The Black Rock City Bureau of Erotic Discourse (BED) is a team of volunteers who gather each year at Burning Man to provide information and education regarding rape and sexual assault on the playa.
We present this information in a sex positive format, as we believe that fun, safe play is best approached by learning to acknowledge and express your own personal desires and boundaries, while respecting those of others. As an adjunct to the vital roles of the BRC Emergency Services, the Mental Health Branch and the BRC Rangers, we feel that BED can be an important part of helping individuals safely navigate the sensual environment of Burning Man.
At Burning Man 2005, we took our commitment to increasing sexual communication to the streets. There the Bureau of Erotic Discourse (B.E.D.) led a series of fun, interactive, sex-positive workshops. The HeeBeeGeeBee camp was kind enough to provide space for the workshops, and we had about 50 people attending each one. Participants—who ranged across the spectrum of gender, race, age, sexual orientation, and sexual predilection—learned about how to identify and express their own desires and boundaries in a sexual interaction as well as how to ask about and honor their partners' desires and boundaries. They learned the problems with assuming sexual consent based on physical “cues,” including the fact that many people freeze when they perceive their partner’s behavior as a transgression of their boundaries, and the fact that people misread nonverbal signals routinely. Participants therefore got the opportunity to practice a new approach of negotiating sex verbally with others. They got to enact strategies for how to make explicit consent sexy and fun.
Participants in the workshops also learned about what to do if someone is not interested in honoring their sexual boundaries. They learned skills to thwart those who would aggress against them, how to look out for one another at Burning Man, and how to intervene gently to support their friends when they believe they may be at risk. Finally, participants learned how to apply the principles of sexual negotiation to the goal of successfully connecting with a sexual partner at Burning Man. The feedback was quite positive. We had a number of comments about how good it was to hear the words about boundaries. We also heard a lot about shyness. We learned a lot, and have continued to provide these "play"shops every year.
The “Clarity and Consent” playshops are a central part of what we do. However, there is so much more! In the ensuing years, we have continued to passionately work on several fronts. Thanks to cooperation from the Burning Man organization, a paragraph introducing an awareness of sexual assault now appears in every Survival Guide. Women and men seeing our port-a-potty posters know that Burning Man has a complete team of crisis intervention workers to assist anyone who is victimized. In 2006-2008, B.E.D. was able to support two women who brought charges against a serial rapist who was sentenced to 5 years in a Nevada prison. Because of this trial, the Pershing County Sheriff's Department has instituted new and better guidelines for dealing with sexual predators at the Burning Man event. The Rangers, Mental Health Branch and Medical Team of Burning Man are all more aware and responsive to sexual assault victims. The overall culture is changing from embarrassed denial of the problem to a pro-active and coordinated professional response.
We at B.E.D. are proud of whatever small part we have in these monumental changes and will continue to work for a safer Burning Man experience for all!