As anyone who’s been a regular reader of my stuff will know, I’m a big fan of consent. Of course, very few people will come out and say that they’re not. But for me, consent is one of the three supports for sex-positivity, the other two being pleasure and well-being. I firmly believe that the only important measure of a sexual experience or relationship is whether the participants’ consent, pleasure, and well-being are attended to.
I’m also a big fan of sexual fantasy. I think that there’s no such thing as an inherently dangerous or bad fantasy. The kinds of questions that I think are important are: How do you feel about your fantasies? Do they support your sex life? Do they get in the way of your relationships with yourself or other people? The actual content isn’t something I’m concerned with, unless it’s causing distress for the person having the fantasy or their partner(s).
And I think that porn can be a lot of fun. It can inspire fantasies and can offer an opportunity to imagine things that you might not have thought of. Having said that, it’s a terrible substitute for sex education and I would love to see more sex-positive critiques of the genre.
So with all of that, I’ve been sitting with writing something about the Kink.com site, Public Disgrace. If you’re not familiar with it, Public Disgrace is a website featuring young women having sex in public, often with groups of participants and observers. Some of the shoots take place in bars, restaurants, or at Kink.com’s building in San Francisco, while others were made in countries where the laws against sex in public are different than those in the US. It’s these latter shoots that I want to focus on. (Here’s an example of one of those scenes. Very NSFW.)
Now, I totally understand the erotic thrill of sex in public. A lot of people have fantasies about that, or have had sex in semi-secluded locations, with the possibility of getting caught adding to the excitement. And I also know that some people have fantasies of being displayed or shown off to strangers, or of being watched by strangers. One of the reasons that folks might choose to go to a swinger’s event or a sex party is that they get turned on by having an audience.
But the problem that I have with Public Disgrace is that the shoots that take place in public settings are forcing the observers to participate in the experience, and that’s not something I can support. I can’t support it because I believe in consent. I believe that the consent of all of the participants in a sexual experience is important. Not just the people having sex, but also the people watching it.
I have no problem with the scenes that take place in bars or similar locations, assuming that everyone there knows what they can expect and that nobody else can just wander in. I have no problem with scenes that include people acting as if they’re bystanders, but in reality, they’re performers. And I have no problem with the fantasy of being shown off or having sex or being spanked in public. But when you actually have sex in front of people who did not choose to be in that situation, I think it crosses a line. The fact that these scenes are made in places where it’s not illegal is, in my opinion, irrelevant. The ethics of the situation aren’t dependent on the local legislation. After all, there’s a difference between what is legal and what is ethical.
In addition to being problematic for being non-consensual, Public Disgrace plays into many of the anti-BDSM propaganda and phobias. While folks who are actually in the BDSM world understand the difference between the ways that S&M works in reality and the fantasy portrayals of it on camera, many people outside those communities simply don’t. And I’m concerned that this misrepresentation of how the vast majority of kinky folks enjoy themselves is going to exacerbate the stereotypes that they already face. Folks who are outed as kinky are at risk for losing custody of their kids, losing their jobs, social censure and ostracism, and more, simply because of their desires and practices. While I certainly have no desire to coddle anyone’s fears about any community of erotic affiliation, from a political/activism perspective, Public Disgrace is not the representation that the S/M world needs.
For that record, these two concerns would be an issue for me whether the sex that was being shown included bondage and spanking or was 100% vanilla. The issue of consent and how sexual communities are represented to outsiders isn’t only about BDSM. If someone wanted to make porn about swingers having sex in public, my response would be the same.
I’ll admit that I’ve been hesitant to write this. I certainly don’t want to add fuel to the anti-porn and anti-BDSM fires, because I think that both porn and BDSM can be just great. But I also can’t avoid speaking out about the problems that I see from within the sex and porn industry without becoming complicit in them. While Kink.com has been a great supporter of sex-positive communities, that doesn’t negate the fact that some of their actions are simply not OK. One of the most important distinctions between BDSM and abuse is that BDSM is consensual. Even when the fantasy or the role play is of being forced or taken against one’s will, there’s an underlying foundation of consent. I expect the same from Kink.com and I’m disappointed by the fact that it’s not there in all of their scenes.
I would be happy to hear from anyone involved with Public Disgrace or Kink.com, either in the comments below or privately. I invite your input and would be happy to talk about this with you further. And I also welcome anyone else to share their thoughts about this topic.
I’ve written a follow-up post in response to many of the comments below. If you’re interested, here it is.