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I spent a delicious part of an afternoon last week (Independence Day, in fact; nice way to celebrate…) being sort-of practice-topped, sort of actually-dominated by a new, switchy lover. He is about to have the opportunity to play with someone he’s had his eye on for five years now, and I always like to help a brother out.

(Insert inappropriate incest fantasy remarks here…)

It turns out that he’s not lacking much at all in the hard skills department; while I have yet to show him how to work my four-foot singletail, I received a very delicious flogging. What I found myself dipping in and out of subspace to do was to give him ideas about what might be called soft skills.

Now naturally, I was working from a place of what I was wanting in the moment, what was going to make me feel more desired, sink me deeper into trance, bring me more under control. And yes, it was a very interesting and fun dance – working from my experience to instruct, while simultaneously letting myself surrender to the experience itself. When we were planning it, I joked that he’d know he was doing well if he could keep me from instructing him.

But some of the things that came up seemed to me to be fairly generalizable for newer tops or doms, especially those playing with new partners. Here’s what I came up with:

1. Keep in control. It doesn’t matter if you’re new to this and aren’t really sure what you’re doing. Faking it – in the confidence sense – can really go far. I’m not saying you should do something that you don’t know how to do – please don’t suspend someone, or cane them, or poke them with needles, if you don’t know what you’re doing! – but rather that assuming an air of control and confidence can go a long way toward making the submissive partner’s experience more fulfilling. In my case, I have a much easier time letting go if I sense that the person topping me has the situation in-hand.

Some ways of doing this, practically speaking: use occasional sudden, sharp movements (push me down, slap me harder than I expect after lulling me with sensuality, grab me by the hair); inspect/appraise me; tell me what to do without too many words; restrict my choices; correct my mistakes with calm harshness.

There are going to be moments of hesitation and doubt, of course. The trick is to have the mini-panic-attack inside your head, then find a way to either change the activity that’s causing you stress, or express your doubt in a dominant way. Which brings me to:

2. Keep in touch. The corollary to the above is that, especially with new partners, checking in frequently is important. Some subs go non-verbal (hello!), and many don’t respond well to questions in the moment, unless the answers are a simple yes or no. Even then, sometimes the sub will be in a space where he doesn’t know what he wants; some subs go into a kind of thrall in scene and get deeply into surrendering their will.

Especially for people like this, keeping in touch is key. I mean this in two ways:

-Physical. Touch them with your hand. Check the temperature of their extremities. Press your body into them, feel their reaction, then pull away again. It all performs the triple function of teasing, cherishing, and checking on them. Watch their breathing. Is it slow and deep and trancey? You’re probably okay. Is it rapid and shallow? This could mean several things – panic, extreme excitement, about to faint. This is where the second way comes in:

-Verbal. It’s sad, but true, that the last thing a sub wants to hear during a scene is “Are you okay?” But maintaining the illusion of dominance, non-consent, or whatever you’re playing with doesn’t mean there’s no way to find out what’s going on if you’re confused. Say you’ve been hitting them for a while, and it’s escalating, but you reach a point where you’re not sure if their reactions mean they’re near their limits and might safeword, or that they’re about to have an orgasm. Stop. Put your hand on them. Make them look you in the eyes, or loop your arm around their chest and growl/whisper in their ear. “You had enough? Or do I need to beat you some more?” There are a thousand variations of this, of course. Generally, you’ll know pretty quickly. If they’re in a “wanting more” space, you might even get some begging out of it. (I love both saying and hearing “please, PLEASE…”) If you’ve hit their limit, this will be a good chance for them to breathe, collect themselves, come back to earth a little, and receive some tenderness. They may still be non-verbal, but if you’re unsure, wait for an answer. Consent is a continuous process.

