Why Are There So Many Nerds In Kink?

The reality is that I think kinks are as evenly distributed through the population as anything else, but when you enter the BDSM scene, you can be reasonably confident that all the markers of nerdery will be present in a good percent of the people at you average play party or munch.

I can go to a munch and be more than confident that I won’t be the only one who enjoys RPGs. While genre classics are transitory and I can easily find people who enjoyed Starship Troopers or girls who grew up with Anne Mccaffrey and Mercedes Lackey, the overlap between the poly, the pagan, the terminally nerdy gamers, the historical re-creationists and so forth has been long remarked upon to the point that it’s practically a cliche. If you tel me “she volunteers at the Rennefaire” I’m not going to think it’s at all unusual if you tell me “she is also extremely interested in table top, is a practising Norse priestess and is one third of a poly triad in which she is the alpha submissive”. And don’t tell me you didn’t notice either!

I’ve seen it remarked on negatively, as nerdery is not for everyone- nerd culture also has its problems, which can make a barrier to entry for people who are incidentally kinky but not really nerdy. But I don’t accept the premise that kinky people are inherently *Smarter*. I actually know plenty of dumb nerds. Ability to enjoy specific intellectual property is no marker of a high IQ.

So why so many damn nerds?

Well, actually there’s an easy answer for that- the internet. It’s only part of the puzzle, but I’ll explain more.

BDSM, a subculture, is a tricky fish to pin down.  Even the Wikipedia articles generally promote the mythos that once upon a time a bunch of gay guys invented kink and wore leather trousers. Practically, we have examples of sexuality that are sadomasochistic or kinky basically following as long as humans have been recording porn- in the English language tradition the whole song and dance around things like flogging is pretty damn archaic. Fanny Hill, which is Georgian era porn, did it. The Victorians did it. We have kinky illustrations and photos from every decade of the last century. But this tended to be confined to porn and sex work- sure you could get your ass beat in 1813, but a lady of the the regency who wasn’t being paid was nor really in a position to enjoy her sexuality the way I am in 2013. But the lit from the wealthy people who could afford to consume media and hire services to get themselves off gave a springboard that honestly defines some of kink as we know it. But- nerd as a concept wasn’t really around.

Nerds are generally upper middle class or middle class. As a sub culture it emphasizes imagination, the consumption of certain intellectual properties, generally in the genre of fantasy and sci fi, but also comics, movies, books, games and even strong interest in a field exceeding that of what we might think of as stereo-typically normal. There’s not barrier for ethnicity, but generally you need a certain amount of time and money to have nerdy hobbies. But, back to kink-

Would be historians within kink actually point to the fact that the “Old Guard” has a massively inflated reputation. For some time, there was a fashion to claim you were descended from that line, to give yourself extra legitimacy. Leather, and leather bars are not to be over looked, but, kink is something that is multi-sourced. And although you have your societies (ie the mid seventies and the Society of Janus) and little pockets of kinky people hanging out, things really exploded when the internet became a thing.

One of the problems with kink is that we are practising a sexuality that is hard to reconcile with the mainstream model. If you don’t have context for it, it can be scary, creepy or seemingly courting a genuinely abusive dynamic. Being able to figure out that you are normal and healthy is also hampered by the stigmas against sexual self exploration. Over the last half century, we’re getting better with the idea of people having any sex, because yaye, birth control. The internet provided two blessings, relative anonymity, and the ability to network across geographic areas. So you can ID there openly as kinky, and you can hide enough of yourself to escape consequences from the ill informed.  Discussions can start in a way that just wasn’t accessible before you had that global network.

The internet gave us slashy speak and codified some of the vernacular, as well as being the current place where a lot of the terminology, traditions and ways to improve everything are hotly debated. It allows for the Overton window to have been greatly expanded by giving everywhere with the ability to view images the same level of dirty porn. It also gave us an organizational tool, culminating in the common use of a munch.

A munch is a plain clothes gathering allowing kinky people to meet outside of a dating context. In the past, it was extremely hard to meet kinky folk without being on the prowl. Since this was a sexual thing (for most people) you were likely to reach out with an ad in an alt weekly or some such. Short for “Burger Munch” the concept was encouraged by a newsgroup members and this caused an increase throughout major cities.

But computer adoption wasn’t equal through out the population. Affording a computer was, initially kind of expensive and required a reasonable degree of technical education and free time. So you basically had a subculture explosion that was primarily accessable to the nerds. Not surprising that although people who don’t know what a d20 is might be equally gungho to tie each other up and spank, the early pioneers were the ones who first got through the technology facilitated door.

The other reason why kinky and nerdy coexist so well is actually back to the obsessive fondness for certain intellectual properties. One of the things about being kinky is that you often have a fondness for something a bit off the mainstream when you are feeling all gooey and romantic. So you might not want the boy band your peers grew up with- you might want something that speaks to your little kinky heart. That encourages you to look for media with an alternative perspective.

Fantasy, sci fi, historical narratives and so forth are all great chances to put in some stealth kink.  From the habit of rescue stories to give us early exposure to bondage art onwards, properties like Gor make a gateway drug for people who are reaching around and don’t know how to describe what they like but know it instantly when they see it. Not all nerds are kinky, but the other nerds won’t think you’re weird if you really, really, reeeeeally like something that incidentally displays a kinky relationship.

You see an overlap here between kink and goth too. If you like doomy and painful and tragedy, you aren’t necessarily kinky, but it can help if you want your doom prince tied to the altar while wan faced maidens chant and prepare to sacrifice his blood in satanic rituals. BDSM enthusiasts are often borrowing from stuff that would be genuinely scary if it were real, but is cozy, cuddly and silly-happy and potent- being the difference between actually being abducted and being pretend abducted. For both nerds and goths, the medias the consume often provide a healthy dose of stealth kink. This means that being kinky actually increases you chances of checking out these subcultures for further information.

That’s not the only reasons, but I feel like, when we talk about how imaginative and accepting nerds are we generally forget to talk about the other two factors that make nerd and kink be commonly shared traits.

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2 Comments

  1. Alas, I’m too old to be a nerd. I was well into my 50s when the term became current.

    However, my favourite comic strip involved an English chap called Dan Dare – Pilot of the Future. He flew around the solar system with his sidekick Digby thwarting the maniacal plans for universal domination of an evil Venusian called The Mekon.

    But the really interesting thing about him was that he was accompanied on many of his missions by an ultra-intelligent lady, Professor Jocelyn Peabody, to whom he deferred (possibly a signifier for ‘submitted to’) on all things scientific.

    This was in the early 1950s, so in terms of gender roles the strip was very advanced for its time.

    Reply
    • You can actually find a surprising range of strong female characters (of the literal, not Kate Beaton Parody kind) popping up in all sorts of places. For example, even though Dracula leaves the vampire killing to the men, Mina is slightly more effectual than her husband Johnathan on the investigation front and is the defacto unified narrator of the story, being the fictional editor of the account.

      The terribly racist Fu Manchu series include the character of Kâramanèh, who seems like damsel rescue bait but otherwise does a lot more hero rescue than the context would imply.

      Reply

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