Pop-Culture | Posted by Katie E on 05/18/2011

Wanna Be A Victim? No Thanks.

I love music. From Tchaikovsky to T-Pain, my iPod has it all. I also love to sing. I’m not all that good at it, and my off-key crooning is usually confined to my shower or car, but nevertheless I enjoy it. It puts me in a good mood.

On my way home this afternoon, I was listening to my usual pre-set pop radio station when a relatively new song called Extraterrestrial by Katy Perry and Kanye West came on. I’d heard it before, but never paid much attention to anything other than the catchy beat. It wasn’t until today that I realized what the lyrics were actually saying. For those of you who aren’t fans of top-40 radio, here’s a partial transcript. You can also listen to the song here.

They say be afraid
You’re not like the others
Futuristic lover
Different DNA
They don’t understand you

Your from a whole other world
A different dimension
You open my eyes
And I’m ready to go
Lead me into the light

Kiss me, ki-ki-kiss me
Infect me with your love and
Fill me with your poison

Take me, ta-ta-take me
Wanna be a victim
Ready for abduction

Boy, you’re an alien
Your touch are foreign
It’s supernatural
Extraterrestrial

Infect me with your poison? I wanna be a victim? Really?

Of course misogynistic lyrics are nothing new – women have been objectified and called “bitches” and “hos” in rap lyrics for years, but what I find most disturbing about this particular set of lyrics is that a woman is actively and with conviction insisting she wants to be a victim. A victim of what, you might ask? Well, perhaps I’m reading a bit too much into this, but it sounds eerily like the articulation of a female rape fantasy played out in lyrical form.

Ms. Perry recently admitted to the British tabloid OK! she has no desire to be a role model and would prefer kids look up to girls like (*gag, choke, vomit in mouth*) Miley Cyrus.

You have GOT to be kidding me.

Too bad she doesn’t really have a choice in the matter. She’s a role model (albeit not a very good one) whether she wants to be or not, and she should know better than to think she’s not culpable just by saying she doesn’t want to be. Shame on you, Katy.

Songs like “Extraterrestrial” and Rhianna’s “S&M”, where the songstress states “the pain is my pleasure” and describes how excited she becomes by whips and chains (surprising given the brutal and widely publicized beating she received from ex-boyfriend Chris Brown), leave me wondering what a conscientious feminist is supposed to do? Can I like these songs and still claim to be fighting patriarchy? Can I sing along without compromising the part of myself that hates the message the lyrics are promoting? Of these things I’m not sure. But what I am sure of is that my daughter won’t be listening to them.

These women know they are influential. They know their lyrics reach millions of teen girls and young women on a daily, if not hourly, basis. They also base their entire careers on the notion that the cultural products they produce will resonate with people, and Rhianna has experienced first hand one of the ugly and painful products of patriarchy. So why on earth are they loudly and proudly proclaiming their desires to be brutalized by men?!

Perhaps they don’t claim to be feminists, and that’s perfectly fine, even appropriate given the content of their music, but that doesn’t get them off the hook when it comes to promoting violence toward women. We’ve come to expect it from many male artists in the popular music industry (i.e. 99% of male rappers), but I find it tragic that even a former victim of such violence now seems to be promoting it, even glamorizing it.

If Katy wants so badly to be a victim, I’m pretty sure she’s gotten her wish. She’s yet another victim of the hegemonic, patriarchal ideology that has relegated women to nothing more than objects of male sexual pleasure. I sure hope she’s happy.

Katie E also writes for Figuring out Feminism

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  • Me @ at 11:43 am, May 18th, 2011

    I don’t know about the Katy Perry song; however,
    “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but whips and chains excite me.” has been a saying in the BDSM community for many years. It is in a way, very pro-sex, providing you realize some people DO find pleasure in consensual pain. It takes a very self-aware person to not only recognize it, but to maturely and properly handle these things.
    You in fact can like the music, without having to feel like a bad feminist. Stop over-thinking it.

  • Steph L @ at 12:41 pm, May 18th, 2011

    This is a good, well-written article, but I think we need to be careful about it reading as if liking S+M makes you a bad feminist. Obviously it becomes a lot more complicated when you’re a public figure and people are going to take influences from what you say, whether it’s that they should like S+M, or that their partner should. Either of these is obviously bad, but if someone has decided that actually, S+M is the sort of thing they’re into, being able to explore our sexuality is one of the most important things that women have been prevented from doing in the past.

