Tag Archives: pet peeves

Trigger

Apparently people are yet again taking a bold and righteous stand against trigger warnings. As usual, the arguments against them show that people opposing them have no idea what a trigger warning actually is, or why they are useful.

So just so we’re on the same page: a trigger warning is a note that a piece of media or discussion contains content that may trigger an episode or lapse in persons with certain mental or neurological illness, or in those likely to develop such an illness such as those who have recently experienced trauma.

The conversation revolves mostly around PTSD, as does my experience, but trigger warnings can also be used to warn people with seizure disorders about strobing lights, people with major depression about discussion of suicide or self harm, people with substance use or eating disorders about drugs, alcohol, or disordered eating.

And apparently this is Awful Censorship and also Coddling and also Bad For People and also an Undue Burden, according to people who do not understand what trigger warnings are.

Trigger warnings are not censorship. They do not alter the content of media or discussion, they simply note what that content is. They are only censorship in the sense that a “warning: contains peanuts” on a package is a ban on the sale and consumption of peanuts. In other words, not at all. I am told that a warning still counts as censorship because people may choose not to engage in media or discussion that might trigger them. If this is true, it is still not censorship. Peanut sales are not banned because some people do not purchase or consume peanut products. Trigger warnings are really the opposite of censorship, in that they provide more information up front, allowing people to make more informed decisions about the things they will be exposed to.

Ah, but that’s coddling, isn’t it.Bad for discussion. After all, if we just let people say they’re triggered every time they get upset–Well. That’s funny, isn’t it? I don’t recall anyone mentioning getting upset. It’s almost like this is an attempt to minimize and trivialize what a trigger is, and its impact. Being triggered is not being offended. It is not being upset. Yes, obviously, it is upsetting to be triggered and offensive when it is done deliberately, those are not the core of the experience. Triggers set off different things for different people. It can be a panic attack. A seizure. A month in a depressive episode. Fugue states. Suicide attempts. Lapses and setbacks to recovery and self-management. The warning might mean choosing not to engage, but not always. Someone may choose to leave rather than risk it. Someone may take a deep breath and mentally prepare. They may make sure to have medication or a coping mechanism available, much like I make sure to bring an Epi-pen to restaurants. This does not stop a discussion. It makes discussion more possible, by giving people the tools needed to participate, or, if they can’t, letting them leave. I promise, someone having vivid flashbacks and hyperventilating in a classroom is far more disruptive than their walking outside would be. (I’ve been there. Not fun for anyone in the room.)

But triggers are Bad For People. Letting people decide what they do or do not want to be exposed to. That’s not how the Real World works. We should expose people to triggers for their own good. If they can’t take it, they can’t take the Real World. I’m going to take a deep breath here for a moment. Because they’re right about one thing: the Real World doesn’t let us escape the things that cause these triggers. That’s a huge part of why many of us have triggers in the first place–if trauma were avoidable, we probably wouldn’t have PTSD. If we have triggers, we are going to have to face them. Similarly we’re all going to experience physical pain over the course of our lives. Shockingly, that doesn’t make it ethical, compassionate, or in any sense of the word right to smash people with a baseball bat at the site of their most recent injury. Seriously. “We all get hurt” should not lead to “therefore it is acceptable to hurt you without your consent in this way that you’ve specifically told me to avoid.” The fact that the harm is psychological does not exempt it from being harm. Exposure therapy is usually mentioned here, and yeah, that’s a thing, but two funny things about exposure therapy: 1) it’s not for all people with trauma and 2) exposure therapy always includes clear, detailed trigger warnings and a controlled, easy to stop environment.

Of course trigger warnings are an Undue Burden. Anything could potentially be a trigger, so what, are people just supposed to warn about every component of content? That’s impossible! Except actually it’s pretty easy. Sure, someone might be triggered by a specific song or sunflowers, and that’s probably unforeseeable, but turns out the most common triggers are really quite obvious and pretty easy to mention briefly beforehand.

Warnings for physical violence, sexual violence, death, serious illness or injury, weapons, themes of abuse or suffering, and natural disaster will effectively help most people with PTSD. Add warnings for suicide and self harm, drug and alcohol use, and disordered eating. And flashing lights that could cause seizures. It’s really not a long list. Most people don’t need it. But for those who do, it makes all the difference in the world.

