Tag Archives: BDSM

1st Annual AltSex NYC Conference 2016—10 Days Left for Regular Registration

Hello Friends, Colleagues, and Community!

I couldn’t be more excited to be involved in organizing and producing the 1st Annual AltSex NYC Conference on April 22, 2016 alongside Dr. Michael Aaron. Please see the stellar line up of speakers below, and note that the best time to buy tickets is now, before regular registration ends and prices go up on April 1.

Please also note that the conference has officially been approved by New York State for 6.5 social work continuing education credits, and also by AASECT for 6.5 continuing education credits.

If you have obligations that will keep you from attending the conference in person, you can attend remotely via live streaming, which is also eligible for continuing education credits.

Cheers,

Dulcinea

1st Annual AltSex NYC Conference

Friday, April 22, 2016
8:15am – 5:15pm

Midtown Manhattan
CEs available*

Introducing the 1st Annual AltSex NYC Conference—where clinicians, academics, and alt lifestyle community members will come together for a full day of sex-positive, alternative lifestyle affirmative, cutting edge research-based,  and current practice-informed seminars and discussions presented by a stellar collection of New York City educators and mental health providers.   

LIVE STREAMING (WITH CE’S) IS AVAILABLE FOR REMOTE ATTENDEES! 

8:15AM — Welcome Address

8:30AM — Keynote Address by Margaret Nichols, PhD
“Kink is Good: BDSM in the Context of New Models of Sex and Gender Variance”

10:05AM — Zhana Vrangalova, PhD
“Myths and Realities of Consensual Non-Monogamy”

11:05AM — Dulcinea Pitagora, MA, LMSW and Michael Aaron, PhD
“The Kink-Poly Confluence: Community Intersections and Clinical Approaches”

12:05PM — Lunch Break

1:20PM — Michael Aaron, PhD
“Facing Your Shadow: The Healing Potential of Psychological Edge Play”

2:20PM — Rosalyn Dischiavo, EdD, CSES
“Metamorphosis: Braving Transitions in Polyamorous Relationships”

3:30PM — David Ortmann, LCSW
“Age Play: Eros, Practicality, and Walking the Edge”

4:30PM — Panel Discussion & Final Words (optional)

produced by
Michael Aaron, PhD and Dulcinea Pitagora, MA, LMSW

*PROGRAM APPROVED: The AltSexNYC Conference has been approved by the New York State Education Department’s State Board for Social Work as a continuing education provider (# 0314) for licensed social workers. 

*PROGRAM APPROVED:  This program meets the requirements of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) and is approved for 6.5 AASECT CE Credits. These CE Credits may be applied toward AASECT certification and renewal of certification.

A portion of the AltSex NYC Conference proceeds will be donated to the Community-Academic Consortium for Research on Alternative Sexualities (CARAS) in appreciation of their continued dedication to supporting and promoting excellence in the study of alternative sexualities. 

For more information, visit AltSexNYCconference.org.

Midtown Manhattan

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Early Registration Opens for the 1st Annual AltSex NYC Conference!

EARLY REGISTRATION IS OPEN! REMOTE STREAMING IS AVAILABLE!

AltSex NYC Conference

Friday, April 22, 2016
8:15am – 5:15pm

Midtown Manhattan
CEs available*

Introducing the 1st Annual AltSex NYC Conference—where clinicians, academics, and alt lifestyle community members will come together for a full day of sex-positive, alternative lifestyle affirmative, cutting edge research-based,  and current practice-informed seminars and discussions presented by a stellar collection of New York City educators and mental health providers.

EARLY REGISTRATION INCLUDES DISCOUNTED TICKETS
FOR STUDENTS, PROFESSIONALS, AND COMMUNITY MEMBERS.
LIVE STREAMING IS ALSO AVAILABLE FOR REMOTE ATTENDEES!

