While 2013 was a year of major victories for same-sex marriage in America, a controversial court ruling at the end of the year addressed another thorny marriage question: a federal judge in Utah struck down a portion of the state's polygamy ban. Many conservatives saw vindication of their fears that gay marriage would lead to legalized polygamy. In fact, the decision is limited in scope and does not actually change marriage law. But it also highlights a push for the acceptance of non-monogamous relationships that could change marriage -- and not for the better.
The ruling, which involves a fundamentalist Mormon man and his four "sister wives," does not require the state to validate multiple marriages: Legally, the husband only has one wife. It simply says such arrangements cannot be criminalized, particularly in a way that discriminates on the basis of religion (so that a man can live with several women and not face legal problems unless he calls them his wives in a spiritual marriage).
The Utah case represents a traditional, patriarchal version of polygamy. But there are also egalitarian, socially liberal subcultures in this country that embrace alternatives to monogamy: open marriage and polyamory (multiple intimate relationships with everyone's consent). These lifestyles have been gaining visibility, thanks in part to the discussions of same-sex marriage and new frontiers of tolerance.
Last August, Salon.com published an article titled "My Two Husbands," whose author -- living with her longtime husband and her boyfriend -- lamented widespread prejudice against families such as hers. A month later, Slate. com ran a pseudonymous piece by a man bemoaning the hardships of "the polyamory closet."
While the polyamorists often liken their cause to gay rights, the parallel fails in key ways.
First, in seeking marriage equality, gays could make a strong case that they simply wanted the same thing as heterosexuals. It would be much harder to make that argument for non-monogamous marriage. Sexual difference as a feature of marriage waned in importance due to the move away from strictly gender-based roles. But the idea of marriage as an exclusive union of two people is built into Western culture. (Indeed, monogamy was arguably the basis for the shift from patriarchal authoritarianism to affectionate partnership that eventually made same-sex marriage feasible.) The legal benefits of two-person marriage would be almost impossible to replicate with multiple partners.
The non-monogamists mostly want cultural acceptance rather than legal reform. But even that is fraught with problems. ...
NCSF faced some difficult challenges in 2013, but the dedicated volunteer staff worked hard to advocate for the BDSM, swing and polyamory lifestyles:
Kink is Okay
The biggest news of 2013 was that the American Psychiatric Association depathologized consensual sadism, masochism, cross-dressing and fetishes in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). NCSF’s DSM-Revision project began in April 2008, to change the DSM criteria that was being used against healthy kinky adults in legal settings, and causing significant discrimination and distress because of the social stigma the APA attached to alternative sexual behavior.
NCSF directly educated the media and the relevant members of the American Psychiatric Association, as well as presenting data through the DSM Revision Petition, signed by over 3,200 people including many mental health professionals, and in letters to the editor published in Archives of Sexual Behavior. Annual data was presented from NCSF’s Incident Reporting &Response program along with the results of two surveys on Violence & Discrimination Against Sexual Minorities conducted in 1998 and 2008.
The Archives of Sexual Behavior has also accepted NCSF’s Letter to the Editor “Kinky Parents and Child Custody: The Effect of the DSM-5 Differentiation between the Paraphilias and Paraphilic Disorders,” describing the decline in child custody cases reported to NCSF that involve discrimination against BDSM practitioners since the proposed DSM criteria depathologizing BDSM was made public in 2010.
NCSF’s Consent Counts discussions continued around the country on the “Consent Statement” that was launched on February 8, 2013 at the Annual Coalition Partner Meeting. This statement was based on Consent Counts discussions and on over 4,000 responses returned on NCSF’s Consent Survey about the concept of risk and people’s attitudes about consent. NCSF also created a 1-page Summary “Policy Statement on Consent.”