I know people aren’t going to stop lashing out at the idea of trigger warnings. Which means I’m going to have to have this conversation again, and again, and again. And honestly I’m just tired. I’m tired of being told to face the world by people who have not seen its teeth bared. I am tired of being told that I am weak because I ask for a warning before I dive in to fight monsters by people who have only seen them taxidermied and behind glass. I am tired of hearing “I don’t need this so neither do you,” as though the two have any relation to each other at all. If your reaction to trigger warnings is anger and you think they must be stopped, maybe ask yourself why. What makes you so certain that you, and not the person affected, are such an expert in what that person needs. Why you think you know what’s good for them, better than they know themselves. I promise, you don’t.

Be a Better Lover

It’s not about lasting longer. It’s not about a set of techniques.

I love the idea of getting someone so turned on they can’t hold back from orgasm for more than a moment. So when a man (it’s always a man) tells me he’s deliberately holding back an orgasm to “be a better lover” or “because I don’t want to be selfish,” I want to tear my hair out. “Better lover” looks like code for proving some kind of masculinity or winning an internal endurance contest, not about a partner’s pleasure. Most women don’t orgasm due to penetration alone at all–prolonging it isn’t going to eventually overcome the secret barrier to unlocking her orgasm-from-penetration, it’s just going to chafe eventually. I am one of the ones who can get off that way, but that doesn’t mean I want endless PiV intercourse (see chafing above).

Another common “better lover” technique that has to have high failure rates is taking something that worked with another partner or partners, or something seen in porn, read about in Cosmo, whatever, and ignoring its effectiveness on the actual person you’re in bed with. If a partner stops you, says or signals that something doesn’t feel good, or just doesn’t respond positively to something, odds are it’s not super amazing for that partner. And for god’s sake if your partner says “that’s not working/I don’t like that,” stop doing it. Don’t just obliviously continue. Don’t try again after a few minutes. Just stop. The last time I was with one partner he kept trying to do this uncomfortable two-finger thing to my clit while we were fucking, even after a “that’s making me cringe. Not good.” I’m not real keen on sleeping with him a next time, no matter how exciting his other partners find it. And don’t act like your partner is malfunctioning if they don’t like Magical Finger Technique #3 that was so great with your girlfriend six years ago. You wouldn’t sulk or suggest something’s wrong with a partner who doesn’t eat shrimp just because six-years-ago-girlfriend loved them, would you? Why is sex different?

If you want to be a better lover, stop listening to magazines and ads that tell you what women like or what men want. They’re useless. Listen to your partner. No woman is the amalgam Woman of a Cosmopolitan magazine poll. Ask what they want, listen to the answer, and (unless it crosses some boundary of yours) do that thing. Listen to feedback. Improve. If one of my partners did all the things that I find fucking amazing in bed to someone else, the most common response would be along the lines of “Jesus fuck what is wrong with you? Slow down! Not so hard!” If someone tried slow, sensuous, light touches with me and didn’t escalate relatively quickly…I’d probably suggest we watch a movie instead. There’s no manual. There are no cheat codes. There’s just talking and trying and finding what works.

Tick Tock (a rant)

“I can just see you counting the days until you have one of your own.”

I’ve just carried a giggle-shrieking goblin child back to its mother. I groan inwardly, but the man who spoke is clearly waiting for an answer. I smile as politely as I can. “No, I’m not having kids.”

“Oh, wait til you get married. You’ll have one within a year.”

“I’m divorced, actually. Anyway I’ve never wanted them.”

“Oh… well, you’re young. When you’re older–”

“I’m thirty.” The man speaking to me can’t be over thirty-five.

He shakes his head. “You say that now. But tick tock! That biological clock will get ya.”

Tick tock. Apparently one day I will wake up in the morning and slap my forehead in sudden realization of the obvious: of course I must want children! What other possible purpose in life could a woman have?

I don’t want children. I have never, ever, ever wanted children. I have never–not even when holding the sweetest, not-screamingest baby or playing make-believe with the most imaginative young person–thought “someday I might want this.” When I watch friends’ kids, I’m grateful as hell when they come home and I can get back to my regularly scheduled ice cream and nudity and cussing as much as I want. I do not want kids.

