In an exclusive conversation with Salon, Stanford's kinksters talk about seeking university approval
by Tracy Clark-Flory
The bad news came in late February. An application to have Stanford University officially recognize a 60-member student kink club was rejected — for now. In an email, a representative for the Student Organization Review Committee, which is made up of students and staff, wrote that they ”liked the concept of your proposal but did not feel that as submitted it sufficiently met the criteria for a new student organization.” She encouraged the group to apply again next quarter with a revised proposal.
“We’re disappointed, but we’re not surprised,” said “Jon,” a Stanford junior and member of the group, Kardinal Kink, which was started in April of last year. When asked why they weren’t surprised by the rejection, Lily Z., the club’s president, explained in an email, “We’re not surprised by the culture we live in. Our society is a place where kink is expected to be rejected, expected to be pushed back down when it comes up — and Stanford is no exception.” In another email, Jon argued that they were “rejecting us as a group for the same reasons LGBT-type groups were getting rejected a few decades ago.”
When I contacted Nanci Howe, associate dean of students, she expressed surprise to be hearing from a reporter, as “the students are still in the process of applying to be a student group.” There are three responses to applications, she said: They are accepted, told to re-apply or rejected. “It’s common for groups to be asked for more detail about their proposal,” she said. “The majority of groups that provide additional information become recognized student groups.”
So, Stanford is hardly taking a hard line against kink. In fact, a kink lecture series has already been allowed on campus. But the students feel that their application was held to higher standards because of the taboo nature of their club.
Lily shared the committee’s email with Salon, along with rebuttals for each point. The committee requested “better clarity about the scope of your group, especially in regards to clarity about your group’s hoped for activities.” She says the application made that clear in its first sentence, which read, “Kardinal Kink is both a support group and an advocacy group: a supportive anonymous space for Stanford students to explore kink themes safely and a public effort to campaign for resources, research, and respect for kink by promoting a positive and accurate understanding of kink sexuality on campus.”
Imagining the university’s worst fear, I asked whether their “hoped for activities” included, well, nudity or sex. “Absolutely not. No nudity, no sexual contact,” said “Helena,” a Stanford sophomore and founder of Kardinal Kink. “These are discussion groups, they’re support groups. There are lots of support groups on campus and this is just another one.” Kardinal Kink also features guest lecturers. “We have well-known educators who have put their lives toward trying to educate people about sexuality and communication, come to campus … and teach us these skills that 20-year-olds may not be able to teach to each other,” she explains.
As Jon put it, ”I don’t think that the educational source for kink should be ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’ I think it should be well-informed professionals and like-minded people that come together to educate.”
The committee’s email also asked that the group “find an experienced staff advisor who can … regularly work [with] you and your leadership, assisting you in developing best practices for your activities.” Lily argues, “This is not a requirement for Student Organizations” — indeed, a staff adviser is not listed as official criteria for approval — “it’s just a hoop to jump through.” She added, “They think it’s going to be nigh impossible to find faculty ready to ascribe their name to a Kink student group, hence why they put this out there.” The email also suggests they “propose a name that is more in line with your group proposal,” and ”develop a risk management plan for your group and its activities,” which Lily calls “ambiguous” and “not a requirement.”
There is plenty of precedent for schools recognizing such clubs, even at Ivy Leagues like Princeton, Columbia, Yale and Harvard. So too is there precedent for controversy.
In 2012, Harvard officially recognized its group of 30 students who met to discuss issues relating to kinky sex. The decision made international headlines. The Daily Mail wrote, “A Harvard student group that relishes in conversations about erotic sex has been officially recognized by the prestigious university.” Relishes in conversations about erotic sex? Not exactly. The group’s constitution states that it “exists to promote a positive and accurate understanding of kinky sexuality on campus, as well as to create a space where students may feel accepted in their own sexuality” and “creates a space where students may discuss problems in their own relationships, up to and including abuse and assault.” How debauched. ...
Why is it OK, and even complimentary, to refer to a man with many sexual conquests as a “stud,” while promiscuous women are labeled “slut”?
The question has long interested Madison-born actor and filmmaker Ben Fritz. It drives the philosophy and narratives behind The Ethical Slut, Fritz’s Web-based series that soon launches its second season.
