Posts Tagged ‘communication’

To All the Tops Who Are Afraid to Make a Move

To All the Tops Who Are Afraid to Make a Move

February 25, 2014  |  essays  |  12 Comments

One of my biggest challenges as a top—and as a feminist dominant, and as someone who is well versed in and vehemently requires agency and consent in my sexytime play—is making assertions of what I want. This is especially hard if I’m meeting or playing with somebody new. I want to be bold, domineering (in good ways), bossy (also in good ways), sexy—toppy. I want to demand and take and get just a little more rough than expected.

But: I won’t do that, until I have consent. Until I have a very, very clear green light that my advances—my dominance, my toppy-ness—is wanted and desired.

Nothing wrong with that, right? I want to do dirty things with the people I date and play with, and I want them to want me to do those things, otherwise I don’t want those things. In fact, one could argue (and I do) that my wanting to do those things is contingent upon them wanting me to do them. I won’t get it up for somebody who doesn’t want me.

But see, sometimes because I am not making big bold moves, or acting with brassy ballsy swagger, people think I am not flirting with them, or don’t like them, or aren’t interested, or am “not that dominant.”

(Well, in terms of that last one, they can suck it—I believe in consensual dominance, and I don’t believe doms (or anybody) has a right to go around spewing their swagger on anybody they come across. I take up my space, you take up yours. Unless we’re in a explicit power dynamic, I don’t assume that I get to be dominant with you. I guess that’s called boundaries.)

But those other things … that depends. Sometimes I really, really, really, like somebody, and I want to do things with them to them for them, but I am not getting a clear green light, so I do nothing.

And this can be crippling! This can mean that a perfectly good top wrings their hands and wonders, wonders, wonders, whether or not they should make a move, but that the other person is simultaneously thinking, I thought they were a top? Aren’t they going to do something?

That sucks, right? Here’s a few ideas.

1. Make it clear you are (kinda sorta completely) inclined to topping

Talk about it. Bring it up. “I tend to like to be in charge in bed.” Talk about topping and bottoming. Talk about the kind of things you like to do. Do you like rough sex? Extensive amounts of bondage? Strap-on sex nine times out of ten? Always being the one who orders at a restaurant? Opening doors? Holding someone down while they struggle?

And … ask them what they like. Talk about it. Get their Fetlife fetish list from their own expressive mouth. Ask again. Ask about specific things. Be fascinated by their answers. Listen closely.

This might be elementary for you, but I find that just about everybody doesn’t talk or communicate about their own desires enough. ‘Cause here’s the thing: They change constantly. Most of us don’t want the same thing all day every day. So it is a constant practice to be in the moment, figure out what we want, and communicate it clearly.

2. Make it clear you are waiting for a green light

Or, explicitly ask for a green light. Many people who are inclined to bottoming or submission, or, often, those who would be into going out with a top, are frequently waiting for the top to make the move. Perhaps they think that the way they’re batting their eyelashes, or the way they shined their leathers, or the way they are rubbing their thighs together, is so fucking obvious that of course you know they want you. But still, you are waiting for that green light.

So tell them that.

“I would so love to kiss you, but I’m waiting for the right sign / you to ask me / the perfect moment.” “I know I said I’m a top, but the only way I get all … toppy with somebody is if I am clear they want me to. Are you into that?” “I have this thing about consent—it’s super important to me. So I tend to wait until I get a really really clear green light to make any sorts of moves. But after I get the green light … ”

(Then do that sexy-ass sly top grin you practice in the mirror. Come on, I know you do.)

And then, pay attention to their reaction.

So if you growl, “I really want to throw you down, right now,” and their eyes get all huge and they start thinking about all the grass stains they’ll get, and they say, “Uhhh…” you will know that is not consent. But when they take a step closer to you and say, “I have a really good mattress at my house,” you’ll know they are at least interested.

I hesitate to talk about how consent can be expressed non-verbally, through physical communication, though I do believe that it can be. It’s just harder to pinpoint and talk about, and much easier to misconstrue, miscommunicate, or mistake. For the sake of nervousness or fear or making big bold topping moves, it is always, always safer to get enthusiastic verbal consent specifically.

Regardless of how much explicit consent they give you, always be paying attention for hesitation in their body language or speech. That probably means it’s time to back up, and slow down, and check in.

