Welcome to Kinky Sex Ed. I will be your instructor as we explore all things sexual especially those things that apply to the Leather, BDSM and kink community. You may not always agree with my views however I challenge you to develop your own opinions and to let those opinions be known by others.This week I will explore the phenomenon of new technology, specifically social media applications that are used within the Leather, BDSM and Kink communities. I would dare say that we are all aware of applications such as but not limited to Grindr, Scruff or Recon however most of us have probably have not given much thought to their use is shaping our community. This article will attempt to examine the pros and cons. It is not my intent to pass judgment, but rather, to inform our community.
Anyone who has been a part of the Leather, BDSM, and Kink community can tell you that the exploration of our sexual identity is a cornerstone of who we are. Most would say that in regards to sex, mild is average and wild, well, that is defined as only the physical and emotional limits that two people put in place! On any given night in clubs and bars across the country this can be seen in a very superficial way by the manner that we dress. Whether it is a bear in a cod piece, a playful pup with his tail hanging out or simply a scruffy-guy in a harness, boots and tight jeans that have a Copenhagen ring in the back pocket; sex is in the air.
In our community, sex is not a topic that is relegated to a conversation that is had when others are not around lest they hold us in contempt. Instead, community members proudly hold the kink flag high for others to see. For many it has been this sexual freedom and ability to explore that has served as a beacon to those from outside of our bars and clubs who have felt strangled by pressure to conform to traditional attitudes regarding sexuality. Gone are the days when a man’s only outlet of sexual energy was to live vicariously through the stories in Drummer magazine. Today, the collision of technology and intense sexual energy seems to be the battle cry in a war that has been declared on the ways in which we communicate, and yes, even engage others in this masculine, sexual tango. We no longer communicate with others via a classified in Drummer or Bound and Gagged. Honestly, I am envious of the way that our community once was. Consequently, I refuse to sit by and do nothing to stop the erosion of our heritage, protocols and leather values.
There is an app for that…
There are social media applications that serve every fetish, kink and interest, regardless of how mild or extreme: Grindr, Scruff, Recon; the list goes on. We are quickly seeing a new generation of community members that have lost the ability to communicate in any meaningful fashion past one-word, blurbs on social media applications that ensures total anonymity. Technology, without doubt, has changed the way we communicate and interact with each other. Why get dressed in all of your gear and go out when you can sit at home and find what you are looking for online or on a phone app? Many times this anonymity is simply used to mask one’s curiosity if for nothing else but for when they beat off in the privacy of their own bedrooms. Adversely, many new community members lack the ability to simply converse with others about their wants and desires. We have traded face-to-face interactions for convenience, and as a result, we have changed how we communicate with each other. For example, the hanky code, which demanded knowledge of yourself in regards to what you are into, as well as the code itself, is quickly becoming extinct. When was the last time that you saw someone use the hanky code as something more than a purely ceremonial requirement at a leather event?
While it is true that the use of applications has made it easier for community members to instantly satisfy their sexual desires, does it do so at a cost to our leather heritage? Increasingly, we see more and more of our leather bars and places of refuge closing their doors and quickly changing from the place where everyone is, to a place where everyone once was. Is it more appealing for guys to flirt with others on an application where there is the ever-present ability to block a person that does not interest them? We can all think of a time when we have been out in our local communities only to see a guy glued to his phone. The ability to find whatever his unknown sexual desire was in his midst; however, he chose instead to participate in an artificial community where the most important of human interactions, communication, has been done away with.
On the other hand, would events such as International Mr. Leather and Folsom be the events that they are today without the assistance of Social media? Under the “Old Guard” leather bar and motorcycle club system this type of technology would have never flourished or would it? Is Social Media simply today’s Hanky Code, as a new generation of Leather Men and Women shape this culture?
Social Media Applications and HIV/AIDS
It comes as no shock to anyone that the Leather Community throughout the years has been one the heaviest hit by HIV/AIDS. Some would say that it our hyper-sexualized identity has served as kindling to the fire of this epidemic. What role then do social media apps and other technologies play in reducing or increasing HIV/AIDS within our community? Are the behaviors that we engage in today any more risky than cruising a random guy on the street then getting a back-alley blowjob, an activity that was common place throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s? Just as we had to in that time, we must now find a way to play safely through the use of social media applications. HIV/AIDS is still very much a concern, regardless of the technology, since transmission through unprotected sexual contact continues to be an issue. Even though the format by which we communicate with others has changed, this does not absolve us from the responsibility to act in a Safe and Sane manner that will not harm others or ourselves.
On June 6, 2011, I was diagnosed with HIV and I would say that one of the biggest hurdles for those living with HIV is rejection and fear of rejection, especially in a sexual setting. For many it is this anonymity that social media applications offer that make them so appealing. Disclosure is more controlled since the only information that is given is what that both sides want to give. We must continue to work within our communities and bars to create a safe place where people can disclose their HIV status without fear of being shunned. We must also find a way to not only embrace new technology but to also retain all of the many values and characteristics that made each one of us initially identify as a leather man and woman.
Will we return to a time where we see the value of having face-to-face interactions with each other? While some may think that it is easy to get on a phone app to find a trick, others would argue that there is nothing easier than walking up to a person that you see in the bar and expressing interest. Additionally, they would say that while we must return to face-to-face interactions that we must also find a way to embrace these technologies within our local communities to reach a wider audience. I challenge each and every one of you to stop dismissing the changes that are occurring within our community as simply necessary, and instead ask the question of why our communities are changing. What is the purpose and reason for these changes? If you do not like what you are seeing, do something about it!
Aaron Laxton is an HIV activist and “Mama’s Kinky Educator.” Follow him on Twitter at @aaronlaxton. He serves on the Community Advisory Board for the AIDS Clinical Trials Group as well as the Community Scientific Sub-Committee. He lives in St. Louis and his column runs monthly.