The Center for Positive Sexuality is currently seeking participants for a research study on how BDSM is experienced. Participation is minimal and simply requires taking quick five-minute survey. If you are an adult who regularly engages in BDSM, please consider taking the survey. This research is endorsed and supported by Idaho State University IRB and CARAS. Thank you!
Domina, a Sonoma-based event planner, advice-dispenser, and proprietor of the chatty BDSM website The Frugal Domme, has hosted trailer trash parties at local bondage club The San Francisco Citadel for about a decade. According to club owners Phil Derby and August Knight, those parties have always gone off without a hitch.
"It's just a fun night," Derby says. "We serve hot dogs and fried bologna sandwiches, and people dress up in overalls and Dixie shorts."
"It's just utter craziness, man," Knight chimes in.
The owners were dismayed, however, when this year's Trailer Trash Takeover — held on Saturday, July 5 — spawned craziness of a different sort. In the days leading up to the event, protest flared up on the BDSM social media site FetLife, where users chafed at the term "trailer trash."
According to Derby, they'd mistakenly conflated it with "white trash."
"Suddenly people got sensitive about it," he says. "They were saying things like, 'I grew up there, I'm offended.'" He sighs. "It was a no-win situation."
Though the comment threads in question appear to have been erased, debate about "trash" stereotypes still proliferates on the rest of the internet.
"Well, the term 'trash' is derogatory," UC Berkeley linguistics professor emeritus Robin Lakoff explains. "It suggests that you are the kind of white person to be thrown away."
She adds that since the term is often lobbed at low-income white people, it has derisive class connotations.
But Derby and Knight believe that the "trash" flare-up on FetLife wasn't about a legitimate class slur; rather, it was a battle over political correctness, they say. Derby attributes that to an influx of newcomers into the BDSM scene. Many of them are skittish or sanctimonious about party themes that have been around for years, he says.
A longstanding scene member (who didn't want to be identified) wholeheartedly agrees. "More people are getting into kink, especially after Fifty Shades of Grey," he says. "And they're coming at it with a normative vanilla outlook." ...
Polyamorous people still face plenty of stigmas, but some studies suggest they handle certain relationship challenges better than monogamous people do.
by Olga Khazan
hen I met Jonica Hunter, Sarah Taub, and Michael Rios on a typical weekday afternoon in their tidy duplex in Northern Virginia, a very small part of me worried they might try to convert me.
All three live there together, but they aren’t roommates—they’re lovers.
Or rather, Jonica and Michael are. And Sarah and Michael are. And so are Sarah and whomever she happens to bring home some weekends. And Michael and whomever he might be courting. They’re polyamorous.
Michael is 65, and he has a chinstrap beard that makes him look like he just walked off an Amish homestead. Jonica is 27, with close-cropped hair, a pointed chin, and a quiet air. Sarah is 46 and has an Earth Motherly demeanor that put me at relative ease.
Together, they form a polyamorous “triad”— one of the many formations that’s possible in this jellyfish of a sexual preference. “There’s no one way to do polyamory” is a common refrain in “the community.” Polyamory—which literally means “many loves”—can involve any number of people, either cohabiting or not, sometimes all having sex with each other, and sometimes just in couples within the larger group.
Sarah and Michael met 15 years ago when they were both folk singers and active in the polyamorous community. Both of them say they knew from a young age that there was something different about their sexuality. “Growing up, I never understood why loving someone meant putting restrictions on relationships,” Michael said.
“What I love about polyamory is that everything is up for modification,” Sarah says. “There are no ‘shoulds.’ You don’t have to draw a line between who is a lover and who is a friend. It’s about what is the path of my heart in this moment.”
They’ve been “nesting partners” for 12 years, but they’ve both had other relationships throughout that time. Jonica moved in three years ago after meeting Michael on OkCupid. She describes the arrangement’s appeal as “more intimacy, less rules. I don’t have to limit my relationship with other partners.”