This can be used when escalating all sorts of play, by the way, not just the first kiss. It could be useful for that moment when you want to get your strap-on out, or when you want to put them in spread eagle bondage, or when you want to hold them down and rough them up, or when you want to ask them—tell them, demand them—to go into the bathroom and take their panties off and give them to you. Sometimes you just don’t know if it’s the right time to do something new, or to escalate, and you don’t know if you have their consent for it. So ask. Make it clear what you’re looking for, so they can give it to you (or not). They just might not know that’s what you’re waiting for.

Sometimes, when I start getting the feeling that it’s time to move in for a kiss or to escalate physical touch with somebody, I make a move kinda like I’m about to do the thing I want to do, but then I catch myself, and say, “Oh, sorry—I really want to kiss you / put my hands on your stockings / grab your belt / take you down right now. That okay?” (Sometimes I say this in a sexy growly voice near their neck or ear while I decidedly do not touch or kiss them because I don’t know if that’s okay—yet.)

And I wait. For their reaction, response, and enthusiastic consent made clear.

3. Still afraid you’re being an asshole?

Here’s the thing: Asking somebody for something, or asserting a decision or a preference, is not being an asshole. You’re not being an asshole when you say, “I’d love to take you out. How about we meet at this great cafe I love on Sunday for brunch?” You’re not being an asshole when you’re on a wandering-around-the-park date and you say, “I’d love a coffee. Want to duck into this coffee shop for a bit?” You’re not being an asshole when you point at a shady spot under a tree and say, “Let’s go sit there.” You’re not being an asshole when you get back to your place and they are on your couch all sexy and biting their lips and you say, “I can’t wait to play with you.”

You absolutely are being an asshole when you don’t honor their response to your suggestion or offer or preference.

If you say, “Let’s go to this great steakhouse!” And they say, “I’m a vegetarian …” When you say, “Great! Meet you there at 7,” you are being an asshole.

Wah waaaaah. Sad trombone. Don’t do that.

But making the offer? Not an asshole. Suggesting a change in place? Great! Shows your flexibility and thoughtfulness. Requesting a date at a particular place? Not too much (until, you know, they tell you otherwise).

Sometimes, being assertive and suggesting things is a relief to the other person. We often defer to each other (especially people we like), saying, “Whatever is fine!” And we mean it! But when someone drives the social decisions, it can be very useful. What’s not useful (have I made this clear yet?), and is firmly in asshole territory, is overriding what someone else expresses they want or don’t want.

So make suggestions. Request—and get—the green light, so you can be confident that your glorious toppy-ness is fully desired and wanted.

PS: I hope this is clear, but just in case it isn’t: This has absolutely nothing to do with getting someone to do what they don’t want to do. Fuck that. This has to do with communicating enthusiastic consent. Okay, clear? Cool.

Open Relationships Mini Interview with Ashley: Love is Infinite

January 3, 2013  |  essays  |  No Comments

Ashley Young, http://indigostheory.wordpress.com.

1. What insight about polyamory/open relationships would you share with your younger self?

I would definitely tell myself not to be so cynical and that love is real, no matter how confusing it might be. Oh and I’d also tell myself ‘you aren’t going to end up a lonely spinster in the woods writing books like you planned’. When I first started to attempt poly, I didn’t even know it was possible until I had a loving partner to encourage me. I think if I could go back, I would give myself permission to explore love, sex and relationships, despite how overwhelming and scary it might be.

2. What has been the hardest thing about navigating multiple relationships, and how have you overcome that?

There have been a few things that have been hard about being poly. At first it was jealousy. Seeing my partner with other people was hard but when I started to see the benefits of sharing her with others – these benefits being my partner’s happy and poly being a full expression of herself – I got over it. Once I realized jealously had nothing to do with my partner and had everything to do with my own insecurities, I started to deal with my relationship shit instead of dumping it on my partner.

The next challenge was stepping up my communication with my partner. I used to be so afraid to say what was on my mind but when I realized sharing doesn’t actually make me explode or expire, I started talking. My partner and I both worked very hard on our communication early on in the relationship before becoming poly so I trust her. I learned earlier on that trust is key in polyamory. To maintain the trust, we in a sense created an intimate poly language that works for us and talk constantly and openly about our issues with each other first.

