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Consent: What is it, anyway?

April 28, 2013 1 comment

People talk about consent as though it’s complicated. Sure, no means no, but does yes always mean yes? What if she said “yes” but doesn’t seem into it? What if he says “no” but really wants it? What if she says “yes” based on psychological issues without informing her partner about those issues? When does “Do you want to make cookies?” mean “let’s fuck?” What happens when one or more parties regret or just don’t enjoy whatever they’ve agreed to? All of a sudden everyone who wants to be conscientious about getting laid is either a lawyer, or afraid of lawyers.

I see posts like this one about being terrified of overstepping bounds or not being what one’s partner desires*. Or a tweet asking what consent feels like**. They make me wonder how much baggage the word has picked up, and why we seem so willing to let our partners’ consent be the sole factor in our decision to do sexy sexy things with/to/for them.

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Can we stop it already? Consent is a very simple concept. I’m just going to go with the OED’s primary definition: “Voluntary agreement to or acquiescence in what another proposes or desires; compliance, concurrence, permission.” That’s it, folks. Consent is permission without coercion. If you ask your partner, “hey, can you start the laundry?” and he says “sure,” that’s consent. If I growl “I want to bite your collarbone,” a “God, yes,” is consent. If he shifts to an open posture that gives access to his collarbone and/or draws my face towards it, that’s probably consent. Nonverbal communication can be clear and unmistakable***, but if (like me) you’re paranoid or terrible at reading it, adding a “may I?” and waiting for some form of verbal “yes/mhmm/please” or a clear nod can guarantee that you’ve got consent. If the answer to “I want to bite your collarbone” is “be careful not to leave marks,” you have provisional consent: biting yes, bite marks no. If the answer is “no,” well, that can be disappointing, but aren’t you glad you said something instead of diving in and chomping on someone who didn’t want it?

There are situations people seem to find genuinely confusing. They can be confusing, not because consent is hard but because there are other factors one ought to consider other than simply getting one’s partner’s permission.

A person can consent without having desire. This is no fun. If I say “let’s fuck” and my partner says “meh, okay, I’ve got nothing better to do,” that’s consent. It’s not enthusiastic by any means, but consent requires only acquiescence, not desire. Now, if I know my partner isn’t in the mood and is just acquiescing, that’s a hell of a turn-off. So I can try to create a sexy mood, or change my mind about initiating things****. What I can’t do (if I’m fair and rational) is accuse my partner of lying about consent. That’s not my call.

Conversely, a person can have desire without consenting. People can lust after each other, harbor crushes, flirt, or fall in love and still not consent to doing all the things they both fantasize about. Maybe one or both of them is in a monogamous relationship (cheating is wrong, folks). Maybe their religion says no sex before marriage. Maybe one of them wants casual sex and the other wants a relationship–if two people attach very different meanings to an act, it can break a friendship. Maybe it just seems like a bad idea to one person or the other. Doesn’t matter. The point is, no means no even if the person saying no desperately wants to say yes.

A person can consent when he or she should not. Yup. People screw up, and it’s allowed. If someone in a monogamous relationship decides to cheat, that person is consenting to do things he should not even though he knows better. If a person is sexually traumatized or self-medicating self esteem issues with sex, that person is consenting to do so even though it is not a good idea from a mental health standpoint*****. That said, a competent adult has a responsibility to provide partners with relevant information before diving into the fun stuff. Two people are capable of consenting to having an affair, but if the non monogamously attached party doesn’t know about the boyfriend/wife/significant other, he’s acting on incomplete information. Now, I realize things come up that we wouldn’t anticipate and it’s no one’s fault. A good rule of thumb? If you feel like you should bring it up, if you know a partner would want to know about your [insert relationship status, mental or physical health issue, or other here], speak up.

The common objection is that talking about sex ruins the moment. Asking for consent, clarifying desire, these detract from the moments we see in too many movies where people all just magically know exactly what their partners want. It’s bullshit. You know what ruins the moment? Having a man say “let’s bake cookies,” and then hover expectantly without saying what he actually wants while you try to give him tips to improve his oatmeal-raisin related skills******.If you can’t talk about sex, you can’t practice good consent. Anyway, dirty talk is hot. There’s no reason getting consent can’t be sexy as hell.

The thing is, getting your partner’s consent is necessary, but it is not sufficient. One’s own consent matters, too, and if you don’t feel secure in your partner’s desire or mental state or relationship status, you don’t have to consent. That’s right, you can decide not to go through with an act based on any criteria from the logical to the paranoid, even if you have desire and your partner consents. Is it fun? No. Is it hard? You bet. But it sure as hell beats telling your partners that you don’t respect their ability to make adult decisions.

