The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) believes that the most important issue facing the BDSM/Leather/Fetish communities today is the consistent practice of courts and law enforcement officials to prosecute BDSM as criminal assault, with no defense of consent permitted. We know that BDSM is not assault, but rather is pleasurable, loving adult erotic activity, as long as it is mutually consensual.NCSF is leading a major national campaign – Consent Counts – to change the laws and police practices that our communities now endure, and to establish that consent is available as a defense in criminal BDSM prosecutions.
Best Practices in the BDSM/Leather/Fetish Communities
The practice of BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, SM) consists of intimate mutually pleasurable erotic activity within the scope of informed consent. The following “best practices” have been developed by our communities to ensure that the standard of “safe, sane and consensual” is met by all BDSM participants:
All participants are knowledgeable about the techniques and safety concerns involved in what they are doing, and all act in accordance with that knowledge.
Knowing the difference between fantasy and reality, and acting in accordance with that knowledge.
All participants understand the nature of the activity in which they will be engaged, and the limits imposed by each participant, and respect such limits at all times.
Each participant should fully understand both the desires and the limits of each other participant. Such understanding may be based on long familiarity with the other participant(s) or, where participants are new to each other, on a full discussion in advance of the BDSM activity.
- Consent must be clearly given to all aspects of planned BDSM activity and such consent must be freely given.
- Each participant in a BDSM activity is free to withdraw previously given consent at any time.
- Each participant should fully understand any limitations on another participant’s ability to understand and consent fully to the planned BDSM activity, such as age, diminished mental capacity or use of drugs or alcohol.
- A means should be provided - normally a “safe word” - for the “bottom” to signal clearly her/his desire to terminate the activity.
- Relationships among BDSM practitioners should be fully respected by others. It is the responsibility of each person to make clear to others any relationship that imposes limits on that person’s participation in BDSM activities.
- At parties or other events, the use of monitors may be advisable and rules should be clearly displayed.
- The more intense and physical the BDSM activity is, the more important it is to ensure clear understanding of and consent to the planned activity.
- Participants must recognize that BDSM activity resulting in serious bodily harm or that goes beyond the expectations of one of the participants may be deemed criminal, even where consent was initially given.
Established in 1997, theNational Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) is committed to creating a political, legal and social environment in the US that advances equal rights for consenting adults who engage in alternative sexual and relationship expressions. NCSF aims to advance the rights of, and advocate for consenting adults in the BDSM-Leather-Fetish, Swing, and Polyamory Communities. We pursue our vision through direct services, education, advocacy, and outreach, in conjunction with our partners, to directly benefit these communities.
Planning a larger kink event like Winter Wickedness is stressful enough, without adding in efforts to shut it down by the Radical Right. Although we recognized an effort such as this is largely based on misinformation and people’s fear of the unknown, we had invested significant amounts of time, effort and capitol, and were unwilling to be swayed by biased attempts to cancel the event.
With two weeks left before opening day, we heard that a local Christian radio station had done an inflammatory story on our event. Subsequently, the host hotel began receiving a smattering of calls from the listeners demanding the event’s cancellation. We initially contacted the NCSF to consult with their specialists as a preparatory step, in case this was picked up by the mainstream media.
A week later, the Radical Right had discovered their efforts were not producing the desired effect. They stepped it up and began contacting the mainstream media, the local authorities, including the health dept, the fire marshal, the local police dept, etc – in an effort to bring more pressure. We again reached out to the NCSF, which had Susan on the case, and Robin coming in for the event. Between the coordination of the Action Alert e-mails, Robin on the ground as the local media spokesperson, Susan keeping the heat on, and calling in to offer the media another voice – we had the NCSF as an invaluable ally in maintaining our sexual freedoms.
