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Archive for May, 2009

Dear everyone,

I quit. The end.

But seriously, folks.

This is the part where I let you all know that I’m moving on. I’ve known for a while that I’m done with this work in its current incarnation, and that it’s time for me to do something that’s more in line with my values and desires.

So this is me, letting you know that no, I won’t spank you so hard that you cry and not give you a safeword. I won’t make a video where I humiliate you by treating you like a dog. No, I won’t pretend to be the nurse to your twelve-year-old boy, take your rectal temperature and then beat you for masturbating. I won’t let you worship my feet, nor will I trample over your body with stiletto heels. Not anymore.

But I will answer your questions about kink and sex. And I will offer personal coaching for singles and couples to help you learn how to be safely kinky together, in your really-real life. And I will still do limited types of sessions that are about atonement, transformation, and healing.

I have decided that I am done having sex with strange men. And yes, I know: according to strict legal definitions, I am not having sex with my clients. But it would be disingenuous for me to suggest that what I do isn’t a type of sex, or isn’t about sex. It is, most of the time, almost entirely about sex. It’s about power, yes. And control. And sometimes about peculiar fetishes that most people wouldn’t recognize as sex.

But the men I see get naked, and get hard. They breathe hard and become excited. Sometimes I enjoy what I’m doing, and I breathe hard and get excited, too. Sometimes I get wet from the screaming. At the end of 95% of sessions, the man jerks off until he comes.

We are having a kind of sex. And I have finally realized that having this level of connection with virtual strangers is too intimate for me.

Watch this space. My new website is coming, and with it, I hope, a new era of doing the kind of work that I feel will make a difference in the world, and in people’s relationships. No more compartmentalization. It’s time to become more fully ourselves.

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Yes, just as your mail comes a day late and you don’t put the garbage out if you normally have a Monday morning pickup, I too am a lazy bitch who takes the Memorial Day holiday off. Seeing as I spent the weekend at a three-day playparty, however, I think I can still consider myself qualified. And so it is that without further ceremony or ado I present to you This Week’s Question!

Dear Delilah–

I’ve had it pointed out to me that I am “almost certainly a closet sub.” While I will frankly admit the idea of being a submissive has an appeal, I’m ridiculously new to the “scene” and want to separate the facts from the fictions. Here’s the rub: have no desire to be stomped on, beaten, flogged, verbally abused, manacled, humiliated, or any of the other stereotypical “passions” –I simply want to approach the idea of being dominated in a sexual sense and see where it takes me as a person. Is there a primer?

–Dale

One of the common mistakes that people make when they start to be interested in kink is to believe that if they are kinky, that means they must want to do all those crazy things they see on the Internet. Dale, I don’t even want to do all the crazy things I see on the Internet, and I do some of them in videos that I sell. Seeing as you’re not looking to make a profession out of it, there’s no reason for you to do anything sexually that you don’t want to do, ever.

That being said: the first step is to think about what you do want to do. I see a long list here of things you’re not interested in, and yes, many of them are associated with being a submissive, and many of them are especially associated with being a male submissive in the Internet sense. By which I mean: often the desires of a particular sexuality (particularly female dominance and male submission) are depicted in particular ways by the sex industry, and all the other possibilities for it are kept relatively invisible. (The above links are provided to give different perspectives.)

What this means is that you probably haven’t seen the kind of submission that you’re interested in depicted anywhere. And you may not know exactly what it looks like.

I have a couple of recommendations for you. One is paying attention to your fantasies (an old Dan Savage trick). What images come to you when you’re jerking off? Or even, when you daydream about sexual submission, what does it look like? It sounds like you’re not interested in the more pain-intense varieties, nor in the more humiliation-intense ones. Perhaps you want to be tied up and have a woman “take” you sexually. Perhaps you want to be given orders. Maybe you are drawn to service – whether that means bringing her paper and slippers or fucking her just the way she likes it for an hour. Is it about giving up control? About worship of the dominant? About obedience? About lying back and letting someone else do the work?