People want to argue. I’ll regret not having children when I’m old, they say. No one ever wants to talk about what it would mean to have a child and regret it. To raise a whole person that I do not want and be responsible for the survival and love and support and some degree of not fucking them up while also not fucking myself up even worse…yeah. There is no way this could end badly.

Except that’s the wrong thing to say. I can’t start explaining the myriad reasons that it would be a bad idea for me to have a child–the sometimes-debilitating mental illness that runs in my family, the poor vision and bad teeth they’d certainly inherit, my general lack of patience and uncompromising nature. I could go on. But any of that, all of it, I could find a way to overcome if I wanted kids. The real issue is that I do not want them.

I don’t hate children. They’re cute and the young ones’ unfiltered honestly delights me. I don’t think it ruins lunch if a friend brings her son along. If I’m honest, I kind of like them.

In small doses.

As long as they aren’t coming home with me.

I get that kids bring something magical and shiny to some people’s lives. That they can’t imagine enjoying life without that experience any more than I can imagine enjoying life with it. But the fact that I smile at kids and have fun taking them to play sometimes doesn’t mean I want one of my own. I like going to the zoo and no one thinks that’s incontrovertible proof that I want a giraffe. Same with small DIY humans.

People aren’t so adamant about telling me I’m wrong about what I want with most things. “I don’t like mushrooms” is rarely met with more than momentary incredulity. “I want to see x happen at work” is met with questions and brainstorming and support. “I want a tattoo” is accepted by most people who are not my mother (she knows it’s true but she Does Not Like It). But anything that has to do with sex–and children do have to do with sex–if I don’t conform to most people’s expectations of how a woman should relate to sex, I clearly don’t know my own mind. I need to be corrected, for my own good. Of course I couldn’t be bi, and I don’t like sex as much as or more than most men, and I definitely, DEFINITELY will want to have kids.

At this point I’m going to have to have “yes, I’m sure I don’t want kids” inscribed on my tombstone before it’s taken seriously. I know what I want. I don’t want kids.

And if I were wrong? If I am woefully incapable of making the “right” decision on the spawning front without correction from others? Why on earth would anyone who doesn’t trust that I know what I want trust me to be responsible for a whole helpless human being?

 

Playing at Poly

Ferns brings up (as she so often does) a good question, about how it comes across when someone identifies as poly “until they find the right person.”

What this says to me is, “I want to be with you, and I want to have all the trappings of a relationship that make me feel fulfilled and secure, but I want to be able to sever those ties at a moment’s notice when I find The One. But no, I absolutely care about you, how could you say otherwise?”

To me that doesn’t look like polyamory. It looks like play-acting relationships for practice until picking a real one. It looks like fear of being alone meeting fear of commitment. It looks like scatter-planting seeds, waiting to see which seedling sprouts tallest, straightest, most resilient before thinning the rest away like weeds.

It’s the lie that gets to me. Even if it’s not quite a lie, even when they say “I am only doing this until I find The One,” that promise is being dangled. That nurturing is being offered, and that intimacy, and it carries with it a terrible blame. After all, they told you they were only poly for now. That you might be what they were looking for, and really, whose fault is it if you’re not the one they keep, in the end? They did nurture you, after all. Gave you a chance. You’re the one who failed to be perfect.

This creates something sinister, even toxic. A relationship in constant threat of pruning breeds a fear of imperfection, of humanity, even of creative growth. You’re not one partner of several, building something either cooperative or independent: you’re in competition for a limited resource. It’s stifling. You’re reduced, finally, to trying only to be enough, and there’s nothing about that state that doesn’t breed resentment.

It also sets up an untenable situation. Poly-until-The-One people typically expect their ultimate partner-in-monogamy to also be monogamous once their soulmate-status is established. This means rejecting the possibility of compatibility with people who would not choose monogamy (like me).

Oddly enough, I take far less issue with people whose behavior is nearly identical to this but who don’t call it poly. I’ve had fuck-buddies and friends-with-benefits with the understanding that once these partners were not-single, sexual contact would end. Aside from a little sadness over knowing the sexual component of a relationship with me is, for these partners, disposable in a way that it would not be with someone they were dating, it’s fine. And I don’t resent the sexual component being disposable when it isn’t connected to intimacy.

“I’m poly until I find the right person” seems to forget that one’s partners in polyamorous relationships are people. They aren’t to be used and thrown away. They aren’t to be manipulated. And that’s what I see happening. Maybe I misinterpret, and maybe it means I’m missing out, but I wouldn’t date a person who said this at all.

