To peruse the General Laws of our fairest commonwealth is to journey back to a Puritanical yore, to a time when “crimes against chastity” apparently weighed so heavily on the legislative conscience as to make matters like fornication and adultery fit for fines and imprisonment (up to three months in jail and a $30 penance for fornication, maximum three years and $500 for cheating).
Granted, Massachusetts and national courts have invalidated many of these statutes with respect to private, consenting adults. As early as 1974, Massachusetts courts held that prohibitions on “crimes against nature” and “unnatural acts” (read: “sodomy”) cannot be applied to private consensual acts between adults, a ruling that anticipated the Supreme Court’s striking down of all state sodomy bans in 2003. While adultery remains a crime, bans on fornication remain virtually unenforced in face of suspect constitutionality. The Commonwealth is also clearly on the national forefront as far as LGBT rights: the Massachusetts Supreme Court paved the way for same-sex marriages in 2003, and the state legislature has extended discrimination protections to cover sexual orientation (1989) and gender (2012).
There remains, however, a considerable “alternative” sexual community that continues to fall outside legal protection or recognition: namely, those involved in BDSM relationships. As in most states, BDSM (a compound acronym–Bondage and Discipline; Domination and Submission; Sadism and Masochism) is technically illegal in Massachusetts: statutes governing assault and assault with a dangerous weapon (such as a whip or paddle) include no caveats for consent.
That is, a dominant partner in a BDSM relationship could be charged with criminal assault even in the face of infallible and unquestioned proof that all acts were by active consent of the submissive.
Members of the BDSM community and advocates for eliminating stigma surrounding BDSM (which includes decriminalization) emphasize the critical role that consent plays, and the difficult terrain inherent in navigating between abuse and consensual play. “This is not about promoting an ‘anything-goes’ mentality,” explains Susan Wright, spokesperson for the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF), which calls for assault law reform. “Consent is certainly a tricky subject. There are issues of coercion, especially in instances of domestic cohabitation, or mental illness and the capacity to consent, such as with cases of bipolar disorder and depression.”
But Wright and other advocates suggest that refusing to address the thornier legal aspects of consent can pose significant danger to actual victims of assault. They point to cases like “Paddleboro,” in which attendees at an Attleboro BDSM party were arrested and charged with assault in 2000 (charges were later dropped), as fostering distrust among members of the BDSM community toward police.
“Because BDSM is so stigmatized, victims are afraid to come forward” when BDSM relationships cross the line into real abuse, according to Wright. Not only might those engaged in BDSM fear criminal repercussions, but also the potential to lose employment or public reputation should they be “outed.” ...
Three panelists convened on Wednesday to dispel what they deemed myths surrounding a controversial sexual practice known as bondage and domination, sadism and masochism (BDSM).
Roughly 40 people filled a room in Linsly-Chittenden Hall to hear clinical sexologist Charley Ferrer and two representatives of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, Judy Guerin and Richard Cunningham, discuss issues relating to BDSM, including safe practices and attributes of what they called the BDSM community. The panelists said people often consider BDSM to be illegal, violent and impersonal, but argued that these are misconceptions and that BDSM can be part of a healthy relationship.
Ferrer, who has written several books on sex, explained that BDSM is about people exploring their bodies and personal preferences — not just about sex. She said many people in the BDSM community do not interact sexually, adding that dominance and submission can be seen as normal components of relationships.
“It is not domestic violence,” Ferrer said. “In [BDSM] you are sharing yourself with someone else and they care about you.”
Guerin, a former executive director of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom — a group that advocates for adult privacy rights — said BDSM is about “comfort with your own body.” Cunningham, the group’s legal consultant said BDSM is not a hidden practice and that the community is open to everyone.
The panelists stressed the importance of practicing BDSM safely and maximizing communication between participants. BDSM practitioners use “safewords,” Cunningham explained, using the word “red” for “stop” and “yellow” for “slow down.”
Cunningham said the BDSM community values consensuality, and Ferrer added that BDSM is “a lot about respect.” ...
Emily and Paul hate when people ask how they met. "Through friends," they usually say, and it's not entirely untrue. What they're leaving out, however, is that those friends are their ex-husband and ex-wife, respectively, and that sometime during orgasm-filled weekends of swinging among the four of them, Emily and Paul fell head over heels for each other, divorced their spouses and lived happily ever after. It's not your typical love story.
