A number of times over the last week or so, this post has popped up on my Facebook and Fetlife feeds. It was written by Race Bannon some years ago about whether the world of kink should have its own form of certification for presenters and players. If I understand correctly, the whole point of certifications would be to ensure that you are playing with or learning from someone who actually knows what they are doing.

Bannon is less than fond of the idea, and raises some legitimate concerns:

The bulk of what makes someone good at sex (BDSM or any other erotic interaction) goes far beyond what can be taught or learned in the traditional sense. Good sex is about the character of the individuals involved. It’s about the level of attraction. It’s about their erotic moods and circumstances. It’s about their sensitivity to the erotic needs of their partner. It’s about how empathic and attuned a partner is to the other. Yes, in some cases it’s about skill and technique. But the other factors I’ve mentioned generally trump skills and techniques in most cases. Ultimately, good sex (including BDSM) is about connection. And you don’t need to be credentialed or certified to connect erotically with another human being.

My thoughts? (click to read more)
I am in total agreement with Bannon that connection is core to the world of kink and sexuality in general. Funnily enough, I teach not one, but two workshops grounded in this very principle. From my perspective, it is not really possible to determine the relative health of a power exchange dynamic by looking at its outer trappings. What matters is the subjective experience. If all parties involved end up feeling connected, seen, and valued as a result of their kinky play, then who the hell am I to deny them that experience? If, instead, one or all parties end up feeling isolated, invalidated, and shamed (I’m not talking about humiliation play here, I’m talking about the shame you feel in your bones), that’s when it might be wise to reevaluate that dynamic. So it makes total sense to me why Bannon is wary of kink credentialing.
He goes on to point out, and rightfully so, that these certifications can actually create a false sense of security.

And what are the dangers when a community looks to a BDSM credential and assumes it means safety and assumes it means competence. Bad players will inevitably get through such a system and graduate to perceived competence.

This phenomenon already happens more than most of us are comfortable admitting. A couple of years ago, Yes Means Yes posted about an incident where someone was severely harmed by a title holder. Anecdotally, I know more than a few people who have had their consent breached by well known community icons who most definitely know better. On a side note, I happen to be in a profession that requires me to have schmancy letters after my name. These letters are the result of work and training. As such, they provide me an authority I would not have if I were just some chick with an opinion on the Internet. That said, there are credentialed therapists and social workers out there who have engaged in highly unethical therapeutic practices. (I occasionally joke that there needs to be a #notalltherapists hashtag campaign.) Even still, I’m glad that credentialing exists, even though it is a far from perfect system.

What about kink educators? (click to read more)
I do think that certification/training for kink educators is well worth considering. Should this training come from within the kink community? I’m not so sure. For mental health professionals, credentialing means that an unethical therapist can, theoretically at least, be held accountable by a larger governing body. If I breach my profession’s code of ethics, and someone files a report, I can lose my ability to practice. The kink world does not have such a governing body, which is probably for the better. Therefore, there would be no way to ensure quality control or consequence someone with a certification for unethical conduct.

This is where we can benefit from the existing resources the sex education world can provide. Organizations like AASECT, while not without issues, are well developed, and have stringent guidelines for obtaining and maintaining a certification. Furthermore, many educators in those spaces are actually quite effective at teaching individuals and couples how to build and strengthen intimate connection. Heck, John and Julie Gottman have broken it down into a science, for all intents and purposes. Based on over 30 years of quantitative and qualitative research, they have come up with an effective method of teaching empathic communication to struggling couples. Reid Mihalko, while he does not have decades worth of empirical data to draw on, does some great work as well. These educators, among countless others I could name, can fill in some of the gaps in the world of kink education.

The skill most sex educators have that all too many kink educators don’t is the ability to teach. Don’t get me wrong, there are some truly amazing presenters in our midst. But let’s face it, for every Mollena, Midori, or Lee Harrington, there are a slew of highly skilled kinksters who are terrible public speakers/presenters. I’ve sat in on classes run by many a luminary in the kink world that left me completely cold. Sexuality education certification provides more than education about anatomy, psychosocial aspects of human sexuality, harm reduction, and causes/treatments of sexual dysfunctions. You learn how to be an effective educator: how to structure a lesson plan, effectively use visual aids, maintain control over a classroom, present sexuality material without alienating your audience. The Institute for Sexuality, for example, offers a phenomenal series of trainings and webinars on sex-ed presentation skills. While I’m not in the sex education track of U Mich’s Sexual Health Certificate program (I’m in the sex therapy track), the resources provided to counselors, therapists, and educators alike are really solid.

Conversely, I think that the sexuality education community would benefit tremendously from the knowledge base that kinksters can provide. Kink educators tend to be better equipped to engage the many complexities and seeming contradictions of human connection. Kink educators are less afraid to tackle subjects that may be taboo. Also, kink educators know more about how the human body reacts to intense stimulation, and how to ride those edges without harming or sending anyone to the ER. I have to believe that everyone will benefit from the cross pollination of resources between kink and general sexuality educators.

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