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.

“Doesn’t it hurt?”

I’ve just mentioned wanting another tattoo to the girl I’m partnered with on this project. She’s surprised to hear I have any: they’re not large and easily covered. She doesn’t ask what design, or where, or what ink I already have. She doesn’t even ask why I like it. She asks what most people who have no body art do when talking to those who do: “Doesn’t it hurt?”

Well, yeah, it does a little.

So?

First of all, I’m a sexual masochist. I get off on pain. So I wouldn’t call the pain a drawback.

That’s hardly relevant though. The pain isn’t the reason I go for piercings and tattoos, but if I didn’t like pain it still wouldn’t be a reason not to get them. Pain is a side effect, usually fairly mild.

“But doesn’t it hurt?”

My partner plucks her eyebrows. She goes to the gym regularly. She’s lamented that a sunburn would be “so worth it, if I could just tan!” Pain for beauty is a transaction we widely accept. If someone believes the misery of yanking out eyebrows one by one every [however often one plucks eyebrows] for years on end is worth the result, surely they can understand that a single sitting followed by a brief recovery in exchange for a permanent desired modification is a better return on investment.

We do things that hurt. Not because we like the pain (though some of us do), but because we value what it brings us. Pain is a side effect.

“But doesn’t it hurt?” is a stupid question. Of course it hurts. If something breaks the skin and there’s zero pain you’re probably looking at some serious nerve damage. Anyone who asks already knows this. The question is really “what kind of person would endure pain for body art?” The question shows a certain idea about body modification: that it’s barbaric, disgusting. That (unlike a perfectly arched eyebrow), it has no value.

That’s actually okay. I don’t care if this girl, or my mother, or any number of other people think piercings and tattoos are worthless or shameful or otherwise problematic. That’s a conversation I’m willing to have. But “doesn’t it hurt?” can only be answered with a “yes,” and it’s in no way fair to use that yes as evidence against body modification as a practice. It really isn’t relevant.

Also, seriously? I beg folks to hit me with blunt objects until they can’t lift their arms anymore. I’m supposed to be scared of half a second with a piercing needle? Please.

Possession

There’s an undercurrent to monogamous norms that bothers me on a fundamental level. I’m not saying it exists in every monogamous relationship, but the idea is prevalent. It’s so ingrained in the narrative of relationships that people can’t seem to wrap their heads around the alternative at all.

The idea is that your partner is *yours*. That being in a relationship means you get to control them. It isn’t even subtle. And it’s more than a little frustrating. Folks have no hesitation about making assumptions about how a relationship works, and starting a conversation without checking those assumptions in the least. In the last month folks have said to me or my partners:

“You let your husband date another woman?”
No. Spouse dates Polly Pocket. I am happy to be in a relationship with him. His relationship with her does not diminish that. I don’t let him do a damn thing; he’s an autonomous human being.

“Can I play with Spouse?”
How the hell would I know? Ask him! I would get this, if context were different. If she were making sure we didn’t already have plans together. But she knew we didn’t. She was asking me for permission to do something with him. I can’t consent for Spouse. I can’t negotiate for him. Those conversations have nothing to do with me.

“No, you want to have sex with her and that’s okay *but*…”
There were about forty caveats. There was hemming and hawing. I felt uncomfortable enough to offer to leave the room so they could hash it out. Almost awkward enough to say nevermind the sex, it’s not worth it. They’re a married couple who are poly, but that seems to mean something very different to her.

“It’s okay, I know I’m not enough for him.”
Bless your heart dear, he don’t need you. Not enough? Is sex like oxygen now? There has to be a certain supply or he’ll fall to the floor in a dead faint and never recover? Please. He don’t need you cause he don’t need anybody. He wants more sex than you do, fine, but that ain’t nothin’ to do with you being enough. Don’t stay and be unhappy because you felt inadequate, that’s good for nobody.

“You know your man’s making out with another woman over there?”
This was said to Z, and her answer was “yep, I make out with her too.” And she did, shortly after she got back to us with drinks. Good times.

