NCSF on Twitter   Subscribe to the NCSF RSS Feed   NCSF Blog

Media Updates

"Jurors see love letters, sadomasochism contract at ‘sex-slave’ trial"

on Thursday, 13 June 2013. Hits 968

Chicago Sun Times

Jurors were given a peek Wednesday at a sex-slavery contract and documents outlining the basics of sadomasochism in a Gold Coast woman’s lurid lawsuit against her former husband.

Kimberley O’Brien, 52, is suing 57-year-old Kevin Anderson in federal court, claiming he lured her into a violent marriage in which he was the master and she was the slave — allegedly raping her on their honeymoon and leaving her suffering panic attacks.

Anderson denies he sexually assaulted O’Brien and says any sadomasochistic sex was consensual.

On Wednesday, O’Brien took the witness stand as her attorney, Dean Dickie, displayed love letters from Anderson on a projector. In one greeting card, Anderson told O’Brien in 2000: “hope I can make you smile for ever.”

But the letter also showed a strain in their new relationship — about five years before they were married — with Anderson writing: “I don’t know why you don’t call me since I feel as though you don’t love me.”

O’Brien testified that she was avoiding Anderson because she discovered he was still married while dating her.

After showing the love letters, Dickie displayed documents that Anderson allegedly downloaded on his computer in 2002 to research sadomasochism. One of them, titled “Slave Rules,” had a handwritten star next to the passage: “Whenever Master speaks, even when I am speaking, I am to immediately become silent so I may be able to listen intensely to what He has to say.” ...

"Kinky, Sober and Free: BDSM in Recovery"

on Wednesday, 05 June 2013. Hits 1903

The Fix

Being abstinent from drugs and alcohol doesn't mean forsaking fun. A thriving community testifies that kink and sobriety go together like a fist in a leather glove.

What's the link between BDSM—the catchall term for bondage, discipline, domination/ submission, sadism and masochism—and sobriety?

Can you be clean and sober and still engage kinkily? For those who identify as clean and kink-friendly, the answer is a resounding "Yes, please (may I have another?)." The connection is being borne out as supportive communities of like-minded people are springing up around the country.

The issue goes beyond physical safety; as one woman told me, "who wants to be flogged by a drunk guy?" While a number of interviewees reported they have attended play parties—often in private homes—where alcohol and drugs abound, most organized play parties frown on, or explicitly forbid, such substances and often turn away players who show up intoxicated. (This is also a common complaint of professional dominatrices, who often have to turn away drunks.)

Mollena Williams—a BDSM educator and the co-author of the guidebook Playing Well with Othersfounded San Francisco's Safeword, which offers a "12-Step modeled approach to recovery for kink-identified people." She began the group in 2007 in response to her lukewarm reception at traditional AA meetings. She recalled that her tastes were considered to be incompatible with her sobriety: "People are often ready to attribute your desires to do kink or BDSM as part of your addiction." She added that many 12-steppers "equated that high you experience within a scene as a result of a dry drunk. I was accused of substituting one drink for another. They didn't see that for me Kink and Leather were the last bastions of my sobriety!"

The majority of interviewees emphasized the positive effect BDSM has had on their sobriety, going far beyond the realm of the dungeon or kinky world. Theener, a 35-year-old New Yorker who's been kinky since she got a birthday spanking in 2004, feels like she had to "learn how to be kinky all over again" after getting sober in 2008.

"You have to learn how to have fun without alcohol and drugs being the center of your fun," she said. "When I wasn't sober, I wasn't interested in spaces like [S&M club] Paddles and [support and information group] Lesbian Sex Mafia meetings because there wasn't booze. I had to appreciate later that those places were alcohol free." ...

Guest Blog: Operation Spanner

on Monday, 03 June 2013. Hits 789

The Elephant in the Hot Tub: Kink in Context

by Russell Stambaugh

The stark potential consequences of lack of empathy for the Other are illustrated by the Operation Spanner case.


As a result of investigation of another case, the Manchester, England police Obscene Publications Squad came into possession of a video tape they believed depicted acts of nonconsensual sexual torture.  Although it is not known precisely which of several videos was seen first, acts included genital piercing, cutting of the scrotum and penis, and acts the defendants described as ‘heavy S&M’.  Convinced of the depravity of these acts, and anticipating that ‘snuff’ films were being made, the OPS launched a major investigation.  In late 1987, the police descended and arrested ‘dozens’ of gay men in the Manchester S&M scene.  Initially, the police were incredulous that the acts depicted on tape were consensual.  In the face of indisputable video evidence, and believing that consent would mitigate charges of committing gross bodily harm, 16 defendants, tops and bottoms, plead to charges of assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

