Why are women sexually submissive?
This question, in various forms, was bandied about a lot during last year’s Fifty Shades media hysteria. It’s a question I’ve been asked my opinion on more than enough times. Usually the questioner is asking why are so many women into sexual submission as roleplay or fantasy (which would suggest the answer requires a socio-cultural analysis, and I have to put my eyeroll on standby in readiness for the chimpanzee who wants to tell me it’s ‘natural’).
Made more personal, the question becomes why is this character/are you sexually submissive (which would suggest the questioner thinks us crazy bitches need our heads examined cos we must have a history of brokenness to like that fucked-up shit).
I think it’s the wrong question to be asking. Instead, perhaps we should be asking: why is that question constantly being asked of women? It’s a question which implies there’s a problem that needs rectifying. We don’t often hear the corresponding enquiry: why are (so many) men sexually dominant? Femsub generates anxiety because too often it’s deemed to constitute a betrayal and rejection of feminism. I think most intelligent people would be able to understand that wanting to be cuffed to the bedpost and treated like a fuckslutwhore doesn’t equate to wanting to live on the bottom half of a gender-imbalanced culture. The more complex issue, and one which affects me as a writer, is how do we convey this when we’re presenting M/f to a broad audience?
I’m a woman writing about women who desire sexually dominant men; about women who own their stuff or are on a journey towards ownership. I’m writing about sex that re-enacts and often exaggerates gender norms; and at the same time, I’m subverting those gender norms by showing that women can have sexual agency and be actively, assertively desiring. Historically, that’s been the preserve of men.
EL James did us a massive wrong when she presented Grey’s non-mainstream sexuality as a consequence of an abusive past and him as freakishly ‘other’ (and so safe from tainting the mainstream); and when she depicted acceptable, ordinary female sexuality as being dead-in-the-cunt. The romantic, reactionary trope of a ‘sleeping beauty’ sexuality, where our heroine is oblivious to her submissive desires until some handsome prick-prince arrives to ‘awaken’ her kinky self is deeply problematic.
My protagonist in Thrill Seeker, Natalie Lovell, starts to explore her submissive sexuality when she’s in her late twenties. She’s been deterred from doing so previously due, in part, to a former unhealthy sexual relationship which has left her feeling uncomfortable about, and reluctant to pursue, her desires. I think this is a far more typical scenario for many of us, except it’s not usually an incident in the past that has inhibited our sexual growth but a barrage of cultural messages telling us we shouldn’t; that it’s wrong; it’s dirty; it’s twisted to want it that way. I don’t for a moment believe that, as FSOG suggests, we’re all ticking along in neutral vanilla mode until something distorts us and sends us – whoa! – kinky.
In Thrill Seeker, Natalie is sexually submissive because she is. Anyone looking for a ‘why?’ won’t find their answer. They will, however, find plenty to demonstrate the pleasure Natalie gets out of powerplay, and that ought to be reason enough.
Here’s an excerpt. And I’m very sorry: this is my third excerpt from Thrill Seeker, and once again it centres on cocksucking. I promise you, the book does contain other stuff and I do have range!
Another memory: Baxter making me confront myself in the full-length mirror in the bedroom. I was on my knees, hands cuffed behind my back, both of us naked. I’d just been sucking his cock, or rather he’d just been fucking my mouth. He once taught me a word: irrumatio. Not fellatio, where I suck his cock, but irrumatio, where he fucks my mouth. ‘Learn to love it,’ he’d growled, hands in my hair, cock driving hard enough to make me splutter.
When he withdrew, he stuffed my knickers into my mouth, feeding in the last of the fabric with two big fingers. My cheeks bulged, pink lace foaming from my lips as he turned me to meet my reflection. He held me by the hair, waggling my head in warning when I tried to look away. Black tears streaked my face, my eyes bloodshot, my skin hectic and blotched. Next to me, his cock was ramrod-stiff, gleaming with my saliva, his pubes curling damply.
‘Look at the state of you,’ he said brightly. ‘How d’you end up like this, eh? Dirty little cocksucker. You know why your panties are in your mouth, eh? Do you?’
I shook my head, grunting into cotton.
‘Because I dinnae want to hear you speak,’ he said. ‘All that mouth’s fit for is being used. Not got a dick in it? Then it’s surplus to my requirements. Now come on, suck me again. Do it!’
I grunted to indicate he needed to first remove the underwear from my mouth. My hands were tied, see? Baxter was having none of it. ‘Spit them out,’ he said. ‘Prove how much you want my dick.’
I did as told, glad to be rid of the knickers, gladder still to have Baxter gliding into my mouth again. I loved the strength in his shaft, loved to breathe in the intimacy of his pubes as he bunched my hair in his fists, pulling me close. And most of all, I loved it when he told me what to do. He knew I got off on that because I’d tried to explain it numerous times. I couldn’t say why I liked being forced to submit, only that I did; that I longed to be overtaken and reduced in this way. I didn’t so much get off on the act of submission but in being made to submit. I wanted to resist as if I hated it, the pleasure arising from the process of him doing what was necessary to push me to that place where I had either become greedy and willing or was too weak to fight back.
Does everything, I’d once wondered aloud to Baxter, have to be explained before it gets a pass? Does the nature-nurture debate need to be resolved before I’m allowed to fuck who and how I want? Didn’t gay people get asked the same question – are you born this way or made? – and discover the answer was ‘accept us for who we are, don’t pathologise and try to fix us’?
Baxter took it in his stride, not seeking justification but happy to be with someone he viewed as on a par. My kinky desires were as legitimate as his, and together we could celebrate what we relished, and make each other happy.
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