Tag Archives: negotiation

Bogeyman in a Red Dress

If there’s one toxic, terrifying thing that (straight) monogamy normalizes, it’s the idea that a partner’s friends are a sexual or romantic threat.

You know. The idea that friendships men and women can never be “benign”. The assertion that these friendships will destroy your marriage. The idea that unless it’s couples being friends with couples as a unit, opposite-sex friendships should peter out as romantic relationships become stable. That men and women can’t be “just friends.”

I had to go three pages deep in Google to find one article saying opposite-sex friendships were sometimes maybe okay for people in relationships*, and that one still said there was always going to be sexual tension. It calls that tension and jealousy a bonus–keeps partners on their toes.

So those of you who agree with this. I got a question.

WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU.

Are you literally sexually attracted to every person of your preferred gender?

Really?

If so, don’t you dare ever call bisexuals “sex maniacs” again; your sexuality is clearly an all-encompassing fetish. Seriously. I’m a sex-blogging bisexual with an extraordinarily high sex drive and a preference for multiple partners–and the idea of being attracted to or having a potential relationship with every person I connect with as a friend, even if we restrict to similar ages, sounds absurd.

But fine. Lets say for the sake of argument that any person of one’s preferred gender is a potential partner. If circumstances were different, if they were single, if the right song had played or rain or one too many drinks had pushed them together years ago. If sometime in the future things were different. Of course there are people we wonder that about. Of course it makes sense to acknowledge that potential is there.

We also need to acknowledge that it’s only potential. That friends are capable of choosing to stay friends, that it’s a continual process, and what might have been or what could be are not what you choose, because you value the friendship that is. Banning people from having friends on the off chance that any given friendship could turn into a sexual or romantic relationship based on the slightest hint of desire makes no sense. Anyone with the barest shred of reasonable humanity knows better than to act on every impulse.

If someone is going to cheat,they’re willing to break the agreements of your relationship. Period. It’s not because they were tempted, it’s not because that woman they’ve known since college has been turning up the heat, inching up her skirt and moving too close by increments until he had an affair without realizing it. The cheating partner chose to cheat. Period. Every time. The person or people they cheat with may or may not have known it was an affair. They may or may not have known you existed at all. And if they knew, then yes, they did a shitty thing. But they’re an accomplice. Your partner cheated. Your partner broke an agreement with you. That is not okay. Imposing a rule isolating partners from friends isn’t going to stop them from breaking the relationship agreement and cheating, it just adds another layer of lying and hiding to the formula. If they’re willing to cheat, restricting friendships will not stop them.

Restricting any kind of access to close to half the human population (or all of it, for bi folks) is a pretty extreme form of social isolation.

Isolating partners is necessary for partner abuse. Isolating partners is a form of partner abuse.

I don’t want to hear “It’s for their own good.” You don’t make decisions for adults that are “for their own good.” That suggests they don’t have the ability to make good decisions themselves. It’s demeaning.

I don’t want to hear “It’s a slippery slope.” Your partner will either be honest with you, or they won’t. They will either respect the agreement of your sexual and romantic exclusivity, or they won’t. In either case, it’s unreasonable to ban behaviors that are not inherently problematic to prevent the risk of those that are.

I definitely don’t want to hear “They shouldn’t need anyone but me.” They shouldn’t need you. If you’re isolating your partner to ensure they can’t leave you without being totally, horribly alone, you’re abusing them.

And “It’s not that I don’t trust my partner, I don’t trust those other people” is a lie. It is that you don’t trust your partner. Your partner will not cheat accidentally. If your partner has a friend who is pursuing sex or romance despite knowing that would violate their relationship agreement, then yes, it makes sense to discuss your concerns with your partner, over how they’re setting boundaries and whether their friend respects them. It doesn’t make sense for this discussion to conclude “no friends with this whole gender, ever.”

