10 Tips for Tops

There are many styles of dominance, mastery, and topping, from the paternal to the viciously mean, but regardless of where you are, I believe you can be better. I believe this exploration of power dynamics can be a spiritually fulfilling path, and that it can lead us to many lessons and areas of growth.

Those of us who are on this side of the D/s slash, we who are the People In Charge, have a lot of challenges to building a healthy version of this identity, particularly when we are doing it in a context of social activism, intersectional oppression, and general awareness of institutionalized power imbalances. Here’s some of the best tips I have for folks who want to up their topping or dominance game, and be stronger, more resilient, and more compassionate while they are pursuing this work.

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Image by rife of Rowdy Ferret Design & Illustration

1. Create a Palette of Permission

If it’s hard for you to figure out what to do in a scene, or if your perfect submissive looks up at you and says, “I’ll do anything you want!” and your mind goes blank, this is a good thing for you to focus on. Create a list, on your own or brainstorming together with your submissive, of things that you know you have permission to do, in general, in periods where you are both your fit and healthy selves. (They may not apply when one or either of you are having an off day, are sick or physically unwell, or in different states of consciousness—like asleep or playing with some substances. They probably also only apply in certain places, like when you two are alone or in kink-friendly events. Check in.) Make a Top Ten list of things that generally your sub really loves and could do over and over and over. Trust that you can return to each of these things hundreds of times before either of you will get bored. There are infinite variations. Bonus tip: Make a wishlist of things you want to include in your Palette, but don’t currently know how to do, and start learning!

2. An On Switch For Your Dominance

Use your favorite words or positions that make you both feel empowered, deliberate, and sexy.
Many tops and dominants who play with power exchange during scenes, but whose reach and sphere of control don’t extend into other areas of their submissive’s life, need a way to have an “on switch” for their dominance (and an “on switch” for their submissive’s submissiveness, too). Consider building a D/s ritual that will, eventually, when repeated enough times, serve like a kind of Pavlovian symbol for you two stepping into those roles, something you both have a visceral response to. This ritual can be things like: You stand and your sub kneels at your feet; Your sub picks three toys and lays them out on the bed, then gets into a “present” slave position, and you enter the room; You recite a back-and-forth agreed upon (simple) phrases or promises to each other. Use your favorite words or positions that make you both feel empowered, deliberate, and sexy.

3. Receiving as a Dominant

Sometimes it seems incongruous to receive sexual touch or services from the top or dominant position. I assure you: this is common and makes a lot of sense. It’s difficult to feel “in control” and also at the same time to relax and receive. (Sidenote: This is at times very related to one’s gender, and one’s amount of stoneness. Most cis male doms—as a stereotype—don’t seem to have a problem receiving blow jobs, for example, do they?) One of the best ways you can work on this is by being very vocal with what you want to receive, and continuing to give orders and corrections and suggestions throughout the process. You also might want to work with physical levels, where you are physically above your submissive, to remind yourself that you are still in charge, even if their fist is in your hole. And read the essay How to Top Your Master by Raven Kaldera. Though it’s directed more at submissives, there are many useful things in there for dominants.

4. Got Guilt? More Aftercare

If you feel guilty after your scenes as a dominant, check in about it. Ask yourself: Did I really want to be doing that? Was I having a good time? Was my partner having a good time? Did we all come away from the scene generally glad the scene had happened? Scenes aren’t always perfect, of course (and aren’t always full of happy smiles and sunshine and rainbows). But generally, did it go well? Did you want to be there? Because honestly, if you feel that much guilt, maybe you didn’t. Maybe you’d be better suited to less psychologically intense play. But if that’s not the case, and you really do want to be there (and your partners eagerly consent, of course), then you gotta deal with that nagging guilt from an internalized prescription of egalitarianism. It’s okay to create the relationship you want to be in. Normalize it for yourself by seeking more D/s community and sharing your experiences with others. And make sure you get enough aftercare yourself. You might need down time after, or quiet private time, or reflective time where your sub tells you all about what they liked and how all those dirty things you did made them feel. Or maybe cuddles. Experiment, and find your best aftercare methods.

