quite a lot right now and running is, quite frankly, one of the ways I cope. I’m also doing because my body wants to, which is curious and cool. I haven’t felt that kind of habituated craving for movement in years, but it’s settled over me like a cozy, comforting sweater because so much of my early life was spent feeling it….

Partial of image of Malin James with feet in fifth position for Muscle Memory postI took this photo while I was playing with ideas for a Sinful Sunday, but this shot wasn’t intentional despite how contrived it looks. In fact, it wasn’t until I saw myself that I realized I’d inadvertently put my feet in fifth position and held my body in a way that was standard for me when I was dancing. Something about the corset reminded my body of my old training and my muscles obliged by putting me in that position without my even knowing it.

That subconscious physical response got me thinking. My dance training, though dormant for more than twenty years, surfaced unconsciously in what looks like a very unnatural pose, but which was, in fact, extremely natural for me ages ago. In a similar way, my running every day has woken up my old craving for movement, rhythm and that headspace you go into when your body is working like a well-oiled machine.

With all of that milling around in my brain, I started thinking about sex (of course). Aside from the obvious—that thinking about sex is lovely—sex is super relevant because the development of muscle memory is a feedback loop, and sex is full of feedback.

Think of the things that work for you every time – the way you spread your legs extra wide when someone goes down on you or rub the underside of your clit when you really need to come. All of those tiny movements that you instinctively know feel good? They’re anchored in muscle memory, honed with huge amounts of positive feedback –>

If I do this I get that crazy, awesome pleasure?? Goddamn! I’m going to do it more!

So you do, over and over again, until your body associates that movement with some crazy, awesome pleasure. Then, BAM – muscle memory becomes your sexy little friend.

It works in the converse too, unfortunately. Trauma gets physically internalized as surely as pleasure does. It’s one of the reasons people flinch if they’ve been hit in the face too often. Those negative physical memories play themselves out even more powerfully than the positive ones, which is part of why recovering from trauma is such a challenge.

Having said that (because it’s important to acknowledge that muscle memory can cause as much pain as it does joy), I want to drift back towards the positive, if only because that feels important right now.

Everything we experience physically, from running and dancing to stress and sex, impacts us in ways that may not be obvious at the time. I haven’t thought about tilting my hips since my first orgasm, but my body remembers how good it felt the first time I did, just like it knows that, if I do it, I’ll come twice as hard. Down in our cells, our bodies store experiences, almost like a physical archive. The lovely thing about it that, when those memories engage, our bodies let us feel good all over again.

We get that connection to our bodies for free, thanks to instinct and evolution. I haven’t thought about muscle memory in years despite having it drilled into me when I was young. Now that I have, I want to be more aware of it again. If reinforcing the physical memories we want (and gently disengaging those we don’t) means more joy and pleasure, more keenly felt, that can only be a good thing.

On Complicity

Abstract painting of Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 by Marcel Duchamp for On Complicity by Malin James

Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 by Marcel Duchamp

TW: Rape, Assault, Public Shaming

A Quick Note: It’s important to say that my sympathy for Chrissie Hynde extends only so far as the statements she made regarding her own sexual assault. She lost me when she started making comments about women “enticing rapists” by “wearing something that says, ‘Come and fuck me.’”

Last October, Chrissie Hynde published an autobiography detailing her life as the lead singer of The Pretenders. What set Reckless apart from other rock memoirs was that it included Hynde’s account of her rape and assault by a gang of bikers at the age of twenty-one. Although her tone is matter-of-fact to the point of detachment, it’s clear that this was a violent act. And yet, in a number of follow-up interviews, Hynde repeatedly claims “full responsibility” for her assault. That’s when things got interesting.

The outcry against what was seen as Hynde’s self-imposed victim blaming was immediate and intense. Unfortunately, rather than clarify her stance by explaining that claiming complicity in her own assault did not extend to a victim’s complicity in general, Hynde doubled down. That’s where all hope of discourse got lost.

Complicity is a complicated issue. In fact, it shares its Latin root with complicated. (Isn’t that cool? <End geekery>) The problem with Hynde was that her media presence blurred the line between taking responsibility for yourself and asking for it, which is dangerous, especially when a celebrity is doing the blurring. It was a great opportunity for discussion but, unfortunately, the many, many, many ways in which people cope with trauma were lost in the coverage. That’s important because Hynde’s claim of “full responsibility” is one of them.

