Posts Tagged ‘communication’

2011 2 Aug

Thinking More Clearly About BDSM versus Abuse

Years ago, when I first started thinking about BDSM and abuse, I was defensive. A lot of feminist BDSMers are defensive about it.

We get scared of the accusation that “BDSM is always abuse” … and we’re accustomed to accusations from certain feminists such as “those of you who pretend to like BDSM just have Patriarchy Stockholm Syndrome and don’t know what you really want” … and often, we’re also fighting our own inner BDSM stigma demons. We get angry that our sexual needs are seen as politically problematic, or unimportant.

And so, for a lot of people, our instinctive angle on abuse in the BDSM community is: “Shut up! That’s not what’s going on!” And that’s a problem.

Obviously, I don’t think BDSM is inherently abusive! Exploring my personal BDSM desires has given me some extraordinary, consensual, transcendent experiences and connections. I also genuinely believe that BDSM has the potential to control, subvert, and manage power.

BDSM can be a place where people learn to understand bad power dynamics in past relationships; it can be a place where people learn to manage or destroy bad power dynamics in their current relationships; it can be a place where people find glory, self-knowledge and freedom by manipulating their own reactions and responses to power. Here’s a great, complicated relevant essay by Pepper Mint, and here’s one of my favorite quotations on the matter from violetwhite:

It’s ironic that the most perverse manipulations of power in my life occurred in a past vanilla relationship, where I tolerated tyranny because the normative structure of our relationship obscured the fact that that is what it was.

Still, I’ve seen things happen in the BDSM community that turned my stomach. Terrible manipulative behavior exhibited by people who have the greatest reputations. Blaming the victim when they try to speak up. Telling “rumor mongers” to shut up when people are trying to talk openly about problematic community members. The BDSM subculture has its own version of rape culture, where “lying bitch” and “drama queen” and “miscommunication” are used against abuse survivors.

Miscommunications do happen. But not everything that could be a miscommunication is actually a miscommunication.

Oh yes, rape culture can happen in BDSM just the same way it happens in the “vanilla” mainstream. And there are certainly people in my local community who I would never get involved with, because I do not trust them. (I like Asher Bauer’s old post, “A Field Guide To Creepy Dom“, which is all about how to spot predators — although, like Asher, I think the post has a few problems.)

Being defensive about BDSM and abuse won’t help; yes, BDSM is stigmatized and stereotyped, but the abuse is still a problem. So after I started blogging, I tried to move past my defensiveness and write more concretely — to write about what exactly the BDSM community does to work against abuse. One of my first posts on BDSM and abuse was called “Evidence That The BDSM Community Does Not Enable Abuse“. It highlighted anti-abuse initiatives within the BDSM community.

As I learned more about BDSM and abuse, and my perspective got more nuanced, I wrote a more expansive post called “The Alt Sex Anti-Abuse Dream Team“. It covered all the information I’d given in the earlier post, and also talked about how I personally would structure an anti-abuse initiative with alt-sex people in mind.

Looking back now, those posts still strike me as defensive. I was making good points, but I also think that I didn’t fully understand where some feminists are coming from when they react negatively to BDSM. This past year, I’ve learned a lot more about abusive gender-based violence, power, and control. And I’ve concluded that while BDSM is obviously not equivalent to abuse, we need better theory to describe the difference between BDSM and abuse, and we should try to avoid defensiveness while articulating that theory.

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2011 20 Jul

[slogan] Start From A Position of Strength

A while back, I attended a workshop run by educator Sarah Sloane on the topic of BDSM and abuse. Sarah centered her workshop on a maxim that I have hereby stolen: “Start from a position of strength, and seek strength in the end.”

