Healthy sex is all in the talk

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If you're not tied up this weekend, the kink community would like to tell you a thing or two about safe, sane, consensual sex. Enthusiasts of the Lower Mainland's BDSM, swinger, polyamory, and erotica scenes will be joining up with sexologists, politicians, filmmakers, and self-professed "perverts" at the Sex Conference to overcome what they see as the biggest threat to healthy sex: ignorance.

"Sex education in schools is about risk reduction and harm prevention and doesn't cover real-world aspects," says Reive Doig, organizer of the Friday and Saturday (May 6 and 7) conference, in an interview in Vancouver. "If it's too risqué," he says, speaking of everything from anal, needle, and role play to fantasy, flogging, and fisting, "they're not going to cover it." Doig runs BIO-one of a number of local organizations known for hosting safe events for the local bondage and discipline, consensual sadomasochism, fetish, and other alternative-sexuality communities-and he's concerned about the availability of legitimate information to the sexually curious.

"So much of what you see in porn videos is staged, and people don't realize-especially with the anal stuff-that what they see is unhealthy," Doig says. "You don't want to be having anal sex and then go to vaginal sex without switching condoms, and-this is a big thing in the porn industry-they like to show it from the ass to the mouth."

Dr. Trevor Corneil, a physician at the Downtown South's Three Bridges Community Health Centre and a clinical associate professor at UBC, points out in a phone interview that "surveys have shown that anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of heterosexual couples have engaged in anal sex, many on a regular basis, contradicting the general belief that this is a 'homo' activity." Because anal sex, like kink, doesn't fit into the social construct of "normal" (or "vanilla", as the kink community calls it) sex, he's concerned that there's a lack of knowledge and dialogue about safe technique.

He cautions that when anyone-hetero or homo, kinky or not-begins to explore his or her sexuality "without the basics in sex health, including harm reduction, the risk for psychological or physical damage, including infections such as HIV, increases exponentially".

Feces, urine, blood, and sex fluids, for example, can be exposed to a high risk of infectious diseases if they are exchanged, provoked, or induced in the absence of goggles, gloves, and/or condoms; and sex-kinky or not-does involve bodily fluids. Sex toys and tools can also become covered in the stuff and carry that same risk of infection if they are not sterilized or autoclaved.

"Healthy sex can include any activity," Corneil emphasizes, "as long as it is informed, consensual, well-educated, risk-aware, and takes place in a safe environment. People can sit up, lie back, hang upside down, or simply hang and enjoy."

The physical and mental limitations of what individuals are willing to do can vary wildly, so even mild "play" calls for explicit communication, as those in the kink scene know.

Doig regularly teaches "SM 101" workshops and gives novices something to think about when he hands out sample negotiation forms. The form plainly lists four pages' worth of BDSM activities (from "abrasion/scratching" to "voyeurism"), scales the willingness of the participant to try each (from "uncertain" to "eager"), and identifies "safe words" that he or she can use to instantly halt the action.

It's not the sexiest way to negotiate, he admits, but it does allow even the most timid enthusiast to express what they want. "Communication makes sense," Doig says, "and it's not so kinky."

According to Sex Party leader and MLA candidate John Ince, who was interviewed by phone in Vancouver, communication also "pays the highest returns". In addition to giving the conference's keynote address, Ince will be leading a sexual-enrichment workshop for couples. "We all have a sex language barrier," he says of both individuals and society. "Couples often know only the most rudimentary things about each other's sexuality." He offers that dialogue is "the key to bonding and hot sex".

Ince, Doig, and other Sex Conference presenters say healthy and pleasurable sex is what it's all about. "It sounds serious," Doig says of the whole kink mystique, "but it's actually all fun…that's the whole point!"

The conference's novice-friendly, discussion-based workshops fall into three streams: nonmonogamy (including swinging, polyamory, and negotiation); erotic (photography, anal play, intimate dialogue); and kink (introductions to role play, bondage, and SM). For more information, visit the conference Web site at www.thesexconference.com/ or BIO's Web site at www.bioenter tainment.com/.

Not surprisingly, books beat out the Internet for clear, fact-based reading: Bound to Be Free: The SM Experience by Charles Moser and JJ Madeson provides an overview, while SM 101: A Realistic Introduction (Jay Wiseman), Screw the Roses, Send Me the Thorns: The Romance and Sexual Sorcery of Sadomasochism (Philip Miller and Molly Devon), and The New Topping and The New Bottoming books (Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy) get down to the whats, whys, and how-tos.

All are available at the nonintimidating Little Sister's Book & Art Emporium at 1238 Davie (604-669-1753) and Womyns' Ware at 896 Commercial Drive (604-254-2543).