In 2013, NCSF launched a Continuing Legal Education workshop as part of the Consent Counts program to educate lawyers and prosecutors about assault laws and how they are used against consenting adults. In addition, a new educational series was launched in Chicago at the Leather Archives & Museum with a presentation entitled “BDSM? Erotic Play? What Are the Legal Risks?” by Judy Guerin, Dick Cunningham andJudge Rudy Serra.
NCSF also created a number of new FAQs in 2013 to help victims and educate professionals about the difference between BDSM and assault. “Consent and BDSM: The State of the Law” is a detailed examination of how BDSM activity, even where clearly consensual, is prosecuted under state criminal laws dealing with assault, aggravated assault, sexual assault or sexual abuse. NCSF’s “Statement on Power Exchange Relationships,” discusses both the ethical and legal concepts that are critical to understanding the meaning and importance of consent in power exchange relationships.
“The Guide for Groups” includes a suggested consent policy, how to deal with consent violations that take place at a group or event, and advice on how to revoke membership or entry to an event without liability. The FAQ “Is This Assault?” explains which consent violations may rise to the level of assault, while “Dealing With Assault” answers many of the common questions kinky survivors have about reporting assault to law enforcement, medical or social service professionals. NCSF also lists hotlines for kink aware victim services associated with the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects that are ready to help kinky victims of assault and abuse. And there is a wallet-card that explains BDSM vs. Abuse in terms of consent to help you explain kink to law enforcement and social service professionals.
NCSF’s Board Members and Education Outreach Project presented 22 educational programs in 2013, with a focus on consent discussions and Consent Counts information. NCSF also tabled at events around the country distributing literature such as “Finding Kink Aware Medical Care” and “Finding a Kink Aware Therapist.”
The groups and events where NCSF presented includes: APEX, Beat Me in St. Louis, BOLD Con, COPE, CPI Anniversary Weekend, DomCon/Atlanta, DuckStock (Alternative) CampOut, Evansville MAsT,GLLA, House of Decorum Leather Ball, Incognito Dungeon Facility, KinkLincs, Lifestyles Exchange, Macon Munch Group, Madtown Kinkfest, Nashville Pride, Smokey Mountain Power Exchange, Spanksgiving, Whimper Munch Group, and Winter Wickedness.
NCSF also exhibited at the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) Annual Conference on June 5-9th in Miami, Florida. NCSF organized the AASECT Alt Sex Special Interest Group Munch that took place Friday evening at the Hilton Miami Downtown hotel that was attended by over 40 AASECT members who were interested in finding out more about BDSM, polyamory and swinging.
Jim Fleckenstein was the lead presenter on What Do Polyamorists Want? A National Survey of an Underserved Population, a workshop discussing key findings from the Loving More and NCSF survey. Susan Wright was the presenter on Understanding Consent in BDSM Practices, a workshop presenting data from the NCSF Consent Counts Survey about consent in a BDSM context.
NCSF also assisted in setting up a BDSM Panel Discussion for AASECT’s Summer Institute in St. Louis by enlisting Coalition Partner STL3, which provided a diverse and knowledgeable panel that discussed aspects of BDSM, community ethics, and related safety and consent issues.
The media team broadened NCSF’s reach into social media, with NCSF’s Facebook page getting 1,000 likes and over 6,500 followers on Twitter. 42 interviews were given to reporters from mainstream media to blogs, including the Associated Press, New York Times, Esquire, The Atlantic, Maire Claire, GQ, the Village Voice, Details,US News & World Report, and two Huffington Post Live appearances. Susan Wright was featured in the E! Entertainment Special, “The Real 50 Shades of Grey,” that aired around the world during 2013.