Once you get a sense of what that looks like, you need to have someone to try it out with. I don’t have good information about what your circumstances are in that department from your letter, but if you have a current partner, it’s probably worthwhile to propose it to her in a non-threatening manner. If not, the next time you’re dating someone, you should probably present this as an idea when you begin to become sexual. Also: who is it that’s telling you that you’re probably a closet submissive? If it’s your partner…well, that may be more than a hint. 🙂

Which brings me to one more thing I want to touch on here. Make sure that this isn’t about somebody else projecting their fantasies onto you. Where are you getting these messages from, and do they make sense to you? It sounds like you’re open to exploring it, but be wary of basing your identity on something that other people have said about you.

Finally, though: don’t worry too much. Explore the fantasies and have fun. If it doesn’t turn your crank, you’ll find that out soon enough, and no harm done.

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I’ve been loving on Trinity’s blog enough that I’ve been reading the back issues. Yesterday I took a look at this post on the commonalities she draws between some radical feminist camps’ views on BDSM, and the rhetoric of ex-gay movements. In a nutshell: while both are careful to say up-front that they’re not interested in forcing anyone to not be gay or not be kinky, both are also sure to point out that if you are either of those things you are broken and need fixing, and even if you think you’re happy you can’t possibly really be, because it was your mother/your abuse history/the patriarchy that made you that way.

She goes on to quote a previous post of hers, citing her own experience, not with either of these groups, but with standard-issue mental health professionals:

The people I relied on for mental health care told me that my fantasies came from my trauma, and that once I’d really healed, I’d not have them any more.

I spent so much time worrying about my sexuality not changing…that I didn’t allow myself for years to take pride in the actual progress I was making toward healing. I became obsessed with the idea that my sexuality wasn’t changing and therefore there was something wrong with me, even as I slowly felt better about myself, less inclined to self-harming (again, maybe to you the desire to do SM and to self-harm are the same, but in my experience they are very different), etc.

I think promoting the idea that SM fantasies are *always* scars from trauma is harmful.

I have to agree with this, and I want to go it one better: I think that even if a desire for BDSM comes from trauma scars, that BDSM may be a path to healing.

I’m not even necessarily talking about the obvious one, where someone decides to ritually relive their trauma in the safe, sane and consensual setting of a BDSM scene in order to reclaim it and heal. I think there are subtler things at work, and I’ve seen examples of it.

Trinity’s own example, of being less inclined to self-harm over time while still wanting to do BDSM, strikes me as important: I don’t know if this has been her experience of it, but it seems like it could be an example of self-harming behavior being replaced with healthy behavior that fills some of the same needs for intensity and focus. The film Secretary provides an excellent example of this as well: when under stress, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character is prone to cutting and sometimes burning herself. Once she finds a relationship in which she can safely experience intensity of sensation as a loving act, she is able to stop. The dominant character, too, has issues: he exercises compulsively whenever he has sexual thoughts, of which he is clearly ashamed. The relationships he does engage in are short, compartmentalized, and dysfunctional. Once he’s able to embrace his desires and take responsibility for the person he engages in those desires, he is able to live fully in himself.

I had a conversation with a friend yesterday who was reveling in the bruises on her upper arms for a few days after playing with someone who loves to bite. She went to her job wearing longer sleeves to hide the bruises, and was having fun secretly enjoying them beneath her clothes. Once they faded, she joked that she’d never been more disappointed to put on a tank top.

After reading some of the material I’ve been linking to lately, she and her equally super-smart husband decided to have some fun coming up with really good arguments against BDSM. During that game, she called up her own abuse history, and found herself going, “Oh, shit.”

The abuse she received was entirely mental, and when she was a kid she wished her abuser would hit her, so she would have something to show the authorities.

So there’s a link. And yeah, finding that can be disconcerting; I had a similar experience where I realized that the games I was playing with my top weren’t as innocent and without basis as I thought. And yet, I realized in myself at the time, and as I pointed out to my friend: these things that we’re doing now are healing us from those traumas. Even if that’s why we’re doing them. It’s not that we’re unable to have normal relationships because we’re damaged. It’s that we’re repairing the damage by re-writing our histories.