After I got over my jealousy and learned how to communicate, I started dealing with my own shit. Dating others has made me continue to confront fears of intimacy and acceptance and discover the power and beauty of my evolving sexuality. The biggest challenge has been accepting my poly, queer, kinky self and creating relationships that work for me. I’m still working on that one!

3. What has been the best thing about being open/poly?

I discovered I’m not a misanthropic and jaded as I used to pretend to be. I love people, I love bodies and I love sex. I love conversation and connections and being in a poly relationship has reaffirmed that for me. Plus, the more people I love, the more in love I am with my partner.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

Love is infinite, not finite. Spread it.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Kyle: It Can All Change

December 14, 2012  |  essays  |  No Comments

Kyle Jones, www.butchtastic.com

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

I assumed that there was ‘a way’ to do poly and that if I learned that method, everything would work out perfectly. What I learned was that there are as many ways to open up a relationship as there people doing it. I’ve also learned that it can all change – people change, their needs and circumstances change. When that happens, your approach to poly may need to change – temporarily or permanently. And, this one has been the hardest, a person can identify as poly at one point in their life and as monogamous at another point in their life. Even though I was strictly monogamous for the first 40 years of my life, it never occurred to me that a person could go the other direction. So I guess in the beginning, it might have helped to hear from someone with more experience that things can change, in all directions, and the best thing to do about that is to have really excellent and honest communication with your partners, and work on those while it’s easy, so you are more capable of communicating well and handling change when it comes.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

When my wife and I opened up our relationship, I knew I’d go through a period where it was hard to deal with her being with others. I was determined to work through that and I was lucky to have good friends to talk things through with. I also had someone I was seeing outside our primary relationship, so the NRE and excitement of that carried me through a lot of the more difficult initial stuff. What I wasn’t prepared for was the differences in how my wife and approach being poly, and how that would effect our relationship. I am truly polyamorous, I am happiest and healthiest when I love, and am loved by, multiple people at the same time. My wife comes from a ‘friends with benefits’ perspective. She is leery of and steers clear of people who are likely to develop a romantic love for her. This has been a source of conflict for us, as she has been very critical of my approach. When things get challenging in my other relationships, she has a tendency toward ‘I told you so’ comments, which I don’t take well. She would be much happier if I’d manage my other relationships the same way she does, but I’m not wired that way. This difference and conflict is not something I was prepared for and remains a source of stress between us, though not as much as in the beginning.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

I’m not as angry, resentful or depressed as I was before we opened things up. Since I was looking to my wife to meet all my intimate relationship needs, when it became clear that some of my needs were not going to be met by her, I grew angry, resentful and depressed. Having the opportunity for other partners means I’m not angry with her for not being everything for me. As time went on, and I became interested in pursuing my interest in kink, it was really, really good to know I could, even though my wife has no interest in BDSM. Over all, I’ve learned a lot about my capacity to love and hold space for multiple people. I am a much better communicator now, I think I’m more empathetic and slower to judge. As time goes on, I am more gentle with myself, less likely to judge myself for emotions that are generally seen as negative – jealousy, fear of inadequacy, insecurity. Learning to recognize those reactions as valid and honest, learning to express and own them and learning to accept them with less judgement has been a very positive experience. Also, I’ve been learning the lesson that in order to do well in a relationship, to give to your partners, you have to make sure to give to yourself, too.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

When people say that communication is the key to successful polyamory, they are not just saying it because everyone else does. It is absolutely essential to continuously practice honest, open, sincere communication with all you partner with. But not only that, you need to practice it with yourself. Be honest about what you need and what and expect from the relationships you are in. If you find yourself giving up on your needs and wants, that is a warning sign. You need to be very careful about giving up your needs in order to make things easier with a partner. That road leads to resentment, insecurity, depression and a breakdown in the relationship. If you’re not happy and feeling good about the relationship, you’re not going to do a great job in it. Self-sacrifice has its place, but if that’s all you’re doing, you’re not having a relationship based on equality and balance.

The things that make good relationships between primary partners, make good relationships between all partners. Since everyone will naturally have different expectations and assumptions about relationships, discussing those assumptions and expectations — not just once, but regularly — is a core part of healthy poly. Expect change, come up with strategies for handling change, both within yourself and with your partners. Don’t assume you know what’s going on, ask, listen, ask some more. Cultivate friendships with poly knowledgeable people who aren’t partners so you have friends to go to for feedback, or just to safely rant about things. Realize that for most people, jealousy, fear, competitiveness, feelings of insecurity — emotions we tend to judge as negative — don’t just go away when you’re poly, people who are poly aren’t less likely to experience those emotions.

