In June, a female journalist named Mac McClelland published a piece in Mother Jones magazine entitled "I'm Gonna Need You to Fight Me on This: How Violent Sex Helped Ease My PTSD." McClelland was a correspondent in post-earthquake Haiti, and in addition to news reporting, she wrote a personal essay about how her experiences of talking to rape victims, and being sexually harassed herself, left her cripplingly fearful of being raped. In the essay, she says that the way she got over her post-traumatic stress was to engage in violent consensual sex.
When I read the piece, I thought: This is a very intimate piece about one woman's way of addressing her feelings. And the responses she's going to get to it will make rapists look like Boy Scouts. Sure enough, outraged readers accused McClelland of racism, narcissism, journalistic malpractice, and encouraging men to think that all women want to be raped. I got many e-mails asking my opinion. But I wanted to consider carefully before commenting.
I don't agree with the harsh accusations leveled at McClelland. Her feelings about what she experienced are valid, and I support her talking about them frankly, even if it makes people uncomfortable. But I'm glad she didn't ask me to violently fuck her, because while I sympathize with her, I'd refuse—just as I've refused a number of other people, both male and female, who've made similar requests. Are you surprised I get asked for that? You shouldn't be. The idea of exorcising one's personal demons this way isn't new. And who better to do that than a dominatrix, right?
Wrong. I am not a therapist. Therapists have a degree and a couch and a box of tissues, and they heal broken people. I have floggers and a spanking bench, and I studied in a very different school. I'm an expert at guiding normally functioning people (I use that term flexibly) through a BDSM scene. But playing with someone suffering from acute emotional trauma is like playing with someone who's extremely high. Without some reasonably predictable behavioral baseline from which to depart, I can't calibrate the sweet spot between healthy catharsis versus making it worse. I pride myself on leaving people better than I found them—or at least just as good. I prefer that outcome for myself as well. Topping a scene where the bottom flips out in a manner you didn't anticipate is extremely upsetting.
So call it ethics or self-preservation: I only break people who aren't broken already. If McClelland says violent sex helped her, then I respect her choice. But I remain skeptical about the idea, and I think there are slower but safer ways of working through trauma. I'm a sadist, but I have my principles. I don't have the stomach or the heart to literally kick you when you're down. You should be emotionally well put together if I'm to play with you. Only then can I enjoy taking you apart.