This interview was originally published on Adultsmart
Adultsmart – I’d like to thank you for agreeing to do this interview. As mentioned, I actually have come across your website a few times, and one of my favourite things are the posts of “Inexplicable moments in the history of sexuality”. Those keyhole posts are always so frustratingly good! I also love the subtle, yet important distinction between sex blogger, and sex explorer as well as the reasonings and research behind that. So let’s introduce you first as Ayzad, A Sex Scholar and sex explorer, owner, curator of www.ayzad.com where you explore unusual things about sex, sexuality, kink and fetish. You’ve written several books and articles. You hold workshops and lectures, and you also do personal coaching all from your base in Italy. There’s certainly enough there to keep you busy! Did i miss anything?
Ayzad – Thank you for your appreciation! The Inexplicable Moments series began as a joke when I found a few puzzling pictures online: I would have never expected it to grow so large, but it is now over six years strong and I keep stumbling on this sort of material on a weekly basis, so it might go on for a while yet. I love the wonderfully odd ways people have of distorting the very idea of sexuality… After the first laugh, those images make you really wonder about our fellow humans and ourselves, don’t you think?
About my strange job, you may have missed the training of kink-aware professionals among psychologists, sexologists and law enforcement, and organizing the largest BDSM party in Italy, called Sadistique.
I have to start with the basics. You were once a “traditional” journalist – how did you move into talking about sex and sexuality?
The short story is that around the year 2000 I was hit by a nasty combination of insolvent clients and a market crisis in the local publishing industry, so I took a sabbatical to nurse my business wounds and I ended up using the time to write BDSM – A Guide for Explorers of Extreme Eroticism, a book meant to collect what I had learned about erotic domination and submission games and pass it on to the kink community. To everyone’s surprise, it became a mainstream best-seller instead. Besides sparking a few interesting collaborations in the field of sexology, the result was receiving lots of letters and messages from people who thanked me for having opened their eyes onto the fact that their sexual preferences weren’t sick or “wrong”. Many readers recounted how my book saved their marriage, or pointed them to meet the partner of their dreams.
At that point I had to make a choice. Go back to a normally paid job of indoctrinating the masses into buying stuff and being scared and hateful for the fear du jour, or continue giving people the kind of information that could make them happy with their lives? The latter meant becoming financially insecure, but any decent human being would have had no doubt – and having a very understanding life partner with a serious corporate job to support both of us if I was unsuccessful made the jump definitely less scary. Almost twenty years later, the messages keep pouring in and I am still happy with that decision.
You’ve often stated that you began exploring BDSM at 18. How were your experiences when you were young in comparison to now? Has the community changed much in your opinion?
This is a great question that I actually ponder upon rather frequently myself. In many ways, the Nineties (and – ahem – the Eighties) were much darker times for kinksters. Information was rare and questionable; most people didn’t really know how to deal with their own kinks; finding play partners was a feat made even harder by the lack of digital tools to connect with each other; toys were impossibly expensive and often of very low quality… but having to overcome all of these obstacles also meant that the fewer people into unusual sexualities were also extremely committed to their play. In fact, I recall many of them recoiling when I used that word: to “old timers” BDSM (or ‘sadomasochism’, as it was known back then) was ‘work’ – a pretty serious endeavor you couldn’t treat as child’s play.
I feel that in these days the very idea of erotic power play has swung far off in the opposite direction. For all the good a better kink culture has done, people tend to treat BDSM like just another opportunity to fill their free time with, on par with Netflix or dining out. The raw emotion seems to be mostly gone, so much so that I long damned myself over this lack of transcendence. Also, always blessed be the Internet, but online dynamics frequently play a big role in shooting the community in its own foot.
So, besides the fact that on the brink of my fiftieth birthday I am young – or I do feel like that at the least – the matter is, as always, a mixed bag of good and bad. I hope that this wild swing between too much self-importance and too much mindless post-50 Shades fad will eventually settle on a nice middle ground. I am kinda seeing the early signs of that process now.
Sex is so open. There are a myriad of different experiences, genders, identities, interactions. Many people tend to use labels as a form of identification and identity – what are your thoughts on such labels? Especially when it comes to BDSM, Kink and diverse forms of sexual expression, do you feel that we’re approaching/using labels in the right way?
