Friday, July 1, 2016

AASECT Position Statements on Sex and Gender Diversity and Reparative Therapy

On June 9, 2016 at its board meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico, AASECT unanimously adopted two position statements authored by other organizations.  The first was initiated primarily by the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, stimulated by AASECT’s Position on Sexual Expression, including Orientation and Identity adopted in November of 2015, and available here:  AASECT Position on Sexual Expression

NCSF required a statement that explicitly named activities that were subjected to discriminatory court cases and devised this language as congruent with parts of the Position on Sexual Expression:

“Sexual Freedom Resolution

Working within the position of social justice and human rights, we support the right of freedom of sexual expression among consenting adults.  We affirm that sexual expression is integral to the human experience, that this right is central to overall health and well-being, and that this right must be honored.  We support the right to be free from discrimination, oppression, exploitation and violence due to one’s sexual expression.

The best contemporary scientific evidence finds that consenting adults that practice BDSM, fetishism, cross dressing and non-monogamy can be presumed healthy as a group.  We believe that any sexuality education of therapies that treat sexualities must avoid stigmatizing or pathologizing these sexual expressions among fully informed consenting adults.
As professionals in the field of sexuality and sexual health, we actively seek to destigmatize consensual sexual expression and consensual practices among consenting adults, as well as to help create and maintain safe space for those who have been traditionally marginalized.


National Coalition for Sexual Freedom
AASECT (American Association for Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therpists)
CARAS (Community-Academic Consortium for Research on Alternative Sexualities)
Center for Positive Sexuality
Institute fir Sexuality Education and Enlightenment
Projects Advancing Sexual Diversity
Science of BDSM Research Team
TASHRA (The Alternative Sexualities Health Research Alliance)”

The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom ( continues to solicit organizational signers for this document.  Arrangements can be made either through contacting them through their website, or by leaving a comment here on Elephant.

The second position statement originated from the American Psychiatric Associations United States Joint Statement work group.with ties to working communities in the American Medical Association, The American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the National Association of Social Workers, and other national organizations.  It has already been adopted by the several organizations listed in the ‘Action Paper’ below:

“Joint Statement on Conversion Therapy in the U.S.
This statement is a framework for values and action to address issues raised by conversion therapy (also known as reorientation therapy, sexual orientation change efforts, ex-gay therapy, or reparative therapy). This statement expresses a shared commitment of two core principles of ethical mental health services: 1) facilitate individual self-determination and 2) do no harm.

The ethical principle of self-determination requires that each individual is seen as a whole person supported in their right to explore, define, articulate, and live out their own identity. For this reason, it is essential for clinicians to acknowledge the broad spectrum of sexual orientations and gender identities/expressions. In order to do so, it is necessary to have an equal understanding of and respect for sexual and gender minorities as well as the religious, spiritual, and other ideological values of individuals, families, and communities.

To ensure all healthcare providers do no harm, it is essential to recognize that a person is not mentally ill or developmentally delayed because they experience same-sex attractions or a nontraditional gender identity or expression. The focus of treatment must not be to convert an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. The signatories share a commitment to protecting the public from the harms of conversion therapy.

There is no intention in this statement to deny those with conflicted feelings around sexuality or gender identity from seeking qualified and appropriate help. Nothing in this statement is intended to preclude ethical research relative to gender identity or sexual orientation.


Historically, research findings and clinical expertise have found that variations in sexual orientation and gender identity are within the normal range of human development, and that conversion therapy or other efforts to make sexual orientation or gender identity/expression conform to specific standards and expectations are not effective, are not appropriate therapeutic practices, are not ethical, and are harmful.1, 2, 3  Many professional associations already have position statements relative to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, of Gender NonConforming (LGBTQ/GNC) health and/or the ineffectiveness of efforts to change sexual orientation and/or the potential harms of conversion therapy for sexual orientation.4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15

Goals and Objectives

Given the harm associated with conversion therapy efforts, other affirmative behavioral, psychological, and emotional health interventions are recommended for individual or family distress associated with sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. We commit ourselves to ensure that:
     The public is informed about the research on conversion therapy and the risks thereof;
     Healthcare professionals are made aware of the ethical issues relating to conversion therapy;
     New and existing healthcare providers are appropriately trained to competently deal with requests for conversion therapy and to provide appropriate support to clients in distress over their sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression;
     Healthcare professionals from various disciplines work together to promote the public interest in addressing conversion therapy.

Roles and Responsibilities

This statement does not define a list of actions which every organization will carry out. It sets out a framework for how organizations will respond to the issue in areas where they have responsibilities.
     Each organization will review its codes of ethical conduct for members and consider the need for the creation of specific amendments to those codes;
     Professional associations will ensure their members have access to the latest information regarding the ineffectiveness and harms of conversion therapy;
     Professional associations will endeavor to make continuing professional development events available to further providers' understanding and cultural competence in working with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and gender nonconforming (LGBTQ/GNC) clients;
     Organizations will work together to create a shared information resource on the ineffectiveness and harms of conversion therapy to help and support both members of the public and professionals, including sets of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs);
     Those with a responsibility for clinical and academic training will work to ensure that such programs provide mental and behavioral health providers with a sufficient degree of cultural competence to work effectively with LGBTQ/GNC clients;
     Clinicians who are not sufficiently trained around issues of sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression will make every effort to seek appropriate training or consultation or to connect patients with clinicians or agencies who are trained to provide appropriate clinical care;
     Auditing and accrediting organizations will review their current guidelines and policies for individual practitioners and training organizations to assess the need for more specific standards to demonstrate awareness of and compliance with policies regarding conversion therapy.

Beyond ending potentially harmful practices, it is important to also build greater social acceptance of people of all gender identities, gender expressions, and sexual orientations, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, and gender nonconforming people of all ages; to adopt appropriate and supportive therapies; and to provide current, targeted and accurate resources and information for all patients and their families. Building better supportive environments and working to eliminate negative social attitudes will reduce health disparities and improve the health and well-being of all LGBTQ/GNC people.


