Archive for May, 2008|Monthly archive page

Sex and Play

My partner and I had a long conversation the other night about what “playing” means to each of us. I had mentioned that we hadn’t played in a while, and that I’d really like to take a night to just do that. What he pointed out, and what I hadn’t really thought much about, is that he really has no idea what I mean when I say I want to “play.” What sort of activities are and are not included in playing? What distinguishes that from just sex?

Most of the time, when we engage in any sort of BDSM activity, it isn’t a scene — it’s sex enhanced by things like pain, d/s, and the like. It’s simply what naturally comes out of each of us when we start to fool around. It isn’t something that’s been planned or scheduled beforehand. And it’s not what I have in mind, not exactly, when I ask to set aside time in the evening to “play.”

A lot of the confusion around these terms is really rooted in what defines BDSM and distinguishes it from “just sex.” I feel a very big difference between having d/s-flavored sex and “having a scene” or “playing.” My partner feels that it’s all the same sort of play, just in varying degrees of intensity.

It’s been really hard to tease out exactly what I do have in mind when I ask to “play,” or when I ask for a “scene.” (The latter term is probably a better one for what I’m trying to describe.) I think a large part of that is wanting, as a bottom, for my partner to simply come up with something fun and to direct how everything proceeds — not knowing exactly what he’s going to do or ask of me makes everything a little scarier and a lot hotter. And so, my answers to “what do you mean by ‘play’?” have generally been along the lines of “something more deliberate” and “something more drawn out, longer than usual.” Pretty vague, and not very useful to him. At the same time, I don’t want to say, “Well, I’d like you to put a collar on me, and pull my pants down — but don’t take your clothes off at all — and then chain me to the bed, and then leave just long enough for me to start getting aggravated, and then come back in and use the flogger on me for a while, and then take me down and…” I don’t want to make him feel restricted, or like he has to perform a certain set of things for me to be satisfied.

When we really got into it, I was surprised at how simple and mundane the conditions were that led me to think of something as either “sex” or “play.” The first was location: any sort of sexual activity that takes place in bed, especially after we’ve “gone to bed” (to ostensibly go to sleep), is categorized in my head as “sex.” The exceptions to this rule come about when some sort of toy is used, something that I associate strictly with BDSM play (ropes, cuffs, clothespins, collar, etc.), or when pain play is involved (such as pinching and spanking) without any other sort of sexual activity going on. (More on this below.) Conversely, I’m more likely to think of sex that takes place on the floor or in some other location as “play.” I also think of any sort of subtle d/s that goes on outside the bedroom (and especially if other people are around) as “play,” regardless of how intense or mild it is.

The second factor is time: “Playing” simply takes longer than “sex,” at least in my head, and it’s something that happens well before it’s time to go to sleep. It’s something that we deliberately set aside time in the day for (especially if we can make it coincide with the roommates being out of the house). I think of playing as something that usually takes a few hours.

The third factor is sex: While I certainly enjoy all kinds of penetrative and non-penetrative sex (including oral and masturbation), it isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when I think of playing. For me, while playing can involve sex of various kinds (and generally I want it to, at least at some point), it also involves activities that are done just for the enjoyment of dominance and pain. This includes things like bondage, boot worship/licking, cutting, spanking, flogging, and the like. The interesting (and confusing) thing is that for me, everything changes once sex enters the mix. If my partner spanks or pinches me while fucking me, that’s rough sex. If he orders me to remain still and digs his nails into me, holding his grip firmly while watching me squirm, that’s play — even if the pain intensity is the same.

On the other hand, I’ve also had experiences that I’d classify as “sex within a scene.” This would be something like painful penetration used as a means of establishing dominance, or forced penetration with an object, or possibly a rape scene. And of course, I don’t think that a d/s scene concluding with sex is at all bad; in fact, I think I’d be pretty disappointed if it didn’t.

I’d be interested to hear if other people share any of these complex and perhaps somewhat arbitrary distinctions between “sex” and “play”…

Talking about BDSM with Vanilla Friends

How do you do it?

An excerpt from a conversation I had late last night:

Friend A: So I found my new roommate’s Myspace profile, and her name on there is Mistress. And it gets better. Her boyfriend’s tagline just says “Yes, Mistress.”

Me: That’s awesome! I was actually going to joke about that when you told me he just does everything she says, but they actually are in a d/s relationship.

Friend B: Wow, that’s really weird.

Me: [Nervous] But there’s nothing wrong with it as long as it’s negotiated beforehand and it’s what gets you off…

Friend B: No, there’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s just fucking weird.

Friend C: [Speaking to me and Friend A] Why don’t you get X and Y [our partners] to do shit for you all the time?

[Awkward silence.]

Me: What the hell are you talking about?

Friend A: Yeah, I like my relationships to be a little more egalitarian than that.

[More discussion of new roommate “Mistress”]

Friend C: Isn’t that the sort of thing where, uh, you know, usually money is involved?

Me: [Angry] NO.

