Darker Desires

The Erotic Charge of Taboo (Revisited)


The Erotic Charge of Taboo (Revisited)
by Vesperae

SMOKE SIGNALS MAGAZINE - September - October 2013

Life is unfortunately still very messy and complicated for me at the moment, and my personal distraction level is still pretty overwhelming, hence another offering from my earliest days with Smoke Signals. Many thanks for your continued patience and understanding, and especially for all of your kind emails, good wishes, and generous financial contributions to my forum. Your friendship and support mean a great deal to me, and have touched me deeply.

Again, even though I've got a lot on my plate at the moment, I'm OK, and I'm going to be OK. Better days (and more "Kayla") ahead! ;)

This is the very first guest column that I ever wrote for Smoke Signals Magazine, originally published in the July–August 2003 issue, and presented here for the first time outside of the Smoke Signals Online membership area.


A woman stands in her kitchen preparing dinner with the television on in the background.

As she works a knife repeatedly across a cutting board, she hears ominous music and a dramatically read voice-over in the middle of a block of commercials:

"A man smokes a pack a day..."

She drops the knife instantly as her head spins to face the screen.

"A woman, the same..."

Everything else in the world disappears from her awareness as she absorbs the image of a male and female actor each taking a drag on a cigarette.

"So who's twice as likely to die from it?"

She experiences the sudden sensation of free falling, and a rush of arousal that takes her breath away.

"Shocking new research every woman should know."

She feels like her knees are about to collapse.

"Women and Cigarettes - A Fatal Attraction, ABC, Thursday."

Her heart is pounding so hard that she feels like the entire room is throbbing as she rushes to the pack of half full Virginia Slims menthols and gold Colibri lighter on the kitchen table, collapses into a chair, lights up, and begins to run her trembling fingers over her inflamed and tingling body as she pops the first thick drag of mentholated cigarette smoke deep into her lungs.

* * *

The commercial was for an ABC News documentary that aired in the wake of the 2001 Surgeon General's Report on Women and Smoking.

The woman was me.

The number of women with the Smoking Fetish is dwarfed in comparison to the number of men with the Smoking Fetish, and there are some psychologists who erroneously believe that it isn't possible for women to develop any sort of Fetish component to their sexuality.

We may be an extreme minority, but we most definitely exist, although the reasons for the relative rarity of reported female Fetish sexualities are not clear. It may have to do with differences in sex-typical brain structure and neurochemistry, differences in psychosexual development between boys and girls in a male dominant society, or it may be that women are generally more sexually repressed by societal norms than men, and therefore are less likely to express their sexual interests, including Fetishes.

The second and last possibilities seem more likely to me than the first, since I have personally known at least a dozen women who definitely have some sort of mild to substantial kink, and despite their varied interests, the thing that they all share in common is a healthy overall acceptance of their sexualities and libidos.

In my case, I believe that having to come to terms with growing up lesbian in the midst of an overwhelmingly straight world forced me to get much more in touch with the nuances of my own "non-mainstream" sexual triggers, including my Fetish interests.

Based on the description of the scene in my kitchen above, you might easily arrive at the conclusion that I have a Death Wish, or that I get off on the idea of disease and dying. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. I take my vitamins. I eat healthy foods. I get regular exercise. I wear my seat belt. I look both ways before I cross the street. I hope to grow to be an old woman in good health, and to enjoy life for as long as I possibly can. And I take absolutely no pleasure of any kind in the thought of the suffering or death of others.

But I freely admit to taking great pleasure in the very personal and deliberate violation of the many layers of Taboo that have become attached to smoking for me during my lifetime.

I was born in the mid 1960s, which could perhaps be considered the beginning of the end of the "Golden Age of Smoking" in U.S. society. Smoking was allowed virtually everywhere, and was widely portrayed as being a perfectly normal adult behavior in the media. Cigarettes were still advertised on television and radio, and tobacco sponsorship of the arts, popular entertainment, and sporting events was widespread. But the aftermath of the first Surgeon General's Report on Smoking in 1962 was looming, and the first televised Anti-Smoking Public Service Announcements began at virtually the same time as the Virginia Slims advertising campaign was launched on U.S. airwaves.

