Friday, January 19, 2007

Replacing Safe Sex with . . . Smart Sex!

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #304, January 19, 2007)

Here’s a New Year’s Resolution for you: Resolve to stop worrying about Safe Sex. Resolve instead to start having Smart Sex.

Smart Sex made its debut last spring in Issue #11 of Instigator Magazine and in palm cards handed out at the International Mr. Leather contest in Chicago. The advertising campaign promoting Smart Sex is a joint effort of Instigator and

The concept of Smart Sex is the long-overdue re-tooling of what has been known as Safe Sex or Safer Sex, a concept that was a prominent, if not always welcome, feature of the sexual landscape during the latter part of the 20th century.

When AIDS first showed up no one knew what caused it or how to prevent its spread. But once the virus that caused AIDS was discovered and its transmission paths were identified, ways to prevent the spread of the virus started to be publicized.

At first these techniques were called “Safe Sex.” The term was later changed to “Safer Sex” in recognition of the fact that, although these transmission-prevention techniques can reduce the risks associated with unprotected sex, they are not foolproof. Condoms, for example, sometimes break.

(So, just to be clear, it’s not called “Safer Sex” because it’s safer than “Safe Sex”— it’s called “Safer Sex” because it’s safer than unsafe sex. Got it?)

For a generation of gay men, Safe Sex was something to practice religiously, or to feel guilty about when one didn’t. For awhile, thanks to a massive educational effort, many gay men changed the way they had sex much of the time.

As the years wore on, however, the sexual landscape changed. Battle fatigue set in, and it became harder for men to be vigilant for safe sex every time. Protease inhibitors and other antiviral drugs meant that AIDS was no longer necessarily an immediate death sentence, which led to “being safe each and every time” seeming less important.

A new generation of young gay men, who had never known sex without the baggage of HIV but who had also not lived through the nightmare of watching their friends die agonizing deaths, were blasé about AIDS. They didn’t appreciate being told what to do, and especially what not to do, by older men and by public health authorities.

And for men in the leather community, where danger and edginess are part of the thrill of leathersex, and where a rebel/outlaw mentality is often part of the mindset, Safe Sex equalled Boring Sex. (This continues to be a problem with the leather/BDSM/fetish community’s politically correct but hotly debated “Safe, Sane, Consenual” mantra.)

The old concept of Safe Sex appealed to fear, and it needed fear to be taken seriously. In a culture of young males, gay or straight, who pride themselves on fearing nothing (even to the point where “No Fear” has become a brand name), Safe Sex came to be viewed as lame and wimpy.

The genius of Smart Sex is that, instead of being built around fear, it is built around and reinforces a positive quality: intelligence. Most of us like to think of ourselves as smart people doing smart things and making smart choices. We normally don’t take pride in being dumb and doing dumb things (the people in the “Jackass” movies being the exception).

Therefore, who would want to have Dumb Sex?

Safe Sex tends to assume the worst about people, possibly insulting their intelligence in the process (i.e., “your good sense goes out the window when you get horny, so you’d better listen to us”). Smart Sex assumes people are intelligent and encourages them to think about themselves that way.

Condom use, keeping toys and playspaces clean, and getting tested periodically are examples of smart things to do and smart choices to make—choices that are more likely to lead to a long, healthy, sexually fulfilling future. What’s not to like about that?

If the concept of Smart Sex in itself represents a major paradigm shift, the advertising materials put together by Instigator and are no less revolutionary. The language used in the campaign is refreshingly straightforward. Facts are presented simply, with no shaming, judging or moralizing. The overall attitude is one of care and concern—but in a brotherly voice, rather than from a parental or authority-figure viewpoint.

Art, photos and other graphics featured in the campaign are hard-hitting and explicit, which is perfectly appropriate to Instigator’s and’s audiences. Richard Smith, president of the company that owns, was quoted in Instigator as saying, “Why can’t we show hot men, having balls-to-the-wall sex without missing out on anything except maybe HIV and Hepatitis C.” (Or, I might add, syphilis, gonorrhea, hepatitis B and a host of other problems.)

It’s interesting to note that this Smart Sex paradigm shift is not happening solely in the gay men’s or leather/BDSM/fetish community. An internet search for “Smart Sex” turned up approximately 30,000 hits and showed the words “Smart Sex” being used in the service of a wide variety of causes as varied as avoiding teen pregnancy, avoiding herpes and other venereal diseases, and “finding life-long love in a hookup world.”

No one, it seems, wants to have Dumb Sex.

