Unusual to whom?


In these last few days you probably read or heard the “shocking” news about how the prestigious Harvard university authorized the creation of a student group dedicated to BDSM, counting about 30 members who regularly meet to discuss – just that – about erotic domination. This is the deviant side effect of the omnipresent 50 shades of Grey, the media say, commenting then with a predictable slew of outraged statements. Their message is, as expected, that «this is today’s degenerate youth! Who knows how lower they will get!». There is a small thing, however, you should better know.

The Harvard College Munch (this being the club’s full name) isn’t anything new at all. Rather, it actually came in quite late given that the first BDSM culture student groups in the United States began appearing twenty years ago with Columbia University’sConversio Virium, soon followed by MIT, Yale, Tufts and other prominent institutions. The situation is similar among (especially North-) European campuses, with the difference that associations here aren’t officially affiliated with the universities, thus they aren’t allowed the benefits – the financial ones in particular – the Harvard group can access.

In other words, instead of behaving like soppy Eighteenth-century pansies, journalists should have titled their articles ‘Normal people in a normal place do the same things which people have been doing for decades’. Maybe not as alarming-sounding, yet much closer to reality – especially when you consider how statistics say that BDSM is practiced by one person in ten, making it a pretty common form of sexuality. But if it is so, why am I writing about it on a website about unusual sex?

Let me make an aside here. Just yesterday I finished re-reading Crooked little vein, the exhilarating and unrecognized first Warren Ellis novel. The plot is about a private investigator infiltrating the filthiest North American subcultures, which keep overwhelming him.
It is a nice synchronicity, for a recurring situation in that book is the confrontation between the protagonist and the most shocking sort of perverts, who very politely point out to him how they are no weird at all: «what we are doing here» they say «is what other hundreds of thousands of people are also doing after meeting through the Internet. When you can learn all about these things just by clicking on a website, how can you say they are hidden subcultures? We are mainstream, deal with it!»

This is in fact quite true. You only have to look at the news I published during the last week: can you define zoophilia ‘unusual’ if its enthusiasts’ associations are protesting right in front of the Parliament against a law criminalizing the act? Is the Swedish necrophile ‘unusual’ when you know about the existence of a large international network of people like her and of an online market to trade human remains as sex toys? Or, in a less criminal example, is it ‘unusual’ to be aroused by old ladies if research tells us that it is the twentieth online most-searched for pornographic genre on a worldwide scale, well before topics like oral sex, Asian girls or women wearing lingerie?
Studies like this are telling us how the common definition of “normality” just don’t match with reality when it comes to sex: what are usually considered absurd paraphilias are actually part of the daily lives of much more persons than expected. Persons we all encounter every day.

Perhaps a correct definition for such practices shouldn’t then be ‘unusual’ but ‘hushed-up’, ‘suppressed’. «You don’t kiss and tell», as they say, yet we should ask ourselves why the media keep such attitude toward alternative sexualities. I believe there are at least two main answers.

The first is a question of age. In most countries the average age of media professionals is over fifty. I am ten year younger, yet I remember well the experience of becoming an adult in an analog world, where sex education was as poor as today, but even access to basic, vanilla porn was rather difficult – not to mention any sort of contact with alternative sexualities.
Those whose concept of eroticism was formed in a time when the Web didn’t exist yet censorship’s black strips still appeared to cover up even the most innocent nude necessarily have a quite different idea of “unusual” than the digital natives and the extreme eroticism explorers, who always pioneered new technologies. And old habits, as they say, die hard.

The second reason is even more practical and trivial. Violence and sex have always been the best bait for a public – and the more “perverse” the sex is, the higher the attention it gains is. Talking about unusual eroticism should then be ideal for the mass media… if they hadn’t to deal with the market needs too. Their advertisers, vital for the survival of any big news outlet, can’t endanger their million-dollars campaigns by risking them to appear next to features approving of “deviant” practices. What would their average customer think if a soda or a snack ad was associated to a piece aboutgerbiling?
This is why the journalists are the first to censor themselves. The only way out to save both ways is to – occasionally, mind you – mention uncommon sexualities in sarcastic or moralistic terms. This will satisfy the public’s morbidity, and prevent any blame to be put on the editorial staff. Do you need an example? «See how crazy and decadent they are at Harvard: now they even finance a sadomasochistic club!»

Happy unusuality to you all.