Cartography of Control: A Map For Areas of Dominance & Submission

When it comes to control in D/s dynamics, there are a lot of questions to ponder and theorize about.

How do you give over even more to your dominant? How do you take more from your submissive?

How do you work out what your limits are?

How do you take or give more control?

How do I start making rules and protocols outside of the bedroom?

Or maybe you’re just in a D/s dynamic that is excellent, but you both want a little … more? So perhaps the question is simply, How do you step up your D/s dynamic?

This theory can help address all of these.

The Cartography of Control is a Map

The cartography of control maps out areas of someone’s (generally the s-type) life, and codes them into categories to share which areas they would like to have under someone else’s control and which areas they would like to keep for themself.

The first step is to brainstorm different life areas. These are probably endless, but there are some broad umbrella categories that applies to most folks. Here are some areas to start with:

Kink/BDSM activities
Orgasms/sex
Partners
Friends
Community
Family
Pets
Tidiness
Money
Spirituality
Gender
Emotions
Sleep
Speech
Stuff/possessions
Medical
Goals
Time Management
Media
Opinions
Education
Work/profession
Body modifications
Posture
Grooming
Dress
Politics
Hobbies
Fitness
Drugs
Therapy
Food
Alcohol

It’s always possible to think of more things, or to get a lot more specific about things within the categories — grooming, for example, could be divided into how someone keeps their hair, shaving, what products they use in the shower, makeup, their skincare routine — all sorts of things. But for now, we’ll keep the categories broad and divide it into specifics later.

Sort the Categories Into Yes, No, or Maybe

Now that you have a somewhat robust list — it doesn’t have to be exhaustive, but at least is a complete enough list for you to start — sort them into three different categories:

  1. Areas the submissive would like the dominant to have control over
  2. Areas that the dominant could possibly have control over, depending on [certain] circumstances
  3. Areas the submissive would like to retain their own control and final decisions over
One of the things rife often says is that he can’t give over any area where he himself does not have control. For example, if he was a smoker, he couldn’t give his nicotine addiction over to me, because he isn’t in control of it. I could help him with a plan to stop smoking, but I couldn’t just say, “You are no longer addicted,” and exercise control.
This is quite simplified; you could develop more categories to sort things in to, like “areas I will give over after the permanent collar is on,” or “areas you can control

For now, don’t worry about whether or not the dominant wants to control these categories. That’s a separate step. Just think about the submissive’s part in it, and whether they could or are willing to give up control.

One way to sort these is to write all your categories out on paper, then use different colors to denote which ones are which. Red could mean “no, I will keep control,” yellow/orange could mean, “maybe, depending on circumstances,” and green could mean, “yes, I would like my dominant to have control over these.”

Yes, you can change your mind — fine tune it, think through it, do thought experiments and make educated guesses about how future you would feel if certain areas were under someone else’s control.

Like this:

After you have the areas sorted, it’s time for the dominant’s part.

Next, make a separate chart of areas the dominant would like to have control over, could maybe take control over depending on circumstances, and would not like control over.

Now you should have two sets of lists. Time to compare them

Start with the yeses — those are the low-hanging fruit, the control that is easily on the table! Find the areas where you are both a yes — that’s your sweet spot. There are probably months of explorations inside just those areas alone!

But if you want to keep digging in, find the areas where one of you is a yes and one of you is a maybe, and discuss. Maybe you’ll discover some places where you want to grow more trust, or some parameters for the relationship that you hadn’t previously discussed.

When you’re ready to start exploring a particular area, brainstorm all kinds of things within that category that you could control, and start experimenting with protocol.

But first, a quick word about protocol:

Remember — only add one or two protocols at a time into a dynamic. It sets up the submissive to actually succeed at remembering what the protocols are, and doing them. Plus, it helps the dominant to remember and recognize when the protocol is or isn’t being done, and to act if it does not happen — which is another key piece of managing protocol.

You’re also perfectly set up to start playing with the Protocol Game, if that appeals to you! The cartography of control is a perfect way to figure out some of your training areas, and build the game from there.

Hopefully, figuring out your cartography of control will help identify areas where you can dive deeper into your dominance and submission.

The Outermost Bracket™: A Theory on D/s and Non-Monogamy

Both non-monogamy and power exchange relationships revolve around sets of agreements between the people involved. Sometimes, those agreements are in harmony — and ahhh, isn’t it lovely when that happens? Not just lovely: it is magic.

Sometimes, however, they conflict.

Both D/s and non-monogamous relationships often have agreements (and arguments) which center around control, ownership, and permission. The difference is, non-monogamy often emphasizes the equality of all parties, while D/s is about someone having authority over the other.