  • Lucy @ at 12:57 pm, May 18th, 2011

    I don’t think music like S&M is encouraging patriarchy as such. I don’t think Rhianna is asking to be beaten again as a victim, as in an S&M relationship a great deal of trust is needed and the people generally need to be equals outside of the bedroom to then be able to dominate / submit when it comes to sex.

    Generally, I think Katy is saying the same thing. She’s not asking to be raped as such or asking to be a victim of patriarchy. She’s simply suggesting she wants to have the submissive role in a sexual relationship, which is something a lot of women (myself included *ahem*) quite like. Her choice of words like ‘poison’ and ‘victim’ do make it seem more like a rape fantasy (though these aren’t altogether that rare either. Many women do have the fantasy that a man will ‘take’ them.)

    I see what you’re saying, though. Rape is a serious issue and isn’t one that gets overlooked in the feminist society. I also agree that women like Katy and Rhianna get a lot of young listeners who maybe shouldn’t be exposed to such lyrics. I like their openness, however, and agree with what Steph L said about it being great that women aren’t being shunned for exploring their sexuality. Though her lyrics are risky, Rhianna is getting slut shamed (as far as I know) and is considered a powerful female figure.

  • Katie E. @ at 12:59 pm, May 18th, 2011

    Steph,
    You’re absolutely right about not demonizing women based on their sexual preferences. My concern with this type of music, however, is that the young women who listen to it often don’t realize the implications of what they may be internalizing. There is, in my opinion, a difference between a grown woman conscientiously choosing to engage in violent sexual behavior and a 16-year-old girl singing along about how whips and chains excite her. There is a fine line between sexual experimentation and abuse and it’s one I’m not sure the target audience of this type of music can effectively navigate.

  • Miriam @ at 1:02 pm, May 18th, 2011

    I hate both these songs. They’re just creepy and make me uncomfortable. And they’re misogynistic.

    That said, there are many songs I like that are equally misogynistic. One can like a song for many reasons other than its cultural message. Usually I just enjoy the beat.

  • Kristen A @ at 3:21 pm, May 18th, 2011

    I agree with Steph.

    Being into S&M, BDSM or D/s doesn’t make you a bad feminist. I mean fBomb has Jaclyn Friedman’s blog Yes Means Yes listed in the sidebar and she and her other bloggers very often write about the topic of BDSM in society. While I feel Rihanna makes somewhat of a joke out of a sexual lifestyle that’s already considered deviant and joked about regularly in pop culture, she absolutely has the right to be interested in it. Also I read her lyrics more as being a switch than a masochist, ie she enjoys being both a D and an s at times.

    I don’t think your intention was to come off as saying S&M isn’t feminist, but we do have to be careful in our observations. As feminists we take a lot of flack for ridiculous reasons, and as a D/s participant I wouldn’t want somebody to misunderstand and believe I enjoy being hurt and brutalized by men. I won’t elaborate on my preferences, but as an s, yes I enjoy breath play and other various other activities, but I fully consent to them and my partner always respects my limitations.

  • Julie Z @ at 3:50 pm, May 18th, 2011

    Hey everybody. I think this is a really interesting discussion to have, but as a teenager, my main issue with songs like S&M is their implications for my peers and me. I agree that being into S&M isn’t necessarily a bad thing and doesn’t automatically make you a bad feminist (and I don’t think Katie said that), but I think that most teens are NOT aware of the fact that S&M can be something that is born from a trusting and equal relationship, and the trust thing is definitely not made clear by Rihanna’s song. I think especially since a lot of us are just coming into our sexual identities, the line can get blurred between violence and something we’re actually into pretty easily without any previous point of comparison. Songs like this worry me because I feel like girls could get the idea that a violent relationship is okay. Which I think is what Katie was trying to get across in this article (although I don’t want to speak for her).

