Tag Archives: BDSM

Kittens Are Not Tigers

“You were my single period, you know? And the stuff we did was incredible. I want that. I want more. But my girlfriend isn’t adventurous like you. What can I do?”

I try to answer kindly, because I remember you kindly. This is how you tell her what you like. This is how you explain to her what it means to you. Here are books and blogs, so if she wants to learn more about kink, about swinging, she can do it on her own time.

But all you can do is open that door. You can’t change what she likes any more than she can change what you like, and it would be monstrous of you to try. Don’t forget to listen to what she likes. Don’t forget to learn what that means to her.

I try to answer kindly, but there is a storm lifting my hair in electric ire. I want to say: Of course it was incredible. I know it. You know it. You’re the one who stopped it. You’re the one who chose a girl for her sweetness. How dare you come back to say “help, I’m lucky enough that this perfect, soft kitten is purring just for me…how do I make her a tiger? Only sometimes. Only when it suits me.” How dare you. Do you know how insulting it is to me, that the wantonness that made me undateable is what you want to cultivate in her now? Do you know how insulting it is to her, to tell her you could be happy with her in vanilla monogamy, when you knew you lied?

Kittens are not tigers. You cannot seek the company of something tame and train it to be wild.

I can promise you this: you won’t forget me. Years from now you will catch a glimpse of red hair out of a window and that will be it. The memory of what we did will hit you so hard you stop mid-sentence. You’ll need to brush the gooseflesh from your arms and shake your head to clear it of the echo of my gasps. You won’t miss me–we weren’t close enough for that–but you’ll wonder, a little rueful, why it can’t be like that with her, whoever she is.

I can promise you this: you won’t find someone who satisfies you, not until you understand that women who like the things you do aren’t too perverse to date. That they’re whole sexual being before you ever meet them, that they can and will and should explore their desire when and with whom they see fit. That as long as you think this taints or degrades them, you must see what you want to do as degrading. That they deserve more respect than that (that we all deserve more respect than that). You won’t find a partner who’s right for you until you stop searching only among women you’d have to change to fit you. Because kittens are not tigers. And they deserve to be adored for who they are, not pushed miserable into who you want them to be.

Ripcord

It’s late. I’m alone in a hotel room in a city I’ve never been to before.

It’s late, but I can’t sleep. I’m alone, states away from anyone I could call at this hour. I’m texting  a partner back home, flirting and sending pictures back and forth, both getting more frustrated but not getting off. He’s teasing me for being insatiable. It’s a fair taunt, but not one I plan to let slide.


I’m sure I can find a way to entertain myself for a few nights alone.

Oh?

Yes, I came prepared. [I send a snapshot of a sheet of clothespins leaning against my thigh.]

And you plan to entertain yourself how, exactly?

That’s up to you.

[He tells me where to attach them. I send a photo when it’s done.]

Like this?

Looks about right…needs more clips though.

Yeah, well. TSA might have looked askance at that. Fuck, pulling these off is going to hurt.

Isn’t that the idea? Is it worse to wait or pull as soon as possible?

Waiting. Gives things a chance to get used to the pinching, then it’s worse when it stops.

That’s what I thought. So let things acclimate then change the climate.

Of course you’d say that. Just what am I meant to do while I’m waiting?

Be patient. [He starts talking about other things, making plans for after I get home.]

Just so you know, breathing makes the clothespins on my ribs shift. Ow.

Aww. Guess it’s just as well I didn’t have you line the whole ribcage, then. I considered a couple of other patterns.

Well, maybe I can try something else after you let me pull these ones off.

Oh, you expect me to let you pull them off.

Fuck.

You bastard.

Yes, that I am. Shouldn’t you be a little nicer if you want me to tell you to pull?

I wish you could be here for this.

Not just because I wish someone else would pull this damn ripcord for me.

Oh? To pull the line or to fuck you mercilessly afterwards?

Or to help keep me quiet when they do come off.

So maybe you should try to convince me.

[Hell. I never beg. I hate begging. If one or two renditions of “please” doesn’t get a result, I settle into a prideful state of “fine, I didn’t need that anyway”]

How would it go if I were there?

How would you want it to?

I don’t know how you’d pull. Jerk the whole string at at once, maybe,  or steadily increase pressure to release one clothespin at a time.

Which is worse?

Whichever is worse? I don’t know which one is worse, they’re both damn near unbearable.

I suspect you’d draw it out. Waiting for that rush of pain to hit is its own special torture, and you do love to torture me.

As if you don’t… I can’t tell if this is about pain or sex right now.

Is there a difference? It hurts. And yes, I’m desperate to come.  My clit is throbbing against that horrible clothespin. What the hell was I thinking, putting one there?

That it would please me. So what is it you want?

I wish you were here. I need to come but not half as badly as I need to taste your cock. I want to make you moan and grab me by the hair. I want to do whatever it is you want me to do.

I want you to keep talking. What do you want?

I want to see your face, what this does to you. I want to fly home right fucking now; to hell with this conference I want you to hurt me.

I need to come. Please. God, I need to come ten minutes ago. My legs are shaking. It hurts. It fucking hurts and I can’t touch myself with all these clothespins in the way.

I’m afraid to pull the cord, afraid I’ll make too much noise. Fuck, it’s going to hurt.

Fast or slow, which is worse? It’s a trick question. Waiting is worse.

Please. I need to come. I need these clothespins off of me so I can shove my fingers in my cunt and imagine they’re yours. Just…please.

Pull.


I’d never begged before. Talking, flirting, demanding others say these things for me, sure, but this was new and a little frightening.

New can be a good thing, right?

 

Pain

I had to vent. I’m friends with maledoms. A few of them. Lately their wives and girlfriends have been showing a lot of jealousy. They’ve made new rules, baiting remarks; I’ve made reassurances that ought to be unnecessary. “I just don’t see why they think I’m a threat. They do understand that their partners stay with them for a reason, right?”

“They’ve seen you play. They think that because you like more pain than they do, that you’re better at kink.”

That’s wrong. The conclusion is wrong: more masochistic does not mean better at kink. Want better at kink? Be awesome at knowing and communicating what you want and how to do it safely and well, from either side of the slash. That’s how you do better at kink. Which kinks you like and in what doses are all personal preference. There should be no value attached.

The underlying assumption is wrong. I like heavier impact than most, but there’s no reason to assume that means more pain.