5. Build Trust Slowly

Build the trust you need from your submissive to know that they are honest and they can follow through on what they agree to.
D/s and power dynamics are completely built on trust. Thats part of what I love about it: It requires so much deep knowing and intimacy. It takes work to keep it safe, protected, and intact. When the relationship is going well, the work can feel effortless. But this trust doesn’t just show up when a submissive kneels and offers themself to you. You gotta build this trust between you slowly. Most of us do this intuitively, but it’s helpful to do it consciously too. Not only are they building the trust they need from you, since they are putting their body and psyche into your hands, but also you are building the trust you need from them, which includes the ability to trust that they are honest with you if they get overwhelmed or need to stop, trusting they mean what they say, and trusting for them to reach out for support. Trust builds slowly and is earned over time. Don’t rush it.

6. Two-footing a Scene

This is a concept I learned from Xan West, which is the idea that generally, in a scene, the top is completely “in” the scene and present while still holding the boundaries of the negotiated agreement and some awareness of the surrounding space (though whether you’re at a busy dungeon or home alone would make that slightly more or less challenging)—that’s two-footing, being both in the scene and in the reality. Most of the time, it’s just a given that the top is the one who is doing this two-footing. But some activities really cause us tops to lose our footing. (Has that ever happened to you?) Make a list of activities that you think could cause you to tumble so deep into the scene that you have trouble keeping a hold on reality. Lean on your submissive for support, perhaps ask them to hold the boundaries and negotiations of the scene so you can lose yourself. Bonus: Make a list of realities that keep you so engaged that its hard to dive into the scene at all, like for example a crowded dungeon.

7. Recovering from Fuck-ups

Some of us have really strong reactions to fucking something up. We beat ourselves up about it, our confidence crumbles, and we shirk away from whatever it was we fucked up for a long time after. If you want to up your dominant game, you gotta get good at fucking up, because here’s the thing: You will fuck something up. I don’t mean something huge and irreparable (hopefully not), but more so small things that will stop or delay a scene for a while until you can get things back on the rails. The measure of someone (a dominant or partner or sub or just about everybody, I think) isn’t whether or not they fuck up, it’s what they do and how they respond to that fuck-up. So ask yourself: Do you take responsibility? Sincerely apologize? Understand what went wrong? Integrate that into your being so you will remember not to do that same thing again? And then, when the other folks involved are ready to move forward, can you let it go? Work on your ability to recover from fuck-ups and your scenes will be smoother.

8. Dive Deep into Theory

Read all the books and blogs you can get your hands on. Find your local resources and study those, too.
The power exchange subject isn’t an abundant one, but there are books out there, and really good theorists who from whom you should absolutely learn. Raven Kaldera runs Alfred Press, and they have dozens of books about cooperative power dynamics, limitations, and real scenarios for living D/s and M/s. Andrea Zanin’s writing is largely compiled at sexgeek.wordpress.com and every piece is worth reading. (She also has a fantastic list of kink resources, including many specific power dynamic books.) I highly recommend these: 1) Dear Raven and Joshua: Questions and Answers about Master/Slave Relationships by Raven Kaldera and Joshua Tenpenny, 2) Slavecraft: Roadmaps for Erotic Servitude – Principles, Skills and Tools by a grateful slave with Guy Baldwin 3) The Marketplace Series (The Marketplace, The Slave, The Trainer, The Academy, The Reunion and The Inheretor) by Laura Antoniou.

9. You Are Not An Asshole

If you—like me and like many thoughtful, feminist, and sensitive dominants—have fear that what you are doing is “bad” and “wrong” and difficult to reconcile with your moral code, here are some ideas. First, make sure you really understand the concept of agency. You fully trust someone’s no, right? You can trust their yes, too. You can trust that they, not you, know what they want. Second, remember that everyone fucks up, and work on your ability to recover; don’t expect to be perfect and never make mistakes. Third, take a good, strong look at what you think being an asshole in this context would be, and actively work toward not being that. Remember: Most people who actually are assholes do not spend much time worrying about whether or not they are assholes. That you are concerned and aware tells me that it’s 95% likely that you are not an asshole. (That other 5% is for folks who are not so self-aware. So hey, build that muscle, and follow Socrates: Know thyself.)

10. Masturbate More

Are you getting stuck building scenes, finding creative new ways to use the toys you have, or creating dirty experiments for your sexytimes with your submissives or playmates? There’s an easy place to start for that one: Masturbate more. Spend more time with porn and erotica to fuel the fires of your erotic self, but also make sure you spend some significant time letting your mind wander into erotic territory and exploring whatever may show up there. Take notes and highlight things you’d actually like to try!

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

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!

Good Girl, Bad Girl (Part One)

WARNING: This story contains Daddy/girl play (and dirty talk).

