Beyond Vanilla Sex
By Jordan Osserman, Staff Columnist
Published on Friday, May 15, 2009
A few days ago, Dartlog (The Dartmouth Review's blog) pasted the text of the mass e-mail advertising "Bondage 101," a rope-tying workshop organized by a number of student groups on campus. Brian Nachbar '12, the author of the blog post, wrote, "Note that the event is funded by [the Council on Student Organizations]... I'll leave it to the reader to assess how responsible a use of the College's money this is."
Having helped to organize the workshop, I was actually happy to see the blog post -- as they say, all publicity is good publicity, and I don't doubt that Dartlog contributed to the enormous turnout Tuesday night. Nevertheless, the workshop was only one part of a larger conversation about sex that needs to happen on campus, and I'd like to contribute to that by responding to criticisms like Nachbar's.
For starters, if Nachbar wants to curb excessive College spending, he'd do better leaving the kinksters alone. Putting together the entire event -- paying for rope, publicity and the trainer's fee and lodging -- cost just a little over $400 in total.
To contrast this with another College-sponsored event, consider the undergraduate advisor program: Dartmouth spends thousands upon thousands of dollars each year to feed, house and train UGAs -- many of whom are returning for a second year in the program -- in a weeklong training program that many argue could be condensed into a day or two.
But I know that's not what Nachbar is really getting at. Why, he wonders, should the College even spend a dime on an event like the one I helped organize? The answer is simple: because our student body has a pathetically low IQ about sex and sexuality, and it's about time Dartmouth allocates some student activities funds to educate a campus that is, paradoxically, both hyper-sexualized and sexually clueless.
At its core, bondage is about playing with power -- about dominance and submission, pain and pleasure. As such, it can potentially be problematic -- the risk of abuse and harm is real, and should not be ignored. But, like all sex, bondage can also be a source of liberating ecstasy.
Sex does not have to be egalitarian in order to be "acceptable." Power dynamics and differentials will always exist within sex, and as sexual beings, we owe it to ourselves to carefully explore how we want to utilize power in our erotic lives. Bondage certainly is not the answer for everyone, but for some, it can provide an opportunity to channel experience with control and subordination into sexual satisfaction.
The key is for participants to know what they're doing and know what they want. Tuesday night's workshop addressed a part of that -- it taught students some basic ways to tie their partners up with rope, while also addressing important safety and consent issues.
Heterosexual students interested in practicing basic, vanilla sex don't have to look very far for guidance -- though it can be an awkward subject for some, it's not particularly difficult to get a group of friends to talk (or brag) about their sex lives. Beyond that, however, learning about sex at Dartmouth can get a little tricky. A great deal of stigma and shame surrounds gay sex, kinky sex and BDSM, and it's often only the brave who are willing to own up to their non-normative sexual desires.
Given that COSO is interested in bettering the quality of student life on campus, it makes perfect sense for it to fund a workshop that gives a marginalized subset of students a space to learn about and discuss their sexuality. I'm not suggesting that everyone who showed up on Tuesday was a closeted and deeply tormented kink-fanatic -- clearly many students just wanted to learn a new trick to try on their partners. But regardless of the demographic breakdown, the event helped to bring a taboo subject into public discourse, decreasing the fear and shame students with non-normative sexualities experience among their peers.