Speakers and Session Schedule:

8:15AM — Welcome Address

8:30AM — Keynote Address by Margaret Nichols, PhD
“Kink is Good: BDSM in the Context of New Models of Sex and Gender Variance”

10:05AM — Zhana Vrangalova, PhD
“Myths and Realities of Consensual Non-Monogamy”

11:05AM — Dulcinea Pitagora, MA, LMSW and Michael Aaron, PhD
“The Kink-Poly Confluence: Community Intersections and Clinical Approaches”

12:05PM — Lunch Break

1:20PM — Michael Aaron, PhD
“Facing Your Shadow: The Healing Potential of Psychological Edge Play” 

2:20PM — Rosalyn Dischiavo, PhD
“Metamorphosis: Braving Transitions in Polyamorous Relationships” 

3:30PM — David Ortmann, LCSW
“Age Play: Eros, Practicality, and Walking the Edge”

4:30PM — Panel Discussion & Final Words (optional)

 

produced by
Michael Aaron, PhD and Dulcinea Pitagora, MA, LMSW

A portion of the AltSex NYC Conference proceeds will be donated to the Community-Academic Consortium for Research on Alternative Sexualities (CARAS) in appreciation of their continued dedication to supporting and promoting excellence in the study of alternative sexualities.

*The AltSexNYC Conference is currently being reviewed by AASECT as an approved provider of continuing education for certified sex therapists, and the New York State Education Department’s State Board for Social Work as an approved provider of continuing education for licensed social workers.

For more information or to register for the conference, visit AltSexNYCconference.org.

NOTE: The content of this blog is owned by Dulcinea Pitagora. See Terms and Conditions for republishing restrictions/allowances.

Resources for Sexuality and Gender Warriors

Disclosure: I have a morning coffee and reading ritual, and this morning I realized I hadn’t yet followed Dr. Meg John Barker’s blog Rewriting the Rules—now corrected!  Dr. Barker’s latest blog post Beyond the Binary is inspiring in its eloquence and clarity around the important influence that “sexuality and gender warriors” have on questioning “static thinking about sexuality.” Give it a read! I was also inspired to add Dr. Barker’s book Rewriting the Rules to my library:

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 7.28.21 AM

Rewriting the Rules is a friendly guide through the complicated—and often contradictory—
rules of love: the advice that is given about attraction and sex,
monogamy and conflict, gender and commitment.”

Dr. Barker’s blog also offers a multitude of resources on sexuality and gender diversity. One in particular that I wanted to share is the link to Clarisse Thorn’s BDSM Resources, which led to another blog subscription as well as a few new additions to my library, including:

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 12.48.42 PM

A Parent’s Guide to Alternative Sexualities: “There’s More!”

by Amy Marsh

“A progressive, introductory handbook for parents who have teenagers and young adults
who are expressing an interest in alternative sexualities such as BDSM and polyamory.
Practical, supportive information written by a clinical sexologist.”

************

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 12.55.20 PM

The S&M Feminist: Best of Clarisse Thorn

“Clarisse Thorn’s writing has appeared across the Internet in places like
The Guardian, AlterNet, Feministe, Jezebel, Time Out, The Rumpus, Ms., and
The Good Men Project. This is a selection of her best articles, all in one place!”

************

Playing Well with Others

Playing Well with Others:
Your Field Guide to Discovering, Navigating and Exploring
the Kink, Leather, and BDSM Communities

by Lee Harrington

“While there are plenty of other books out there that explain how to give a spanking
or tie a half-hitch, Playing Well with Others is the first book that explains kink *culture*—the munches,
parties, leather bars, conferences, workshops, fetish nights, exploratoriums and all the other gatherings
of kinksters that turn BDSM and leather from a bedroom predeliction to a lifestyle and a community.”

************

Playing on the Edge

Playing on the Edge: Sadomasochism, Risk, and Intimacy

by Staci Newmahr

“In this pathbreaking book, ethnographer Staci Newmahr delves into the social space of a
public, pansexual SM community to understand sadomasochism from the inside out.
Based on four years of in-depth and immersive participant observation, she juxtaposes
her experiences in the field with the life stories of community members, providing a richly detailed
portrait of SM as a social space in which experiences of “violence” intersect with experiences of the erotic.”

************

Thorne’s complete list is well worth checking out, and goes beyond books to include films, other online resources, and information about how to find in person events near you. If you have favorite resources you feel like sharing, please post them in the comments below!