Pain is not a simple response to stimulus. If you line up a dozen masochists in front of tennis ball launchers, hit them all with the same force over the same muscle, they will not rate the pain the same. Do this to the same masochist in different contexts, different moods, after exercise or after rest, s/he will not rate the pain the same.*

Part of this is the subjectivity of pain scales. Ask someone to rate their pain on a scale of 0-10, and two things happen: people exaggerate because they want to be taken seriously, and you realize that 10 (“the worst pain you can imagine”) varies a lot from person to person. I’ve experienced a lot of pain. Look at Hyperbole and a Half’s pain scale. A correctly administered injection usually just grazes over a 1. Having my cervix forcibly dilated was about an 8. Having part of my lip torn off by a dog bite was a 9 or 10. A long, heavy impact scene might hit a 6-6.5. Most don’t. Someone who’s never experienced higher thresholds of pain probably can’t imagine it. If my 6.5 is the most they’ve ever felt, they’ll call that a 10. This is perfectly legitimate; pain scales do not use objective units of measurement.

Beyond the subjectivity of the measurement, we also need to consider the subjectivity of our responses. A punch in a scene feels “ooh yes ow,” I lean into it, want more. An unexpected slap on the shoulder will be “ow! What’s wrong with you that hurt!” Less impact, leads to more of what a non-masochist would call pain. This can be true for a non-masochist in other ways as well. Exercise hurts, but the context convinces us that it’s a good pain, a type of reward. Getting a piercing or tattoo is also somewhat painful, but most of us sit quietly through that even though we’d cuss up a storm if we stepped on a roofing tack. This is in part because reward contexts extend dopamine signals to unrewarded stimuli. If pain is giving us something we want, it makes brain go happy place (I am good at science talk, right?).

We masochists know pain isn’t just one sensation. I said needles were barely a 1, right? But I hate-hate-hate needles. They freak me out. Needle play is “oh hell no” unless I can get a permanent piercing out of it because needles make Nic go to an on-edge and unhappy place. But if someone wants to whale on me with a steel pipe? Yes, please!

Finally, and I can’t stress this enough, pain is an interpretation. The stimulus provides sensation, but you interpret that off-site to decide whether it tickles or stings or hurts; whether to cuss or giggle or moan. The same physical sensation feels very different if we want it, if our muscles are tense, if it reminds us of past trauma. This video does a good job of explaining the process.

So even if the king of crazy town were correct in thinking higher pain tolerance=more better at kink, the stimuli that cause pain are not the things that hurt. Your body is, and your nerves. Stimulus response is variable. This without even discussing nerve damage and sensitivity from a physiological standpoint–you wouldn’t call someone with CIPA the best-ever masochist because nothing hurts them, right? They’re not taking more pain. They’re taking zero pain.

I’m a masochist. The sensations I seek out do genuinely hurt. But it’s not just pain I’m after. It’s what that pain comes with. It’s the dopamine surge, it’s the exquisite ability to come out of my own head, it’s the connection to another person and the way we have to open up to each other. Pain is a route to this, and to the bruises (which I love). People who think it’s important to experience the most pain without concern for what that pain does for them seem to be rather missing the point.

*Oh my goodness. Please? I can do this for science?

(More about pain here. I love so many lines from this page.)

Talk to me

“I want to do like a predicament scene with clothespins.”

“I have clothespins.”

“Yeah?”

“A few hundred of them.”

“Want to get your toybag?”

“Absofuckinglutely.”

“Wait, did we just negotiate?”

“Not yet. Who’s topping?”

“Uh, me. Remind me about your limits? No knives, and..?”

“Don’t fuck with my head, don’t hit my feet. No knives.”

We fumble briefly, decide to lay out a grappling mat. It takes only a minute to turn a vague idea of clothespin predicament into a plan. Four lines of pegs attached to a cross, me on tiptoe with arms stretched wide.

“So you move, you rip them off.” She’s grinning hugely.

“It will be a tense 43 seconds.” I move a lot.

“43 seconds? C’mon, you can do better than that.” She hits me before I can answer. Just slapping, bare handed. I relax into it, waiting for heavy pain. She throws a punch, hard enough to make me wobble. Two pegs snap off my hip, and I giggle.

“What happened to 43 seconds?”

“Getting bored?”

“This standing thing isn’t working for me, you’re too tall.”

“Okay.” I spin to face her, clothespins snapping all at once. She’s closer than I thought, holding a wide stance with her face an inch from my chest. “Oh! Hi!”

She looks up. “Hi. You watch pro wrestling right?” She grabs me under the arm and by the back of the knee, half-tosses half-drops me across the mat. “That’s some WCW shit right there.”

“William Carlos Williams?”

She pauses. I’m balanced on clawed hands and one knee. She’s dragging my body up by the other leg, hauling it up above my head. “What?”

The poet. WCW. You know, ‘so much depends-‘”

“‘On a red wheel barrow–‘ yeah. The hell is wrong with you, girl?”

“How long you got?”

“Until you start screaming.” She slams me down with a thump to the shoulder blade. I see Spouse hand her a wooden spoon. She applies it fast and hard to my inner thighs. I’m sweating, which makes it sting worse. I do scream. Well, yell. “Ow!” and “fuck!” and “fucking ow!”

“Aww, does it hurt?”

“Fucking stinging fucking goddamn fucking spoon! I hate that thing.”

“Guess you should go to your cave.” She starts hitting again, improbably loud slaps that have me punching the mat.

“What are you on about?”

“Your cave.” Slap. “Find your power animal.” Slap. “You know.”

“It’s a goddamn penguin!” We’re both giggling hard.

“Okay okay, be serious. I forget, have we tried this before?” She grabs my chest and lifts. She has tried if before. Attempt to induce a spasm in one of the pectoral nerves, I think. “Yeah. It doesn’t work.”

She frowns. “TMJ?”

“Nope, sorry. I mean you can try.” She applies pressure, and I take a moment to pop my jaw.

“Nothing?”

“Actually feels better now, thanks.”

“No problem.” She punches me in the chest, hard. It’s unexpected. I make a sound when I exhale. “What was that? He-?”

“No, just–hur” she punches again, forces air out.

“Definitely an “H”. Hmm. Hell? Hi? Henry?” We’re back to slapping, apparently. I start laughing, a hand over my mouth doing nothing to hold it in. “What?”

“I’m Henry the eighth, I am…” There is no excuse for singing Herman’s Hermits (hell, I shouldn’t be allowed to sing at all) but I’m committed. At least through the end of the chorus. I can’t remember the rest.

“Oh my fucking God. Turn over. I don’t even want to look at you.” She’s laughing. I hear her rummaging in my bag, focus on my balance rather than looking over. Too much weight on my left knee, pins and needles ascending on that side. She waits while I flex.

There’s no talking after that. She’s found everything that stings and she’s using them hard. I glance up: we have an audience, no one else is playing. Fuck it. I scream. Cuss. Shout. Shriek. Pain turns into energy, needs an outlet. I’m punching the mats in rhythmless staccato, balancing on the fingertips of my left hand while the right slams into the ground.