As you can imagine, when both D/s and non-monogamy are both happening within one relationship, that can be very difficult to negotiate.

rife and I were both in non-monogamous relationships when we met, and we quickly knew our play — and then our relationship — would have an ongoing authority imbalance (a.k.a. power dynamic, D/s). As our D/s relationship grew, the non-monogamous and D/s agreements became increasingly complicated. Our authority imbalance continued to strengthen, and sometimes it trumped — or we wanted it to trump — our non-monogamous agreements. That didn’t make sense to a lot of our non-monogamous friends or with the polyamoroy theory that we were reading, and we had a lot of trouble navigating that.

In trying to negotiate all of this (with a lot of trial and error and fucking up), we developed a theory we call “the outermost bracket,” that explores which identity is set within the other.

In other words, is the D/s within the non-monogamy agreements, or is the non-monogamy within the D/s agreements?

Quick disclaimer:

This theory doesn’t apply to everyone. If it makes sense in your world, great! Hope you can take it and make it your own and use it to negotiate these complex things with more ease. If it doesn’t apply, cool. Just take what makes sense and leave the rest.

I’m using the terms “D/s”, “dominant/submissive relationship,” “authority imbalance,” and “power dynamic” as somewhat interchangeable. There are dozens of other terms that folks might be using, too, but these are some of the main ones. All of them mean different things to different people with subtle nuance, but for the purposes of this theory, they are similar enough. Generally, I use them to mean all kinds of authority imbalance relationships in and out of the bedroom.

This theory might be most relevant for D/s relationship where the dominant has a lot of control, but some bedroom-only D/s dynamics might apply here, too, since often there are rules executed in the bedroom. Such as: you will only come when I give you permission, you will call me Mistress and nobody else, you will always keep your genitals shaved. As you can imagine, if someone who has those rules is playing with someone else, they might cause conflicts.

Similarly, I’m using the terms “polyam,” “polyamory,” “open relationship,” and “non-monogamy” somewhat interchangeably. We could have long conversations about the nuanced differences between them, and what applies to what, but for the sake of this essay, they’re similar enough.

The conflicts around D/s and non-monogamy are vast and complicated, and, while there might be some parallels and common concepts, the specific circumstances are unique to each polycule or set of folks involved. I don’t assume to speak for everyone or all experiences, and this might not resonate with you at all.

The Key Distinction of the Theory

Is your non-monogamy restricted by your D/s rules and agreements, or is your D/s restricted by your non-monogamy agreements?

Let’s break that down.

When Non-Monogamy is the Outermost Bracket

When non-monogamy is the outermost bracket for someone, a couple’s D/s relationships happen within their open relationship agreements.

This often looks like making relationship guidelines with a partner, or setting one’s own solo-poly or polyamorous family boundaries, and negotiating D/s within the confines of those agreements. Whatever D/s-based rules, protocols, or agreements are made, they do not extend to other partners — and the D/s might be restricted by non-monogamous arrangements.

For Example:

Let’s say that Mel has a partner they live with, Jay, and another partner, Alex, they are in a power exchange relationship with (and perhaps other partners, too).

The relationship with Jay is long-term and they consider themselves primary partners. That relationship has various agreements for how any other relationships happen — how many times per week, whether or not they sleep over, whether they only do certain things with one person and not another. Mel and Jay made these rules together from an egalitarian place, and both adhere to them.

Mel’s relationship with Alex is a power exchange relationship where Mel is the sub and Alex is the dom. Alex wants to exercise some control over Mel’s sexuality — let’s say they want to restrict the use of Mel’s ass so that only they can fuck it. But Jay doesn’t want any restrictions on what they can or can’t do with Mel.

The agreements within the D/s don’t extend to their primary partnership — at least, not without some negotiations between all three of them, and with Jay’s blessings for the restrictions.

(Sometimes, Alex and Jay might get together and conspire to make wonderfully terrible things happen for Mel. But that’s an exception, because non-monogamy is hard and sometimes Alex has lots of feelings and they have to spend lots of time sorting it all out.)

So Jay might have control over very specific things in Mel’s life — for example, what they wear when they get together for dates, or how they keep their hair. Whatever these are, they are not things that interfere with Mel’s other relationships.

But Jay’s control does not extend to whether or not Mel can have any other partners, and does not extend to any parts of their relationship with Alex.

In other words, the rules of the D/s relationship do not extend to the primary relationship, nor to the arrangements of any other non-monogamous activities.

In my experience, this is how the majority of D/s non-monogamous relationships operate.

Having non-monogamy as the outermost bracket can help the D/s boundaries be incredibly clear. Mel might want Alex’s power and control over them to be in certain realms or within certain time restrictions only, and their power dynamic might flourish that way.

When D/s is the Outermost Bracket

When D/s is the outermost bracket for someone, their non-monogamous relationships happen within their D/s agreements.

