In Search Of the S&M Siri

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By Maria Padhila

I just don’t know what to think of these young people today.

Do they have it better or worse? Fewer sexual stigmas, yes, but oh my god those student loans. The upshot is I’d like to feed them and introduce them to some nice people, but I don’t believe I could date anyone under 40 at this point.

Poly Paradise at Burning Man. Photo by Eric.

Poly Paradise at Burning Man. Photo by Eric.

Which is a shame, because that’s mostly who I was set up with at the Poly Speed Dating event I went to recently. We were interested in meeting a nice single woman interested in dating a couple, and they don’t call such creatures unicorns for nothing. There was only one of this kind in the room, and she was already in a relationship with a couple. It was still a fun and enlightening night, and I even won a prize.

A lot of the young people who sat across from Chris and me at our dating table were IT people, and we talked about the complexity of the algorithms involved. The organizers had the excellent idea of asking whether, in the event that there weren’t many people who fit your desired profile, you’d prefer having a “friendship” prospect visit your table or just sit out those rounds. We checked “friendship” so I could talk to as many people as possible, and we ended up talking to a lot of nice young men.

Also recently, I spent a lot of time on the couch after another eye operation, listening to commentary and reading articles on super-magnification. There was a lot of talk about the HBO series “Girls” and what it means. The show is a sort of grittier update on “Sex and the City,” among more struggling twentysomethings. I really didn’t want to watch it, because self-involved kids in a bizarre all-Caucasian version of New York, well, come on. But two big topics of discussion got my interest.

The first was about a masturbation scene. One of the characters spent some time talking to a dreary twink they were trying to pass off as adult and a hetero artist. He got up in her face for a minute and uttered this line: “The first time I fuck you it might scare you, because I’m a man and I know how to do things.”

Oh dear. Apparently this is how young men are meant to carry on nowadays. He was also ‘negging’ her, which is a technique they’re told drives women wild. I’ve had some people try it on me from time to time. It means mildly insulting a woman by pretending you don’t find her attractive. It’s supposed to pique her interest. These poor things, spending so much on college and learning nothing. Immediately after her conversation with this fop, the character scurried off to the art gallery bathroom, conveniently a bathroom of the kind known as a ‘one-manner’, meaning not one with several stalls, locked the door and took care of herself. Commenters said this was unrealistic; one claimed that no woman would want to get off so badly that she could accomplish it standing up and in pantyhose. Well, maybe the pantyhose part, I could agree with. Nothing disrupts my chi worse than a nylon sausage casing.

Other hot topics were about the penchant for being dominated that the main character seemed to be developing. She seemed to like getting pushed around. What seems hard to believe is that these frail hipsters could actually get that job done, but many viewers said they could relate.

Meanwhile, back in real life, Chris and I were set up for ‘friendship’ dates for nearly all of our lineup; blame him being hopelessly straight and both of us checking off “not kinky” on our information sheets. There was a lot of discussion of what constitutes ‘kinky’ with all our friend dates. We all agreed it’s a relative term, but what caused us to check “not” is that while we like to play with all kinds of different things, we don’t want BDSM, for instance, strongly enough to seek it out.

The kinds of things many people consider vanilla would probably still be considered kinky to many; and the line is moving on vanilla, maybe as a result of porn going more mainstream. When suburban couples wanting to be hip started going to see Deep Throat, this popularized blow jobs (what an odd term, and probably not the appropriate one; I’m fairly certain it was wildly popular for centuries before the 1970s), for instance, and the same sort of thing is happening now with Kink Lite. I’d include in Kink Lite pretty much anything that doesn’t require special training, equipment or cleanup, and doesn’t leave a trail of damage.

Our kinky friend dates were nearly all nice-looking young men. They seemed to know their way around a silk rope or a delayed orgasm, just from little hints dropped here and there. (Our conversations were mostly terribly innocent, but you can tell when they’re establishing the “I’m a man and I know how to do things” position.) No one was doing the negging thing; they were friendly and polite, but they appeared to be tops, to a man.

What I’m wondering is whether the tables have turned somewhat. I was in my 20s in the 1980s, when S&M, as they used to call it, was starting to move into the mainstream. The typical profile was the woman dominatrix, usually well-paid if she chose to pursue it as a profession, and her audience was men of power. These men were tired of being Masters of the Universe, as we used to call them (see, every generation has its own folly), and longed, during their down time, for someone to order them around.

