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Poly Role Models: Keira Harbison of the NCSF

on Thursday, 28 December 2017. Posted in NCSF in the News!, Front Page Headline, Media Updates

by Kevin A. Patterson


Keira: Again, so, firstly, I am a female, I am queer, I am married. Those three, being polyamorous is constantly intersecting with them. Being a female, it means that I’m dating and dealing with dating tends to have its own special lovely issues in and of itself. It means that I’m finding new partners, I’m teaching new people about polyamory regularly because I live in an area where polyamory is all but unheard of. It gives me the opportunity to explore my queer identity by letting me have a girlfriend while I’m also married to a man.

Susan Wright - NCSF - In The News

on Friday, 22 December 2017. Posted in NCSF in the News!, Front Page Headline

Kinky Cast

This week Woody & the Beast have their annual talk with Susan Wright of the NCSF.  With all the news of high profile men, finally having to admit the sins of their past and as the result, they loose their jobs.  High profile jobs, news anchors, senators, movie actors and producers.  How’s next the President?  Susan gives perspective on this sign of the times.  Susan Wright spends the bulk of her time acting as an educator and advocate for people who have been persecuted for their sexual preferences. She does this through her work with the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom — which she founded — and through a multitude of other projects. In the other half of her life, she has published over 30 novels over the course of her writing career, many of them sexually charged fantasy novels. Considering her output, you’d assume she’d have no time left over after she finished plotting out storylines, writing manuscripts, and making her way through the editing process.

Is Sex Addiction Real? Here’s What Experts Say

on Tuesday, 14 November 2017. Posted in NCSF in the News!, Front Page Headline, Media Updates

Time Magazine

By Amanda MacMillan

Is sex addiction real? It depends who you ask: Hollywood stars and industry heads who’ve cited it in defense of reported sexual indiscretions—ranging from infidelity to harassment to rape—may argue that it is. Over the last decade, celebrities including David Duchovny and Tiger Woods have famously sought treatment for sex addictions; more recently, Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey have made similar announcements after accusations of misconduct.


Among scholars and medical experts, the consensus is less clear. And just this week, three non-profit organizations came out against the notion that sex or pornography can be “addicting,” saying the term can be misleading or even harmful to people seeking help for intimate issues.


The new position statement, drafted by the Center for Positive Sexuality (CPS), the Alternative Sexualities Health Research Alliance (TASHRA), and the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF), is published this week in the online Journal of Positive Sexuality. It follows a similar statement last year from the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, which also spoke out against the idea of sex or porn addiction.


In their statement, the advocacy groups write that perceptions of sexual “addictions” may have more to do with people’s religious or cultural beliefs than of actual scientific data. The concept of sex addiction “emerged in the 1980s as a socially conservative response to cultural anxieties,” the authors wrote, “and has gained acceptance through its reliance on medicalization and popular culture visibility.”


The idea that people can be addicted to sex (or to porn) implies that people’s sex drives and erotic interests can be grouped into “normal” and “not normal,” the groups say, which could leave those with alternative sexual identities vulnerable to discrimination. It can also suggest that using sex or pornography as a coping mechanism is always a bad thing—when in fact, the statement argues, it may be perfectly healthy way to deal with stress and other problems.


These groups have the medical community at least partially on their side. Sex addiction is not recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), the reference guide for mental illnesses published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). One reason for that is a lack of evidence that sexual behavior changes the brain the same way other addictive substances—like drugs and alcohol—do. ...

"Are Sex Parties Legal? We Spoke to A Veteran Promoter To Find Out"

on Sunday, 12 March 2017. Posted in NCSF in the News!, Front Page Headline, Media Updates


By Sophie Weiner

Over the past few years, alternative sexual culture has gone from niche to nearly mainstream. The first two films in the BDSM-themed Fifty Shades of Grey series each made over $100 million at the US box office. Polyamorous relationships are also becoming increasingly commonplace—in a 2015 study by the legal data startup Avvo, 4% of American respondents classified themselves as currently in an open relationship, and only 45% of men (and 62% of women) said they were morally opposed to them.


Sex parties—events where participants can have sexual experiences with other attendees in a safe and consenting environment—are also growing in popularity. Ben Fuller, the founder of Modern Lifestyles, a ticketing service for swinger parties, told Quartz that his business has increased by 81% over the last two years.


But just because these subcultures are becoming less taboo, doesn't mean that the authorities see them that way. There are still laws on the books in many states that prevent kink and BDSM—an acronym for Bondage, Domination, Sadism and Masochism—from being practiced openly. Non-kink sex-positive events are also stifled by these laws, which prevent these events from openly advertising and charging for tickets.


