Note to family members and others who don't want to read about my personal sex life: You really, really do not want to read this post. At all. This post goes into quite a bit of detail about aspects of my personal sex life that you almost certainly don't want to know about. If you don't want to read about that stuff, please don't read this post. Thanks.
The "Best Sex Writing 2008" anthology is due out soon, and since I have a piece in it, the book's editor, Rachel Kramer Bussel, just interviewed me about my essay.
The gist of my piece is that, having edited a collection of advice by sex workers for sex work customers (Paying For It: A Guide by Sex Workers for Their Clients), I thought I should experience the sex work relationship from the other side. I wanted to see for myself if the advice in my book was actually helpful. And I was simply curious -- both intellectually and sexually -- about what visiting a sex worker would be like.
Originally published in Other Magazine, the essay, "Buying Obedience: My Visit to a Pro Submissive," discusses in detail what becoming a sex work customer was like -- before, during, and after. The editor's interview with me goes into these ideas in a little more depth, and I thought y'all might be interested in seeing it.
When you visited the pro submissive, was it with the purpose of writing about it, or did that come later? How long afterwards did you write the essay and did your thoughts about the experience change as you wrote it?
I definitely visited Rachel with the intention of writing about it. It's how I justified the expense to myself, actually. I'm a freelance writer, I'm not exactly raking in the big bucks, and I'm not generally in a position to drop $300 on a one-hour luxury splurge. But as a professional expense... that's a different story.
I started writing about it almost immediately afterwards. In fact, much of the essay talks about my planning and thought processes before visiting Rachel -- and I started writing that before I even saw her.
Writing about the experience didn't change my thoughts about it, exactly. But it did clarify them. And more importantly, I'm not sure I would have had the experience at all if I hadn't planned to write about it. I don't think I could have justified the expense; but I also don't know if I would have had the nerve to go through with it. If it had just been for my own pleasure and curiosity, I might have chickened out.
You write, "Touching the naked skin of someone whom I'd paid for the pleasure, squeezing her flesh while my clit throbbed and then squeezing it harder to make my clit throb again... that is what made me feel like I'd done something I couldn't take back, become somebody I couldn't change. It was unnerving -- but it was also exciting, in the way that adventure is always exciting." Why do you think it was this act of touching her, versus booking the appointment and going there, that was so powerful?
Touching her was the moment I became a person who had paid for sex.
That's a big taboo. That's a big cherry to pop. Until I actually touched her, I could have backed out, said, "Forget it, I changed my mind, keep the $300"... and still thought of myself as a person who had never paid for sex. Touching her was the moment that, in my mind, I became a sex work customer.
You write that "being sexually selfish turned out to be much harder than I'd anticipated." I know you talk about it in the essay, but can you explain a bit about why that is? Do you think it's easier for men vs. women to be "sexually selfish" (whether in a paid setting or not)?
Whether it's by my nature or my nurture or both, I'm a person who is very concerned about other people and my effect on them. The positive side of that is that I'm compassionate and ethical and socially responsible; the down side is that I can be very anxious and self-conscious about whether people like me, to the point where it's hard to just relax and be myself.
And sexually, a lot of what I get off on is my partner's pleasure. So even though I was paying Rachel, in part, so I could just do what I wanted (within her limits, of course) and not worry about what she was getting out of it, paradoxically a lot of what I selfishly wanted was her pleasure.
I don't know if it's easier for men to be sexually selfish. I know that's the stereotype... but I don't know if it's really true. I do know that sex work customers are overwhelmingly male, so maybe that's an argument for men being more sexually selfish, more willing to have sex with someone who's primarily getting money out of it and not necessarily sexual pleasure.
But on the other hand, it's very common for sex work customers to become very attached to their sex workers. Many customers want their workers to think of them as special, and many even fall in love with them. And almost any sex worker will tell you that a lot of what they give their customers -- whether honestly or faked -- is affection and reassurance. "I really like you, I really like doing it with you, you're my favorite customer," etc. Even the most jaded sex workers fake pleasure and orgasm as part of their job. None of that would be true if men were completely selfish.
You write in the essay about worrying about whether Rachel's (the pro sub) reactions are real or faked, but then say that you're not sure you'd ever spanked someone as hard as you'd wanted before. Was there a point where you stopped worrying about what her "real" feelings were and simply trusted her (and yourself), or was this thought still in the back of your mind?
I'm a good, safe top -- and I think if you're a good, safe top, the bottom's feelings are always in the back of your mind. So it's not like I let go of any concern I had for her and just became vicious.
I think what happened was this: When I'm spanking a lover or a fuckbuddy, I don't just care about whether I'm spanking them harder than they can take. I care about whether I'm spanking them harder than they like. (This is actually one of my weaknesses as a top: I tend to pull my punches, it's hard for me to push people to take more than they think they really want. See above re: wanting people to like me.)
When I was spanking Rachel, it finally occurred to me that it was okay for me to spank her harder than she might have actually liked or gotten off on... as long as I respected her limits and stopped if she safeworded. That's what I was paying for. Because she was a pro, I knew that (a) she'd have no hesitation about stopping me if she had to, and (b) she'd almost certainly taken harder spankings than I was giving her. I think I just decided to trust her professionalism.
You say that "[n]one of this weirdness or anxiety had anything to do with Rachel. Rachel was great. She knew her stuff, and she responded beautifully to my orders, and she was lovely to look at and luscious to fondle and spank." Based on your experience as a client, what qualities would you say make for a good professional submissive?
That's hard to answer, since I've only been a customer the one time. But I can tell you what I liked about Rachel.
