We are proud to feature a conversation with Director, Performer, Writer, Editor, Bon Vivant - Ernest Greene. We wanted to get his insight on Bondage, Discipline, Submission and Masochism (BDSM) and help dispel common misconceptions about why it works for some.
You were quoted as considering Fifty Shades of Grey as ''defamatory." Can you please explain?
My issues with the Fifty Shades trilogy are widely shared in the community. The most glaring problem with the books, ethically speaking, is the dubious handling of consent, which is key to the very concept of BDSM practice. Christian, for all his contract waving, doesn’t seem to get it about what consent really means. Consent is a clear, unambiguous expression of mutual desire to do a particular thing or enter into a particular kind of relationship. It cannot be manipulated or coerced in any way or it isn’t consent. Christian stalks Anastasia. He spies on her, does things to her (including forcing his sexual attentions on her) without asking, interferes in her personal and family life and generally treats her like property, which she never agrees to be. The disparity in power, wealth, position and age, combined with her lack of experience, makes her the kind of target predators love to exploit. Christian is not a dominant. He is a predator who uses the rhetoric of ethical BDSM to conceal his self-serving agenda. This is the most important failure of the books. D's relationships are about shared objectives, not the creation of a desired object by a single party.
Then there’s the matter of how actual dominant men are portrayed – as sad cases engaged in DIY therapy to get over their traumatic childhoods. This is the most common and destructive myth about BDSM in general and Dominant/submissive relationships in particular. Our sexual orientations are no less a part of us than gayness is a part of being gay.
It’s not the result of child abuse or evidence of mental disorder. It took years of campaigning by enlightened doctors and members of our community to have “Sado-Erotic Personality Disorder” removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the standard book psychiatric professionals use to classify psychological dysfunctions. It used to categorize homosexuality in the same way. To be kinky or Gay, you don’t have to be crazy. It’s just a difference in the way you’re wired. Christian Grey is a collection of dated clichés about dominant men that defames us all. Sure, some of us are whack-jobs just like in any other large group of people, but that has nothing to do with our sexual identities. In short, Grey’s motivations as portrayed are no more accurate than what we call “bartender wisdom” on the subject. I’m happily married 15 years to the fabulous and famously independent X-rated performer and sex educator Nina Hartley. Would that be possible if I bore any resemblance to the “control freak” of the books? Not likely.
How do you define BDSM?
The initials stand for bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism. It’s a broadening of the older S&M to include other kinds of power-based sexual play that don’t necessarily focus on sexual pleasure from pain or define sadists and masochists as separate personality types. Many BDSM people like to go back and forth between giving and receiving roles, which is why they’re informally known as “switches.” There are so many variations among the different styles of BDSM activity the only consistent element throughout, the thing that separates us from predators and abusers, is the common emphasis on informed, affirmative consent between adults.
What benefits (emotional, physical, mental) do you find are most common in these activities?
I know there are some differences in the community, which has exploded in size in recent years and gone totally nuclear since the whole FSoG thing, but for me it’s about the sex. Mixing sex and power produces a mighty aphrodisiac when done well. It enables one party to experience the thrill of command in an intimate situation and the other to experience the excitement of surrender. And the physical techniques we use (what we call “sensation play” – bondage, impact play, the unique sensation of experiencing pleasure and pain at the same time, produce intense reactions in the body, including increased endorphin production and heightened sexual arousal.
BDSM also allows us to become familiar and comfortable with our own fantasies and those of our partners, free of the shame imposed on them from society without. Everyone has fantasies that might shock a stranger, but with a compatible partner, those fantasies can be played out safely, free of judgment. This is a very special kind of intimacy. It’s not for everyone and neither Nina nor I proselytize for kinky sex. We say it’s just right for those who crave it and completely irrelevant to a hot sex life for those who don’t.
In an interview with your wife, Nina, you stated that your inspiration for "Master of O" was the need to give a voice to dominant men. Please explain.