I’ve been thinking about this a lot in terms of not just polyamory and BDSM, but sex in general. All types of sexuality are more pleasurable for some people, and less pleasurable for others; emotionally easier for some people, and more difficult for others. I have zero interest in telling other people how they “should” or “shouldn’t” deal with their sexuality, as long as what they’re doing is consensual. I want to say right now that nothing I’m about to write is intended to tell others how they “should” or “shouldn’t” do S&M; it’s just my own thoughts on how I might choose and process my experiences.

I can certainly consent to whatever, even if that thing is problematic or scary or difficult or complicated — I can consent. The thing is, if I want to get something amazing and positive out of my experiences, I think it’s good to start from a position of strength.

In some ways this is clear. For example, I think that being with a partner who genuinely wants me to have a good experience, who really cares about me, and who wants to see me again — that’s almost always a position of strength. Even if I have fairly intense, dark S&M encounters with that person, I can feel confident that he’ll treat me with respect; that he’ll give me space and lend me strength for emotional processing afterwards.

Also, knowing what I want is a position of strength; understanding how I feel is a position of strength. Being able to recognize my emotional difficulties, hiccups, triggers and landmines is a position of strength. Knowing for sure that I can call my safeword, if necessary, is a position of strength. On a physical level, I prefer to do S&M when my body is in good shape — when I’m well-rested and I’ve eaten healthy food. That, too, is a position of strength.

In some ways this can become murky. For example: I am rarely interested in one-night stands. There are a number of reasons for this, but one reason is that — especially as a woman — feeling like a “slut” can be scary, difficult cultural territory. And when I don’t feel good about myself, my interest in one-night stands is even lower — because I know that dealing with the difficult territory of “sluthood” will be harder with low self-esteem. If I’m feeling happy, strong, competent, valuable, and loved by the world … then one-night stands can easily be fun. If I doubt my worth, or if I doubt how much I deserve love … then one-night stands can be self-destructive.

The same goes for relationships with people who don’t care about me. If I’m sure that a guy has no emotional interest in me, then having sex with that guy can be a dangerous emotional proposition for me, and one that I need to feel strong for. This doesn’t always end up being true — I’ve definitely had sexual encounters that left me emotionally unaffected — but sometimes it’s hard to predict whether I’ll want more emotional investment from a given dude, so I try to keep it in mind for all encounters. (From a polyamorous perspective, I’ve noticed that less-emotional sex is often easier to handle when I’m already in a solid relationship with someone else.)

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2011 13 Jul

[random] Lost And Found Man

This piece has basically nothing to do with sex and gender. I originally wrote it a while back, pondered trying to get it published, made some desultory attempts at doing so, failed, and then forgot about it for a while. I still like it, though, and I’ve got no idea what else to do with it, so here it is. Maybe I should set aside one post each month for Random Non-Sex, Non-Feminism, Non-Gender Tangents.

* * *

My friend Ryo Chijiiwa turned down an offer from Facebook to work at Yahoo, and later moved to Google. Then, in 2009, he bought an isolated plot of land in the northern California woods — 6 hours by car from San Francisco — and built his own small house. His property, which he calls Serenity Valley, is positively covered with gorgeous trees and attractive outlooks onto the mountains. The nearest Internet access is in a town half an hour away, where Ryo occasionally goes for supplies.

Ryo has shoulder-length hair and wide dark eyes, and he wears no-nonsense clothes full of pockets. I first met him in August 2010 at the San Francisco meetup known as Burning Man, but I already knew him by reputation. Our mutual friends spoke admiringly of his intelligence and — unusually — frugality: his apartments had always been Spartan, and he built his own bedframe, even when he was receiving an excellent salary as a software engineer. (Ryo later insisted he’s not actually that frugal: “It’s just that I spent all my money on easy-to-miss things, like travel and guns.”)

Burning Man, in all its chaotic artistic glory, was my reintegration into America. I’d just returned from working in rural southern Africa, and I was a bundle of confused emotions. [1] I loved the brilliant lights, libertine community, and sheer creative energy of Burning Man — but sometimes it was a bit much to deal with. Sometimes I wanted someplace more peaceful and less self-consciously hedonistic. If I hadn’t been drawn in by Ryo’s good-natured intelligence, then the minute he spoke about living quietly in the woods I would have been hooked. Of course, it didn’t hurt that I thought he was cute.

