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January 25, 2008 2:03 PM   Subscribe

Someone close to me has a D/s lifestyle. Are there readings/websites I can check out to give me a better understanding of these things and help me come to terms with my worries?

Specifically: I don't have any issues with incorporating D/s stuff during sex and privately; it's the "lifestyle" aspects that worry me.

Things like enacting extreme versions of patriarchal gender roles round-the-clock, and out in public. Things like the fact that even simple home interactions like watching TV together incorporate D/s (she will be kneeling at his feet) makes it seem to me almost like an obsession or an addiction. Knowing their life is comprised of this kind of immersion also makes me feel like I am part of their sex play every time I am present with them, no matter how neutral the setting. Also, this couple plans to have children in the next year, and I really really don't understand how that would work out without harming the kids.

[Private answers can go to twasmelody11 at g mail.]
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

I think, Burhanistan, that "someone close to me" means "family" here.
posted by Doohickie at 2:24 PM on January 25, 2008

Knowing their life is comprised of this kind of immersion also makes me feel like I am part of their sex play every time I am present with them, no matter how neutral the setting.

This means they've taken it too far. Dan Savage fielded this in a column a while back, but I can't seem to hit the right keywords to find it now. Synopsis is, when they take the Dom/Sub thing into other people's lives, they're basically making others unwitting participants in their sex lives. Whether or not you view D/S as a "lifestyle," it has extremely sexual component and forcing other people to participate in it is not okay.

There's the obvious "have you tried talking to them," but as that might be an uncomfortable situation, just think seriously about whether you want to keep hanging out with these people. You're not responsible for their sex lives nor raising their children. If it's making you uncomfortable (and I know it would bother me), then just stop seeing them.

Major props for the Depeche Mode title, btw.
posted by Nelsormensch at 2:26 PM on January 25, 2008 [3 favorites]

Well, they found a religion. You can witness it or choose to distance yourself from them. My guess is that trying to tell them you're uncomfortable with their choice will go over as well as it would any other situation where someone's beliefs make you uncomfortable. I expect also you'll be the one made to feel uptight or intolerant when all is said and done.

Your other option, in all seriousness, is run with it. Pretend you're a gaffer in a Fellini film and see where the hell it all goes for awhile.
posted by docpops at 2:34 PM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Your other option, in all seriousness, is run with it. Pretend you're a gaffer in a Fellini film and see where the hell it all goes for awhile.

To clarify, you can be around these people without feeling as though you're participating in their lifestyle. More like watching someone create outsider art or being courtside at a furry convention. It's all about the anthropology.
posted by docpops at 2:36 PM on January 25, 2008

Serious question: is there any history of abuse for the person you are worried about?*

I think that anything that goes on between consenting adults in their private lives is completely their own business. However, even 24/7 D/S lifestyle people are usually circumspect in public with those they consider "vanilla" out of respect for their feelings.

That being the case, if you think there is more going on here than mutual, agreed-upon role-playing and the humiliation aspect is something that this person is vulnerable to because of previous abuse, especially sexual, you might want to take some time out to meet with her alone (look, I think we all know you are talking about the woman here, since you mentioned the kids) and see how she is handling it all emotionally. Encourage her to talk. If she isn't tearful, resentful or anxious, and there are no signs of physical abuse, you will have to learn to accept what is going on or lose the relationship you have with her.

One book considered sort of a bible for those in alternative relationships is Different Loving, though I think Screw the Roses, Send Me the Thorns gives a more sympathetic view of the lifestyle.

*This is quite common is D/S relationships, by the way. Sometimes, it is cathartic for the person who has been abused to be in a relationship where the boundaries are clearly defined, but it can also be a way for a dominant personality to take advantage of someone who is in a vulnerable state.
posted by misha at 3:12 PM on January 25, 2008

I would highly recommend Different Loving. It was one of the texts I read in a college sexuality class (taught in conjunction with The Kinsey Institute) and by far the best, I thought, at giving a vanilla person an understanding of D/s that's comprehensive, thoughtful, first-person, and free from judgement.

And from a personal perspective, I will say that of my friends who were in "the scene" in our early and mid 20s - even the ones in full-time D/s marriages, even the one who signed a "slave contract," not a one of them is still involved. Don't get me wrong, I don't think any of them is worse for wear, or has regrets, but they just grew out of it. I believe that's common.
posted by minervous at 3:14 PM on January 25, 2008

Knowing their life is comprised of this kind of immersion also makes me feel like I am part of their sex play

creepy, that crosses a boundary, really. consider spending less time with these people.
posted by matteo at 3:26 PM on January 25, 2008

yea they're dumbasses, if that shit is making you uncomfortable then they should quit it around you.. Or meet them outside their home, perhaps.
posted by By The Grace of God at 3:42 PM on January 25, 2008

I seem to remember there being a link on mefi that referred to this extreme sort of lifestyle...perhaps someone with a better memory could confirm that and link to it.
posted by konolia at 4:23 PM on January 25, 2008

You are making it safer for both of them by your concerned and skeptical presence, if that's any consolation to you, but you are also enabling them somewhat, and perhaps prolonging it to some extent.

