On Monday the New York Observer ran a sensational story about BDSM sex clubs popping up in the Ivy League. They can be found at Harvard, Columbia and Yale -- all Ivies -- as well as Tufts, MIT and the University of Chicago. The group at Harvard is called Munch.
"The popularity of 50 Shades of Grey has accelerated a mainstreaming of the BDSM subculture already underway — the initials stand for bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism—and the trend has been especially pronounced in our more elite institutions of higher learning," the Observer writes.
E.L. James' bestselling trilogy began as a fantasy, fan fiction written to imagine a version of "Twlight's" characters all grown up and in adult situations. "50 Shades of Grey" and its sequels have engendered other fantasies among readers, some of whom have found an outlet on their college campuses.
The university clubs are intended to be a safe space for experimentation. As the Observer puts it, "the scene’s mantra — 'safe, sane and consensual' — is heard so often it might as well be translated into needlepoint." But sometimes fiction and fact have intersected in uncomfortable ways. A representative from Columbia's group says that for all their safeguards, when it comes to sexual play that involves dominance and submission, the line about what constitutes consent can blur.
A safer way to experience "50 Shades" on campus might be to enroll in a class. One at American University is about the E.L. James trilogy and its cultural importance. The course description reads, "The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy is a publishing phenomenon that has dramatically impacted American culture and sexual health. Using the series as a case study, this course examines the interplay of sexuality, health, public relations and marketing. Topics covered include feminism, addiction, social media marketing, sexual expression versus sexual repression, targeting the mom demographic, domestic violence, literary criticism, and relationship and identity forming." ...
KC Playroom, a swingers club that stopped holding its private parties in a Shawnee industrial building last month, apparently has returned under “new ownership.” And Mayor Jeff Meyers, for one, said the news “disgusts me.”
“We have some great friends who are taking over the KC Playroom so you all can still have a place to party,” the club recently reported on an Internet site it has used to promote previous parties.
The site also announced that a “Fishnet and Heels” party would be held last Saturday night at the club, which it described as being “in the Johnson County area, very close to I-35 and I-435 with hotels two miles from the club.”
The exact location was not provided. But on Saturday night, cars were parked outside the building at 7007 Martindale Road, where previous KC Playroom parties were hosted, and an outdoor smoking area similar to those set up for the previous gatherings was visible.
“I thought that was over with,” Meyers said after learning KC Playroom might be resuming parties at the site, which is within a couple of blocks of a Montessori preschool and several residences.
Meyers added that he had been informed the activities that took place at previous KC Playroom parties went “way beyond dancing.”
“I just don’t know how that could be considered legal myself,” Meyers said. “That’s why there’s been an awful lot of people looking at it.”
The club, referred to as a “sex club” in an email City Manager Carol Gonzales sent to members of the Shawnee City Council in July, has been under investigation by the city for more than a year.
Gonzales said in the July email that following “investigative and legal research,” the city concluded “it is a private use of a privately owned building, therefore subject to building and fire codes, but not other regulations applicable to businesses.”
Three months later, a resident using the name “Bob Smith” emailed city officials to complain that “nothing has been done to have this business licensed and permitted.”
“Mr. Smith, actually quite a bit has been done,” Gonzales responded in an Oct. 24 email. “Other agencies have already been brought in and are also looking into issues that fall within their purview.”
Gonzales added in the email that city officials had been told KC Playroom would close at the end of the year.
Following subsequent media reports about the club by The Dispatch and KCTV5 News, the area business owner who was operating KC Playroom said he would close it immediately. In addition, the Martindale Road space was listed for lease on Craigslist, seeming to indicate that the club would no longer be an issue in Shawnee.
Now that it appears to be back, Ward 4 Councilman Mickey Sandifer said, “I do not like it at all. And I will check into this.” ...
San Francisco may be getting ready to shed its image as a city where anything goes, including clothing.
City lawmakers are scheduled to vote Tuesday on an ordinance that would prohibit nudity in most public places, a blanket ban that represents an escalation of a two-year tiff between a devoted group of men who strut their stuff through the city's famously gay Castro District and the supervisor who represents the area.
Supervisor Scott Wiener's proposal would make it illegal for a person over the age of 5 to "expose his or her genitals, perineum or anal region on any public street, sidewalk, street median, parklet or plaza" or while using public transit.
A first offense would carry a maximum penalty of a $100 fine, but prosecutors would have authority to charge a third violation as a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine and a year in jail. Exemptions would be made for participants at permitted street fairs and parades, such as the city's annual gay pride event and the Folsom Street Fair, which celebrates sadomasochism and other sexual subcultures.
Wiener said he resisted introducing the ordinance, but felt compelled to act after constituents complained about the naked men who gather in a small Castro plaza most days and sometimes walk the streets au naturel. He persuaded his colleagues last year to pass a law requiring a cloth to be placed between public seating and bare rears, yet the complaints have continued.