Coping mechanisms exist for a reason. While they’re rarely healthy in the long-term, in the short-term, they can make the difference between surviving or giving up. Acknowledging one’s complicity can be empowering, but it can also be seriously damaging. What’s even worse is that it can do both simultaneously. Because of that, it’s easy to misinterpret complicity and, even worse, to misapply it. So, let’s talk about complicity. How does it function, for good and for ill?

At it’s most basic, complicity is a way of making something that isn’t okay, okay.

Remember when you were a kid, and you wanted pie but your mom said no? You might have said something like Fine. I don’t want pie anyway. That “fine” is a form of complicity. In this case, you abdicated your desire for pie because you weren’t getting any. BUT I’ll bet your desire for pie didn’t disappear just because you denied it. That cross-section between what you say and how you feel is where complicity gets tricky. At what point does complicity override the reality of the narrative? Put another way, when do you actually stop wanting the pie, just because you said “fine”?

That’s complicity in a nutshell—everything from the moment you say “fine” to when you honestly stop wanting pie. In my experience, it can happen either in real time or in hindsight. For fun and fairness, I’ll use me as an example. Here is what complicity might look like in real time:

When I was 24, I met this man. I wanted him so much I couldn’t see straight. That’s important—I couldn’t see straight. My perception was totally warped by how much I wanted him, so every time a red flag popped up, I ignored it and told myself that it was okay (ie: Fine. I don’t want pie.).

As his demands became more demanding, I worked harder and harder to justify his behavior because I wanted his approval and I loved him (and because the sex was amazing). That’s where my complicity lies—in all the little ways that I chose to stay, even though I knew the relationship was hurting me.

Am I responsible for the fact that he was a sociopathic fuck? No. I’m not. Am I responsible for having justified myself into staying multiple times? Yes. I am responsible for that—just as I’m responsible for having finally chosen to leave.

My complicity in that relationship is linked to my conscious understanding and the choices that I made based on that understanding. Yes, he manipulated me. But I also manipulated myself, which means that, objectively speaking, I was complicit in his manipulation, albeit to a very limited degree.

It’s the opposite of how I feel about the sexual abuse I experienced when I was four. Unlike what happened when I was an adult, I am in NO WAY responsible for my abuse as a child. No understanding. No choice. No complicity. You can’t have complicity without agency—even if it’s the agency you claim after the fact. Which brings me to complicity in hindsight.

Let’s go back to the situation with my ex.

After I left the relationship, I felt horrible—guilty, weak, powerless, vulnerable–every single emotion that had triggered me for years. Needless to say, it was a very difficult time. In fact, it was so difficult that I couldn’t bear to be in my own skin. That’s when complicity in hindsight set in.

I couldn’t stand the thought of my own helplessness, so I internalized a perverse sense of control by twisting my limited, real-time complicity into a massive sense of self-recrimination. As a result, my internal rhetoric hardened. It shifted from I’m powerless to I’m an idiot; I was dumb enough to stay; I’d played with fire, what did I expect?

This kind of thinking is toxic, but it calmed the panic and cut the feedback loop. And it gave me the sense of power that I desperately needed, even if it was false; even if I was hurting myself with it. What I needed was control over the narrative and, for good or for ill, claiming total complicity did that.

It’s important to underscore something here. Accepting my limited complicity for the choices I made isn’t the same thing as flaying myself with the lie of total complicity (something I did for years). That’s important because it’s the difference between taking responsibility for your choices and abusing yourself. If the devil is in the details, that’s the devil that got missed in the discussion of Chrissie Hynde.

Complicity, like coping, is determined by the individual. If evaluated honestly, it can deepen your understanding and (possibly) help you prevent a similar trauma from happening again. If claimed without perspective, it can do a lot of harm. Complicity is, in every respect, a gray area, one in which self-blame and delusion are horribly destructive, but where clarity is an equally valuable gift. It’s a hard balance to find, and even harder to keep.

At a time when victimization and victim blaming have entered our cultural discourse, it would be good to see less emphasis on the black and white, and more focus on the gray. While it goes against the nature of sound bites and click bait, the anatomy of trauma, and of how people cope with it, require more than a quick flash of outrage before the next headline hits.