The authorities took 21 months to proffer charges, but eventually proceeded with the legal claim that British case law in a nineteenth century boxing prosecution disallowed consent as a defense against assault charges.  The Spannermen, as they came to be known in the BDSM world, were sentenced to prison terms of up to three years.  Many decided to appeal the case, and the attempted defense of consensual BDSM in Britain would drag on for years.  After losing in appeals court, the case was heard by the equivalent of the British Supreme Court; 5 Members of Parliament from the House of Lords appointed to hear the case in March of 1993.  They refused to overturn the convictions 3-2.  Lord Templeton spoke for the majority in ruling:

"In principle there is a difference between violence which is incidental and violence which is inflicted for the indulgence of cruelty. The violence of sadomasochistic encounters involves the indulgence of cruelty by sadists and the degradation of victims. Such violence is injurious to the participants and unpredictably dangerous. I am not prepared to invent a defence of consent for sadomasochistic encounters which breed and glorify cruelty [...]. Society is entitled and bound to protect itself against a cult of violence. Pleasure derived from the infliction of pain is an evil thing. Cruelty is uncivilized."

A number of interesting arguments were made in criticism of the convictions.  The routine injuries of sports and other dangerous recreational activities ruled legal in England were compared with the degree of actual damage inflicted on the consenting defendants.  The prosecution of defendants as accessories in their own victimization was challenged.  All the defendants claimed that they were ignorant of the possibility that they could have been guilty of assault because they thought consent was a defense, a claim of some justice since the case that it wasn’t was largely constructed during the prosecution and appeals.  And it was observed that acts of equal severity in heterosexual S&M had been ruled as noncriminal because the defense of consent was allowed, thus creating a double standard inherently discriminatory against homosexual activity.
The prosecution also made some rather novel and cogent points, the most important being that police commonly encountered repeated domestic assault cases in which (mostly female) victims would complain, then recant that domestic violence was consensual.  If post traumatic stress or pathological dependency could undermine consent, how were the police to intervene to protect victims of domestic violence?  Furthermore, there were a great many more domestic violence cases at risk than S&M prosecutions.  This argument helped frame the Lords’ decision that the acts depicted in the videos turned on cruelty, rather than autonomy.

By the time the case was referred to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, a number of BDSM organizations in Britain and the US had taken up the cause of fund-raising for the defense.  These organizations, such as SM Pride, and the Spanner Trust, continue today, long after the unanimous adverse human rights court ruling in 1997 that Britain was within its legal rights to make law to protect public morals.  Fund raisers for legal defense are held at many BDSM events. ...

"Normal or Not? A Sexual Attraction to Objects"

on Friday, 31 May 2013. Hits 1347

Live Science

Editor's Note: With the release of the latest edition of the mental-health manual, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM), LiveScience takes a close look at some of the disorders it defines. This series asks the fundamental question: What is normal, and what is not?

Many people would consider a sexual attraction to objects, such as shoes or underwear, abnormal or unnatural. But is it a mental illness? The new edition of the mental-health manual, the DSM-5, offers a conditional answer: It can be, but isn't necessarily.

A fetish may be a multisensory experience as described in both versions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Someone with a fetish may smell, taste, rub or insist that a sexual partner wear the object of their attraction. Often, the fetishist — almost always a man — cannot be aroused without these objects. But the newest edition — the DSM-5 — also classifies intense erotic interest in specific body parts, such as feet or hair, as fetishism.

Fetishism is among a number of unusual attractions, known as paraphilias, that can stray into disorder territory. Unlike the previous version of the manual, the DSM-5 emphasizes the distinction between merely kinky and mentally ill. [Hot Stuff? 10 Unusual Sexual Fixations]

Someone can cross this threshold in a number of ways — for instance, when the attraction causes him significant distress, impairs his ability to function or could lead him to harm others.

The DSM-5 marks this transition by attaching the term "disorder" when an unusual sexual interest crosses these boundaries. So, hypothetically, someone who simply uses shoes to masturbate or whose partner accepts his unusual interest in shoes could be diagnosed with fetishism, but not a fetishistic disorder — unless the fetish crosses the threshold in one of the ways described above.

The label “disorder” is akin to labeling a set of symptoms as a mental illness, which by definition, interferes with normal functioning. ...

"Whips, chains and full of life: BDSM practitioners 'healthier and less neurotic' than 'vanilla' peers"

on Friday, 31 May 2013. Hits 1297

NY Post

The bible of psychiatry says that kinky sex could be problematic, but a new study claims that whips, chains and nipple clamps might actually be good for one's health.