“My partner can’t have friends of the opposite gender” means “I don’t trust my partner.” That may be fair. They may not be trustworthy. People do cheat, and lie, and the rest. The truth is, people sometimes cheat. If they do, it might mean they’re planning to leave you. It might not. (They might just be lying scumbags who feel entitled to treat partners as things. Why don’t you want them leaving again?) If they cheat, you need to decide how you want to handle that. And it’s hard. It’s fucking hard. I don’t wish it on anyone. If they leave you, of course I offer sympathies. Being dumped is horrible and you deserve ice cream…but they have every right to leave. You have every right to leave. Relationships have to be voluntary. Isolating partners to prevent them being scumbags won’t work, and preventing them leaving (probably) won’t work and it’s abusive if it does.

Oh, and polyamorous people do it, too. “You can play with/fuck/date other people but I can end it/you need my permission.” When rules for protocol surrounding a behavior become more important than the behavior itself…it leads to problems.


 

* Hello, heteronormativity! “relationship advice” is for straight people, unless it says “gay” in the title, and bisexuals just need to pretend they’re [orientation that people assume based on current partner] and use advice for that group.

Negotiating Power

I once told a man he should cheat.

We hadn’t seen each other for some time. He looked exhausted. Miserable. He was talking about his partner of more than three decades, about hospital visits and stress and fear. About making every decision, wondering whether it was the right one. His partner’s dementia had progressed to the point he couldn’t make decisions about medical consent anymore. He didn’t remember things he should, he slipped sometimes into other times or experiences.

They had no romantic relationship anymore. How could they, when one of them could remember the other’s name only intermittently? They had no sexual relationship anymore. Not safe, when one’s mental state and physical health were tenuous at best.

“I’m celibate.” He shrugged. “I don’t want to be, but there it is.”

I told him he should cheat. What else was I going to say? Wait for your partner to die, maybe for years, look forward to the freedom to have sex or intimacy again?

A relationship–any relationship–is an agreement. There are terms and conditions. I’ll cook, you do dishes. If you have sex with someone else, I’ll leave. The terms can be somewhat fluid and not always discussed, but they’re no less real for that. Your relationship is how you interact with another person: when you change, or they do, what you are together changes. The terms and conditions change. They have to, if the relationship respects the needs of the people in it at all.

Sometimes renegotiating an agreement isn’t possible. Maybe there’s abuse: a person who can’t safely leave an abusive relationship still has every right to exercise autonomy, and shouldn’t be bound by terms and conditions they have not consented to. Maybe there’s dementia, a coma, an injury or illness that leaves a person unable to consent. Should their partner be bound to an agreement they would not be able to make or affirm anymore?

I won’t try to sugarcoat it. It is cheating, to break a relationship agreement instead of renegotiating it or ending the relationship. And I want to phrase this carefully because I know how many cheaters will say they had to cheat, because they would not be able to do what they want if they talked to their partners. That’s bullshit. Cheating because a partner wouldn’t understand or might end the relationship is cowardice. It’s the refusal to respect the conditions the cheating person has agreed to, it places their pleasure above their partners’ right to informed consent, and it is utterly despicable.

Cheating because one partner cannot consent…it’s cheating. It’s cheating, and the situation is awful and the world is awful for letting these situations exist. I don’t think it can happen without admitting that the relationship is already irrevocably damaged. At the same time, I won’t say that the man I advised to cheat should have had to leave his partner– to stop caring for him, living with him, being his companion–if he wanted to receive any kind of affection at all. I don’t think a person who is unable to leave an abusive situation should have to be isolated from intimacy until and unless they can gather the resources to escape abuse.

It’s been a few years. I don’t know whether he did cheat, before his partner died. We don’t see each other often and it’s not my place to ask. But I think I’d give the same advice again. I’m not sure it’s the right thing. It probably isn’t. But when the ability to even discuss the terms of a relationship is absent, I think it’s only compassionate to expect those terms to be less binding than they once were.

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.

Nah, Bro.

We’re talking about burlesque. He says he’s never been.I fill him in on some of the acts around town, show him a particularly creative costume.

“Wanna ask her for a threesome?” I’m jarred. Neither of us has expressed any kind of attraction to the other. It seems out of nowhere.

“She and I are just two. Sad story. And sweetie, when I sleep with straight boys they don’t get to jump straight to the boss levels. They gotta earn it.”

