Elaine O’Hara was killed by a man with whom she was involved in a BDSM relationship. As a BDSM participant myself, I wonder if we can continue to deny any links between kinky sex and wider societal abuse of women
by Emer O'Toole
In Dublin, Graham Dwyer, a married architect, has been convicted of the murder of Elaine O’Hara, a childcare worker with whom he was engaged in a BDSM relationship. The motive was sexual gratification. O’Hara was vulnerable, suffering from mental health issues, and Dwyer exploited this, banking on the likelihood that her disappearance would be read as suicide. He hid evidence of the murder at the bottom of a reservoir. If it were not for 2013’s unusually hot, dry summer, that’s where the truth would have remained, and Dwyer would be walking free.
A woman is dead: another victim of intimate partner violence. And treating her death with due respect should mean an examination of the social context that allowed a man to convince a woman that his sexual desire to stab and kill her was within the bounds of the acceptable. It should mean attention to the cultural mainstreaming of BDSM.
On Valentine’s Day this year, Universal Pictures released its film adaptation of EL James’s erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey. Back in 2012, The Guardian asked me to review the book to mark the sale of its ten-millionth copy. I kept it light – riffing on James’s infamously terrible prose and characterisation, and musing as to whether the far-away film version wouldn’t leave us feeling a little less glib and little more, well, worried. The day is come, and I admit a heavier feeling. What is, at heart, the tale of an abusive relationship in which a reluctant, inexperienced and infatuated young girl is controlled and beaten by a rich sadist, is now being offered up as a sweet Valentine’s Day treat for naughty couples.
BDSM communities have been quick to distance themselves from Fifty Shades, and, indeed, from any beliefs or behaviours incompatible with informed, enthusiastic and uncoerced consent. This is because BDSM communities are often, in my experience, very politically switched-on places. However, it’s also my experience that kink communities are reluctant to acknowledge problems with the ideologies underlying their sexual practices, focusing instead on the pleasure or relationship benefits to be gained from BDSM.
I’m making this critique not as a judgmental outsider, but as someone who participates in BDSM behaviours and events and understands the excitement to be found therein. I’m making this critique not as a kink-shamer, but as a challenge to myself: what are my reasons and justifications for inviting or accepting male sexual violence? And, at this point in history, when kink is becoming ubiquitous, I’m calling on all responsible, egalitarian kinksters to take a step back from personal desire and pleasure and ask similar questions.
We live in a sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist society. This gross fact informs our identities, our beliefs and our desires: it’s part of us at the most fundamental cognitive level. A prevalent theory in kink communities is that BDSM creates a sandbox or play space around impulses that have their roots in sexism or other prejudice, consensually mirroring non-consensual societal power dynamics. The sandbox allows role play that expurgates, inverts or otherwise contains hierarchical desires. It may give subs control over situations that would – in reality – make them feel powerless, or allow doms to cathartically express violent urges: in short, the sandbox gets it all out of our systems. ...
From the beginning, it was apparent this was a court case like no other.
The jury was informed on the first day that "acts of stabbing" were an "essential part" of Graham Dwyer and Elaine O'Hara's sexual relationship.
For many, "knife play" and "blood play" were foreign terms.
It seemed surprising such an extreme sexual sub-culture could exist in Ireland.
Bondage and sadomasochism are not common terms in the eminently respectable suburbs of Blackrock and Foxrock.
But as details of the trial emerged, it became apparent a thriving Irish BDSM (Bondage, Dominance and Submission, and Sadomasochism) community existed.
The BDSM sex dating site O'Hara and Dwyer met on, alt.com, claims that more than 28,000 Irish swingers, singles and couples avail of its services. Fet life - a sort of Facebook for 'kinksters' - has a 10,000-strong following in Ireland.
There are also regular BDSM master classes run around the country, suspension stage shows in Temple Bar, erotic arts festivals in County Down, fetish nights in Cork.
Despite the details that have emerged during the court case, a degree of mystery continues to surround the BDSM world.
This is partially due to the term BDSM itself - a clumsy umbrella phrase that encompasses a huge range of sexual preferences and persuasions.
It refers to anything from wearing a pair of novelty handcuffs to being hoisted into the air on hooks, or stabbed with retractable blades.
