Bloody Laughter has recently started a fantastic series of posts about BDSM screwups, and how it would be helpful if the BDSM community were more willing to talk about the encounters we’ve had that went wrong. You know: the encounters where we miscommunicated — felt confused — felt like we were pushed into things before we were ready — pushed our partners into things they weren’t ready for ….

Miscommunications happen even in committed, loving relationships. (They even happen in totally “normal”, heterosexual, vanilla relationships — imagine that!) Sometimes those miscommunications are overall positive, because they help partners figure out where their boundaries are. Sometimes they’re overall negative: they strain the relationship, they cause fights, someone ends up feeling violated, someone else feels misunderstood. But either way, talking about these things is one of the best ways to figure out how to avoid them in the future. We cannot create a truly safe, consensual BDSM community unless we’re willing to articulate and describe what it means to be unsafe and unconsensual.

Obviously, I agree with Bloody Laughter. And I’ve got some ideas for posts about some of the problems that have come up, the mistakes I’ve made in my BDSM relationships. But I’m also terrified of posting them. I identify primarily as a bottom — a mostly heterosexual one to boot … so I’m a woman who likes being hurt and dominated by male partners. (Though I’ll admit to a couple of toppish screwups in my time, too.) And that means that the average audience could map all kinds of scary, incorrect abuse images onto my stories. I mean, even I — when I was coming into BDSM — even I was afraid that my desires meant I “wanted” to be assaulted, that I “wanted” to be raped, that I was participating in something deeply warped and abusive.

Of course I don’t want to be assaulted, I don’t want to be raped — of course I am not participating in abuse. But. If even I had these thoughts, once … then how can I expect an audience containing vanilla people to look at my desires, my fantasies, my consensual experiences without flinching in horror? In this particular case, how do I talk about BDSM experiences that went wrong? If I discuss my less-than-perfect moments here, I think I’m mostly telling them to a BDSM-friendly audience: an audience that will get something constructive out of what I’m saying, and might use my experiences as a guide to avoid screwups themselves. But then again, this is the wide world of the Internet, where the audience potentially contains everyone. And the last thing I want is for Concerned Women for America to pick up one of my blog posts and quote me out of context and tell the world about Clarisse Thorn’s abusive BDSM lifestyle.

Arguably, this is a particularly important problem for me, because I am specifically trying to do BDSM outreach right now. I am trying to let the world know that kinksters are not scary. Do I have more “responsibility” in my self-representation? Is it more dangerous for me to talk about problematic BDSM experiences, than it would be for other people?

So. I’ve got some stuff written out, that I’m scared to post. If I post, am I damaging the BDSM community image? If I don’t post, am I allowing anti-BDSMers to silence me?

(Never mind that every vanilla person ever born has had sexual experiences that crossed boundaries — sexual experiences that were poorly negotiated. That’s understood and expected, goddamnit. For so many people out there, their standards for sexual communication are so low, they don’t even notice screwups that the BDSM community usually recognizes as major. Not that I think the BDSM community is perfect, not that I think every kinkster is a brilliant communicator … but we train sexual communication in ways the outside world simply doesn’t.

For instance, there are so many people out there — girls and guys — who are being pressured into sexual acts they’re not comfortable with. Here’s just one example: How many people don’t understand that it’s unacceptable for their boyfriend/girlfriend to demand — say — that they perform sexual acts at times when they’re not in the mood? How many people don’t feel empowered to tell their partner, “I’m not up for that right now, sweetheart”? There’s a lot of them.

Everyone knows that people are sometimes pressured into heterosexual vanilla sex, and yet no one uses that as an argument against heterosexual vanilla sex in itself.

The contrast just kills me. Sure, there were a few problematic miscommunications with — for example — some of my recent BDSM partners. But my slight frustration when I think of those moments pales in comparison to the rage and resentment I feel against my first real boyfriend, whom I dated on and off for six years. My relationship with Boyfriend #1 was entirely vanilla — it was the most vanilla relationship I’ve ever had; we only indulged in genital and oral sex — and he managed to screw me up way past anything anyone else ever did to me. Just thinking about him makes me feel used.

And it just seems totally unfair that I can talk about anything he said to me and people won’t be shocked; but if I mention some of the things my most recent ex-boyfriend said to me, people could be horrified and use it as ammunition for anti-BDSM rhetoric.)

You know, maybe what I should do is write a series of posts in which half the post is about a totally vanilla relationship screwup I’ve experienced, and half of the post is about a BDSM-related screwup. Just to put it all in perspective.

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Check out my later post, Communication Screwup Post 1: Isn’t Tickling Cuuute?