Practitioners of bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism (BDSM) feel more secure in their relationships, have a higher sense of well-being and are less neurotic than people who prefer tamer sex, according to a new study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

Beyond that, members of the BDSM community tended to be more extroverted, were more open to new ideas and were less sensitive to rejection, according to study researcher Andreas Wismeijer, a psychologist at Nyenrode Business University in the Netherlands who conducted the research while at Tilburg University.

"[BDSM practitioners] either did not differ from the general population and if they differed, they always differed in the more favorable direction," said Wismeijer according to LiveScience.

Wismeijer conducted his research by subjecting 902 BDSM practitioners and 434 non-BDSM participants to questionnaires that examined personality, sensitivity to rejection, style of attachment in relationships and overall well-being.

"We did not have any findings suggesting that people who practice BDSM have a damaged psychological profile or have some sort of psychopathology or personality disorder," Wismeijer said.

While the researcher was reluctant to offer explanations for his findings, he did offer a few hypotheses.

For starters, BDSM practitioners tend to have a heightened awareness of their sexual needs and desires, so they might be able to build less frustrating relationships both inside and outside the bedroom when compared with their more "vanilla" peers.

Along the same lines, Wismeijer also suggested that accepting one's unusual sexual preferences and choosing to live in a societal niche like the BDSM community might involve huge amounts of psychological work, which could translate into positive mental health. ...

"The Rumpus Interview with Susan Wright"

on Friday, 24 May 2013. Hits 1658


While working diligently on my historical novel and watching sales of Fifty Shades of Gray skyrocket and take over the mainstream consciousness, I started wondering what in it, beyond the S&M relationship, was so compelling. What did it take to find a breathtakingly large readership—and could I, too, dig into our collective pathos in a way that meant something to so many women? What are women really doing in bed, I wondered. What do they want, and how is Fifty Shades of Gray giving it to them?

So when I heard that the terminology around acts that our culture considers to be “sexually deviant” was being changed in the May update to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), I was curious. The DSM-5 is a field guide for the mental health community and it was being updated this month for the first time in thirteen years. There was considerable noise in the press over how the DSM-5 might newly characterize healthy sex versus deviant sex.

I looked around to understand what appeared to be a very confusing run-up to the May update, and found the activist and author Susan Wright to be the most eloquent commentator on the topic. Susan founded the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF), a national advocacy organization for the BDSM, swing, and polyamory communities, in 1997. I asked if we could talk for an assignment I’d gotten for Details on the subject. But what I was chiefly interested in was writing a book that looked at women and sex in a way that might be counterintuitive.

We spoke on the phone at length one night in April, after my son went to sleep. Our conversation left me humbled. In 1991, when Susan got into the kink community, she got a lucky break to get her first book published. But when her editor discovered she was in a kinky triad with a married couple, he told her that if she wanted to get her book published, she would have to sleep with him, too. “I stood up and walked out,” she said. “It was one of the defining moments of my life, and it sparked the activist inside of me.”

I wanted to get her voice out in the world to color the hard-facts reporting that didn’t dig into the issues deeply enough. Susan had smart things to say about consent versus rape not just in “fringe” communities, but in the sexual lives of people of every persuasion. Her sharply-worded thoughts of media influence on the persecution of alternative sexuality gave me a serious education. But what hit me most was how much we yielded to contemporary notions about sexuality. Sexual deviance is a subjective thing. What was considered deviant decades ago (homosexuality) is no longer so. What’s still unacceptable in some countries and communities (pre-marital sex) is a given in the West.

What is our cultural moment, I wonder. Whatever it is, Susan makes it clear that talking about sex yields a different kind of intimacy than most of us have come to expect.


The Rumpus: Since the third edition of the DSM, the manual defined “non-normative” sexual behavior as “paraphilias,” or sexual deviation. Back then, a “sexual disorder” included homosexuality—and that was removed in 1973. So there are different opinions about what’s considered “deviant” at each cultural moment. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) said they may add “paraphiliac disorder” to the manual to differentiate between healthy people who enjoy kinky sex and those who are mentally ill. How does that sit with you?

Susan Wright: The DSM’s rationale section for each diagnosis includes the APA’s thinking and possible language on paraphilia: clear non-normative sexual behavior that’s practiced by healthy people.” Paraphilia in general has been defined as “non-normative sexual behavior that is not solely focused on the genitals or breasts.” By itself, it doesn’t require psychiatric intervention. That’s different from what they call “paraphiliac disorder,” which is when someone is causing severe distress or inflicting harm upon themselves or others.

Rumpus: The language is cloaked in secrecy until May. What is the main issue?

