Tag Archives: kink

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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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:

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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:

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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.”

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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!”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

I think I just saw my therapist in leather.

A point of clarification: The title of this post is not a direct quote from myself or anyone else in particular, though I am fairly certain that these words have been uttered before, in a paraphrase if not verbatim. I bring up this idea because the potential for crossing paths with your therapist, or your client if you’re a therapist, is something that you tend to think about and perhaps anticipate when both of you run in relatively small circles. I mentioned in the GO Magazine interview that outing myself was a conscious decision for several reasons, but one of the reasons that I did not happen to mention in that interview was that I am active in the communities connected with my intersecting identifications, and therefore chances are very likely that I will run into people I’m doing therapy with. When your own identifications result in something reminiscent of the rainbow Venn diagram below, and you find value in interacting socially with others who share those intersections, you just might see your therapist in leather, or they might see you in latex, or you might notice them interacting with a partner or partners.

And then what happens?  What do you do?  What would you expect your therapist to do?

rainbowVenn

There’s no one correct answer to the above questions, because the answer will depend on both the therapist’s and the client’s comfort levels, though the agreed upon answer should go in the more conservative direction, the one that most protects the therapeutic relationship and most allows for progress back in the therapeutic environment.  Because I tend to work with people who run in some or all of the same circles that I do, I like to address the issue of a potential path-crossing at some point in our work together, as early on as makes sense.

The conversation might go something like this: I bring up the potential of running into each other outside of our usual meeting place, check in with them to see how they feel about that potential, and let them know I have a uniform code of conduct when I find myself in that situation.  Which is, if I happen to inadvertently make eye contact, I might smile and nod, but I will not approach someone to speak to them out of respect for their privacy and discretion, and I will likely move to another area, or make a decision to leave if that seems more appropriate and protective of the therapeutic process.  If someone approaches me, I will certainly say hello, but I will not engage in prolonged conversation, and in our next session together, we would discuss thoughts and feelings that came up around meeting in a different context.  Finally, I would check in with them to see how they feel about that process, see what their specific preferences might be, and come to a mutually consensual agreement.  This is a fairly standard way of handling such situations, according to what I’ve heard from colleagues and supervisors.

There are therapists who would avoid engaging with clients outside of the therapeutic environment at all costs, and in more mainstream communities, it is much easier to accomplish this. When there are limited venues in which to interact socially with like-minded people however, I don’t see the need to avoid engagement. In fact, I feel as though being an active part of the community is a form of autoethnography, a process in which “you use your own experiences to garner insights into the larger culture or subculture of which you are a part” (Patton, 2014, Kindle Locations 3895-3896).  Understanding yourself and understanding the community/ies you’re a part of is an active and ongoing process, as is therapy. Likewise, therapy is an active collaboration, as is community, and I encourage my clients to take an active role in their process, just as I do in mine.

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ManhattanAlternative.com is live!

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ManhattanAlternative.com is a network of therapeutic service providers in New York City who are sex-positive, affirmative, and have expertise related to issues that kink, poly, consensually non-monogamous, trans, gender non-conforming, and/or LGBQ-identified individuals face.  The collaborative was created in 2014 by Dulcinea Pitagora, MA, LMSW in an effort to address the lack of openly affirmative support to the communities that she has been a part of and a mentor in for many years.  The providers listed on ManhattanAlternative.com believe that individuals with atypical identifications should have access to support without fear of being further stigmatized, or having to waste time, energy, and money educating providers on characteristics of or behaviors related to their preferences and identifications.

We hope to provide people seeking affirmative health care with a network of providers that is as inclusive and diverse as possible. Therefore, we encourage therapists and health care professionals of varying races, ethnicities, gender expressions, and abilities to fill out the Provider Application Form if they are interested in being listed as a kink/poly/trans/LGBQ-affirmative provider.

Please bookmark and share widely!

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

Call for NYC Alt Lifestyle Affirmative Providers!

