An Alt Lifestyle Blog for and by Our Communities

Cross-post: GO Magazine proclaims “The Kink Doctor Is In”

Dulcinea Pitagora, founder of ManhattanAlternative.com, was featured in an article in GO Magazine‘s April 2015 issue. Read the online version of the interview here, or click on the image below for a PDF of the print version.

The Kink Doctor Is In

Crosspost: Because Acupuncture Can Help

Originally posted on August 6, 2014 on What’s Wrong With You?

When I tell  people I’m an Acupuncturist there are always the inevitable questions. “Does it really work?” or a variation thereof, throwing in “placebo” for good measure. Sometimes it’s followed up with “Isn’t it expensive?” or “I don’t think my insurance covers it.”  And, of course, the perennial favorite: “Oh, needles! Doesn’t it hurt?”

When I began studying Acupuncture I would vociferously defend the validity of the medicine from every angle I could think of. I would go on and on about research, past and present. Discuss which ailments the World Health Organization or the National Institute of Health currently list as showing improvement with acupuncture. Medical conditions such as high blood pressure, chronic pain, insomnia and Bell’s Palsy, among many others.

I would point out the sheer volume of hospitals around the US that have integrated some aspect of acupuncture into their facilities. Hospitals here in New York like Sloan Kettering, New York Presbyterian and Mount Sinai. In fact, a recent survey by the American Hospital Association showed that 42% of hospitals in the US has at least some kind of acupuncture available. Even the US Military has recognized the efficacy of acupuncture for better pain management, treatment of PTSD, and speeding the rehabilitative process.  A recently released report from the office of Veteran Affairs, highlighting the concern over their skyrocketing addiction and suicide rates, emphasized the efficacy of acupuncture versus pain medications for Afghan returnees.

Then I’d inform people most health insurance plans cover some CAM (complimentary/alternative medicine) treatments. Lots of people could use their insurance, they just don’t know. The New York State House and Senate has even passed a bill adding acupuncture to workman’s comp coverage. Now the Governor just has to sign it.

I started on the journey to become an acupuncturist after it effectively cured my arthritis. I know, I can’t say “cured” to a patient I ever plan to treat. It’s disingenuous and illegal.  It is, however, exactly what I experienced. I saw a wonderful Acupuncturist in midtown for 3 months. After 10 treatments all of my symptoms were alleviated and have not had a reappearance since. All the standard western interventions had done nothing for me except mask my pain and disrupt my digestion. I was amazed that pain I had been living with for 3 years diminished and disappeared in such a short time. It sparked a light in me and I decided I had to know how to do this, too. So my journey began.

Now that know for myself, I just keep it simple and answer the questions.

Does it hurt? Not really. The needles we use are pre-packaged sterile, single use stainless steel needles that are roughly the thickness of one of the hairs on your head.

Does it work? Yes. Speaking from both sides of the needle, I know firsthand how effective a handful of needles can be. I have treated or helped treat patients with a myriad of conditions, virtually all of whom saw definitively positive results from their time in treatment. I don’t bother with the naysayers; they like staying skeptical in the face of mounting evidence and that’s their prerogative.

Seriously though, if you and I were sitting around, talking about our health and life and stuff, drinking some coffee or whatever, and you asked me about it I’d say:

“Look, if you’ve been shot or you broke something or any other emergency, of course go to the emergency room. If you’re bleeding profusely or can’t breathe, please, go.”

Then I would pause, just a moment, maybe take a sip of that coffee or whatever…

“But if you’ve got anything else going on, and I really do mean anything, physically, mentally or emotionally, go see your acupuncturist.”

Thinking Globally about Sex and Gender: The Yogyakarta Principles

A couple of years ago I discovered a document called the Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, created in 2006 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia by the International Commission of Jurists and the International Service for Human Rights, on behalf of a coalition of human rights organizations in reaction to egregious international human rights violations pertaining to individuals marginalized for their sexual orientation and/or gender identifications.

