Safety, Sanity and True Consent

Understanding When Yes Really Means No

Photo by John Matychuk on Unsplash

Trigger warning: Sexual trauma and rape is discussed

“To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved.”— George MacDonald

Jennie whispered, “Yes, Daddy,” as she knelt onto the foot of her bed. She was completely nude, with a crosshatching of reddened skin across her back, painted by my flogging. I wrapped my arms around her and kissing the nape of her neck, her long black hair swept forward. She trembled slightly and I could feel her pulse quickening. Despite being in the scene, everything was tender and loving. It was our first play session, and we were just starting our exploration.

I took a small wooden paddle and caressed her bottom with it, then I applied a small little slap. She jerked slightly, but seemed deep in subspace. I switched cheeks and gave another light slap. I wanted her to feel the sensation but I wasn’t trying to cause pain. I needed to find her comfort zone and see where she responded best. After two more slaps I saw that she was sobbing quietly. In that instant she began closing in on herself and I knew something was terribly wrong.

I immediately stopped play and started aftercare for her, and after a couple minutes she was relaxed enough to say “That hurt so much.” I was confused as the impacts were so light, that I couldn’t conceive of them actually hurting. She was an active submissive, with many dominant play partners, and she loved very rough edgeplay way beyond my comfort level. I asked her why she didn’t use our safeword, being that we had two, one to indicate she was getting close to a limit, and another that she needed it to stop. She said she had used the former, but her head and mine were mere inches from each other during the scene and I would have heard even a whisper. She wanted to continue play but I told her the scene was over. She may have wanted to go on, but her whole being was saying no, loud and clear.

As we talked, Jennie started telling me more about her other scenes. She said she didn’t use safewords with others because she felt like she would be failing somehow. She spoke of letting another dominant beat her with a baseball bat, another choke her, not by the still dangerous technique of cutting off blood circulation, but actually squeezing her neck until she couldn’t breath. She spoke positively about letting men have unprotected sex with her after showing their clean STI test results on print outs—even though a twelve year old could fake one with Photoshop in a few minutes. She shared things even worse, and I was stunned how deep she was down the rabbit hole.

It became clear to me what was wrong. Jennie had experienced a few violent sexual traumas when younger and much of her sexual adventures had been to recreate and gain strength over those events. I really cared about this intelligent, beautiful younger woman, and she wanted me as a mentor to help her explore new things. What was at conflict is that my actions came from a loving place, and the other dominants had been using her as a toy to abuse and throw away. She even reacted negatively to some of my affectionate caressing, and anything that wasn’t degrading to her caused her discomfort. My being gentle was hurting her. This realization distressed me deeply, and I safeworded within my own self. I withdrew my consent as she was unable to.

I left that evening, with a goodbye kiss, feeling very conflicted and empty. I realize I needed some aftercare myself. I broke things off a week later, the day of the our next planned date and scene, expressing my fear to her that I couldn’t be with her and watch her get hurt on her self-destructive path. She was going to catch a permanent STI, be badly injured or even killed. She was engaging in very dangerous edgeplay on the first meetings with new men, and receiving outright physical trauma. I had held off our first scene until after spending some time together, and having met her one other time. I wanted a real connection, not a fuck toy. We were completely incompatible.

Dr. Bettie Martin’s work, particularly her four quadrant wheel of consent, discusses the complicated nature of consent. I realized that with Jennie offering continued consent to play wasn’t something that I could consent to. I had protect myself from the emotional distress of needing to physically hurt her to satisfy her wants, at the cost of my own emotional well being. I needed to protect myself from someone whose self-harming activities stood to harm me in very real ways. The BDSM community, despite the more common focus of SSC (Safe, Sane and Consensual) play, has it’s harder side. I’m not going to judge anyone who with informed consent, diligent preparation and precautionary measures, chooses to engage in negotiated responsible edgeplay, also often called RACK (Risk-Aware Consensual Kink). Edgeplay belongs with experienced partners that have grown to trust one another. It’s really not a good idea to act out an unprotected violent rape scene with a complete stranger from the Internet, and I can’t watch someone I care for gamble with her life to her ruin.