* * *

I’m still not sure how I convinced Ryo to take me to Serenity Valley, but here we are, driving out. Rather, he’s doing most of the driving, and I’m asking questions about his childhood across three countries. Ryo was born in 1980, and his family moved from America to Japan when he was 7. When he was 10, they went to Germany, and there he stayed until age 18. The family always spoke Japanese at home.

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2011 1 Jul

“Inherent Female Submission”: The Wrong Question

I get a certain question occasionally, from straight dudes who’ve had a number of sexual partners. It goes something like this:

All the women I’ve slept with liked pain. They asked me to hurt them or to dominate them in bed. I did it, and enjoyed it; I loved how much it turned them on … it turned them on a lot. But I keep thinking about it now. Why are all women into being submissive and/or masochistic in bed? What does that mean?

They ask me this question in vaguely worried tones. Sometimes they say things like, “It’s really creepy.” It is obvious that these dudes are rather concerned about this Terrible Truth.

Here’s my short answer for those guys: If you know women who are submissive and/or masochistic in bed, that means those particular women like being submissive and/or masochistic in bed. It doesn’t mean anything else.

You’re still here? Ah, well. I figured that wouldn’t satisfy. So here’s a longer answer:

Firstly, if you’re a straight dude, and you’re drawing conclusions about “all women” based on the women you get involved with, then stop. Just stop. Even if you have slept with zillions of women, you don’t actually know what all women want, because:

A) Your experience of women is limited to women who got involved with you. You are screening for certain qualities, sometimes consciously, and sometimes unconsciously or by accident. If you tend to enjoy the dominant role, for example, or if you use a dominant style of flirtation, then you could be screening for submissive female partners, whether you intend to or not.

B) Everyone has biases, including you. I love the old saying: “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” If you have a bias towards seeing women as sexually submissive (and you almost certainly do, because female sexual submission is a hugely prevalent cultural trope), then you’re more likely to see female submission in places where it does not exist.

C) Women, like people of all genders, are demonstrably varied. You really don’t think non-submissive straight women exist? Why then, it must be so inconvenient when I point you to the work of blatantly dominant women, huh? It’s shocking, I know … next I’ll be telling you that queer and asexual women exist! (Not to mention women who switch among roles — from submissive to dominant, from sadistic to masochistic. I primarily go for submissive masochism, but still, I myself play for both teams.)

The thing is, though … no matter how many holes I can poke in these dudes’ anecdotal “data”, I can’t bring myself to worry like they do. Even if a brilliant, well-reviewed study came out tomorrow and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that 100% of women are submissive masochists in bed, I wouldn’t care. (I bet you my left ear this study will never happen, but I’m just saying, even if it did, I wouldn’t care.)

Let me say it really clearly: Even if most women are submissive masochists in bed (and I’m not convinced most women are), there’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t care. [ 1 ]

Why don’t I care? Because all this anxiety and argument about submission — and in particular, what it means for women to be submissive; whether all women are submissive; whether women are “inherently” or “biologically” submissive; whether BDSM is an orientation or not … this is all the wrong question.

I’ll note that the research seems to indicate that more kinky women are submissives than dominant. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily indicate anything about the tastes of women who don’t identify as kinky. And it’s probably biased by culture, in that everything from fashion photos to romance novels emphasizes female submission and male dominance. Within BDSM culture, female dominance and male submission are often disappeared, much to the justified frustration of actual female dominants and male submissives. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail — sometimes including our own psyches and sexualities. Plus, if the only available patterns for kink emphasize something a person doesn’t like, then that person will probably avoid kink. Note that in the research I linked to, for example, the percentage of submissive women was higher in samples from within the BDSM subculture than in samples from outside the BDSM subculture … perhaps because many BDSM subcultural gatherings emphasize female submission and thereby alienate women who are primarily dominant. Anyway, regardless … this is still the wrong question.