The house is, as they describe, an “intentional community”—a type of resource-sharing collectivist household. They each have their own room and own bed. Sarah is a night owl, so she and Michael spend time together alone late at night. Jonica sees him alone in the early morning. They all hang out together throughout the day. The house occasionally plays host to a rotating cast of outside characters, as well—be they friends of the triad or potential love interests.
The triad works together, too, running a consulting nonprofit that puts on events “that teach skills for living together peacefully, such as clear communication, boundaries, what to do when you get upset,” Sarah said. An added bonus of the living arrangement is that it cuts down on commuting time.
I initially expected the polyamorous people I met to tell me that there were times their relationships made them sick with envy. After all, how could someone listen to his significant other’s stories of tragedy and conquest in the dating world, as Michael regularly does for Sarah, and not feel possessive? But it became clear to me that for “polys,” as they’re sometimes known, jealousy is more of an internal, negligible feeling than a partner-induced, important one. To them, it’s more like a passing head cold than a tumor spreading through the relationship.
Of the three people living in the Northern Virginia duplex, Sarah volunteers that she’s the one most prone to jealousy. “It can be about feeling like you’re not special, or feeling like this thing belonged to me and now someone’s taken it.”
She said it was rough for her when Jonica first moved in. Sarah had been accustomed to seeing Michael whenever she wanted, but she started to feel a pang when he spent time with Jonica.
“At first I thought, ‘Is something bad happening, something I don’t want to support?” she said. “No, I want to support Michael and Jonica in being together. From there, I look at my own reaction. I can be an anxious person, so maybe I was feeling anxious. I find other ways of getting grounded. I might go for a walk or play guitar.
“It’s part of learning a healthy self-awareness and the ability to self-soothe,” she added. “I notice what I’m feeling, and do a dive inward.” ...
Sunny Megatron and Ken Melvoin-Berg visited the Tool Shed a while back to teach their popular class ZAP! Electric Play, which covers toys that use electricity for stimulation, such as neon wands, violet wands and TENS units. These items were originally designed to improve physical or mental health, but were adapted—“by perverts,” as Ken puts it—for sexual use.
We have a glass case full of neon wands, violet wands and various metal implements in the store, and we are frequently asked what, exactly, they are, followed by, “Why would anyone use those?!??” After the class, I asked Sunny and Ken what their responses to this question would be.
Laura Anne Stuart: How would you explain the appeal of electric toys to someone who has never used them before?
Ken Melvoin-Berg: The appeal of neon wands and violet wands, for me at least, stem from when I was peeing on an electric fence at my uncle’s farm. That feeling of electricity caused a little bit of arousal in me…it’s a very primal thing. [Y]ou start playing with electricity, whether a neon wand or a violet wand or a TENS unit, and automatically start thinking about electric shock therapy and all the evils—One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. But as soon as I started getting zapped, it made me happy instantaneously. It’s that primal feeling that made me come back to [it] over and over. Plus, I’m a science geek!
Sunny Megatron: For me, in a sensual realm, it’s a great couples toy. You think of sensation play and running a feather over someone—well, this kicks it into overdrive. Not only do you have the great sensation that doesn’t really hurt, but you have the element of excitement, because we all associate electricity with something like, “Oooooh, it’s gonna be bad, it’s gonna tingle, it’s gonna be horrible,” and it’s actually fun. For BDSM purposes, it takes on a whole other purpose. If someone is a little bit scared of it, the sound is like a tattoo gun, or if they stuck a fork in an outlet when they were three—it’s going to give them the mental stimulation and play with their mind.
LAS: How would you describe what a neon wand or violet wand feels like?
SM: They feel like a prickly tingle. Not painful, but just enough to make your hair stand up—in a good way, not an ouch-y way. On high settings, some people would say that it’s like when you run your feet across the carpet and then you get that little shock—but on the pleasurable side.
KMB: I don’t think that’s exactly it, because static electricity is sharper and faster. For me, it’s more like if you’ve had an accidental electrical accident, like sticking a fork in a toaster, and you get that pulsating wave, the contractions of your muscles going in-and-out and in-and-out…It’s a very different sensation than anything else to have your muscles start to spasm involuntarily. ...
