THIS is a strange moment for sex in America. We’ve detached it from pregnancy, matrimony and, in some circles, romance. At least, we no longer assume that intercourse signals the start of a relationship. But the more casual sex becomes, the more we demand that our institutions and government police the line between what’s consensual and what isn’t. And we wonder how to define rape. Is it a violent assault or a violation of personal autonomy? Is a person guilty of sexual misconduct if he fails to get a clear “yes” through every step of seduction and consummation?
According to the doctrine of affirmative consent — the “yes means yes” rule — the answer is, well, yes, he is. And though most people think of “yes means yes” as strictly for college students, it is actually poised to become the law of the land.
About a quarter of all states, and the District of Columbia, now say sex isn’t legal without positive agreement, although some states undercut that standard by requiring proof of force or resistance as well.
Codes and laws calling for affirmative consent proceed from admirable impulses. (The phrase “yes means yes,” by the way, represents a ratcheting-up of “no means no,” the previous slogan of the anti-rape movement.) People should have as much right to control their sexuality as they do their body or possessions; just as you wouldn’t take a precious object from someone’s home without her permission, you shouldn’t have sex with someone if he hasn’t explicitly said he wants to.
And if one person can think he’s hooking up while the other feels she’s being raped, it makes sense to have a law that eliminates the possibility of misunderstanding. “You shouldn’t be allowed to make the assumption that if you find someone lying on a bed, they’re free for sexual pleasure,” says Lynn Hecht Schafran, director of a judicial education program at Legal Momentum, a women’s legal defense organization.
Most people just aren’t very talkative during the delicate tango that precedes sex, and the re-education required to make them more forthcoming would be a very big project. Nor are people unerringly good at decoding sexual signals. If they were, we wouldn’t have romantic comedies. “If there’s no social consensus about what the lines are,” says Nancy Gertner, a senior lecturer at Harvard Law School and a retired judge, then affirmative consent “has no business being in the criminal law.”
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PERHAPS the most consequential deliberations about affirmative consent are going on right now at the American Law Institute. The more than 4,000 law professors, judges and lawyers who belong to this prestigious legal association — membership is by invitation only — try to untangle the legal knots of our time. They do this in part by drafting and discussing model statutes. Once the group approves these exercises, they hold so much sway that Congress and states sometimes vote them into law, in whole or in part. For the past three years, the law institute has been thinking about how to update the penal code for sexual assault, which was last revised in 1962. When its suggestions circulated in the weeks before the institute’s annual meeting in May, some highly instructive hell broke loose.
In a memo that has now been signed by about 70 institute members and advisers, including Judge Gertner, readers have been asked to consider the following scenario: “Person A and Person B are on a date and walking down the street. Person A, feeling romantically and sexually attracted, timidly reaches out to hold B’s hand and feels a thrill as their hands touch. Person B does nothing, but six months later files a criminal complaint. Person A is guilty of ‘Criminal Sexual Contact’ under proposed Section 213.6(3)(a).”
Far-fetched? Not as the draft is written. The hypothetical crime cobbles together two of the draft’s key concepts. The first is affirmative consent. The second is an enlarged definition of criminal sexual contact that would include the touching of any body part, clothed or unclothed, with sexual gratification in mind. As the authors of the model law explain: “Any kind of contact may qualify. There are no limits on either the body part touched or the manner in which it is touched.” So if Person B neither invites nor rebukes a sexual advance, then anything that happens afterward is illegal. “With passivity expressly disallowed as consent,” the memo says, “the initiator quickly runs up a string of offenses with increasingly more severe penalties to be listed touch by touch and kiss by kiss in the criminal complaint.”
The obvious comeback to this is that no prosecutor would waste her time on such a frivolous case. But that doesn’t comfort signatories of the memo, several of whom have pointed out to me that once a law is passed, you can’t control how it will be used. For instance, prosecutors often add minor charges to major ones (such as, say, forcible rape) when there isn’t enough evidence to convict on the more serious charge. They then put pressure on the accused to plead guilty to the less egregious crime.