Great news! I’m putting the finishing touches on ManhattanAlternative.com, a network of therapeutic service providers in New York City who are sex-positive, affirmative, and have expertise related to issues that kink, poly, consensually non-monogamous, trans, gender non-conforming, and/or LGBQ-identified individuals face.

I hope to provide people seeking affirmative health care with as many options as possible, so my goal is that the network of providers be as inclusive and diverse as possible. Therefore, I am putting a call out to ask for therapists and health care professionals of varying races, ethnicities, gender expressions, and abilities to contact me directly via therapy@DulcineaPitagora.com or fill out the Provider Application Form if they are interested in being listed as a kink/poly/trans/LGBQ-affirmative provider.

Please pass it on—thank you!

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

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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Grappling with Consensual Non-consent, part 2

Continued from last week’s post, Grappling with Consensual Non-consent, part 1.

Langdridge’s1 chapter on the eroticization of pain in BDSM interactions describes the concept of losing control in a different way. Though CNC is not mentioned explicitly, the type of interaction described intimates an interaction that is initially consensual, but then brings the bottom to an altered state of consciousness in which there is a complete loss of agency and separation from reality, which the author notes can result in a greater sense of intimacy and bonding between the parties involved1. Though this and the previous school of thought are contrasting on the surface, it seems in some way a question of semantics, or perhaps more accurately, individual differences in perception. That is to say, while a given person in the bottom role might be able and want to hold a suspension of disbelief during a scene, and a given person in the top role might be able to orchestrate a scene that makes this possible, others may not be able to sustain that illusion and still attain the kind of CNC experience they want, and so they may need to approach it in a different intellectual way. Both of these instances of CNC might appear to be played out in the same manner, and may result in a similar experiential trajectory.

Just as there are different ways to conceive of consent and CNC, there are differences in meaning that each individual attaches to their BDSM play. With this in mind, it stands to reason that almost every BDSM scene could be considered analogous to a CNC scene, in that consent is negotiated and obtained, there is an illusion of a loss of control, and there is a way for the bottom to end the scene. The potential for trouble enters into any BDSM scene—whether or not it includes CNC—when negotiation occurs and consent is obtained, but there is a lack of compassion or connection between the top and bottom, and therefore there is a greater margin of error and potential for dissatisfaction. There is also the case of a participant’s misrepresentation, or one who is under the influence of alcohol or a substance; these scenarios would further confound the potential for a successful BDSM and/or CNC scene. This begs the question of whether it is always possible to assess the level of trust that a bottom has for their top, or to know someone’s ability to trust or be trusted. Further, if a top is deemed trustworthy, does it follow that they would never allow a scene to go too far? If that is the case, does it then nullify or reinforce the premise of CNC? It seems possible to split hairs indefinitely, but in all cases, the way CNC is defined and enacted seems to be a matter of perspective and context.

CNC is considered problematic by many who feel a sense of stigmatization by virtue of being BDSM-oriented. Many fear that assumptions will be made about the way certain people in the kink community play, and that these assumptions will be project misapprehensions onto the entire community, and further pathologize all BDSM participants2. This fear is not unfounded; unfortunately, the problem of abusers masquerading as conscientious and caring sadists has long been detrimental to the public perception of BDSM. Sexuality educator Dr. Charlie Glickman gave voice to this issue when he wrote that some people are drawn to BDSM not because they get pleasure from consensual BDSM interactions, but because they see it as an opportunity to manipulate people new to BDSM into accepting abuse, while convincing them that their boundaries and desires do not matter. Those new to the scene without an awareness of BDSM culture are particularly susceptible to believing such violence must be accepted2. Additionally, due to the stigma associated with being kink-identified, fewer people are willing to discuss the existence of such predators in the BDSM community because they are reluctant to exacerbate the already negative perception that mainstream society has about BDSM3.