Being safe and sane, and understanding consent, isn’t just for kink oriented relationships. Another past vanilla partner ended our relationship over a matter of me declining her consent.

When I arrived at Carrie’s house, she seemed a bit disheveled. She’d been working hard all day on work for a client, and hadn’t slept enough. Our usual routine, being we only had one night a week usually, was to go for a walk maybe to a local tavern or restaurant, then walk back for some alone time. As soon as we started walking, I noticed that she was a bit hesitant to hold my hand. Something was eating at her, but she wasn’t forthcoming about it. Carrie was a bit older than me and extremely thin. Much like myself, she’d lost a tremendous amount of weight and was very focused on remaining thin. I often thought she was too thin, but others have commented the same for me, so I kept those thoughts to myself. I loved her, and that’s what mattered to me. When we got to our local haunt, she slid into the booth across from me. She’d never done that since the night we’d met. We usually sat beside each other, stealing little kisses and enjoying holding one another. She continued to seem off, and very unhappy. She mentioned not feeling well, being tired and stressed over and over again.

After a bit, we headed back, and I commented that all the going out had caused me to gain a few pounds and that I was now working to lose it again. She immediately responded that she was unhappy about having gained two pounds, and she was visible distressed by this. In our conversation, the obsession she had with these two pounds made it quite clear she wasn’t just too thin, she had anorexia nervosa. I suggested maybe next time we skip the food and just go for some hikes to solve our extra poundage concerns. She seemed a bit relieved at the idea, but there was still a distance in her eyes.

When we got to her door, I said that I think we should call it a night so she could get the rest that she kept reiterating that she needed. I was uncomfortable how much she was on guard, and I wanted to respect the needs of my partner. She said that I had to come in, and the subtext of her request was that we needed to have sex, despite every indication prior to that being to the contrary. I didn’t feel remotely like being intimate, despite loving her and finding her very sexy. I repeated that I really should go home and she should get some sleep, we’d make up for it next time. She yelled “Fine!” and slammed the door in my face. She went silent on communication and dumped me via text the a few days later.

No always mean no. If you missed it, no always means no. In these two experiences I’ve shared, I learned that yes can sometimes also mean no. I was saying no, because it was the right thing to do, it honored the needs of myself and my partners. There are so many people who engage in unhealthy sexual activities for so many reasons. I have had too many nights where my need to just have a human moment, to feel another’s touch and to just have sexual release has caused me to makes poor choices of encounters that I later regretted having. Loneliness is one of the biggest abusers of self respect and wise choices. I don’t regret saying no these two times, and I have said no many more times than that to a wrong yes.

One of the hardest things about being sexual, is just being conscientious about the experiences we have. When in the mood, so many things can seem like a good idea, and later something you hang your head in shame over. Safety for yourself and your partner is so critical. Making sane choices, and making sure that you are doing what you can to increases the beneficial enjoyment for your partners, and yourself, is also paramount. Knowing when to not continue with a willing partner, despite wanting to, is not a easy thing to do. I miss what could have been with Jennie. I miss what I did have with Carrie. I will never know if I could have handled these things in a better way, for a more positive result. I was true to myself, being a giving loving partner, and I can only say that I did what I felt was right for both of them and me. I would do it again.

Cold showers and lonely hearts are better than taking someone where they can’t go in a healthy way.


Because You’re Worth It

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

“Nobody dies from the lack of sex. It’s lack of love we die from.”— Margaret Atwood

“Do you provide aftercare?” This is a question a dear friend once asked me, that caught me off guard. I think I would have been less shocked if she’d ask me, “Do you breath air?” How anyone could reach a place that this needed to be asked was beyond me.