“You got two beautiful redheads? You’s a lucky man!”
God, this one pissed me off. He’s lucky, but I’m not? She’s not? Last I checked the three of us were each with two sexy partners. Z and I aren’t the Techie’s harem. He didn’t catch us like fish and mount us on the wall. (Against the wall…that might be another story.) We’re each with him, we’re with each other, and nobody’s “got” anyone. Ain’t none of us trophies.

“Are you taken?”
God, the ways I want to answer this one. “Yes, thank God you asked, I’m a prisoner, please help!” “Oh, yes. As often as I can manage it, in ways you can hardly imagine.” I’m not quite that sarcastic, or quite that lewd. Almost, some days, but not quite. “Wrong question.” has become my go-to response, but I’ve been known to flash the wedding ring (and yes, reinforce the false assumptions about what it means) with the overly persistent.

Beyond things directed at us personally, I see things like this all the time in my Facebook feed:

20140428-010933.jpg

“How to keep your woman/man”:
Why do we need different lists for men and women? And imply all women want to cling like dryer sheets and men would rather not engage?
And don’t forget, relationships are for straight people who don’t understand each other because men and women are different species and/or lack common language. And of course, your partner is something to lure, catch, and keep, not a person to build a relationship with such that they want to be near you.

The core issue here isn’t monogamy. If two people decide to make their romantic and/or sexual bonds exclusive, good for them. The assumption, though, is toxic. The assumption is that a relationship (or at least a “serious” relationship) automatically strips a person of the right to make decisions about other relationships. The assumption (made explicit in some scripture) is that a relationship is not an agreement of two autonomous people but a single unit the members of which are incapable of decisions or actions regarding individual needs without securing the other’s permission. And all these helpful outsiders’ comments, no matter how well meaning, come from the assumption that possessive monogamy is the only valid format a relationship can hold. They undercut nonmonogamy.

disclaimer time
I’m not talking about agreed upon D/s dynamic here. Negotiated power exchange is awesome and absolutely ought to be respected. This ain’t about that. This is about norms that erase individual autonomy, that in effect project a specific power exchange onto persons in a relationship and treat them as though they fit it without bothering to treat them as individuals first. This is third parties projecting relationship norms onto everyone they meet and often refusing to listen when corrected.

The Quest to Prove Bisexuals Exist…

…is bullshit.

Oh, sorry, do I need to provide more detail? This charming NYT piece about validating the existence of bisexuality with science is so full of rage-inducing fallacies that it was almost a week before I could make myself finish reading it.

I’m a fan of science, okay? I’m a behavioral researcher. Studies are important. They can give us a huge amount of information on a given topic, from the effects of sugary drink consumption on preschoolers to the behavioral and experiential correlates of sexuality. Granted, I don’t have access to the original article and it’s entirely possible that the NYT is just reporting science very badly. However, the abstract alone suggests that the research is based on problematic assumptions, as does the abstract of a later, related paper by some of the same authors. (By the way, if any of y’all has access to those, I’d like to read them in detail.)

So studies are useful. Bisexuality is under-researched. That doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to use a study to prove or disprove a person’s identity. See, bisexuality is having sexual attraction to persons of both the same and other genders. (It’s a little more complicated and for some it includes non-binary-identifying persons and for others it doesn’t and yeah, there are other sources of variability, but basically that’s the gist.) We don’t have a valid and reliable method with which to measure something as variable and nebulous as “attraction”.

Because I have access to it and it’s getting ever so much attention, I’m going to pull a few quotes from the article and tear them apart with my teeth. (Advantage of writing on the Internet: I don’t have to handle this like a professional. Angry Nic engaged.)

The A.I.B.[American Institute of Bisexuality], [Sylla] added, has moved on to more nuanced questions: “Can we see differences in the brains of bisexual people using f.M.R.I. technology? How many bisexual people are there — regardless of how they identify — and what range of relationships and life experiences do they have? And how can we help non-bi people understand and better accept bi people?”

