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PUA, BDSM, consent - Input Junkie
April 14th, 2010
10:03 am

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PUA, BDSM, consent
In a fit of blithering idiocy, I'm involved in discussion of PUA at Less Wrong, and it occurred to me that the most careful and thorough discussions of consent I've ever seen have been related to BDSM.

(PUA is Pick Up Artistry-- a grouping of sub-cultures of men who use methods ranging from the good (become the sort of man women are attracted to) to the skeevy (insult beautiful women to get their attention because they discount compliments-- this is called negging and I'm not making it up).)

PUA strikes me as generally sloppy about consent (including the assumption that women just prefer men who take charge), and I'm wondering if there's a good discussion of it from a BDSM angle.

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From:richardthinks
Date:April 14th, 2010 03:00 pm (UTC)
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My discovery of Phyllis Schlafly the other day made me consider that, at base, BDSM can probably be thought of as "consent-play."

It strikes me that PUA, like suasion in general (and Milgram, of course, and con tricks), is also a sort of consent-play, but one that deals with end-runs around consent - methods for suppressing the rational interlocutor, reifying the other, and that it would be an occupational necessity (not just hazard) for people engaged in it to suppress their own urge to reciprocity, their own concern for consent. So PUAists would pretty much have to objectivy the women on which they practise. Where (I'm guessing) BDSM might be about exploring the boundaries of consent, PUA is about tunneling under them, and if a PUAist is doing that they probably can't simultaneously engage their target as a being of independent will.

This could have been shorter and clearer. I hope it's not too obscure.
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From:nancylebov
Date:April 15th, 2010 04:18 am (UTC)
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I'm not sure what you mean by consent play-- I'd say that BDSM is about sex which is physically and/or emotionally riskier than the usual, and the care around consent is an effort to limit the risk level.

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From:richardthinks
Date:April 15th, 2010 12:44 pm (UTC)
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Well, I've never been involved in it myself so my ideas about it are probably completely wrong but it seems to me that, whatever else is also going on, there's a continuous challenge to or play around consent; the bottom consents in advance to things that they wouldn't otherwise allow, and thereby enters an altered or ritual state where the usual rules are (conditionally) suspended. The top receives a sort of extraordinary consent (or exceptional trust) that they then agree to use in extraordinary ways. From this viewpoint what actually happens during this extraordinary time - the exact nature of the pain inflicted or whatever - is less important than the surrender to it, and to the will of the top. The humiliation part of dominance seems (again, from my outsider's perspective) to stress a kind of abjection or continuous and formal consent - the bottom is required to repeat what the top says about them, to agree to an exterior and humiliating view about themselves, to accept a foreign will that (apparently, at least) overwrites their own. Underneath this formal, ritual layer there's another continuous battle of consent going on: bottoms push themselves to continue to accept pain and abjection and the will of the top, which I imagine is the aspect of it that requires the most careful handling - coaching, I suppose - from the top.

Because it's ultimately about how far the bottom is really willing to go (or be pushed), the bottom retains (masked) power and the top serves them, but for it to "work" ritually the bottom has to surrender or suspend their will - here it gets pretty complex and I don't have much of a grasp on it, but it seems like the (limited, conditional) suspension of will (ie of the faculty of consent) on the part of the bottom is the magic ingredient that makes it all fulfilling. Meanwhile the top's consent is also being tested.

So it seems to me that "topping from the bottom" breaks the ritual because the bottom insists on unmasked control and refuses to suspend their will, while a top who isn't willing to push the bottom might allow the ritual to begin but then not follow through with whatever transformative/altered state payoff is sought. And then there's the tricky business of the top actually breaking consent: to some extent they're supposed to (but not really) - they're supposed to exercise the power they've been given, and to take more than is directly offered, but not more than is really available. I think.

And that's about as much as I've thought about it. Again, sorry for taking up your time if it's complete nonsense: I haven't had anyone to check these ideas against.
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From:nancylebov
Date:April 15th, 2010 12:49 pm (UTC)
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No apology required. I don't know enough to have an opinion about what you're saying, but it's interesting to see how you and I come to different conclusions just from a change of emphasis.
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From:richardthinks
Date:April 15th, 2010 12:54 pm (UTC)
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I got into thinking about this when I discovered that Michel Foucault, grand poobah of power in the humanities, was into SM. It seemed to me that he must have a whole lot more to say about it all than he was letting on - that SM must be extremely complex in terms of power relations but that he could never discuss it academically. And therefore all the writing about the edges of discourse.
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From:nancylebov
Date:April 14th, 2010 03:54 pm (UTC)
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In the glory days of alt.sex.bondage, it was an amazing mixture of kinky sex, popular mechanics (they had to build a lot of their stuff), and practical ethics.

I'm not offended at PUA calling itself a community. I don't think the word has as much weight as you do. It's clearly a mutual aid sub-culture, with social relationships, a sense of its own history, and a distinctive vocabulary. Almost everything else about them gets on my nerves, but not that.

Edited at 2010-04-14 03:57 pm (UTC)
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From:richardthinks
Date:April 14th, 2010 03:20 pm (UTC)
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yow. Now I've actually scanned through the discussion, the response you got regarding dress is, erm, disturbing, funny, enraging and curious. As a bystander I guess I can't comment on whether your later comment was offensive, but I enjoyed it.
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