  • Angela G @ at 4:23 pm, May 18th, 2011

    Great post! This is an age old feminist rift, and I happen to see things quite differently than the perspective presented in this article. Sex positive feminist and queer theorists throughout time (Gayle Rubin, Carol Queen, Kate Bornstein, Jaclyn Friedman, to name a few) all pretty much agree that we shouldn’t be judging mutually consensual sex acts with a feminist yard stick, whether they personally appeal to us or not. In the words of Gayle Rubin, “we should judge sexual acts only by the way partners treat one another, the level of mutual consideration, the presence or absence of coercion, and the quantity and quality of the pleasures they provide”. That means consensual BDSM, rape fantasies, and other “kinks” can be just as equally feminist as any other sexual act!

  • Talia bat Pessi @ at 6:10 pm, May 18th, 2011

    Glad someone else agrees that the radio is filled with misogynistic anti-woman rape-supporting garbage. Commenters, the author is bringing up Rihanna’s S&M as a sidepoint – don’t fight with her about it. Discuss the issue at hand.

    Also glad someone else isn’t afraid to admit that Kanye West is a perpetrator. http://thefbomb.org/2011/01/boycott-monster/

  • Azkyroth @ at 7:00 pm, May 18th, 2011

    It is in a way, very pro-sex, providing you realize some people DO find pleasure in consensual pain.

    And provided that you accept that people who have sexual interests you don’t share are still people…

  • Peggy @ at 10:04 pm, May 18th, 2011

    Infect me with your love and
    Fill me with your poison

    This line makes me think of AIDS.

  • Alex Catigirl @ at 10:23 pm, May 18th, 2011

    I’m not going to get into a discussion about BDSM and it’s derivatives as that’s a whole issue onto itself, BUT what is important is that it’s way up there on the female fantasy list, as is, believe it or not, rape.

    As a survivor of the latter, I have no idea why any girl/women would wish to be subjected to it, but people’s fantasies are what they are and it’s just not my place to condemn other people’s fantasies.

    Pop stars give people what they want, be it gangsta rap, Disney pop, or the bane of my existence – American country-western.

    A better place to start would be *why* do people want what they want? Of all the possible choices, why rape fantasy?

    The answer won’t be logical as fantasies seldom are…this coming from a girl who’s fondest wish is for pointy ears and a tail =(^.^)=

  • K Wilson @ at 11:23 pm, May 18th, 2011

    Very well written article. I do understand your concerns.

    “My concern with this type of music, however, is that the young women who listen to it often don’t realize the implications of what they may be internalizing.”

    This is my sentiment exactly. The younger generation who hear songs like S&M (which I HATE by the way) may not understand the full meaning of the song. I absolutely hate the song and I don’t think it should be played on the radio, but that’s just me.

    As far as hip hop and misogyny, a lot of mainstream hip hop that is played does contain lyrics that objectify women. Unfortunately, that’s what tends to sell. However, not all hip hop artists choose to refer to woman as bitches and hoes. Those that do usually don’t have any substance to their lyrics beyond the same money, cash, hoes mantra. However I think there are plenty of artists that aren’t well known who have lyrical content that uplift women (Common, Lupe Fiasco, Talib Kweli just to name a few). I just don’t think it is fair to generalize rap music and single that genre out for objectifying women. Heck, I have heard many songs outside of rap that were just crass. “Smack my b*tch up” and “You’re a crazy b*tch but you f**k so good you’re on top of it…” Neither of those were rap songs. However, I do see the point of the article. Good read!

  • Mollie @ at 7:33 am, May 19th, 2011

    Good article Katie, I’ve never been a fan of Katy Perry in the slightest besides admiring how she looks (which doesn’t count in my books anyway) and I am definitely of the opinion that she has internalized a lot of sexism which she portrays in her entire image along with her songs.

    HOWEVER, as other posters have discussed, as feminists we have to support the desires and choices of others in regard to their sexuality and their life as a whole, and if that’s to be submissive or “victimised” by a man (under consentual and safe circumstances) – so be it.

    Talia – the other posters are right to bring up the S&M references and elaborate on them and their connotations. We cannot overstep that boundary of declaring what tastes and fantasies are or are not feminist. Bear in mind that a big part of the appeal for lovers of S&M is the pretending that it’s not consentual (even though it is – with a loving partner of course. I shouldn’t have to clarify this but I don’t want to be jumped on as a rape sympathiser or something because I understand the point of view of S&M/rape fantasy lovers).. and no Alex it really isn’t logical. It’s a personal thing and I can certainly see why it would be impossible to fathom for a survivor.