I kind of did this above, but there are a few specific misconceptions that I’d like to debunk here. Most dominant men are not grim, mean, miserable personalities. They come in a great variety of models and I suppose that might be one of them, but most are pretty jolly and good humored about the whole thing, perfectly capable of forming lasting, loving relationships with others and generally a lot more like everyone else and a lot less weird and exotic as their fictional portrayals. But because most BDSM fiction, going all the way back to the original “Story of O,” is written from a female submissive’s point of view, we hardly get to know their masters from the boots up. As a writer, I understand that the submissive role lends itself to drama and suspense, as the usually-inexperienced explorer tries one new thing after another with a man of mystery. Sometimes this works very well. I think an underappreciated example is Elizabeth McNeil’s “Nine and a Half Weeks.” Leaving aside the awful film adaptation, in which the wonderful Kim Bassinger is wasted on a sullen and unappealing Mickey Rourke, the source material gives the narrator’s dominant partner all kinds of interesting, complex human traits and motives. He’s funny, secretive, cruel, affectionate, creative, worldly and genuinely interesting. I’m sure I’d enjoy having a drink with him.
By contrast, I hated the dominant men in “Story of O,” which I read quite early in my explorations and even then recognized as lost at sea with its male characters. Rene, O’s first master, is a feckless, spoiled brat with no appreciation for the fantastic woman fate has sent his way. His half-brother Stephan, to whom he gives O, is a dour, stiff and generally unpleasant fellow who seems to take very little pleasure in what appears to be a self-assigned mission to make every woman with whom he’s involved into the same kind of Stepford slave (as we call them) with no will of her own and no personal desires worthy of his attention.
Though was fascinated by the book I ended up throwing it across the room after my first reading of it just because I was so tired of the company of these stick-up-the-butt authoritarian dudes. I don’t deny such people exist, but their appeal to the terrific women they invariably attract in kink fiction is totally lost on me.
I wanted to give the guys in my book real lives and believable personalities. They’re flawed to be sure, and in some pretty major ways, but they’re understandably human and essentially likable. Through their eyes we get to see what being dominant is all about and how it fits with the rest of their natures. It’s not so hard to understand why an intelligent, creatively gifted and stunningly beautiful woman might actually want one of them for herself.
You have talked about the progression from submissive to "slave" in some BDSM activities. I think that when we think of BDSM, we automatically go to the image of a dominatrix referring to a man in a full face mask as her "slave" but this isn't what you envision necessarily. an you please explain the distinction for our readers?
First of all, everyone who identifies as either a master or a slave define the terms differently. That’s a good thing. In the broadest sense, and M/s relationship involves commitment – surrendering power to a particular individual, with any other involvements subordinate to that commitment. Dominants and submissives are more or less independent and play with a variety of different partners without specifically committing to a primary relationship. In short, the former describes a type of dynamic between specific individuals and the latter describes a general orientation toward certain practices that could be enjoyed with casual or intimate company.
Why would someone be a submissive? What is the appeal?
Well, there are those terrific orgasms that can be induced by playing carefully with the body’s circuitry through combining seemingly contradictory sensations. And there is also the relaxation of letting someone else make decisions for a while within agreed limits a submissive knows will be respected. These limits are negotiated in advance and in detail, so the submissive partner can experiment within them in confidence, knowing they’ll be respected. Sometimes it’s nice to let another experienced driver take the wheel during sex. Of course, YMMV always applies. There are skills to be acquired in BDSM and not everyone is up to either the technical aspects of quality play or the inner game of building the right atmosphere around it. I’m generally impressed with the quality of the interactions I see among younger players, but I think some of them are just following trends and showing off how hip they are through this form of expression. I see them moving on to the next fad when it appears.
BDSM really is a serious thing, even in fairly casual experiences. Though serious injuries are far less common than in recreational sports like skiing or biking, they can occur and it behooves anyone interested in trying BDSM to learn from the excellent instructional materials now available online and in print, as well as observing in organized groups, before getting physical with it. As an old friend of mine used to say, it’s all in good fun until somebody loses an eye.
You once said:
"I have found that women who enjoy being submissive in a sexual sense are often quite assertive in every other way...I think almost anyone dealing with the stresses and pressures of modern life can find it a brief vacation not to have to make every possible decision every minute because were called upon to make decisions every minute of our lives and its nice to be able to say 'Well for a little while somebody else gets to take the wheel'."
Can you elaborate?
We’ve already covered much of what’s in that quote, but I do think it’s worth noting that O in my book, as in the original, is a successful photographer with a long history of personal independence. She’s a powerful character in her own right, so when she chooses to exchange power, she has a lot upon which to call. In fact, one other popular misconception about the original novel, not well-understood by those who have seen the silly movie made from it without bothering to read author Anne Desclos’ actual work, is that O is no bunny. Until she meets Rene, she’s a gleeful heartbreaker who moves on as soon as anyone falls in love with her. What initially attracts her to Rene is his immunity to her femme fatale persona.
