Monday, June 27, 2011


"All I want is to have incredibly violent sex"

"After proposing for the 87th time that I have intercourse with him, he was grasping for anything that might change my mind, trying eventually, wildly, 'We can do this at gunpoint if that sells it for you.' And actually, it did, yeah."
—Mac McClelland, "How Violent Sex Helped Ease MY PTSD."

48 Comments / Post A Comment


i guess her light was green.

Catherine C.@twitter

This article is just devastating.


@Catherine C.@twitter I don't think I can even read it. It was ghastly?

RK Fire

@shenannies: It's not ghastly, but you may want to look at Cute Overload or something similar if you're concerned about being incredibly horrified at the senseless injustice of humanity upon reading the article.


@shenannies It's ghastly.

Catherine C.@twitter

It is wonderfully written but deals directly with very difficult subject matter. I've followed her reporting for a while, which added an extra level of "oh fuck noooooooo" to the whole thing.


Oh, god.

Hot mayonnaise

Powerful stuff.


I just started reading her book on the Burmese civil war! This lady is hardcore.


Gah. I've tried like three times to say something intelligent about this article and my words aren't working. I guess it boils down to this: I wish everyone could have an Isaac. That sounds dumb to me, too... but I'm hitting Post Comment anyway dammit.


Um.. wow. I'm really not sure how I feel about this.. but I think I hate that it exists.

on the one hand, good for her for finding what worked for her... On the other, NO where in here does she clarify that this is what worked for her only, and you know, certain readers shouldn't assume that all women want to be violently "raped" by their "friends" who say "I love you".

This is not judging her actions; but she should at least have added a disclaimer somewhere! There are dudes out there who will take this as permission/all women secretly want this no matter how they might fight/protest that they don't.

Also, jeez. How about a different title to this and a trigger warning?


@lids: Yeah, I don't... quite know what to take from this. I'm not sure psychotherapy professionals would vet this as 'ok'. There's a weird kind of desperation subtext here. "Look how much I have suffered." Alright.


@Too Much Internet It's clear she has suffered greatly, but it's like she said to herself, "ok if I"m raped too then I can deal with the trauma of others' rape, because I've endured it too" - ? Or, "if I control my rape, it won't be so scarring when I'm inevitably raped while reporting somewhere?" Some of all of that? I can't quite make it out... relinquishing her power willingly really means she had the power all along and therefore regains her power by losing it via a consensual "rape" by her friend?

I'm surprised as well that her therapist was all, "so who can you call?"

Again, if this is what worked for her, then I'm glad it gave relief. Yet I do feel it's irresponsible to not have somewhere inserted a disclaimer of some sort, as I can't imagine her intent was to encourage violence against women.


I think she sounds a little deranged. Also, as if she deliberately seeks out situations she believes will be traumatic to her (as opposed to just witnessing and documenting others' trauma), for her own emotional purposes. I have to say that I am totally unfamiliar with her besides having read this one article, but she apparently describes herself as a trauma journalist or whatever. Having read other accounts of war, human rights issues etc. the kind of experience she describes and the way she writes about it seems like pretty new territory.

Katie Walsh

I'm feeling really uncomfortable with the words "ghastly" and "deranged" being thrown about to describe this piece, which I found incredibly fucking brave of her to write. I think the title of the article is silly at best, and hardly comes close to accurately describing her account of the layers of trauma and one way in which she found some catharsis... therapist validated or not.


@Katie Walsh I don't feel like I am "throwing around" the word "deranged" in a casual way. Instead that is my honest impression after reading this confusing, difficult to understand article about the interconnection between the journalist's career witnessing horrible crimes against humanity and her sex life. Sure it seems brave to write because these topics are so emotionally charged, but it also strikes me as bizarre in some regards.


@Katie Walsh Did you notice I did not read it, just inquired if it was ghastly, as in painful?


@Katie Walsh I see where you're coming from, but the "ghastly" was more about the awful things that happen in the world, especially to women, especially during war or other opportunistic traumatic events, not a judgement call on the writer's behavior.. at least not for me..

This worked for her. Great. But brave? Brave of her to tackle her PTSD in a manner that helped her, yes. But .. ugh.. there are lots of layers of feeling here. I'm having trouble unpacking it..


