Arousal, sexual desire, and female domination

It seems that for females, sexual arousal is quite separate from desire. Meredith Chivers found a few years back now that women are genitally aroused by depictions of female nudes exercising, males and females masturbating, gay, lesbian, and heterosexual sex, as well as bonobo sex. Furthermore, women are genitally aroused when listening to rape scenarios. This does not mean that women want to be raped, but rather, as Chivers argues, that it has been beneficial to women to be genitally lubricated whenever there is a hint of a sexual scenario in order to minimize potential damage. This means that for women, arousal (such as genital lubrication or vasocongestion) is quite separate from sexual desire.

Female sexual desire, it seems, is often reflected from being desired. As Marta Meana, professor of psychology at the University of Nevada, explains, “being desired is the orgasm”. Being lusted after brings pleasure and ignites lust. I do not disagree with this. It may be a bit politically incorrect, but it is supported by research, and if you look around in the BDSM community you can see this phenomenon at work. There are more female submissives than female dominants out there. The popular conceptualization of female submission and dominance often leaves the submissive female feeling more desired – ravished, taken, bound for her master’s pleasure than the dominant female – who must remain cold, aloof, and worshiped. It can be somewhat harder sometimes to feel desired when you’re taking control sexually. There is occasionally a feeling that if you tell a man to do something to/with you it takes away from the feeling of being desired. I think this is why chastity plays a big role in female dominance. It definitely brings the feeling of being utterly wanted back into the dynamic.

I wonder, however, if there are other ways to do this. I recently read maymay’s post on how we are all victims of our society. I was particularly impacted by his words,  “it manifests in the way people look at me, talk to me, talk about me. It manifests in women’s eyes when they look away if I smile at them; they’re “supposed” to be coy and I’m not—so I can’t”. My own submissive is worried that if he becomes too good at his submission, too obedient, that I will stop respecting him and being attracted to him. I don’t think this will be the case in the slightest; I am most attracted to him when he is at his most vulnerable. Recently I’ve started experiencing something rather new. I am finding that I enjoy being the pursuer, the seducer. I find myself wanting to be the one to make the first move.

This started with FT really. We talked online for a year before meeting. We are both switches, so at the time of our meeting we didn’t actually know who would dominate whom; he was actually the more experienced on that side of the coin. When we finally did meet he was quite different from the cocky guy I had gotten to know. He admitted that I made him nervous. I decided to take things into my own hands, and told him exactly what to do to arouse me. That was the beginning of something beautiful. I learned that I didn’t have to be taken to feel wanted. I realised that I know myself well enough by now that I can tell someone how to seduce me, and in doing so, seduce them. That’s a powerful, sexy feeling.

I experienced the opposite the other night. FT and I are polyamorous. I had been on a few dates with another potential submissive male. We get along quite well, and I had decided that I would like to play with him. I asked him up to my apartment, and things just went horribly wrong. He kept trying to make moves on me, and it completely turned me off. It wasn’t in any sort of disrespectful way; a few years ago I would have appreciated it. But now it’s just not what I want. I now find nervousness and vulnerability arousing. If I caught maymay’s eyes, smiled, and then he looked away and glanced back every once and awhile I dare say it would make me want to go over and chat him up.

I’ve learned that I can be the author of my own arousal. The desire for me is almost always there. I enjoy dominating, humiliating, hurting my sub. I enjoy having sex with my sub. I don’t have a constant hunger-like lust; just an almost permanent openness to the possibility of these things. Before I started exploring my dominant side I experienced this as always being open to my partner’s advances. As a dominant, I’ve learned that it works the other way too. Even if the arousal isn’t there when I advance, it will be once I take action and observe the response. Luckily with FT I almost always get the appropriate response which fuels my desire. So, in this way, my sexual desire is still somewhat reflective. I still need to feel wanted to feel that real craving. But I can decide when I want to feel that, and make it happen, which is pretty awesome.

Now that I’ve experienced this it’s harder for me to be attracted by men who want to pursue me while I pretend to be coy. It makes me feel like they think they are entitled to my body. This is reflected in maymay’s post as well:

I go to sex parties and I hear the complaints of people there: “I haven’t played in three weeks!” FUCK YOU! I scream at them in my head. I go to public parties and I practically see the desperation dripping off (usually) older, (usually) submissive men. They leer intrusively, and so I often brace to barricade their advance. BACK OFF!, I scream inside, feeling trapped in a world between worlds. I don’t care if it’s been 50 years since you last played, you have no right to her!