Now, if you want to ask about long distance poly relationships, that’s gonna generate a lot more paragraphs :-)

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Sara Eileen: They Shouldn’t Be This Hard All the Time

December 13, 2012  |  essays  |  No Comments

Sara Eileen, @saraeileen

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

My first few open relationships were, in retrospect, fairly awful. In one (my very first) a husband and wife team had the very bad habit of communicating different rules to me about the same interaction, without talking to one another first. In another my partner was monogamous, and had a guilt complex about being monogamous. In a third (by far the worst, and also my longest relationship to date) we dealt constantly with passionate, rage-filled jealousy, almost all from his side.

At no point in any of these relationships did I question identifying as polyamorous; it’s a part of my identity that has always felt extremely stable and sensible. But when I was starting out I heard frequently that poly relationships “take more work” and “are just harder and that’s the way it is” and to some degree I’d internalized that. I wish I could go back to my younger self and tell her that yes, relationships are absolutely hard work, but they shouldn’t be this hard all the time. My more recent experiences with open relationships have been easier, more loving, and much happier, and have taught me that while it’s critically important to work with my partner and communicate well together, those past relationships had problems that extended far beyond our failing aspirations toward healthy polyamory.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

The hardest thing about being open in my current relationship has been trying to find new individual partners while sharing much of the same dating space and opportunities. I would call that less hard and more confusing; we are both interested in pursuing new partners, both a little (or a lot) awkward about dating and approaching new people, and tend to stick together in social situations within our shared community. I think that when one of us decides to date with more dedication we will probably solve this problem by literally separating ourselves into different dating spaces, but at the moment we’re very entwined with one another and we’re trying to navigate that in all of its lovely and sometimes incredibly awkward glory.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

The best thing about my relationship is that my partner is amazing for me, and I’m fairly certain that the feeling is mutual. The best part about my relationship being open, and capably open, is that it feels like a good, healthy space to occupy with someone I love. It is literally the only way I could see myself in a primary relationship with another person, so perhaps the best thing about being in an open relationship is simply that we are. We found one another, we’re happy, this makes sense for us. That’s pretty great.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

If you’ll forgive the extended metaphor, I’ll share something I wrote to a friend recently when trying to explain my ideas of a poly partners bill of rights:

Imagine that having a relationship with a person is like taking a walk with them. In poly, you’re agreeing to take multiple walks with different people at the same time; some of them are short, sweet walks that only last a night, while others are long, committed walks that could last your entire life.

Now imagine that communication is the material that makes your road wider. People who communicate clearly and honestly with one another about everything that’s important to them, and who use that communication to make agreements about how they will each take other walks as well as the one they share, have laid out a nice, wide road to walk on. It lets them run around and be playful and try new things, all on the security of that wide open, solid space. The width of your road is not measured by the number of words you exchange; it’s measured by the confidence, trust and clarity provided by those words.

People who don’t communicate with one another about their expectations, feelings and roles are walking a narrow path; it’s possible to walk it, but the littlest breeze can come along and tip one or both of them over into a ditch. Our roads change size as we go through each relationship; something wide and solid at the beginning can become increasingly narrower until both people fall off, or vice versa.

These walks cross over one another as different people in one’s life meet one another. Narrow paths can be widened by meeting wide roads. Narrow paths that cross often leave room for no one to get by. Wide roads that meet one another have plenty of space for everyone to get what they need. And, most critically, everyone has the right to decide how wide of a road they need.

Also thanks for doing these interviews; they’ve been fascinating so far!