Pregnancy is a sovereign state and a thing unto itself, in my opinion, and it will change things, including shifting the balance of power in her direction from where it is now, and when the child arrives, that will go even farther (if he's still around).

If the bond between you and one or both of them is blood or otherwise unbreakable, I would say the most critical task ahead of you is to assess his character. If he's a sociopath (friends try to insist on 'has a character disorder' but I am somewhat unregenerate about this) make a plan which identifies what agents of state power (or members of eithers families) would do the best job of picking up the pieces if he becomes violent, and decide in advance what your threshold would be for calling them in, so that you run no risk of losing your bearings and being a party to something which could haunt you for the rest of your life, or subject you to possible prosecution.
posted by jamjam at 4:29 PM on January 25, 2008

whether or not this is part of their sex play is a question of whether they sexualize or ritualize this. if the latter is the case, you might just offend them by inferring this was about stimulus.

I say this even though I basically agree that this is somewhat part of their sex lives. but you do have to understand that this is bdsm you are talking about and that especially there a lot of people take themselves waaaaay too seriously. (as with all things, that has been known to spoil the fun.)

the place where you can find absolutely anything in this realm discussed is the bondage.com discussion forum. find the bdsm talk forum page and proceed from there (reg required, the site is free, no association here).

treat lightly and they won't flame you.

Well, they found a religion.
I didn't see an outright reference to gorean lifestyles in here but it's an interesting observation.
posted by krautland at 5:11 PM on January 25, 2008

they likely think that it's a sign of their friendship with you that they can "be themselves" or "show the true nature of their relationship" when they're around you. on the other hand, if you're ending up nonconsensually feeling like you're part of their kinkiness, you know, that's really not cool.

i would definitely try and talk to them about this, but i would expect it might be a difficult conversation.

i would hope there's a middle path somewhere, where they can feel all comfortable with their relationship around you, and you can feel all comfortable with their relationship around you. :-)
posted by rmd1023 at 6:05 PM on January 25, 2008

If they are both comfortable with this and no-one is being taken advantage of or any of the other concerns mentioned above, then I agree that the best parallel example is probably religion. Think of them as very strict Catholics (e.g. following more conservative gender roles + we know you're having a lot of sex because you have a lot of kids.)

(No offense to strict Catholics. It was the clearest example I could think of a mainstream religion with rules on sexuality that result in random people being aware of a couple's sex life.)

You can draw some lines and bring it up without delivering judgment on the whole lifestyle. "It's great that you all are comfortable with me in your home, but seeing x is a little uncomfortably intimate for me."
posted by desuetude at 7:13 PM on January 25, 2008

Note from the original poster, when asked how this info was discovered (the OP ok'ed mentioning this ):

"how i found out... some time i spent with them gave me an odd feeling, which led me to google and find their blog. i haven't let them know that i know."
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:39 PM on January 25, 2008

and to address the question now, you seem from your follow up to have witnessed one event that made you uncomfortable and in googling their blog, the reason behind their actions is now clear to you. I think you would have to spend a little more time in their company before you can see whether they really always do this around non D/s friends.

She may simply have assumed the position out of habit while watching TV because she is so comfortable around you.

If there is another event, then perhaps you should review where you see them, as it is making you uncomfortable. I'm not sure if they persist in behaving this way in front of a friend who does not share this lifestyle choice, they would be amenable to the lead in.... "Well, I love coming to stay but when you feed her from your hand while she's shackled to the dog-house it kinds of makes me uncomfortable".

As others have said they may be taking it to almost religious levels, which would kinda preclude some gentle reasoning.
posted by Wilder at 3:23 AM on January 26, 2008

One thing missing in the question is age of the participants. Minervous is right about time changing the relationship. Just as children will change the relationship. I can imagine the /s being not particularly agreeable to any crap from anyone after being up with a sick child for 2 or 3 days. IIRC the age of experimentation runs through 26 or so. If they're older than that then only circumstances will alter their behavior, not input from the outside. I would also recommend Tim Harford's The Logic of Life for a little reality based review of what is percieved as irrational behavior for your own perspective and peace of mind.
posted by ptm at 10:35 AM on January 26, 2008

The D/s lifestyle couples I know don't go out of their way to make anyone uncomfortable, but they also aren't going to 100% change the culture of their relationship, especially within their own home. The behaviors that the average guest might observe, such as the female serving the male his food or sitting/kneeling on the floor at his feet, are unfamiliar to most but aren't necessary sexual in nature. I've spent time around couples in which the female wasn't permitted to sit on the furniture, handle money, eat until the man had taken the first bite, and other, similar things. I don't see this as an obsession or an addiction per se, but more like these couples have tailored every aspect of their lives to fulfill a power dynamic that suits them both. Many of the submissive women I know are the most fulfilled human beings I've ever met, and many of the dominant men I know aren't out to subjugate all women (just their own consenting life partner). You said you read their blog -- do they seem happy? Do they seem fulfilled? If so, maybe you can feel more comfortable knowing that.

