There aren't 50 shades of nuance about the book-to-movie Fifty Shades of Grey, which began filming recently in Vancouver, British Columbia. People view the saga as the guilty pleasure that reignited a flame in sexless marriages or as the glamorization of abusive relationships, all shrouded in the cloak of a Harlequin romance.
The book's release and the hotly anticipated movie release in February 2015 raise questions about whether Fifty Shades is good or bad for relationships, women's empowerment or sexual liberation. These discussions are important but certainly not new. After all, BDSM has been in the limelight for many years with films such as 2002's The Secretary, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader, as well as Rihanna's 2011 pop hit "S&M."
But there is an important question that has not captured public attention. Is Fifty Shades good or bad for the individuals who engage in BDSM (Bondage and Discipline, and/or Sadism and Masochism) in real life? It is unclear how many people in this country voluntarily engage in BDSM, but a handful of studies suggest that 5 percent to 10 percent of the American population participate in these practices.
In my view, the asymmetries of power, wealth, age and sexual experience magnify the vulnerability of a young virginal female who, at times, was afraid to say "no" to her partner and unable to end the relationship without him showing up at her house unannounced.
But underneath these concerns is one that is just as important, if not more important: consent. The notion of consent is taken very seriously in the BDSM community, even though mainstream entertainment completely disregards it. The BDSM subculture, or "community," as individuals refer to it, treat the infliction of pain as a learned skill in terms of using "toys" such as a bullwhip and understanding how to use communication to maximize a moment of pleasure.
For those who read the Fifty Shades trilogy, we know that consent made a cameo appearance. The male protagonist, Christian Grey, presented his prospective submissive, Anastasia Steele, a contract that established limits on what they would and would not do during their partnership. Later in the plot, however, Christian disregards the contract and says "lovers don't need safe words" and even more directly, "screw the contract."
This storyline may be exciting for those who love a good trashy romance. But this portrayal of consent is inaccurate to the way the vast majority of individuals in the BDSM lifestyle actually talk about and "do" consent.
As a lawyer and a cultural sociologist, I study how individuals and groups develop rules and norms around consent. As part of my research at Northwestern University, I studied the BDSM community over a 21-month period, attending events and private clubs where I interviewed 52 individuals who participate in these activities. These events range from $200 for a weekend or with a club membership fee starting at $25 per month. Anyone can attend as long as the person is 18 years old and have a valid government-issued ID. In some cases they must also agree to be subject to a criminal background check.They must also play by the rules.
But it's not just about playing safely. BDSM is a community devoted to explicit consent and communication. My research consistently shows that there are detailed rules to obtain consent. There are books, web sites, orientations at BDSM clubs and seminars that look like conference panels - all stressing the importance of consent. Even long-term relationships adhere to an ethic that people need to articulate what he or she does and does not want physically or emotionally at that particular time.
The ethic of consent pervades this subculture. The importance of explicit consent also defines the BDSM community with credos such as "Safe, Sane and Consensual" and "Risk Aware Consensual Kink" plastered on brochures and stickers. ...
Leigha Fleming passed away on December 19, 2013, after a longstanding illness. She was 43 years old. Leigha received a wound that became infected in August 2012, and suffered through numerous operations before she finally succumbed to the infection.
We would like to remember all the hard work Leigha did for NCSF as Chairman from 2008-2013, and as Incident Reporting & Response Director for nearly 12 years. At various times Leigha was also the Executive Director, Treasurer, and Legal Education Outreach Program Director since she started volunteering for NCSF in 2000.
Leigha personally helped thousands of individuals, groups and businesses who suffered discrimination and persecution due to their interest in BDSM, swinging and polyamory. Those people who she touched will never forget that she was there to help them when they needed it the most.
Leigha devoted a large part of her life to making sure that NCSF ran smoothly and that our volunteers and staff were doing their jobs. She took great pride in the fact that she played a key part in putting NCSF’s infrastructure on a solid footing. The staff and Board members of NCSF will certainly feel the loss with Leigha gone.
As many people suffer the loss of someone considered a friend or even mentor, we hope to celebrate all the good that Leigha propagated in her lifetime, and we are grateful for the positive changes she so frequently inspired.
Leigha regretted at the end that she had little time left and no way to make restitution to NCSF. Her last words to NCSF were: “I am sorry.”
The Board of NCSF regrets to announce that it appears Leigha Fleming breached her fiduciary duty and diverted at least $60,000 from the NCSF 501(c)4 membership organization for her own personal expenses since September 2011.
Leigha Fleming died on December 19, 2013. Leigha started volunteering for NCSF in 2000, and served as Chairman of the Board from 2008-2013.
The Board of NCSF is acting aggressively to recover as much of the missing funds as possible. A lawsuit is being filed in probate court, and the matter has been referred to law enforcement authorities.