Although what it is that we do (WIITWD) is legal, safe, sane and consensual and had been given the go ahead by the local and state authorities; the radical right’s sensationalism, grassroots efforts and pointed innuendos implying inappropriate behavior, can create enough fear to jeopardize a venue. The NCSF has proven to us, beyond any doubt, that they are willing and able to fight back the bias and discriminatory efforts against us. The NCSF is a valuable asset to the Kink, Leather, GLBT and Alt Sex lifestyles. Adventures In Sexuality (AIS) is proud to be an NCSF Coalition Partner and will continue to bring the NCSF to all our events.
Barak & Sheba
Owners – Adventures In Sexuality
Adventures In Sexuality
If you practice BDSM in fully consensual ways, you may still be criminally prosecuted for assault under many laws throughout the U.S. The BDSM-Leather-Fetish communities have focused heavily for years on defining “safe, sane and consensual BDSM practices” for practitioners as well as to help the broader public better understand what it is that we do. It was, after all, only in 1994 that the DSM criteria of the American Psychiatric Association changed their categorization of sadomasochism, paving the path for us to do more effective social, legal and political change. Until 1994, BDSM was defined automatically as a mental illness. Prior to 1994, it was difficult to organize effectively to protect and advance our rights as BDSM practitioners. This categorization and long-term societal view of BDSM as a mental illness resulted in severe consequences for many practitioners over the years—loss of child custody and jobs as well as criminal prosecutions. Fortunately for all of us, NCSF was formed in 1997 to work on these issues and to protect and advance our rights.
Although things have certainly improved for us over the years, we still have significant legal, political and societal issues facing us. The majority of us are not “out of the closet”, still fearing the very real threat of being prosecuted or losing our jobs or families. BDSM is still prosecuted criminally as assault, and the legal precedents related to consensual BDSM assault prosecutions are not in our favor. Many of the laws intended to protect victims of domestic violence and rape need to be modified in their application to consensual BDSM activities. The DSM criterion still needs further reform—it is still used against us, and we can still be defined as mentally ill for what it is that we do. And, members of our communities still routinely face ongoing issues of divorce, child custody, job discrimination and even criminal charges.
NCSF has two major national projects aimed at protecting and advancing the rights of the BDSM-Leather-Fetish communities. First, NCSF has taken charge of the “Consent Counts” initiative that was launched in 2006 at a Leather Leadership Roundtable as the single most important national priority of the BDSM-Leather-Fetish communities. Our goal: to decriminalize consensual BDSM throughout the United States by ensuring that consent will be recognized as a defense to criminal charges brought under assault laws and other statutes. The Consent Counts project is a nationwide education and activism program that includes a comprehensive analysis of current laws and court decisions, the development of legal arguments for changing the laws, participating in court cases, and ultimately, through lobbying, education and grass-roots activism, changing state laws and the way the public and the courts view BDSM.
The other important advocacy project is NCSF’s work to change the DSM criterion so that consensual BDSM will be categorized, not as a mental pathology, but rather as a normal variant. In this effort, we are coordinating research and advocacy and working with recognized experts in the field.
We need your help and support to be successful. You can make a difference. Get involved. Visit www.ncsfreedom.org.
In an indictment rendered by a Grand Jury in the Western District of Missouri on September 9, 2010, five Missouri men allegedly participated in torturing a mentally disabled woman online or in person over a multi-year period when the victim was between the ages of 16 and 24. Among the charges are: Sex Trafficking by Force, Fraud or Coercion, Forced Labor Trafficking, Transportation for Sexual Activity, and Conspiracy. The allegations involve sex with a minor, drug and firearms possession, forced prostitution, sexual abuse, and torture to the point that the victim suffered a heart attack.
These activities should not be confused with consensual BDSM. People who engage in BDSM and other similar activities do so as consenting adults and in a safe, sane, and consensual manner. BDSM activities are not violent specifically because all participants can stop any time they wish. Millions of people engage in BDSM: according to the Kinsey Institute’s New Report on Sex, between 5-10% of the adult population engages in BDSM on at least an occasional basis.