Part I.

Sometimes, I am a Bad Daddy: I hate it.

I hate it and I want it and I crave it and I hate that I want and crave it, this, this girl, this way that I use her, this way she uses me. Sometimes I resent it. Her, me, my own desires. Why do they run this way? Where did these wounds come from, or are they scars now?

I have to remind myself not to ask myself too many of those questions. That it’s okay to want what I want. That after the flash of feminist guilt, as Karlyn Lotney once wrote, it is quite the handy little fetish.

And it is a fetish, or maybe rather it is many fetishes wrapped up and tied with a big pretty satin red bow. Power. Gender. Age.

I hate it, but I have never loved any play more.

This is what happens.

I sit on the couch reading a book and drinking tea after the dinner she made. For me. She finishes the dishes, brings her book out too, sits next to me. I don’t watch her as I take another sip of my tea. This is what I practice: Not paying attention. But in not paying attention I still pay attention, I just don’t let her know that I’m paying attention. When I notice I’m focused on her, I try to turn the focus inward. What do I want right now? And I feel something stir.

She inches closer to me. I turn a page. She sighs inaudibly. I turn my eyes to the pages of my book, move them along the words, not reading.

“Daddy?”

I don’t look up, yet. “Yes?”

“Can I …”

“May I.” I correct.

“May I … sit on your lap please?” It comes out in one quick string.

I pull the bookmark out of the back of the book and slide it in between the pages, close the book, set it on the coffee table, look up at her. Her eyes gleam gently. Hopefully. Like she just asked for candy at the grocery store. Her dress is pushed up from how her legs are crossed on the couch and I can see a hint of her inner thigh, and I want my cheek on it, want to bite it, want to feel her squirm and hold her there between my teeth as I leave marks. I breathe in. Keep it under control.

“Yes, sure darling.” With the Good Daddy voice.

She climbs over, sits sideways on my lap, knees bent over my thighs. Wraps her arms around my shoulders and her face buried into my neck and collarbone. Her hair smells faintly of shampoo, clean and bright with a gently fruit-flavored hint. It’s soft and thin and I bring one hand up to the back of her head, play with the gentle curls there.

She settles in and drops one hand to my chest, resting it on my waist. I shift a little, a growl rising in my belly. My arms fold easily around her. I don’t notice the sigh I let out, a low hum, the precursor to the growl.

“Daddy?”

“Yes, darling.”

“I like to sit on your lap.” She snuggles a little closer. I can feel a tightness spreading in my groin. I don’t say anything. “Do you like it?”

“Yes, darling.”

“Does it feel good?” Her voice drops softer.

“Yes.”

“Does it feel good …” she’s whispering now. “In your pants?”

I stir. My cock stirs, jumps. The growl grows. My arms tingle and tense, a sensation I want to let out with a fist. “Yes.” I whisper too. Our mouths are close.

I am a Bad Daddy. I want my girl to do dirty things; I want to do dirty things to her. I know she’d let me if only I asked, but sometimes the desperation is more fun. The arguing with myself. The attempts at holding myself noble, resisting her sweet girlish body. Feeling dirty for wanting it so much that my palms ache.

“I feel you getting hard, Daddy,” she keeps her head low, shifts her hips to rock against my cock. My eyes roll back, wrists go slack. So soon. Fuck.

“Do you, now.”

“Yes.” She waits. “Can I feel it?”

“You want to?”

“Yes.” Again, a pause. “Please?”


My hands flex. “Please what?”

“Please can—may I touch your cock, Daddy?” She knows how I like to hear it. All the way through, from the ‘please’ to the way she should address me when we play.

I try not to groan audibly. I swallow instead, clear my throat. “Well, since you asked so nice and pretty. Yes, sweet girl, you may.”

She bites her lips and shifts her hips again, reaches down with one hand to grip the hard packer I’d slipped in after dinner. She strokes it through my trousers. She licks her lips unconsciously.

“Daddy,” she presses close to me, hand still stroking, and I feel her small, round breasts against my chest. “It’s too big. It should come out of your pants, Daddy.” Her lips are nearly touching my ear and she knows how I love that. My whole body shudders, relaxes, stomach muscles clench for a moment as I contract and release. I picture her pretty hands with her perfect sparkly red nails wrapped around my cock. I picture her lowering her lipstick-painted mouth toward it. I am a Bad Daddy, and she is so good.

