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An Exegesis on Spanking Fetishists

Jessica Gross | Longreads | April 26, 2016 | 5,803 words

Jillian Keenan on her new memoir, which delves into her lifelong obsessions with spanking and Shakespeare.

Posted inFeatured, Nonfiction, Profiles & Interviews, Story

An Exegesis on Spanking Fetishists

Jillian Keenan on her new memoir, which delves into her lifelong obsessions with spanking and Shakespeare.

Jessica Gross | Longreads | April 2016 | 23 minutes (5,803 words)

In 2012, Jillian Keenan came out as a spanking fetishist in a “Modern Love” essay for The New York Times. It marked the beginning of not only her involvement in the spanking community, but her freelance career as well. Since then, Keenan has written a series of controversial polemics—a case for legalizing polyamory, an argument that spanking is a sex act—as well as reported from countries across the globe.

In her new memoir, Sex With Shakespeare, Keenan examines her own relationships with both spanking and love through the lens of her longstanding obsession with Shakespeare. His characters, who appear in dialogue with Keenan, have as forceful a presence as the people in her life. I visited Keenan at her home in New York City, where we spoke about the difference between fetish and kink, her view of her fetish as innate, and her firm belief that spanking children is an act of sexual abuse.

This book struck me as such an empathetic text. I feel like sometimes, in our current cultural climate, there’s a lot of anger at and dismissal of anyone who’s ignorant about a topic, and I really appreciated that you treated the reader who didn’t know anything about fetishes with a lot of respect. Was that something you thought about as you were writing it? Or is that just how you feel, and it came out naturally as you were writing?

It’s not something I thought of consciously, but I’m thrilled to hear that’s what came across. I was conscious of the fact that, in my opinion, there’s nothing unique about the experience of feeling isolated. Whereas maybe most people don’t feel ashamed or isolated because they think about spanking all the time, I think that probably everyone has something in their lives—whether in their sex lives or in another part of their lives—that they feel insecure about or ashamed of or fearful about.

I didn’t want to act as if the experience of feeling lonely and ashamed is something that I needed to explain to people. I think that everyone already knows what that feels like. I was just trying to tell a story about the specifics of why I felt that way, and how I worked through it to the extent that I did.

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