For connoisseurs of BDSM porn, San Francisco's Kink.com has built up a reputation that makes them the sadomasochistic equivalent of Ben & Jerry's ice cream. Fans of the company's sites look to them not only for high-quality porn that caters to a wide variety of fetishes, but for an explicit ethical code. As cultural messages directly equating "sex work" with "trafficking" become stronger, Kink.com has established itself as the Good Guy of porn, where the models are there because they want to be and are able to stay safely within their personal limits.
These are not vague promises on Kink.com's part: On its website, there's a nine-point list of model's rights that includes the right to safewords, sanitized toys, condoms, and STD tests. An even more detailed list of rules for shooting includes strict guidelines that prohibit directors from pressuring performers to go beyond their stated limits and outlines safety measures for specific kinds of scenes. Thanks to policies like this, many in the local BDSM and fetish communities regard Kink.com as one of their own, a remarkable achievement in a town as anti-corporate as San Francisco.
But now, as a labor dispute heats up at the company's cam site, KinkLive, some people are taking a second look at that reputation. Maxine Holloway, a local artist, activist, and adult performer, is alleging that she was fired from KinkLive last month when she tried to organize her fellow performers in opposition to changes in the payment policy that would eliminate minimum payments for each shift in favor of a commission-only plan. The new plan, according to Holloway and her supporters, would amount to a drastic reduction in wages for most of KinkLive's performers.
According to Holloway, she was fired from Kink.com immediately after she started trying to get KinkLive models to sign a letter protesting the new system of payment. Peter Acworth, CEO of Kink.com, denies that she was fired at all, instead saying that she was asked to take a temporary leave. "It was only a temporary thing," Acworth says. "We asked her to take a break because her shows had turned nonprofitable. If she's no longer on the site for a while, then she comes back, maybe it'll be a different story." According to Acworth, Holloway has already been invited to perform on KinkLive at the end of June. She acknowledges the invitation, but says she received it only last week, after the situation had gone public. ...
With a place atop the New York Times bestseller list, a $5 million movie deal and endless media coverage, "Fifty Shades of Grey" has become a cultural phenomenon. Just as countless romance novels have done for decades, the book has hit a sweet spot for women from all walks of life. But men are not immune to the effects of "Fifty Shades." Some couples are crediting the book with spicing up their sex lives, and maybe even saving their marriages.
The book's author, E.L James, talked about the positive feedback in an interview with the Daily Mail. "One older woman sent me an email saying, 'You're waking the dead here,'" James told the Daily Mail. "Another woman wrote and said, 'You've spiced up my marriage. My husband wants to thank you, too.'"
With sex toys flying off the shelves and BDSM (that's an acronym for Bondage, Discipline, Sadism and Masochism -- for you vanilla folks) becoming more accepted, it's clear men aren't going to escape the "Fifty" craze untouched (in fact they may end up with a few bruises).
For those that have (somehow) managed to remain in the dark about "Fifty Shades of Grey," the book follows a 21-year-old virgin, Anastasia Steele, who agrees to become a gorgeous 27-year-old billionaire's submissive. Christian isn't so much a character as he is a projection of every woman's dream (or, rather, every insatiable woman's dream.) He's enigmatic, charming, and irretrievably smitten with Anastasia. Over the course of three books ("Fifty Shades Darker" and "Fifty Shades Freed" round out the trilogy) he doesn't watch a single televised sporting event or stand her up to go drinking with his friends. In fact, Christian has no friends. His every waking moment is devoted to the sexual gratification of his paramour. The words "not tonight" just aren't in his vocabulary. He's unendingly ready to have passionate, primal sex with her ... sometimes moments after he's just had passionate, primal sex with her.
You could view the "Fifty Shades" phenomenon as a kind of post-feminist victory: Finally, men are being held to the same unrealistic standards that women have been. Much like "Twilight" (which inspired "Fifty Shades"), the sensual story presents an idealized, unattainable, romantic partner who has little in common with our real-life husbands and boyfriends. But instead of choosing to live in a fantasy world, many women are trying to incorporate the racy role-play of "Fifty Shades" in their own lives, with their own partners.