“Oh god I’m kind of afraid”

“Right answer.”

“Didn’t say I wasn’t interested”

“Damning with faint praise.”

“Just saying. I do think you’re really attractive 🙂 and I think you’d be fun!”

“Thank you, and yes, quite.” (Modesty? What’s that?)

“I’d try anything at least once.”

“See, that shows lack of imagination.”

“Want to share some imagination with me?”

We have a mutual friend who knows–well, I don’t know how much about my proclivities, but enough. (He can read this. I don’t ask whether he does.) Maybe this kid knows what he’s asking to get into, but I doubt it. So I tell him I’m into kinky stuff, that I don’t mean fuzzy handcuffs and 50 Shades of Grey. I’m not impressed with anything about his approach, but I’d be willing to at least have a frank discussion of compatibilities with a large subset of my social group.

“I kind of want to try it..” So much for frank discussion. Bear in mind that my phrase of choice was “I’m into kinky stuff.” I have no damn idea what he kind of wants to try, and I suspect he doesn’t either.

“Why?”

“Just sounds like something different. I want to see what it’s like.
I’m really interested.”

“…in you’re not sure what. For you’re not sure why. I hope you understand my skepticism.”

This approach annoys me for a few reasons. “I’ll try anything once” means “it doesn’t occur to me that you might want to try something I’m not into.”It focuses on his willingness to peruse a free sample tray of anything I can think of, and doesn’t acknowledge that creating those samples involves my time and energy and emotional labor, plus some degree of vulnerability. A person absolutely has the right to reject scenes and revoke consent, I’m not saying that planning kinky play obligates someone to go through anything with me. I am saying I’m not going to get my hopes up or waste my time and effort when I don’t see any likelihood of appreciation for any of it. I’m not in the mood to be told I’m a disgusting freak for playing with electricity, bruises, tears. I’m well past willing to deal with young men recoiling from the idea of strap-on play because they think it’s gay. He says he’ll try anything once…but that’s obvious and utter bullshit.

His vague, ill-conceived interest is 100% about using me to fulfill a curiosity. Not once does he say anything that acknowledges my enjoyment might be a factor. Sex and kink are about shared experience. Feeding off of each other, mutual enjoyment. I want to get my partners off. I expect them to want to get me off. I look for collaboration and intensity with partners. He seems to be hoping I’ll provide a service.

Last week I had pretty much completely vanilla sex…and it was good. I’d rather fuck someone with no hint of sadism or masochism or power exchange who’s clearly invested in getting me off and savoring the experience than play tour guide to the land of kink for some bro who really just hopes I’ll stop talking and get naked already.

So nah, bro. I’m good.

First

We didn’t have a plan.

I hate that.

It’s the afternoon of my last day in my hometown. I’m spending it with a very old friend, someone about whom I could easily say “we have nothing in common,” but we’re both here and I’m glad for it.

It’s a shock to see him drinking, though I know it’s not new. He laughs at that. Drinking isn’t all: apparently he’d decided–planned, even–to have sex outside of marriage. Plans fell through, but still, it was within the realm of possibilities. I ask about it–what changed, why he hadn’t sought other opportunities.

He says “It’s a lot easier for a pretty girl to just decide to have sex than for someone like me,” I know he’s turned down women before, so that isn’t all of it.

“Well, I’m right here, if you want to change that.”

His body language closes, tilts away. For a moment I’m not sure if he’s going to ask me to leave. “I can’t tell if you mean that seriously or not.”

“Yes, it’s a serious offer. I’m available, I wouldn’t want any kind of relationship–I’m driving four states away first thing in the morning.”

“What would you get out of it?”

“I like being responsible for people’s firsts–I don’t just mean sex. They look at you like you’re magic.”  Well, that, and I’d get laid, same as you.

He’s undecided. I don’t want to push (well, I do want to, because “maybe”s drive me nuts, but I know better). So we talk about other things.  Fail to decide what to do about dinner, drink too much to go get anything.

