Who are you? (Continued)

I hadn’t intended to write a series of posts on the intersection of social media and online identities, yet somehow, here we are with a third post. In a previous comment on my first post Ferns raised the issue of transparency and how companies hide the ‘how it works’ aspect. That’s a fascinating topic in itself, and so I wanted to circle back on it.

It’s clearly true that companies should do a better job of notifying users of what data they’re collecting. They don’t want to do that because there are only negative consequences for them. No user is going to say “I love that this huge faceless corporation knows all this stuff about me, but you’re missing out on a lot more private stuff I haven’t shared. Let me help you access that as well.” In reality, given more visibility of the data gathering process, users are only going to want to add constraints, which in turn hurts the companies product and their advertising revenue.

When it comes to the interpretation of the data – for example, why Facebook makes the friend suggestions that it does – then the story is more complicated. Machine learning and particularly deep learning is driving a lot innovation in big tech companies these days. Traditionally a  software developer would analyze a problem and code up an algorithm to solve it. Now that same developer will specify the end result they want (these people are friends, these people are not friends), gather as much input data as they can (user location, hometown, school, posts they liked, etc.) and try and train a system to figure out the end result from the inputs. Typically this involves throwing a huge amount of computational power at the problem (which is why this has only become practical recently) and results in a black box that nobody really understands. Given the right inputs (e.g. data about users) this black box might be able to make excellent predictions about who is friends with who, but it can be difficult to say exactly why it makes any single prediction. So when companies say it’s difficult to share why certain suggestions were made, they might not be lying. They might not know themselves.

As an example of this, let’s consider the original case of the sex worker I talked about in my first post. I should be clear I know nothing about this beyond the public articles and I know nothing about Facebook’s internal algorithms or what data they have. This is speculation designed purely to illustrate the issue. That said, imagine if Facebook had access to the WiFi networks people accessed from their phones over time. Being on the same public network as someone else doesn’t mean much. Even repeatedly seeing the same networks at roughly the same time doesn’t mean much. Maybe you just happen to regularly go coffee at the same time and place as some other random person. But repeatedly being on the same networks at the same time, but in different places over many months would be indicative of a possible relationship. That’s the kind of correlation that a machine learning system could figure out. It’s also the kind of correlation that would occur for a sex worker regularly meeting the same group of clients at different hotels in a city.

Apologies if anyone visited here with the crazy idea of reading posts about femdom. Hopefully I’ll get back on that track in the next day or two. In the meantime I’ll continue my theme of old school anonymity via masquerade style masks. This is the lovely Anne Hathaway, the one bright spot in the otherwise terrible Dark Knight Rises.

Who are you? (Revisited)

So it turns out I’m a bad blogger who doesn’t carefully read the articles he links to. Yesterday’s post featured the story of a sex worker being outed by Facebook, and my suggestion that limiting different social media products to different online identities would probably help. It turns out that was exactly what Leila, the sex worker in question, had done. She only used Facebook in her private life, but still it started linking to her work social contact. My bad for not paying attention. I should probably be punished.

In my defense, I will say that it’s likely the information leakage occurred through the path I did actually identify in the post – smart phone or tablets linked with social media. It’s feasible to set-up a PC with distinct user accounts and strictly enforced separation of data and identities. It’s almost impossible to do that for other devices. And while you could obviously just use physically distinct devices for each online identity, the reason we have these devices is for convenience. Even if you carry two phones, at some point you’ll want to share data between them, and as soon as you do, there’s an opportunity for tech companies to sneak in and exploit it.

The fundamental problem here is that users are not the customers of social media – they’re the product. The advertisers are the customers. The more data the media companies have on their users/product the better they can target it for their customers. So their goal is not to solve these kind of issues. It’s to do the absolute minimum necessary to stop the product getting mad enough to quit, while retaining the maximum amount of information for their advertisers. As a tech guy I can understand that, but as a kinky sex blogger and social media user, it definitely sucks.

It’s an entirely solvable problem from a technology perspective, but the incentive structure for the companies isn’t in place to do so. That leaves people with multiple online identities with limited options. Either never use social media anywhere, or give up anonymity, or keep separate devices for each identity and be incredibly careful to never link or associate them in any way. Or, I guess, roll the dice and hope Facebook doesn’t pop up one of those annoying ‘Your friends liked…’ ads for your local kinky munch on your mom’s Facebook feed.

