Last summer, I started a long-term project on consent within the Fifty Shades of Grey series as seen through BDSM and marriage contracts. Only halfway through the summer did I pay attention to reactions to the topic.
It was only after people unexpectedly failed to laugh or joke about my research that I realized I expected them to mock my work. I would be comforted if I could say these reactions center on the text alone: Fifty Shades is what it is, and the pop culture hive-mind long ago decided to create a meme of derision against the series and anyone who engages with it.
But these reactions go beyond the typical excuse of discomfort about my type of research, because being ridiculed for my obviously intensive project is only the least of my worries as a sex positive advocate. I have had to defend myself against misguided first impressions without shaming those who make choices similar to the stereotypes thrown against me. I have had to manage a mix of shame and anger when someone made joking insinuations about my personal life for months based on the fact that I write this column.
And I know I am not alone. Too many times, I have heard similar struggles from friends, classmates and strangers in and outside of campus who are passionate about sexual or romantic health. They understand that the very nature of their advocacy puts them in potentially uncomfortable, unwanted, unsafe situations.
Similar situations pop up with most advocacy work. When there is something to fight for, you occasionally encounter people or situations against which to argue. For now, I am concerned most with the response to activism surrounding sexual or romantic health. It is disturbing that the very act of talking about and advocating for these issues exacerbates the very threat of sexualized, intimate violence. Even if it is supposedly part of the job, how can it be fair that those in vulnerable positions are asked to open themselves up to even more vulnerability?
An incident I believe highlights the urgency of this issue occurred between me and a classmate last year. I mentioned my work with this column and my racialized, classed sex positivity. The student asked me about it, and we had a good conversation about porn even though he held views different than mine. However, he kept asking me about porn, called me out in class about my opinions, and forced me to defend myself after I felt we had exasperated the topic. Because I think of myself as an educator and because I was socialized through violence to always answer questions from men, I kept answering even though I found myself growing uncomfortable.
A friend checked in with me and told me something I had not considered: I could say no to his questions. That it’s okay to feel uncomfortable, even as an advocate. I realized that being made to talk about porn and sex with him brought up the feelings of embarrassment, being trapped, inability to say no, and frustration that I associate with sexual harassment. I had convinced myself I did not deserve to feel upset because the intention in our conversation was education, not a sexual or romantic pursuit.
The exchanges did not escalate to harassment. I recognize my participation in creating the situation, and I still do not completely blame him for it. That check-in helped me start saying no and tell him I was uncomfortable, and he understood the situation and backed off. But this recognition does not excuse my emotional toil, justify his obliviousness and rudeness or indicate that the situation would not have escalated the point where I felt harassed. ...
The BDSM porn purveyor Kink.com that has been operating in the Armory Building since 2007 may soon be cracking its last whip in the Mission. It’s not leaving because of the rising cost of real estate; it’s because of the cost of producing porn.
Last week, the Planning Department released a preliminary review of a plan submitted by Peter Acworth, CEO of Kink.com and the Armory Building’s owner, that would convert the building’s production studios into office space. If approved the proposal would create more than 100,000 square feet of office space in the Civil War-era building on 14th and Mission.
In an email message to Mission Local, Acworth explained that recent and upcoming legislative changes creating stricter health regulations in adult films have made the production of hardcore pornography prohibitively expensive in California. Acworth says that he may move the production arm of Kink.com to Nevada and rent out the Armory for office use.
“The fact is that new regulations threaten to essentially criminalize the production of hardcore pornography in California,” Acworth said. “Measure B in L.A. county was just the start, and now we face AB 1576 and new draft CAL-OSHA regulations that are being proposed.”
Assembly Bill 1576, which was introduced in January, would amend the California Occupational Safety and Health Act with provisions specifically for adult films. If approved, studios would have to provide documentation that all performers use condoms during scenes involving penetrative intercourse and that all performers are tested for STIs every 14 days.
“These new regulations are not yet in place and we are disputing them,” Acworth said in his email. “We hope to prevail on the basis that our protocols include strict, mandatory testing and/or mandatory condoms for all our shoots, and based on the fact that there has not been an on-set transmission of HIV in the U.S. since 2004 on any set where testing was required — not just at Kink.com but anywhere in the industry.”
