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The Celebration of Kink

By Dr. Pisaster | Pajiba Dirty Talk | September 28, 2010 |

By Dr. Pisaster | Pajiba Dirty Talk | September 28, 2010 |

I’m writing this column at the San Francisco airport while waiting for my return flight post job interview, so my apologies if it reads like it was written in an airport after a long day of interviewin’. Thanks to this interview and the arbitrariness of flight schedules, I just happened to be in the Bay area all day Sunday with nothing to do except kill time, and by sheer good luck this Sunday happened to be the date of the Folsom Street Fair. The Folsom Street Fair, if you’ve never heard of it (in which case you must not be following Jeremy Feist on twitter, which you should be doing) is the world’s largest leather fair. As in kink leather. So since I’m strapped for time I thought I’d write this week’s column on the experience of attending said fair. (If you’re looking for a nice scientific article about sex, go here. I wish I’d gotten to this topic first, but I didn’t and I can’t top that article.)

The Folsom Street Fair is held the last Sunday of every September on Folsom street in San Francisco. The location was chosen because of the area’s history in the leather culture of SF — there have been numerous leather bars, clubs, and stores on and around Folsom since the 60s. The fair sprang up in the 80s in response to attempts by the city of San Francisco to regulate (and close) bars and clubhouses central to the leather community. It’s part fundraiser and part celebration of all things kink — a way for the leather community to get together an let it all hang out. (Quite literally in many cases. I lost track of the number of asses, cocks, and nipples that were on prominent display.) The fair covers about 5 blocks and is in many ways a lot like other street fairs — there are booths selling food and beer and merchandise, charity booths, games, and performers. The difference is that the merchandise is primarily BDSM products like whips and collars and fetish wear including corsets, leather harnesses, and skin tight latex clothing, the charity booths involve getting spanked in return for a donation, and the games involve things like playing sexy twister with a bunch of mostly-naked men (many thanks to my friend Dan for taking one for the team on that one, since I’m in a relationship and not free to roll around with sweaty naked men). Oh, and the crowd is full of people in various states of undress and kinky outfits. I saw lots of people walking around in broad daylight wearing harnesses and corsets and lingerie, a number of drag queens, and at least one very sexy looking gimp, not to mention all the above-noted cocks and asses.

The beauty of it was how comfortable people attending the fair were with their own bodies and sexuality. There was no one snarking at the cellulite and flabby bellies on display (at least no one that I heard), no one judging these people for liking something other than vanilla sex; it was completely accepting and open. In a country that still has largely puritan attitudes toward sex, such a display was refreshing, to say the least. There were many gay men and women, but there were lots of straight couples as well, and those couples ranged in age from the very young to people who looked old enough to be my parents. It’s not surprising that this sort of affair grew out of a gay subculture, since homosexuals have already by their very nature had to come to terms with having sexual tastes outside the mainstream, but it’s nice to see that some straight people felt comfortable enough to participate in a public event the celebrates kinky sex. The fact that this sort of affair is so striking in our culture is a reminder of just how rigid our attitude toward sex tends to be. BDSM - which covers a pretty broad range of activities ranging from something as mild as tying up or spanking your partner to more aggressive play like master/slave relationships, whipping, or choking — is probably the most common kink and yet it’s taboo to talk about it or admit that you are into that kind of “weird” sex. There’s a very narrow range of sexual activities that are considered mainstream and liking anything outside of that marks you as different (or if you’re lucky exciting, but still not “normal”). For that reason an event like the Folsom Fair presents a great opportunity to experience BDSM sexuality not as sexually deviant but as part of the normal range of human desire. BDSM is my personal kink and while I’ve never been terribly shy or embarrassed about any of my preferences, I have definitely encountered partners who were put off by my suggesting S&M activities. It was nice to be surrounded by like-minded people who wouldn’t see anything abnormal about my owning a riding crop and bit gag or find my enjoyment of pain and submission to be anything but hot.

If you happen to be in the San Francisco area next year in September, or near one of the offshoot fairs in New York, Canada, or Germany I’d highly recommend checking it out. It’s empowering to see people, both gay and straight, claiming their sexual kinks and present their — often imperfect — bodies in a sexual way without shame or fear, and it may give you the courage to try something you’ve been too afraid to do because of the embarrassment involved in participating in “deviant” sexual activities. No one should be ashamed of any aspect of their sexuality (well, at least not any aspect of their sexuality that involves consenting adults), and fairs like this one make it possible to explore kink in a safe, encouraging environment. I only wish there were more opportunities for such openness.

Dr. Pisaster has a doctorate in biophysics, not actually anything sexy. She does however enjoy having sex, reading about sex, and talking about sex. Especially when she’s had a little whiskey.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.