CONTENT NOTE: Discussion/speculation of “forced sex” fantasies.
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The title refers to a saying from an episode of Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda, from a “Wayist” teacher: “On the question of life after death: Not whether it exists, but what manner of life?”
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The other day, I saw a tweet that revisited the whole discussion about whether power-exchange kinks such as Domination/Submission and sadomasochism would continue to exist once the revolution has occurred and society radically reordered to eliminate Patriarchy and capitalism. A couple of days after that, someone I follow on Fetlife put into my timeline a comment on a post asking whether kink was “inherently right-wing”.
Being a good Leftie, these questions bothered me a lot when I first started to accept myself as a sadist and a Dominant. I made a sort of hand-wavey “from each as according to their ability, to each as according to their need” justification, with Subs and Doms having different abilities and needs, and each meeting the others’. As commanded by the radfems, we (I, and other bloggers who wrote about leftie kink questions) “examined our desires” and came up with nothing like what the KERF/SWERF/TERF brigade expected, but I for one didn’t come up with any solid answers.
While I could come up with a clear sex-economic reason why sex work would still be work within a post-capitalist, post-Patriarchy society (just, much more likely to be evenly distributed between men and women), I always felt that the belief that kink would persist was less well-grounded theoretically, and more of a conviction partly out of an “extinction fear” (i.e. fear not only of personal destruction but of one’s species or community’s destruction in some hypothetical future) and partly out of, “this feels so fundamental, how could it ever cease to be?”
All of which is old hat, for me. I believe kink will persist and there will be power-exchange sex in the post-Patriarchy, post-capitalist Utopia (hereafter, the PPPC because why not, and inverts CCCP as the Cyrillic USSR. I like wordplay). That’s a statement of belief. But it leads to a curious question:
What kind of kink?
It is a generally-accepted principle of Marxist revolutionary thought that the forms of society following the communist revolution cannot be predicted, since they will be formed by the workers in the white heat of the revolution and their collective awareness, to suit the needs of their time and conform with their newly-conscious appraisal. One can imagine a similar principle of revolutionary, radical, feminism being applied to the sexual economy, although once distinctions of male and female roles are removed, the idea of one sex as the “producer” or “proletariat” of sex seems absurd in a way that it does not for the working classes. But a new sexual economy is sure to develop, in which the idea of buying dinner and a movie to get to 2nd (or whatever) base, is just nonsensical as an implicit strategy. Even sex work would not be based on quite that transactional an approach, we might guess (though what it would be based on would be shaped by the same economic decisions that shape the overall revolution, and thus forged in the white heat blahblahblah). We can’t know what the sexual economy (dating, hooking up, etc) would look like.
But with sex itself, perhaps there is a doorway into what kinks might be (most) represented. There’s a lot of theories that, in one way or another, come back to the idea that very often what we find hottest and sexiest is also that which generates fear – or which confronts our image of ourself. While not convinced this gives a complete picture of what BDSM is and does (or indeed any other kink), I believe there is enough truth in it to provide a basis for a little bit of “let’s pretend”, and venture forth into the future…
After The Revolution
The turmoil of the revolution, we’ll pretend, is now distant past, three or four generations ago at least. Society has been reordered so there is no more inequality of life: the basic needs of all are met through collaborative effort and pooling the various resources of brain and brawn possessed by its members; democracy is radically participatory so that everyone is guaranteed a chance to be heard and decisions are by some form of consensus. We don’t know what gender looks like, but no one is judged for how much or how little sex they have, and no one is lauded for it either. Whether genders exist or are so blurred as to deny all thoughts of a binary, we don’t know; but no one’s genitalia or outward signs are a bar to their activity or advancement in whatever field.
Welcome to the PPPC: a Utopia forged in the Great Critical Revolution.
But, people are people. They still have fears. Even in Utopia, there are accidents, illness, and natural disasters. They aren’t as catastrophic as they were in the Bad Old Days of capital, of course: no need for fundraisers when everyone just pitches in and helps, and there are careers dedicated to making sure it all happens.
From what I understand of Marx, he seems to have in some ways anticipated Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in describing the hoped-for outcome of the revolution, talking about going from a society built around most people threatened at the Physiological orSafety level, to one designed to allow all people to achieve the highest, “Self-Actualisation” level. We can use this as a way of looking at what fears might remain in the PPPC.