“It’s big and hard in your pants, Daddy. Don’t you want to take it out? It’s too tight under there. Too big. Can I take it out? Daddy, can I?” Her lips are on my neck, earlobe, jaw. I can barely see straight.

I breathe out. “Yes. Yes, you may.”

She slips off my lap and crouches between my knees, staying on her tiptoes on the floor and unbuttons, unzips my pants, pulls the too-big cock from under my briefs and straightens it out, poking from my fly. She wraps one hand around it, then the other. “Mmmm,” she hums a little, smiling, stroking, biting her lower lip then keeping them parted, pressing them together.

Her lips are flushed red.

She watches her fingers stroking my cock for a quick minute, then looks up at me, still crouched. “Daddy …”

I bring one hand down to her jaw line and trace it gently with my thumb. She leans into it a little, eyelids half closed.

“Daddy,” she starts again. “I could put my mouth on it. Don’t you like that? You like it when I do that. And I like to make you feel good. It feels good when I put my mouth on it, Daddy. Can I?”

I stiffen, feel my cock jump. Breathe in. It is so dirty to want this so badly. To hear her beg, to hear her ask over and over at each step of the way. I fight every urge I have to just shove my cock into her mouth, slide it over her tongue, and instead do my best to resist, and the tension keeps my body cocked and loaded.

She flattens her tongue and runs it over the very tip, smiling up at me. “I’m a good girl, Daddy. I know how to make it feel good.”

That breaks me. I breathe out. “Yes, I know you do, sweet girl. Put your mouth on it for me.”

She swallows the spit her mouth is already excessively producing and opens her mouth, and that momentary flash of a pause burns my eyes as if I’d hit pause, her hovering open lips just centimeters away and closing in.

When she drops down, my cock slides in effortlessly, right into the vacant space she’s made for it, and I barely feel it until she’s got the head at the back of her throat and closes her lips around the shaft and pulls up, sucks, lips pushing out as she slides them up and over the ridge, until it pops free.

Mouth open, lips wet, she pauses to say quietly, “I like it in my mouth,” then bends her neck again and takes it deeper, sucking expertly.

I could watch her do this for an hour, two. What is it about this that gets me so hard and hot? I can’t feel it, but I can feel it, every stroke, every graze of her teeth, every swirl of her tongue, as if it was me filling with blood and swelling as she closes her mouth around it, again and again. My hips tighten and knees rotate open, just barely, pushing.

“That feels good,” I manage to mumble, eyes blurry, as I slide my hand into her hair, tangle my fingers into it.

She glows at the slightest praise. “You like that, Daddy? Does it make your cock feel good to be in my mouth?”

“Yes, darling.”

“I like it, Daddy. You can put it in my mouth when it gets big and hard. It feels good. I like to suck on it.”

“You’re getting it all wet.”

“Yes Daddy. My mouth gets wet when I suck on it. Want to see?”

I nod. She swallows a little again, pools the saliva on her tongue, dips her neck down to my cock and slides it deep, far back into her throat. I groan. She leaves it there for as many seconds as she can. When she opens her mouth to slide it out, it glistens slick with the thick spit from her throat. She smiles as it strings from the tip of my cock to her lips. Again, and she leaves even more wet behind. She laps at it with her tongue, moves it around.

I groan again. “Baby, that’s so good, you’re so good at that.”

She rubs her lips together, licks them, swallows. Shifts her legs and raises up to bring her mouth close to mine. I quickly bring my hands to her waist, squeeze the sweet curve of her hips, and bring her body in closer and bring her mouth to mine, kiss her hard. I’m practically panting. She knows it, too.

“I like it. It feels good for me too. See, Daddy?” She raises one knee up next to my thigh on the couch and pulls my hand from her body down between her legs, and I feel her pussy against my hand, swollen and slick, before she slides two of my fingers into her easily.

“Feel that? Sucking on your big cock makes my pussy all wet.” Her mouth is by my ear again. “It’s okay, Daddy. You can put your cock in all my little holes. You like it when we play this game. You can put it in my pussy, too. Want to put it in my pussy now, Daddy? Do you want to?” My fingers go in and out, pausing to rub circles over her clit. “See how wet my pussy is? It’s wet for your cock, Daddy. So it will slide right in and go in and out. It’s just for your cock. Don’t you want it in there? It’s okay, I want you to put it in, I want you to, Daddy …”

She shifts in my lap and knees on either side of my thighs, starts guiding my cock toward her hole. I watch, slip my fingers out, bring my eyes up to her face as she reaches for the shaft to guide it in. “Do it,” I growl low, already thick and pulsing just feeling her slick lips touch the tip. “Slide it in, baby. That’s good. Yeah, like that.” And she does, she slides it right inside, slow, and pushes all the way down until her thighs are pressed against mine.