The undersigned organizations will review the statement 12 months after publication.

Mutual Understanding

This memorandum is signed in recognition of a shared professional responsibility to improve the support and help available to those at risk from conversion therapy.



TITLE:   US Joint Statement on Conversion Therapy

Whereas:  In December of 1998, the Board of Trustees issued a position statement that the American Psychiatric Association opposes any psychiatric treatment, such as "reparative" or conversion therapy, which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that a patient should change his/her sexual homosexual orientation,

Whereas:  In December 2013 the Board of Trustees issued a position statement that the American Psychiatric Association believes that the causes of sexual orientation (whether homosexual or heterosexual) are not known at this time and likely are multifactorial including biological and behavioral roots which may vary between different individuals and may even vary over time.  The American Psychiatric Association does not believe that same-sex orientation should or needs to be changed, and efforts to do so represent a significant risk of harm by subjecting individuals to forms of treatment which have not been scientifically validated and by undermining self-esteem when sexual orientation fails to change.  No credible evidence exists that any mental health intervention can reliably and safely change sexual orientation; nor, from a mental health perspective does sexual orientation need to be changed,

Whereas:   The World Psychiatric Association has taken the position that gender identity is not seen as pathological and “the provision of any intervention proposed to’ treat’ something that is not a disorder is wholly unethical,“

Whereas:  The American Academy of Nursing, the American Counseling Association, the American Medical Student Association, the American Psychoanalytic Association, AGLP The Association of LGBTQ Psychiatrists, the Association of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Issues in Counseling, the Clinical Social Work Association, GMLA: the Health Professionals Advancing LGBT Equality, and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health have signed on to the US Joint Statement on Conversion Therapy; and the Woodhull Freedom Foundation and PFLAG International have endorsed the US Joint Statement on Conversion Therapy.

Be it Resolved:  That the American Psychiatric Association sign on as a signatory to the US Joint Statement on conversion Therapy which cautions mental Health Professionals that conversion or change therapies for Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgendered patients are unethical and emboday a risk of harm to those patients.

AASECT would thus be added to the list of organizations under the fourth 'Whereas' in the 'Action Paper'.

The Joint Statement was started independently by the American Psychiatric Association work group, but AASECT's decision to become a signatory grows naturally both from the AASECT Vision of Sexual Health, and from the aforementioned Position on Sexual Expression adopted last November.  The ripples of that decision, and AASECT's earlier decisions to undertake systematic advocacy with the formation of its Public Relations, Media, and Advocacy Committee in 2004 and its adoption of the AASECT Vision of Sexual Health in 2006, continue to wash up on shores then undreamed of.  Elephant in the Hot Tub: Kink in Context is yet another unanticipated consequence of those decisions.

Even those of modest height can see farther when standing on the shoulders of giants, Sir Isaac!

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Social Psychology of Kink Safety

This post is dedicated to the dead, wounded and traumatized in the Pulse nightclub shooting and all those who love them.  It is also dedicated to those who sense of safety has been diminished by this horrific act.  Potentially, that is a lot of people, including the author.  Although gay, lesbian, queer, trans, and gender fluid people know less safety than many of us, all of us are correct to feel that the realities of terrorism, anti-homosexual ideology, and toxic masculinity make us less safe than we may have previously imagined.  Finally, I want to particularly spotlight Eli Green, AASECT Annual Conference Co-Chairs Melissa Keyes DiGioia, and Mariotta Gary-Smith who worked so hard to promote safety at AASECT16 when we were threatened by a lesser invasion that was only made more disturbing by the Pulse shooting.

Kinksters are very concerned about safety.  It is possible to be an outsider with relatively low levels of stigma, but when you know that your sexuality is judged as threatening and crazy by others, you carry stigma about it even when you are not out, and when there is no immediate threat.  All kinky people are vulnerable to some social stigma, and, depending on their preferred practices, many are vulnerable to legal prosecution as described in previous posts on Elephant.  Even before learning about kink communities, potential members learned to conceal their sexual desires, to manage double lives, to handle internal and external stigma, and to control as much as they can how others perceive them.

Social Participation:

Is it safer to be out or not?  It depends on which risks are important to you.
So the first line of kinksters’ defense in the struggle for safety is not being out.  In the 2014 Consent Violations Survey, 70% said they were not out to someone.  We didn’t ask, but there is a large but unknown number of kinky people who have never been out to anyone.  They were not likely to have been in our sample.  These are people who learned their desires were forbidden before they ever had the opportunity to express them.  They may be so afraid they do not act on them ever.  Why I periodically take issue with the ‘sex addiction’ discourse here on Elephant is that some children and adolescents fear to masturbate to their fantasies for fear of becoming addicted and losing control of how other people perceive them.  They internalize stigma and feel shame and hatred of their desires.  So for the fearful, the price in judgment of knowing themselves can be enforced celibacy and lonely secrecy.  Is it any wonder that out kinksters are often counterphobic?  To own their sexuality, they have no alternative to facing their fears.

Because sexuality is a private matter in conventional public life, one does not need to lead a double life to be kinky.  An unknown number of kinky couples exist out in the world who read books, or respond to movies or other media, or are introduced to kink by a partner and take to it like a duck to water. They recognize that they have kinky desires, and reveal their kinks only to a few willing partners and achieve safety through appearing conventional in everyday social life and doing as they please in bed.  They hide their toys from the kids, and lock up everything when guests come to stay for a few days.  For these people, safety may feel routine and pose modest psychological burdens.  The more polyamorous one is, the harder this is to pull off, because it is harder to conceal multiple partnerships under the cloak of hetrro-normativity.  For most gender fluid clients it is impossible, and for gay clients, so-called marriage equality holds out some hope that they too can avoid stigma through maintaining sexual privacy that previously was available only to heterosexuals.