NCSF strongly condemns criminals who commit violence and engage in non-consensual activities. We encourage the media to remember that the large community of consenting adults who engage in BDSM activities should not be conflated with these alleged crimes. Ordinary people do BDSM – parents, co-workers, friends, and neighbors. But because of the stigma against BDSM, most people are closeted and don’t speak out about their interests because they fear condemnation and discrimination.
To read the Federal Indictment:
The NCSF is committed to creating a political, legal and social environment in the US that advances equal rights for consenting adults who engage in alternative sexual and relationship expressions. The NCSF aims to advance the rights of, and advocate for consenting adults in the BDSM-Leather-Fetish, Swing, and Polyamory Communities. We pursue our vision through direct services, education, advocacy, and outreach, in conjunction with our partners, to directly benefit these communities.
There are many ways you can make a difference - both on your own and in conjunction with NCSF:
- Work to change antiquated laws
- Work to change the social climate about sexual issues
- Promote acceptance of safe, sane, and consensual alternative sexual practices among consenting adults
- Oppose censorship of consensual sexual expression
- Fight for freedom of academic expression about sexual issues
- Help communities and individuals facing the threat of prosecution or legal action
- Support the right of adults to express their sexuality, gender identity and orientation freely and openly without fear
The following Principles and Guidelines are intended to help law enforcement and social services professionals understand the difference between abusive relationships vs. consensual sadomasochism (BDSM). BDSM includes a broad and complex group of behaviors between consenting adults involving the consensual exchange of power, and the giving and receiving of intense erotic sensation and/or mental discipline.
BDSM includes: "intimate activities within the scope of informed consent that is freely given."
Abuse is: "Physical, sexual or emotional acts inflicted on a person without their informed and freely given consent."
The BDSM-Leather-Fetish communities recognize the phrase "Safe, Sane, Consensual" as the best brief summary of principles guiding BDSM practices:
Safe is being knowledgeable about the techniques and safety concerns involved in what you are doing, and acting in accordance with that knowledge.
Sane is knowing the difference between fantasy and reality, and acting in accordance with that knowledge.
Consensual is respecting the limits imposed by each participant at all times. One of the recognized ways to maintain limits is through a "safeword" which ensures that each participant can end his/her participation with a word or gesture.
Informed consent must be judged by balancing the following criteria for each encounter at the time the acts occurred:
- Was informed consent expressly denied or withdrawn?
- Were there factors that negated the informed consent?
- What is the relationship of the participants?
- What was the nature of the activity?
- What was the intent of the accused abuser?
Whether an individual's role is top/dominant or bottom/submissive, they could be suffering abuse if they answer no to any of the following questions:
- Are your needs and limits respected?
- Is your relationship built on honesty, trust, and respect?
- Are you able to express feelings of guilt or jealousy or unhappiness?
- Can you function in everyday life?
- Can you refuse to do illegal activities?
- Can you insist on safe sex practices?
- Can you choose to interact freely with others outside of your relationship?
- Can you leave the situation without fearing that you will be harmed, or fearing the other participant(s) will harm themselves?
- Can you choose to exercise self-determination with money, employment, and life decisions?
- Do you feel free to discuss your practices and feelings with anyone you choose?
These guidelines were created by activists and leaders at the Leather Leadership Conference in 1998.
SM-Leather-Fetish educational and social organizations consider the cornerstone of SM activity to be the guidelines: "safe, sane, and consensual." While it is possible to do any activity in a reckless and dangerous manner, SM is no more dangerous than skiing or other thrilling activities.
Safe is being knowledgeable about the techniques and safety concerns involved in what you are doing, and acting in accordance with that knowledge. Safety includes the responsibility of protecting yourself and your partner from STD (sexually tranSMitted disease) infection including the HIV virus.
While the media often portrays the more extreme SM behaviors, the reality is that a lot of SM play never goes beyond a playful spanking. Just as there are ways to reduce the risk in activities such as scuba diving or driving a car, there are ways to reduce the risk and engage in SM behavior safely.