3. Close the scene clearly. Not knowing whether a scene is over or not, or whether the dominant’s attention is still on me, or whether I did okay, or whatever is one of the most demoralizing things that can happen to a sub. I know I’m not alone in being extra-sensitive when I’m in subspace: everything is magnified, everything the dominant does has meaning, and very small slights can make me feel completely abandoned. All of these skills I’m talking about are about maintaining clarity, but this might be the most important one. When you feel the scene is over, let the sub know. This can be done in many ways. One thing I recognized the other day is that I really like praise and tenderness afterward, especially if I endured something difficult. “Good girl,” “It’s okay, it’s over, you did soooo well,” “You pleased me very much,” and so on. Petting along with this also helps. Some subs aren’t like this at all – some prefer to be abandoned as part of their kink; some want some alone-time to process their feelings, but many will want some kind of aftercare. And regardless of aftercare needs – which you can talk about in advance of the scene – making it clear that the scene is ending is critical. Take the collar off, start untying ropes, tell the sub how well they did, that it’s time to come down, or whatever. The clearer you make it, the easier it is for the sub to return to normal headspace.

*
What do you think? How generalizable are these? Can you think of others?

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I know this has been pointed to from all over the place, but I myself have just stumbled across it, and feel it deserves yet another signal boost.

Please read, if you have ever had concerns about the types that The Scene can nurture, and if you’ve ever wanted to further uncouple BDSM from abuse.

A Field Guide To Creepy Dom.

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Maymay has asked me to pass this along – the press release for the upcoming KinkForAll in Denver, CO.  Please spread the word!

***

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Contact:

Rebecca Crane
KinkForAll Denver unorganizer
(303) 817-6530
rebeccacrane@gmail.com
http://kinkforall.org/?author=27

Community unites through peer-based sex education, teach-ins at Tivoli Student Union

Denver, CO – February 2, 2012 – A full day conference featuring teach-ins, presentations, and discussions about sexuality and its intersection with the rest of life will be hosted on February 25 at the Tivoli Student Union. Organizers cite the peer-based education format as a key method to empowering individuals, helping participants learn on their own and share their knowledge with interested neighbors. The conference, called KinkForAll Denver, is a collaboration with a growing group of sexual freedom and education advocates spanning the nation.

“What excites me most about KinkForAll is the idea that everyone has valuable skills and ideas to share. We’re all experts on our own experiences,” said conference organizer Rebecca Crane. Past KinkForAll events featured sessions led by professionals and accredited sex educators, but also by students, amateur craft-makers, and even teens. Youth explained challenges in setting up Gay-Straight Alliances at schools, and other participants discussed topics ranging fromgender identity to religion, personal coming out stories, writing about sex,sexuality and technology, and more. Many sessions are video recorded and made available online for free, helping to reform sex and relationships education with a grass-roots, citizen-driven movement. “Denver’s communities have a lot of unique knowledge to contribute to the growing national conversation about sexual freedom and relationship choice,” Crane said.

The innovative conference format gives each participant 20 minutes in which to facilitate a discussion, give a presentation, or lead a session on any topic related to sexuality. Everyone who attends is encouraged to present in whatever form they find most inspiring or comfortable. Anyone interested can learn more at http://wiki.KinkForAll.org/KinkForAll and sign up to participate at http://wiki.kinkforall.org/KinkForAllDenver.

Contact:

Rebecca Crane
KinkForAll Denver unorganizer
(303) 817-6530
rebeccacrane@gmail.com
http://kinkforall.org/?author=27

For additional information, contact:

Meitar “maymay” Moscovitz
KinkForAll founder
(323) 963-4827
bitetheappleback+kinkforall@gmail.com”
http://kinkforall.org/?author=2

An innovative conference to empower a citizen-driven reform of sexuality education, KinkForAll Denver, will be held on the Auraria Campus at the Tivoli Student Union on February 25, 2012. The event is free, open to the public, and strongly stresses education and sexual freedom over eroticization. Anyone with the desire to learn or with something to contribute is welcome and invited to participate.

About KinkForAll

KinkForAll is an ad-hoc unconference about sexuality for anyone and everyone, drawing participants from an astounding range of both sexuality-related and other communities. Anyone with the desire to learn in an open environment or with something to contribute is welcome and invited to participate. KinkForAll is a 100% free event that is open to the public.

