Students in Stamp Student Union’s Colony Ballroom last night prepared themselves for a conversation many had never before dared to discuss in a public setting — kinky sex.
The lecture and panel discussion, led by feminist pornographer and sex educator Tristan Taormino, aimed to debunk myths about BDSM presented in the erotic romance novel, Fifty Shades of Gray, as well as teach students about having safe sexual experiences.
Jenna Beckwith, sexual health program coordinator at the University Health Center, said she recognized a need for such an event when she saw the influence Fifty Shades was having on students’ sex lives.
“I think that in my realm of work, where students come to me with their sexual health concerns, I saw that with the popularity of Fifty Shades, kinky sex seemed to be the trendy thing to do,” Beckwith said. “The popularity of this book really brought to light a lot of misconceptions and misinformation that young people were having about sexuality. We wanted to open up a space for students to explore their identities and ask questions about this topic in a safe place.”
During the discussion, sexual health experts and university faculty exposed false stereotypes described in the novel, such as the idea that all people who engage in BDSM were abused at one point, so they express that trauma in their sex lives. The book’s main characters perpetuate the belief, but that’s largely untrue, said Tamara Pincus, a clinical social worker who spoke on the panel.
“Kink is very stigmatized, and it’s important that students see that we are just regular people like everybody else,” Pincus said. “Most people know that they are kinky at a young age, and it’s just part of how people develop.”
Addressing the various stigmas associated with BDSM, Taormino — who also hosts the radio talk show Sex Out Loud — highlighted how at the center of every BDSM relationship is consent, a factor she said many people unfamiliar with the culture don’t link with kinky sex.
“Consent is absolutely explicit when kinky people decide to do something with each other,” Taormino said. “The goal is to both give and receive consent from their partner, and to make sure that each person is informed. They want it to be enthusiastic, to have an ‘I’m totally on board with this’ type of consent.”
Sophomore biology major Ellen Lee attended the event just out of curiosity about the culture.
“It was very eye-opening; I didn’t even know that kink was a thing, I didn’t know that they formed real communities of real people,” Lee said. “A lot of people are too afraid to explore that side of themselves, in fear of judgment. It really made me understand kink better and why people do it.”
The BDSM culture is not only applicable to kinky people, Taormino said, as some of the principles of consent and communication could be readily applied to “vanilla,” or nonkinky, relationships. Any couple looking to improve their sexual relationship could do so by putting these ideas into practice, she said.
“Any therapist will tell you that you’re more likely to succeed in a relationship if you communicate more,” Taormino said. “So the question is: What can kinky people teach nonkinky people?”