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The introduction to the Yogyakarta Principles begins with…

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. all human rights are universal, interdependent, indivisible and interrelated. sexual orientation1) and gender identity2) are integral to every person’s dignity and humanity and must not be the basis for discrimination or abuse” (p. 6).

…and ends with…

“The Yogyakarta Principles affirm binding international legal standards with which all states must comply. they promise a different future where all people born free and equal in dignity and rights can fulfill that precious birthright” (p. 7).

I’m an advocate for every clinician and educator’s (and every human, really) reading this document in its entirety. Though the abridged principles listed as follows can be interpreted in different ways out of context, thinking critically about them as they stand here is a useful exercise in itself:

  1. The right to the universal enjoyment of human rights.
  2. The rights to equality and non-discrimination.
  3. The right to recognition before the law.
  4. The right to life.
  5. The right to security of the person.
  6. The right to privacy.
  7. The right to freedom of arbitrary deprivation of liberty.
  8. The right to a fair trial.
  9. The right to treatment with humanity while in detention.
  10. The right to freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
  11. The right to protection from all forms of exploitation, sale and trafficking of human beings.
  12. The right to work.
  13. The right to social security and to other social protection measures.
  14. The right to an adequate standard of living.
  15. The right to adequate housing.
  16. The right to education.
  17. The right to the highest attainable standard of health.
  18. Protection from medical abuses.
  19. The right to freedom of opinion and expression.
  20. The right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
  21. The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
  22. The right to freedom of movement.
  23. The right to seek asylum.
  24. The right to found a family.
  25. The right to participate in public life.
  26. The right to participate in cultural life.
  27. The right to promote human rights.
  28. The right to effective remedies and redress.
  29. Accountability.

Some interesting questions to ponder:

What of the above principles most affect you?

Which do you take for granted?

Which have you fought for?

The NYC Healthcare Hustle

Guest blog post by Stephanie Schroeder, a freelance writer and activist based in Brooklyn, New York.

Three years ago I published memoir about my struggle with bipolar disorder, Beautiful Wreck: Sex, Lies & Suicide. I got a little press, didn’t make a dime, but I did somehow become an instant go-to person in the Brooklyn LGBTQ consumer community on where to find no/low cost mental healthcare care and treatment, and especially how to afford expensive psychiatric meds without insurance or with insurance, but without adequate coverage. I’m a self-taught expert on how to do workarounds of the shitty healthcare systems we have in the US. I call this the NYC Healthcare Hustle, and healthcare professionals and friends alike refer folks in need to me regularly to see if I can help.

Here are a few inquiries I’ve received/exchanges I’ve had on social media in just the past month:

I signed up for “Obamacare” for $490 on January 1. I still don’t have a card and I don’t show up in the system. I’ve made several calls and just get the runaround. Still can’t get the abilify. I wonder if i will ever see a national healthcare plan in my lifetime. I need medical care with this fucking diabetes!!! Fuckers! I feel helpless with this shit.

I would love to have health insurance… That I could afford. The rates are just too expensive for the crap coverage I would be getting honestly. I think the cheapest plan I could get was $250 a month and it was really shabby insurance! I just couldn’t in my heart pay that much for something that wasn’t really covering me… And I do need it, for mental health. I’ve been lucky to find things like the shine program that help get these services for free.

I can’t find a new fucking psychiatrist who takes my insurance or reach my GP to talk about someone prescribing for me moving forward!

I have a question about medication and suicidality. My mind isn’t working well due to a dismal trial on Geodon (which helped me a lot once in the past, but this time the side effects and the side effects of the medicines I tried that treat Geodon side effects are very devastating and not at all tolerable) and due to just its nature, I guess. Abilify. I think you said it saved your life. I don’t want to live my life any more, but at the same time I wish I could at least have a chance at life. My psychiatrist is on vacation (until April 1) and I can’t wait that long. Do you know of a clinic or some other place where I could see a psychiatrist without being hospitalized? I have a private therapist who I adore – she doesn’t have any leads on a psychiatrist (she is a social worker.) I am on Wellbutrin SR (generic) and I think it has stopped working.  Do you know of anywhere that I can just walk in for help…?

