It’s summertime, so of course the anti-sex crowd has decided to cool down with a fresh wave of sexual hysteria. The latest panic is that kinky people will lure vanilla children into our sexual hellscape through trendy pop cultural depictions of BDSM, such as Fifty Shades of Grey. This nonsense is annoying, but it’s also nothing new.
It does, however, raise a question that is often discussed in sexual subcultures but rarely mentioned in the mainstream: Is kink a sexual orientation? I think it is—and if I’m right, the pearl-clutching mobs’ concern that fictional depictions of BDSM will lure sexually normative people into our lifestyle are as absurd as the fear that Brokeback Mountain would tempt straight people into the subversive fringe lifestyle it portrays. (Shepherding, of course. What did you think I meant?)
Many people, including Dan Savage—who, to be clear, is a vocal and consistent source of advice, support, and advocacy for kinky people—have questioned whether kink qualifies as an orientation. As Savage argued, “While some kinksters identify strongly with their kinks and are open about their sexual interests, being into baby bonnets or bondage isn't about who you love, it's about how you love.”
That’s more or less true—I suppose BDSM is technically how I love my husband. But, with respect, to reduce the orientation of love to a physical technicality is every bit as reductive (and ultimately inaccurate) as it would be to argue that homosexuality is not an orientation, because penis-in-anus is merely “how” a gay man loves his husband.
Put another way, and with apologies to every relative, teacher, and religious leader who influenced my development: Sexual orientation is far more about who is putting his penis in your butt—or who is spanking me with a belt—than it is about how either activity occurs.
Kink can be such an orienting force that, for many of us, it even overpowers gender. One survey from the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom found that 35 percent of BDSM practitioners identify as bisexual—a rate that is much higher than the 1.8 to 2.8 percent rate reported overall. There are many theories about why bisexuality is so common in the kink community, such as the strong possibility that the kind of people who participate in a BDSM survey are more likely to be open to sexual experimentation. But I have my own theory about this phenomenon.
For years, I identified as bisexual because I’m sexually attracted to both men and women and have acted on that attraction. But in recent years, as I explored my own sexuality more, I’ve realized that’s not quite accurate. I’m not attracted to men or women as a group—I’m attracted to “tops,” or sexually dominant people, as a group; their gender is irrelevant. Many kinky people describe similar feelings.
This orientation doesn’t only, at times, overcome gender; it also overcomes the strong evolutionary human impulse to avoid pain. Perhaps this should go without saying, but kink hurts. It’s physically painful. (Sometimes extremely so.) Anything that can swim upstream of such a forceful tide must be rooted in something more fundamental and legitimate than merely what’s trendy.
The question of whether kink qualifies as a sexual orientation has been a source of friction between the BDSM and LGBTQ communities for a while. A few months ago, rage erupted when a party promoter scheduled a prison-themed event at a local kinky dungeon during San Francisco’s Pride weekend. Although it wasn’t an official Pride event, some said it was disrespectful to the trauma experienced by LGBTQ inmates in the U.S. prison system. The subcultural infighting sparked by that event echoed debates that have simmered for years. ...
Some University of Chicago students may need to add whips, collars and handcuffs to their back-to-school shopping list.
That’s because the elite private college’s Risk-Awareness Consensual Kink student club, affectionately known around campus as RACK, has plans to take field trips to the local kinky sex club.
The visits are eyed for Galleria Domain 2, the windy city’s “place to explore and satisfy your fetish, kink, leather, and BDSM fantasies,” complete with “three rooms of unique, high quality BDSM furniture, two social areas, and a library,” the club’s website states.
Well, at least it has a library, although I’m not sure how much reading goes on in there.
On May 6, the University of Chicago’s Student Government Finance Committee voted 5-0 to approve $300 to help fund trial memberships for students to the club, described at the meeting as “Chicago’s biggest dungeon.”
It was billed as an “opportunity to connect/engage with the broader Chicago kink community … (and) to engage in BDSM activities that are not suitable/appropriate for spaces that students have access to (i.e., in shared apartments or shared rooms),” according to the meeting’s minutes posted online.
They may have a point. Flogging and electrocution might not play so well in the Max Palevsky Residential Commons.
RACK leaders and student members did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
The trial memberships were slated to launch this month, according to emails obtained by The College Fix by a student member of RACK who declined to be identified further.
“Hey kinksters/interested folks! If you’re on this email, you’ve expressed some kind of interest in getting a trial membership to the dungeon GD2, paid for (at least partially) by the university!” a May 16 email from a RACK leader stated.