Ironically, two recent textual analyses comparing BDSM and heteronormative relationships illustrated that the dynamics of a D/s relationship have the same discursive origins as traditional relationships, and fall prey to the same issues of inherent gendered power dynamics4,5. The distinguishing factor that some would say makes a full-time CNC relationship a better option than conventional relationship is the explicit negotiation of and agreement to power roles and behaviors, as opposed to most conventional relationships, wherein roles are assumed based on socially mandated gender roles handed down through generations of patriarchy. Similarly, CNC can be perceived as reminiscent of conventional sexual interactions. That is to say, in the former, consent may be more likely to be overtly agreed upon initially than in the latter, but in both cases there is an expectation of consent, and an assumption that consent will persist and not be rescinded unless the interaction/relationship is being terminated.

Along these lines, in Tsaro’s6 analysis of contemporary BDSM-themed texts, consent is sometimes described in mainstream representations of BDSM as being reinforced by the absence of overtly denying or rescinding it, which is reminiscent of typically gendered sexual assumptions4. This is of particular concern, as the media and entertainment industries often seek to sensationalize and distort reality and focus on the extreme in order to gain maximum reader- and viewership, at the same time doing a disservice to readers and viewers by communicating false information and reinforcing unhealthy social dynamics.

In summary, while grappling with the concept of CNC interactions may clarify certain aspects and suggest guidelines, there remain conflicts about its practice, which is oftentimes arbitrary and ill-defined. It stands to reason that the struggle among BDSM practitioners to agree on specific, inclusive, and clearly defined terminology to describe BDSM interactions and behaviors may represent avoidance and resistance based in a reaction to internalized stigmatization, as well as an indication that intellectualization cannot always address emotional and moral conflicts. In the end, it seems as though the best possible way to address the issue of CNC is to continue the conversation, and encourage open dialogues about sexuality and the vast range of sexual behaviors both within and outside of the kink community.

_____________

1 Langdridge, D. (2007). Speaking the unspeakable: S/M and the eroticization of pain. In D. Langdridge & M. Barker (Eds.), Safe, sane, and consensual: Contemporary perspectives on sadomasochism (pp. 85–97). Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books.

2 Fowles, S. M. (2008). The fantasy of acceptable ‘non-consent’: Why the female sexual submissive scares us (and why she shouldn’t). In J. Friedman and J. Valenti (Eds.), Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape (pp. 117-125). Berkeley, CA: Seal Press. Kindle Edition.

3 Glickman, C. (August 8, 2011). BDSM & rape, what now? Retrieved from http://www.charlieglickman.com/2011/08/18/bdsm-rape-what-now/

4 Barker, M. (2013). Consent is a grey area? A comparison of understandings of consent in Fifty Shades of Grey and on the BDSM blogosphere. Sexualities, 16(8), 896-914. doi: 10.1177/1363460713508881

5 Faccio, E., Casini, C., & Cipolletta, S. (2014). Forbidden games: The construction of sexuality and sexual pleasure by BDSM ‘players.’ Culture, Health & Sexuality, 16(7), 752-764. doi: 10.1080/13691058.2014.909531

6 Tsaros, A. (2013). Consensual non-consent: Comparing EL James’s Fifty Shades of Grey and Pauline Réage’s Story of O. Sexualities, 16(8), 864-879. doi: 10.1177/1363460713508903

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Grappling with Consensual Non-consent, part 1

