I know about Bettie Page, even before watching the movie on NetFlix. I know about the Marquis de Sade and Fanny Hill (though I haven’t read it). I like reading about people in history so it’s good to have some new names to look up and research.
“People who want to live like Olympian gods must have slaves whom they throw into their fishponds and gladiators who fight during their masters’ sumptuous banquets–and the pleasure-seekers never care if some blood splatters on them.” — Leopold von Sacher-Masoch
The term sadism – the act of finding pleasure in the degradation or pain of others – originated from Marquis de Sade’s title, the author of the infamous 18th century text 120 Days of Sodom. Napolean Bonaparte, the man responsible for approximately 2.5 million deaths during the French wars, thought the the Marquis de Sade’s fiction was written from “the most depraved imagination” and ordered Sade’s imprisonment. Perhaps the Marquis’ literary fame invoked the jealousy of Napoleon, who was also a writer – but of markedly less-imaginative romantic fiction.
Vatsyayana, a celibate Indian monk who penned the Kama Sutra in the 2nd Century, wrote, “[sex] can be compared to a quarrel, on account of the contraries of love and its tendency to dispute.” The Kama Sutra not only tells readers where to “strike with passion,” but how – “back of the hand, fingers constricted, fist or palm.”
Pain can feel great. It leads to a rush of endorphins in the body similar to a push of morphine. Leopold Ritter Von Sacher-Masoch, like the Marquis de Sade, was an erotic author and imaginist who modeled his life after his fantasies. Sacher-Masoch traveled across Europe with his mistress, whom he requested be a “Venus in Furs” and enslave him – “the more cruelly she treats him and the more faithless she is, the worse she uses him, the more wantonly she plays with him, the less pity she shows him…she increase[s] his desire.”
In his 1748 novel Fanny Hill, the most frequently seized novel from United States mail, John Cleland tells the tale of young fictional Fanny – an English prostitute- who acts as a submissive. Cleland writes that the way Fanny’s body looked when she was being whipped, “feasted the luxury of the eye.” Literature isn’t the only place that BDSM elements have been shown as both sensual and aesthetic.
Bettie Page, a 1950s pin-up model, helped bring BDSM into mainstream American culture. Her infamous photos were the subject of public hearings headed by Estes Kefauver, a senator who twice ran for president. The Kefauver hearing centered on the indecency of pornography – especially images and video featuring BDSM elements. The 1959 trial was based on the premise that “merchants of filth” were “as dangerous to society as dope peddlers.”
Bettie herself was subpoenaed for the 1959 Kefauver trials in violation of obscenity laws, after a few of her naughtier photos, of her dressed in fetish heels and black lingerie, resurfaced in a porn shop. The stills and videos of Bettie spanking disobedient yet consenting women were seized by New York police.