@Katie Walsh Thank you. Kind of what I was thinking and didn't really convey in my semi-articulate comment above. Not only was this woman brave enough to face her paralyzing fear head-on and actually DO something about it, then she writes about it candidly and puts it out into the world. That is incredibly fucking brave. I agree that the article's title seems too flippant for the subject matter, but it's a hook that got me to read the thing in the first place and I feel better off having done so. So. There's that. And I'll repeat what I said before... everyone should be so lucky to have a friend like Isaac. They were both brave.


@jenergy I would hope the "Isaac" in my life would instead say, "you need a different f*cking therapist." THAT'S how you say "I love you" not punches to the face, pillow or no pillow. But again, they are consenting adults doing what works for them.

But it seemed to me that the poor woman was living in abject fear of her own rape/and or other violence (since it is the Haitian woman she accompanies that seems to really put her over the edge), and so to take control of that fear, she subjected herself to her worst fear in a safe way. Ok. That takes guts, for sure.

BUT, that we live in a world wherein a professional woman functioning in her profession feels the only way she can survive is to, essentially, beat the rapists to it by controlling it on her terms, and that will somehow make a "real" rape less traumatic (she doesn't really explain, she just goes back to work, kinda - but maybe I missed something) - THAT IS GHASTLY. That anyone must think in such terms in order to cope is.. fucking unreal.

Can you imagine a male journalist in this situation? "Hey Isaac, I've got a big favor to ask.."


@lids Lots of male journalists are in the same situation and certainly go through similarly difficult processes of integrating trauma into their lives.


@kate.m But it's unrealistic to think men are subjected to rape as a war crime to the extent that women are. Not that it doesn't happen, but it's not nearly as pervasive.


Upon longer reflection I have some additional thoughts about the article. I think that the main thing that bothers me is that she is conflating multiple issues without really saying that that's what she's doing: various sexual assault type trauma she has witnessed occurring to others, her own fears of sexual assault, the experience of PTSD (general PTSD in addition to sexual assault related PTSD), and violent sex with role-playing of sexual assault. This is definitely "new ground" for journalistic analysis. Obviously, this is a very serious, important and perhaps even a fascinating subject. But as it strikes me, it is so complicated and McClelland doesn't satisfactorily untangle these issues or convey insight into why these ideas were so inextricable for her. Instead it strikes me as a frenetic account of de-contextualized trauma and fear. I've observed that a lot of negative comments on internet articles tend to devolve into complaining that the article isn't about what the commenter wants it to be about. Maybe that's what I'm doing, but as it is I find it difficult to understand the article.

I also think that, because McClelland describes many different instances of experiences that she implies contributed to her PTSD, I really wonder why she did not quit her job temporarily if it was such a continued source of trauma to her. NOT because I'm "blaming her for putting herself in an unsafe situation," which she mentions people said about Lara Logan, but because it seems like she suffered from what she identifies as atypical amount of PTSD for someone in her position. She herself admits that she "probably should have gone home." I hope it's not too provincial to say that sex play with guns seems like a really extreme therapeutic measure and that if you are doing things that provoke you to such violent behavior, maybe you should just stop doing those things in the first place -- even if it's your job. I'm happy that she has worked through her trauma and returned to work with newfound sense of resilience, but I wish the article were more clear (in its first half, mostly).


@Ellie: You put it much better than I did.


@Too Much Internet Thanks.

Katie Walsh

Ok so I couldn't comment last night after I left work, so I'm not sure if anyone will see my response but here it shall live!

@shennanies: Yes, I can read. Did you not see how lids replied to you and said "yes, it was ghastly." You used the word, own it. And fucking read the article if you want to be a part of the discussion.

@Ellie: I do think you initially used the word "deranged" in a casual way. That offended me because it implied that her sexual behavior (which is normal for some people!) is wrong or deviant in some way. I am in FULL agreement with your second comment. I do think the piece is confusing and the issues could be presented or analyzed in a more insightful way. I'm not sure that McClelland is necessarily capable of that right now... this reads to me as more of just an account at this point in time.

@lids I think it is brave of her to WRITE IT, which is what I said in my comment above. I'm not going to pass a judgment on her sexual behavior, whether I think it is brave or fucked up or wrong, WHICH IS EXACTLY THE ISSUE I HAVE WITH YOUR COMMENTARY. Your tone is extremely judgmental, indicating that this type of sex is wrong or bad. If it provided an emotional release for her, who are we to say whether it was right or wrong?


