10 Tips for Tops

[dropcap type=”2″]T[/dropcap]here 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

[pullquote type=”2″ align=”right”]Use your favorite words or positions that make you both feel empowered, deliberate, and sexy.[/pullquote]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

[pullquote type=”2″ align=”right”]Build the trust you need from your submissive to know that they are honest and they can follow through on what they agree to. [/pullquote]D/s and power dynamics are completely built on trust. Thats part of what I love about it: It requieres 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

[pullquote type=”2″ align=”right”]Read all the books and blogs you can get your hands on. Find your local resources and study those, too. [/pullquote]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!


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Last Chance: The Epic 2014 Demographic Survey

I’ve had almost 300 responses to the epic survey! THANK YOU. This is giving me all sorts of fascinating data (that I will share with you all, if you are interested) and I am excited to give you more of the kind of content that YOU want to see in 2015. (Which, btw, is overwhelmingly that the dirty stories are your favorites. Who knew? Dirty readers!)

Last chance to fill it out, and I’ll be expiring it this week. Won’t you please help me make Sugarbutch even better by letting me know what you love, what you’d love to see more of from me, and where you’d like to see this project go? It only takes about 10 minutes, and at the end you can be entered to win some queer porn from Pink & White and the Crash Pad Series as a thank you!

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Click here to fill out
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Butch Enough: Butch Lab Symposium #1

The problem with butch identity—well, any identity category of social, sexual, political, geographical, or other significance really—is permission. If you get past the problem of stereotyping, of course, and how stereotypes are based on fact but simplified, sprayed down with fake plastic snow and called a tree when in fact they don’t grow or move or change or catch breezes or encourage nesting.

The problem with butch identity is permission. Who gives you permission to be butch? Are you butch “enough?” I questioned myself. I wasn’t sure I bought in to what I saw reproduced around me. So I sought out mentors: S. Bear Bergman, Ivan E. Coyote, Patrick Califia, Karlyn Lotney, Jack Halberstam. People whose writings I could adore secretly in the dark and examine with a microscope, searching for myself hidden between the lines.

“You’re not that butch,” others would say to me. “Oh don’t say that,” they’d shush me with pursed lips after I dropped That Word into casual conversation. As if I’d just called myself something insulting, something demeaning. A bad word. Butch is a bad word, one of those locked and loaded words used against us by classmate and teacher alike. Such a different, awkward, not-right way to be, according to the eyes of the world.

But I didn’t see it that way. From the minute a girl—a femme—I was madly, stupidly, unrequitedly in love with leaned in and whispered, “I think you’re butch,” I knew it was tattooed on all the walls of my heart and when they split this body open they’ll find those five simple letters ink-stamped over every organ. Butch heart. Butch lungs. Butch stomach and trachea and diaphragm and sternum.

I saw it as an honor.

(I still do.)

And so I started reading, and I saw it as a lineage, connecting me to dozens of other writers and thinkers, radical activists and dapper dressers, people I could look up to for style, advice, insight.

But still: Was I enough? Was I “faking” it? Was I an imposter? Goddess knows that’s the most dangerous thing to be.

My experiences told me no, this is real, but my head took convincing. I craved permission. A card to carry, a gold stamp: certified, verified, “real” butch. I tagged along, hanging on my mentor’s every room for approval, validation. I consumed like I’d been starved of knowledge of my own people—which I had.

Ultimately, it wasn’t anyone else who gave me permission: it was me. I splashed around enough to know that while I didn’t have the answers, no one else did either. They only had guidelines, ideas, what had worked and what hadn’t, the stories of their own piecemeal patchwork lives. But boy, did we have questions.

Questions like: What is butch? What does it mean to me? I savor these questions like a fine rich dessert. I turn them over and over in my mouth with my tongue. And as much as I crave their answering, I crave the questions they raise even more.

So here’s what butch is, for me: Permission. Permission to be myself, that little solid stardust shiny nugget I feel somewhere in my core, like a diamond lodged between L5 and L4 of the lumbar spine vertebrae. Permission to wear what I like, to love who I desire, to play how I crave, to decorate and adorn my body how I choose. To experience all the things this world has to offer, without guilt or obligation, but with curiosity and an open heart and experimental hands. Permission to be right where I’m at, regardless of whether that’s where I was yesterday. Permission to explore and seek pleasure, to connect and create friction, to question and make change. Permission to be exactly who I am, doing exactly what I’m doing, to have bright burning faith that everything I do works toward the greatest liberation for everyone, as much as possible, all the time, in all ways.

