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October 12, 2012

BDSM Education, Has It Gone Too Far?

This post is a general response to a lot of online posts and discussions lately surrounding the topic of education within the BDSM and kink communities. I’m probably going to get a lot of crap for what I’m about to say, but so be it. Also, please realize that I say what I’m about to say as someone who values education considerably. I write about education a lot. I manage the education function in a large corporation including the development of instructor-led classes, e-learning modules, job aids, knowledge repositories and informal learning empowerment. One of my former careers is corporate trainer. I have an extensive background teaching kink classes and facilitating kink education events that goes as far back as when that trend began. Education is near and dear to me.

So with all that said, I think the kink community (BDSM in particular) has gone off the deep end in terms of placing extensive education so front and center as essentially a requirement to being adequately kinky. I think this is a dangerous road to go down. My reasons for this opinion are many. Quite a few of these points were also brought up during the recent Leatherati Online Town Hall on the subject.

While there are many variations of kink classes, I’m going to focus specifically on BDSM education here because that’s been the focus of most of the kink education being done today, at least in the circles within which I run. And I will admit to some redundancy here having said some of this before elsewhere, but I think it’s worth repeating.

I think we have set up a false impression that for someone to be a skilled and safe BDSM player one must necessarily submerge themselves in a plethora of classes. That’s simply not true. For one thing, I contend that I could teach someone enough basic BDSM technique and safety guidelines in about a day to satisfy the bulk of a kinkster’s needs in order to have a safe and fun BDSM life. Would they know everything? Of course not, but the truth is most BDSM players don’t want or need to know everything. They simply need to know a few basics regarding the specific types of play that work for them and their partners. I don’t think there’s a BDSM player walking the Earth today that could honestly say they know how to do everything there is to do in BDSM with the utmost skill and confidence. That’s because few people want to do that. We like what we like. We might gaze from a distance upon various kinds of BDSM play and find it interesting, but when it comes to our own erotic lives we might have very little interest in such play.

Many people today are mingling amidst their fellow kinksters with an ongoing sense of self-doubt bolstered by the belief that is hammered home to them repeatedly that all good BDSM players are constantly taking classes and mired in a lifelong, never-ending formal educational process. Of course they feel this way. This is what is being fed to the newcomer BDSM player time and time again. Go to all the conferences and go to all the classes. Attend all of your local BDSM educational events. Read all of the books on the subject. Oh, and while you’re doing all of that, make sure you have a detailed knowledge of our history and current hot topics. It makes one wonder how anyone can find the time to actually play. Honestly, if you were just dipping your toe into the bathwater of BDSM to see if you liked it, wouldn’t you be dismayed and likely dissuaded if presented with all these supposed requirements. Many are.

We are doing our fellow kinksters no favors by promulgating this belief system. In fact, I think we’re doing our newcomers, and even our old timers, a tremendous disservice by doing so. You can get more details about my thoughts on this in my post, Can We Become Erotically Over-Educated?

The entire realm of “education” in BDSM is getting muddled. Far too often I’m hearing the education moniker being applied to BDSM technique classes while what I consider the far more important aspects of the learning that we do informally, in discussions and through experience relegated to the nice to have category. BDSM, like all good sex, must be rooted in passion, connection and individuality if its to rise to the levels of bliss and erotic contentment. That is never learned in a classroom. That is never taught by a teacher. It can be talked to, discussed and shared between players, but it can’t be taught. And if something that is so integral to the joy and meaning of good BDSM can’t be taught in the classroom, why are we focusing so much of our efforts on classroom-based education. We should be fostering more mentoring, socializing, playing, discussion and personal sharing opportunities. Yet we don’t. Go to any of the many BDSM-focused conferences or local classes and you’ll most often see a bunch of people in chairs staring at an instructor in front of the class detailing how to connect shackle X to chain Y. Useful knowledge perhaps, but it is simply the technical detail that must serve the overall BDSM experience. It is not the experience itself. We must never forget this.

I talk more about this in my post, Are Our Educational Efforts Backfiring?. I won’t reiterate what I wrote there again here, but suffice to say that I believe that many of our current approaches to BDSM education don’t optimally serve either newcomer or experienced kinksters, and they might actually be setting the entire movement back.