*This paranoia is completely legitimate and I do the same thing all the fucking time. People should care about their partners’ experience as well as their own. My point here isn’t that you shouldn’t worry about your partners’ secret wants, desires, thoughts, or anything else. It’s that those things are not consent.

**Consent feels like having agency and responsibility for one’s actions, and clearly communicating one’s decision to engage in the activity/ies consented to.

***I expect some disagreement on this point. I’d like to refer again to the definition of consent here: “Voluntary agreement to or acquiescence in what another proposes or desires; compliance, concurrence, permission.” There are non-verbal cues that unmistakably show agreement. Nods mean “yes.” Moving in close and tilting your face to avoid nose-bumping means “yes” to kissing. This is important in part because the converse is also true: shaking one’s head means “no.” Turning away or putting a hand up to block a kiss means “no” to kissing. I’m sure many people’s gut reaction to this is going to be “but sometimes body language is ambiguous!” Yeah. Sometimes it is. I’m referring to specific, universal nonverbal signs of invitation and agreement. Not all body language can be interpreted to replace verbal communication. Body language should never be interpreted to override verbal communication. If there’s ever any doubt, ask! “May I..?” “Do you want..?”

****Or have unenthusiastic sex, I guess, but why?

*****we’re talking about competent adults here. Mental illness of a severity to prevent the ability to consent at all negates this. But if a person can hold a job, feed and clothe himself, and be otherwise vaguely responsible for his own life, he can own his own sexual decisions as well.

******True story. And yeah, we had sex. I lectured him about using his words first, though.

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Cock Shot

April 24, 2013 12 comments

Everybody scorns the cock shot.  There’s no denying that guys who use ill-lit photos of their dicks as profile photos or send them unsolicited to women on the Internet have some issues. Honestly, given the overwhelming negative response to this sort of behavior, I find it a bit baffling that it continues to occur at all.  The complaints I see about the cock shot start reasonable: “I don’t even know this guy, what makes him think I want to see what he keeps in his pants?” Then they take it a step further–“no one wants to see your cock,” or “male genitals just aren’t attractive.”*  And I agree that seeing a strange man’s dick is pretty much never going to hit my to do list. My response to random messages containing them is usually to roll my eyes and block the sender, on the theory that whatever he was thinking when he sent it, it probably wasn’t something I’m interested in.

But.

That doesn’t mean the cock shot is never welcome. The keyword above is “unsolicited.”

The new guy–let’s call him the Techie –and I text a lot. We throw in pictures sometimes. Photos of dinner if that’s what we’re talking about, or his latest “look what I picked up at the hardware store” project, mostly. I’ve tossed in a few self-portaits in fetishwear or nude when we flirt. When I sent him a proud shot of chicken enchiladas, he responded with beer brats. When I send him a racy nude, he sends back his own.

I fucking love it.

You have to understand, I’m a complete reaction junkie. If I send a partner or a friend an erotic picture, I want a response. The polite that’s-nice-but-I-shan’t-comment-lest-you-think-I’m-objectifying-you responses are less than desirable. Frankly, I find them rather ego-deflating. Comments of enthusiastic appreciation–“My mind keeps wandering to you in that corset, it’s making it difficult to focus at work,” “The next time you make that face, I want to be there.”–are better, though I get flustered and shy about them. How am I supposed to respond? “Gee, thanks”? It kind of ends the conversation.  My favorite responses are descriptive. I want specifics, details. What exactly are these fantasies, did I cause blushing or goosebumps or a moment of quickening pulse? A photo does one better. I get to see what reaction I provoke, I get a lovely bit of sexiness of my own to look at, and the whole exchange gets amped up that much more. Responding in kind helps create a lovely feedback loop of desire that can keep me smiling all day. So yeah, sometimes a picture of a cock is exactly what I want to see.

So what makes the naked pictures desirable? Relationship, for one. A sexual partner or sexual interest who expresses desire to see one’s nudity is someone it’s appropriate to send a nude photo to. Without consent, it’s just a bit creepy. Creepy does not make a good first impression.

Second, consider context. Sending a racy picture cold or in the middle of another conversation creates a bit of a WTF? moment. With the first, there’s a higher risk that the image preview will be seen by someone else in inappropriate context. (My phone is ALWAYS either in my hand or in my purse or pocket, but some people will set theirs on a desk or hand it to someone to show them a picture or website.  It’s worth being careful of.) The latter would just be bit jarring. When flirting, though? I’ll always say yes to an added dimension. Words are great. Words with visuals are better.