The Board of NCSF has authorized an outside financial review of the books of the NCSF 501(c)4 membership organization, and Stephanie Sassy Lynn has been appointed the new Treasurer. The NCSF-Foundation 501(c)3 account, which received all of the donations for our "Office Fire Fundraiser," was not involved in this matter and continues to be overseen by the Foundation Treasurer, Jim Fleckenstein.
Going forward, the Board is working on ensuring our membership organization is in rigorous compliance with our financial policies and procedures. Several changes have been made to our financial policies to ensure that an opportunity for a repeat of this behavior is not possible, and this situation can never re-occur.
Our volunteer staff members freely give their time, heart and energy to fight discrimination and persecution, and we feel betrayed and devastated. NCSF operates on a small annual budget of $60-70,000 for both the NCSF membership organization and the NCSF-Foundation. We deeply regret the missed activist opportunities that could have been accomplished with the money that is missing.
Regardless of the damage done to NCSF, the work has not gone away. Sexual freedom is not yet a reality, and people still suffer personally and publicly from practicing BDSM, Swing, and Polyamorous lifestyles. NCSF remains committed to moving forward with all of our programs and efforts intact.
Contact NCSF at:
A federal District Court judge in Utah sides with the right to privacy and religious freedom.
The American Prospect
by Scott Lemieux
Last week, a federal District Court judge in Utah struck down a law used to prosecute members of polyamorous relationships. Predictably, some conservatives immediately brought up the slippery slope to legalized adult incest and legal "teen sex cults." However, the decision is a very rational and straightforward application of core principles of the right to privacy and religious freedom.
It is crucial to understand, first of all, that Judge Clark Waddoups's decision in Brown v. Buhman did not "legalize bigamy." The lawsuit was brought by the reality television star Kody Brown, who lives in a polyamorous relationship with four women but is only legally married to one. Brown did not even contest Utah's limitation of marriage to couples, and Judge Waddoups deferred to a Supreme Court precedent dating back to the 19th century holding that bans on bigamy are constitutional. Rather, the decision concerns an unusual, extraordinarily broad provision of Utah law under which "[a] person is guilty of bigamy" if "the person purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person."
The problems with this statutory language under the right to privacy most recently re-established in Lawrence v. Texas should be obvious. On its face, the law would prohibit not only informal consensual polyamorous relationships—problematic in itself—but any kind of intimate cohabitation between unmarried partners. Based on Lawrence's recognition of the fundamental right consenting adults have to engage in same-sex relations, it is very hard to argue that this section of the Utah statute doesn't violate the right to privacy guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.
Defending the statute, the state of Utah made an argument essentially similar to the argument made by former Virginia Attorney General (and failed gubernatorial candidate) Ken Cuccinelli in defense of his application of Virginia's patently unconstitutional band on "sodomy." As Judge Waddoups put it, Utah argued that " much of the Statute’s usefulness, apparently, lies in the State’s perception that it can potentially simply charge religious polygamists under the Statute when it has insufficient evidence of other crimes." But like Cuccinelli's attempt to prosecute a man guilty of creepy—but not actually illegal—sexual solicitation of much younger women under a broad-based sodomy prohibition, this stated application is inconsistent not only with the right to privacy, but the rule of law. The right recognized by Lawrence does not forbid Utah from issuing multiple simultaneous marriage licenses to the same individual, banning nonconsenual sex, or banning sex between adults and children. If someone in a polyamorous relationships is guilty of any of these offenses, they can be prosecuted under specific statutes banning bigamy, sexual assault, and/or statutory rape. If Utah does not have sufficient evidence to prosecute someone of these specific offenses, they have no business punishing them under a broader statute. Allowing a law like this to remain on the books has the same problems as allowing rarely enforced laws banning sodomy on the books: it's an invitation to prosecutorial abuse inconsistent with the fundamental protections of the 14th Amendment. ...
Is being kinky, and a feminist something I should withhold from conversation even if its relevant?
XOJane, I've found myself struggling for the last year with personal, but conflicting interests. I strongly consider myself a feminist, yes I could be more well read in the history, and politics, but that's pretty much where my allegiances are. My feminism isn't the root of the issue, it's my realization and passion being kinky!
In college, I had taken Philosophy of Sexuality, and for an essay I was assigned to debate if BDSM was a perversion. More specifically if Sadomasochistic sexual encounters were a perversion. For the first that semester I was stumped. I could only see it from one point of view, that of course it wasn't a perversion, if there was complete communication and consent. That was a break through point in my sexuality, realizing this was why I've always felt unsatisfied, or uncomfortable. I identity as submissive sexually. Naturally thats the best way to label it, at least with in the Kink community. As a human, and a feminist I believe in equality in all aspects. Striving for that equality in my sexuality, has lead me to find the healthiest, most balanced sexual relationships for me have incorporated S&M, because communication is extremely key to that whole experience.
But here's the breaking point, How do identify as a feminist, and a submissive at the same time?
I feel like I'm betraying my feminist beliefs by enjoying something that from the outside seems very misogynistic. I'm feeling guilty, and confused about the whole matter. I can't stop being ether. I've gotten poor reactions when my interest in BDSM has come up around other feminists. (I've been part of a group of very strong minded, feminist artists.) ...