The dominant in this scenario would be in control — to whatever degree they arrange — of the kind of play the submissive would have with other people.

Let’s use another example:

Carter is Devon’s dominant. Carter is in charge of pretty much every aspect of Devon’s life. Devon occasionally wants to play with other people, but Carter gets to say how that happens, when, and within what context.

That could look like:

  • The dominant gives orders when the submissive plays with anyone else
  • The dominant is allowed to play with others, but the submissive is not
  • The submissive is allowed to do certain things but not other things
  • The submissive has to ask permission for any kind of play with others
  • The dominant gives permission for all of the sub’s new relationships, but none of their existing ones

Ultimately, the submissive conforms to the dominant’s will, and the arrangements for their non-monogamy are within the confines of the D/s. The submissive’s needs and boundaries are taken into consideration here, and the rules are consented to, but they might be guided by the controlling ideals of D/s and not the egalitarian ideals of open relationships.

This means that the other people Devon is in relationships with must, to some degree, consent to their relationship being underneath the D/s umbrella that Devon has with Carter. Not everyone wants to do that.

How far does the control go?

A dominant controlling the kinds of acts the submissive can or can’t do is one thing; controlling who the submissive is in relationship with is another thing. Vetting or giving permission for a certain relationship to happen or continue can get into tricky territory that can become controlling, unhealthy, or even abusive.

When the dominant controls the kind of non-monogamy that the submissive is allowed to have, it can be a red flag to some folks outside of the relationship. The negotiations of this should be careful and intentional. All parties are in their full agency, give explicit informed consent, and understand that they can talk about it if it becomes a problem between them.

For some folks, it works; for others, it means that the control goes too far.

And this is the key distinction of the Outermost Bracket theory.

Why Does This Matter?

If you know you are into one of these relationship styles more than the other, it can be useful to bring up early on in negotiations. If you can communicate what you’re looking for, you’re much more likely to get it. So, where do you fall? Is non-monogamy your outermost bracket? Is D/s? Or do you structure things in another way?

If you’re having trouble figuring it out, I suggest doing a thought experiment: imagine you are in the most ideal D/s relationship. Do you have control over all aspects of your submissive’s relationships? Does your dominant have complete control over you? What would it feel like if they did?

In Conclusion

For me and rife, this distinction was very helpful as we were figuring out how to navigate the theories we knew about non-monogamy and the desires we had within our D/s. We even extended it with geeky HTML references to talk about hierarchies of other relationship identities (for example, our relationship is M/s first, and Daddy/boy within that). More on this later, or come to our “Art of Ownership” class!

There are probably many other theories and best practices within the overlap of D/s and non-monogamy — no doubt this is not the only one! But honestly, there’s not much out there about it. We know of very few resources, aside from Raven Kaldera’s book Power Circuits: Polyamory in a Power Dynamic.

I’d love to hear about the different kind of theories you all know about and have come up with. Please add your resources and theories to the comments!

PS: Feel free to expand on this theory and apply it to all kinds of other identities! Please do credit us and link back here if you do.

Back to One, Guest Post from Kit McGuire

I’ve displeased her in our games. Today it’s because I took too long to respond to a request. I did not give my complete trust in that moment, and now I must pay for my disobedience. At times she allows more time, but when she is in a certain mood she expects immediate action, and anything else means that I was not present and ready to appease. She can always tell when I have not given myself up to her power, and she will always remind me who holds the upper hand. It does not matter the reason for my correction, because at the end of this punishment I will not question her control. I will beg for her forgiveness, and I will know with surety that I deserved what she has dealt.

With a firm tone I’m told to stand, push my underwear down around my ankles, then bend and grab my calves. I’m ordered to count each stroke of her hand, and thank her for each part of my correction. If I miscount, back to one. If I dare to whimper or complain, back to 1. Sometimes she takes pleasure in making me spell long, difficult words and if I become too distracted by the sting and misspell, it’s back to one. I’ve gotten very good at counting to ten. My vocabulary now is fairly extensive. I’m often bad.

The first smack is always the easiest. She will always ask if I’m ready as to announce herself before the first blow is struck. My body will always let out an involuntary hiss of air through my teeth, but my knees know to lock. She tells me to be a good girl and take what’s coming to me.

One

It is sharp, but her hand is cupped. She’s warming me up. It stings, but at the same time my cunt contracts. I shouldn’t enjoy this. It’s punishment, but again, I am often bad.

Two

I need to bite my lip to avoid a groan. She has gone hard in the second stroke and waits for my brain to receive the signal that it stings like fire. She reminds me that she can tell when I enjoy it, and good girls don’t enjoy punishment. Am I not her good girl? She won’t be kind this time.

