Yup, you read that right. Kardinal Kink is a new Stanford club whose members "get off" on nipple clamps, ball gags and... excellent knot tying.
And they probably have the healthiest sex on campus.
I didn't know much about kink until I stumbled upon OMG BDSM, an op-ed in the Stanford Daily. But that was enough to convince me (more than ever before) that the traditional "vanilla" college hookup scene is deeply flawed. As is the adult hookup scene. As is pickup artistry.
Think about it. How do these hookups typically go down?
A guy and a girl (for argument's sake) like each other... enough. The guy gets the girl alone somewhere and begins pushing her boundaries. The girl subtly, nonverbally accepts or rejects his advances. He waits -- seconds, minutes, or maybe until the next hookup -- and then tries again. Pushing. Pushing. The guy moves to the next boundary either when the girl decides she's ready... or when she gives and just lets him. (For more, check out Dear Confused Dude: If You Had to Grab Her By the Back of the Head and Force Your Faces Together, It Doesn't Count as a "Kiss.")
Which can lead to ambiguous-rape situations. No one explicitly said, "Can I do this?" But no one explicitly said, "No, stop, don't," either. It was all subtle cues. He put his hand up her skirt. She moved it to her knee, implying no. He tried again. She pressed her legs together a little more tightly -- why didn't he stop?
You can see why this doesn't fly in kink. There's a pretty wide range of desires in the community... and if you don't establish consent ahead of time, there's a decent chance someone's going to be hurt, violated, or worse. If you're expecting light bondage and outercourse, but your partner hogties and whips you before rough intercourse -- that's a problem.
But according to one Kink Klub member I talked to, clarity and consent extends beyond that.
"It's like, if I invite you over 'for coffee,' that really means, 'for coffee.' It's against the rules to invite someone over for coffee and then try to have sex with them."
Wow. So they don't have "is this a date" dates? If there's sexual or romantic interest, they say so? When sexy business is about to go down -- they tell each other what they like? And establish boundaries and safety words to make sure no one gets hurt?
That sounds really healthy.
Let's take this concept to the "vanilla" community.
As a girl, it can be frustrating -- and frightening! -- when you feel like your boundaries aren't being respected. Unwanted sexual contact has lasting psychological consequences.
As a guy, it's possible to get confused by a girl's body language -- especially in a heated (or slightly intoxicated) situation. And being accused of sexual assault also has lasting social consequences.
Clear communication will help ensure everyone's enjoyment and safety. We act like it's all awkward and weird to explicitly state your sexual expectations... but it's not that hard.
"Can we go back to my place? I really want to have sex with you."
"I don't want to do any under-the-clothes stuff."
"That made me feel a little uncomfortable."
"I'll sleep over, but I only want to kiss and cuddle tonight."
"Can I take your shirt off?"
"Want to try oral?"
"I'm not into that."
If you really think statements like these are are going to be a problem for you, practice them ahead of time. Mentally rehearse! It won't make the conversation perfect... but it will make it better.
Just remember: a small amount of communication can go a long way.
I was talking to a few guy friends about this the other day, and they sort of scoffed. "So you're saying if a dude asked before kissing you, it wouldn't kill the mood?"
I thought about it for a second before answering. I've kissed boys who asked if they could kiss me first, and I've kissed boys who felt the moment was right and just went for it. I've also not kissed boys who asked first or just went for it. I've even tried to kiss a boy I liked, then chickened out at the last minute and turned away (believe it or not, kissing is still a big deal to some people) -- enough times that the boy wailed, "Eva, I'm so confused!" (See? Communication is a good thing.)
At the end of the day, it wasn't whether the boy asked (or not) that made me want to kiss him (or not). It was whether I wanted to kiss him. In no way did asking change my mind or "kill the mood" -- I actually find it gentlemanly, respectful and cute.
On the other hand, when someone I don't want to kiss tries to kiss me without asking, it feels... bad. I'm comfortable telling the guy no, or stopping him and saying, "You may kiss me on the cheek." But something about it feels sort of low-level threatening, or icky. I would much rather he ask. Then I could tell him -- before his face was rapidly approaching mine -- "Not tonight."
Here's another way to think about it: if you're not ready (or mature enough) to talk about it, are you sure you're ready (or mature enough) to do it?