"There is huge variety within BDSM," Beth Wallace, founder of Sex Festival Bliss Ireland, explained. ...
Only 15% of Americans age 18 to 29 would ever consider being in an open relationship, according to a new survey conducted by the Huffington Post and YouGov. That proportion is nearly identical to — not higher than — the numbers for adults age 30 to 44 and 45 to 64.
The survey also found that 18% of 18- to 29-year-olds have been in an open relationship, while only 14% have attended a party where they engaged in sexual activity with multiple partners.
It turns out we young folks might not be as edgy or non-monogamous as everyone assumes. And that's totally OK.
Overexcited headlines: This lukewarm attitude toward open relationships isn't the edgy portrait of millennials the media often paints in articles such as Rolling Stone 's conversation-starting feature on millennials' sex lives. "Millennials realize that they're pushing the boundaries of the sexual revolution beyond what their parents might have expected and their grandparents could even conceive," Alex Morris excitedly reported.
Indeed, Amy Moors, a University of Michigan sex researcher, told Mic, "Questioning the often unrealistic ideals and expectations of monogamy is having a moment right now."
But despite the increased interest in casual sex and hookups, data suggests that millennials are having sex about as frequently as previous generations. And while we're surrounded by a culture that's more sex-positive than ever, the 20-something dating landscape itself might be tamer than we envision.
Moors' research shows that many young men and women have positive attitudes towards open relationships and express an interest in swingers' parties and threesomes, but most couples still don't actually engage in non-monogamy. ...
Private clubs for sexual swinging won’t be allowed to locate within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, daycares or parks in Tennessee.
The state Senate and House each voted resoundingly for the new law Monday night, without a single vote in opposition. The bills still must be signed by Gov. Bill Haslam to become law.
The state law would give Nashville double protection against swingers clubs. Last week, Metro Council passed a zoning change with a similar intent, blocking private clubs from properties zoned for office uses.
Both measures target the efforts of The Social Club, a Nashville swingers club, which planned to move into a former medical office at 520 Lentz Drive in Madison, a property adjacent to Goodpasture Christian School.
A final amendment on the state law specifically targets private clubs that allow participation and viewing of sex acts — a narrowing from prior wording that included all types of private clubs, which are distinguished in Nashville as places governed with membership fees.
The law also does not address adult entertainment venues, which are defined differently. ...
Wayne Boone's nude months run from June to December. You can wear clothes if you want when you visit him, but these are his nude months, and so he'll be naked—it says so right there on his Couchsurfing profile.
Strangers often find themselves in Boone's home in Eastern Passage, Nova Scotia, for a couple days, a week, or longer—over the past seven years, he says, he's hosted more than 500 travelers.
Knock on his door and he'll greet you in a plush blue robe—to appease his neighbors. But once inside, the robe is off.
With Halifax being the most eastern major city in mainland Canada, and because Boone offers drives from the airport and train station to his home, this is the first Canadian house seen by many travelers.
In his living room, an eight-foot wooden cross with steel shackles leans against a wall holding two different dartboards with suggestions for sexual activities instead of points. The room is full of boxes of sex costumes and stacks of books on religion, home repair, gardening, travel, and the Royal Family. On one shelf, books on astrology and numerology sit behind pictures of his children and the four medals he received in the Navy. The room also features a $500 floor-mounted portable stripper pole.
"My neighbors just look at me [when] I'm going to a party—of course I take my stripper pole, I take my cross, I take my massage table and it's, 'Oh, the freak is going somewhere,'" he says with a shrug.
Boone, 55, has hair that is as gray and long as it will ever be. A whisper of brown in the mustache of his Santa beard jiggles when he speaks in his thick Newfie accent, punctuated with coughs from years of chain smoking.
His heavy, tanned body—he tries to spend four hours a day in the sun—is animated at any moment. Swiveling around, he points to the floor where a fabric chair with a rope and trapeze bar sits. ...
The 411: Founded in 1997 and made up of more than 50 businesses, groups, individuals and more, The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom has been the go-to supporter for people who participate in consensual alternative sexual behaviors.
Have you ever been afraid your boss will fire you if he or she found out you like BDSM?
What about your family? Have you been worried they will shun you if they discovered that you and your partner are swingers?