The example points to a trend evident both on campuses and in courts: the criminalization of what we think of as ordinary sex and of sex previously considered unsavory but not illegal. Some new crimes outlined in the proposed code, for example, assume consent to be meaningless under conditions of unequal power. Consensual sex between professionals (therapists, lawyers and the like) and their patients and clients, for instance, would be a fourth-degree felony, punishable by significant time in prison.
It’s not that sex under those circumstances is a good idea, says Abbe Smith, a Georgetown law professor, director of the school’s Criminal Defense and Prisoner Advocacy Clinic, and an adviser to the American Law Institute’s project on sexual assault. “It’s what my people would call a shanda, mental health professionals having sex with their clients,” says Ms. Smith. (“Shanda” is Yiddish for scandal.) But most of these occupations already have codes of professional conduct, and victims also have recourse in the civil courts. Miscreants, she says, “should be drummed out of the profession or sued for malpractice.”
It’s important to remember that people convicted of sex crimes may not only go to jail, they can wind up on a sex-offender registry, with dire and lasting consequences. Depending on the state, these can include notifying the community when an offender moves into the neighborhood; restrictions against living within 2,000 feet of a school, park, playground or school bus stop; being required to wear GPS monitoring devices; and even a prohibition against using the Internet for social networking.
We shouldn’t forget the harm done to American communities by the national passion for incarceration, either. In a letter to the American Law Institute, Ms. Smith listed several disturbing statistics: roughly one person in 100 behind bars, one in 31 under correctional supervision — more than seven million Americans altogether. “Do we really want to be the world leader of putting people in cages?” she asked.
Affirmative-consent advocates say that rape prosecutions don’t produce very many prisoners. They cite studies estimating that fewer than one-fifth of even violent rapes are reported; 1 to 5 percent are prosecuted and less than 3 percent end in jail time. Moreover, Stephen J. Schulhofer, the law professor who co-wrote the model penal code, told me that he and his co-author have already recommended that the law do away with the more onerous restrictions that follow from being registered as a sex offender.
I visited Mr. Schulhofer in his office at New York University Law School to hear what else he had to say. A soft-spoken, thoughtful scholar and the author of one of the most important books on rape law published in the past 20 years, “Unwanted Sex: The Culture of Intimidation and the Failure of Law,” he stresses that the draft should be seen as just that — notes from a conversation in progress, not a finished document.
But the case for affirmative consent is “compelling,” he says. Mr. Schulhofer has argued that being raped is much worse than having to endure that awkward moment when one stops to confirm that one’s partner is happy to continue. Silence or inertia, often interpreted as agreement, may actually reflect confusion, drunkenness or “frozen fright,” a documented physiological response in which a person under sexual threat is paralyzed by terror. To critics who object that millions of people are having sex without getting unqualified assent and aren’t likely to change their ways, he’d reply that millions of people drive 65 miles per hour despite a 55-mile-per-hour speed limit, but the law still saves lives. As long as “people know what the rules of the road are,” he says, “the overwhelming majority will comply with them.” ...
To understand why sex-forward couples therapists may still be considered renegades in the era of shows like “Girls” and “Transparent,” it may help to know that the concept of couples therapy is only slightly older than the Sexual Revolution. It was pushed to the fore in the early 1960s by Don D. Jackson, Virginia Satir and Jay Haley at the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto, Calif., and Murray Bowen at Georgetown University Medical Center.
Sex therapy, invented by Masters & Johnson, evolved separately — and neither William Masters nor Virginia Johnson was a couples therapist or mental-health provider. Today, there is only one certification program for sex therapists, the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists, which means aspiring sex therapists may find access to courses and supervisors a challenge.
And though the association requires its certified sex therapists to be licensed social workers or psychologists first, couples therapists are not required to have any training in sex. Ms. Perel, for example, said she received exactly one hour of education on sex in her psychotherapy training, which led her to become certified in sex therapy in 2010, more than two decades later.