A wise words from Oscar Wilde.  Come to think of it,though, didn't he do time for being out!
For others, the inability to tell significant others about their desires leads to behaviors we would consider risky.  They chose to lead double lives.  They contact other people through personal ads and express their kink outside of their primary relationships.  They decide the fears of relationship loss are the lesser of the evils relative to never discussing their desires.  We often interpret the resulting secrecy and duplicity as proof that they do not value their relationships, but it would be equally true that they value them too much to risk speaking of their kinks!  (Lest you credit me with this gem, know that I learned it first from Ether Perel’s work on affairs!)

Leading double lives can be elaborate, and sometimes the rituals of doing this become eroticized.  Contacting new partners who might accept you and share your excitements can be hot.  So can doing something illicit.   So swiping the correct direction can feel like rolling the dice, and you may feel a rush when the object of your intense interest responds with an encouraging text message.  In the past, kinksters chose aliases and wrote away to re-mail services.  Sometimes letters arrived saturated in perfume, and filled with sexy pictures.  Now mostly this happens electronically.
Did someone say "Red Room of Pain'?  This is actually from a bondage B&B in Edinburgh
Wealthy people build secret dungeons equivalent to Christian Grey’s Red Room, and hold private parties by invitation only.  Despite the intimacy of play, they may not know one another’s real names, occupations or marital statuses.  At CARAS every year a therapist discussion group is held for kinky therapists who worry about managing their caseloads of kinksters in the incestuous environment of their local scene, and worry that if they play anywhere 300 miles from the office that a client’s therapy will be damaged by an unplanned social meeting at a kink event.  So the sources of unsafety, and the complexity of solutions when a double life is undertaken, can vary tremendously and require a huge amount of attention and energy. When the burdens of maintain these arrangements become too great, safety is often sought in therapy, as kinky clients worry that the burdens of dealing with stigma constitute proof that their kinks are ‘pathological’.
Of course, double lives can provide one kind of safety at the expense of other dangers.  Lying and deception can sour the relationship with the primary partner and destroy trust.  Partners that might have lovingly faced their own fears and judgments about kink might lack the trust to make the attempt if they discover yours only after learning about a prolonged deception.  All the things one sought to protect with deception can be precipitously damaged when deception fails.  Therapists long experience with secrets suggest secrets and confidences tend to slip out more frequently in times of acute stress, conflict and crisis, such that damage can be very hard to contain and repair.  Therapists as a community tend to be pro intimacy and pro honesty and to question the benefits of double life behaviors, so people using these face psychological risks of being confronted about their relationship strategies in therapy.  Kink-aware therapists can be expected to handle these situations in non-directive and client-centered ways.

Informed Consent as a source of safety:

Negotiation and contracting are the foundations of kink safety.  In their ideal form they operationalize informed consent.  Ideally, they work best if the following conditions are maintained continuously:
Equality:  The parties in the negotiation come to the negotiation form a place of existential equality and negotiate freely as equals. 
Honesty:  Each participant has good communications skills and negotiates honestly about what they do and do not want.
Empathy:  Each participant has a high degree of empathy for the other parties in the negotiation.
Limited but Shared Interests:  The parties negotiate with a flexible acceptance that negotiation partners have not only interest that align, but also differences that do not, and they are prepared to be accepting of the irreducible differences.
Self-Discipline:  Each participation maintains discipline about their expectations.
Risk tolerance: Each participant is aware and tolerant of the risks of negotiation.
Explicit agreement:  The negotiation is explicit and limited in its specifications of what is to be agreed.
The negotiation contains serious considerations of what might go wrong, and has a safety plan for dealing with potential problems if everything agreed to does not proceed smoothly and expectable difficulties arise.
It is important that the above description is my ideal statement of negotiation for informed consent.  In actual practice, actual negotiations rarely maintain ideal standards on all of these dimensions.

This Your E-Card is a great example of how 50 Shades of Grey has altered the conversation about kink.
Contacts often lead to the expression of hard and soft limits.  Hard limits are activities that you do not want to do under any circumstances.  If you have breathing difficulties, that might mean no gags, ever.  A fear of spiders may mean no role playing Little Miss Muffett.   If you have a prominent public position, that may mean no pictures, or no scenes where you are locked outside the hotel room naked for the excruciating thrill of humiliation.  Soft limits are limits you are prepared to relax under special circumstances.  Examples might include no public play unless we are a safe distance from home, or unless you are masked and hooded.  Someone who was afraid of her potential for angry reactions might only agree to sensation play when she’s securely bound so she doesn’t hit back.  Or some behavior which was extremely hot and anxiety provoking might be OK in private play, but never OK in a group scene.  Using negotiation, hard limits and soft limits, kinksters can titrate their fears and desires and their desire for risk and adventure with their needs for safety into scenes that have the best chance of being fun and sexy.

From This one hit a little too close to home; our cat's name is Khatzie!  So sue me!
Safewords and contracts are about safety.  Although it may be hot to imagine that you are helpless at the hands of a sexy sadist, cramps, sudden illness, an accident, or emotional triggering can all lead to dangerous situations in which ending the scene immediately is imperative.  Often kinksters play with making safewords less safe, by making them long or difficult to say, or by imposing penalties for using them.  Also, submissives often try to avoid using their safewords under the theory that good role players don’t do such things, or the top might be hurt or inconvenienced.  These are a dangerous ideas, but also illustrate one of the key safety principles of kink:  that one never has to be any safer than they want to be.  Much safety in kink just about doing your best to make an informed choice about exactly the level of safety you want, and about the human fallibility of getting it.

Aftercare is partly about safety.  Getting emotional support and processing your experiences are important parts of getting safety both through sharing understanding of your experiences, processing any problems that arose, and consolidating possible new learnings about yourself from play.