Jen Day and her boyfriend of 11 years, Pepper Mint (yes, that’s his real name), live together with their cat in a whitewashed house on a narrow, leafy street in Berkeley, Calif. They kiss and nuzzle and have date nights, like any other couple.
Just not always with each other.
Day has another boyfriend. Mint has another girlfriend — and just began seeing two other women, too. The couple practice polyamory: They have multiple committed relationships at once, with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved.
Large-scale studies tracking the number of polyamorous (aka “poly”) individuals don’t exist, but evidence from polyamory groups, relationship therapists and dating websites suggests that figure is rising fast. University of Michigan psychologist Terri Conley estimates that 5 percent of Americans are involved in consensual non-monogamous relationships. As of last year, there’s even a poly social network, Kotango — it has 4,000 users so far.
Why are we embracing more than one partner? Skepticism of monogamy plays a part. Roughly 20 percent of U.S. marriages end in divorce.
“There’s a shaken belief” leading to “more openness to seeing what works rather than believing in some tradition,” says San Francisco clinical psychologist Deborah Anapol. And, in general, people have grown more open to alternative lifestyles.
Of course, it’s also possible that interest in polyamory has remained stable — but people just have more opportunity to take part. Thanks, Internet!
Still, the poly-curious should think hard before making the leap. Polyamory might sound like free love, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Maintaining multiple healthy relationships takes McKinseyian time-management skills and grace dealing with jealousy. Skeptics worry about the welfare of children in polyamorous families. The stigma hasn’t quite worn off, either. ...
I knew this was coming when the cashier in Barnes and Nobles saw me looking at Fifty Shades of Grey and stage-whispered: "I bought that for my mom, and now I'm just terrified that I'm going to go home and find my dad. In a cage. Bleeding or dead." BDSM is like soccer and socialized medicine; fascinating, but hard for a lot of Americans to understand. Cosmo's trying to help with their August issue, which features a twist on their usual bouquet of sex tips: this time, all their tips are inspired by Fifty Shades of Grey.
Now, say what you will about Grey, but it is about BDSM. It cannot (and must not!) be forgiven for introducing millions of Americans to lines like "My inner goddess is doing the merengue, with some salsa moves," but there's some pretty kinky shit in there. And it's nice to see a national women's magazine with a feature purportedly dedicated to BDSM. But I've got to tell you: Cosmo's BDSM tips make Fifty Shades of Grey look like The Story of O.
1. "Graze your teeth over his index finger (it is the fleshiest and can handle the pressure) while he's taking you from behind."
"It is the fleshiest and can handle the pressure" sounds like something screamed at me from the top of a dry well in a Midwestern basement.
2. "During sex, stick your finger in his mouth and order him to suck it."
How very dominant. Here's another: "Lie limply on your back and order him to have gentle sex with you while staring into your eyes." ...
Everyone asks my polyamorous family how we handle the jealousy. It's easy, because that's not how it works
by Elizabeth Stern
The first question people ask my polyamorous family is “How do you handle the jealousy?” Befuddled, we answer, “What jealousy?”
I am lucky; I live with the two loves of my life. I am smitten with my husband of 16 years, and adore my partner of four. The three of us depend upon and nurture each other; we are a family. When my partner and I hadn’t had a date in a while, my husband encouraged us to take a holiday at the art museum, knowing how the visual connects us. When my husband and I hit an emotional snag in discussing our issues, my partner helped us to sort it out and come together. And when I was picking out Christmas presents, I gave the foodies in my life some bonding time over a Japanese small plates cooking class.
The existing polyamory advice literature pushes individualistic solutions to jealousy. Polyamory gurus such as Dossie Easton (“The Ethical Slut”), Deborah Anapol (“Love Without Limits”) and, more recently, Franklin Veaux (“More Than Two”) advocate personal responsibility as the solution to insecurity. You must “work through” your jealousy, making sure to not “control” your partner, all the while viewing the experience of jealousy through a lens of personal growth. My family has never needed to rely on these individualistic methods because jealousy is a social problem, not an individual one, and so are the solutions.