KinkForAll is a fast-paced event with discussions, presentations, and interaction from all participants. There are no spectators, only participants. To attend, you must give a presentation or otherwise help out. KinkForAll events aim to support participants face-to-face and to create shared knowledge with lasting benefit to humanity. KinkForAll is inspired by and based upon the BarCamp community and unconference model.

http://wiki.KinkForAll.org

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One of the questions Sarah asked me in my interview for Good Vibrations is why I don’t do forced fem anymore.

I gave a rather politic answer:

I find it deeply problematic that there is such a rash of men who want to be turned into women because being a woman is somehow humiliating, less-than, shameful. It’s one thing to want to experiment with gender; it’s another to do it in a way that implies that doing “girly” things makes you ridiculous, stupid, or unworthy. It bothers me, and always has. I don’t want to deny anyone their kinks, but I don’t have to participate in them.

I also note that you never hear about women being forced to be dressed up like men and then made fun of. Somehow being female or feminine has gotten linked up with being submissive, and so a lot of men think that the most submissive thing you can possibly do is put on a bra and panties and get fucked with a strap-on. I’m okay with that in some cases, but I want to do it in a loving way, not a shaming one. A man giving himself to me wholeheartedly is a beautiful thing, and I have no interest in making it ugly.

I know how powerful humiliation can be, and how many taboos there are in our culture that you can tap into if you want to make someone feel that way. Women in our culture get a lot less flack for dressing in men’s clothes than men get for dressing in women’s; thus the power of that taboo. But I personally don’t enjoy perpetuating or eroticizing that taboo. Besides, I’ve never been strongly into humiliation; I think it’s one of the more heavy-duty tools in the kink arsenal, and I reserve that kind of play for people I’m very close to.

Source: magazine.goodvibes.com (http://s.tt/131Fx)

I was looking around Bitchy’s site last night for some reason (I still refer to it a lot), and found the best explanation yet for why she thinks forced fem is completely fucked up. As usual, she has slightly stronger opinions than I have. /understatement.

But in this particular post, she really put her finger on it for me. Some commenters were apparently comparing forced fem to race play or other “edgy” play where, say, a black person enacts fantasies of being a slave, or a Jewish person enacts fantasies involving Nazis. And here’s where she nails it:

Who has the power outside the bedroom is relevant. Taking something that oppresses you in daily life and making it your sexual power source is a valid and often useful thing to do. And hot. Taking something you use to oppress other people and then making some parody of it to stroke off some ideas you have that wouldn’t it be dirty to be a slutty woman, ain’t the same thing.

I could just leave it at that and be happy, but I must add this:

And that’s not even getting started on forced fem’s prevalence in femdom enforcing shitty little ideas about femininity and submission being, like, what, fucking interchangeable, or something. Just stop. Really. If everything we do in femdom equates the ideas that femininity is what submission really is and dominance requires a cock and no emotional engagement, femdom will never stop being a joke, a sickness, a wrong, wrong thing. You can come and ask me why I don’t like gender bending if you like, but the reason I complain about this stuff is because femdom just can’t stay away from it. Like the dominant paradigm of cock wins over cunt is so seductive that we, who think we are so fucking subversive, can’t unthink that shit even as we enact the opposite.

My own opinions on gender-bending in general are quite different, of course; a post is brewing for me on what it’s like when I boy up and go to a party that way. But I definitely find Bitchy’s points on this very, very relevant.

Now go read the whole thing.

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I got interviewed!

Sarah Whedon over at Good Vibes interviewed me for her shiny new column, “Screwing With Our Minds.”

Check it out – it’s pretty awesome.

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In a case that seems to finally be putting BDSM to the test in the context of rape culture, an Arlington, VA man is being tried for rape after ignoring his partner’s safeword.

While I obviously don’t want to see anyone raped, and I certainly hope there’s a special place in hell for people who use BDSM as an excuse to rape someone, I find the setup for this case much more encouraging than other cases that have arisen like it. In most instances of S&M rape cases I’ve seen, it’s been about some psycho guy who draws young women into his weird, dungeony web and winds up imprisoning them in his basement. Generally, Very Bad Things happen, ranging from a woman being traumatized with PTSD to women getting killed. The subsequent trial then becomes a circus, with all three rings displaying the evils of those creepy BDSM people.

