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Kinky Sex: When Did BDSM Become So Wildly Popular?

BDSM, once viewed as the exclusive fiefdom of really creepy perverts, has crossed over and become quasi-respectable, stylish and safe.

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Another reason for BDSM’s emergence is that more and more kinky people are willing to go public, or at least semi-public, with their activities. Every reasonably-sized city has its own kinky community whose members get together for discussion groups and barbeques as well as more risqué activities. There are also lots of online networks. When last checked, FetLife.com, the leading website for the BDSM community, ranked an impressive 6,061 on Alexa.com’s ratings of website traffic.

Where’s there sexual smoke, there’s also activist fire. Kinky people are a sexual minority. Organizations like the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom are working to raise people’s consciousness about BDSM. Their efforts are making a difference, in no small measure by helping kinky people feel supported and empowered.

Yet another reason why kink is making inroads is its peculiarly culture-friendly personality. It gives great image and still has shock value, qualities that make it a superb way to attract attention—just ask Christina Aguilera! With its historical link to the Marquis de Sade, BDSM is also kind of scary—another cultural winner. We’re collectively obsessed with the bogeyman under the bed—just think how much money we spend on horror movies! But kink, unlike Freddy Krueger, is also sorta funny. Who wouldn’t agree that there’s something inherently ludicrous about a naked person crawling about on all fours, barking? Scary, edgy, silly—it’s a perfect combination for a culture that hungers for an adrenaline rush yet also needs to feel safe.

And then there’s the ubiquitous Web. Says Peter Acworth, “Where it used to be hard for someone to get information about alternative sexual lifestyles, the Internet now makes it very easy.”

Speaking of Acworth, another contributor to the mainstreaming of BDSM is pornography, which is readily accessible on the Net—and increasingly kink-friendly. Sexologist Queen reports, “When I went to the AVN (Adult Video News) convention earlier this year, I was struck by how many of the clips included choking. Inevitably, some people who see these images will try it for themselves. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, because it’s something you have to learn to do safely. Still, it’s an example of a kinky practice that because of porn is becoming more vanilla.”

Ernest Greene, who in addition to his involvement with Taboo magazine produces kink-themed movies, concurs. “The legal barrier that used to keep people in the porn industry from showing BDSM has come down,” he says. “If you present kink as non-consensual, that’s a problem, but if you frame it in the context in which it belongs, as sex play between consenting adults with no actual injury, it’s totally defensible.”

In films with names like O—The Power of Submission, The Surrender of O and The Perfect Secretary Training Day, Greene depicts bondage with penetration. “We don’t have a problem with this because our performers are visibly enjoying it. These movies are big sellers, and they’re accepted everywhere. One of our main distributors, Adam & Eve, couldn’t be more conservative and markets to people in red states, where the films get great reviews.”

Where is all this headed? “Eventually,” says Greene, “we’ll reach a point where bondage in a porn movie is no more controversial than a blow job.”

No discussion of kinky porn would be complete without the academia-to-riches story of Kink.com’s Peter Acworth. In 1997, he was studying for a Ph.D. in finance at Columbia University when he happened on an article about a fireman who was making scads of money, in the words of the headline, “pushing Internet filth.” In that moment, Acworth reports, “It was suddenly clear to me that the Internet was not a gimmick, but rather a platform for genuine business and that it was going to be enormous. I realized that finance had become saturated with researchers and that the Internet was relatively untapped and under-developed. I was in the wrong field.”

 
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