“Those of us who have different … notions of eroticism and sensuality are simply dismissed. The pejorative word [being] ‘vanilla,’ which is ironically, one of the most sensual aromas.” – Andrea Dworkin.
“I wish [BDSM folks] would stop referring to me as ‘vanilla.’ If you’re making the case that everyone should be free to do what they like without being judged, why call non-BDSM people a derogatory name that implies they’re all prudish bores?” – Anonymous, commenter on Bitch.
If we bemoan the oversexualization of culture, should we also be concerned about the kinkification of culture? As BDSM blogger Clarisse Thorn writes, “Being a sex-positive feminist, I worry that other women will read my work and it will increase their performance anxiety … that it will lead other women to feel like, ‘Gosh, is this something liberated sex-positive women do? Is this something I should be doing?” Thanks to a prescriptive media, the competition to be having the most out-there, kinky, freaky, dirty sex keeps escalating, with “Ultimate Perv” engraved on the winner’s medal. Fantastic if you’re antsy to compete, but what if you’re just not into all that stuff? What if you think you secretly might be … [whisper it, now!] … vanilla?
One of the reasons I didn’t dare join a fetish community website, or go to a play party, till years after I was first curious about BDSM, was a subconscious sense that I was probably “too vanilla.” I didn’t dress head-to-toe in latex or own any seven-inch heels, and I didn’t take my partner down to the local shops on a dog leash. I’ve since realized that the scene is open to anyone who feels their sexual tastes land outside the mainstream — there’s no test you have to pass. However, by labeling every non-kinky person as effectively the same, is the BDSM community just as judgmental as those who judge us?
The term “vanilla” does seem to be a byword for “sexually pedestrian,” and even the mainstream media has got in on the act. In the “Friends” episode “The One With Rachel’s Big Kiss,” Phoebe refuses to believe that Rachel kissed a girl during college, saying, “It just seems pretty wild, and you’re so vanilla” — an accusation Rachel receives with indignation, spluttering,“I am NOT vanilla! I’ve done lots of crazy things!” Being sexually unadventurous is now apparently the most grievous character flaw a person (especially a woman) can be accused of. In the British cult comedy “Peep Show,” when an unenthusiastic Jez reveals his fantasy of a threesome to his girlfriend and then worriedly asks, “Is that too much?” she laughs, “Are you kidding? That’s vanilla!” In this world saturated with faux-lesbian action and pressure to have butt sex, one sometimes longs for the days when showing a little ankle made you the strumpet from hell.
But laying the blame entirely at the feet of BDSM folks is overly simplistic. Although “vanilla” may have its origins within the community, plenty of non-kinksters have adapted it for their own use. “Vanilla” was a term intended to simply differentiate between sexual preferences, but it was not necessarily meant to put down or diminish the value of non-kinky lifestyles. Yes, there are kinksters who use it sneeringly, but I think most kinky folk have experienced enough disapproval to refrain from subjecting other sexual cultures to the same marginalization. I also think if “vanilla” has become a term of abuse, the blame more likely lies with those who profit from people’s insecurity that their sex life is not sufficiently exotic. Anyone who’s flipped through a women’s magazine demanding that you perform “10 Tricks to Drive Him Wild!” or a sex manual that just makes you feel inadequate and unsexy knows who those profiteers are. ...
A British man was charged with assault for his attempt to stop his girlfriend from reading the sexy bestseller.
While the erotic trilogy Fifty Shades of Grey has been credited with arousing the passions of millions of women around the world, for one British man, it only aroused his wrath.
When Emma McCormick, of Carlisle, UK, read aloud passages from her copy of Fifty Shades to her long-term boyfriend Raymond Hodgson, he wasn’t thrilled about hearing McCormick narrate the book’s racy scenes of bondage and seduction. Hodgson, 31, later told authorities that he thought the book was “pornographic” and “distasteful” and didn’t feel it was appropriate for McCormick to read it. He was so bothered, he drove to McCormick’s home the following day and, armed with a bottle of steak sauce, resumed the argument. The fight escalated until Hodgson pulled out the bottle and squirted it in McCormick’s face. He reportedly said he wanted to show her what ‘saucy’ really meant.