She stops, hands resting on my thighs. “You good?”

“Yup.”

“‘Yup’? Then what was all that noise about?” A two handed slap, with all her weight behind it. Ow. “Just having a tantrum?”

I giggle. “Hysterics. You know how it is with women; we just have fits over nothing.”

“Ugh, I know.” She pauses, as though she has more to say. Laughs instead. She drags me to my knees, prods everywhere she’s hit. “You’re really warm.” She leans across me to pick up the Sandman. Copper rolls over my skin.

“Fuck!”

“What?”

“It’s cold!”

“It’s cold.” I want to bite her smirk right off. “You don’t like the cold?”

“I am a lizard and I’m going to die!”

The whole room laughs at that one. She laughs loudest. “So go to your cave!”

“It’s cold there too!”

We’re both breathless with laughing. I can’t meet her eyes without making it worse.

“Okay, we good? We done?”

“We good.” I grab her in a bear hug. “Thanks. I needed that.”

“Bet you did, girl.” She helps me clean and pick up–unusual, that.

I’ve had quiet scenes. Play where the loudest sound is a quick breath or a clink of glass. They’re pleasant, calming. Nothing like this. Two people come together not in silent understanding that may or may not be all imagined, but in conversation. We’re raucous and vulgar and laugh too much. We have fun.

Some folks hold back. Don’t joke; it’s disrespectful. Don’t scream; it’s weak. Don’t speak; it’s not the time.

To hell with that. I’m not here to skate the surface of you, I’m here to dive in. Let all those words and sounds and all the rest of it break the surface.

Talk to me.

On Female Dominance. (by a switch)

This was going to be a comment on Ferns‘ recent post about the barriers young dominant women experience in coming into their sexuality, but it got out of hand and turned into a whole gender thing so it’s here now. All the disclaimers: floating around seemingly at random in terms of sexual identity as I do (switch/poly/queer/oy vey), dominance is a thing that I may experience very differently than most women who identify as dominant. I suspect there’s still enough overlap that I can talk about it, but maybe not. Anyway. Her early experience is undoubtedly a common one:

From my perspective as a young woman out in the world, I was never free to exercise any sexual initiative in the way I wanted. So I stifled it.

What I mean by that is that in NO environment was I safe or encouraged to behave in the way I wanted (predatory, aggressive, running the fuck) with men.

Why?

Because men COULD NOT FOLLOW.

As soon as I showed the slightest interest in any man, I was put on the defensive by THEIR aggressive behaviour and there was no way to manage that except to step back and become the gatekeeper.

I can’t even imagine how frustrating this would be. Obviously it’s happened; I’ve made advances and the response has been off-putting and over the top. It’s like when you go to scratch a dog behind the ears and he just can’t handle the excitement, he’s sure you’re best friends now and he wants to lick your face and knock you down with his crazy whip-tail and really all you can do is try to calm him down before you fall over. It’s not all that surprising. Heterosexual men are under overwhelming social pressure to be the aggressor in relationships, even if that’s not their personal preference. It definitely adds to the difficulty so many women have in being the aggressive/assertive partner. A lot of our perceptions about aggression and assertiveness are tied up in the idea of masculinity, which is going to make the process of forming an F/m relationship subversive to some degree. Some folks like being subversive, some find it frustrating that it has to be, but ultimately, it goes against the grain. It’s just harder.

For the most part, I was lucky. With a very few exceptions, I don’t date traditionally masculine men. Some are genderfluid, Most are queer to some degree, one was completely asexual*, and a couple were deeply, oppressively religious. Most of the rest of my partners have been women.  They’ve generally been perfectly happy to let me be a mean, egotistical maniac outspoken, aggressive, and downright bossy. (Well, minus the bossy part when dating a D-type.) Whatever power dynamic formed in each of those relationships formed independently over time to match what worked for us. I really can’t stress enough that I have been lucky as hell in this regard.

I started dating at fifteen. By eighteen I was consistently the more assertive partner in every relationship and the initiator of every one night stand. I didn’t think of it in D/s terms at the time, not because BDSM was unfamiliar but because the mix-n-match of behaviors I indulged didn’t properly fit D/s roles as I understood them. Hell, I still don’t know how to describe a relationship with a terribly conflicted Catholic man that consisted almost entirely of theological debate and ordering him to hurt me. Dominant masochist and evil temptress? Who knows. The point is, even though I had the freedom to be as aggressive as I liked most of the time within a relationship, doing so openly was still incredibly challenging.

There’s a social perception that comes with assertiveness, and it is decidedly masculine. I’m not remotely butch. I can dress the part, and have on occasion, but my default look is long curls and high heels. One of my many objections to cold weather is that it prevents me wearing skirts. But because I’m aggressive–because I reach for the check first, because I make the first move, because in some subtle way it’s typically assumed that I’m going to at least voice if not make joint decisions in a relationship–I’m called the “guy” or the “man” of the relationship. This started way back in undergrad, when I was dating a very butch but rather meek young woman. Over and over friends would laugh that “Nic is so the boy, it’s so cute!” (which pissed us both the hell off because no, actually, we were both women; there is no “boy” in a lesbian relationship**). It continues today with Spouse: a good chunk of our social group have taken to calling him my wife and I frequently have to correct people who assume ours is an F/m relationship. The former we don’t mind. Spouse is genderqueer and mostly indifferent to which gendered nouns and pronouns people use to refer to him. The latter is more problematic. One domme assumed that Spouse was submissive to me because he came to a party in high heels–that is, clearly I had feminized him, and feminine=submissive. One of the reasons he wears heels is to annoy me: I like being taller than he is. It’s ridiculous, and especially hard to understand given that in 90% of my public scenes, I bottom, and in all but one of his public scenes, he’s topped. But he’s not masculine. Must be submissive, right?

It is problematic that emasculation is synonymous with weakness. It is problematic that empowerment is in conflict with traditional femininity (apparently there’s not an accepted word. I looked.) This discourages women from being assertive, aggressive, or dominant: those of us who embrace female identity are told that we can’t keep it if we want to be dominant. For some, that’s a barrier that can be overcome. I have changed Spouse’s car battery in bright red stilettos while threatening the poor Southern gentleman who said “let me just get that for you, darlin’.” My automatic response to anyone who says “you can’t…” is to immediately and with complete disregard for personal safety or social consequences do exactly the thing I “can’t” do. For others, I imagine it’s just tiring. Simply expressing oneself authentically shouldn’t be a constant struggle, but norms being what they are, it is. For some women, the frustration of expressing dominance may just not be worth it, especially for those women who don’t know that there’s a kink community out there and that many men are dissatisfied with the power dynamics assigned to traditional gender roles.

