A Sex Positive Renaissance

I wrote this 6 years ago and feel that it’s still pretty right on. It’s a bit dated in some of its reference, however it’s still pertinent.

A Sex Positive Renaissance

In 2008, I was privileged to give the Keynote speech at Southplains Leatherfest, an amazing kinky conference in Dallas, Texas. To my delight I received a standing ovation and many people came up to me afterward to share how I had touched them and how pleased they were with my speech. I want to share it with all of you.

It’s About Sex: The Sex Positive Renaissance and the BDSM Community.

I kind of feel like a preacher up here at the podium. I’ve never liked speaking like this.  I’m more of a set on a table sort of speaker. Podiums make me nervous (I know, it’s hard to imagine much making me nervous.) And Sunday preaching? Well, I was raised a fundamentalist so I do know a bit about preaching. I promise to keep this short, no two hour sermons from me and I think that maybe today I’m preaching to the choir, but we’ll see.

I’m here to talk about sex. That’s the magic word SEX. More specifically the sex positive movement and what I call the Sex Positive Renaissance. I’m here to urge you to change the conversation about sex in the BDSM /Leather community.

First let me tell you a bit about myself–and how I can dare to come here and talk sex.  I’m a cowgirl from Idaho, which is maybe why I like Dallas, so many cowboys and cowgirls everywhere. I’m a Bisexual, Poly switch. Primarily a masochist, but I can be mean when I want to. I have multiple Poly partners and how that works is a whole 2 hour workshop. I’ve been active in the BDSM community for almost 18 years (playing for much longer) It seems like only yesterday I went to my first dungeon party at Living In Leather 5. I remember vividly feeling like I’d arrived home and this community has been my home ever since. I’m a sex educator, activist and coach. My nickname in Seattle is Mom, which at times amuses me and delights me most of the time.

I am the Executive Director of the Center for Sex Positive Culture (formerly known as The Wet Spot) and also the Foundation for Sex Positive Culture. For those of you who do not know what The Center is, it’s a 501 c-7 nonprofit social organization for the alternative sex communities. The Foundation for Sex Positive Culture is a 501 c-3 and covers our education, library and the Seattle Erotic Art Festival. The Center requires membership and in the last 8 plus years we’ve had over 10,000 people walk through our doors and become members. That’s a whole lot of people interested in alternative sexuality. The Foundation is only a year old and came out of our struggle with the IRs to change the Wet Spot from a C-7 social nonprofit to a c-3 educational nonprofit. The story how we did this is quite interesting but not germane to my topic, however I do want to tell you about the IRS agent who visited us. We had a meeting with our board president, our attorney, me and two IRS agents. One was obviously “junior agent” and spent most of the time at the Wet Spot wide eyed and quivering–he was either very scared or very excited (or both). The older agent was very cool. We gave them a tour, showed them the beds, the back rooms, the racks the gyn tables–the older agent looked at me and said. “You know, I checked out your web site and it was very interesting–although I had to look up what ‘glory hole’ meant.” The upshot was we couldn’t change the Wet Spot to a c-3 but the agent personally helped us create our sister organization the Foundation. It was an amazing experience.

So that’s me and who I am in this community.

What is a Sex Positive Renaissance?

Let’s First Define Sex Positive

My personal definition of sex positive is an attitude towards human sexuality that regards all consensual sexual activities as fundamentally healthy and pleasurable, and encourages sexual pleasure and experimentation.

The sex-positive movement is a social and philosophical movement that advocates these attitudes. The sex-positive movement advocates sex education and safer sex as part of its campaign. It does not make moral distinctions between heterosexual or homosexual sex or the type of sexual activities, regarding these choices as matters of personal preference.

That sounds like most of us. Although there are many people in the BDSM community who disavow being part of the sex positive community or the movement.

Why a Renaissance and Not Revolution?

The original Italian Renaissance supposedly began around the end of the 14th century and was in many ways, in response to The Dark Ages and the control of the Church in all things to do with art, science and learning. The word renaissance literally means “rebirth”. While it eventually had far reaching consequences on all areas of science, art and learning, it had little immediate influence on the majority of the population. The initial changes were concentrated in the elite and involved a relatively small number of people. However, the efforts of those few brave souls was ultimately far reaching in its scope and the effects of the Renaissance still shape us to this day.

I truly believe that we are in the midst of a Sexual Renaissance. And like the Renaissance of the 14th century a small number of people are ultimately going to shape the way the world looks at sexuality. This is not a populist movement, but it is growing and we see evidence of this in movies, TV, commercials, media and literature.