NOTE: The content of this blog is owned by Dulcinea Pitagora. See Terms and Conditions for republishing restrictions/allowances.

I just signed the NCSF petition to make consent a BDSM defense.

CJehSLQeCDcnjPF-800x450-noPad

Consent seems like it should be an obvious legal imperative, but unfortunately sometimes we have to state the obvious to our beloved but highly problematic and flawed legal system. So when I received an email today from NCSF asking me to sign a petition urging the American Law Institute to make consent a defense for BDSM activities…

I urge the American Law Institute in its consideration of proposals to revise the Model Penal Code (MPC) provisions relating to sexual assault, to provide in the MPC that prosecutions arising from BDSM (bondage, discipline, Dominance & Submission and sadomasochism) conduct be pursued as “sexual contact” rather than as criminal assault. I believe this is appropriate because consensual BDSM is intended to be a mutually pleasurable erotic activity and not a violent assault by one person against another. Criminal prosecution may be appropriate if consent is not given, but consent should be allowed as a defense.

… I figured, why not do my part in stating the obvious and sign it?  So I signed it, and you can click here or on the image above to do the same. But before you sign, be sure to do your due diligence. Perusing NCSF’s Consent Counts Program Description is a good place to start.

NOTE: The content of this blog is owned by Dulcinea Pitagora. See Terms and Conditions for republishing restrictions/allowances.

Sliding Scale Appointments Now Available!

I have the pleasure of announcing that beginning this summer I will be working under the supervision of Dr. Kelly Wise, psychotherapist and AASECT certified sex therapist. I’ll be taking on a limited number of sliding scale appointments at his Union Square office, working with individuals, couples, non-traditional relationships and families, and current or former sex workers dealing with issues across the spectrum of gender identification/expression, sexual orientation/expression, D/s dynamics, relationship status, intersections thereof, and beyond. Please contact me directly via email or my contact page for more information, or call me at 917-675-3446 for a free 15-minute phone consultation. I will continue working at PCGS and my private practice as well, and if for some reason we won’t be able to work together, I recommend taking a look at ManhattanAlternative.com, a referral listing for alternative lifestyle affirmative providers.

NOTE: The content of this blog is owned by Dulcinea Pitagora. See Terms and Conditions for republishing restrictions/allowances.

Alt Media Review—April 2015 Edition

The following is a collection of recent articles I’ve read and shared in social media that are related to kink, poly, trans, and LGBQ communities, with perhaps a little social justice thrown in for good measure.  While they are not all necessarily exact reflections of my own opinions, they are all, in my estimation, stimulating to say the least.  Click on the screenshots below to read the source articles, which are listed in no particular order. 

Clint Smith: The danger of silence

 

Trafficking Policy Should Focus on Empowerment, Not Coercion

 

 

The Flaws of Meritocracy

 

What Fifty Shades of Grey Most Certainly Won’t Teach You

 

Obama Calls for End to ‘Conversion’ Therapies for Gay and Transgender Youth

 

Williams Institute launches first-of-its-kind study of U.S. transgender population - See more at: http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/press/press-releases/transpop-announcement-march-2015/#sthash.AclTQpqi.dpuf

 

No, You Don’t Need Rules For Polyamory

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Kinkademia

Today feels like a good day to pay homage to a book that is the best collection of academic research and community-based literature on BDSM that I’ve read: Safe, Sane and Consensual: Contemporary Perspectives on Sadomasochism, edited by Dr. Darren Langdridge and Dr. Meg Barker (2008). The following excerpts have acted as a source of motivation for my own academic research into the psychological and interpersonal landscapes of BDSM.  These quotes are all from Part I: Introducing Sadomasochism, and I highly recommend reading the text in context, as well as all of the parts that follow—Theorising Pain and InjuryEmpirical ResearchTherapeutic Pespectives, and Bridging the Academic/Activist Divide.

“Most of the stories which reach beyond communities to the outside world are watered down, ‘mainstreamed,’ and deeply de-sexualised—often focused on an SM aesthetic rather than anyone involved in SM would identify as something they do” (Situating Sadomasochism, Darren Langdridge and Meg Barker, p. 4).

