Monthly Archives: March 2013

Kinky Resources for Those Who Want to Learn More …

SM Resources on the Internet

  • Society of Janus – The website of this San Francisco-based SM organization features outstanding links and information for players of all experience levels. Highly recommended for new players looking to build a vocabulary, as well as kinksters who want to connect with a community.
  • The Euilenspiegel Society – The oldest based leather organization in the US, this NYC-based organization hosts an informative site with great links and community resources for those on the East Coast.
  • Good Vibrations The on-line home of my favorite, co-operatively owned erotic boutique. A fantastic place for on-line book and toy shopping.
  • Toys in Babeland The on-line home of Seattle and New York´s premiere erotic boutique. Women owned and operated!
  • Kink Aware Professionals A fantastic site for finding a kink friendly psychotherapist, social worker, pastor, doctor, chiropractor, acupuncturist, massage therapist, lawyer, accountant or computer professional! Features international listings.
S&M Fiction, Erotica and Reference
  • Macho SlutsPublic Sex, and Speaking Sex to Power: The Politics of Queer Sex by Patrick Califia
  • My Gender Workbook by Kate Bornstein
  • Consensual SM by Sybil Holiday
  • Screw the Roses, Give Me the Thorns: The Romance and Sexual Sorcery of Sadomasochism by Philip Miller and Molly Devon
  • Different Loving: The World of Sexual Dominance and Submission by Gloria Brame, William Brame and Jon Jacobs
  • Anything written or edited by Violet Blue, San Francisco-based sex and technology writer
  • Male Lust: Pleasure, Power and Transformation edited by Kerwin Kay, Jill Nagle and Baruch Gould

Gender, Feminist Politics, The Industry

  • Whores and Other Feminists edited by Jill Nagle
  • Live Sex Acts by Wendy Chapkis
  • Global Sex Workers edited by Kamala Kempadoo and Jo Doezema
  • A Vindication of the Rights of Whores edited by Gail Pheterson
  • Skin: Talking About Sex, Class & Literature and Trash by Dorothy Allison
  • Women, Culture & Politics by Angela Y. Davis
  • Yearning: race, gender and cultural politics by bell hooks
  • The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
  • Orientalism by Edward Said

Auto/biographies, Memoirs, Journals

  • The Collected Diaries of Anais Nin
  • The Adderall Diares by Stephen Elliott
  • The Orton Diaries by Joe Orton
  • In Light of India by Octavio Paz
  • The Jaguar Smile by Salman Rushdie
  • Fidel & Religion by Frei Betto
  • Assata by Assata Shakur
  • Dust Tracks on a Road by Zora Neale Hurston

General Fiction

  • The Lover by Marguerite Duras
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
  • The White Hotel by D.M. Thomas
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale
  • House of Incest by Anais Nin
  • Midnight´s Children by Salman Rushdie
  • The Passion by Jeanette Winterson
  • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  • Last Exit to Brooklyn by Herbert Selby Jr.


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Spanking Goes Mainstream

Spanking Goes Mainstream


From the steamy bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey to HBO’s Girls, sexual domination is in vogue. Katie Roiphe on why women’s power at work may be fueling the craze. If every era gets the sadist it deserves, it may not be surprising that we have ended up with Christian Grey, the hero of the runaway bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey. He is not twisted or frightening or in possession of a heart of darkness; he was abused as a child, a sadist Oprah could have dreamed up, or as E L James puts it, “Christian Grey has a sad side.” He is also extremely solicitous and apologetic for a sadist, always asking the book’s young heroine, Anastasia Steele, about every minute gradation of her feelings, and bringing her all kinds of creams and lotions to soothe her after spanking her. He is, in other words, the easiest difficult man of all time.

Ellen von Unwerth / Art + Commerce

Why does this particular, watered-down, skinny-vanilla-latte version of sadomasochism have such cachet right now? Why have masses of women brought the book to the top of the New York Times bestseller list before it even hit the stores? Most likely it’s the happy convergence of the superficial transgression with comfortable archetypes, the blushing virgin and the whips. To a certain, I guess, rather large, population, it has a semipornographic glamour, a dangerous frisson of boundary crossing, but at the same time is delivering reassuringly safe, old-fashioned romantic roles. Reading Fifty Shades of Grey is no more risqué or rebellious or disturbing than, say, shopping for a pair of black boots or an arty asymmetrical dress at Barneys.

As it happens, the prevailing stereotype of the Fifty Shades of Grey reader, distilled in the condescending term “mommy porn,” as an older, suburban, possibly Midwestern woman isn’t entirely accurate: according to the publisher’s data, gleaned from Facebook, Google searches, and fan sites, more than half the women reading the book are in their 20s and 30s, and far more urban and blue state than the rampant caricature of them suggests.

