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Posts Tagged ‘ettiquette’

I had a conversation last night that wound up with me coining the title of this post. I was thinking about collars, and the many things they seem to represent for people. Naturally, a collar tends to be a symbol of ownership, or at least of control-over, whether it is for a circumscribed period or for life. But it is interesting to note the many different experiences that wearing a collar – or similar marker – evokes for people.

I know that for me and some others, a collar can often be a marker for the start and end of a scene. When used this way, a collar puts me into a certain headspace almost immediately: all of the sensations of submission, headspace, and associated arousal go along with the buckling or locking in place of the collar. I was reminded of this by reading back in Devastating Yet’s journal, about leashes and what they did for her boy. I have one lover who goes into a completely non-verbal, spaced out, almost childlike subspace when I collar him; with him I have to be especially careful, because in that state he will do anything I want, even if he would consider it a hard limit ordinarily. For him, and to a lesser extent for me, the removal of the collar denotes the end of the scene, and the ability to return to normal consciousness.

One circle out from that, as I was explaining last night, would seem to be the “weekend collaring,” where the dominant collars the sub for an overnight date, a weekend or several days. This is still under the rubric of “special occasion” collaring, where everything the couple will be doing during the period has to do with fun, if not sex. For instance, one might get collared for a weekend playparty, or kink convention, or vacation getaway. Generally this isn’t done during mundane time, when the two will have to be separated for any real length of time, like a workday. The effect it has, though, tends to be different from the scene-only collaring, in that the headspace cannot be so deep that the sub is unable to function in normal ways like eating or interacting with people outside of scene space. The person I was talking to last night said that for her the collar was a type of safety, a confinement within which she could feel more comfortable and free. I compared it to making art with budgetary or resource constraints; much of the best theatre I’ve seen is made in this way.

The outer circle – or perhaps the inner circle? – in this concentric collar design is, of course, the “permanent” or 24/7 collaring. While the meaning of the collar is strongest in this instance and indicates intense commitment, the mental effect, because it is ongoing and constant, is much less dramatic. Even a submissive who is collared all the time isn’t going to necessarily feel submissive when working the forklift or signing papers at his office. The collar becomes like a wedding ring – a constant reminder of his relationship, and the nature thereof.

This creates an interesting dichotomy, potentially: the more serious the significance of the collar, the less, by necessity, the mental and emotional change wrought by it? Naturally, the mental and emotional change one must undergo when becoming a 24/7 collared slave must be immense, but it cannot be a change that affects their day-to-day functioning in the way that a scene-collaring might.

Just some thoughts of late. What are your experiences with collars?

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It’s been a while since I’ve been answering questions here, but I got one recently and have been stewing on it a bit. Here’s my stab at it.

Dear Delilah:

I hope you had a delightfully kinky May Day! Maybe the change in season will inspire a fever of questions ;). I know I have one for you!

In my kinky relationships, I am primarily Mistress. Sometimes that aspect of the dynamic extends to financial and practical matters, in which I pay for the majority of meals, evenings on the town, and even household bills. I didn’t ask for anything sexual or otherwise in return, but it always felt nice and different on the rare occasions when the roles were reversed, and I was treated. When that happened, I found myself even hornier than usual.

Still, I never thought that the concept of actually having an “official” Sugar Daddy or Sugar Mama would seriously intrigue me and turn me on, but as I continue to explore the wide world of fetishes, it’s the one I keep coming back to. I am turned on by the idea of having someone, preferably someone older, provide support in exchange for companionship. I’m not interested in receiving things like jewelry or cars, but I want to make sure I know how to get my value.

I have joined related communities on Fet Life and conducted Internet research, but you are the guru when it comes to exploration. How do you suggest I pursue my interest and be taken seriously? Have you encountered any reliable resources for those searching for a Sugar Daddy or Sugar Mama?

Thanks in advance, and have a great day!

M.

Oh, my dear, I do appreciate your confidence in me, but having the word “guru” bandied about makes me just a tad uncomfortable. Still – let’s look at this, shall we?