Guys & the Girls Who Want to Watch: On Homoeroticism

A black and white photograph of two men embracing for Two Guys and the Girl Who Wants to Watch: On Homoeroticism by Malin James

Erotic postcard by Jim French

Roughly two years ago, I wrote a post asking this question:

What is it about two men having sex that turns so many women on?

That post got a lot of generous responses from men and women all over the sexual spectrum, including Exhibit A (though I had no idea at the time it would begin much more than a correspondence). His response, in particular, stood out because it underscored something I’d been suspecting – that the appeal of homoeroticism is, perhaps, even more common (and complicated) than I’d originally assumed. So I set the question aside to think about it.

Two years later….

I’m finally writing the follow-up thanks, once again, to Exhibit A, who retweeted the original post last month. While I’m usually a bit sheepish about letting a topic drop, I’m glad of it in this case. After two years, my thoughts on this issue have matured in ways that I couldn’t have anticipated when I first posed the question.

The biggest adjustment in my thinking was my realization that, while m/m sex clearly appeals to a lot of women, it also appeals to a lot of men who identify as flexibly straight (as opposed to bi). This realization made me curious about how it appeals across gender divides and sexual identities. But first, I want to address the question I originally posted two years ago. Why do women think m/m sex is hot?

As with so many things, the appeal of homoeroticism is intensely subjective, so there is no one answer, but I was able to slot the responses I got into three general categories:

  • Homoeroticism appeals because I like good looking men, so the more the better. 
    • Pretty self-explanatory.
  • Homoeroticism appeals because it gives me access to something I otherwise don’t have access to.
    • Not surprising given our cultural attraction to voyeurism, taboo or potentially transgressive sex; and our obsession with the mutual incomprehensibility of the opposite sex.
  • Homoeroticism appeals because it subverts a dominant paradigm.
    • Also pretty self-explanatory, but worth breaking down a bit.

That third category refers to the fact that, in mainstream porn and media, the traditional understanding is that there’s a power imbalance between men and women when it comes to sex. While this paradigm is shifting thanks to shows like Jessica Jones, Masters if Sex and American Horror Story: Coven, it’s been a standard for so long that this power imbalance is a cultural assumption for a lot of people. This leads to the common perception that men are sexually dominant (ie: guarded or inaccessible) while women are open, emotional and vulnerable.

The m/m fantasy subverts this expectation thanks to a different cultural assumption—one that presumes that two guys will avoid this paradigm more naturally than a straight pairing. Of course, this is ridiculous because sexual dominance and submission are about interpersonal dynamics and not about gender, (which is why M/m pairings are so hot). Regardless, a lot of women admit to being turned on by m/m sex because they assume the men involved to be enjoying a level playing field – both actors are sexually assertive while remaining emotional vulnerability.

This idealization of male sexual agency tends to lead to romanticized readings of m/m dynamics. I’ve read more than one study in which women thought m/m sex was because the guys were “equal” “open” “real” and “vulnerable” in a way that they hadn’t witnessed before.

Of course, we’re talking about fiction in most of these cases—specifically porn. The popularity of m/m pairings in slash, porn and erotica reflects a certain kind of female fantasy—one that subverts dominant paradigms and gives the illusion of emotional access to men in sexual contexts. And it does all this by appropriating a somewhat romanticized version of what people imagine happening when two guys fuck.

Sidebar

This form of appropriation is important but it’s also complicated enough that it requires its own post, so I’m going to leave it there for now and come back to it later. (Hopefully in less than two years).

End Sidebar

While the fictional portrayal of m/m sexual dynamics appeals on one level, the reality of gay sex appeals on another. So, while some women (and men) fantasize about general aspects m/m sex, others engage it more specifically. In otherwords, some women want to watch their man fuck and / or get fucked by another guy; and some guys want the same thing.

I can only speak for myself when I say this, but my desire to watch my partner with another man has nothing to do with the romanticization of m/m sexual dynamics, and everything to do with our relationship and all of the complicated, nuanced reasons that make it something we both think is super hot.

Which brings me to the selective appeal of homoeroticism across genders.

Awhile ago, I wrote a story called “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” about a woman who gives her boyfriend an m/m encounter for Christmas. It plays to a lot of my own kinks—voyeurism, dominance and, yes, homoeroticism—so I was really happy when women and men seemed to like it though they seemed to like it for different reasons.