Three

This time she’s struck on my thigh. A tear trickles from my eye. I know that one has left a solid hand print. I breathe through the pain. I can take this. I should have been a better listener. I shouldn’t have questioned her motives.

Four

It is a series of smaller taps where where my ass and cunt connect. Sharp and short, but I feel myself get wet. She continues sharp taps then plunges her fingers inside me.

Five

She calls me a slut. Apparently my cunt is drenched because I enjoy it so much. I remain silent. I have to trust what she says. She smears my juices on an ass cheek, then delivers a harsh blow. The wetness makes the bite that much sharper. I end up biting the inside of my cheek and tasting blood.

Six

I wait. There is no connection. I don’t dare turn around to see what she’s doing. I scrunch my eyes shut and listen for her movements. She is playing with my mind now. I must wait, and the wait is excruciating. Suddenly there is a sharp snap and I cringe, but my pain receptors receive nothing. She’s smacked her own leg. While my brain is trying to figure out what’s happened, she winds up and smacks with such force I’m thrust forward and I have to take a step to steady myself.

Seven

I feel like I’m floating above my body and looking down. It’s at this point when I’m ready to tap out. But I can’t, I mustn’t. I must muster my control and push through. If I beg for forgiveness now, when I feel like I’ve hit a wall, it’s back to the beginning and that is torture. I know. I’ve been weak.

Eight

My back hurts. The blood has rushed to my head and I am slightly dizzy. I can feel all the spots where her hand will have marked. Her canvas this time has taken a few nail rakes while she decides where to leave the next mark. They’ll welt. I could use the word now, but then she’ll think I can’t take it. I start to silently cry. I don’t want her to stop. The spots where she’s hit most are now numb. I am ashamed that I can feel a dribble of my own juices run down my thigh. The tears are both from the pain and the fact that good girls shouldn’t enjoy this. She’s told me so many times. Reminded me other times while she has her fist inside me that good girls would be shocked at my wanton whoreishness. All I want is to be good for her. It’s my only goal; not be this nasty girl who wants the pain, wants all her attention.

Nine

My weak thanks comes from a place of honesty. She knows and she asks me to repeat myself. I am too quiet. Too unconvincing. She needs to hear me loud and clear. She tells me I’m nearly there. I struggle knowing I have more to take. I will please her. Next time I’ll listen, next time I won’t take my time responding. Next time, next time. Next time I’ll probably be bent over again like the shameful thing I am.

Ten

It’s more tender and she grabs me before releasing. I can hear her behind me, breathing heavily. Her hand likely stings nearly as much as my behind. I know it is a drug to hear the small noises that escape my lips, the ones she pretends not to hear. Hearing my voice struggle to contain a cry as I thank her for each delivery drives her into a frenzy near the end and she has to catch her breath and steady her demeanor before she tells me I’ve finished.

When I’ve been good, when I’ve reached the goal, I’ll be turned around in a mirror and told to look. She’ll place her hand over the most red mark to remind me who left the perfect print. She does this now, and traces the nail crescents she’s also left this time. I can see her smirk in the mirror, like the cat whose swallowed the canary. We lock eyes and I feel her powerful feelings for me.

She whispers in my ear that she’s to go get a towel and the almond oil. I’m to get a delicate rub over her marks for taking such a thorough spanking. My skin is hers and she takes care of her things. We can’t have that skin think it’s not cared for, can we?

No, no we can’t.

Ask Mr. Sexsmith: I struggle with my feminist beliefs and my bedroom preferences … help!

Dear Mr. Sexsmith,

I am a strong, opinionated, sometimes bossy, lesbian. I have a huge passion for the empowerment, education and advocacy of women. I volunteer as a sexual assault advocate and have been involved as a Planned Parenthood educator. I am very vocal about breaking the cycle of female oppression in our culture.

I feel a personal conflict, as I also identify as femme and am very much a bottom in the bedroom. I like to be dominated and controlled in sexual play and I very much get off on fantasies that boarder on roughness and non-consent. I guess my struggle lies in the dichotomy between my feminist beliefs and my bedroom preferences. I do not consider myself to be a weak or oppressed female, but in the bedroom I love to be controlled, punished and made to serve. Is there a way for the two to be harmonious? I fight for women to have power and to stand up for themselves. Can you help me sort this out?

Tara

I hear you.

I too have come up within the lesbian feminist movements (and in their wakes) with a strong passion for smashing the patriarchy and a vehement dedication to working on less pain for the various gender minorities in the world. And I too like to do dirty, “perverted,” un-politically correct things in my erotic life. I struggle with reconciling my own feminist beliefs with my desire for sadism and wanting to physically cause “pain,” and with my masculinity and dominance and the ways that both masculinity and dominance are seen as corrupted ways of having power in some feminist’s views. I was asked just this morning about my consumption of porn, and my candid talk about how porn is fun and can be useful and good and valuable, and how I reconcile that with feminism. And, oh yeah, I forget that’s a part of that feminist reconciliation process too.