On Friday, July 25, an email update to the BDSMically inclined read:
Alright, the first day for the first group is approaching! If you want to be part of the first group going, from August 1st to the 22nd … Before next Thursday … go here and fill out the “trial membership” form! Use the code “rack” to apply the discount, for a total of $10.
Asked by The College Fix about the safety and appropriateness of the plans, a University of Chicago spokesman provided the following statement Tuesday, declining to elaborate further:
“This student group has not taken its proposed group outing or spent any of the funds that the Student Government Finance Committee considered for this purpose.
The Office of Campus and Student Life is still reviewing the proposal and working with members of the student group.
The University of Chicago is committed to student health and safety and to that end is continually looking at effective ways to support student organizations and activities.”
Is it a stretch to presume that after administrators became more fully aware of this little plan, thanks to a media inquiry, they saw red flags? Perhaps not. Will they allow these trips to unfold? Remains to be seen. ...
When you're venturing into the world of BDSM and kink for the first time, it can feel overwhelming and frightening, like when Dorothy, the Scarecrow, Tinman, and Lion all ventured into the Haunted Forest except with gags and — you know what? That's a terrible metaphor. There are several things to keep in mind before you even start spanking each other.
First off, communication is important before, during, and after sex. You may wind up hating something, or loving something and wanting to explore it further.
And take new things one at a time. "Look at it like a meal. If you've never tried crab legs, you might not want to eat, like, six other things that you've never tried either, because I imagine it would take away from the crab legs," says Julie Stewart, President of Sportsheets, a company that specializes in sex toys and BDSM accessories.
Experiment and figure out what role you like playing. You might even be BDSM-ambidextrous. "One person may be giving up a little bit and letting the other person be more dominant," says Stewart. "And I think there's something to say about all of this. It isn't always 'Well, the woman always does this, and the man always does this.' Like sex positions, it doesn't have the be the man this way and the women this way. It can be you try it, than he tries it."
Don't breach each other's trust, either. For example: don't spank your partner harder than they're comfortable with because you're mad about a fight you had earlier.
Here are some suggestions for where to start:
1. Do it in the closet. "You've got your scarves, your neckties. You're kind of taking a normal, household piece of clothing and turning it into a little something exciting," says Stewart. A blindfold is a good starter because you can still have sex the way you normally would. "A normal touch feels different because you can't see or anticipate where it's going to be," says Stewart. Any item of clothing can be used to blindfold your partner as long as it isn't sheer.
2. Have a tickle fight. When you're turned on, your body can respond to the slightest touch, and changing the way you touch your partner (and what you touch them with) can make for drastic results. Grabbing something soft, like a feather duster (one that hasn't been in all the cracks of your house) or even a soft glove or mitten, and running it along your partner's body will be a drastically different experience for them compared to when you just use your hand.
3. Use the frozen fruit in the back of your fridge. Restraining your partner and rubbing them down with something icy is another way to alter the way you're touching their body and making things feel more extreme without involving any pain or serious discomfort.
4. Shut your partner up. The ball-gag is the stereotypical BDSM accoutrement, and it's easy to fashion one out of say, balled-up panties. "They're the blindfold for your mouth because it's the same thing — it's removing one more level of control where you can't communicate. You have to communicate differently, through your expression," says Stewart. ...
Sexual rights are said to embrace human rights that are already recognized in national laws, international human rights documents and other consensus documents. These include the right of all persons, free of coercion, discrimination and violence, to: the highest attainable standard of health in relation to sexuality, including access to sexual health including reproductive health care services; seek, receive and impart information in relation to sexuality; sexuality education; respect for bodily integrity; choice of partner; decide to be sexually active or not; consensual sexual relations; consensual marriage; decide whether or not, and when to have children; and pursue a satisfying, safe and pleasurable sexual life. The responsible exercise of human rights requires that all persons respect the rights of others (World Health Organization, 2002).
On one level, sexual citizenship can be associated to having fundamentals right to free expression and just desert. Freedom of expression usually refers to expression in the public domain, while sexuality and gender relations have typically been relegated to the private sphere. In general, the types of rights that are associated with the public sphere include political, civil, and economic liberties, which are distributed and protected by the state. The idea of sexual rights brings forth the ability to express sexual diversity in the public sphere – especially if political, civil or economic rights are contingent on sexual orientation and gender, for example. Sexual rights, in this sense can include the right to divorce, the right to marry, the right to choose sexual partner(s), the right to be protected from violence, the right to inherit, the right to adopt, and the rights to receive public services such as education and healthcare, an so forth. Often sexuality is lurking but is not acknowledged as a factor that colors our basket of fundamental rights. Thus, the conventional language of rights (if sexual rights are not included) is often heteronormative and sexist by nature – excluding parts of our selves that behave, identify, or have interpersonal relations outside of sociocultural norms. At some level, one of the strategic uses of the phrase “sexual rights” is precisely to undercut or question this heteronormativity.