Dr. Nichols, 68, a psychologist and sex therapist, received zero hours of coursework in sex as a clinical psychology student. She went on to found the Institute for Personal Growth in Highland Park, N.J., in 1983, then one of few mental-health centers for gays and lesbians. Today, the institute, which added centers in Jersey City and Freehold, also counsels transgender people, but half of the clients are what Dr. Nichols calls “mainstream.”
Because her practice is diverse, she often finds herself looking to one group to help her with another. Her perspective, she said, is “G.G.G.,” which comes not from the annals of Freud but from a 2006 column by the Seattle-based syndicated sex columnist Dan Savage. It means a person should strive to be good in bed, giving to the partner and game for anything — within reason.
Dr. Nichols says kinky couples have the best sex of any long-term couples she sees. Because of this, she finds herself “selling” their principles to vanilla (nonkinky) heterosexuals.
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Angela Martin 47 minutes ago
Everything suggested in this article I enjoy, and most of my relationships are rife with the same challenges faced by Dr. Iasenza patients. ...
Cynthia Williams 47 minutes ago
So, make couples therapy more macho, more sexy, a bit more like an action movie? That's the solution?This latest jazzy trend is just a...
DogsRBFF 47 minutes ago
I am in a long term relationship but not for a long time so take my opinion with great grain of salt!It is almost impossible for anyone to...
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“Kinky couples plan sex,” she said, “and simmer for days in advance. They emphasize quality of encounter over frequency of encounters. They practice variety and exploration. They don’t judge a partner’s desires. They discuss and negotiate sexual acts, and they make a clear demarcation between ‘normal’ couple zone and ‘sex zone,’ allowing them to be totally immersed in an erotic space.”
One of the thornier issues affecting modern couples (kinky or not) is Internet pornography.
Dr. Klein, 65, a marriage and family therapist and sex therapist in Palo Alto, questions the existence of pornography addiction and says no one has the right to a pornography-free home without consulting his or her mate.
“Many couples haven’t come to terms with the question, ‘Is it O.K. if my husband or wife masturbates?’ ” he said. “If you haven’t come to terms with that, or with the fact that most adults have sexual fantasies, then how can you have a productive, collaborative conversation about pornography? The country is flooded with high-quality free porn, and the problem is that people are anxious and secretive because they’re getting the message, ‘If you watch that stuff, I’ll kill you.’ ”
He takes a more tolerant approach: “I say to the couple, ‘Let’s talk seriously about how come two people who love and like each other don’t have sex any more.’ ”
Not surprisingly, Dr. Klein’s approach has detractors. Sue Johnson, 58, the developer of Emotionally Focused Therapy and a clinical psychologist in Ottawa, specializing in couples, said that if pornography “takes over your life, it is going to wreck your relationship, just like any other addiction.”
As for infidelity, she said, “the idea that an affair is a solution to a lack of engagement and connection with your partner, that’s the craziest solution I’ve ever heard.”
Dr. Johnson’s program, as well as other couples therapist certification programs like Imago, emphasize safety, loyalty and attachment as the foundations of intimacy. (The work is about strengthening underlying bonds, not hoisting up the bondage.) ...
Here's how libertarianism has led me and my partner into polyamory, and why America will have to grapple with this issue next.
By Sara Burrows
“You’re going to bed already?” I complained, as I prepared to read our three-year-old a bedtime story across the hall. It was my not-so-veiled solicitation for sex. I was nearing ovulation and in the mood. I knew Brad was rarely in the mood at night—unlike me, he’s a morning person—but I was hoping, by chance, he might be.
“Yeah, I’m tired,” he grumbled. “I have to work in the morning.” After I got my daughter to sleep in her own bed—a rare gem—I came back in to cuddle, to see if he was really asleep or just faking. ...
Fanning the Flame
I’m sure there are a thousand sexologists ready to give us all kinds of kinky tips on how to reignite the passion in our relationship, but I’m just not interested. It’s humiliating. I shouldn’t have to dress up in black leather like Cat Woman to trick my man into wanting me. And he shouldn’t feel pressured to pretend he has a “burning desire” for me when he doesn’t.