Hardware stores and sex shops have seen a dramatic spike in business from women stocking up on bondage accessories. New York's "Babes in Toyland" has had a 30% increase in overall sales since the books became popular. Certain products like bondage tape have seen a whopping 1500% increase in purchases, according to a CBS New York report.
It feels safe to assume that women aren't intending to test drive their new purchases alone. "Between sex shops and Home Depot, sales have really picked up," said Kim, the manager of the popular adult store Eve Garden in New York -- which has enjoyed a boost in sales. "A lot of costumers have come in looking for specific products that appear in the books." ...
A few weeks ago, I heard the sort of whispered murmurs in my local bookstore that are reserved solely for people who want to buy books that they don't want other people to know they are buying. Furtive glances and giggles echoed back as happy customers walked out the door, peering into the brown paper bags containing such worthwhile literature.
Interest piqued, I asked the clerk what book the women had purchased.
I was a bit late to the party, admittedly. The novel came out last year and has since drummed up a tremendous amount of attention. A British author named E.L. James penned it as "Twilight" fanfiction at first, then rewrote it with original characters. It tells the story of a young, inexperienced woman and an older man with a taste for whips and chains. It's like the "Twilight" craze all over again, but with less supernatural creatures and more bondage gear.
I thought I got why everyone wanted to slink out of the store with this book. I spend plenty of time appreciating Japanese and Korean male idols, and I love their sexy photo shoots. "Fifty Shades of Grey" has lots of titillating themes: hot people having hot sex, wish fulfillment, virgin and master. What's not to like?
But I read it. And I just don't get it.
Christian Grey, the novel's central male character, is already a popular heartthrob, despite the fact that fans haven't seen his face outside of their imaginations. And when some hopelessly sexy actor plays him in the film adaption, Grey will skyrocket off the charts as the hottest fictional dude since Edward Cullen.
So why is this guy in so many women's fantasies? And what's the big deal about "Twilight with sex," as "Fifty Shades of Grey" has commonly been called?
Part of the answer lies in fanfiction itself, and the fans that create and consume it. ...
In my San Francisco, it’s not uncommon to know someone who identifies as polyamorous, or who participates in multiple loving and intimate relationships.
In fact when I talked to Pepper Mint, conference organizer for OpenSF, he told me that the non-monagamous community in the Bay Area has finally reached a critical mass. His reasoning? Over the weekend of June 8, Open SF was attended by over 500 of the poly-curious and practicing.
As his community expands, Mint thinks it is necessary to recognize the multitude of voices that compose polyamorous San Francisco. “I feel it is important to highlight our similarities while acknowledging our differences,” he told me as we sat on the floor outside of one of the many conference rooms at the Holiday Inn where OpenSF was in full swing around us.
The weekend started with the Pink play party at Mission Control. There was a keynote address from trans-identified sex educator Ignacio Rivera and trans-gendered health educator and social justice activist Yoseñio V. Lewis. The two also hosted a lecture entitled “Kink, Race, and Class.”
The lecture sought to inspire dialogue about how race, racism, and class appear in the world of kink. It was one of many unique talks over the weekend that both celebrated and critiqued the diversity and spread of the polyamorous community. Other offerings available to OpenSF attendees included “Sex Work and Non-Monagamy,” “Fat Sluts, Hungry Virgins,” and “Trans-Queering Your Sex.”
In another hallway that weekend, Sonya Brewer -- who facilitated the “Cultivating Healthy Boundaries” lecture on Sunday -- suggested the conference was well attended due to Mint’s effort to include a diversity of individuals, including sexual minorities and other oppressed groups on the planning committee. Brewer, a somatic psychotherapist and queer woman of color, has been a practicing polyamorist for 15 years. ...
A Swedish mom has a face that is 50 shades of red ever since police came across a secret sex chamber she set up at an abandoned military bunker near the town of Nordmaling.
Last Friday, two fisherman came across the old bunker and discovered what appeared to be either a garden of earthly delights complete with a silk-sheet laden bed, ropes, dildos and leather items -- or a crime scene.