Ha ha, we see what you did there — but McCormick and the Carlisle authorities were not particularly amused. Hodgson has been charged with common assault; according to prosecutors, he not only attacked his girlfriend with the condiment but also slapped her in the face. Though he denies striking McCormick, Hodgson pleaded guilty to the premeditated saucing.
According to the Carlisle News & Star, the presiding judge stated that “Hodgson’s actions had clearly been intended to demean Miss McCormick.” Hodgson was ordered to pay her $150 in compensation and cover her $130 in legal fees, and given a 6pm curfew for a month and a half.
RCMP Cpl. Jim Brown of Coquitlam is facing investigation for inappropriate conduct after pornographic photos of him were posted to a website last Thursday. In the same week, Const. Karen Katz filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the RCMP. That Brown and Katz's stories broke the same week seems to be an unfortunate coincidence at best, and an appalling trend at worst - for Katz's lawsuit is just the latest in a long series of sexual misconduct accusations against the force.
Yet, aside from the fact that both stories contain the words "RCMP" and "sex," how similar are they, really? A decade's worth of institutionalized sexual harassment is clearly not the same as two adults engaging in kinky sex acts.
Since last fall, the RCMP has been wracked by allegations of sexual harassment. The most prominent case has been that of B.C. Cpl. Catherine Galliford, who alleges that long-term sexual harassment at the hands of her colleagues resulted in chemical dependency, post-traumatic stress disorder and finally caused her to go on sick leave in 2007.
Galliford draws attention to the lack of functional mechanisms for reporting abuse within the RCMP, which results in an environment where there is no accountability for abusers, who are often senior officers. Police psychologist Mike Webster argues that this lack of accountability, in conjunction with the generally male-dominated structure of police organizations, creates a "culture of fear" where abuse is downplayed, ignored and dismissed if reported.
Take the case of Sgt. Don Ray, who was disciplined for sexually harassing subordinate officers in Alberta, but whose punishment was a demotion and a transfer to B.C. rather than being removed from a position of power. This is a culture that defends perpetrators rather than victims, even when the perpetrators are publicly acknowledged to be guilty.
So, at a moment when the RCMP is facing a PR nightmare on a massive scale (as well it should be), it's little wonder that Brown's involvement in a sexual-fetish site is garnering serious attention. But Brown hasn't done anything illegal. He was a member of an online community for people interested in bondage, domination, submission and sadomasochistic sex acts. The photos in question depict a man (who may or may not be Brown, according to the CBC) abducting and assaulting a woman, who is herself a fellow BDSM participant, as part of a fantasy scene. Not everyone's cup of tea, I know, but as long as the participants are consenting adults, sexual preferences are matters of taste, not morality, and certainly not legality.
Yet for some, these photos were reminiscent of the Robert Pickton murders, an impression that was compounded by the fact that Brown played a role, albeit a small one, in the botched Pickton investigation.
I have yet to be convinced that Brown's BDSM activity was a purposeful recreation of any aspect of the Pickton case, but when the RCMP as an institution has chronically failed to address systemic abuse within its own ranks, and when the Pickton investigation was a textbook case of marginalized women's voices being ignored to disastrous results, I can see why officials are worried about Brown.
Ironically, BDSM communities are often are bastions of safe, consensual sex. Despite sex fetishists' reputation in mainstream culture, if you're going to be tying each other up, conversations about consent, boundaries and gender dynamics are crucial. Webster gets it wrong when he argues that the images of Brown are "severely degrading to women," since he's ignoring the agency of the woman who chose to be a part of that fantasy.
When kink communities have problems, they're likely to be the same problems for which the RCMP is currently being investigated: lack of accountability, a culture of male entitlement, victim blaming and privileging abusers over survivors. Kink isn't the problem. ...