Prescribing of individualistic methods for management of jealousy is nothing new. It can be traced to the decline of the family economy in the 18th and 19th centuries. Peter N. Stearn’s “Jealousy: The Evolution of an Emotion in American History” argues that prior to the 18th century in the U.S. and Europe, jealousy was much less of a problem. Living in close-knit social and economic communities with prescribed roles did not leave room for fears of losing one’s significant others to rivals. Husband and wife teams were viewed as units (rather than as two individuals) embedded within a communal structure. Sure, individuals didn’t have a whole heck of a lot of autonomy, but they did have the security of knowing their spousal relationship unit was recognized, supported and held accountable to the community.
With the shift from family- and community-based institutions to wage work in urban environments, middle-class families began functioning within spheres separated by gender (with women being relegated to the home). Spouses overlapped less in daily life, which meant less communal support, monitoring and recognition of relationships. It is widely recognized that the emergence of a capitalist economy caused women to lose economic and social power relative to men. But the emergence of separate spheres also deprived both women and men of the communal support for their relationships, which had once made jealousy a non-issue.
The 20th century saw women’s reentry into the economic sphere, with increased opportunities for women and men to make individual choices about education and occupation. These welcome economic gains for women were accompanied by the increasingly pesky problem of jealousy. Unlike the family economy where spouses worked within the same community, now partners spent their time in separate, mixed-sex education and work institutions, with increased availability of potential alternative partners. And while the increase in the idea of romantic love during this time period dampened jealousy some, it was a poor substitute for the previous complete communal support for relationships.
So, if green eyes grew out of the shift from Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft, what was our newly individualistic, capitalist society to do? Why, call those peepers into insecurity monsters that could be tamed through self-control.
Quick, guess the time period of the following quotes:
1). “Jealousy is an emotion that arises inside you; no person and no behavior can ‘make’ you jealous. Like it or not, the only person who can make that jealousy hurt less or go away is you.”
2). “Jealousy is almost always a mark of immaturity and insecurity. As we grow confident of love and of our loved one, we are not jealous.”
3). Jealousy is “undesirable, a festering spot in every personality so affected.”
The first is contemporary, taken from the poly bible “The Ethical Slut.” The second is from a mainstream 1950s relationship advice manual, and the third is a commentary from Margaret Mead in the 1930s. Note that only the first quote addresses a non-monogamous audience. Polyamory advice on jealousy is not radical when held up to this light; it is simply part of the larger 20th century context of demonizing jealousy and demanding personal responsibility for its eradication. Instead of locating jealousy within the structural changes of the 19th and 20th centuries, there has been an erroneous tendency to look inward for its causes and cures.
I think back on my life of four years ago as we first formed our polyamorous family. My new boyfriend was surprised that he felt no jealousy of my 14-year relationship with my husband. He felt supported and welcomed into our lives, and longed to make a commitment to us, but the absence of jealousy was perplexing to him. Doesn’t jealousy naturally emerge from a partner having another partner, he wondered? He waited for over a year before he made a commitment, just in case jealousy would emerge. He was waiting for Godot.
The three of us met at a film club and just seemed to “get” each other instantly. Our small talk consisted of Bourdieu, Navier-Stokes equations, and Henri Cartier-Bresson. The fundamental compatibility we had was effortless and we laughed like children together. It was this fundamental understanding of one another that allowed my boyfriend to “see” our marriage in a way that few others could. Having the closeness of our marriage reflected back in such a nuanced and perfect way felt wonderful. Similarly, the depth of my husband’s closeness with me allowed him to recognize the rare comfort and feeling of being at home I felt with my boyfriend. My husband provided one of the few sources of support and recognition that my boyfriend and I had at the time for our budding (but at first, secret) relationship. He was also there for us when we first “came out” to confused family and friends. While many expressed worries that this new relationship would lead to destruction, my husband gave us anniversary cards and told us that we were a rare and special couple. ...