His roommate texts “Almost fifteen years of this, just have sex with her already.” It should annoy me, because fifteen years ago we had zero sexual tension. Hell, last year we had zero sexual tension. But today it is on the table and I can’t help but laugh.

Eventually it’s late enough I need to think about driving home. I ask if he’s hoping he won’t have to decide, just default to “no” when I leave. He says that’s not the case. Doesn’t say what is.

“Come here.” I pull him up next to me to kiss him. This is not how I kiss. This is a shadow, not a storm. I am giving him space, asking if it’s okay without a hint of teeth or claws (yet). This is not the storm but I can feel it, am greedy for it, there is something of thunder in every moment he says yes to.

Afterwards, I worry. Was I too pressuring? Might there be psychosocial effects he wouldn’t have predicted? I’ve had a lot of partners. (He didn’t ask how many, and I’m glad, because I don’t know.) Sex is something I enjoy, and yes, it’s a big deal but there’s nothing more attached to it than that. For him, it was a first, and I’m a little unsure why he said yes to it at all, least of all to me.

Turns out he was willing to answer that in a lot of detail:

Okay, why I said yes to you.  Honestly, part of it was that I had already said yes to somebody else.  Even though that didn’t happen, the fact was that I had already made the decision that it was something I was willing to do.  When I agreed to it with [redacted]’s ex, it was for a few reasons.  I found her attractive, yes, but much more important was how we’d had such an intimate relationship for so long that I wasn’t afraid of being embarrassed with her, and we were also in no danger of either one of us falling for the other and thus complicating things.

By complete coincidence, you just happen to meet those precise criteria as well, making you exactly the one other person in my life with whom I could imagine having sex with outside a committed relationship.  I didn’t realize that until you made the offer.  In fact, it hadn’t even occurred to me before that, though it seemed immediately obvious as soon as you said something.

I wanted to quell your fears over this, too.  I don’t want you to worry at all about leading me to do anything I was not prepared to do.  I’ve said that I’m responsible for my actions and I mean it; even had you come over with the express purpose of sleeping with me and you went into full seduction mode to get what you wanted, it still would have been my decision whether or not I’d do so.  Girls have done that, so I know I’m capable of saying no.

What I didn’t tell you at the time is that I’d been seriously considering it since you first offered, and I decided to go through with it the moment you pulled me onto the bed.  The whole time you thought I was afraid to take the next step was really just me stalling for my own sake.  I’d made my decision, but I wanted to give myself time to see if I’d get freaked out while I still had the chance to back out.  I’m sorry you had to put up with my insurance plan, but I wanted to be sure I wasn’t getting into something I’d regret.  When I finally said yes, that wasn’t me deciding I was ready to actually have sex.  That was me deciding I’d had enough time to change my mind on the decision I’d already come to.  No second guessing ever came up, no moments of serious trepidation in the hours since saying yes in my head, so I went ahead and said yes outside my head too.  I don’t want you to think I got caught up in the moment.  I decided long before the moment, then gave myself all that pre-moment time just in case.

And even though I’d never have thought of you as someone to have my first time with, in a way I’m glad that it was you.  You were always there for me all those years ago, even while you were going through far worse than I was.  Even if we’ve obviously drifted apart in the intervening years, you were probably the first person I was ever truly–albeit not physically–intimate with.  Somehow it feels appropriate that you were the first I was fully physically intimate with as well.  Perhaps that’s silly of me.

I know it wasn’t a big deal for you and I’m perfectly okay with that, but obviously it was kind of a big deal for me.  [Redacted] asked me today if I was happy I did it.  Happy is not the right word; it did not make me happy.  Neither did it make me unhappy.  Instead, I’d say I’m content with it.  It wasn’t some huge life-changing event or anything. I still feel like the same person, and I’m glad for that.  But I’m also relieved.  I’ve spent the last few years growing increasingly doubtful about my decision to wait, and now all that pressure, all that doubt and worry that’s been weighing on me is gone.

And that’s not even including long-familiar worries about my potential performance.  I know I was far from amazing, but unless you were merely an incredibly convincing actress, I feel okay about what I managed for a first time.  Perhaps with practice I can eventually become truly decent, though I imagine that day is still long in coming.