On Tuesday night, a caller told HLN's Dr. Drew that Bondage, Domination, Sadism and Masochism (BDSM) strengthened the relationship with the man who has become her husband
“It forces us to communicate about what we want, not just in the bedroom, but in life,” she said.
Psychosexual and relationship therapist Simone Bienne continued, “That's certainly one thing that the BDSM community is very, very proud of -- how they are able to communicate and this is essential how it spills out -- the sexual relationship spills out into the emotional side of the relationship because you are able to manage conflict better because of strong communication.”
Booksellers recently reported that E.L. James’ erotic trilogy Fifty Shades of Grey accounted for up to 20 per cent of all the print novels sold in the U.S. this spring.
While the series has obviously titillated readers, sex experts and members of the alternative sexual community say the books draw a problematic and unfounded link between sadomasochism and mental illness.
“As a researcher in this area of sexuality, it doesn’t sit well with me,” says Caroline Pukall, director of the Sex Therapy Service in the Department of Psychology at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont.
The best-selling books focus on an enigmatic billionaire named Christian Grey, who becomes romantically involved with a sexually inexperienced young woman named Anastasia Steele and asks her to become his “submissive,” or sex slave.
The virginal Anastasia finds the world of handcuffs and leather whips both alarming and arousing. She soon learns, however, that Christian’s predilection for bondage and spanking is a consequence of being sexually abused as an adolescent.
While the books are fiction, this explanation plays into stereotypical attitudes toward the alternative sex lifestyle, says Tristan Taormino, a U.S.-based sex educator and author of The Ultimate Guide to Kink.
“There is an assumption that the reason he’s kinky is because he is damaged, because he had a rough childhood,” she says.
“There’s this assumption that there’s this one-to-one correspondence, which in real life there’s isn’t.” ...
BDSM attracts all kinds of people
She says people who are into BDSM run the gamut from doctors to kindergarten teachers to organic farmers. The one generalization she will make is that most of them are in a higher income bracket, because kink events often “happen at really nice hotels, and there’s all this gear.”
Nonetheless, the stereotypes around BDSM remain strong. Last week, the RCMP announced it was investigating one of its own officers, Cpl. Jim Brown, after violent and pornographic photos of the officer on Fetlife.com, a social networking site for sexual fetishists, came to light in the media.
While acknowledging Cpl. Brown’s personal right to freedom, RCMP assistant commissioner Randy Beck said, “I am personally embarrassed and very disappointed that the RCMP would be, in any way, linked to photos of that nature.”
Caroline Pukall of Queen's University says the book’s attitude, as well as public reaction to Col. Brown’s extracurricular activities, reflects a widespread belief that BDSM relationships are inherently abusive.
“It’s because people confuse BDSM with sexual sadism,” says Pukall.
“We think of Paul Bernardo, we think of these criminals who violate other people and cause pain during sexual acts and a lot of suffering and death, in many cases. But these are two very, very, very different phenomena — they are not the same at all,” Pukall says. ...
The recent media coverage outing RCMP Corporal Jim Brown’s personal life has contained a number of erroneous assumptions equating BDSM with violence against women. Please write a letter to the editor today to influence future media coverage.
Take a polite tone of education and point out how detrimental to the Canadian BDSM community and kinky people around the world such stereotypical coverage is. Please don’t focus on Cpl Brown or Fetlife.
You don’t have to out yourself as being kinky. Just make a few of the points below and let the media know they need to fairly represent this sexual minority. Go to the NCSF blog at www.ncsfreedom.org to read the coverage.
Points you can make:
Canada has a proud history of tolerance and diversity when it comes to personal lifestyles.
The media should familiarize itself with the large and vibrant BDSM communities that follow a creed of “safe, sane and consensual.”
BDSM is not violence toward women. BDSM is about consenting adults engaging in mutually satisfying role-play and power exchange in private. Both men and women take submissive roles, and anyone can stop what is happening at any time.
