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safe words

Feminism, Social Issues

kink 101 for purity culture survivors: consent

[note: links may include NSFW material]

There are many amazing resources out there for people who think they might be kinky or into BDSM, and I’ll link to some at the bottom of this post. However, if you’re anything like me … a lot of what’s out there seems conflicting and confusing, and because I grew up on the rather strict end of purity culture I didn’t have the tools to start sorting any of it out. I didn’t know anything about sex, and many of us don’t. Someone I met in college thought that semen was green because of a joke they’d heard about grass stains, and I thought that “going through the back door” meant doggy.

And that’s just regular sex. If you think  you might be into kink, things are going to be exponentially harder, because while “safe, sane, consensual” seems like a spectacular phrase, purity culture survivors may not have a personal baseline for “safe” and “sane” and heaven knows we’re not given any sort of education about what consent actually is.

So, I’m going to do my best to give people like me the baseline they need to move on and explore BDSM/kink if they’d like to. I only really have my experience to draw upon, so please keep that in mind. I’m coming at this from the perspective of being a sub/bottom, but hopefully what I share here is applicable to both bottoms and tops.

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The Most Very Important Number One Thing You Absolutely Need to Understand is consent. For all forms of sex, I strongly encourage everyone to rely on the idea of enthusiastic consent for a variety of reasons: first of all, the absence of a “no” does not make a “yes,” which is why I disagree with the “no means no” approach to educating people about consent. Second, making sure that your sex partner definitely wants to have sex with you instead of trying to manipulate them into bed means that you’re not a creep. Lastly, when everyone involved enthusiastically wants sex, it just makes it better all around, and I am very much in favor of people having the best sex possible.

However, if you’re going to explore BDSM with someone, you need more than enthusiastic consent– you need informed consent. If you don’t explicitly lay out everything that you’re interested in and what it all means and what all your expectations are, you’re inevitably going to run into something like this:

Person 1: (thinking about spanking) “Hey do you want to have kinky sex with me?”
Person 2: (thinks “kinky” means “oral”) “That sounds like fun. Sure!”

Me and Handsome have this lay-it-out-there conversation all of the time. He’s actually much more interested in the research side of things, so he’ll come to me with an idea, explain everything it would include, and I, especially since I’m almost always the bottom, get to say yay or nay.

A little bit ago,  we were talking about a bunch of different equipment we could experiment with, and possibly using a collar came up. Me, knowing myself and that I’ve been freaked out by high-collared shirts, turtle necks, and choker necklaces since I was a child, didn’t like the idea. Handsome also wasn’t enthused with the visual of me looking like I could be on a leash, so we decided that collars weren’t for us.

But, in that particular situation, I had to know beforehand that I wasn’t going to be ok with collars, and Handsome knows that he’s not interested in the domination aspect that some play with. For other things I’m open to the idea, but I’m not sure how I’ll react to it while we’re in the midst of things, which leads me to …

Very Important Idea Number Two: boundaries and safewords.

Most boundaries should be set before you enter the “scene.” For example, Handsome and I are not, and will never be, ok with using a belt to spank me. However, let’s say for the moment that Handsome is actually really into spanking someone with a belt. If I say “no, I am not comfortable with that,” it should never even come up during a scene. Ever. For any reason. Period. End of story. This could be what us kinksters refer to as a “hard” or “soft limit,” or it could just be “meh, I’m not into that today.” Subs/bottoms aren’t the only one with limits, either, and all boundaries should be respected. If I said “I don’t want to be spanked with a belt,” or “I don’t want to be spanked with a belt today,” Handsome is not allowed to bring it up during the scene. It is not acceptable for anyone to try to manipulate, pressure, or coerce someone– and while that applies to pretty much any human interaction, it especially applies to kinky sex.

