Arya Popescue has a better elevator speech than you. Or at least an introduction that isn’t going to be easily forgotten. The School of Engineering and Applied Science junior is from Romania. She's kinky, trans, and genderqueer. She’s a mechanical engineer, and she leads Converso Virium, Columbia’s BDSM and kink club.
BDSM is a composite acronym standing for bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism. Practitioners don’t necessarily participate in every aspect of BDSM, nor do they necessarily pick one. Kinksters often explore different sexual practices.
Sitting at a table on the Lerner Hall ramps, Popescue wears hiking boots, jeans, a T-shirt, and a leather dog collar. She says the collar signifies her submissive role in her current relationship but explains that collars can mean different things for different people. She wears hers constantly.
“I’ve kind of known I was kinky forever,” Popescue says. She knew she was kinky—having untraditional sexual interests—before she knew she was transgender, but came out as trans before she came out as kinky. “I didn’t know there was a word for [BDSM] or a community for it until I came here at Columbia and I actually saw CV at the activities fair.”
“I don’t remember it like it was yesterday,” she says, but she does remember it was the third of Sept. 3, 2013. Popescue remembers details.
Popescue came out as kinky on National Coming Out Day in 2013. Since then, she has constructed her Internet presence as a kinkster. In her profile picture on Facebook, she peeks through her brown hair toward the camera, wearing her collar. She has a FetLife page (like Facebook, but for kinksters), where she can specify her interests within BDSM, who her play partner is, who her toy is, whose toy she is. She has a blog; among her posts are a pasta recipe and a video expose revealing why her Kindle stops working when she plugs in her vibrator.
Popescue has never missed a CV meeting. Well, maybe one or two, maximum. “President of Conversio Virium (CV), Columbia University’s Kink Club” is plastered on her résumé. CV meets on Monday nights in Hamilton Hall. It is the oldest BDSM club in the country, founded in 1994. It has even taken heat from conservative commentator Ann Coulter.
Popescue’s participation in CV, and the lifestyle as a whole, is driven by her personal inclination towards kinkiness and the fact that, well, she finds BDSM intensely erotic. “I find [BDSM] fun … I find it appealing … I find it hot as hell.” Her voice slows down as she says this last part.
There doesn’t seem to be a consensus about whether BDSM is overtly sexual. Emma Bippart-Butler, a first-year at Barnard who attended several CV meetings but does not necessarily identify with the community, observes that kinky practices certainly seem “overtly sexual.”
Popescue adamantly disagrees. “It doesn’t have to be sexual,” she argues. She says that limiting kink to the realm of sex is a common misconception cast upon kinksters by vanilla, or non-kinky, outsiders. She points to “munches,” casual gatherings where kinky people “can talk about their jobs or the weather.” Popescue says that more often than not, her own kinky “scenes,” or BDSM encounters, do not arouse her sexually. Rather, she enjoys “the pure fun of the physical sensation and forming a physical connection.”
Susan Wright, the founder of and spokesperson for the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, and Michal Daveed, media representative for The Eulenspiegel Society, the largest BDSM community in New York City, both see a strong correlation between kink and sex. But they do leave some wiggle room. Daveed knows several asexual people who participate in BDSM, but she also acknowledges the complexity of the asexual identity.
Wright knows kinksters who participate for “spiritual cathartic reasons” as well. She points to suspension, during which consenting participants hang from ropes fastened to their body piercings as an act of physical and spiritual endurance.
For Bippart-Butler, curiosity was the only draw to kink. At her first CV meeting, she was surprised by how many of the attendees identified as queer. Daveed confirms that there is a trend of young kinksters increasingly identifying as queer.
Wright also observes an overlap between the kinky and the LGBTQ communities. She points to the gay leatherman population as an example of overlapping identities and the intersectionality that permeates BDSM. “They’re part of the gay community, but they’re also part of the kink community,” she says.
“We have similar things in common, like the discrimination and the persecution we’re fighting,” Wright continues. “The success of gay marriage, I think, also had an impact on the kink and non-monogamy community, because it’s even more accepted now that your personal, private life really is no one else’s business. … The LGBT community has really paved the way and opened the doors to allow us to be moving forward now, kind of talking about sexuality more.” ...
About 50 people attended back-to-back interactive lectures on sexual health Wednesday evening as part of the annual Sexpertise conference on sexual health, hosted by the University Health Service. The events, titled “Seeing Other People: Open Relationships, Polyamory, and More” and “Kink Outside the Box,” took place in the Michigan League.
