Saturday, November 21, 2015

A Road Trip to Indiana

Last month the BDSM research team hosted a visit from our colleagues in Phoenix, Bert and Nadine Cutler (a.k.a., Master Bert and slave nadine). Bert expressed a desire to take a road trip to Indiana to visit the Kinsey Institute and the Carter/Johnson Leather Library.  He also thought it would good for the research team to make some connections with other sex researchers at Indiana University, and so we piled into a couple of cars and away we went.

Our first stop was the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University. Upon arrival, we were warmly greeted by Pat Lacy, the administrative secretary who had organized our tour times and meetings with the staff members. Liana Zhou, the Director of Archives, then took us on a tour of the Institute’s library stacks. We stood in amazement of the sheer volume of work that the institution has collected, both academic and non-academic. Liana graciously pulled out some very interesting things to show us, including some “Tijuana-bibles”, also known as “eight-pagers”- palm sized erotic comic books that were produced from the 1920’s to the 1960’s.
In the Kinsey stacks. 
(Top row from left to right: Brad Sagarin, Kathryn Klement, Jennifer Erickson, Michael Wagner, Bert Cutler, Paul Sarun;
Bottom row from left to right: Ellen Lee, Nadine Cutler )

We then visited with Catherine Johnson-Roehr, the Institute’s Curator of Art, Artifacts, and Photographs, who had spent time pulling out BDSM artwork from their collection just for us—so many incredible photographs and drawings! She also walked us through the halls explaining their exhibits and even let us tour one of the lab rooms used to study sexual arousal (complete with vaginal photolethysmographs and penile cuffs). We also met Dr. Tierney Lorenz, a visiting research scientist, who graciously lent us a set of heart rate monitors for one of our research projects.

The staff members at the Kinsey Institute were incredibly generous with their time. They were also very supportive of our work, which we found invigorating and validating. We got to hear about some of the challenges various researchers at Kinsey have experienced over the years, including problems securing funding and dealing with negative or faulty perceptions of sex research—things our team could relate to. This visit helped us to feel in touch with a community of scholars, a greater connection with others dedicated to sex research. It was amazing to visit such an historic place. We were so appreciative of their hospitality.

Across from the Kinsey Institute stands Ballantine Hall, home of the sociology department and where faculty member Martin S. Weinberg has taught since 1968 (he also served as a Senior Research Sociologist at the Kinsey Institute for 13 years). Immediately after our Kinsey visit, our large group squeezed into Dr. Weinberg’s office to have a chat about some of the challenges of being a sex researcher (and educator) and the future of the field. He talked about receiving death threats because of his work, and again we were humbled by the challenges that previous generations of researchers have faced. We appreciated his taking the time to talk with us; it was an honor meeting someone who has spent their career studying sexuality and forwarding the rights of sexual minorities. 

 Visiting with Dr. Weinberg. 
(From left to right: Bert Cutler, Brad Sagarin, Martin Weinberg, Michael Wagner, Nadine Cutler, Paul Sarun)

We then drove two hours south to visit with Vi Johnson and see the Carter/Johnson Leather Library, primarily located in Vi’s home. The library is a non-profit organization that collects all kinds of materials from the BDSM community, including books, magazines, posters, art, club and event pins, newspapers, event programs, and fetish clothing. She has also recently been collecting dissertations, theses, and academic journal articles on BDSM.

One of the first things Mama Vi (or Grandma Vi, she clarified, depending on your age) said to us was, “Welcome home”. And we indeed felt as if we were. We were treated to a delicious dinner and wonderful conversation with Vi, Gene, Robi, and Pulse. Vi has a great philosophy of “touch everything” in the library (even a book from 1701!); she believes this helps people connect and engage with the community’s history. And so each of us spent time browsing the shelves, pulling out various items, and marveling at the extent of this remarkable collection.

At the Carter/Johnson Leather Library. 
(Lower left to top left: Jennifer Erickson, Paul Sarun, Michael Wagner, Vi Johnson; top center: Brad Sagarin, middle center: Bert Cutler, lower center: Nadine Cutler, top right to left: Kathryn Klement, Robi, Pulse; lower right left: Ellen Lee, Gene)

The next morning before we left, Robi and Pulse took us to a 10’x20’ storage unit to see the rest of the library that doesn’t fit in Vi’s house. Among the things they showed us was a really cool exhibit called “We didn’t invent this”, which offers an historical look at the existence of BDSM across the ages, even dating back to ancient Roman culture.

We really enjoyed our visit to Vi’s home and the library, and we thank Robi, Pulse, and Gene for helping us have such a great time. In this short blog we cannot do justice to Vi’s personal story, her incredible knowledge, and the work she and her colleagues are doing to document and preserve the BDSM community’s history. We can, however, encourage you to visit the library anytime you are in Indiana or attending a BDSM conference hosting the library.

Our road trip to Indiana was both fun and educational. Again we would like to thank the staff at the Kinsey Institute, Dr. Weinberg, and Vi and her family for helping to make our trip so memorable.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

What we've been up to...

Last month the Science of BDSM Research Team attended the Southwest Leather Conference in Phoenix to present, collect data, have fun with friends and make some new ones.  We had a really great time- we always do!

At SWLC, we presented “The Science of BDSM: The Many Faces of Masochism and Sadism.” In it, we discussed some work from other research labs that links masochism to eating chili peppers, riding roller coasters, and climbing mountains, and sadism to Internet trolling and delivering noise blasts in a laboratory game. We also shared the results from research we conducted at the 2014 Dance of Souls and some pictures from our first study of hooked suspensions. There was a lively discussion, and the audience provided some very thoughtful feedback. The ideas that come out of these discussions help us to better understand our research findings and to develop future research questions.  So thank you to everyone who attended! Slides from the presentation are available here.

We also began data collection on two online surveys at SWLC. Both of these surveys are up on our website and are available here, if you would like to participate.

The first survey is being led by Kathryn Klement. It investigates attitudes towards sexual violence. All the scales in the survey were developed by other researchers and have been well validated and used in a number of previous studies. We are particularly interested in studying these beliefs within the BDSM community given the community’s emphasis on explicit consent.

With the second survey I am studying the expectations that people have about BDSM practitioners. Participants are asked to describe the traits, qualities, and characteristics of BDSM practitioners in both open-ended and close-ended formats. The goal of this study to better understand assumptions about BDSM practitioners, whether media presentations of BDSM practitioners affect these assumptions, and whether these assumptions might lead to discrimination.

We are also recruiting members of the Master/slave community for an interview study investigating dynamics of Master/slave relationships.  Bert Cutler and I are working together to develop the interview protocol, and we’re hoping to start interviewing people in the next few months. If you and or your relationship partner are interested in participating, please email me at .

Our work could not happen without the support of the BDSM community and those who generously give us their time and effort. We are so grateful to all those who get involved in our research, whether it be by taking a survey, doing an interview, helping us network and set up studies, or just having a discussion with us about research ideas.

Your encouragement means a lot to us, too—especially as we traverse the sometimes bruising process of publishing our research in academic journals (so it makes us smile when people walk past our research table at a conference and shout, “Science, F*ck yeah!”). At SWLC last month, we were rendered speechless when Elegant, slave tina, and judi presented us with our team’s patch on a leather square that would become part of the Leather Quilt. Elegant made the patch, and Elegant, slave tina, and judi donated the patch on behalf of the research team.  It is this kind of support from the community that fills us with energy to keep working. We really care about this research, and we’re glad you do too. Thank you!