You might be bad, but there’s a way to be perfectly good at it. Last Wednesday, students flocked to the Student Sexuality Information Services office in the Shapiro Campus Center to learn about safe ways to practice bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism. 

Before the eager attendants entered the office, an SSIS member informed them of the event’s guidelines. Students were required to ask for consent before photographing participants and every attendant was entitled to confidentiality. Ending their introduction of the event, the SSIS member said, “What’s said here stays here and what is learned here leaves here.” 

The event, called “Cuffing Season: A BDSM Workshop,” was inspired by the six-month period between September and February when the majority of committed romantic relationships are said to begin, presumably due to the colder weather. In the SSIS office, there were six stations — representing each month in cuffing season — that educated attendants on the different aspects of BDSM. 

Condoms, dildos and handcuffs decorated the tables and walls of room 328 while the sounds of laughter filled SSIS’ crowded office. Throughout the event, attendants moved through the months of cuffing season, starting with September. 

September was called “BDSM 101” where students played ‘BDSM Jeopardy,’ testing their existing knowledge of the practice. At the next station, featuring a makeshift photo booth (complete with costumes), SSIS members discussed safe ways to implement roleplay into students’ sex lives. 

“[The] event was SSIS’ continued goal to create safe spaces for all kinds of people to learn, ask questions, get resources and above all, to be able to unapologetically and wholeheartedly be themselves. Our main hope for the event was to make BDSM more accessible and understandable,” SSIS told the Justice in a group statement. 

After the roleplay station, students at the November and December tables learned about consent and dynamics in BDSM practices. At the consent table, students were tasked with demonstrating consent by shaking each other’s hands. Additionally, SSIS volunteers at the November table distributed pamphlets on the differences between sadomasochism, “S/M,” and abuse.

The BDSM community has had to differentiate between BDSM and abuse throughout its lifetime, but the increased visibility of the community and its practices due to the popularity of the book and movie franchise “50 Shades of Grey” has increased both BDSM participants and critics. Ry Patetski ’22, a student who attended the workshop told the Justice, “The way I found out about it [BDSM] was when I read ‘50 Shades of Grey’ in middle school.” 

While “50 Shades of Grey” is a popular depiction of a dominance/submission, or “dom/sub,” relationship, it has also been heavily criticized by people both inside and outside of the BDSM community for its conflation of BDSM practices and abuse. During the workshop, SSIS dispelled common myths and misunderstandings about the movement, saying that “the main pillar of BDSM is consent. This is non-negotiable. Those who engage in BDSM do so at the pleasure of all those involved, in keeping with the understanding that pleasure is achieved differently for different people.” 

After consent and dynamics, students learned about sensation play at the January table. Students volunteered to be blindfolded while tasting different flavors of lube with the goal of guessing the correct flavor. SSIS members provided craft supplies that the attendees used to decorate blindfolds, also supplied by SSIS. On top of the table, there were copies of a BDSM playlist and the book “Sex Tips From a Dominatrix” by Patricia Payne on display. 

Pain play was the topic for the sixth station. At the February table, students examined nipple clamps and whips.

SSIS, which is a completely student-run organization, started in 1972 with the mission “to cultivate a safe, sex-positive community while satisfying all Brandeis students’ sexual health needs.” Besides hosting workshops, the organization offers peer support and provides barrier methods, pregnancy tests, lubrication and other sexual health products at an affordable price. 

“As young adults, we are in exciting stages of self-exploration and discovery. For some, BDSM might be the thing that unlocks a key component of their sexuality and identity,” the group statement said. “For others, BDSM might not be what lights their fire. SSIS feels it is our duty to help Brandeis students wherever they are on their journey to self-discovery; and whether or not BDSM plays a role in that journey, we are here to support.”