I’d say that labels – or better: strictly defined roles or approaches to sexuality – can be a useful starting point for newcomers to get their bearings around the immense map of pleasure. Knowing, for example, that someone else has already elaborated an attraction to the owner/pet dynamics into something structured that many people agree upon calling ‘pet play’, with all of its rituals and specialized knowledge, allows you to avoid a series of basic traps and dead ends if you harbor a similar inclination. The bad part of this compartmentalization of kink comes when you unwittingly forget your individuality and play into becoming assimilated into a certain pre-packaged view. After all, everyone is different and evolving, which is why I am so keen on the notion of “sexual explorers”.
Also, I have now seen a few times the rise of true fads initiated by literal labels. The latest was probably when Fetlife added ‘primal’ among the possible profile descriptors, and so many people jumped on the bandwagon without even having a clear idea of what the word actually meant. A few years earlier the same happened with ‘brat’, and earlier still with the whole ‘daddy/little girl’ subculture. And don’t get me started on furries. I mean, trying new shoes on to see whether they fit you is fine and healthy; committing to a narrowly defined role just because all your online “friends” are doing that doesn’t sound too mature instead, does it? Oh, wait: I am playing into the role of the ancient wise curmudgeon…
With the diversity of sex, expressionism, and identity – what do you personally find to be the most fascinating in unusual sex?
This is easy. It’s the continuing quest for honesty and authenticity. Even just contemplating unusual sexualities opens your mind to boundless possibilities – and forces you in a nice way to deal with your own repressed facets, fears, desires and sense of identity. By hook or by crook, kink stimulates critical thinking and questioning yourself – which is a great path to growing up as a person.
Oh, and I also love how sex things are rarely about sex itself, so when you study them you end up learning lots of interesting facts about the world in general.
What’s something not many people know about you, that you’re willing to share with us today?
Er… that I am a collector of Japanese robot toys from the Eighties? That I am a member of Mensa? No, seriously: I can’t think of anything especially meaningful that you can’t read in my posts on www.ayzad.com already.
I live in Australia. With a smaller (and more centralised) population than what’s in the Americas, Europe and even Italy. It can be often difficult finding people with similar interests where you can get together for parties and events. You’re involved with Sadistique – what can you tell us about that?
Sadistique is a monthly BDSM party I have been organizing in Milano since 2005, and the spiritual sequel of an earlier endeavor called Revolution. As it happened, my kinky friends and I had been lamenting for a few years the lack of proper kinky events in Italy: we used to meet at such parties all over Europe, and it struck us as absurd that we had to travel abroad for that. So, since nobody else seemed to be willing to set up such a thing in our country, we did it ourselves. It started very small, had its ups and downs, and it finally established itself as a beloved institution for Italian kinksters.
Besides a cool steampunk-ish play space, every month it features a different workshop on various aspects of BDSM; a kinky art exhibition and a professional photo set. In addition to that we occasionally host interesting performances, book presentations or showcases of kink artisans. You should come over and see, should you happen in Milan!
On that question – there’s a dizzying array of fetishes, sexual interests, erotic interests ranging from standard to the unusual and even bordering on absurd – when one is having trouble finding connections for their kinks – what do you recommend they do for their contentment and satisfaction?
My frequent suggestion is to stop searching and making yourself findable instead. Do you recall the Kennedy quote about «Ask not what your country can do for you…»? Unusual sexualities suffer from the same misunderstanding: the kink community can actually do heaps for you, but you are supposed to serve it at the same time, even if just by participating in a constructive way. Most enthusiasts unfortunately behave like vampires who demand their particular needs to be satisfied without giving anything in exchange, whereas there are countless opportunities to contribute and make the scene better – and to shine while doing that, attracting lots of potential partners in the process.
You’re an Italian and you’ve traveled both physically and within your research. Do you think that the engagement of fetishes and fetishism depends on where we live? Does culture influence our carnal/erotic desires, or are we all just kinky and perverse beings?
I did detect a bit of geographic influence, but I believe it to be mostly a function of the different local cultures. An extreme example can be the Chinese interpretation of BDSM, but of course stereotypes and generalizations don’t help any serious analysis. The Internet is sorta flattening these differences, though.
