Panel addresses BDSM myths

zhang_sexweek-5

Three panelists convened on Wednesday to dispel what they deemed myths surrounding a controversial sexual practice known as bondage and domination, sadism and masochism (BDSM).

Roughly 40 people filled a room in Linsly-Chittenden Hall to hear clinical sexologist Charley Ferrer and two representatives of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, Judy Guerin and Richard Cunningham, discuss issues relating to BDSM, including safe practices and attributes of what they called the BDSM community. The panelists said people often consider BDSM to be illegal, violent and impersonal, but argued that these are misconceptions and that BDSM can be part of a healthy relationship.

Ferrer, who has written several books on sex, explained that BDSM is about people exploring their bodies and personal preferences — not just about sex. She said many people in the BDSM community do not interact sexually, adding that dominance and submission can be seen as normal components of relationships.

“It is not domestic violence,” Ferrer said. “In [BDSM] you are sharing yourself with someone else and they care about you.”

Guerin, a former executive director of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom — a group that advocates for adult privacy rights — said BDSM is about “comfort with your own body.” Cunningham, the group’s legal consultant said BDSM is not a hidden practice and that the community is open to everyone.

The panelists stressed the importance of practicing BDSM safely and maximizing communication between participants. BDSM practitioners use “safewords,” Cunningham explained, using the word “red” for “stop” and “yellow” for “slow down.”

Cunningham said the BDSM community values consensuality, and Ferrer added that BDSM is “a lot about respect.”

Exploring BDSM can help people become more open to alternative types of sexuality and sex practices, the panelists said.

“If you have any reluctance to embrace diversity, spend some time with a member of BDSM,” Cunningham said.

The panelists said the BDSM community is small and that people within it gain reputations for their individual practices. Ferrer said BDSM members often refer to people outside the group as “vanilla,” adding that those who have not tried BDSM have not explored the full possibilities of sexual experience. Ferrer and Guerin advised those interested in trying BDSM to talk to people in the community.

“If you don’t like it, you can stop,” Ferrer said. “It’s like if you don’t like something on TV, you can change the channel.”

Cunningham cautioned that people practicing BDSM must be able to distinguish fantasy from reality and Guerin said to “keep it light-hearted.”

The discussion also briefly addressed how homosexuality has sometimes been stigmatized as a mental illness, drawing parallels with BDSM’s evolving public image. Ferrer defended BDSM by saying that people are “all kinky in some way.”

As the discussion wrapped up, the panelists answered questions from audience members.

In response to a question on the legal status of BDSM, Cunningham explained that BDSM is not criminal so long as no one is injured. If people are hurt, it is then considered assault, he said, adding that people need to understand boundaries.

The panel was co-sponsored by the LGBTQ Co-op at Yale.

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