Sigh. Okay. I didn’t want to write this post, but I guess I have to. Consider me a reluctant defender of sexual freedom, even when the particular sexual desire under question does seem kinda icky to me.
Here goes: as the academic cohort on the internet knows, a recent kinky sex ad went viral and has been deemed thoroughly inappropriate. Basically, at the MLA (the annual conference of the Modern Language Association, which draws thousands), a professor put up an ad on Craiglist seeking a sex partner in which to do some kinky roleplay. The scene? Reenacting a job interview that turns sexy.
Now, for the non-academic onlooker, this might not seem like a big deal. But as Rebecca Schuman points out at Slate, “this particular ad was terrifying, because what it sexualizes is nothing less than the single worst moment of your average academic’s entire professional life.” The MLA meeting in particular is known for sending job applicants into panics and nervous breakdowns, and now the academic job market is worse than ever. As Schuman notes: “Search committees wield complete power over hapless Ph.D.s who are desperate for these jobs, because they often mean the difference between a middle-class existence and food stamps.”
However, I disagree with Schuman when she writes: “The idea of doing this for fun—even with full consummation between consenting adults—is truly macabre.” I’ll grant that it’s not a kink I’ve heard of, nor is it one I would engage in, but just because some role-play scenario strikes one as strange or inappropriate doesn’t mean it’s okay to mock it.
Let me put it this way: there are plenty of kinks out there that are bound to offend someone because they are that controversial. There are people who enact rape fantasies. There are people who purposefully infantilize one another. There’s a thing called raceplay (which noted kinkster Molleena Williams among others cogently discusses in this Bitch article). This kind of stuff is bound to offend someone, but the world of kink is wide and willfully perverse, and I admire its participants for being honest about their desires, inventive, and, most of all consent-conscious.
Because all of these things? The kinks described in the above paragraph, as well as the MLA kinkster’s attempts to get some? When they are consent-based, and when they are authentic expressions of human desire, they are okay from a moral and ethical standpoint.
If a job interviewer were to actually engage sexually with an applicant, that would be extremely unethical. But when it happens in a fantasy, that is negotiated by consenting adults, it’s fine. It might not be my cup of tea, or yours, and it might not be appropriate to discuss it in certain venues (that, if anything, would be my critique of the would-be MLA kinkster). But at the end of the day, consensual sexual exploration, no matter how strange or distasteful it seems, is okay by very definition of it being consensual. And I’m sick of seeing it be stigmatized.
So, as someone who’s been largely unsuccessful on the academic job market and who is very unhappy about the oppressively hierarchical power structures in academia, I can’t say that I’m thrilled that these phenomena are being fetishized. However, I’m also adult enough to realize that it’s not about me, and that people have always and will always fetishize the taboo. So long as they go about ethically pursing ways to explore their desires, I can’t really complain, and I wish other people would stop condemning this kind of behavior. It’s never okay to judge consensual sex acts.