Student Life Archives (2001-2008)

It ain’t all whips and chains-club shows new side of BDSM

Alternative sexual acts such as bondage/discipline and dominance/submission have commonly been considered risky and dangerous sexual acts-but a new student group on campus hopes to dispel such generalizations.

The recent formation of a “Bondage and discipline, Dominance and submission, and Sadomasochism” (BDSM) interest group is giving students on Washington University’s campus both a forum for open sexual discussion and a place to become educated on safe sexual practices.

The Alternative Lifestyle Association (ALA), which promoted its first meeting with flyers carrying the slogan “Wash U Spank,” was formed this semester by three University students who are hoping to support and educate those interested in BDSM.

As described by a founding member who wished to remain anonymous, the ALA seeks to “provide emotional support to those coming to grips with their sexuality.”

She explained that the group does not intend for its meetings to provide therapy, but rather to provide a setting in which students can feel comfortable discussing BDSM. The group will also serve to provide information to members so that they may explore their interests safely.

Because there is often significant overlap in the activities that BDSM encompasses, the ALA will function to support all of them.

Each activity, however, has a clear definition. Bondage and discipline refers to physical restraint of one sexual partner by the other. Dominance and submission involves one partner giving control to the other for the duration of the sexual act. Sadomasochism is an interest in pain to heighten sexual pleasure.

Often, BDSM enthusiasts identify with one of the two roles in each scenario, and thus refer to themselves as either a “dominant/top” or “submissive/bottom.” A person who enjoys both roles is referred to as a “switch.” The actual sexual encounter, during which each partner assumes one of the roles, is called a “scene.”

The aforementioned founding member said that most people tend to have misconceptions regarding BDSM.

“I think that people see images in popular culture of power exchange, and it’s presented to them as something freaky and amusing, not a genuine sexual practice shared by many normal, successful people,” she said.

She and the club’s other founding members hope that the ALA will be able to promote informed awareness of BDSM and correct common misconceptions. She noted, for instance, that most people are unaware that “safe, sane and consensual” is a primary tenet of BDSM practice.

She explained that being accurately informed is critical to a safe BDSM scene.

“If you want to play with bondage, fine, but know something about circulation before you do it!” she said. “ALA will be a beneficial resource, especially to novices-safe BDSM requires knowledge and skill.”

The ALA has held two meetings so far. Attendees of the first meeting discussed their experiences with BDSM and answered questions from those who attended with the intent of learning more. Future meetings will consist of icebreakers, open discussion, Q&A sessions and other activities.

Freshman Hubert Cheung, who attended the group’s first meeting, said the founders made people comfortable at the meeting by doing most of the talking. They stressed the importance of respecting members of the group and taking meetings seriously.

“They made it very clear that there would be no demonstrations, [and] reiterated that [the club] is for people who want more information, [not to] meet people to hook up,” he said.

Cheung went on to say that he believes curiosity was the driving force behind the students who have shown up at the meetings thus far.

“I think most people seem to go because they’re curious about the group [and] curious about the subject,” he said. “Some people go just to see if the group actually exists, and some go to [learn more] about the subject. I think I fit into both categories.”

The other founding members of the group could not be reached for comments.

While the club currently does not receive funding from Student Union, it will apply for a position as an official student group in the coming academic year. With funding, the ALA hopes to organize events and invite guest speakers. A Halloween costume ball and BDSM-themed movie nights have been discussed as potential activities.

The ALA follows the lead of similar organizations at other universities, such as Columbia University’s Conversio Virium and the University of Washington’s Society for Human Sexuality.

University students interested in joining the ALA or learning more about BDSM can contact the group at

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