The current vogue for domination is not confined to surreptitious iPad reading: inLena Dunham’s acclaimed new series, Girls, about 20-somethings adrift in New York City, a similar desire for sexual submission has already emerged as a theme. The heroine’s pale hipsterish ersatz boyfriend jokes, “You modern career women, I know what you like …” and his idea, however awkwardly enacted, is that they like to be dominated. He says things like “You should never be anyone’s … slave, except mine,” and calls down from a window: “If you come up I’m going to tie you up and keep you here for three days. I’m just in that kind of mood.” She comes back from seeing him with bruises and sheepishly tells her gay college boyfriend at a bar, “I am seeing this guy and sometimes I let him hit me on the side of my body.”

Her close friend and roommate, meanwhile, has a sweet, sensitive, respectful boyfriend in the new mold who asks her what she wants in bed, and she is bored out of her mind and irritated by him; she fantasizes instead about an arrogant artist she meets at the gallery where she works, who tells her that he will scare her in bed. So nice postfeminist boys are not what these ambitious, liberal-arts-educated girls are looking for either: they are also, in their exquisitely ironic, confused way, in the market for a little creative submission.

Further signals of the current cultural interest in sexual domination include the recent movie A Dangerous Method, which safely embedded spanking in a period piece exploring the history of psychoanalysis. Keira Knightley told interviewers that she was so concerned about the spanking scene during which her character was tied to a bedpost that, in order to get through it, she drank shots of vodka beforehand.

It is intriguing that huge numbers of women are eagerly consuming myriad and disparate fantasies of submission at a moment when women are ascendant in the workplace, when they make up almost 60 percent of college students, when they are close to surpassing men as breadwinners, with four in 10 working women now outearning their husbands, when the majority of women under 30 are having and supporting children on their own, a moment when—in hard economic terms—women are less dependent or subjugated than before.

It is probably no coincidence that, as more books like The Richer Sex by Liza Mundy and Hanna Rosin’s forthcoming The End of Men appear, there is a renewed popular interest in the stylized theater of female powerlessness. This is not to mention a spate of articles on choosing not to be married or the steep rise in young women choosing single motherhood. We may then be especially drawn to this particular romanticized, erotically charged, semipornographic idea of female submission at a moment in history when male dominance is shakier than it has ever been.

In the realm of private fantasy, the allure of sexual submission, even in its extremes, is remarkably widespread. An analysis of 20 studies published in Psychology Todayestimates that between 31 percent and 57 percent of women entertain fantasies where they are forced to have sex. “Rape fantasies are a place where politics and Eros meet, uneasily,” says Daniel Bergner, who is working on a book on female desire to be published next year. “It is where what we say and what is stand next to each other, mismatched.” The researchers and psychologists he talked to for his 2009 New York Times article, “What Do Women Want?” often seemed reluctant to use the phrase “rape fantasy,” and in scholarly pieces, the idea makes even the chroniclers of these fantasies extremely nervous and apologetic. Even though fantasies are something that, by definition, one can’t control, they seem to be saying something about modern women that nearly everyone wishes wasn’t said. One of the researchers he interviewed preferred to call them “fantasies of submission”; another said, “It’s the wish to be beyond will, beyond thought.”

Courtesy of Everett Collection (left); no credit

But why, for women especially, would free will be a burden? Why is it appealing to think of what happens in the passive tense? Why is it so interesting to surrender, or to play at surrendering? It may be that power is not always that comfortable, even for those of us who grew up in it; it may be that equality is something we want only sometimes and in some places and in some arenas; it may be that power and all of its imperatives can be boring.

In Girls, Lena Dunham’s character finds herself for a moment lying on a gynecologist’s table perversely fantasizing about having AIDS because it would free her from ambition, from responsibility, from the daunting need to make something of her life. It’s a great scene, a vivid piece of real-seeming weirdness, which raises the question: is there something exhausting about the relentless responsibility of a contemporary woman’s life, about the pressure of economic participation, about all that strength and independence and desire and going out into the world? It may be that, for some, the more theatrical fantasies of sexual surrender offer a release, a vacation, an escape from the dreariness and hard work of equality.

Which is not to say that baroque stories of sexual submission are new. Sadomasochism is, of course, what someone I know referred to as “a hearty perennial.” It has always existed in secret pockets, and periodically some small glimmer of it breaks into mainstream culture and fascinates us. But the S&M classics of the past make fewer compromises with normal life; they don’t traffic in things as banal or ordinary as love.

In Story of O, the famous French novel written by Pauline Réage in 1954, the heroine is elaborately trained to be a slave, after being whisked off to a chateau where masked men whip her and abuse her sexually. O’s masochism begins as an intense devotion to her lover but quickly turns into something else: O begins to vacate herself; she loses her personality in the pure discipline of pain. The cool, elegant, brutal novel culminates in a scene where O is wearing an owl mask and is led on a chain naked into a party, where it occurs to none of the guests that she is human. When Susan Sontag wrote about O, she talked about “the voluptuous yearning toward the extinction of one’s consciousness.” Which is of course a far cry from Christian emailing “Laters, baby” to Anastasia.