I’ve no idea what an appropriate image for this post would be, so I’ll continue the masquerade mask theme from yesterday. I’m afraid I have no idea what’s going on in this image, or who it’s originally by, but I would love to attend the kind of parties that featured masked topless ladies drinking wine and brandishing knives.

Who are you?

This Gizmodo story is likely to strike fear into the heart of anyone who tries to maintain multiple and distinct identities on social media. A sex worker named Leilia had two separate Facebook accounts, one for her private life and one for her job. Despite keeping them distinct, with separate email and phone numbers, her friends and family account suddenly started suggesting her work clients as “People You Might Know.” Obviously Facebook’s algorithms had managed to link the data in someway and decided it was all one big happy social network.

Facebook coming up with surprising and unnerving friend suggestions isn’t a new story. This article, posted a few months ago, describes how it figured out the authors great aunt, despite the fact his father had been adopted as child and had no contact with that branch of the family. With the algorithms getting smarter, the amount of data online constantly growing, and neither of them easy to monitor or understand, I’m sure issues like this are going proliferate.

As a software guy, I find the situation somewhat perverse. Traditionally academic computer systems had very strong notions of user identity, because they were shared systems, where personal computers had no concept of it, because they weren’t powerful enough to support it. Companies like Microsoft and Apple worked for years to bring proper identify management and user isolation to PCs. No sooner had they achieved that goal – Windows XP being a major milestone – than smart phones, tablets and social media software arrived and turned everything into a inter-connected soup with no good way to managed different identities.

For now I suspect the only way to handle the problem is to not use the same social media platform with two different identities you wish to keep distinct. So if you have a Facebook account for a friends/family identity, don’t have one for your kink/sex identity. And if you want a tumblr account to share kinky porn, don’t also create a second tumblr account to share holiday snaps with friends. Pick the product most useful to each identity and don’t assume you can keep two accounts on the same platform distinct.

Life was so much simpler before the internet. It used to be only necessary to slip on a masquerade mask and you could attend any fancy ball of your choice in total anonymity.

This is from a shoot for Marie Claire by Koray Parlak and features Nina Reijnders with Victoria Lipatova.

Better Than Life (final)

An interesting post on the liberating experience of VR porn from a trans man perspective got me thinking about femdom and VR again. I previously posted about my experiences with it, current niches it was suited for and the potential for combining it with e-stim technology.  I’ve been meaning to write a post on its future potential, and I guess this is going to be it.

My first prediction is that the VR future will be interactively rendered scenes that you can move around in, rather than simple 3D recorded movies. The latter are fun to try, but in many ways emphasize the limits of the medium rather than play to its strengths. So with that assumption taken, let’s make some simple technology projections…

  • Headsets will get lighter, wireless and offer better quality displays.
  • Computers will be able to create interactive VR scenes and people that are indistinguishable from recorded film.
  • Motion and facial capture will be able to accurately capture movement and gestures using simple cameras with no fancy bodysuits or reflective dots.
  • Speech technology will support voice warping to mimic any particular intonation/pitch required.
  • Somebody will build something similar to the kind of e-stim device I described here. It won’t mimic touch or allow you to feel virtual surfaces, but it will be able to create interesting and complex sensations across your body.

None of these things require any new technology breakthrough. They’re simply extensions of what’s already happening. The last one is probably the most risky projection, and that’s only because it’s a niche product that doesn’t have the obvious mass market applications of the others. If you put all these pieces together, what kind of experience could you create?

Imagine two people located in different parts of the world but sharing a virtual space of their choosing. The environment visualization and their embodiments in it are indistinguishable from reality. Their headsets are light and untethered, meaning they can freely move around. As they do so, the system captures the body position and facial expressions and mimics them in the space. A bow, a wagged finger or a blown kiss are perfectly captured. Their bodies and clothes can be whatever they want them to be. They can talk and their voices will be modified to a desired intonation. They can’t touch one another but, using a mixture of computer controlled e-stim and vibration devices, they can create complex and interesting sensations across their physical bodies. A particular gesture could be a gentle tickle, a sharp zap or a wave of pulses and vibrations. Would all that be a compelling experience?