Earlier this year, two performers named Cameron Bay and Rod Daily contracted HIV during the time they were also working for Kink.com. According to Kink.com spokesman Mike Stabile, Bay was offered a condom but declined to use one during her shoot and Daily, Bay’s boyfriend at the time, used condoms during all his scenes. Acworth has stated previously that he was confident these performers were infected through encounters in their personal lives and not on set, in part, because all their scene partners tested negative following shoots with Bay or Cameron.
However, in an interview with the Huffington Post, Bay has described a more complex situation in which she felt subtle pressure not to use condoms and was severely injured while on set. Her contraction of HIV led to a brief national moratorium on porn shoots. ...
...In recent years, the internet has done for alternative sexuality what it did for comic fans, anime otaku, and gamers—uniting like-minded but geographically distant subgroups and revealing the “fringe” to be larger and far more passionate than anyone had expected. And considering how deeply nerd subculture permeated fashion, film, and television, you have to wonder if the sexual fringe can even accurately be called a fringe at all.
An American study found that more than 40 percent of millennials think that traditional marriage is becoming obsolete, while OKCupid data indicated that more than 34 percent of its users have had a same-sex sexual experience or would like to. The numbers are similar regarding threesomes, according to an ABC survey.
Gen Y’s much-discussed hyperconnectivity, constant communication, and desire for gratification on their own terms actually puts them in a prime position to become a generation of sex nerds. They can figure out the parameters of their relationships on an individual level and eschew conventional sexual and romantic codes in favor of ongoing discussion about their own needs and interests, and the needs and interests of their partners.
But it’s not just young people. The slow mainstreaming of alt sex and love is picking up speed. How much longer can we classify BDSM as a niche interest while Fifty Shades books and paraphernalia fly off shelves nationwide? Sure, it's not exactly an ideal introduction to BDSM, but it implies a large-scale interest in kink across North America, the UK, and elsewhere.
And if a single trashy trilogy can ignite global interest in an allegedly “deviant” sexual subculture, what else are people interested in? How can they access it? Are they already doing so, in quiet corners of the internet after the kids have gone to bed? Are body-positive threesomes the new functional bum-bags? Is queer-friendly feminist tumblr porn the next Star Wars?
Hey Ma! I’d like you to meet my boyfriend…and my girlfriend…and my slave.
There was a time when coming out as any shade in the queer spectrum was a terrifying prospect. It still can be for many, but deviating from the heterosexual norm is more understood and accepted now than it has ever been. What remains quite difficult share, especially with family, is that you are kinky or polyamorous.
Me? Eh, I tell everyone everything. My family doesn’t just know I’m kinky –they know I’m a professional Dominatrix. Compared to that, polyamory is a walk in the park, as was telling the clan that I like girls.
But does your family really need to know about your sex life? Well, technically, no. If it’s just sex, there’s not any absolute reason to share. Family and more traditional friends don’t necessarily want to know that you and your partner frequent swinger parties, or that you like to tie each other up in kidnapping role play scenes. If, however, you have serious a relationship with someone who is not your primary partner, or have a strong Dom/sub or Master/slave dynamic, if can feel heavy hiding that from the people closest to you.
Sharing something so important to you, knowing that they may not understand or accept it, can be scary. When I first read “The Ethical Slut” at age twenty, my mind was blown. I was psyched to be made aware of this possibility, that I wasn’t terrible for wanting to date more than one person at a time. I was electric when I called a good friend from high school to tell her about it. Though skeptical, she agreed to give it a read, so I popped it in the mail and anxiously awaited her response.
A few days later, she called and I immediately could tell she was agitated. She’d only gotten a few pages in and refused to continue. The very concept angered and upset her. She took it as an excuse for people to cheat, despite my protestation that it, instead, fosters intense honestly between partners. While she accepted my exploring this path, she wanted nothing to do with it. She asked me never to mention it to her again, and I didn’t. When I told her I was kinky, however, she was thrilled and wanted to hear all about it. Other friends and family were accepting of the poly, but disgusted by the kinky.
