S&M is A-OK

Posted on February 13, 2011 by


Sticks and stones may break my bones, but the implications of a woman singing about S&M excite me.

By Lauren Sieben

Amid the hullabaloo surrounding Rihanna’s “S&M,” I’ve learned something valuable: It’s totally OK for women to make sexual music, as long as our sexuality doesn’t venture into the “extreme.”

The ball gag-, whip-, chain- and latex-laden “S&M” music video is a poppy portrait of sadomasochism, a la Rihanna. She walks Perez Hilton on a leash like her sex-slave man-dog. She rolls around on the ground with her hair in pigtails while sporting a pastel leotard, bound in ropes. She carries a whip. She wears a latex headpiece.

The song and the video have been heavily censored on radio stations, on YouTube (which placed an age restriction on the video) and in countries that refuse to be infiltrated by Rihanna’s depravity.

Rihanna will whip your ass into shape like the dom she is. (Image from NYDailyNews.com.)

The only real problem I can detect in the “S&M” video is its striking aesthetic similarity to David LaChapelle’s photography (he had nothing to do with the video, and critics, including LaChapelle, have accused Rihanna of ripping off his artwork for the video’s concept).

Plagiarism accusations aside, the video and the song are pretty inoffensive. The most salacious lyrics read:

Cause I may be bad, but I’m perfectly good at it
Sex in the air, I don’t care, I love the smell of it
Sticks and stones may break my bones
But chains and whips excite me

Maybe I’ve been desensitized to sex on the radio after growing up on a music diet based largely on rap songs, but I can’t see what the problem is. The song is catchy and mainstream – my Zumba instructor lip-synched the words while we warmed up to it at the start of class today – and other (mostly male) artists have never gotten so much slack for their similarly sexy lyrics.

Exhibit A: Xzibit, “Choke Me Spank Me.” Nobody started a fuss about the female vocalist moaning, “choke me, spank me, pull my hair” as Xzibit announced, “I don’t want to love you / I just want to fuck you,” among other eloquent expressions.

: Why is it R Right for Trina and Ludacris to sing dirty, but not Rihanna? (Image from Dyfuse.com.)

Exhibit B: Trina and Ludacris, “B R Right.” Unlike Rihanna’s vague lyrics in “S&M,” Trina and Luda explicitly outline… a lot of things. The link above leads to the song’s official music video, which features a very diluted version of the original song. You can read the uncensored lyrics here (NSFW NSFW!!!11!!).

Both “Choke Me Spank Me” and  “B R Right” have lyrics that are not only lewd but also highly specific in their sexual imagery. I could link to three billion more songs that paint similarly crude portraits of carnality, but you get the idea. In a nutshell: Rihanna says she likes S&M; Trina says she wants her “ass smacked, legs wide, pussy wet, slip ‘n slide.” But wow, that Rihanna, she’s a real deviant!

Maybe if all children were required to watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show, we wouldn’t have to worry so much about shocking and offending their young, tender senses. (Image from Snakerati.com.)

Although I understand YouTube’s decision to slap an age restriction on “S&M,” I don’t think the video is the most traumatizing visual experience a child could have. But maybe I am entirely immune to visual sex in pop culture as well – my mom left the TV set on VH1 one day when I was in fourth grade. There was a Rocky Horror Picture Show marathon playing all day. After entering into the hypersexual world of Dr. Frank-n-Furter at the age of 9, not much since then has ruffled my feathers in the way of sexuality. Plus, adding the age restriction will only pique the interest of young viewers and adults alike. The video has gotten over 10 million views in less than two weeks.

Ultimately, if Rihanna’s intention is to shock and offend, it’s not working on many of us. But I don’t think that’s her objective. The song is catchy, it’s honest, it functions mostly as an analogy for her relationship with the press and she’s not describing something so sexually wayward that it should make the rest of us blush. Rihanna is an adult with a fan base that includes men, women, teens, tweens and maybe even babies. “S&M” is on par with songs like Britney Spears“Touch of My Hand” (an homage to masturbation) and “Phonography” (in praise of phone sex). Hell, even *NSYNC had a song about cyber sex – remember that?

Maybe “S&M” won’t make the next volume of Kidz Bop, but who said Rihanna’s music has to be PG? Who wants to listen to a song called “Missionary Position,” or “Ways I Pleasure Men”? There’s already a surplus of songs like that, but it seems that’s the only way female artists are allowed to be sexual. I tip my latex hat to Rihanna for singing frankly about what gets her off, even if it involves role-playing with Perez Hilton, which wouldn’t really do it for me.

Lauren Sieben