Michelle McHardy “used to be the shyest person in the world.” How things change. She's now a guest lecturer in the University of Nevada, Reno's human sexuality class, and a lifestyle coach of sorts—one whose workshops help people understand BDSM and kinky play. Explore Your Shades of Gray, McHardy's business, is obviously inspired by the 50 Shades trend, but it goes back a bit further. She's worked as a dominatrix, too, and returned to school for her psychology degree after a pair of clients said she helped their marriage more than any therapist they'd tried. For information, visit exploreyourshades of gray.com.
How’d you get into this?
My partner and I started exploring our sexuality within BDSM about a decade ago, … and played personally for years. I probably read more than 40 books on the subject. When the book Fifty Shades of Grey came out, we realized what was being promoted [didn't convey] clear information, and we felt there was a significant need to educate people about BDSM sexuality and what we like to call esoteric lifestyle or kinky play. We created Explore to teach people how to do this responsibly, to enhance their sexuality and their relationships and not be a detriment to them. Done improperly, it's abuse. Done properly, it's a huge evolution.
What are some mistakes people might be making?
The one thing that’s different about kinky sex, about BDSM, is it requires a great deal of communication. Whereas you can just go hook up with somebody and have regular sex, you don’t just go hook up with somebody and have BDSM sex. Within Explore, we’ve come up with what we call the 10 principles of kinky play, and our top three are trust, respect and communication. So within a BDSM play scene, those three components have to be there first, and it’s not easy. Talking about sexuality is really difficult for people.
Why do you think that is, seeing as it’s how every human you’ve ever met got here?
It’s a taboo subject. We’re told when we’re little not to talk about it. There are other societies that talk about it a lot, and educate their children on it, but this is just not something we culturally do.
So as far as your UNR lectures, are people of college age much different than anyone else?
Well, if the book Fifty Shades of Grey were based on a 30-year-old woman and a 50-year-old man, we would not be having the same conversation. A 30-year-old woman knows what she wants. A 21-year-old virgin doesn't. The biggest problem in the book is that at 21, do you really have the mental ability to give consent to graduate-level sex when you don't even know how to have kindergarten sex?
Yeah, where do you start?
You have kindergarten sex. You start getting educated. You find out what things interest you, where your kinks lie. You take classes, you take workshops. …. People will read [50 Shades], or they'll see something on BDSM, and it seems so dark and dramatic and scary, and it's really not, or really doesn't have to be. Most everybody has a little kinkiness, and a lot more people than you know have little fetishes or little fetish-type things.
Is the forbidden nature of this what makes it hot for people?
Yes. A lot of people are into something called humiliation play, which sounds terrible. Why would anybody want to be humiliated? But really, what it is, it causes a lot of physiologic tension in the body, and sex is all in the mind, it’s all in the brain, it’s all chemicals. What kinky play does is release a significantly higher amount of endorphins and chemicals in the body. … It’s a bit of escapism, and as long as you realize what you’re doing is escapism, it’s perfectly fine.