It’s not just that men are raised and expected to behave this way, it’s that this behavior is synonymous with masculinity. If women are going to be comfortable with dominance, assertiveness, aggression, we need at minimum social acceptance to be these things without being denied femininity.

*Yeah. Ask me how well that worked.

**By which I mean: when referring to a relationship between two female-identifying persons who are not interested in queering their gender, it is inappropriate for an outsider to declare one of them the “boy/man/guy/dude/&c. It’s homophobic to force homosexual relationships to fit a heterosexual paradigm. If someone in a lesbian relationship identifies as a boy (or really anything else. Tiger. Shark. Martian. Level 13 doppelganger rogue) that’s great, no problem. Well, unless you go the doppelganger route: I’m not giving you a pass on the level adjustment, sorry.

Submit: (verb, active)

There’s been a flurry of posts lately spurred by Ferns’ post here, in which she notes a trend in behavior:

“Well, if the submissive doesn’t want to do it, then a good dominant will understand and not make them.”

And what I have seen is that the ‘it’ in that statement extends to *everything*.

And her response to this attitude is:

“That’s great kids, but *how is that submission?!*“

The answer is simple and unambiguous. That behavior is not submission. The OED says that to submit is “to surrender oneself to judgment, criticism, correction, a condition, treatment, etc; to consent to undergo or abide by a condition, etc.” The behavior Ferns describes does not fit the bill. I’m not questioning that person’s right to identify as submissive, because identity is an aggregate of actions and paradigms and ideas that are not always exemplified in every act and that’s fine. If a person identifies as submissive but never submits, it might be worth asking if s/he might mean another word (fetishist, bottom, masochist) much the way you’d question someone who identifies as a vegetarian but eats meat regularly, but that’s a separate issue. My point here is that Ferns is absolutely right to look at this behavior and assert that it is not an act of submission.

Kink in Exile followed this up with her own response, centered around the (also completely correct) statement that “anything short of respecting your partner’s boundaries is coercion at best.”

Here I’m going to start making assumptions. I think Ferns was referring to something like the dictionary definition of submitting quoted above, and that her annoyance stems from the idea that if a person agrees to do something, either in a specific instance or as part of a relationship dynamic, deciding not to do that thing is not, and should not be called submission. She has pointed out before that this is how one breaks a D/s dynamic. Does a submitting partner have the right to say “no” to any and everything under the sun? You bet. But a dominant person is going to be justifiably upset if her submissive is going to continually ignore the conditions of the relationship he’s agreed to. Spouse and I don’t have a power dynamic, but if I say I’ll drive him to pick up his car from the shop and then wake up in the morning and decide I’d rather sleep an extra half hour, he’s going to be pissed the hell off. I agreed to do a thing. He made plans based on the fact that he trusts me to keep my word. Taking these agreements lightly will be damaging to any relationship . Are there extenuating circumstances? Sure. The response in those cases, in or out of a D/s context, is “This thing came up, and I feel it is legitimately more important than our agreement/it is now impossible for me to do what I said. I’m sorry.”

Kink in Exile seems to be responding to the idea of a dominant partner making or forcing a submissive to do something, which would of course be unethical. Expecting your partner to do what he says he will is healthy, even requisite for a trusting relationship. forcing or coercing him if he doesn’t follow through is violating consent and destructive to a relationship.

So my final assumption here is that the two of them aren’t quite talking about the same thing, that there may still be some disagreement but to me their ideas look quite compatible.

Then MayMay declared that “dominants are rapists.” It is flat-out appalling. I’ve read every post on their blog, I’ve agreed with much of what they say, and this post has me stepping back and questioning all of it because it so fundamentally fails to respect human agency that I see it as incommensurate with everything they purport to stand for.

I am not saying this as a sometimes-dominant person. If someone wants to say I’m a rapist for acts of dominance, you know what? Fine. It’s wrong, and it feeds the terror I have every single time I take the initiating role in a social context, sexual or not, but ultimately I don’t care. The accuser is not one of my partners, and my partners are the only people whose evaluation of my behavior with them matters. It’s wrong, but identities carry social stigma, and we learn to live with them: Bisexuals are sluts. Polyamorous folks are sluts. Kinky people are mentally ill. Dominants are rapists. After a while you start to tune it out, realize that people just don’t know what words mean and most of the time it just isn’t worth the effort of correcting them.

This one is worth correcting. Saying “dominants are rapists” denies those of us who have chosen to submit to a dominant partner the right to call it a choice. Defining dominants as rapists, without exception, means calling their partners victims, without exception. Calling someone a victim or a survivor without asking whether they consider themselves victims removes a level of self-efficacy, denies them autonomy. I really believe–or did–that Maymay’s goal was to prevent assault. I don’t see that here. I see a writing that minimizes the trauma of those of us who have been sexually assaulted, tells us that we don’t get to decide which events in our lives were rape. You may note that I refer to events, behaviors: I am not a survivor or victim of sexual assault. I am a person who has been sexually assaulted. A victim is an object (in the grammatical sense). A person is a subject. For someone who so consistently purports to support people who identify as submissive, he seems to be missing the mark in a bad way.

MayMay’s language doesn’t give people in relationships with dominants that agency. They are victims. Specifically rape victims, whether they consented or not, whether their submission is expressed sexually or not. The idea that someone who chooses to be in a relationship with a dominant loses the ability to determine whether his or her own submission is consensual or not is insulting and dehumanizing to those people. It’s telling me what I can and can’t consent to, as if I were a small child.

I see, sort of, where this is coming from. It’s still appalling. The problem is, consent (as I’ve written about before) is agreement given freely. Desire does not have any bearing on consent. It is often an associated factor but is neither necessary nor sufficient for consent. Harm does not have any bearing on consent. It is an often inversely associated outcome, and lack of consent is sufficient but not necessary for an action to cause harm. Conflating any of these things is dangerous, especially given that desire is rarely simple. It’s common to want and not want something at the same time, for a variety of reasons. Wanting an outcome of an act (making a partner happy, having clean floors, or both) is a valid reason to do an act one in no way enjoys (scrubbing floors).

The thing about submission that I find so appealing is that it’s an active process. Every time someone chooses to submit, it’s an affirmation that s/he values the relationship. Building a relationship involving acts of submission with a dominant person does not diminish that value. It certainly doesn’t make the dominant partner a rapist.