“Consent is a particularly problematic concept, that has been troubled in an important way by feminist scholarship” (Situating Sadomasochism, Darren Langdridge and Meg Barker, p. 4).

“The voice of the radical feminist drowns out the voice of the woman SMer” (Situating Sadomasochism, Darren Langdridge and Meg Barker, p. 5).

“The overwhelming whiteness of writing on SM is something that deeply troubles us. [There is] a lack of writing on race, ethnicity, trans, disability…” (Situating Sadomasochism, Darren Langdridge and Meg Barker, p. 6).

“This paper defines S/M as a broad range of consensual, erotic, interpersonal interactions involving the administration and reception of pain and/or the enactment of dominant and submissive power dynamics. Historical evidence suggests that behaviours imitative of those we contemporarily identify as S/M have occurred for millennia” (The Cultural Formation of S/M: History and Analysis, Kathy Sisson, p. 12).

“Up until the 1940s, no clear distinction between sexual orientation and S/M practice appears in the literature. A distinct gay male leather community developed in the USA in the 1940s…distinct heterosexual and lesbian S/M communities emerged in the 1970s. Due in large part to the viturperous feminist sex wars during the second wave of feminism, a considerable literature on lesbian S/M communities exists as well. I suggest that these three distinct S/M communities, gay, lesbian and heterosexual, co-exist today as part of the larger S/M sexual culture. However, a paucity of data exists regarding the development and characteristics of heterosexual S/M communities and culture” (The Cultural Formation of S/M: History and Analysis, Kathy Sisson, p. 13).

“Psychopathia Sexualis (1886) also popularized the binary sexual identity schema based on gender or sex of object choice – homosexual or heterosexual” (The Cultural Formation of S/M: History and Analysis, Kathy Sisson, p. 15).

“Gosselin, Wilson and Barrett administered the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire to 57 S/M-identified women and found that, although the women showed ‘high psychoticism, low neuroticism and high libido traditionally associated with a stereotypic “male” image…this is not to say that the behavior of S/M women should be regarded as pathological…’” (The Cultural Formation of S/M: History and Analysis, Kathy Sisson, p. 24).

“Echoing the removal of homosexuality from the DSM in 1973, researchers, clinicians and activists are beginning to challenge the DSM diagnosis of sadism and masochism” (The Cultural Formation of S/M: History and Analysis, Kathy Sisson, p. 25).

“Masochistic interactions would provide ‘a temporary and powerful escape from high-level awareness of self as an abstract, temporally extended, symbolically constructed identity, to a low-level, temporally constricted awareness of self as physical body, focusing on immediate sensations (both painful and pleasant) and on being a sexual object.’ By temporarily adopting a masochistic identity, individuals could escape the ‘burden of selfhood’ and achieve respite from the demands of modern society.” (The Cultural Formation of S/M: History and Analysis, Kathy Sisson, p. 27).

“Weinberg (1994) suggests six prerequisite social criteria for the institutionalization of S/M interests into S/M culture: embedded power relations, social acceptance of aggression, unequal power distribution, leisure time, imagination and creativity.” (The Cultural Formation of S/M: History and Analysis, Kathy Sisson, p. 27).

“McClintock (1993) suggests S/M is uniquely well-suited sexually for post-modern, post-procreative society because it flaunts socially constructed power, gender roles, identity and eroticism [and] proposes several ways in which S/M accomplishes this: (1) S/M subverts reified social power relations by creativing and enacting exaggerated power roles and by appropriating the privelege to punish; (2) S/M challenges the boundaries of sanctioned gender role behavior by allowing either gender to assume dominant and submissive roles; (3) S/M mocks the concept of a unitary, fixed identity by allowing participants to move fluidly in and out of an S/M sexual identity and by facilitating participants’ adoption of various fantasy and S/M roles; and (4) S/M deconstructs the paradigm of genitally oriented eroticism by utilizing non-genital, non-erogenous sites on the body for sexual arousal” (The Cultural Formation of S/M: History and Analysis, Kathy Sisson, p. 28).