As usual, NCSF provided media back-up for Folsom Street East, which had to be canceled this year due to the construction project on the block. NCSF also continued its media training program for groups and individuals who wanted to learn how to talk to reporters about kink, polyamory or the Lifestyle. To follow the NCSF Media Updates or get the Media Update Digest, subscribe to NCSF’s newsletter on the website: www.ncsfreedom.org
NCSF Coalition Partner TTB Ventures - Touch of Flavor fought the biggest public battle in 2013. NCSF consulted on their legal and media response, and TTB Ventures handled the media storm with professional excellence. They pursued their case in court and succeeded in getting a settlement that is important for all kink events, proving once again that we can win against discrimination and persecution. Coppermine Field House LLC, the manager of the Clarence "Du" Burns Arena, also issued a statement correcting "any incorrect impressions" about Touch of Flavor and acknowledged that TTB Ventures notified the original management of the nature of the event when the contract was signed.
NCSF also supported Leather & Grace’s efforts to educate Unitarian Universalist ministers, directors of religious education, and congregational leaders about the BDSM communities, the ethical principles, and issues of discrimination and prejudice. Silent Sunday was just one of Leather & Grace’s activist opportunities in 2013.
Though there were problems with NCSF’s Incident Reporting & Response program in 2013, and much of the data for this year has not been recovered yet, some of the cases NCSF assisted on included: providing DSM-5 info for child custody cases, writing a letter to a city attorney on behalf of a swing club, referrals for expert witnesses in cases involving BDSM, advice on getting permits for events, answering questions about organizational issues such as corporate ownership of a 501c7, doing outreach to local police pre-event, and how to deal with someone taking photographs at an event. There were also people looking for lawyers and information on laws dealing with civil and criminal issues including: pro-dommes asking about state prostitution laws, a kinky community center that ran afoul of zoning regulations, and arrests for Domestic Violence that involved consensual BDSM.
The Kink Aware Professionals database is updated on a continual basis, and added nearly 100 professionals in 2013 to bring the total up to 1,224 kink aware professionals that people can directly access when they need help.
NCSF upgraded its website at the end of 2013 to incorporate a new membership function and to upgrade the Kink Aware Professionals database, in particular the search function to make it easier to search for what you need. The KAP database is the most-visited part of NCSF's website and is a hugely valuable tool for people looking for assistance from a doctor, lawyer, therapist or other professional.
The NCSF Fire Recovery Fundraiser in the first half of 2013 brought in $9,233 that went straight to the NCSF-Foundation to fund the purchase of new brochures totaling nearly $4,000.Replacement banners still need to be purchased as well as NCSF’s T-shirt inventory. At the end of 2013, the Board also drafted new Financial and Control Policies for both NCSF and NCSF-Foundation and broadcast them to the Coalition Partners for approval at the Annual Board Meeting in Nashville on March 15-16, 2014.
Robert "Bob" Bashara, 56, the Grosse Pointe Park real estate investor, landlord and BDSM enthusiast accused of killing his wife, Jane Bashara, 56, in January of 2012, returns to Wayne County Circuit Court for his final pretrial conference Thursday.
Bashara is currently imprisoned for soliciting the murder of Joseph Gentz, the handyman who admits he assisted Bashara with the killing for which he's serving a minimum of 17 years in prison.
Wayne County Circuit Judge Vonda Evans will determine, among other things, a trial date and whether Bashara will be provided a non-Internet-capable computer with which to review thousands of discovery documents in the murder case against him.
The hearing begins at 9 a.m.
Prosecutors charged Bashara with first-degree murder, soliciting murder, obstruction of justice, witness bribery or intimidation, perjury and felonious use of a firearm.
First-degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
Gentz said Bashara repeatedly solicited him to kill his wife and on Jan. 24, 2012 threatened him with a gun if he didn't carry out the deed. Gentz said he strangled Jane Bashara in the family's garage before he and Bob Bashara loaded the body in the back seat of Jane Bashara's SUV. Police found Jane Bashara in her vehicle parked in a desolate Detroit alley the following day.
Nearly 20 witnesses over the period of a week testified in September on behalf of prosecutors during the preliminary examination in the trial against Bob Bashara.
Testimony indicated Bashara had a kinky, porn-addled and philandering lifestyle that he kept separate from his wife and two children.
