Posts Tagged ‘honesty vs consistency’

Yes, No, and Consent

December 28, 2009  |  essays  |  10 Comments

In much of the workshops and trainings around sexuality and sexual expression that I have attended, we have often started with one basic concept: saying no.

For example, I have been part of a circle of pairs where the instruction was for the person on the outside of the circle to think of a place on their body that would really like to be massaged right now. Hands, feet, wrists, scalp, shoulders – wherever there might be some great tension released. And the instruction was to ask the person on the inside circle, politely, “would you please massage my ____.” The person on the inside was instructed to say “No.” They could say, “I’m sorry, not right now.” Or, “I really can’t, no.” Or to couch it in some other softer “no,” but the instruction was specifically to practice saying it – even if they actually wanted to give the massage! (There would be time for that, later.)

The point of that exercise is to practice saying no. To know that it’s okay to say no. To have permission to say no – to have instruction, even, to say no. It’s actually really hard! But it’s so, so important, especially when building trust, especially when deepening a relationship, especially when working to assert your own needs and desires, as I feel probably all of us struggle with, in some ways.

The idea behind this, in erotic work is without no, there is no YES. And the YES is what we’d like to get to. The delicious, hungry YES, which is so excited and juicy and ready for what’s coming.

Without the ability to say no, the yes is virtually meaningless. Without the reassurance of my partner or girlfriend or lover or wife or toy or submissive saying no to me every once in a while, how can I be sure that she really can say no? It feels good, to me, to hear someone create limits on something, because then I have a better idea of how far I can go. I hate to discover dealbreakers in the middle of something, that is not good.

That’s pretty explanatory, right? The no-gives-yes-value thing?

This happens in relationships, too, not just with sex. For example, my friend and her girlfriend were planning to do something, one of those big relationship things. The details are a bit unimportant, but it’s something her girlfriend had expressed skepticism about in the past, and my friend was really into it. At the last minute, her girlfriend decided no, actually, it isn’t something she wanted to do. Oops sorry! My friend was mad, for a while. We talked and talked and she was upset. After the dust cleared a little, though, my friend said she was really grateful to her girlfriend for being honest. She was really grateful that her girlfriend wouldn’t be the kind of person who would just go along with something her partner wanted, even if it wasn’t something that she truly wanted herself. How much worse would the resentment build up if she had gone and done it anyway, secretly knowing she didn’t want to! How much more tension and stress would their relationship be under! My friend’s girlfriend risked hurting my friend’s feelings, and risked the consequences of being honest, but also has a lot of trust and faith that they will be able to talk through things, to reach some sort of mutually appreciated conclusion. And my friend has said, many times, since, I value honesty over consistency any day.

They are closer, as a result. Telling the truth doesn’t have to mean being disappointing or disappointed, it doesn’t have to mean steps back in a relationship. I would rather be with someone who I could trust to tell me no when they felt no and tell me yes when they felt yes. And if she never tells me no, can I be sure she really can?

Audacia Ray has said that working in the sex industry taught her to say no. She’s also said, “‘No’ is a complete sentence!” (especially when she and I have talked about how overcommitted we are), which I find myself saying to myself in my head frequently. Lots of the productivity blogs talk about turning things down as a way to really take control over your own time and owning your own sovereignty. This is important in sex play and relationships, too.

I know lots of these concepts around “saying no” are taught in sexual assault, survivor, reclaiming sexuality, and power play workshops all over, but I want to reiterate where it comes from, because the next part is this: about saying yes.

As I have been writing about a bit lately, I have struggled with being a top and dominant in bed. Sometimes, upon expressing to my lover something that I’ve wanted to do, and after they say, excitedly, that they have always wanted to do that too, I still have trouble, I still doubt that it’s okay, I still hesitated.

It’s like what J. said, in a comment on the Reconciling the Identities of Butch Top and Feminist essay:

Recently, my partner and I have been experimenting with some new things in bed and I was constantly asking her if she was okay with what we were doing. I was so worried that I asked her several times in a row, not taking her first yes for what it was. She told me that if I’m going to trust when she says no, I also have to trust when she says yes.

Bingo. I love that explanation of this process – so succinct. Yes, exactly.

As the dominant, I think I can ask whether my submissive is okay with what we are doing (or going to do), even more than once, until I am satisfactorily convinced of her consent, but – BUT! – it is also my job to trust her answer, to believe her, and to let that be enough.

If she consents, and uses it against me later, that is, most likely, NOT MY FAULT and she is a jerk. (See Dan Savage’s Savage Lovecast Episode #165 where a guy gives his boyfriend permission to fuck other guys, then gets completely pissed and refuses to see him again after he does. Not okay!)

If I have chosen to date this girl, then personally I do have some sort of assumption that her consent means that she knows herself, and she is able to gauge her own reactions, and has enough self-knowledge that she will know whether being in whatever situation we’re discussing will make her freak out or not.

I can, of course, check in with her during the scene (hopefully in ways that do not break the scene entirely – see The Topping Book and The Bottoming Book for more about that), but I also have to accept that if something was wrong she would tell me or communicate it to me somehow, and that it is not my job to be a mind reader. It is my job to ask when I notice something, it is her job to communicate with me actively.

This is one of those ways that BDSM is actually Relationship Communications 401, way beyond the basics. And this is why I personally have had a tough time playing with people who were not self-aware, people who were not impeccable communicators, and people who were not afraid to be honest and assert what they needed.