Whether I should have done it or not I cannot conclusively say (though I certainly don’t regret it now), but in the end that almost doesn’t matter.  The decision was made, it’s over, and there’s no sense worrying about it anymore.  So for helping me with that, I am genuinely grateful.

Oh, and it was really fun too.

All that said, I don’t want this to change our relationship because I value it greatly (yes, even despite the infrequent contact).  I’m fine with referencing it or joking about it or whatever; I feel no need to hide from what we did, but I also don’t want it to define our relationship.  I realize you probably weren’t worried about that, but I tend to overthink things.  I was thrilled to see you and I would have been entirely happy about that day even had we not slept together, and I’ll be just as happy to see you or talk to you again even with no expectation that it will ever happen again.

Okay, I think I’m done with this painfully long and meandering text.  TL;DR:  I loved seeing you, and I thoroughly enjoyed having sex with you.  I’m glad you came, and I’m glad you came.

Swing (or “‘Merica, Fuck Yeah!”)

Two women and a man walk into a Walgreens for condoms and rum. The Chef and I are giggling arm in arm. Chi looks back at us to ask if we want anything else. Whiskey? Champagne? I shake my head. I won’t be drinking at all: I prefer strange nights sober. I’m half-monitoring dirty looks coming our way. We’re not being obvious, not really, but we’re too familiar to be friends and it’s clear we’re not sisters.

Two women and a man get a stern glare from the cashier. She says she can’t sell us alcohol–three sober adults over twenty-one. She can’t refuse to sell the condoms. It isn’t worth an argument. Chi can run in to another store for liquor.

The Chef and I wait in the car this time. She twists around to talk to me. “So Chi’s never had a threesome before. I thought it might be fun to give that to him, before I go home.”

“Yeah? I could go for that.”

“Sure? I know you’re going through some shit, if you’re not down it’s cool.”

“I haven’t had sex in ages. We’re talking once in the last four months. I am more than down.”

“Well awesome. Let’s see if we can make this work.”


I’ve never been to a swinger’s club before. I’m not sure what to expect. We pile onto a couch and watch a woman in jeans and pink stilettos dance. I’m taking it in: low light, music, people milling around. The Chef speaks first. “Okay, we should negotiate things. Game plan, everybody’s limits..?”

“Well, you pretty much know what you can do with me by now. Um. No penetration without a condom–”

“Wait, does that include oral?”

“No, unless you want it to.” He makes a face. Clearly not. I turn back to the Chef. “I should have asked, is the stuff we do okay here?”

She turns to Chi. “This one’s a masochist.”

“So…like…spanking?”

“Punching, slapping, hitting generally.” The Chef and I are grinning at each other.

“Punching? How hard are you talking about?”

I can’t help it. I burst out laughing. The Chef giggles, too. “However hard you think is too much, she’s gonna say harder.”

He looks at me, quizzical.

“Yeah, pretty much.”

Chi and I keep looking to her, deferring. “These things are easier if one person takes charge. Like a facilitator. Do you mind–? That’s usually me.”

I don’t mind and neither does he. She sends us upstairs (“Get acquainted!”) so she can have a cigarette first. We both offer to join her. She shoos us off. “I don’t want to be rushed.”

We find a couch. I’m suddenly shy, looking at the video on the wall, at my hands, anywhere but at this boy I plan to fuck but haven’t touched. He laughs, and it brings my eyes to his face. “Hm?”

“No, just…Lucky me. You have no idea. I have a thing for redheads.”

I shake my head, try not to laugh. Everyone in this town has a thing for redheads. He’s put out a hand, but doesn’t touch. I’m not sure if he’s reaching to push my hair out of my face or pull me closer and I don’t wait to find out. I lean in to kiss him.

For an instant I wish I hadn’t. I ache, suddenly, everywhere. I’m raw from too long without physical contact. This isn’t enough. I love the way he’s kissing me, fierce and open, but it isn’t enough. His hands slide up my legs. Suddenly every inch of clothing is an offense, an affront. I can’t stand the thought of an inch that can’t be touched.