We asked Deborah Rose, a Philadelphia-based veteran promoter of sex-positive events, to explain the regulations surrounding the industry, how promoters get around some of these barriers, and strategies for making the scene better and safer for participants.


THUMP: How would you define a "sex party"?


Deborah Rose: I think that it would be a mistake to call a sex-positive space a "sex party, because they're usually not just sex-centering. Some of them are, but most of them aren't. Most of the communities who go to these kinds of parties call them "play parties" more than anything else.


There are many different iterations [of what a sex-positive event can be]. They can vary largely in size. There are parties in people's private homes that range from five to 10 people, and then there are really large-scale events that can be 150 people on a Saturday night in a warehouse or at a music venue. Largely, those parties exist in BDSM, kink, and fetish communities.


The swinger communities tend to have what are commonly called "sex parties." But they largely don't have those in warehouses—they have their own clubs. We see swing clubs in most major cities, and those are established, for-profit businesses that facilitate a sex-positive space in a really specific context. Those communities are largely straight, white, and heteronormative.


What are the laws surrounding these kinds of events?


The most common misunderstanding is that the laws are the same everywhere. Actually, the biggest problems that these communities face is that the laws are different everywhere you go.


In major East Coast cities, they vary wildly. Most cities do have a swingers club, which facilitates sex parties that are completely above-board. They're licensed clubs. It's a special licensing they seek from the zoning board or from licensing and inspection that allows them to operate as a completely confidential, private, members-only club. When people come in, they don't buy a ticket for the night. They buy what is branded as a "membership," so that they buy into this membership, which allows the clubs confidentiality [and therefore protection from prosecution for potentially violating vice laws].


On the East Coast, "vice laws," sometimes called "blue laws," are laws that govern people's moral behavior. In Massachusetts, Pennsylvania—recently in New York, it was changed—you cannot facilitate sex or facilitate "abuse" in any way, which makes it so that it's almost impossible for a promoter to organize a party without opening themselves up to liability. Vice laws typically regulate sex, alcohol, and drugs.


When we talk about BDSM, kink, and fetish communities, those communities have largely been relegated to spaces that are not zoned and licensed. Because in many East Coast cities and in many East Coast states, you [legally] do not have the ability to consent to "abuse". So, facilitating these parties or participating in these communities can be illegal and can open you up to prosecution.


For swinger parties at licensed clubs, is it at all apparent in the laws or paperwork that sex will be happening at these locations?


Swingers clubs largely try to avoid explicit language on what we call the "public-facing internet" or "public-facing media." You go to the clubs and you understand what is happening there, but they don't advertise sex.


The other thing they don't advertise is alcohol. One of the biggest liabilities for a promoter is to allow alcohol into their spaces, because then you are involving whatever liquor control board—whatever organization that governs alcohol within your community—into your space. Anytime you mix alcohol and sex, you're automatically opening yourself up to a huge liability. Especially if you're taking money at the door.


So, the way swingers clubs circumnavigate that is almost all their spaces are BYOB. They have a bar--you bring your alcohol to them and they will serve it to you--but they are not selling you alcohol.


Aside from swing communities, which do have a lot of alcohol inside their community, most of the sex-positive communities that organize play parties shy away from alcohol because of the liability that it brings [due to intoxicated people who can't consent or who may be a danger to others or themselves], and because of the level of regulation that it brings. It shines a light on what is already a space where we don't want too much exposure.


Could a sex-positive event be prosecuted as operating an illegal brothel?


In some states, parties that sell tickets or charge a cover at the door definitely open themselves up to prosecution for facilitating prostitution. Promoters sell tickets to events ahead of time to mitigate this issue.


You mentioned that because of some of these laws, it is difficult to throw any parties with a kink or fetish element. How do people get around that?


In the states where it is illegal to "facilitate abuse," they largely don't. Massachusetts is a really good example of this. Massachusetts has a very large kink community that does not participate in that culture within Massachusetts. They travel to Rhode Island, Vermont, and Connecticut, where events are more easily facilitated, and where the laws are slightly more friendly to these spaces. On the East Coast, the most active kink and fetish communities are in Baltimore and DC; because spaces are able to exist there legally, they're able to license themselves, and exist above board. Maryland and the District, as well as Pennsylvania, benefit from more relaxed laws in this regard.


What's different about the laws there?