My parents both smoked heavily, and their smoking was a constant source of acute irritation to me throughout childhood. And they weren't the only ones. Virtually every adult member of my extended family smoked, and it seemed to me that the vast majority of all adults were smokers as well, happily puffing away cigarette after cigarette, filling my world with a toxic haze that I could never seem to escape, no matter where I went. I wondered endlessly how anybody could deliberately and repeatedly fill their bodies with thick clouds of cigarette smoke when I couldn't even stand to get a whiff of the stuff.

And yet it was obvious that smoking was somehow pleasurable at the same time. Noxious, but clearly pleasurable to those who did it. And when I wasn’t overcome with secondhand smoke, I did find the image of smoking to be visually striking and very dramatic looking, perhaps even because I did find it irritating.

The riddle of why anyone would want to smoke was also compounded by the widely differing messages that I absorbed from the media, which at one end of the spectrum painted smoking as sexy, independent, and glamorous, and which painted it at the other as dirty, deadly, and dangerous.

I remember one PSA from the early 1970s in particular very clearly. A mother is playing with her young daughter on her lap as a voice-over proclaims: "This is life..." The mother reaches out of the frame and retrieves a smoldering cigarette and lifts it to her lips to take a drag. The frame freezes as the voice-over continues: "...this cuts it short." I instantly related to the scene on the television screen, because I had played it out countless times in my young life with my own mother. I became terrified that smoking was going to kill my parents and take them away from me, and I begged them both repeatedly to quit, to no avail.

It seemed so simple to me, so absolutely cut and dry. Cigarette smoking will kill you. And from the tender age of six or so, I understood that it is very difficult and perhaps impossible to stop smoking once you start. All I had to do was look at my own parents, who doted on me and catered to my every whim as their only child, but who absolutely would not, or could not, quit smoking for me, for themselves, or for anyone.

And every anti-smoking lecture, film, filmstrip, and demonstration that I received while in grade school deepened my fear of smoking to the point that it almost became a phobia for me, with the only small consolation being that I could escape the trap that my parents and so many others had fallen into. I took comfort in the thought that I would never smoke, and my parents even took pride in the thought that their daughter would be happier and healthier than they were. At least she would avoid their mistakes, even if they couldn't seem to undo theirs.

I also had a precocious and perhaps somewhat unusual interest in the human body, and my favorite toys were not dolls or coloring books; my favorite toys were encyclopedias and anatomical model kits from hobby stores. I was in absolute awe of the human body in all of its exquisite detail and fantastically varied and inter-related forms, and I had a deep respect for life that extended to environmental concerns. I saw my body as a microcosm and extension of the world around me, and just as I was disturbed by the sight of a smokestack belching poisons into the air, I was also disturbed by the sight of people polluting their bodies when they smoked.

But the tobacco companies would be delighted to learn that despite my intuitive grasp of just how toxic and obviously addictive their product was, and despite all of the effective efforts of the Public Health Campaign on me, I found myself repeatedly drawn to the vast array of cigarette print advertising in my mother's magazines by the time I was approaching adolescence.

The urge to study these ads felt very much like that moment when you look down from the window or ledge of a tall building and recognize that if you fall from your present height, you will almost certainly die. In such moments, a part of you also tends to recognize that you have incredible power to control the course of your life, because you could always jump and just end it there. For some, the experience results in psychogenic vertigo. For me, seeing cigarette advertising in this way strongly shaped my adult Fetish Identity.

I studied the FTC report tar and nicotine content numbers listed in small type in the cigarette print ads to the point that I actually had most of them memorized by the time I was ten or eleven, because I would occasionally entertain the thought that if I were ever to try a cigarette, at least I could try one that was the least dangerous of those available. But I would always quickly dismiss the idea of smoking even one cigarette as being unthinkable to me, because I had this idea drilled into me that smoking even one cigarette would damage my body and shorten my life by a few minutes. And the idea that each cigarette you smoke leaves a residue of toxins in your body was something that also made intuitive sense to me.

It seemed to me that once you smoked your first cigarette, it made you forever dirty inside, and you could never be completely "clean" ever again. And part of me desperately wanted to remain "clean."

