Friday, October 15, 2004

Barebacking, BDSM, and Bicycle Helmets

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #245, October 15, 2004)

It seems there are so many things lately I don’t understand.

I don’t understand why anyone would want to see George Bush re-elected president.

I don’t understand reality TV.

I don’t understand rap music.

And I don’t understand why anyone in their right mind would bareback.

Please understand that your humble columnist is an excellent example of someone who in financial circles is known as “risk-averse.” Given the choice between a high-risk mutual fund with the potential of big returns and a low-risk money market fund that pays a pittance, I’ll take the money-market fund every time. (I drive my broker crazy.)

I always wear my seat belt when I drive.

I look both ways when crossing the street—even on one-way streets.

And I was using condoms even before they were fashionable, because even before AIDS there were plenty of other venereal diseases I didn’t want to catch.

“So, Mr. Risk-Averse,” I hear you saying, “How does that square with writing a leather column? Here you are, writing about high-risk activities like SM sex and riding motorcycles.”

Yes, you’re right. And the contradictions get worse: I don’t ride a motorcycle, but I do ride a bicycle. And when I ride it, Mr. Risk-Averse doesn’t wear a helmet.

And why don’t I wear a helmet? Not because it’s too hot or too uncomfortable—not even because it might mess my hair. I don’t wear a bicycle helmet because I think bicycle helmets look dorky. I refuse to look like I’m wearing Darth Vader’s face mask, upside down and backwards, on top of my head.

And when I get on my bike without a helmet, do I get a rebel thrill because I’m cheating death? No. On the contrary, I try not to think about the risk. When I’m on my bike I’m in denial.

Sound familiar? “I don’t want to wear this condom. It’s uncomfortable. It’s confining. It interrupts the action while I put it on.” Or “I don’t want him to wear a condom. I don’t want to feel latex, I want to feel the intimacy of his skin.” How many people, all the while they’re having unprotected sex, are in denial that they’re doing anything risky?

Wearing a helmet, of course, has no effect on whether or not I will encounter an unsafe situation. I may encounter one or I may not. But if I do encounter an unsafe situation, I will be safer if I am wearing a helmet. Except for very rare, fluke occurrences, I will not be less safe with protection than without it.

There’s more to safety than simply wearing a helmet, however. Whether for biking, motorcycling or SM, another big safety factor is education and training: knowing safe ways to operate a bike, a motorcycle or a flogger simultaneously increases enjoyment and reduces risk.

Unprotected sex, or barebacking, is different from these other activities. It is inherently risky, and no amount of education, training or technique can mitigate that risk. The best way to make it less risky is just the same as with bicycles and motorcycles: Wear A Helmet.

But then, of course, it isn’t barebacking anymore. Barebacking’s aficionados would say that this advice is tantamount to saying the safest way to own a motorcycle is not to ride it.

There are only two circumstances of which I am aware in which barebacking can be considered to meet the definition of “safe” in the sense of the BDSM community’s “Safe, Sane, Consensual” mantra: a) two HIV-negative partners who are monogamous; or b) two HIV-positive partners who undergo medical testing, determine that they are both infected with the same strain of the HIV virus, and are thereafter monogamous.

Other than in these two rare and tenuous circumstances, barebacking is worse than riding without a helmet. It’s skydiving without a parachute.

The ethic of the leather/BDSM community is that we all look out for, and take care of, each other. If an activity is not safe, sane and consensual, it is abusive and should not be tolerated. Even in a situation where barebacking might unfortunately and perversely meet the consensuality test, it still fails the test of safety and, I would argue, sanity.

Why would anyone consent to an activity that will probably be (eventually) lethal, and will at the very least make life much more complicated and much less pleasant?

I suppose there are as many reasons to bareback as there are barebackers. Some think it’s romantic to be Mimi in “La Boheme.” Some think that becoming positive will bestow on them a life of sympathy and insurance benefits. Some think it’s intimate and romantic to share the virus with the one you love or to have them share the virus with you. Some are angry at being infected and want to infect as many other people as they can before they check out.

Some are fatalistic and figure it will happen to them eventually, so they might as well get it over with. Some take the opposite tack—AIDS will never happen to them because they are somehow invulnerable. (I would note here that there’s a great difference between saying, “It will never happen to me because I won’t let it—I will take action, every time, to protect myself” and saying “It won’t happen to me because I’m magically immune, and therefore I can do whatever I want and don’t have to worry about protection.” And yes, I know, that second instance is what I’m saying to myself as I ride my bike without a helmet.)

That’s what some people who bareback may be thinking. But the reality is that once someone seroconverts, there’s no going back. Life will either be very short or else will be filled with doctor visits, strict treatment schedules and an ongoing regimen of expensive drugs with major and unpleasant side effects.

There was a time when we didn’t know what caused AIDS and didn’t know how to stop it from spreading. An unconscionable number of people died as a result, and that was tragic. Now we know how to stop the spread of the virus, but in spite of this some people are intentionally helping to spread it. That’s still tragic, but it’s also perverse.

There are plenty of other, safer ways one can still enjoy sex—and perhaps even enjoy it more because one’s horizons have been widened. Be adventurous! Try something new (and, incidentally, safer).

I have no illusions that I can singlehandedly stop people from barebacking, any more than anyone can make me wear a helmet when I ride my bike. But I can at least say, “Stop and think about what you’re doing if you bareback. Realize the consequences.”