Women liked it because the idea of watching their man with another guy is goddamn hot (because it is). Men seemed to like the wish-fulfillment aspect or it. The male protagonist wants to suck cock and get fucked, and his girlfriend makes it happen. It’s a portrait of the gray area between gay and straight, set against the backdrop of a loving, if unconventional, relationship.

That gray area is where homoeroticism appeals to me.

Don’t get me wrong – homoeroticism is hot for a lot of reasons, and it can subvert dominant paradigms. But that’s not why I love it. I love it because it breaks a barrier—one that often sits between a man and a woman, as well as between two men.

Unless you bury the needle at either 0 (exclusively straight) or 6 (exclusively gay) on the Kinsey scale, sexuality is more fluid than we tend to realize. The sexual behaviors sanctioned by mainstream society don’t always allow for safe experimentation within the gray areas. Homoeroticism, whether engaged as fantasy or more directly, is one way of experiencing a fuller range of sexual possibilities than might otherwise be available to strictly heterosexual pairings. What’s more, it makes those possibilities available in a relatively unthreatening way.

Homoeroticism is a way of romancing “the other”, whether “the other” is a partner of the same (or opposite) sex, or some unexplored facet of yourself. Ultimately, humans crave understanding and connection. We’re curious. We want to know and touch. A fascination with homoeroticism is one way we can taste things we don’t normally find on our plates.

The Joy of Sucking Cock

Black and white picture of a kitten with a bowl of milk staring into the camera. Tongue in cheek illustration for The Joy of Sucking Cock.Last November, Girl on the Net posted this in response to an article by a guy who felt that, while going down on a woman is tricky,  “the penis is a simple thing – it’s hard to get things completely wrong.”

Girl on the Net did a brilliant take-down of that bit of silliness, which I totally recommend reading. So, why am I bothering to write a post about this when GotN already did it so well?

I’m not actually. Her article got me thinking. One of the things I love best about oral is that anyone can do it in a way that is authentic to them. Here’s what I mean….

Sucking cock is often thought of as a form of submission, but it can also be a spectacular way to top someone (“I don’t care how badly you want to come down my throat. Don’t.”). It can be a sweet, Sunday morning blow job or a filthy face fucking in a bathroom stall. It can be a homecoming or a good-bye. It can be reverent or carnal. It can be anything you and your partner need it to be. In fact, some of the most memorable sexual moments of my life have been blowjobs because they were authentically perfect for the finite moment we were in.

I’ve written before about how my first time giving head wasn’t fantastic and that it wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I gained a real understanding of what I call The Joy of Sucking Cock ™. Up to that point, my experiences with giving head were tinged with insecurity. I approached each one feeling as if I didn’t know what I was doing, but that I’d better figure it out, which is why those early years were more about experimentation than enjoyment.

It wasn’t until I made a sloppy, chaotic mess of it that I really understood how wonderful sucking cock can be, because my sloppy, chaotic mess turned him into a writhing, desperate shadow of his control-freak self. That’s when it finally clicked and a feedback loop formed – his pleasure gave me pleasure, which gave him pleasure and so on…. It’s that feedback loop that I crave now when I give head (or have any kind of sex) – the mutual enjoyment that turns us both into animals until someone comes.

That’s why I rarely think about what I’m doing. Sort of like how you’re not supposed to ask the caterpillar how it walks, I try not to pay attention to anything but my partner and what feels good at the time. If you ask me to do that thing with the roof of my mouth again, I probably won’t know what you’re talking about but the odds are that I’ll accidentally do it again because it feels good. That’s The Joy of Sucking Cock.

Screen Shot Google Search "blow jobs" 1/19/16

Screen Shot Google Search “blow jobs” 1/19/16

So, let’s drill down into why this is important. We live in a culture where, for better or for worse, the emphasis in mainstream media has been placed on prowess rather than enjoyment, which is why newsstands are full of women’s magazines selling the arcane wisdom you’ll need if you want to “blow his mind”.

Even if we set aside the subtly toxic, hetero-normative fact that these articles place the emphasis on the woman’s ability to perform [insert sex act here] like a pro, the paradigm is still problematic because these articles aren’t nearly as empowering as they initially appear to be. They are, in fact, disempowering because underlying the conveyance of the must-have information is the implication that if you’re not doing it “like this”, you’re doing it wrong.