Based on the 1997 book The Ethical Slut: A Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities by lesbian authors Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy (then writing under the name Catherine A. Liszt), the series focuses on two female friends exploring the concept of polyamory, the idea of having multiple intimate or sexual relationships at the same time with the consent of everyone involved. The authors sought to reclaim the word “slut” as an empowering feminist term.
Season One’s 12 episodes, each from 5 to 8 minutes long, explore different aspects of the concept. They’re meant for bite-sized consumption by busy viewers. Despite the title, the Web series is more PG-13 than R-rated — something that Fritz believes captures the authors’ philosophy.
“What drew me (to the book) were concepts of open communications and emotional responsibility,” said Fritz, a Monona native whose acting experiences range from episodes of the TV series Friends to a Madison production of Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi in which he played Judas Iscariot.
“I’m also interested in how people structure their lives and make it work,” Fritz adds. “They try to do it in ways that make them feel free, and the characters in the series do so through sexual freedom.”
Fritz spent time as part of the Los Ange- les filmmaking scene, appearing in front of and behind the camera for several independent productions. He acquired the rights to The Ethical Slut book and was in the process of negotiating a series with HBO when it became clear that the cable network planned to go in its own direction without him — and with an emphasis on sensationalizing the book’s sexuality. That approach didn’t fit with the authors’ vision, and the deal eventually was scuttled.
At that point, an independent production seemed the way to go, Fritz says.
“I eventually decided I wanted to make it myself, because I wanted to create some- thing that didn’t exploit people’s smallness,” he says.
Fritz chose his hometown of Madison, partly because of the contacts and resources he had there, but also to prove that polyamory is a concept that can be embraced by middle America.
With a blended L.A. and local cast and crew, Season One is so Madison-centric that it could be a chamber of commerce video — if not for the sexual theme. Characters shop at the Willy Street Co-op, play at Keva Sports Center, visit Ale Asylum Brewery and work out at A Perfect Knot Yoga Center. Shots of the Capitol Dome at all times of day and night dominate the visuals. ...
Upper Dublin school officials are apologizing for not having fully vetted the background of a self-billed “life coach” whose past came to light when students started searching his name online during an assembly at which he spoke.
Turns out, the speaker, Jason C. Jean once ran “the ultimate swingers vacation” website.
The message by Principal Robert Schultz was sent to parents and guardians and cited “a number of concerns” that were raised about Thursday’s assembly for 11th- and 12th-grade students at the high school, as well as about “the credentials and background of the speaker.”
The speaker addressed some seniors last year, the principal said, and was invited back to meet with a larger group based on “very positive reviews of that gathering."
In an email, Schultz declined to comment beyond the listserv message. He did not name the speaker. A phone call to Upper Dublin School District headquarters wasn't returned.
But students and social media posts identified the speaker as Jean, a central Pennsylvania motivational speaker.
Jean -- whose website and Tumblr page show a photograph from an event at the high school last May -- confirmed he spoke at the school this week.
In an email Saturday, Jean said he was "unaware" of any issues with the assembly until he saw news reports about the apology.
In the wake of Thursday’s event, questions about Jean’s past have risen. He is the founder of SwingFest, which the event’s website calls “the ultimate swingers vacation for adult couples and singles looking to get away for some sexy adult fun.”
Upper Dublin High School senior Amanda Willis, who attended the event, called Jean “a terrible speaker.”
“He was talking about how he played football for Penn State and that he was drafted into the Phillies at age 16, and that he owned a pasta sauce company and various night clubs,” Willis said.
It was Jean’s mention of pasta sauce that spurred Willis and a friend to Google the self-proclaimed life coach. They wanted to know what company he helmed.
But the results went beyond Bolognese or red gravy. They found an unflattering portrait of him on one blog post.
“We posted it on Twitter during the assembly,” Willis said. “Heads started shooting up and looking around. And they retweeted and retweeted.”
The most Jean touched on his past during the speech was a mention of getting suspended from school for drinking at the age of 14, according to Willis. In fact, “he said he used to drink a lot in high school and said we should call our parents when we were drunk," Willis said.