And all of these took a long time, and were long processes.

I have had lots of judgment about sadism, masculinity, dominance, and porn in the past. Some of it was a reaction formation, at least in a minor way, I think. I had reactions and judgment both about other people’s visible execution of these things, and the tendencies in myself—my own desires. I struggled to reconcile those tendencies and how they went with my feminist commitments to gender liberation and my sensitivities to surviving abuse and being in a rape culture.

I think it absolutely is possible to reconcile, to sort this out.

Here’s some of the ideas that I kicked around—for years and years, with trusted friends, at kink conferences, with lovers. It was not an immediate process. It required adopting a new kind of feminism, I think—a BDSM- and kink-friendly feminism that is rooted in agency and consent, and that understands the difference between play and abuse.

Consider these things:

1. Bottoming, service, and surrendering control, comes from a place of great strength and power.

[Bottoming] is absolutely making yourself vulnerable. But vulnerability is not about weakness—it comes from a place of great strength.

People have the idea in their heads that bottoming is weak, but I think that is not true at all. Bottoming is incredibly powerful. Being able to know where your own boundaries are, hold yourself safe, be able to speak up for your own needs, ask for what you want, and negotiate trust with a person who is going to assist your body and self on a journey takes a lot of skill and sovereignty. People who do it well have an extensive amount of intelligence, self-worth, and self-knowledge.

It absolutely is making yourself vulnerable. But vulnerability is not about weakness—again, it comes from a place of great strength.

The notion that bottoming, receiving sensation, and submitting to someone else’s desires is weak comes from a twisted version of what those things really are, versions that show only the completely non-consensual and abusive sides of these experiences. But when done consensually, the gift that is bottoming to another is precious and strong. It’s amazing to serve someone else; we serve community, family, friends, and other valuable relationships all the time. We give our power or authority, or cede our control, away intentionally in order to empower others in a variety of contexts, and we can get great pleasure from doing so. And when we find someone worthy of our trust such that we will put our body into their hands for intense sensation, cathartic release, and the deep pleasure of being in the present moment with whatever is happening … how does that not come from a place of power?

The difference, in my opinion, between it coming from power and strength or from oppression comes down to some simple traditional feminist concepts.

2. Consent makes all the difference. All of it.

When done within a framework of consent, I believe it is possible for just about anything to be empowering.

I would guess that you do not have a fetish for a scenario where you are forced to serve against your will, when you were thrown around aggressively and had your body played with when you didn’t want it. Fuck no! But what you do want is within a safe, negotiated relationship, to be “forced” to serve, to play with giving over your will entirely.

Consent changes experiences completely. In the activist cultures around female oppression, we often talk about consent in a “no means no” way, and stress the value of enthusiastic consent and the “just because they didn’t say no doesn’t mean there was consent!”

But I think an incredibly important piece of examining the feminist concept of consent is also that YES MEANS YES, and that the consent itself is what makes the act possible or okay.

Let me give you an example: I like playing with Daddy/girl and Daddy/boy role play in my sex life. I know that is something kind of extreme to some people, and many people misinterpret it as incest fantasies, which it is and it isn’t (more on that another time). Sometimes I hear people say things like, “But what if you/I/someone crosses the line with an actual young person!”

But for me, that would not happen.

I do not have a fetish for sleeping with and playing roughly with people under eighteen. I have a fetish for sleeping with and playing roughly with adults who adopt a younger persona (usually temporarily) with enthusiastic consent. It’s not about actual incest or actual under-18 youths. No no no no no. It’s about adults tapping in to other parts of ourselves, to open up new experiences.

The consent is actually an essential part of that fetish.

And likewise, I would guess that for you, Tara, you do not have a fetish for a scenario where you are forced to serve against your will, when you were thrown around aggressively and had your body played with when you didn’t want it. Fuck no! But what you do want is within a safe, negotiated relationship, to be “forced” to serve, to play with giving over your will entirely, to be punished for doing something “wrong,” to be used for someone else’s pleasure.

There is a huge, huge difference between the actual thing and some sort of play consensual version of the thing.

3. BDSM—and being punished, controlled, and made to serve—are completely different from abuse and oppression.

And consent is a key piece of that, yes, but there are a lot of other specific, clear, and measurable differences, too.

Read the “BDSM is Not Abuse” list released by the Lesbian Sex Mafia, one of the oldest women’s BDSM groups in the country, based in New York City. I think it articulates things very well:

This is box title

The Difference Between BDSM and Abuse

SM: An SM scene is a controlled situation.
ABUSE: Abuse is an out-of-control situation.