Third there’s the photography itself. This is true for female nudes as well, by the way: I have just as much disdain for a poor quality photo of a woman’s body or any of its parts as I do for a man’s, and most people’s attempts at erotic photography of themselves are pretty abysmal. There’s this ridiculous idea that men’s bodies are inherently unattractive and lacking in artistry, while women’s bodies are beauty personified, which I think contributes to lazy photography among both.** After all, if men can’t be sexy, why worry about poses, framing, lighting, or anything else? It’d just look farcical, right? And if a woman’s body is conventionally attractive, why bother cleaning the bathroom mirror or keeping rumpled castoff clothes*** out of the shot or anything else? No one will look at the background if there’s a naked chick in the foreground, right? I don’t expect studio quality work, but a bit of care is nice. Mr. DIY is pretty brilliant behind the lens, which makes our current game lots of fun for me.

The point is, naked pictures–even anatomical close ups****–are fantastic when created and used responsibly. They’re worth having fun with.

*That’s just not true. Our species is not in fact divided into “yum” and “dear God keep your pants on” based on SRY activation, okay?

**No, I’m not addressing folks who don’t fit the gender binary. Yes, they’re people too, but someone not part of the traditional gender binary is less likely to indulge in self-referential behaviors determined by social gender expectation.

***Dear every woman who makes K&P and is not being photographed in a studio: do your damn laundry. Make your damn bed. If you can’t, at least don’t include the mess in the shot.

****I have a thing for hands and wrists. Just tossing that out there, in case anyone reading this has a particular desire to show off his/her/insert-preferred-gender-neutral-possessive-pronoun palmaris longus or any of the visible carpal bones. Swoon.

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Party Politics

April 19, 2013 3 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Birth Control

April 16, 2013 Leave a comment

This is going to contain way too much detail about a medical procedure. Fair warning.

Yesterday I went to have a copper IUD inserted. It’s overkill: my husband has had a vasectomy, and I use condoms when having PIV sex with other men. My gynecologist was more than a little confused by the request*. I’ve had condoms break in the past (twice, when I was eighteen), and have always been just a tiny bit paranoid about them ever since. I hate condoms for other reasons**, but that’s not going to stop me using them. The conditions that a partner would need to meet before I’d be willing to go barrier free with them are pretty thorough. It’s certainly not something I’m planning with anyone at the moment: the IUD is an emergency backup. Still, I’m hoping it will help quell the nervous part of my brain that can’t seem to shut up when I am relying on a bit of latex to prevent me from becoming host to a little parasitic person.

The procedure itself wasn’t too bad. I have a serious fear of medical situations, so I was nervous before I even got inside the office. Standing (okay, pacing) in a cold room half naked for forty minutes after my appointment was scheduled to occur didn’t exactly help. I’d been told to expect mild to moderate pain and instructed to take an over the counter painkiller before the procedure in order to minimize discomfort. I tend to scoff at what doctors call mild pain, but took some Aleve anyway because suppressing swelling is always advisable.

My gynecologist finally arrives and starts to talk through the procedure. She did the same thing a month ago, but it’s reassuring. Any reassurance is welcome; the cold and the smell of antiseptic solutions are pushing the edges of panic response. She offered again to write a prescription for painkillers.

“I have a pretty high pain tolerance.”

“Okay, if you change your mind, call me.”

She moves the unnecessary sheet (honestly, she’s about to force a metal cross through my cervix and we’re supposed to be worried about modesty?) and blinks a few times. Oh, right: there’s a constellation of thumbprint bruises on my inner thigh. “S&M” I explain. “All consensual. I did tell you, high pain tolerance.”

“Right,” she says. “Be careful.” Then there’s a cold speculum and the swabbing of antiseptic gel. I have to focus on not acting like a total wimp. I start calculating powers of three, checking in (and losing my place) every time the doctor starts to speak again. When she uses the phrase “cervical sound” I decide it’s time to breathe more consciously. This part sucks. It feels like the worst menstrual cramp I’ve ever had was given an amplifier. I have to swallow a few times to keep from cursing. The doctor seems frustrated too, giving instructions to her nurse in low tones. Apparently my cervix had no intention of dilating and had to be forced. It bloody hurt.