Wright: How they’re going to define “distress” is the issue. There’s a lot of societal pressure because of the stigma around kinky sex. ...

"Scholars in Bondage"

on Wednesday, 22 May 2013. Hits 1038

Dogma dominates studies of kink

The Chronicle of Higher Education

Once confined to the murky shadows of the sexual underworld, sadomasochism and its recreational correlate, bondage and domination, have emerged into startling visibility and mainstream acceptance in books, movies, and merchandising. Two years ago, E.L. James's Fifty Shades of Grey, a British trilogy that began as a reworking of the popular Twilight series of vampire novels and films, became a worldwide best seller that addicted its mostly women readers to graphic fantasies of erotic masochism. Last December, Harvard University granted official campus status to an undergraduate bondage and domination club. In January, Kink, a documentary produced by the actor James Franco about a successful San Francisco-based company specializing in online "fetish entertainment," premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

Three books from university presses dramatize the degree to which once taboo sexual subjects have gained academic legitimacy. Margot Weiss's Techniques of Pleasure: BDSM and the Circuits of Sexuality (Duke University Press, 2011) and Staci Newmahr's Playing on the Edge: Sadomasochism, Risk, and Intimacy (Indiana University Press, 2011) record first-person ethnographic explorations of BDSM communities in two large American cities. (The relatively new abbreviation BDSM incorporates bondage and discipline, domination and submission, and sadomasochism.) Danielle J. Lindemann's Dominatrix: Gender, Eroticism, and Control in the Dungeon (University of Chicago Press, 2012) documents the world of professional dominatrixes in New York and San Francisco.

These books embody the dramatic changes in American academe over the past 40 years, propelled by social movements such as the sexual revolution, second-wave feminism, and gay liberation. It seems like centuries ago that, as a graduate student in 1970, I was vainly searching for a faculty sponsor for my doctoral dissertation, later titled Sexual Personae, which was—hard to imagine now—the only project on sex being proposed or pursued at the Yale Graduate School. (Rescue finally came in the deus ex machina of Harold Bloom, whose classes I had never taken. Summoning me to his office, Bloom announced, "My dear, I am the only one who can direct that dissertation!") Finding a teaching job in that repressive climate proved even more difficult. By the mid- to late-1970s, however, the gold rush was on, as women's studies programs mushroomed nationwide, partly as a quick-fix administrative strategy to increase the number of women faculty on embarrassingly male-heavy campuses.

Today's market for sex topics is wide open. Major university presses balk at little these days, short of apologias for pedophilia or bestiality, and even those may be looming. However, despite the refreshing candor displayed by the three books under review, a startling prudery remains in the way their provocative subjects have been buried in a sludge of opaque theorizing, which will inevitably prevent these books from reaching a wider audience. Weiss, Newmahr, and Lindemann come through as smart, lively women, but their natural voices have been squelched by the dreary protocols of gender studies.

It is unclear whether the grave problems with these books stemmed from the authors' wary job maneuvering in a depressed market or were imposed by an authoritarian academic apparatus of politically correct advisers and outside readers. But the result is a deplorable waste. What could and should have been enduring contributions to both scholarship and cultural criticism have been deeply damaged by the authors' rote recitation of theoretical clichés.

Margot Weiss, a product of the department of cultural anthropology and the women's studies program at Duke University, is an assistant professor of American studies and anthropology at Wesleyan University. In her absorbing portrait of San Francisco as "a queer Sodom by the sea," Weiss surveys the gradual transformation of BDSM from the "more outlaw" era of gay leathermen in Folsom Street bars of the pre-AIDS era to today's largely heterosexual scene in affluent Silicon Valley, where high-tech workers congregate at private parties or convivial "munches" at chain restaurants with convenient parking lots. During her three-year fieldwork, Weiss became an archivist for the Society of Janus, which was founded in San Francisco in 1974 as America's second BDSM-support group. (The first was the Eulenspiegel Society, founded three years earlier in New York.) She also enrolled in "Dungeon Monitor" training, where she learned safety guidelines for "play parties," including proper use of whips and floggers and the adoption of a "safe word" to terminate scenes. ...

"The Ethics of Extreme Porn: Is Some Sex Wrong Even Among Consenting Adults?"

on Tuesday, 21 May 2013. Hits 1410

The Atlantic

In "What Do You Desire?" Emily Witt travels to San Francisco, attends a shoot for a pornographic video about "women bound, stripped, and punished in public," reflects on her own unsuccessful search for romantic love, and ponders the implications of a sexual culture where no desire is considered off-limits so long as all participants give their consent. She'd prefer love to sexual novelty. But "what if love fails us?" she asks. "Sexual freedom has now extended to people who never wanted to shake off the old institutions, except to the extent of showing solidarity with friends who did. I have not sought so much choice for myself, and when I found myself with no possibilities except total sexual freedom, I was unhappy. I understood that the San Franciscans' focus on intention—the pornographers were there by choice—marked the difference between my nihilism and their utopianism. When your life does not conform to an idea, and this failure makes you feel bad, throwing away the idea can make you feel better."

