A kinky conference

At a sexuality conference I learned healthy sex may just be deviant sex.
June 16, 2009

In the vanilla world, the world most of us upstanding, everyday citizens inhabit, what healthy sex looks like is for the most part agreed upon, but more importantly, so too is the look of unhealthy sex. “Vanilla” is the term used by the fetish and BDSM (Bondage Domination Sadism and Masochism, though the definitions vary) community to describe people who don’t have experience in the fetishes. The moniker isn’t always pejorative, though it doesn’t always mean the best.
At Sexy Spring 6 , a sexuality conference held recently in Ford Hall, all kinds of people that the vanillas may have considered perverts showed up to talk about sex toys, bondage and the sex industry. Excited and happy faces walked though the halls to the various workshops dealing with sexuality.
I decided to attend an hour-and-half-long workshop on BDSM, taught by two sex therapists and members of the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University . I introduced myself as a noob to the community but was still allowed to participate equally in their discussion. The participants were diverse in age and appearance, sexual orientation and relationship status. Some of the participants had been involved with the BDSM community before, and for others like me the experience was their first.
As group members went into their personal thoughts on the values of the sexual lifestyle they led, a picture I wasn’t quite expecting became more vivid. My vanilla self became aware of an expanded definition of healthy sex, outside the confines of social normalcy.
Two values repeatedly brought up during the workshop by the participants included the values of trust and mutual enjoyment. The issue of trust in particular was taken especially seriously. The participants mostly agreed that selecting the proper dom (dominant) or sub (submissive) partner was a process that could take a long time. The relationship between the sub and the dom has so many subtle aspects to it, one member said. Not only do you have to watch for the safe word and be able to immediately stop, but you also need to be able to pick up on the nonverbal language of the sub and pick up when he or she is incapable of using that safe word. Another big issue in any kind of power play or violent situation is that one partner may only be experiencing the fear that is the pleasure. This also takes a good relationship between the partners as well as some explicit acknowledgement before the play, explained one of the workshop facilitators.
Though it would be easy to write off the sexual lifestyle of those in the BDSM community as bizarre and unhealthy, there were many times when it appeared to me that if the vanillas wanted to learn about what makes healthy sex, they should take a lesson from the people attending the conference. Compared to the one-night stands and mostly the meaningless sex that is all-too-common in the vanilla world, the significance placed on sex by the BDSM community is refreshing. It seems to me that the people with the more mature view of sex are the members of this “deviant” subculture.
What makes a healthy sexual relationship anyway? Is it love, mutual enjoyment, personal satisfaction, titillation and excitement, or just plain sexiness? Whatever defines it, a healthy sexual relationship can be an electrifying and almost religious happening when it is found. People of the BDSM community, explained one member of the discussion, just want sex to provide even higher highs and lower lows than thought possible.

Thomas Q. Johnson welcomes comments at tjohnson@mndaily.com.

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