The organized SM community is active in promoting safety seminars and teaching the practitioners how to engage in these behaviors safely. The fact that SM practitioners are not clogging the emergency rooms every weekend, is an indication that these programs are working. If SM injuries were occurring, it seems obvious that the press would be highlighting this for the entertainment of its readers/viewers.
Sane is knowing the difference between fantasy and reality. Fictional accounts of SM are often distorted for fantasy sake, and are not representative of real situations and relationships.
Sane also distinguishes between mental illness and health. A real distinction between mental illness and health is when a behavior pattern causes problems in a person[base ']s life. Washing your hands until the skin is peeling off, or so frequently that you can not otherwise function is a sign mental illness. SM, like any other behavior, can be a sign of psychiatric problems. However the vast majority of its practitioners find that SM enriches and promotes functionality in the other areas of their life.
Consensual is respecting the limits imposed by each participant at all times.
Consent is the prime ingredient of SM. One difference between rape and heterosexual intercourse is consent. One difference between violence and SM is consent. The same behaviors that might be crimes without consent are life-enhancing with consent.
The type and parameters of control are agreed upon by the people involved, and the ongoing consent of all participants is required. Some practitioners use a safeword, which is a designated word that signals the scene must slow down or stop.
Rick Houlberg writes in "The Magazine of a Sadomasochism Club: The Tie That Binds":
"The only 'cardinal' rules which the Club's membership insists each member must uphold are that all SM activities must be consensual, nonexploitative, and safe. As children are not considered to be able to consent, all activities must be between adults. The consensual and safety rules of the Club are constantly being reinforced. Safety and etiquette issues, including restrictions on overt and heavy drug use, are strongly stressed at new-member orientations and in all written materials produced by the Club."
Rick Houlberg (1993). "The Magazine of a Sadomasochism Club: The Tie That Binds." Journal of Homosexuality 21 (1/2), Haworth Press: pg. 167-83.
Stop the Arrests in New York City
March 10, 2009 - The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) is a proud member of the Stop the Arrests Coalition. Spokesperson Susan Wright has participated in organizing meetings and spoke out at the Sheridan Square Rally on February 21st, 2009, against the false arrests of gay men and professional Dominatrices for prostitution.
There is good news from a meeting on March 6th with Police Commissioner Ray Kelly pledging to curb the stings against gay men (see articles below). NCSF is continuing to press for a cessation of arrests of professional Dominatrices, and has written to Commissioner Kelly to ask for a meeting about the NYPD's change in policy after 14 years of legal operation, which has resulted in a number of arrests of Dominatrices and owners of BDSM houses since Fall 2007.
NCSF opposes the prosecution of pro-dominants under prostitution laws. Consenting adults engaging in safe, sane, consensual SM, fetishes, and cross-dressing services do not pose legitimate health or safety issues for local communities. What these adults agree to do in private is no one else's business.
Members of the Stop the Arrests Coalition include: Queer Justice League, Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, Sex Workers Outreach Project, Urban Justice League's Sex Worker Project, and FIERCE New York.
KELLY CURBS 'GAY' STINGS
by Larry Celona
New York Post
March 9, 2009
Following accusations that vice cops were making dubious arrests of gay menat pornography shops, the NYPD has decided that similar investigations will now have to be approved by the department's higher-ups, sources told The Post.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly called the head of the department's OrganizedCrime Control Bureau, which oversees the vice squad, and others to Police Headquarters after protests outside Mayor Bloomberg's home over the arrests.
Protesters said undercover vice-squad cops were flirting with customers in Manhattan shops and offering to have sex for money - which the activists said amounted to entrapment.
The department had said it was not targeting gay men but was ratherconducting a nuisance-abatement operation in response to neighbor complaints.
As a result of the talks, it was decided that all such operations would haveto be cleared by OCCB head Chief Anthony Izzo, the sources said.
Click here for more information on this story.
