Thinking Myself Off – The guide to realize you are not a monster
Thinking Myself OffLeandra Vane
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Imagine an anti-porn crusader, a person so scared of her own sexuality that as a teenager she literally hid in a closet just to think about the things that aroused her. Imagine her so ill at ease with sex-related stuff to be scared of a picture of a bunny rabbit vibrator. And now imagine this person now: an erotica author in an open relationship who attends BDSM parties, reviews kinky manuals and frequently describes her sex life in detail. It is clear that some truly remarkable self-analysis must have happened along the way, and a number of epiphanies about her life.
That person is Leandra Vane, and her peculiar story made her perfectly qualified to write Thinking Myself Off, possibly the first book ever I have read about coming to terms with one’s uncommon sexual interest, of ‘deviances’ if you are statistically inclined.
As she recounts her life experiences, Mrs. Vane skips the parts you can read pretty much anywhere about “fetishes” and dives straight into the same questions most kinksters struggle with when they realize that their desires don’t really fall in the traditional narrative about sex. «What’s happening to me? Why do I like that? Am I sick? How can I escape this obsession? Could it get dangerous? Should I reveal this secret to the ones I love? Will I ever be happy?» These and many more heart-rendering questions can poison your life, and the sophomoric or pathologizing ways society generally deals with unusual sex don’t help much either.
The kinky Scene is of course much more accepting of people with uncommon erotic interests. Pity it is also usually unprepared to offer any serious answer besides a generic «don’t worry, everything is all right», leaving lots of doubts unresolved. Not to mention the matter of those kinks that turn out to be unpopular even in your local community of kinksters – if you are so fortunate to live close to one in the first place.
Luckily for us, Thinking Myself Off examines the subject rather more deeply than usual. While the tone never veers from a friendly chat among friends, the author tackles for example topics such as recognizing whether you really need psychological help or not; how to talk about your inclinations to your partner and how to organize your sex lives in a mutually satisfactory way should you not share the same interests; how to deal with an unexpected outing; deconstructing popular misconceptions about kink and more.
Most of all, she shows the readers how to accept your sexual fantasies and make them an integral part of your self-realization – no matter how mainstream or wild they are. Coming from an extraordinarily closed-minded area of a socially damaged country like the United States actually helped her here, as she approaches the matter from the worst possible situation. If you are trying to come to grips with the idea of having a healthy sexual mind, chances are this book will prove you are not doing that bad after all.
Truth to be told, this is not a perfect book. The second half in particular kind of loses the focus on erotic fantasies in general to describe the author’s view on her own personal interests, including adult fan fiction and male pregnancy scenarios. This part can be considered either a closer peek at how one specific mind approaches her kinks, or a wasted opportunity to further examine the topic on a universal scale. The closing bibliography lives up to the fame of Vane, better known on the Internet as The Unlaced Librarian. It contains an excellent selection of titles for anyone wishing to better familiarize with the subjects touched upon in Thinking Myself Off.
All in all, I would warmly recommend this book to anyone still struggling with their own kinky fantasies and, maybe more importantly, to whoever knows them but still doesn’t “get” what their strange obsession is about. The latter category includes many therapists and sexologists who have only been exposed to the professional (and therefore pathological) side of the phenomenon, and remain oblivious to the mass of well-adjusted kinksters around them.
I, for one, found Vane’s approach so interesting that I wanted to hear her opinion on a number of topics she touched upon in the book. So, a couple of emails later, we had the following conversation.
Reading Thinking Myself Off I loved the story of your evolution from being actively hostile against erotica to advocating the role it may have in a happy sex life. Why is it so hard for people to come to terms with their own sexual imagination and fantasies?
Where to begin? First off, I think many of us do not get the education or resources we need to integrate our erotic imaginations or sexual fantasies into our lives. That can be very daunting. Many of us might think, why even try to untangle our sexual fantasies if we do not have the tools to fully understand or experience them?
Second, sexuality is a tremendously powerful force. For myself personally, that power felt overwhelming for many years. Knowing certain images or thoughts could turn me on made me feel out of control. I didn’t know anyone I trusted enough to share what turned me on. I thought giving someone that information meant they had power over me. In my mission to keep that power from other people, I also hid my desires from myself. I tried to escape them altogether, and to minimize their importance in my life.
