Are Kinky Sex Clubs On Colleges Campuses A Good Idea? Hell Yeah!

Margie Nichols, Ph.D.by Margie Nichols, Ph.D.

I’ve been watching media reports on kink ever since ‘Fifty Shades’ made the subject popular, and I ran across one of the more heinous recently, a blog by an educator named Judy Molland questioning whether the current trend of college campuses to develop BDSM support organizations, in the manner of LGBTQ orgs, is a good idea.

You may not know about this.  Harvard made the news with its club this year, but apparently scores of colleges have been sprouting kinky groups for the last twenty years.  Never mind that Molland calls these organizations ‘kinky sex clubs,’ conjuring up visions of dungeons and chains, when they are designed primarily to help students affirm socially stigmatized alternative sexual identities.  Besides invoking images of unbridled hedonism, Molland takes statistics garnered from the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, a respected organization that champions the civil rights of people who participate in kinky sex, and distorts their meaning shamefully.

A little background: NCSF originated because people who are discovered to be BDSM aficionados can legally go to jail, lose their jobs, housing and children in many states.  There are many people for whom kinky sex is a take-it-or-leave –it proposition, but there are many more who consider their non-standard sexual desires, practiced consensually, to be basic to who they are.  These kinksters live in the shadows, trapped by social disapproval and harsh sanctions and often by their own shame and self-hatred. Their ‘cause’ is back where the LGBT cause was in the 1950’s.

In part because kinky sex is so often confused with rape and sexual assault, the network of clubs, support groups, events, and online forums known as the ‘kink community’ has always been super-vigilant about enforcing its motto, ‘Safe, Sane, and Consensual.’   I’ve worked and lived among kinky folk since the mid-80’s, and in my younger days went out frequently as a single woman.  I always tell young women  that they are safer in most BDSM clubs, certainly in the non-profit organizations,  than they are in the average straight bar.

But of course nonconsensual sex goes on among all people; the BDSM world is not immune to domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault.  So in keeping with the BDSM world’s tendency to take care of its own, and in an effort to change public opinion, the NCSF has asked kinksters to submit stories of their own abuse/nonconsensual interactions.  So far, Susan Wright, the head of NCSF, reports they’ve collected 5,000 such reports.

And this is what Molland distorts.  She quotes the NCSF figure of 5,000 and makes it sound like an enormously high amount, implying that nonconsent is common in the dark, dangerous world of kink.

And this is where her argument devolves to scare tactics.     Estimates of how many people are kinky vary, but a reasonable and conservative figure is the 6% Juliet Richters found in her well-designed Aussie sample.  That puts the U.S. number (adults)  at 1.35 million and the rate of abuse reports at about one per 270 people.  The number of U.S. reported rapes (not all sexual assaults, just rape reports) among NON kinky people was about 85,000 in 2010, the year of our most recent data.  In other words – the rate of rape reports among U.S. adults who DON’T practice kinky sex is – about one in 265.  Slightly worse than the kinkster rate.

By frightening us into visions of young college women in bondage to a gang rape by leather-hooded abusers, Molland completely avoids the true significance of these groups.  Therapists who work with the kink community know that there are many people for whom BDSM is so integral to who they are that they cannot feel peace until it is expressed.  We may see them at middle age, when their ‘vanilla’ families are ripped apart because they can no longer live a lie.  Some of them live decades in deep pain and mental suffering because of society’s stigma.  Having BDSM support organizations on college campuses is a huge, important step towards alleviating suffering for a significant minority of our young people.  That’s enough reason to give a resounding “Yes” to the questions “Are kinky sex clubs on campuses a good idea?”

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