Maybe polygamy. Maybe also polyamory — multiple-parties marriages. (Not to be confused with “swinging,” the polyamorists emphasize.)
Religious conservatives, better take your tranquilizers. Gay activists — the religious conservatives’ nemeses — scoff at the prospect of such developments. A “red herring” aimed at impeding their agenda, they say.
But the fact is, how do you support gay marriage — which we have supported and do support — and then oppose polygamy and polyamory?
On the basis that they depart from long tradition? That hasn’t slowed down the gay marriage movement, has it?
A federal judge in Utah already has ruled that laws banning polygamy violate the First Amendment. Other cases no doubt will be joining it in the legal appeals pipeline.
And don’t look now, but the polyamorists are agitating openly for acceptance, as they have been quietly doing so for several years now. They have a convention planned in April at the Philly airport Embassy Suites, with workshops, seminars and all the usual works.
They have websites and 501(c)3 advocacy organizations and bloggers. There’s even a big ongoing academic study focusing on them.
“Relationship choice” is their battle cry.
Gay marriage is soooo yesterday. Polygamy and polyamory are going to be the new hoo-ha and turmoil. Count on it.
Does that somehow put traditional marriage at further risk? Given the percentages, not likely. A UCLA study estimates America’s gay population at under 2 percent, and the polygamists and polyamorists are likely even smaller demographics. ...
A federal judge has struck down parts of Utah’s anti-polygamy law as unconstitutional in a case brought by a polygamous star of a reality television series. Months after the Supreme Court bolstered rights of same-sex couples, the Utah case could open a new frontier in the nation’s recognition of once-prohibited relationships.
Judge Clark Waddoups of United States District Court in Utah ruled late Friday that part of the state’s law prohibiting “cohabitation” — the language used in the law to restrict polygamous relationships — violates the First Amendment guarantee of free exercise of religion, as well as constitutional due process. He left standing the state’s ability to prohibit multiple marriages “in the literal sense” of having two or more valid marriage licenses.
Judge Waddoups, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, wrote a 91-page decision that reflects — and reflects upon — the nation’s changing attitude toward government regulation of personal affairs and unpopular groups. The Supreme Court supported the power of states to restrict polygamy in an 1879 decision, Reynolds v. United States.
Judge Waddoups made clear that the Brown case was not an easy one for him, writing, “The proper outcome of this issue has weighed heavily on the court for many months.” He noted the shifts in the way the Constitution has been interpreted over the past century to increase protection for groups and individuals spurned by the majority.
“To state the obvious,” Judge Waddoups wrote, “the intervening years have witnessed a significant strengthening of numerous provisions of the Bill of Rights.” They include, he wrote, enhancements of the right to privacy and a shift in the Supreme Court’s posture “that is less inclined to allow majoritarian coercion of unpopular or disliked minority groups,” especially when “religious prejudice,” racism or “some other constitutionally suspect motivation can be discovered behind such legislation.”
The challenge to the law was brought by Kody Brown, who, along with his four wives and 17 children, stars in “Sister Wives,” the reality television show. The family argued that the state’s prohibition on cohabitation violated its rights to privacy and religious freedom. The Browns are members of the Apostolic United Brethren Church, a fundamentalist offshoot of the Mormon Church, which gave up polygamy around 1890 as Utah was seeking statehood.
The judge cited the decision in Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 Supreme Court case that struck down laws prohibiting sodomy. He quoted the majority opinion by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy that stated the Constitution protects people from “unwarranted government intrusions into a dwelling or other private places” and “an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression and certain intimate conduct.”
In a statement, Mr. Brown said he and his family were “humbled and grateful for this historical ruling from the court today.” He noted that “many people do not approve of plural families,” but “we hope that in time all of our neighbors and fellow citizens will come to respect our own choices as part of this wonderful country of different faiths and beliefs.” ...
We all have a body domination sadomasochist (BDSM) on our holiday gift list, right? Whether you’ve got a truly close friend or a family member who shares too much, there’s a perfect gift for those on the kinky side of things, and it’s crafted right here on the Central Coast.
Tom Douvia, a third-generation master carpenter, has worked for years as a professional contractor. But even after a full day’s work, he would find himself in his home workshop.
“When the economy took its toll on the housing market and construction industry, it put a lot of struggle on tradesmen, including myself,” he wrote in an e-mail interview. “I decided I could either start selling all the tools that I’ve worked so hard to collect over the years, or turn my woodworking hobby into a business, and that’s what I did.”
With a head full of ideas, Douvia went to look up plans online for a sawhorse for his workshop. That was when he saw a plan for bondage furniture, and everything clicked. His first spanking table sold the first day he posted it on eBay.
“I’ve been designing and building BDSM furniture now for over a year,” he said. “I pay particular attention to detail on every project I create; I want people to have that ‘wow’ factor when they receive their piece.” ...