Manhattan DA Pledges to Investigate Gay Men's Prostitution Arrests
by Duncan Osborne
Gay City News
March 8, 2009
Activists who met with Robert Morgenthau report that the district attorney said he would investigate the 2008 prostitution arrests of at least 30 gay and bisexual men in at least six Manhattan porn shops, and may dismiss the cases against five of the men who are contesting the charges.
"The first thing Morgenthau said was, 'We are going to investigate all these cases,'" said Joey Nelson, coordinator for the Queer Justice League and a member of the Coalition to Stop the Arrests. "That was the first thing out of his mouth."
The March 6 meeting lasted roughly an hour, and included coalition members, elected officials or their representatives, community groups, and Leroy Frazer, the executive assistant district attorney for governmental affairs and community relations.
"They were going to go back and start looking at all the individual cases," said Robert Pinter, also a coalition member and one of the men who was arrested last year. "They really seemed genuinely concerned that something wrong was happening here."
The arrests, which were later cited in lawsuits seeking to close the shops brought by the city against five of the six businesses, are widely seen as false arrests in the gay community.
"They weren't trying to cover things up or hide," Pinter said. "Morgenthau himself brought up that he has prosecuted police over 300 times in his career."
Morgenthau's office could quickly dismiss the charges against the five men who pleaded not guilty, but Pinter and Nelson said no promises were made.
"He said that those would be easier to act on, but there was no promise of automatic dismissal," Nelson said. "He said they would investigate those cases and that those would be the first that they would investigate."
Morgenthau's office may already be doing that. At court dates, the district attorney's office has
repeatedly adjourned the cases saying they are not ready, leading defense attorneys to speculate that the prosecution is letting the time limit it has to bring the cases to trial run out so the cases will
have to be dismissed.
Activists asked that Morgenthau reopen the other cases in which some of the men are known to have pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and received minor sentences. Those dispositions should be vacated, the charges dismissed, and the cases sealed, activists said.
Morgenthau cannot do that on his own, though he might not oppose such motions. Those men convicted would have to ask that their pleas be vacated.
"Those cases would have to be brought forward by the individuals," Nelson said. "At this point, we
should be doing an all-points bulletin that people who have been arrested should be contacting the district attorney's office to ask if their cases can be vacated."
The meeting was convened by State Senator Thomas K. Duane who, activists said, was an effective advocate.
"I thought Tom Duane was very, very strong in putting out the lay of the land," Nelson said. "He called it homophobic... He said it was a set-up."
Duane, who is openly gay, represents Chelsea where some of the arrests happened. State Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, an out lesbian who represents the West Village, was also praised by activists.
"[Duane] was really forceful and Deborah Glick chimed in a really forceful way," Pinter said. "They were just very outspoken."
Other attendees included Assemblyman Dick Gottfried, who represents Chelsea, Brendan Fay, a coalition member, and staff from the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project (AVP).
Activists had a February 11 meeting, organized by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, an out lesbian who represents Chelsea, with senior police officials who said they had paused in their efforts.
"The message, at least in the DA's office, was heard really loud and clear," Pinter said.
To comment on this story please click here.
NCSF’s 2014 Roundup
NCSF’s 2014 Roundup 2014 has been a year of progress for NCSF and for people who are kinky and nonmonogamous. The national conversation about gay marriage, consent, and even Fifty Shades of Grey are transforming mainstream attitudes. The change in the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5 stating that BDSM is a healthy form of sexual expression has also had a significant impact on both the courts and public opinion about kink. Education Outreach Project The NCSF Board Members and presenters gave Education Outreach Project workshops and tabled at 36 events in 2014 (compared to 22 in 2013), with a…
National Coalition for Sexual Freedom: Are you ready for the Fifty Shades of Gray Movie?