Community Safety Resources:

Please note that the photo and links immediately below are from commercial sites, and some videos may require you to pay a fee and/or subscribe.  By way of personal disclosure, some videos may be by personal friends and professional colleagues of the author.  I have received no fee or other commercial consideration for using these examples.

What?  There are only 50 skills?  This piece of shrewd marketing to newbies is from KinkUniversity at, an excellent source of on-line kink training videos.  Kink is also recomended.
Kink Academy
The logo of  The Eugenspiegel Society in New York City. The United States first aboveground kink social group founded in 1972
Society of Janus, the second oldest kink social group, marching in the San Francisco Pride Parade.
There are now a great many local BDSM social communities in medium and large cities and many university campuses.  The best palce to locate a local group is on

Joining a kink community can have risks, like being more ‘out’, but often puts people in touch with many new sources of safety.  Kink communities endlessly educate, and safety is very often a main theme of kink educational sessions.  Kink groups often provide mentoring programs for new members.  In mentoring programs, safety is learned directly by processing one’s own emotional reactions with experienced players.  Mentors can help you decide what new things you are ready to try and under what conditions you are most likely to enjoy them.  They can serve as sounding boards that help you understand what your actual play partner might be thinking and feeling when they are doing new things with you.  Good mentors check on your safety techniques to help make sure they are working as you intend and as they are intended to work in the community you are joining.  Direct instruction can teach about safewords, safe play methods, the physiological consequences of different techniques and behaviors.  It is a typical feature of mentoring programs that mentors do not play with their charges.  This makes it easier for mentees to keep clear that sexual self-interest is not coloring the mentor’s advice.

Often, kinksters chose close confidants to be their ‘safeties’ from within their local communities.  A safety is a person who serves as a spotter for you when you are playing.  They are similar to people who help keep you safe when you are practicing trampoline or diving.  They can observe while you contract and watch with neutral eyes while you play.  Sometimes another pair of eyes will serve to deter someone who would go beyond their agreement with you because such behavior would make them look bad in the eyes of the community.  Safeties can stop play, or question it, if something appears to be going amiss, even if you are in top or subspace.  When you make explicit arrangements to visit a private party or other venue, you can arrange to text your safety with where you are and when you plan to report in so that someone else knows you are safe and can call for help if you fail to check in.  Safeties don’t just deter other people who might not be careful or scrupulous enough not to harm you, but also can serve as an experienced and neutral source of judgment in helping you to keep from taking greater risks in the heat of desire than you intend to.  Safeties differ from mentors in that they are often relative equals, and often they are in the same roles you prefer to explore in the community.  Different people can play the role of safety for you at different times, where as a mentoring relationship is usually filled by just one person and for a prearranged period.

Friends can serve as support for discussion and understanding what you have experienced.  Those in the scene are a valuable source of information about norms and community history.  Just as Elephant in the Hot Tub is often about context, knowing and influencing the context of where you play and who you play with can be an important source of safety information and risk.  Friends can help with those efforts.
Actual playing technique is often a source of safety.  Many things you see on Porn Hub and kinky illustrations are either artistic license, or scenes carefully crafted by unique and highly experienced models.  Just because you can fantasize doing something and get off on it does not necessarily mean you can do it safely.  Educational sessions can keep you from practices that might lead to injury or worse if done without instruction.  For example, many kinksters lack partners and engage in self-bondage.  If it is important to you to be genuinely helpless, it is a real risk that if you tie yourself up that you will be unable to free yourself.  Furthermore, positions that are hot for short periods can become highly uncomfortable or dangerous if circulation gets cut off or cramps ensue.  Learning ways to free yourself may seem self-defeating, but may spare you the embarrassment of calling the authorities, or neighbors to get free, or suffering genuine injury.

E Gary Gygax makes an animated guest appearance on Futurama as a Dungeon Master.
This is not the kind of Dungeon Master we'er looking for.! It is another one of those wonderful multi-cultural double entendres like CBT.  The term Dungeon Master arose independently and nearly simultaneously in the 1970's in D&D and BDSM sub-cultures.

In group playing situations, Dungeon Masters operate to ensure that group rules about play and personal conduct are observed.  Those of you who attended the Taste of Kink event in Minneapolis last June saw both safeties from AASECT and Dungeon Masters from the demonstrating local group in operation.  Play groups and BDSM social organizations always have policies.  Alcohol and drugs may be banned, both to protect players’ states of mind and to ensure that authorities do not have an excuse to raid playspaces.  Personal touch and touching of others’ equipment is generally prohibited, in part because people with past histories of boundary violations have been known to test limits like these and such rules bring their attention to group leaders.  Photos and recording are prohibited to protect group members’ anonymity and privacy.  Dungeon masters are generally senior and high status members of the community who have a broad familiarity with techniques, and can observe that play is safe and have full authority to stop it.

Groups also often have reporting policies in the event that people make complaints about a group member’s behavior.  Often there is considerable dispute about the ways that communities regulate play, and what rules the community should adopt.  A climate of anarchic radical personal responsibility prevails.  But leathersex traditions and histories of community violators have led most to have them.  Therapists of new community members should ask them to enquire of their kink social organization about what the response procedures are if something untoward happens.

It is common practice in kink social organizations for new members to ask for references when playing with someone for the first time, and this is especially true when playing outside the group playspace.  References are far from infallible, but using them to rule out problem players is a really good idea.  In the 2014 Consent Violations Survey, references were not always sought, but when they were, 74% of reported violations were committed by someone with a good or excellent rating, so references are not infallible protection.  They are mostly useful to weed out known unsafe players.

A group photo of participants from the Folsom Street Fair (FSF) ironically serves to illustrate dress codes.  Ironic because FSF is a rare event with no dress code, and no prohibition against photography.  You automatically consent to being photographed, and that is why I often select it for stock photos.  Although black is not required, yet it is very prevalent. 
Dress codes are often enforced at kink events.  These offer the relatively weak protection that the people who attend kink events are actually kinky, not passing tourists or voyeurs who do not share group norms and commitments.  Depending on the group, these dress codes can be pretty broad, and offer rather little additional safety.