Add to all of this the fact that education in the general community is currently undergoing a transformation from a nearly entirely push (classroom) to more of a pull (self-education and informal learning) paradigm. There has been strong evidence for years that classroom-based teaching is not always the best way to learn things. It has significant shortcomings, especially for certain subjects. I contend that classroom-based teaching is one of the worst ways to learn BDSM except in certain specific instances. BDSM is about relationships. The entire experience takes place within the context of people interacting and doing things together. The classroom model of teaching is typically a passive experience for the learners and that does not engage their learning much at all. You simply can’t teach in any effective way the core attractions of BDSM, yet we think we can. I don’t think we can even always teach the mechanics all that well since how they’re applied in BDSM varies so much person to person, as it should since we’re all unique. We must move beyond the classroom model and into more engaging and effective approaches. We need to reduce the number of classes we teach and replace them with informal social learning opportunities. At the same time, we must consider that much of the supposed education we push out to kinksters really has no place in a classroom at all. There are simply much betters ways to foster the growth, connection and skill among kinksters.

One of the greatest minds of the BDSM scene and a friend, Tony DeBlase, hammered home to me repeatedly that we must never become slaves to technique. We must never elevate technique to a place where it trumps the internal connections and visceral erotic joy that good BDSM brings about. To do so does, in my opinion, demean BDSM and relegate it to nothing more than a bit of technical acumen rather than the mechanism by which people intimately connect. I fear that how we’ve come to approach educating our own kind is indeed often demeaning the experience and that gives me tremendous pause and concern.

9 Comments on “BDSM Education, Has It Gone Too Far?

David Haney
October 12, 2012 at 5:44 pm

I often approach novices online by asking them if they want to learn some basic rope techniques and see what we feel like doing from there. I enjoy teaching a lot, so at worst the newbie gets some sound basics and we part friends. At best, the teaching process builds a sense of trust between us and we go on to have a hot play session and possibly repeat the process with some more advanced rope work. I always make sure when I teach that everyone has rope in hand to practice and try never to teach more than three things in a single session to avoid overload. I have to admit, though, that when the local leather club offers a “seminar” in anything, I tend to avoid it. I’m good at rope, flogging, and fucking, and really don’t need to learn a lot more play technique that I won’t use.

Brandon Matheson
October 12, 2012 at 7:32 pm

Excellent article, Race. I agree completely.

Norm Flowers
October 13, 2012 at 2:30 am

Kudos Race for another great article with sound insight. I have also wondered how many of the “education” events were more money-driven than education driven. Perhaps the funds spent on such could be better directed to places like The Leather Heart Foundation. Just my 2 cents worth.

JLubeJack
October 13, 2012 at 10:24 am

Mr. Bannon,

With 40 years in education-related activities myself and not a few course taught to local, regional, and national groups, I certainly agree with your premise. For sure Tony was right in saying, “we must never become slaves to technique. We must never elevate technique to a place where it trumps the internal connections and visceral erotic joy that good BDSM brings about.”

However, I think we should also concentrate on educating educators – ourselves – to use a Push/Pull paradigm (hell, push/pull works LOTS of good ways). In my seminars (and I suspect yours as well) information is set up to learn and to comment upon. Whenever possible to also DO! If we talk about bringing sex back into the dungeon… guess what — we do sex! If we talk needles, we do them – not only with/to audience members in the confines of the class but also at the play party that night; i.e., we take it out into the “real” world.

Further, I emphasize the erotic, the soul connection, and the one-2-one essential to scene magic in every course I lead.

Yeah, let’s not devolve into a mechanic’s how-to world… but let’s be real about the need to teach — in the right way, to ensure that our Magic drives everything we do in a “classroom” whether that’s in a hotel meeting room or in the alley behind the Eagle!

Thanks much for braving the slings and arrows of lesser lights to throw this on the table.

Tip of the Cover,
JLubeJack

Janet W. Hardy
October 13, 2012 at 10:40 am

Sing it, brother!