There are exactly as many bisexual people as people who self-identify as bisexual (meaning, identify as such to ourselves. We might not tell you. We’re really unlikely to tell you if you insist on approaching us with a “sure, you say you’re bi, but…” attitude as seen above). How can we help non-bi folks accept us? Maybe start by not second guessing us every single time we tell you we’re real. Just for a start. Maybe try not giving people the idea that our statements and feelings and actions don’t count unless you can corroborate them with an MRI. I understand that bisexuals are an underserved group who can benefit from targeted research. I advocate for it. That research can’t benefit anyone if the targeting mechanism is biphobic. And it is. Looking for a physiological marker of sexuality might possibly be useful. I have issues with it (we’ll get into them later), but fine. I get what they’re going for. However, taking the existence of gay and straight people as given and running a study to establish the existence of bi people only in relation to those groups requires directly holding up the validity of heterosexual and homosexual self-identification as a usable measure. If self-identification is valid measurement of sexuality, it’s valid for all of us, not just the ones the researcher is comfortable with. This isn’t just a point of existential rage: using different measurement tools for different values of the same variable is not a reliable research methodology. If you run a food study that asks people if they eat healthy “never” “always” or “sometimes”, you’re treating all of those values the same way. If the choices are “never” “always” and “fill out this 37 page 3-day food recall and present a blood sample so we can corroborate your statements with your serum cholesterol”, you’re going to get a very different response set. Suddenly there’s added burden on one value. Suddenly one group is being subjected to greater rigor and implied distrust and greater invasion into their lives. It’s not equitable.  Seeing how arousal patterns differ among differently-identifying groups can certainly be illuminating (it isn’t usually, but maybe it can be. Later, I promise). Unless you choose to introduce bias by inconsistent treatment of your identifying groups, of course. Then it’ll tell you a lot less.

Bisexual activists told me that much of what gay and lesbian people believe about bisexuality is wrong and is skewed by a self-reinforcing problem: because of biphobia, many bisexuals don’t come out. But until more bisexuals come out, the stereotypes and misinformation at the heart of biphobia won’t be seriously challenged.

Uh, yeah. Or we could stop perpetrating them in media. Jane’s character in Coupling identifies as bisexual, but because she isn’t turned on by what we’re told is a close-up of female genitalia in a porn mag, her identity is “disproved”. (By this logic I am asexual: I have never once been turned on by live action visual pornography.) I don’t watch Sex and the City, but apparently there’s an episode in which Carrie dates a bi man and all the stereotypes come out. Captain Jack Harkness is delightfully pansexual for much of Dr. Who and Torchwood, but the portrayal settles to completely homosexual for Miracle Day. The protagonist of Lost Girl is bi, but she is literally addicted to sex, which perpetrates stereotypes unpleasantly. The possibility that Shepard could be bisexual or homosexual in the Mass Effect games freaked people the hell out. When we come out, these are the models people hold us up to. These are how people understand us no matter what we say. No amount of people coming out bi are going to change perceptions until the rest of everyone is willing to start listening. It’s ridiculous to suggest it. After all, racial, ethnic, and some religious minorities don’t have a choice about whether to “come out;” they are recognizable on sight. If visibility were sufficient to erase bigotry, racism wouldn’t exist.

According to the 2013 Pew Research Survey of L.G.B.T.-identified Americans, bisexuals are less likely than gays and lesbians “to view their sexual orientation as important to their overall identity.” That feeds into a belief among some gays and lesbians that bisexuals are essentially fence-sitters who can pass for straight for decades at a time and aren’t especially invested in the L.G.B.T. community.

Uh, okay. Or we don’t have a community that integrates our identity like gay and lesbian folks do. Have you ever heard of a bi bar? No. We go to gay bars and only act on gay attractions, or straight bars and pretty much act on straight attraction. Crossing territory lines in either setting leads to ostracization. Bisexuals are essentially expected by both gay and straight communities to practice a very careful and culturally competent mimesis in their respective settings. It’s less important to overall identity because the gay and straight communities we belong to are at best allies, and rarely that. Orientation is something we have to drag out and explain to every straight or gay partner and it’s exhausting and damn right some of us don’t want the stress of letting it be a defining aspect of our identities. It’s notable that there is general acceptance of bisexuality and fluid sexuality in the kink community, at least here. The community is still vastly heteronormative, but the pressure to conform does not seem to be present.

To test male arousal, Rieger and Savin-Williams use a pupil-dilation tracker instead of a genital monitor. The degree of pupil dilation has been found to correspond to self-reported sexual attraction and orientation.

[ . . .]

“Your pupils actually tell me that you’re more bi than gay.”