The problem is, fires don’t burn indefinitely unless you keep adding more wood. They start with a spark, work their way up to a roar, then calm back down to a crackle. When the crackling gets too quiet, someone throws another log on, and the flames flare back up. The cycle repeats over and over again, as long as there are more logs, more fuel.
Our fuel is running out. Brad and I have tried all the tricks. We’ve fanned the flames. We need more logs—new energy, a fresh perspective. It doesn’t mean we don’t love each other, or that we are done with each other. It just means we need something new.
Enter polyamory. Polyamory means “many loves.” It is the practice of engaging in several emotionally and possibly sexually intimate relationships simultaneously, with the full knowledge and consent of everyone involved. It differs from polygamy, which means “many marriages”—usually “many wives.”
Brad and I are not legally married, nor do we ever plan to be, but there aren’t a lot of practical differences between us and a married couple. We’ve owned a home together, have a child together, and have every intention—although no promises—of staying together ‘til death do us part. We are hoping polyamory can help make that happen.
Four years into our relationship, we found ourselves in the typical rut of co-dependence, resentment, boredom, and fighting over the grocery bill. We’d had an unplanned baby, I’d quit my job to do attachment parenting full-time, and Brad was working long hours in a dungeon of a warehouse. I was stuck at home washing dishes, folding laundry and talking to a two-year-old, bored out of my mind. If we didn’t have anything to fight about, we’d find something, just to make life a little more interesting. ...
My first assignment as a journalist — as an intern at a now-defunct Seattle daily — was a front-page story about the 2003 court ruling that legalized gay marriage in Canada. I was 19, and picked a fight with my editor after being asked to call a fundamentalist wackjob for “an anti-marriage quote” — you know, to show we were objective. (I lost.)
Later, as a cub reporter at the Boston Globe, I covered the first gay marriages out of Massachusetts, the first state to go legal, as well as attempts by local districts to block it.
I covered gay marriage in New York. I produced a video series about the battle over Proposition 8. I won a GLAAD award for my coverage of LGBT seniors, and the challenges faced by people aging without legal marriage rights. At Newsweek, where I was a staff writer, I picked another fight with an editor, when asked again to insert an anti-marriage quote — this time for an article I was writing about a new generation of gay activists. I argued again. This time I won.
My point is this: I have been touting equal rights in the best way I could as a journalist since the beginning of my career.
So it was almost comical to see my work used against that cause last week by the Supreme Court of the United States. In his dissent in the court’s gay marriage ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts cited my 2009 article for Newsweek: “Polyamory: The Next Sexual Revolution?”
This was not an article about the LGBT community at all. Rather, it was about a group, polyamorists, from whom gay rights activists have long attempted to distance themselves specifically to avoid the kind of association Roberts drew. (The poly community, longtime advocate Anita Wagner told me at the time, had become “the political football in the culture war [over] same-sex marriage.”)
I had spent time shadowing a polyamorous family in my hometown, Seattle. I’d learned that the Pacific Northwest had become home to a thriving poly community, many of whom had found each other on the Internet. They were hosting meetups. Potlucks. Trading recipes, along with partners. There was even an e-mail list for self-identified poly people who worked at Microsoft. Poly people seemed to be everywhere, and researchers were only just beginning to study the phenomenon.
This particular family was a triad: that is, a woman at the center, two men as her partners, living under one roof, with a married couple on the side, the wife of whom was dating one of the two men and the husband dating the woman at the center. They lived in a lakeside community full of good Seattle liberals and lots of money; they had three dogs and a vegetable garden and they often took walks along the water, hand in hand in hand.
It was a lot to keep track of (I drew diagrams), but to hear them describe the thinking behind it actually made a lot of sense: Polyamorous groups were trying new social bonds that put into practice the ideas of a more enlightened age (even if they did so imperfectly). They were reacting to a divorce-happy culture. They had forged their own kind of response to that age-old question: Can one person really satisfy every need? (The answer, if you believed the infidelity statistics, was “no.”)
