Sexposé, the “no holds barred dirty talking panel show” organised by FetSoc, happened last Friday night. Hosted by members of FetSoc, WomCom and YUSU LGBT, the show’s aim was to get “sexy people talking about sexy things”, in order to create a more public and open attitude, in regards to all things sex.
The second of its kind, the show was developed last year by FetSoc Secretary Leena Rivaz, after a revealing conversation with some of her peers. “It all came from a ridiculous conversation with some housemates. They were all being so naive, and I just thought, we have to talk about sex!”
“It turned into something that a lot of people were really passionate about getting involved in. It was an enormous success. Bob Hughes, then YUSU Welfare Officer, even came along and said that it was one of the best events he’d seen. It was then shortlisted for YUSU event of the year, so after that, we decided to host another”.
The aim of Sexposé is to reduce the amount of stigma that is often attached to controversial or risqué sex, by encouraging more people to talk about their sexual experiences. This is a stigma which, Chair Simon Stead explains, has surrounded FetSoc since its beginning, and is something which the society as a whole is aiming to eradicate.
“Compared to other universities, York is a very progressive university. The student body is very active in the face of any homophobia or sexism. Now it’s really about removing the stigma surrounding kink”.
“Everyone who knows about kink will come to FetSoc and say, this is a great idea, I’m really happy you’re around. But it’s the people who aren’t in FetSoc and who don’t want to be, and who wouldn’t want to be, who still feel uncomfortable with the idea. FetSoc though is just a really sex positive, progressive society. It’s an open forum for anyone to talk about largely anything sex related”.
“It’s sexy, but it’s not chaotic”
For Marketing Manager Philippa Garth, the main way to remove this stigma is by building a greater sense of transparency around FetSoc. “What we want to do at the moment is to promote a culture of curiosity regarding FetSoc, rather than the binary we have at the moment. People seem to have this view that either you’re kinky and you’re in FetSoc, or you’re not and you have nothing to do with it, which needs to change”.
In order to achieve this change, Simon believes that the society must now be “active”, in altering public opinion. “Sexposé has been a great help. But now we want to do more things specifically for people who aren’t in the society, where they can come along and ask questions about what we do”. “We need to make FetSoc more accessible”, Leena explains, “by opening the doors for everyone to come and see”.
Despite the stigma surrounding FetSoc, this is a change which Philippa strongly believes can be achieved. “There’s a very sex positive culture in the university. We already have WomCom, the University of York feminists and YUSU LGBT, all groups which promote sexual awareness and the acceptance of those of your peers. FetSoc recognises that each person is different, and that each person has their own preferences. As long as we promote safe practices for those, people should accept that there is absolutely nothing wrong with what people want to do”.
“The only thing that FetSoc lacks at the minute is the representation in the public eye of the University. This is what makes it more of a stigmatised society for our members, because they don’t feel like it has a positive presence in the awareness of those who aren’t actively involved. But I would say that with a better understanding grows much better acceptance.
“FetSoc should be something that stands alongside WomCom, LGBT and the York Feminists, as one of the most progressive societies in the University. It’s time it should be recognised as a society that’s at the forerunner of making a difference in the student body”.
What cannot be denied is that FetSoc has the membership needed, in order to make this happen. The society currently has around 50 paid members, with over 200 on the mailing list. Of the three ratified FetSoc’s in the country, including Birmingham and Edinburgh, York also holds the title of the largest Fetish Society. “We’ve started to make a name for ourselves in the student community, not just in York, but in the whole country”.
Behind closed doors, FetSoc is also an incredibly active society, hosting numerous events for its members across the term. “It breaks down into kinky things, drinking things, and non-drinking things. We have normal society nights, where we go into town for a few drinks, which are just like any other society nights – there are no whips or canes involved. Then we have a lot of discussion groups, which is where people of a kinky mindset just get together and have a chat.
“But we also have things like show and tell events, where people bring in their toys and equipment and can really get geeky about them to other members. Other than that we have things like rope workshops, where people are able to work on the art of Shibari” (an artistic form of rope bondage).
The risk assessments are extensive, but the irony of this, Philippa explains, is that “a FetSoc rope workshop is pretty much the safest thing you can go to. Each person has access to EMT shears, which are the shears that ambulances use to cut clothes and seatbelts. People are always under the supervision of someone who has been doing it for a number of years, and numerous members of the committee have been trained by someone who is a renowned expert it in”. “You’ve probably got a lot more of a chance of getting hurt at a sports social than at FetSoc!” Leena claims.
“There’s actually an awful lot of couples in FetSoc”
In addition to this, the society also hosts a number of “tamer” events, including Alice in Wonderland style tea parties, where, according to Simon, members sit together and “literally just drink tea.”
“The only thing that makes it different to other tea parties”, Leena explains, is that “some of them are open, and some are only for paid members. For the ones that are paid members only, it’s usually a bit more discreet – we don’t advertise where we are. It’s so that people can come and be comfortable and say or wear whatever they like”.