It takes a lot of guts in the current political climate for a woman to admit she enjoys being submissive in the bedroom while retaining her feminist beliefs and pursuing her own life everywhere else. That’s not for the faint-hearted and submissives I know most definitely aren’t. As my first wife used to say, “as a modern, liberated woman, I demand to be controlled.” That’s a pretty strong assertion of an unconventional kind of independence and fairly typical of the sexually submissive women I’ve known.
The term "fetish" seems to carry with it a connotation of deviance or perversion. We are learning more and more that certain behaviors are not as deviant as we had once thought since the "norm" may not be what we had assumed. Is "fetish" a derogatory term or an inaccurate manner in which to refer to BDSM?
I’d say it’s incomplete. A fetish is a particular item, body part or practice that arouses a person. Everybody has them to some degree. In our culture, a fetish for big tits is so common it’s not even identified as such, but both the fashion and entertainment industry’s would take big hits if they failed to cater to it.
BDSM people often have multiple fetishes, ranging from high heels to latex to pony harnesses, but they exist within the context of fantasy scenarios in which their fetishistic aspect is deliberately emphasized as part of the whole story. They’re more like tastes than compulsions in most instances, though compulsive fetishism is a thing in itself and does exist outside the world of erotic power play. I’ve got an artist friend with a thing for pink sneakers. He draws them on every girl he paints. I don’t know what they have to do with his inner journey as a kinkster, but they obviously mean a lot to him. There’s a lot of diversity in fetishism. Each time I think I’ve seen them all, new ones show up. I’ve recently met some younger players with clown fetishes. They dress in full circus regalia and clown make-up prior to doing their BDSM. I don’t quite get it. I’ve found clowns kinda scary ever since I was a kid, but I don’t judge.
How does post-war Paris compare with contemporary Los Angeles in Master of O?
Post-war Paris, where “Story of O” is set, was a place of reinvention. After having had a pretty awful decade, much of it as a favorite resort of high-ranking Nazis, it had a lot of people with a lot to reinvent. It went from being a center of high culture in art and literature to a place of avant garde innovation. O was created at the same time as Dior’s New Look in fashion, Godard’s Nouvelle Vague in film and Camus’ existentialist novels. The challenge to the old standards of creative propriety opened the way for all kinds of new approaches to work and to life. This was the era in which the publisher Jean-Jacques Pauvert, who would go on to put “Story of O” in print for the first time, took on the literary establishment by publishing the works of the Marquis de Sade for the first time since they’d been suppressed after the French Revolution. Before there was a swinging London, there was a Paris reborn as a center of popular culture. That reinvention was made possible, in part, by men of indeterminate means and mysterious backgrounds unmoored from the moneyed aristocracy of the pre-war era. Many were war profiteers or engaged in other shady businesses (hence the great popularity of American Film Noir over there), but their money helped fuel all this social and artistic innovation. It’s no accident that O is a fashion photographer. That’s just the kind of gig that places her in the middle of all these events, and all their various temptations.
Los Angeles may have a different history, and a much shorter one, but as a place to live it’s pretty similar. Everyone here is looking for the next big thing. There’s great social freedom to try out new experiences. There’s opportunity of all kinds to become whatever it is you want to be and not many questions asked if you pull it off well. It’s exciting, mysterious and not at all safe. It attracts the ambitious from all over. Some make it here. Most don’t. It’s also a very hard and competitive environment, much as Paris was in 1953, and whatever pleasures you might want can be had if you can afford them. Appearances and realities are often very different from what they seem. An aspect of Desclos’ novel that’s often missed amid all the steamy sex is the social commentary. The author was actually a scholarly academic, an expert on English literature, who wrote her naughty book as a birthday present to her lover, never expecting to see it in print. Many of the characters in it are loosely adapted from the lover’s circle of hip friends and she didn’t really like them much. In fact, she didn’t really like O much, who was invented as a sort of fictional rival for the affections of a lover whose kinks the author didn’t share, so O is not the sweet martyr for love she’s often seen as by later readers.
Part of our site's philosophy is that sex should be fun and can be even more so when combined with curiosity. Our customers may be interested in trying out aspects of BDSM. Where should they start or where could they learn more about it in a constructive, supportive manner?
