One of the topics I discussed with my fall 2013 college-level class on non-monogamy is BDSM and kink. I deliberately introduced the topic at the end of the semester, when we’d already studied sexual and gender configurations around the world, past and present, with an eye toward how gender, sexuality, and relationship models inform one another’s construction. Our purpose was to critically evaluate how these things work, not to judge them. My goal was to give my students a vocabulary for discussing various sexual practices, and then to have them turn that critical gaze on subjects closer to home and happening in contemporary America: swinging, polygamy, polyamory, and kink.
But there I was, on Day 1 of discussing BDSM, mentioning extreme examples of kinky play like flesh hooks and blood play. We’d covered why 50 Shades of Grey is pretty off-base (though I continue to adore Kate’s post looking at the silver lining of its popularity), and we’d discussed some of the basic ideas behind the various roles and types of scenes/encounters that could happen. My intention in bringing up something so extreme so early was not, obviously, to be sensationalistic or to gross out my students (though it did provide a valuable opportunity to define the word “squick” and use it in context).
What I was going for, and what I hope came through, was more the idea that any sexual encounter that’s consensual deserves to be discussed with the same dignity and attention as any other thing that people in a culture do. Sex acts are just something that people do, like preparing food or going to work or deciding what movie to watch. Whether a sex act is more or less “extreme” (consensual blood-letting vs. french-kissing) shouldn’t affect how we discuss it. I don’t want to suddenly drop into hushed tones when describing something that’s not mainstream; I don’t want to model that kind of implicit judgment for my students.
Right now, I don’t know whether any of that came through for my students. I am hoping, though, that seeing their instructor model non-judgmental behavior while discussing sexual practices pretty far outside the mainstream made a positive impact on them (consciously or not).