Trigger warnings and trauma safety:  Some kinksters play despite trauma histories.  It may seem surprising, but some explicitly play with past traumas.  Many kinky social groups are already familiar with this possibility, and they may have members who are trained and familiar with trauma, and systematic efforts are made to make sure not only that participants are aware when intense experiences are planned, but they also have support if a participant or observer reacts unexpectedly.  If you know your vulnerabilities, it is good to share them before you play and have a support plan prepared ahead of time.  Informed consent is not just important for you, but for those who play with you.

Munches are social meetings where kink is discussed, but there is no play.  Meetings are generally in local restaurants.  The fact that they are in public space with no play scheduled makes them safe from physical boundary violations, but may be uncomfortable for people who do not want to be observed discussing BDSM in public.  Munches generally do not have dress codes so that new members are not outed by hanging out with leather clad ‘undesirables’.   Sometimes people go off and play together from munches after sizing each other up in safe space, a practice commonly practiced in all forms of on-line dating.  Obviously if you leave a munch with someone you like, you have the potential for privacy, but loose the protections of public space.  Munches provide a great way for new members to size up the people in the group, and to make judgments about how much they would like to share of themselves with group members.  Many people who are attracted to kink are not comfortable with playing in public, so it is quite likely that those who join kink social organizations and play together are among the more adventurous for whom the voyeurism, exhibitionism, and group processes are not barriers to entry.

Attitudes, Values, and Process that Produce Safety:

Gradualism is a characteristic of safety strategy in which new recruits to any sub-culture gather information, try out new behaviors, test their assumptions against experience, and develop new commitments, identifications, and even sexual orientations.  It provides the time and information to bring feelings and knowledge into integration, and allows the building of new relationships that support social participation in the sub-culture.  Munches are a deliberate part of this plan, and they exist also for asexuals, old friends, and newbies to meet together where the possible pressures of sexual excitement are less, and friends can interact at whatever level of participation they prefer.  The social rules in play groups are more strict, and munches can be a relief from some of these.  Sometimes psychological safety means being protected from your own desire and the desire of others, and a relaxing of social roles that are otherwise very exciting to play out.

An attempt has been made here to be exhaustive about the kinds and sources of safety in the kink community, and to discuss both generic and arcane aspects of kinky communities that help people manage their risk taking behavior.  Obviously, a truly comprehensive list is impossible, and for all these efforts, safety is never complete.  I strongly encourage readers to add additional examples of safety to this thread using the comments section.  Eventually, many people who do not know the conventions of the kink communities will read this article and profit from consideration of your commentary.

This week’s horrifying attack on the Pulse Disco in Florida is a shattering demonstration that, despite the fact that terrorism constitutes a very modest threat to American citizens—you are in much greater danger from falling in your bath tub, let alone negative health consequence’s for your diet, lifestyle or traffic accidents—safety is never complete, and kink involves deliberate risk taking.  This article eschews the usual kink slogans of SSC or RACK, but love and sex and spiritual pursuits all entail risk.  The kink communities know this, accept it, plan for risk and for things to go wrong despite everyone’s best efforts.
Not everyone is benign.  Not all players are skilled in all things.  Highly skilled people still make errors.  Even those of us who strive continuously for self-knowledge have limitations.
Prevailing community attitudes produce safety:  A general ethos prevails in BDSM of radical personal responsibility.  Radical in that, in the face of laws and norms that may make some kink activities illegal, many kinksters make up their minds to do them anyway.  But the responsibility for risk taking until laws and social attitudes can be changed remain theirs.  This attitude may assume some risks, but is inclined to see responsibility for one’s safety as primarily one’s own responsibility. 

In that spirit, when assuming responsibility for your own emotional safety, aftercare with your play partners is important, but it is also necessary to plan for your own self-care when trouble disrupts your plan to receive care from others who may become unavailable.  It is in precisely that spirit, that this blog provided the link to an excellent sub and top drop safety kit:Top and Sub Drop Safety Kit

Analogous to kink?  Serious leisure.
Kink has provided all these safety tools and resources because we live in a word where complete safety is not always desirable, and the panoply of different kink loves, activities, needs, and risks is so great.  Kink demands communication because any given partner’s knowledge and skill in the midst of this diversity cannot be assumed.  Although many dating sites have tried kink activity checklists as a place to begin discussions with potential partners, they are not a very big start.  There is a lot of safety to talk about and lots to learn.  Emily Prior and DJ Williams have likened kink to extreme sports; a kind of serious leisure in which participants become partially professionalized.  Skills offset risks, and ideology embraces planful risky behavior.  Unlike extreme sports governed by the logic of athleticism and competition, kink embraces unreasoned passion as a primary motive for play, so the serious leisure analogy isn’t perfect.  Whether you accept their sociological analogy or not, kink requires lots of safety.  But many people have faced the same safety problems before you have, and they have a large history of solutions.   

© Russell J Stambaugh, June, 2016, Ann Arbor MI, All rights reserved

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

#AASECT16--Consent 201: Consent and Its Discontents

Susan Wright and I presented a 90-minute program at AASECT's 48th Annual Conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico entitled Consent 201: Consent and its Discontents on June 9, 2016.  At the end of that presentation, Susan and I promised to mount the slides and notes on FetLife under the Consent Counts discussion thread, and here on Elephant.  The posting is delayed until Sunday, June 19 while I get an upgrade to my tech skills!  Sorry for the delay!

Consent 201: Consent and its Discontents

Here are some of the takeaways I think this presentation about complex and ambiguous consent and the 2014 consent violations survey offers:

1)  While there are many costs to confronting stigma and being 'othered', outsiders have insights their unique histories and contexts can offer us.  We can learn from them, or just learn the hard way.

