NYT article on Sexting
I never thought about flirting in terms of Europeans, but there probably is something to it. I’m a flirt and know it, have been one my entire life and realize I was encouraged to act this way since I was a child. Born in the States to parents who were Viennese, thinking back to my rather formal parents, they too were flirts. I will tell a story about my Dad at the next Salon – somebody please remind me, I have no memory these days.
STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT
BY CHRISTINE SCHOEFER
Europeans have such a flair for flirting that it must be transmitted via breast milk. Why don’t Americans get it?I still think about a stranger whose gaze held mine as I leaned out of a train window at the Gare du Nord station in Paris. There was something about his smile that makes me wonder, to this day, who he was.
I remember a dark-haired woman from a Berlin garden party because of the way she steadied my hand with hers when I lit her cigarette during a playful verbal repartee.
And on dreary mornings, I recall my sunlit breakfast at a small trattoria in Viareggio, where a man lowered his newspaper just long enough to watch me walk over to my table. His gaze was neither demanding nor demeaning, but it awakened me to my presence. Tingling with this self-awareness, I sipped my cappuccino — solo.
This is the art of flirting. What I love about it is that it has no consequences. It just stirs up the energy of an average day, for a shared moment of mutual recognition and attraction. Unlike friendship, its lifeblood is ambiguity and nuance. It thrives on glances, gestures and half-smiles. Flirting is not in pursuit of anything except itself.
I find it revealing that my fondest recollections of flirtation occurred while I was abroad. Sadly, in this country, the art of flirting is languishing. Weakened by the ’60s, inhibited by the women’s movement and the epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases, displaced by tell-all talk shows, its proximity to sexual harassment may have dealt flirting a mortal blow.
Flirting is not a strategy, but an artful riff on attraction. It has nothing to do with the sexuality flaunted in low-cut dresses or seductive poses. Compare the out-there sexuality of Madonna or Mick Jagger with Audrey Hepburn’s sweet glances or Marcello Mastroianni’s encounters and you get the difference. You know you’ve crossed over into the terrain of seduction when you begin issuing invitations or feel pressured by the other person’s expectations.
Unfortunately, in the United States flirting is commonly thought of as a strategy in the mating game. It invariably connotes seduction and is considered an essential ingredient for snaring a mate.
I learned this the hard way when I first came to the United States as a teenager from Berlin. Hormones stirring, I was eager to make contact with the opposite sex in a Midwestern high school. Quite innocently, I engaged in actions that would be deemed adolescent flirtations by behavioral researchers: jostling, sitting close, smiling, making eye contact, etc.
I didn’t mind being called a flirt by my peers until I learned that the subtext of that word was “she’s asking for it.” Actually, I wasn’t asking for a thing except for a playful exchange. It never occurred to me that boys and girls would interpret a lingering gaze as a promise. Flirtation could taint you regardless of whether or not you followed through — you were either a tease or a slut. The girls voted “biggest flirt” in our high school yearbooks were called sluts behind their backs.
Of course, then I didn’t understand that this relentless typecasting was a way of penalizing girls for playing too aggressively with attraction. But the unspoken message came through loud and clear: The terrain of desire is governed by a complex set of rules made by boys. Since every action had implications, playfulness was out of the question. Taking the initiative of flirting, for example, committed one to some sort of follow-up action.
It’s possible that America’s proverbial pragmatism left no room for the ambiguity of innuendo and nuance in matters of sexual attraction. Certainly, Puritanism suppressed expressions of sensuality and designated eroticism, no matter how subtle, as treacherous territory. My Webster’s dictionary, which defines flirting as “behaving amorously without serious intent,” captures the spirit of artful flirtation. But my thesaurus, which suggests synonyms with negative connotations, more accurately describes what the term has come to mean in America.
A flirt is a coquette, but also a tease, gold-digger, siren, vamp, vixen, swinger and philanderer. To flirt is to banter and dally, but also to make a pass, pick up, proposition, tease. Someone who is flirtatious is coy and enticing, but also libidinous, wolfish and a nymphomaniac. In other words, flirtation is not as a harmless hide and seek game with Eros, but a means to a specific end.
A recent issue of Psychology Today stressed the importance of flirting and attempted to determine in two articles whether flirting is biologically or culturally driven.
In the first piece, evolutionary biologists argue that humans of all cultures engage in a fairly fixed repertoire of gestures to test a potential partner’s sexual availability and interest. In this regard, we are not so different from insects, fish or mammals. Our mating dance follows a predictable sequence of attention, recognition, dancing, synchronization, which is another way of saying meeting, looking, touching, having sex. As the initial step in the procreation sequence, flirting is a form of self-promotion, a clever kind of advertising. And it is a silent negotiating process in which gestures transmit information about the viability of a possible sexual coupling.