The concept of consensual non-consent1 (CNC) relates to the type of BDSM interaction in which there exists a mutual agreement between participants that allows for an atmosphere of suspended consent2 or suspension of limits3. This type of interaction can take place within the parameters of a time-delimited scene, such as a heavy discipline scene or rape roleplay4,5, or a D/s relationship in which the power dynamic extends beyond sexual interactions, such as in 24/7, Erotic Power Exchange (EPE), Total Power Exchange (TPE), or Total Power Transfer (TPT) relationships2,6. Identifying a clear framework for CNC interactions is exceedingly difficult, which is most likely why CNC has long been controversial within the BDSM community, both in terms of how it’s defined, and whether it’s a viable form of BDSM due to its pushing the boundaries of consent. Some would say CNC is entirely consensual and only presents the appearance of non-consent, along the lines of a roleplay2,7; others would say that once consent is given in this type of dynamic, anything goes, and rescinding it signals an absolute termination of the interaction or relationship2,6; and still others say that (from the bottom’s perspective) it is integral to their experience to experience a complete loss of control, and feel that there is no other option but to endure whatever happens within a scene or relationship8.

Tsaros’s2 article in Sexualities analyzes occurrences and conflicting understandings of CNC in two popular BDSM texts: Fifty Shades of Gray and The Story of O. The author points out the differences between ownership in EPE or TPE relationships (i.e., it is symbolic, and commonly incorporates intimate connection and protection from harm), and ownership found in non-BDSM instances of slavery and human trafficking2. The author also problematizes the concept of CNC, suggesting that the imitation of ownership is an integral part of all BDSM interactions, not just in CNC2. These points support the position that there may be an ideal way to enact a CNC scene, which incorporates the understanding among all parties that the loss of control is an illusion that can be ended at any time by the bottom9.

It can be argued that there should be room in human sexuality to encompass CNC, perhaps ideally a version in which all parties involved place concrete emphasis on the consensual nature of the scene, and are in agreement that the atmosphere of “non-consent” that follows is plastic and rescindable. In other words, for many, the ideal CNC scenario is explicitly consensual, and the non-consensual aspect is a roleplay contained within the bounds of consent, with rules in place regarding negotiation of and respect to limits, use of safewords, and incorporation of aftercare. Having said that, while it is easy to state that every sexual interaction should be explicitly consensual, it is not as easy to define what consent means to or how it is communicated between others10. For example, while consent is a social construct that can be defined in an important and useful way, society does not seem to have a strong collective understanding of what consent means or how it is obtained.

While there are those who would take issue with placing restrictions on a CNC scene, many who engage in BDSM find it helpful to play with certain guidelines in place, especially in the case of more extreme scenes, which CNC scenes often are. For example, such guidelines might include avoiding CNC interactions with people who lack experience with BDSM interactions and/or an understanding of how to communicate their boundaries. As Califia7 notes, it is crucial that newer players be aware of the distinct and necessary difference between fantasy and the manifestation of fantasy into reality. Another guideline might be that CNC interactions take place between people who have interacted with each other for a long enough period of time to establish a sense of mutual trust, care, and understanding. The problem many have with the concept of CNC is that there tend not to be such clearly stated parameters. As mentioned above, however, consent tends to be a difficult concept for many to clearly define, a fact that should not necessarily affect peoples’ rights to engage in what they consider consensual activities or lifestyles.

In an article discussing the need for a more sophisticated conceptualization of consent, the authors describe three different levels of consent: surface consent, i.e. “no means no” and “yes means yes;” scene consent, i.e., the pushing of boundaries and blurring of lines within a negotiated and consensual scene; and deep consent, in which the bottom may be in an altered state of consciousness, and consent may not become clear until considering it afterwards5. The authors also posit that in the case of deep consent, what makes a scene consensual or not is the extent to which both parties are aware of the potential for an altered state of consciousness, and there exists an adequate amount of affection, aftercare, and communication between participants before and after the scene. While deep consent in the context of a time-delimited CNC interaction might make sense in practice, the bottom’s inability to know in the moment what is illusory contradicts the idea that the non-consent must be illusory, especially given that every BDSM interaction is by definition based in consent, regardless of how it is framed or appears to be3,4.