2)  Consent is not simple and will not work by rote for kinky folk or for conventional ones.  Kink has a long history of what consent can and can't do.  Communication lessens the dangers, but does not fully ameliorate power imbalances.

3)  Community offers powerful protections, but we only achieve them if we are not only inclusive, but show vigilance for our most vulnerable members and fully socialize them.

4)  Even in counter cultures like kink, the cultural weaknesses of our larger cultural context bleed through.  Kink is egalitarian, but not fully equal.  Males, heterosexuals, tops, and those with clear gender boundaries are less likely to report consent violations than women, submissives, queer, and fluid folk.

5)  There are serious risks of over-victimizing consent violations in our efforts to decrease them.  Half are not serious, bumps and bruises are to be expected from risky play, and we dare not decrease the agency of all participants.  The passion to share risk creates the opportunity for understanding our shadow and our vulnerability.  Safety training and aftercare need to operate not just between immediate players, but within the larger communities they play in.  2014 Consent Violations Survey is part of a long history of community commitment to that care.  So is posting these results for others to learn form them and apply them.

Enjoy, learn, play safely, and lead with empathy, not conflict.

© Russell J Stambaugh, June, 2016, Ann Arbor MI, All rights reserved

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Psychotherapeutic Theories of Kink: Myths and Realities about Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud is the towering figure in the invention of psychotherapy and is one of the most important thinkers to contribute to Western notions of modernity.  Born in Moravia (now part of the Czech Republic) in 1856, Freud’s Jewish father was a moderately successful textile salesman who brought his family to Vienna and paid for his son’s education at the gymnasium, thus qualifying Sigmund to enter the University of Vienna.  Sigmund studied first medicine, then neurology, training with some of the most famous Swiss and French neurologists of his day and became a lecturer at the University of Vienna.  Throughout his tenure there, Freud was very much split between teaching, his private practice as a psychotherapist, and his prolific career as a writer.  An inveterate publicist and promoter of his ideas, he invented psychoanalysis, organized it as a clinical and academic discipline, and wrote seemingly tirelessly about its clinical technique, theory, and larger societal implications.  Although Freud was not religious and never practiced as a Jew, he was a pillar of the Viennese social community and married Martha Bernays, the daughter of a prominent rabbi from Hamburg.  From 1902, he held continuous weekly meetings about psychoanalytic topics, and in 1905, he founded the International Psychoanalytic Association.  The so called Standard Edition of his works translated into English by James Strachey runs 24 volumes and thousands of pages.

Freud's inner circle circa 1920:  Top, left to right: Otto Rank, Karl Abraham, Max Eitingon, Ernest Jones
Bottom:  Sigmund Freud, Sandor Ferenczi and Hans Sachs.
By this time, Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, and Wilhelm Stekel were already gone.
Between the publication of The Interpretation of Dreams in 1901 and his departure from Vienna in 1938, Freud’s psychoanalytic circle anointed all the greatest thinking about therapy.  Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, Otto Rank, Sandor Ferenczi, Karen Horney, Marie Bonaparte, Erich Fromm, Lou Andreas Salome, Harry Stack Sullivan, Wilhelm Reich were all pillars of the International Psychoanalytic Association at one point or another.  In his later years, Freud increasingly turned his attention to social phenomena like religion, education, and the relationship between society and repression.  Just after the Anschluss in which Austria was absorbed by Nazi Germany, the Freud family emigrated first to Paris, and then to London, by June 4, 1938.   By the time he left Vienna, he had suffered from the effects of mouth cancer for more than 15 years, the disease was initially diagnosed in 1923 and Freud went through a long and difficult history of treatment.   In September of 1939, without further treatment options and in the face of weakness and chronic pain, Freud arranged for legal physician-assisted suicide on September 23, 1939 at his new home in Hampstead, London.

Freud poses with a cigar.  He famously said "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."when asked if his habitual cigars were phallic symbols.  Actually, cigars are never just cigars.  Sometimes, they are a cause of mouth cancer.

Anna Freud, who assumed the intellectual leadership of psychoanalysis after her father’s death, was so embittered that she did not return to Vienna even for visit until 1972.  Because of that and difficulties associated with his emigration from Vienna and the death of Sigmund’s four sisters in Nazi concentration camps during the war, Freud’s extensive library, archeological artifacts, and clinical consulting room were recreated and kept in London and never repatriated to Vienna after his death.

Anna Freud (1895-1982), in 1957. 
Freud not only invented psychoanalysis, he was a prominent mythologizer of the field.  He constantly portrayed psychoanalysis as victimized by the very forces of repression that he was striving to overcome through psychoanalytic insight.   As a consequence, of this dramatic struggle, the popular imagination about Freud is plagued by a variety of hyperboles and exaggerations about Freud’s already immense role in modern thinking.  I will proceed to break a few of these down, and try to put his real contributions into a larger perspective:

Myth #1.  Freud Invented Talk Therapy:

Physicians had been talking to their patients for years and already realized that reassuring conversation, non-medical advice, patriarchal solicitousness, and even placebos, could have powerful effects on patient health.   Mesmer and Charcot had already demonstrated powerful effects from talking interventions like hypnotism.  Freud invented psychoanalysis, the term he used for his particular theoretical and technical rationale about what made the talking cure work.  So Freud did much to popularize and refine the talking cure, but did not invent it.

Myth #2.  Freud Set Out to Invent Talk Therapy:

Freud thought of himself as a neurologist, and imagined that the clinical phenomena he was seeing in therapeutic conversations with patients were neurological, not psychological phenomena.  Until 1900, Freud was engaged in an elaborate and failed study, the Project for a Scientific Psychology, in which attempted to describe mental phenomena in neurological terms.  This effort was premature and awaited technological breakthroughs, including the identification of neurotransmitters and CT, PET, and fMRI imagining techniques that were not developed until long after his death.  Were Freud working today, he’d probably be seeking NIMH grants for brain studies using the latest scanning technology!