@Katie Walsh clap clap clap! yes, thank you. it seems like people are being really judgmental and that kind of bugs me, and you articulated exactly why.


@Katie Walsh I definitely don't think her *sexual* behavior is "deranged" or "deviant" in any way, it's the way she recounts the PTSD related stuff that seems bizarre to me. Lots of people have rape fantasies, it didn't even occur to me to draw a distinction.


I thought this essay was fantastic and it was nice to see someone plainly articulate... how violent sex can help calm the noise sometimes when you're dealing with some kind of trauma. There are all kinds of ways to deal with PTSD and not all of those ways fit into comfortable packages. It's pretty balls out for her to come out and say, "This is how I do it." I also think its a little crazy that she should be expected to have some kind of disclaimer. If someone reads this and somehow extrapolates that this makes it okay to perpetrate violence against women, that's their problem and its a problem that began long before this article was ever conceived. She very clearly frames her story within her own experiences and needs.


It's so hard to talk/think/write/read about mental illness, but it's worse to ignore it just because it's ugly. This article is good and challenging. Trauma is more awful and complicated than we usually admit, and I think it's national PTSD awareness day, so.


@kate.m So what if you suffer from PTSD from an actual rape? I think this piece just *might* trigger your PTSD.. especially because there is NOT any mention of consent, safe words, etc. (she implies it, but doesn't spell it out loud and clear..) And yes this DOES bait potential rapists into a sense that it's secretly what every woman wants.. it allows men who have perpetrated rape to feel like they did some sort of fucking public service or something. And if that's how these types respond that is "their problem". Well, by all means we should just let that slide! Awesome!

But I am waaaay to close to this. If you've been raped, raise your fucking hand. If you haven't, then you can't speak to the trauma this induced. Should we turn away from what is ugly and uncomfortable? Absolutely not, but that doesn't mean she doesn't have responsibility to those who didn't "choose" their rape, ok?

But just.. nevermind. Again, it worked for her. Good for her.


@lids If you need a trigger warning, maybe just don't read the piece? Since the title refers to "incredibly violent sex?"


@lids I have been raped. The article WAS triggering for me, but I also found it incredibly cathartic to read. So, you know. Two more of my cents on the matter. (Obviously it's affected me, as it's now the next day and I'm still thinking/commenting about it.)


Mac is 110% amazeballs and this piece blew me away. There is not another journalist out there like her. Brave doesn't even begin to cover it.


I'm late to this discussion, but as someone who has experienced both rape and childhood sexual abuse, I have to say that one of the things that helped me the most to process my trauma and learn how to feel "in" my own body again was to have absolutely kinky violent sex with my incredibly sensitive and compassionate boyfriend. This was something I experienced after years of sexual dysfunction and frustration. I was fortunate to have a therapist who thought outside the box and didn't condemn my kinks, but encouraged me to explore them in a safe (SAFE! SAFE!) way. I really appreciated this article, because survivors need to know that there's all sorts of options out there for processing the trauma of sexual violence, and yes, what works for me and worked for her should not be a universal solution, because it might not work for someone else, but for me, it was lifechanging.


I dunno, I've always gotten a distinctly Roland Hedley-type vibe from her. This didn't strike me as "brave" writing, it struck me more as confessional, "OMG I'm so fucked up but I'm also a badass so look at meeeeeeee."

Not to say she didn't have PTSD, or that she should have handled it differently.


First of all, Mac McClelland is completely amazing; I read her devastating book about genocide in Burma and I recommend it to all. Here's a link to an article excerpted from the book in Mother Jones:


Secondly, I've been thinking about the idea of working through trauma by re-living it in various ways ever since that "Ask a..." (I forget if it was a lady or a dude) here awhile ago about a woman who'd been enjoying a "daddy" fetish type sexual relationship with her boyfriend and then revealed, to his horror, that she had been sexually abused by her father for years. A number of women commented to say that, although they'd experienced similar situations of sexual abuse in their lives and they also find it liberating and awesome to engage in daddy roleplay, etc. it definitely had NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with their past trauma. I thought that interesting, and very very telling. Perhaps its even unnecessary for these women to understand the real motivation behind certain fetishes, and I think they are heroes for finding a way to embrace their sexuality after serious trauma, but Mac's honesty and self-awareness is brave and illuminating. Thanks for posting this article.