In her present, she’s experiencing the joy of having bruises that she doesn’t have to show anyone. They’re there for her enjoyment and remembrance of a fun time with someone who cares for her. If she shows them to people, it’s not because of her relief that she finally has evidence that someone is hurting her. It’s because she’s proud that now, someone cares for her the right way, and the bruises she carries are her choice.

In my present, I sometimes regress to being a little girl who is held and cared for by a loving Daddy. Maybe it’s because my dad was never there when I was young, and my mother didn’t know how to show affection. But is enacting this re-traumatizing me? No. It’s allowing me to write over the parts of my brain that tell me I’m not worthy of love.

It all goes back to Trinity’s question about “asking why.” I.e., is it ever a good idea to delve into the reasons why you like the things you like, sexually? Having thought about it a bit more, I think it’s still valuable to examine one’s own navel a bit on this one. But out of all the possible results of this venture, the results mostly seem anywhere from bleak to pointless. Here are the possibilities I see:

1. You question your kink, and discover a strong link to abuse or trauma in your past. You realize that you’re miserable in part because you keep re-enacting that abuse or trauma in your relationships, which are generally abusive and end badly. You get help, and either a) you find a way to fulfill your desires in a safe, sane and consensual manner with someone who loves you, b) you stop doing kink entirely and you’re miserable, or c) you stop doing kink entirely and you’re happy.

2. You question your kink, and discover a link to abuse or trauma in your past. But your present life is healthy and happy, and the kinky activities you do turn you on and fulfill you. But now you’re worried that your kink is not okay.

3. You question your kink, and can’t find anything from your past that links to it. But now you’re worried that maybe you have repressed memories from a childhood trauma and all your crazy kinks are about it.

4. You question your kink, and can’t come up with anything. You smile and go about your day.

In the first result, there are several possible outcomes, some good and some not. In the others, the question is either meaningless, or brings problematic meaning where previously there was none. I think it’s extremely valuable to question your patterns if you keep finding yourself in abusive relationships, not just kinky ones. Notice that even in that eventuality, a person might continue to enjoy BDSM activities (as Trinity does, as Lee in Secretary does) once they have dealt with their traumas. So in a sense, what that person is asking themselves is not “What draws me to kink” but “What draws me to people who want to harm me?”

I think it’s true that abuse can masquerade as BDSM. Just as abuse can masquerade as possessive love, just as alcoholism can masquerade as a simple fondness for drinking, just as a wolf can masquerade as a goddamn sheep. That doesn’t mean that a sheep is always a wolf.

There is value in searching for answers when your life seems out of control and you can’t figure out how to change it. There is very little value in seeking to pathologize behavior that fulfills you and others in your life.

Question yourselves, by all means, yes. But if you’re happy and not doing others true harm, stop trying to figure out what’s wrong with you that you like something that other people think is wrong. We are large. We contain multitudes, for the love of Bob. Go out there and grow.

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I am not actively involved with anybody at this particular juncture in time and I am very shy when in comes to being involved with new partners. My last partner turned out to have been a very skilled and loving Dom. This was not something that I really knew about him prior to being involved with him. However, with that experience in my past, I am pretty sure that I would be unhappy in relationship that was completely devoid of that dynamic. I find that telling people of that particular long term goal appears to suggest that I wish to escalate things sexually. I definitely wish to wait a good while before sex and an even longer while for kinky pleasure. How do I seek fellow kinksters out in the initial phases of meeting a person, before introducing sexuality? How shall I broach the subject? And, is being kinky a more fixed personality trait, as orientation is for some folks? For instance, if a person is uninterested in kink, will they always be uninterested?

-Challenged At Clever Acronym Creation

It sounds like you’re running into a similar issue to another questioner who wants to meet kinky people, but doesn’t want to talk about sex right away. The trouble here is that if you meet someone through an explicitly kinky venue, then the subject is already out there on the table, and one is almost expected to talk about it. But if you meet someone in another way, and you start to fall for them without talking about it, then when happens if you bring it up later and they freak out? Right?