I guess some people might see that as a depressing scenario. Two isolated people surrounded by technology in a fake space pretending to be someone they’re not. Personally I think it’d be incredibly liberating and empowering. It’d allow experimentation with roles and a sense of self. Gender, age and appearance all become malleable. It’d allow complex long-distance relationships and allow people to escape physical or geographical limitations. It could be used for everything from casual chatting and hookups through to complex roleplay and storytelling. It’d be fun as hell. Like creating your own Gollum, but in realtime and with a much sexier character. Unless your idea of sexy is a slimy, hairless grey creature, in which forget that last part.

I’m sure the sex industry would also quickly figure out a commercial angle. People already pay cam girls and pro-dommes for live streaming sessions. Imagine if, rather than in a 2D computer window, they were suddenly sitting on the couch next to you. And the couch was in the middle of an orgy in ancient Rome. Of course the beautiful domme sitting next to you with the sultry voice might actually be a 60 year old guy in Wichita.  But at least that means people previously shut out of the sex industry because of gender/age/appearance would now have new opportunities to shine.

Not all of this is going to happen in the next year or two. But I’d be amazed if it hadn’t been realized in the next five to ten years.

This 3D rendered image was created by xrenderer in 2007. It still looks pretty good, but in computer years, that’s an eternity ago.

Spend your budget wisely (part 3)

Here’s a final few thoughts to conclude my theory of the submissive ‘stress budget’. See the earlier parts here and here.

Phil raised an excellent point in a comment on the first post: The submissive’s budget can also be diminished by stress and overload from daily life. Sometimes kink can be a release from that pressure, but in other situations it’s necessary to take it slowly and allow more time to grow the budget as play unfolds. It also mean a submissive has a duty to perform self-care and be aware of their own mental state prior to playing.

I hope all my readers understand that the budget concept I’ve described is meant very much as a thought experiment and a theoretical way to think about more complex scenes. I’m not suggesting submissives start negotiating scenes by saying their budget today is 75 and while caning is down 10 on the stress-o-meter, whips are up to an expensive 45. I’m also not suggesting that dommes keep a running budget count in their head during play. This is just a possible abstraction for thinking about limits in a slightly more realistic way than the traditional hard/soft definitions.

Finally, if anyone new to kink and femdom is reading this and thinking that it all seems very complicated and somewhat daunting, then all I can say is please disregard everything I’ve written. You can absolutely ignore all this and have an amazingly fun kinky time. Just grab your partner by the balls, bite his neck and whisper that he’s your slut puppy in his ear. I’ve played for years without caring about any of this and had some amazing experiences. You don’t need to understand film theory to enjoy a great movie, and you don’t need to deconstruct kink to enjoy dominating or submitting to someone.

In line with that idea, and as a change from the last couple of crazy kink images, here’s a simple shot to finish on.

I believe this is the actress Giovanna Ewbank with her husband Bruno Gagliasso. You can see more shots from this sequence here and here.

Spend your budget wisely (part 2)

If you’ve not seen my previous post, then I suggest this post will make a lot more sense if you go read that first. Or alternatively, read this one, try and guess what the hell I’m talking about, and then see if you’re right afterwards. Your call.

Assuming you buy my theory of a submissive stress budget, the obvious follow-up question is: What are the implications? How should I use this information?

The simple answer is to be aware of what your submissive budget is and what it costs to spend it on different activities. That’s certainly a necessary thing to do, but hardly radical new thinking. Where I think it gets interesting is when you start planning out scenes with specific goals in mind. Then I think the idea of a budget helps focus the play. You can evaluate if each new element introduced advances you towards the goal or simply wastes budget.

For example, let’s say you both want to do an intense impact play scene. In this case the bigger the whacks the happier everyone ultimately is. This means the budget needs to be focused on riding out the impacts. So make the submissive’s physical position relaxed, give him room to wiggle and don’t add other clips, clamps or spiky things. If you use bondage, make it light and comfortable. Mix the impacts in with things that grow his stress budget, like touch, teasing and visual stimulation. Spend all the budget on the focus on the scene, not on the details around the edges.

As another example, let’s say you want to try out urethral sounding, but that’s a new and scary thing for the submissive. In this case do the sounding as a very separate activity from other play. Making all his budget available for the sounds will maximize the chance of success and minimize the freak-out potential. Then, when he’s had a chance to calibrate, you’ll both have an idea what could be combined with them in future play.