Freud's couch ready for it's scan.  It could happen!
Myth #3.  Freud Was a Cocaine Addict and His Work Was Nonsense Because of Chronic Intoxication:

Turn of the century apparatus for administering the 7% solution of cocaine.  93% was saline.
In 1974, Nicholas Meyer penned a novel that threw Sherlock Holmes and Sigmund Freud together on a case.

Freud was an enthusiastic early user of cocaine and wrote rhapsodically about its stimulating effects.  At the time (late 1800’s) its addictive properties were not known, and laws had yet to be passed against its use.  Freud’s extensive body of writing has withstood the test of time, and while some of it is clearly wrong, it is much more limited by his times and the extant medical knowledge and social conventions, than by the researcher’s use of psycho-active drugs.  It should be noted that Freud’s cocaine use was conventional in his time, but would constitute impaired professionalism in the modern context.  Recognition of the dangers that opiates and cocaine posed led to the Harrison Act of 1911 in America.  That legislation established non-medical uses as illegal, commenced limited regulation of the pharmaceutical industry, and self-prescription would eventually be forbidden.  European countries passed similar laws around this time as well.  It is estimated that around the turn of the century, 1 in 20 Americans was addicted to patent medicines that contained alcohol, opiate derivatives, and/or cocaine.   Freud may have remained vulnerable to self-prescription due to cocaine’s analgesic effects it most likely had on the pain associated with advancing mouth cancer.
Snake oil.  Yes, it sometimes contained the oil from freshly squeezed snakes!
The active ingredients, however, were cocaine, alcohol, and opioids.

Myth #4.  Freud Invented the Idea of the Unconscious:

Jean Martin Charcot presents on hysteria circa 1870.
Actually, the idea of the unconscious pre-dated Freud’s work and the idea that people were not fully aware of what they were thinking was in common currency during Freud’s training as a neurologist and the staple of early learning theorists.  Franz Mesmer’s ideas of animal magnetism were known to be involved in hypnotism and, relied on the existence of an unconscious.   Similarly, Jean Martin Charcot, the founding father of modern neurology, came to believe that repression was involved in hysteria and he demonstrated how memories could be lost and recovered from the unconscious under hypnosis.   Freud did, however, invent and popularize the idea of the dynamic unconscious as a mental agency in which socially intolerable instinctual impulses were kept from consciousness lest we think badly of ourselves and violate social rules.  It is the Freudian model of the unconscious that undergirds popular thinking today about our mental lives and self-concepts.

Myth #5.  Freud Thought Everything Was About Sex:

Austro-Hungarian machine gunners in World War I.  Freud served his country during that war, and saw the psychological consequences of industrialized combat.  Maybe not everything was about sex.

Although this myth seems difficult to refute, it is important to realize that even in its most extreme form, Freud’s position was more nuanced.  In his initial theorizing, sex played an exclusive explanatory role, but Freud was not speaking of foreplay, intercourse, or suspension bondage.  For Freud, sex was an underlying human motivation derived from direct but largely unconscious instinctual expression.  It was a natural consequence of our Darwinian animal nature and our evolutionary purpose to pass our genes on to the next generation of human beings.  Libido, that natural biological energy that sometimes resulted in direct mating behavior, got sublimated into all other social acts like going to school, attending church, everyday labor and social interaction.  So for Freud, behaviors that didn’t look sexy at all were energized by underlying sexual motives.  Later, Freud also hypothesized a death instinct which was equally mutable and unconscious.  Most writers after him have preferred to translate his death instinct as ‘aggression.’  Both of these instinctual drives were balanced in their social expression by the conscious abilities of the person, and their internalizations of social rules, norms, ideas and values, so libido was only expressed in directly sexual ways a small percentage of the time, even for the sexually preoccupied.

Myth #6.  Freud First Recognized the Importance of Infantile Sexuality:

Victorian urban life was crowded and unhealthy. John Harvey Kellogg was a great popularizer of hygiene that included anti-masturbatory messages.  Childhood sexuality was denied even as massive prevention efforts were undertaken.  Its enough to give 'repression' a bad name!  The flakes aren't bad, though.

This myth partially depends on what you believe the importance of infantile sexuality really was, but it is certainly true that the Victorians, including their physicians, did not recognize that children experienced sexual feelings and did not recognize childhood behaviors as sexual in nature.  In fact, the Victorians didn’t recognize that people were sexual throughout the life span, dramatically understated female sexuality, and struggled to accept Darwinian ideas.  Thank heavens we are all past that today!  Victorian physicians who operated vibration clinics as a way to release stress in women would not have been able to do so, had the full sexual nature of the relaxation response been properly recognized for what it was! 

Albert Moll (1862-1939) German psychiatrist and among the first to recognize childhood sexuality.

Albert Moll was the turn of the century sexologist who was first in advocating for the recognition of childhood sexuality.  When Freud advanced his own developmental theory that suggested the sucking, defecation, urination, and Oedipal behaviors were all manifestations of infantile libidinal expression, this idea was revolutionary.  But you have to think the proliferation of anti-onanistic interventions and ideology, from sports advocacy to gender-segregated education to aphorisms like ‘Idle hands are the devil’s playground!’ reflected some Victorian suspicion that children weren’t all that innocent.  Even today, the role of direct sexual expression in childhood is largely under-recognized, and this underlies social phobias around comprehensive sexuality education in the United States.

Myth #7.  Freud Was the First to Recognize the Importance of Bisexuality:

Sorry!  This is not the kind of bisexuality Freud meant in his theory.