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Mysty: Advanced Relationship Studies

December 12, 2012  |  essays  |  1 Comment

Mysty Mayhem, Women Writing the Weird

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

It’s ok not to have the answers. My husband and I joke now that we are in Advanced Relationship Studies, and that when we began exploring 13 years ago we were in Relationships 101. It’s definitely a learning experience and should be treated as such. The opportunities for growth are endless, but you have to be willing to admit failure and learn from mistakes. There is no “right” way to be in an open relationship. You have to find what works for you and your partners. Also, communication communication communication.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

We have been open since the beginning, really. When he and I started dating, I had a grrlfriend and I was very honest about my desire to be physically with other people than him. He was raised in middle class white America with the model for Leave it to Beaver in his home life, so he was somewhat resistant at first. I was (and am) unapologetically Queer. Open communication was the key to our success. I don’t gloss over my needs and wants, I try to be very transparent. This helped him to understand not only WHAT I wanted, but WHY I wanted it.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

Building strong bonds with so many fabulous people, having a large, loving, caring support system to share my life with, learning more and more about my primary partner, growing emotionally, mentally, and sexually in ways that would have been impossible in a mono relationship. And the sex :)

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

Sugarbutch fucking rules. That is all.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Spark: Free Agents

December 10, 2012  |  essays  |  1 Comment

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

This certainly doesn’t apply to every relationship. But in our case, I wish I had realized that we are both interested in very very different sorts of people and have very different communication styles, and that it works out much better if we are not trying to play with the same person as a couple. In the beginning, it tended to happen that one of us would bring someone in to play with, and the other would be lukewarm but go along with it anyway. This always lead to a lot of awkwardness and bad situations where one of us would no longer want to play with the third but the other did… For me, it works out much better if we are both free agents.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

I identify as queer and have always had attractions to a wide range of genders, but my wife has always been very uncomfortable with me playing with cisgendered men. It’s something we’ve dealt with in a variety of ways with varying success… initially, there was a lot of resentment and misunderstanding and hurt feelings, then a long period of time where it was an unquestioned rule. Since then we’ve had some really good conversations about why she feels that way, and started to put it back on the table as possible. When I didn’t understand why it was her request, I abided by it but always chafed and resented it…when she started opening up more to me about it, I had a lot more empathy and could accept it. So communication has been paramount. And really, I think age and experience has mellowed us both significantly.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

The ability to play around with other people! I really am at my absolute happiest when I’m juggling two or three flirtations, and I love the tension and excitement of sorting out new partners. I’m deeply unmonogamous by nature, and I would have a very hard time settling down with one person forever. I could do it of course, but I’m much much happier not having to!

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

My wife and I have been together since high school, and open pretty much the whole time. Our relationship, our own identities, and our “outside” relationships have both changed so much over time, and there have been periods that were very difficult. But in the past year or two it feels like we’ve made huge breakthroughs both personally and in our ability to communicate with each other and know what we want. It feels like we’re finally settling in to a good, solid open relationship style.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Yarrow: Complex Organic Poly Web

December 10, 2012  |  essays  |  2 Comments

On Friday, I sent a request for information from friends and acquaintances and smarty-pants folks in my life who I know have experience with polyamory and open relationships, as an attempt to mine my network for more insight and information about some of the difficulties of open relationships that Kristen and I have been going through lately. The interviews have been pouring in! I’ll be publishing them periodically in the next few weeks, and at the end of the series I’ll open it up for your input and thoughts on these questions too.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Yarrow

Yarrow, sunflowerriver.org

I always feel like I should state my subject position when coming into this kind of dialogue, so, for full disclosure/context: I identify strongly as poly, and have been functioning that way since 1998. I’ve had exactly one monogamous relationship ever (though at the very outset, I didn’t have language adequate to describe my desires or lifestyle, besides “dating around”), and when we tried to open it up to polyamory, it didn’t go very well. That was 1998; a lot has happened since then. Presently, I have two long-term primary partners with whom I live in an intentional community (I’m married to one of them), and two friends-with-benefits relationships with other people. My partners also have other partners. This web changes regularly, in a highly organic fashion. Nobody has “veto” power over anybody else, and we all place a high value on communication and emotional integrity. We tend to describe ourselves as an organic poly network. There are lots and lots of ways to be poly in the world; this is what we do.

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

I mostly wish I had had access to good role models, or any recognition that there is no single, one-size-fits-all, right way to do this. I knew very few other poly people when I began to recognize it in myself, and I developed all kinds of wrong ideas as a result. So: just because you’re dating someone, doesn’t mean you need to date the other people they’re dating. It also does not mean you need to love the people they love. It helps if you like them and you can all have dinner together, but it’s not required. This seems self-evident, but it’s not, and I see other people go through this as they move into polyamorous expression. Also: reality checks are vital, particularly with regard to one’s partners’ other partners. It is way too easy to tell yourself a story about what that person thinks and feels, to over-interpret casual actions or statements, to invest everything with excesses of meaning. And it’s very important to not do that. You want to know what they think or feel, ask them. And trust that they are honest with their response. Don’t try to “read between the lines.” Have integrity with your own responses to such things, engage in full disclosure (gently and tactfully, but with complete integrity), and other people will generally do the same.

