From whips and chains to latex care and consent, Cornell’s secretive and explorative kink and BDSM club, Crunch, gathers a group of self-ascribed “sex nerds” every week to talk and learn about all different types of sex.
BDSM — bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism — is a sexual practice that can involve roleplay and incorporate the participants’ kinks. Crunch started several years ago after the founding of similar clubs at Harvard and Columbia, which was home to the first campus-based BDSM group. At Cornell, it is a sub-organization of Haven, Cornell’s LGBTQ Student Union.
“There were a lot of misconceptions about BDSM and what goes on in it, but a big part of all our clubs is about education: learning about BDSM, kink and the whole lifestyle, and going about it safely,” a Crunch facilitator who goes by “Thrace” told The Sun. “Or as safe as we can make it, anyway.”
Within the club, safety and anonymity are key. Thrace’s name is a pseudonym she took on after she joined the club in order to protect her privacy, which is a choice members can make when they decide to join the club.
Club meetings are awareness and education-oriented. Meetings are comprised of presentations and group discussions centering on different kinks or other subjects. Crunch’s upcoming meeting, for example, will cover electroplay — the use of electricity and shock devices in sexual play.
“Different things can be used to give different sensations and feelings in a kink context,” Thrace said. “Learning about those different ties and how they can be applied — learning about the ins and outs, how to use them, safety — all that stuff are the types of things we cover.”
Historically, the club has brought speakers to campus, such as a speaker who lectured on caring for the latex and silicon suits used in BDSM. Thrace added that Crunch is currently working on bringing another guest to campus in the future.
According to Thrace, the club’s name is derived from “munches,” which are social gatherings in the BDSM community meant not for kink-related activities, but for casual socializing. The club currently has around 10 to 12 active members — up from past years’ attendance rates of just a handful of people at meetings.
“We’ve had a lot of new people come in, there’s been a lot of interest in it. That’s really helped revitalize [the club],” Thrace said.
Crunch’s discreet nature makes it slightly harder to raise awareness about it on campus, but the club tables with its parent organization Haven at ClubFest. In addition, it has a page on the social network site FetLife, which describes itself as Facebook for “kinksters.”
“There’s also a lot of word of mouth — people just talking about it,” Thrace said. “Anyone can attend, as long as they’re a Cornell student. There’s no requirements to be considered a member. Anyone can come drop into one meeting and never come back again, no problem.”
She added that many students have done just that: attended a meeting out of curiosity without the pressure to commit to anything.
“If this is too scary, you know what? That’s okay. There’s nothing saying you have to look into this while in college,” she said. “We’re going to try and make it as safe as possible for anyone that wants to come, and try to do everything that we can to keep it in that safe and respectable space.”
One of those choices is the use of pseudonyms.
“We do try to make it clear that we are a safe space. We’ve tried to foster that type of environment,” she told The Sun. “I think it helps a little bit that Cornell has these safe space rules in place, that kind of helps sets some ground for us.”
Crunch works actively to create an open and candid environment free of judgement given the stigma around kinks and BDSM.
“We do not kink shame. It doesn’t matter if no one else in the club shares an individual’s kink — we’re not going to judge because we may be the only one who has a particular kink as well,” Thrace said.
Although the club’s culture is welcoming and open to any and all Cornell students, Thrace expressed concerns over external stigmatization, especially where it concerns her personal career.
“I think some of us are a little more worried about the world outside [of Cornell] finding out,” she said.
As a graduate student currently looking for job opportunities, she reaffirmed her decision to use a pseudonym in order to ensure that her relationship to Crunch remain private.
“When I first joined the club, I didn’t [use a pseudonym], but then I realized — no, I’m going to look for jobs, I should take a little additional step here,” she said. “Especially as a woman, unfortunately, our personal lives still get taken into account way more than men’s lives do in the professional world.”
Despite stigmatization, Crunch retains its mission to provide open discussions for any kind of member.
Thrace cited psychological evidence that everyone has some type of fetish or interest, normalizing the concept of kink. She added that starting these types of conversations leads to stronger, healthier relationships and strengthens personal confidence and identity.
“It just makes the whole experience very fulfilling. I would love it if this is something we could all be more open about and talk about without fear of being outed or being judged,” she said. “We’re sex nerds. We’re into all the different ways and the different varieties of sensations you can get about it. And there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Crunch meets weekly on Tuesdays. Students interested in learning more can reach out to Crunch at firstname.lastname@example.org.