I know that FT feels similarly sometimes and so do I. It squigs me out a little being constantly approached when I go to a FemDom club by men wanting to play (mostly because these men often make no effort to get to know me, and sometimes interrupt a conversation I’m having with others).

This, however, is admittedly confusing for men, and reflects a larger problem with society (as maymay says). Women are constantly told that it’s dirty and shameful to want sex. So they have to sit around waiting for it to fall into their laps. Men are told that if they don’t pursue women then they won’t ever get women. And this is often true. As a result, we fall into sexist patterns of displaying interest. But didn’t you say that women need to feel desired in order to desire? you might be asking. Yes, I still think this is the case. But I’ve discovered that I can choose when and who to tell just how to make me feel desired, and I suspect this applies to other women as well. This starts with attraction, which is different from desire per se. I choose who I think is cute, intelligent, and gets me, and go after them.

Now ideally men and women would both be able to approach each other. I don’t think that a reverse sexism should be applied. But as I get used to the idea that I don’t have to be the one pursued, I prefer being the pursuer.

Posted on April 24, 2011, in FemDom and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Interesting thoughts. I’m glad my post spawned such reflections. 🙂

    I do take issue with your lead, however, not because I think you misunderstood the data you linked to, but rather because I think you misapply it. You said:

    …for women, arousal (such as genital lubrication or vasocongestion) is quite separate from sexual desire.

    This is also true for men, although you seem not to have noticed that. Chivers’ study simply says that men more often know when their body is physically aroused and women know this less often, but that is hardly news, far less incontrovertible scientific evidence that men’s sexual desire and sexual arousal are inextricable phenomenons. (See also Not Tonight, Honey, And Who Knows Why?) We are acculturated to equate a man’s erection with his desire, or a man’s lack of an erection with a lack of desire in him. But that’s simply not how desire—or erections—work. (See also: When Scientists Don’t Understand Sex: Feminism, Dominance, and Arousal.)

    After extricating “sexual desire” from “sexual arousal” for men as you have done for women, much of the rest of your lead falls apart:

    Female sexual desire, it seems, is often reflected from being desired. As Marta Meana, professor of psychology at the University of Nevada, explains, “being desired is the orgasm”. Being lusted after brings pleasure and ignites lust.

    Again, if you drop “female” here, your remarks make more sense, because there is nothing intrinsically female about metaphorically orgasming from being desired—many men can and do feel that way, too, and yet some women do not feel that way. More confusingly, neither all men nor all women do or do not feel this way all of the time. It often depends, obviously, on how much one desires their partner’s desire. You even described this in your own interactions:

    “My own submissive is worried…that I will stop…being attracted to him.”

    Your original sentence included the rigidly gendered assumptions about “respect” and “submission”, but I’ve removed them and I hope after my doing so you can see how poisonous those assumptions are to the core point: he wants you to desire him as you want to be desired by him. So by discussing this form of “desire” as a “female” phenomenon, you hamstring your own conclusion:

    …as I get used to the idea that I don’t have to be the one pursued, I prefer being the pursuer.

    The foundational notion of gender equality is however you prefer to feel, you can feel. As women are indoctrinated to believe that they desire to “be desired,” so too are men indoctrinated to believe they desire to “be desirous.” This indoctrination is so sinister precisely because it layers a cultural belief about one’s own desires on top of one’s actual desires, forcing one to remove the curtain before one can examine one’s own naked wants.

    Moreover, you also need to be wary of the classic “correlation is not causation” problem so often applied to the BDSM community. You’ve done it here:

    It may be a bit politically incorrect, but it is supported by research, and if you look around in the BDSM community you can see this phenomenon at work. There are more female submissives than female dominants out there.

    By all accounts I’ve ever heard, there are also more male submissives than male dominants by the number. Actually, by all accounts I’ve ever heard, there are simply more submissives than there are dominants. Period. Again, gender has little, if anything, to do with this. Whether or not this is objectively true is another matter, but again, your thinking seems to suffer from an essentializing influence that does not serve your stated interest.

    I’ve discovered that I can choose when and who to tell just how to make me feel desired, and I suspect this applies to other women as well.

    Finally, this exact statement also applies to men, which is my core point you seem to have sidestepped entirely. Choosing when and who to tell how to make one feel desired has absolutely nothing to do with being a man, being a woman, being a submissive, being a dominant, or being any other identity. This is a skill, not a characteristic. The current cultural scripts we are beaten over the head with do not teach this, neither to women nor to men. (See also: 8 Things Submissive Men Want From a Dominant Partner.)

