A Canadian sex scandal. Jian Ghomeshi and the meaning of consent.

So the debate raging all over Facebook and the news yesterday concerns the allegation that the wildly popular CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi has been fired by the CBC for being kinky. By kinky I mean that by his own admission Ghomeshi played in the world of BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism). If you haven’t been following the story (and it’s the lead news story in most major Canadian publications), Ghomeshi claims in his Facebook post that “I’ve been fired from the CBC because of the risk of my private sex life being made public as a result of a campaign of false allegations pursued by a jilted ex girlfriend and a freelance writer.”
According to Ghomeshi, the CBC investigated the allegations and determined that the sex was consensual. So why would you fire a top rated radio host (where ratings are everything) without explanation? And he was at the top of his game. According to Ghomeshi’s website, his show was expanding to major markets in the US. “Q’s signature weekend talk series featuring our award-winning host Jian Ghomeshi — is set to launch in several new cities including New York, L.A. and Chicago on September 6, 2014.”
The issue is why did the CBC end ties with their #1 host? Is it because he’s kinky? I don’t know, but I don’t think being kinky is that unusual anymore. If someone asked me how many Canadians regularly engaged in some kind of BDSM play I would have said it was conservatively between 6 and 7% of the population. 50 Shades of Grey hit a milestone last week where over 100 million copies had been sold. Some of those copies were bought by Canadians. We as Canadians fundamentally believe that our bedrooms are private. We all universally nod about the Trudeau quote saying that the “state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation”. Providing our sexual lifestyle is safe and consensual then our employers, our neighbours and our government have no right to edit that. We have a Supreme Court ruling that makes sex-on-premises clubs legal for consenting members. Sure we can be sexually schizophrenic as Canadians. We struggle to be open-minded while balancing our need for discretion. For decades paying for sex in Canada was legal but talking about it was not. But for the most part we pride ourselves on our fairness and we don’t take injustices well.
Ghomeshi has noted that the CBC “stated in his dismissal that this type of sexual behavior was unbecoming of a prominent host on the CBC. They said that I was being dismissed for “the risk of the perception that may come from a story that could come out.” To recap, I am being fired in my prime from the show I love because of what I do in my private life.”
We don’t have all the facts and the CBC is refusing to comment. So we haven’t heard the CBC’s side of it. We also don’t have the details from the woman in question. I truly hope it has gone down the way that Ghomeshi has stated. It would be vile if his previous partner was exploited sexually and then had the details of her sexual life made public like this. According to the Toronto Star and some of the best investigative journalists we’ve ever produced there are four more women who have claimed to the Star that Ghomeshi was sexually aggressive with them as well. I don’t know what is true. I do know that just because there is a lack of criminal charges doesn’t make it consensual. Most people who are sexually coerced just want to put the experience behind them. Especially if you are a young, inexperienced woman in her twenties dating a man over twenty years older. I believe sex happens between equals. Especially when you are playing at power exchanges and colour-outside-of the-lines sex play.
As a therapist, I’m often asked to help write up contracts outlining BDSM play between two adults. Consent is given and trust is held by the person on the receiving end. Clarity is critical. And safe words are sacred. I mean you mouth them and whatever is going on stops instantly. This is the cardinal rule of any BDSM sexual act. Because if you don’t honour safe words and the sex-between-equals rule, then the fallout is significant. As I tell my clients, sex is close to the bone and is close to who you are as a real person. Which is why sexual abuse is so powerful. Anything twitchy sexually needs to be walked, not run into. Consent in Canada is never implied. It needs to be spelled out in triplicate. I used to tell the audiences at Universities and Colleges where I often spoke during frosh weeks that not having implicit consent is one of the few laws in Canada where you are guilty until proven innocent. I would tell students that the onus of proof is on the man to make sure she isn’t too drunk, or too scared to say no to sex.
I had an email from a client sending me the details of this case and worried about her own career if it was found out that she was a submissive and active in a BDSM relationship. If CBC did indeed fire Ghomeshi for his sex life than can any Crown Corporation edit personal behaviour? Are there special rules of conduct that the CBC lays out for their on air personalities? Do your sexual exploits in your private life, if not criminal, have a bearing on your employment?
I hosted a sex and relationship talk show in many of Canada’s largest markets for many years. I constantly walked the line between what was appropriate to the radio market and the need to answer graphic questions frankly and in clear language. I also had my own discussion with the CBC about content in the public domain during those years. There was an audience for conversations about Canadians between the sheets, but no appetite to discuss sexuality on Canada’s National Broadcaster. This may be true with Ghomeshi.
As Canadians we need to feel assured that what goes on in our bedrooms, stays in our bedrooms provided it was safe and consensual. Let’s hope there is not more to this story that would have the BDSM lifestyle used as a defense for predation.