Good fences

The Safe Word
photo / twoblueday 

Here’s a fast way to get on the bad side of a kinkster: Assume that she or he has no standards, that sexual adventuring is synonymous with sleeping with anything that moves, and it’s blue skies and lube as far as the eye can see. In my experience, the opposite is true.

Whether you’re into bedroom kink, polyamory, BDSM as a lifestyle, or great sex of whatever flavor, good fences make for good partners and better fun.

Knowing your boundaries, which only starts with a wish list like the Y/N/M, is about realizing what belongs to you. Your own desires and your own emotional reactions – all of which will be on grand display if you head into the sexual frontier.

This is terra incognita, and, yes, there will be dragons. The most compelling definition of reality I ever heard is this: “Reality is that which resists.” That is, reality is where the world pushes back on this always morphing blob we call human desire and need. Believe me, getting outside the sexual mainstream is a face-first encounter with reality. You find out over time what feels safe to you and what feels dangerous or destructive. And you may be startled to find that your partner draws those lines differently, especially when you realize that there are only two ways to discover these sorts of hedgerows: Talk about them, and trip over them.

I’ve tripped over a few on my journeys. When my partner and I finally pulled together the necessary curiosity and courage to attend what the BDSM crowd calls a “play party,” where people socialize, share techniques, and do public “scenes” for their own pleasure and the entertainment of others, we walked right into the barbed wire.

We’d decided beforehand that if an opportunity arose for one of us to take part in a scene – as long as it didn’t require disrobing or playing with strangers – that would be okay.

The only person we knew at the humming house party turned out to be a young woman practicing her dominatrix skills, and when she offered my partner a chance to help her out in a scene with another young male friend of hers, well, that was exactly what we talked about, right?

Yes and, apparently, no. As I watched the scene unfold – a light, almost silly thing involving leather cuffs and spanking and a lot of laughing – I was suddenly, horribly, overtaken with a feeling of… what? I didn’t have a name for it. Uncertainty, disillusionment, fear. None of those words fit. I just wanted to be out of there, ASAP. My partner, being an extremely sensitive type, saw me going deer-in-headlights. She stepped out of the scene immediately, and we went outside for some air.

I still don’t know exactly what happened to me. Maybe it was too soon to see my partner playing with a new person, as silly as the scene seems in retrospect. Maybe it was the setting, or sensory overload, or what I had for dinner.

I found a boundary by tripping over it. But I was proud of how we reacted. Neither of us treated the stumble as anything but information. It was something to think about and talk through. My partner hadn’t surprised me, hadn’t betrayed me, hadn’t even really done anything I hadn’t seen before.

The upshot, for me, was that crowded BDSM parties aren’t my favorite cup of joe. We have attended other parties and I have even enjoyed a few, but I’m really a small posse person.

One of the thrills of stepping off the beaten paths of this earthly garden is the thrill of the unknown. The unexpected. Many people see the blank areas of the map and turn away. They take uncertain desires and curiosities off the itinerary. It doesn’t have to be that way. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that people who play this way aren’t people with familiar hopes and fears. Just like you, they’re trying to get what they want, without sacrificing what they need. Learning where peoples’ fences are, and watching them move them hither and yon, wrestling with them, is part of the deal.

About the author The Safe Word columnist RC McCloud welcomes your feedback, tips, love letters, and comments. Send mail to rc.mccloud at thatotherpaper dot com.

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Hannah's picture

Well put, and hell yes.