If our fundamental rights are contingent on sexuality or gender, are they rights or are they privileges? We argue that a public distribution of goods that does not abide by the principle of equality is inherently unjust, and that ‘rights for some’ equates to rights for no one. If either through legal mechanisms or through stigmatization and shaming a transgender woman does not have access to health services or to employment other than sex work, then we can see concretely how infringing on sexual rights can also deny economic rights, political and civil rights. The rhetoric of rights loses its meaning if it is applied arbitrarily or according to factors such as ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, etc. Thus, the idea of sexual rights takes into account the importance of considering sexual diversity and gender equality as key to reaching true citizenship.
On another level, it is important to re-question the division of private and public domains. Sexual violence, rape, and abuse often happen in closed quarters, and even within the sanctity of the heterosexual marriage. Who should prevent these types of rights violations? Should the state be allowed in the bedroom? Should the state become a form of barrier protection during sexual intercourse? Here is where the limitations of legal protection are most salient. What happens to rights when the state cannot clearly administrate their distribution? In many contexts, women are considered to be the property of men – essentially categorizing women as objects bereft of human dignity. These matters are further normalized as cultural or social norms in some contexts. This discussion goes without further explanation because it seems clear, prima facie, that distributing rights differentially according to gender denies citizenship to women. Even so, some argue that a cultural right (the right to express one’s culture) supercedes the right to gender equality (Saiz, 2005) This argument not only assumes that any established social order is inherently just, but it also highlights the necessity of classifying sexual rights as fundamental and inalienable.
The same reasoning can be applied to inequality based on sexual orientation or on being transgender, for example. Although diverse sexualities and forms of expression are considered abominations and dangerous to the social thread in almost all societies (primarily through the influence of fundamentalist and conservative fronts), rights should not be denied to a person because of their sexual identity, unless a harm to others can be coherently argued. Let us steer clear of those that attempt to equate sexual diversity with pedophilia and bestiality in order to avoid muddling the waters. Whereas pedophilia and bestiality may be seen to violate human or animal rights, being homosexual and/or transgender are individual lifestyles with no harm to other individuals. We argue that exposing society to diversity is not a moral crime – but conversely, dehumanizing a person based on sexuality does violate equality, freedom and human dignity. …
Just let me take care of you,” the hero whispers, choking back a growl as he pushes the heroine down face first on the bed.
“You are what we call a natural sub,” he says, tracing the paddle across her ass. “Are you ready to submit for my pleasure?”
The heroine nods her head shyly, her cheeks apple-bright. “Yes,” she says, “I want to belong only to you.”
When 50 Shades of Grey exploded in 2012, I was editing erotic romance novels five days a week in a cramped pink building in South Austin. 50 Shades made “BDSM” the most marketable term in the romance/erotica industry, and it made my already uncomfortable job a living hell.
I began working for Harpy Publishing1 out of desperation; I had just left New York for Austin and needed steady paycheck while I applied for graduate programs. You have a sense of humor, I reminded myself when I received my first assignment: to calculate the number of explicit words in a novella where a virginal witch experienced her first orgasm at the stroke of midnight.
Yes, I was put off when I found out all books featuring F/F romance were automatically assigned to the lowest (least bought) imprint and specifically tagged so that our readers could avoid them. And yes, it was immediately clear that casual misogyny abounded in these books: supporting female characters only appeared so the heroine could defeat them, and the hero would always choose the “good girl” over “the slut.” But I need a paycheck, I reasoned. I am not their audience.
We are not their audience, my friend Shannon and I would repeat over our third (or fourth) glasses of wine at 6 p.m. on a Tuesday.
It’s easy to convince yourself you are “taking something too seriously” when what’s offending you doesn’t hit close to home. The books that poured into our office post-Christian Grey were another matter entirely. Suddenly, the paranormal shape-shifters searching for their forever mate were doing so with handcuffs in hand.
Reading them was like spending eight hours with a muddy, inexpertly placed boot on my chest. It was hard to breathe; it was hard to go home and ever, ever feel clean.