It’s all fun and games until someone gets infected.

Barebacking: Just Don’t Do It.

Friday, October 1, 2004

Hot for Teacher

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #244, October 1, 2004)

Graphic: MSDB patch

Minnesota Stocks, Debentures and Bonds (MSDB)—the name makes it sound like a financial services company. It isn’t—read the initials backwards and you’ll understand.

MSDB is “a Minnesota-based organization for people who are actively involved or seriously interested in BDSM lifestyles and activities.” It was started in 1999 and currently has about 120 dues-paying members. Membership is open to adults 18 or older, regardless of sexual or gender orientation or identification, religious belief, ethnic origin, or physical ability. The organization has become Minnesota’s leading presenter of BDSM education seminars and events.

MSDB’s educational offerings have included BDSM etiquette panel discussions; fireplay demonstrations; erotic writing seminars hosted by San Francisco-based writer and editor M. Christian; knife-play workshops led by noted knife expert Cristo; and several workshops on a variety of topics led by Cleo Dubois and/or Fakir Musafar. Also popular are MSDB’s kink-friendly first-aid and CPR classes (see below).

MSDB’s social offerings include monthly munches in Minneapolis and Rochester, Minn. and a Twin Cities-area Newbie munch for those new to BDSM, or involved in BDSM but new to the Twin Cities. (In BDSM parlance, a munch is a non-play social event, usually in a public place, at which kinky folks eat, drink and converse.)

The Minneapolis munch is the second Thursday of each month (the next one will be October 14) starting at 5:30 P.M. at Kieran’s Irish Pub, 330 2nd Ave. S. For more information e-mail <>.

The Rochester munch is the third Thursday of each month (the next one will be October 21) starting at 7 P.M. at Beetles Bar and Grill on 2nd St. S.W. E-mail <> for more information.

The Newbie munch is held at various Twin City locations on the second Saturday of each month and usually starts at 1 P.M. For more information e-mail <>.

Appropriate attire for all munches is street clothing (not fetishwear). There is no charge for any of the munches other than your own food and drink purchases (and a reasonable tip, of course). Everyone age 18 and older is welcome.

In addition to the activities it does on its own, MSDB has combined forces with other area leather/BDSM clubs and organizations for larger events like Minnesota’s annual Leather Pride celebration; it is also participating in efforts now underway to attract the annual Leather Leadership Conference to Minnesota in 2007.

For several years MSDB has been instrumental in coordinating a kink-friendly hotel floor in conjunction with the annual CONvergence Science Fiction Convention. At the present time it is working on becoming a partner organization with the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF).

The MDSB website (<>) continues the organization’s educational theme by including a wealth of BDSM-related information, including a BDSM glossary, a FAQ (frequently-asked questions) list, an “Alphabet Soup” guide to BDSM- and internet-specific acronyms, and a link to a “Deviant’s Dictionary” of BDSM-related terms (also referred to as an “encyclopervia”). There also are tips for newcomers to BDSM and for submissives, and information about BDSM etiquette, safer sex, and other health and safety topics.

On the social side of things, the MSDB website contains comprehensive listings of both MSDB and non-MSDB events such as munches and gatherings, links to other leather/BDSM groups and vendors, and a “scrapbook” list of events the organization has presented.

One of MSDB’s goals for the future is to continue growing in order to be able to do even more. It currently has three to four education presentations a year but eventually would like to offer monthly educational seminars. At present MSDB has events planned for October, November and December.

The October MSDB offering will be a seminar on “Predicament Bondage” presented by Mistress Amanda Wildefyre (of “Confessions of a Lesbian Dominatrix” fame). According to Wildefyre, “In predicament bondage, the subject is tied so that any movement on his part increases the restriction on intimate parts of his body—which is amusing to me, and quite frustrating to my victim. Fun for masochists and bondagers alike! And what could be more erotic than a slave who tortures himself? Your own subjects will find out just exactly how they can become their own worst enemy.”

The seminar, which will be a mixture of instruction and live demonstrations, will take place at Patrick’s Cabaret (3010 Minnehaha Ave. S., Minneapolis) on Saturday, Oct. 23, 1-4 P.M. Advance tickets are $12 for MSDB members or $20 for non-members; tickets at the door are $25 for both members and non-members. Ticket purchase information is available on MSDB’s website.

On Saturday, Nov. 13, MSDB will be sponsoring its eleventh semi-annual safety class. In the class, participants receive instruction from a certified teacher from the American Red Cross. The morning class will be CPR for adults and the afternoon class will be general First Aid. The instructor is kink-friendly. Upon completion of the two classes, participants will receive certification from the Minnesota Chapter of the Red Cross.

The classes run from 9 A.M.-6 P.M. (CPR, 9 A.M.-1 P.M.; Lunch break, 1-2 P.M.; First Aid, 2-6 P.M.) Cost for both classes is $30 for MSDB members and $50 for non-members. Those who need to be recertified on only CPR can attend just the morning session, and those who need recertification on only First Aid can attend just the afternoon session; single-session fees are $20 for MSDB members and $30 for non-members.

An application form for the CPR/First Aid classes is available on MSDB’s website. Paid reservations must be received by Friday, Oct. 29.

This year’s version of MSDB’s Bizarre Bazaar is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 11. Plans are to bring back many of last year’s vendors as well as some new ones. The Bizarre Bazaar is a great place to do your holiday shopping for the kinky folks on your list. More details will be forthcoming.