A 'Different Economy of Bodies and Pleasures'?: Gender, Power, and Sexuality in BDSM Interactions Open Access

Simula, Brandy Lin (2012)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/sj1392699?locale=en
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Abstract

At the conclusion of History of Sexuality, Volume 1 (1990), Foucault infamously refers to the possibility of a "different economy of bodies and pleasures." In the current economy, bodies and pleasures are regulated through social systems including gender and sexuality. Since elsewhere Foucault describes BDSM as "the real creation of new possibilities of pleasure" (Foucault, 1994: 165), some speculate that he views BDSM as creating one such different economy (Halperin, 1995; Miller, 1993). Many argue in a similar vein that BDSM creates spaces in which traditional gender norms and gender inequality can be resisted (e.g. Califia, 2000; Hale, 2003), while others argue that BDSM reifies gender inequality (e.g. Linden et al., 1982; Williams, 2002). I rely on an interdisciplinary methodological approach that uses data collected from correspondence, diaries, and memoirs available at the Leather Archives and Museum; public discussion boards at a large BDSM community website; and 32 semi-structured in-depth interviews. I draw on the feminist interactionist "doing gender" (West and Zimmerman, 1987; 2009) and social psychological "framing" (Ridgeway, 2011) approaches to gender, which emphasize that gender is something that is done or performed in interactions, rather than a fixed individual characteristic that people bring with them to interactions. I find that a strong majority of BDSM participants perceive gender as less salient for both self and others in BDSM compared with other social settings, with significant implications for how they create and interpret BDSM interactions, including that most participants do not use gender as a criterion in selecting BDSM partners. I also find that participants utilize alternative beliefs about gender and power that enable them to resist normative hegemonic cultural beliefs. Drawing on participants' perceptions of decreased salience of gender for self and others in BDSM contexts as well as their use of alternative beliefs about gender and power, I demonstrate that participants perceive BDSM as a social context in which gender inequality is significantly reduced compared with other social settings in which they interact.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

I. INTRODUCTION.......................................................................... 1

Why Study Gender, Power, and Sexuality?.................................. 2

Why Study BDSM Participants?................................................... 5

Research Questions........................................................................ 7

Organization of the Dissertation.................................................. 10

II. LITERATURE REVIEW............................................................ 13

Defining BDSM........................................................................... 14

The BDSM Population................................................................. 18

Theoretical Approaches to BDSM.............................................. 21

Review of Empirical Literature................................................... 27

Conclusion................................................................................... 44

III. CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK................................................. 46

Economies of Bodies and Pleasures............................................ 47

Components of Interactions......................................................... 50

Gender.......................................................................................... 54 Sexuality...................................................................................... 60 Power........................................................................................... 62 Conclusion................................................................................... 68

IV. METHODOLOGY....................................................................... 69

Defining the BDSM Population................................................... 71

Drawing on Multiple Data Sources............................................. 72

Methods of Analysis.................................................................. 101

Validity and Limitations............................................................ 105

Ethics and Reflexivity in the Research Process........................ 110

Conclusion................................................................................. 121

V. SEX AND THE SEXUAL IN BDSM INTERACTIONS.......... 123

Sex and Sexuality in Previous BDSM Research....................... 124

"It's Sexual but Not Sex": Differentiating and Evaluating Sex and Sexual

BDSM Experiences.................................................................... 128

"The Thrill Isn't Sexual": Sexual and Non-Sexual BDSM Experiences.................................................................................................. 156

Conclusion.................................................................................. 167

VI. PERCEPTIONS OF GENDER SALIENCE IN BDSM INTERACTIONS....................................................................... 171

Gender as a Primary Frame....................................................... 172

Perceptions of the Salience of Gender in the Construction of Selves......................................................................................... 176

Perceptions of Gender Salience in Choosing and Interacting with BDSM

Partners...................................................................................... 197

Perceptions of Gender Salience in BDSM Interactions............ 214

Conclusion................................................................................. 239

VII. HEGEMONIC AND ALTERNATIVE CULTURAL BELIEFS ABOUT GENDER AND POWER............................... 247

Patterns in Gender and BDSM Role Identification................... 252

Hegemonic Cultural Beliefs about Gender and Power............. 256

Alternative Cultural Beliefs about Gender and Power.............. 285

Conclusion................................................................................. 304

VIII. CONCLUSION.......................................................................... 311

Summary of the Main Findings................................................. 311

Implications for Gender and Sexuality Studies......................... 319

Limitations and Future Directions............................................. 327

IX. APPENDICES............................................................................ 331

A. Recruitment Flyer................................................................ 331

B. Interview Guide................................................................... 332

C. Response to BDSM Community Website Member............. 336

D. Overview of Interview Sample Characteristics................... 338

X. REFERENCES.......................................................................... 339

TABLES AND FIGURES

Table 1: Sex Category/ Gender and BDSM Role in the Interview Sample 255

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