When I came out at 24, sometimes it was also necessary to come out as kinky, although I didn’t have exactly the right vocabulary for it then. Feminine-appearing and soft-spoken, I am not most people’s idea of a Domme. When I started at Harpy, I was a total novice, still trying to reconcile my desires with how I saw myself in the world. At the beginning of my job, when I was reading only one BDSM-themed manuscript every few weeks — books written by women familiar with kink — I felt as if we were sharing a secret. This, I thought, this might be me. ...
Slave Elizabeth stared into my face with unwavering brown eyes “You’ve been to a bar, right?”
“Yes,” I answered.
“And you’ve had alcohol, right?” She looked me up and down.
“And if a random guy hit on you, you wouldn’t just go home with him, right?”
“Same rules apply here. It’s no different than a bar. Trust your gut and stick to what you’re comfortable with and everything will be fine.”
I nodded. I was preparing to enter a pop-up dungeon in the heart of downtown Anchorage. Slave Elizabeth’s directness was comforting.
The fifth annual Northern Exposure conference—currently Alaska’s biggest BDSM educational event with three full days of classes and lectures—had begun earlier, at 10 a.m. This Friday night “play party” offered a safe space where participants were invited to engage in erotic fun and explore techniques they’d learned in conference workshops like “Care and Feeding of the Submissive” and “Interrogation and Abduction.”
Slave Elizabeth and her Master, Todd, stood outside with me, the blacked-out dungeon doors behind us, talking expectations. For some reason she’d taken a likening to me and wanted to make sure I felt safe. Master Todd barely said a word.
“Sometimes people get in over their heads,” Elizabeth said with some concern. “They get excited by what they’re seeing or doing, and being in pain releases endorphins, which create what we call a ‘head space’ or a ‘sub space’. It’s similar to being high. I like to remind people that their decisions can be influenced by that feeling.”
“What do you do when someone gets in over their head?” I asked.
She looked off, thinking through the question before turning back to me. “There’s nothing we can do. You have to know your limits, know what you can handle.” ...
Polyamorists believe their time has come. But the fact is that Americans continue to see infidelity as an evil.
When the fight for gay marriage began to gain traction back in the early years of the last decade, social conservative critics usually went beyond denying that marriage could be redefined to include same-sex couples. Many of them argued that homosexuals were much less inclined than heterosexuals to valorize the ideal of monogamy. Allowing gays and lesbians to marry would therefore introduce a polyamorous option into the institution, and adultery would come to be viewed as an acceptable option for all marriages.
A spate of recent articles explicitly making the case for polyamory would seem to vindicate those conservative predictions and worries.
The latest example appeared a few days ago in The New Republic (reprinted from the New Statesman). Three and a half years into a relationship with a woman, author Rosie Wilby finds that "other people act as our kindling. Love breeds love." The experience leads her to ask rhetorically: What if we all came to view "our relationships as a pyramid structure with our primary partner at the top and a host of lovers, friends, spiritual soul mates, colleagues, and acquaintances beneath that?"
That's the polyamorist ideal, which Wilby defines as "consensual multiple loving connections, some sexual, some not, in a myriad of combinations and hierarchies." And, she insists, it's far better for everyone involved (including children) than the serial monogamy that she sees practiced by many straight and gay couples alike, leading to high rates of separation, divorce, and broken homes. "Instead of serial relationships one after the other," perhaps it would be better to foster "parallel ones running alongside one another." And anyway, we already act this way, fantasizing about sex with friends and acquaintances, making emotional connections with people other than our spouses or partners, sometimes cheating on them outright. So "why pretend" we're more monogamous than we really are?
A social conservative would probably note, correctly, that Wilby's essay is perfectly congruent with, and even seems to follow of necessity from, the sexual ethic currently sweeping the Western world — one in which the only valid moral consideration in a sexual relationship is individual consent. In such a moral universe, there is no reason not to embrace a polyamorous lifestyle. And since most human beings will find themselves emotionally and physically attracted to multiple people in the course of their lives, monogamy would seem to be doomed.
There's just one problem: There is not one shred of evidence to support that prediction.
Consider: In a poll conducted just last year, Gallup found that 91 percent of Americans disapprove of marital infidelity.
That's right. In a highly sexualized age awash in technological temptations and dominated by a nonjudgmental sexual ethic that increasingly encourages men and women to do whatever feels good, nine out of 10 Americans judge cheating to be wrong. That's higher than the rate of disapproval for human cloning and suicide. ...