Every so often a book comes along that absorbs us and generates discussion about bondage and power, with eroticized scenes of rape or colorful submission: books such as The Ages of Lulu and The Sexual Life of Catherine M. What is interesting is that this material still, in our jaded porn-saturated age, manages to be titillating or controversial or newsworthy. We still seem to want to debate or interrogate or voyeuristically absorb scenes of extreme sexual submission. Even though we are, at this point, familiar with sadomasochism, it still seems to strike the culture as new, as shocking, as overturning certain values, because something in it still feels, to a surprisingly large segment of our tolerant post-sexual-revolution world, wrong or shameful.

One of the salient facts about Fifty Shades of Grey’s Anastasia Steele is that she is not into sadomasochism, she is just in love with Christian Grey (“Deep down I would just like more, more affection, more playful Christian, more … love”), so she is willing to give beatings and leather crops the old college try. This is important for a mainstream heroine appealing to mainstream readers: she indulges in the slightly out-there fantasy of whipping and humiliation without actually taking responsibility for any off-kilter desires. She can enjoy his punishments and leather whips and mild humiliations without ever having to say that she sought them out or chose them. It’s not that she wants to be whipped, it’s that she willingly endures it out of love for, and maybe in an effort to save, a handsome man. This little trick of the mind, of course, is one of the central aspects of sexual submission: you can experience it without claiming responsibility, without committing to actually wanting it, which has a natural appeal to both our puritan past and our post-ironic present.

When Maggie Gyllenhaal appeared in Secretary, a 2002 comic commentary on a boss disciplining his assistant, she was worried about a feminist reaction against the flamboyant depiction of sexual domination. But she said, “I found women, especially of my generation, are moved by it in some way that goes beyond politics.”

Explaining the endurance of submissive sexual fantasies, the feminist Katha Pollitt says, “Women have more sexual freedom and more power than ever before in our history, but that does not mean they have a lot of either, and it doesn’t mean they don’t have complicated feelings of guilt, shame and unworthiness.” Over the years researchers and psychologists have theorized that women harbor elaborate fantasies about sexual submission because they feel guilty or skittish about claiming responsibility for their own desires: they are more comfortable being wanted than wanting, in other words. But more recent studies show that the women who fantasize about being forced to have sex are actually less prone to guilt than those who don’t. In any event, that theory seems too simple or at least too 19th-century an answer for the modern woman: it is not as much guilt over sex but rather something more basically liberating about being overcome or overpowered. The thrill here is irrational, untouched by who one is in life, immune to the critical or sensible voice, the fine education, or good job.

Feminists have long been perplexed by our continuing investment in this fantasy, the residual desire to be controlled or dominated in the romantic sphere. They are on the record as appalled at how many strong, successful, independent women are caught up in elaborate fantasies of submission (and realities, of course, but that’s another story). Gloria Steinem writes that these women “have been raised to believe that sex and domination are synonymous,” and we must learn to “finally untangle sex and aggression.” But maybe sex and aggression should not, and probably more to the point, cannot be untangled.

Recently on talk shows there has been a certain amount of upstanding feminist tsk-tsking about the retrograde soft-core exploitation of women in Fifty Shades of Grey, and there seem to be no shortage of liberal pundits asking, “Is this what they went to the barricades for?” But of course the barricades have always been oddly irrelevant to intimate life. As the brilliant feminist thinker Simone de Beauvoir answered when someone asked her if her subjugation to Jean-Paul Sartre in her personal life was at odds with her feminist theories: “Well, I just don’t give a damn … I’m sorry to disappoint all the feminists, but you can say it’s too bad so many of them live only in theory instead of in real life.”

In her controversial and revealing meditation on her own obsession with spanking in the New Yorker, Daphne Merkin speculated about the tension between her identity as a “formidable” woman and her yearning for a sexualized childish punishment. She writes, “Equality between men and women, or even the pretext of it, takes a lot of work and may not in any case be the surest route to sexual excitement.”

It is perhaps inconvenient for feminism that the erotic imagination does not submit to politics, or even changing demographic realities; it doesn’t care about The End of Men or peruse feminist blogs in its spare time; it doesn’t remember the hard work and dedication of the suffragettes and assorted other picket-sign wavers. The incandescent fantasy of being dominated or overcome by a man shows no sign of vanishing with equal pay for equal work, and may in fact gain in intensity and take new, inventive—or in the case of Fifty Shades of Grey, not so inventive—forms.

In fact, if I were a member of the Christian right, sitting on my front porch decrying the decadent morals of working American women, what would be most alarming about the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomena, what gives it its true edge of desperation, and end-of-the-world ambience, is that millions of otherwise intelligent women are willing to tolerate prose on this level. If you are willing to slog through sentences like “In spite of my poignant sadness, I laugh,” or “My world is crumbling around me into a sterile pile of ashes, all my hopes and dreams cruelly dashed,” you must really, really, want to get to the submissive sex scene.


Katie Roiphe is the author of The Morning After: Fear, Sex and Feminism (1994),Last Night in Paradise: Sex and Morals at the Century’s End (1997), Still She Haunts Me (2001), and Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Portraits of Married Life in London Literary Circles 1910-1939 (2007).