What they weren’t looking to do at all, though, was to “redefine marriage” — as gay marriage critics have so often put it. They were looking to break the shackles of the institution altogether. “The people I feel sorry for are the ones who don’t ever realize they have any other choices beyond the traditional options society presents,” one poly man told me. ...
Why group marriage is the next horizon of social liberalism.
By FREDRIK DEBOER
Welcome to the exciting new world of the slippery slope. With the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling this Friday legalizing same sex marriage in all 50 states, social liberalism has achieved one of its central goals. A right seemingly unthinkable two decades ago has now been broadly applied to a whole new class of citizens. Following on the rejection of interracial marriage bans in the 20th Century, the Supreme Court decision clearly shows that marriage should be a broadly applicable right—one that forces the government to recognize, as Friday’s decision said, a private couple’s “love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family.”
The question presents itself: Where does the next advance come? The answer is going to make nearly everyone uncomfortable: Now that we’ve defined that love and devotion and family isn’t driven by gender alone, why should it be limited to just two individuals? The most natural advance next for marriage lies in legalized polygamy—yet many of the same people who pressed for marriage equality for gay couples oppose it.
This is not an abstract issue. In Chief Justice John Roberts’ dissenting opinion, he remarks, “It is striking how much of the majority’s reasoning would apply with equal force to the claim of a fundamental right to plural marriage.” As is often the case with critics of polygamy, he neglects to mention why this is a fate to be feared. Polygamy today stands as a taboo just as strong as same-sex marriage was several decades ago—it’s effectively only discussed as outdated jokes about Utah and Mormons, who banned the practice over 120 years ago.
Yet the moral reasoning behind society’s rejection of polygamy remains just as uncomfortable and legally weak as same-sex marriage opposition was until recently.
That’s one reason why progressives who reject the case for legal polygamy often don’t really appear to have their hearts in it. They seem uncomfortable voicing their objections, clearly unused to being in the position of rejecting the appeals of those who would codify non-traditional relationships in law. They are, without exception, accepting of the right of consenting adults to engage in whatever sexual and romantic relationships they choose, but oppose the formal, legal recognition of those relationships. They’re trapped, I suspect, in prior opposition that they voiced from a standpoint of political pragmatism in order to advance the cause of gay marriage.
In doing so, they do real harm to real people. Marriage is not just a formal codification of informal relationships. It’s also a defensive system designed to protect the interests of people whose material, economic and emotional security depends on the marriage in question. If my liberal friends recognize the legitimacy of free people who choose to form romantic partnerships with multiple partners, how can they deny them the right to the legal protections marriage affords?
Polyamory is a fact. People are living in group relationships today. The question is not whether they will continue on in those relationships. The question is whether we will grant to them the same basic recognition we grant to other adults: that love makes marriage, and that the right to marry is exactly that, a right.
Why the opposition, from those who have no interest in preserving “traditional marriage” or forbidding polyamorous relationships? I think the answer has to do with political momentum, with a kind of ad hoc-rejection of polygamy as necessary political concession. And in time, I think it will change....
When the Baltimore Eagle reopens in the heart of Station North, it won’t be your grandfather’s leather bar.
Charles and Greg King, along with John and Robert Gasser, are working to revitalize the storied gay bar at 2022 N. Charles St., a space they hope to reopen by the end of the year.
The project has been in the works since 2012. it has come with several hurdles, the biggest of which was losing its liquor license earlier this year. But as the Baltimore City Board of Liquor License Commissioners prepares to turn over with three new members, the partners on the Baltimore Eagle are optimistic their license will be returned and the project will progress as planned.
The liquor license for the Baltimore Eagle was effectively killed April 9 when the Baltimore liquor board ruled it had expired under the controversial 180-day rule, part of state liquor law that says a license expires after it has been inactive for 180 days.
Under the current liquor board’s rule, liquor licensees have been subjected to strict — and sometimes unequal — interpretation of that policy. The Kings and Gassers say they were among the licensees treated unfairly when they had their license pulled, and they are appealing the decision.
