DEAR SUGAR, The Rumpus Advice Column #36: Icky Thoughts Turn Me On

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Dear Sugar,

I’m a straight woman, soon to be thirty-four. Icky thoughts turn me on—thoughts about father-daughter incest or men “taking” me aggressively and my being submissive in bed. I’ve always tried to push these thoughts away because they’re out of line with who I am and also because they’re repulsive and embarrassing, but I usually can’t help myself and my mind wanders there anyway. They are, essentially, the way I get myself off.

I’m a strong, independent, “normal,” feminist-minded woman who is of course against rape and incest and male domination, so I feel more than terrible that I have these thoughts and yet I can’t seem to stop them. I’ve had three serious boyfriends over the years and a few shorter-term dating partners/lovers and recently I’ve started seeing a man I like a lot. With some of these men I’ve had a tiny bit of sexual power play, but I’ve never revealed the full extent of my desires and fantasies to anyone. I think one reason I feel so ashamed is that my father was mildly sexually abusive to me early on in my life (ie “light fondling” off and on for about a year). He died in a car accident when I was eight, so it didn’t go on very long, thank God, but I worry that my sick thoughts go back to him and what he did, especially because “daddy/daughter” fantasies play rather prominently in my mind—which makes me want to puke.

I’m writing to ask what you would do if you were me, Sugar. I have come to trust you even though you are this anonymous voice on the Internet. You’re phenomenally wise and good-hearted and I’ve learned from you, which is the reason I’m taking the risk to ask you these painful and humiliating questions. (As I write this, tears are running down my face because I basically feel trapped by this situation and I don’t know what to do, but at least it feels liberating to write about it.)

Should I give way to my sick thoughts or should I fight them off? I know people do lots of kinky things, but I have zero interest in getting involved with a S&M community—that stuff is way too heavy for my taste anyway. I’m not into any sort of power imbalance outside the bedroom and I’m not a masochist in the slightest. I don’t want a dungeon or a whip or to be anyone’s slave. I just yearn to be lovingly but firmly dominated in bed (in ways that are almost exclusively psychological/conversational and nothing beyond tenderly firm when it comes to the physical aspects). I feel like I either need to purge these fantasies for good or fully embrace them so that I have a more fulfilled sex life. What would you do? How would you do it? Do you think I could ever risk sharing this with a man or would he think I was a sicko and run away?

Thank you, Sugar.
Aching to Submit

 

Dear Aching to Submit,

Did you ever play that game as a kid where you’d go into a dark bathroom and stare at your shadowy reflection in the mirror and repeat Mary Worth, Mary Worth, Mary Worth thirteen times? The legend in my neck of the woods had it that by the time you spoke that last Mary Worth the mirror would crack and drip with blood and quite possibly Mary Worth herself would appear.

I remembered that game when I read your heartbreaking letter, Aching to Submit. I know it’s corny, but I’d like you to play your own version of the Mary Worth game with me. Step into the bathroom and gaze at your reflection in the mirror and repeat this sentence to yourself thirteen times, but let’s leave on the lights:

Icky thoughts turn me on.
Icky thoughts turn me on.
Icky thoughts turn me on.
Icky thoughts turn me on.
Icky thoughts turn me on.
Icky thoughts turn me on.
Icky thoughts turn me on.
Icky thoughts turn me on.
Icky thoughts turn me on.
Icky thoughts turn me on.
Icky thoughts turn me on.
Icky thoughts turn me on.
Icky thoughts turn me on.

Did the mirror crack and drip with blood? Did any scary faces appear? Did you run shrieking from the room? I hope your answer is no. I hope you stood right there and met your own gaze. Every agonizing bit of self-loathing in your letter and every conundrum you pose will be soothed and solved by your ability to do so, sweet pea.

Of course you’re not a sicko because icky thoughts turn you on! You aren’t even weird. Do you know how many women have these same fantasies? Invite your best girlfriends over and do a little I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours. Pick up any book that has the words “women” and “erotic” in the subtitle and thumb your way through a veritable feast of spankings and bossy brutes, big daddies and naughty little girls. You can be a “strong, independent, ‘normal,’ feminist-minded woman” and still want this crazy shit in bed. In fact, being a “strong, independent, ‘normal,’ feminist-minded woman” only increases your chance of getting what you want from sex.

So let’s talk about how you can do that, my submissive little plum.

It’s clear to me that you have some healing to do in regards to your father. He sexually abused you and then he died. That’s big, hard stuff. A good psychotherapist will help you make sense of your loss, your violation, and the love you likely still have for your dad. He or she will also help you explore how your history is connected to your current sexual desires.

My guess is that it is connected—at least murkily—as uncomfortable as that makes you feel. But that doesn’t mean you wanted your father to fuck you or that you would like to be raped or bullied by men. It means, perhaps, that you lost something or were wounded in a place that your sexual longings are maybe—and only maybe!—attempting to recover and repair. It’s impossible to know, but I encourage you to seek as much insight into your own shadow world as you can. Not so that you’ll rid yourself of your “sick thoughts,” but so you can finally embrace your sexuality and have some fun.

And fun it is, sweet pea. The deal with sexual fantasy is that it’s pretend. And when a fantasy is acted out, it’s done so between and among consenting adults. There’s a world of difference between being raped and asking someone to rip your clothes off and pin you to the floor and fuck you. You are the agent of power in your sex life, even if what you want is to relinquish your power and agency while you’re having sex. You can take that power back at any moment.

Which means, of course, that you always had it.

Rape victims don’t. Incest victims don’t. Victims of domineering bullies don’t. You’re missing this key point when you lambast yourself for having the desires that you do; when you reject the reality that icky thoughts turn you on. The ickiest part of each of these acts is that someone is being hurt because he/she is being forced to do what he/she does not want to do.

You want the opposite. You want someone to do what you want him to do. And once you understand this distinction, you’ll stop feeling so horrible about your desires and you’ll start asking the men in your life to help you fulfill them. It will be good, hot, beautiful fun.

It will also be a little bit scary, the way it always is when we’re brave enough to touch the rawest, realest truths. When we have the guts to look directly into the mirror and say Mary Worth thirteen times without pause and see—thrillingly, terrifyingly—that it was never her we had to fear.

It was always only us.

Yours,
Sugar