Public Health graduate student Tahiya Alam coordinated the Sexpertise conference this year. She heads the Sexpertise committee, which is a part of Sexperteam, a group that promotes sexual health through various campus events. She said the conference is largely based on student recommendations from last year.
“We look at what the students are looking for in terms of sexual education and what’s available in terms of resources in our community,” Alam said.
Amy Jacobs, a clinical social worker at the University of Michigan Health System, presented “Seeing Other People: Open Relationships, Polyamory and More.” She discussed different types of consensually non-monogamous relationships and discussed her own experiences with open relationships.
Jacobs emphasized that consensual non-monogamy is not cheating because these relationships are based on communication and honesty.
“You’re negotiating those kinds of things with your partner to find out what’s important to you,” Jacobs said. “What do you need out of our relationship so that I make sure that I’m respecting that relationship when I’m with other people?”
Jacobs provided responses she often got when she told people she was non-monogamous, such as questions about how open relationships work and why she had gotten married. Overall, she said the decision to be non-monogamous is dependent on an individual’s definition of a relationship.
“What is your definition of a relationship that works? Is it being together for a long time? Or is it being happy?” Jacobs said. “To me that’s not a great marriage, just staying together.”
Jacobs also said being honest about her relationships is a positive for her daughter, in that she gets to experience alternative family styles and know she has options for future relationships.
Public Health graduate student Emma Sell-Goodhand and local sex educator Tori Renaud presented “Kink Outside the Box.”
“Kink,” according to presenters, is defined as non-normative sexual activity, like bondage or role-play.
Sell-Goodhand and Renaud incorporated various cell phone polls for the audience with questions about kink, misconceptions concerning kink, different roles and implements in sex play and areas to avoid in a more hands-on style presentation.
They cited studies that expressed the physiological and psychological benefits of kink, including having a more open perspective on sex and other aspects of life. Renaud said she believed communication among partners may lead to benefits from kink.
“These activities require a lot of communication,” she said. “A lot of psychological problems stem from suppressing things — whether those be your emotions, your desires. If you are communicating with your partner, you have better lines of communication to talk about what your needs are in other areas as well.”
The presenters also discussed safety in these situations. Renaud emphasized the importance of awareness and safe sex. ...
Rachel Ruvinsky thought she was a lesbian. As a teenager, she’d fallen into a serious relationship with her best friend. She was one of the few students at her high school to be out; she joined the school’s gay-straight alliance but quit because the group was too cliquey. “I didn’t feel like I fit in,” she recalls.
When she gradually realized she was also attracted to men, she was surprised. “I remember being very much in denial,” the now-22-year-old says.
Then about a year after she and her girlfriend broke up, Ruvinsky felt ready to look for a new relationship, and to try dating men as well as women.
When she created her first OkCupid profile at age 19, she listed a few of her interests, such as art and video games, and included a poor-quality photo of herself. Back then, she says, she responded to every message in her inbox.
One of the first was from Bennett Marschner, a 23-year-old video-game technical artist who described himself as a “shameless vehicular vocalist.” He seemed funny, she thought.
Ruvinsky wrote back, saying she also enjoyed singing while driving. They met for dinner at an Indian restaurant in Germantown, Md.
“I was really nervous and trying not to fidget,” she recalls. But she quickly felt comfortable around Marschner. After dinner, they watched a few episodes of “Firefly,” a sci-fi television show they both like, until well after midnight in Ruvinsky’s parents’ basement. They kissed.
The next morning, Marschner texted, saying he wanted to be upfront: He wasn’t looking for anything serious.
Ruvinsky didn’t want anything super- casual, so she figured that would be it. But Marschner persuaded her to keep seeing him, reassuring her that it wouldn’t be a booty-call thing. They could both see other people. “I was like, ‘Okay, I like hanging out with you,’ ” she remembers saying.
The next time they discussed their relationship status was a few months later. Marschner told her his other relationships, with two other women, weren’t so casual; there was an emotional attachment. He’d been reading about polyamory, he said, and he thought it applied to their situation.
Ruvinsky did, too: “We knew it was more than casual, but we didn’t have a word for it.” Since then, the two go out with other people separately or hang in a group. “A lot of times,” Marschner says, “if you get more than one of us together, we’re going to sit on a couch and cuddle and make out.” ...
