I have the benefit of a very sexually open, pro-sex, highly sex-educated upbringing. Perhaps as a result of this, I went through a period — back when I was first becoming sexually active — where I simply could not figure out why sexual acts with people I didn’t care about, didn’t seem to turn me on. Or rather — they turned me on a little, but not … much. It actually took me a while to register that the difference was emotional engagement: sexual acts with people I really cared about were dramatically better. This seems so obvious, I’m kinda shocked by how long it took me.

(For the record: I identify as very sex-positive! — but my issues with the general sex-positive message, or at least the way the message has largely been received, deserve their own post. I’m sure I’ll write one soon.)

Eventually, I came to terms with the fact that I not only was way more into sexual acts with people I was emotionally invested in; I was really not into sexual acts with people I wasn’t emotionally invested in. I personally dislike casual sex, even when the acts in question are as “mild” as heavy petting. So I pretty much stopped.

On some level, though, my preference against casual sex has always bothered me. For a while, it was because I just didn’t feel “liberated” enough. (I wish I could get every American child with a liberal sex education to write this 100 times: “It is a perfectly valid preference if you don’t want to have casual sex! It doesn’t mean you’re repressed, or warped, or should try to train yourself out of it!”) Anyway, after I got past the “liberation” trap, I started feeling depressed about the fact that this is a huge limit on my sexual experimentation.

I mean, ideally, if I want to explore my sexuality to the greatest possible extent, I need to be open to having sex with lots and lots of people, right? And I’m just … not. Which means that my sexual experimentation is limited to people I already care about, feel somewhat connected to, have built something with already. I find this incredibly annoying! But ultimately, I acknowledge that I feel much worse if I try to force/guilt trip myself into casual sex, than I do when I limit my sexual partners. I feel way better when I’m somewhat frustrated and not getting any, than I would if I tried to take the edge off by screwing some guy I’m not very interested in.

(Oddly, I’ve had one or two casual encounters that I enjoyed. I’ve never been able to figure out why those were different from the others — I’m working on it. Maybe it’s just that I connected emotionally more quickly to those guys than I do to most people? … For the most part, though, I recall my casual encounters with a wince — mostly because I felt so confused. “Why aren’t I enjoying this more?” I was asking myself. “I must be. Sex is fun, right?”)

So. I have established that I’m not into casual sex. I’ve gotten better at setting boundaries with people I’m not very sexually interested in. And I’m okay with that, albeit frustrated.

But what about casual kink?

I discovered my BDSM orientation a few years ago; I went through a period of adjustment, and then I went through a couple of monogamous relationships. Since the end of my last relationship I’ve played, BDSM-wise, with people I didn’t know very well — in a few cases, total strangers. I’m glad I did it, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot. But the encounters that rated as most enjoyable were ones where there was more effort put forth to emotionally connect, especially the ones that happened in private. (I think privacy really intensifies my ability to connect to my partner.) *

Not that it’s incredibly easy to connect to me! There’s this stereotype that tops are closed off and emotionally cold, and bottoms are emotionally open — easily taken advantage of. But when I look at my BDSM experiences, I see that I have often been less emotionally accessible than tops I’ve played with. I shut myself down, I don’t talk about what I’m thinking, I give only small wedges of information about myself and what I want. It takes a lot for me to tell a top much of what I’m feeling. This is a pattern I am working to break.

What all this probably means is that it would be good for me to take more time to get to know the tops I’m interested in, before I play with them. I should try to build care before going straight for the BDSM.

Yeah, half of me thinks I really should simply close myself off to casual kink, the same way I’ve pretty much closed myself off to casual sex. Yet the other half is screaming against that, because my BDSM urge is way stronger than my sexual urge. Not that I don’t love sex, and want it, and enjoy the hell out of it! However. I crave BDSM. Going without sex feels less like celibacy than going without BDSM.

It’s also easier for me to enjoy casual BDSM, than it is for me to enjoy casual sex. There’s a few reasons for this. One is that extreme pain can … blank me … much more easily than sex can. And I need to trust my partner way more to immerse myself in the right headspace for sex, than I do to get into the right headspace for masochism.

In conclusion, I’m not sure, but I think I’m coming to a place where I want to limit my casual BDSM. Which is even more frustrating than limiting casual sex! And it’s even worse at this moment in my life, because I got very badly burned in my last relationship — the passage of time just seems to make it more obvious how much further I need to heal before I’ll be ready for a new boyfriend. Am I limiting myself to celibacy until then? Damn it, I don’t want that!

Sigh. We’ll see.

… Of course, preferences do change over time. I’m open to having different feelings about casual BDSM (and even casual sex) now, from my feelings in the future. Also, I’ve been having some surprisingly intense toppish fantasies lately, too (surprising because — until now, anyway — I’ve identified mostly as a bottom). Those fantasies don’t seem to have anything to do with sex, and they feel somewhat … performative. I’m curious to see whether, in the course of exploring them, I’ll find myself interested in topping casually and/or publicly.

* Hey kids! If you are considering having a casual BDSM experience in private, then be careful! If you can, then ask your partner for references — call the references, and see what they have to say. Meet any potential partner in a public place and hash out the details of what you want to happen, before you go private with them. Be sure to look at their driver’s license, and text their real name and license number to a trusted friend before you leave the public place. Arrange to call the friend at a prearranged time later — and instruct the friend to go to the police if they don’t hear from you. (Incidentally, you should probably do the same thing if you go home with a stranger to have sex with them!) Please note that you are usually quite safe if you have a BDSM experience with a stranger in the middle of a community playspace such as a dungeon; if you do that, make sure that you know the house safeword (it’s probably “red”) so you know what to scream if you want outsiders to intervene. Please also note that even if you are a top, you are not totally safe with someone you don’t know or trust: for one thing, you could be risking assault charges if there is a communication failure and your partner ends up feeling violated … or if your partner is a sociopath and decides to screw you over.