Ironically enough, the law that makes it so that you cannot consent to or facilitate abuse is the Violence Against Women Act, which is an incredible law written to protect domestic violence victims. But what it also does is make it so that the police can prosecute somebody without the consent of the victim. So, in states where that doesn't exist, we're more able to provide spaces for kink and fetish communities to flourish. But in states where it does exist, [the kink community] is largely stifled, for fear of prosecution.


You mentioned that the laws are also a little more relaxed on the West Coast.


Absolutely. States on the West Coast have more progressive ideas about sex and sexuality in general. Maybe not pervasively within the culture, but definitely within the laws. Because that exists, the best centers for sex-positivity and for sex-positive culture exist on the West Coast.


In San Francisco, The Armory [building in the Mission, owned and operated by BDSM-focused porn production company] provides one of the best sex-positive spaces in the country. The other best space in the country for sex-positive culture is in Seattle. Both of these spaces exist above board and have both for profit and non-profit entities that serve communities. The laws that exist allow them to participate in communities that facilitate discussions about sex-positivity and provide spaces for these communities to grow in a way that is not available to us on the East Coast.


Are there any organizations out there trying to advocate for sexual freedom and sex-positive spaces as a First Amendment right?


Free expression is really what we're talking about. There's an incredible organization that exists within kink communities called the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, or NCSF, which exists to help all alternative sexual communities. Their goal is to raise awareness about alternative sexual practices and the way these communities govern themselves, and to add resources for people to explore their sexuality in safe ways.


They've created consent workshops and incident response structures; they advocate for sexual practices to be removed from the DSM, and they are lobbying Massachusetts, Virginia, and Kentucky to see BDSM and kink as a sexual practice rather than a paraphilia. They're an organization that has stood up for kink and sex-positive communities all over the country. ...

"Why You Need to Tell Your Doctor If You're Having Fifty Shades-Style Sex"

on Sunday, 26 February 2017. Posted in NCSF in the News!, Front Page Headline, Media Updates

If Christian and Ana inspired you to get kinky in the bedroom, experts say you’ll want to loop your doctor in, stat.


By Michelle Konstantinovsky

ix years ago, whips and chains were anything but mainstream. But thanks to literary juggernaut-turned film phenomenon Fifty Shades of Grey, everyone and their grandma knows kink. But what most don’t know is how concealing bedroom behaviors can hurt your health.

A study recently published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine titled “Fifty Shades of Stigma: Exploring the Health Care Experiences of Kink-Oriented Patients” revealed that less than half of BDSM practitioners (that’s bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism) confess their kinky lifestyles to their doctors, and most cite fear of judgement as the reason for their secrecy.

The stat suggests a pretty large community (accounting for 11-14% of Americans, according to rough estimates) is failing to get adequate health care because its members are afraid of what doctors may think of their bedroom behaviors.

“Other sexual minorities, like those in the LGBT community, have all been found to suffer from health disparities,” says Jess Waldura, MD, medical director of The Alternative Sexualities Health Research Alliance (TASHRA), the team behind the study. “This shows up as poorer health, worse access to culturally competent medical care, and healthcare-related stigma.”

This prompted TASHRA researchers to dig deeper, and they’re currently crunching the data from a larger follow-up survey that explores the reasons why so many kinky people stay closeted. This new study, likely to be published later this year, also delves into the potential consequences that can arise from keeping BDSM behaviors secret.

“A [clinician] might bypass or fail to recognize your needs if they don’t have all the information,” says Carol Queen, sex educator and author of The Sex & Pleasure Book. “Doctors aren’t mind readers, and they’re mostly very poorly trained about kinky sexual practices. Hearing real info from patients will help them put faces to sexual practices and help them better understand what the stakes are.”

For some BDSM practitioners like Sally,* a kinkster from suburban South Carolina, the stakes can feel astronomically high. “I fell while being untied from a suspension bondage scene and hit the edge of a table,” she says. “I broke a rib. I didn’t seek treatment because I was embarrassed to tell them how it happened." Despite the act being consensual and the injury an accident, she was worried: "I thought they would take my boyfriend in for domestic abuse.”

This kind of fear is overwhelmingly common in the kink community, according to Anna M. Randall, LCSW, MPH, a San Francisco-based sex therapist and TASHRA’s executive director. “About 13 percent of the survey respondents told their doctors their injuries were caused by something other than BDSM,” she says. “People make up stories; some are embarrassed, but most are more worried about being shamed by their doctors or not getting good care.”

“I've delayed OB/GYN visits due to bruises,” says Julie*, a submissive from Hanover, Massachusetts. “Having visible marks when going into a medical setting usually means I have to ‘out’ myself and that I won’t receive the care I require.”