“BDSM is a term used to describe a variety of sexual behaviours that have an implicit or explicit power differential as a significant aspect of the erotic interaction” (Themes of SM Expression, Charles Moser and Peggy J. Kleinplatz, p. 35).

“The subjective aspects of SM require their own taxonomy. Motives and intentions are complex and cannot ever be deduced from observation alone” (Themes of SM Expression, Charles Moser and Peggy J. Kleinplatz, p. 37).

“SM is said to have five common features: the appearance of dominance and submission, role-playing, mutual definition, consensuality and a sexual context for the individual… The emphasis here is on the appearance of dominance and submission, because the actual power in the relationship is much more subtle… SM is consensual by definition. Just as the difference between consensual coitus and rape is consent, the difference between SM and violence is consent. Non-consensual acts are criminal” (Themes of SM Expression, Charles Moser and Peggy J. Kleinplatz, p. 38).

“For others, the role-play provides the context for the SM and, sometimes, even for the relationship itself. That is, they find the roles create the erotic backdrop for the relationship; without these roles the partner would cease to be attractive” (Themes of SM Expression, Charles Moser and Peggy J. Kleinplatz, p. 42).

“Of interest, the ‘Mommy-boy’ dynamic is less common and often cast as an ‘adult-baby’ relationship… Even though these terms denote the gender of the participants, one cannot infer the sex of the participants from this language; lesbians often employ the ‘male’ terms and some men use the ‘female’ terms” (Themes of SM Expression, Charles Moser and Peggy J. Kleinplatz, p. 43).

“It is well known that sexual arousal alters pain perception, elevating pain thresholds over 80%…” (Themes of SM Expression, Charles Moser and Peggy J. Kleinplatz, p. 45).

“…a fetish is distinct from partialism; the latter involves a strong sexual attraction towards a part of the body. Within the SM community, both possibilities are merged together and referred to as a fetish” (Themes of SM Expression, Charles Moser and Peggy J. Kleinplatz, p. 49).

“One of the difficulties in designating any set of proclivities as pathological is the lack of criteria for what constitutes ‘normal’ or ‘healthy’ sexuality… The lack of objective criteria makes it all too easy for mental health professionals to rely upon predominant cultural values to guide assessments… At present, Western clinicians tend to think of ‘normal’ sexuality as monogamous, procreation-oriented intercourse, featuring the heterosexual, young (but not too young) and able-bodied” (Is SM Pathological?, Peggy J. Kleinplatz and Charles Moser, p. 55).

“…when distress is manifest, it may result primarily from social stigma surrounding SM. This phenomenon is akin to internalized homonegativity in gay and lesbian individuals. The recommended ‘treatment’ is to validate the distress rather than to ‘cure’ the SM desires… As for impairment, this [DSM] criterion is particularly noteworthy in illustrating the social biases that continue to pervade the DSM. For example, the DSM considers it a sign of impairment if SM is ‘obligatory’; why single out some behaviours as pathological when required for sexual fulfillment and not others? Why not decree that people who require heterosexual intercourse to reach orgasm are pathological? Actually that was precisely the case during the 1950s when women who ‘failed’ to achieve orgasm during intercourse were labeled ‘frigid’” (Is SM Pathological?, Peggy J. Kleinplatz and Charles Moser, p. 57).

“In the absence of theory or research demonstrating what constitutes ‘normal’ sexuality, it is all too easy to pathologize the unconventional based on prevailing social currents. SM is particularly liable to being stigmatized in societies uneasy with sexual pleasure for its own sake” (Is SM Pathological?, Peggy J. Kleinplatz and Charles Moser, p. 60).

“The reason for, and essence of, the question [whether law can ever make peace with violence] is the fundamental paradox that while law purports to substitute itself for violence – in the form of a civilized, and civilizing, alternative – it retains and depends on, an immanent violence of its own” (Sadomasochism and the Law, Matthew Weait, p. 63).