The Physiological and Safety needs, that so often preoccupy people in capitalist society, are largely dealt with (as described). Illness and catastrophe can occur, but people will be confident both of care and support if it happens. The same visceral fear of destruction might not exist in a world where everyone stands ready to catch anyone who falls. (A sense of safety often described by Subs referring to the care their Doms give, even in the middle of a big SM scene.) The shadow/face the fear aspect of SM play, then, would be much less a factor in BDSM. Masochism for the sensations, or from the physical endurance, pay-offs, would be much more likely. The physiological and neurochemical boost, rather than the psychological boost, would remain.
Rejection and Overriding
It’s when we get to the higher levels of the hierarchy that we might find the focus of PPPC BDSM play. A society built around community, collective endeavour, and consensus is going to produce a lot of fears about being “out”: while love and belonging might seem guaranteed, in reality they still depend upon others, and on agreement. Thinking about the “shadow self”, and in terms of top roles, we might imagine a person who feels alarmed at the way that perhaps sometimes they want to override others’ opinions and views this as a defect in themselves that they seek to quash; sexually, in pursuing their shadow self, they may very well want to express that, not unlike the ways in which Dominants we know seek obedience, and perform a version of, “My way or the highway!”
Conversely, there would be a fear of being heard but not heeded, and of being rejected from the community in that way. Here, we see the potential pairing of kinks, as the person with this fear faces the fear of rejection or being overridden, by “submitting” to the person who fears their own tendency to reject. By negotiating a consensual sexual roleplay, they can live out their shadow selves.
Here, we might expect the scene to resemble “forced-sex”, or “ravishment”, fantasies familiar to today’s kinksters (and “romance” novel readers). In order to face those inner demons, the bottom has to be able to plead and be ignored, to say “no” and have it not be heard.
One curious aspect occurs to me because of this: gang-topping, or gang-bottoming, might be significant parts of the kink scene: The bottom who faces fears of societal rejection by processing them sexually, may prefer to have a group of tops who take what they want sexually regardless of hir “protests” (and of course, with prior negotiation and enthusiastic consent; and safewords just in case). Likewise, the top who rejects hir desire to override others in the group, might find hir strongest expression in directing the actions of multiple bottoms collectively. I can see how self-fears of teaming up to override others in a group could work strongly for a top (or group of tops), giving the gang-topping role some purchase. I’m not clear how it works for gang-bottoming that the bottoms get their pay-off, although it may tie in with the next layer.
(I may or may not want to roleplay either or both of these scenes now!)
If the sense of community answers the love/belonging tier of the Hierarchy of Needs in general, then the extension of that into Esteem is where things start to get interesting for our future kinksters.
From the previously linked Wikipedia article:
The “lower” version of esteem is the need for respect from others. This may include a need for status, recognition, fame, prestige, and attention. The “higher” version manifests itself as the need for self-respect. For example, the person may have a need for strength, competence, mastery, self-confidence, independence, and freedom.
Staci Newmahr discusses in her study of a local BDSM Scene, “Playing On The Edge”, how strength, competence and mastery (of skills or one’s body) are rewarded in both topping and bottoming in SM play. As noted under the Physiological/Safety aspects, the endurance and potency payoffs are the strongest psychological causes remaining in the PPPC. But for people in our PPC society, one of the highest currencies will be recognition and status due to one’s efforts and competencies. Working as part of the collective effort, to be recognised as giving a high level, and of being bloody good at what you do, is likely to be the best way to take reward. Similarly, in the participatory democracy, being heard and recognised as having good idea or good points, will be the surest form of payment. Whether society would be ordered to advance wider dissemination of fame and prestige, or deliberately set up so that fame doesn’t spread beyond the local grouping (i.e. no attribution given when ideas are passed up the chain), we can’t be sure. But a person who saw that the idea they had adopted in one area, seems to have spread and become wider policy, might feel some sense of pride and recognition anyway.
For the PPPC bottom, then, humiliation play might turn out to be the strongest form of BDSM. If fears, or shadow-self aspects, of being seen as lesser, or of failing in some way, are potent then play that focusses on those fears could be a huge turn-on (and taboo) among our future kinksters. We might anticipate that those most likely to seek this sort of play are those who are generally used to receiving recognition and praise, but who are conscious that they are “only as good as your last project” and fear loss of recognition in the future. The converse topping role, I suspect, will come from people who might fear themselves as unfair or arbitrary in their assigning of prestige or recognition, and whose shadow self is thus insufficiently impartial. The person who feels bound to give all a fair trial, might wish to let loose their feelings of superiority or more strongly-worded criticism, by just telling another that they are no good for anything. The need in this society, and this kink, for a delineated scene, would if anything be more important: the bounds of what can or can’t be criticised, to what degree, and in what ways the bottom can “make amends”, would need to be very carefully drawn. In terms of wider social acceptance of the kink, I believe it would be the strongest taboo.