Discrimination and concerns like these are just some of the reasons the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) was formed.
Founded by Susan Wright, the NCSF brings together kink and non-monogamy educational groups, therapists, domestic violence centers and other professionals to stand up for the legal rights and privacy of people who take part in these types of activities.
“Our goal is to fight discrimination against people who are kinky or non-monogamist,” she said.
We spoke with Wright to discuss the organization’s most impactful services, how people can overcome prejudices in their lives and the team’s plan to get all of America, and even the world, involved in the discussion.
Your rights. Your privacy. Your freedom.
The NCSF may be a small nonprofit, but they’re still able to create some incredibly impressive initiatives that make a real difference.
Their one of a kind media outreach program works directly with newspapers, TV stations, online outlets and more to get accurate information out there about alternative sexuality, especially when it comes to consent.
“Consent is at the heart of what we do, and you have to make sure that you have consent ahead of time. In this day and age, people look at sex as you make the move and see if you get a no,” she said. “With kink, you can’t do that. You actually have to verbalize what you want first and then be able to speak it and map out the game you’re going to play before you start playing it.” ...
The Tom of Finland Foundation has collaborated with artists and designers to satisfy a new generation of collectors.
From Michelangelo to Rauschenberg, gay artists can be found at any major museum. Meanwhile, Tom of Finland’s “dirty drawings” of bulging bikers, lumberjacks, and leathermen seemed forever confined to the back rooms of gay bars — not the hallowed halls of white-walled galleries. But a new window display at Colette Gallery on one of Paris’s most fashionable streets is aiming to elevate the work from hardcore to haute. The new exhibition of Henzel Studio’s luxury handmade rugs — which will also feature designs by Nan Goldin and Richard Prince — is the result of the tireless efforts of the Tom of Finland Foundation to promote the artist’s legacy.
But the trend doesn’t stop with pricey tapestries. With gallery exhibitions, linens, a line of athletic apparel, and a new biopic about the artist in the works, we’re experiencing a full-blown Tom of Finland renaissance.
“We just received a beautiful letter from a 21-year-old Polish guy telling us how he discovered Tom in the last year, and how good it makes him feel,” says Durk Dehner, president of the Tom of Finland Foundation. “And we could have gotten that letter in 1976 or 2006. It’s what made me work with Tom to start this: listening to young guys who said his work gave them a positive identity — that they weren’t the only gays in the village.”
Dehner always knew the work of Tom of Finland (a.k.a. Touko Laaksonen) was special. Inspired by one of the artist’s erotic drawings he saw at the Spike, a New York City fetish bar, in the ’70s, he wrote Tom a fan letter. They became friends, and Dehner helped create the foundation in 1984 in his Los Angeles home, where Tom lived for his last decade. Originally intended to preserve the work of the artist, who died in 1991 at the age of 71, the organization soon expanded to “offer a safe haven for all erotic art in response to rampant discrimination against art that portrayed sexual behavior or generated a sexual response.”
With the motto “Let’s keep it fun,” Dehner threw parties in the ’80s and ’90s to celebrate Tom’s images, but interest began to wane. Then, in 2006, the Judith Rothschild Foundation donated five works to New York’s Museum of Modern Art. “Tom of Finland is one of the five most influential artists of the 20th century,” Harvey S. Shipley Miller, a Rothschild Foundation trustee, said at the time. “As an artist, he was superb. As an influence, he was transcendent.” ...
The Metro Council on Tuesday gave final approval for a zone change that will block a swingers club from relocating to Madison.
The council voted unanimously — without discussion — to disallow private clubs from land zoned for office uses. It's a direct aim at The Social Club, which has sought to move to 520 Lentz Drive in Madison from its location on Division Street.
The final vote on third reading Tuesday came after dozens of opponents had flooded the council chambers two weeks ago to rally against a club they say wouldn't project a positive image of the community.
The club's attorney, Larry Roberts, has threatened a lawsuit against Metro if the city were to block the club's move via zoning.
Meanwhile, state lawmakers have been advancing a separate proposal to restrict private clubs because of the dispute in Madison. Identical bills passed in committees in the Tennessee House and Senate on Tuesday. The state approach would keep private clubs at least 1,000 feet from schools, churches and parks. ...