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NCSF Guest Blog: Disclosure and Outness as a Therapist with Intersecting Atypical Identifications

I was recently exchanging emails with NCSF (the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom)’s Susan Wright about ManhattanAlternative, and she asked me to elaborate on my motivation for organizing the collaborative.  Our conversation inspired me to write the following, which NCSF subsequently posted as a guest blog

 

Excerpt:

Prior to starting my practice as a therapist, I was confronted with contradicting perspectives on the therapist’s disclosure of personal information to their clients.  The prevailing thought behind this in the mental health field is that the therapeutic environment is not a place for therapists to disclose too much about themselves—therapy is about the client, not about the therapist, and disclosing personal information might distract clients from the therapeutic process for a variety of reasons.  Having said that, recent research has shown potential benefits in certain types of disclosure, particularly when the therapist is a member of a sexual minority group, and the client in question might feel safer with a therapist who shares their marginalized identification(s).

Read more…

 

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The Intersection of Gender Roles and BDSM Power Roles

I was so pleased when the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom—an organization which I have long admired for their tireless support of alternative lifestyles—asked me to submit a guest blog for their site, and posted a excerpt on the presentation I gave at the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit in 2014 based on my paper “The BDSM Power Exchange: Subversion, Transcendence, Sexual (R)evolution.”  The excerpt they included was chosen because it aligned well with one of their main goals, which is to debunk the historical pathologization and criminalization of BDSM.  I wanted to share with you the excerpt below as well, which looks at the intersection of gender roles and BDSM power roles and the potential for subversion and sexual (r)evolution.

sexual-r-evolution3

[…]

An individual’s gender expression is arguably the most visible set of physical characteristics used by society to form assumptions about what is acceptable behavior. This type of automatic social profiling can be exceptionally stressful for those being profiled, as there is no viable way for individuals to fulfill societal expectations of idealized stereotypical gender roles. Many BDSM participants find relief from such societal constraints within the parameters of the BDSM power exchange, and often experience a subsequent release of stress that can be quite therapeutic1.

Research that explores BDSM interactions from a normative (i.e., non-pathologizing) perspective is a relatively new phenomenon, and research that explores a subversion or displacement of gender roles within BDSM interactions is quite rare. Historically, the literature has suggested that BDSM interactions might be more contingent on gender and/or sexual orientation than power dynamic, likely due to the historical bias that assigns feminine-presenting individuals to submissive sexual roles, and masculine-presenting individuals to dominant sexual roles2. In order to refute the “the myth of the alpha male,” a study was conducted in 2008 positing that social dominance in females had been traditionally overlooked in research, by biologists and psychologists alike. The study involved the administration of questionnaires to a relatively large sample (N = 1723) of children in grades 5 through 10, reporting self- and peer-ratings on aggression, social motivation, and interpersonal influence. Their findings showed patterns in females that had typically been associated with male dominance, as well as patterns in males that had typically been associated with stereotypical (i.e., less dominant) female behavior; in other words, the study suggested that social dominance exists outside the realm of gender-specific norms3. This tendency toward gender skew was further refuted in Hawley and Hensley’s 20092 study of feminine power, which reported higher preferences for submissive fantasies in men than women.

One common theme described in BDSM activities as deliberately contrary to traditional patriarchal society is the common pairing of feminine dominants and masculine submissives4. Exaggerated parodies of subjugation, oppression, and exploitation emphasize an inequity of power that is not always weighted in favor of men or masculine gender representations; thus, BDSM interactions have been described as parodying traditional heteronormative sexual interactions5. The relationship between gender and power dynamic was examined in a qualitative study in which 24 participants from the BDSM community were interviewed regarding their sexual behaviors. The transcriptions were coded in order to determine common discourses, or “underlying systems of meaning” (p. 297), and the data showed several instances in which power dynamics were found to diverge from gender identification5. One common theme described BDSM activities as deliberately contrary to mandates of traditional patriarchal society, effectively ridiculing, undermining, and deconstructing mainstream sexual interactions toward the goal of exorcising subjugation and oppression5.