  • Leyla @ at 12:16 pm, May 19th, 2011

    I think the song is catchy, but not what I would call “good” music. I love Katy Perry, I really do, but until now I didn’t know that she had made this song with Kanye West(i.e. the biggest idiot in the world- I guess you understand that I hate him). I love music, just like you. I mean, I skip from The Black Eyed Peas to Sarah Mclahan in a heartbeat. But I don’t think that this song is about “rape fantasy” I have heard the song a couple of times and have generally assumed that, she wants to be a victim of alien abduction. Or in other words, she has met a man that is so different from all the others, and she just wants him to take her away from this crazy world. Natural enough right?
    So you see I don’t think you should judge an artist like Katy Perry by just one song, co made with a jerk. Wasn’t she the one who wrote “one of the boys”, “California Girls”, “I kissed A Girl” ? and by the way if your going to tell me that -California Girls- is anti feminist, I would like to remind you that it is PURE SARCASM. That is all.

  • Talia bat Pessi @ at 5:17 pm, May 19th, 2011

    Mollie, upon reading the article again, you’re right.

  • Ren @ at 10:23 pm, May 19th, 2011

    I actually discussed this with people on Facebook a few weeks ago. My issue with the song isn’t the rape fantasy–it’s fine if that’s your thing and it’s consensual–it’s the glamorization of victimhood. Being a victim isn’t a glamorous thing and we shouldn’t be promoting it.
    By the way, the video is wayyy better than the lyrics. The androgyny of the “male” character makes it all worth it. :P

  • Nano Muse @ at 12:45 pm, May 20th, 2011

    My problem with these songs is less that they have misogynistic lyrics and more that they have no context. Because S&M isn’t inherently misogynistic at all – if anything, the BDSM community is incredibly hung up on consent and communication, so it tends to be very pro-woman – but for people who don’t know that, it comes across differently. Because hey, chains and whips excite me, too, but I am still an independent woman with strength and no desire to be a victim – at least, no desire to be a real victim, instead of a roleplayed one (because hey, roleplaying can be fun, too).

  • Anna @ at 1:39 pm, May 20th, 2011

    @Alex Catgirl
    I am also a rape survivor and after being raped begun having sexualized rape fantasies. It made me feel like a despicable person and was incredibly confusing. It was only when I came into a community of sex-positive feminists that I learned this was a common response for rape survivors as a way to take control of their sexuality and their bodies again. It’s confusing, but it’s there and condemning it only makes it more stressful.

  • Chelsea @ at 2:41 am, May 22nd, 2011

    Honestly, as much as I have a distaste for this genre of music, I don’t think any of these artists are writing/singing songs that truly represent who they are and what they think. I don’t mean to go on a tangent, but the music industry has morphed into this agglomeration of made-easy pop hits and marketable stars. People don’t even care about the lyrics, they’ll just mindlessly repeat the songs over and over again in their heads. It’s all about a catch and a hook and blah blah blah. This is more of a commentary on the degradation of today’s music industry than it is on an individual’s personal sexual preferences.

  • Christina @ at 4:29 am, May 22nd, 2011

    Did we forget Kanyes random and disturbung contribution? “Do what I say” lyric made me sick. You know cause what reallly turns me on is a douchey chauvinistic rapper telling me what to do in a rape like innuendo. Pfft. Katys an idiot period. She wanted fame and sold out for it and of course this is the garbage we get for even making he4r popular. So yah in my opinion if you are buying these songs you are directly funding patriarchy. :)

  • Christina @ at 4:49 am, May 22nd, 2011

    Also, I was a long time member of the bdsm community and in no way does s&m feel like a positive song. Like previously stated, the core of bdsm is the trust and high mutual respect. A sub and master, who are sane, see one another as equals but allow one control over the other. Sadly I see a lot of anarchist leaning feminists attracted to it to become superior over a man. Its a very dangerous lifestyle that requires a lot of knowelege, self respect and maturity. Rihanna only exploits the topic with the overdone stereotype. Whats so original with a black female artist talking about how she likes being owned, I hear ” i love it wen u own me like a boss, you my boss” lyric waaay too much. The song only sends the message “hey dudes check out bdsm and you can get hot bitches like rihanna to be your slave” rather than “I enjoy kink and Im sexually liberated and strong” . We get it Riri, after Love the way you lie, you love being abused, burned, and chained. Rolls eyes.