Also: over-communication can be just as damaging as under-communication. Balance is important. Learning to identify when I am overwrought and will change my mind tomorrow, or feeling something too strongly to know what I will want the next day, was an incredibly important step towards functional polyamory. Another way to say that: sifting the apparent needs of the moment out from long-term needs is an extremely helpful step.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and
how have you overcome that?

At first, when I was in a mono relationship opening to polyamory (about 14 years go) the absolute hardest thing was to be honest with myself about what I wanted. To have internal integrity. I believed strongly that I was supposed to want certain things: a single life-long love, that elevated my existance to a meaningful plane; a soul-deep connection with a single other individual that would permeate all aspects of daily life and make them extraordinary. (Culturally, we teach our children to want this. And I’m not saying it’s not out there, BUT: it’s very much not a one-size-fits-all solution to the idea of relationship; it doesn’t have to take place inside the context of externally-committed monogamy; and where it intersects with the abdication of personal responsibility, it can be completely unhealthy, and can create dangerously unrealistic expectations.) So, I was mired pretty deeply in an internal struggle with that paradigm. And I lied to myself that I wanted that level of daily-life-interweaving, instead of independence. And I lied to myself that I wanted to want only one partner. I lied to myself about what I wanted from that partner. Getting through that tangle took a couple years, and completely destroyed that relationship (I am very fortunate that we are still friends). The hardest part about it, was figuring out what I really did want, and then ACCEPTING that. Making it be okay to be who I am and want what I want. No matter what that looked like to the overculture. Figuring that out, and then being able and willing to communicate it to my partner, was earth-shatteringly difficult. But once that happened, and we recognized that we needed irreconcilable things in a partnership, we were able to move forward (by breaking up and letting each of us take our own paths), and each of us was able to grow emotionally and spiritually, to come into ourselves, much more fully. Getting past the self-deception was the most challenging thing.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

Self-actualization, and full actualization of each relationship I find myself in. Each new connection with another person can become whatever it is meant to become on the entire spectrum of friendship and intimacy. I am free to fall in love, and my partners are also free to do so. And we have each others’ full support in doing so, and in getting through hard times in relationships with each other or with others. Having several perspectives when something goes wrong is incredibly helpful; different people can offer fantastic insights into events and situations, and help the affected people see their way through difficult things. I have partners with whom my emotional relationship is profoundly deep, rich and complex, and others where our connection is more playful, and i get to have all of those things. Also, I get to *be* different things for different people; nobody around here has to be everything for anybody. If I really want something and it’s not going to happen in one relationship, it may come very naturally in another. I thrive on variety; this rich complexity satifies very deep needs in me. I am an independent agent who lives fully and deeply enmeshed in a strong, complex web of support, encouragement, and connectivity. I love everything about that.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

I experience polyamory/monogamy as a type of orientation spectrum, not unlike gender or sexuality. This can be a really helpful way to think about it; some people are really wired to be happy one way or another, in a monogamous relationship only, or in open relatinships only, while lots of people live in the flexible middle ground somewhere, and could be happy with any of a number of relationship styles when things line up right. People’s relationship orientation can grow and change over time, just like their sexuality, gender orientation or gender presentation. Where a given individual falls on the spectrum at a given time is not something to attach value judgement to — you get a certain thread in the poly community that believes that polyamory is “more evolved” than monogamy. that’s bullshit. putting each other down to lift ourselves up only creates more division instead of creating understanding and community. there’s no right or wrong about wanting to be with a single partner or multiple partners, any more than there’s a right or wrong about being with a male or female or genderfluid partner.

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Ask Me Anything: Becoming More Dominant

October 6, 2010  |  advice  |  6 Comments

From the Ask Me Anything questions from Sugarbutch’s 4th anniversary:

What are some tools/techniques that help someone to “try on” a dominant persona? … How can I help her to get into the right mindset? How would you advise a new, and perhaps, reluctant dom to become more comfortable with her power? —Sophia

Great question. Wish I had had some guidelines, or someone who could’ve given me some pointers, when I was starting to come into my own dominant/top orientation.

