Conor Aphilia on Kinky Creativity

Category: POV Podcast

Author: Aria Vega

Conor Aphilia is a London-based Shibari instructor and the founder of kink magazine Paraphilia Collective. Conor’s work explores the link between kink and creativity, and underscores the impact of sexual expression in media. 

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Podcast Transcript:

Aria Vega [00:00:00] This podcast contains explicit content. Listener's discretion is advised. POV by Lustery explores culture, politics and creativity in the sex industry, one point of view at a time. I'm your host, Aria Vega.

Aria Vega [00:00:17] Conor Aphilia is a key figure in London's community of erotic artists. They've had a series of sex industry gigs, including as a porn performer, and currently as a safari instructor. Connor is an all around kinkster, but they specialize in Japanese rope bondage known as Shibari, which creates intricate patterns with the rope. Shabari dates back to the Edo period of Japan during the 17th and early 18th centuries. It first became popular in the West after World War II, during which cross-cultural exchanges occurred between soldiers. Conor says that since then, Shibari has continued to evolve as it's grown more popular.

Conor Aphilia [00:00:57] When we think of, at least, Japanese Shibari that comes from Japan, is that it's made for the male gaze entirely. And it's overtly sexual, intentionally. And so I think mediating that is quite an interesting thing, because you don't want to sanitize it. But also we live in a society where we're not making images just for the male gaze. So we've inherited this practice that has all of these kind of patriarchal connotations and have then kind of distilled what it can be about and what it should be about, perhaps. So that's led to this kind of unusual bifurcation of the discourse of the practice, is that like you have, some people do it in a very yoga way, and you've got people that do it in a dancy way. There's the more BDSM kind of way, and it's just something that's turned into a number of different things, and I think with that, there's a whole load of eroticism that's been like snuck under the rug.

Aria Vega [00:01:54] What is a kink-centric interpretation of Shibari? What does that look like?

Conor Aphilia [00:01:58] I would say that a kink-focused Shibari session is focused in many ways around pushing people, presenting this threshold of suffering in which you pass collaboratively. Or at least, that's my approach. I can't really speak on other people's S&M, right? Like one of the things that rope does, which is really interesting, I think at least, is that you get into a position or you put somebody into a position and there's this panic. It's like, I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to do this. And you use a lot of your social mechanisms, your fight or flight response. You're kind of going, Oh, I need to maybe get out of this. Just a little bit, you're not in like panic state. What happens is that the body manages to deal with this autonomic response because it has no other option. You can't just freeze, we can't just fight, we can't just flight or anything. You have to find a way of mediating these things, and you do that through modulating your breathing. You do it by making these little micro adjustments to it that so something isn't ooh so painful. I think what happens, at least what I'm interested in doing, like a heavier S&M scene, is you want to see what positions you can put somebody in because you know them really well and you understand that... I mean, when you've tied with somebody like very significantly, consent becomes kind of a different thing, right? Because you're really pushing each other, and you really know 100% that you've got each other's best interests at heart. And so it opens up possibilities for very, very heavy head spaces and very sorrowful, cathartic, all of these kind of things in a pretty significant and considered way. I think each of these aspects, they aren't separate from one another. They always overlap a little bit. Even the most like hardcore S&M scene, it's still going to be a little bit artistic and it's still going to be have a little aspect of spirituality somehow. So although people maybe have this idea that, Oh, this is the way rope should be, or this is a blah, blah, blah, whatever, is that ultimately, the Venn diagram of all these things overlap so much that you can never totally be absolute. So I think that's really interesting. It's something that public facing, at least, a lot of people feel very comfortable entering into a Shibari space. I think that's really nice because it brings in lots of different communities, brings in lots of different folk. Then of course, when you bring in lots of folk to stuff, then you've got lots of different iterations of it, and I think that's really interesting. So I suppose my main job as it is, is in the realms of sex work, doing Shibari sessions for people. It's very, very rarely a sexual thing, but it's interesting because the people who are coming to see me for sessions are all different ages, right? And they're from all different backgrounds and lots of different genders, and I think that the thing that's so interesting is that like there's something in Shibari that as it's being projected out into the world, it's caught the attention of a lot of people. So there's people who have never done kink before, don't totally understand, but kind of feel drawn to it in this kind of way of like, Wow, that looks really tough, or That looks really beautiful, that looks really interesting. The thing about Shibari, at least as a practice, is most people who get into it realize what's available from the practice is so much more than what you've seen from the outside.

Aria Vega [00:05:26] When it comes to acquiring a skill like rope, tying proper tutelage is essential. The safety risks involved mean it's best to learn from some sort of mentor.