While a busted ankle or broken rib may not seem like a major health concern, the injuries that sometimes arise from BDSM can potentially lead to bigger issues if left untreated. According to Randall, bruises, muscle strains, and piercing tears are common medical issues associated with kink, but foregoing medical care for seemingly minor problems isn’t a good idea.

“Big bruises can develop into hematomas, for example,” she says. “There are rare injuries from rough sex that may lead to serious complications, such as torn vaginal tissue or scrotum injuries, and because more risky sexual BDSM behaviors may include controlling the breathing of a partner, those with asthma face real risks if they’re not treated for attacks immediately.”

Others, like Jen* from Knob Noster, Missouri, risk complicating existing chronic conditions by delaying treatment. “I have rheumatoid arthritis and frequently injure myself [during BDSM sex] because of joint deterioration,” she says. “I worry about the multiple medical visits being seen as a sign of abuse, and being further questioned, so I often delay going to the doctor. Right now I have a severe sprained ankle that needs an X-ray, but I had a wrist X-ray a month ago and I’m not sure what reaction it might create.”

But while the TASHRA team acknowledges the risk of BDSM-related injuries, their research has helped refute some widespread stereotypes regarding the root causes of practitioners’ interests. “People who engage in this appear to be no different from the regular population,” Randall says, noting that her one major gripe with Fifty Shades involves Christian being the son of — as author E.L. James not-so-delicately puts it — a “crack whore.” “They’re no more likely to have been sexually abused than vanilla folks. In fact, we found they had the same ACE scores as the general population, which measures Adverse Childhood Experiences like neglect and poverty.” ...

Kinky Cast - Susan Wright (NCSF) - Sex & Politics

on Saturday, 25 February 2017. Posted in NCSF in the News!, Front Page Headline, Media Updates

This week Woody & the Beast chat with Susan Wright, on the topic of our kinky freedoms in the upcoming political climate. Susan founded the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom in 1997, and currently serves as spokesperson.

"How Kinky and Non-Traditional Parents are Punished by Family Courts"

on Thursday, 23 February 2017. Posted in NCSF in the News!, Front Page Headline, Media Updates


By Neil McArthur

American family courts—a series of state courts that specifically deal in family law, from child custody cases to divorce proceedings—are a distinctly unsung part of our judicial system. They are rarely discussed in the media and largely absent from the Hollywood spotlight; as a result, few people understand how they work.

But if you are a parent involved in a case subject to their rule, you could easily find yourself at the mercy of a judge with broad power to decide how much, if at all, you get to see your children. Family courts lack juries, so such decisions are delivered from the pen of a sole person. And the system does not treat everyone equally. According to numerous legal practitioners and scholars I spoke to, a widespread bias exists within the system against parents whose views or lifestyles fall outside the American norm, especially sexually.

Family court judges rule most often on two types of cases—arbitration after children have been removed from the care of unfit parents, and custody disputes following divorce or separation—and decide both based on the best interests of children involved. But legal experts who spoke with VICE testified to the near limitless discretion judges have to impose their own moral views.

"I can predict the likelihood of my success by zip code," said Diana Adams, a family lawyer from New York who has spent the last decade working with clients who are LGBTQ, polyamorous, kinky, or otherwise outside the mainstream. Because family court judges are elected by direct vote in many states, their tolerance of alternative lifestyles tends to correlate with that of the surrounding area. She represents clients in both New York City and more conservative areas of upstate New York, and says that the weight of a parent's sex life upon a judge's decision varies wildly from judge to judge, depending on their political views. She also provides advice to clients out of state, and has noticed a pattern: For clients like hers, Southern and rural areas are unforgiving places for cases to come before family court judges.

When the Supreme Court declared in Lawrence v. Texas that state laws against homosexuality were unconstitutional, it also ruled that states cannot establish laws based purely on the moral disapproval of lawmakers. But as legal scholars have noted, those who come before family courts lack the constitutional protections that apply to criminal cases, in which the discretion of an individual judge is limited and juries are involved. And because family court cases rarely go to appeal, very few rulings from higher courts exist to establish precedent on the boundaries of a family court's power. Those appellate rulings we do have generally confirm, rather than restrict, that power.

