Monday, October 22, 2012

Teenaged Sexual Minorities

Last fall I read Different Loving: The World of Sexual Dominance and Submission (1996), which was a collection of personal accounts divided into subjects that extended past Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, and Sadomasochism.

Sidenote: While I was at the Widener Careers conference the other week a (prospective?) student asked me some questions about kink and BDSM. I said that perception varies by person; some people consider kink the umbrella under which BDSM falls, while others feel that BDSM is much broader than the letters that comprise the acronym, so many kinks fall under it. Despite the subtitle, I consider Different Loving a kink book, because much that is described in it can be done outside the parameters, or separate from a dominant and submissive relationship.

Around the same time I discovered an article that I fell in love with by Bezreh, Weinberg and Edgar (2012). Similar personal accounts were included, but there was also the idea that BDSM should be considered as a sexual minority that needs the same kind of education and outreach services for teens that have been established for LGBT youth. It was really poignant to hear that a large percentage of the interviewees could have benefited from hearing that what they were experiencing was "normal" when they were younger. Knowing how to experiment safely was also noted as a hindsight desire.

Although most of you know that teenagers aren't my cup of tea demographic, I still feel concern for them, especially with the advent of books such as 50 Shades of Grey, Rihanna videos, etc. It seems hard enough to get decent sexuality education in schools and we certainly had to fight for LGBT recognition/validation. In the foreseeable future, at least in the south, I cannot imagine that including BDSM or kink will be a reality (especially since from a work standpoint a lot of kink related practices are automatically listed as child abuse under some state laws).  I've come up with a few ideas for how I think accurate information could reach teens, but it doesn't really involve the classroom. I would like to hear from everyone of course, but especially educators within the school system about general guidelines and restrictions. For example, I don't know if there is more leniency with extracurricular organizations.

  • How do you feel about kink and/or BDSM being considered a sexual minority?
  • Do you think kink and/or BDSM should be incorporated in secondary sexuality education? If so, how would you go about it?


  1. Toni – you always educate me and push my boundaries in such an awesome way! As I was looking for some education in regards to answering your questions, I googled “BDSM and teenagers” and found nothing but porn, videos, and images. It was a little discerning considering whether or not adults were sexually involved with minors. It was also concerning to me considering the access the Internet provides to sexual offenders.

    As I worked through these thoughts, I Googled “BDSM and adolescence” and found an interesting article in the about BDSM. The article, “50 Shades Of Grey (Matter): How Science Is Defying BDSM Stereotypes” talked about the myths of BDSM and how science is changing societies thoughts about BDSM. What I found even more interesting were all of the comments after the posting. The conversation ranged from levels of BDSM to the participation in BDSM stemming from childhood abuse.

    As I think about the questions Toni put forth, I think it is a really tough topic to sell at the secondary level. Just reading the conversations from the blog, I don’t see where adults and parents would provide any permission to discuss these topics. It is still a difficult sell to discuss contraception, pregnancy prevention, and STDs in a school setting depending on which part of the country you live in. Some states will not allow any discussion about "alternate sexual lifestyles from heterosexual relationships" during comprehensive sexuality education (South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy). How is this considered comprehensive? How would a sexuality educator even begin a conversation about BDSM under these conditions?

    Toni – I think your best bet is to start with an online education resource. It would have been awesome if when I Googled “BDSM and Teenagers” a resource for education was part of the top 10 websites to come up. Good luck and I think you are a great resource and advocate for the BDSM community of all ages!

  2. I think educators will have a hard time swallowing the idea of teaching about BDSM. Should they? I think so. Can they? Ehh...Do they go to Widener? I think the issues would be the same as those of teaching about pleasure in Sex Ed. Too many people are going to automatically feel that this is going to harm their children in some way. I honestly do not know how to go about it. If I had to, YOU would be the person I would ask.

    I know you don't particularly want to work with teens, but I think that Shanna's idea of starting an educational site would be great! Have you considered doing that, maybe in blog form? You don't necessarily have to make a career out of it, but definitely would be a great side project.

    Unfortunately, I do not have an answer for you about whether or not BDSM should be considered a sexual minority. I suppose on the one hand the answer is yes as, statistically, they APPEAR to be a minority. However, I think this is a question to be asked of people who are actively in the BDSM/Kink community to see how they would feel about this. My feelings with this (many other sexuality identity things) is, "well, how do you identify?"

  3. I definitely think there needs to be better information about BDSM and kink available to teenagers. I like Shanna's idea... I'd see it as a sort of version of Scarleteen but specifically kink-oriented. Advice on safe places to go and safe activities to try, lots of information on the difference between kink and abusiveness. Ideally kink would get at least a mention in a secondary sex ed program, something along the lines of, "some people are aroused by this-and-such, and that can be a perfectly normal and healthy variance in sexuality, and here are some resources if you think you might be one of those people." But I don't see that getting approved. (And the website would face some serious backlash, I'm sure.)

    For reasons of legality, like the issue that some kink-related practices would be considered child abuse, I might suggest that even a kink resource site for teens advocate waiting until they turn 18 to practice all but very mild forms of BDSM. The focus of the site could be more on assuring teens that their feelings are normal and can be lived out in a healthy way, and lots and lots of information about consent and boundaries.