And just in case you need it: I give you permission, too.

Morning Bondage (Review: Scalloped Cuffs & Snap Hooks)

I woke early the other day, with that familiar urge to hold and protect and control Kristen, maybe it’s the subconscious absorption of her smooth naked skin all night long, how sweet her body feels in my arms as we both turn and slumber, maybe it’s when we go in and out of whatever tough times we’re having, either about each other or just our individual general struggles against the world, maybe it’s just how I am wired, to protect and shelter, and sometimes control and dominate.

I began touching her before she was fully awake. She and I have talked about this, I have permission to take her whenever I want to, particularly in the mornings, she likes to be awakened that way. I kissed her neck and collarbone and breasts and shoulders, let my hand trail slow and soft over her skin as she murmured little sighs and stirred gently, eyelids heavy, not really awake and not really trying to be.

Slipping her panties down and off of her, I stayed low on the bed and kept my hands on her hips, using my elbows to spread her thighs open, the soft and sweet indirect morning light just enough to see the pink and pretty lips of her pussy. Delicate and velvety and I wanted to taste her, lowered my mouth down to run my tongue along the length of her slit. Just the tip of my tongue, breath hot on her cunt, keeping my mouth hovering above her and my hands gripping her hips. She squirmed. Pressed her thighs into the bed, pressed up as high as she could against my mouth, tensed everywhere.

I let my tongue flatten and drag softly, softly along her pussy again, from her hole up to her clit, and rest there, using the soft inner part of my lips to suck and tease.

Kristen comes easily this way. Tongue on her clit, one finger just one knuckle in and circling around the opening of her cunt, she quickly thrashes her arms down into the mattress and gasps, twisting her head and jerking her legs straight. I soften the pressure and go back in, tongue wide and lapping again, with quicker, smaller movements over her clit, until she comes again, crying out a little louder this time, and I shift up the bed to kiss her, hold her close for a moment.

I had set it up a week ago: taken the new fleece-lined wrist cuffs and secured them to another set of cuffs I’d placed around the bars of my headboard with some snap hooks. Kristen likes to struggle, likes to thrash around, and a little bit of restraint goes a long way: it gives her the opportunity to push or pull against something, lets a few more of her muscles tense and tighten and release a little deeper (and plus she doesn’t hit me in the face quite as easily). I took the fleece-lined cuffs down and buckled them around her wrists, then the easy click of the snap hooks secured her wrists to the bedframe.

She immediately calmed and quieted, not out of boredom but out of relaxation, watching me as I moved back down between her legs and set again to tonguing her pussy, making her come. This time I slid two fingers into her pussy, sucking her lips into my mouth and spreading them open with my hands to get to her clit. She strained against the cuffs and I felt the muscles in her stomach and ass tighten every time she pulled against the headboard.

I lost track of how many times she came in my mouth. Sometimes I let up, gave her a break, paused between orgasms, other times I just kept going and she did, too. I brought my elbows up to press her legs apart, kept my fingers inside her or spreading her lips open. I held her hips, pinched her nipples, gripped her ankles, held her legs up by the back of her thighs. I reached for the conveniently located pump bottle of Maximus lube on the nightstand and got a dollop on my third finger so I could slide it into her ass, just a little, filling her up, sucking her clit as swollen as I could and letting up just as she was about to come, changing my stroke down to a tickle until she contracted hard around my fingers and came again, again, again.

I lost track of time. I stopped caring if she was being too loud for this time in the morning, whether my neighbors would be home. I wanted to get my camera out, take up-close macro shots of the curves and lines and folds of her pussy, oh so pink and swollen and beautiful.

Not that she would have minded me doing that, but I didn’t. Next time, perhaps. That image of her arms and legs and pussy spread is still so clear in my mind, still a lovely mental image I’ve replayed more than a few times since then.

The cuffs were easy to unhook, left no marks, no bruises, no dye, were very comfortable. I pulled her close and noticed it was well past time to get up. “Morning, beautiful girl,” I murmured into her hair.

The Fleece Lined Buckling Cuffs w/Scalloped Edge and KinkLab Nickel-Plated Snap Hooks (4-Pack) were sent to me to review from JT’s Stockroom. Check them out for all kinds of other fantastic bondage toys.