Exploring my sexuality and allowing myself to experience my sexual fantasies is what actually gave me control over my sexual thoughts and feelings. But since there is still so much stigma and shame surrounding sexual expression, sexual experimentation, and erotic media, most of us do not explore or learn about our sexual desires. We keep even our thoughts on lock down. We keep our desires secret from our partners. We lie to ourselves about what we really want or need.
So, for most of us I think there is a combination of social stigma, lack of resources, and internal struggles that can make coming to terms with our erotic imaginations so difficult. And understandably so!
Right in the first pages you explain how writing about your fetishes was even harder than writing about your disability, which is something you had tried long and hard to keep hidden. As a matter of fact, you build up the mystery around your “terrible” deviance so much that when you reveal it to be just a liking for spanking all that terror appears even more misplaced. That dread turns up to be simply the projection of other people’s fears, while the truth is that pretty much nobody cares about what we do in our private lives. This is something I have gone through myself, and yet it is equally true that a certain, very vocal minority can’t help but do the opposite and try to regulate the sex lives of others – again a clear case of projection. How do you read this odd phenomenon?
I think the defensiveness that comes out of trying to regulate the sexuality of others is mostly social. One group of people unites against another group of people and they use sex to draw the lines. Since many religious and political groups perpetuate stigma around sexuality, it’s an easy area to define an “us” and a “them.”
In BDSM and the kink community, we understand that just because one person is into rope and another is into leather, one is not better or nobler than the other (except, perhaps, in good natured jokes). But to some people, if the things that give someone pleasure look any different than the things that give them pleasure, it is automatically bad or deviant.
This is, perhaps, why I harbored such intense fear of my own fetish. Most people I know don’t get off thinking about or being spanked. And saying I do feels so vulnerable because I am admitting that my sexuality looks different, on the surface, from that of the people I know. And that can be scary! Fortunately, most of my friends understand that just because the physical details of what gets me off are different from what gets them off, at the core we are all sexual beings interested in creative and intimate sexual encounters.
Unfortunately with stigma and judgment and the need for groups of people to unite against other groups of people, it is at times difficult to nurture a unique and individual sexual expression.
I often found that embracing your erotic fantasies, no matter how uncommon and possibly scary, does curb their more antisocial or dangerous aspects. One example is the saying by which ‘BDSM is the cure for sadomasochism’: people who approach kink following their fascination for the bloody horrors described by de Sade get inevitably defused by the SSC culture in the Scene. This is also what happened to you with the abusive sides of your sex dreams, but this begs an inevitable question. What about those cases of maladaptive daydreaming where nurturing a kinky fantasy actually makes it unhealthier?
This is a very good question. It’s important to understand that fetishes and kinks are not inherently harmful. But they do not exist in a vacuum. Other factors like preternatural tendencies toward anger or violence, past traumas, or other issues in a person’s life that are not being properly managed are at play. Sometimes a person is not in a stable enough place to explore or express their kink in a healthy way.
Kink can be a wonderful part of healing traumas or working through many psychological issues that people have. But I do not believe kink should ever be the only way a person deals with these things.
I think a majority of kinky people and fetishists can and do incorporate kink and fetishes into their lives in healthy ways. But for some, professional help from a medical doctor or psychiatrist will be needed to keep deeper mental or physical problems from becoming worse. Kink should be viewed as but one aspect of a person’s life and we should invest time and energy into nurturing our physical and mental well-being as well as our sexual lives.
Are you familiar with any research that showcases maladaptive aspects of kink or fetishes?
Besides the very distorted “research” used by certain fundamentalist organizations to push their social agendas on the basis of unscientific, unverified and often plain bogus data, I only know of a few papers from the forensic psych field. They can be very interesting, but they obviously refer to isolated, very specific cases that emerged due to their criminal implications, so they have no use for a general theory of kink. If I was to generalize, however, reading them you can infer that the more repressed the deviance, the more dystonic and therefore dangerous it grows over time. A sensible and honest education to sexuality seems, once again, to be the answer to prevent any trouble.
But let’s get back to your book. A sizeable part deals with written erotica and your passion for adult fan fiction, which played a big role in your path of sexual discovery. Where would you be now if you had no access to the Internet? Or, in other words, how do you feel the Web changed the way people relate to their erotic fantasies?