Emily was 23 when she married her high school sweetheart, Mark, in 2001. By 2003, the couple was engaging in threesomes with an old college friend, Amanda, unbeknownst to her husband. That husband was Paul. (All names used in this story are pseudonyms.) Eventually, Amanda and Emily roped Paul into the fun by giving him a threesome of his own. And, sometime after that, the couples started switching.
This was a new experience for Paul but old hat for Emily, who'd been living in an open relationship with Mark. It had begun while he was deployed.
"At first, I'd make out with guys, and I'd tell him about it," she says, "and he was, like, 'Eh, whatever.' He'd be upset a little bit, but it was kind of OK. But then I gave him permission to do the same. That's when he started messing around with Amanda," she continues, "which evolved into them having sex."
In other words, no concrete boundaries were set to dictate what would fly in their arrangement and what wouldn't. Instead, it was almost as if each party took turns upping the ante.
To a degree, threesomes with other women had been Emily's way of buying more sexual freedom. "A little bit of it was putting money in the bank," she says. "As in, 'OK, I'll do this for you, but in the future, I want to do things with other guys.'?"
Eventually Paul became the guy Emily did those things with, unaware that his wife had already been a sexual guest in Emily's marriage.
Upon looking back, neither Emily nor Paul can quite remember how he learned the backstory. "I think you told me," Paul tells Emily, causing her to chuckle.
"That doesn't sound like me," she says.
"Well, I think you slipped," Paul replies.
When she did, Paul was angry: at Amanda for cheating, and at Mark — a man he called a friend — for nailing his wife behind his back. But here's the rub: By the time the secret came out, Paul had already developed feelings for Emily. He didn't want to stop seeing her.
Which is, of course, where the waters got extremely murky. Each pair stayed married, but the four continued to swing regularly. It began to run their lives.
"It was all-consuming," Emily says. "It was like drugs."
Why such an addiction? "Because it feels like the first time you fall in love," she says.
Of course, she was falling in love. With Paul. ...
She also knows about Valentine's Day for polyamorists from personal experience. Pincus lives in Northern Virginia with her two children, her husband and one of her husband's girlfriends. Her husband also has one other girlfriend and Pincus has two boyfriends.
It sounds like a complicated group of people to share a box of chocolates and a candlelight dinner with every Feb. 14. Is it?
HuffPost DC:What does it mean to be in a polyamorous relationship?
Pincus: We are open and honest about having multiple relationships with multiple people. My poly family consists of me and my husband. We've been married for nine years. One of my husband's girlfriends lives with us, so she also helps out with childcare and house work, and that kind of stuff. And we also have outside relationships on top of that.
We were non-monogamous for the last four years or so. But we didn't start having real intense poly relationships until about a year ago. I'd experimented with being poly before. For my husband it was totally new. ...
Mistress Bardot and friends take us on an erotic tour
Mistress Bardot slides into the latex nun habit, her gloved hand smoothing the veil against her cheekbone. She emerges from backstage, charmingly steps into the crowd, and greets friends who traveled thousands of miles to see her.
The Mistress begins her ascension to the stage, gracefully parting the kinky people like a sexual sea. Bardot's intuitive eyes scan the room—her beaming, cherry-painted smile hinting at secret pleasures.
She ushers a lucky redheaded schoolgirl to the fore, and enjoins her to kneel. Bardot's bouncy laugh calls attention to the naughty scene about to transpire. The crowd swells with expectation.
Welcome to the Fetish Ball.
There are dozens of fetish groups and organizations in Minnesota, some dating back as long as 40 years. According to FetLife, the global kink social network, there are nearly 12,000 registered fetish practitioners in our state. You wouldn't know it from looking at us, because the citizenry hardly wear their sexual peccadilloes on their long sleeves.
Wright works to dispel stereotypes and fight stigmas associated with the fetish lifestyle. Media coverage of sex is often sensationalized or made out to be a joke, Wright says, and because of antiquated laws, consenting adults with alternative lifestyles aren't protected against discrimination.
If you are adventurous enough to think up something kinky, it's probably happening in Minnesota, maybe right next door as you're reading this.
But this isn't a story about sex. It's a story about love. ...
Not only do dungeons thrive in the East Bay; they're also largely above ground.
East Bay Express
In the old days — "old" meaning pre-Internet — members of the BDSM community had to find one another in newspaper personal ads, using heavily coded language. A hypothetical example: "Leggy blond trapped in body of middle-aged secretary. Really into The Story of O." Nowadays, bondage geeks meet on the web, do PayPal transactions, and even post "dominatrix" as a profession on their OkCupid profiles. Not to mention that some of them actually do subscribe to the term "geek." Many are even out to their friends and families.