**EDIT**
Replies on Twitter make it clear that maymay would prefer that I not engage them directly any further. I intend to respect that. Kink in Exile decided to leave the conversation in favor of privacy and tea, which sounds like the best idea ever right now. So what I’m going to do is this: if anyone chooses to comment on or ask about this issue on this blog or directly to my e-mail, I will respond. Outside of that–on Twitter, or anyone else’s blog, or what have you–I’m leaving it alone.

Quaint Little Categories

Let’s play a game. I’m gonna erase everyone’s sexual orientation and kink identity for a second. Just for a minute. You’re not straight, you’re not gay, you’re not dominant, you’re not submissive. If you were at a party, you could look around and see lots of other people. You’d be attracted to some of them, probably barely register most, maybe see a few that actively repulse you. Your reaction could be based on physical attraction, demeanor, intellect, humor, political views, anything. Doesn’t matter. The point is, patterns emerge. Maybe all or most of the folks who catch your eye are male-bodied. If you female-identify, you’re likely to phrase this pattern as “I’m straight.” If you male-identify, you’ll say “I’m gay.”

Socially, it’s acceptable to rebuff advances by saying “sorry, I’m straight” or “actually, I’m gay.” And I agree with this. No one is obligated to be attracted to anyone else. Being able to say “no” is incredibly important.

But.

What if we imagine the same scenario again, only this time the person who’s attracted to you is of your preferred sex and/or gender. You’re still not interested. So you say “I’m flattered, but…” and what comes next? “I only date people of my own race”? “I’m just not attracted to people who are taller than me”? “I really can’t see myself with a disabled person”?

I’m guessing those all sound a little more uncomfortable. Definitely more polite to just say “no, thank you,” right?

I’m not going to start a rant about racism or sexism or perceived norms regarding what makes a person attractive. That’s not the point here. Let’s just go back to the party and take a look at the patterns again. (you can have your sexual identity back now, by the way. I’m done with it.) If you’re straight or gay you’ve already established that all (or almost all) of the people you’re attracted to are of a specific sex. There are probably other patterns, too: gregariousness, hair color, humor, height, weight, fashion, attitude, interests and competencies. If you’re kinky, you may look for specific behaviors that indicate a certain style of dominance or submission. This is not an attack. These patterns are not a bad thing. If anything, being aware of them shows that you know what you like. Go you!

What confuses me is that biological sex is somehow the one unimpeachable determinant of attraction for so many people. Somehow only liking men or only liking women is (1) normative and (2) treated as the sole basis for sexual identity. Imagine any other trait–let’s say hair color. If someone says “I only like redheads” she’s not a gingersexual, she’s a straight or gay or bisexual person with a fetish for redheads. Or we can pick on me for a moment: I hate having partners who are taller than I am. If I have to look up to meet someone’s eyes when we’re both standing together, I’m going to be irrationally annoyed to the point of distraction. Men, women, intersex, cis-, trans-, or genderfluid; doesn’t matter, there are people I’d be attracted to somewhere in all these groups. As long as they’re not too tall*. But if you ask my sexual orientation I’ll still say “bisexual**”

Same deal with D/s. When I say I switch, it’s almost never taken at face value. Sometimes I’m brushed off as a submissive with too much pride, which I at least understand: I am far more comfortable bottoming than topping in public scenes and most of my kinky social circle is male doms. Sometimes it’s statements that I was a “real brat” in an impact scene with zero D/s involved, or Fetmail from a submissive man reassuring me that I don’t have to pretend to be a switch to get male attention: there are men like him who love dominant women (Gee, thanks, stranger on the Internet. I never knew dominant females were in high demand. Guess I can quit this silly charade now).

I’m not trying to say everyone’s bisexual or a switch or that labels aren’t useful or any of that nonsense. Cisgendered heterosexual male dominant is a perfectly valid identity. The point is that when someone identifies that way, challenges to that identity are going to be pretty rare. Gender-not-quite-conforming bisexual female switch is just as valid. It would be nice to not have it challenged quite so often, especially in a theoretically pansexual open-to-all-orientations kink group.

 

*Even that’s not a total dealbreaker. The Fireman (whom I rarely see these days) is 6’2″. It drives me nuts, but not to the point that he isn’t worth playing with. I always pick really tall shoes when he’s going to be around, though.

**Not wholly accurate. Bisexual implies attraction to two binary sexes/genders, and I’m perfectly happy with anyone anywhere on the spectrum of either sex or gender. But it’s the word I’ve used since age fifteen, so I’m kind of attached.

Scream

I want to make her scream.

I’ve only known her a few hours, the length of a brutal scene and a conversation broken into pieces across this party. I know how we got here. It’s easy to point to the moment attraction is affirmed, the phrase that drew a sudden sense of of intimacy. Still, that first kiss is as thrilling and surreal as all first kisses are. I know how we got here, but it hardly seems to matter.

I’m gentle at first, kissing softly, sliding fingers over her back lightly enough to catch on the texture of her skin. Both of us are marked: she has a welt for every bruise of mine, burning under my fingertips. I’m trying to be careful, to move slowly. I don’t know her body, whether she can balance pain on top of pain or if she needs this time to recover. She makes a sound like a dove and arches her whole body into me when my fingernails brush the length of a weal across her side. I want to claw her open. I want to turn her soft noises to shrieks and her shy caresses to thrashing limbs. I force my hands to relax. I whisper in her ear (I don’t remember what, only that it made her shiver and try to pull my hips against her). I’m holding back a laugh, teasing her with my teeth, grinding hard against her thigh.

It doesn’t last long, the gentleness. My mouth wants all of her, from lips to skin to sinews. My fingers curl around the shape of bones. We are ill-balanced on this unfamiliar couch. I half-fall, land with one knee on cold tile and the other between her thighs. She’s talking, asking where she should move, filling the air with apologies I don’t want to hear. I scramble up, climb her with lips and teeth and too-clumsy hands. I bite her collarbone hard, harder, until she gasps.

“Stop. Saying. Sorry.” I don’t lift my teeth from her skin. The words come out half-growl, half-lisp. I sound ridiculous. She nods anyway, biting her lip, eyes cast down. There’s a low laugh behind me. Her boyfriend (dominant. Master. Something. I don’t care.) leans over in his creaking chair. His voice is too low for words to carry. The Techie’s answer is just as quiet, just as distracting. I try to push them out of my head.

She makes it easy to refocus. I slide my teeth over her breast, my hand up her thigh. When I look up, her eyes are closed and she’s still biting her lip. “Okay?” I ask. She nods. “Can I..?” I move my fingers farther up her leg, watching her face. “‘Course you can,” says her boyfriend from behind me. Annoyance flares up. I have to close my eyes and exhale slowly before speaking. “I am not asking you.” I tap her on the collarbone with the knuckles of my left hand. “I’m asking you.” For a moment I think she’s gone somewhere past words. I’m starting to sit back, pulling away from her when her eyes flutter open. “Yes. Please.”