In short, “inherent female submission” is the wrong question.

Certainly, I’ve fought through a lot of personal fears about what my interest in BDSM meant for me as a feminist … but these days I have trouble understanding what, exactly, got me so upset. I can’t believe how long it took me to outthink those fears. Now, it just seems instinctively obvious to me that:

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2011 9 Jun

In Praise of Monogamy

There are lots of different ways of approaching non-monogamous relationships, such as:

+ Polyamory: Usually emphasizes developing full-on romantic relationships with more than one partner. Lately I’ve been pondering and working on a number of tricky questions about implementing polyamory. (I’ve been researching polyamory since my teens, but only in recent years did I decide to actively pursue it.)

+ Swinging: Usually emphasizes couples with their own close bond, who have relatively casual sex with other partners. (Another difference between swinging and polyamory is that swingers tend to be more at home in mainstream culture, whereas polyamorists tend to be geeky or otherwise “alternative”. Here’s a great, long piece on poly culture vs. swing culture.)

+ Cheating: One partner does something with an outside partner that wasn’t accepted or understood in advance. In monogamous relationships, cheating usually involves having sex with an outside partner. Cheating exists in polyamorous or swing relationships as well: for example, a person might cheat on a non-monogamous partner by breaking an agreement — an agreement such as “we don’t have unprotected sex with other partners”.

Just in case it needs to be said: I never advocate cheating, ever. As for the first two, I know both poly people and swingers that I consider totally decent and wonderful folks! I have more personal experience with and interest in polyamory, though.

Yet one thing that often gets lost in conversations about all these options is the advantages of monogamy. Of which there are many. Although I don’t currently identify as monogamous, I had a very strong monogamous preference for years. I knew that polyamory existed, and I thought about it a lot, because it’s interesting — but I just didn’t feel like it was for me. (In fact, my most adamantly polyamorous friend used to call me his “reasonable monogamous friend”. He said I had examined polyamory enough to reasonably reject it, whereas he felt most people never consider polyamory deeply enough to have a thoughtful opinion.)

And lately lots of my monogamous friends have been getting married. So I’ve been thinking about the positive aspects of their relationship choices as I dance at their weddings, devour mini-quiches, flirt with their brothers and try to avoid offending their parents. (Okay, I’ve actually only flirted with one brother. So far.)

A Few Advantages of Monogamy (this is not a complete list)

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2011 27 May

I’m Not Your Sex-Crazy Nympho Dreamgirl

This was originally published on May 12, 2011 over at the Good Men Project.

There’s this cultural image of what it means to be female, and good in bed. The image includes being young and thin and cisgendered of course, and that can be problematic. But it also includes a lot of behavioral stuff: the way you squirm, the way you moan, being Super Excited about everything the guy wants to do, and Always Being Up for It — whatever “It” is. When people think about “good in bed,” for a woman, that’s often what they think.

Here’s a short list of some things I think are totally awesome:

+ Squirming and moaning during sex in a genuine way, out of genuine pleasure!

+ Acting Super Excited when your partner wants to do something you’re actually Super Excited about!

+ Being up for sexual experimentation and trying new things, while keeping track of your boundaries and saying no (or calling your safeword) to sexual things you really don’t like!

Those things are great. They’re great when they happen in all kinds of sex, and I have no problem with how people experience or deal with with those things — whether people get them from vanilla or S&M sex, or porn, or sex with multiple people, or queer sex, or whatever. All consensual sex is fine with me. (In particular, in pieces like the one you’re about to read, I often have to make it really clear that I’m not anti-porn. OK? I’m not anti-porn. Got that? Say it with me now: Clarisse Thorn is not anti-porn. Yay, it rhymes!)