Now, it appears, it’s the women who are tired of being in control, and would like someone to take some of that freedom off their hands and tie said hands to the bedstead. I’m also noticing how much the movie Secretary (which I like very much) keeps coming up as a touchstone for women. It’s about an office worker who is dominated by her boss (a lawyer, naturally). There’s also a lot of chatter now about the “mommy porn” bestseller, Fifty Shades of Grey, in which a young woman is dominated by a rich and extraordinarily thoughtful construct of a character. He tells her what to eat, when to work out, what to wear and when to get a wax.

My first thought at hearing about this book was: That’s not a dom. That’s an app.

But then, one of my favorite parts of Secretary is when the boss tells her she should walk to and from work so that she’ll get some fresh air and exercise.

Maybe we’re not all that hot to be dominated. Maybe we’re just tired of having to take care of ourselves. This Katie Roiphe column says it much better than I do, if you’d like to explore further.

Putting my disdain aside, it truly must be a great relief from time to time to have someone tell you: I know how you need to feel and what you need to do, and I’m going to MAKE you feel that way. As Dr. Johnson (Samuel, not Masters and) said of the prospect of hanging, being given strict orders “concentrates the mind wonderfully.” And just like the corporate executives of the ‘80s, these women are only pretending not to have the upper hand, for a little while. They’re quite free to take their business elsewhere. They are what’s known as “bottoms who top.”

It’s ironic that this is coming about while there are so many real-life threats to women’s autonomy. Enjoy the games, but be careful what you wish for.

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9 Responses to In Search Of the S&M Siri

  1. Carrie says:

    “I’m wondering whether by giving them most of what they need (we seem to have been unusually indulgent parents) – and a whole lotta stuff they didn’t (did they really need parent-organised “playdates” – and wasn’t this the age group that first developed every-known food allergy we could think of as we smothered them with the “love” and “attention” our parents failed to give us?) we’ve snuffed the rebellion out of them – ”

    My three (ages 19, 19, and 17) are not like that at all. One wants to be a teacher to pass on her knowledge and awareness to kids but has said that when she has her own kids, she will homeschool them to make SURE they are aware as much as she is. The other wants to be an independent filmmaker to make social commentary films to awaken people to the issues around her. The third, (who is 17) has less to say yet because she is very introverted but already she is wanting to make changes in the world in some way. I was a very caring parent (not indulgent because that wasn’t going to raise well-adjusted kids) but very hands-on. My husband and I made out kids a priority; I have not worked for most of their growing up and still am staying at home with my son. They have seen my husband and I live the talk about putting people before material things. I don’t think all their generation are as they may seem on the surface; my daughters come home from their college classes and talk about their peers’ thoughts and though they seem uninterested on the surface, these kids have the issues on their minds. They just don’t know how to direct their energies yet.

    Mine would rebel if we could afford to go to the high-profile places to do so. They WANT to march, to carry signs, to do the protests. They say they feel like they have to take their future back from the hucksters who have destroyed it. Lack of means prevents them from being more vocal.

  2. Sarah Taylor Sarah Taylor says:

    maria – that link is hilarious!!

  3. mariapadhila says:

    I hope this didn’t sound ageist! I know the good ones are out there all over.
    I remember two things when I was first out there thinking I might come back to life sexually and romantically, a few years after my daughter was born. First was seeing the Will Ferrell SNL skits about “My Lov-aahhh” and thinking, oh no, if I express what i really think about sex, all the magic and aesthetics and poetry and life-changing cosmic connection reality of it all, that’s what I’m going to sound like. And people will laugh at me.
    Second was the occasional “old people having sex, yuck” idea–there was even a website– that was going around among the younger people I was in an arts group with. So I felt kind of weird and ashamed hearing that.
    Then I just got the hell over it. Seeing movies from other countries (and some indy movies) where people of not-perfect-not-youthful looks but nonetheless hot, intelligent, and interesting people of all ages are still regarded as romantic and sexual beings helped. Reading books with same, too. And meeting people who were still in the game, too. People whose ideas, accomplishments, and confidence made me excited and helped me be confident too.
    But I still find things like this funny. I still like Will Ferrell (and the Christopher Walken version of ‘my lovaahhh’ is priceless) and I love Ellen:

  4. stormilarue stormilarue says:

    agreed on “secretary” – i thought the same Sarah, “Erotic, intelligent, and romantic. It didn’t feel co-dependent. I felt it was about two people who found partners who were accepting, nurturing, and who could meet them in a way that no-one else could.”

    i’m also fortunate to have the best of friendships, authentic people who love and accept unconditionally and even in moments when they don’t are willing and able to communicate deeper and create shared meaning. seems a rare and sacred experience these days, but most definitely preferred relations for me. and they do exist under 40, hidden gems that they are. 😉

  5. Amanda Painter Amanda Painter says:

    ok, it’s *totally* possible and believable that a woman could be hot enough to get off standing up in a public bathroom.

    just not after a lame line like that one. and i’m with maria on the pantyhose.