“Like this” can be anything from using vise-like suction, (thanks, Cosmo), to looking at him while you suck his cock because “he’ll think it’s hot”.

What’s wrong with using (non-injurious levels of) suction or looking up at him while you give him head? Absolutely nothing. Those are legitimately awesome (and super hot) things. What I object to is the emphasis on her performance rather than their mutual enjoyment.

That’s really at the heart of this for me – the mentality that sex is, in the end, something you perform, rather than enjoy. It’s as if we’re all supposed to be mainstream porn stars rather than regular people engaging in a super pleasurable, shared activity. This emphasis on performance is the biggest reason for my ambivalence about oral when I was younger. Without even realizing it, I’d absorbed the assumption that there is a “right” and a “wrong” way to do it, which fed my insecurity, which got in the way of our mutual enjoyment, which blocked the feedback loop, and so on.

I mean, let’s face it, outside of keeping your teeth off his cock (unless that’s been negotiated beforehand), there is no one perfect, blow-his-mind technique. There are only the things you try and he loves, and that changes with every partner and, quite possibly, every blowjob. Knowing and discovering those individual ticks is a massive pleasure that has nothing to do with performance. It has to do with pleasure – yours and his. That’s where The Joy of Sucking Cock is.

On the Value of Fantasies

Japanese shunga erotica painting being eaten out by an octopus

The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife by Hokusai (1814)

Recently, Emmanuelle de Maupassant posted a link to an article called “The Art of Dreams”. The art in that post contains two prominent themes – mortality and sexuality, which makes sense since sex and death have been cultural obsessions for centuries.

As I was looking through the pieces, two of them stood out. The first was the one above – “The Dreams of the Fisherman’s Wife” by Hokusai. The other is of a girl dreaming that she’s being carried into the woods by a bear. Both have obvious sexual overtones and, given the nature of my own dreams, my mind wandered from dreams into fantasies.

I have always had extremely vivid sex dreams, even as a girl. In fact, I knew I was bisexual before I understood what that meant after dreaming that I was kissing Sleeping Beauty and her prince. I woke up wanting more of both, a feeling I internalized as normal but never talked about. That dream led to my first sexual fantasies, and their influence on my sexuality as it developed can’t be overstated.

Years later, a friend and I were talking about fantasies in college. Her opinion was that if you’re in a relationship, (she was and I wasn’t), having fantasies about someone other than your boyfriend is cheating. I understand now, on an intellectual level, what she was saying, but fantasies were so integral to my sexual development that hearing them spoken of as a form of infidelity left me feeling vaguely bereft, as if what was natural to me was somehow immoral to normal, relationship-having people.

Side Note: I should state that there is a difference between fantasizing to explore your sexuality, and fantasizing to escape an unpleasant or unsatisfying relationship. If you’d rather be in your head than with your partner, that’s a sign that something could be off in the relationship. While I still don’t consider this cheating, it probably isn’t something you should ignore either.

Even though I lost my virginity relatively late, I had a massively active fantasy life, so much so that, by the time I finally did have sex, I jumped into new experiences with an enthusiasm that I may not have otherwise had. I fantasized about threesomes well before I had one. Same thing with group sex, oral, anal, strap-ons, D/s, sex in public and pretty much everything else I’ve ever done.

But it wasn’t just the exploratory quality of my fantasies that formed my sexuality. As I experienced new things, more and more of those experiences were incorporated into my fantasies, so that I began to understand what worked for me in greater depth. Everything, from my love of prowess to shaving (and being shaved by) a lover, was nurtured by an increasingly varied collection of fantasies.

Even impossible or transgressive fantasies are valuable. Some may get explored in real life, while others can’t (or won’t), but the fact that they can be played out safely is important. I want to understand what makes me click because I can bring that understanding to my partners. 

Fantasies are also a surprisingly accurate way to gauge how your sexual focus may have changed. Early on, my fantasies, much like my erotica, were highly situational – getting off on a Maytag dryer, being watched, making someone do something that makes them uncomfortable (but that they also undeniably want). These fantasies explored different situations and helped me understand my various kinks and predilections.