Does your media agency have resources for these special interest pieces? Contact the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom for interviews and information on kink and open relationships. NCSF is the national advocate for consensual adult sexual expression. Why kink? There has been a significant interest in BDSM sparked by the wildly successful Fifty Shades of Grey. Similar topics appeared in recent TV Shows from CSI to House to Desperate Housewives, and even animated shows such as American Dad. Furthermore many people, married and otherwise, are discovering and practicing non-monogamy. From polyamory to swinging to open relationships, a notable percentage of the public are shifting their relationship parameters in an honest…
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GayLawNet Joins Forces with NCSF
NCSF’s Kink Aware Professionals joins forces with GayLawNet NCSF has expanded the reach of its Kink Aware Professionals by collaborating with GayLawNet, which now offers a way for lawyers in their database to self-identify as Kink Aware Professionals: gaylawnet.com/attorneys/ussolc.html “Whenever someone can’t find a lawyer in NCSF’s KAP list, I always refer them to GayLawNet,” says Susan Wright, spokesperson for NCSF. “Many of their gay-friendly lawyers are eager to work with kinky people, and the GayLawNet database is huge.” NCSF recently started an outreach campaign to the lawyers who have listed themselves on GayLawNet to let them…
Tides Awards NCSF $1,500 Grant
NCSF Receives Grant Award NCSF is proud to announce the receipt of a $1,500 grant awarded by Tides Foundation. About Tides #TidesProject “Since 1976, Tides Foundation has worked with over 15,000 individuals and organizations in the mutual endeavor to make the world a better place. These include foundations, donors, corporations, social investors, nonprofit organizations, government institutions, community organizations, activists, social entrepreneurs, and more. We break down the walls between entrepreneurs and their efforts to bring positive change to their communities. We are all about new ideas, innovation, and providing the tools to make these great ideas a reality.” NCSF is…
NCSF Mental Health Survey
NCSF Mental Health Survey Please take the NCSF Mental Health Survey! We would like to know more about your BDSM practices, mental health and relational violence experiences: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/FZ2XDMP NCSF is working with researchers at Sam Houston University’s Department of Psychology and Philosophy who will compare our responses to two other sample populations – one college-aged and the other LGBT. NCSF will use these results to help with our advocacy, benefiting both existing and developing programs. Specifically, the study’s results will assist in educating law enforcement, legal and psychological professionals about the practices and mental health of BDSM practitioners. The survey…
Military Court Accepts NCSF's Amicus Brief
Military Court Accepts NCSF’s Amicus Brief in Support of Consensual Nonmonogamy April 24, 2014 – Washington, DC – The Navy and Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals has accepted NCSF’s amicus (“friend of the court”) brief advising the court that prosecutors are avoiding the Supreme Court decision, made in Lawrence v. Texas, that moral judgment is not a basis for criminalizing consensual sexual conduct, and that consensual sex should only be criminalized if that conduct is injurious or goes against a valid societal interest. In the appellate case, it was argued that the activities were “public” even though the sexual…
Ombudsman Committee Established
NCSF Appoints Members of the Ombuds Committee June 3, 2014 - NCSF is proud to announce these appointments to the Ombuds Committee: Desmond Ravenstone, James Huesmann and Bjorn Paulee. The Ombuds Committee handles complaints and concerns regarding the conduct of NCSF officers and staff, and the operations of NCSF institutions. The NCSF Ombuds Committee shall be established as an Advisory Committee, as per NCSF bylaws, to review Coalition administration and activities, assuring ethical and effective fulfillment of NCSF’s mission and goals. Board Member Fil Vocasek is the Board Liaison to the Ombuds Committee. NCSF thanks the three members…
NCSF Files Amicus Brief in Military Court
NCSF Files Amicus Brief in Support of Consensual Nonmonogamy March 26, 2014 – Washington D.C. – NCSF has filed an amicus brief in a military case involving a marine who engaged in a consensual threesome and because of that was convicted of adultery, attempted consensual sodomy and indecent conduct, a "crime" based solely on undefined sexual conduct inconsistent with "common propriety." In its brief, NCSF points out that military law is out of sync with U.S. Constitutional law and societal mores, especially when it comes to consensual sexual behaviors. Dick Cunningham, NCSF's Legal Counsel who prepared and filed…
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