"I don't think having some guys taking their clothes off and hanging out seven days a week at Castro and Market Street is really what San Francisco is about. I think it's a caricature of what San Francisco is about," Wiener said.
The proposed ban predictably has produced outrage, as well as a lawsuit. Last week, about two dozen people disrobed in front of City Hall and marched around the block to the amusement of gawking tourists and high school students on a field trip. ...
“Sometimes my friends and I stop each other mid-sentence and say, ‘Oh my god, you guys. We go to Harvard. This is so weird,’” Maria, a junior, said recently over Skype chat.
Harvard had been Maria’s dream school for years. (She requested a pseudonym, but not because she’s not proud of her alma mater.) A valedictorian of her New England public high school, she got in on the basis of a 4.0 GPA and started working toward an English major. Last year, she began looking around for some extracurricular activities to enrich her college experience. There were more than 400 student groups to choose from. Maria chose a group called Harvard College Munch. Her goal was to meet new people, to explore something new, maybe to release some of the pressure that comes with trying to compete in an intimidating hothouse of rampant overachievement.
Maria is petite, with honey-blonde hair and brown eyes. They widened as she ticked off a few of the areas she hoped to explore in her free time: “Bondage, handcuffs, ice play…”
Maria is, she said, less a masochist than a submissive. “So a lot of taking orders and stuff like that,” she explained. “I’m really into the whole exhibitionist thing, semi-public places, mirrors…” In addition to educational meetings on campus, Munch has hosted private events where members can get together and “play.” Since joining, Maria’s had a chance to explore some of her fantasies. “I’ve been hit with a riding crop, a belt, a paddle, canes, a flogger … floggers are my favorite.”
The popularity of 50 Shades of Grey has accelerated a mainstreaming of the BDSM subculture already underway—the initials stand for bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism—and the trend has been especially pronounced in our more elite institutions of higher learning. Columbia has a BDSM group. So do Tufts, MIT, Yale and the University of Chicago. Brown, UPenn and Cornell have hosted BDSM educators for on-campus seminars entitled “The Freedom of Kink” and “Kink for All.” It looks like conservatives who have long viewed the Ivy League a bastion of depravity may have a point after all.
But some young members of such groups are finding the subculture is offering them more of an education than they expected, confronting them with serious issues involving consent, disclosure, anonymity, sexual violence, guilt and innocence, crime and punishment.
While the scene’s mantra—“safe, sane and consensual”—is heard so often it might as well be translated into needlepoint, violations of these maxims are common. In the last year, hundreds of people have come forward to describe the abuse they’ve suffered within the scene. The victims are mostly women, and like 50 Shades’fictional 22-year-old Anastasia Steele, many are also young, submissive and uncertain about their boundaries.
In December, and Victoria (not her real name), a 20-year-old English major at an Ivy League school, had decided to skip reading period, apply more makeup than usual and venture on her own to a kinky meet-upshe had read about on FetLife, a social networking service for fetishists. Victoria didn’t have any experience with submissive sex, but she had been drawn to it for years; she sometimes had fantasies about dungeons or about being restrained or embarrassed, and she recalled family trips to Medieval Times having given her an unusual erotic charge.
The meeting was fun. Victoria had interesting conversations about neurobiology and religion and, of course, about kinky sex. It was near the end of the evening when a man walked in whom she recognized; he had tried to form an S&M club on her campus a few years before. Eric had a doughy, impish face and slicked-back hair, and he wore his cell phone in a carrier on his hip. ...
There are a lot of things to find disturbing about GQ's Rihanna profile, featured in its December "Men of the Year Issue"—like how naked she is or how she appears to have used the interview to stage another meeting with Chris Brown, further evidence that the two are back together and juicing the controversy of their reunion three years after Brown assaulted her.
But I admit I'm irritated about something else, too. In the words of writer Jay Bulger:
I ask what turns her on, because I know she'll answer. "I like to feel like a woman," she says. "I have to be in control in every other aspect of my life, so I feel like in a relationship, like I wanted to be able to take a step back and have somebody else take the lead." Do you ever switch things up? I ask. "I could absolutely be dominant," she answers. "But, in general, I'd rather ... How do I say this in like a ... non-X-rated version?" Right. Lastly, any boundaries I should know about? "Love makes you go places you probably wouldn't ever go, had it not been for love. But I think everybody still has their limits."
In the piece, this is the end of a clearly delineated section. And the next describes the night out that ends with Rihanna and Brown's rendezvous at a club. The connection is meant to be clear: Rihanna's preference for submission is the reason she's going back to Brown, going "places you probably wouldn't ever go, had it not been for love."
