I was inspired to write this article following my interview on Vice.com about “Cash Slaves.” This documentary examines the edgy, underground world of Financial Domination, or “Findom.” Basically what this entails is an authority-based relationship where one individual experiences pleasure, and perhaps arousal, by being financially dominated (ie controlled, used, possibly exploited) by another. I would categorize this under “psychological edge-play” because it does touch upon some thorny, gray areas. For example, what if someone desired to be drained to the point of bankruptcy, what do we make of that? Is it ever healthy to be financially dominated in this way? These are all indeed tough questions and lead to an even bigger question– is a sexual fetish or desire ever too extreme or unhealthy? This video examines all of these questions, and then some, and pins the question of what it means to have this kind of a fetish up against the backdrop of living in an age of extreme capitalism. Brilliantly produced, directed, and edited, you can check out the video below, and after you watch it continue reading for my additional commentary.

When I agreed to participate in this documentary, I told the producers that I wanted to make sure that it did not portray any kind of non-normative sexual template in a pathological light. Along those lines, I made a point out of clearing up some misconceptions. Most of the individuals who participate in this do so in a controlled manner and have money to burn. Second, there are certainly a bevy of individuals wanting to jump into the findom game in the pursuit of what seemingly appears to be an easy way to make money, but folks who live a Dominant/submissive (D/s) relationship and treat it seriously make sure to never veer in the direction of abuse. For more on these differences, please go to this article on BDSM and abuse.

In addition, I made sure to point out that fantasies are not the same as behaviors. Just because someone has a fantasy to self-destruct does not mean he or she will do so. Indeed, if someone were to follow through on self-destructive fantasies, it is very likely that there are other mental health issues involved including the possibility of bipolar disorder, major depression, some sort of impulse control disorder, or a personality disorder. For more on this, you can check out this article on the difference between thoughts, feelings, fantasies, and behaviors. And this one on what motivates someone towards self-destructive behaviors.

Anyway, let’s take a step back and ask a broader question. When are sexual fantasies “too extreme?” Again, fantasies are not the same as behaviors, so we have to make that clear. A recent study of about 1,500 Canadians found that almost no fantasies, no matter how seemingly bizarre, were really that unusual. The only rare ones were pedophilia and zoophilia. That’s about it. Everything else was fantasized by at least 10% of the respondents. And in this case we are talking about some activities that would probably be considered very “extreme” by most. For more on this, check out these articles, on “unusual” and  “deviant” fantasies.

So fantasies aren’t the issue. Sure, they can feel overwhelming, compulsive, and intrusive. Often the problem is that they are extremely shameful, and it is the shame that fuel their compulsive and intrusive natures. As I’ve written about before, it’s like telling someone to not think of a pink elephant. The harder you try not to think of a pink elephant, the more you will. In these cases, I take a harm reduction approach and look to find ways to help someone find more positive outlets for fantasies that are too harmful or dangerous to carry out. I often find that addressing and reducing the shame also dims the intensity of the fantasies.

But what about the behaviors themselves? This is where we run into the gray areas. Like I stated above, if someone is acting out behaviors that are destructive, it is a larger mental health issue, not a sex issue. Where do we draw the line? First, behaviors that are non-consenting are a non-starter. Here we delve into the realm of sex offending and the DSM recently defined non-consent as a main discrepancy between paraphilias and paraphilic disorders. The second criteria that DSM used to define sexual pathology was whether the behavior caused significant distress that was not societally created. This is often tough to assess, but basically if someone loses all their money, destroys their relationships, and can’t keep a job, then that would be distress that is not societally caused. I would add a third category, which may seem obvious, but I believe requires a distinct mention all its own, are behaviors that are life threatening. A behavior may be life-threatening, but be consensual and cause no distress.  There have been a few famous cases where folks have desired to be killed, eaten, destroyed, etc, and the legal system in the countries where these cases occurred have always ruled that the perpetrator was criminally guilty. I’ll stop there, as this is an R-rated site and I’m sure the folks reading don’t want to have their most recent meal ruined.

At any rate, these three criteria give us a good starting point to determine whether any specific sexual practice is “too” extreme. Is it life-threatening? Non-consensual? Does it create distress? Keeping these criteria in mind, let’s take a look at the example of Steve-o in the Vice video above. His behavior is clearly not life-threatening. It appears to be consensual on both sides. And at the end of the clip, he states that he is happy and feels very understood by his Domme. Comparing this against our three sets of criteria, we can conclude that for Steve-o, his findom interests are indeed not extreme, even though he states he has blown upwards of $100k, perhaps $200k. If he is happy with his arrangement, who are we to judge him or tell him what he can do? Sure, he can decide a year from now that he’s made a big mistake and regrets all of his decisions, but then where in all of this do we give space for personal responsibility and accountability. As a free society, is it our responsibility to protect Steve-o from himself? And does he even need protecting, or is our discomfort with his life’s decisions more a reflection of ourselves?

Just thinking out loud about how sexuality can, and often is, so messy and gray.