Why do our loved ones sometimes take such an issue with our lifestyles? Well, I believe there are two main reasons. First, they are worried about us. They cannot comprehend it, and worry for our safety and health. More partners can mean more heartache and more exposure to STIs, and kinky relationships can sometimes literally involve pain. Their concern is understandable, but it is our job to help them try to discern what it means to us, and the joy it can bring us.
The second, more difficult reason they can have a tough time accepting our alternative lifestyles is that they are offended by the very idea of it. They may see our polyamory as an affront to their monogamy. Perhaps they fear that if their partner knew of this possibility, they would also want to give it a go. They may find kink in general to be abhorrent, and think something is wrong with you if you like to participate in BDSM. They might see this power exchange as genuinely insane behavior, especially if you are a bottom/sub/slave.
So why come out in the first place? Well, you certainly don’t have to, and choosing to keep these things to yourself is absolutely a valid and legitimate choice. Do keep in mind, however, that as more people do come out as kinky or polyamorous, the more accepted it will be. Aunt Hilda may think anyone who participates in these lifestyles is totally nuts, until she actually knows someone who does. Once there is a human face on it, it’s not just a wacky concept. They can actually see how it works, and how fulfilled it makes you feel. ...
A dominatrix who whipped cross-dressing men while they were chained up and gagged has been fined for a serious breach of health and safety rules.
But it’s nothing to do with the way she physically treated her clients.
Lorraine White, 41, was fined £8,000 for breaching fire safety rules at her Stockport sex dungeon.
Magistrates heard how the firemen were unable to get into the building after a blaze broke out there.
Once they finally did gain access they found a trove of handcuffs, chains and other restraining devices in the basement.
Crews were called to the building on Vauxhall industrial estate, Greg Street, on October 30, 2012 after a maintenance man reported a basement fire.
They struggled to gain access to the Medusa club due to the locked doors but eventually they managed to enter and discovered the sex dungeon.
The fire had been sparked by a leaking gas heater.
When questioned, White admitted she had no idea she was responsible for fire safety arrangements. There was only one manually operated fire alarm and one fire exit was permanently locked.
Fire investigators found several canisters of nitrous oxide, laughing gas - also know as 'hippie crack' - which White’s clients used to get high. Elizabeth Dudley-Jones, prosecuting, said: ‘She was asked what would happen if there was a fire when her clients were under the influence of the gas and restrained.
‘She said she had not considered it.’
Ms Dudley-Jones said White was asked about the activities in the club. ‘She said nothing was too severe. Slight bondage, possibly a mask or gag. It involved a lot of humiliation, doing domestic work and dressing up in women’s clothes.’
White, a former beautician, from Chaseley Road, Salford, pleaded guilty to four charges of fire safety rules, including failing to carry out a risk assessment, install suitable fire alarms, maintain emergency exits, or install emergency lighting.
She was fined £5,000 for the offences and ordered to pay £3,000 costs and a £120 victim charge.
White, who earns £1,100 a month from the business and spent £10,000 refurbishing her smoke-damaged dungeon, agreed to pay the sum at £100-a-month. ...
People are more tied up than ever these days, and we’re not talking about the pace of life — oh no, Metro’s referring to bondage.
The sexually active and liberal are getting into knots over BDSM (Bondage & Discipline, Dominance & Submission, Sadism and Masochism) and Shibari. Bruce Esinem, a London-based expert in shibari (Japanese rope bondage), explains why the public will be gagging to get involved in restraint.
Metro: Have books like “Fifty Shades of Grey” made people more sexually adventurous?
Esinem: I think it’s kicked off an interest. It’s been good for business because it brought the whole BDSM thing out of the shadows. Attitudes are changing a lot: it’s a bit like where the gay scene was a few decades back when people misunderstood the culture and created all sorts of incorrect stereotypes.
So, what are those false stereotypes about BDSM?
It used to be considered a freak show where the media would roll out the stupidest kink with the most unappealing people. I think when you mention certain things, people have an immediate reaction and the man in the street thinks whips and chains and gimp masks. They’ll think about the secretary tied to the office chair with shiny white nylon rope or the girl next door hog-tied in some tacky hotel room. When there is an incident that involves some sadistic criminal act, it then gets termed BDSM, which is somewhat ridiculous because BDSM is about consent. It’s like comparing rape to consensual sex.