    And yes, I generally consider kink to be a sexual minority.

  4. Awesome topic Toni! It really made me think about the reaction I think teaching about BDSM would get from teens more than even their parents because in my experience some of the teens seem to be more open to different relationship styles and sexual activities than their "more mature" (aka just older) counterparts. I think that as long as it was age-appropriate, relying more on what Ginny talked about with "assuring teens that their feelings are normal and can be lived out in a healthy way, and lots and lots of information about consent and boundaries" that discussing kink in a classroom could go over really well. I'm not sure parents would ever let that happen if it were its own class, but there's always ways to be more inclusive of the audience even when doing a sexuality workshop on something as benign and vague as healthy relationships.

    I really like going with Dan Savage's rule of thumb - "safe, sane, and consensual" because those are hopefully tenets in every healthy sexual relationship. By telling teens that their desires are normal and laying the foundation of trying to ensure safe, sane, and consensual relationships, you can discuss BDSM and kink and also get a chance to talk about a great range of sexualities with teens.

  5. Good topic Toni,
    As far as society is concerned I don't think that members of the BDSM or Kink communities will ever be seen as a sexual minorities. I say this because I think this because people don't know enough about Kink or BDSM to realize that it is a separate sexual community. Most people would probably say when asked that Kink is something that heterosexuals or homosexuals or whatever do. Therefore, they recognize the larger sexual identity before the BDSM or Kink aspect of the identity. Also, people don't see persecution of the kink or BDSM community the way they have of the gay or trans community. Getting it into schools would be a difficult task. Media stories and fear about practices such as auto-erotic asphyxiation ( have led to a fear in any act that is perceived to be similar to BDSM. Even though BDSM is safe it is perceived to be dangerous. There is a need for educators to recognize that students of theirs are interested in sexual practices that are BDSM or Kink and acknowledge the positive nature of such a sexual lifestyle and that it is normal and practiced by many people.

  6. Yes, I would definitely consider the kink community to be a sexual minority. It is one that is also discriminated against in cases of employment, child custody, etc.

    My first thought when it came to teaching teens, as in ALL U.S. teens, about BDSM was... "Oh no... compulsiveness would be a problem. Ones interested in it would take the information and go 0-60 with it. They would attempt extreme types of BDSM without prior experience. That has the potential to be dangerous!"

    Then I pulled myself out of my "Think about the children!" emotional state and realized that there are plenty of adults who jump in head first and do dangerous things. As long as we echo some of the comments above and teach things about boundaries, what is/isn't abuse, safety, etc. it could go over well.

  7. I'm with Cary regarding people of the BDSM community being considered sexual minorities. I don't think that there is enough comprehensive information about that sub-culture right now for people to understand it fully. However, I could have said that about the LGBT community forty years ago, and look how that's changed.

    I think that BDSM /should/ be taught as part of comprehensive sex education. I just don't know /how/ to do that effectively (read: without parents freaking out) or /where/ it could be allowed in school systems, etc.


  8. Thanks everyone for your responses! I have tinkered with the idea of an informational website though I'm not sure when or how to go about it.

    I am hoping that with the work I intend to do (consulting, research, etc.) that more will be known about the community (but not in an exploitative way of course) to where a minority status can at least be considered...even if it doesn't come to fruition in my lifetime.

  9. Thanks for posting on this, Toni! It is *so* important to discuss BDSM & other kink practices as part of comprehensive sexuality education. I think a huge part of my job as a sexuality educator is to make my students aware of the wide range of sexual practices in which people engage, and to validate individuals in openly communicating with their partners about their sexual practices to ensure their safe, sane, and consensual nature.

    The overarching reaction of other commenters, that it may be impossible to openly address BDSM practices in secondary education at this time, also seems to be right--unfortunately. But I encourage you to think about the article Dr. Sitron is having us read on "Learning, Teaching, and Scholarship in a Digital Age" (Greenhow, Robelia, & Hughes, 2009). You already utilize online communities and Web 2.0 technologies to a great extent. You can do this with teaching, too. What about teaching a class through a platform like Second Life? Or creating a Tumblr page about BDSM and kink, through which you could post vlogs and other educational materials? The trick is then to attract your target audience, which is using these technologies too.

    I also think that, even if you can't necessarily broach the topic of BDSM in a secondary school classroom, you can still validate others' experiences with BDSM as "normal" if they come to you about it. By creating a comfortable atmosphere in your classroom for bringing up questions (such as through a non-judgmental way of answering anonymous questions in class), you open up the door for your students to ask you about practices they are curious about. So if someone talked in one of those anonymous questions about using fuzzy handcuffs or being tied up or disciplined, you could validate their experience by using it as an opportunity to discuss those issues of communication and consent, instead of focusing explicitly on the activity itself.

  10. Toni, after your presentation with Sasha in class last time, I'd say you've got some great beginnings to creating a roadmap for BDSM and kink communities to be seen as sexual minorities. You are on it! Maybe I wouldn't start with total power exchange, but you have to start somewhere. Thanks!