But submission doesn't have to be about seeking out abuse, be it physical or emotional. Dominance and submission are tools partners can use to negotiate what they want out of a sexual experience or a relationship. That power dynamic still allows for all involved to be safe. Similarly, women who return to partners who abused them aren't necessarily involved in dominant and submissive sexual relationships. ...
MY favorite CASE: A UK sadomasochism case allows us to consider when the state should be allowed to criminalise actions between consenting adults
What is your favorite case?
Many years before the publication of EL James’s 50 Shades of Grey, sadomasochism was slap-bang before the English courts. The case of R v Brown Ors whipped up controversy and undoubtedly left its mark on the issue of consent and non-fatal offences.
In the late 1980s, a group of more than 40 men decided to video themselves inflicting sadomasochistic tortures on each other on numerous occasions at a variety of different locations.
The videos spanned a 10-year period and showed the men engaging in various acts, including beatings and the maltreatment of their genitalia with a selection of instruments such as fish hooks, hot wax, nettles and cat-o-nine tails.
All acts were carried out in private, consensually and for no other purpose than achieving sexual pleasure and gratification.
The videos were copied and distributed among members of the group. Unfortunately for the men, the police came into the possession of these videos.
Some members of the group were charged with unlawful and malicious wounding and assault occasioning actual bodily harm on each other contrary to Offences Against The Person Act.
The trial judge ruled that the accused men could not rely on the defence of consent and the men were convicted in 1990 and sentenced to terms of imprisonment. An appeal against the conviction to the Court of Appeal failed, so the men appealed to the House of Lords.
The question before the House of Lords was, “Where A wounds or assaults B occasioning him actual bodily harm in the course of a sadomasochistic encounter, does the prosecution have to prove lack of consent on the part of B before they can establish A’s guilt under section 20 or section 47 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861?”
The appeal was dismissed by a bare majority of the House of Lords.
Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle, in the majority, held that “in considering the public interest, it would be wrong to look only at the activities of the appellants alone, there being no suggestion that they and their associates are the only practitioners of homosexual sadomasochism in England and Wales”.
Lord Jauncey seemed concerned that others who practised these “rather curious activities” may not be as “controlled or responsible as the appellants are claiming to be”, which could result in wounds becoming septic, the spread of Aids or the “proselytisation and corruption” of young men. ...
The lawyer who represented families in the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry has published another blog post about RCMP Cpl. Jim Brown after the latter filed suit against him, which claims his online posts were “false and defamatory.”
Lawyer Cameron Ward’s post responded to a civil suit filed against him and three others last week that claims several posts on cameronward.com could suggest Brown is “closely and criminally associated with Robert Pickton,” among other serious allegations.
Brown has been headlining media coverage since summer, when many pictures depicting the Mountie in bondage scenes with women were published and resulted in the RCMP initiating a code of conduct investigation. He’s seeking costs for damages and to restrain the defendants from publishing further material about him.
Ward, meanwhile, has been adamant that Brown should have testified at the Missing Women’s Inquiry and has called for an inquiry reopening to question Brown’s links to a Pickton informant.
“If he had been called as a witness, Cpl. Brown could have explained whether his off-duty interest in ‘bondage, discipline, sadism, masochism, fetish and kink’ had anything to do with the Mountie’s foot-dragging and inaction,” he wrote on his Monday post.
“Too many lingering questions remain unanswered.” ...
Rumor had it that Fifty Shades of Grey would generate a brand new baby boom that would surpass even the one created by World War II. While that remains to be seen, E.L. James' "mommie porn" novels have spawned a bizarre new fashion line--for babies. No, that's not a misprint. A new line of 50 Shades of Grey-inspired baby clothes has just hit the Internet. And probably a few select retail stores as well. However, before prudes and haters faint dead away after conjuring nightmarish visions of infants clad in black leather jammies, stilletto booties, and bondage harnesses with tiny detachable handcuffs, the novels' BDSM theme is manifested on the clothing only in the form of words. The outfits themselves are quite normal--tops, bibs, bonnets, jammies--all emblazoned with funny "Fifty Shades-inspired taglines."
"I'm a product of 50 Shades of Grey," reads a cute pink onesie, while another proudly states:
"I'm the result of my Mommy reading Fifty Shades of Grey."
An identical white onesie conveys the same message a trifle more explicitly. "9 months ago," it reads, "my mommy read Fifty Shades of Gray."
Still another explicit message on a tiny sweatshirt top proclaims: "My mommy pretends Christian Grey is My Daddy."
Yikes. Does that mean Daddy pretends Mommy is Anastasia Steele?
Other catchy Fifty Shades-related phrases include a "Laters, Baby" onesie so called after Christian's signature phrase; a bright yellow bib stating "I'm 'LiL Blip' Thank you 50 Shades of Grey", and a "Generation Grey" tee-shirt that comes with a bizarre accessory--a tiny checkered/plaid tie. The little tie is a free gift. Presumably it's also a clip on. ...