What do General Petraeus and Christian Grey have in common? Clue: it's not a predilection for complex bondage knots, unless that's another security secret yet to be revealed. Nor is it the know-how to work a uniform to nefarious ends, unless you count Christian's Ken doll-dressed-by-Calvin-Klein-style as a uniform choice. Rather, it's a narcissistic predilection for exploiting power to procure sex.
As Camille Paglia had the wherewithal to point out more than 20 years ago, "Sex is power...in Western culture there are no non-exploitative relationships." But regardless of a person's propensity for gagging a lover whether physically or metaphorically, a real-life BDSM love affair can create the kind of emotional pain most readers of the Petraeus scandal or the booming erotica market will never encounter. Despite our daily diet of sex and scandal, it's a taboo that still needs telling.
In my work as a sexual politics journalist and sexual liberties campaigner, I had always defended the BDSM and kink communities against charges of unsound, destructive desire.
Indeed, I'd already worked as a professional dominatrix - and one with stringent ethics - encouraging partnered clients to share their kinks with wives and girlfriends, never agreeing to requests where I suspected the masochism provided more than a temporary mental release, and creating a service of charitable domination to offset my sporadic socialist guilt at my hourly rate (which in any event was offset by the fact I was only domming to fund my unpaid media internships.)
My professional experience had taught me that there was nothing innately depraved or damaging about BDSM if done responsibly; it was simply another way to generate an erotic thrill, and an age-old, ageless, non-gender specific one at that.
But when I fell in love with a man who more than loosely fitted the stereotype of twisted kinkster and embarked on a deleterious D/s relationship with him, my politics were thrown into sharp, personal relief.
We had what would appear on the surface to be a casual arrangement. More accurate might be the term 'anti-relationship'. Eschewing phone calls, emails or text messages, apart from when he contacted me to find out my availability, Sebastian and I met once a week, sometimes for pre-coital drinks, sometimes for post-coital brunch, but always for a night of kinky sex.
Hair-pulling and rough play soon progressed into genital spanking, face-slapping, forced oral, and being held down while he penetrated me. Instinctively I trusted him and his kink experience made him a consummate 'player'. Bar a few sensual bruises, nothing he did ever left any lasting physical harm. Nor did the complex role plays and overpowering lead to any lasting psychological distress - well, not at least until I we introduced one of Sebastian's darker fantasies into the bedroom, which required me to enact cutting his cock off with a pair of scissors. Then the play become infused with distress, as I struggled to pretend to harm the man I was by now in love with; a man who had made it very clear he didn't love me.
I was but a prop helping to recreate all he most desired, and most feared. Afterwards he would be full of contempt and loathing for the pair of us. "Taking his pain", as the BDSM expression goes, was about far more than being pinned down while he slapped me.
Of course, it wasn't BDSM that was the problem, but Sebastian's emotional leprosy. Or perhaps the BDSM just unleashed feelings so complex that neither of us could get a handle on them. Either way, the BDSM was a vehicle for emotional chaos, a vehicle which intensified the psychic pain of his demons and my unrequited love. ...
This project is the beginning of an ongoing research effort to understand more about the community of individuals who engage in consensual, nonexclusive intimate and sexual relationships. We undertake this effort in order to better understand this community, its beliefs, practices, and desires. You will be asked questions about your relationship(s), internalized perceptions of consensual non-monogamy (including, but not limited to, swinging, polyamory, open-relationships/marriages), and other attitudes toward romantic relationships.
On Monday the New York Observer ran a sensational story about BDSM sex clubs popping up in the Ivy League. They can be found at Harvard, Columbia and Yale -- all Ivies -- as well as Tufts, MIT and the University of Chicago. The group at Harvard is called Munch.
"The popularity of 50 Shades of Grey has accelerated a mainstreaming of the BDSM subculture already underway — the initials stand for bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism—and the trend has been especially pronounced in our more elite institutions of higher learning," the Observer writes.
E.L. James' bestselling trilogy began as a fantasy, fan fiction written to imagine a version of "Twlight's" characters all grown up and in adult situations. "50 Shades of Grey" and its sequels have engendered other fantasies among readers, some of whom have found an outlet on their college campuses.
The university clubs are intended to be a safe space for experimentation. As the Observer puts it, "the scene’s mantra — 'safe, sane and consensual' — is heard so often it might as well be translated into needlepoint." But sometimes fiction and fact have intersected in uncomfortable ways. A representative from Columbia's group says that for all their safeguards, when it comes to sexual play that involves dominance and submission, the line about what constitutes consent can blur.
A safer way to experience "50 Shades" on campus might be to enroll in a class. One at American University is about the E.L. James trilogy and its cultural importance. The course description reads, "The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy is a publishing phenomenon that has dramatically impacted American culture and sexual health. Using the series as a case study, this course examines the interplay of sexuality, health, public relations and marketing. Topics covered include feminism, addiction, social media marketing, sexual expression versus sexual repression, targeting the mom demographic, domestic violence, literary criticism, and relationship and identity forming." ...