What scares me, however—what continuously gets my goat, what still occasionally makes me feel weird about sex — is how easy it is to perform those three things I listed above. Because I have always, since before I even started having sex, known exactly what I was supposed to look like while I had sex. I don’t even know how I internalized those images: some of them through porn, I suppose, or art or erotica or what have you; some of them by reading sex tips on the Internet or hearing the ones whispered to me by friends. But I can definitely assure you that before I had any actual sexual partners, I knew how to give a good blowjob. I also knew how to tilt my head back and moan, and I knew how to twist my body, and I knew what my reactions and expressions were supposed to look and sound like — I knew all those things much better than I knew what would make me react.

There was a while there, where my sexuality was mostly performance: an image, an act, a shell that I created because I knew it was hot for my partners. I’m not saying I was performing 100% of the time — but certainly, when I was just starting to have sex, that’s mostly what it was. And, scarily, I can put the shell back on at any time. Sometimes it’s hard to resist, because I know men will reward me for it, emotionally, with affection and praise. It’s much, much more difficult to get what I actually want out of a sexual interaction than it is for me to create that sexy dreamgirl shell: hard for me to communicate my desires, hard for me to know what I’m thinking, hard for me to set boundaries.

And hard to believe that a guy will like me as much, if I try to be honest about what I want. Honesty means that sometimes I’m confused, and sometimes we have to Talk About It; honesty means that sometimes I say no, it means that sometimes I’m not Up For It. Something in me is always asking: Surely he’d prefer the sexy, fake, plastic dreamgirl shell? It’s not true, I know it’s not true, I swear it’s not true — I don’t have such a low opinion of men as that. I know this is just a stereotype, the idea that men are emotionally stunted horndogs with no interest in how their partners feel.

So sometimes, I have to fight myself not to perform. But it’s worth it — because the hardest thing of all is feeling locked into an inauthentic sexuality. I tell myself, I try to force myself to believe it: even if a guy would like me more for faking and holding back and being so-called “low-maintenance” — I tell myself it’s a stereotype, but even if that stereotype is true of some men — no man is worth doing that to myself. No man is worth that trapped, false, sick feeling.

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2011 1 May

[litquote] The stories we tell ourselves about relationships

The following quotations are from the beginning of Phyllis Rose’s unusual and very interesting Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages. Rose, who knows an amazing amount about the personal lives of famous Victorians, starts the book with general insights about relationships — not just marriage, really — and then goes on to describe the marriages (Thomas Carlyle, John Ruskin, John Stuart Mill, Charles Dickens and George Eliot) in a charming and continuously insightful manner.

There are things here that I don’t agree with, or that I would frame differently. In particular, it seems to me that Rose probably doesn’t have much exposure to BDSM, and especially to explicitly-negotiated power play. She says a lot of things about power in relationships, how that power functions — and how it is disguised — that seem limited to me, as someone who plays with power on purpose very frequently. Nevertheless, I’ve drawn insight from those parts too, and generally think it’s all pretty brilliant.

Pickup artists may note similarities between Rose’s ideas and pickup frame theory.

* * *

In unhappy marriages … I see two versions of reality rather than two people in conflict. I see a struggle for imaginative dominance going on. Happy marriages seem to me those in which the two partners agree on the scenario they are acting, even if … their own idea of their relationship is totally at variance with the facts. I speak with great trepidation about “facts” in such matters, but, speaking loosely, the facts in the Mills’ case — that a woman of strong and uncomplicated will dominated a guilt-ridden man — were less important than their shared imaginative view of the facts, that their marriage fitted their shared ideal of a marriage of equals. I assume, then, as little objective truth as possible about these parallel lives, for every marriage seems to me a subjectivist fiction with two points of view often deeply in conflict, sometimes fortuitously congruent. (page 7)

* * *

… like Mill, I believe marriage to be the primary political experience in which most of us engage as adults, and so I am interested in the management of power between men and women in that microcosmic relationship. Whatever the balance, every marriage is based on some understanding, articulated or not, about the relative importance, the priority of desires, between the two partners. Marriages go bad not when love fades — love can modulate into affection without driving two people apart — but when this understanding about the balance of power breaks down, when the weaker member feels exploited or the stronger feels unrewarded for his or her strength.