  • Nina @ at 11:31 am, May 22nd, 2011

    Personally, I find Kanye’s rap MUCH more offensive.

    “I’mma disrobe you, then I’mma probe you
    See, I abducted you so I tell you what to do.”

    I’m honestly surprised the article didn’t bring that up, as it’s the most obvious part of the song that says ‘rape is ok.’

  • Katherine C. @ at 8:40 am, May 23rd, 2011

    See, this is why I don’t really listen to the radio anymore (except for NPR). Chealsea said it perfectly.

    And I do understand what everyone is saying about the BDSM aspect, but quite honestly I doubt that anyone listening to this song who’s not from the BDSM community is going to think, “oh, a positive and trusting imaginative relationship.”

  • Rosa A. @ at 1:55 pm, May 23rd, 2011

    I think whoever wrote this article is taking the song literally and way too seriously. Katy said it’s nothing serious and just telling a fictional story.

    However I would say the version with Kanye’s verses in it is more to be grossed out about.

  • Tssxiix @ at 6:00 pm, May 25th, 2011

    TBH: I am grossed out and sickened by these lyrics… *remembers why en boycotts the music industry once again.

  • Renee @ at 7:18 pm, May 26th, 2011

    I believe you are looking too deep into it…being sixteen I always pay attention to the lyrics and the beat I know what S&M means and I don’t care b/c to me it’s just rhianna trying to be edgy…i don’t believe we internalize things I’ve been listening to R&B/Rap songs since I was a tot and I don’t want to go around shooting up a club and slapping bitches an hoes so I don’t see the big deal….

  • Renee @ at 7:23 pm, May 26th, 2011

    also to me the E.T song is just an idiotic vapid story telling between an alien and a krazy chick it’s like listening to twinkle twinkle little star and thinking it’s an homage to space exploration

  • Evelyn @ at 9:37 pm, May 28th, 2011

    It’s funny, I was thinking the exact same thing as I listened to that song a few days ago; I even pointed it out to my brother. Kanye West’s part is almost worst: “I abducted you, so I tell you what to do”. Really?! Sure some people might say it’s wrong to over think pop lyrics, but think about 10 year old girls singing “want to be a victim”. That sure makes me uncomfortable. It wouldn’t be as big an issue if these values weren’t mirrored in pop culture everywhere, with girls dancing in cages and all those creepy videos. Whether listening to those songs makes you a bad feminist…I’ve wondered that too. Sometimes I feel that being aware of it’s message and feeling uncomfortable is enough, other times I feel like I should turn off the radio violently. Either way, pop artists should be more aware of the message they’re sending out.

  • Genna @ at 1:54 am, May 30th, 2011

    I think it’s more about surrender. She’s offering herself to this “alien.” He has her consent to violate her. In a safe environment, why not?

  • Katie E. @ at 12:35 pm, May 30th, 2011

    Thank you for all the comments, everyone! I really appreciate the feedback.
    To clear up any misunderstandings, I have NOTHING against women who are into S&M or BDSM or whatever. Their sexual preferences are their business. That really wasn’t the point of my post. The point was that I am sensing a shift from men victimizing women to women victimizing themselves. Regardless of what she wants to be a victim of, Katy is saying she WANTS to be a victim. That’s not okay with me. The free speech advocate in me fully believes she has the right to say whatever she wants, but the feminist in me wants to duct tape her mouth shut so she can’t tell girls and young women (like my 5-year-old daughter) that it’s okay to be victimized 3 times per hour on every pop radio station in the U.S. I also think women to target young, female audiences have an obligation to consider the impact of their words.

  • Charlotte @ at 1:42 am, June 6th, 2011

    I don’t agree with some of the points made in this article, especially what you said about S&M. I’m 16 years old, I consider myself a feminist, but I also like being dominated sexually. My boyfriend calling me a slut (just during sex/leading up to sex, of course) and telling me that he’s going to do whatever he wants to me turns me on! That doesn’t mean that I am in ANY way okay with sexual harassment or victimization of women. These songs are very sexual, and sexuality is complicated. I don’t think they necessarily reflect how the artists want to be treated as a human being.
    Just my two cents. :)

  • Kat @ at 9:22 pm, June 8th, 2011

    It seems as though every song I hear on the radio says that women are sex objects as we have always been and if nothing is done we always will be to men. Nothing more. This song by Katy has nothing to do with what people do in their bedrooms behind closed doors and I have no intrest to know. What I dont like is that hardly anyone gets the message. “Its okay to beat me, as long as I love you and you tell me you love me.” in the song the words that kill me “I abducted you i tell you what to do” It makes me think because your a man I have to do as you order but because I am lower than you because of my sex because I am a female.