Let me start with a disclaimer. Having been a sex worker for some time, I have a particular bias when it comes to kinks around money. I quit in part because I wasn’t comfortable monetizing my sexuality, and that discomfort gives me a little bit of a blind spot when it comes to people who kink on it. However, I also recognize that money is just another way to exchange energy, and a powerful one at that. Our society is almost as sick about money as it is about sex, and it’s not all that surprising that they frequently get snarled up together. I know a dominatrix who used to make her clients kneel at her feet and count the money out to her, because she wanted to highlight the humiliation of having to pay her to make her pay attention to them. I, conversely, used to have them leave it in an envelope on a desk on the way in, as I wanted to de-emphasize the monetary part of the exchange. Call it differences in style, call it differences in kink, or call it me perpetuating the denial about what was really going on. I was never comfortable doing blackmail or financial domination, either.

Part of my discomfort, though, also stems from the simple fact of how easy a monetary relationship is to abuse – from both directions. A person being given money for sexual favors can leverage his or her attentions, demanding more money for increased time, special activities, or even being nice. A person giving money is in an even greater position for abuse: just look at traditional patriarchal marriage. To many people’s minds (particularly men, unfortunately), the fact that they’re paying for something gives them carte blanche to treat it however they wish: it’s their car, they can crash it if they want.

I’m saying all of this by way of highlighting the peculiar dangers in what you’re looking for: tread carefully.

Before you go ahead and look into finding a sugar daddy or mommy, I’ll ask another question: do you need the money? It sounds like you don’t, as you have had some fun being something of a sugar mommy or “mistress” yourself. If you did need the money, I might caution you against engaging in this type of play, as you may find yourself being a sex worker when you don’t want to be.

Not that there’s anything wrong with being a sex worker. But if you’re not interested in being one, this is a slippery slope: you might wind up spending a lot of time with someone you don’t really care for because he or she is providing support that you need. If you’re not realistic about that, you can start feeling pretty icky, pretty fast. And you can start allowing someone to have power over you in ways that are uncomfortable and difficult to dislodge.

If you still feel comfortable going ahead, here’s what I’d recommend.

Start off just playing with this fetish. As with most things in kink, it’s a good idea to dip a toe in and do some role play first rather than diving in collar-first to a 24/7 arrangement. You might even try this with someone you’re already kinky with, who is willing and able to pamper you a bit financially. Go on a weekend with them, where they pay for everything, and in return, make yourself available to them in whatever ways they like (within reason).

Here’s where another caveat comes in. We all know how fun it is to play with power dynamics – that’s why we’re here. Sometimes it’s really fun and challenging to push yourself to do things you might not ordinarily do in order to please your dominant. Keep in mind that when money enters into these kinds of dynamics, it can get really blurry: women especially are burdened in this society with a lot of guilt telling them that they have to do or put up with certain things because after all, the guy is paying for everything. This goes back to my original caution: be sure you don’t need the money too much.

If you can’t find someone to experiment with, and/or if the experiment is successful and you want to dive in, you’ll need some resources – which is what you asked for to begin with. (Gods, Delilah, yap much?)

The hottest site for this right now is called Seeking Arrangement, and it puts together rich older folks with “ambitious” younger folks. It’s free to join if you’re the “sugar baby” (which term gives me the heebs, for some reason). Also, the guy in the picture on the front page of the site is smokin’. Unfortunately, the site is a bit creepy in terms of condoning extra-marital affairs and citing “human nature” and historical references about concubines. It seems much more focussed on the monetary aspect than it is on any potential fetish, and it sounds like you are more interested in playing with how “dirty” the whole sugar daddy thing is than you are with doing it seriously. Also, are you 19?

If you search for “sugar daddy” on Google, you’ll get a bunch of sites like this. A search on “sugar daddy fetish” turned up Alt Sugar Daddy, which focuses on people who are kinky but “also appreciate the finer things in life.” This might be closer to what you’re looking for, but I definitely wouldn’t discount the potential creep factor here, either. You’ll probably be a hot commodity there, though, if you’re already someone who has her freak on; this site is more likely populated with sugar daddies who have odd tastes than with kinky people with a sugar fetish, if that makes sense. My bet is that here you’ll find guys who want women who will let them piss on them or suck their toes, or who will want you to wear particular clothes, or whatever.