  6. awordedgewise awordedgewise says:

    “my friendships have become blueprints for what is possible” – beautiful, Sarah! I too have learned to respect my friendships differently. Because of how our culture represses sexuality – and because to me everything is sexual – I take “sexual encounters” wherever they are (wherever I feel them) and otherwise “let go and let god”. I have learned/chosen not to push the looking for a “mate” but rather to respect and enjoy each friendship for what it is and can be. I get to have a lot of truly wonderful interactions this way!

  7. Sarah Taylor Sarah Taylor says:

    Oh my goodness! Let me count the ways in which Fifty Shades of Grey completely failed to rouse me. Or is that ‘arouse’ me? The only thing that got me going were the poor grammar and repetition of certain words. But it had a market, and kudos to someone who can tap that in the way she did. As for “Secretary”: one of my favourite movies of all time. Erotic, intelligent, and romantic. It didn’t feel co-dependent. I felt it was about two people who found partners who were accepting, nurturing, and who could meet them in a way that no-one else could.

    Changing tack, I was talking about sexuality and peer pressure with younger people to a friend of mine, and I came away with no solutions. I remember what I was like when I was younger: I thought I knew everything and no-one could teach me anything. It took me years, if not decades, to understand what empowerment is.

    What I do have, though, is something immensely precious: I have friendships that are more accepting than most that I am aware of. There is little I cannot tell my friends about who I am – and when I do, I know they’ll still be there for me. I don’t have a man in my life, but my friendships have become blueprints for what is possible; and I am hopeful.

  8. indranibe says:

    Yo Maria!

    No dude, they’re definitely weird! All sort of strange opinions born of bizarre uncritical stances. We may have not always know what the right thing to do was, but we generally understood injustice. These guys seem to have a rather ‘theoretical’ view of a great many things, but practical understanding of very little.

    I’m wondering whether by giving them most of what they need (we seem to have been unusually indulgent parents) – and a whole lotta stuff they didn’t (did they really need parent-organised “playdates” – and wasn’t this the age group that first developed every-known food allergy we could think of as we smothered them with the “love” and “attention” our parents failed to give us?) we’ve snuffed the rebellion out of them – and turned them into highly anxious control-freaks instead! Instead of being overtly aggressive (or even mildly passionate), they seem to have developed (en masse) a tendency to passive aggression – and a fear of rocking the boat (and generally a fear of controversy!). And of course, why bother with the problems of the real world when you can escape to the net?

    My daughter (who just turned 18) tells me tales of her friends who are open about “tuning” each other (as in tuning instruments!) – that’s a sort of stylised method of getting your guy or girl via “grooming” – or just being there – all the time – apparently, if you can bore them to death, they’ll have you! And there’s also a certain amount of pride if your partner (sorry, ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’) is “whipped” (yes, a reference to submissive!)!

    I had to explain to my daughter that it wasn’t about dominance over others, but having control over your own destiny that matters, but that lesson doesn’t seem to have got across yet. Of course, we’re just talking about the nerdy-types here, but across the spectrum, the girls are supposedly “on top”, but unless they’re “hipsters”, they still feel the need to dress like Kim and her sisters to “get a guy”.

    What’s changed?? Maybe they’re tired of the war of the sexes – who knows? But I’m not seeing any great hope for the “future” here. But then again, we didn’t exactly just “walk into emancipation” either – if we had, you wouldn’t be writing a column about it!



  9. awordedgewise awordedgewise says:


    You cracked me up: “That’s not a dom. That’s an app”!! LOL. Too true.

    Well spoken as you always are, thank you. I too, am one of the “lucky” ones, having figured out how to surround myself with (a few good) people who are socially open. And yep, interesting to observe how the somewhat more openly younger generations have just as much difficulty finding people who are truly non-judgmental and open. Ya, conversation can be healthy and stimulating, but I have no interest in sexually intimate interaction with people the age of my children. But social gatherings are fun with all ages and types :)

    Thanks for your ending paragraph. Let’s indeed be aware of what we wish for.

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