“FetSoc is, ultimately, a place where our paid members can feel comfortably protected”, Simon informs me, “and was made in that way, in some sense for good reason. Though we’re going to be more open in reducing the stigma around it, we’re still going to maintain the same level of privacy we have for our individual members”.
Despite this discretion, the society has often struggled to find places to accommodate its events. “Part of the reason we want to get rid of the stigma”, Leena tells me, “is so that we can do more events like this. We planned to have a tea party last term, but the room we planned to use told us that it wasn’t bookable to societies. But I’m also the Chair of another committee, and I know for a fact you can book that room for a society, because I do it myself. So it’s things like that, when you email a person in an office and say, can we do a tea party, and they just think oh no, FetSoc are going to come in and trash the place and do all sorts of crazy things, when all we want to do is have tea and cake”.
The events are, as Philippa tells me, very organised. “It’s sexy, but it’s not chaotic”. Even for members, the events come with a certain amount of rules. “The number one question I get asked by people who aren’t in FetSoc”, Philippa states, “is what’s your fetish – singular. When they ask this, I tend to politely explain that we don’t ask people what’s your fetish, because it’s an extremely personal thing to ask on first meeting someone!”
“If you’re at a society meeting, someone might clarify whether they’re ‘Dom’ or ‘Sub’ in the BDSM culture, which is a general way of telling people which role they prefer to play in kink, but the general party line of FetSoc is that we don’t ask, we tell”.
“We really don’t”, Simon states, “need to know the ins and outs (no pun intended), of what everyone gets up to”.
After all, the main part of the kink comes into play outside of the society, in the privacy of people’s bedrooms. Shockingly though, Simon claims, “there’s definitely no more sex than in any other university society”.
“If you pick any society and you go on a social and get drunk, I bet a similar number of people would end up sleeping together”, Leena claims.
Although, Philippa informs me, “kinky people can meet other kinky people. An open and accepting culture leads to better sex for those already that way inclined, but quantity? Who can tell!”
All three members are quick to point out, however, that FetSoc is not simply about lots of people coming together to have group sex, as many people presume. “There’s actually an awful lot of couples in FetSoc”, Leena tells me. “Simon’s been with his girlfriend for seven months, and I’ve been with my boyfriend for two and a half years.”
“A FetSoc rope workshop is pretty much the safest thing you can go to”
For Simon, this common attitude has stemmed from a lack of communication about what FetSoc actually do. “Since joining FetSoc, a lot of people I’ve spoken to are very candid about what I, or other people in FetSoc might do. I can speak to people who say that they’d never do anything kinky, but you get talking to them and then they’ll say, oh, I spanked my partner yesterday – but that’s not kinky, right? So it’s like, so why do you have such a big deal with FetSoc?”
“There’s no qualifying trait or hierarchy in FetSoc. You don’t have these edge players who are really awesome and everyone else is rubbish, it’s just whatever you like, that’s great”. Despite this, however, Simon informs me that members often downplay the level of kinkiness within the society, in order to help reduce the stigma attached. “Often people in the society will say we’re not actually kinky, we just do discussions. Which is not true – we are a kinky society. But it’s true that it’s not as kinky as people think”.
“It’s just like any other society”, Philippa claims, “just with a slightly more fun repertoire of things to talk about!”
“It really is an exciting society to be in”, Leena tells me. “Talking and learning about sex is interesting. But FetSoc is not a place to come to try to fuck everything that moves. It’s actually not, as many people believe, all about organising orgies for everyone”.
It is because of this belief that the committee are strongly dedicated to providing privacy and anonymity for their members, across their events. “It’s important to afford our members as much privacy as they need to feel comfortable, and that’s different for everyone. It’s a society that’s very accommodating of people’s needs.” For Leena, this is something that has had personal importance. “I came out to my mum as kinky a while ago. But though I don’t mind that she knows, there are lots of people who I wouldn’t want to know. You have to decide your own level of openness”.
I wonder then, if being kinky is something that you are required to “come out” as. For Philippa, it most certainly is. “It’s a very grey area regarding what’s kinky and what isn’t, but generally, if you’re part of the subculture, or if you go to FetSoc or some of the events that are on, people do feel like it is a binary that needs to be discussed”.
“It’s not as vital”, Leena explains, “as it might be for people of the LGBTQ group. I don’t want to downplay anyone who has felt upset about having to come out as kinky, but people who are gay may want to come out because they feel it is an integral part of who they are, and they want people to accept them for it. But even though I may come out to some people, I don’t feel like it’s something that everyone in my life needs to know”.
“For example”, Phillippa states, “my grandma doesn’t need to know. However, my housemates might find it useful to know – otherwise seeing chaps cleaning the kitchen in French maid’s outfits might come as a bit of a surprise after a night out!”
All photos credit to Luke Sheard Photography