After a few moments of fumbling they seem to be ready. My doctor holds up the IUD, which looks rather small and innocuous really, explains how it stays in place and all that. I nod, because that’s more polite than saying “I fucking know all this just get it over with and get that horrible thing to stop prying me open already.” It’s quick. The sound is removed (I see blood. I am not menstruating. Awesome.) “Okay. Last thing, I just have to trim the string and then you’re done.”

Wait, what?

Remember how I’m trying not to act like a wuss? How a multiply-pierced and masochistic patient ought not to have a problem with a routine outpatient procedure?

Yeah. There were scissors inside my vagina. I shrieked like a little girl in a room full of spiders.

Then I went home. Or rather, went to pick up my husband and take him to lunch. The pain started about two minutes before I got to his building. Like cramps, but worse. Deep breathing, I can handle this. I kept repeating that for most of the afternoon, right up until I folded in half nauseated from pain while trying to unload the dishwasher. Lying down for a few minutes turned into curling up and shaking for the rest of the evening. I have hydrocodone in the house, because I refused to take more than a day’s worth after my wisdom tooth extraction last year. I told myself I wouldn’t take it unless the pain got bad enough to make me cry (it was close), but I caved after I dropped my water bottle twice from the shaking.

This morning, I was sore, and there was some blood, but not enough of either to prevent a light workout. Now everything feels pretty close to normal. So here’s hoping it’s worth it: a day of oh-dear-God-this-is-awful for ten years of not being afraid of getting pregnant.

*in fairness, she’s more than a little confused by non-monogamy and kink in general, and I have to applaud her for handling it all quite well, even if she goes a bit wide-eyed at times.

**The smell of latex makes me think of medical procedures, sterile rooms with too-cold air and fluorescent lights and the risk that someone is going to decide that an injection is necessary. None of these are things I kink on. My sense of smell is really quite good, so the instant a condom wrapper is opened, I go from growling feral fuck-me-now mode to awkward and nervous. I can get back into it, but the distraction is far from pleasant. Then there’s the sensation. Condoms don’t move the way skin does. It’s not bad, it isn’t as though the use of a condom makes sex not worth having, but again there’s the distraction of feeling latex instead. This is highlighted these days because I do not use condoms with my husband (he has had a vasectomy), so with other men there’s a moment of “yup, that’s latex, being too-slippery and feeling just a bit off.” There’s knowing that after sex, we’ll need to wash up before any oral contact unless we want to taste latex (ew).

BDSM Checklists: How Not To Negotiate

April 13, 2013 3 comments

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.

Something New

April 9, 2013 Leave a comment

I’m seeing someone new, in an undefined sort of way. A friend. We’re sleeping together. I  suppose that’s what the term “friends with benefits” is for. He’s said so little about what he thinks or wants in terms of our association, though, that it’s hard to be sure.

fox

“I hunt chickens; men hunt me. All the chickens are just alike, and all the men are just alike. And, in consequence, I am a little bored.” (Saint Exupéry)

He’s wary. He’s seen jealousy with poly folks before. Been hurt. Seen others hurt. It makes him cautious. I’m glad of this, that he thinks of risk and moves slow to avoid it. It’s frustrating, too: too much caution holds him back. It isn’t shyness. I like shyness, all tongue-tied softness and blushing and peering up through eyelashes. This is different, wary, a fox hiding in the brush, waiting to see if I’m predator or prey.

There’s violence, just under the surface. I see it in the narrowing of his eyes when he laughs, in the set of his teeth when he smiles. This is a man used to being in control, who finds it not only comfortable but natural as breathing. But he turns docile when my teeth find his throat, makes soft sounds that send shivers across my skin. What was straining muscle a moment ago turns pliant and soft.

It makes me want to tear him apart.

We’re new to each other, tentative and shy. I see violence in him, reflections of the savagery I feel. The feedback breeds intensity. It grows into growling and bared teeth. I shove him hard against the wall only to hold him there, close enough to feel his shaking breath against my lips, not close enough at all. He is a mirror, or I am. If I crash into him, one of us will surely shatter.

I look at him and I see violence. He wants teeth in his flesh. He wants bruises on mine. But we’re too new for that. We’ve explored skin without learning the muscle and mind underneath. I don’t want to hold back. He certainly responds eagerly enough when I’m aggressive. I hold back anyway. We need to talk, not about what he’ll accept (“Don’t wait on an invitation or opportunity, take what interests you,” he says) but what we both want.

I have a feeling this conversation will be happening at least partly over text message. I seem to have a bad habit of kissing him and not being willing to stop once conversation steers that direction in person.

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