Here’s my advice, CACAC. If you feel like you need kink in your life in order to feel fulfilled, I would start working on meeting people through explicitly kinky venues. I don’t mean you have to go to play parties or even a fetish night at a dance club. If you live in a major metro area, there should be a kink organization or two out there. Such organizations tend to hold munches: meetings of kinksters in non-kinky public places to meet each other and talk. Now sometimes, kink organizations are broken and creepy, and so, therefore, are the people involved in them. And even if you find a good one, you might not meet anyone at a munch that you want to pursue a relationship with. But if the vibe is good, you’re opening the door to meeting more people who have kinky interests. Attend classes and workshops. Spend some time at your local woman-owned sex shop. Or even look around on Fetlife for folks – it’s a fast-growing online community that works well for networking.

By going this route, you’re guaranteeing that your dating pool is going to consist mainly of people who already know about and want to do this stuff. The next step is finding one you like, and who’s willing to go at your pace.

Should you meet someone outside of this purview, I recommend the following: fly your freak flag a little. If you get to the point where you have him over to your place for dinner, make sure you have a flogger hanging on the wall, or whatever the equivalent is for what you’re into. Wear a pretty cuff bracelet with a D-ring on it. Keep a kink-positive button on your backpack. Be open to questions. Flirt with information. Let him know in subtle ways what you’re into, without having an explicit conversation until you’re ready.

And here’s another thing: if you’re into dominant men, it’s likely that you’re going to be attracted to dominant men. Whether that manifests itself as whips and chains and rubber or whether it just means he’s the kind of guy who’ll grab you by the hair and toss you against the wall for a good stand-up shag, you’re likely to get what you’re looking for simply by virtue of your tastes. If you get involved with someone who is inexperienced but open, you can always introduce him to the joys of kink when the time comes.

As far as your other question – is kink an orientation – I really can’t answer that with any authority, because Science Just Doesn’t Know. But I do know that people “get kinky” sometimes after years of not being drawn to it. And it seems pretty clear to me that once someone gets kinked, they don’t really get un-kinked. So you have that going for you.

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Too much going on today as I recover from a week of travel…I’ll see you all tomorrow with the advice column!

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I’ve recently stumbled across Trinity’s blog, in particular this post entitled ‘On Not Asking Why.’ The main gist of it is this: Whenever people go about asking women things like “why do you suppose you enjoy getting tied up and beaten,” what they really mean, generally, is “What’s wrong with you anyway,” and at times specifically, “How dare you perform a sexuality that contributes to the patriarchy, you bad bad feminist?”

The overall message of the post is that asking why someone is kinky in the first place is probably intellectual wankery at best anyway, and so my first response to it was to question her logic, and whether it wasn’t still valuable at times to question some of the things that get our rocks off when they’re politically problematic in some way (rape fantasies, for example).

Then I took a gander at the comment thread at a blog called Rage Against the Man-chine that engendered the post and quickly decided that this type of question very likely never leads to good places. Certainly not to fun happy wet ones.

Click the above link at your own risk. My own days of blissful naivete are over. There are radical feminists out there hating on BDSM. Many of them believe that all women who would ever be submissive to a man must have been abused and damaged in their childhoods, and due to past trauma have been groomed and won over to accepting abuse from their male tops “consensually,” scare quotes intentional. Also, male dominants are always actually closet abusers. Also OMG Teh Patriarchy. Also, did you know that in ‘the post patriarchy,’ nobody will be into BDSM? Bet you didn’t know that.

Now don’t get me wrong: I know that we still live very much in a racist, homophobic, patriarchal, broken capitalist system. But seriously: you’re going to tell me that my sexuality is RONG AND BAD because patriarchy exists and I’m perpetuating it by getting my rocks off when men hit me with stuff (because I ask them to)? And you’re going to solve this horrible injustice (occurring chiefly in my pants) by deciding for me that my sexuality is politically incorrect?

Wow, fuck you sideways.

I’m very grateful that Trinity is out there, fighting the good fight and getting into those kinds of spaces, getting her hands dirty and taking a hell of a lot of shit for the sake of trying to set these people, who should be our allies, straight. I for one have no such patience, and will go on observing the melee from a safe distance.