I help him peel off my dress, then everything else. There’s a pause–he’s never seen piercings like mine in real life, is staring with something like awe. Then his hands are on me, and his mouth. I am not clawing at him, not pulling his hair. I am too overwhelmed in this moment to trust myself. This is a fucking stranger and I want to tear him apart.

Then there are three of us. Another room. They joke that I’m a doll. It’s true. I don’t move, they move me. I am flipped, pulled, turned. Chi is hesitant. The Chef isn’t. Her manipulations push me into him. I’m gagging  on his cock. He pulls away. “It’s okay. Choking is okay.” I’m still gasping around the words.

His knees shift. “What?”

The Chef answers: “She says you’re good.”

I am scrambling for purchase, and for focus. I’m balanced on the exquisite edge of I need this and it’s too much, and it holds. I don’t know how but it holds. My throat is raw from failing to keep quiet. He’s fucking me, asking if it hurts, and yes, it does, and yes, I want it to.

A moment. The Chef is out of reach. I can’t breathe, the room spins. “I need a minute.” I roll away, try to breathe. They focus on each other. I’m in awe of their intensity, a little humbled that two people as strong as they are would include me at all.

They bring me back. I reach for her, am pushed onto him instead. I laugh. “You’re not letting me do anything!”

“Nope.” The Chef is grinning. “You’re our doll, remember?”

“Not a puppet?”

“Do you want a whole hand in you?” She pauses. “I have pretty large hands.”

Of course I want. A corner of me remembers that her hands are cut and burned. That there are gloves in my purse, lube in her bag. But mostly I don’t care. I’m willing to let her make this call. I like the roughness of it. She’s talking. Taunting. Telling me about my body, measuring the movement of her hands. She has words for both of us, all I can do is cover my mouth to hold back a scream.

She pauses. “Don’t let her do that again.”

Chi’s hands cover my wrists, but he doesn’t grip. He’s looking down at me, so I nod and twist to fit his hands more easily. He holds me down while she adds pressure. Shaking. Screaming. We’ve left lube across the room. “Right up to the last knuckles, but not past them.”

We need water. I need caffeine. We’re there for hours and most of a box of condoms more. Too much sensation for one night, and exactly what I needed.

‘Merica. Fuck yeah.

Words, Words, Words

People feel vulnerable talking about sex.

They’ll make all sorts of excuses: It’s taboo. It’s shameful. It ruins the mood.

They’re all bullshit. People don’t like to talk about sex because they’re scared. Of being laughed at, of putting pressure on partners, of being rejected, called a freak, any number of things.

The sad part is that it’s such a common fear that it is a taboo. Talking about desire and turn-ons and experiences does carry that risk of rejection, of judgment.

People feel vulnerable talking about sex because it’s a vulnerable thing to do.

And I don’t care. I think you should do it anyway.

I’m always floored when friends say sex “just happened.” “The first time we had sex, it wasn’t planned. I gave him a massage, he turned over, he had an erection, so we just sort of…” “Well no, we never talked about it, but I kissed her and we started undressing each other and one thing led to another, you know how it is.”

No, I don’t know how it is. I mean yes, I know sexual contact escalates, but silently? I can’t imagine.

It’s a taboo. It’s shameful. It ruins the mood.

Really?

It’s a taboo?

Let me explain taboo. Taboo is about the sacred. A taboo is an act forbidden because of a religious or (in wider use) moral principle. It’s about the act itself, not discussion thereof. Granted, taboo leads us to euphemisms about those acts which are forbidden, but if the act itself is acceptable then so must be the discussion of it.

I grew up Jewish. Word and deed are closely knit. We have a lot of taboos. Around sex, menstruation, food. And it is always–always!–more okay to discuss the taboo, even to challenge it, than it is to simply break it and hope no one notices.

Sex is a taboo? You can’t talk about it? I’m guessing you’re working from a system that prohibits having it as well.

It’s shameful?