Now, in spite of clear rules and good communication, the kink community isn't perfect. Sometimes, lines are crossed. Whenever that happens, whatever you're into sexually, it can be a horrific experience.
But you know what's not horrific? The kink community's response to these violations.
I know a guy who's active in the San Francisco kink scene. He recounted:
"One night, I was at an event, and we were working on knots. Three dudes had tied this chick up. She was hanging upside down, and then one of them just stuck his face in her p-ssy without asking. It was not okay. The other two dudes stopped him immediately, and he was banned."
No one cared what the girl was wearing. No one said it wasn't a big deal, since she'd already consented to being tied up in the first place. No one asked why she'd allowed them to tie her up if she didn't want to be groped -- or even how much she'd had to drink.
And, most important, people acted. Immediately. They didn't film it. They didn't tweet about it. They didn't encourage it. They stopped the guy immediately and banned him from their society.
In other words, what kept the situation from escalating wasn't the actions of one bad dude. It wasn't the victim's ability to defend herself. It was the community. They swiftly ended a bad situation and shunned the perpetrator before he could hurt someone else.
Compare this to the rape culture that is so prevalent in the rest of society. At the administrative level, very little happens to the perpetrators of sexual assault. Recently, James Madison University punished three men who filmed themselves assaulting a female classmate and distributing the video online... by banning them from campus starting after graduation. Amherst College refused to let a girl switch dorms after a dorm mate raped her, and a confessed rapist at UAmherst was punished with a "deferred suspension." The situation is bad enough that 64 colleges are now under federal investigation for their handling of sexual assaults.
Things aren't much better at the social level. People are far too complacent about preventing rape. I was sitting in a hot tub at party a few weeks ago, and I noticed a girl stumbling around the pool like she'd had waaaaay too much to drink. And then I noticed a guy take her by the arm and lead her away from the party, toward the pool house. Their progress was slow, since she couldn't walk in a straight line. They stopped several times to chat... and then he kissed her.
Something about it didn't seem right to me. It didn't seem like he knew her. I got out of the hot tub.
As I wrapped myself in a towel, the guy pulled her into the pool house and turned off the lights.
There was a bonfire going, which I passed on my way to intervene. Several people were standing around it and chatting.
"I can't believe she's doing that! She has a boyfriend! What's Jordan going to think?" one girl exclaimed.
Another girl moved closer to the fire and added, "Yeah, well... I don't think Sarah can technically give consent right now."
My jaw hit the floor. "You're her friends?!"
"Then why aren't you doing something? He could be in there raping her! Do you even know that guy?"
ONLY THEN did Sarah's "friends," do something. Together, they went into the pool house and returned with Sarah, whose bra was hanging out because her shirt was all unbuttoned. They took her away -- I don't know where. A few minutes later, the would-be rapist emerged from the pool house and strode back to the party, ready for his next victim.
I'm fairly certain Sarah's friends wouldn't have acted without my saying something. So why should we expect anything different to happen when the victim is a stranger? I've seen several surveillance videos of men dragging a motionless, unconscious woman out of a club -- in front of hundreds of bystanders. No one tries to stop him. Then he takes her to his apartment and rapes her.
When people fail to act, it sends the message that this is something that is tolerated, that is borderline okay, in our culture.
And then there's how we respond after a violation.
Sometimes, there is an outpouring of support for the survivor, as in the #StandWithLeah protest. But too often, men and women alike rally around the rapist (especially if he's an athlete). Then they slut shame and victim blame.
It's not a pretty picture. I'm not personally into BDSM, but I've got to say... The kink community is looking better by the minute.
In her op-ed, the president of Kardinal Kink asks Stanford to provide resources for those who practice unconventional sex. She asks that health professionals receive information and training to help them understand the needs of the kink community -- particularly when consent is broken during a sex act that most of society sees as extreme, crazy or taboo.
But maybe the shortcomings she describes aren't the result of her being in underground society. Maybe they're a small part of a much larger problem.
Disclaimer: this is in no way meant to blame victims for anything that has happened to them. If at any point it sounded that way, that was not the intention. The idea was only that some sexual encounters are ambiguous, and ambiguity is unideal. It is important for both sexual partners to feel comfortable both asking for what they want -- and clearly stating what they don't want.
For more, check out The Gif That All Women Need to See ASAP and Women: Instantly Make Your Whole Life Better By Learning This ONE Phrase.
About the Author
Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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