Jensen Speaker Series

Tey Meadow Jensen Speaker

Tey Meadow, Associate Professor of Sociology, Columbia University

Talk: Becoming a Submissive: Identity and Embodiment in a Sexual Subculture

How do positions in erotic encounters that could be relegated to the domain of action or experience become a constituent feature of an individual’s self-concept? This analysis examines participation in BDSM sexual subcultures to ascertain how individuals understand their choices to either engage in “kinky sex” or to re-articulate a sexual identity that absorbs their preferred sexual dispositions into durable social identities. While some respondents attributed their positions in hierarchical erotic relations to innate propensities toward dominance or submissiveness, their accounts of acquiring submissive sexual identities contained nuanced accounts of social learning. BDSM practitioners with submissive preferences (“bottoms”) all (1) learned the norms of BDSM subcultures sufficiently to engage a “dominant” partner, and (2) either recognized a certain constellation of bodily sensations that would be intolerable in other contexts as “painful pleasure” or came to derive articulate appreciation for experiences they distinctly did not enjoy, what practitioners call being in “bottom space.” Some subsection of bottoms also (3) developed a submissive identity, translating receptive bodily and affective experiences into a durable self-identity. This analysis extends extant literature on “sexual habitus” to query whether the next evolution of sexual self-understandings will contain more explicit intersubjectively constituted positions in the social order.

  • Lunch: 11:30am - 1pm, Reuben-Cooke 268
  • Talk: 1:15pm - 2:30pm, Social Sciences 139


Jensen Speaker Series