Kinky lesson plans part II

In my last post I wrote about the lack of lesson plans that address kink/BDSM  Here I want to talk more about why such lesson plans do not exist,  why they should exist, and what a lesson plan on BDSM should cover.

1. Why BDSM lesson plans do not exist: I’m just going to come out and say it. Sex negativity. America is terrified of sex for pleasure alone and BDSM is about as non-normative and non-procreative as sex can get. People’s brains freeze up at the idea of that BDSM (or, really, any kinky sexuality) might be part of sex education because that would mean condoning it. And apparently neither conservatives or feminists can condone BDSM. For example, in otherwise  intelligent article about being a sex negative feminist, the author says

Sex does not happen in a vacuum immune to outside structural influences; in fact, it can (and does) replicate inescapable systems of power and dominance….Sex-negativity also encourages us to question “consent is sexy” attitudes (since sex is inescapable from patriarchal and other power relations, and thus what is “sexy” caters to men and the male gaze) and understand that even in situations where consent is given, sex is not necessarily enthusiastically consented to or utilized as a means to ends other than pleasure and intimacy.

This sounds great until you realize the author is saying that since we live in a patriarchal system women can’t ever really consent to sex that involves “power and dominance” without being oppressed.

Plus the automatic assumption seems to be that an education around BDSM must mean teaching people how to do BDSM–the lesson plan will have to focus on or at least include the correct way to swing a flogger or tie a harness. This is, of course, ridiculous. Lesson plans on masturbation don’t require the participants to masturbate in class and the long standing joke about bananas in sex ed classrooms recognizes that no one expects students to practice putting condoms on actual penises.

So the fear that any lesson plan about BDSM will automatically devolve into people hitting each other is utterly false. The fear that teaching about BDSM will normalize kink is, on the other hand, utterly true, but not something that should be feared. Which leads to point 2.

2. Why BDSM lesson plans should exist. Because BDSM exists. As Fifty Shades of Grey has shown, the desire to incorporate some kink in one’s sex life is not limited to a fringe group any more (if it ever was). Therapists, social workers and educators are going to be fielding more and more questions about BDSM. Most of these people do not have an interest in or knowledge about BDSM and thus they need clear guidance from existing lesson plans, or they are either going to have to admit their ignorance (and thus end up sending their clients to Professor Google) or give incomplete or even misinformation that may limit or damage an individual’s sexual expression.

Furthermore, the hysteria around Fifty Shades is not at all helpful. As an LA Time article shows, many people are automatically linking BDSM and intimate partner violence. And there is, of course, the now famous Newsweek article which expresses distress because Christian negotiates with Ana, and dubs their relationship a “watered-down, skinny-vanilla-latte version” of SM, apparently preferring The Story of O‘s attempt to destroy the main character’s identity through multiple rapes. One one side are cries that kink is inherently abusive and misogynistic, on the other cries that modern kink is not transgressive enough to matter. Clearly these contradictory responses demonstrate the need for thoughtful, research-backed education.

3. So what should an introductory BDSM lesson plan contain? I’m so glad you asked! Let me start by reiterating a few things the lesson plan should NOT contain.

No graphic images of bruised or torn flesh. While it is absolutely true that kink play, especially sadistic/masochistic scenes, often results in bruises, welts and even broken, cut skin, images of this are not appropriate for the classroom or for an introductory lesson. First of all, it is perfectly possible to have a satisfying kink scene without any marks at all. Second, without personal context, it will be difficult to separate kink marks from abuse marks. And third, the images will completely distract the audience away from the information being conveyed.

No skills discussion. Just as a lesson on masturbation is not about teaching the class different positions, a BDSM lesson is not focused on how to actually have a kinky scene. There is plenty of erotica and how to guides available.

No claims to be comprehensive. The world of kink is huge and covers a great deal more than BDSM. And within BDSM there are nuances that are continually debated within the community. A lesson plan that suggests it can teach (for example) therapists all they need to know about BDSM in one hour is deceptive and damaging. Any single lesson plan must be upfront about its introductory nature.

With those caveats in mind, I believe any introductory lesson plan in BDSM should have three objectives.

1. To introduce basic terminology used by kink practitioners.

2. To normalize BDSM as a valid and healthy sexual choice.

3. To clearly distinguish between BDSM and abuse.

The first two objectives are (I hope) common to all sexual education. Students who understand terminology are able to articulate questions in  a way that will gain useful feedback, to look for information on their own and to discuss their own needs in a clear way. Students who have any type of sexuality normalized are more likely to have healthy sexual relationships and to be open to new sexual experiences. The third objective is specific to BDSM and is perhaps the most vital of all. Anyone who is going to investigate BDSM must understand the importance of consent and negotiation, as well as be able to differentiate between abusive behavior and kinky behavior.

There are many activities and approaches that will meet these three objectives, so I’m won’t offer a specific lesson plan here. But I hope I’ve at least started some educators thinking.

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9 responses to “Kinky lesson plans part II

  1. While I absolutely agree with the third point, I feel like it’s extremely difficult to teach people who are outside of the community or who are not knowledgeable in the community how to differentiate between BDSM and abuse. For example, someone who is involved with someone who is abusing them may have welt or finger marks on their person. Because of the way the body responds to pressure and/or restraint, bruising will occur. In contrast, for someone who engages in more rough breath play (i.e. erotic asphyxiation)… wouldn’t they look the same? I feel like another point may be added in teaching what consent looks like… and while educators should be aware of these topics, maybe having a list of resources to consult with regarding overall mental health should be required as well.