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‘50 Shades of Grey’ Speed Read: 14 Naughtiest Bits

‘50 Shades of Grey’ Speed Read: 14 Naughtiest Bits


Spanking, wrist cuffs, and dirty talk that’s fit for a porno (read: NSFW), the most shocking bits from E.L. James’s bestselling erotic novel.  Plusread Katie Roiphe’s Newsweek piece on spanking going mainstream.

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Several weeks ago, I received a telling email from my 29-year-old sister-in-law: “Have you heard of the book 50 Shades of Grey? Get Involved.”

At this point, E.L. James’s erotica novel was a bestselling e-book, and my brother’s wife—a new mom who spends most days taking care of her 4-month-old son—had immersed herself in some pleasure reading in between changing diapers. Though paperback copies only hit U.S. bookstores yesterday, 50 Shades of Grey is the most buzzed-about series since The Hunger Games, if not a household name (my friend recently learned about it from her 60-year-old father).

There’s a reason the Grey series is being dubbed “mommy porn,” and it’s not just because of the rough sex and BDSM relationship that has its innocent, college student protagonist Anastasia Steele bending over backward (and forward and sideways) for the older, dashing Christian Grey.

Originally conceived as Twilight fan fiction, James’s 50 Shades of Grey “reimagined the Bella and Edward love affair set in contemporary Seattle, Washington with Bella as the young college graduate virgin and Edward as the masterful billionaire with secret sexual predilections.” So while the steamy scenes have no doubt sent many hands wandering beneath the sheets during bedtime reading, much of Grey’s appeal is its Cinderella story—the rich-man-sweeps-innocent-beauty-off-her-feet female fantasy. And as in so many romance novels, beneath the hero’s domineering veneer there’s a vulnerability that only the heroine can penetrate, though not without some emotional maneuvering. Jane Eyre has to confront the madwoman in Mr. Rochester’s attic; Bella has to come to terms with Edward’s immortality and bloodlust; Anastasia has to endure Christian Grey’s “Red Room of Pain.”


But some ladies may think the romance in 50 Shades of Grey detracts from the sexual fantasy. While some parts are reminiscent of 9½ weeks and Last Tango in Paris, others are straight out of Pretty Woman, and the image of Mickey Rourke blindfolding Kim Basinger just doesn’t evoke the same mood as Richard Gere seducing Julia Roberts at a piano. E.L. James knows her S&M so well that Greycould read like a less sinister Story of O, if it weren’t punctuated by the narrator’s dithering inner monologue (every time Anastasia gets aroused, it seems, she announces it with a “Holy Crap!” or “Holy Shit!” or “Holy Moses!”)

If you couldn’t tolerate Bella’s moralizing conscience in Twilight, chances are you’ll feel similarly about Anastasia’s. That said, where Stephanie Meyer’s prose is G-rated, James’s is unabashedly explicit. Here, the most racy and alternately corny scenes from the first installment of her softcore porn series.

Anastasia and Christian’s hot elevator makeout session
“Before I know it, he’s got both of my hands in his viselike grip above my head, and he’s pinning me to the wall using his lips … His other hand grabs my hair and yanks down, bringing my face up, and his lips are on mine … My tongue tentatively strokes his and joins his in a slow, erotic dance … His erection is against my belly.” (Page 78)

Anastasia’s reaction to Christian’s erect penis: ‘Holy Cow!’
“Suddenly, he sits up and tugs my panties off and throws them on the floor. Pulling off his boxer briefs, his erection springs free. Holy cow! … He kneels up and pulls a condom onto his considerable length. Oh no … Will it? How?” (116)

Katie Roiphe on ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ and Feminism

Christian’s dirty talk makes us turn 50 shades of red
“Show me how you pleasure yourself … Keep still … We’re going to have to work on keeping you still, baby … Let’s see if we can make you come like this … You’re so deliciously wet. God, I want you … I’m going to fuck you now, Miss Steele … Hard … Come for me, Ana.” (114, 116, 117, 118)

Anastasia’s ‘Inner Goddess’ comes out
“I pull him deeper into my mouth so I can feel him at the back of my throat and then to the front again. My tongue swirls around the end. He’s my very own Christian Grey-flavored popsicle. I suck harder and harder … Hmm … My inner goddess is doing the merengue with some salsa moves.” (137)

Anastasia climaxes ‘again and again’ … and again
“He leans down and kisses me, his fingers still moving rhythmically inside me, his thumb circling and pressing. His other hand scoops my hair off my head and holds my head in place. His tongue mirrors the actions of his fingers, claiming me. My legs begin to stiffen as I push against his hand. He gentles his hand, so I’m brought back from the brink … I come instantly again and again, falling apart beneath him … then I’m building again … I climax anew, calling out his name.” (195, 196)

Things get kinky between ‘The Dominant and The Submissive’
“Suddenly he grabs me, tipping me across his lap. With one smooth movement, he angles his body so my torso is resting on the bed beside him. He throws his right leg over both mine and plants his left forearm on the small of my back, holding me down so I cannot move … He places his hand on my naked behind, softly fondling me, stroking around and around with his flat palm. And then his hand is no longer there … and he hits me—hard.” (273, 274)