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A funny thing about kink and kink advice: most commonly, the questions asked can be answered using the same kind of common-sense, rules of human engagement stuff that you might find in a Miss Manners column. I notice that Dan Savage deals with the same thing: he finds himself giving the same advice over and over again, as his writers and callers keep asking the same types of questions. It’s amazing how often the answer comes down to: Don’t Be A Dick.

Dear Delilah,

Let’s say you know you’re going to one of Those Kinds of Parties soonish. And you know that there will be some number of people at said party you’d like to schedule time with — not necessarily arranging a big scene or anything, because maybe you’re not quite into that yet, but maybe some relatively low-key hanging-out (with possible snuggling/making-out/exploration time if the mood/chemistry/humors work out). Do you have any recommended strategies for trying to arrange such a thing in a respectful manner? And in such a way as to minimize psychological trauma in the event of getting turned down? Part of me’s afraid that even suggesting such a thing would/could fundamentally alter a relationship between people, especially if you’re asking this of someone you’ve never asked this sort of thing of before, and I’d like to minimize that risk as much as possible. Anyone I’d be curious to do ask about this sort of thing is, by definition, already someone I like quite a bit on a personal level, and I wouldn’t want to mess that up.

You, loyal questioner, have the first bit down: just from reading this question I can tell that your desire to Not Be A Dick is strong, and therefore you’re unlikely to be one either by accident or on purpose. My guess is that you already know the “how to approach respectfully” tricks, which include asking politely, without pressure, while expressing clear interest. You might approach someone you know at such a party and say, “I’ve been meaning to talk to you more. Would you like to hang out at some point during the party?” If they agree, you might add, “I also kind of wanted to see if you’d be interested in playing with me at all. No pressure if you don’t; I’d still love to talk and know you better.”

But you already knew that, didn’t you? Because you’re clearly Not A Dick. Over-timidness, though, might lead you to being what many people in the straight dating world think of as the opposite of being a dick: lonely.

Now I don’t buy the whole obnoxious argument that women only want to date assholes, or that “nice guys” never get anywhere. But it is true that making any human connection involves some risk by its very nature. I hear a lot in this question about wanting to mitigate risk as much as possible: You want to “minimize psychological trauma,” and you don’t want to risk a blossoming friendship by suggesting a sexual connection. And that’s cool. But if you’re going to get anywhere, you have to do something. And it’s the paralysis that some people (particularly shy men) feel about Asking For Anything that makes them end up the last one picked for kickball.

So how do you get a little more aggressive in your approach, while mitigating the risk of Being A Dick or losing friendships due to a perceived imbalance in interest? I think that in each instance, dear reader, you need to decide what you value more: friendship, or the opportunity for play/sex? If you might enjoy playing with someone you already like, but are worried about adversely affecting the new friendship by suggesting it, then wait a little while. Keep fostering the friendship, and maybe add some flirtatious energy to it. As you get to know the person better, body language should begin to tell you whether your flirtation is welcome or not: if you touch the person, do they lean into it, or back off? Do they touch back? If they’re sitting cross-legged, are their knees facing you, or away? Is their posture open or closed? If you feel the flirtation is welcome and that the friendship feels solid enough to survive, then suggest playing with them. If you feel it’s unwelcome, then back off and maintain the friendship.

Conversely, if you’re just crazy-attracted to someone, and you believe that friendship alone wouldn’t be satisfying for you, then propositioning them sooner rather than later is likely the better approach. If you wait and hang back, your attraction will only grow and remain unfulfilled, and being around them will probably become frustrating. If you make a move and are accepted – score! If you’re rejected, well, at least the “psychological trauma” is quick rather than drawn-out.

Notice how the answer to this question hardly involved talking about kink at all?

The one advantage you have here, though, is rooted in the fact that we’re talking about play parties. Play parties can be excellent environments for pursuing casual encounters, for having interactions with people that may not leave the bounds of the party, and for suggesting things without having rejection be too crushing. Much of the awkwardness of conventional dating is removed by the fact that hey, we’re at a play party, this is what we’re supposed to do. Asking for what you want becomes a lot easier when the environment is specifically designed for that purpose.

So go out there and conquer! Or, well, at least make some polite suggestions of conquest. Consensual conquest, of course.

Comment with your questions here, or mail them to delilah@dommedelilah.com!

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