Though most states now prohibit judges from using sexual orientation as a factor in family court rulings, judges are still free to cite a parent's polyamorous or kinky proclivities—or even a willingness to have non-marital sex—as an explicit reason for handing down rulings. In any case, family court judges are often not explicit about the exact factors that lead to their rulings. Adams recounted one case in which a family court removed a child from the custody of a transgender client, ostensibly because her client's cat was sick the day a child services worker visited and vomit was seen on the floor. But Adams said that "a white cisgender professional mother like me would never lose custody of her child because a sick cat made a mess."

Even premarital sex can be enough to sway the opinion of a family court judge. For instance, in one 2012 case, an Alabama Court of Civil Appeals awarded a father custody of his five-year-old child. Despite the boy having lived with his mother for three and a half years, having by all accounts been happy and well cared for, the mother lived with her fiancé before they were actually married. During the trial, the mother was accused by the opposing counsel of "sending the wrong signal to your children with your fiancé living in your household and being in the bed with you at night." When she appealed the case, the appeals court confirmed that family courts are free to "consider a parent's sexual conduct as it relates to that parent's character, without a showing that the conduct has been detrimental to the child."

As several legal scholars related in frustration, no organizing body tracks or maintains statistics on what happens in family courts or to whom. Eugene Volokh, a UCLA School of Law professor, published an article in 2006 that tried to document cases where parents have been penalized in family court proceedings for holding non-normative views on sex, religion, and politics. It clocked in at more than a hundred densely footnoted pages, and he says he was only able to capture a fraction of the cases he could find. And Susan Wright, the founder of the National Coalition on Sexual Freedom, which provides support to people with non-traditional sexual lifestyles embroiled in family court proceedings, suspects that the hundreds of cases brought to her organization's attention over the past decade only represent a small percentage of the total nationwide. ...

"It's a Travesty That BDSM Isn't Technically Legal"

on Tuesday, 09 August 2016. Posted in NCSF in the News!, Front Page Headline, Media Updates


by Neil McArthur

John Doe was a student at George Mason University (GMU) when he met Jane Roe, a woman with whom he formed a BDSM-based sexual relationship that culminated in an assault on or around October 27, 2013. Roe, who played the submissive role, alleged in court documents (where both were assigned anonymous monikers) that on that day she pushed Doe away and did not want to continue. But he did—because, he alleges, she didn't use their safe word.

This March, the Virginia federal court in which Doe v. Rector & Visitors of George Mason University was heard made a historic leap in American case law as it relates to sex: They ruled that there is no constitutional right to engage in BDSM play in America. While no US laws currently criminalize BDSM, it's still a crime to harm others, regardless of whether they consent. It's a puzzle that places acts of BDSM in legal limbo—how do you legislate and define consensual, safe practices that are designed to sometimes look nonconsensual and dangerous?

It's not a completely unfamiliar problem for state legislatures, which have all had to legislate forms of consensual harm, such as tattoos, piercings, medical treatments, and organized sports. When the political will is there, laws can be made to allow for such liberties while keeping people protected by the state. The time has come, say BDSM experts, for our nation to explicitly legalize BDSM, rather than let it wither in the legal gray area where it currently sits.

The Virginia decision, it should be noted, merely concluded that states have the constitutional right to criminalize BDSM and didn't rule as to the morality of the practice or explicitly criminalize BDSM itself. Through the ruling, Virginia said that if a particular state or public entity (like GMU) believes it has an interest in preventing BDSM activity or passing laws that criminalize the practice, they can, and those prosecuted now have no legal recourse.

The idea that one cannot consent to harm is a basic principle of common law that has existed for centuries. Some believe we should abandon this principle in turn and enshrine consent as the guiding ideology of our legal framework instead. We let grown-ups do what they want—if a competent adult wants to be harmed, what business does the state have telling her otherwise?

It's not so simple. The consent to harm principle stands for good reason—because the law exists to preserve the public peace, not just to protect us from one another. We all have an interest in preventing people from settling their disputes by fighting and dueling. Equally important is that laws against consensual harm provide vital protection for domestic violence victims, who often tell police that they don't mind such abuse. Prosecutors need to be able to bring charges against abusers even when victims don't cooperate.

This might seem like a non-issue, because people are rarely prosecuted for engaging in BDSM, and police generally enjoy a strong relationship with the kink community. "The majority of run-ins [between the BDSM community] and police have been minor and positive," Coreen Grace, a marriage and family therapy professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and 20-year BDSM scene veteran, told VICE. In general, she continued, the BDSM scene has taken it upon itself to educate law enforcement bodies as to the ins-and-outs of their subculture.

"Since 1997, we've really transformed the way the police department treats us," Susan Wright, spokesperson for the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF), told VICE. ...

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