BDSM and Popular Culture GSRF Event

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This was a session organized by the Gender & Sexualities Research Forum (GSRF) at City University London on October 22 2014. Speakers Ummni Khan and Meg John Barker provided some fascinating insights into how BDSM is often constructed in mainstream sex advice and fictional narratives like the Fifty Shades of Grey series.


Ummni Khan

Perverts In The Spotlight: How SM Subculture Becomes Palatable Pop Culture

While sadomasochism (SM) may be considered taboo, pop culture has frequently represented SM dynamics and desires in its narratives.  Yet SM’s entertainment and ideological function is not uniform.  In fictional narratives, SM has been deployed for various and divergent reasons such as to increase suspense, amplify erotic tension, warn of its corrupting influence on ‘normal’ people, reveal the damaged mental state of a character, add a comic element to a scene, advertise its naughty pleasures and moralize against its seductive allure.  From 9 /12 Weeks to Fifty Shades of Grey, this interactive workshop will map out SM as an evolving and ambivalent signifier.  While the significance of SM is not stable, we will explore which SM arrangements are depicted as acceptable – and even desirable – and which are rendered abject and beyond the pale.

Ummni Khan (M.A., J.D., LL.M., S.J.D.) is an Associate Professor at Carleton University in the Department of Law and Legal Studies.  Her research focuses on the construction and regulation of stigmatized sexual practices, with a particular focus on BDSM and sex work.  Her book, Vicarious Kinks: Sadomasochism in the Socio-Legal Imaginary (2014), examines the ways that criminal regulation of consensual SM rests on problematic ideological claims that engage with psychiatry, anti-pornography feminism, and pop culture. She is currently a visiting scholar at Columbia University’s Centre for Gender and Sexuality Law.

Meg John Barker

BDSM and Consent in Sex Advice

With the increasing cultural awareness of BDSM (Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission and Sadomasochism), particularly following the popular Fifty Shades of Grey series, mainstream sex advice media has begun to include considerations of kinky practices. This presentation explores the ways in which BDSM and kink are presented in sex advice, in comparison to other sexual practices. One notable feature is that consent is often emphasised in relation to BDSM sex when there is little mention of it in relation to other kinds of sex. The presentation explores the different constructions of consent across general sex advice (books and websites) compared to sex advice and discussion emerging from BDSM and kink communities themselves.Dr. Meg John Barker is a writer, academic, counsellor and activist specialising in sex and relationships. Meg is a senior lecturer in psychology at the Open University and has published many academic books and papers on topics including non-monogamous relationships, sadomasochism, counselling, and mindfulness, as well as co-editing the journal Psychology & Sexuality. They are involved in running many public events on sexuality and relationships, including Sense about Sex, Critical Sexology, and Gender & Sexuality Talks. Meg’s 2013 book Rewriting the Rules is a friendly guide love, sex and relationships, and they blog about these matters on Twitter: megbarkerpsych.

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