People who find this a chilling way to talk about one of our most treasured human bonds will object that “power struggle” is a failed circumstance into which relationships fall when love fails. (For some people it is impossible to discern the word power without adding the word struggle.) I would counter by pointing out the human tendency to invoke love at moments when we want to disguise transactions involving power. … [W]hen we resign power, or assume new power, we insist it is not happening and demand to be talked to about love. Perhaps that is what love is — a momentary or prolonged refusal to think about another person in terms of power. … [W]hat we call love may inhibit the process of power negotiation — from which inhibition comes the illusion of equality so characteristic of lovers. If the impulse to abjure measurement and negotiation comes from within, unbidden, it is one of life’s graces and blessings. But if it is culturally induced … then we may find it repugnant and call it a mask for exploitation. Surely, in regard to marriage, love has received its fair share of attention, power less than its share. … Who can resist the thought that love is the ideological bone thrown to women to distract their attention from the powerlessness of their lives? Only millions of romantics can resist it — and other millions who might see it as the bone thrown to men to distract them from the bondage of their lives. (pages 7-8)

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2011 22 Apr

Going under

“Come back,” an S&M partner said softly, the other day, pushing my hair out of my eyes. I blinked and shook my head in a futile attempt to clear it.

“That’s weird,” I said. “Someone else used to say those words to me when I was coming out of subspace. I … that’s weird.”

“I’m not surprised,” he said. “It’s a natural thing to say to you. You go under so fast, and so deep. You’re so far away.”

“Not all the time,” I said. “And not with everyone. You’re good at putting me there.”

He smiled. “You bring it out in me.”

Subspace is so hard to describe. I’ve written about it before, in passing, in multiple posts, because it’s so important, but I’ve never come up with a good description for it; and when I Google for it I can see that other people have the same problem. When I’m starting to go into subspace it’s just soft and dark and slow. But when I’m really far under, I’m totally blank. Falling. Flying.

Somewhere else.

Come back.

What is it, where do I go? It’s just submissive, masochist headspace. But I don’t always get into subspace when I submit, and I don’t always get into it when I take pain either. I’m not sure what the other ingredients are: some amount of trust, of course. And strong feelings about my partner make everything more intense … way more intense. Orders of magnitude more intense. Still, I’ve had new partners put me under with surprising thoroughness.

It’s a lot like deep sexual arousal — hard to think, hard to process, hard to make decisions — but the deepest sexual arousal does not put me anywhere near deep subspace. Deep subspace is. More. Than anything else.

Some S&M teachers tell people not to drive after an S&M encounter, not for a while; not until you’re over the subspace. They compare it to an altered state, like being drunk. Some S&M teachers caution that it’s dangerous for the dominant partner to suggest a new activity in the middle of an S&M encounter — something that wasn’t negotiated beforehand — because the submissive may not be able to think clearly enough to consent. (And because in those moments, the submissive will have a harder time than ever saying no.)

I sometimes think that when I was younger and less experienced, I abandoned myself to subspace more easily. I’m better at pulling myself out of subspace now, but I think the cost may be that it’s harder for me to really get into it. (Safety first?) I trained myself to be able to say, “Don’t stop,” when I wanted my partner to keep going. (Sound easy? Trust me, it took a while.) Playing with unfamiliar partners, I trained myself to be on guard. (One of my sex worker friends told me once, “I don’t care how deep the subspace is, I can always come out if the client tries to fuck me without a condom.”) I got better at calling my safeword before I had to — asking my partner to do something else or give me a break, rather than suddenly stopping everything once I hit my absolute limit.