Taylor and Ussher’s findings directly counter arguments that many radical second- and some third-wave feminists have put forth against BDSM—that it reenacts and fosters the male-dominated structure of society, and therefore that consent in BDSM interactions is not valid4. Reminiscent of the means by which paraphilic disorders remain included in the DSM, these assertions are based in philosophical beliefs and political arguments; there has been no empirical research conducted to support these theories. As noted, the research that has been conducted shows that the power structures established by BDSM participants can in effect de-gender power dynamics through pointed subversion and personal choice. The devaluing of consent in BDSM interactions due to an ostensible association with misogyny effectively strips BDSM participants of agency and reduces them to a stereotype. In other words, to say that BDSM participants are not capable of giving consent because outside viewers may misunderstand the meaning of their actions negates self-determination and further stigmatizes this sexual minority group4.

[…]

McClintock’s6 exploration of the intersection between fetishism and gender power suggests that the prevalence of BDSM continues to expand due to a desire in modern societies to challenge mainstream social constructs of power, gender, identity, and erotic expression. BDSM power roles are said to complicate and/or supersede traditional power roles by subverting socially ingrained power dynamics through the creation and enactment of interactions that pointedly appropriate the privilege to punish6. There is no default method of behavior or expression in BDSM; instead, there is a conscious disruption of conformity, which can serve to free the individuals involved from the pressure of conforming to mainstream society, thereby providing psychological relief1. The parameters of a BDSM scene can provide a safe space where any gender can adopt any power role, thereby challenging the constraints of stereotypical gender expression6, and allowing for an expansion, elaboration, or contradiction of an individual’s typical gender expression in daily life. Participants can fluidly inhabit different sexual identities within or across BDSM scenes, mocking the idea of an expected and fixed identity, freeing individuals to expand their exploration of erotic desire, fantasy, and self-identification4,6. The vast array of scenarios and activities that fall within the realm of BDSM encourage many participants to seek an evolution of their sexuality and definition of self. Furthermore, many BDSM interactions deconstruct the expectation that erotic acts should be genitally focused, in the exploration of non-genital, atypical erogenous locations on the body or in the mind for arousal4,6. This displacement and diffusion of arousal challenges the notion of conventionally enacted sexual stimulation, and allows for an ongoing expansion of physical and psychological outlets of sexual satisfaction.

[…]

_____________

1 Pitagora, D. & Ophelian, A. (2013). Therapeutic benefits of subspace in BDSM interactions. [PowerPoint slides].

2 Hawley, P. H. & Hensley, W. A. (2009). Social dominance and forceful submission fantasies: Feminine pathology or power? The Journal of Sex Research, 46(6), 568–585.

3 Hawley, P. H., Little, T. D., & Card, N. A. (2008). The myth of the alpha male: A new look at dominance-related beliefs and behaviors among adolescent males and females. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 32(1), 76–88.

4 Hopkins, P. (1994). Rethinking sadomasochism: Feminism, interpretation, and simulation. Hypatia, 9(1), 116-141.

5 Taylor, G. W. & Ussher, J. M. (2001). Making sense of S&M: A discourse analytic account. Sexualities, 4(3), 293-314.

6 McClintock, A. (1993). Maid to order: Commercial fetishism and gender power. Social Text, 37, 87-116.

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All of the Shades

I started out thinking that this would definitely not be a blog post about the 50 Shades books or film, but about the myriad of ways to identify outside of binaries—for example, all of the shades of gray between straight and gay, top and bottom, kinky and non-kinky, and all of the intersections thereof and beyond.  It can be a tricky for people to admit that they reside in the gray area somewhere between the categorical binaries of gender and sexuality—for example those who are not 100% kinky or 100% vanilla; or are versatile or a switch; or who like different things at different times with different people.  There can be a tendency to feel devalued or anticipate judgement by any given community’s majority for not fitting into a binary role, which can prevent people from experiencing the fullest sense of who they are.

I have been so inspired by the all of the conversations around identification and sexual exploration that have come out of reactions to the 50 Shades franchise that I can’t help wonder how the expansion of consciousness happening around kink right now will influence ideas around non-binary identifications.  And while I can’t say I’m exactly a fan of the content or its presentation, I think it’s wonderful that 50 Shades is making discussions about kink more accessible and acceptable. This is important for so many reasons, one of my favorites being that in opening up conversations around kink, it makes it easier for a lot of kinky or kink-curious people to come out of the closet, or consider embarking on a new exploration of their sexual identity.