If I haven’t made it very obvious in this space before, I really, really hate it when things like this happen, not just because people are hurt, but because it gives the media another excuse to make us out to be psychotic supervillains.

What I like about this case so far is that it seems to be handling the BDSM question as just another kind of sex, and to define the breech of the agreements endemic to that type of sex as rape. This seems to me to be an entirely appropriate and reasonable approach to the problem, and doesn’t spend time demonizing the acts in question. From the article:

Senter and the unidentified woman met for about a dozen encounters that involved consensual bondage, discipline, dominance and submission.

But during an encounter on April 2, prosecutors told the court that the role-playing escalated out of control. They say the woman told authorities that despite telling him to stop, Senter disregarded a “safe word”, a word or phrase used to immediately stop the role-playing. The woman says Senter hit her with a cane, bit her and dragged her by the hair.

The defense acknowledged that the woman confronted Senter about the incident the following morning. But Spencer told the court in May that Senter sincerely thought the matter was resolved after he apologized to her in person and later through a text message.

Note the use of the word “consensual,” the explanation of a safe word, and the dry reporting of the acts performed. I have no idea whether this case will go anywhere, since it’s hard to say whether a rape case will be able to proceed without an explicit act of legally-defined sex having occurred. She might do better to claim she was assaulted, which she most certainly was.

But it’s an interesting turn in journalistic affairs to see this article amidst the usual sensationalizing crap.

Anyone know anything else about this case? You don’t want to know what comes up when you Google for “BDSM rape.”

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I recently did something I should have done ages ago, which is turn on Google alerts and make it tell me whenever certain key words or phrases are mentioned in the news. Doing this for “BDSM” has garnered some interesting results, not the least of which is a continuation of the trend that Bitchy has noticed of a rift between professional dominatrices (as she likes to say) and more ordinary folks doing kink. Her main beef was that the professionals seem to be creating the world of female dominance as it is seen by most people, and it is a world that she reviles. But another question is arising from my own reading: a question of elitism, of experience versus education, and the potential de-fanging of kink.

The story starts with Lera Gavin, a young dominatrix in Miami who writes a column called “Ask a Domme.” In an August 11 article called How to Enjoy Extreme Smothering Without Fatally Suffocating Your Boyfriend, she advises a man who would like for his girlfriend to try smothering with him to “con her” if she doesn’t agree at first:

You also said you’re unsure how to approach your girlfriend. There are two ways you can handle this matter: You can ask her or con her. If she says no to your request, don’t frown, just trick her into it. But start easy. You want her to be relaxed. The best way to get a woman into smothering is by worshipping her body, especially her ass.

So next time you see your beloved chickadee naked, compliment her gorgeous bottom. Most women go gaga for praise. Call her a goddess and then ask if you can admire her hot ass. She won’t be able to say no.

No question, this is phenomenally bad advice. Not just because breathplay can be extremely dangerous and should only be done with the full knowledge and consent of everyone involved, but because dude, consent! Trick her into it? “She won’t be able to say no”? Welcome to rape culture; here’s your complementary beer bong.

Theresa Ikard of Carnal Nation responded to this moron with some dismay. The angle she took, however, struck me as a bit oblique.

Her piece is titled Why It’s Important for Dommes to Go to Dominatrix School, and while it briefly addresses the consent and safety issues, in larger part I think it misses the point and comes off as condescending. In pertinent part:

BDSM is way more a mental game than a physical one. What I mean is that “hard skills” like flogging, caning, cock and ball torture, rope bondage, etc. are easier to learn than the “soft skills” like communication, awareness and responsibility for interpersonal dynamics, and respect for the power of their craft…

The only way to master these skills is to be educated properly and practice consistently. Just like a young therapist or doctor in training, a fresh Domme needs mentoring and feedback. The author of this article has a bio online in the form of a feature article and I gather from what she has written that her training to become a Domme centered primarily around financially driven motives. Now, don’t get me wrong: the business end of sex work training is essential, but is hardly sufficient knowledge or motivation in itself and it certainly does not foster development in either soft skills or hard skills.

