Wednesday, May 19, 2010

It's Still Cheating, Guys!

Two related items crossed my laptop this evening. First, fellow UU blogger Debra Haffner commented on Mark Souder's revelation of infidelity, noting that she often posts the same commentary every few months when some other politico or celebrity is caught with their pants down.

Next, I check out recent posts on Fetlife, the premier social networking site for the BDSM and fetish community. A fellow writes about being married to a wonderful vanilla woman, unable to fulfill his kinky longings, posing the question of whether seeing a professional dominatrix on the side would be considered cheating. And this isn't the first time I've read this question posted somewhere online.

It doesn't matter whether you're a conservative advocate for abstinence-only "education," or an unfulfilled kinkster looking for release. When you secretly break your promise to your partner, it's cheating, and no amount of rationalization can defend it.

I can understand when someone feels that their sexual needs and desires cannot be fulfilled with their current partner. But infidelity is no solution, and certainly not the only option.

Debra Haffner makes the point that "you can have a sexual feeling without acting on it." Very true, but I would add that it is also important to find other ways to deal with those feelings. For one thing, we need to overcome the myth that, just because you're happily married to someone, that doesn't mean you can't find someone attractive, or even fantasize about them.

Sometimes, however, the issue is more fundamental than imagining yourself with someone else. Too many times cultural and religious pressures lead to folks trying to fit rigidly unrealistic expectations about relationships and sexuality. When the only two options given to you are to follow the rules or be miserable, and following the rules only leads to misery, is it any wonder that so many people in these positions are driven to break the rules?

This is not to excuse the dishonesty and betrayal behind infidelity. It is merely an attempt to understand why so many fall into that trap. And, more importantly, to call for a different path of sexual ethics -- one which puts greater value on the emotional and relational context in which we make decisions about sex, instead of the mechanics of who does what with whom.

Conservative critics may call such an approach an easy out, but I would strongly disagree. This path calls for greater awareness of both oneself and the realities of human diversity, and a higher quality of communication about sexuality both between intimate partners and across society. But such demands, once met, reap greater insight and well-being than the more traditional moralism being preached by today's so-called conservatives.

We need to be honest with ourselves, not only about cheating, but about how we can best understand and deal with all of the problems standing in our way of a more healthy approach to sexuality.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Imagine This Couple in Your Church...

I came across this lighthearted piece some time ago, and wondered why it spoke to me. Yes, it's a comedy, clearly not a real couple. And yet, there seems something real about it...

Then it occurred to me: Take away the kinky trappings, and this could be any couple you see anywhere, including church. And for the most part, the vast majority of folks who delve into BDSM are as loving, affectionate, and (for lack of a better word) normal as everyone else.

In fact, chances are you know a couple like this. They may even go to church with you.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Dangers of Erotic Choking

It started with an email from a mother, frantically worried about her daughter. Since then, in the past few weeks I’ve been contacted by several people on the subject. Yesterday, I met with a group of teens and young adults, worried and wanting more information about one of the riskiest forms of sex play.

The technical term is erotic asphyxiation – the practice of restricting either breathing or blood flow to the brain to enhance sexual pleasure, either alone or with another. The very idea scares people, even to the point of silence. Unfortunately, silence can also be deadly.

I had not intended to address this topic, as many others had done so before (such as Jay Wiseman's well-known article) especially after the recent death of actor David Carradine (as Gloria Brame has done). But given the requests of the past few weeks, and the amount of myths and misconceptions I've heard, it's clear we need more people speaking out and informing people about the real risks involved.

First, we need to understand the attraction of erotic choking. When oxygen levels to the brain are reduced (hypoxia) it can lead to a momentary feeling of euphoria. Combine that with the powerful pleasure of orgasm, and you can see why some would find it addictive. But there’s much more to it. There’s the thrill of risk, and the connection of trusting another with your very life. As one young woman tried to explain to me: “It’s so intense, so on the edge, it feels beyond being in love.”

The problem, of course, is the risk inherent in the practice. Whether restricting breathing or applying pressure to blood vessels, robbing the brain of oxygen can lead to severe consequences. Even if the person doesn’t pass out, a relative lack of oxygen can cause some neurological damage, which can accumulate with repetition. It also changes blood chemistry in a way which can lead to a heart attack. Pressure or even a sudden grab on the throat can trigger the vagus nerve to send signals to the heart, causing it to slow down or even stop. And, worst of all, there is no way to predict when any of this might happen. There have even been cases of individuals who initially seemed to have no ill effects from being “playfully” choked, only to suffer cardiac arrest hours later.

We all desire pleasure and connection, and I can understand when some feel compelled to pursue forms “so intense, so on the edge.” Unfortunately with breath play, there’s no real way to keep from falling over the edge completely. So, if you’re thinking of doing this, please think again. And if you know someone who might be doing so, don’t be afraid to share your concerns with them.