conversio virium's quest to educate the next generation of BDSM'ers
The Columbia Daily Spectator
Conversio Virium meets every week to teach young kinksters proper and safe BDSM technique, in addition to serving as a safe space to discuss, intellectualize, and joke about the kink scene in New York. For readers not familiar with the terminology, BDSM is an umbrella term for sexual fetishes which incorporate pain and imagined power relations into routines for arousal. BDSM is sexual in nature, though it may or may not include actual sex.
BDSM stands for bondage, dominance/submission, slave/master, and sadism/masochism (see sidebar for a more thorough description), and the act of participating in BDSM is called “scening” or “playing.” CV is a BDSM education stronghold in New York City, known for being a safe and welcoming environment in New York’s larger kink scene, and attracting a diverse crowd, including Columbia undergrads, a sizable grad student population, a solid NYU constituency, and a number of commuters of all ages who travel from as far as Rockland County each week. I spent one month attending CV meetings and interviewing members about their sex lives, their opinions, and learning the norms of their non-normative community. I learned the modern 20-something kinkster is not exactly (at all) Pulp Fiction-Leatherman status, but rather a young, maybe slightly adventurous student or postgrad who procrastinates on FetLife rather than Facebook, and is, on average, very, very satisfied with his or her sex life.
Partially due to the nature of the type of sex they engage in, members of the kink scene repeatedly emphasize the importance of consent and open communication. In bondage, displeasuring one’s partner doesn’t mean failing to achieve orgasm, but possibly causing them undesired physical pain. Kellie Foxx-Gonzales, president of CV and a sophomore in CC, says, “We have such an ethos in the BDSM community. We’re so focused on ethics and consent, and if somebody violates that once, they’re pretty much blackballed from the entire community.”
“Negotiation” is the process of discussing a scene beforehand, what the different participants will do and what they want to get out of it. “Limits”—undesired actions—are discussed, and people are encouraged to know and understand their triggers. During a scene, a “safe word” (which commands someone to immediately stop), is aided by a “red light, yellow light, green light” system, which is used to indicate to a partner how one is feeling about actions in a scene without breaking it too drastically. “Aftercare” is the kinky word for cuddling and emotional and physical first aid. It’s more than just a douche move to skip out on aftercare—like many aspects of a given BDSM scenario, it’s discussed beforehand, and held to a high standard. Dov explains during the demonstration: “You just beat the crap out of somebody, made them have 600,000 orgasms, whipped them until they’ve cried... Now you cuddle them.” It’s a difficult balance between upholding a fantasy (especially one that involves theatrical elements of non-consent or resistance) and communicating feelings—one that can only be safely toed with much preparation and knowledge of a partner’s needs and desires.
CV Vice President Simone Wolff, BC ’13, describes how the physical risks facilitate an awareness that she thinks may even lead to safer practices than “vanilla” (non-kinky, normative) sex. “A lot of people have sex without ever talking about it or thinking about it or educating themselves. … The concept of negotiating sex beforehand is something that I totally learned from the kink community, and I think it can be applied to everything,” she says. ...
NEW YORK — A man had a consensual relationship with a Wisconsin woman who alleges he held her captive as his sex slave for more than a week after she answered an apartment ad on Craigslist, his lawyer said.
John Hopkins, 45, pleaded not guilty to rape and other charges Friday. Police say Hopkins told the 27-year-old woman she could live with him for free in his Brooklyn apartment if she cooked and cleaned when she answered the ad last month.
Hopkins' attorney, Andrew Stoll, said Hopkins and the woman knew each other for two years and had a consensual relationship. The woman even wanted to return to the apartment after Hopkins kicked her out for excessive drinking, Stoll said.
"It stretches credibility beyond the breaking point to say that from the get-go, she was being held against her will," Stoll said. "I cannot imagine there will be a conviction here."
But Assistant District Attorney Christopher Laline said in court that Hopkins "set up slave rules" for her, along with a list of punishments if she disobeyed, including flogging her and chaining her to a radiator, forcing her to drink water and preventing her from using the bathroom, and sexually molesting her.
"This is a heinous crime," Laline said.
The woman eventually e-mailed her mother in Wisconsin, who called police. Officers found her in the apartment on Feb. 12; authorities withheld her name because of the nature of her complaint.
Judge Patricia DiMango denied Stoll's request to reduce Hopkins' $350,000 bail and said that the defendant's alleged treatment of the woman could be considered criminal even if it was consensual.
"At some point, it can change to a situation where no means no," DiMango said. "There comes a time when they're not playful fun anymore and they become dangerous — criminally dangerous."
If he had it to do over again, professor John Michael Bailey says he probably wouldn't allow a live sex demonstration in his human sexualities class at Northwestern University -- but not because he thinks it was inappropriate. A weary-sounding Bailey, reached by phone this afternoon, told me that on principle he stands by his decision to let one guest presenter use a sex toy -- rather unsubtly known as the "fucksaw" -- to bring another presenter to repeated orgasm in front of his students. But he says it simply wasn't worth "the fallout," which has included coverage from every mainstream news outlet from the Associated Press to MSNBC. Following the media pickup, the university's president, Morton Schapiro, issued a statement criticizing Bailey's "extremely poor judgment" and announcing an official investigation.