They were high school sweethearts, sort of: Britt and John met in middle school right outside of Houston, the kind of place where the person you end up marrying is someone you’ve known your whole life. They flirted later in the halls of one of those big Southern high schools that boasts pro-football players as alumni. When John moved to Mississippi for a while they stayed in touch, writing letters; Britt was bonkers for him the whole time. When he returned and they got together in earnest, she didn’t have eyes for anyone else. They got hitched at 18.
“I thought it was happily ever after,” she says. “I wanted to go with him anywhere he went.”
Fast-forward three years: their marriage is no longer and Britt’s OkCupid profile acts as a one-two punch of invitation and warning. If you’re into hiking, Little Miss Sunshine, or The Bible, message her. If you’re into one-night stands or want to be monogamous, please don’t. Britt, an aspiring comedian, doesn’t fit stereotypes of countercultural swingers, opting instead for a modern Texan bombshell look (high heels, sundresses, red lipstick). But she’s patently uninterested in spending her life dating a lone dude. Not that she doesn’t want a relationship; believe her, she’s trying. She’s just learned a couple of lessons in the last few years.
Non-monogamy—the consensual, upfront kind—is a dizzyingly diffuse practice. The terms of these relationships vary wildly in scope and level of detail. Its practitioners come in configurations of one or three or 16, living as families together or keeping separate houses even after going steady for years. There is, to date, no overarching survey of how many people practice consensual non-monogamy in the States; academics told me the number could range from one to nine million, depending on one’s definition of “polyamorous.” But nearly everyone for whom the arrangement works secretly believes their way of being non-monogamous is superior—much like two people in the early stages of romance might believe they have made fools out of the rest of the world.
Despite decades of cyclical media attention, these so-called “poly” arrangements, open relationships, and monogamish marriages are conflated, side-eyed, and gawked at along predictable lines. In the early ‘70s swinging was decried in Time Magazine as a “troublesome addiction” among people who were “incapable of intimate relationships”; as recently as 2009, social scientists in the New York Times speculated that people in open relationships simply “haven’t found the right person yet.” Readers still ogle these easy objects of attention: the throuples, quads, group marriages that redefine the two-parent household. Either that or they feature breathless 30-something couples spilling about “our experiment,” as if non-monogamy were a weird appendage to tack onto a nice, normal relationship instead of a practical, individual choice.
In her wide-ranging Marriage, A History, Stephanie Coontz points out that it’s only through the 20th century that sexual satisfaction, the consolidation of resources, domestic bliss, and romantic love were rolled together into the imagined ideal of a Western partnership. In some tangible ways, that ideal has been slowly unraveling. Polyamory is making a cameo even in the conversations of otherwise straitlaced young people like Britt. We live in a world where platonic college students play at BDSM and “pretend to be a couple just to spice things up”; where OkCupid reported such an uptick in users interested in non-monogamy that they added features allowing partners to link their profiles together or set up a profile as a couple.
When I spoke to Elizabeth Sheff, who has been studying polyamory for more than a decade, she told me that older generations are learning to practice above-ground non-monogamy from the internet. People coming of age now, however, are hearing about it from friends. “Look,” she told me, “if monogamy were natural we probably wouldn’t need to have so many rules about it.” ...
National Consent Month is proudly brought to you by the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom and the Arizona Power Exchange. Please join us for Consent Month in September 2016 and we will list your event and help publicize it.
Attendees of The 2016 Alamo Leather Contest will certainly never forget!
Late Saturday evening, at approximately 1030, just a few minutes prior to the announcement of The Alamo Leather Contest’s Winners bar staff swept through the Mad Marlin’s basement and parking lot. They were instructing customers in the basement to finish their drinks and instructed to dump their drinks if they were in the parking lot. Soon thereafter contest producers abruptly announced Mr. Alamo Leather 2016 Shawn Fox and Alamo Bootblack 2016 Sugar Bear.
At this time the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and San Antonio Police Department proceeded to raid the north side establishment. It was announced at the beginning of the raid that persons with faces not matching their photo ID could be ticketed and or arrested. Members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and the event’s emcee bolted from the establishment. ...
British magazine FK recently surveyed 1,006 gay men about their opinions on open and polyamorous relationships — that is, relationships that aren’t exclusively monogamous. In short, gay and bi guys who’d never been in an open/poly relationship tended to regard them as negative, and guys who had been in one tended to view them more positively. These findings reflect similar ones from a September 2013 study in the journal Psychology & Sexuality.
Considering the negative outlook by monogamous people, it’s not surprising that 65 percent of those surveyed perceived societal stigma against poly/open relationships.