The fishermen immediately reported their find to local authorities, and once word got out about the sex chamber, Swedish language newspaper Aftonbladet reported "a hard-working single mum in her 40s" came clean about her booty call bunker.
It seems the woman -- who is calling herself "Lena" -- set it up for trysts with a man she dated a few times. With news of her hideout becoming public, she decided to get in touch with the Swedish paper in order to clear up any misunderstanding.
Experienced bondage buffs said the incident proves that the "D" in "BDSM" stands for discretion as well as discipline.
Dee Severe, a filmmaker whose company Severe Society Films specializes in fetish films, said people who are interested in exploring BDSM need to think about how they will react if their lifestyle becomes public knowledge.
"Think people are narrow-minded about gay rights? Their reaction to BDSM is three steps further," Severe told The Huffington Post. "People need to gauge how family and friends might react and then decide how secretive you need to be."
Bo Blaze, who teaches classes to wannabe S&M'ers, said that the success of the book "50 Shades Of Gray" has gone a long way toward making the BDSM lifestyle mainstream, but there is a still a long way to go.
"You have to be careful and realize there is discrimination," he told The Huffington Post. "People don't understand that BDSM is consensual and not abuse." ...
Yesterday we heard from a resident of one of the luxury condos that have recently gone up along the High Line on formerly desolate West 28th Street. He told us about how the new residents are trying to shut down the Folsom Street East festival, now 16 years strong in Chelsea. I got in touch with Susan Wright, Media Liaison for Folsom Street East, and asked for her response.
Q: What was your initial reaction when you found out from my blog that the new condo residents of West Chelsea have been organizing against Folsom East?
A: We were surprised because we haven't been contacted by anyone. Folsom Street East is a community event, and is eager to work with the neighbors. We observed certain issues last year, so one of the ways we have adjusted the fair this year is to provide a 5-foot-wide sidewalk along the buildings that goes from 11th Avenue down to the condos at 540 W. 28th Street. That way residents don't have to walk through the attendees in the street. They will be able to walk alongside the buildings and enter their own home as usual.
Q: Residents are petitioning the Community Board to eliminate or move the fair. Has anyone ever complained directly to the organizers of Folsom East?
A: Folsom Street East has not received any complaints from anyone about the fair.
Q: How do you respond to the people in the new condos who don't want to see nudity and "lewd" acts from their windows? Or who don't want their children to witness the fair?
A: The attendees at the fair must follow our Code of Conduct, and that includes no lewd acts or full nudity. Attendees are allowed to wear street-legal clothes, which in NY city is fairly liberal, as it should be. There are some entertainment pieces that take place on the stage, at the other end of the block, that enter the "burlesque" realm, but legally it doesn't fall into the "lewd conduct" category. Security volunteers are in place to be sure that all the rules are followed by the attendees. ...
Last year, when the second part of the High Line opened, I wondered how long the sex-positive Folsom Street East festival would survive on West 28th, now that the once-desolate block has become a destination for tourists and condo-buyers. Soon after, I looked at the arrival of massive condo-box Avalon West Chelsea, coming to the same block, right across the street from the Eagle gay leather bar, and predicted that the Eagle would not last much longer, either.
As we come up on the 16th annual Folsom East fair this weekend, we hear from an anonymous resident of 540 West 28th (the +ART building) that those dire predictions may already be coming true. Folsom East and the Eagle, he tells us, are not long for this rapidly changing world.
Construction began on the +ART building in 2008, when there was nothing on that block except for a gay bar, a strip club, a scrap yard, a truck yard, and some autobody shops. Our anonymous interviewee has lived there for the past year. He bought the condo because he, like many of his neighbors, was attracted to "the building, view of the river, wide open space, proximity to Chelsea Piers, High Line, and the Hudson River Park."
I asked him some questions and he provided us with an inside look into how the new condo dwellers of the High Line are forcing change on the once-wild, westernmost hinterlands of Chelsea.
Q: What is the prevailing opinion about the Folsom East fair among your neighbors--how do people talk about the fair?