Freud probably learned about the concept of libido and its bisexual nature first from Charles Darwin.  It certainly figured prominently in Freud’s early theories of sexuality that libido was bisexual in that a child could feel love for both the same and opposite gendered parent.  If Freud had encountered the idea of gender fluidity, he would doubtless have endorsed that love could be expressed by people of any gender towards any other.  However, Freud operated in a bi-gendered social world, and his theory had to account for the obvious clinical observations that children loved both parents and were in conflict about it.  However, if Darwin came first with the theory that libido could be expressed across gendered lines, Freud’s theory did not really address behaviorally bisexual sexual behavior, which he would doubtless have categorized as homosexual behavior and seen as further proof of his theory.  Freud did not really write about bisexuality in the way that we use the term today.

Freud did accomplish some great things that are probably under-recognized, notwithstanding his role as the most prominent clinical writer in psychology.

Freud broke the philosophical stalemate between Krafft-Ebing’s excessively constitutional theory, that claimed sexual deviance was largely an expression of constitutional degeneracy, and the early learning theorists, or ‘associationists’ like Alfred Binet, who claimed that all sexual behavior was learned.   Freud’s theory allowed for a middle ground that allowed roles for instinctual and learned factors.

Freud is best known for his model of what makes talk therapy effective.  He did not think that benign paternalistic discussion cured hysterics of their pseudo blindness or paralysis.  Rather, he believed these patients inflexibly refocused their infantile sexual conflicts on the therapist and felt towards him as they did towards their fathers.  Their guilty ambivalence about loving their fathers and feeling guilty about wanting to supplant their mothers and to do socially inappropriate things with fathers, led to the personal disempowerment seen in their terrible symptoms.  By helping the clients to recognize and refocus these transference feelings in the therapy, normalizing them, and seeing that the feelings need not be harmful, the hysterical clients could give up their symptoms.  This is the Freudian description of the transference cure.  Did it work?  At least sometimes, but it was far from infallible.  Considering the severity of disability from such symptoms as paralysis and blindness, it could be a big help.

Freud is also associated with a rather extreme version of analytic neutrality that many patients and practitioners regard as emotionally depriving.  A look at today’s austere psychotherapy offices suggests the pervasive influence of fears that betraying any portion of the therapist’s personality might become a distraction and interference with the process of transference.  After all, if the therapist displays masculine qualities, for example, this kind of reasoning might expect interference with the patient’s possible need to experience maternal transference feelings.  If the therapist appears gay, perhaps the client will be reluctant to express heterosexual feelings.

Girl Before a Mirror (1932) by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)  This was definitely not the original in our anecdote.   It hangs in The Museum of Modern Art in New York City  I chose this for thematic contrast with Titian's Venus with a Mirror in the first von sacher-Masoch essay. 
This is no idle concern.  When I was in graduate training, there was a famous supervising analyst who was extremely proud of his original and expensive Picasso, which hung prominently in the consulting room in which he saw is clients and supervised his mostly rather impoverished graduate students.  The analyst’s presumed need for phallic display was much discussed, and evidence marshalled for his excessive egotism.   It was my fortune to never have actually met this person, so I never had the chance to assess any of this for myself, but it is certainly true that his deviation from presumed orthodoxy had a big impact on his reputation.

Freud's Vienna home and  office at Berggasse 19, now a museum.  The sign is a recent addition!
(stock photo)
Late last year, I had the opportunity to visit Vienna for the first time.   Despite the fact that our tour did not include a stop at the museum that had been made of Freud’s home and consulting room -- are contiguous on the second floor of Berggasse 19 on the edge of the Old Jewish section of Vienna -- I arranged for a private tour.  I knew that Freud had amassed a large number of artifacts collected in the early twentieth century heyday of classical archeology, and had heard these were displayed profusely in his office and consulting room.  I was nearly disappointed.  Most of his collection had been removed to London after the famous French analyst, Marie Bonaparte, generously donated the rapacious emigration fees the Nazis required of Jews before they would allow them to flee the country prior to the beginning of World War II.  Only a handful of Freud’s artifacts were available in Vienna for display, and only the actual waiting room was furnished.  But with a keen eye for history, Freud had hired a photographer to make a record of his rooms before his furniture and collections were shipped away.  The pictures showed a dense Edwardian riot of pictures and artifacts!    Short of stiffly lying on the analytic couch and staring resolutely at the ceiling, Freud’s clients were surrounded by a surfeit of visual stimulation.

The consulting room, replete with artifacts.  Yep, that's the couch back from the fMRI! (stock)
A tiny fraction of Freud's collection left behind in 1938 (photo by author)

Sometime a clay penis is just a penis! (photo by author)

This drawing hung in his waiting room (photo by author)

Freud's Vienna waiting room (photo by author)

Freud’s consulting and waiting rooms were anything but a modern study in bland neutrality.  One can only wonder at the ways in which Freud telegraphed his areas of interest to his clients amid 19th century drawings of swooning classical nudes, every imaginable combination of mythic imagery, and his collection of phallic objects from cultures around the world.  Either Freud was completely awash in repression of how all his interests impacted his patients, or he operated on the idea that for transference to be the powerful force that unified every therapy under the aegis of his recommended techniques, it must be so strong that the client imported it willy-nilly into all situations, largely regardless of context, and that propensity made it powerful and neurotic enough to require analysis.

In the next post, I will start to turn to the discussion of Freud’s specific theories about sexuality as they affected thinking about sexual variation.  Freud has the reputation of being very judgmental, and Freudians get much blame for the patholigization of kink.  Some of this is well-founded, but it would be well to remember that Freud believed that everyone had a dynamic unconscious, had ways in which they were reluctant to completely grow up, and that most under-sublimated expressions of libido were peccadilloes, not pathologies.  Kind of like kinks, it the pre-idiomatic sense of that term before it came to be applied to sex variations.  We will look at how Freud might have come to be mistaken for judgmental by his successors, despite his demonstrated flexibility and acceptance as a writer.  And we will see that in many ways, his critics were correct.

 © Russell J Stambaugh, June, 2016, Ann Arbor MI, All rights reserved