Sadly, the current state of BDSM “education” has become self-propagating, with a lot of money and even more egos riding on it. As a result, we’re producing tops who gauge their own competence by the number of techniques they know and how showy those techniques are, without the slightest regard for whether or not they or their bottoms are actually enjoying themselves.

I wonder whether this path became inevitable when we started allowing the “BDSM is not sex” meme to go unchallenged. If BDSM is not sex, what is it? Engineering, perhaps, or craftsmanship – which means that it can be judged by external criteria, and the individual experience of the participants is irrelevant. I’m not sure when things shifted from “BDSM does not necessarily involve genital contact” to “BDSM is not sex,” but I suspect that the technique model of BDSM education has its roots in that change.

Janet

Cafziel
October 13, 2012 at 1:04 pm

When we talk about education there is always the issue with authority. What authority does someone have to teach? To be a teacher? As Race pointed out, education is yet so much more, it is before all empowering the individual to make an educated decission and to find their own way by providing a safe environment to explore the ideas and concepts we all know for years.

I am involved both in the online and rl “scene” and i actually see a trend, especially online, to a very authoritative approach to “teaching”. People seem to assume and use authority positions of “teacher” to funnel their personal way and dogma down to the throats of others as general truth. Sometiems that is more obvious, sometimes less. And compared to the scene 20 years ago, i see more and more people coming in, not wit hthe general desire to socialise and learn, but with very specific desires to learn certain roles and to be taught how to comply to stereotypes.

Personally, i think that BDSM is as individual as we all are, that aside from the safety aspects, it is an individual relationship where truth is a product of the mutual interaction. Authoritative teaching to me is often in conflict to that, so i think an initiative to put a critical light on the teaching infrastructure is direly needed and will help all to explore and cherish the bauty of diversity of BDSM relationships.

Hope that makes sense..

Constructor aka Sparty
<- has confusing online names
(cafziel, spartacus,constructor.. dang it how to unify it argh)

shalla
November 16, 2012 at 7:52 am

currently reading your ebook on my kindle, refreshing my mind from the last time i read your book (left that at moms house *grin*) and enjoying the updates added in.

would like to say that i feel education is a must for all things in life… but some people will take things to the extreme and then everything goes tits up, which makes the fun stop

i have been studying the mind, kink/bdsm and erotic art since i was 12 (21yrs) in an effort to try and understand why people behave the way the do and where they want to go with what ever it is that interests them.

i did a short stint on the radio as a “sex therapist” (just a fun gig, i was open, vocal, without fear or taboos and funny) and it scared me that some people would ask stupid questions! i know that no question should be stupid but ignorance is deadly

i understand that in all aspects of life we need to learn more, grow more and be the best we can be for ourselves and treat others with respect and kindness… but there are those out there that have been beaten down by society and are too shy to really come out of the closet and learn to play

it scares me when grown adults dont know their body, dont know the difference between cum and pee and squirting. that grown adult males dont know that they should size their cock to get a better fitting condom so that they will enjoy sex when they wear one. it scares me when people have no common sense!

i understand that having a class can be a good thing… group of people to make friends with, be yourself around, maybe a hook up on the side or come together better as a couple, learn some skills in what ever you chose to learn… it CAN be a great thing to take a kink class

often i find that too many people…newbies (what ever age)… tend to be in a frenzy to just dive in and dont stop to think …RACK? SSC? no, it means nothing to them even if you say what the letters mean

it scares me horribly that people dont think any more

but on the other side of it, taking the lessons to the extreme is a bad thing and is just as stupid as not having common sense

one of my favorite quotes: “everything in moderation, including moderation”

…oh and one thing i dont like about the book with the area about misconceptions… and this really bugs me a lot…

yes, kink can be likened to love making … but one has to remember that kink/bdsm does NOT have to have sex in it… but sex CAN have kink/bdsm in it

Are We Too Inclusive?
July 7, 2013 at 2:31 pm

[…] I have my own views about how BDSM/kink education has gone off the rails that you can read here, here, here, and here (also read Patrick Mulcahey’s brilliant Leather Reign speech here), but I […]

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