Other things can be negotiated during a scene. For example, I knew I was open to the idea of a riding crop, but I wasn’t entirely sure where he could use it, or where I would like it to be used. In this particular case, I consented to exploring it, and was open to it used almost anywhere. When we began using it, I relied on my safe words– which for us, since we don’t usually do any role play, is “ouch,” “no,” and “stop.” Some people use “yellow” and “red,” but there are a variety of things to use safe words for: such as “I like being hit that hard and this often, I just want you to use that thing somewhere else for a while.”

The most amazing thing about BDSM in my opinion is how communication works. It relies upon complete and total honesty at all times, and if you feel as though you cannot be explicitly honest with your partner, you are not with a good partner. If you feel that you’ll be ignored, you are not with a good partner.

This whole “set and respect boundaries” idea isn’t something that conservative Christians are real good about teaching and modeling. In fact, people who come from a purity culture background were probably taught the exact opposite. You have the right to have boundaries, and you have the right to have those boundaries respected. When people cross your boundaries, you absolutely have the right to tell them so and to enforce those boundaries. If you say “you crossed my boundary, don’t do that again,” you are not being mean. You are not being “unkind” or “uncharitable” or “ungracious” or whatever word was the one that got tossed around in your Sunday school room.

I also want to make it very clear that you don’t have to have a “good reason” to say “no” to something, whether it be equipment, an act, or a scenario. Feeling “eh, not really interested or turned on by that” for no particular reason is the only reason you need. I’ve found that women who were brought up in purity culture tend to believe that we have to justify and rationalize every decision we make, and I’ve found that’s actually really sort of ridiculous. “I don’t want to” is the only reason anyone needs. If that’s not a good enough reason for your partner … get a new partner.

And lastly, Very Important Idea Number Three: know thyself.

This is probably going to be the hardest one for purity culture survivors to get used to, because it goes against everything we’ve been taught. The only thing most of us know about sex is “just say no,” until we get married and then we’re supposed to Instant Sex Monkeys/Porn Goddesses.

The reality that we struggle to understand every single day of our lives is that being a person means having to come to terms with our sexuality, and that sexuality is a part of our identity in a way that “SEX OUTSIDE OF CISHET MARRIAGE IS A SIN” doesn’t quite cover. There’s no room for gay people, or bi people, or asexual people in this narrative, firstly, and there’s barely any room for straight people, either.

But, if you want to explore kink, it’s important that you explore yourself first of all, and that doesn’t just mean masturbation. It also means embracing your fantasies, whatever they are and however weird you think they might be. Thanks to the teachings I got about “fantasizing about any person living, dead, or fictional is a sin,” I ended up resorting to … well. Google The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife when you get a chance and … yup. There’s a whole wide world out there full of people thinking up interesting things, and I think you should go out there and find them. Honestly, most of my sex education came from a website dedicated to Star Wars and Star Gate fan fiction– and through writing a ton of my own.

Fantasy, thankfully, is a safe way to figure out what you think you might like, and the sky is the limit.

There’s also an element of just being comfortable in your own skin. “I want to be tied up and spanked” is something that takes some confidence to say, and of knowing who you are and what you want. Purity culture is dedicated to the idea of abstinence, of denial, of building our lives and our ethics around refusing to do what we want. Because of that, it can be difficult for us to admit that we might want something. BDSM is the opposite of that– it’s built at least partly on knowing and doing exactly what you want exactly the way you want to do it. That can take some getting used to.

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Anyway, this has gotten long, so I want to stop here. I wish it wasn’t so necessary to talk about such fundamentally basic things, but it is, and we all need the occasional reminder. Feel free to ask me anything you’d like in the comments, or send me an e-mail (my contact information is at the top).

Further reading:

“BDSM” category at Frisky Business
“Stay Safe” category at the Submissive Guide
Clarisse Thorn’s list of BDSM resources
A Submissive’s Initiative “BDSM Basics” archive

Honestly, though, the best stuff is in books. The Ultimate Guide to Kink by Tristan Taormino is a good book to start with.
 Photo by Savara