Are there no decent men in the world? NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was supposed to be one of the good ones, a champion of the #MeToo Movement who was going after alleged serial sexual harasser, Donald Trump. But then The New Yorker (which might seriously need to consider changing its name to “To Catch a Predator Weekly”) revealed that four women have accused him of sexual, physical and emotional abuse, which involved things like non-consensual choking, verbal humiliation, and hitting to the point of causing unintentional long-term damage. (If you haven’t read the details, please do — they’re bone-chilling.)
Assuming these allegations are true — and considering the overlapping details of some of the women who didn’t even know each other, combined with the well-established journalistic vigor of The New Yorker, why wouldn’t you? — some clarifications should be made for the sake of sexual education and understanding.
Eric Schneiderman is not a monster because he liked to roleplay, or because he liked rough sex, or because his dirty talk included phrases like “you’re a dirty little slut,” or even because he might be a sexual sadist who gets off on inflicting pain. Eric Schneiderman is a monster because he never got enthusiastic consent from his partners to engage in those activities.
When you find a partner who enjoys all the above (and there are plenty of submissives, bottoms and/or masochists who do) and said partner engages in them willingly, thoughtfully and happily with jointly negotiated boundaries and a predetermined safeword, then you are just a responsible member of the kink community. When you force these kinds of things on an unwitting and unwilling partner with zero communication or negotiation, then you are a domestic abuser and a sexual assaulter.
I’m currently enrolled in the Institute for Sexuality Education and Enlightenment (in order to become a certified sex educator) and was recently invited by two fellow classmates — both in the Portland, Oregon kink community — to attend a “munch” (a social gathering of kinksters in a public space with no sexual playing). I went and was delighted to hear an astute lecture given to the packed house by a particularly eloquent, sadistic edge-player (look it up) who addressed all the following with charm and wit:
- The importance of deliberate negotiation between any set of partners
- How a lack of communication contributes to rape culture
- The necessary willingness one must posses to face rejection when your sexual proclivities don’t align with someone else’s
- The feminist instinct to trust individual women’s professed desires, no matter how tame or extreme
- And the paramountcy of consent in kink and vanilla sex
He was so intellectually spot on, that he made his desire to find a partner willing to let him kidnap her and bury her alive in a box with an air-tube and a camera so he could watch from the comfort of his home sound (almost) reasonable!
The point is, there’s a right way to do kink and a wrong way. When you’re a straight guy like Schneiderman, the wrong way means what you’re doing is actually not kink (or “roleplaying” as he claimed in a statement); it’s criminal abuse stemming either from a misogynistic belief that you’re entitled to control and dominate women’s minds and bodies without their permission, or from severe mental illness. There’s probably some overlap between those two.
A lot of people — mostly straight, “vanilla” men — have rued the “excesses” of the #MeToo movement, wondering how they’re supposed to be expected to operate romantically in a world where the concept of giving and getting enthusiastic consent is becoming the ideal. “What am I supposed to do, ask permission every time I want to go in for a kiss? That’s not sexy!” To those people, I would say: if you ever get the chance, watch a top and a bottom negotiate a scene.
I got that opportunity in one of my certification courses: my two classmates from the kink community agreed, upon our teacher’s request, to conduct a sample negotiation in front of the class. They sat side by side, fully clothed. The dominant got out his phone and pulled up a long list of questions. In a soothing voice, he began to slowly and methodically pose each one to her: Can I kiss you? How do you feel about nudity? What about pain play? Genital touching? Above or below the clothes? What body parts may I tie up, if any? . . .
The list went on and on. She answered each one honestly and clearly with complete agency. It was a symbiotic, egalitarian exchange of mutual respect and responsibility. The class was absolutely rapt. And the process was undeniably, extraordinarily sexy.
No matter what kind of sex we happen to enjoy — whether our idea of a fun Saturday night is doing it missionary style with the lights off OR going to a sex club to suck the strap-on of a stranger in a corset while our partner watches — we could learn a lot from the BDSM community’s dedication to responsible communication and consent. The case of Eric Schneiderman is a lesson in what not to do.