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(Warning: The following material and links are NSFW.)
Oh Joy Sex Toy is a pretty popular webcomic among feminists, LGBTQ readers, and kinksters alike. Run by Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan, the series looks at sex toys, fetishism, and human sexuality in depth, covering everything from squirting to puppy play. Guests are often featured, exploring new facets of kink, with the comic looking at the latest trends in kinky and sexy paraphernalia.
For example, in one of Oh Joy Sex Toy‘s latest renditions, cuckolding features front-and-center through a white trio enjoying a cuckolding relationship. Except there’s a problem: The internet thinks Moen and Nolan’s handling of cuckolding glosses over some of the kink’s dangerous stereotypes and dark past—one deeply rooted in racism.
What is Cuckolding?
Cuckolding is a sexual fetish where one’s sexual partner has sex with another person. It’s a consensual fetish—the “cuck” gives consent for the “bull” to have sex with their partner. If done correctly, everyone has a good time. And it’s a particularly common fetish, too.
Why so? According to a primer by Refinery29, cuckolding helps rekindle that initial erotic flame partners have for one another when they first meet. Plus, it’s sexy to know that other people find your partner attractive. Experiencing joy from your partner’s sexual experiences is a phenomenon known as “compersion,” and it’s something that everyone in the cuckolding dynamic can relate to.
But that’s where things start to fall apart with Oh Joy Sex Toy‘s look at cuckolding. An ongoing joke throughout the comic is that the bull keeps degrading the cuck, telling him to “shut up and get the fuck out” while he’s explaining what it means to be a cuck. In reality, as Refinery29 points out, cuckolding isn’t always about pure humiliation.
“People experience this kink to different degrees,” writer Sophie Saint Thomas explains, “so you certainly don’t have to take another person home and lock yourself in a cage while they enter the bone zone with your partner.”
okay but maybe the funniest part of the cuck comic is how poorly craig's design sells this description pic.twitter.com/oGuaa9EDyW— MS-07B MechaDad (@sotomiru) April 6, 2017
There’s also the fact that Moen and Nolan encourage readers to take relationship jealousy and “sexualize it,” noting that “by playing with the things that scare us, we feel like we can control them better.” This isn’t always true, and it can be a very dangerous mindset. That’s one thing NYC sex therapist Madeleine Castellanos discusses with Refinery29: feelings of jealousy can develop, souring a relationship.
“If your partner is actually having sex with someone else, your jealousy could kick in, and you could develop jealousy or resentment, even if it’s something you’ve agreed upon,” Dr. Castellanos warns. “When people pull off this fantasy, it can be very successful. Of course, it’s wrought with danger.”
Granted, Moen and Nolan embrace the fact that not all cuckolding dynamics are based in humiliation or explicit power dynamics. But it’s a little misleading to focus specifically on that, when the kink itself is so much more complicated.
“Rotten Racist Edges”
“But, a warning if you are interested in researching this kink: Unfortunately, there are some rotten racist edges that are hard to avoid stumbling over on the internet,” Nolan states in the comic. “A lot of cuckold porn, stories, and stereotypes are based around white couples being with a black third in a really ugly way, using racial slurs and all.”
Racism in cuckolding takes up two panels in the comic, but the sheer level of bigotry connected to the word “cuck” and the concept of “cuckolding” is pretty severe. Googling “cuckolding porn” reveals an entire wall of photos in which black men serve as the “bull,” playing into racial stereotypes targeting black men as sexually aggressive toward white women.
The truth is, porn is political, and no one watches it in a vacuum. As Dana Schwartz writes for GQ, “In pornography, the wife of the cuckolded (almost exclusively white) husband is most commonly sleeping with African-American men, meant to provide an additional layer of humiliation if the white husband sees that man as ‘inferior.’ In the world of pornography meant to elicit humiliation as an erotic sentiment, cuckold porn takes advantage of its viewers’ racist perceptions.”
So that power dynamic of humiliation, control, and sexual desire plays into racist beliefs. And it gave birth to a pretty serious form of racism from the far-right: calling people “cucks.”
According to GQ, “cuckservative” emerged as a term to insult Jeb Bush-style conservatives, who were deemed too “weak” and “effeminate” for the party. The insult plays into a long history of white supremacists radicalizing whites “with the fear of black men raping white women,” an image all too familiar to any film student who has seen The Birth of a Nation. As an insult, Schwartz calls it “a concept borne out of insecurity,” and a fear that “one is inadequate, sexually or otherwise, and that inadequacy will lead to the loss of the things that are important to him.” In other words, conservatives call people “cucks” because they think white Americans are giving people of color too many civil rights.
This is a huge problem that significantly impacts how the cuckolding kink functions. It means a core part of cuckolding’s humiliation is founded in racist imagery. And when a huge part of the cuckolding genre embraces racism, then it starts to pollute the kink.
In an update to the description, Nolan defends the concept of “race-play” while bypassing a lot of cuckolding’s racist baggage. “I personally see a distinction between racism and consensual race-play,” Nolan writes. “Racism is bad! Thoughtfully playing with loaded power dynamics for mutual, consensual erotic stimulation is fine!”
But is that Nolan’s call to make as a white person? The comic isn’t even engaging in people of colors’ experiences with cuckolding; the Oh Joy Sex Toy strip focuses on white partners. Men of color looking to engage in any form of cuckolding play will have a very different experience because of the role that fetishization and racism play throughout the kink. By comparison, white men don’t have to worry about racial undertones while playing the bull; black and white people experience cuckolding in two totally separate worlds, and it’s something Oh Joy Sex Toy washes over.
Despite the fact that racism is a huge part of cuckold porn and media, Oh Joy Sex Toy treats cuckolding as a kink with no racist legacy. The truth is, racism has a long and complicated role in cuckolding, and it’s not like men of color can simply escape from a history of white supremacists targeting black men as sexual aggressors.
"there's a difference between racism and race play" is the Whitest thing i've seen today— cuck e. cheese's (@oodlenoodle_) April 5, 2017
My problem w/ OJST is that kinks are messy, complicated. Not everything whimsical shlorp shlorp gooey wonderland one page comic material.— ✨ (@SkulldelaCreme) April 6, 2017
Still thinking about that OJST comic...I just want Moen to clarify consensual race-play for me real quick pic.twitter.com/Ax2zfN9EPu— Trillswitch Engage (@itskindred) April 6, 2017
Cuckolding is a complicated sexual fetish, and to write about cuckolding means having a frank conversation about racism’s role in cuckolding material. If you’re white, it’s easy to see cuckolding as a fun, carefree kink that anyone can join. But people of color have a much more fraught experience with the kink. And when it comes to deciding whether or not cuckolding is racist, well, that’s a discussion that should be deferred to people of color, not white webcomic writers.
Ana Valens is a reporter specializing in online queer communities, marginalized identities, and adult content creation. She is Daily Dot's Trans/Sex columnist. Her work has appeared at Vice, Vox, Truthout, Bitch Media, Kill Screen, Rolling Stone, and the Toast. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and spends her free time developing queer adult games.