It is through a website catering to BDSM, which stands for bondage and discipline, sadism and masochism, Bashara met his mistress — whom he referred to as his "slave" — Rachel Gillett, in 2009. She called him "Master Bob."
One of their first meetings took place in what Bashara referred to as "the dungeon," a converted space beneath a property he owned and used for sexual role play. ...
A client came to see me recently to talk about an issue that was upsetting her. She is 39 years old and has been married to a man the same age for about 15 years. Neither had had many partners before they got together.
They've had a good sex life but in the past few years she has felt the passion was missing. She was getting bored and was thinking about what sex with other men would be like. She had no intention of cheating on her husband and when she read an article about a swingers' club in their area, she was curious.
When she suggested the idea to her husband she was quite surprised that he was not upset. On the contrary he seemed quite interested. It took them a while to find the courage but they finally gave it a try.
They both liked it and it improved their sex lives for a while. But the one thing my client had not expected was feeling jealous when her husband had sex with women who, in her opinion, were better looking and more sexy than she was.
Although she is an attractive woman she began to feel more and more insecure. She decided not to take part in swinging any more but her husband is now disappointed and blames her for suggesting it in the first place.
Swinging came under the spotlight in Australia when businessman and millionaire Herman Rockefeller was brutally murdered by a couple whom he allegedly met through an underground swingers' network.
Writer and comedian David Smiedt researched the swinging lifestyle for an article for GQ magazine.
Smiedt found swingers were a representative sample of mainstream Australia. Their age group was 30 to 45 and they were no more or less attractive than the people you see in a shopping centre. They were friendly and respectful.
Drug use in most swingers' clubs is forbidden as is drunkenness and there is an enormous emphasis placed on good manners.
Swingers are expected to show up to events in a well-groomed state, shower between erotic interludes and make sure always to practise safe sex.
For this article I spoke to couples who said they were attracted to swinging because it added spice to their relationship and they liked the excitement of an anticipated encounter with another couple or sometimes a single woman.
Swinging has a special attraction for women who want to experiment with their bisexuality or be the centre of attention of two males.
The couples believe swingers are generally happier in their relationships because they are more open minded and adventurous. But all insisted on the importance of setting personal boundaries.
As far as I know, no academic research has been conducted on swinging in Australia.
In the US, Canadian-born Edward Fernandes, an assistant professor at Barton College, North Carolina, has conducted studies on the sexual behaviour and motivation of people who have joined what's called the "lifestyle. He has published several articles on the topic and is working on a book called The Swinging Playground, which focuses on anecdotal and scientific perspectives of swinging. ...
...How prevalent is swinging? It's not something that is routinely tracked by academics with big budgets for data collection. The largest study, conducted in 2000 by Bellarmine University sociologists Curtis Bergstrand and Jennifer Blevins Williams, found that 84 percent of swingers are married couples or in relationships and had been together for a little more than 10 years.
Among swinging couples, marital happiness averaged 78.5 percent, compared with 64 percent of the general married population. Women on average are 31 when they embrace the lifestyle, while men are 35. Religious? Seventy-two percent belong to religious institutions, compared with 61 percent in the general population.
Michelle Golland, a Los Angeles sex therapist, said she thinks swinging is increasingly popular in part because of the importance couples place on having positive attitudes toward sex.
"We have a higher expectation for intimacy, for sex. We are healthier, stronger," she said. "I want to stay young and sexual in my heart. I want my husband to want me that way."
And swinging helps boost the sexual connection of some couples, she said.
"But this is not to solve a problem," she said, stressing that couples should be comfortable and happy with each other sexually before joining the lifestyle. "It's to experience something that is hot, erotic, interesting, and keeps your sexual life together alive and growing."
Bitti said the lifestyle includes emissaries from nearly every demographic — cops, teachers, CEOs and the rest of us. And where the caricatured swinger is a potbellied, middle-aged dolt out for some easy action, the reality is less unsettling, she said. Adults of all ages participate, looking good matters, and players tend to have good jobs and fertile imaginations.