Developer Ian Parrish, president of Investors United, bought the Baltimore Eagle building in 2012 and closed the club shortly after because of health and safety concerns. But the plan was never for the Eagle to remain closed permanently. Parrish brought on the Kings and Gassers as new operators to run the bar with plans to gut the building and start from scratch as part of a $1 million overhaul.
The Kings and the Gassers, collectively doing business as Four Crazy Guys LLC, all relocated to the Baltimore area to run the business.
“Well actually, I hope we’re not crazy for believing in this,” said John Gasser, who plans to pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into the project.
Charles King was looking for a change after spending nearly 20 years in the casino industry, and he jokingly mentioned the idea of opening a bar to John Gasser, who recently retired from the medical field after 20 years. When King connected with Parrish and discovered Parrish was in need of an operator for the bar, the concept became a reality.
“All these gay bas are closing and we’re about to open one, so we must be out of our ever-loving minds, right?” Greg King said. “But there’s still a place for gay bars.”
For years, gay bars didn't have to stay up to date or rethink their business plans.
“They never got stale because they had a captive audience,” Greg King said. “If you were gay and you wanted to go out, you went to a gay bar, so they didn’t have to do anything to stay up to date and continue to attract your business. We know that that’s not the case anymore.”
The operators know they compete not only with other gay bars, but with every bar. But they also see it as especially important to restore the Eagle as other gay bars, including Mount Vernon’s iconic Club Hippo, close around them.
“There is a real opportunity there, not just to have a business that makes us all happy and successful, but also to reestablish a very important landmark LGBT bar that was beloved by its patrons in its heyday and actually have a positive effect on the LGBT community.” John Gasser said. “The loss of these venues is a problem for the LGBT community. What could be better than to bring something back like that?”
At its core, the Baltimore Eagle was for decades a gay leather bar. The partners in its revitalization want to retain that history, but they also want to create a place that’s more inclusive of the larger community. Plans for the Eagle’s second coming include a sports bar and restaurant in the main front area “for everybody — gay, straight, bisexual, everybody,” Charles King said. ...
If you’re anti-monogamy, a social movement awaits you. But are polyamory’s supporters too evangelical in their mission to convert the rest of us to their bed-hopping ways?
The Daily Beast
by Emily Shire
“I’m probably the only little girl who fantasized about meeting her handsome prince and having him sweep her off feet—and then falling in love with another guy,” Cunning Minx tells me with a laugh.
It’s a rosy, even wholesome way of framing her first childhood indications that she would ultimately identify with polyamory, a term Merriam-Webster defines as “the state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time.”
People who identify as polyamorous, like Minx—a sex educator who uses the pseudonym professionally, including for Poly Weekly, a podcast “devoted to tales from the front of responsible non-monogamy”—would likely pick a bone with that rather sterile definition.
According to the website for Loving More, the leading national support and advocacy group for the polyamorous community, “Polyamory refers to emotionally connected relationships openly involving three or more people. It is about honesty, integrity and respect.”
I would venture that most Americans would not be familiar with either of those definitions of polyamory. Many may not have even heard of the term.
Despite a Showtime reality television show and Loving More’s 25,000-strong database of members, polyamory is still a relatively unheard of relationship construct.
To those who have heard of polyamory, the concept is surrounded in stigma, often conflated with “swingers.”
In fact, proponents of polyamory (or just “poly” as it is colloquially referred to) are quick to point out sex with multiple people is by no means a requisite.
The term “polyamory” is “intended to differentiate emotionally connected relationships from simple coupling, casual dating around, or recreational sex,” according to the Loving More website.
Not that most of America is aware of these nuances.
Case in point: when I told a colleague, a thirty-something New Yorker, about polyamory, he said he had never encountered the term and assumed it was a form of polygamy, like the kind practiced by fundamentalist Mormons.
If anything, members of the poly community sound less like Joseph Smith and more like John Humphrey Noyes, who founded the free love Oneida community in upstate New York in 1848.
Noyes declared monogamy was “a tyrannical institution that did not exist in Heaven and eventually would be abolished on earth.”