We both shudder and sigh, and she rests her cheek on my shoulder for a second before clenching her thighs and lifting her body up and off of me until only the tip of my cock is touching her opening, then pressing down and letting her weight rest on me again, clenching, squeezing her thighs together.

My eyes roll back. I breathe in. I can’t stand it.

“I like it, Daddy. I like it going in and out. I like your big cock in my little pussy. Does it feel good, Daddy?”

I move my hands to her hips and hold her steady, start thrusting with my hips. I’m close. She’s got me so close. “So good, you’re such a good girl, baby, my good girl.” My lips can barely form words. She kisses me, sucks my tongue into her mouth, wraps her arms around my neck and squeezes me tight with her thighs and cunt.

“Do it more, Daddy. Do it harder. Please? Please put it in my pussy. Please, harder, Daddy, please, please …” She knows I’m close from the way my hips are shuddering, faster now, more of a shake than a thrust. She keeps her lips next to my ear. “Do it, Daddy, come in my pussy, make your cock come in my pussy Daddy, please, come Daddy, come Daddy …” And I do, I thrust harder up inside her and my groans and grunts turn into yelling, fuck, yeah, fuck, body pulsing, gushing, until I feel every drop squeezed out of me, and I collapse back, head rolling gently, eyes closed, as she kisses my neck and rocks gently against me.

I breathe out. Open my eyes. Smooth her hair, run my hand along the side of her body. “My good girl.”

She grins and brings her mouth down to mine again, sweet soft kisses, and I wrap my arms around her.

Reconciling Feminism & Sadism

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

How do you reconcile your feminism with your sadism and desire to (gulp) hurt women? (In a completely consensual manner, of course.)—Cold Comfort

The closest thing I’ve come so far to explaining this was in that essay from December 2009 called Reconciling the Identities of Feminist and Butch Top, but this question, about sadism, is slightly different, and I have the impression I haven’t quite answered it all the way.

“Butch top” is very much related to “sadist” for me, but that’s just because that’s my particular version of butch topping, into which my sadism is built. In fact, it’s only been recently that I’ve been unpacking sadism from topping, being with someone who is much more submissive than she is a masochist. Point being, much of that essay is exactly about reconciling those identities.

Yet still, I don’t feel like that is an adequate explanation on this topic. Besides, the culmination of that essay is basically, “How did I reconcile these identities? I don’t know, I just thought about it a lot and then it was better.” There must be something more articulate to say about that.

I hit on it a little more in the essay Yes, No, and Consent too, about agency, in feminist terms. It has to do with the very simple distinctions between BDSM and abuse, even if they are equated by many anti-porn feminists. And it has to do with the Platinum Rule—not the Golden Rule, the “do to others what you would like to be done to you,” but the “do to others as they would like to be treated,” and the acknowledgement that how you want to be treated and how another wants to be treated may not be the same thing, especially when you add in the complexities of relationship through sex, BDSM, sadism, and masochism.

But, if someone wants me to treat them a certain way and something about it feels funny to me, I trust that, and I take a break and pause and ask questions (hopefully without over-processing or projecting), until I feel like we have resolved whatever was coming up or until I decide there’s too much there to open up without adequate containment or backup.

To go back to the Platinum Rule: for a pop-culture simplistic example, consider the Love Languages! Which, cheesy as they are superficially, I think are a very useful system to think about the ways that myself and my partner may be seeking the same things (like love, comfort, security, passion) but may be in different ways (through words of aspiration, quality time, physical touch, acts of service, and receiving gifts). I think we all have some relationship to all five of those ways (and possibly more), but many of us are more focused on some of those ways than others.

All of us are seeking similar things, like love and sex and companionship, but we may be seeking to play with those things in different ways. And figuring out what my own preferences are in playing with those things, and in being in a relationship, figuring out how I best communicate, who I’m attracted to and what qualities I most prefer in someone else, and how to reconcile differences or misunderstandings between us, has been a huge journey, and has been a huge piece of being able to articulate that I want to play with deeper, heavier BDSM, like pain or humiliation, and to trust someone enough to believe that when they say they want to play with that on the receiving end, they mean it, they know themselves well enough to know what they want, they are experienced enough to understand what they’re asking for, they are in touch with themselves enough to tell when they have reached a limit, and they are strong enough to be able to communicate with me around whatever is going wrong (or right).