Having said that, because the general public has historically not been privy to the inner workings of the BDSM dynamic, an unfortunate side effect of the current focus on kink as mass marketed by the 50 Shades franchise is that people might assume this depiction is actually what BDSM is. The collective understanding of sexuality is reciprocally created by and influences popular culture and media, which is why I’ve been thrilled to see all the articles calling out how 50 Shades is an egregiously inaccurate representation of BDSM interactions. If we don’t have these conversations, we may end up getting set back decades in the fight against pathologization and criminalization, and people’s lives will continue to be seriously affected, such as the all too common problems of custody cases being lost because of sexual orientation, or discriminatory firing, et cetera.

Let me give you a real life, first hand example of this type of problem. I gave a talk a couple of weeks ago to a group of kinksters in NYC, and a woman stood up at the end to thank me. She had been considering exploring her submissive desires for some time and had been reluctant for many reasons, but on that night, she gained the understanding that she actually has a say in what a prospective dominant might do to her. Though it is common knowledge in the BDSM scene that the submissive or bottom holds most of the power in their ability to use a safeword or gesture to stop a scene at any time, not having interacted with the scene before, and going off common (lack of) knowledge of BDSM, she had no idea about the importance of negotiations, or having firm boundaries, or really what consent means in the context of a BDSM interaction.  I was so happy that she spoke up, and that she felt empowered to explore submission in a safe way with a dominant she trusts, because this is a ongoing issue that I’m concerned will be exacerbated by the insidious consent violations in 50 Shades.  (One of many examples: A kink-identified person who clearly understands the concept of consent would never give a person who does not sexually identify as a submissive, and who has not yet had a chance to figure out much at all about her sexuality, a 24/7 D/s slave contract. Ana wasn’t capable of giving consent because it would have been impossible to wrap her mind around what that means, and therefore impossible to give consent to any of it. It would basically be like trying to convince a straight-identified person to be gay, or vice versa.)

That is not to say that people who enjoy vanilla sex can’t also be interested in trying kinky sex, or vice versa (though that really doesn’t seem to be the case at all with Ana or Christian.) The most important thing in any kind of relationship or sexual interaction is communication. So many relationship issues come from important information or preferences not being brought up early on, and a lot of the challenges people face come from not knowing how to do this. We’re just not taught to talk about sexuality in our society, in fact, we’re taught not to talk about it, which is pervasively problematic. It can be extremely uncomfortable when you’re not used to it, and it can make people feel vulnerable to merely consider a disclosure of information when they’re not in the habit of doing so, especially when you add the expectation of resistance or rejection to atypical preferences.

To get back to my original thought process, the aforementioned books and film might very well encourage a lot of formerly non-kinky people to consider adding kink to their sexual repertoire, which has the potential to be a good thing, if it turns out that BDSM is something they find they’re actually into, and if it’s something they learn how to go about in the right way (consent, consent, consent). Speaking transparently about sex—any kind of sex—with current or potential partners is crucial; for example, discussing both kinky and non-kinky sexual interests before having sex for the first time; and how often you might like to indulge in kinky as opposed to vanilla sex, for those who are into both at different times; or if you happen to be someone who prefers to incorporate kink into vanilla sex, or incorporate vanilla sex into kink. Since sexuality is an extremely individualized aspect of identity, as long as you’ve communicated ahead of time what your interests are or may be, and you’re doing what you’re doing consensually and with someone who shares your interests, you’re doing it right. The options are endless, but they will remain beginningless without having that conversation.

The bottom line is this: There are so many shades of sexual interaction, and while it’s comforting for many to self-identify in a specific way, it’s also not necessary to adhere to any one particular orientation or identification. We are all multi-faceted individuals with a variety of aspects to our identities, and we all have sexual identities that are fluid from childhood to old age. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—confining ourselves to a specific set of society-approved sexual acts could at minimum result in a stifling of sexual identity and self-actualization. Encouraging clear communication, education, and tolerance for if not full on acceptance of sexual diversity is the antidote.

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