A month or so ago I wrote a piece on the edges and boundaries of BDSM, in that piece I talked about how (and why) we might define our own personal spaces for play and participation in the scene. Now I'm going to elaborate on what happens when put other people into the mix.
Masturbation is all well and good - I'm certainly fond of it, but kink is generally better with others involved. They can at least help you clean up the mess afterwards. Let's assume then, that we have a good list of What We Want i.e. we've defined our own edges. Whether dominant or submissive or falling somewhere in between the ideal is to find someone whose edges are complimentary to ours. This isn't the same thing as finding someone with the same list: two people who want to be tied up and hit with floggers are going to have problems getting what they want out of a play session.
In that scenario, you may well decide that you don't play at all. This is something that's always worth thinking about. It's not about saying "I don't find you attractive" or about being critical about someone as a person, it's about mix and fit. Some people just aren't a match for what you want. You aren't a match for what they want either. No-one is bad or wrong or not trying hard enough. Them's the breaks. Knowing what you don't want, and knowing whether you are capable of giving someone what they want are important lessons to learn and absorb.
A second possibility is that you could take turns, certainly if the two people involved are both switches this can be interesting and fun. You find out a lot about yourself and your kink from delivering the thing that you desire for yourself, and vice-versa - and not just from a practical "how to" point of view. You learn the experience of immersing yourself in an unfamiliar role, of the flip side to your own pleasure and perversion, which can be just as pleasurable and just as perverse. Equally, harking back to the previous paragraph, you might find that it is not. I know plenty of switches who don't switch for everything - and why should you? Again, these are good things to learn, rather than bad things that you are somehow "failing" at. I know needle players who love inserting but just feel pain and discomfort when pierced themselves, bondage experts who hate being tied up and I don't give really head but love receiving.
Sometimes it doesn't work. Even with all the prep work in the world scenes fail, stuff goes wrong and what one person wanted was not what happened. There may be arguments and clashes along the way. Taking time to cool off is important, individual time to review as well as discussing together what happened. I'm a sucker for nice lengthy feedback emails, I love someone who is good in text, and refuse to play with people who don't give feedback.
Sometimes it works with one person but not another. Or at one time but not the next. Your feelings over a particular thing might change with time and experience. Edges shift. One of the joys of dominance is helping people to push those edges, for submission its in having those edges pushed. Going places you never thought you could, and that's what I mean by "compatible" edges. Points in common. Things that you want to do, that you want to be, that I want to do to you.
A negotiation between play partners is less about a specific act or action and more about a journey that they want to take together, exactly like the way we defined what we want as individuals, except with more people involved. Now, this doesn't always mean parity or fairness, and in the case of D/s scenarios it explicitly does not. However, there is a big difference between the situation being unfair and the desire for the situation being unfair. And this is where we come back to consent and the RACK kids can line up facing the SSC kids to call names and throw stones, but ultimately, however we define it the word consent is still in there.
We consent to having our edges pushed. This goes for dominants as well as submissives - it's easier to imagine as submissive being forced outside their comfort zone (especially as this is the fodder of many a fantasy) but the reality is that dominants push edges all the time too. Especially emotional ones - we are delicate creatures at heart, really. We press at the boundaries of our dark and dangerous sides when we are given space to indulge the bits of us that thrill to the power trip and revel in the pain we are causing, the control we are exerting, the things and people that we own and command. We need to acknowledge and think about what we are consenting to, on both sides, because otherwise we aren't really capable of saying "yes".
And that's a problem.
If one person really doesn't want something then that's not D/s, that's abuse. To my mind, we need to be super clear on abuse within the BDSM community even more so than in vanilla circles because of how we play and how we interact. Each and every transgressive act that we do, each and every instance of pain or punishment or degradation - everything that the dominant delivers and the submissive swallows should be part of what they both actually, passionately and deeply want. We live in a world where "no" can mean "more please", where voices are silenced and muffled behind gags and masks, where a public display of affection can be a slap to the face. So we need to be damn sure that this is what both people want. And damn sure to come down like a ton of bricks on instances where our edges are trampled on and pushed in ways we do not want and did not agree to. Even if we enjoyed it. Even if they thought we enjoyed it. And this can be confusing if our enjoyment looks exactly like a terrified person screaming the house down. The key point is "looks like". A decent discussion of edges can help clear up the grey areas around "what stuff looks like" and "what it really is" in order to bottom out exactly what is going on and ensure that both parties have the same level of investment in the relationship, even if what they want out of it is different.
To my mind, the way this works the best in terms of edges is to think of the submissive giving an equal but opposite amount of space compared to what the dominant takes. Quid pro quo. For the kink generation.