I think it’s important to have conversations, outside of the bedroom, about your interest in playing with domination and submission, and to do some assurance that you want to be submissive—that you really really want to be submissive, and oh aren’t you so lucky that the two of you can play with that together. You might have to continually assure them of your desire to submit—before, during, and after. I know from my own experience, it sometimes boggled my mind that someone would let me do all those things I wanted to do to them, but I still felt that twinge of guilt and worry that I was going to hurt them, somehow. Assure them that they will not hurt you—or rather, that a) you want them to hurt you, and b) if they hurt you too much, or in a way that you don’t like, you are fully capable of using your safe word and getting out of the situation. They have to trust that you can take care of yourself if things get to be too much. You have to be fully capable of saying no for the yes to have any meaning.

Talk about what might happen if they do hurt you in the wrong ways—that you’ll stop, that you won’t both jerk away and get all distant, but that you’ll have a minute to talk about it, assure each other that it was not intentional and you both know the other wouldn’t do something that was too much on purpose. Apologize, and try to understand why it was too much, if it was just circumstantial (we’ve done this other times and right now it just wasn’t right) or if it was the actual thing (you tried this new thing and it went too far), or something else entirely.

There are some exercises you can do around this, if you want to. For example, you could do some light play with the intention of safewording out of it, at some point, to practice. And when you do safeword out, practice that moment of coming back together, taking care of each other’s needs, and then getting back into the play. A safeword doesn’t have to mean “stop forever and ever I need hours to recover,” it could just mean “okay I really need a break from this for just ten minutes and they don’t seem to be letting up.”

Say things like, “I liked this and this and this that you did, but this one small part was just too much for these reasons.” Assure and re-assure, especially in the beginning. Tell them what you liked, what was working.

Remember that your safeword can also be no or “stop” or “enough” if you aren’t playing with power exchanges where those words are used to arouse.

It really helps to have some parameters when playing with dominance or topping and trying to bring about a more dominant persona in bed. Those parameters can be various things: time, clothing or costume, dirty talking, or assuming another role with certain expectations.

Using time as a parameter can be a great way to start. Put a timer on and say, “I’m going to spank you for 5 minutes, and then we’re going to make love.” Or count: 30 spanks with my hand, 5 minutes of warm-up with the flogger and then 10 really hard strokes, 5 strokes with the cane.

Sometimes certain clothes can really enhance an exchange, and sometimes just one key item can transform a scene from “us” to “play.”

Dirty talk has been key for me in getting more comfortable with my dominant persona. Not only was it key for me to hear a semi-constant reassurance from people I was sleeping with that they liked what I was doing, it is also a way for us to keep in better contact during play, because we’re engaging our brains instead of possibly zoning out.

Role play can be a fantastic way to try on a dominant persona and get more comfortable inside of it, because you can hide behind both the fantasy and the role. Most role plays requre some sort of negotiation before hand, especially if you’re talking about what you’re doing (or what you’re doing in the fantasy). Say you decide that you’ll be a student and they will be a teacher, and you’ll do anything to get a better grade on that test, even bend over the desk. You’ve established a power dynamic, it’s within these specific constraints (because you’ll just go back to being yourselves when you’re out of these roles, you don’t have to own the desires quite as much when you’re stepping into another persona), and you’ve already established some guidelines about what you’re going to do and how you’re going to yeild that power such that your partner consents (“anything” for that better grade, even bend over the desk). They know this, because you already talked about it.

That kind of scenario gives someone permission to play with variations on a theme. They know they can bend you over the desk—but what happens if they try to get you on your knees first, or to sit on their lap? They know they have permission to do these kinds of things (especially if you’re good at the dirty talk, egging them on: “What do I have to do? Tell me, I’ll do it, you just tell me what to do. I have to get a good grade, I have to pass this class, I just have to.”).

So: negotiate, talk dirty, role play, fantasize together, work on your trust.

And don’t forget to assure and re-assure. Do it sincerely, don’t push it too hard, but step up and express the things you loved, the ways you felt, what you’d like to do again or more of. Write it down in email or chat (or a shared Google document) if it’s hard to do in person. Do it in pillow talk right after, if your tongue is more loose at that time.

Hope that helps.