Indeed, a quick Internet search, as well as Jean’s own website, suggests his background may be somewhat more colorful.
Jean appears to have been highly active in the adult-entertainment industry, described in a Playboy Radio press release as the “King of Swing” and giving a “Swinging 101” interview to Miami.com in 2009. ...
In a recent article in Modern Poly written by Saul-of-Hearts, a writer, musician and videographer based in Los Angeles and Portland, the idea that polyamory is an orientation, at least for the writer, was put forth. I posted the article titled “Polyamory As Orientation (And Why It Works For Me)” on Facebook and asked my online friends this question: “So what do you think? Is it similar to an orientation or not?”
The range of answers I got was interesting as discussions regarding polyamory often are, especially with my online friends who range from actively polyamorous to staunchly monogamous and everything in between. But one comment stood out and resonated with me the moment I read it. A friend offered this:
The writer assumes that all humans are not naturally capable of a romantic relationship with more than one individual. I don’t like the term poly. Most research into modern hunter/gatherer societies has shown that monogamy is a modern phenomenon and socially constructed for the purposes of property management and inheritance.
Monogamy isn’t an orientation, it’s conditioning.
Poly isn’t an orientation. It is our natural state.
But for those of us who identify as poly and who live a poly life now, or have aspirations to do so, I think adopting the mindset that being poly is a natural state while monogamy is not would serve us well. However, the only caution I would offer is that this stance should not denigrate the decision that some will make to configure their relationships in a monogamous fashion. Just because we might put forth the notion that poly is a natural state does not mean that someone’s choice to be monogamous is wrong or counter to nature, especially if that decision is truly made for reasons that work for the individuals involved and are not the result of social conditioning that makes those people miserable as they try to conform. Poly folks must always value the monogamous among us even as we live our lives in a different fashion. Diversity is the norm and therefore that means that people will decide to configure their relationships in diverse ways also. It’s all good.
With all that said, I guess the most accurate statement I can make is that poly is natural for many people. I contend it’s natural for most people, but the real point I want to make is that it’s most certainly just as natural as monogamy is and perhaps, if social conditioning weren’t a factor, might indeed by the more prevalent form of how we do relationships.
So while I don’t think of myself being polyamorous as an orientation, I do embrace the notion that my poly life is indeed a natural state. It’s certainly more natural for me than monogamy, both in terms of my sexuality and how I bond with others.
Let me know your thoughts about this by posting a comment.
I n many ways, Catherine Skinner is a typical stay-at-home mom.
The 37-year-old former actress lives with her family on a 30-acre farm in rural Ontario where she spends her days cooking, knitting and caring for three children.
She even has a mommy blog (playboymommy.com) on which she shares her housekeeping tips and photos of herself cooking in a pencil skirt like ones worn by the housewives of Mad Men.
But there is one aspect of Skinner’s life that is far from regular: Her family is polyamorous. The man she calls her husband, Nekky Jamal (37), also has a legal wife, Sarah (41).
For the past five years, since moving in with the family, Skinner has been a full partner and spouse to both of them, as well as an adopted mother to their two biological daughters, aged 8 and 10. A year and a half ago ago, she gave birth to a son, who is growing up, like his sisters, with two moms and a dad.
“What I tell the kids is that we have a unique and special family,” she says.
“Not everyone will appreciate it, and some people will be fearful of it, but to us if feels like the most natural, normal thing in the world.”
The Jamal-Skinners are part of a small but noteworthy number of families who are making the choice to raise their children in polyamorous partnerships involving three people or more. Call them bopos (bourgeois polyamorous) or polyfidelitous (the more academic term), they are the most conventional members of the “poly” sub-culture, a group that includes everything from orgy-obsessed swingers to S&M enthusiasts.
Like many polyfidelitous families, the Jamal-Skinners lead conventional lives outside of their domestic partnership. Educated, affluent, socially liberal professionals (Nekky is an eco-business consultant and Sarah is a business analyst at York University), they believe in political tolerance, private education and shielding their kids from too much TV. They do not have outside lovers, or go to sex clubs, or wear PVC clothing. As Nekky describes it, “We’re not trying to promote a particular lifestyle. We’re just adults who made a grown-up decision to raise our family a different way.”