  • Emma @ at 8:39 pm, July 12th, 2011

    Um, maybe this makes me sound totally naive, but what does S&M stand for? *rolls eyes and blushes*

    Anyway, I’m a feminist and I honestly have NO idea how this song escaped my attention. I even have it on my iPod! I mean ‘I abducted you and I tell you what to do’? I mean, I obviously knew that it wasn’t exactly a song about women’s rights, but, God, Kanye’s part is basically sung from the point of view of a rapist! Of course, we already knew that Kanye West was sick (see: Monster) but I just can’t believe I never really TRULY listened to the lyrics of this song before, getting hung up instead on its catchy tune. I really, really hate it when someone comes out with a catchy, sexist song. (Damn you, Flo Rida!!!)

    Peace

  • briannah @ at 5:06 pm, September 13th, 2011

    she’s singing about her now husband whose from a different country, hence; extraterrestrial. with words like wanna be a victim and fill me with your poison, she’s just being creative . she’s saying, fill me with your love. i think your just getting yourself angry

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  • Boys, Music, and Rape /  GaySocialites.com @ at 12:00 pm, December 22nd, 2011

    [...] find the fact that they were listening to “ET” absolutely unacceptable. The song, as stated in several feminist blogs, is a violent rape fantasy. Katy says in the chorus “Kiss me, kiss me / Infect me [...]

  • pearl @ at 7:02 pm, December 23rd, 2011

    This song is about sexual role play for the most part. Also about being so in love and comfortable in a relationship that it is just ‘out of the world’.

    Katy Perry has always been sensitive about sex as said in many interviews. Meeting Russell, her soul mate, her ‘missing puzzle piece’ inspired so many of the songs on her latest album.

    Katheryn Hudson changed my life and if it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t be the person I am ?

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  • Angie @ at 1:31 am, October 10th, 2014

    I have to agree with the other commentators who are submissives. I’m a feminist. I’m also a submissive and I even enjoy a bit of sadomasochism (I like to give and receive some pain). You’re mistaken to think that women who like this are giving into patriarchy or are being brutalized. I’ve watched female friends be beaten by *other women* and I’ve a female friend (a domme) I bottom for from time to time. Having the right to explore my sexuality and even be subservient to men IF I SO CHOOSE is my right as a feminist. It’s about CHOICE. Your blog post is condemning my choice and that’s wrong.

    I understand your concerns with teenagers misinterpreting BDSM or consensual non-consent (which is freakin’ HOT and the top fantasy of vanilla women, too) with non-consensual abuse. So instead of knocking down something that is obviously not your cup of tease (as is your right), why not explain the difference and give examples so that teens have a better understanding of that fine line?

    Since you don’t understand BDSM, D/s, S&M, or the intense emotional connection that comes from these type of relationships (MUCH stronger than a vanilla one…my most intimate relationship was and still is with my ex-Dom), perhaps you should ask for assistance in this area. All the basics of trust, honesty, feeling secure, safe, respected, and as a priority in a vanilla relationship hold true even more so in a D/s dynamic. You’re trusting someone with your innermost fears and desires, opening up yourself and becoming extremely vulnerable. It requires a relationship where you feel extremely comfortable and have a high amount of trust for your partner in order for the connection to be real and the submission to be genuine. The YWCA has handouts from its domestic violence program called What to Look For in a Partner. It’s written with a vanilla mindset but this is still oh so true within the kink community. That’d be a good place to start when discussing Katy Perry, Rhianna, Madonna (let’s go old school since this isn’t a new theme), or any other sexually charged lyrics with teens. Or even adults. Plenty of grownups need to learn the difference between consensual play and abuse. And liking it doesn’t make me a bad feminist. It makes me aware and comfortable in my own skin, regardless of how others try to judge me.

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