Something you have to decide is whether you’re wanting to play with the sugar daddy/mommy idea in a kinky context, with the self-awareness and slight irony that that implies, or whether you want to enter into a real arrangement like this with someone who may or may not be kinky in other ways, or be able to see the potentially problematic nature of such an arrangement. If it’s the former, you may want to stay within the circle of people you already know; if it’s the latter, go to town, keeping all the caveats I’ve put out there in mind.

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Got a question? Email me!

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There must be more I can do to advance the cause of healthy feminist kink, but, as Trinity knows, it’s impossible to ignore the incredible vitriol and anti-kink rhetoric coming from radical feminists like Nine Deuce. I never go to those pages on my own, but I’ve gotten back to the blogrolls lately, and there have been more links to that space on Let Them Eat… It becomes impossible to ignore after a while, like a train wreck you can’t look away from. It’s relatively easy for me to ignore the insane right wing – not because I don’t think they have influence: they have a terrible amount of influence in this country. But they’re big and they’re a constant target of their polar opposites on the left as well as of reasonable people throughout the land, and I don’t feel much of a personal responsibility to battle them on a daily basis.

Feminists, though…well, they’re supposed to be on my side, right? I’m a woman, I’m a feminist, I see and experience oppression under the same patriarchal systems of power that they do, yes? Yet it seems to be the job of these particular wingnuts to invalidate kinky women’s experiences, undermine our sense of agency, silence us and rail against any type of education that might give us some other perspective than “BDSM is bad. Reallllly baaaaad.”

We know all this. I know all this. And it may be a sign of my own masochism that I keep feeling the need to dip my toes into these discussions and wait for them to get torn off by crocodiles. It’s probably long since time for me to quit it, since I’m increasingly surrounded by 8- and 9-toed peers who keep braving the waters as well.

But as anyone who knows me well knows, if you want me to shut up and leave you alone, there is one damn thing you don’t do. And that’s attack people I care about.

The short version: Orlando dives into the soup, like he does. (I think his toes are still intact, but his whole body’s poked full of holes.) After getting his left brain chewed on for offering facts and studies by women who’d rather he shut up if he can’t provide personal experience, then getting the other cheek slapped for daring to provide the “anecdotal evidence” that their own arguments so often rest on, and other bits of his head ripped off every time he tries to understand and be civil, he finally responds from a place of hurt and exhaustion having spent most of the previous week in the hospital caretaking his wife, who has aggressive cancer. He pours out his soul and implores these people he still considers intellectual peers and reasonable people to have compassion for the real human beings we’re talking about when we talk about this subject.

And they accuse him of using his wife’s cancer as a manipulative ploy to score points on the Internet.

Now, I don’t know Orlando in real life, though I came close to doing so and hope to meet him and his Murre – may she be whole and healthy and strong again – before long. But his voice is one I respect mightily and am wholly moved by regularly, and I’ve come to have a serious affection for him and for Murre both by extension and by direct contact.

In some ways, I have a purer affection for them both than I might if I knew them, as I still know them only as they present themselves online, and not as who they truly are, warts and all. I daresay many of us have similar online relationships, and are similarly protective of them.

And so I just want to give a shout-out to the blogosphere at large and say this:

Do not. Fuck. With people I care about.

To Polly, Nine Deuce, Joan Kelly (a “passive-aggressive liar with a martyr complex”?? Really??), Laurelin, and the rest of you who jumped in to kick someone already in pain in the guts: how dare you. This is not some troll trying to get you in a twist by jumping in with stupid counter-arguments. This is a thoughtful, careful, real human being who is doing his best to give you the respect he somehow continues to assume you deserve even as he is in disagreement with you. This is someone who consistently, throughout the time I’ve been reading him, has made an honest attempt to engage you in discourse and given you ample opportunity to get to know him. And when in his frustration and exhaustion he finally stops beating his head against the brick walls of your own anger and pain and shows you his throat, you don’t hesitate to step up and slit it.

You cruel, twisted fucks. And you dare to say that what consensual kinksters do is evil.