For the uninformed, aftercare refers to an act of service comprised of time and attentiveness which is done after typically a BDSM scene, but also can include post-coital cuddling and communication. It’s a period of bonding with an intimate partner after exploring physical intimacy together whether plain vanilla sex or something much more hardcore.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with it, I keep seeing a focus on hooking up, the all too familiar DTF (Down To F***) paradigm. We are all very much animals, physiologically speaking, and we all have sexual needs. The experience of a visceral coupling with someone you barely know, based on primal physical attraction, does have it’s allure to even me, but the basic humanity of your temporary partner is often lost. I’m speaking to men, women and non-gender binary people in this appraisal. It is common to view your partner in this situation as nothing more than a means to release, but something precious is often lost without accompanying aftercare. The sentiment of losing respect for someone because they had sex too quickly can often become an ugly side effect of this thinking.

Physiologically speaking, attention to your partner is necessary as post-coital tristesse can occur, often called “drop”, following sexual intimacy, largely connected to adrenaline rush and endorphins crashing. This is particularly the case after an intense scene or a particularly aggressive lovemaking experience. A state of mild shock is not completely uncommon. Your partner will need to be cared for, as will you.

I’ll break down common components of aftercare, that may or may not apply to a particular intimate coupling, BDSM or vanilla. I’ll try to use appropriate terminology, but these points refer to any gender, any position or any role in play and sex. Even a dominant partner often needs these too, where applicable:

Comfort and safety: If restraints or particularly athletic positions where explored, simply reaching a place of comfort is typically the first concern. Moving carefully to a comfortable couch or simply lying down in bed together can instill a stronger sense of connection, even if only on a human level. If a partner was blindfolded, make sure it’s removed carefully so as to not startle them with potentially bright lights. If orgasm occurred, the person may be a bit dizzy and unsteady. Cover up your partner if it may be too chilly.

Attend to injuries: If play was rough, attend to any injuries that may have happened. Antiseptic ointments can be used for cuts and abrasions, as well as perhaps bite marks and scratches. Muscle cramps can often happen at this time. Taking a few moments to massage out a cramp in a partner can be very beneficial to establishing trust and a healthy connection. Learning first aid, personally, is always beneficial regardless of to whom it’s applied.

Hydrate: It almost seems silly to mention, but have fresh water ready. This helps both you and your partner, as even gentle love making can often dehydrate a person. I often have drinking straws too, as an intense scene can make shaking hands and full glasses a soggy disaster waiting to happen.

Be present: This is a time to hold your partner, lie beside than and simply be there for them. Maybe they need to be held. Maybe they need you to not touch them at first. Taking the time to be present with them will help normalize their mental and emotional state and help bring about closeness. Running to jump in the shower now can often humiliate a partner. Waiting will not harm you and can greatly benefit your partner.

Communicate: When you are both ready, after a bit of afterglow perhaps, start communicating. It can be as simple as caressing them and reminiscing about what was done together. Did you try something new? How did it feel? Did they reach orgasm, and if not does that matter to them? Should something be explored more or has a limit been reached? How do they feel about what you did together? Perhaps, in many cases, just lying together, holding each other close listening to each other’s breathing, is enough communication.

Round two?: Often, meaningful aftercare can become foreplay for a second encounter. Perhaps you both (but not limited to just two person couplings in this) shower together, or simply go to sleep together. If it’s morning, maybe it’s time to make or get breakfast. This all can be part of aftercare and help instill a deeper bond.

But, what if this was just a hookup? Aftercare isn’t just for your partner… it’s also for you. This is a powerful time to reflect on your own experience and what you’ve learned about yourself as a person and a lover. I might add, without judgement, that a hookup can become much more in time, and even a friendship could be very beneficial to both partners. I am both demisexual and polyamorous, so I view physical intimacy through those lenses. Even the most casual of sexual encounters can often have an element of deeper connection, and purely sexual relationships can be nurturing, too. A person’s body is just a part of them, and the sexiest part of anyone is their mind. Aftercare can lead to better intimacy, better connection and just plain better sex. The communication that comes out of it can make it like Captain Hammer said, “… better the second time.”

Better relationships, more communication, more openness and more love is better for everyone, and you really are worth it.