The Affordable Care Act has not made healthcare better for most people I come into contact with, including myself. The reality is that the actual lack of affordable healthcare is making us sick(er). There are a lot of folks both within and outside the LGBTQ community who need help, need it now, and need it to be free or very low cost. The government of this country, state and city won’t help. I’ve appealed to many elected and appointed government officials in my lifetime mostly without response—or with the most lame, inane and canned responses ever. It’s not surprising, but it is disheartening.

I recently convened a group of radical queers to mobilize on behalf of our community. We are a small group—consumers and providers, and some who identify as both—concerned about the lack of information about and resources, in NYC, for quality, LGBTQ-affirmative, culturally competent affordable mental healthcare treatment and affordable prescriptions. We are concerned about the lack of choices, of various barriers to access as well as the lack of actual providers who are affordable, especially in light of the ACA. We aim to act as a resource/clearinghouse to our community/communities to find and publicize existing free and low-cost resources as well as develop new options.

Following are some ideas we initially conceived:

  • Establishing and maintaining a website listing relevant and updated resources for free/low-cost healthcare. This would provide detailed information and tips, not just a web links. We also discussed creating and distributing a zine.
  • Creating a cooperative of psychotherapists and psychiatrists who volunteer to take on one pro bono client for as long as they need assistance. This might also involve a community fundraising campaign on a crowdsourcing platform asking folks to donate the cost of one of their own therapy sessions to another community member in need to fund this project.
  • Training and coordinating peer counselors to support those in the community with mental health needs.

I’m also personally interested in coordinating a medication exchange. I’m more about rogue than my brethren, even while I respect the limitations of those colleagues with professional licenses. My idea is that folks donate surplus psychiatric medications whether they have extra, no longer take a certain drug, get free samples, etc. These are then passed along to others who need psych meds, but who cannot afford to purchase them, and there are a lot of folks in dire need. I had to stop taking Abilify for several months a few years ago because I could not afford the almost $700 price tag. I lived very precariously without my antipsychotic medication, thank goodness I have an excellent support network who helped me get through it, not everyone does. We created medication exchanges for HIV drugs—we can do it with psych meds.

I’ve applied for a few small seed grants, mostly to get a website with resources up and running. I envision this resource to not be a simple web listing of people and places, but one where those who have worked with, or tried to access, various resources, give tips and where commentary/narrative from those who have researched different resources accompanies listings.

Stay tuned for the NYC Healthcare Hustle Project to launch sometime in the fall of 2015.

StephanieSchroeder.com
[email protected]

Manhattan Alternative Represented at Upcoming SSTAR Conference

Dr. Eli Mayer will be presenting a talk on Saturday, March 28 at the 40th annual conference of the Society of Sex Therapists and Researchers (SSTAR) in Boston.  The theme of this year’s conference is: Healthy Sexuality as a Human Right: Making Sex Therapy Available to Diverse Populations.  The conference provides an opportunity to educate “mainstream” sex therapists and researchers about how to provide quality Sex Therapy to those of us whose sexual interests and gender identities diverge from what has traditionally been considered the norm.Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 12.06.31 PM

It was forty years ago that modern sex therapy to shape with Dr. Helen Singer-Kaplan’s book: The New Sex Therapy was published.  At this conference, Dr. Eli Mayer hopes to help bring the members of the organization in line with contemporary thinking, and has titled his talk The New New Sex Therapy: Working Productively With Nonnormative Populations.  He looks forward to sharing information from the conference with everyone when he returns.  To be continued…

Intimate Partner Violence in Sadomasochistic Relationships

The following is an excerpt from research inspired by four individuals’ experiences of intimate partner violence in the context of what they had initially believed to be consensual sadomasochistic relationships. The individuals came forward with the common motivation of giving hope to others who have felt similarly trapped by the conspiracy of silence, and to help generate discussion in support of those who find themselves in an abusive relationship disguised as D/s.

