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"Majoring in Kink"

on Tuesday, 15 March 2011. Posted in Media Updates

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. ...

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