Anastasia’s ‘Inner Goddess’ grapples with spanking
“We lie there, panting together, waiting for our breathing to slow. He gently strokes my hair … Boy … I Survived. That wasn’t so bad. I’m more stoic than I thought. My inner goddess is prostrate … well, at least she’s quiet.” (276)

Continues grappling as Christian rubs baby oil on her ‘behind’
“Sitting beside me, he gently pulls my sweatpants down. Up and down like a whores’ drawers, my subconscious remarks bitterly. In my head, I tell her where to go. Christian squirts baby oil into his hand and then rubs my behind with careful tenderness—from makeup remover to soothing balm for a spanked ass, who would have thought it was such a versatile liquid.” (277)

Wait, all this ‘Dominant and Submissive’ stuff is really confusing Anastasia’s Inner Goddess
“You beguile me, Christian. Completely overwhelm me. I feel like Icarus flying too close to the sun.” (188)

But she still likes the idea of ‘silver balls’ in naughty places
“He holds out his hand, and in his palm are two shiny silver balls linked with a thick black thread … Inside me! I gasp, and all the muscles deep in my belly clench. My inner goddess is doing the dance of the seven veils … Oh my … It’s a curious feeling. Once they’re inside me, I can’t really feel them—but then again I know they’re there … Oh my … I may have to keep these. They make me needy, needy for sex.” (362, 364)

She might even like the riding crop and wrist cuffs more!
“At the touch of leather, I quiver and gasp. He walks around me again, trailing the crop around the middle of my body. On his second circuit, he suddenly flicks the crop, and it hits me underneath my behind … against my sex … The shock runs through me, and it’s the sweetest, strangest, hedonistic feeling … My body convulses at the sweet, stinging bite. My nipples harden and elongate from the assault, and I moan loudly, pulling on my leather cuffs.” (323)

When he’s not spanking/flogging, Christian’s quite sweet
“He sighs, slides in beside me, and pulls me into his arms. Careful not to touch my stinging behind, we are spooning again. He kisses me softly beside my ear.” (366)

And oh-so-vulnerable 
” ‘Why don’t you like to be touched?’ I whisper, staring up into soft gray eyes. ‘Because I’m fifty shades of fucked up, Anastasia.’ ” (369)

” ‘The woman who brought me into this world was a crack whore, Anastasia …’ I slip into a dazed and exhausted sleep, dreaming of a four-year-old gray-eyed boy in a dark, scary, miserable place.’ ” (367)

But she can’t resist the dominant (really, she just wants him to pull her hair)
“His arms are wrapped around me, and he’s pulling me to him, hard, fast, gripping my ponytail to tilt my head up, kissing me like his life depends on it … He drags the hair tie painfully out of my hair, but I don’t care. He needs me, for whatever reason, at this point in time, and I have never felt so desired and coveted.” (478)

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“Hush Hush Topic No More” … BDSM comes out of the shadows and into the light!

A version of this article appeared in print on February 28, 2013, on page E1 of the New York edition with the headline: A Hush-Hush Topic No More.  

Katie Orlinsky for The New York Times

On a recent Friday night, a small group of people lined up in a cinder-block hallway inside an unmarked entrance to Paddles, a club on West 26th Street. Two men in their 60s were discussing real estate and a few women in their 20s were sending last-minute texts before going down two flights to the subterranean space.

Guy Sanders is a spokesman for a BDSM group that hosts classes in New York.

Katie Orlinsky for The New York Times

Mollena Williams in New York at a book signing for the new fictional anthology “Leather Ever After.”

James Estrin/The New York Times

Various accessories on sale at a BDSM shop in Chelsea.

James Estrin/The New York Times

BDSM accessories.

Paddles is not another trendy table tennis emporium, but a “safe space” to live out erotic fantasies, specifically BDSM (bondage/discipline, domination/submission, sadism/masochism), OTK (over the knee; in other words, spanking), and an alphabet soup’s worth of other sexual practices that, until recently, have gone largely unnoticed and undiscussed by the mainstream world.

But surely in part because of the blockbuster success of E. L. James’s “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy (65 million copies sold worldwide according to Publishers Weekly), people who are drawn to power exchange in sexuality and may refer to themselves as kinky are finding themselves in the spotlight as never before.

In February, “kink,” a documentary directed by Christina Voros and produced by James Franco, had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. (The Hollywood Reporter called it “a friendly film about lots of seemingly reasonable people who do terrible things to each other on camera for money.”) Phrases like “safe word” are increasingly part of pop culture; on the IFC hit “Portlandia,” one sensitive character said hers (“cacao”) even when her boyfriend is sleeping. On Showtime’s “Shameless,” Joan Cusack plays a kinky mother trying to manage the enthusiasm and pricey toy collection of her younger lover.