Friday, January 5, 2007

This Is Your Brain on Leather: Lots of Food for Thought at LLC XI

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #303, January 5, 2007)

Register before Jan. 15 for early-bird rate

It has been said that the body’s largest sex organ is the brain. Members of the leather/BDSM/fetish community tend to understand this, and put that understanding to good (sometimes diabolical) use in the bedroom, playroom or dungeon. Even outside of play situations, our community has a sparkling and active intellectual life

The Minnesota Leather Pride Committee has, over the years, sponsored evening roundtable discussions on various leather-related topics. Attendance has always been good and the discussions have been spirited.

Now the eleventh annual Leather Leadership Conference (LLC) promises to take things to another level. The conference, scheduled for April 20-22, 2007, will bring leather/BDSM/fetish community members from around the world to Minneapolis. (If you haven’t registered yet, do it now—you only have until January 15 to take advantage of the $90 early-bird rate.)

Participants in this year’s LLC will be able to choose from a menu of thirty different presentations, workshops, and panel discussions (painstakingly distilled from over 70 proposals), and from among six different “caucuses,” or group discussions. (Only a few of the workshops are listed below—visit <> to see the complete list.)

In keeping with the artistic bent of this year’s conference theme (“The Art of Sharing Power . . . A Work in Progress”) presentations at this year’s LLC have been arranged into six different groupings named for various types of mosaics, all of which Minnesotans and other midwesterners will readily recognize.

The first mosaic, “Crop Art,” includes presentations dealing with organizational themes. Crop art is composed of seeds—and seeds, properly nurtured, grow into a healthy plant. Likewise, proper organizational nurturing yields a strong and stable organization.

“Crop Art” presentations include “Leadership for leather community leaders,” “When consent doesn’t count—decriminalizing consensual BDSM behavior,” and “Leadership vs. Management.”

The “Sand” mosaic includes presentations about event planning. Sand mandalas (introduced to Minnesota by Tibetan immigrants) and leather events both require enormous amounts of coordinated effort and planning resulting in a beautiful and vibrant, yet transitory, creation. When a mandala is completed, the four winds eventually scatter the sand, which will never be reassembled in quite the same fashion. Likewise, at the end of a leather event the participants return home with inspiration and memories of a beautiful gathering that can never be exactly repeated.

“Sand” presentations at LLC XI include “Creating equitable educational events for any size community” and “Putting sex back into leather.”

Presentations dealing with community outreach, publicity and promotion are included in the “Quilting and fabric art” mosaic. Quilting bees have historically been used to bind members of a community together and to welcome newcomers into the community. Quilts and other types of fabric art have long been used to communicate within a community and to document its history.

“Quilting and fabric art” presentations at LLC XI include “Outreach from the BDSM community: effective communcation with police, hospitals and social service agencies” and “Citizen Kinkster—developing community using tools of the new media.”

One of the questions often asked by newcomers to the leather/BDSM/fetish community is “Where do I fit in?” Presentations for newcomers, or for those working with newcomers, are included in the “Tile and ceramic” mosaic. These large mosaics often cover a breathtaking expanse, yet each one of the millions of pieces is perfectly integrated and plays its part in creating the dazzling whole.

“Tile and ceramic” presentations include “Supporting young adults in alternative sexual lifestyles,” “Creating the gender-safe kink organization,” “Leather youth leadership—organizing our community,” and “Mentoring—sowing seeds to grow the next crop of leaders.”

Presentations about presenters? But of course (or, to be Minnesotan, “you betcha”)—they’re included in the “Glass” mosaic. Presenters are educators, and for hundreds of years stained-glass windows have been used as educational tools. Presenters also need to promote themselves in order to get speaking engagements, and mosaics of glass tubes filled with glowing neon represent attention-getting promotional devices.

“Glass” presentations include “You get what you pay for: the value of good education,” “Developing skills-based presenters,” “Understanding sexual freedom as a leather leader,” and “Getting it out there” (presented by Mistress Amanda Wildefyre, author and performer of “Confessions of a Lesbian Dominatrix”).

Finally, “Stone” mosaics represent the very foundation of our community: personal growth, the history and philosophy of leather, and relationship issues. These basics give us the capacity to create the other types of mosaics listed above.

“Stone” presentations include “Sleeping with the competition—sharing power with rival groups,” “Submissives in Leadership,” and “Planning for relationship changes.”

In addition to these workshops and caucuses, the conference will include an opening keynote by noted photographer and activist Barbara Nitke, a closing keynote by International Mr. Leather 2003 John Pendal, an opening cabaret emceed by Patrick Scully, optional pre-conference workshops, and an optional Saturday breakfast with speaker Laura Antoniou, internationally acclaimed author of the “Marketplace” series of erotic novels.

You can find full details on Leather Leadership Conference XI, including a complete listing and more details on the various mosaics and workshops, at <>. Check it out, and register before January 15 to take advantage of the early-bird rate of $90.