If someone can’t jump in and respond to sexy texts with sexy texts (or say “sorry, now’s not the time”), if they can’t so much as allude to the content of their fantasies or say they want me…I’m out. I want completely filthy hot dear-lord-did-that-just-happen amazing sex, and that can’t happen with a partner who’s too ashamed of desire (or lack thereof) to express it. We’re none of us mind readers. There’s no way to know exactly what our partners are thinking or for them to know what we’re thinking without communication. Not all of that is verbal. Body language is a powerful tool. But if a question is asked, or if you want something and body language is not getting it across, you’ve got to use your words.

It ruins the mood?

It doesn’t. Doing something your partner does not want ruins the mood. Violating consent ruins the mood. “what the fuck were you thinking? I hate having my hair pulled!” ruins the mood. Talking about sex is fucking sexy.

Look:


 

I’m straddling his lap, his lip between my teeth. He’s a great kisser, so much so that I hate to stop, ever, but it’s not what I’m craving.

“God, I want your cock in my mouth. Right now.”

“I’m surprised it took you this long.” I’m sliding down his body, he’s unfastening his belt, before we even finish speaking.


 

My spouse and his walk out the door. He looks at me. I laugh, and look at the floor. “Well, this isn’t awkward at all.”

“I feel like a goddamn panda. Like, we have to fuck now, you know?”

“We don’t have to.”

“I’d like to.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. You’re probably going to have to make me shut up first though.”

He grabs my throat, hard, an instant before he covers my mouth with his. I pull him closer. When the kiss breaks we’re both out of breath. “Still awkward?”

“Mm. Will be if I talk. I suggest more choking.”

“Can do…let me grab a condom first.”


 

I couldn’t move my head if I wanted to. She’s holding me down with her thighs, making soft noises somewhere above me. She tilts her hips, makes it suddenly difficult to breathe.

“Can you–just–a little bit slower?”

I can’t speak. I slow my tongue, change rhythm and firmness and pressure slowly until she gasps “just like that” and grabs me by the hair.


 

Talking about sex is sexy. Really, really sexy.

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.

Limited

This woman drives me crazy.

We’ve been discussing play via FetMail off-and-on for weeks now. The flirting at parties has escalated from brief teasing as we pass in the hall to her grabbing me by the throat while we chat over tea and fruit. (I goaded her into it. And oh, man, that was fun.) I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want more.

I have the distinct impression that this is how she views herself.

But she worries me. I don’t know if she can understand what is and is not crossing a line. She offered to tag in a couple of weeks ago, while the Fireman was getting a drink. It amused me at the time, but it was in no way appropriate to think that she could just join that scene without so much as asking me. I don’t know if that’s indicative of her attitude generally, that she thinks subs/bottoms are just there for her to play with, or whether she would have spoken to me before jumping in if the Fireman had given her the go-ahead.

Still, it didn’t worry me enough to prevent the beginning of FetLife flirtations. She called me a little banshee. She makes me laugh. Her over-the-top imperious attitude may be serious to her, but it just makes me giggle. So we mail, we flirt, she suggests lunch, I say great, when and where?

She didn’t answer. Maybe life got in the way, maybe it was some kind of test, maybe a power play. I didn’t think much of it:  she knew how to reach me if she wanted to. The next time I saw her was at the party. She had me by the throat with her fingers up my skirt ten minutes after we said hello, then we barely said a word the rest of the night. I did wake up to a new e-mail, the gist of which was “that was hot, we should play, you should know I don’t play with someone unless I can bite, claw, choke, and cut them.”

Cutting? Nope. No way. Not happening. I tried to make that damn clear: “Choking, fingernails, biting, all lovely. I will not participate in any form of cutting, blood- or knife-play. It’s a hard limit, due both to health issues (severe anemia and hypotension) and past trauma. If that’s a deal breaker, it’s a shame, but understood.”

Her response? “Health issues… ahhh the dreaded foe. Truly, that is the only acceptable reason for a hard limit.”

Honestly every time I read that it makes less sense. Maybe I’d get it if we were talking about escalating an existing relationship into a 24/7 M/s deal. Maybe. But we’re talking about casual play at parties. I can have any damn limit I want. If I said no sex, it wouldn’t be for health reasons, but it’d be acceptable. Or no food play unless it’s kosher. Or no Russian accents. Doesn’t matter. My point is that my limits aren’t something she gets to rummage through and pick the ones she likes. I come with all of ’em. If that’s not workable, she can play with someone else.