This teleological view raises more questions than it answers. For one, it assumes rigid role behavior that seems outdated, to say the least. There is no reason to assume that women’s signals are always submissive and men’s are necessarily dominant. For another, it disregards the fact that flirtation, like other kinds of behavior, is culturally shaped and individually modulated. What happens when two women or two men flirt with each other?
The more sociologically oriented writers of the second article maintain that flirtation is not necessarily biologically driven. They see it as a game that can be played with artful self-awareness and even conscious calculation for fun and suspense. Citing recent studies, they conclude that flirting tends to be feminine domain: Women practice it more consciously and more frequently than men and many admit to rehearsing their moves.
I doubt that these last two conclusions have much currency in Europe. There, the flair for flirting is so universal and so second nature that I’m convinced it is either transmitted via breast milk or tiny airborne spores. The seasoned market vendor knows what she’s up to when she tosses her head just so, but does the 12-year-old realize that his sparkly sidelong glance qualifies as flirting?
Could it be that Americans have infected this practice with their relentless work ethic, while Europeans include it in their broad range of playful leisure activities? Or did the pomp and extravagance of courtly rituals and games encourage Europeans to develop their own simpler versions of erotic play, to smooth out the rough edges of daily existence. Perhaps it’s the pervasive presence of other sensuous pleasures? Pungent cheeses, velvety wines, chocolate with its purported aphrodisiac qualities that stimulates the desire to flirt?
Glossies like Cosmopolitan and Glamour have an endless supply of advice for women on how to snare a man with sizzling and sparkling acts of flirtation. And if you need more intensive lessons, you can study strategies of flirting in workshops that mix therapy and coaching. You will practice the most effective gestures — stroking your hair, short, darting glances, mysterious half-smiles or absent-minded nods — until they look fluid and spontaneous.
I have my doubts that the art of flirting can be learned by mastering a repertoire of scripted gestures. Like other arts, this one feeds on creativity and inspiration. It lives in the moment and unfolds in reference to another person. Actually, the most difficult part of flirting — the strong sense of self it requires — cannot be taught in a crash course but must be cultivated as a daily practice, like meditation. You have to have firm boundaries when another’s gaze crosses over into the realm of intimacy. And if you are the one who is gazing, you must be solid enough to hold the other person’s reaction.
There is no question that most of us have flirted strategically at some point. But what if mating is not on our minds at all? What if we are happily settled, and dating is the last thing we desire? Do we disregard everyday erotic vibrations altogether for fear of being misinterpreted as hunters on the prowl?
In the past few decades, even strategic flirting has come under attack. The women’s movement, which coded all erotic innuendo as patriarchal, blasted flirtation as yet another means by which men objectified and intimidated women. It took me years to realize that flirting was not misogynist by definition and to reclaim it as fun.
With the epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases, the erotic became dangerous terrain. Talk shows that offer orgies of self-revelation are promoting a climate in which the subtlety of flirting doesn’t stand a chance. Finally, as if all that weren’t enough, sexual harassment has called into question the innocence of flirtation with legislation demonizing all erotic tension and playfulness, making acts of flirtation dangerous mines in the landscape of mutual attraction.
But sexual harassment goes counter to the spirit of flirtation. It proceeds from a stance of entitlement, and it favors the colonialist stare that grazes rather than gazes. While flirting is a horizontal encounter that presupposes equality and acknowledges the other as a subject, sexual harassment is vertical and denigrates the other as an object.
Flirtation wants nothing except momentary pleasure, it is invigorating, witty, light, even elegant. Sexual harassment is deadening, oppressive and heavy-handed, intent on trapping the other in discomfort and even fear.
When practiced artfully, flirting is as light as a chocolate souffl�, stick a fork into it and it collapses. The pleasure of flirting is that you can play whether you are in a committed relationship or not. On my European travels, I learned that you do not have to be young, beautiful or single to flirt, just alive. Regardless of your sexual orientation, you can engage in it with men and women. I have flirted with solidly committed white-haired men, with women as married as myself, with adolescent lifeguards and ice-cream vendors. Sometimes, I fear that if I go too long without a European sojourn, I’ll get too rusty to pass on this art to my daughters.
The worst a flirtation can do is to evoke jealousy in a third person. Because American culture teaches us to be single-minded when it comes to sexual attraction — seeking a partnership for bed or for life — acknowledging the erotic has an unsettling effect.
