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Sleeping with knives

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OCTOBER 10, 2017

Brandishing a steak knife against her neck, he told her his intent to slit her throat open. He pulled out a blindfold and tied it tightly around her head.

“And then he swapped out the steak knife for a butter knife and I couldn’t tell the difference. I thought it was a steak knife — that was cool.”

Within the broad umbrella that is the BDSM community, Zi (who has requested to go by a pseudonym to protect her privacy) is a self-proclaimed heavy masochist, which, in her words, “involves being beaten up.” Her BDSM scenes frequently include potentially dangerous objects such as knives, different whipping crops and needles.

Kink is about the power dynamic, she says. “When there’s a potentially lethal weapon involved, that power exchange is heightened because essentially, a lot of power exchange involves giving up free will — now you’re giving up your ability to protect your life.”

To the sexually vanilla audience, the world of BDSM is frequently viewed as physically violent.

Surprisingly, however, Zi says the real perils of the kink community are the same issues of consent and negotiating boundaries that pervades society at large.

Like me, Zi was initiated into the world of the sexually deviant on her first laptop when she was 9 years old. “I was looking at rape and slavery porn as well as Googling ‘what is a clitoris?’ — that was my first introduction to the idea that there was something out there other than penis-vagina sex,” she articulated, in between expertly plucking thin chicken bones out of her mouth.

Zi currently lives in San Francisco, and her apartment is a sanctuary of research paraphernalia, animal food and fetish trinkets. Sharing a bottle of red wine and a tupperware of leftover drunken chicken, we began unraveling the origins of her life in kink.

When she was 18 years old, Zi opened herself up to the larger kink community through creating her first FetLife profile. Short for “fetish life,” the site is described as “Facebook, but run by kinksters like you and me.”

She posted photos and videos of herself, quickly amassing more than 1,000 followers and consistently making FetLife’s Kinky & Popular (K&P), the site’s showcase for viral posts. Her popularity reached a point where she was constantly recognized at FetLife events.

“And then one day, some asshole decided they were going to (post) all my pictures on another porn site called Motherless, with my (old FetLife) handle and my full name,” Zi said. She immediately filed for copyright claims, and the photos were taken down.

In a world captivated by leaked nudes, I could have only imagined how awful the experience was. While I am publicly writing about my sexual experiences online, I already know that it will be up forever, with my consent.

Even after this, Zi still continues to be active in the kink scene, demonstrating that if you are “found out” for experimenting without or even with your consent, you don’t deserve to be punished, and you were not asking for it. Her continued involvement in the kink scene is unabashedly unapologetic.  

Later that night, Zi brought me along on her FetLife date. What resulted was a quintessentially bad date in any context. As the night progressed, he was uncomfortably handsy. While we were munching on our fries, he grabbed her hand and fed himself. A few minutes later, he asked if he could nibble on her. When she said no, he was incredulous.

“You seriously won’t let me nibble your fingers?” He asked her two more times afterward. The third time, he reached for her hand and placed her fingers at his lips, only for her to yank her hand away. I told him off as he tried defending his actions.

Never once did he apologize, instead opting to just say, “That’s weird, why won’t you let me do it?”

When her date took a smoke break, I asked her if that was a kink they had discussed beforehand. “No!” she said. “All we talked about was paddling my ass.”

“A lot of kink dates are like this,” she told me afterward. “And I can already see people who are involved with kink saying, ‘Oh, this is not how kink actually is! The ideal of kink is safe, sane and consensual.’ But the ideal of the everyday world is that sex is consensual, and that’s not the case.”

Even before the entire nibbling debacle, when Zi’s FetLife date touched her the first time, I could clearly tell that she was already uncomfortable.

Frequently, a verbal “no” is put on a pedestal as the be-all-end-all of consent, but a focus on body language is also important in any relationship or sexual encounter. “Not that many people respect that, and I’ve had many people in the kink scene tell me that I’m ‘not a good enough person’ essentially because I shouldn’t expect people to watch my body language,” Zi said.

While Zi recognizes negotiating consent and boundaries is sometimes “not fun, not sexy,” it’s important. When Zi planned the knife scene with her partner, they exchanged a flurry of texts beforehand to iron out the meticulous details of the scene, clearly stating consent. “People have had boundaries crossed to the point where they carry various degrees of stress and trauma because of those experiences.”

Obviously, not every hookup has the same physical risks as knife play and may not require a detailed contract or an intense Socratic seminar. I myself am a big believer in exploring first and discussing how the sex went after. But ultimately, in any context, vanilla or fetish, being aware of your partner and actively initiating dialogue will smooth out the (unwanted) kinks in your life.    

Revenge porn resources:

Women Against Revenge Porn: Website is closed, but it still houses useful resources.

Cyber Civil Rights, RCJ Law Group and Zore Law: Law firms specializing in internet privacy and internet intellectual property.

UC Berkeley Confidential Care Advocate: Support including safe housing and medical needs.

Michelle Zheng writes the Tuesday column on sex. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @thezhenger.

OCTOBER 10, 2017