We typically think about kink and BDSM as being all about maximizing intense experiences. But sometimes you want to achieve a particular effect with the minimum amount of stress. For example, tight hoods burn a lot of my stress budget, but I do enjoy sensory deprivation scenes. The solution to this conundrum is to use ear plugs and blindfolds. That achieves the same effect, but leaves a lot of my budget available for adding bondage, breathing control, e-stim devices, etc. In that kind of scene the domme is trying to add a lot of layers, but not burn too much budget on the early ones.

I’ve a few concluding thoughts on this topic I’ll save for a third and final post. Given I was just discussing sensory deprivation, I thought it’d be appropriate to finish with this image. I’m guessing a lot of his budget has been spent on that impressive wrap. Hopefully he’s got enough left to handle whatever she’s planning for the bit left sticking out.

This is obviously from the Divine Bitches site.

Spend your budget wisely

I’m not sure if this post counts as advice, a rant or me just kicking an idea around. Possibly all of the above. It covers some thoughts that have been top of mind recently and I wanted to get them down in an ordered form.

I’ve been thinking about scenes where the participants have a particular goal in mind. For example, doing an intense whip scene, or trying out a new challenging activity or driving someone crazy with a long tease and denial session. The kind of scenes where it’s not a freestyle, as the mood takes us type of play, but where there is a game plan to execute. For those kind of scenes, I think it’s important to realize that all submissives have a particular ‘stress budget’ available, and the game plan has to be designed so it can reach the goal while sticking within that budget.

We often talk about activities, particularly intense ones, in a binary fashion. Either someone can take it or they can’t. We treat each action, like swinging a cane or tying someone up, in isolation. It’s under their limit and OK or it’s over their limit and they safeword. In reality scenes are often a mixture of activities, and even relatively simple ones like basic bondage, take up some of the submissive’s capacity for handling more. For example, I don’t have an issue with gags, and they’re certainly not a limit for me. But I can take more pain and do more intense activities without one than with one.

I think a better way to think about it is as if each submissive has an overall stress budget that can be allocated across different simultaneous activities. For example, if you’ve tied, gagged and put nipple clamps on a submissive, then you’ve already spent some of his budget on three different things. If CBT is next on the menu, it needs to fit in the remaining budget, or you need to lose one of the existing stress points to create more headroom for new play.

Every submissive starts with a different size of budget. And the cost of different activities will consume different amounts of the budget, depending on the person. For example, sticking a hood on me burns a lot of my budget. I can handle it, but mix it with other activities, and I quickly reach my limit. On the other hand, piecing is a relatively low cost item for me. I can handle it even when combined with a lot other things at once. Other submissive may be exactly the reverse of that.

It’s also possible to increase someones budget. Sexual arousal typically makes it possible for a submissive to deal with more intense play. As endorphins and adrenaline flow then the budget for play increases. Of course what triggers that is again unique to the submissive. For me, things that increase my budget include eye contact, physical touch and blending sensuality with the sadism. For someone else it might the sound of the domme’s heels on the floor, a particular outfit or a roleplay scenario.

If my theory of stress budget is correct – what are the implications for constructing scenes? I’ll save that for part two in tomorrow’s post. Until then, I’ll leave you with an image of a budget that’s being spent in many different ways.

I believe this is by Miss Velour. She’s a UK based pro-domme and you can visit her professional site here.

I like to watch

I should give you fair warning, this post might be a bit of a rant. In the past I’ve vented here on topics like flirting with limits and cold playspaces. Today I’m going to take on a very popular BDSM accessory – the blindfold.

I’ll admit upfront that there are good situations for using a blindfold. They clearly work well as part of a sensory deprivation scene. If you want to change a routine up and introduce some surprises then a blindfold can help with that dynamic. They’re also great for beginners to reduce the pressure on the domme. He can let his imagine run wild while she has time to figure out exactly how the cuffs are supposed to work. What I don’t understand is why they’re so popular outside these situations. They often seem to get incorporated because they can be, rather than as a necessary component of a larger plan.

I’m particularly puzzled by how often pro-dommes tend to use them. I think it’s fair to say that most pro-dommes are very attractive women. That might not be a requirement of the job, but it’s unarguably a significant advantage. They also tend to spend a lot of money on exciting fetish gear and sexy footwear. So why on earth would they want to slap a blindfold on me so I don’t get to experience that visual pleasure? I’ve heard that it’s so I can use my imagination, but frankly I have the rest of my life to use my imagination. I’m paying money so, just for a few hours, I can enjoy an amazing reality that’s better than my kinky imagination.