    The absurd notion—perhaps not one that you are espousing but that I hear echoed in the distance when I read sentences like those I quoted—that submissive individuals do not or should not assert, affirm, or even fucking demand to “choose when and who to tell just how to make [them] feel desired” is simply the BDSM community’s own bigotry transposed onto a top/bottom (or dom/sub) binary that exactly mirrors the gender binary. It is BDSM’s manifestation of sexism. It must end. It will end. And when it ends, male submissives, female submissives, male dominants, female dominants, and everyone else not subscribing to these limiting labels, will be better off for it.

    I hope this doesn’t come across as insultingly critical. I liked this post, and you asked for my thoughts, so I wanted to be completely honest with my thoughts.

    • Firstly, I do not find your reply insultingly critical. I asked you for your opinion because I knew it might bring some interesting insight that I hadn’t thought of or fully explored, and indeed it has. I’m still relatively new to all of this. I was raised in a traditional household as a fundamentalist Christian, so my views have been going through a gradual metamorphosis for several years, and I fully expect that to continue as I learn and explore more. Part of my reason for having this blog is to figure out what I think now and unpack that.

      You say that my thinking seems to suffer from an essentializing influence, particularly in reference to men. However, I’ll admit I purposefully left men out of my post because I don’t know as much about male arousal and desire. I’ve been looking into female sexual desire a lot lately, so I have references and whatnot to back up my statements on it, but most studies focus on one or the other or the differences between the two. Chivers’ study found that men responded sexually in ways that corresponded with what they said they were attracted to (heterosexual men were aroused by women, homosexual men were aroused by men, bisexuals were excluded from the study because they were trying to test whether male and female arousal is category-specific). Male sexual arousal was found to be category-specific and it doesn’t seem that this is because they are controlling their erections to things that they don’t want to be aroused by – further studies have been done looking at the part of the brain that controls suppression and it was not stimulated during this task. That is not incontrovertible proof that male sexual desire and arousal are inextricably linked. However, it does seem to suggest that there is some difference between male and female arousal. I agree that there are large intrasex differences as well as intersex differences and both should be studied. It is also somewhat difficult to know how to address new findings about arousal. Chivers has done a study on MTF transexuals and found that they also respond in a category-specific way, which she calls at some point, “more like males” which bothers me too. Similarly, lesbians respond in a category-specific way to nudes and masturbation, but not to intercourse and this is called, “more like males”. This is troublesome. However, I think it’s a positive thing to study human desire, and inevitably researchers will classify responses at some point. But yes, it might be better to stick with “category specific” and “category non-specific” rather than male and female.

      As far as the observation that there are more submissives than dominants, this may be the case. However, you skillfully avoid the common observation that there are fewer female dominants than there are male dominants. That’s more what I hoped to address. I’m trying to explore why this might be. If you are correct about male desire, as well as males being indoctrinated to “be desirous”, then perhaps males more often experience a match between what they’re taught they should desire and what the BDSM scene encourages them to desire. Women, on the other hand, experience a mismatch. They are taught that they desire is to be desired, but then taking control sexually doesn’t seem to match up with that.

      Your last point is valid, and I was struggling with that notion as I wrote this. I do think that submissives should be able to assert themselves; I’ve said so myself before. Part of the reason I love FT is because he is both strong and vulnerable. I enjoy communicating with him about his wants and desires as well as my own. I enjoy making him feel desired. I struggle a bit when it comes to subs I don’t know as well though. This goes back to ‘The State of Submissive Men’. A lot of male submissives who approach me either online or in person act like their desire to ‘submit to me’ by being in chastity, licking my feet or whatever, is more important than my desires, or like I don’t even have specific desires beyond having some worm at my feet. This bugs the shit out of me and may have coloured some of my statements.

      My preference for being the pursuer is perhaps an overreaction at the moment to feeling like I had to be pursued for so long. Really, I think it’d be great if people could just get to know each other a bit and then honestly say, “I quite fancy you, and like doing x, y and z” and then the other person could say “Oh cool, I like you too and like w, x and z, but not y. Wanna go to my place and do x and z?” The male/femaleness, dominance/submission or whatever else shouldn’t really matter. I’m just growing comfortable being able to take the initiative in that way and dislike it presently when people take away the opportunity for me to show off my new skillz; somehow that seems to extend to being a turnoff. This will probably go away eventually. I shouldn’t expect others to play coy just because I used to feel like I had to.

      • However, you skillfully avoid the common observation that there are fewer female dominants than there are male dominants. That’s more what I hoped to address. I’m trying to explore why this might be.