As for children, the D/s couples I know who have them do tend to tame things a bit once the kids come along -- much like the rest of us watch the bad language and unhealthy habits. The overall dynamic might still be there, and the kids very well might realize that Mom defers to Dad. But plenty of people grew up in households like that, albeit for a very different (and most likely less pleasurable for Mom) reason.

I think docpops had an interesting suggestion -- watching the goings-on of couples with such different ways of relating to one another can be a fascinating anthropological experience, indeed.
posted by justonegirl at 10:52 AM on January 26, 2008

Now that I know you've read their blog because of your "odd feelings," it makes me wonder exactly what behavior you've witnessed that you find worrying. Certainly it'd be inappropriate if you were in a restaurant with this couple and she knelt at his feet. It'd also be inappropriate in your home. In their own home, well, it's their home. But I don't know if you've actually witnessed the sitting-at-his-feet (or where it occurred) or if you read it in their blog. If they're not doing it in front of you, then what's the problem? As strange as it may seem, patriarchal behavior does not necessarily equate to the belief in male supremacy. If they are, in fact, male supremacists, or if the guy makes any suggestion that YOU should be submissive (assuming you're female here), then drop them as friends, just like you'd drop someone who was a racist. Your beliefs clash, and you don't need to pretend they're OK with you.

The BDSM community members I know don't sanction being obvious in public. They're not cool with involving members of the public in their kinkiness, for example by walking your "pet" down the street on a leash. That's a big faux pas in my opinion, and a big newbie mistake, especially considering that there are so many ways to be subtle about it. Eye contact, tone of voice, and hand signals do just fine at communicating a control dynamic without letting the whole world know she's your slave. Of course, some people get off on letting the whole world know, but I think that's rather assholish.

If they're being exhibitionistic in front of you, then tell them plainly that it's not welcome. You can set your standards of friendship wherever you like; if it really bothers you, and they're not willing to be more subtle, don't be friends with them. However, I really don't think it's your place to say anything about possible future children, because you have no way of knowing how they may modify their behavior.

Anyway, the books mentioned upthread are pretty much the gold standard in BDSM. There's also "When Someone You Love is Kinky," which I'm too lazy to link but it's on Amazon. I haven't read it but I understand that it's a pretty good primer. "The Loving Dominant" by Jay Wiseman is also good for gaining an understanding of the dominant mindset (vs. just a control freak).
posted by desjardins at 12:25 PM on January 26, 2008

Wilder, sorry that you missed my point. I didn't mean that D/s is just like Catholicism. I was looking for an example of a personal belief (i.e. religion) which also telegraphs information about a couple's sex life, if one chooses to do just a little bit of extrapolating. (If you don't use birth control and have a lot of kids, you must have regularly been having sex.)

The OP is uncomfortable and would like to be less so. I was offering an example of how we internalize all kinds of personal knowledge about our friends and loved ones without imagining the intimate details.
posted by desuetude at 1:39 PM on January 26, 2008

Here's what I thought was a beautifully written article on D/s. I remember being moved by it - I was like, awwww :)

D/s article on Everything2

Hopefully you can relate to the appeal of that level of trust, and vulnerability.

I also found this:

Parents and Kids and D/s

As to patriarchal gender roles - D/s, as far as I understand it, is not at all about patriarchal gender roles. I'm guessing you're also aware there are many, many male submissives out there. People enjoy the power imbalance with their partner - not because they believe a certain sex or gender should have more power than the other.

I don't understand how it would be an addiction or obsession - as I understand it, nobody is getting hurt. The only person who's uncomfortable about this seems to be you.

If you read and learn more about it, I think you'll find it a lot less threatening than you seem to do now. I'm sorry I'm rushed for time, otherwise I would dig up more resources for you. There are good, informative websites out there, though many of them seem to be slightly out-of-the-way, so it might take a little more than a cursory googling. I think you'll find that it's about a lot more than sex. That submissives have more power than you might think. That it's not all simple fun and games and getting whatever you want for dominants either. And that there can be a great deal of emotional intimacy there.

As for kids - I imagine they would keep it away from their children, in the same way that non-D/s parents keep their adult stuff away from the children. They would adjust. And they would teach their children about gender equality, just like most other parents do. And take care of them and love them and protect them, just like most other parents do.

And once you understand that D/s is more than sex, you then hopefully wouldn't feel you're part of their sex play - because you're not. If they're doing anything that really makes you uncomfortable, talk to them, like reasonable adults (instead of googling for their blog on an "odd feeling" and jumping to your own conclusions). They might try to help you understand, or they might do their best to make you more comfortable, or they might not - but it's silly to not to at least talk to them first, especially if you're close to them. It's just a different way of relating that makes them happy.
posted by Ira.metafilter at 2:15 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

By the way, sorry if I came off a bit rude in my comment above - I was reacting more to some of the comments in the thread, and confused their attitude with yours. You're only looking for information and trying to understand. I hope it helps.
posted by Ira.metafilter at 3:44 PM on January 26, 2008

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