University News

BDSM workshop emphasizes consent

Kink, toys, media portrayal and safety measures addressed in open discussion

By
Staff Writer
Thursday, February 26, 2015

Facilitators for the Sexual Health Awareness Group led the icebreaker of a workshop discussing BDSM in the context of safety and consent.

Podophilia, or foot fetishism, is the most common type of fetish. This was the first of many sex-related facts presented at a BDSM workshop Wednesday hosted by the Sexual Health Awareness Group in the Underground. Facilitated by SHAG members including Kayla Tyrrell ’15 and Deborah Pomeranz ’18, the workshop introduced basic materials and techniques and fostered discussion about healthy BDSM practices, using the film “Fifty Shades of Grey” as a point of reference.

Before launching into the kinky details, facilitators gave an overview of terminology. The acronym BDSM can be broken down into three components: bondage and discipline, dominance and submission and sadism and masochism, facilitators said. A BDSM encounter is referred to as a “scene,” while engaging in BDSM activity is called “play.” Someone who exerts power and control in a BDSM relationship is called a “dominant” or a “top,” while their acquiescent partner is called a “submissive” or “bottom.”

An emphasis on safety was upheld throughout the workshop — another important acronym presented at the beginning of the workshop was RACK, which stands for risk aware consensual kink. Facilitators gave an overview of safe words, terms agreed upon by both parties that are used to stop play mid-scene. The workshop also stressed the importance of negotiation — a term used by facilitators to mean discussing limits, boundaries, hopes and expectations — and aftercare, or checking in with a partner emotionally and taking time to evaluate what worked and what did not work in the scene.

One facilitator stressed that though negotiation can sound awkward and tedious, it does not have to be. “You can do it while you’re cuddling,” she said. “It can be a time for dirty talk.” In a healthy BDSM relationship, roles are agreed upon with consideration for the partner in mind. “Being a dom is not about ignoring what your sub wants; Being a sub doesn’t mean ignoring what you want,” she said.

Midway through the presentation, SHAG members distributed scarves and taught participants how to fashion a scarf into a pair of makeshift handcuffs, an activity that elicited much laughter and excitement. The group also distributed a ball gag, bondage tape, a paddle, handcuffs and a Wartenberg pinwheel for attendees to examine more closely. A Wartenberg pinwheel resembles a handheld pizza cutter, except the round blade is replaced by a wheel of metal points. The tool is actually a medical device used to test nerve reactions, but has been repurposed by many in the BDSM community to explore a range of sensations.

Facilitators also opened the floor for discussion of the blockbuster “Fifty Shades of Grey,” asking audience members whether they felt the film accurately portrays BDSM. One participant pointed out that the portrayal is damaging in multiple ways, as not only does male lead Christian Grey, played by actor Jamie Dornan, ignore he and his partner’s safe word multiple times, but the character’s troubled background also feeds into the common stereotype that anyone who is interested in BDSM must have a history of abuse or be sexually damaged in some way. Another participant cited a recent sexual assault case in which the perpetrator, an undergraduate at the University of Illinois at Chicago, claimed to be reenacting a scene from the movie, as one of the film’s many toxic effects.

On the contrary, it has been proven that BDSM does not correlate with previous rape, abuse or mental disorders, another participant said. Research shows that people who practice BDSM may actually have superior mental health, according to a June 5, 2013 Huffington Post article.

The workshop concluded with discussion of a report of the benefits of exploring BDSM. A facilitator cited a 2009 study which she said found “that BDSM brought couples closer together.” SHAG also raffled off some bondage tape and a book about kink to attendees.

Participants and facilitators alike deemed the workshop a success. “I’m just kind of glad this exists. There were new things I learned, like the Wartenberg pinwheel,” said Sonja John, a junior at the Rhode Island School of Design.

“I liked that we could do interactive demonstrations, giving people a safe way to use BDSM in their own lives,” Tyrrell said. “I think it went well, we had a good turnout.”


A previous version of this article identified two other facilitators. Their names have been removed due to confidentiality concerns.

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  • Angell Walker

    Academic discussion about sick smut. Brown University. Sigh. This really is over Chris Paxson’s hick head.

  • thayer walker

    “In a healthy BDSM relationship” ?? total oxymoron.

    Okay, some of these students really need to go out into the real world and leave the college bubble. Imitating 50 Shades of Grey might be bright-eyed exploration within college hill, but in the real world, who are the people engaging in these practices? They’re not going to be ivy league people or normal people.

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-50-shades-of-grey-uic-sex-charge-20150223-story.html

    in spite of your statistics on dispelling myths on BDSM, actually there is at least one case of a very unhappy ending. Are you teaching students to grow up and one day be just like this student at UIC? that’s what this workshop sounds like.

    does no one feel strange that there a movie out like 50 shades of grey where the male ignores the safe word many times… while there has been an epidemic of rape and sexual assault? this bothers no one?

    • Student who actually attended

      First of all, this workshop grew out of the desire for conversation precisely BECAUSE 50 Shades is a horrible example. If anything, SHAG facilitators are trying to help people understand more of the dynamics in a consensual, respectful BDSM relationship, two things 50 Shades does not portray.

      “That’s what this workshop sounds like.” Which means you weren’t there. Your comment certainly sounds like it. It focused on health, information, safety, and consent. Not on teaching students how to replicate an awful book.

  • I love college!

    I am so excited about this initiative!