There are no hard statistics on the number of poly families, and few polyamorists are as “out” as the Jamal-Skinners. But academic researchers estimate that anywhere from 3 to 5 per cent of the North American population engages in some kind of consensual non-monogamy.
While still uncommon, poly families have at least become more noticeable. Polyamory has been the subject of several new books in recent years. Last summer, American writer Angi Becker Stevens, wrote about life with her daughter and two male partners in a Salon essay titled My Two Husbands. The popular parenting blog Mommyish.com has a regular column penned by an anonymous writer called Polyamorous Mom. On Pinterest boards devoted to poly family life, devotees can post pictures of themselves and their spouses cuddled up in king-sized beds.
To some, polyamory is the final frontier in the battle for sexual tolerance – a fight that started with the rise of feminism and still rages in the debate over gay marriage. And their hope is that, just as society has gradually come to respect the rights of transgendered, gay and bisexual people, so too will it eventually accept the rights of people who choose to live together consensually as spouses. ...
Elisabeth Sheff's interest in polyamory isn't strictly academic. Or it wasn't, anyway.
"When I was 22 I met a man who wanted to be non-monogamous and it scared me," Sheff told The Huffington Post.
As an academic and "an intellectual, l intellectualize things that frighten me," said the former professor, now CEO and director of a think tank that deals with legal issues facing sexual minorities. "So once I realized how important it was to him and how much it terrified me, I thought that understanding it might tame it in my own mind, make it less threatening and thus 'fix' my relationship."
Sex and jealousy, when it's time to open up a family's Google calendar to a new partner, and why so many in the poly community are white and affluent: Sheff spoke with HuffPost about all this and more.
The Huffington Post: Is there a typical polyamorous family?
The most common form I found was the open couple, generally a female/male couple that lived together with their children and dated other people who did not live in the household with the couple and their kids. The more people in the relationship, the rarer they are and the more likely it is that the people involved will shift over time.
The open couple is likely to stay together and their dates stick around for varying amounts of time. Triads are more rare than open couples but more common than quads, and quads are more common than moresomes [a relationship with five or more adults] or intimate networks when it comes to child bearing.
Poly families’ shared characteristics include a focus on communication and honesty, emotional intimacy with kids and adults fostered through communication and honesty, sexuality kept private among the adults so kids don’t see it even though they can ask about it if they want -- and they never want to know, like any other kids, the kids in poly families do not want to know about their parents’ sex lives -- dealing with stigma from society and families of origin, challenges deciding to be out or not depending on family circumstances, location and sharing resources so that people get more attention, free time, money, rides, help with homework or life issues, and love.
What makes for a successful poly relationship? How is success defined in poly relationships?
Successful poly relationships are those that meet the participants’ needs. If they continue meeting needs then the relationships continue being successful. If they stop meeting needs because people change or their interests or needs diverge, then it does not have to mean that they failed, only that they are changing form to be something different that meets needs better –- at least in the ideal.
Sometimes they crash and burn, hurting people in the process and that is not success. But merely ending or changing form does not mean failure but rather new opportunities to be different.
Strategies for meeting needs include communicating about everything from safer sex agreements to openly discussing what everyone’s test results are and how the group is going to keep its members safe from infections, to talking about jealousy and figuring out ways to reassure jealous members and alleviate symptoms that can be fixed with doing things differently.
Polys use honesty to build trust, which is a key strategy for success, as well as self-reflection to look at one’s own part in the relationship and counseling with poly-knowledgeable therapists who can guide groups through sticky situations.
Some people worry that polyamory is bad for kids. What did you find in your research?
The kids who participated in my research were in amazingly good shape – articulate, self assured, and confident in their family’s love. This positive social outcome was helped along by their parents’ (and their own) race and class privileges because lots of these folks are white, highly educated professionals with middle class jobs, health insurance and white privilege....
Since moving from Louisiana a few years back, William Winters has ascended to a sort of unofficial throne, the de facto king of the East Bay polyamory scene.
The poly potlucks he hosts have surged in popularity and tripled in regularity. It would appear that in the Bay Area there is an expanding interest in upending the traditional relationship.