I’ve worked a hell of a lot on my own issues, particularly on being able to say what I’m thinking, to stand up for myself, and to not get swept up in someone else’s psychology and psyche. I’ve been in therapy for about four years now, and that has helped me greatly with my communication. I’ve also done all sorts of “alternative” methods of healing, such as massage therapy, physical therapy, acupuncture, tinctures, supplements, nutritional counseling, bodywork … I’ve done a lot of work on myself and my own issues, and I am continuing to work hard to improve the ways I communicate and relate.

So, this is how I would reconcile feminism & sadism:

  1. Acknowledge that people want different things. For example, your desire to hit someone is bad when the person you are hitting doesn’t want to be hit, but when the person you are with wants to be hit, in a playful, controlled, conscious way, that’s called consent and it’s (probably) great. Consider the distinctions between BDSM and abuse, and trust yourself when you know you are on one side or the other. Listen to your lovers when they give you feedback about how your behavior affects them.
  2. Play with people whose consent you trust, and don’t take responsibility for other people’s consent. And, if they consent, then later uncover that it was actually bad for them, they didn’t like it, or blame something on you, you can certainly apologize and take responsibility for whatever your part of it may have been, but it was not your fault that they consented to an act that you then did. Be willing to process a scene after playing, and listen carefully, but know that trying to retroactively revoke consent is a dangerous move.
  3. Seek out and understand the background and history and texts on BDSM. Find mentors (if you’re in a city big enough to have a BDSM scene) and take classes, or join online BDSM groups and learn. There is a rich history of writings and teachers who discuss what it’s like to go into these deep, dark realms of physical sensation and psychology, and many of them hold important explanations for how this play works. Studying these arts makes us more aware, which can make us more conscious, and more intentional, and better able to be present in our play.

I’ve always, for as long as I can remember, had a deep connection to feminism. And I believe in it the way I believe in psychology or democracy—that even though there are plenty of people out there fucking it up, there is a kernel, a spark, a rawness at its core that I believe is important, necessary, and is deeply aligned with me and my sense of purpose in this world. I don’t believe that because some people are taking these things and claiming them to mean some things that I disagree with that I need to then step out of the ring and let them take it over. I’m glad that there can be multiple perspectives coming from one singular idea, it strengthens the idea to have multiple angles, I think (even if sometimes I believe they are so very wrong).

I know there are plenty of people who say they are not a feminist, especially those who work in various aspects of sex, and that there are plenty of feminists who would probably say that I am “not a feminist” because of my BDSM play or my masculinity or whatever. But I have enough sovereignty around my feminist identity that I know that their version of feminism is simply different from mine, and that mine is no more wrong than theirs is.

So that’s my last prescription for reconciling feminism and sadism: Ask yourself what your definition of feminism is. If you start digging to discover that you think feminists never, ever hit someone, or humiliate someone, or call someone a bitch, or shove a cock down a girl’s throat, well then, you are going to have some trouble reconciling those two identities. This is where the #3 Research on BDSM will come in handy, because BDSM circles know the difference between play and real life. We know that rape is absolutely not the same thing as playing with consent, as someone yelling out “no no no” during a scene. We know that the things that we play with during scenes, like pain, like giving or receiving pain, are not fun to experience in real life. I would never want someone to spank me or beat me or slap me in the face for real! I would never want someone to do that to my girlfriend! But under the umbrella of play, it takes on other qualities. It might look the same, a slap across the face vs a slap across the face, but the motivation, intention, control, and outcome are completely different.

Growing involves seeing more than the black or white definitions that labels, identities, and systems of thought often prescribe. Lots of feminists have written about how oppressive the sexual culture surrounding the subordination of women is; and that’s important to learn. However, equating ALL acts of some kind of sex, happening between consenting adults, that you or “feminists” deem inappropriate with oppression or non-consent is denying a key part of sex play: agency. Hurting someone, especially sexually, is something (some) feminists shun, but when you add consent into that mix, you’ve entered into something that is not black or white. And perhaps not even gray, since consent puts any act in a whole new category.

Did that adequately answer your brief but loaded question? Are there other follow-up questions from what I’ve posted here?