A: It's a mixed bag. The primary issue is the zero access to the building without walking through the fair itself where lewd conduct and nudity isn't uncommon. Those with children find it particularly difficult.
Q: In what way have the neighbors organized, and what is your goal in terms of the fair--do you want it to stop running, move to another block? What are the neighbors doing to meet this goal?
A: Residents from several surrounding buildings have passed fliers asking our residents to write to the Community Board to relocate or totally eliminate Folsom Street East because "fetish" fairs shouldn't be allowed so close to so many residential buildings. There's word that a petition of some sort will be circulated but I'm not exactly sure what the details are.
A letter was written to the Community Board asking how they can assure residents access to the building without having to walk through the fair itself. Another suggestion was to move it to the next block where it's bordered (for now) by commercial on two sides, Con Ed to the north, and West Street.
The primary issue for us at 540 W 28th isn't the Eagle or even Folsom Street East. It's allowing residents access to the building without having to go through the fair itself. Other residents of the surrounding buildings and even my own building may have additional concerns with regard to the lewd conduct and nudity in full view from their units. ...
I'm worried about this country. "Fifty Shades of Grey" is the No. 1 best seller? Is this another example of the dumbing down of America?
The Wall Street Journal
I don't read romance novels anymore, so until the "Fifty Shades" trilogy became the fiction du jour, I was unaware of a relatively new and popular subgenre known as erotic romance or romantica. Now, having read the first of E.L. James's novels, I confess to being somewhat baffled by the appeal of a romantic hero who, while filthy rich and preternaturally handsome, gets sexual pleasure from beating his girlfriend with a belt.
"Fifty Shades of Grey" actually belongs to a subgenre of romantica that involves consensual sexual relations between dominant and submissive partners (sometimes called BDSM for bondage, discipline, sadomasochism). In Ms. James's books, the dominant partner is Christian Grey, "the richest, most elusive, most enigmatic bachelor in Washington State." His prey is Anastasia Steele, a newly minted college graduate who describes herself as mousy, wide-eyed and uncoordinated and whose idea of cussing is "Holy hell," "Holy Moses," "Holy cow" and "Holy crap." She might have a hot body—Christian Grey certainly thinks so—but her bulb is strictly low-wattage. Not to mention that she managed to get through four years of college not only without her own computer but without even an email address.
Unlike the librarians of Brevard County, Fla., who temporarily removed all 19 copies of "Fifty Shades" from their shelves to protect their borrowers' sensibilities, I say if women want to read about getting tied up and hit, that's none of my business. But the popularity of these books did make me wonder if there's something in the culture now—or the water?—that draws women to fantasies of submission.
In an article in "Psychology Today," a sex therapist, Sari Cooper, points out that "subs" and "doms" are nothing new and that throughout history, men and women have occupied both roles. In Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's 1870 novella "Venus in Furs," for example, it is the man who desires domination by a woman. (The novella has been adapted as a play, "Venus in Fur," now playing on Broadway.) Ms. Cooper warns against looking at "Fifty Shades" through a "socio-political lens"; this is an "adult form of play," she says, that often takes place only in fantasy.
Fair enough. Yet there's something deeply unsettling about Christian Grey being a romantic hero for contemporary women. Talk about the man in the empty suit. Grey may have luxuriant hair and other robust body parts, but his only topic of conversation is himself and his feelings. He doesn't go to movies, bars or the gym, he doesn't watch television, read, discuss current events or have friends. He plays the piano, but only "oh-so-sad music." When pressed about his boyhood, he describes his mother as a "crack whore."
The question of why E.L. James has reportedly sold some 10 million books in the U.S. alone has been chewed over by many cultural commentators and psychologists. Some have theorized that so-called mommy porn appeals to women who wish their partners would take charge in the bedroom. In a 1973 article in "Psychology Today," a researcher, E. Barbara Hariton, concluded that "force" fantasies are not about rejection or abuse, but "appear in dominant and independent women" who imagine themselves desirable and attractive. The "Fifty Shades" books, some psychologists say, give women permission to express their sexual desires without shame. ...