Now, the really interesting thing about DragonCon in particular and most science fiction cons in general is that it's clearly a place where the powerful, lively and interesting group is ... the attendees.
I mean, the very LEAST you could expect on the floor was some gal wandering by with some sexually intriguing parts of her anatomy revealed by her costume. That happened regularly. (If you don't believe me, go to the photo gallery section at the Dragon Con site and look at some of the thousands of photos posted. Then you may apologize.) Plus, there were some pretty intriguing costumes that didn't reveal sexy curves. Some people obviously spent months working on their outfits, and it showed.
Chris Hales with Fantasm thinks he knows part of the spirit that leaves people feeling so free to express themselves. Fantasm is a more adult-oriented con that exhibits at DragonCon to let people know that, well, there are more adult-oriented cons out there for them to attend -- especially Fantasm. The booth itself was tricked out with a wall o' floggers, and it attracted a pretty good crowd, with people trying out the flogger, you know, "for laughs." (They also sell floggers and crops and other such fantasy and science fiction devices.)
"People feel safe running around in skimpy costumes at DragonCon because it's really a family event," said Hales. It sounds contradictory, but he's got a good point. Kids are welcome at DragonCon. The really sexy costumery doesn't come out until late at night, and the most a kid will be exposed to in the afternoon is some cleavage and some thong-clad butts.
So if you're a woman (or a guy, I suppose) kinda new to running around in public with your sexy curves exposed, it's comforting to be able to do it in a place where there lots of kids and (presumably) responsible moms and dads around to keep things from getting TOO wild for your tastes. It's not like SF cons have the equivalent of the "mosh pits" at some concerts where rape is a sort of sport. Dragoncon and SF cons are more of a "first sexy steps" thing.
"What we find at DragonCon are people who are just beginning to explore their interests in more adult areas," said Hales. "At Fantasm, we bring in the gothic and kink crowd for mostly adult programming geared toward blending the kink and science fiction communities. We do a lot of science fiction cons and adult cons in the southeast -- ChattaCon in Chattanooga, CrescentCityCon in New Orleans, and the Southeast Leather Con. We also send people out to promote our products at shows all over the country, from here to Seattle."
The civility and non-violence that is generally associated with geekdom probably has a lot to do with the feelings of safety that permits sexual self-expression at cons. And of course, since the costumes at SF cons are themed, one gets the additional safety net of not just dressing sexy, but having the option to dress as a favorite SF character who just happens to dress sexy -- thus all the women who dress as Michael Linsner's Dawn, enough to make a costume contest worthwhile.
Although beginners exploring their sexuality were plentiful at DragonCon, some of the women there were clearly pretty darned comfortable in public in sexy costumery, so much so that you had to figure that it wouldn't faze them to be crawling around the floors naked in chains with a ballgag harness on their heads and two vibrators tied into their butts. In the sense that they would enjoy it. Probably some of them were doing just that in the early morning hours on some infrequented areas of the hotel, despite the "no nudity" rule DragonCon officials invoked for costumes for the first time this year.
In short, open displays of sexuality, including bondage gear and imagery, is being mainstreamed but it's not being done on TV or in the movies, it's occurring at SF cons and bridal shows and fashion shows. It's occurring because people want a public venue where adults can safely be sexy without necessarily being sexy in a commercial sort of way. In a society that has so many elements that disapprove of any public displays of any kind of sexuality (and most private sexuality as well, if the truth be told) events like DragonCon represent a chance for people, especially young people, to publicly express themselves as adults with a sexual identity, in a fun way that's not all that threatening.