Great question. First thing, turn off the Internet and get out in the real world. Almost all the worst doms and subs I meet learned what they think they know about BDSM online, as did E.L. James, with equally unfortunate results. This is a hands-on thing and newcomers need to meet those who have experience with it in the real world. I know that’s very unpopular thinking with a certain sort of online BDSM player who thinks himself “a True Master” because he says so at his keyboard. Sorry, wrong about that. In nearly every medium size or above city in the U.S. there are organized BDSM groups that offer classes taught by experts in specific BDSM techniques and the abstract meanings behind them. Attend these, watch, listen and learn. Most of these organizations also have informal social gatherings, referred to with some irony as “munches.” Seek them out (newcomers with good attitudes and open minds are always welcome) and get to know those who have been here a while. They have much to offer from direct knowledge. There is good literature on these topics too. Check out the reading lists of the instructional groups and familiarize yourself with the classic instructional texts like “Screw the Roses, Give Me the Thorns” by Philip Miller and Molly Devon. Do your homework before you go out there and try this for yourself. While you’re learning, it’s especially important to follow the rules regarding consent, safety and confidentiality. It’s easy to wreck your reputation in a community and very hard to restore it.
I have often heard that it is executives with demanding positions who are most likely to play the sub role. Why do you think this is?
Because they can afford the services of professional dominas. Seriously though, I think that’s a bit of a cliché not born out by investigation. Your basic sexual orientation is formed long before the beginning of a career and I don’t buy the whole “it’s a vacation from all the power I have to wield in the real world” thing. People from all walks of life can enjoy different roles in the universe of kink. I don’t think it’s much connected to occupations in the real world.
Regarding adult film, with the expanded availability of production capacity and subsequent rampant dispersion of adult material, many report that quality has diminished. Some argue that there is a market for paid content. What are your thoughts on this?
In fact, the porn industry as we knew it has been pretty much nuked by the economy and by online piracy. Making good pictures is expensive and if there are pirates slapping it online for free, it’s hard to get that money back. I don’t think illegal downloaders make the connection between their actions and the chronic shortage of funding that now makes it nearly impossible to shoot a quality X-rated picture. We can’t compete with ourselves at zero dollars per unit sale. If you want good porn and you want to keep the performers you like busy in new projects, pay the freight and support what you like. I know intellectual property are dirty words to a lot of geeks, but it’s those same geeks who piss and moan about shabby “couch porn” while doing that make better quality products harder to find. You can’t have it both ways. Realizing that there is an unmet demand for quality, a few production companies are bucking the trend with excellent features like “Marriage 2.0” and “The Submission of Emma Marks.” These companies have the capital depth to double-down on quality, but they need the support of buyers who order actual DVDs or at least go for V.O.D. Want better porn? Vote with your wallet.
About the only good thing to emerge from the shattering of the porn economy is the rise of live camming, which gives performers greater control over what they do and who they do it with, not to mention durable equity in the products they make. They also deserve the audience’s support, but they’ll never make enough off live streaming to do real movies, so apply some long-term thinking when you spend your porno bucks.
"Sexy, decadent, powerful and fun - exactly what you want in a date and in a book!" - Margaret Cho
"The story has the quality of lived experience, elegantly yet explicitly capturing the way a certain elite likes to play. Modern erotica seems to have recently piqued interest of the mainstream, but Master of O keeps its promises!" - Dita Von Teese
"Ernest Greene has served as Executive Editor of the best-selling adult magazine Hustler's Taboo since 1999 and most recently as Chief Associate Editor for Hustler's All-Sex issues.
Greene, who is particularly well known for his groundbreaking approach to the presentation of unconventional sexuality related to consensual domination and submission, has participated in the production of adult video for three decades as a performer, writer, director and producer. His body of work comprises over five hundred titles, including AVN award winners Strictly for Pleasure, Mask of Innocence, Tristan Taormino's Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women and Jenna Loves Pain. With his wife, Nina Hartley, he has served as producer and director of the Nina Hartley's Guide series of adult sex education programs for video market leader Adam&Eve Pictures. The series has sold over three quarters of a million videos to date and now comprises forty titles. His own XXX features for Adam&Eve, O: The Power of Submission, Surrender of O, The Truth About O and The Perfect Secretary: Training Day have won multiple awards and are among the best selling X-rated story-driven titles in recent years."
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