San Francisco's Pride 2014 weekend is now just a memory, but I remember it fondly. I especially cherish being able to yet again march with the Leather Pride Contingent in the parade. The contingent is a microcosm of why it's so great to be a kinkster in the Bay Area. We were a proud gathering of people from all walks of the local leather and kink factions coming together to celebrate and declare our pride in being ourselves alongside many others who were doing the same. The Bay Area is a unique place indeed.
As usual, the contingent included the man and woman selected by vote of the community to be the Leather Marshals leading us down Market Street. This year they were Deborah Hoffman-Wade and Scott Peterson, both people who are quite deserving of the honor.
I am fully aware, however, that many people can't comfortably do what we did. Marching out and proud so comfortably and visibly is not as easy elsewhere. The Bay Area bubble is far more welcoming and accepting of kinksters than are most other parts of the country. As I gazed upon the marchers in our contingent, I realized how lucky we have it and how much I hope that other kinky folk may feel the same freedom and acceptance.
This made me think about some of the national organizations working hard to ensure that kinksters across the country can experience even some semblance of the openness and opportunity we in the Bay Area feel. While there are a plethora of local leather and kink clubs and organizations working hard to make life better for us all (and most such work does need to be done at the local level), there are a handful of national organizations trying to do the same on a broader scale. I don't think the general kinkster population is as aware of these national organizations as they should be. Their work helps us all. Let me point out a few of them.
Founded in 1997 by Susan Wright, the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) (www.ncsfreedom.org) is an organization committed to creating a political, legal and social environment in the United States that advances equal rights for consenting adults who engage in alternative sexual and relationship expressions. Their work is done primarily with BDSM, leather, fetish and polyamory issues and encompasses direct services, education, advocacy and outreach.
I asked Ms. Wright why she founded NCSF and why it's an important organization to support.
"When I kept hearing from people who lost their job because they were into leather or had their kids taken away because they were kinky, I knew we needed a group like NCSF," she said. "Nobody else fights for our rights, so we have to do it ourselves. For 17 years, NCSF has worked hard to destigmatize BDSM, but we still have more work to do."
Another organization doing important work on a national scale is the Community-Academic Consortium for Research on Alternative Sexualities (CARAS) (www.carasresearch.org). CARAS is dedicated to the support and promotion of excellence in the study of alternative sexualities and the dissemination of research results to the alternative sexuality communities, the public and the research community. CARAS does this by supporting research that addresses understudied sexual communities, with a current focus on BDSM/leather/kink/fetish sexualities and consensual non-monogamous relationships such as polyamory. Employing a community-based research model, CARAS has assembled a network of academics, clinicians and respected members of these communities who will work directly with researchers to promote scientific and other forms of scholarly research.
One of the original founders of CARAS, along with Robert Bienvenu and David Ortmann, is the current Executive Director and Bay Area local, Richard Sprott. I asked Mr. Sprott why it's important for the leather/kink community to support serious academic research about us
"Research is the 'coin of the realm' for legal and medical concerns in our society," he said. "Courts, criminal proceedings, medical professionals, psychiatrists – and people who make policies and rules in our society about kinky behavior – are more likely to change if we can discuss the reasons why they should change in the language and discourse they understand and use. But beyond our need to destigmatize kink (so we can enjoy it without penalty or punishment or interference), knowing more will increase our ability to play better, to live better, and to increase our health and well-being. That's why we need to support serious academic research about us."
Years ago, my friends Tony DeBlase and Gayle Rubin, along with a few others, were deeply concerned that the history of the leather and kink scene would be lost unless a concerted effort was made to capture and preserve that history. Out of their concerns the Leather Archives & Museum (LA&M) (www.leatherarchives.org) was born. The LA&M serves the international leather and kink scene by compiling, preserving and maintaining our history, archives and memorabilia for historical, educational and research purposes.
The current Executive Director of the LA&M is Rick Storer. I asked him why he think it's important for leather and kink folks to support their work....