If you really want to understand quicksand—if you’re looking for some way to gauge its rise and fall in American culture—then the fetish community is the place to start.
~ Daniel Engber
It is the quicksand alone that is the trigger for the sexual response. It is just the way I am wired genetically, I guess.
OK, so I know that the human sexual response is diverse, not to mention varied enough that people can get turned on by almost anything. But, never in my mind did I make a connection between quicksand and sex, let alone between it and fetish/BDSM. At least that was true before today.
My first reaction upon reading the following was primarily disbelief, or denial. But yet, there it is, seemingly inescapable, right before my eyes, in an old Slate article by Daniel Engber – Terra Infirma – The rise and fall of quicksand.
One day in late February 1995, a 32-year-old electronics sales associate named Duncan Edwards was sitting at a computer in Dallas running keywords through a Usenet search. A moment later, he found himself staring at a primitive home page with bright yellow wallpaper. At its center was a pixilated graphic—a clip-art collage—showing a stand of cattails and a white pith helmet floating in a pool of sludge. The name of the site appeared just above: The Quicksand! Page.
“My heart pounded … I very nearly fainted,” says Edwards, recalling that first visit. “I didn’t sleep for the next three days.”
He’d stumbled across an online community of quicksand enthusiasts—kindred spirits, it turns out. Some were “sinkers”: Those who crave the sensation of being mired in deep mud, the suction that’s created when you step into water-logged clay. The stories they post to the group message boards—which have flourished over the past 15 years— suggest a shared spirit of adventure. Last summer, one quicksand fan set up a collaborative Google map for sinking holes, which now has more than 100 sites marked around the world—from the tidal muds near San Diego, Calif., to the loamy bogs of Finland. (Holes are assigned a score from 1 to 10, depending on amenities like privacy, depth, thickness, and available parking.)
Edwards is a different kind of quicksand fan, though. He has no interest in getting muddy himself—he’s more a looker than a doer, someone who likes to see pictures and film-clips of other people being submerged. Not every looker has the same tastes: Edwards calls himself a knees-to-waist kind of guy; others prefer someone stuck to the armpits; and still more are into “grim endings”—where the sinker disappears below the surface in a trail of mud bubbles. (Headfirst sinkings appeal to a small but dedicated minority.)
To hear a quicksand fan describe his interest can be unnerving: Many describe what amounts to a sexual fascination with helpless women flailing for their lives. But there’s more to the fetish than a bondage fantasy. For some, the excitement hinges on a damsel-in-distress melodrama with a heroic rescue. The mythology of quicksand can be just as inspiring on its own terms—conveying a nostalgia, erotic or not, for old-time serials and wilderness tales.
Upon further reflection, however, I think I do understand . . . Well, at least partly.
what we share
For starters, what Duncan Edwards describes, the elation of discovering that other people shared his fetish, is a very similar experience to most descriptions of first discovery of the BDSM community. Obviously, the BDSM community is a lot easier to find than quicksand aficionados, but the emotions involved with finding others who share a particular kink, still very much rings true. And, I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t also another sort kinship. It seems that, for most people, any exposure to dangerous quicksand comes first on television, or at the cinema.
When I think about it, I can’t help but wonder if my first attraction to the world of bondage and fetish didn’t come from cowboy movies and their like from my earliest childhood, what the Slate article called “old-time serials and wilderness tales.” Some of my earliest childhood memories came from times where I curled up on the couch, next to a parent, watching television. Invariably it seemed, the hero in the story would be taken captive or face a captive situation. Such scenarios were an everyday occurrence in the plots of TV shows like Gunsmoke and Bonanza, and in westerns made by John Wayne and Clint Eastwood that we’d see when we went out to movies.
In my youthful play at “Cowboys and Indians”, I remember wanting to take and hold captives far more than I wished to shoot my opponents. When we played at “War”,my goal wasn’t a body count, I wanted prisoners. I suppose in that sense, I can understand people who fetishize being enveloped in quicksand. At least to the extent that an person who doesn’t share the particular fetish can understand. We all come from the same neighborhood. We are all people with the courage to explore desires outside the so-called “norm”.
And, I think that’s also a perfect example of why the kink and BDSM community works to not only be sex positive, but to avoid situations where we judge another kink or fetish. We don’t want to end up in a scenario where we find ourselves saying, “Your kink is not my kink so it’s not OK.” That is not acceptable. I may not understand the appeal that quicksand has for the folks who get a sexual thrill from an encounter with some sort of viscous mixture of earth and water. But, trying to wrap my head around a fetish for quicksand doesn’t need the earth to begin swallowing my feet, I simply need to know, it’s just another way my fellow humans have found to express the joy of kink.