KC Playroom, a swingers club that stopped holding its private parties in a Shawnee industrial building last month, apparently has returned under “new ownership.” And Mayor Jeff Meyers, for one, said the news “disgusts me.”
“We have some great friends who are taking over the KC Playroom so you all can still have a place to party,” the club recently reported on an Internet site it has used to promote previous parties.
The site also announced that a “Fishnet and Heels” party would be held last Saturday night at the club, which it described as being “in the Johnson County area, very close to I-35 and I-435 with hotels two miles from the club.”
The exact location was not provided. But on Saturday night, cars were parked outside the building at 7007 Martindale Road, where previous KC Playroom parties were hosted, and an outdoor smoking area similar to those set up for the previous gatherings was visible.
“I thought that was over with,” Meyers said after learning KC Playroom might be resuming parties at the site, which is within a couple of blocks of a Montessori preschool and several residences.
Meyers added that he had been informed the activities that took place at previous KC Playroom parties went “way beyond dancing.”
“I just don’t know how that could be considered legal myself,” Meyers said. “That’s why there’s been an awful lot of people looking at it.”
The club, referred to as a “sex club” in an email City Manager Carol Gonzales sent to members of the Shawnee City Council in July, has been under investigation by the city for more than a year.
Gonzales said in the July email that following “investigative and legal research,” the city concluded “it is a private use of a privately owned building, therefore subject to building and fire codes, but not other regulations applicable to businesses.”
Three months later, a resident using the name “Bob Smith” emailed city officials to complain that “nothing has been done to have this business licensed and permitted.”
“Mr. Smith, actually quite a bit has been done,” Gonzales responded in an Oct. 24 email. “Other agencies have already been brought in and are also looking into issues that fall within their purview.”
Gonzales added in the email that city officials had been told KC Playroom would close at the end of the year.
Following subsequent media reports about the club by The Dispatch and KCTV5 News, the area business owner who was operating KC Playroom said he would close it immediately. In addition, the Martindale Road space was listed for lease on Craigslist, seeming to indicate that the club would no longer be an issue in Shawnee.
Now that it appears to be back, Ward 4 Councilman Mickey Sandifer said, “I do not like it at all. And I will check into this.” ...
San Francisco may be getting ready to shed its image as a city where anything goes, including clothing.
City lawmakers are scheduled to vote Tuesday on an ordinance that would prohibit nudity in most public places, a blanket ban that represents an escalation of a two-year tiff between a devoted group of men who strut their stuff through the city's famously gay Castro District and the supervisor who represents the area.
Supervisor Scott Wiener's proposal would make it illegal for a person over the age of 5 to "expose his or her genitals, perineum or anal region on any public street, sidewalk, street median, parklet or plaza" or while using public transit.
A first offense would carry a maximum penalty of a $100 fine, but prosecutors would have authority to charge a third violation as a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine and a year in jail. Exemptions would be made for participants at permitted street fairs and parades, such as the city's annual gay pride event and the Folsom Street Fair, which celebrates sadomasochism and other sexual subcultures.
Wiener said he resisted introducing the ordinance, but felt compelled to act after constituents complained about the naked men who gather in a small Castro plaza most days and sometimes walk the streets au naturel. He persuaded his colleagues last year to pass a law requiring a cloth to be placed between public seating and bare rears, yet the complaints have continued.
"I don't think having some guys taking their clothes off and hanging out seven days a week at Castro and Market Street is really what San Francisco is about. I think it's a caricature of what San Francisco is about," Wiener said.
The proposed ban predictably has produced outrage, as well as a lawsuit. Last week, about two dozen people disrobed in front of City Hall and marched around the block to the amusement of gawking tourists and high school students on a field trip. ...
“Sometimes my friends and I stop each other mid-sentence and say, ‘Oh my god, you guys. We go to Harvard. This is so weird,’” Maria, a junior, said recently over Skype chat.
Harvard had been Maria’s dream school for years. (She requested a pseudonym, but not because she’s not proud of her alma mater.) A valedictorian of her New England public high school, she got in on the basis of a 4.0 GPA and started working toward an English major. Last year, she began looking around for some extracurricular activities to enrich her college experience. There were more than 400 student groups to choose from. Maria chose a group called Harvard College Munch. Her goal was to meet new people, to explore something new, maybe to release some of the pressure that comes with trying to compete in an intimidating hothouse of rampant overachievement.
Maria is petite, with honey-blonde hair and brown eyes. They widened as she ticked off a few of the areas she hoped to explore in her free time: “Bondage, handcuffs, ice play…”
Maria is, she said, less a masochist than a submissive. “So a lot of taking orders and stuff like that,” she explained. “I’m really into the whole exhibitionist thing, semi-public places, mirrors…” In addition to educational meetings on campus, Munch has hosted private events where members can get together and “play.” Since joining, Maria’s had a chance to explore some of her fantasies. “I’ve been hit with a riding crop, a belt, a paddle, canes, a flogger … floggers are my favorite.”