Fuck you. Fuck you right in the ear, until you learn how to think a bit better about who deserves your compassion.

(Sorry, Orlando. I had to.)

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I was moved by the letter I got this week, and though it’s not topical in terms of kink, it’s a complex question about alternative relationships that might as well be discussed here as anywhere.

I welcome your questions, not only about kink, but about polyamory, bisexuality, and any other relational issues you think I can speak to. I can’t promise to know a ton about specifically gay, lesbian or trans issues, as it’s not the life I lead. But then again, Dan Savage answers straight people’s questions all the time, and most of the time I don’t really think that the issues of gay and lesbian folk in relationship are much different from anyone else’s. (Actually, I bet I have more in common with gays and lesbians in poly relationships than I have with straight or bisexual people in monogamous ones.)

To make a long story short: if you feel, whoever you are, like honoring me with your difficult questions, I’ll do my best to answer them well. And if it comes down to it, I’ll call in a guest expert, just like Dan would do. (Because ya know. Dan’s my hero.)

Dear Deliah:

I enjoy reading your column, and when I stumbled into an alternative relationship dilemma of my own, you were were the person I most wanted to consult.

I have been romantically involved with both members of a legally married couple for nearly four years. Although the husband and wife were together before I entered the arrangement, we let our own situations progress organically (I was never brought in as the hot bi babe, for instance) and consider all four relationships to be “on the same level.” There have been ups and downs, and I have been very concerned about matters like the possibilities of moving in and of having children with my partners.

I recently learned that my female partner miscarried after being pregnant for nearly two months. Although I have been doing my best to be supportive, I still feel hurt and rejected: I didn’t even know they were actively trying to get pregnant, nor that she had conceived. I know it’s good practice to wait a reasonable amount of time before informing others about a pregnancy, but I am supposed to be a part of their family.

I guess it goes without saying that I will need to address my feelings at an appropriate time. Do you have any suggestions for how to approach this topic with my partners? When should I go about bringing it up?

First of all, I’m sorry this happened to you, and very sorry that this happened to your partners. Miscarriages can be devastating, and above all it is important that you not make this too much about you: I have no doubt that they’re already going through a lot of pain.

With that said, it sounds like the three of you do have a deeply intertwined relationship – the fact that you reference “four relationships” shows that you know how many dynamics are at play here – and if it really is as you say it is, it’s probable that you had a right to know, and a right to be upset about it.

There are a few possibilities at play here in terms of what has already occurred. One is that she became pregnant by accident; it happens. Once that happened, she might have felt it best to keep it under wraps until the traditional first-trimester mark; as she miscarried, this was probably a good plan in terms of causing the least amount of pain for others.

The other possibility is more sad, but needs to be taken seriously. You say they were together before you, but that you are all considered equals in the relationship. It is entirely possible that this isn’t really as true as you think it is. Even in triads where the third person is brought into the home, involved in a commitment ceremony, etc. – it takes some time and effort for that person to reach the same level of intimacy and equal-partner status as the married couple already had together. If you aren’t living with them, and the relationship is, as you say, up and down, it’s not likely that you really are an equal partner, not in the way they are to each other. They’ve been together for longer, have chosen to live together, chosen to get married, and finally, chose to get pregnant – without consulting you.

What this may be is a sign that you are not in the relationship(s) you think you are in.

I want to tell you to address your concerns with them directly, but I also want to be extremely sensitive to what they’ve just been through. They have a right to that, regardless of how they handled the information.

Just as they probably would have allowed three months before revealing the information to others, I recommend giving them three months before you bring it up. If one of them brings it up before then, great. But I think it’s going to be really rough to address this question while they’re still in the midst of early grieving.

When you do bring it up, gently is the best way. Have dinner with them both one night. Remind them how much you love them, and how you’ve long wanted to make a family with them. And finally, just ask, in a spirit of curiosity and concern. “Why didn’t you tell me you were pregnant?”

I warn you that the answer you get is going to be pivotal for how your relationship looks going forward. But as you’ve already surmised, it’s something you have to do.

Sorry to give such a downer answer. Let me know how it goes.

I’m out of questions again. Email me your questions, or comment!

