Kink in exile

Notes from a kinky nomad

Under served or under accessed?

Last week I was asked, in a cultural interview, to describe my personal interests in human factors research. I was speaking to a seasoned human factors designer, we had moved beyond the virtues of human centered design already, and so I spoke about under accessed populations. You see, everyone likes getting to know their user and designing for their target audience, but one of the first questions in laying out a business plan is “is there a market for this and can we access it?”  This is why people don’t invent special cell phones for the homeless or for that matter why we rarely design for the 3rd world outside of grant-funded academic settings. You can’t monetize those markets. But there is another layer to that…a lot of work happens because a market is visible. Be it social games for stay at home moms, small cars for city dwellers, or bigger cars for aspirational buyers, we have a way to access the people we’re designing for, shadow them, recruit them for focus groups, send them surveys and by and large figure out what they want. If you want to design a new Blackberry that would better meet the needs of busy working moms you can look for households with an annual income of around 100k and kids under the age of 18 in the household, call them, and explain that you’d like to invite the mother to a focus group in the evening.  You might provide dinner and child care but you can do that. How do you access homeless women who may use cell phones to keep track of benefits and shelter status? You can’t call them, you can look for them on the street but they may or may not want to talk to you, and even if they did talk to you the ethical ground is shaky at best. You could go through a shelter or community clinic but then there is a selection bias, so even if you had unlimited money you’d have to be pretty darn motivated to do research in the population. There’s one other problem; working mothers are visible, homeless women less so…who do you think of then when you have time for a project on cell phones and you want to design for a big population?

This idea is interesting to me because it turns the tables on access. As much as the under served population doesn’t have access to helpful tools, designers, researchers and business people don’t have access to those populations.

Now bring this back to sex, and more specifically kinky sex. If you’re thinking of opening a kinky sex venue or hosting a party, you have a couple of ways to plan it. First you can figure out your own fetish and plan around that (I’m really into spanking so I’ll host a spanking party). Alternately, you can look around for vocal and easy to access populations and plan around them (there are already a lot of rope bondage classes, I bet lots of people would come to my rope party). What happens then when you as a planner of sex-themed events don’t have access to, or sufficient knowledge of, certain sexual subgroups? More likely than not, you don’t make space for them at your party. Or to make it more blatant; if most of the people you have access to are in a male top/female bottom pairing you may accommodate that by putting art on your walls that features predominantly female submissives, having female demo-bottoms, and showing hetero-normative porn.

So two problems emerge, or perhaps just one problem with two perspectives.  First dominant women and submissive men are under served by the BDSM community, and second dominant women and submissive men become hard to access populations making it both difficult to accommodate them with any accuracy, and easy to bypass their needs all together due to lack of pressing viability.  And so this to me becomes a research interest question.  How do you reach out to sexually submissive men in a way that is sensitive and comfortable, and does not create a non-intentional power imbalance (a risk in any kind of human subjects research involving minority populations) in order to gain insight, articulate needs, and design BDSM experiences that are more inclusive of this population?



Written by kinkinexile

September 24, 2011 at 7:38 am

Posted in blogging, research

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