Private internet membership websites are for kinky people to get education about safer sex and to interact with their peers – it is not pornography.
BDSM has been recognized as a healthy form of sexual expression by the American Psychiatric Association in their latest revision of the DSM-V, to be published in spring of 2013. Canada is a progressive country and should follow the lead of other progressive countries such as Norway and Sweden which depathologized BDSM.
People shouldn’t be discriminated against by their employers because of their legal, adult sexual activities.
Media outlets that have published articles on this situation:
Let NCSF know you sent a letter at
This kind of stereotypical media coverage harms the BDSM communities, so stand up and be counted!
An internal RCMP investigation looking into the off-hours activities of a Mountie allegedly involved in sado-masochistic behaviour would appear to have two central questions to answer: Are the Internet images purporting to show Corporal Jim Brown in a number of disturbing S&M scenes actually him, and, if so, is the officer’s conduct enough to warrant severe disciplinary action, including dismissal?
The matter is the latest controversy to rock the force in B.C., where scandals involving the Mounties have become regular fare. And it’s also where the public has become used to seeing dishonourable conduct by officers go virtually unpunished.
Some think this latest imbroglio is too embarrassing and potentially damaging for the force to deal with in its usual fashion.
It exploded earlier this week when the Vancouver Sun revealed that images posted on a website allegedly showed Cpl. Brown in a number of bondage and torture poses with a woman, including some involving a large butcher knife. But the matter became muddled on Friday when a local erotica organization said the most controversial images linked to the officer were not, in fact, him but someone else. (The B.C. RCMP refused to comment on developments Friday, saying there is an investigation under way).
From the pictures, it’s not completely clear. There are some photos showing a man wearing a kilt and knee-high boots, resembling ones worn by Mounties, acting out what would be considered mild S&M scenes with a naked woman. There seems to be little dispute that the person in these shots is Cpl. Brown.
But given that the outrage the story has produced has been mostly generated by Cpl. Brown’s association with the most sickening of the images, it would seem that the first matter RCMP investigators need to address is whether the man in those particular photos is the officer in question.
The RCMP has admitted that it found “some graphic staged photographs” on a memory stick belonging to Cpl. Brown in December 2010. At the time, nothing was done because the commanding officer of the Coquitlam detachment did not believe they met the terms of what is considered a code-of-conduct violation.
The most recent investigation was prompted by a woman’s complaint about the S&M images on the Internet alleged to involve Cpl. Brown.
But what were the photos that were originally discovered? Did they nvolve Cpl. Brown? Even if they didn’t, does the RCMP want a male officer on its force who would associate himself with this type of activity?
Especially an officer who, as a senior member of his detachment, might well be asked to deal with cases involving violence against women?
Is it possible to separate one’s private interests, pursuits and beliefs from one’s job responsibilities?
Much has been made of Cpl. Brown’s minor role in the investigation of serial killer Robert Pickton, convicted of torturing and killing women on his pig farm in Coquitlam. Some are suggesting Wally Oppal, chair of the Missing Women Commission, reopen his inquiry to examine whether Cpl. Brown’s purported S&M proclivities played a role in prolonging Robert Pickton’s killing spree.
It’s certainly a fair enough question.
I think if you were to ask members of the public, most would say there should not be a role for an S&M enthusiast among the ranks of our national police force.
There are simply too many situations an officer can be put in that could possibly be compromised by an officer’s interests in this area. And in the context of the sexual harassment controversy that has recently engulfed the force, it would seem even more important that it ensure that any man involved in hardcore sadomasochism not be a member of the red serge.
“We are told from the day we first enter officers training that we will be held to a higher standard in both our professional and private life,” former RCMP officer Sherry Benson-Podolchuk said in an interview.
“If all this is true, it would show how he feels about women. I can’t imagine him taking a victim impact statement from a woman who had been raped. Also, putting these pictures up on the Internet compromised him and the force. He runs the risk of being blackmailed by some criminal element.” ...