This is not to be confused with the Sexual Revolution of the 60’s. The sexual revolution began in the 60’s and ended in the 70’s or at least early 80’s. The Sexual Renaissance is not about revolt and protest, but rather about creation and a bringing together of like-minded individuals in response to the repressiveness of our modern society. The Medieval Renaissance was in response in many ways to the repressive Byzantine era that preceded it. I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest that our current Sexual Renaissance is in response to the repressive backlash to the 60’s Sexual Revolution and the fear that the AIDS crises created in our world. Not to mention our current political and fundamentalist religious climate. Some of you may feel that our world (especially this country of ours and our current administration) has gotten more and more sexually repressive. While it may seem so, I believe it’s a natural response to what is really happening in the world of sexuality. Sexuality is powerful and those in power want to keep the power unto themselves. It’s dangerous to allow the power to belong to the masses. And we, of the Sex Positive Movement are bringing sexual power to the masses.

And it’s apparent everywhere we look. Sex is so much part of our culture that we don’t even notice it at times. It’s pervasive and I dare say becoming mainstream–even our brand of sex

Let me give you some examples:

MSNBC.com has a column called Sexploration and the author just published a book called America Unzipped. This book talks about mainstream Americans and their sexuality and how they really aren’t that mainstream at all. The next to the last chapter is all about the author’s visit to the Center. It’s an amazing book that treats our community fairly and accurately.

Romance novels are a 1.37 Billion dollar a year industry. Many of these are erotic bodice ripper romances with a strong emphasis on sexual domination and ravishment which is just a fancy word for rape. And these books are read by mostly women and women of all ages and interests. Our mothers and grandmothers read these books.

One only has to look as far as the recent commercials and shows we see on Television and the abundance of cable stations that have gotten more and more sexual (and not the premium stations like HBO, either although they contribute their share of sexy Television.). Spike TV the “men’s channel” is a prime example and another is the Comedy channel. But even the main public stations are taking more and more risks. Check out Desperate Housewives, the new Moonlight vampire show, and the majority of the Reality shows. And of course, the CSI series (especially CSI Crime) are full of kink and sex of all persuasions.

And commercials! The ads for Axe men’s body products started out with the “how a dirty boy gets clean” campaign and have gotten sexier and more risque each year. Their ads are filled with kink and sex. Jack In The Box’s newest commercial with Jack and his girl in a hot tub with a couple of other people (who look like stereotypical swingers). They end up asking Jack if he’d like a “Jack sandwich” which is a great example of mainstream advertising playing up swingers. And my favorite from a few years ago is the “dominate winter” advertising campaign for Austin Mini-Cooper on their Canadian Web site. A PVC clad dominatrix dominates a poor little Austin mini I was curious about this campaign so I did some research and found a statement by the ad writers. They said that when they were putting together this campaign that they felt that when most people thought of dominating they atomically thought of a dominatrix. That wouldn’t have been the case 10-15 years ago.

Music has always been a place for the sexually adventurous. Nine Inch Nails, Joan Jett and many others all have their kinks.

These are just a few examples of the changes that are happening within the mainstream regarding sexuality

What does all of this have to do with you? With leather, BDSM, owner slave? Well for way too long we as a community have distanced ourselves from our roots–and those roots are sexual.

I think this year’s theme is very appropriate for my conversation today. WE WILL NOT FORGET. I think that some of us have forgotten. Our history is about sex. Some of the most ancient depictions of SM activity are sexual in nature.

I’m not the only one who’s noticed this. A workshop at the upcoming leather leadership conference is called “Putting Sex Back Into Leather”. This is what they say about it on the web site: For the past couple years, we’ve been asking folks “Where did the sex go?” In the push for acceptance, many organizations and communities have distanced themselves even more from frank discussions of sexuality. Sometimes it appears that even leather groups are disavowing sex, in what we believe is a dishonest tactic to evade local zoning regulations and liquor laws. In this workshop, we will discuss how we can put sex back on the political agenda.

Well, I agree with the presenters of the upcoming workshop. We need to put sex back into leather. It started there–why did we take it out?

While I think that for some it is a tactic to evade regulations and laws, I think for many it’s deeper than that. I think that many of us have deep seated shame about sex and about what we do. It makes sense. Many of us were brought up in households where if sex was talked about at all it was in hushed tones or it was to tell us NO. You can’t do that. Good girls don’t. You’ll get hair on your palms. Even in sexually open and liberal households when children start masturbating they are told” that’s nice honey, but you need to do that in your bedroom. It’s a private thing”. These are the beginnings of sexual shame.

Even I, a product of the sexual revolution, have had to fight my shame around sex. And I still have to fight it at times–and I’m the Mom of Seattle’s Sex Positive Community. Remember, I was raised a fundamentalist. Fundamentalists love to do it and don’t like to admit it (until they get caught by the media and then they get “saved” again or cured, ala Jim Baker or Ted Haggart.).

The basic American message about sex is that it’s shameful and if you must do it you should do it in the bedroom and don’t talk about it.

What Do We Do?

We bring our sex out of the bedroom into the play room. Is it any wonder that for some of us it’s a source of shame? So we say “it’s not about sex. It’s about power exchange. It’s about control. It’s about physical endurance. It’s not sex.