Conor Aphilia [00:05:37] The thing about it is, is that it can be quite dangerous for lots of reasons. Mostly it's possible to pinch a nerve in the arm, which could result in a loss of movement in the hands. Obviously then there's choking, and there's all kinds of other things. So for me, I do a lot of private tuition with Fred Hatt from Anatomie Rope Studio in London. That was a really good way for me to learn, I think. So I started seven or eight years ago. To start, I would say, was like peer learning, learning of friends, learning of people that I've seen, people from the community. Then as you kind of go, Okay, I want to hike somebody up into the air. Better know what I'm doing! so yeah, you just kind of, as you go...I think one of the things about kink practices is that there's no certificate of quality, or it's kind of a grassroots thing.

Aria Vega [00:06:31] So to rewind a little bit, tell me about your own experience with sort of recognizing your own kinkiness, and what it was like to begin forming a community around that identity.

Conor Aphilia [00:06:45] I was blessed by the best intro experience to kink ever. So I'm like 22, 23, something like that, and I go to a munch, and I'm a frail Irish boy in big city, you know? And I saunter in and this much older woman of color who I later found out was a lesbian and a domme was just like, "In you go, little boy," and just gave me the lowdown on what's it about. I think, you know, obviously [she] didn't have a penis-centric approach to kink and said, "You know, Conor, a kink scene never ends with a male orgasm." And you just go, Okay! I think that in the broadest terms, that taught me the most important thing— when we think about kink and we think about intimacy, we think, Okay, well, it's always going towards sex. At a very early age, I realized that intimacy isn't about sex, it's about access. And kink is this thing that allows you to access in intimate ways other parts of the brain, or other responses in the human. Is it fear? Is it sadness? Is it sorrow...? For me, realizing that it was just kind of like, Ah, yeah, that's what it's all about. Arousal and eroticism is just this thing that's part of the spectrum of all of the other things, right? It's not this like, Oh, I do this one thing to go to this like one specific, direct place. It's not like that, right? You just want to go deep and you want to explore everything because that's the nature of exploring. It's non-linear, it's non-directional. It's not goal oriented.

Aria Vega [00:08:27] Absolutely.

Aria Vega [00:08:33] Conor is the founder of the erotic art magazine Paraphilia Collective, which is about as kinky as it gets. The magazine features visual art —uncensored, of course— plus essays, poems and other creative writing about kink and BDSM. But Paraphilia Collective began as more of a social club than a publication.

Conor Aphilia [00:08:54] Originally we were doing like discourse dinners where we would talk about things, and there was a couple of experimental publications, and a couple of different events. I think broadly speaking, there was this idea of like, what is contemporary DSM? What does that even mean? So lockdown happens, hurrah! I had all this time, so I was like, Well, let's start a magazine. I mean, it was two things, right? The thing about the magazine is that, when you go to print magazine, you can email anyone for an interview. So it gives me an opportunity to talk to all these amazing people who are obviously much smarter than I am, dotted all around the place. That was really nice. I think that there's two things with the magazine. One, is that they're three dimensional people because they've got diaries and thoughts and families and all these other things, and they've also gleaned this really weird understanding, or unusual understanding, of how the world works. I think people who spend enough time doing kink all have insights of that nature. And I think that's that's something that should be presented side by side with everything else.

Aria Vega [00:10:01] Tell me a little more about these insights. What is it that you believe kink and BDSM can help us understand about ourselves and how we organize our societies?

Conor Aphilia [00:10:10] I think kink isn't a static thing, right? It's like something that changes all the time, and it changes with the context of the people who are deeming what's unusual or what not. The idea with the Paraphilia Collective is to say, Well, what we know came to be is a little bit old. And actually, it's not forward-thinking and it's kind of a little bit chocolate-boxy and tweed actually, perhaps. I think a lot of people feel that. And so that's that's kind of what the magazine is about in broad strokes. It's like, what's a newthought in kink, right? What's a thought that it is encompassing of the social issues that are formed, this kind of thing. I think that the whole thing with the magazine is to just give people, creative folk who are in the kink world who have been doing stuff for a while, I mean, [unintelligible] profit shares. We split all the money with everybody that we made, which was nothing, because that's print media. But still it was nice to send a handful of people a hundred quid!

Aria Vega [00:11:13] Sure! I mean, tell me more about that, that co-op style structure. Why was it important to you to instill that?

Conor Aphilia [00:11:20] There's this thing about... It's like, everybody wants to form a brand, right? I think you form a brand because it has cultural value and potentially financial value. That was something that it's taken me a long time to figure out, like how my own attitude towards kink intersects with all these things. At the time of making it, it felt like, Nah, I don't want to be the person on top of the pecking order here making all of the decisions and making all of the money, or whatever. Fortunately enough, there wasn't any money to be made. So it was never really too big a deal. I just think it's like just trying to like, maybe not let my ego take over too much control.

Aria Vega [00:12:08] Despite this profit-sharing structure, Connor isn't quite willing to describe Paraphilia Collective and its readers as a community. That word, they said, doesn't quite fit the mission.