[Awkward silence, then a change of subject.]

[I go to bed with a sick feeling in my stomach.]

BDSM Community, Anarchist Community

I haven’t written in a very long time. Life has been exceptionally busy lately, and I haven’t been spending nearly enough time having sex, let alone writing about it.

I’ve also been struggling, for the past few weeks, with writing a post on gender, sexism, and kink. A lot of it involves wrestling with some internal biases that I hold and contradictions that I embody, so I think it’s going to be a while yet before I publish something on the subject. It’s a difficult topic.

Meanwhile, my head has also been occupied with a lot of thoughts about the BDSM/leather scene, and what aspects are and aren’t appealing to me–and why I don’t think I’ll ever really feel comfortable there.

After attending the Beginner’s Dungeon workshop at the Citadel, I was feeling pretty positive about the scene, at least as it exists in San Francisco. I felt that it really was a group open to anyone, where I could feel like I fit in even if I didn’t have much in common with other folks beyond a handful of shared sexual fetishes. I felt no pressure to make the scene my life, and felt that it was pretty common for people to just come for a handful of events, only when a workshop offered a skill they wanted to learn or when they wanted to come to play in the dungeon.

I was also pleased that Angela and Iain, who led the workshop, were so adamant that problems within the scene need to stay within the scene, and that those who go to the police rather than first addressing it within the kink community are and should be immediately ostracized, because they put the whole scene at risk when they do so. Yes, I thought, There’s something we can agree on. The police aren’t here to help you. But that’s just not true; most people in the scene, I’m sure, aren’t anti-police. (I heard folks from the Citadel talking about taking part in a “neighborhood watch” program, essentially cooperating with the police to sweep out the homeless and other undesirables of SOMA.)

I’m aware that most people within the scene, like most people outside of the scene, probably don’t have a strong critique of authority in general. Like most people, they’re probably not all that opposed to certain forms of gender essentialism (which I’ll talk more about later). Like most people, they’re not interested in animal liberation, and would consider me strange (or perhaps “finicky”) for refusing to play with leather.

None of this is to say that I’m shocked that kinky people aren’t more politically radical, or to be judgmental of them for not “knowing better,” or anything like that. It’s to say that sexual preferences aside, I have the impression (and would expect) that kinky people are pretty normal. Sure, kinky folks come from all walks of life, but the vast majority of them are going to be, well, just like the vast majority of non-kinky folks. And I tend to have very little in common with those people.

The last event I went to at the Citadel, a very disappointing flogging workshop, made me realize that the scene is never going to feel comfortable to me, not completely, and that shared sexual fetishes don’t necessarily make for good community. There’s a certain “hobbyists” atmosphere that has pervaded the few kinky events I’ve attended, which is a turn-off to me. It’s taken for granted that you have the expendable income to be dropping $20-50 on workshops and parties, not to mention the corsets and floggers and trunks full of toys. And leather/BDSM is often, if not usually, considered a complete lifestyle in a way that I’m just not interested in. (Again: good for the people who are in love with kink as a lifestyle. Not judging; just not for me.) I am drawn to the scene because of the education and support it can offer, but it feels very strange to get involved in a group where I likely have nothing in common with other people outside of sex. I think I’d always feel like an outsider, like a weirdo.

Yet, at the same time, I also have very different issues and problems when it comes to dating, relationships, and sex than other people in my immediate scenes do. (I feel connected to a lot of overlapping scenes, but just for the sake of argument, I’ll simplify it to “anarchists,” even though I feel conflicted about identifying myself as a part of the “anarchist scene.”) I’m not just talking about those who’d judge me for my preferences, although that’s certainly a concern of mine. I’m talking about the fact that when my partner and I are having problems related to our d/s or to a scene that went badly, I can’t tell my friends about it, because it would make them uncomfortable. If I start wearing my partner’s bracelet permanently, I can’t explain its significance to people, or tell them how happy it makes me to wear it. I can’t tell anyone about a lot of honestly life-changing experiences I’ve had through BDSM, because describing them would probably sound icky or disturbing to most of my friends.

Now, of course, part of this is just my own fear of being out — but that alone indicates to me a need for some sort of group of people, however small, that I could talk to about this sort of thing without being afraid that they wouldn’t judge me (or that everyone in my extended circle of friends would know the next day). I crave a group of people to talk to, to share ideas and stories with, even to skillshare with or, maybe, to play with. But I want that group to also be people I’d want to hang out with regardless of our orientations/fetishes. I want to have discussions of d/s roleplaying with an understanding that everyone in the room thinks real-life authoritarian scenarios (e.g. cops, general power-over dynamics) are fucked up. I want DIY toy-making nights that don’t involve (and laud the qualities of) leather. I want workshops that are peer-taught and free.

Am I crazy? Am I just not looking in the right niches of the mainstream BDSM/leather scene (if you can believe I actually just wrote “mainstream BDSM”)? Am I being too demanding, or too unrealistic?

The jury is out. I’ll report back with the verdict.