By Rebecca Reid
[H]aving spent a lot of my life writing about sex, and exploring all the millions of ways in which people have sex, I can say that very little has ever shocked me.
One of the few things to ever leave me slightly open mouthed is the concept of race play.
For the uninitiated, race play is a subset of BDSM where the focus of the imbalance in the role play stems from the races of the people in question.
In practice this often presents as people of colour role playing as slaves, or people of Jewish heritage role playing as prisoners.
We did warn you this was controversial stuff.
But it’s also popular. On the kinky dating site and forum Fetlife, the fetish has hundreds of groups dedicated to it and thousands of users who openly subscribe to being a fan.
Yet even in the fetish scene, where most things are fair game, race play is controversial.
Sophia*, 34, told Metro.co.uk that she felt ostracized on the fetish scene: ‘I have friends who are open about doing rape play or age play, but race play is a hard limit.
‘I feel like I’m not even allowed to talk about it, like it’s somehow this line we’re not allowed to cross. As a Jewish woman, I do feel ashamed of the types of role play I enjoy, but I can’t help it. It’s something that is deeply ingrained in me.’
Race play is a complicated and confusing area. The idea that someone might reenact genuine traumas that their ancestors experienced, but for sexual gratification, is a confusing one to anyone who isn’t that way inclined.
My stance on sex and sexuality is always, and will always be, that what you do in your bedroom is no one’s business but your own. As long as it’s consensual, why would anyone need to have any kind of opinion on your sexual fantasies?
In my experience, BDSM can be a way of working out some issues. Having been called bossy, argumentative and controlling for my entire life (thanks for that, society!) I found that being sexually submissive helped to soothe the concern that maybe I was all of those things.
I talked to Master Dominic, a professional dominant and sexual education expert about this complicated but compelling area of fetish, specifically why people enjoy it.
‘It’s always hard to definitively explain why people are into something specific,’ he tells Metro.co.uk. ‘Everyone has their own spin on it.’
‘The taboo nature of it is certainly a big aspect, but that can come from a few different places. It can be a relatively simple “pushing the envelope is sexy” sort of thing, or it can come from a place of internalised racism.
‘The latter takes much more consideration, empathy and communication to navigate.
Master Dominic echoed my own sentiment – that sex and fetishes can be used to explore ingrained issues. He explained:
‘People turn to sex and fetish to process and own something traumatic or troubling, and whilst I absolutely think that you are completely within their rights to do so, you do need to try to dissect it a little so there’s an understanding of the context and the need.’
What Master Dominic hits on here is something to be aware of when dealing with more niche fetishes. Those that make us uncomfortable, or that feel out of kilter with an otherwise politically correct outlook on life, can be the hardest to navigate.
‘It can be tough, for sure, especially when one of you is not part of an ethnic minority’ says Dominic.
‘It’s been one of the toughest learning curves in my career, as a middle class white man, to understand.
‘So yes, it is part of the BDSM spectrum in a lot of ways and it shouldn’t be gasped at or judged. Nobody should be policing how anybody else relates to and expresses their race, heritage, gender identity, or sexuality. It’s theirs to own and express as they wish.’
Negotiating race play from the side of the person of colour is fraught enough, but what happens if you’re a white person who has a race fetish? Is it okay to find it arousing? Or is it just your racism adopting a different guise?
Therapist Sarah Berry, who specialises in sex and sexuality explains: ‘We all have different preferences of what we find arousing and may well be more judgmental than political correctness dictates, for example hair colour, height, weight, salary.
‘If someone only goes for a certain race it could be part of this. Or it could be that someone has ideas based around stereotypes or that person being perceived as more “exotic”. If someone is having a hook-up or relationship and is finding it hard to have these stereotypes challenged then this could be troubling.
‘I think, as with many things, it is nuanced and complicated – certainly not a black and white issue.
‘It’s important, if you do exhibit this tendency, to be challenged or to see that race isn’t the only defining factor of the rounded human that they are with. If someone wanted to exert power over someone else that they do not respect because of their race or any other reasons then this is not healthy.
‘Likewise if someone felt they needed to punished for race or other reasons by someone they perceive as superior then this is also not healthy.’
No kinky person wants to refuse their sexual desires on the basis of politically correctness, but no decent person wants their partner to feel fetishised for their race.
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