Not only do poly people soundly reject monogamy as the only acceptable form of romantic relationship in much the way Noyes did, but many also have that same, shall we say, fervor. ...
One of my favorite things about the field of social work has been its strong interconnections with other fields of study, including a full range of social and behavioral sciences. Social work formally utilizes a generalist approach, thus workers are trained to be able to respond effectively to a variety of client needs and potential problems. In doing so, ethical practice is emphasized, and social workers are admonished to challenge injustice, promote client self-determination, embrace human diversity, and practice with cultural competence (National Association of Social Workers, 2008).
Since 2008, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), which accredits all social work education programs in the United States, has required that social work students demonstrate mastery of specific competencies, referred to as Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS). These competencies include a focus on ethical behavior (competency 1), embracing diversity and difference (competency 2), social injustice and human rights (competency 3), and the interconnectedness of research and practice (competency 4) (CSWE, 2015). EPAS competencies are designed to apply across social work education and practice.
In this paper, I will summarize scholarship on consensual bondage and discipline – dominance and submission – sadomasochism (BDSM) and briefly explain why this topic is relevant to social work practice. I will then discuss my frustrations in attempting to publish work on this topic within the field of social work. Apart from a notable exception in the journal Canadian Social Work (Williams, 2013), the topic of BDSM is absent from the social work literature. However, what is particularly surprising and disturbing to me, based on personal experience, has been the refusal of journal editors and reviewers to accept an accumulating empirical research literature on BDSM, which then results in manuscript rejection. I will discuss my experiences of manuscript rejection and editor/reviewer biases concerning BDSM shortly. Contemporary social work, after all, is predicated on EPAS core competencies, including those mentioned above, and also emphasizes evidence-based practice (CSWE, 2008, 2015; Rubin & Babbie, 2014). While I have occasionally encountered difficulty in getting specific manuscripts published, including on the topic of BDSM, it is only in the field of social work that I have faced consistent rejection.
Despite considerable research over the past two decades showing that BDSM participation is not associated with psychopathology, many helping professionals continue to marginalize and discriminate against clients who practice BDSM (Hoff & Sprott, 2009; Kolmes, Stock, & Moser, 2006; Wright, 2009). In the Survey of Violence and Discrimination of Sexual Minorities sponsored by the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, Wright (2009) found that in a large sample of participants (N = 3,058) with alternative sexual identities (including BDSM and fetish enthusiasts), about 40% reported facing discrimination from a mental health professional and 50% experienced discrimination from a medical doctor. These findings illustrate the glaring need for sexual diversity training among helping professionals.
Clearly, there is much current interest in BDSM, thus social workers and helping professionals need to be informed. Nearly a decade ago, Kleinplatz and Moser (2006) estimated that up to 10 percent of the general population participate in some form of BDSM. Social workers, whether they recognize it or not, are highly likely to encounter numerous clients who participate in BDSM but who may seek professional help to address any of a range of diverse personal issues. People who enjoy BDSM, like anyone else, sometimes face typical issues, such as relationship difficulties, job / career decisions, loss and grief, and significant life transitions. However, such clients also could potentially seek help for BDSM-specific issues, including how to navigate alternative relationships or how to deal with stigma that many BDSM participants face. Informed social work professionals could be extremely valuable in helping these clients, including empowering, supporting and advocating for this population as needed.
Social Work Gatekeeping and Dismissal of BDSM Research
Considering where I am in my career (assistant professor currently applying for promotion and tenure), I have a fairly strong publication record with over 50 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters, including numerous papers on sexual diversity. Although the topic of BDSM is relevant to the field of social work, my experience has been that several editors and reviewers for social work academic journals are not open to this topic. One editor responded to a recent manuscript submission on the importance of social workers becoming informed about BDSM by simply writing, “This manuscript is not of interest to us at this time.” Similarly, another journal editor also rejected the manuscript “for lack of interest.” ...
To finish reading, go to the Journal of Positive Sexuality where this article appears in the current issue: http://journalofpositivesexuality.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Does-Social-Work-Need-a-Good-Spanking-Williams.pdf