Thinking about cigarette smoking evoked deep and equal measures of fear and fascination for me. It was the thing that I was never to do, the step outside The Garden that would forever deny me reentry, my own private Pandora’s Box.

In other words, cigarette smoking had become deeply invested with all of the mythic energy of a Taboo for me, and I wasn't even an adolescent yet.

I became fully conscious of my lesbian identity during the fall of my sophomore year in high school, and my first sexual experiences involved returning to my mother’s magazines and masturbating while fantasizing about the models, especially the cigarette ad models.

Scattered throughout each glossy slim volume was page after page of smiling, confident, playful, sexy, independent, beautiful women with lit cigarettes proudly held between their elegant fingers. And juxtaposed with each of these images of vibrant femininity was a black and white box proclaiming the danger that the woman is putting herself in, as well as a statement of just how much tar and nicotine will end up in her lungs as a result of smoking the freshly lit cigarette in her manicured hand.

I reflected endlessly on the idea that the smoking women portrayed in the ads were all a little "dirty" inside, all a little "toxic" inside, all a little "damaged" inside, which was in direct contrast to the image of perfection that they seemed to embody on the outside. These ads, which to me represented danger and death in the guise of the very essence of life itself - healthy feminine sex appeal - focused the ongoing emotional charge of the Taboo violation of smoking, and deeply sexualized it for me.

Nonsmoking women quickly vanished from my newly emerging erotic interests, and I loved to steal glimpses of the other girls and teachers at my school smoking, even if only from afar. But I continued to be much too afraid of smoking to even associate with the kids who smoked, let alone think about trying it, even though I had ample opportunity with two smoking parents and plenty of time to myself.

The remainder of high school and most of college passed for me in much the same way, admiring smokers from afar, before I reached out and finally opened what was to be my own personal Pandora's Box.

In my case, it happened to be a flip-top box of Virginia Slims menthol 120s purchased from a convenience store on a chilly late Sunday night during the fall semester of my senior year. And just to underscore the irony of the timing, I was completing an honors degree in Biology with an emphasis in Human Anatomy and Physiology.

I eventually just became so tired of living up to all of the expectations that I had set for myself, and those that I perceived others held for me. I was ready to be imperfect, and eager to finally attempt to solve the riddle of smoking that I had carried around with me for the whole of my conscious life.

After a week of tentative experimentation with uninhaled puffs in the privacy of my apartment, I accidentally inhaled a puff of cigarette smoke for the first time in my life, momentarily held it deep in my lungs without even first realizing that I was doing it, and then watched the smoke stream from my lips and spread out in the sunlight of my kitchen like tranquility made visible. I felt the rush of nicotine in my head for the first time, and the tingling of cigarette smoke in my respiratory tract was a deep sensual caress unlike anything I had ever felt or imagined it could feel like.

I knew that I would never be the same after that moment, because just as my lungs could never quite be completely clean again, my relationship with my body had been forever changed as well. Once I had violated the Taboo that smoking had become for me, there was nothing to stop me from doing it again, and again, and again.

And of course I did.

Perhaps fear and lust are opposite sides of the same psychological coin, because that part of me that used to tremble inside at the dangers of smoking as a child became deeply aroused as an adult over the idea of conditioning my body to be able to deliberately embrace risk. The connection between fear and lust had really been there since puberty for me, but it didn’t reach its fullest bloom until I had lost the "virginity" of my lungs to that first inhaled puff of Virginia Slims menthol smoke.

For me, the transformation from aversion to acceptance conveyed a psychological thrill of self-dominance, a thrill that I continue to experience the echoes of to this day, every time I light up another cigarette. And the thought that I share in an intimate variation of the same ritual of sensual risk taking with women all over the world everyday endlessly enchants and excites me.

It simply feels so deliciously Good to be so very, very Bad.

Email Vesperae

Vesperae's discussion and DS multimedia forum:
The Sublime Desire of Cigarette Smoking

The Secret Garden (Revisited)


The Secret Garden (Revisited)
by Vesperae


Life happens in all sorts of messy and complicated ways.