@marina personally, i try not to think to hard about the source of my desires/fetishes. when you start to pick at them you have to face some hard truths. i had a couple of creepy hc sex dreams about sy toliver from deadwood, delving into that one was... hard to accept.


This was a really interesting and provocative piece. It was timely since I recently read an excerpt by another female journalist who had to find a way to deal with all of her trauma from years spent in dangerous places. The birth of her child brought much of it to the surface.
I think what was so disturbing to me was the amount of sexual harassment and creepy vibes she was subjected to in the field and there was no escape or downtime from it. It sort of made sense to me why she chose the route she did to exorcise these demons.


I was confused by the way it seemed to go from "I had this one traumatizing experience that I realized necessitated violent sex" to "luckily, there was this guy Isaac who'd provided violent sex for me in other situations." And then the way she described the punching-through-the-pillow thing... It was unclear to me whether she specifically asked for that (I hope to God she did?) or he improv'ed it on the spot.

I admit that those points disturbed me and maybe kept me from reading as closely as necessary to understand.


@Xora - with regards to the initial violent sex, she says herself that the stakes were higher and that they did it a lot harder this time. so yeah, she was probably a little into kinky sex before, but this was "incredibly violent" as opposed to just a little bit. it's not generally disturbing that people do a little bit of bondage and stuff, is it? and with the punching, i'm curious as to why you hope she asked for it? like, i know that what most women want during sex is generally not to be hit in the face, but what i believe she wanted was an experience of the unexpected - of being at the mercy of someone else's hands; and it sounds like this guy did a good job of giving it to her whilst making her feel safe enough.


@heyits, I have the same feelings with my husband.

Mary Heil@facebook

@Ellie, is it seriously too much to ask as a real, breathing person with PTSD not to have people I share experiences with dismissed as "deranged"? Is it TRULY so difficult to see why your choice to describe someone like me as 'deranged' might seem a bit, well, pejorative, hateful, dismissive, self soothing at the expense of others...? And so unbearable when you have clearly offended people to apologize instead of arguing how right you were to insult them in the first place?

BDSM taught me more about safety, self control, asking for help, character judgment, coping with triggers, gaining a sense of myself as whole (or as whole as possible) and sane and worthy to continue breathing than all my therapists put together. When you develop mentally and emotionally under conditions of chaos and torture and fear and pain, there are no boundaries and there is no consent.

IMO, the BDSM community is the only set of Americans certainly and perhaps the only people full stop who actually understand the nature of consent and the redemptive power it can have. Not just with sex, with every area of life. We all have power to consent to some things and not to others. When you don't grow up experiencing consent to what happens to your body and your mind, almost anything can trigger terror. The same can happen if you grow up believing you have control over what happens to you and that sense of control is destroyed by trauma. (That's why rape culture is harmful - the only people with control over actual rapes are rapists.) That's what PTSD *is* - a healthy response to traumatic experience. The key to recovery in either case is to gain a sense of limited agency and control, to form and ability to distinguish between consensual and nonconsensual situations and to build confidence that one can survive and heal when tragedy strikes.

If experiencing and reporting emotion without analysis, seeking love and help and healing from others in the face of well founded fears, developing a realistic and peace filled sense of agency with limits and sharing with other people the joyful (though not cheerful) resolution of former terror is deranged, I'll take Ellie's name calling over sanity any day of the week.

Elizabeth K.

@Mary Heil@facebook
I realize this is an old article/thread, but I think anyone new coming across it might want to read this.

Just another view.


That was an incredibly disturbing read, but I 100% understood her reasons.

I used to work in disaster relief, and eventually burnt out. The experience of witnessing widespread trauma/social breakdown over a long period of time is both numbing and scarring. Although I never got into violent sex, I identified with her descriptions of heavy drinking, "weird disaster issues" related to possessions, and seeking out extreme encounters to jolt yourself out of that floating, disconnected fugue state. It's an awful place to be mentally. Anyone who calls her reactions "deranged" should count themselves fortunate to have never been there.

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