And some real-life kinksters — a few of whom are appropriating the epithet “pervert,” much as gay activists seized control of “queer” — are wondering if they are approaching a time when they, like the L.G.B.T. community before them, can come out and begin living more open, integrated lives.

But that time, it seems, has not yet arrived. Though the Harvard College Munch, a social group of around 30 students focusing on kinky interests, was officially recognized by the university in December, its 21-year-old founding president asked that he not be identified. (“I’m interested in politics,” he offered as one reason.) He said that he had “encountered zero negative responses on campus,” and received messages from alumni expressing solidarity and wishing there had been a similar group when they were undergraduates.

A 20-year-old college student and self-described submissive on Long Island who asked to be referred to only by her middle name, Marie, said that she was disowned by her parents when a partner’s lover outed her as kinky. “They were just beside themselves,” Marie said. “I think they were worried I would get hurt.”

She saw how telling people could be complicated. “It’s like being gay in that it’s a sexual preference, but it’s not like being gay in the sense that it’s not who you love, it’s how you love,” she said, adding, “The coming out is a little bit different.” Still, she said, “among people my own age, I haven’t found anyone who thinks I’m weird or doesn’t want to be friends.”

For those who find hostility in the wider world, though, there are plenty of welcoming environments to be found. Inside Paddles, there are black walls and a mural featuring a cartoon woman in thigh-high red boots standing with a stiletto heel on a man’s back. The bar, called Whips and Licks Cafe, does not sell alcohol, but coffee, sodas and Italian ices, giving the atmosphere an unexpectedly wholesome feeling. Opposite it was a display of paddles, floggers and other equipment for sale. The club’s various nooks and crannies featured rigs, chains, cages and benches where participants could pair up and play out whatever “scenes” they agreed upon.

Tucked away in one room, a man and woman were sharing fire play, which involved accelerant placed on strategic points of the woman’s body and set ablaze in short, dramatic bursts. In another area, decorated to look like a dungeon, a middle-aged man was lashing a middle-aged woman’s bare back with a single tail whip. Intercourse and oral sex are not allowed at Paddles, but many people had their shirts off, mixing comfortably without any apparent self-consciousness.

The crowd was mixed-age and multiethnic, and the mood was friendly and upbeat. If you ignored the occasional yelps and moans and stripped away the exotic gear, it could have been a gathering of any hobby group, albeit one where photos were prohibited and participants mostly used aliases.

“One out of five people these days who come to our events are novices who say they’ve read ‘Fifty Shades’ and it triggered something and they wanted to explore,” said a man identifying himself as Viktor, 49, who works in marketing and is a founder of DomSubFriends, a BDSM education group that organized a lecture on jealousy that night. “In the beginning I thought, ‘They took away my BDSM,’ ” he said of the newbies. “But then I thought, ‘No, more people are enjoying it.’ ”

Fetish shops like Purple Passion/DV8 on West 20th Street, which sell rope, paddles and other accouterments familiar to BDSM aficionados, are also getting more visits. “We always had people coming in looking to explore, but now there’s a lot more people experimenting and trying things out,” said Lolita Wolf, who works behind the counter and teaches classes like beginner rope bondage and how to play with needles at the shop.

For those not ready to explore kink in public, dating sites like and social networks like FetLife let them do so from their own homes or mobile devices. Founded in 2008 and based in Vancouver, British Columbia, FetLife added 700,000 members last year, bringing its total membership to over 1.7 million, according to Susan Wright, a community manager for the site as well as a spokeswoman for the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, a nonprofit group based in Baltimore that is working to raise awareness of kinky people and defend their rights.

It’s understandable that kinky people would seek the anonymous refuge of the Internet; their preferences can be made an issue in custody battles (even if both parents have participated) or contribute to employees losing their jobs. Valerie White, a founder of the Sexual Freedom Legal Defense and Education Fund, a nonprofit advocacy and education group based in Sharon, Mass., points to one man whose ex-wife sought to change the terms of their joint custody when she learned of his interest in kinky sex through his blog (the parties eventually settled).

Ms. Wright said the coalition receives 600 calls a year from individuals and organizations seeking help navigating legal minefields. Founded in 1997, the coalition has lobbied to have the American Psychiatric Association update the definitions of certain sexual practices so they can be depathologized in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual. “We’re perfectly ordinary people except that we like kinky sex,” said Ms. Wright, 49, who is a science fiction writer and has been married 19 years. “We should not be discriminated against.”

The group also maintains a database of “kink-aware” clinicians and spiritual advisers. Some therapists say “something is wrong with you, that it’s a pathology,” said Dr. Charley Ferrer, a clinical psychologist in Manhattan and Staten Island and the author of “BDSM: The Naked Truth.” (That perception is reinforced by the “Fifty Shades’” protagonist, Christian Grey.) “Most people look at BDSM as being abusive: ‘How can you tell someone to beat you and be happy with that?’ Domestic violence and dominance and submission are totally different.”

Guy Sanders, 53, a retired E.M.S. worker and spokesman for the Eulenspiegel Society, a group that bills itself as “the oldest and largest BDSM support and education group” in the nation, has himself been out as dominant for about five years.