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Sometimes I get the tough questions. Sometimes I get the easy ones. I’ll be grateful and consider today a vacation in honor of Thanksgiving week.

Dear Delilah,

Not sure if you’ve answered this or not but someone asked me the other day what kind of kinky things he can do with his gf without leaving marks (it’s a poly thing; her primary doesn’t want to see marks). Spanking is a favorite, but she bruises very easily…

Your “friend” (I’m kidding; I’m sure it’s actually your friend and not you. Really. And you’re not the girlfriend either. I mean it!) can do pah-LEN-ty of kinky things without leaving marks. You can tie someone up, down or sideways without leaving marks, though if you’re using rope, you might get some rope marks if you’re not careful. (I’m hesitant to call these “ligature marks” as some are fond of doing, since a cursory Intarwebs search indicates that that terminology refers only to strangulation.) You can interrogate someone all you want and leave no marks at all. You can collar someone, have them kneel at your feet, have them serve or service you in all kinds of ways. Hypnotizing people doesn’t leave marks, nor does peeing on them, trampling them with bare feet, dressing them up like a schoolgirl and fucking them senseless…Some of the most fun kinky stuff there is only leaves marks on the soul. 🙂

But spanking? That’s an easy one, too.

First off, if she bruises very easily, as you say, she may want to get some levels checked – vitamins B12, C, or K, or folic acid seem to be the most frequent culprits. She should also make sure (again, only if there’s a real concern) that she doesn’t have a clotting disorder like von Willebrand’s disease or something more serious. Most of the time, though, easy bruising is just a characteristic, nothing harmful.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about how your friend can get a spanking with minimal marking.

The things that tend to cause marks most easily are 1) heavy items like batons, metal toys, and fists, which can cause deep bruising, and 2) thin, light items like canes and singletails, which invariably leave red welts if you strike with any force at all and bruise awfully if used with a lot of force. The best way, then, to avoid marks is to use lighter items with a larger surface area: open palm, light paddles, and softer floggers.

Unless you are freakishly strong (like some Daddys I know whom I won’t name here, ahem), it’s difficult to get marks that last for more than a few minutes with a bare hand – it just hurts the hand too much. So sticking to hand-spanking is one way to go. Build up slowly to bring the blood to the surface of the skin (it looks great when it’s all pink anyway, doesn’t it?), and you can keep better track of how much damage you’re doing.

If you use paddles, again, start lightly. Flexible leather paddles are good for this, as are wooden paddles without too much heft – particularly round ones. Avoid straps and fraternity style paddles that have squared-off edges.

Spanking scenes can have a very high mental component, too, so your friend might try using a lot of verbal play in addition to the strikes, to intensify the experience.

With floggers, make sure the tails aren’t braided, and go for something softer like deerskin or conditioned suede (be aware that suede can be really rough!). Again, build up slowly. I bruise very easily myself, but the marks I’ve gotten from my hardest floggings went away within a couple hours.

After a spanking, ice her bum. You can do this with her still across your lap, which has a sweet aftercareish thing about it, or you can have her sit on a bowl of ice, which can be humiliating in that good way. Icing will help reduce the incidence of bruising.

Some people like to use arnica cream to heal bruises more quickly. I have heard only anecdotal evidence of its effectiveness; Miss Calico’s description of her experiment is entertaining but isn’t much of a vote of confidence for the stuff.

Most important, though, is that she Not Panic. If she ends up with a bruise or two, well, she bruises easily, right? I have bruises with some frequency where I have no idea where they came from. I currently have a bite-shaped bruise on my thigh that I remember vividly, but sometimes I get bruises – usually on my hips, or butt, or thigh – that are inexplicable except that perhaps I ran lightly into the wall when I was stumbling to the bathroom at 3 am. Point is, there are steps you can take to avoid marks, but if you’re playing with striking, there’s no guarantees. If she doesn’t get panicky over some marks and doesn’t flaunt them to her partner, either, hopefully she won’t run into trouble. If her partner’s going to freak out about it regardless, then they may want to consider that there’s some other control issue going on aside from whether she’s allowed to have marks or not.