I can’t help grinning. I’m being rough with her, watch her face to see how she responds. I’m trying to hold back. I worry even holding back might be too much. Frankly, I’m surprised she can lie on her back at all tonight. “If I’m hurting you, or this is too intense, tell me, yeah?” She mumbles something, too quiet to hear. “Sorry?” “I said I want too intense.” She buries her face in her hands.

I wondered if she would still pull me closer if she knew what I was thinking, that I wanted to crumble her to bits between my hands and eat the pieces. I held her down, fucked her with my fingers while her hands clenched and unclenched on either side of my hips.
She’s so quiet underneath me. All I hear is the faintest ragged breathing, whisper-soft moans. I want to make her scream.

We’ve twisted. I don’t know when it happened and I don’t care. I’m underneath her, my cunt pressed against the muscle of her thigh. We’re kissing, teeth clattering. She moans into my mouth and I drink it in. I’m not so quiet as she is. I come screaming, eyes locked on hers. After that it’s a blur. I heard the Techie and her boyfriend talking at one point, gasped at them to be quiet or go away. We exhausted ourselves and came back for more for I don’t know how long. She said it was after dawn, when she got home.

We exchanged numbers. Been texting, most days. It’s been a while. I feel hesitant, shy. It’s not the sort of encounter one can leave with any expectations, but we rather get along.

She’s heading back to town this weekend, for another party. I am unexpectedly, delightfully giddy.

Party Politics

There’s a party tomorrow night. It’s one I’ve been keeping an eye on since it was first suggested, and I did bounce and squee a bit when the event listing finally popped up on Fet:

[Local Club] is pleased to be host to a FemDom party, where self-identified female dominants and all submissives are welcome to attend and feel comfortable at a party geared toward FemDomdom in all its glory! If you are a male switch, please wear your bottom hat for the evening.

Regular membership requirements apply, if you need an orientation please get in touch with me to make arrangements. We will be as accommodating as possible because we want everyone to have to opportunity to come out and play! Doors will open at 8:30 to allow for everyone to get all dolled up before the party, which begins at 9!

The event listing seems pretty clear about who is and is not welcome to attend. So of course there’s a male dom who wants in on it. At first glance it looked like a reasonable request (to the misguided woman who initially told him, “sure, why not?” anyway): the submissive woman he’s in a relationship with had arranged a scene with a female dominant at this party, and he wanted to be there as an observer/in case she needed him. He stressed that he was not interested in attending the party as a dominant, and offered to work the door to keep out of the way for part of the night.

There are so many “why nots” to this request that I don’t even know where to start.

Let’s start with working the door. Here we have a male dominant who wants to be the first face that people actually attending the party will see when they arrive. This tells guests arriving what, exactly? That female dominants are not able to run an event without a male dom there to help? That even though the event specified no male doms in the description (thus bringing in some people who might be uncomfortable around male doms) we made an exception and put him in a position where everyone coming in the door is required to speak to him? That we do not, in fact, care to work to create the environment that we advertise for the length of a single night? I can’t think of a single positive way for a person to interpret his presence at the door.

Second, simple etiquette. Sorry folks, but I’m a Southern girl. A man who sees he’s not invited to a party and can’t take that with grace is a boor and a bully, no way around it. If he can’t respect the invitation, there’s no reason to expect he’d respect any other rules of the evening.

Third, claiming he’s “not attending as a dominant” is disingenuous at best. He wants to be there to control the environment of a scene for his partner while expecting another woman to service top her. That’s exerting dominance and making female dominance of another female all about his male fantasy. If that doesn’t completely break down the entire point of a Femdom party, I don’t know what would.

Fourth, claiming he needs to be there for his partner at all. This one may be dicey for some people, and I understand that some relationships do work such that this level of power exchange is acceptable. If I misread their relationship and that’s the case, fine. That doesn’t mean that Mr. Male Dom here gets to go to the party. It means that this scene should occur at any of the frequent kink events that welcomes the presence of male doms, and that both of them ought to eschew this particular event. In this case? She had enough freedom to arrange the scene, is a competent adult (yes, submissive people are whole human beings, who knew?), and will be surrounded by friends and supporters should she need care. Saying “my sub needs me around” suggests that either she is not competent (therefore should not be playing with anyone) or that the top she negotiated a scene with is not competent (go ahead and insult her. I’ll watch from a safe distance.) Whether he means to or not, it looks an awful lot like he’s saying that these women are not able to play without his supervision. It’s demeaning to both of them, and to every other woman in the room besides.

The point of a Femdom party is to let those of us women who like to top and/or dominate men have a chance to do so without interference, judgement, or critique from male doms. It’s to provide an opportunity for us switch girls to walk into a room and for once not have every man in the room, dom or sub, assume that we’re submissive (meaning that a female switch is only every approached at parties by tops). It gives us a space to top knowing that at the end of the scene no “helpful” maledom is going to try to give the silly girl who thought she could be a big bad domme a patronizing lesson in punching or wielding a switch. The point is to give us a party where the douchiest of the male doms can’t weasel in to make it their own. Watching scenes, commenting, and objectifying out behavior when we don’t want them there is devaluing the idea that female dominant and all submissive sexualities have any value except as fantasy fuel for make doms.

When the ratio of maledom to Femdom in our scene is lower than 10:1, maybe this kind of segregated party won’t need to happen, but until then, it would be nice to have the support of the male doms in creating a space for all kinky orientations, not just the ones that get the male doms off.

I rarely top in public– I’ve done only two proper scenes and a few “hey I’m bored and over energized, let me punch you for 5 minutes” in the club. After every instance, a male dom has approached to correct my technique. People come up to express shock that I “do the switch thing.” It’s treated as an aberration even among this group of aberrants, and I find the attention unnerving. I don’t mind general kink, bastards and morons included, being present at a general kink party. This is a Femdom party. It’s fair to tell people who can’t engage in kink with or as a female dominant not to attend. It’s the same thing we’d expect of someone who specialized in military interrogation scenes and wanted to go to a littles’ hang out. Or anyone in their 40s attending a TNG munch. No one is saying that M/f or interrogation or kink over 40 is invalid. We’re simply drawing lines around specific events for specific things.

I’m pissed as hell even though it’s just one guy. I’m pissed even though everyone of every gender and orientation immediately jumped in to explain in no uncertain terms that he was neither invited nor welcome to this event. I’m pissed even though he will not be there, even though it’s remarkable to see every governing member of this club come together and tell him “no.”