What are the dangers with shibari?
There are certain stupid things that people can do. Tying people up and leaving them alone is like using a hairdryer in the shower. One of the dangers of leaving people tied up in a stress position is that it can cause positional asphyxia. That’s when your breathing muscles get tired and you can’t breathe anymore.
What’s the most extreme thing in shibari?
Some of the rope suspension is quite intense and not comfortable. People go through the pain barrier as they do with a lot of physical activities and then get the endorphin high from it. People aren’t doing it because they’re crazy – it’s because they enjoy the experience. It can be anything from soft, fluffy and sensual from the embrace and sensuality of the rope moving across the skin, to the rope stimulating the erogenous zones. It kicks off the endorphins like any other pain or stress. ...
Sitting outside a coffee shop in Sassine, Ziad gestures to himself and says, “Look at me. Who could guess I like to whip women? ”It’s a fair question, like other members of the clandestine Lebanese BDSM community with whom the Daily Star spoke, Ziad comes across as an average, middle-aged guy, the kind you’d expect to see at the office or chain smoking in a cafe. Human sexuality comes up in ordinary conversation often, but BDSM – an umbrella term for bondage, dominance, submission, sadism and masochism – is not a sexual preference many understand.
Rarely addressed in the mainstream – though the explosive success of novels such as “Fifty Shades of Grey” suggests change – its practitioners often face stigma.
Some in the Lebanese community have responded to the stigma by banding together for regular meetings starting in September 2011.
“We’ve built this group as a way to be there for newbies ... to try and promote awareness for anybody who wished to listen,” says Hadi, a group founder and a “master,” meaning he prefers to play the dominant role.
The group counts about 10 members, all of whom reside in Lebanon. They hold a “munch” once a month to chat and have a drink, just like any group of friends.
“A lot of people have been reticent to join us, they somehow believe we’ve got big stickers on our heads that say who we are,” says Charlotte, a Canadian “sub,” or submissive partner. Topics discussed can range from the banal – such as where to find a good dentist – to more BDSM specific – such as where to buy good bondage rope.
While there are a wealth of different practices that fall under the BDSM umbrella, one unifying characteristic is safety.
Hadi, who was trained as a master at the Black Lotus Academy in Paris and can teach others professionally, explains that different people are interested in different kinks, which can range from role playing or the use of collars, whips, canes and floggers, to the more extreme, such as burning. He even knows one man who “enjoys being beaten. ... That’s what gets him off.”
Whatever the fetish, there are two key things: safety and consent.
“There are ways to do it safely, as not to leave marks if the person doesn’t want marks, and if the person wants marks, there are ways not to do any damage,” Hadi says.
What is striking about the BDSM scene is the communication. Not just on the communal level, but also between couples in a relationship, such as Charlotte and Ziad.
For Charlotte, exploring her limits with Ziad was an awakening. She first came across BDSM in her early 20s. The man she was dating at the time tied her up, cut her with a razor and made her stand in the corner, though at the time she was unaware these were sexual behaviors that would fall under the BDSM classification. All she knew was “this was part of who this man was” and she liked it, she says.
It wasn’t until she became involved in the BDSM scene in Lebanon, and became Ziad’s play partner and submissive, that she finally began to understand this part of herself. Ziad gave Charlotte an extensive list of kinks for her to explore so that she could determine her limits.
Their relationship is characteristic of the BDSM scene, where partnerships usually form between dominants and submissives. It’s not an unusual concept; in most human relationships, there is a power play between those in control and those controlled. What BDSM does is to formalize this dynamic in a way that gives both ends of the spectrum satisfaction sexually.
What it doesn’t mean, however, is that the dominant has free reign.
“The important [thing] is the constant communication between both sides, the dom cannot do as he pleases,” Hadi explains.
It is a misconception that concerns many, “I’ve seen so many sub men and woman who think they have to put up with s--t,” Charlotte says.
But when done right, BDSM can lead to intense pleasure. While for many the idea of giving up control might seem foreign or even frightening, for submissives, the loss of control can be euphoric. The community has given this pleasure a name: “subspace.” ...
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. ...