This is also where it is possible that “gang-bottoming” pays off for the bottom: by being part of a group-bottoming dynamic, the bottom can allow hir top to unfairly and negatively compare her to others in the group: the superior top might deliberately set each bottom a task at which zie is lesser than hir fellow-bottoms, thus allowing each to be “disciplined” verbally (and, perhaps, physically – though, again, the potency of such may not be as great as it is for us).
Models of Hierarchy
The argument of those who suggest kink would disappear in the post revolution society is generally that without concurrent modes of hierarchy on which to model the hierarchy of D/s or SM, then there would be no impetus to eroticise those dynamics within a sexual union. Without a form to copy, what would our PPPC kinksters do to produce kink?
But, as others have suggested, there remain power dynamics on a personal and micro-social level. Some of the strongest are based on competency. As much as we might posit a situation where “Doctor and patient work together to produce favourable outcomes”, when it comes down to it, the trained medic is more competent than the patient in diagnosis and care. The patient may determine what a favourable outcome looks like for them, but it is the doctor who can advise them how to achieve that. This produces an experience of power differential. Similarly, in other specialised professions, where years of training are necessary to produce a competent practitioner, there becomes an experience of power dynamic. Perhaps medical play and treatment roleplay would be common.
More interestingly, for our thought experiment, age and experience produce perceived hierarchies in most societies, with differences in competencies and knowledge on which deference and dependence can rest. While gendered, class and other distinctions might disappear in the PPPC, ageing will always be with us; even if not physically, then the fact of living longer and seeing (and learning) more.
It is possible to speculate that ageplay, either involving adults of differing ages, or adults of similar age roleplaying a difference in ages, might be a key source of fetish and kink dynamic. The power differential of adult to child may well also be a key element to consensual grown-ups roleplaying. While we can’t know how families would be structured (the modern “nuclear family” being determined more by capitalist economics than anything else), some variation on the “Caregiver/little” (but gender-non-specific) might be a popular kink dynamic.
There may also be perceived dynamics that lend themselves to kink, between those who work by brain, and those who work by brawn. These dynamics might play out either way (roleplaying unfairly treated brawn and not-impartial brain; or physical strength disrespecting and dismissive of brain competence).
Having speculated on “gang-topping” and “gang-bottoming” as potential kink scenes, the thought comes that perhaps there could be “double-ganging” – group scenarios with both multiple tops and multiple bottoms, as a collectivised kink experience. Most kink scenarios that we recognise are typified as one-on-one relations: the Caregiver/little dynamic mentioned above, for instance, refers to a relationship that is strictly hierarchical between two people. There are long-term polyamorous households within kink these days, and perhaps a PPPC society would encourage more poly households in general, and more multi-lateral cohabiting poly kink relationships might be the norm. Whether that’s true or not, finding roles or roleplays that suit “double-gang” scenes would depend on the new realities of the society.
Or, they might draw for inspiration on history, just as a lot of contemporary kink draws on history for examples of power imbalances to roleplay. Maybe a common sexual scene would be “capitalists vs proletariat”!
This is, of course, highly speculative. No one really knows what the future could hold, let alone a future 100 years beyond a complete upheaval and reordering of society. Maybe everything is done by robots, and kinksters will roleplay robot rebellion, or robot servants.
Nevertheless, the ideas we currently have about the psychological and emotional significance of sex and kink in terms of the relationship between fears and arousal, seem to suggest that some forms of kink would, after all, survive the end of hierarchical society as we know it. I would be interested to hear from kinksters whose kinks developed in more collectivist societies to see if any of the ideas I’ve mentioned resonate with them, too.
Some of the scenes I’ve described sound superhot to me. I especially like, from a Sub role point of view, the gang-top ignored/overriding dynamics (um, Pandora Blake, or any other feminist/ethical porn producers, if you’re reading this…); and as a top, the idea of roleplaying a totally arbitrary and unfair partner. Some would probably make no sense to me, personally.
Overall, I have great hope for post-revolutionary kink: as long as the ethics of negotiated and informed/enthusiastic consent hold firm, and of restoring the bottom afterwards, then it seems to me that there would be plenty of hot, kinky, BDSM sex in new, hot, kinky, communist forms. We might not find all of them turn-ons, and might find some of ours aren’t necessarily popular, but kink will survive.