This stuff is really damn hard, I know. Sometimes I don’t even know what I want, let alone being able to articulate it. But if we can’t trust each other to say yes, and no, and mean it, then we can’t go farther, we can’t play with consent and force, we can’t establish deeper trust to be able to get to the darker, juicy stuff, like domination and submission outside the bedroom, and role play, and deep, late night conversations untangling some of our control issues. Ideally, a good relationship works to bring parts of you to light that weren’t quite visible before, and supports you as you work through them, and possibly enhance or change them – and I have found no better tool for that than the many varied practices of BDSM.

Year One With Kristen (Happy Anniversary)

December 13, 2009  |  journal entries  |  13 Comments

Today, December 13th, marks the anniversary of my first date with Kristen. I didn’t actually tell the story of how we met, so here’s a short version:

I was invited by a friend of mine, Mr. M, to speaking on a panel at the university where he went to school, in Connecticut, in November last year. It was one of the first big speaking gigs I’ve done, actually. Kristen also went to school there, and they knew each other. Mr. M introduced Kristen and I at the panel before it was starting, we said polite hellos. I remember her smile, remember thinking she was cute and femme. As it got a bit busier, and Mr. M and I got comfortable at the front of the room, Kristen approached us again and stood in front of us.

“My ex just walked in,” she said.

“Want me to beat him up?” I looked up at her, presuming her ex was a trans guy.

“She’s a she,” she said, “and no.” She thought I didn’t know she was queer. Oh, I knew.

“Well then,” I shifted, “want to make out with me?” To make her ex jealous, of course.

She blushed a little, looked down, giggled, “Um … nooo.”

Oh yeah she did. Interesting.

I think we said some other things about exes and shared space and events, but she took her seat shortly after and the panel began. I was listed on this panel under my other name, so I introduced myself, saying, “I’m also known as Sinclair Sexsmith, and I run the online writing project Sugarbutch Chronicles.”

There were a couple of gasps. One girl dug her nails into the arm of the girl next to her and widened her eyes. Kristen, meanwhile, had this little knowing smirky smile on her face (a smile I would later get to know quite well).

Later, she tagged along with the panel as we all went out to dinner after, and I knew there was chemistry. I’m not sure how it happened exactly, but eventually I took the empty seat next to her, and everyone else was at the opposite end of the long table.

“I have a confession to make,” she said.

I raised my eyebrows. Oh? Already?

“I read your blog.”

“Ah.”

“I have so much to talk to you about!” And so we did. I remember specifically a big conversation about books, and how much she loves reading fiction; I recommended The Book of Salt as something queer that my bookgroup had just read. She mentioned that she was planning to move back to New York City and that she came and visited Mr. M very frequently, nearly every weekend. She lived in Connecticut, but I gave her my email address, and we got in touch and made a date for the next time she was in New York. And, well, you already know all about that first date.

That she was familiar with my work online wasn’t a problem. That I wanted to write about her and the sex we were having wasn’t a problem, either – she has often said she likes to be written about, a lot. I have written less about her and the details of our relationship here than I have about other girls, mostly because I am busy telling her about my interpretations of our relationship, instead of everybody except her. I don’t want to write myself into a relationship I’m not having. Sometimes, I want to keep the things between us just between us.

Also, some of the sex and power dynamics we’ve been exploring are hard to write about. The Daddy/girl roles, the d/s that we’ve taken outside of the bedroom are hard to explain and articulate – but I would like to try, and I do hope to keep challenging myself to articulate the things that we play with.

I am so, so lucky to have found someone to explore these things with, someone I trust deeply, someone who I know will tell me if things don’t feel right, someone who will push back on me and stand up for the things she thinks are important, someone who is not afraid to be honest. It’s hard to find someone to go this deep into sex play with, it’s hard to find someone stable, who knows themselves, who is strong and capable. I’m so, so lucky.

I’m actually writing this (and setting it to publish in the future) two days ago, because this weekend, right now in fact, Kristen and I rented a cabin out in the woods with a big fireplace and a well-stocked kitchen outside of cell phone range. I packed two of my For Your Nymphomation cases (the Flogger case and the XL Adult Toybox) with toys and ropes and cocks and restraints and the spreader bar and the throe and a particular special piece of jewelry I expect her to wear for part of the weekend. She’s packing some very nice things, the liberator lingerie, her red apron, and lots of food. She’s in charge of cooking this weekend, and she has an extensive, romantic menu planned, including fondue, peanut butter cookies, stir-fried vegetables, her famous buttermilk biscuits, bloody marys, brownies – all my favorites. She will also be providing me with wine and whiskey, as needed, on demand.

What a year it’s been.

I’ve never known myself as well as I do now, and I’ve never felt so good about a relationship. One year into my relationship with The Ex (who maybe needs a name at this point) we were already falling apart, already not having enough sex, already fallen into lesbian bed death patterns, already not talking to each other, already not being honest. None of my relationship/flings since have reached a year, none of them have lasted longer than six months, and most of them were much shorter. Not to compare her to others – really she is incomparable. The places we have reached are so far beyond what any of my past relationships have been able to get to. And things are just consistently good, consistently building – even when we have disagreements, or when we don’t understand each other, we are so good at talking through it, we are so good at being honest and kind to each other in ways that have been so important and impressive to me.

There are a lot more places I want to go, and she and I always have a list of things we want to do more of (rope and other restraints, anal, daddy/girl scenes instead of just talk), and this relationship just feels so full of potential, so full of promise, so full of love.