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San Francisco Leathermen's Discussion Group

BDSM Education, Has It Gone Too Far? (October 12, 2012 — RACE BANNON)

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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.

Race Bannon at bannon.com