One fun quirk remains true throughout the ages, though: whatever place and time you pick, you can be sure that locals were sure that in a different, faraway country, people were having so much more sex cultivating exotic, wonderful practices. Never underestimate the power of fulfillment fantasies!
What’s your go-to comfort food?
You know that, in order to retain citizenship, we Italians are contractually obliged to talk about food at least six hours a day – so please sit comfortably and thank you for your question! No, seriously: I can be a bit of a foodie when the opportunity arises, but I am pretty forgiving on the subject. Which is a way of saying that I could list hundreds of answers, so I won’t go beyond a diplomatic «anything made with true love».
If you could change one thing about peoples engagement with sex – what would it be?
Oh. A tough one, indeed. I guess it would be erasing that lingering idea that sex is an unwieldy burden, and exchanging it with the concept of sex as a boundless opportunity for fun, pleasure and growth. That’s the principle beyond The Sexual Explorers Manifesto, isn’t it?
You do workshops, seminars and educational events. What’s one thing that comes up frequently that you wish didn’t, or what’s something that isn’t brought up often enough at these events?
Education opportunities are privileged environments whose participants enter with a beautiful, unusually open mindset. The worst that I have experienced there is a tad of judgment against whatever doesn’t fit with one’s personal view of sexuality, especially in more mainstream milieus. I strive to transmit the concept of «your kink is not my kink but it’s ok», as they say, but it is not always easy – don’t forget that Italy is still a province of the Vatican, in many ways.
In that capacity, most of the true problems I have experienced so far came even before the events themselves. I am sorry that you’d have to suffer through its occasionally atrocious Google Translate rendition, but you may want to have a look at the laughable year-long ordeal I had to go through when the media and a couple of politicians attacked me… for having accepted an invitation to speak at a major university. The level of political manipulation was astounding – but it also was an exception, not the rule.
On the other hand, the one missing thing that really bugs me is the awareness about the dire need for a comprehensive education to sexuality as part of the school curriculum, starting as early as possible. The decades-long case history of the Netherlands proves how such approach is extremely beneficial for the individuals and society as a whole, and yet everyone seems to prefer #MeToo–like horrors to the (wholly imaginary) embarrassment of admitting that sexuality is part of life, and teaching the children about it. Mind you, this is not a matter of teaching how reproduction works, but to also address everything surrounding it with a special focus on respect, consent, diversity, sentiments and so on.
You do personal coaching. What’s involved in that for you and the client?
My own brand of personal coaching is about helping people to identify their issues related to unusual sexuality, and to plot a strategy together to solve and overcome them in the most efficient way. The key is often some information they are missing and which I have encountered in my three-decades-long exploration of kink, so I am happy to put my experience at the service of the client. This is basically done through a series of face-to-face or Skype talks, so there is nothing saucy to it if that was what you meant. I would say personal coaching happens halfway between a talk between friends and a session with your therapist.
You’ve been doing this for over 15 years. What keeps you going and what’s the best part about the work that you do?
On the one hand I am fueled by my curiosity: I still keep learning new things every day, and this sort of intellectual stimulation is invaluable. I would lie if I didn’t admit that all this fun comes at a financial and social price, so of course there are times when I feel like I’d better get into something more grounded like selling bricks, for example. Those are usually the moments right before someone reaches out to thank me for how my work made their life better, though, and that makes every effort more than worthwhile.
Any final thoughts that you’d like to share?
I can only thank you for the opportunity to talk. This was fun and I hope your readers have enjoyed the interview too. You now know where to find me, so let’s keep in touch, shall we?
I can pore your brain all day long. Reading through interviews that you’ve done previously, and your books, and exhaustive amount of blog work on your website – it’s just absolutely fascinating. I’d like to thank you for the work that you do, for shining a spotlight on what many people find strange and odd and for the presentation of that work with humour, grace and precision. It’s been an absolutely pleasure asking you these questions and i just can’t wait to see what’s next.
Thank you again: it is a delight to interact with such a passionate fan, and – besides the usual weekly posts – I can tell you “next” is going to be a whole book about education to sexuality, but it is such a messy subject that writing proceeds way too slowly and it will take quite a long time yet.