So why did he allow it to happen? It was part of an optional lecture -- which came with multiple warnings about explicit content -- after his human sexuality class. It featured three guests involved in the BDSM scene who were planning to talk about their kinky lifestyle. It happened that the presenters arrived early during the professor's lecture on the g-spot and female ejaculation, both of which are scientifically controversial. When it came time for the guests' presentation, one of them, Jim Marcus, suggested that he and his fiancée, another speaker, provide a genuine example of female ejaculation right there on the spot. After brief hesitation, Bailey agreed.
"I couldn't think of a legitimate good reason why people shouldn't be allowed to see that, and I still can't," he told me. The students were repeatedly warned about what they were going to see, and those who were uncomfortable with the idea were allowed to leave. The woman took off her clothes and her fiancé got her off with the motorized dildo -- although she didn't actually ejaculate. It took no more than 10 minutes of the hour-long presentation -- but it's getting Bailey his 15 minutes of infamy, and he made clear that he isn't enjoying it one bit.
All of which makes me ask: Aren't we overreacting a bit? It isn't at all unusual for college human sexuality classes to screen scenes from pornographic films and expose students to all manner of edgy, taboo material. Now, there is certainly a difference between watching a video demonstration and witnessing it live in person. With the latter, there's the possibility that the students are participating in the couple's exhibitionistic fantasy -- meaning they weren't merely observers but also participants. Such are the complicated dynamics found in any sort of sociological research. It's also true that watching a video allows for a level of emotional distance that isn't possible with a real-life, real-time act. ...
Did a Northwestern University human sexuality professor go too far when he held an optional live-sex presentation on campus grounds?
On Feb. 21, Prof. John Michael Bailey, a psychology professor known for pushing the envelope, invited students from his human sexuality class to observe a non-student naked woman being stimulated with a motorized sex toy on stage.
About 120 students attended the demonstration, which was curated by Chicago sex tour guide Ken Melvoin-Berg, according to the Northwestern Daily student newspaper.
The University declined to answer questions about the demonstration from NBC Chicago and referred our editors to Bailey, who was unavailable.
The session was billed as a question-and-answer session about fetishes with a demonstration at the end, said Pratik Shah, a senior math and economics student. Students were warned of the nature of the class several times, and some walked out before the demonstration. ...
Claire Glass investigates a new generation of elite college women determined to dominate
New York Press
Kitty, 22, was a theater major at Sarah Lawrence before falling grades and depression led her away from that educational facility and into another. As head mistress at Jezebel's Wall Street Dungeon, Leda taught her to properly swing a whip, for free. Compared with tuition at Sarah Lawrence, the most expensive educational institution in the United States at $60,000 a year, this dungeon discipline may garner more profitable returns for its student body.
Kitty is part of a growing group of college-going women turning to domination since the recession to make a quick buck. Older dominatrices, who spent years honing their craft, warn that the psychological strain of being a dominatrix may drive the money-minded back to nannying. And the looming question may be why some young women, many college-educated at the best schools in the country, are so determined to master what may be their own form of masochism.
"They don't appreciate the art of it," says longtime domme Nina Payne. She speaks in a soft tone that would be just as appropriate for reciting poetry. "Since the recession, people are looking for ways to keep their heads above water, so tons of new girls are coming in and changing the scene." Payne has been working as a dominatrix for the past eight years in Tokyo, London, Australia and the United States. In Australia and London, she says, the average dommes are in their early thirties. Here, her students and colleagues are in their early twenties.
According to Danielle Lindemann, who received her PhD in sociology from Columbia University and wrote her dissertation on dominatrices, long-time dommes all over New York City fear the demise of their craft at the hands of the inexperienced.
"They talked about the difference between real dommes who appreciate it as an art form and undergo training, and the young dommes who see it on the Internet as an easy way to make money," Lindemann says. She didn't approach anyone with this question in mind, but the subject kept coming up. And in Nina Payne's classes, the divide between the experienced and fledgling reveals itself fully.
Payne's students squirm in their chairs like school kids waiting to hear the bell for recess. In her class at CoCo De Mer, an upscale lingerie and sex shop in Nolita, pupils are dressed for the part in Dolce & Gabbana corsets and trench coats. When her students take the reins—or rather, the whips—they're unable to wield them properly. The man hired to work as the night's submissive (another subset of the dungeon economy) winces as a woman in thigh-high boots loses her balance on the upswing, snapping the tip of the whip into his tail bone. "Very dangerous," Payne says. Striking the spine the wrong way can result in serious injury. "It's not as easy as it looks, right?" she asks. There is a sense that confirming this point is a part of the lesson plan. It seems there is a lot to be learned about the dungeon discipline.