Now granted. Lera Gavin is 21 years old, and in said feature article she says things like, “The mistress explained the client was a sad, older man still mourning his recently deceased wife. I knew it was a difficult time for him and that seeing a mistress was a way for him to cope with pain and loss. Of course, I put all of that out of my head. Sensitivity isn’t part of the job.” [emphasis mine] I would no sooner put myself in her hands than I would let my dog use the stove.

But suggesting that because this woman has for some reason been given an column in which to propogate bad kink advice that she should have gone to “dominatrix school” is a little off the mark. Suggesting, too, that experience as a pro domme does not foster the skills needed to be a good dominatrix is simple madness. When I was going into the business, I trained by reading books, throwing whips at willing stunt bottoms, playing with people I liked and watching others play. I barely knew anything when I had my first paying client except for how not to actually damage him. I was lucky to have some natural ability in the “soft skills” and a background in theatre and in healing, but I had to learn nearly everything on the job – how to use my voice and what words to choose, how to read a client’s reactions, how to establish rhythm and pace for maximum effect, and once, how to get a guy out of standing bondage when he’s fainted.

What’s wrong with this whip-wielding youngster is not that she didn’t go to dominatrix school – nor even that she didn’t receive mentoring. She seems to have had an older domme as a boss and guide; mentoring is no guarantee, especially in the less populated parts of the country. What’s wrong is that she never learned that the first rule of kink is consent, and without it, there can be no ethical BDSM play, or in fact sex play of any kind. What’s wrong is that she doesn’t seem to have learned that actually, sensitivity is 95% of the job; whipping and tying and torturing and having your feet worshipped is the rest.

She responded to Ms. Ikard’s article with a vicious and infantile rant full of ad hominem venom in which she calls Ikard “some humorless lipstick feminist,” refers to Carnal Nation as “an obscure online magazine about ‘sexuality,'” and derides the opinion of “a lowly bottom,” as if submissives were allowed no dignity or opinions even when they leave the dungeon. (She makes a further fool of herself by fluttering “Midori who?” when someone mentions Midori in the comments. At least do your homework.) Then she tries to back away from the criticism by suggesting that her column is meant to be humorous and the advice shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Yet later in the article she does raise an interesting point. “The true art of BDSM is all about power, fear, and suffering,” she writes, adding:

Scary? Well, it’s supposed to be. No professional dominatrix wants to seriously harm a client, but if you don’t see at least a hint of real fear in your submissive’s eyes, you’re not doing your job right. In a way, old school feminists were right, S&M does eroticize power and violence, and all the PC jargon such as “sex positive,” “personal empowerment,” and “energy exchange” are just a way of avoiding this inconvenient truth.

Don’t get me wrong; I still think she’s mostly talking out of the wrong end of her corset. Claiming that sex-positivity is simply PC jargon is wildly ignorant, and BDSM play isn’t always about fear. But what are we doing, exactly, when we seek to take the teeth out of kink by making it a subject of academic study? How are we bullshitting ourselves and our clients when we claim to be healers, priestesses or therapists rather than sex workers? I specifically took up training as a type of therapist and began seeing clients in a counseling capacity because I felt that the work I was doing was not healing work but bandaging work.

BDSM is dark – it has its ugly sides and its deranged desires. These things need to be acknowledged, not just because they are true but because our desire is so intimately linked to our freedom. Read Pat Califia’s introduction to Macho Sluts sometime, if you want an excellent breakdown of this topic, but the point is: we want what we want, and sometimes, it’s not pretty.

None of this, of course, removes from Ms. Gavin the responsibility to stop telling people to do nonconsensual BDSM with their partners. Like it or not, she is something of an authority, even at her age and level of experience, by virtue of having such a strong interest in this work and having a column in which to share her supposed expertise. Part of her ongoing education, hopefully, will be recognizing that she has a responsibility for the community she represents, and that passing off her column as humor after the fact is buck-passing of the cheapest sort.

Meanwhile, I look forward to the continuing marriage of intellect and heat that seems to be churning over at Carnal; pieces like this one on a potential parents-of-kinky-kids support group, and this thoughtful piece by Clarisse Thorn give me all kinds of hope.

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