The scene certainly isn't what it used to be, particularly in the sexually progressive Bay Area. For one thing, it's gone above ground. Although most BDSM workers still keep mum about the location of their services, they're at least easy to track on the Internet. Most reputable dungeons have websites, and some — like the long-running fetish playground Fantasy Makers — have their own e-stores and gift certificate packages. Many advertise in web portals Eros Guide, while others use local newspapers. Fetishists who want to play for free have an easy time going that route, too. A North Bay-based "daddy" who goes by the name "Big Poppa" said it's pretty easy to meet like-minded people at social events, and arrange play dates on the spot. Moreover, members of the BDSM community often meet through chat forums, Facebook groups, or online dating services, where it's now okay to be up-front about your proclivities.
BDSM work still exists in a legal gray area, since state law prohibits the selling of "lewd acts" — meaning physical contact with genitals, buttocks, or breasts. But many people in the scene have found ways to circumvent the law by prohibiting sex, using coded language, and keeping their brick-and-mortar addresses under wraps. Generally, they also vet the clientele fairly thoroughly, requesting references or a hefty deposit for first-timers. ("Police aren't going to put down $50 just to make an arrest," said one domme who does, indeed, have sex with her clients.) Such precautions have enabled them to render BDSM a viable cottage industry, and by extension, a visible subculture. ...
Sex addiction fuels movies and headlines, but despite this, writes Rachel Hills, it remains poorly understood
If 2011 was the year of the Hollywood hook-up, with casual-sex flicks such as No Strings Attached and Friends with Benefits, 2012 seems set to be the year of the sex addict. Thursday sees the release of Shame, the critically acclaimed portrait of sex addiction starring actor Michael Fassbender. A recent Newsweek cover reported an "epidemic" of the condition, saying it was leaving a trail of destroyed marriages, careers and self-esteem in its wake. Then there is Thanks for Sharing, a new sex-addiction comedy starring Gwyneth Paltrow, due out later this year.
Sex addiction has been a media constant for several years now, thanks to serial philanderers such as Tiger Woods and Charlie Sheen. But the new breed of sex-addiction-fuelled pop culture is darker than its cynical predecessors, concerned with putting the condition on the map as a real and serious illness.
Take Shame, for example. Fassbender's Brandon might be tall and chiselled, but his life is far from enviable. Deliberately isolated, Brandon interacts only with his sleazy boss, his emotionally fragile younger sister (Carey Mulligan), and the carousel of women he brings into his bedroom. Sex comes easily to him when it is paid for or anonymous, but he falters at even the faintest flicker of intimacy. By most people's standards, Brandon has a lot of sex with a lot of different people. But is he an addict? And if so, what does that mean? ...
Proponents of the addiction theory will tell you that their model is morally neutral. Where the tabloids lambast serial cheaters for their sins, those who refer to it as an addiction seek to de-stigmatise the behaviour, explains addiction specialist Robert Mittiga, director of the GATS counselling and treatment program in Adelaide. "It's really not a moral issue. It's a serious illness," he says.
But even medical science isn't value free. Remember that as recently as the early 1970s, the American Psychiatric Association still classified homosexuality as a mental illness. Similarly, deciding who and what qualifies as a "seriously ill" sex addict and what is simply a "healthy expression of human sexuality" means drawing boundaries with highly moralistic implications. How much masturbation is too much? How many partners is too many? Is there a difference between using sex as a panacea for your frustrations and being chemically dependent on it?
Not to mention that the science of sex addiction is contested in itself. The term has been rejected for inclusion in the 2013 edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the psychiatrists' bible. And the sex addiction screening test (SAST), one of the main tools used to diagnose sex addiction, has been criticised by high-profile sex researchers such as Dr Petra Boynton and Dr Marty Klein for being too broad and ambiguous. "All the SAST really diagnoses is high libido," says David Ley.
At times, the long list of types of sex addiction can read like an excerpt from a 19th-century catalogue of sexual deviance. Cheating, swinging and BDSM? All symptoms of sex addiction. Having sex with someone of your own sex when you think you're straight? Sex addiction. Rape and paedophilia? They're often a manifestation of severe sex addiction, too, says Robert Mittiga. Even telling sexual jokes or hugging too much can be a sign that you're a secret sex addict, according to some sources. ...