If we care about the sexual freedom of all humans, we should bring theory and research to the bedroom.
This week I was formally invited to join a research group in my department that focuses on sexuality research. As a way to celebrate, I added “sexuality and reproductive justice researcher” to my Twitter bio.
I’m not really a researcher yet, but as they say, “dress like the job you want to have”; and so I present myself like the work I want to do. Which means that, for the foreseeable future, I’m going to be elbow-deep in academic research about sex, health, justice, ethics, and human rights.
As the last few posts have made clear, this means that I’m going to be thinking about sex in more intellectual, academic ways as time goes on. This is an interesting position to be in, as someone who also enjoys actual sex immensely. Thankfully, many of the anthropologists, psychologists, sociologists, and health researchers also have an intimate relationship with sex (haha) that they use to prompt their own thinking and observations.
They say “research is me-search”, and in my case, it seems mostly true: my thesis project was inspired by an experience I had back in 2010 in Edmonton, along with an article I read during the summer.
But reading all this theory about sex is also causing a little bit of… stress? with E. I told him about my post about the banality of kink, and he wondered: what am I trying to achieve with this piece? Is the banality of kink something positive, or something we should try to stop? To him, that kink is becoming mainstream is a good thing: it means less stigma for us, more resources, and fewer people being ashamed of their desires. But my fundamental question remains: what is lost when something that used to be a tool for liberation and the breaking of social norms becomes a norm itself? Does it mean that people become more accepting of difference, or does it mean that the difference is neutralized, made unthreatening?
I honestly don’t know the answer to this question. I would like to believe that people become more accepting of difference, but the evidence says otherwise. In my research about the public perception of kink, it’s clear that instead of accommodating a wider range of sexual expressions, people have simply integrated kink as an activity that heteronormative couples can do.
In other words, the fact that kink is now mainstream doesn’t mean that people will become more accepting of the queer leather scenes. It means that people will accept kink when it happens between a white, mostly monogamous couple, where the man remains in control and the woman stays ultimately submissive (yes, even when the woman is the sexually dominant partner).
As my history of sexuality professor declared last summer: assimilation is not freedom. Assimilation is transforming something that’s “abnormal” into something normal by putting it into the “normal” box, not by expanding what “normal” means. For kink, it means that the things that are normal, e.g. heterosexual, monogamous couples, become the conditions that make kink normal as well. Queer kink is still deviant because it is queer, not because it is kinky.
How does that change the way you see your local kink scene? For me, it’s noting that my local scene is mostly white, populated by heterosexual (or heteronormative) couples, where people of color and non-cis, non-het people don’t quite feel at home. What can I do? Not much, unfortunately. But I can keep it in mind as I engage with my kinky community and question my own assumptions and practices.
As sexual justice activists, we have to practice what we preach. This is why I bring academia in my bedroom.