Kink, thrills and consent: Meet the professor leading a double life as a BDSM expert

A.K.A. slutphd


You’re sat in class, bored of your professor’s voice and you’re wondering what on earth they get up to in their free time. Maybe they wake up their husband on a Saturday morning with fresh pancakes and a newspaper, or maybe they put on their overalls and spend all weekend planting petunias.

Julie Fennell is not like those professors. A scholar of sociology by day, after school she’s a kink educator with a blog called slutphd. She’s an academic with a non-standard taste in sexual behavior – and she’s not afraid to admit it at all.

unnamed-11

Julie willingly explained the differences between the four letters – which stand for bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism, as well as diving into a number of received ideas about the subculture.

The 35-year-old professor at Gallaudet University in Washington D.C. has done of a hell of a lot of research into the BDSM scene itself, as well as extensive studies into contraception as part of her professional work.

Although Julie generally keeps her formal studies away from her private life indulging in the BDSM scene, she explained that the two do overlap at points: “I teach deviance at Gallaudet, so next week I’m inviting people from the BDSM subculture to the class. It’s a very liberal place so I teach in very supportive environments.

“I do it every year and it goes down great – one year a student even realized that he identified as polyamorous after the lecture.”

However, it’s not always that simple for Julie, who talks so freely about BDSM.

“Someone invited me to speak at a very conservative school in Eastern Carolina and I was attacked by students telling me I was going to give the world STDs.”

Julie’s life doesn’t revolve solely around her academic research, and she’s heavily involved in the BDSM scene. She discovered it at the age of 28 through Paganism, as there are a number of complicated ties between the two practices.

Naturally, talking about BDSM and violent sex paints the picture of a dominatrix, and Julie confirmed there’s often confusion. Although she does not identify as a professional dominatrix who is paid to perform dominance or sadism, Julie does practice BDSM for fun.

“I don’t have clients in that way, I just date like everyone else does – it’s not really a different pool. But where everyone else goes to bars, I go to kink clubs instead”, which are anything from non-private dungeons laced with contraptions and cages for anyone to get involved with or just quietly watch, to clubs for like-minded people to socialize.

“In the D.C. area there’s a really thriving kink scene and although it wasn’t why I chose to move here, it is the thing that keeps me here.”

It’s obvious through the excitement and fervor in her voice that it’s not all about a bit of weekend fun for Julie, she clearly gets a lot out of being kinky.

“How I feel depends specifically on what I’m doing, for example I find some things tremendously erotic and they give me a sexual thrill.”

Without hesitation Julie happily talked about being into really intense stuff like “hardcore bondage bottoming”, the act of being restrained beyond the ability to escape, often being tied up in uncomfortable positions.

mbe-cookie

“For one of my favorite shoots, I was tied in a split upside down which as you can imagine is very physically challenging. I was upside down for a good 10 minutes and I had people coming in to support me – it was a long, long time. I think I just really love being upside down because I feel real sense of achievement.”

Flagging up the uncertainty of the overlap of violent sex and sexual assault, Julie talked about the fine line between the violence of BDSM and consent: “A lot of people are aroused by consensual non-consent, or CNC, which is basically doing things when people are telling you no, but you can do it anyway.

“The whole concept is that everyone has a safe word, saying ‘no’ doesn’t count. But we can agree that if I say ‘red’ then you stop, so we do have a way to stop.

“That’s one of my biggest kinks from both directions – I enjoy saying ‘no’ but having things happen to me anyway.”

Julie’s fieriness and love for these sexual acts resonated through her voice, she even began to explain how the stigma surrounding BDSM could be reevaluated to be seen as a form of female empowerment.

Julie said: “I would like to think that, at most, BDSM is a form of female empowerment but when done correctly, it’s empowering for everyone involved.

“Traditional gender roles concern everyone, so our entire concept of sex is that the guy is the one who gets to decide when sex happens and how it happens and it’s exhausting as a perpetual arrangement. Our culture as a whole thinks that the act of being penetrated is inherently a submissive thing and that’s unfortunate.”

intelligence

“But BDSM is more flexible – it allows people to have a lot more fun. Although it’s true that within the BDSM subculture, the majority of males are doms and females are submissive, people do pick their roles.

“I personally identify as a dom leading switch.”

That said, Julie was keen to emphasize “a lot of BDSM isn’t especially erotic for me or many other people. It’s much more about adrenaline, aesthetics, and a feeling of achievement.”

Julie brought the conversation back to her view that BDSM, and the subculture around it, is truly empowering for all involved, especially women. However the violence-based stigma surrounding it skews this empowerment, so she flagged up that “the thing that’s different with BDSM is consent, and that’s really important.”