But even at its messiest and most complicated, every day is a gift and a new opportunity to make life better for ourselves, and for each other. This is my mantra at the moment, because life is extra messy and complicated for me right now. But I'm OK, and I'm going to be OK. ;)

Unfortunately, I've been so overwhelmed with other considerations recently that I've been unable to devote the time and energy that the continuation of "Kayla" deserves, hence the multimedia offering from the archives in my previous installment, and the text offering from the archives below in this installment. But rest assured that I'm aching to share more of "Kayla" with you (as well as lots of other goodies) as soon as my personal distraction level recedes to the point that I no longer need a snorkel.

This is the second guest column that I ever wrote for Smoke Signals Magazine, originally published in the January–February 2004 issue, and presented here for the first time outside of the Smoke Signals Online membership area. (As I mentioned in my last, I believe that the Smoke Signals Magazine Archive is one of the coolest features of membership. If you're a member and haven't yet checked it out, you're missing some really great content that will likely reconnect you to delightful memories of the early days of the SFC.)

It's hard to believe that it's been almost a decade since I wrote this...

"A woman who smokes is attractive to me because ____________."

If you were to randomly select 100 individuals from our Community and ask them to complete and elaborate on this statement, there would certainly be striking similarities among many of the responses.

But given sufficient details as to what each finds erotic in a female smoker, it would quickly become clear that there are many significant individual distinctions from person to person. Very specific preferences in age range, cigarette brands and styles, style of inhalation and exhalation, level of daily consumption, age of initiation, personality, physical attributes, wardrobe, use of accessories like holders and cases, as well as numerous other particular nuances of interest demonstrate a great deal of complexity and diversity lurking just beneath the common label of "Smoking Fetish."

This broad range of individual interests really isn’t that surprising, given our varied cultural and generational differences, as well as the multitude of distinctions in our individual developmental experiences. In a sense, there are probably as many varieties of the Smoking Fetish as there are individuals who identify with the term.

For the most part, it seems that we do generally respect each other’s multifaceted interests, but what has always been a little surprising to me is the sense of frustration and even personal affront – to varying degrees – that a significant number of those who participate in the online discussion forums seem to have towards others who do not share or understand their individual Fetish preferences. Message board posts about sightings spoiled because the woman in question was smoking a brand or style of cigarette not personally favored, or about what a given poster personally finds distasteful about any number of attributes of smoking are relatively commonplace.

So why do we feel the need to express these things, and to sometimes even argue about them? Perhaps the motivation has to do with the sense of some fundamental belief being challenged, of some personal ideal being somehow diminished, of something almost sacred being questioned.

It seems reasonable to conclude that our individual attitudes and feelings about smoking, about what it means to us when a woman smokes, and about what enhances or detracts from smoking as an erotic act for each of us, arise from places in our psyches that deeply transcend the simple conditioning of repeated exposure to smoking during development. We must do something internally with that exposure in order for it to so significantly influence our lives. We must have had to somehow make sense of smoking, and to coherently integrate our experiences with it into our understanding of the world.

I believe that the profound depth and persistence of our reaction to smoking is the result of what amounts to the creation of some very elaborate and very personal internal over-arching narratives about women who smoke, including the importance of various symbolic elements like brand, style, age, etc. In other words, I believe that the development of an individual "Personal Mythology" of smoking is essential to developing a Fetish response to it. And based on the accounts I have read online, as well as my own personal experience, I also tend to believe that the core of our individual Personal Mythologies of smoking become mostly established and essentially immutable once we reach psychosexual maturity.

This would certainly explain the specificity and detail of our individual likes and dislikes, and it would also explain why we might be inclined to feel frustrated when a potential smoking stimulus somehow falls short of our expectations. If the symbols that comprise the stimulus do not evoke the internalized characters and narratives of our Personal Mythology of smoking, we cannot relate to the stimulus sexually.

Cognitive psychologists describe an adaptive and flexible relationship between human memory and perception. Once we are exposed to a given experience, we tend to consciously forget the objective details of that experience unless we are exposed to the same or a similar experience repeatedly. Positive or negative emotional arousal can also distort or enhance our recall of the objective details of a given experience. But what is perhaps most intriguing of all is the demonstrated phenomenon of subsequent perceptions essentially reconstructing and changing the recollection of the objective details of prior experiences. This especially tends to happen when the earlier experience is relatively ambiguous, and a later experience seems to provide information that somehow relates to or helps us make greater sense of the earlier experience.