A polyamorous session at this year’s national conference on LGBTQ equality (Creating Change) said that anti-poly stigma includes the inability to bring more than one partner to company events, the awkwardness of mentioning multiple partners to other potentially judgmental people, the lack of healthy poly relationships on TV or film and the dangers of being labelled a pervert, getting rejected from jobs or having your children taken away in a custody battle just for being polyamorous.
Seriously. The struggle is real.
But there may be more poly/open people than most Americans realize. Australian academic Kelly Cookson said that anywhere from 1.2 to 9.8 million Americans are in some sort of non-monogamous arrangement (that’s up to to 3 percent of the U.S. population). And the numbers could actually be much higher as many people only call themselves monogamous to avoid social stigma.
Truth is, we’re taught to see non-monogamy as evil, slutty, immature and selfish rather than viable, healthy, mature and loving. Just think of “the other woman” or the “homewrecking playboy” tropes in movies in TV.
To change that, polyamorous attendees at Creating Change sought to lay out a social and political agenda for the modern polyamory movement. Here’s some of the goals they came up with:
Changing zoning laws so that multiple parent families aren’t kicked out of “single family homes”
Creating a comprehensive website with legal info about parenting/employment/tax/healthcare for quick, easy reference. This site should include information about legally and emotionally dissolving polyamrous relationships too.
Providing information about non-monogamous relationship styles in sex education classes.
Training workers in the childcare, family services and domestic violence fields about the existence of poly families so that they’re not viewed as a threat to child safety.
A push for governments to recognize polyamorous marriage and to ensure non-discrimination protections for polyamorous people.
A push for employers to start providing multiple-spousal benefits.
A push for polyamory workshops during local Pride events that teach (among other things) that polyamory is not cheating but that cheating can occur within polyamorous relationships.
Educating counselors and therapists about polyamorous relationships so they can effectively counsel them .
Pushing for positive representations of polyamorous relationships in the media.
Protests and awareness campaigns to teach people about anti-poly stigma and polyamorous political aims. ...
I meet Blythe and Tom in a bar in Clapham. Blythe's pastel-pink hair is easy to spot from a distance. Slim, sandy-haired Tom sits beside her. As I approach, their heads are together and they're giggling softly. They look every inch the loved-up couple. I introduce myself and slide on to the sofa next to them, hoping three won't be a crowd. I needn't have worried.
The pair have been polyamorous from the beginning of their relationship after both realising, separately, that monogamy wasn't doing it for them. Polyamory is an umbrella term for intimate relationships that involve more than two people. The expression covers everything from swinging to triad relationships. Typically, these encounters involve sex, although it's not a prerequisite.
The dating website OkCupid recently became the first dating site to add a "polyamory" function for its users, allowing already established couples to search the site for people to join their relationships. The feature will also be available to singletons looking for open relationships to join.
The lead singer of the British band Vaults, Blythe Pepino, 29, and her partner, Tom Jacob, 27, agree to meet me to shed some light on what it's like to be non-monogamous. The couple dissolves into giggles when I ask if they've had time to prepare for our interview. Exchanging knowing looks, they tell me they tried to do some planning that afternoon but got "distracted". Cue more titters.
They have been an item for two years and live together in south London. Blythe also has a girlfriend, Alice, whom she's been with for over a year. Alice – an artist – lives in Bristol, so they don't get to see each other that often. Tom is seeing another girl, Sian, whom he met on Tinder. In addition to this, Tom and Blythe recently started dating a couple, Nich and Sonya, whom they met at a specialist club night in London. Blythe tells me they "fell in love with them as a couple" and now hang out regularly. Sometimes they go to the movies, sometimes they have group sex. Blythe and Tom also have one-night stands with people, although these happen less frequently. "I'm just not that good at them," Tom says.
A common misconception, they tell me right off the bat, is that people in polyamorous relationships don't get jealous. That, apparently, is not the case at all. In fact, both Tom and Blythe readily admit to having experienced feelings of jealousy at some stage in their relationship. The trick, they say, lies is how they deal with that emotion. Namely, through talking. Open and honest communication is essential to polyamory. Blythe and Tom tell me that whenever one of them sleeps with someone new, they schedule a meeting the following day to discuss what the latest tryst means for their relationship.
"When we started, we had one rule, which was that we'd always talk about it," Tom says. "If one of us had been with someone else, we'd put a bit of time aside the next day." ...