That was news to me. I felt a sudden kinship with the self-described bisexual men in Bailey’s original 2005 study, who must have been surprised to learn that they had their sexual orientation all wrong. I could imagine a potentially awkward scenario the next time someone asked me if I was into men or women. “Well, now, that depends on whether you believe the sex researchers at Northwestern or Cornell,” I might have to say.

No. No, and fuck you, and no. You don’t need a pupil dilation machine. Just answer a quick question. There’s an underwear model smiling at you. When you read that sentence, are you picturing a sculpted young man, a woman with curves in all the right places, a delightful room full of people of varying genders and sexes. . . excuse me, I’m having a distracting thought at the moment. Who do you picture? How does it make you feel? What do you like? You know better than your pupils. Are you straight? Gay? Bi? Pan? Asexual? Demisexual? Something else entirely? That’s cool. Whatever you feel about it, you’re probably right. Physical arousal is confusing, I get it. People misattribute their own arousal based on physiological response. Fear, disgust, exertion, certain kinds of pain, fever, and more can all mimic symptoms of arousal, if you will. It’s a biofeedback thing. Say I’m lightheaded, flushed, hypersalivating a little bit. Simultaneously, the friend I’m talking to laughs. It makes me happy: I like to see her laugh. Is that arousal? Nah, I’m just hungry and enjoying a friend’s company. But if I tell myself it’s arousal based on those cues, I’m going to start acting as I would if I were attracted. Trying to verify the response. I do the same thing with anxiety: Oh hell, breathing hard, elevated heart rate, I just saw a [whatever]. Fuck, I’m scared of whatever. Panic! Except I’m not scared of the whatever. Maybe I just took the stairs too fast or am on some new meds. It’s isolated. The whatever isn’t scary generally, this is just a thing that happened. It’s a bad idea to attribute a whole personal attribute to it.

He never had “emotionless sex,” he said, and the sex of the person he was interested in was less important than his romantic and intellectual connection to them. Still, he didn’t see himself as bisexual. “I really didn’t think about my sexual identity back then,” he told me.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this from bi folks (and demisexual and asexuals): Sex doesn’t matter. Gender doesn’t matter. I don’t care what’s in a person’s pants; it’s the person that turns me on. A physiological measure of arousal isn’t going to pick up this kind of attraction in a laboratory setting because the attraction won’t form naturally. When people watch porn, do they focus on sexual characteristics? It’s a serious question. I don’t much go for visual porn. If a person doesn’t get turned on in a lab, but they get the feels in authentic attraction situations, surely the latter is a more valuable point of data, right?

As out gay men and lesbians, after all, we’re supposed to be sure — we’re supposed to be “born this way.” It’s a politically important position (one that’s helping us achieve marriage equality and other rights), but it leaves little space for out gay men to muddy the waters with talk of Kinsey 4s and 5s.

I hate this so hard. I don’t even want to talk about it. Thanks, gay rights movement, for systematically and consciously erasing bisexuals from conversations about equal rights for sexual minorities because we unnerve and confuse everyone else! It undermines gay rights too, by the way. Still don’t want to talk about it. Some other time.

Szymanski told me about two female friends of theirs who only dated men until meeting each other late in life. “They’re pretty militant about their lesbianism now,” Szymanski said, “but I’ll ask them, ‘Did you have really great sex with guys?’ They nod. ‘Did you have orgasms?’ They nod. ‘Could you still have them?’ They nod. But they insist that they’re lesbians, because, I think, they’re convinced it’s in their best interest to identify that way.”

“Another case of bisexual invisibility,” Sylla said.

“Yes, and it’s strange to me,” Szymanski added. “Because wouldn’t their behavior suggest something different? Wouldn’t it suggest that they’re actually, you know, bisexual?”

“I’m not biphobic/racist/sexist/whatever but isn’t it interesting that..?” No. go to hell.

You know what? These guys might be right. It’s possible they’re not mischaracterizing these women in the slightest. Maybe their conclusion that the women in question are bisexual is correct.

