Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Pamela Madsen

Even Feminists Enjoy Sexual Surrender

Why does this conversation prick at the very core of womanhood?

Rarely has a news magazine story generated as much intra-feminist flack as Katie Roiphe's Newsweek cover "The Fantasy Life of Working Women" that went live on the web yesterday. Within hours of its upload, women had their dukes up, aching to get in on the ‘who you callin’ anti-feminist’ smackdown. There is a lot of trash talkin’ going on.

We need a time-out. There were some keen observations made by everyone, from Roiphe (and no I don’t agree with all her points) to Victoria Bekiempis at the Daily News. But let me say as someone whose earned her BDSM bona fides in the real world, using my real name, in the room with real people, that this flap ain’t about ‘politics as usual.’

This is about people getting off women’s backs so they can stretch out, claim and integrate their unfettered sexuality. Why does this conversation prick at the very core of womanhood? Because we’ve been taught to tear ourselves into little pieces in order to function. The big bad sexy piece gets put in the vault and taken out every so often. When? Damned if I know. It seems to be when nobody is looking. I’m not saying women don’t have sex. But too many of them aren’t enjoying it as much as they could. I don’t care what the rap is on the liberated female, too many are not having fun.

In my sexuality coaching practice, I get an earful from dissatisfied, sexually active women. They can’t get what they want because so often what they crave has been tarred as inappropriate, regressive, something only a self-loathing twit would tolerate. And we bought that, hook, line and sinker. Most of us are too embarrassed to ask for what we want, so we hide behind fiction fantasy. And the few who do have the cojones to put their desire out there, try to behave as if it’s no big deal, or even gold-star worthy.

When I was pitching my mid-life-coming-of-sexual-age memoir that heavily featured my new relationship with power and surrender, a high-powered exec at a publishing house laughed and casually mentioned that she got off on that stuff all the time. She paused, blushed and whispered “But that’s between us, OK?” Her secret is safe with me.

Funny how it seems to be pretty much everybody’s secret that power games are sexy. With the notable exception of Daphne Merkin, and well, me to come out in the mainstream, we’re left with no real role models of successful, ‘normal’ people embracing their so-called dark desires. Domination and submission, power and surrender mean different things for different people. For some it’s about having a chance to trust someone else to take control. For still others it’s the pure physical sensation that bends the mind whether it’s spanking, flogging, tickling or restraints. For others it’s a meditation that lets them enter ecstatic trance states. It’s the antithesis of thinking in straight hard lines.

And just an FYI, women also enjoy being the top, the dom, the lady in charge. Our problem is we can’t grasp the true nature of desire, its fluidity and ever-changing expression. You’d be amazed at how often the roles switch. How much richer life would be if we could just leave ourselves alone and turn down the volume.

Being held in just the way you need to be by someone stronger than you are in that moment, being told what to do in the safe — let me underscore that word, SAFE — context of a mutually agreed upon power exchange is pretty damn intoxicating. For almost anyone, men included

The fight here isn’t about finding release from a hard day of responsible CEO work vs. women’s power. The fight is to cut the crap and admit to what’s true. We want what we want. Not everyone wants to play with BDSM but they have other things that turn them on like mad. Things that seem just as dirty and perverse in our rather hypocritical culture. How many people get excited dressing up like ponies or crawling on all fours in babydoll dresses and bonnets? Women getting spanked and men loving to do it? That one seems to be tougher to dismiss because it cuts too close to a universal bone of desire. And it’s scary. Very few people want to be true slaves. We expect that when sexual engagement is over, we will have the freedom to be who we are with our street clothes on with respect and boundaries, responsibilities and competencies intact. That’s where decades of feminism should have brought us. That’s the freedom we should be able to claim without batting an eyelash extension.

For all the pockets of sexual freedom in which people can and do have their desires met, there are vast expanses where people live blunted lives because this deep dark stuff must be relegated to porn, or fiction or TV or freak shows. Why is that? Is it because we conflate BDSM with abuse? Trust me, they are not the same.

I know because I live in both the pocket and the expanse. Unfortunately, the pocket of acceptance is very very small. And when a moment like this bursts open the long-simmering discussion of acceptable and unacceptable sexual behavior, we simply must try to intellectualize it away. Public discussion by ‘sensible’ people inevitably harkens back to what a woman will put up with for “LOVE. (especially if the guy is loaded and handsome with a buried broken heart just yearning to be held) . I’m so sick of hearing that women who do “this” to please their man, that they submit for love. They may. We do lots of things for love. But I think we hide behind “love” so we don’t have to take responsibility for our desire that may have nothing at all to do with gushy emotion and everything to do with raw sexual pleasure.

How about the fact that lots of women want to feel dominated because it feels good. Period. That’s when it gets scary. Fifty Shades of Gray is a conventional love story laced with kink that keeps the “she did it for love and to get her man to love her back” trope alive. Oh how people can’t wait to read it. To make believe that it’s make believe when the thrill they feel is as real as it gets. That tingling, burning. That’s real.

I wrote a memoir and feminists freaked. So did political conservatives. So did my mother. And what happened because I thought it was time to deal with sexual desires honestly? A shitstorm. That’s what. I lost an important job and a bunch of friends. But I didn’t lose my husband of 30 years or my two sons. I didn’t stop having Thanksgiving dinners and summer barbecues. I had a good time playing with spanking benches and even tried out the St. Andrews Cross. When I was done, I put on my Eileen Fisher ensemble and went to my next meeting or I went home. Happier. Calmer and totally connected to my body and mind.

What makes this debate so amusing is how strident we all become when we mention submission and dominance. We stick out our chins, whichever side we’re on, and get ready to go 15 rounds. Why? That’s the real question we’re fighting about. I can tell you as the living, breathing embodiment of the experience, there’s no good answer to that one anymore. We’re fighting chimeras.

What to do after reading this article:

Please take the time to comment, like it, and share with your social netowrks.

To learn more about Pamela Madsen please visit her websites BeingShameless.Com and

Learn about Pamela's book: Shameless: How I Ditched The Diet, Got Naked, Found True Pleasure and Somehow Got Home in Time To Cook Dinner.