The popularity of 50 Shades of Grey has accelerated a mainstreaming of the BDSM subculture already underway—the initials stand for bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism—and the trend has been especially pronounced in our more elite institutions of higher learning. Columbia has a BDSM group. So do Tufts, MIT, Yale and the University of Chicago. Brown, UPenn and Cornell have hosted BDSM educators for on-campus seminars entitled “The Freedom of Kink” and “Kink for All.” It looks like conservatives who have long viewed the Ivy League a bastion of depravity may have a point after all.
But some young members of such groups are finding the subculture is offering them more of an education than they expected, confronting them with serious issues involving consent, disclosure, anonymity, sexual violence, guilt and innocence, crime and punishment.
While the scene’s mantra—“safe, sane and consensual”—is heard so often it might as well be translated into needlepoint, violations of these maxims are common. In the last year, hundreds of people have come forward to describe the abuse they’ve suffered within the scene. The victims are mostly women, and like 50 Shades’fictional 22-year-old Anastasia Steele, many are also young, submissive and uncertain about their boundaries.
In December, and Victoria (not her real name), a 20-year-old English major at an Ivy League school, had decided to skip reading period, apply more makeup than usual and venture on her own to a kinky meet-upshe had read about on FetLife, a social networking service for fetishists. Victoria didn’t have any experience with submissive sex, but she had been drawn to it for years; she sometimes had fantasies about dungeons or about being restrained or embarrassed, and she recalled family trips to Medieval Times having given her an unusual erotic charge.
The meeting was fun. Victoria had interesting conversations about neurobiology and religion and, of course, about kinky sex. It was near the end of the evening when a man walked in whom she recognized; he had tried to form an S&M club on her campus a few years before. Eric had a doughy, impish face and slicked-back hair, and he wore his cell phone in a carrier on his hip. ...
There are a lot of things to find disturbing about GQ's Rihanna profile, featured in its December "Men of the Year Issue"—like how naked she is or how she appears to have used the interview to stage another meeting with Chris Brown, further evidence that the two are back together and juicing the controversy of their reunion three years after Brown assaulted her.
But I admit I'm irritated about something else, too. In the words of writer Jay Bulger:
I ask what turns her on, because I know she'll answer. "I like to feel like a woman," she says. "I have to be in control in every other aspect of my life, so I feel like in a relationship, like I wanted to be able to take a step back and have somebody else take the lead." Do you ever switch things up? I ask. "I could absolutely be dominant," she answers. "But, in general, I'd rather ... How do I say this in like a ... non-X-rated version?" Right. Lastly, any boundaries I should know about? "Love makes you go places you probably wouldn't ever go, had it not been for love. But I think everybody still has their limits."
In the piece, this is the end of a clearly delineated section. And the next describes the night out that ends with Rihanna and Brown's rendezvous at a club. The connection is meant to be clear: Rihanna's preference for submission is the reason she's going back to Brown, going "places you probably wouldn't ever go, had it not been for love."
But submission doesn't have to be about seeking out abuse, be it physical or emotional. Dominance and submission are tools partners can use to negotiate what they want out of a sexual experience or a relationship. That power dynamic still allows for all involved to be safe. Similarly, women who return to partners who abused them aren't necessarily involved in dominant and submissive sexual relationships. ...
MY favorite CASE: A UK sadomasochism case allows us to consider when the state should be allowed to criminalise actions between consenting adults
What is your favorite case?
Many years before the publication of EL James’s 50 Shades of Grey, sadomasochism was slap-bang before the English courts. The case of R v Brown Ors whipped up controversy and undoubtedly left its mark on the issue of consent and non-fatal offences.
In the late 1980s, a group of more than 40 men decided to video themselves inflicting sadomasochistic tortures on each other on numerous occasions at a variety of different locations.
The videos spanned a 10-year period and showed the men engaging in various acts, including beatings and the maltreatment of their genitalia with a selection of instruments such as fish hooks, hot wax, nettles and cat-o-nine tails.
All acts were carried out in private, consensually and for no other purpose than achieving sexual pleasure and gratification.
The videos were copied and distributed among members of the group. Unfortunately for the men, the police came into the possession of these videos.
Some members of the group were charged with unlawful and malicious wounding and assault occasioning actual bodily harm on each other contrary to Offences Against The Person Act.
The trial judge ruled that the accused men could not rely on the defence of consent and the men were convicted in 1990 and sentenced to terms of imprisonment. An appeal against the conviction to the Court of Appeal failed, so the men appealed to the House of Lords.
The question before the House of Lords was, “Where A wounds or assaults B occasioning him actual bodily harm in the course of a sadomasochistic encounter, does the prosecution have to prove lack of consent on the part of B before they can establish A’s guilt under section 20 or section 47 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861?”
The appeal was dismissed by a bare majority of the House of Lords.
Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle, in the majority, held that “in considering the public interest, it would be wrong to look only at the activities of the appellants alone, there being no suggestion that they and their associates are the only practitioners of homosexual sadomasochism in England and Wales”.
Lord Jauncey seemed concerned that others who practised these “rather curious activities” may not be as “controlled or responsible as the appellants are claiming to be”, which could result in wounds becoming septic, the spread of Aids or the “proselytisation and corruption” of young men. ...