I’m actually kind of regretting responding as politely as I did. At the time the (possibly paranoid) implications hadn’t really sunk in, so I just restated: no knives, no threatening with counterfactual knives, I’m serious, this is non-negotiable. Now that I’ve thought about it, I’m 95% sure she’s not someone I’m willing to trust anyway. The 5% is willing to check whether her apparent dismissiveness was sarcasm that didn’t translate over e-mail. Given that I get the distinct impression of Twue Domliness from her, it seems unlikely.

See this? This is me being responsible and not a zebra. Which is a shame, because I kind of want to be the zebra.

 

Sadistic Puppy

I’ve met a sadistic puppy dog. The boy is adorable, awkward, shy, goofy, and clearly newer to BDSM than he’d like to admit.

He’s just like this. Honestly. He’s practically begging to have his toy taken away.

Every one of those things makes me want him. And every one of them draws out my most predatory instincts. He’s a self-proclaimed dominant, and I just want to turn around and overpower him.

We met at the first board game night I went to here. My husband found him grating. I found him charming. At the Halloween party he was gracious, humorous, self-effacing. I remember thinking it was a shame he was a top, that I would love to just tear him apart and play with the pieces.  We chatted, flirted (read: threatened each other with violence while smiling oh-so-pleasantly), and I didn’t think another thing of it.

Then last weekend I went to a play party that was preceded by an auction. The auction didn’t much interest me–there were maybe two items that were vaguely tempting, but I was quickly outbid on both of them and not interested enough to keep after them.

The sadistic puppy won them both. I asked to see them after the auction: a pretty green flogger, and a vicious strip of thick studded leather. I had just enough tact not to smell them. I wondered what they would sound like, hitting flesh. I handed them back to him and said “very pretty.”

“Yeah, now I just need someone to test them out on.”

I almost laughed. I was dressed as domme-ly as can be, in leather pencil skirt, high boots, and a bun. I had just spent ten minutes whaling on a man’s shoulder with a leather strap. (He wanted to be sure I knew he was not a masochist, just trying to alleviate shoulder stiffness. Because obviously only a not-a-masochist asks a woman dressed as a dominatrix/librarian to beat the hell out of him in a dungeon.) Given that, and our previous flirtation, the sadopup had apparently decided that I wasn’t interested in being hurt. “I’m available.” I said.

His jaw nearly hit the floor.

I’m new to scene negotiation. First of all, I live in a world where “no,” “stop,” and “wait” mean “no,” “stop,” and “wait,” no exceptions, and in the relationships I’ve had before we just play and check in and pay attention. Certainly as a top I’m fond of saying “I want to X” and looking for a green light to do it. I don’t know how to negotiate as a bottom, because I want to hear what a top wants and say yea, nay, or yes with a caveat. In this case, that didn’t seem to require negotiating. He had several floggers and paddles he wanted to play with, and I didn’t feel the need for any more detail to say “cool, I’m down with it.” But that sounds very misleading, as though I’m claiming a sort of no-limits badassery that certainly isn’t true. At the same time, it seems unnecessary to mention that I can’t stand having my feet hit when my boots are staying on for the scene, or that I’m not into blood play, when it isn’t on the table. But hitting? I’ve reached the point of thinking “I can’t take much more of this,” of telling myself that after three more punches I’m going to have to say “wait, give me a minute to breathe” but so far, it hasn’t actually happened.

So I stripped down and stood holding a cross. We joked and talked while he swapped between toys. It was enjoyable. He was disappointed that I didn’t react much, and I had to tell him he just wasn’t hitting hard enough to get me there. This was true, but only half-true: even when he put more force into it, I got a bit gaspy but had no trouble at all keeping up conversation. The other half was that he’s such a puppy that playing felt like playing: silly and fun, but not intense or hot or needy.

Still, it was fun. The bruising was extensive, and I may do it again.

I just think that with this particular boy, I’d rather be hurting him.