[…]

Contemporary society has come far in progressing towards tolerance, and perhaps even acceptance, of individuals who may not look or act the way the statistical majority does in terms of sexual and gender expression. Having said that, human consciousness remains overwhelmingly confined by rigid heteronormative definitions of sexual orientation and gender identification, which reinforce binary stereotypes and the pathologization of individuals who identify outside of the mainstream. The enduring stigma around engaging in Bondage and Domination/Dominance and Submission/Sadism and Masochism/Sadomasochism—also known as BDSM, SM, S&M, kink, and D/s1—impedes the recognition and acceptance of normative D/s relationships, disallowing a context in which intimate partner violence can be recognized. In other words, when mainstream society ignores the fact that BDSM can be a healthy form of sexual expression, and conflates it with intimate partner violence (IPV), it is difficult for someone experiencing abuse within the context of a D/s relationship to seek and receive support from health care providers, law enforcement, society at large, and among peers.

Given that the issue of IPV in heterosexual relationships has traditionally been assumed solely to affect heterosexual women, and that stereotypical gender roles promote the assumption that the submissive partner is always female, a similar assumption follows that IPV in D/s relationships would be directed toward the submissive partner. While the literature indicates that this is predominantly the case, it is important to note that it is possible for any gender to abuse any other gender2,3,4, and that there can be a discordance between traditional gender and power roles within D/s relationships5; therefore, it is no less plausible that dominant partners can be abused by submissive partners, regardless of gender. Abusive tendencies are rooted in maladaptive characteristics specific to the individual6; they are not necessarily associated with biological sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or BDSM-orientation. Non-consensual D/s relationships are a specific type of IPV, characterized by a lack of pleasure and the presence of enduring, permeating fear or discomfort on the part of the abused partner that is not confined to a consensual sexual encounter, and do not always occur in the direction of dominant to submissive partner7.  Unfortunately, there is no specific data to reference as there has been no research to date looking at instances of IPV in D/s relationships; this lack of research in effect reinforces and is reinforced by the conspiracy of silence around abuse.  It can be difficult for anyone who has experienced IPV to seek support, and those who are BDSM-oriented face the additional challenge of the common mainstream misconception that even consensual D/s relationships are abusive.

Institutional sexism affects all individuals who have experienced IPV, mainstream or non-mainstream, regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, or BDSM-orientation. There is, however, an intersectionality of discrimination that can exponentially affect BDSM-oriented individuals. To begin with, there is a reinforcing relationship between socially sanctioned gender roles and institutional sexism8. This is an issue for any gender—all individuals who are subjected to IPV suffer neglect and mistreatment at the hands of patriarchal and misogynistic institutions. Likewise, when a non-mainstream sexual orientation is added to the mix, neglect and mistreatment by the same institutions intensify.

The situation is dire but not hopeless. With continued efforts to educate society and give voice to those in marginalized communities, policy can change, and supports for every survivor of abuse can be put in place. Imagine a world in which BDSM participants felt they could freely discuss their preferences and proclivities with their medical and mental health providers without fear of judgment or stigmatization. Health care providers might then have on file certain preferences that might cause specific types of marks, and might notice a congruent pattern with consensual markings. It follows that health care providers would also have the ability to notice when marks fall outside of an individual’s patterns and preferences, and that an open line of communication could be established to determine whether the marks had been consensually obtained or were the result of IPV.