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After several Mondays of post-travel logistics-fail, holidays, and outright laziness, I finally present to you yet another Monday Advice column on – who would have guessed it – Monday.

This week’s question is a little confusing to me.

My would-be girlfriend likes to put people in boxes; I want to buy her a whip, a present, but I am not sure how to shop for this kind of gift for someone else. i.e. How to choose between a riding crop or a cat o’nine tails? and other such taste issues…

Okay, where to start. “Would-be girlfriend”? What does that even mean? Like, would be if she weren’t married to that seven-foot bodybuilder Zed? Would be, if she only knew you existed (but she will, ohhhh she will)? Or would be if she didn’t like putting people in boxes? And if she likes to put people in boxes, why not get her a refrigerator carton rather than a whip? Seems much more thoughtful. It’s tough to whip people once they’re in a box. Cages are maybe a little easier, but the leather tends to get wrapped around the bars, and then there’s all the clanking…

Anyway, bizarreness of phrasing aside, I assume what this person is trying to ask is: how do you know what kind of kinky gift to get someone you know would enjoy a kinky gift? Which is a different question from how do you know whether someone would like a kinky gift. Though given the whole would-be girlfriend thing, I’m suspecting some of this as well. “Heh-heh. Uh, hi. I got you this iron maiden. For a present. Heh-heh.” Eesh. Maybe you should try flowers first.

In any case.

If the object of your affection (friend, would-be girlfriend, potential victim) is already into kink and has shared this fact with you, the trick is just to slip it into conversation. Some possibilities: “Hey, have you been to The Fetish Fair Fleamarket/Beyond Leather/Insert Kink Convention Name here? Do any shopping?” “So you’re kinky. What kinds of things do you like to play with? I like paddles/singletails/live pythons myself.” Or, if you’re really being flirty, “So if you were gonna beat me up, what would be your ideal tools to do it with?” If this kind of thing gets her going, and she’s interested in beating you up, this has the double advantage of warming her up to the idea and getting you some valuable information.

Questions of taste are always difficult, whether you’re dealing with a kink-related gift or any other gift. One question is: what are you getting her this gift for? Is it a testament to your friendship? A symbol of how you feel about her? Is it something for her to actually use on people, or just a keepsake? If it’s for use on someone, are you hoping that someone will be you? If so, it’d probably behoove you to get something you think you’d enjoy being hit with.

A good friend of mine, who traveled in the same kink communities as I did, once got me a wonderfully hilarious purple glittery riding crop when she’d learned that I was going pro. It was incredibly thoughtful, not because of what it did but because of what it symbolized: the riding crop was all about honoring a typical symbol of the work of a pro domme; the purple glitter was all her particular shiny aesthetic. I’ve never forgotten it, though I’ve never used it in a session, either. It’s more of a thing I keep around to make me smile and think of her. On the other hand, clients have sometimes bought me gifts (I now have many riding crops) that I have found beautiful and useful, but which have very little sentimental value for me. It all depends what you’re trying to achieve with this gift – and how much money you have to spend.

Whatever you do, if you’re looking to have this person use the gift, don’t get something cheaply made. Many sex novelty shops carry crops and whips and floggers that are of abysmal quality; these are fine as gag gifts, but if you friend is serious, you want to get her something nice. As nice hitty things go, riding crops are probably the cheapest; you can find high-quality ones at any equestrian shop. Canes are generally inexpensive as well, but neither may be what she’s looking for. Some places carry small floggers that are under $100, and floggers are generally a safe bet. But you won’t find a good singletail at that price, and anyway, singletails require a pretty specific skill set and a lot of practice. Gifting somebody with one seems like more of a directive than you might want to communicate here.

Finally, if this person is just a friend and you’re not on a basis for talking about these things, then…I can only recommend that you do not get her a kinky present. Because that would be weird and imposing, I think. Just maybe. Though I wish it were otherwise, many people are very closeted about their kink, and with good reason. If she hasn’t been entirely forthcoming with you, a kinky present might come across as creepy and threatening.

So here’s the low-down: If you know she wants such a thing, draw her out about what she likes. If you get her something, make sure it’s good quality. And make your questions more specific, mmm-kay?

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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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