In the past few years, however, my fantasies have changed. As someone close to me noted, I’m after connection more than experience now. That isn’t to say that I’ve done everything I want to do (because I doubt I ever will). What it does mean is that my sexual focus now prioritizes intensity and connection rather than situational novelty, a shift that is also reflected in my work.

If sex is the lens through which I view life, then fantasies are how I keep that lens polished. The notion that fantasizing about someone other than my partners would take something away from the depth of my commitment to them rings as false now as it did when I was eighteen. 

If anything, your fantasies give you access to more of yourself, knowledge that you can then bring to your partners. Whether it’s fucking against a wall because you can’t keep your hands off each other, or ravaging and being ravaged by some sort of subhuman beast, fantasies, dreams and memories help ground you in your sexuality, and it’s your sexuality that you bring to real life.

Woman in Repose

Woman with arched back lying on a dark bed

Woman in Repose by Steve Harris

The past few months have been challenging. A series of difficult things destabilized what had been a very stable foundation. It was a bit like playing Jenga. Each thing that happened removed a pin from my tower, until I was leaning and listing everywhere – nowhere near falling, but structurally unsound.

As a result, it’s  fair to say that I haven’t been myself. The people in my life have had to deal with me being unusually emotional and term bound while I struggled with a limited sense of perspective. I’ve been anxious, reactionary and far more taxed (and taxing) than I ever want to be. It’s a state of mind that made me want to unzip my skin and divorce my body from my brain until I got a handle on things. And that’s essentially, what I did. The result was a general disinterest in sex and, to a greater degree, D/s.

There are labels I use for myself, and others that I don’t even though they could superficially apply. The primary example of this is “Domme”. I never refer to myself as a Domme even though I am sexually dominant. (To be honest, I’m dominant in general though I try to keep that checked. I’d rather be accessible than in control…unless there’s a reason to be in control).

I make the distinction between dominant and Domme because, while I enjoy playing with power, I can just as easily not and be very satisfied. The label “Domme” comes with implications that I feel don’t quite apply because my dominance isn’t formalized, nor do I want it to be. My recent situational reticence with D/s underscored that distinction for me in a very concrete way.

Side note: Drawing this distinction deserves its own post, so forgive the broad brush I’m using now.

While I love playing games, I’m equally happy to meet my partners without a power dynamic in play. What keeps me from being even remotely switchy is the fact that I won’t submit sexually to anyone. Ever. My aversion to sexual submission is serious enough that I couldn’t do it for love or money. There are reasons for this, but I’m going to save those for a separate post.

I’d be lying if I said that I don’t enjoy gentle cruelties or imposing my will on consenting partners. I’d be lying if I said that there isn’t a carnivorous part of me that gets off on taking control. But I’d also be lying if I said that that particular kind of assertion is an integral part of who I am. It’s something that I do, not something that I am (unlike my resistance to submission, which is a fundamental part of my personality). That’s why I love sex with an equally dominant partner just as much (and often even more) as D/s play. 

The result of dealing with what I’ve been dealing with is that I haven’t really wanted to play in a D/s sense. I haven’t wanted to control, create or weave scenarios. So much of my energy was going to keeping myself under control, that the idea of taking external control in a play context was exhausting. Unfortunately, I didn’t consciously realize any of this at the time, though I wish I had. I was pushing myself in ways that I shouldn’t have.

In hindsight, I can see that what I needed was something else – good sex, balanced dynamics and, perhaps most lowering, a sense of safety so that I could get out of my head and back into my body. I’ve been sexually reticent and, though not passive (because I’m almost never passive), I’ve definitely been more cautious and reserved – what a friend of mine would call a woman in repose.

While I was in London, Exhibit A and I went for a short run. Afterwards we talked about how, after you’ve been injured, you tend to go more carefully and not push yourself as hard. It’s an understandable thing but, at a certain point, that self-protective instinct can get in your way. Then again, sometimes it’s what you need, even if only for a short time…the hope is always that you’ll return to running at speed.

To circle back to where I started, certain facets of my sexuality and personality have been feeling fairly injured of late – facets that are tied to my relationship with sexual dominance. In a sense, I needed to rest those muscles – the ones I use in D/s – because D/s is not my home base. Sex is. I needed to get re-grounded in sex while those other parts of me rested. I needed to feel, not think or plan. I needed to be spontaneous and basic, so I didn’t go out on available limbs or explore interesting possibilities. I played it safe because, as with running after an injury, I needed to respect my boundaries and get the lay of my land again.