There is much work to be done towards creating an ideal support system for survivors of IPV in D/s relationships. There is a need for training among medical and mental health professionals on how to recognize their own biases, and understand the difference between normative expressions of BDSM and IPV. There is a need to educate the general population in this way as well, so that the difference between abuse and BDSM becomes clear and easier to recognize for those in both mainstream and BDSM communities. There is a need to employ and train law enforcement that is less aligned with patriarchal and overly moralistic attitudes and beliefs, and more empathetic and culturally competent. Finally, there is a need within the BDSM community to promote a clear understanding of the scaffolding of consent: 1) negotiation of common interests; 2) agreement on both a verbal and nonverbal safeword; 3) a commitment to continually attain explicit, rescindable consent; and 4) the incorporation of aftercare, not only as a means of returning to a cognitive and emotional baseline, but as a means for ensuring all parties involved enjoyed and understood the experience in roughly the same way. The key to accomplishing all of the above seems to be in transparent and explicit communication, and the raising of silenced voices.

_____________

1 Connolly, P. H. (2006). Psychological functioning of bondage/domination/sadomasochism (BDSM) practitioners. Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality, 18(1), 79–120. doi: 10.1300/J056v18n01_05

2 Ard, K. L. & Makadon, H. J. (2011). Addressing intimate partner violence in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender patients. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 26(8), 630-633.

3 Enos, V. P. (1996). Prosecuting battered mothers: State laws’ failure to protect battered women and abused children. Harvard Women’s Law Journal, 19, 229-268.

4 Rohrbaugh, J. B. (2006). Domestic violence in same-gender relationships. Family Court Review, 44(2), 287-299.

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

6 Moore, K. J., Greenfield, W. L., Wilson, Kok, A. C. (1997). Toward a taxonomy of batterers. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Human Services, 83(4), 352-360.

7 Nichols, M. (2011). Couples and kinky sexuality: The need for a new therapeutic approach. American Family Therapy Academy Monograph Series, 7, 25-33.

8 Joseph, J. A., Pitagora, D., Tworecke, A., & Roberts, K. E. (2013). Peering into gaps in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Student perspectives on gender and informing education. Society for International Education Journal: Engaging with Difference, Gender and Sexuality in Education, 7(1), 104-127.

Grappling with Consensual Non-consent, part 2

Continued from 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

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.

Please see the continuation of this essay, Grappling with Consensual Non-consent, part 2.

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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.

Depathologizing Casual Sex

I recently read an interesting albeit brief article discussing research on casual sex, and calling out the different types and functions of casual sexual encounters (click on the following to read)…

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…and I really appreciated that it calls out the oversimplification of these types of sexual interactions. I often have a strong reaction to the way that certain words are reductive, and used to pathologize or stigmatize non-reproductive sex—casual sex, hypersexuality, promiscuity to name a few. The phrase “casual sex” has an inherent assumption that “casual” is not “meaningful” and that there is something wrong with having casual sex. The same sort of implication exists in the terms “hypersexuality” and “promiscuity”—both are terms coined by the mainstream majority to refer to sexual activity that deviates from social norms, and are loaded with negative connotation. I am of the mindset that sexuality is a very personal matter; that how many sex partners one has or how they choose to interact with sex partners or engage in sexual interactions is very much dependent on individually assigned meaning and motivation.

For example, person A might have a variety of sex partners (perhaps who they consider “casual”) and types of sexual interactions, and experience their sexual expression as egosyntonic—i.e., a positive expression congruent with their values, beliefs, and self-image. Person B might have a sex life similar to person A in terms of sex partners and types of sexual interactions, but experience it as egodystonic—i.e., it might create internal and external conflicts, and negatively affect interpersonal functioning and the way they feel about themselves. In defense of person B, I would say that a large part of the conflict someone might have regarding their means of sexual expression is a reaction to the societal expectation that they conform to what is considered “appropriate” sexual behavior. For many, the resulting stigmatization from words like hypersexuality and promiscuity can cause far more discomfort than their internal dissonance, not only due to negative reinforcement, but in that it can create additional conflicts that delay or mitigate an authentic expression of sexuality.

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.