Conor Aphilia [00:12:19] For me, a community is something that you just give to without ever thinking of getting anything back. I think that there's a threshold of selflessness. So mostly they're just people that I admire. Some of them I've met, some I've just spoke to on Instagram. But there's a lot of kinky folk who are not in the community and who are really shy. I mean, when when you go to a little munch and it's just like, twenty of these like really sweet, really shy people, one of them's really good with electric wands, and one of them's really good with this other thing. The hierarchy is formed through competence. So I think that's something that's interesting with the magazine, is that they are just individuals, they have nothing really in common other than they have some forward thinking idea of kink. They're the people that I've tried to platform, or maybe the people who don't have the best photographs or, you know, maybe they're academics? I think the thing with the magazine, is that it's a really interesting project. It's been part of like a bigger thing, which is the Paraphilia Collective, and I think now that things are opening up, I'm more interested in getting people in spaces. You know, that's an exciting thing to me. There is a quality to the magazine that came across because we were all little hermits and it was was exciting to buy a magazine and, you know, maybe help somebody who's struggling out a little bit. But I think how I'm going about things has maybe changed a little bit. I think it's about people, that's what's interesting.

Aria Vega [00:13:58] I'm curious, too, about your commitment to having the magazine in print, because I know that just based on the expenses for materials, it is a huge undertaking to to do something like this at all. Then to get it into a physical, tangible product is a whole different mountain to climb, and you would only do that if it was really meaningful to you. I don't know, I think I'm making a connection between your desire to bring this project to physical spaces and again, making the magazine in print. It seems like there's an attachment to the tangible experiences. How does that sound to you?

Conor Aphilia [00:14:38] Well, I think [like] excitement and being a little bit frightened of something and like, I don't know, going into a bookshop or going into whatever and going, Oh, I never noticed that little section, what's that all about? It's about curiosity, and I think that's really exciting to me. I really like the idea that this publication just sits in houses and who knows? I've got this amazing story of my very, very first publication. A friend of mine brought me to Burning Man, and it was just the most amazing thing. We were both camping for my first time, and that was like... I'd brought a load of my first publication and I was like, Oh, I've never really sold anything that I've written or anything, so I'm just going to bring 50. I'll just lug 'em around and I'll just give them to folk. I think then it was just a year before lockdown or something, and somebody came up to me and they're like, Oh, you're Conor, you've done that magazine! and I was like, Yeah, yeah, I did. And he was like, Yeah, I got one in S.F.! And I was like, Oh! And he was like, Yeah, somebody went to Burning Man, gave one of these to S.F. Citadel or something. And then somebody gave it to him because knew that he would be in Europe. And then he's bumped into me and I was like, That's amazing! That's so good, that's so exciting, right?

Aria Vega [00:16:05] You know, when you put something out into the world like that, you have no idea and no control over where it ends up. It could take the most beautiful journey.

Conor Aphilia [00:16:13] Yeah, yeah. It's like, okay, I'm part of this cultural lineage, and that is like very rewarding. I think that there's something in that that people can get behind, because the metrics of print is just so low, so, so low in comparison to everything else that there has to be some other motivator there. I think that other motivator is something that a lot of kinky folk share. It's curiosity, it's excitement.

Aria Vega [00:16:43] When you think about the future of Paraphilia Collective, what do you see?

Conor Aphilia [00:16:46] I want to be on Groupon.

Aria Vega [00:16:47] You want to be on Groupon?

Conor Aphilia [00:16:48] Yeah, I want to be on Groupon. If we can reach, we can reach that. We're like peak public.

Aria Vega [00:16:53] Yes!

Conor Aphilia [00:16:54] That's a sweet spot.

Aria Vega [00:16:55] I like that. A nice, measurable, tangible goal. And then after that, I guess the next one will be an IPO on Wall Street, right?

Conor Aphilia [00:17:03] Yeah, yeah, exactly! In the same way as FetLife or akinky sex shop is this kind of beacon to somebody who has those interests, that have informed it... I think so long as Paraphilia Collective is like sparking interest in people's minds in some capacity or the other, I'm happy enough with that.

Aria Vega [00:17:28] That's Conor Aphilia, Shibari, instructor and founder of the contemporary kink magazine Paraphilia Collective. You can see selections of the work and order your own copy at ParaphiliaCollective.com. Also stop by LondonShibari.com to learn about Conor's rope bondage practice and to see some photos of their work. My favorites are the suspensions — just breathtaking. Are there any rope bunnies out there who want to talk about being on the business end of the bondage rope? We'd love to hear from you. Hit me up with an email or a voice memo at askaria@lustery.com, or you can find me on Twitter @Vegadreamcast. You're welcome to stay anonymous. If you're into the show, please leave us a five-star rating and a review. POV is brought to you by Lustery, and this episode was hosted by me, Aria Vega. It was edited and produced by Kathryn Fischer and Adrienne Teicher, and our showrunner is Paulita Pappel. Lustery is the home of real-life partners filming their sex lives behind closed doors. If you're 18 or older, you can find us at lustery.com, and we're on Twitter and Instagram @lusterypov. Until next time, lovers!