I am nowhere near perfect, of course. In particular, I can rarely answer complicated questions, and sometimes my partners literally can’t get me to answer any questions when I’m subspaced. Sometimes it takes me a long time to come out, and partners may get nervous while I’m surfacing. But I’m not sure these aspects can actually be eliminated from subspace. And I’ve gotten better.

I’m sure that in an emergency, I could talk and function straight out of heavy subspace. I doubt I would be optimally intelligent and thoughtful, however.

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2011 11 Apr

My top questions about dealing with multiple lovers

Polyamory is a form of consensual non-monogamy in which people have multiple lovers, and are honest with each other about doing so. I have a lot more theoretical exposure to polyamory than personal experience, but I’ve been gaining more personal experience over the last year. It’s often interesting, sometimes painful.

Some recent experiences are making me think I am not nearly as smart or as on top of my emotions as I like to believe I am. I remind myself that I have to be willing to acknowledge when I don’t know what I’m thinking, but that’s harder than it looks … I don’t always take enough time to understand my feelings before speaking or acting.

Still. Through the stupid mistakes and the understandable ones, though my own failures to be sensitive and the little heartbreaks I’ve sustained, I’ve been learning.

One thing I think I’ve figured out is what I want: I want a number of different relationships that are ongoing, and one or two relationships that are primary, or especially committed. Ideally, in fact, I’d love to eventually have a permanent relationship with a primary polyamorous partner in which we have kids with each other, live together most of the time, etc, but are still polyamorous. That would be a while in the future, though — for now, it’s important to me to not feel as though my partners expect me to settle down or stay in one place or anything like that. It seems like any relationship I develop, even during this relatively early time in my life, could become a child-rearing relationship eventually — like, years from now — but if it does, I doubt I’d want to make it monogamous.

I recognize that we don’t always get our ideal world. In fact, we usually don’t. Although polyamory is a high priority for me, it may be something I eventually compromise on, given that the majority of people in this world identify as monogamous. (On the other hand, it’s worth noting that research shows 40% of young couples don’t agree with each other about whether they’re monogamous or not. How are these people communicating?)

Keeping all that in mind, my preference for polyamory presents some challenges, and questions that I worry about. Such as:

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2011 11 Mar

[storytime] Sex communication case studies

In the wake of my last post, which was basically a meditation on one relationship with bad sexual communication, I want to offer some positive examples of sexual communication from my life. [footnote 1]

* * *

1) Low pressure and leather belts. Years ago, when I was pretty inexperienced in the community, I had a single BDSM encounter with a gentleman in his home. We met at a BDSM discussion group, arranged to meet later at a café, and went home from there; as we exited the café, I took his driver’s license and texted his full name and license number to a friend. (I think more people should do this, frankly — in fact, more non-BDSM people should do this when they go home with strangers from bars.)

We sat together on the public transit and quietly discussed the upcoming scene: he asked me many, many questions about what I was okay with and not okay with. Questions like: “What do you have experience with?” “Could you go into that more?” “What do you like?” “What makes that fun for you?” “Is there anything you really don’t want me to do?” He asked a lot of the questions twice, too, which I think is a really great strategy especially with new partners. People don’t always have their heads together enough during these conversations to answer an S&M question properly the first time, especially if it’s a broad and open-ended question like “What are the things you really don’t want to do?”

I made it clear that I just wanted a BDSM encounter, that I wasn’t up for oral sex or vaginal sex or anything like that. He’d never had a BDSM encounter that didn’t involve orgasm, so it was a new concept for him, but he was cool with trying it.

After our long discussion of boundaries and limits, we made it to his apartment and settled in. He got out some equipment, including a collar, and he said: “While you’re wearing this, you will obey everything I say. Do you have any final boundaries to set? Anything you really want me to do? Anything else you don’t want me to do?” I said no, and he snapped on the collar. (We did have an agreed-upon safeword, though — so I had a way of interrupting the proceedings if I really needed to.)

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