I’m so damn pissed because by making this an issue, by reading the event details and deciding “that doesn’t apply to me, for I am Domly Dom and I am special,” he’s made my attendance to this party at least partly a statement of social politics. It shouldn’t be. It should just be fun. I should be writing about the exciting things I keep getting into–how my clit ring almost got swallowed, how incredibly tender sadism can be, new discoveries about ears. I don’t want to deal with politics in my sex life. I just want to enjoy it.

BDSM Checklists: How Not To Negotiate

For some reason these checklists have come up with a couple of different people lately. I’m not a fan. This may seem odd at first glance, because I love lists. I make them all the time, and keep notebooks in my purse just in case I feel the need for a new one. Some are meant for checking off: grocery lists, to-do lists, a list of books by a new favorite author. Some provide useful information: the list of prime numbers, your phone’s contacts list, the ingredients list on a loaf of bread. Lists make organizing life and tasks immensely easier. That said, not everything needs a list, and some lists are just plain terrible. BDSM checklists, I’m looking at you.

For the purposes of this discussion I’m going to define a BDSM checklist as any list of BDSM activities that seeks to be comprehensive. Some recommend checking yes or no, some suggest rating each item on a scale, most come prefaced with a disclaimer that everything on them merits further commentary and discussion than simply checking a box can supply. Most come with the suggestion that they can or should be used as negotiation tools. It’s that last part I have a problem with. These checklists have no real advantages over any other form of negotiation (except maybe not negotiating at all), and a dozen major drawbacks.

1: They’re poorly organized. I’ve seen at least half a dozen different kink checklists on the Internet, and they all have one fatal flaw in common: they’re alphabetized. Don’t get me wrong, alphabetization is great. If I go to a used bookstore and find their sci-fi jumbled randomly on the shelf, I’m leaving. But I’m also not shopping at a bookstore that keeps Soren Kierkegaard’s works next to Caitlin Kiernan’s. If you want a BDSM checklist that you can reasonably use, it needs to be better categorized. Some lists attempt this, listing “bondage” a dozen or so times, each entry followed by a different bondage material or body part, but for the most part items are simply alphabetized such that patterns do not naturally emerge. Because the list seeks to go into so much detail (the shortest one I’ve seen is 200 items), “wooden paddles” and “caning” wind up several pages away from each other. This implies that the type of implement is more important than the nature of the impact, and avoids more important questions: just how much pain are we talking about here? Where do you like to be hit? How do you want to feel?

2: They’re overwhelming. Even if you’re clear that it’s not a to-do list and what you really want is to be sure to not cross boundaries and get to know a partner’s preferences better, the point of the list is to cover a huge, varied community’s entire repertoire of skills and interests as quickly as possible. By item 50 I’m skimming at best, and I don’t have ADHD. Having to wade through six hundred kinks to check “yes” to “whipping” before negotiating a scene involving whips isn’t responsible negotiation; it’s just a time-consuming distraction. It reminds me of the forms one has to fill out in the ER: if you’re there because you mangled a knee falling down a mountain, answering three pages of questions about your family’s history of cancer and autoimmune disease are just not relevant.

3: They’re not comprehensive. No matter how long of a list you use, it’s not going to include every kink. It can’t. A lot of them don’t even include punching, which is a pretty straightforward activity. There are a few problems with this. Let’s say the list doesn’t include something you want to try today (or next Tuesday, which is when you’ll finish negotiating if you use this stupid thing). Maybe it’s punching, and you aren’t shy about it but after 700 questions to do with branding and pony play and tea service, you’re not really thinking about the smell of boxing gloves and the thud of impact, you’re having a surreal and possibly unpleasant fantasy about branding a pony girl while she attempts to serve tea to your wife. Or maybe you want to try something that is kind of out there. I know we’ve all got someone (if only the combined voices of the Internet) to reassure us that our kinks are okay even if not everyone shares them. But still, having a less common kink can make a person feel like a bit of a freak. If you give a partner a BDSM checklist, and it doesn’t contain something they really want to do or at least talk about, congratulations, you’ve just drastically reduced the odds that they will ever bring it up with you. Maybe that’s fine, but it’d be a shame if it turned out to be an activity you both liked.

4: They’re impersonal. I mean sure, if you’re going to get kinky with someone you’d better have one or two kinks in common, but these lists run from 200 to nearly 1000 items long. If someone insisted on going through a BDSM checklist as a prerequisite to play, I wouldn’t be interested. I want to play because of chemistry and mutual attraction, not because our 0s and 5s line up pretty well on a spreadsheet. Insisting on negotiation by checklist suggests that one’s partner is just a delivery system for kink. Even with a one night stand, I want to know that we have something else to talk about, whether it’s books or cooking or Dr. Who. After all, if there’s nothing to chat about in the sweaty aftermath it’ll just be awkward. There are two ways to go with a list like this: either you can just look at the list and decide aye or nay based on a compatibility algorithm, which…ech. Or you can spend three hours discussing every item in depth, and while you’re busy agreeing that no one involved is interested in bloodplay, you miss the opportunity to bond or flirt or talk about anything else.

5: The answers could be wrong. Not everyone knows what the kinks listed even are. Someone could indicate disinterest in something that might be a long-held fetish because an unfamiliar term is used. Or worse, maybe you’re dealing with someone new to the scene who sees “water sports” and thinks SCUBA. This is not a random example. I used to dive. Learning that “water sports” was the term for a thing that is neither a sport nor involves water came as a nasty shock. (As a side note,  SCUBA sex should happen. Somehow it didn’t make any of these lists. I’ll just pencil it in, shall I?) There are a number of reasons that someone would fill this thing out incorrectly, purely by accident, and the confusion could be problematic.

6: People lie. Confusion and inexperience aren’t the only reasons someone might fill out such a checklist inaccurately. It sounds obvious, but even so. A list is impersonal. A person who would be able to relax into conversation and gently let you know that e.g. she’s into breath play could easily mark “no” on paper because even on a sliding scale, even with a “comments” box, it’s still answering yes-or-no, does this hold any interest for you at all in writing. That feels vulnerable and dangerous. Expressing interest in that form feels like it requires explanation if one then adds “but not now” or “but not with you.” Worse, there’s a risk that a partner (not a good partner, but this is someone you’re getting to know via list, so…) might believe that a check mark in the “yes” box implies consent. So maybe it’s easier to check “no.” But then how do you take it back without admitting you lied? It’s tricky. The checklist format is too impersonal to really make a person want to open up. And that’s without addressing the lies people will tell about whether they have experience with X or Y. Some folks will show off. It’s easier to tease out the truth in a conversation than on a form.