BDSM by nature plays with the illusion of a loss of control and at times with an atmosphere of non-consent5. While this can be precarious, it is also what draws many BDSM participants to the lifestyle—finding a way to balance proper communication with a suspension of disbelief can result in the combination of fear and excitement that many people desire5. Inherent to a CNC scene is the desire to experience a range of intense emotions, and in the best case scenario, could provide a context for achieving transcendence. The concept of deep consent could contribute to a number of emotions on the part of those involved in the scene. In the case of a successful scene, participants might feel elation, happiness, a sense of intimacy, and empowerment. In the case of an unsuccessful scene, anger, resentment, disappointment, and alienation might surface. Even in the case of an unsuccessful scene, there is the potential for the rupture to be repaired with aftercare, an exchange of feedback, and renegotiation of rules11. If the participants have entered into a CNC scene with partners who they trust, know well, and desire intimacy with, even negative emotions could be processed in a way to achieve a closer bond12.

The continuation of this essay, Grappling with Consensual Non-consent, part 2, will be posted next week.

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1 Fifthangel. (2012). Inside the mind of a sadist. In T. Taormino (Ed.), The Ultimate Guide to Kink: BDSM, Role Play and the Erotic Edge (pp. 333-351). Berkeley, CA: Cleis Press. Kindle Edition.

2 Tsaros, A. (2013). Consensual non-consent: Comparing EL James’s Fifty Shades of Grey and Pauline Réage’s Story of O. Sexualities, 16(8), 864-879. doi: 10.1177/1363460713508903

3 Moser, C. (2006). Demystifying sexual behaviors. Sexuality, Reproduction & Menopause, 4(2), 8690.

4 Fowles, S. M. (2008). The fantasy of acceptable ‘non-consent’: Why the female sexual submissive scares us (and why she shouldn’t). In J. Friedman and J. Valenti (Eds.), Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape (pp. 117-125). Berkeley, CA: Seal Press. Kindle Edition.

5 Williams, D. J., Thomas, J. N., Prior, E. E., & Christensen, M. C. (2014). From “SSC” and “RACK” to the “4Cs”: Introducing a new framework for negotiating BDSM participation. Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, 17. Retrieved from http://mail.ejhs.org/volume17/BDSM.html

6 Dancer, P. L., Kleinplatz, P. J., & Moser, C. (2006). 24/7 SM slavery. Journal of Homosexuality, 50(2/3), 81-101. doi:10.1300/J082v50n02_05

7 Califia, P. (2012). Expanding masochism: How to expand limits and increase desire. In T. Taormino (Ed.), The Ultimate Guide to Kink: BDSM, Role Play and the Erotic Edge (pp. 309-331). Berkeley, CA: Cleis Press. Kindle Edition.

8 Taormino, T. (2012). “S is for…”: The terms, principles, and pleasures of kink. In T. Taormino (Ed.), The Ultimate Guide to Kink: BDSM, Role Play and the Erotic Edge (pp. 24-32). Berkeley, CA: Cleis Press. Kindle Edition.

9 Baumeister, R. F. & Butler, J. L. (1997). Sexual masochism: Deviance without pathology. In D. R. Laws & W. O’Donahue (Eds.), Sexual Deviance: Theory, Assessment, and Treatment (pp. 225-239). New York: Guilford Press.

10 Barker, M. (2013). Consent is a grey area? A comparison of understandings of consent in Fifty Shades of Grey and on the BDSM blogosphere. Sexualities, 16(8), 896-914. doi: 10.1177/1363460713508881

11 Faccio, E., Casini, C., & Cipolletta, S. (2014). Forbidden games: The construction of sexuality and sexual pleasure by BDSM ‘players.’ Culture, Health & Sexuality, 16(7), 752-764. doi: 10.1080/13691058.2014.909531

12 Beckman, A. (2007). The ‘Bodily Practices’ of Consensual ‘SM,’ Spirituality and ‘Transcendence’. In D. Langdridge & M. Barker (Eds.), Safe, sane, and consensual: Contemporary perspectives on sadomasochism (pp. 98–118). Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books.

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