Her essay is a must-read, with the caveat that it should not be read by anyone who wishes to avoid graphic descriptions of extreme sexual acts. The lengthy descriptions will distress many readers. But the substance of the essay transcends those scenes, as evidenced by the fascinating exchanges it has prompted in the blogosphere. The primary participants (linked in order if you want to follow their thought-provoking conversation as it unfolded) are Rod Dreher, Noah Millman, Alan Jacobs, (Noah Millman and Rod Dreher again) and Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry.

All of them grapple, at least in part, with what our response ought to be to the explicit acts described. Put bluntly, a group of San Franciscans crowded into a basement to watch and participate as a diminutive female porn actress (who consented very specifically to all that followed) is bound with rope, gagged, slapped, mildly electrocuted, and sexually penetrated in most every way. The tenor and intensity of the event can't be conveyed without reading the full rendering. The object of all that abuse describes it afterward as physically uncomfortable at times, but intensely pleasurable throughout. She departs extremely happy and eager to do it again.

Was the consent of all participants sufficient to make the porn shoot a morally defensible enterprise? Alan Jacobs says no. People like the director and actress "are pursuing, consciously or not, absolute degradation, and are publicly debasing sexuality in the process," he writes. "They are immensely destructive to themselves and to others; they becloud the image of God in which they were made." As he sees it, their behavior is uncivilized. If you claim otherwise, he argues, "you have reduced the content of civilization to a single element: consent."

Rod Dreher agrees. Acknowledging that the Marquis de Sade conceived of humiliating and being humiliated for sexual pleasure long before today's San Franciscans, he posits that such behavior is becoming more acceptable due to the absence of a strong moral framework to push back against it. "You can have whatever you desire," he writes. "If you choose hell, then we will call it good, because it is freely chosen, and brings you pleasure." He worries that "the result is chaos and nihilism" and the idea that "the only way to find transcendence is to yield to one's desires." For Dreher, "affirming human dignity, and walling off the most destructive impulses within individual and collective human beings, requires condemning this pornography and perversity."

Yet America's secular individualism offers "no firm ground on which to stand to condemn this barbarism," Dreher continues, and "no basis to call it barbarism." He marvels that history's most free, wealthy people "use their liberty to degrade each other and to choose to be degraded." Why does he care? "I have to live in a world—and, more to the point, raise children in a world—in which perversity like this is available, via the Internet, to more and more people," he explains. "I have to raise children in a world in which human sexuality and the general idea of human dignity is degraded by pornography. I have to live in a world in which utopians are working very hard to tear down the structures of thought and practice that harnessed humankind's sexual instincts and directed them in socially up-building ways. I have to raise my kids in a world that says when it comes to sex, there is no right and no wrong, except as defined by consent."


Before returning to the question, "Are some kinds of sex intrinsically degrading, even if they're consensual?" I'd like to press Jacobs and Dreher on their treatment of consent as a cultural lodestar. It seems to me that they understate its importance and dismiss its adherents without giving them their due. Consent isn't enough to guarantee that sexual behavior is moral. Adultery, the deliberate conception of unwanted children, the careless spread of H.I.V.—all could happen in consensual encounters. As those uncontroversial examples suggest, the people who truly think consent is the only thing that matters in sexual conduct are a tiny minority, even in San Francisco....

Latest Reader Comments

  • I can say definitely yes it can still effect you. As a survivor of sexual abuse and molestation when I was 5 to 12 years of age, and now...


    22. July, 2016 |

  • This has been I can see a long time in coming and I say welcome to it and to these wonderful people who took the step to give this honest...

    M. Wryter

    20. July, 2016 |

  • I was allegedly sexually molested when I was around 13 yrs old. I'm sure years later it still affects me as it is in my sub conscious...

    James Graves

    20. July, 2016 |

  • Well what Lady says does make perfect sense. In experiencing " subspace " both partners can have a shared emotion and being coupled...

    M. Wryter

    07. July, 2016 |

  • We need a tested slave contract that is NOT rejected as a defense from over zealous third party prosecution. I attempted to draft such a...


    28. June, 2016 |

  • It's not time for the marriage laws to recognize anything. It is time for us to get rid of all the marriage laws.

    John Ullman

    25. June, 2016 |