She was very clear about her limits. In our negotiations ahead of time, she was very clear about what was and wasn't okay. And because she was so upfront about what was off-limits, that made me feel more confident and safe about doing the things she'd said were okay. That was important -- probably more important than anything else.
She was very obedient. She did what I asked her, without hesitation. That was what I wanted; I'm not into brattiness or disobedience. I get off on the feeling of power I get from telling someone to do something -- something sexual -- and having them do it. That's what I was paying for, why I hired a submissive instead of another kind of sex worker: the feeling of pulling the strings. And she did it beautifully.
She was very responsive. Especially when she was getting spanked. It's certainly possible that she was faking it, of course. But when we were negotiating, she made a point of saying -- several times over -- that it was okay to spank her. She talked about spanking a lot. I don't think she was faking how much she liked it. And regardless of whether she was getting off on any particular thing I was doing, it seemed as if submission in general was a genuine pleasure for her. I think that's a big difference between pro subs and other kinds of sex workers; very few people go into submission professionally if they aren't into it personally. In any case, if she was faking, she did a bang-up job.
And she was hot. She was pretty, and she had a nice body -- voluptuous, not too skinny, very much my type -- and a nice ass, round and fun to spank. That sounds shallow, I know. But physical chemistry is important, especially when you don't have time to get to know someone.
What kinds of reactions did you get to the piece? Did they differ markedly amongst sex workers and non-sex workers?
I can't really answer this question. The piece didn't get very wide circulation, and I didn't get any response to it at all. It'll probably get more widely read in this book than in the original magazine.
How do you feel about the essay when you reread it now? Have you gone for any more pro sub sessions?
I love the essay. I think it's one of the better and more interesting things I've written, and it's on a topic that doesn't get much attention. A lot has been written about sex work, but very little has been written from the customer's point of view. And very little has been written about pro submission.
Plus I think the essay is just hot. Re-reading it now reminds me of what a strange experience this was... but also of how erotic it was.
I haven't gone back for more pro sub sessions. But the only reason for that is money. If I could afford it, I'd definitely do it again. Especially because so much of that first time was about it being the first time: getting over my nerves, figuring out the lay of the land, etc. I'd love to go back and have the experience just for the experience, without all the first-time jitters.
And I'd love to try other kinds of sex workers, too. I've been feeling very bottomy lately, and I'm curious about what hiring a pro dominant would be like. I'm sure there would be a whole other set of interesting, weird paradoxes. How do you feel subservient and helpless when you're paying someone to make you feel that way? I'd love to find out.
You start off the essay talking about how you've fantasized about visiting a professional submissive, and end it by saying you still fantasize about it. How did the reality differ from your previous fantasies, and why do you think you had/have such intense fantasies about this, as opposed to topping someone where money isn't involved?
The reality differed from my fantasies in the same way SM reality always differs from my SM fantasies. In my SM fantasies -- my toppy ones, anyway -- I'm cruel, I'm selfish, I take pleasure in another person's suffering, I have power over another person which I unscrupulously abuse, etc. In reality, I'm a nice, thoughtful person who cares about other people. So the reality of SM play isn't that I get to be the cruel, selfish, power-hungry control freak. The reality is that I'm the nice, thoughtful person, letting my inner sadistic control freak out to play for a while -- on a very short leash.
And that was true with Rachel as much as with anyone else. The only difference was in my expectations. Before the session, I'd somehow imagined that, because I was paying for it, I'd feel more comfortable letting my inner selfish sadist out on a longer leash. That was somewhat true... but it wasn't nearly as true as I'd thought it would be.
Why do I have intense fantasies about paying for submission? I think it does have to do with the fantasy of getting to be selfish, getting to pull the strings and have my way. It feeds into my "molesting the servant girl" fantasies very nicely.
More realistically, it's a way to make the scene be about what I want, about my fantasies and desires -- not the overlap between my fantasies and another person's. It's like therapy. When I'm in therapy, I'm paying, at least partly, so I don't have to stop and ask, "So enough about me -- how are you doing?" That's a big part of what makes paying for sex appealing: as long as I respect the worker's limits, I can make the session be about what I want. I know now that that's less true -- and more complicated -- than I'd originally imagined... but there's still a truth to it, and there's still an appeal.
Of course I also love to play in the overlapping areas between my fantasies and another person's. That's what I like to do most of the time, in fact -- just like most of the time I like to have back-and-forth conversations that aren't only about me. And I do have fantasies about topping people without paying them. It's not like this is my one obsession. It's just one thread in a whole perverted tapestry.
Did the experience of visiting a professional submissive affect the rest of your sex life in any way?
Not really. It changed my fantasy life a little -- my fantasies of hiring a pro sub are more based in reality now, they're more an imagining of what the experience might really be like instead of a pure fantastical fantasy. But it didn't really affect my real-life sex life.
What are you working on now?
My new anthology, Best Erotic Comics 2008, is about to be published -- it should hit the stores in January. I'm extremely excited about it; we just got the advance copies, and it came out beautifully. It's exactly what I'd imagined and hoped for: it's artistically solid, wildly varied, and very, very dirty indeed.
And I'm blogging up a storm. I do a lot of sex blogging, but I've also gotten deeply involved in the atheist blogosphere, and am focusing a huge amount of my time and energy on that. My blog is where I'm doing some of my best writing, I think.
For more information about Best Sex Writing 2008, or to read more interviews with other contributors, visit the Best Sex Writing 2008 blog. And if you have any questions that you wish I'd answered in this interview, please feel free to ask them in the comments. I can't promise to answer them all, but I'll do my best.