But since artful flirtation is not intent upon acting, it poses no threat, really. Watching a lover flirt with someone else can be like a pinprick piercing the bubble of our complacency, but what’s wrong with stirring up the energy?
In our daily lives, a stranger is the closest thing we come to encountering a new frontier. Countless people flow past us unnoticed, but occasionally, one will kindle our interest. Artful flirtation does nothing more than acknowledge this fact. A glittering glimpse of our energy, it is like a shooting star that fades into the night, leaving us with nothing except perhaps a wish.
salon.com | Feb. 15, 2000
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|About the writer
Christine Schoefer is a German-American freelancer whose writing has appeared in the Utne Reader, The Nation, and the L.A. Times. Her work has also been featured on NPR.
Imagining an orgasm
For mind-control erotica fans, reading about hypnotic states is the biggest turn-on.
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By Annalee Newitz
Oct. 04, 2000 | The typical story goes something like this: A woman yearns for an erotic slave who will yield to her utterly. She accomplishes this by inventing a mind-control drug, or deploying powerful forms of hypnosis or, even more fantastically, by learning telepathy or magic or how to use an alien technology.
Armed with this knowledge, she happens upon a luscious, impressionable woman or man, looks deeply into their eyes and gradually gains control of her chosen one’s mind through whatever means are at her disposal. After a long, delicious period of mental seduction (often called induction), she forces her victim to desire sex so much that he or she can think of nothing else. The victim often winds up a brainwashed slut who lives only for pleasure, submission or humiliation.
You’ve just read the standard plotline from a subgenre of erotica known as “erotic mind control.” Typically found on the Internet in places like theAlt.Sex.Stories Text Repository or the Erotic Mind Control Stories Archive, mind-control erotica isn’t exactly your ordinary smut. Often, it contains no sex at all, and instead is merely a long description of someone being hypnotized. More important, mind-control erotica is, well, in your mind. Most of these sexy stories — whose popularity has grown enormously over the past several years online — portray erotic situations that are physically or technologically impossible. You cannot control someone’s every thought with a pill or a machine or even hypnosis.
Mind control may not be your standard sex-fantasy scenario, but elements of it are as old as Ovid: the idea of losing control, of being seduced against your better judgment. But for fans of erotic mind control — most of whom share their passions and pornography on the Internet — nothing could be more titillating than the idea that somebody might control their thoughts and even give them orgasms without ever touching anything but their (un)conscious minds.
While most fetishists focus on the body — feet, lingerie, breasts — mind-control fetishists are interested in what goes on inside people’s heads. And, of course, they’re turned on by controlling or being controlled mentally. Mind-control erotica therefore shares territory with B&D or S/M. But it’s also connected to more obscure, mind-oriented fetishes, like hypno-fetishism and fetishes that revolve around subduing people with laughing gas, chloroform and other drugs. The idea is that taking over somebody’s mind is hot, whether you do it with hypnosis, drugs or special machines that reprogram the cerebral cortex.
Simon bar Sinister, who has run the Erotic Mind Control Story Archive since 1996, says, “This is a fetish for an abstract idea, basically. A story that is just about being hypnotized is enough to get me aroused. It doesn’t have to have any erotic content.”
RC, one of the better-known writers in this genre of erotica, agrees. “Since I enjoy erotic hypnosis, my emphasis is on the hypnosis part, not whatever comes after it. I’ve been accused of ending my stories too early, before the sex happens.”
A typical mind-control story is “Hypnotic Roommates,” written by an anonymous contributor to Simon’s archive. Andrea, a naughty psychology student, has decided to hypnotize and sexually dominate her nubile roommate Susan with a video of swirly, glowing rings of light. Yet most of the story focuses on Susan’s mental state as she becomes more and more mentally open:
“Susan … felt a strange sensation that she couldn’t place as she stared at the screen … She tried to look up at Andrea and found that her eyes wouldn’t move … A little voice in her head started to warn her, but the rings were glowing and moving so smoothly and prettily that she didn’t pay it any attention.”
What is it about this kind of scenario that gets people off? Simon speculates that mind-control erotica is “like B&D [or] S/M without physical violence.” In other words, you can have your bondage but don’t have to buy any fancy equipment. RC believes that hypnosis is sexy because it’s a kind of alibi: People imagine that being hypnotized will allow them to do taboo things because they’re “not responsible for their actions.” This might explain the preponderance of mind-control stories and images that involve breaking taboos: cross-dressing, stripping for an audience, kinky scenes involving leather or other B&D or S/M accouterments and bisexuality.
Look Deeply, the online alias of a real-life hypnotherapist who enjoys co-authoring stories with RC and being a “hypno-diva” on the Web, says, “It’s about playing with control, but more importantly the appeal comes from our love of trancing out, either with alcohol or movies or computers. We love altered states.”
