A friend recently lent me The S&M Feminist, a collection of articles by sex-positive blogger and activist Clarisse Thorn.
I’m going to start off by saying, everyone should read this book. Seriously. Everyone. Read it if you are into S&M or identify as a feminist. Read it if you are sex-positive or polyamorous. Read it if you are a PUA or an activist. Read it if you are friends with anyone listed above.
Or, even if you don’t identify in any of those ways or know anyone who does, still read it. Because we don’t have enough frank and honest conversations about sex or feminism in our culture, and Thorn is incredibly articulate about both. You won’t be disappointed. (It’s also super easy to pick up and put down since the book is full of bite-size articles).
That said, all the articles included in the anthology have been previously published on-line. So if you’re strapped for cash, it is possible to read majority of the content on Clarisse Thorn’s blog or other feminist and sex-positive websites where she’s been published, like Feministe, Jezebel, and the Good Men Project.
I would still encourage readers to check out the book, however, because in addition to sheer convenience and thematic organization, Thorn provides a short prologue at the beginning of each article. Some of these articles were published five years ago. The prologue gives Thorn the ability to provide insight into her current thoughts on the topic before the article in question is read, or to clarify information regarding the topic at hand. I found it useful to see Thorn’s progression as a feminist, activist, and kinkster over time, and to have each article situated clearly in its particular place in her personal development timeline.
I’d like to think I’m fairly well progressed in my own journey towards synthesizing S&M and feminism in my own life. At first, I was simply interested to read Thorn’s book as a way to get another perspective on the matter. Quickly, however, I was struck by Thorn’s honesty, vulnerability, and intelligence. Like I said, we don’t talk about these topics nearly enough in our culture. But Thorn speaks about them with surprising acuity and grace.
The book is divided into three sections. In the first, Thorn outlines the basics of S&M and feminism, as well as her journey to reconcile participating in both. She talks extensively about topics like sex education, communication with sexual partners, and the use of safewords. She also broaches difficult topics like whether an inclination toward BDSM can (or should) be considered a sexual orientation, and whether BDSM and sex are the same thing or two different, overlapping drives. Thorn also talks about why asking whether all women are inherently submissive is the wrong question entirely, and broaches the topic of 50 Shades of Grey.
In the next section, Thorn talks about sex and activism, including her work with HIV prevention in Africa. She also includes an interview with a Sugar Baby sex worker on Seeking Arrangement, complicating current narratives about how sex work, privilege, and feminism combine. Thorn outlines the pros of both monogamy and polyamory in this section (Thorn has practiced both), as well as discussing the time she spent researching Pick Up Artist (PUA) culture. The latter was later turned into its own book.
The final section of the book contains more detailed and emotionally difficult articles, including several which outline the differences between consensual BDSM and abuse in intimate relationships. Thorn also talks more about how to understand and interpret your own thoughts and feelings in a relationship, and why it’s also important to recognize that you won’t ever have all the answers. Thorn ends the book discussing her mother’s experiences with rape as a young adult, and how capital-F Feminist culture can sometimes alienate women like Thorn and her mother.
I appreciated that Thorn talks about how she’s always afraid of losing her Feminist Card because she’s involved in S&M, because I can relate. It’s important for Feminism to be broad enough to include kinksters, sex workers, and all manner of alternative identities and experiences in its definition. I think Thorn also does an excellent job, however, of proving her feminist credentials (not that I necessarily advocate for anyone needing to “prove” they are a feminist).
In this book, Thorn solidified some of the opinions I’ve already developed surrounding sex, polyamory, BDSM, and feminism. But she also got me thinking about other questions or topics I haven’t yet considered. At the end of each article, Thorn provides the hyperlink to the original blog post, and there are several where I’d like to read the discussions in the comments on-line.
If you’ve ever identified as a feminist or wondered why you should, go read this book.
This review was originally published by The Horn on 08/07/2014.