Journal Club: Ace of (BDSM) Clubs

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This month, the ace journal club discussed

“Ace of (BDSM) clubs: Building asexual relationships through BDSM practice”, by L. J. Sloan in Sexualities (2015). https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1363460714550907 (No public access)

The journal club meets once a month on Discord, using text or voice as club members prefer.  We discuss a variety of academic works in ace studies, ranging from gender studies to psychology.  Don’t worry about journal access, we can provide access.  If you’re interested, please e-mail me at asexualagenda@gmail.com for an invite.

Our discussion notes are below the fold.


Summary
The author interviewed 15 asexuals involved in BDSM, recruited locally and online, and discussed the themes that emerged. The main thesis is that BDSM provides asexuals with uniquely effective tools for setting boundaries and reformulating scripts.

Sex is just another kink
– One thing we really liked about the paper was the discussion of how BDSM scripts can be conducive to asexuality, because it’s a space where people are expected to have some level of mismatched interest.
– BDSM offers a framework where sex can be understood as just one of many ways to achieve intimacy, and not a way preferred by everyone.
– We also liked the discussion of boundaries, not as a constraint that asexuals enforce on non-asexual partners, but as a way to cultivate interactions that work for everyone.
– For example, asexuals might have boundaries around activities that are not in themselves undesirable, but which cause partners to respond in a way that might be undesired.
– There’s also some nuanced discussion of the subjective boundary between sexual and nonsexual activities.

Prior discussion of ace BDSM
– The author is very insistent that BDSM activists hardly ever talk about nonsexual BDSM, but this seems like an overstatement to us.
– This could be an example of academics lagging a bit behind on-the-ground communities.
– Or it might have to do with regional differences, or the differences between online and offline (the offline community often having more casual nonsexual activities), or just our perspectives as ace people.

Asexual guardedness
– The article discusses how aces may sometimes incorporate sex into their BDSM activities.
– It comes across as very antsy about explaining why aces might have sex, like an outsider who is worried about implying that aces can like sex for itself, and opening up asexuality to attack.
– While doing this, it doesn’t mention sex-favorable aces, gray-asexuality or demisexuality, and seems to be clinging to an absolutist concept of asexuality.
– We thought that maybe the author had maybe too basic an understanding of asexuality, or was concerned about how it would look to academics learning about the subject for the first time.
– Or maybe that’s what all the individuals said because the sample was too small. We also noted how aces will adjust their narrative depending on who they think will hear it.

Nitpicking the presentation of BDSM
– The paper explains how BDSM can be used to trigger trauma, and frames this as entirely positive, because it’s a way for people to feel vulnerable.
– We wish it discussed also how triggering trauma could be undesired, and possibly even a barrier for aces to participate in BDSM. Or how BDSM negotiations can be used specifically to avoid triggering trauma.
– This reflects a common attitude in BDSM activism to present the community as if there are never any problems or abuse going on.
– Also reflecting a common attitude in BDSM communities, it presents BDSM as being all about the DS, i.e. power dynamics. Bondage is not necessarily about power dynamics, and would have been a great example of an activity that doesn’t need to be sexual at all.
– A lot of the nonsexual kink activities we’ve heard about draw from BDSM practices that are not focused on power dynamics.
– The article makes a big understatement by saying the BDSM subculture supports marginalized sexual identities. In fact BDSM was born from these marginalized communities.

General nitpicking
– When defining asexuality the article gives a perfectly reasonable definition. But then it goes on to define sexual attraction by presenting a single narrative as if it were a requirement. This is why it’s often best to leave sexual attraction undefined, just presenting illustrative examples.
– There’s a weird editing choice where they say they aren’t going to explain why people are asexual, but immediately offer a few explanations such as gender dysphoria.

About Siggy

Siggy is an ace activist based in the U.S. He is gay gray-A, and has a Ph.D. in physics. He has another blog where he also talks about math, philosophy, godlessness, and social criticism. His other hobbies include board games and origami.
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4 Responses to Journal Club: Ace of (BDSM) Clubs

  1. Cinnamon says:

    This study sounds really interesting, although it is a shame that they chose to box in asexuality and not mention sex favorability and gray- and demisexuality. A fair amount of aces I know involved in BDSM are gray- or demisexual, and discussing how ambivalent or occasional attraction impacts that involvement could provide a really meaningful discussion.
    I also really don’t appreciate the DS focus when the article/study is labelled as being about BDSM as a whole. I don’t expect one article to be able to discuss BDSM as a whole anyways, I do wish the researchers were conscious of this.

  2. Pingback: Journal Club: Asexuality and Sexual Disinterest | The Asexual Agenda

  3. Pingback: Gray-Asexuality in Asexuality Studies | The Ace Theist

  4. Pingback: Journal Club: Relationship Diversity | The Asexual Agenda

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