I recently attended the 41st Annual AASECT (American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists) Conference. I had the privilege of presenting at the conference, which I greatly enjoyed. More importantly I was a small part of an outreach that brought the SM community and the academic research community, who have in the past been seen as at odds to one another, together. Having the perspective of one who resides in both camps, it was quite amazing to hear commentary from each organization about this outreach and what it could mean to not only the future of sex education and therapy, but to the future of those of us who feel we live on the fringes of society because of our sexual identities.

APEX, the Arizona Power Exchange, opened its doors to those attending the AASECT Conference. As far as I know, this has never been done quite like this before. APEX had the courage to reach out to a community that many BDSM lifestylers are cautious and even afraid of. And because of this magnanimous gesture, another 150 educators and therapists have returned to their universities and practices with more knowledge about what BDSM is and can be. Even more importantly, those educators and therapists can now put a real face and personality behind the rhetoric and theory, hopefully allowing them to be more compassionate, knowledgeable, and understanding when they come across a client who defines her or himself as a BDSM practitioner.

Master Reagan and his many volunteers held an Open House where members from the AASECT conference were introduced to some of the realities of BDSM. Along with a tour of their beautiful dungeon, Masters Bert, Harold, Reagan, and Karen Torry Greene MSW, LCSW, KAP spoke about the needs and expectations of the BDSM Communities, mainly that BDSM is not a diagnosis for mental illness and that more research and education needs to take place to dispel this myth.

Along with several volunteers from neighboring BDSM organizations, APEX then provided the audience with a sneak peek into the experience of a play party. For my part, it was quite difficult to watch such beautiful scenes being played and be entirely unable to participate. They chose perfect music and, as the lights dimmed, several scenes took place in the center of the dungeon. From fire play to suspension bondage to corporal spanking and caning to violet wands and floggers, the variety of intimacies explored for the AASECT audience was intriguing, sexy, and for some, disturbing. I found myself quietly explaining what was going on in some of the scenes to a fellow AASECT attendee, as he asked me “What is that?” and “What are they doing?” Audience members seated farther away from the action stood up and craned over those in front to get a better look.

After about twenty minutes, the music and play began to wind down. There was a lot of cuddling, caressing, kissing, and tears as the couples that had been playing began their aftercare. I could see that some of the AASECTers did not expect this level of compassion, intimacy, and love from the players. Some even seemed more uncomfortable experiencing the nuances of aftercare, and I believe that was because it is so intimate and personal, almost too much so for an audience to be present.

As the players came back down to earth, APEX opened its kitchen to the AASECTers. Master Reagan instructed the group that many other lifestylers were in the room as well, wearing name tags that also listed a few kinks each would be willing to discuss with anyone who asked. It wasn’t long before everyone was mingling and talking with one another. Overall, the AASECT group seemed very pleased and honored to have been a part of this very special occasion.

Afterward, when I spoke to some of the AASECT attendees, they were clearly still processing much of what they had experienced. Some folks said they still didn’t get it, but that they attended at all gives me hope that they are trying. Others were exuberant and also mildly frustrated that they didn’t have the chance to play along as well. I even met one woman who, years ago, was not a part of the BDSM community and was even quite against the idea of practicing kink. Now, she’s fully in the community and lifestyle and proudly sports her mark of play and SM interaction.

From APEX and affiliates? They were quite pleased with how things went. I congratulated them on their courage. We can all learn from the willingness of APEX and their affiliates in Phoenix, and hopefully emulate their good deeds.

I hope that this experience and others like it can help bridge the gap between these two communities. In the end, they have the same goals, to educate and enhance the sex lives of consenting adults, to help those who are confused and are looking for a safe outlet for their sexual desires, and ultimately to do no harm.