I personally think I would have been a very lonely and sad person had I not had access to the internet growing up. Adult fan fiction was my primary sexual outlet for many years. It helped me cope with my life and find connection in what felt like a very disconnected and overwhelming world. Of course, adult fan fiction was around before the internet. Fans found ways to communicate with each other and fan ‘zines were printed long before the world wide web. And erotic writing in many forms have been a part of people’s lives I daresay since the invention of written communication!
For me, reading the erotic fan fiction led me toward reading and writing original erotic and romantic fiction. The fan fiction jumpstarted my imagination and showed me that I could craft my own erotic fantasies to help me cope with my life. The connections I’ve made with real people—readers and writers of erotica, romance, and fan fiction—has given me fuel to be a better person in my “real world” life.
I don’t think people who consume erotic media via the internet are passive or uncreative. I think we take elements from the media we consume and sew them into our own original fantasies or real world sexual adventures. I see erotic media not as a stagnating, passive force, but a catalyst for bringing the erotic into our real lives.
I would have still been a highly sexual person if I lived in a time without the internet. But that sexuality would likely have been confused, dark, and lonely. Now it is vibrant, joyous, and connected. I think the connection and access to information that the internet provides is a wonderful gift to sexuality.
Talking about the widespread availability of adult fantasy fodder, I recently read some research data showing how “digital bulimia” for online dating, porn and the such is making Millennials have less sex than the previous generations. In a chapter you address this suggesting to curate your media diet in order to prevent a sort of fetish burnout, so I’d like to learn your thoughts about managing this side of one’s erotic life.
As I say in the book, for the other areas of our lives we have day planners and sticky notes and apps to hold our internet hostage while we get work done. Our sex lives and our erotic imaginations deserve the same attention, organization, and management. For myself, I take a break from certain fantasies when I feel like I’m getting burned out on them. I know in the natural ebb and flow of my body and mind that I can return to them again later and they will be satisfying and fun again.
I also advocate for people to be mindful of the media they consume for whatever reason. If I’m watching a TV show because I just want to zone out and not think about life for a while, I acknowledge that so I don’t overdo it. If I’m watching a TV show because I think the performers in the show are hot and I’m going to add them to my sexual fantasies, well, I acknowledge that as well. This acknowledgment better helps me understand the roles that media play in my life whether that media is erotic or not.
I think too many times we dismiss erotic media or sexual fantasies as frivolous or unimportant. By investing time in acknowledging our fantasies and prioritizing the roles they play in our lives, I think we can have a more authentic relationship with our sexual desires and be less likely to fall into unhealthy habits in our sexual lives.
My last question is about managing fantasy within a relationship. A frequent and, in my opinion, ridiculously dramatic approach is «it’s me or your filth!», whereas you wrote about the need to acknowledge that our primary partner may not satisfy all of our sexual needs, and to find a suitable solution. Can you tell me how did you go about it, and how would you suggest other people to approach the matter?
This was certainly a journey that took many years. I am grateful to have a partner in my life who is not afraid of change. We support each other but we also take responsibility for ourselves and work hard to process our own insecurities and hang-ups.
My partner is not the least bit kinky, but I consider my kinkiness to be an integral part of my sexuality. In our time together, my partner and I have talked about the many sexual outlets available to us. Sex with each other is but one outlet. Pornography and erotica are others. We have also negotiated an open relationship. While my partner is not interested in BDSM play, I participate in kink play at a local dungeon with some lovely play partners. But my husband and I communicate about the roles all these sexual outlets play in our lives, together and individually.
I write about ways people might incorporate their fantasies into their sex lives with a partner quite a bit in the book, but some basic advice I can give here is as follows: First, make sure you have a strong foundation in your relationship made of communication and trust. If there are needs not being met or a partner is acting unfairly, it is easier to resent your partner’s desires rather than celebrate them. Second, you will both likely need to work on untangling sexual shame from childhood or past relationships. You may also need to invest in some sex education which may be found in books, online articles, and video or blog content from sex writers/educators. I caution people to take things slow, and look at sex education materials with a partner first and erotic content like pornography second. Both parties must also communicate about boundaries, privacy, and hard limits.
Finally, we must all keep in mind that our relationships are unique. Advice that could be wonderful for some people will be disaster for others. Nurture the individuality of your relationship. Work together to view your partner’s desires as important needs in their life. Give each other respect and rejoice in the things that bring your partner pleasure, even if those things might raise eyebrows in “polite society.” I’ve found being focused on consent, exploration, and growth makes the opinions of that polite society much less important in my life.
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