Does your dick get hard? Pussy wet? It’s about sex. Of course we need to define sex. President Clinton had a narrow definition of what sex meant (AND WHAT IS “is” come to think of it?). Sex isn’t about intercourse, or oral sex or anything penetrative or even orgasmic. It’s about getting off however you may do that. When I get the shit kicked out of me in a hard take down scene, I get off. When I tie up my boy and blindfold him and attach electrodes to his penis I get off (whether he does or not). No penetration, no orgasm. I get off.

I want to acknowledge that there are some in our community for whom this is not in any way about sex but I would bet it’s a small minority and I do acknowledge that most master slave relationships go beyond the sexual however probably most of those relationships have some kind of sexual component.

So here’s my request. Bring sex back into the dungeon. Embrace the term sex positive. Bring it into your conversations. I have had conversations with people in our community who put on events and they have told me “Our party is NOT sex positive. They meant that their party does not have penetrative sex at it. Oh, I know, you may have laws in your state or your city. No public sex. I’m not talking about allowing intercourse or other types of penetrative sex. I’m not even talking about nudity. I’m talking about creating a sex positive environment. Calling it what it is. . An event does not have to have overt sex to be sex positive. It’s an attitude and a way of being. It’s a declaration. Call your events Sex Positive Events and that’s what they will be.

I’m dismayed at the leatherfolk who distance themselves from the word sex positive. I believe in doing so they distance themselves from creating a world where we don’t have to worry about zoning or regulations — a world that embraces sexuality. And we distance ourselves from other forms of sexuality and potential sex positive allies. We distance ourselves from those swingers because, ew, they’re disgusting. They have sex, with strangers–well, many of us beat on strangers, and it gets our dicks hard–that is not sex with strangers?

It has always puzzled me how we distance ourselves from the very thing that brings most of us together. Now, I’m not saying flaunt the laws and start allowing sex in your dungeons if there are local laws against it. But make sure there are local laws against it and not just community prejudice. When we started the Center we allowed sex right from the beginning. And it wasn’t without its controversy. For months there was no penetrative sex in the main part of the dungeon and what sex that occurred was in the back rooms where it was more private and hidden. Finally one of our members took it upon himself to be the first. He did an amazing mock rape scene in the middle of the dungeon. It was hot. Very hot. And it caused all kinds of uproar. I got tons of e-mails, phone calls, etc. People were so upset. How could he do that? Didn’t he know that he was putting the Wet Spot in danger? We could all go to jail? It was kind of ludicrous and a bit sad. We had people quit the organization because we allowed sex in the dungeon. Some of them never came back. I’m very saddened by that. However, it did make it very clear to the community that sex was okay. And while there still isn’t a lot of penetrative sex in the main area of the dungeon no one every complains when there is (well, there is this one guy who is so loud when he comes–well, never mind–that’s another story) Like I said, even though we allow it, it’s still not happening that much and from what I understand that’s the norm at other venues that allow penetrative sex. What’s up with that? I think it has to do with the conversation that is prevalent in the leather community.

Sex Isn’t BDSM or BDSM Isn’t About Sex

We even perpetuate the myth that BDSM is illegal. Well, granted, there are a few places where it specifically states, flogging, SM activities, etc are illegal. Most municipalities have never thought to put what we do on the books. We make up stories that you can’t consent to assault–so that makes what we do illegal, because assault is illegal. Well, I don’t know about you, but I have never assaulted a partner. I have never consented to assault. What I do is not illegal and I would never publicly say so–that’s just inviting prosecution and problems. This is another good reason, in my opinion, to bring it back to sex. Sex between consenting adults is not illegal in too many places these days. (Not sure about Texas– 🙂 )

Like I said at the beginning of this conversation I think I’m preaching to the choir. These last few days have been full of sex of all kinds. I believe that those of us who take time to attend events like Southplains are the movers and shakers. And most of you are leaders within our community (or if not yet, will be soon). We’re the activists and we’re the people who get things done and change the world. We’re the ones who make a difference.
I believe that this Sex Positive Renaissance we are in is a logical outcome of the commitments and activism of people like us both within our community and within other alternative communities, Ironically, in spite of it’s distancing from sex, it has been the Leather/Fetish/Kink communities that have and continue to contribute the most to the creation of sex positive culture. The Center was founded by members of the leather community and organizations like NCSF and Woodhall have their beginnings in Leather and they didn’t stop there.

I’d like to invite you on this journey I’m on to create sex positive culture. It’s a journey that will have its rough seas at times and not always smooth sailing. However, isn’t’ that the way we all like it? Rough and exciting. I know I wouldn’t have it any other way. In order to weather this journey we have to be passionate and unstoppable. We must realize that in order to make a difference in this world we need to be to be willing at times to risk it all. To take stands that are unpopular (even within our own communities) and, in my opinion, be willing as leaders to be proudly out about being sex positive.

This means both organizations and individuals. I as an individual have a personal mission to remove shame from sexuality throughout the world and to replace it with joy. That can only happen with the creation of a sex positive culture. I know that sounds far fetched but I think it’s possible and that it’s a path that many of us are on. So I request that you join me in the Sex Positive Renaissance and acknowledge your part in the sex positive community.

Thank you

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