All of these psychological mechanisms work together to provide us with the ability to adapt to our environment, as well as providing us with a relatively coherent sense of the world and our place in it. What we lack in empirical objectivity, we make up for in our ability to assimilate and respond to the vast quantities of stimuli that we are bombarded with on a daily basis.

But another important outgrowth of the relationship between memory and perception is our ability over time to connect together many specific experiential impressions, and to associate them with a given stimulus in such a way that the stimulus evokes some form of the memory and associated emotional arousal of all that the stimulus has come to symbolize.

Imagination takes such a cumulative stimulus response one step further, and certainly drives much of our early development. The stories that we create about the world around us as we progress toward maturity certainly have profound significance for the way we view and relate to others for the rest of our lives.

And in the case of the development of a sexual response to an act that is ostensibly asexual, there must be a great deal of reflection and imagination brought to bear on the act in order to sexualize it. There must be a wealth of established internal characters and narrative elements that combine to form a Personal Mythology that ultimately eroticizes smoking in a very unique way for each of us. These internal characters and narrative elements could be based on memories and impressions of actual smoking women or girls we have known or observed, on smoking models or actresses in the media, or on imaginary or idealized composite characters drawn from any number of these or other experiences.

My own particular Mythology of smoking grew out of being repeatedly exposed from a very young age to not only a perpetual haze of secondhand smoke from my parents’ and other adult role models’ cigarettes, but to a whole range of paradoxical and conflicting messages about smoking from a variety of sources. Smoking is repugnant to the uninitiated, but is obviously satisfying to the confirmed smoker. Smoking is something that a liberated woman does, but it is addictive. Smoking is a sexy sensual pleasure, but it is toxic and will damage your body and most likely dramatically shorten your life.

These messages came to me from personal observations, cigarette advertisements, movies and television, anti-smoking public service announcements, and "Health Classes" in school. A persistent combination of fear and fascination became attached to smoking throughout my childhood, and this ongoing emotional arousal elicited a strong urge to attempt to make sense of it all, and to incorporate everything I had experienced and knew about smoking into some kind of a coherent understanding. Eventually my reflections and feelings came to eroticize smoking for me by the time I reached adolescence, and at about the same time that I realized that I was a lesbian.

Once my reaction to smoking had attained a sexual dimension, my perception of smokers changed as well, and since I was in high school at the time, I had numerous smoking female classmates and occasionally teachers to admire from afar and privately fantasize about. I also had many smoking female classmates to observe and entertain similar fantasies about in college. My experiences observing these smoking women in my age group deeply expanded my impression of what sort of woman smokes, as well as maybe, just maybe, suggesting the sort of woman that I could be…

A significant part of my imagination became forever populated by these women, as well as all the images and impressions of their predecessors that I had internalized over the years. I came to see them as representing many different attributes that I found erotic, and freely projected my thoughts about smoking onto their behavior as I continued to observe and think about them.

I had never smoked a cigarette before, but as my young adult observations and reflections continued, I felt an increasing longing to experience smoking firsthand. The inhibitions of not wanting to injure my health, or to tarnish the squeaky clean image that I felt I had to live up to, had long kept any curiosity about actually trying smoking so firmly in check that I always just assumed that I would never become a smoker. But ironically, the circular interaction between my curiosity and my inhibitions continued to make smoking more and more attractive to me, until I finally just let my inhibitions go.

And once I had completed the psychological journey inward that allowed me to overcome my fear and deliberately embrace the risk of smoking, as well as completing the physiological transformation of conditioning my body to accept inhaling cigarette smoke, I experienced a sense of sublime consummation, and I had arrived at the most deeply erotic psychological and physical relationship to smoking that I possibly could for me, given everything in my life that had led up to my finally starting.

I was 21, and over the following year or so, as I began to process the experiences of becoming a smoker, and to integrate the identity of being a smoker into my personal and social life, the final elements of the core and foundation of my own Personal Mythology of smoking were established.