7: The 0-5 scale is not as universally simple to interpret as you’d think. Take a look at e.g. pain. Suppose prospective partner G is really into pain, can’t get off without it in fact, but only mild-to-moderate pain. Will G check 5 because it’s a favorite thing, or 2 because any higher mean more pain than G wants? Or maybe partner H can take pain or leave it, but if she’s taking it she’s got a pain tolerance that’s yet to discover a limit? Check 2 because pain is “meh,” or 5 because she’s still standing after an hour of heavy caning? How do you answer a question about electrical play if you adore TENS units but violet wands make you want to cry? Again, I know there’s a comments box, but these lists seek to be comprehensive. They are long. I’d bet that very few people have the time or inclination to add detailed commentary to each of 200-1000 different items.

8: They do not address basic safety. I’d like to assume that’s a conversation that everyone knows to have separately, but still. Let’s say your potential new partner is interested in X. He’s never tried it but you have, and hey, X is hot! Too bad potential new partner has medical condition Q (sometimes Y needs a night off, you know. Give Q some love) and it’s really not safe to do X to a person who has condition Q, or a special precaution is necessary. Of course if you don’t know about condition Q, you can’t prepare, and sometimes the connection is not obvious. Sure, you know better than to practice heavy impact on someone with CIPA (protip: it’s not safe to do any damn thing to someone with CIPA. Not that it’ll ever come up) but chronic low blood pressure could lead to a partner passing out in certain situations. It won’t show up in the comments section for activity X, because your partner may not think of it, or may not realize it could be relevant. Or maybe he’s horribly allergic to your pets or your lotion or the peanut butter sandwich you had for lunch. These things can come up. Obviously you don’t want an additional 200+ item checklist of medical conditions: you just want to ask “hey, any possibility of transmissible diseases, chronic conditions, allergies &c that I might need to know about?”

9: Some of us kink on different things with different partners. This is one of the reasons I do not have a fetish list on Fetlife and don’t intend to change that. A lot of people are reaction junkies. A lot. So if we haven’t tried an activity with a partner, we don’t know how it’ll be. Maybe I rate biting as a 5 when I play with A, because he moans and writhes and is otherwise lovely, but only a 1 with B, because she doesn’t react any more to a good hard bite than she would to a fly landing on her arm. If I haven’t bitten you, I don’t know. If I have, we both already know and it doesn’t need to be on the list. So maybe you think I should add “reactions” as a write-in kink, to say that I like “making partners moan.” Of course, different partners come with different desired reactions. Maybe A makes me feel violent and dominant, but with B I want to grapple and be switchy, and I play with C because I like feeling utterly overwhelmed and out of control. It takes some experimenting to see what works with new partners.

10: It addresses the what of kinks but not the why. This is a big one. This is the other reason I do not have a fetish list on Fetlife. 246,305 people on that site list “spanking” as a fetish. Some indicate that they like to give spankings, some that they like to get them, some don’t say either way; maybe they’re just happy knowing that there’s a spanking going on somewhere. Cool. Fine. So your new potential partner lists spanking as a level 5 favorite thing. How do you interpret that? Does he want to be punished, berated, shamed? Does he want to prove he can take the pain while you reassure him that he’s ever so good and brave? Does he want the pain or the sound of it? Is he hoping to look in the mirror and see a pink blush ten minutes after the scene, or a bruise a week later? Should you do it over the knee or standing, with what and on which body parts? Does he want to break down crying or have a little giggly light fun? None of these are things it’s safe to make assumptions about and everything on that list is at least as complicated. If you want to actually have a scene before the Tuesday after next, the way to do it is to say “hey, I’d like to engage in activity C. Here’s some more details about what I’m looking for. How does that sound to you?”

11: If you’re looking for a custom list, many kinky people already have one written out. Many of those kinky people who use Fetlife have a fetish list on their profiles. Peruse potential partners’ profiles. (When you’re done, do please come back and admire my alliteration. It was accidental but I’m quite proud of it.) This guy lists eight different fetishes involving foot worship? Chances are you can suggest a host of activities as long as your toes or favorite heels are intimately involved. That girl’s into a variety of medical play activities? Neat, where does that overlap with your interests? As a bonus you get to learn just how much effort they put into their profiles on Fet, what kind of image they are attempting to portray to the community at large, and whether they have a sufficient grasp of grammatical convention (abuse of the English language is not quite a hard limit for me, but I have to be quite smitten to let more than the odd typo pass without remark, mockery, or straight-up disdain. Long rambling sentences well-sprinkled with parentheticals, on the other hand, are fine. Obviously they’re fine: I use them.)You can learn a lot just by looking at and asking about the things a person is already putting out there. This is true even if they don’t have a fetish list posted (like me) or don’t have a Fetlife account at all: look at how people carry themselves at fetish events, notice what toys we bring, listen to how we introduce ourselves. Some people are one-trick-ponies, only into rope or electricity or whatever. That doesn’t mean they aren’t worth talking to. The scene revolves around kink, but all of us involved in it are whole individuals. If you’re not into bondage, it’s still worth your time to sit and chat with a rigger about local restaurants or swap kinky stories.

12: They’re just not sexy. Negotiation can be hot. It should be hot. It should be growling in your partner’s ear that you want to bite his neck and shoulders. It should be telling her how much you want to feel her body wrapped in rope. Or it can be goading and fun (“Why did the chicken cross the road?”). It can be “I saw that scene you did earlier, and I really liked [some aspect of it]. Would you like to try something like that with me?”. It should not be a survey taken on a clipboard to be analyzed by you or your prospective partner.

I’m not saying BDSM checklists are a complete waste of space. I looked at one years and years ago when I was very new to kink but didn’t yet understand what that meant. Seeing just how much ground the term BDSM can cover was helpful in keeping me from saying “I’m up for anything” and in providing a starting point from which to say “I’m curious about. . .” For entertainment alone, it might be fun to go over one with a partner for the giggles and the “really? Sounding? What the heck is that like?” conversations. I just can’t see them as a useful negotiation tool. There are alternatives, but they mostly boil down to “learn to have a conversation and talk about what you like and want, then play, then recap and talk some more about what you liked, what you want, what you’d rather avoid next time.” I enjoy the one page checklist here (though I would add a line to address aftercare: pre-negotiating aftercare is really useful, especially with new partners). When someone tells me they’re up for anything I love to refer them to the sex map. Most people realize pretty quickly that “anything” covers a lot more than any one person can realistically enjoy.

I get what the BDSM checklist is trying for, really. I just think it fails. There’s nothing wrong with looking at one to start thinking about what interests you and why, or going through one just for fun, but as a negotiation tool they seem like a staggering circumnavigation of more important questions.