On the other hand, maybe not. Sexuality isn’t that simple. Was the sex with men “great”? That does probably indicate that at some point these women’s sexuality included males. Sexuality can change over time. This doesn’t invalidate it. Do the orgasms mean anything about sexuality? Good lord, no. It’s entirely possible to orgasm from sexual activity with someone one isn’t attracted to. Ever close your eyes and fantasize that someone else is doing the sex things with you? Yeah. That works pretty well. Or if that idea makes you uncomfortable, how about masturbation? That’s not narcissistic self-directed lust (for me anyway); the sexy feels come from the person/people I’m fantasizing about. Or orgasms may not be linked to sexual pleasure at all. Some folks will have a quick de-stress wank without attaching it to fantasy or emotional/romantic sexual arousal. Think of it kind of like the difference between working out a kink in your back so you can get back to whatever with some relief from pain, and receiving a sensual massage. Same physiological release, completely different context. Only one is sexual. Some people have had an orgasm while being sexually assaulted. That does not mean they were attracted to the assailant, or secretly liked it, or any other horrible traumatic implication. It means that a specific stimulus led to a specific reaction, which is not the all-defining criterion for sexuality. Wanting and liking aren’t the same thing. Erasing consent and cognition and very real mental blocks from being valid components of sexuality oversimplifies us. Really, it needs to stop.

The article is awful. We don’t need a scientific quest to prove bisexuals exist. We’re sick of having to goddamn prove we exist. Sick of it. Know what I did the other day? I fucked a cisgender male and a genderfluid person who typically uses female pronouns. I don’t do this because I’m confused or going through a phase or just catering to male fantasy, either. I do it because I’m attracted to them both, because we all want to, and because the sex is amazing. This is not a new or unique experience. Bi folks have been around a long damn time, lusting after and playing with individuals of various sex and gender combinations and generally not giving a damn about your fucking categories when we do so. These attractions exist. If a measurement tool can’t pick them up, it doesn’t mean we’re not really bi. It means the tool isn’t valid. Self-report and genital arousal measures only have a correlation coefficient of 0.66 for men, 0.26 for women. That’s from a meta-analysis of 132 studies. Only ten of them did physiological response have a correlation of over 0.75 with self-reported identity for men. Only one for women. That means 121 of 132 studies used a measurement that failed to find agreement between physiological response and identity at least 1/4 of the time. That’s really bad.

Know how we know we exist? We are sexually attracted to more than one sex and/or gender. That’s it. It ain’t hard.

We don’t have to act on it to prove we’re really bi–there are bi virgins and bi folks who choose celibacy and they’re no more confused about their sexuality than virgins and celibates who are straight or gay.

We don’t have to have an even split, either in experience or attraction, nor do the two need to match. I pure-bodily-lust after more female-bodied persons than male-bodied ones, but have had significantly more sexual experiences with males. Y’know, ’cause most folks are straight so reciprocation of attraction is a lot more likely there. Easier to approach, more likely to receive positive response.

We don’t have to exhibit a genital response. I don’t get immediately physiologically turned on by the sight of an attractive body. Not even if it’s nude, and moving sexually, and belongs to a partner. The body can be dealing with a number of stimuli at once and not feel like providing altered bloodflow and breathing and lubrication. My appreciation of and desire for that person and that body aren’t dependent on a physiological response at any given moment. Anyone who does use such a response as the sole basis for attraction, I’m a bit inclined to worry about. But that type of decision making is what such a study implies.

The science is fundamentally flawed. Because sexuality is not simple physiological response. Because wanting and liking are not the same thing. Because we are whole, complex, rational beings whose sexualities are based not only on pure physiological manifestations of lust but also on cognitive factors. If you call a bi-identifying person gay or straight because his pupils dilate at images of one sex but not the other (non binary options not included, I assume), you remove his ability to self-identify. You tell him it’s invalid to ask that man whose voice makes him weak in the knees to go for a coffee. Get over yourself, dude; you’re not bi. We had you tested.

More than that, though, it’s about consent. In conflating liking and wanting in this way, the piece diminishes the importance of consent. Arousal tells you what you want. What you like. Who you are. You’re not gay if you don’t respond in just such a way to just such a stimulus. Fuck that. I don’t care how the body responds; the body doesn’t get the final vote. Bodily response and identity may match up most of the time, but they don’t have to. Certainly a correlation between the two isn’t necessary to prove one’s existence.

The premise on which the NYT article and (as far as I have access) the research on which it is based are flawed. They’re biphobic. Oppressive. Reinforce stereotypes. It’s about time we stopped allowing cultural perpetration of the myths that keep us invisible. Behavioral researchers: I expect better. I expect cultural competence, an effort to reduce disparity, valid methods, measures and meanings. For shame.

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.

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.