Once I became a smoker, I was thrilled to be able to share in a profoundly intimate variation of the same sensual experience that all of these women I had been intrigued by for so long experienced every day. But the significance of my own transformation was also privately imbued with all of these layers of meaning and symbolism that I had attributed to smoking, and had contemplated over and over again throughout my life up to that point.

At 39, I realize that virtually any erotic response to smoking that I now experience relates in some significant way to the major themes and elements of all the stories I created in my mind about smoking prior to my mid 20s. Which isn’t to say that I haven’t experienced the expansion of those themes and elements, or the elaboration of those stories since that time, but the overall narratives have changed very little over the past fifteen years.

I often think of the development of my own Personal Mythology of smoking as being analogous to the growth of a tree, in the sense that once the roots, trunk, and primary branches were established, the appearance and shape of the tree has changed very little from year to year, and any new growth is dependent entirely on the support and nourishment of the underlying structure. And I strongly suspect that something similar could be said for each of us.

After having the opportunity to compare personal histories with other members of our Community via the internet over the last few years, what is most striking to me is that regardless of our individual tastes and preferences, just about all of us seem to have two main things in common. We each do seem to attribute many layers of very personal symbolism and meaning to smoking, and as we came to develop our Unusual Desires, virtually all of us did so in an ongoing state of guarded secrecy. I tend to believe that each of these things have the effect of reinforcing and amplifying the significance of the other, and ultimately intensifying both the strength of our personal Mythologies of smoking, and our sexual response to it.

It is as if we each live with this Secret Garden inside us, where our most erotic ideals live on and on as something akin to iconic statuary untouched by time or the outside world, and the greatest sexual thrill is the discovery of things that take us back to the people and places and thoughts and feelings that created The Garden within us in the first place.

The process of interacting as we do online gives us the opportunity to enrich our collective Mythology of smoking, but I think that it more importantly also helps us retrieve and consciously integrate aspects of our own personal experiences and reactions to smoking that may have been lurking within our subconscious minds for many years.

This has certainly been the case for me, and I have found that the discovery of little bits and pieces of myself in the stories of others has significantly helped me to flesh out the understanding of my own Personal Mythology of smoking, and in so doing, has helped me derive more pleasure from the indulgence of my Fetish than ever before. The process has allowed me to enrich my own Secret Garden in ways that I never could have imagined not too very long ago, when I only strongly suspected that I wasn’t alone in my Unusual Desires.

Email Vesperae

Vesperae's discussion and DS multimedia forum:
The Sublime Desire of Cigarette Smoking

So You've Decided to Start Smoking... (Revisited)


So You've Decided to Start Smoking... (Revisited)
by Vesperae


This is the first multimedia piece I did for the online version of Smoke Signals Magazine, originally published in the July–August 2007 issue. Presented here for the first time outside of the Smoke Signals Online membership area. (By the way, the Smoke Signals Magazine Archive is one of the coolest features of membership, in my opinion. It's a treasure trove of fascinating "time capsule" moments in the SF Community dating back to February of 2003!)

Kayla's Lungs, Part 6


Kayla's Lungs, Part 6
by Vesperae


January 9, late afternoon

Epidemiologists refer to an organism that transmits an infectious disease to another organism as a "Vector." I've thought a lot about this idea over the last few days.

Cigarette smoke is a colloidal suspension of hot carcinogenic tar particles and toxic gasses, and inhaling it amounts to deliberate, premeditated poisoning and self-mutilation. Epidemiologically speaking, cigarette smoking is not an infectious disease.



by Vesperae

SMOKE SIGNALS MAGAZINE - January - February 2013

Welcome to 2013. At least we managed to survive the Mayan Apocalypse.

And at least we have our innate fascination with dates and numbers to pin our hopes for a better future on. Such distinctions are of course ultimately arbitrary, but why not indulge them, and why not shoot for the stars? (The older I get, the more I find myself clinging to optimism, because the alternative has always proven to be a destructive dead-end for me over and over again.)

Which brings me to Resolutions of the sort that we tend to set for ourselves at this time of year. And of course, none more infamous than the passing to obsessive contemplation of quitting smoking.

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