The letters BDSM inspire cultish images of dark masks, steely handcuffs and twisted leather whips. Penn’s  BDSM enthusiasts, however, would argue the opposite––instead of a black–and–white preference, BDSM is much more of a spectrum. Kylie* (C'18) shares some insight into the nature of what people associate with BDSM or being kinky in general: “There’s definitely a stigma where like it’s either gross or weird whatever. But to me BDSM can range from anything from really rough sex to lightly pulling hair and choking, to like gagging dominant/submissive dynamic thing.”

Just as Kylie explained, BDSM sex can include everything from bondage to switching partners to simply just creating a rough, physical connection. For Brad*, this later definition was much more accurate than the sort of crazy BDSM sex one might see in “Fifty Shades Darker,” for example. His first experience with BDSM came as a bit of a surprise. Starting an open relationship with his high school boyfriend made him want to sexually branch out, he says; "It was his idea to open the relationship, and I was like yeah I’ll try new things and stuff…so I downloaded Grindr.”

Shortly after he downloaded the app, Brad found himself in South Philly, meeting up with a guy he had been messaging. He’s an MMA fighter…,” Brad says, sort of laughing at his own shock. “I didn’t know till I got there and I saw his gloves and his trophies.” Brad was pleasantly surprised to encounter a partner that was quite a change of pace. “[He was] very different from the ex," he says. "He fought me a little bit…held me down...threw me across the room onto his bed. He like did a bit of a choke–hold thing and was obviously very dominant.” Blushing, Brad concludes by saying, “he was great.” Though definitely unexpected, Brad’s foray into rough, physical sex turned out to be exactly what he wanted.

For Kylie, however, BDSM has long been something she’s interested in. She speaks confidently about her sexual preferences. “I’m into BDSM…literally to the point where I’ve been gagged. I have wrist and ankle ties here for my bed at school," she says. “In high school, my boyfriend just one time tied my wrists about my head, and I was like 'Oh, I kinda like that'...and it pretty much just escalated from there.” Since then, Kylie has been proud of her adventurous nature and recalls the details of the most stereotypical BDSM sex she’s had: "Probably being gagged and having my arm held behind my back…like my face forced into the bed or whatever, and pretty much being tied up…I like to struggle for it,” she admits, laughing.

Finally, Sharon*, for whom BDSM has been a relatively new subject of interest, dove right into the deep end of the spectrum during her semester abroad. Being out of the country was an eye–opening experience for Sharon and gave her the chance to experiment in something she had been wanting to try for a while. “It was something I had always been interested in, but I think a lot of the boys at Penn are pretty vanilla, especially just because like in the general culture, people aren’t really willing to open up about what their preferences are,” she explains. Abroad, Sharon met a foreigner who helped her widen her sexual horizons. Fondly recalling her semester abroad, Sharon highlights one of her most memorable and unusual nights. “One of the things we did was go to this sex club,” Sharon begins. She explains that the entryway of the club was lined with small confessional booths for visitors to take off their clothes: “I wore just lingerie, which is less than what most people wear––but I was like I might as well go for the full experience." Once inside, the club took BDSM to the next level and offered everything from small private rooms, to a hot–tub and jacuzzi complex––even a sex dungeon down below. The center of the club opens up to a dance floor, complete with DJ and a complimentary pornographic film projected on the ceiling. Sharon explains the mood of the dance floor: “So in the beginning everyone is kind of looking at each other––kinda awkward––but it’s funny because there’s a really intimate vibe with everyone in the club; you have to be comfortable...like after a while when people have kind of warmed up to each other people start having sex in different rooms, and sometimes you’ll see a little crowd form in a circle and people will be watching someone having sex.”

Sharon goes on to describe the couples section, which guests can only enter if they come with a partner. Brought by her boyfriend at the time, Sharon made herself at home in this space: “That was a place where you can go in if you’re with someone...people would swing or whatever,” which is when two couples flip partners. Sharon also felt comfortable enough to stray from her partner. “I made out with the hottest person I had ever made out with in my entire life," she says. "It was this Lithuanian woman who was like 11/10. [My partner said] 'good job.' I think he wanted to make it a threesome, so he was pretty happy about it.” Chuckling at the absurdity of having this conversation in Huntsman, Sharon reflects on what she found to be the biggest takeaway from the experience, which all of Street’s other BDSM enthusiasts would probably agree with: “Because there was so much freedom to do whatever you wanted to do, then consent was the top of the list…that sexual freedom was allowed because people felt safe."


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