        No, I don’t. I said, “the BDSM community’s own bigotry transposed onto a top/bottom (or dom/sub) binary that exactly mirrors the gender binary.” This is a strong contributing factor to why there are more self-identified “male dominants” than “female dominants” in the scene. These labels are unhelpful and result in skewed numbers because, as is also a common observation, “A self-identified male top who sometimes bottoms, for example, is more likely to claim identity as a top than as a switch. A woman with the same inclinations is likelier…to consider herself a switch.”

        The BDSM community, writ large, is full of sexist people. So is the mainstream world. People in the mainstream world are erroneously taught that femininity equates to submission and masculinity equates to dominance. People in the BDSM world are erroneously taught that performing femininity shows submission while performing masculinity shows dominance, regardless of one’s actual gender. But this, too, is erroneous because the this one premise—that feminineness is submissiveness and masculineness is dominance—is articulated in both contexts and is asinine.

        This is the core of why people say there are “more” male dominants. Would-be female dominants that aren’t aggressive, snarling, bitches are constantly silenced—you’d think that to be a dominant woman, you’d have to have the very worst qualities of the male psyche while having the very “best” qualities of the female body. And so are would-be male submissives who aren’t groveling sissies—you’d think to be a male submissive you’d have to have the mind of a stereotypically submissive Japanese girl and the body of, well, an obese American trucker.

        That’s why this “common observation” is, as you say, a common observation and also why it’s total fucking rubbish.

        As for submissive men treating you their desires are more important than yours but doing so in a disrespectful way, well, yeah! So-called “submissive men” are often the most misogynistic in the lot. Just look at “femdom” porn for an explanation of this: it isn’t really female domination porn, it is gendered privilege-reversal porn.

  2. I agree. That’s actually one of the reasons I’ve started this blog. I’m quite a loving dominant and I want to make it more public that you do not have to be more masculine in order to be more dominant. The scene is a confusing place for women who have an interest in topping or dominating. I hope my blog can help some people. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but hopefully my muddling through some issues can be helpful too.

    You might want to check out a previous post I wrote on genderfuckery; it’s somewhat related. I do think that the submissive-dominant binary should not just be plopped onto the female-male binary, but I’d hate to think that that means that the fun parts of masculinity and femininity can’t be explored.

  3. Hey, I’m doing my dissertation research on the science of gender difference and I just thought I’d let you know that it’s very unlikely that we’ve actually discovered “the part of the brain that controls suppression” (if there is a single part of the brain that does this, the brain is incredibly complex and plastic, as demonstrated by those who have suffered strokes which damage parts of their brain and then learn to talk/walk etc. again, using a different part or parts of the brain).

    Neuropsychologists tend to get a bit ahead of themselves sometimes in terms of what our current knowledge of the brain and technology can actually prove, especially when it comes to gender difference. It’s not even really possible to measure ‘brain activity’ (as in neurons firing) with the current fMRI technology.

    It looks like you have access to journals, if so you might be interested in these articles about the limitations of fMRI:

    Miller, Greg (2008) ‘Growing Pains for fMRI’ in Science (320) 1412-1414.

    Kaiser, Anelis et al (2009) ‘On sex/gender related similarities and differences in fMRI language research’ in Brain Research Reviews (61: 2) 49-59.

  4. Thanks! I did think that sounded rather dubious. I will check those articles out. 🙂

  5. I know this is an old post but I do love it so. I share a lot of the feelings you express – always shared them even before I identified them as having anything to do with kink.

    The part that resonated with me most was this one:

    “The popular conceptualization of female submission and dominance often leaves the submissive female feeling more desired – ravished, taken, bound for her master’s pleasure than the dominant female – who must remain cold, aloof, and worshiped.”

    Yes, yes, yes. It appears to me often than a male dom is often presented as desiring but controlling that desire, while a female dom is presented as no-desiring, or at least desiring less. Expressing desire seems to be an actual turn off for some (by no means all) submissive men, as if being unwanted (or wanted less, anyway, sexually) was a fetish in itself.

    And a HUGE yes to maymay’s

    “So-called “submissive men” are often the most misogynistic in the lot. Just look at “femdom” porn for an explanation of this: it isn’t really female domination porn, it is gendered privilege-reversal porn.”

    …and this applies to not just the snarling-bitch porn, where the fun/play element is pretty clear to all involved (one would hope). It is even more starkly noticeable in the fantasy vision of the so-called ”Universal Female Supremacy”/FLR. Eeeeeeek.

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