    • I’m a little unclear about what you mean here. When you say “how to differentiate between BDSM and abuse,” do you mean via physical marks like bruises? Or about discussions of consent? Because the latter is the distinguishing mark here. (Pun not intended, but definitely leaving it there.) I think the more difficult issue is, in my experience, talking to therapists and doctors who might not understand *why* someone would consent to certain activities, because those activities are considered taboo and are outside their realm of experience.

      • Elliot, I was just piggy-backing off of Annalisa’s third point… My main idea is that the body responds the same way when certain kinds of impact occur and that I don’t know how you would teach someone how to tell the difference if it were purely based in physical analysis (i.e. Doctor exam). I feel like teaching providers that there may be more than one reason for why physical marks are there and how to listen for consensual decision making without jumping the gun is the real teaching point. I absolutely agree in opening discussion about the “why” and how that would impact creating safe space for people who have been shunned for their practices before.

    • WordPress won’t let me reply to your reply…argh..

      Anyway, yes, I totally agree on that – teaching doctors (and other people) to ask questions about whether behavior and bruises/marks were consensual, rather than jumping to conclusions one way or the other. Thank you for clarifying!

  2. I often debate the necessity to discuss the “why?” with both kinksters and non-kinksters. While it is important to consider our own motivations for engaging in this activities, both on a personal and a larger cultural/societal level, this discussion cannot be covered in any basic kink course. Therefore, it is a slippery slope to discuss mental health resources within the context of a single workshop, especially if one is not trained to do so. As Annalisa indicated, discussions of communication, negotiation, and consent are absolutely KEY to distinguishing some BDSM behaviors from abuse. However, I do not feel as though it is unreasonable to include skills discussions within the context of basic kink course. While the first workshop should be more of a discussion-based overview of the diversity of basic kinky/BDSM behaviors and related terminology, additional basic workshops should absolutely be offered to teach basic techniques with impact toys, bondage, wax play, and so forth. Although there are plenty of erotica and how to guides available, adult learners often learn best in experiential environments and having some demonstrate the behavior and then having learners immediately model it in a safe manner is so important! Honestly, if I found a place where I could teach other people to masturbate while modeling the behavior, I absolutely would! The same goes for introductions to basic kink techniques and their are places where this type of teaching method is accepted, including toys shops, kink parties, munches, conferences, and so forth. We just need more individuals who are both kinky and professionally trained educators to teach such workshops in these various settings!

    • I do and don’t agree with you, Steph. I *do* agree that skills classes are necessary, because people do learn better from demonstrations, examples, and in-person discussion with others. However, I interpreted what Annalisa is discussing above in her post is just that very beginning introduction to BDSM (the first class or two?), for individuals who are very new to it and/or who want/need to learn more about the basic idea of BDSM in order to work with clients/patients/students. I know a lot of people and places who offer classes on techniques, but I know very few who offer an introductory overview class to BDSM that lets people just dip their toes in to see if it might be for them. If you’re just getting into BDSM, it might be very alarming or nerve-wracking to jump right into a skills based class. I do, however, think that “how to communicate and negotiate a scene” should be discussed in introductory classes about BDSM, as that is such an integral part of BDSM and tends to be absent from most introductory or skills-based classes.

      • I think that really phenomenal points have been brought up thus far, and Elliot, while I see where you’re interpreting Annalisa’s ideal target audience for this specific curriculum as very 101, but I think there are 101 people who do want some experiential learning to occur. The same way someone might go to a workshop to learn about the basics of masturbation and expect no actual masturbation to occur while others attend masturbation workshops for the experiential aspect, the hands-on how to. This is why it’s critical to set specific demographics and skill levels for participants in each lesson plan. It boils down to the concept of making participants real, and tailoring lesson plans to their needs. If you’re hosting a BDSM 101 workshop at a kink club, the participant demographic may be a crowd of kinksters who are not familiar (or as familiar as they’d like to be) with the BDSM community, but are familiar with sexualities outside of the society’s “norms.”

  3. Humph! For some reason this is not letting me comment on the thread of Elliot and Steph’s comments…

    I think a fair compromise might be going over what Annalisa outlined, and then doing a discussion on what different toys/techniques are, how they are used (which can be done by showing and passing around the objects but not necessarily demonstrating the use), as well as risks associated with certain implements/techniques.

  4. Okay coming in late to respond to the responses!

    First, in terms of marks, I would say that the focus needs to be on evaluating the affect of the person and how happy/balanced/safe they appear. But I would point out that sometimes the marks from abuse and BDSM are different and that doctors and therapists should learn to recognize those differences. Not always–it very much depends on the type of play–but a person who has, say, 8 exactly parallel lines across his backside and no other marks is more likely a masochist than someone who has been abused. So part of what we need to teach is that not all marks are the same.

    Second, skills vs. theory. There are three reasons I, as someone who hopes to teach people about working with BDSM clients, want to separate skills from theory.
    1. To put the focus on the ideas, just as we do in other areas. We don’t put condoms on actual penises, or show actual HSV-2 sores, or have a sex worker negotiate price and then have sex with an actual client. I think the argument that people can’t understand BDSM unless they see it is false.

    2. There are actually plenty of workshops, youtube videos and lessons on skills. What there are NOT is lessons about consent, negotiation and how people like doctors and therapists can engage with clients who are involved with BDSM.

    3. Maybe this is just me, but demonstrations of kink for academic purposes are the weirdest, creepiest, most awkward thing imaginable. I think they give a wrong headed view of kink because all the “audience” sees is one person hitting another (and the other is either flinching in pain or apparently completely undisturbed). It’s voyeuristic in a bad way and can squick some people out. I say better to let the class handle the toys, but leave demonstrations out of it.

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