The other strange thing I’ve observed is that blindfolds often seem to get used in initial sessions when the dominant and myself are still getting to know one another. That really doesn’t make much sense to me. It’s tough to quickly build the kind of dynamic necessary for intense play when you only see one another for a couple of hours ever few weeks or months. So why would you want to put up a barrier to make it harder to build the necessary chemistry? If I know someone intimately, then a blindfold can represent an interesting twist on that relationship. But if I met you for the first time 30 minutes ago, a blindfold just means a stranger I can’t see and don’t know is now hurting me. That might be a kink for some, but I doubt it is for most submissives. Pain is only hot in context, and absent a history together, a blindfold takes a lot of that context away.

I’ll admit I’ve had some fun sessions with blindfolds. I remember a scene with Lydia featuring saran wrap mummification, ear plugs, a blindfold and an e-stim device that almost pushed me into a hallucinatory state. I had difficulty speaking at the end of that. But in that case there was a very clear reason for the blindfold, and it was done when Lydia and myself had already played together for a hundred hours plus. I’ve done a lot more sessions with other dommes where the blindfold only subtracted from the scene and made it that much harder to relax into the moment.

Feel free to leave a comment if violently disagree (or agree) with me on this. I’m curious if it’s just me who feels this way, or if there’s a perspective (particularly from the domme side) that I’ve missed.

I believe this image is by Miss May of the Fetish Webmistress site.

Complexity

I received a couple of fascinating comments from Michael on the recent subspace post I published. He concurred with my thoughts that his subspace felt different to the psychology definition of dissociation, but also described how  financial domination had triggered a reaction that did resemble the classical sense of dissociation as a detachment from reality. So prodding different bits of kinky wiring in his brain had triggered quantitatively different types of ‘subspace’ for him. I was trying to decide if subspace was more like X or Y, and it turns out it was both X and Y to the same person.

I think that’s an excellent reminder of the dangers of being too reductive when it comes to kink. There’s a tendency to try and categorize, box and label different activities and dynamics. I do it myself on this blog. Simplifying the world is the way we understand it, but it’s always important to keep in mind that you are simplifying, and reality is messy.

Kink is about power, sex, pleasure, control, fetishization, danger, risk, pain and relationships. You know, all the really simple stuff in life. It touches on our most primal instincts and our deepest emotional triggers. It’s hardly surprising that there are countless ways to experience it and although we may share common labels, we all may have slightly different interpretations of them. Be wary of people making absolute statements or asserting a universal kinky truth. I’m not sure there are any.

Weirdly I’m reminded of an old quote from a British football (soccer to the Yanks) manager called Bill Shanky who said that “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” If that’s true, then dare I add that kink might be even more important (and complex) than football?

In honor of Michael’s financial domination dabbling here’s a lovely piece of artwork from the ever brilliant Sardax.

The Epistemological Problem

My post on ‘The Path to Subspace‘ generated a number of interesting comments. One common factor that came through in them was the problem of definition. How do I know the experience I describe as subspace is similar to that experienced by others? The same could be said of any mental state, but at least life provides us with many common references points to calibrate our understanding of happiness, anger, pain, etc. Subspace is far more complex, with no common path to it and no simple reference markers.

Alex commented that a therapist had attributed subspace to dissociation. At first glance that seems logical. Dissociation can be induced by stress and is described as a detachment from reality. Subspace is reached by stressful BDSM play, and often described as ‘floating away’ or ‘zoning out’, so that seems to fit. Yet, when I read the kind of questions they use to test for dissociation, the match seems less clear. And in fact, when I look back on my own descriptions of subspace, I’m not sure I’ve done a good job of capturing the sensation.

Dissociation is described as detachment from reality, where subspace to me often feels like reality has detached from me. That might seem like silly wordplay, but I think there’s an important difference. In subspace all that matters is the domme, me and the dynamic between us. The surroundings falls away. It’s not that I’m detached, or absent from my body, but that everything in our little bubble seems hyper-real. The domme fills my world with her presence and the sensations of our play. The pain, the smells, the touch, the intimacy and the intensity. It overwhelms me, and turns everything outside our space into an afterthought. It’s not the volume on the world being dialed down, but the volume on the two of us being dialed way way up.

If you’re interested in reading more about the post title then this is worth checking out.