“When I told my co-workers, they pictured leather chaps and male submission, when in actuality, there’s a wide range of activities that come under the BDSM umbrella,” he said. “I happen to work in an industry where you’re working with a partner and you talk about everything. Your lives are in each others’ hands. You have a rapport, so it wasn’t difficult to do that. If you’re a police officer or a teacher, all someone has to do is make an allegation and it makes front-page news.”

Many in the kink communities see education as an essential part of breaking down people’s assumptions as well as for creating best practices among participants. The Eulenspiegel Society offers workshops and demonstrations on activities ranging from caning to waterboarding (“Bringing the infamous torture technique out of Gitmo, and into your dungeon,” the organization’s Web site states).

And plenty suggest that the openness and negotiation required by their preferences, far from encouraging the cruelty they sometimes pantomime, make for stronger and more respectful relationships. “You start talking about sex and safety from the get-go,” said Cheri, a 47-year-old divorced mother of a grown child who works in entertainment but who is not out at work and asked that she be identified only by her nickname.

If you saw Cheri sitting at the Tea Lounge in Park Slope, Brooklyn, sipping a chamomile with lemon, as she was during a recent interview, you would have no idea that she calls her boyfriend, a younger man, “sir,” or that he calls her “pet,” a detail she shared with a girlish smile. She described herself as feminist and “an incredibly strong person in my professional life,” but she said she finds comfort in being submissive. “I need to know what you like and you know what I like: I need to know your limits and you need to know mine,” was how she described her interactions with complementary partners. “I think in this lifestyle, relationships develop faster because of that communication,” she said.

Dr. Ferrer said that her BDSM clients tend to be better at this kind of communication. Some couples draw up contracts, something E. L. James dramatized in “Fifty Shades.” “In the vanilla world,” Dr. Ferrer said, you wait for your partner to mess up before you set the rules. “In the dominant/submissive relationship, you’re constantly talking, constantly communicating,” she added. “In the D-S community, there is such a high level of communication that the couples last so much longer.”

Take Deb and Sara (formerly known as Mike), a Brooklyn couple whose first date went so well, they ended up at Home Depot ogling chains and ropes and playing in Mike’s van in the parking lot. Thirteen years later, they are married, and say they explore all facets of their sexuality together, incorporating electricity, knives and other potentially risky tools in what some might refer to as “edge” play, as well as activities like ABDL (adult baby, diaper lover) that don’t necessarily fit under the BDSM rubric. Deb, 55, says she and Sara, 41, are so close they’ve ceased using a safe word: They can sense the others’ boundaries just by breath and nonverbal cues. When she plays with others, Deb, a lifelong Mets fan, uses the phrase “Yankees Rule,” which she could only utter under extreme duress.

But whether Deb, Sara, Cheri, Marie and others will ever be comfortable coming out fully remains to unanswered.

“When I talk to people about being out, I say you have to really think about the fact that once you’re out, even if you quit doing that stuff, it doesn’t matter,” said Lee Harrington, 33, a sex educator and an author (with Mollena Williams) of “Playing Well With Others: Your Field Guide to Discovering, Exploring and Navigating the Kink, Leather and BDSM Communities.”

Mr. Harrington has chosen to live as openly as possible ever since starting out in the kink scene as an underage girl in Seattle. He now lives as a man and said he’s even brought his mother with him to some kink events. He also sees a time when kinky people will find wider acceptance, but isn’t so sure it will happen soon.

“I look forward to it,” he said. “Do I think it will be tomorrow because of ‘Fifty Shades’? No.”


This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: March 7, 2013


An article last Thursday about sexual fetishes that are being discussed more openly as a result of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” novels misstated the name of a Harvard student social group focusing on such practices. It is the Harvard College Munch, not the Harvard Munch Club.




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Strong Dominant Women … and the Men Who Love Us!

I enjoy reading Dan Savage’s column “Savage Love” and particularly his posting of March 6, 2013 …


My girlfriend and I read your column religiously, and I have you to thank for being comfortable enough with my kinks to tell her about my interest in BDSM. She is very GGG and has indulged all my fantasies and discovered some of her own. Our latest adventure has her locking up my dick in a CB-6000 male chastity device. We want to be aware of any health and safety concerns. There is no shortage of information on hygiene while locked and the effects of infrequent ejaculation. But we’re most concerned about whether restricting erections with a chastity device can cause nerve damage, erectile dysfunction, or other issues. Should I be concerned about having my erections constricted while being teased or wearing it overnight? (My research tells me that in REM sleep, the typical male will get three to five erections.) We plan on taking off the device for sexual play, which we do about five times a week. Besides worrying about limiting erections, is there any issue with having the device on long-term while soft, in regards to the cock ring that serves as the back end of the device? Are there any negative effects to having this on for a day? A week? A month? I find it odd that there isn’t more information about this provided by manufacturers. From what I’ve read online, a lot of guys stay locked way more long-term than I’m planning, and I hope they have had questions like mine answered before engaging in that.