Some of the popularity of the profession may be the upsurge of interest in mainstream popular culture. Melissa Febos' memoir Whip Smart, published last year, detailed her many experiences in a Midtown dungeon, and it's not uncommon to see images of women in television, movies and magazines dressed in corsets and ready to use kinky leather and latex implements to satisfy sexual partners.
Kink community worried about state legislator’s attempt to curb domestic violence
San Diego City Beat
It’s not as if California’s gimps, leather daddies and dominatrices are going to march on the state Capitol, but the kink and fetish lobby will send a letter to Sen. Christine Kehoe, a Democrat who represents parts of San Diego, about a piece of legislation that could inadvertently clamp down on their fun.
On Feb. 16, Kehoe introduced SB 430, which would create new categories of violent crime—attempted strangulation and suffocation. Both felonies would be punishable by mandatory two, three or four years in prison, plus an extra two years if the perpetrator is in a relationship with the victim.
The intent is to crack down on domestic violence, but, because of the bill’s wording, the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) says the legislation could have the unintended consequence of criminalizing a range of intense sexual activities, especially within the scope of “breath play.”
SB 430 defines “strangle” as to “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly impede the normal breathing or circulation of the blood of a person by applying pressure on the throat or neck.” The definition of “suffocate”—“intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly impede the normal breathing of a person”—could have the greatest impact on BDSM practitioners, since even milder sexual practices, such as face-sitting and the use of leashes, gags, gas masks and hoods, can impede breathing.
What makes the bill especially dangerous to sexual liberties is it specifically states prosecutors do not need to prove intent to cause harm in order to secure a conviction. However, Kehoe’s office tells CityBeat that the law would only apply to perpetrators who “willfully and unlawfully” strangle or suffocate another person. This language, they say, would exempt legal activities, such as wrestling teams, from prosecution.
Susan Wright, national spokesperson for NCSF, says that doesn’t go far enough and the bill should explicitly exempt consensual activities.
“We would want to them insert ‘non-consensual,’ so it wouldn’t be misinterpreted by people whose standards are different from ours in terms of what they believe people do,” Wright says. “Some people like intensity with their sex.”
Even though Kehoe may have noble motives, Wright says, the bill could give sexually conservative prosecutors a tool to persecute those who engage in bondage, sado-masochism, domination, leather play and other kinks.
“Point taken,” Kehoe told CityBeat. “We haven’t heard from that community, and we’ll have to deal with their concerns when we hear more about it.”
The NCSF is currently evaluating laws in every state as part of its “Consent Counts” project to identify places where consent is not a defense to assault and battery. Wright points to the famous 2000 “Paddleboro” case in Attleboro, Mass., where prosecutors pursued criminal charges against individuals caught using wooden paddles at a sex party. The organization also supported the defense of the “San Diego Six,” the members of the “pansexual leather / BDSM fetish group” Club X who were prosecuted for various lewd-acts-in-public charges related to a fetish party in 1999. Eventually, then-San Diego City Attorney Casey Gwinn dropped the charges against five of the defendants. The other defendant won a not-guilty verdict. ...
The Kinsey Institute at Indiana University estimates that as many as 4 million Americans participate in some form of group sex or couple swapping. With its welcoming beaches, year-round sunshine, and fine appreciation for vices, South Florida has become the mecca of swinging in this country. Couples make sexual pilgrimages here from points all over the world. At least four different swinger cruises depart from South Florida every year. While swingers anywhere can connect through websites and classified ads, South Florida has five on-premises sex clubs (four in Broward, one in Miami-Dade, none in Palm Beach) catering to a variety of different lifestyles.
The owner of Club Hedonism is a large Italian man in his 60s named Franco Monte. He can be found striding through his club with purpose, wearing black slacks, a black shirt, and a thick gold chain. His employees are diligent, because they know he's a perfectionist and they dare not upset him. Every inch of the club must be spotless. Every employee must embody a delicate blend of attentiveness and discretion. He says he wants people to think of his place as "the swingers' club where everybody knows your name." Like Cheers — but where the characters have sex with one another.
Clark County has tightened its code regarding “sex clubs” after a U.S. District Court judge found last summer that the county’s existing ordinance was unconstitutionally vague.
The county commission, acting as the zoning board, approved an updated ordinance from the district attorney’s office earlier this month.
Clark County spokesman Dan Kulin said the new language would allow the district attorney’s office and Metro Police to more effectively prosecute cases against alleged sex clubs, which are illegal in Clark County.
The rephrased ordinance “will make it easier for businesses and law enforcement going forward,” he said.
The new ordinance eliminates unnecessary language and provides a more detailed definition for “live sex act,” among other terms — all at the suggestion of U.S. District Court Judge Kathleen Delaney, who in August decided the Clark County Code was “unconstitutionally vague.”
Delaney was ruling in a lawsuit between the county and Borchers Family Trust, the owners of the Red Rooster, 6405 Greyhound Lane. The county declared the operation a chronic public nuisance in December 2008, and its owners sued in response in January.