SM: Negotiation occurs before an SM scene to determine what will and will not happen in that scene.
ABUSE: One person determines what will happen.

SM: Knowledgeable consent is given to the scene by all parties.
ABUSE: No consent is asked for or given.

SM: The “bottom” has a safeword that allows them to stop the scene at any time should they need to for physical or emotional reasons.
ABUSE: The person being abused cannot stop what is happening.

SM: Everyone involved in an SM scene is concerned about the needs, desires and limits of others.
ABUSE: No concern is given to the needs, desires and limits of the abused person.

SM: The people in an SM scene are careful to be sure that they are not impaired by alcohol or drug use during the scene.
ABUSE: Alcohol or drugs are often used before an episode of abuse.

SM: After an SM scene, the people involved feel good.
ABUSE: After an episode of abuse, the people involved feel bad.

Souce: lesbiansexmafia.org

Because they are so different, I sometimes think the hyper-articulation of different language is important. It’s one of the reasons that people sometimes use the phrase “consensual non-consent” instead of “rape play,” for example.

The difference between BDSM and abuse goes back to consent, yes; but it goes back to all sorts of other things, too. Like trust, and skill, and agency.

4. Trust in your own agency. Trust in your own experience.

If you negotiate with a lover to get what you want, have an experience, and then everybody feels good after … as long as the experience is “doing no harm” in the world, then I say FUCKING GO FOR IT.

Have some play. Have some ecstasy. Have some screaming release. Have a big bold messy weird experience that maybe other people would judge but it just felt so goddamn good for your body and your mind and your emotions and everything sings a little brighter the next day.

You get to say what happens to your body. You get to have your own experience, and then decide if that was pleasurable or not, enjoyable or not, and whether you’d want to do it again, with this person or with a different person or in a new way or not at all. You get to have your experience of a non-ordinary thing and then, if you feel like fuck yes that was amazing! More more more please! then you can trust that that is real and true. Agency is trusting the answer that you come up with, authentically, when you ask yourself: Does it feel good or bad? Am I left with icky residue or release and joy? Do I feel closer to my play partner, or farther away?

Of course, not every BDSM scene is that easy to evaluate—but some of them just are. Start there. Start with the ones that are easy to tell. Start with trusting your own consent, and agency, and your own deepest experience of what you like or don’t like.

If it matters to you that other people do sometimes see these things you want as contradictory, seek out feminist kink communities. They do exist! This was a topic that came up in the Submissive Playground ecourse quite frequently, actually, and we had a lot of lively discussions about the feminist reconciliation process.

I actually have a dozen more notes about things to say around this process of reconciliation, but this is already more than 2,000 words, so I’m going to call it good for now. Feel free to ask more about specific things in the comments and I’ll do my best to reply!

I hope that gives you lots of places to start. If you’re still stuck, remember, I do one-on-one coaching sessions, and I would be very happy to help you with resources, experiments, ideas, support, or just talking in depth through this reconciliation process. Contact me for more information and pricing.

Got a question for Mr. Sexsmith? Ask it here!

Comment Zen …

Readers, do you relate to Tara’s question?

If you do, would you share your own story about your relationship to feminism and kink? Did you reconcile the two? What was the process like? Slow, fast, hard, simple? What kind of resources helped you on your journey? Books? Anything to recommend for others who are going through this? Do you have any recommendations for feminist kink Fetlife groups?

Leave your story anonymously if you like; your email address will not be published, and if you don’t want your usual “gravitar” picture of you to show up, just type “+sugarbutch” in your email address (like [email protected]) and I’ll know you want to be anonymous.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Cricket: Support

Cricket; general reference points: I identify as a butch genderqueer boi and I’m a student at a liberal arts college.

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

I can be a very controlling person at times – I am drawn to “help” or “fix” people even when that isn’t something they really want or need, and I depend on the people close to me to be bluntly honest and call me out when I try to take on responsibilities that aren’t mine to take or treat people like projects I need to get an A on. As a result, I’ve learned that it’s a very bad idea for me to commit to a person who has very few other support systems in their life, because I will attempt to guide and support them in everything, which is stressful for me and generally both emotionally uncomfortable and enabling for them, because then they don’t have to look for other sources of support or work on self care, and the stress I feel in trying to give too much support mainly serves to put stress onto them.