But even in a region where alternative sexual cultures thrive in the open, the polyamory community has remained a relatively small circle. And as interest in open relationships grows, so too does a need to reach a larger, more diverse and perhaps even more vanilla crowd.
Kotango, a new social network for those who asrcibe (or aspire) to something other than monogamy, intends to do exactly that.
Imagine it as something like a kinky mashup of Facebook, OkCupid and Reddit, a place for the sexually venturesome to connect, cruise for dates and seek out advice.
Or, in the words of Polly “Superstar” Whittaker, a co-founder of the site and leader of San Francisco’s varied sex scene, it’s “kind of social networking for kinky hot nerds.”
But Kotango is also a marriage of two of the things that have come to define San Francisco most, tech and kink. It’s a startup solution to a summer of love problem.
“We wanted a safe place for people to meet, connect and share stories,” said local IT bigwig Andrew, the brains behind the site (he asked to go by first name only, as his kids aren’t aware that he and his wife have an open relationship)./p>
As the polyamory community grows, he said, it needed a “gateway,” something more approachable than sex parties or dinner with a room of open-minded strangers.
Other online fetish networks exist, but, as the Kotango website explains, “a lot of people are looking for a sexy, intelligent community without the sleaze and shame typical of many conventional dating or swingers sites.”
Mainstream social networks wouldn’t cut it, either: Facebook’s privacy settings aren’t quite private enough, and even on dating sites like OkCupid it’s hard to find like-minded individuals (polyamory, after all, isn’t just about sleeping around.)
“Even if you’re joining a closed group on Facebook, unless your privacy settings are pretty tight it will still notify your friends that you joined the group,” said Winters. “For a lot of people who aren’t out or who are just exploring this lifestyle, Kotango is a lot safer.”
More than two to ’tango
Andrew came up with the idea for the site then passed it along to Christopher Ryan, co-author of the book “Sex at Dawn” and a celebrity in the polyamory community. Kotango launched in beta last year and is slated to debut in full this spring. So far, it has attracted over 5,000 users, about 2,000 of them in the Bay Area.
Here is a snapshot of some of the happenings on the site: a query as to how to tell the kids that mom and dad are polyamorous; a nuanced discussion of the difference between jealousy and envy; and advice for newbies on managing the complex emotions of relations with multiple lovers.
There are individual profile pages, where people list their favorite books, describe their dream dinner party and identify their “relationship model” of choice. Like most dating sites, Kotango users go by avatars accompanied by headshots. There is also a calendar and group pages that serve as a directory of local polyamory events.
The site is surprisingly tame; in fact Kotango advises its members to save the sexy shots for themselves. The site’s name is a portmanteau of tango — “unlike other dances, it doesn’t have a pre-determined set of steps,” the website explains — and community, cooperation and connection. ...
Planned Parenthood has produced a video to teach teen children how to engage in bondage, dominance, and sadomasochism (BDSM), CNS News reported yesterday. The video was produced by Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, which received $2.75 million in taxpayer funding in 2012.
CNS describes the video as, “a video specifically aimed at teenagers that promotes bondage and sadomasochism (BDSM) and proposes "rules" to follow when engaging in these activities.”
“People sometimes think that those who practice BDSM are emotionally scarred or were once abused—not true, it’s a total myth," the host of the video, Laci Green, informs its intended audience of teens, "BDSM relies upon and creates trust," she says.
“For teens who are sexually involved, Planned Parenthood is committed to providing resources for safeguarding their emotional and physical health,” the website says.
Wikipedia defines BDSM as, “Regardless of its origin, BDSM is used as a catch-all phrase to include a wide range of activities, forms ofinterpersonal relationships, and distinct subcultures. BDSM communities generally welcome anyone with a non-normative streak who identifies with the community; this may include cross-dressers, extreme body mod enthusiasts, animal players, latex or rubber aficionados, and others.”
The video is part of what PPNNE refers to as “an innovative social education project” that is titled “A Naked Notion.” The YouTube channel for this project has been viewed one million times, PPPNE claims.
"A Naked Notion is a brand new project dedicated to frank, open conversations about sexuality," says the PPNNE webpage for the program. "It stars sex educator Laci Green and is brought to you by Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.”
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