Lock On Cock Kausing Erectile Dysfunction?

There are more sub guys out there blogging about their locked-up cocks than there are sub guys out there whose cocks are locked up.

By which I mean to say…

Whether you’re talking about food, politics, or locking a dude’s cock in a male chastity device, LOCKED, you’ll find more anonymous liars online pretending to be experts than you’ll find actual experts. Of course, there are kinky guys out there who’ve had their cocks locked up for extended periods. Male chastity play is a real kink, not some freaky bullshit made up by a high-school kid to gross people out, e.g., “Dirty Sanchez,” “Donkey Punch,” “Michelle Malkin.” But the number of men who enjoy this kind of play is relatively small, and the number of chastity players blogging about their experience is smaller still. So it’s probably best not to take health-and-safety advice from the anonymous chastity players you run across online. How about some health-and-safety advice from an actual board-certified urologist instead?

“I’ve never had a patient ask me about using, or admit to using, a male chastity device,” said Stephen H. King, MD, a urologist in Washington State. “And I cannot find a single reference in the medical/urological literature.”

What would Dr. King advise a patient?

“As a urologist, my primary concern is long-term health and preservation of erectile function ‘down the road,’ so I tend to err on the cautious side, especially in someone young with many good erections ahead of him,” said Dr. King. “So if LOCKED came to my clinic with this question, I’d caution against any long-term or continuous use of such a device, anything more than four to six hours, if it places any significant compression on the tissue directly.”

Some guys who wear male chastity devices for extended periods invest in custom-fitted devices, LOCKED, as a custom device is less likely to put “significant compression on the tissue” than a semi-adjustable, one-size-fits-all, easy-to-break-out-of CB-6000. The device you’ve got is fine for newbies and short-term play, but the expensive chastity devices they sell—devices with names like “The Exoskeleton,” “The Torture Puzzle,” and “The Grinder”—have the benefit of being both safer and impossible for the wearer to remove without the key.

So let’s say you invest in a hardcore, expensive chastity device that doesn’t rely on potentially tissue-compressing rings to be held in place. What does Dr. King say now? “With no compression from the cock ring, it might be safe for somewhat longer use,” said Dr. King. “Overnight use may still be problematic. Nocturnal/spontaneous erections are hypothesized to exist to encourage blood flow and stretching of the vascular and erectile tissue to keep it healthy and prevent atrophy. Like any other tendon, ligament, or muscle in the body—use it or lose it. I can’t see how preventing these spontaneous nocturnal erections can be healthy. But I can’t prove any long-term damage.”

Of course, if we only listened to doctors, no one would ever eat sugar, smoke cigarettes, or let his girlfriend lock up his cock in “The Grinder,” because something “bad” might happen. (Diabetes, cancer, impotence, respectively.) So I got a second and a third opinion for you, LOCKED.

The second opinion is mine: The manufacturers of CB-6000s and other male chastity devices don’t provide information about risks because they’re not required to. Male chastity devices, like all sex toys, are sold as “novelty items.” They’re not medical devices, and the FDA doesn’t regulate them. But so long as your CB-6000 isn’t so tight that it’s cutting off circulation, pinching nerves, or rubbing you raw, and so long as you’re not wearing it for extended periods of time (I wouldn’t wear one overnight, myself), you’ll be fine. There are, after all, thousands of CB-6000s in circulation—it is the most popular male chastity device on the market—and if they were injuring men or rendering them impotent, LOCKED, we’d be hearing from unhappy chastity players and their lawyers. Dr. King backs me up on this. He consulted another doctor, whose specialty is “urology trauma,” and his colleague hadn’t heard of any issues related to chastity devices. “Perhaps that speaks to the relative safety of them,” said Dr. King. “If they were messing up lots of penises, surely we urologists would be the first ones to know.”

The third opinion is from a kinky blogger. Metal served for six years on the board of Gay Male S/M Activists, an organization dedicated to promoting safe, sane, and consensual BDSM, and now runs the popular BDSM site He’s also a keyholder to several men locked long-term in chastity devices.

“I’m not a doctor,” Metal said, “so I can’t speak to potential long-term physical effects. But I can tell you that many, many men use chastity to enhance their sex lives and some of the most popular entries on my site are about chastity.”

None of the men Metal has locked up—some for months at a time—have had any trouble getting hard once their chastity devices were removed. “When guys are first locked up, they often complain of waking up in the middle of the night with painful erections,” said Metal. “But that usually passes in a week or so. What I would suggest to this couple is to go ahead and experiment. Lock him up for a day or two initially, then a few days, and then maybe work up to a week or more. Rules are good. Maybe he gets unlocked only when he’s chained to the bed. Then right after he comes—if he’s allowed to come—his dick gets locked back up before he’s unchained.” Metal urges you to be cautious, to take it slow, but not to fear chastity play. “Think of chastity as a really, really long form of foreplay,” said Metal.

Find the Savage Lovecast (my weekly podcast) every Tuesday at

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