All of this is made more complicated by the fact that nearly all the mind-control stories and images you find online exist purely in the realm of the imagination. Many stories border on science fiction or horror, including machines that “jack in” to people’s brains, software programs that destroy free will, vampires and even (in one memorable instance) lizard aliens. Text archives like Simon’s will generally contain disclaimers warning readers that you can’t control people’s minds in real life, and that if you try, you are being extremely unethical.
Possibly as a result of this poignantly insulating aspect of mind-control fetishism, the people who enjoy and create mind-control erotica tend to stick together, sharing their stories, pictures and fantasies through the Internet. Simon’s archive boasts a very active, intelligent discussion list, where writers of mind-control erotica recently discussed why they keep doing it. Several authors agreed that part of the appeal was getting inside readers’ minds — in effect, having mind-control sex by disseminating their own work.
One writer, who calls himself EyeOfSerpent, flirted with his fellow mind-control erotica producers: “The printed word has always been my friend. Now it is also one of my lovers. [To all you writers] — Welcome to my bedroom, I’ve had you all many times and plan to continue to ravish you all. Get used to it.”
Other mind-control fetishists contribute to their community by posting helpful guides on how to use Adobe Photoshop to turn ordinary pictures of women into images of sexy, mind controlled women. Exhibitionists post pictures of their playful hypno-adventures. And one truly devoted mind control fan has created an entire Web page devoted to chronicling instances of hypnosis and mind control in the movies.
The vast majority of mind control fetishists never make their fantasies a reality. For them, it’s enough to read and write about it. Indeed, a disclaimer on the Mind Control Story Archive Web site reads, “This site is for fantasy only. The situations described here are at best impossible or at worst highly immoral in real life. Anyone wishing to try this stuff for real should seek psychological help and/or get a life.”
But Look Deeply, the hypnotherapist, revealed that a handful of people — including herself — are taking their mind-control fetish out of the realm of fantasy. These people usually engage in sex play that involves hypnosis, although there are rumors that chloroform and gas fetishists have gotten their hands on the drugs that cloud their minds and get them off too.
It isn’t a problem for people to engage in consensual erotic hypnosis, Look Deeply says, whether that takes place in real life, online or over the phone. (Many hypno-divas offer their services for a fee.)
But she worries that there are many dominant hypnotists out there who can seriously damage fetishists who are easily hypnotized and controlled. Look Deeply thinks an “evil hypnotist” might force clients into sexual situations that they’re not comfortable with, or take their money.
“All hypnosis is self-hypnosis,” Look Deeply notes, “and you won’t be hypnotized unless you want it to happen. But if you’re looking for it, and you put yourself in the hands of a stranger, then you may be in for some trouble. People should always check references on any hypnotist.”
Another hypnotherapist who deals with erotic issues is Wendi Friesen, who offers seminars and sells tapes on how to use hypnosis to improve your sex life and is the author of “Hypnotize Your Lover.” She doesn’t deal with hypnosis as a fetish, but instead treats it as a healing tool that couples can use to enhance trust, increase arousal and even produce orgasms through hypnotic suggestion.
Is it really possible to hypnotize somebody and cause an orgasm with merely a word, just like a fantasy out of a mind-control story? Friesen believes it is. “A man, another hypnotherapist, tried to make me have an orgasm on command. I was about 95 percent there,” she laughed. “But I couldn’t let myself go quite enough, and I didn’t trust him enough. Other people have done it, though. Think about it — if you can have an orgasm in a dream, and it’s a real orgasm, you can certainly use hypnosis to bring you to orgasm.”
Another erotic phenomenon Friesen says she’s heard about a lot is breast and penis enlargement through hypnosis. “The mind knows how to grow more fat and cell tissue, so it makes sense,” she asserts, with a chuckle. “One guy I talked to said he grew two inches and now it’s painful to have sex with his lover.”
But these examples of real-life mind-control sex are few and far between. Most mind-control erotica exists right where it gives fetishists the most pleasure: in their heads. Through the medium of stories and message boards and home-brewed images, these fetishists are touching each other’s minds and arousing each other without ever meeting in the flesh. As RC writes on his erotica Web site, “It’s about the power of your mind. Anything is possible. Isn’t that an intensely thrilling thought?”
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|About the writer
Annalee Newitz is a writer and lecturer living in San Francisco.
In honor of February 16, Valentine’s Salon, Heidi Champa will be reading her work. You can link to her blog site and read some wonderful words. Site under Link section on right side of this site – navigation bar.