When I first got involved in an open relationship, I thought the fact that I was dating multiple people who were themselves also with other people would keep me from being anyone’s “one and only” and attempting to intensely overmanage their life. It turns out that is absolutely not the case. Regardless of the number of people I’m with or the level of commitment I have to them, I need to watch myself and work to manage my controlling tendencies. Don’t expect a shifted relationship model to turn you into a new person or magically erase unwanted traits or habits you display in monogamous contexts. Being someone’s lover/partner/term of your choice is a conscious process of interaction. Assuming you know what’s best for your partners without communicating and evaluating your own thoughts is a bad idea, whether you’re with one person or a dozen.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

Everyone I’ve been with has exercised the dynamic of openness in a different way. We each have different degrees of comfort with being sexually or romantically close to other people, an different activities we’re generally drawn to. A fear of imbalance has definitely been present at times. When I’m close to people other than my primary partner, I sometimes worry that she’ll be jealous – not that other people are close to me, but that opportunities haven’t arisen for her to do the same kinds of things with others. This goes both ways – she’s expressed some jealousy that I’ve found a Dom friend who’s a willing play partner, while I’m jealous of her warmth and social acumen, and her resulting ability to initiate casual kisses and cuddles with friends in a way I seldom have the nerve to suggest. We aren’t jealous out of a sense that we own or possess each other, but when one of us has a positive experience outside our relationship dyad that the other desires, we are jealous from our own lack of access to the experience.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

I am intensely grateful for the lack of shame. I know I’m capable of having monogamous relationships – I was in one for over three years – but when in it I felt a deep sense of shame around my own sexual and romantic feelings. I was attracted to and had crushes on other people. Even though I didn’t have any particular need or even an intense desire to act on those feelings, I felt ashamed. The simple act of finding other people attractive made me feel like a failure in my relationship, perverse and unable to control my desires. In my current relationship, which started out relatively monogamous, I was extremely clear and upfront about the fact that I would be attracted to other people while in the relationship. I wouldn’t act on those feelings without some serious pre-negotiation, but I would still feel them. As a result, even when the open elements of my relationship are not directly in practice, I feel far more secure in myself because I know I will never be vilified for finding others attractive. Knowing that not only my feelings but even actions associated with them are permissible is beautifully freeing. It is so good to have affirmation that I can care about someone, even love them deeply, without pledging exclusivity, and that having feelings for others does nothing to lessen the romantic commitments I have already established.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

Not seeing the relationships you practice or desire represented in the media can seriously mess with your head. It gives you a sense that you aren’t meant to exist, and that you will never find community and acceptance. Without a group of close and caring friends, many of whom also practice various forms of non-monogamy, my relationship would feel far less comfortable and possible. I am also deeply lucky in that my parents don’t have a problem with the way I run relationships. I’m not out as poly/open to all of my extended family, but being able to tell my mom how awful I’m feeling after a breakup with someone other than my primary partner without facing judgment for simply attempting to run multiple relationships is something I am hugely grateful for.

“Can I come? Please?”

Kristen gets off easily. When we were discussing it last night, she said there’s a point after we’ve been fucking for a bit where she can simply tighten and it happens, so after a while she can basically come on demand. I start murmuring, “do it again, come for me, do it now,” and she does, almost every time.

It’s a bit of a miracle to me, as someone who takes a while to gear up and get off, and as someone who dated someone pre-orgasmic for four years (four years! We weren’t even open, I didn’t make any single person (except me) come in four years, it was torture). I have written about how it’s hard for me to get off around here somewhere.

I love that she comes like that. It is one of the things I crave most about sex: being able to give someone else that feeling of orgasm, of momentary loss of control, of la petite mort. I love the power of that exchange, the way she wants it from me, the way I keep her poised on my fingers or tongue or cock. I have tried to keep track, but I always get distracted, or loose count, or can’t tell when one ends and the next begins, sometimes she just goes and goes. I have asked her to count, telling her I’ll let her out of the ropes after she gets to ten.

Lately, we have been playing more with the torture of waiting, with making her beg for it, with keeping her writhing but not touched until she can’t stand it. She has noticed has orgasms are stronger and bigger the longer she waits, so that made us implement something else new: to make her ask permission before she can come.

This is mostly because I can’t always tell when she gets close, can’t even always tell when she starts coming, sometimes it’s a cry of ecstasy not unlike being bitten hard or fucked well and I can’t tell if she’s close or expressive. So she has to ask.

She waits until she’s so, so close, as if she’s forgotten she has to ask, then forces out the word: “Please?”

“Please what?”

“Please can I?” Gasping.

“Please can you what?” I don’t let up with my fingers thrumming her clit, my cock shoving inside her. I know she’s on the verge.

“Please, can I come!”

“… No.”

Seems I need to remind her that she has to ask if I want it to be ongoing, though, which I think I do. It is easy for both of us to skip over the asking and go right to the coming. And sometimes having one or two orgasms seems to open her up, make her able to take more, deeper, harder. So sometimes perhaps it’s best to let her come a few times before starting to deny her more, to build up to a larger release.