I didn’t realize it until I wrote this, but sex was, and is, the key to that for me. Good, connected, uninhibited, back-to-basics sex with someone I trust.  And now, on the tail end of what turned out to be a pretty difficult patch, I’m happy to say that I’m in better shape than I thought I was. The muscles that needed resting are stretching and waking up. I’m feeling like myself again, and it feels awfully good. I really am happiest on my feet.

Beautiful, Joyful Porn

Still from Hysterical Literature. Image for Beautiful, Joyful Porn - Malin James

Still from Hysterical Literature, Session 1: Stoya (one of my favorites)

I’m kind of embarrassed to admit it, but I’m not that into porn. Sort of. Okay, it’s complicated….

I like porn in principle, but scripted porn doesn’t tend work for me. I’m hyper-aware of stories and how they’re told. Unless they’re done really well, a lot porn scenarios yank me out of the sexy place and drop me into my head, which is kind of a shame, since most of those scenarios aren’t designed to withstand a critical eye. They’re designed to help the viewer get off, which is excellent in and of itself.

One of porn’s traditional conventions is to provide a narrative, even if the narrative is just randy pizza guy or threesome for his birthday. The problem for me is that I have weirdly specific taste, so pre-packaged scenarios don’t tend to turn me on . That’s why I’m more likely to trawl Tumblr for a quick fix than I am to watch a full length porn video. Sorry, porn – it’s not you, it’s me.

For me, porn is defined by efficiency. It’s like the media equivalent of the vibrator I keep at my desk for when I just need to get off. I’m not looking for a sexual experience, I’m looking for mental clarity, so I pull out the vibe and five minutes later, I’m back to work. For me, most porn serves the same function. If I’m already horny, it can be pretty useful, but if I want to rev myself up, it probably won’t do. It’s the difference between the vibe and a beautiful glass dildo. If I need to get off, the bullet rocks, but I’ll enjoy the glass in a whole different way.

Luckily for me, there are glass dildo equivalents in porn.

Last year, I wrote a post about a video called The Slap, a satirical riff on an ad called First Kiss. The Slap riled me up so much it shocked me. There isn’t an ounce of sexual content in this video – it’s literally a bunch of strangers slapping each other in the face – but the visceral, impulsive joy of it never fails to turn me on.

The only way I can think to explain it is that this crazy sort of intimacy develops between each pair, regardless of the race, gender or sexuality of the individual participant. That intimacy underpins their shock at hitting someone and taking a hit and it informs their joy at being given permission to do something taboo. In fact, it’s so fucking intimate that it makes me want to slap someone too…and then fuck that someone a lot

Sexual mechanics are cool for a snack, but if I want a pornographic meal, I go straight for intense, voyeuristic intimacy – intimacy that stands on its own without a scripted story. That’s why I go to Beautiful Agony or  Hysterical Literature when I want raw sexuality without the side of narrative.

Beautiful Agony features videos that people submit of themselves masturbating in front of a camera. All you can see are their faces, so the way they experience pleasure is displayed without distraction. Watching one of their videos is like being in a room full of laughter. You can walk in cold and miserable, but give it enough time and you’re going to be laughing too, which is to say that I can pop on one of their videos while I’m tired and stressed out, and by the time it ends, I’m after the glass dildo.

Hysterical Literature is also wonderful. People sit at a table and read from a book while someone under the table uses a vibrator on them (or jacks them off). The participants choose their book and that book is the single thread that carries you through to their orgasm. On a personal note, I’m a fan of reading while being pleasured, (and of torturing someone by making them read while I pleasure them), so Hysterical Literature is tailored made for me. And oh my god, the people who participate are happy. It’s beautiful. And hot! It makes me think of the times I’ve laughed after coming, because it felt so good.

In both cases, watching someone go from zero to climax over the course of 5-10 minutes is sexy and I love it. It’s infectious, and that’s the beauty of it. It’s the ultimate form of sexual sympathy. The people in the videos are having an amazing time, which makes me want to too. And, as a added bonus, Beautiful Agony and Hysterical Literature mean that I don’t have to spend the rest of the day itching to slap someone before ripping off their clothes. That’s what I call a gourmet pornographic meal.