She prefers the term "sexually social" to swinger. It seems more approachable and friendly, she said.
Like other swingers, Bitti calls people who are outside of the lifestyle "vanilla" and laments that her multiflavored approach to relationships remains relatively subterranean.
"We are just about being who we are, but we are all living in the closet. People are worried about losing their jobs, their kids," said Bitti, who along with her husband is so enthusiastic about the lifestyle that they are one of the lead couples on a Playboy Channel show called "Swing."
Bitti is so very out about the lifestyle, in part, to help drag it closer to the mainstream.
The stigmas still thrive, even in Colorado, but they appear to be eroding, said Denver sex therapist Neil Cannon.
"There are more people who are willing to find more creative solutions to how to make their marriage or relationship work," he said. "It's hard for some people to get all of their needs met in one relationship. In America, everybody assumes we are monogamous and that's the only way to live."
Exploring the lifestyle is not for everybody, he said. For one thing, concerns about sexually transmitted diseases alarm many people. Practicing what Cannon calls "safer sex" is simply imperative. Also, jealousy renders many people incapable of letting a spouse run off with others for romps between the sheets.
Those who succeed, he said, tend to bask in their partner's joy, regardless of whether it bubbles up from a career triumph or a sexual escapade with another adult.
And many of those who thrive in the lifestyle appreciate places such as Squirrel Creek. ...
In Rhode Island, by an oversight of the criminal code indoor prostitution was legal until just recently; in Reno Nevada it’s still legal. Next door in California, anyone convicted of prostuitution could face up to one year in prison and $1,000 fine. Las Vegas and Atlantic City used to be the only places you could gamble in the United States. In Colorado and Washington State, recreational marijuana is now legal, whereas in nearby Idaho, you can do up to 1 year for possession of any amount of Marijuana. The point is, while the feds are slowly getting into the game, the majority of vice crime – drugs, gambling, and yes, sex, are regulated and prosecuted at the state level.
What does this mean for an aspiring professional dom? It means you need to know the laws where you intend to work. In some states, working as a professional dominatrix, even if there is no sex, can leave you vulnerable to charges of prostitution, whereas in some states, fee-for-service sado-masochism is explicitly excluded from prostitution. Let’s compare the laws of Massachusetts with New York. In Massachusetts, the prostitution statute, MGL 272 S. 53A, begins “Whoever engages, agrees to engage or offers to engage in sexual conduct with another person in return for a fee…” The statute doesn’t define “sexual conduct,” however in a case, ?Com. v. Lavigne (1997) 676 N.E.2d 1170, the court wrote that in deciding whether or not something was “sexual conduct,” a judge could look at the “entire circumstances..apply common understanding…and could draw inferences and conclusions based on common sense and life experience.” In other words, the judge can just.. kinda… decide. Of course, in deciding, the judge looks at the definition of “sexual conduct” in other Massachusetts laws, like in the obscenity statute, where the definition includes “flagellation or torture in the context of a sexual relationship” (MGL 272 S. 31). In other words, in Massachusetts, working as a professional dom does leave you vulnerable to laws against prostitution.
So what about New York? In New York, just like in Massachusetts, a person is guilty of prostitution if that person “engages or agrees or offers to engage in sexual conduct with another person in return for a fee.” NY Penal Law 230.00. Similar to Massachusetts, “Sexual Conduct” is not defined for this particular statute – and so in deciding whether or not something is “Sexual Conduct,” a court would look to case law. However in New York, there’s a nifty case, State v. Georgia A., 621 N.Y.S. 2d 779 (1994) which held explicitly that “sado-masochistic acts such as foot licking, spanking, domination and submission do not appear to fit within category of “sexual conduct” referred to in prostitution statute.” So if you’re in New York, working as a professional dom does not necessarily leave you vulnerable to laws against prostitution. Go New York! ...
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.”