We’ve added this element of asking permission into sex on various occasions in the last few months, but I think it’s worth continuing to explore. I don’t really know how it’ll work yet, but I love the power dynamic of it, love the extra element of control over her body and her orgasm that I get to play with having. Love how she gives that over to me. Love how I can feel like I can sculpt her rise and fall of energy and release – no, not yet, not yet, keep it building, just a little longer, you can hold it in, hold it back, wait, wait … now: let go. This is what I love about being a top, too, at its very best – being able to sculpt someone else’s experience of their body, sensation, release.

Last night, I wanted her to wait until I was coming, until I came, to let herself come, but I couldn’t quite say that, I wasn’t quite confident of my own ability to get off. I wish it was more consistent for me. I can never quite tell when or if it’s going to happen, I can’t seem to make it happen. The factors all seem variable: sometimes I feel disconnected from her and I come anyway, sometimes I feel totally connected and can’t. Sometimes I don’t expect it and it happens, sometimes I do expect it and it happens. Sometimes I don’t try and it surprises me. I came twice on Saturday, that’s rare, but somehow I had the angle, or the harness placement, or the mental turn-on, and it worked.

Someday, that’s what I want. To use her like that, to be oblivious to her pleasure until I get mine. To take what I need.

That feels extremely vulnerable, because it goes against what I’ve been taught – to be respectful and conscious and interactive in our sex lives. But consent in this kind of play can sometimes trump what is “supposed” to happen, and perhaps will move me into new realms, to explore new interactions, to move into new personal realms, weave knowledge into our bones. And oh my god the very idea makes me so incredibly hot.

There is so much to explore here, with her, I still feel we’ve barely scratched the surface. And I just want more, and more, and more.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen, when we have sex,” she said last night. “I don’t know if it’ll be sweet and lovely, or some crazy tantric energy release shit, or if I’ll be your little girl, or if it’ll be dirty and kinky.”

We seem to be moving from one into another more and more fluidly these days, able to turn on a dime and make something that was full of dirty talk and name-calling and control and, occasionally, pain, into something sweet and sensual, or into some deep-breathing chakra release. We seem to have a little bit of all of it, all the time, and that is near perfection.

on playing with control

I’m on my way to the airport back to New York City from Seattle; the trip has been fantastic. I may post a few more guest treats tomorrow, but expect some writings of mine soon. Meanwhile, here’s something from lily on control and kink.

when i began playing with control, it was the ideas of being bound and hurt i liked. these were surrounded by a swirl of pleasing associations~ ribbons, bites on my skin, an underground of beautiful ones whose abuses heightened each other’s allure. what i had was sometimes like this, other times wonderfully improvised. a boy was begging to be gagged, and the closest fabric at hand was a washcloth- regardless of the tools, the emotional aspects were powerful. yeah, at times neither i nor the other knew the first thing about where this was going. we laughed, and made things up.

in the beginning i was the shy, the taken one. i’d enjoy certain pain and bondage, and the accompanying lust in my partner/s. then, after telling another these stories, it became apparent they wanted to be the tied one. they asked half with words and half with posture, and i took a deep breath and began to take control. it took a great deal of focus- i’m quiet, mostly, and unused to controlling circumstances. but when you’re intimate with someone, you can read their skin and face and cries to learn how they react to you. when someone loses conscious control, they can no longer play the social, kindly deceptive games people engage in together. they’re utterly honest- this was part of the appeal of topping, along of course with the sensuality of observing and drawing out lust-

and the giving and receiving of control. at some point, while being played with, i began to understand submission. i talked to someone who conflated passivity with submission, but these are quite different. submission is an active process, or it begins as one- to give someone control of you, you have to first gather this self-control. you have to trust the situation, give yourself to someone, and then- i suppose its like using an opponent’s chi against him, but this isn’t competitive. someone touches you, and in a submissive headspace you draw out the touch, move with it- if i can use a physics analogy, its like constructive interference. you move towards a peak or a well together.

i experienced submission first, and then its converse. it also takes a great deal of control over yourself to top someone and not only this, you must be strong enough and… have enough capacity… to hold them while they’re vulnerable and hurt. holding someone while they cry, or while you hit them in the face and growl abuses, takes understanding as well. you must be responding to their headspace every moment, not your own lust. you can’t become carried away, because guiding someone near their edges is tricky. you must be very aware, and connected.

being brought to my limits, and bringing others, shows me things i take into the rest of my life. playing with control, whichever side you are on- opens you up, brings you strength and self-awareness. you find not just edges, but centers. you’re left sometimes strong and immense, feeling able enough to cradle the entire world like a baby; at other times fragile and needing to be held. either way, the aftermath is delicately intimate. sweetness is at the end of all things, especially the cruel ones.