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The online diary of an ethical pervert.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Knife edges

This knife gets me into a lot of trouble, for such a small knife. A black lacquered steel tanto given as a gift by Boy Wonder and loved ever since. It's a cunning knife, looking and feeling much sharper and much more dangerous than it actually is. For me, it's an ideal play-tool. The perceived impact is much greater than any risk of injury. The point and edge feel sharp, but in actual fact I expect that to do any damage I would actually have to bludgeon someone with the hilt. For public play, in loud and dark situations (a pox upon clubs and dungeons with black walls and red lighting) it is ideal.

Knives make me a little giddy, I'll admit. I love them and they give me butterflies both to wield and, in times past, to experience. The cool, silvery blades flash under lights like eyes glinting with desire. I love the way that feather-light touches can melt people into butter. They are objects of power, full of potential violence and menace. Shining fetishes that reach through the skin, through the flesh and deep down into the animal hind brain. I can spend a very long time playing with knives and they bring out a certain kind of focus in which I get a little lost in myself, and in the beautiful flesh before me with its perfect offering of fine, red lines. Like a child with an etch-a-sketch I will sit, absorbed.

He's sweating, lightly. Presto, with his eyes closed and deep, gorgeous pouting mouth lightly open. I can feel his breathing slow as he gradually relaxes, fading away beneath the movements of the knife. His back is smooth and an ideal canvas for what I want to do. I build up the alterations of motion. Slow and fast. Light and harder. Pressing on the throat. Hold. Hold. Hold. Release. Watch the breathing change. Different edges on the knife: the point, the blade, the reverse of the blade, the flat of the blade. The red lines appear, lightly, I coo over them: half to myself, half to him, enjoying what we are creating.

Earlier, he told me he wanted no permanent marks, and certainly that's something I'd be loathe to do to anyone, let alone someone else's partner, here in a club. But the game of marks is a different thing. I've played with him before, at Chiaroscuro's house and harder than this, with wickedly sharp needles that can do a lot of damage. We've exchanged the odd email and had a few discussions so I feel confident in what I'm doing. Idyll is watching him, watching both of us. I take a couple of breaths and catch her attention.

"Let me make him yours." I say, or words to that effect. To be honest, my focus was so entirely on the knife and his body that my words floated around me, lost. I use the tip of the knife, pressing hard enough so he can feel but knowing full well that the point was too dull to actually make more than transient marks. Certainly unable to cut the skin (like all my toys, I've tested extensively on myself). I write her name. We smile.

I hug both of them, and leave them to themselves whilst I return to Ganymede. watching him fuck Blush with a violent energy that makes me grin and think "look, no hands." Later there is water all round.

But later still, something is wrong. Presto and Idyll are crouched together upstairs. He's obviously upset, but I can't really get a response, and I'm conscious of not treading on her toes, of letting her give him whatever care she thinks he needs. They leave, and I'm conscious that things are not quite right. When Ganymede and I eventually make it home, there is a message waiting for me.

My heart sinks.

Something did go wrong. Eventually, after a series of messages, both with Presto and Idyll, including a very good face-to-face conversation we got to the bottom of it. And it raises an interesting series of points about trust, fear play and reactions. Presto started to feel very shaky and unhappy not whilst I was playing, but later, when I'd finished. Initially it was because he had thought I had actually marked him, and his fear of permanent marks runs deep, deeper than I had known. He was shaken, understandably so, at the thought that I had deliberately done something he had specifically asked me not to. When it transpired that I hadn't, his worries became guilt. Guilt that he hadn't trusted me to look after him, to listen to him and to accept his boundaries. He then became upset at his own reactions, at how his body was responding to play - both during and after. We worked out that the reason I had thought everything was fine during the episode was because at that point, everything was fine. The problems came later.

Guilt is something we all experience when we play with intense experiences. And this was a situation in which we all shared in that guilt. Me for feeling I'd caused the problem, him for his own reactions and Idyll also, because he is her responsibility and when your partner is unhappy that weighs heavily, especially when you feel it is out of your control. I also felt guilty for any upset I might have caused her. Guilt is bound up in trust and care. We don't really experience much in the way of guilt over things we don't particularly care about or feel connected to. The guilt was about perception of broken trust, of damage done to relationships as much, if not more so, than any damage done to bodies.

So therein lies my guilt. The fabled Dominant Guilt. The feeling that we have done too much, pushed someone too far, inflicted actual damage (physical or emotional) and let someone down. That our desires are "wrong" and that we are "bad" people. Worse still, because we didn't stop, we didn't read the signs that someone was in genuine distress we worry that we will not be able to do so in the future. Guilt is an ongoing risk with dominance.

It's a knife edge.
For a dominant, we need to be absolutely aware of what we should and shouldn't do and then fuck with it. But not too much. And in the right way. And frankly, there is no way of being 100% sure that you are always playing in exactly the right places without agreeing every single act beforehand. And that would not work, for either the dominant or the submissive. It's a knife edge on both sides. From a submissive point of view, the difference between blissful subspace and shouting a safeword can be minuscule. It can be caused by all kinds of factors, not all of which you can be aware of in advance or forewarn anyone about. And these factors are unpredictable and will change according to context. Like the situation with myself and Presto, he had no idea he would react like that, so when he bared his back to my knife he couldn't prepare either of us for it. Similarly, my own experience of playing with him had "told" me that what I did was fine, because it was less than we'd done before.

Whenever we play with someone we enter into a relationship of trust and take on a duty of care. We agree, through whatever methods, whether actively negotiated or based on shared understandings, to go "thus far and no further". As dominants we also agree and, are in many cases expected to push towards those boundaries whilst remaining safe within them. If we always do what is entirely anticipated, there will be no thrill, no fun. The joy lies in not knowing. We use limits and negotiations to create edges for play, but not to make explicit scripts which are easy to follow and predict. Predictable is dull. We don't want to be dull, like knives, we want to be shiny. So, when we play our games with people's desires and emotions we don't reveal our cards until it's too late. That's where the power lies, and where the excitement lies also. It's also where the problems can lie. Because in order for the game to work, we need to lie. Whether with our hands as we pretend to do something we are not in fact doing, or with our words, when we tell you that we are about to do something we have specifically promised not to do, just to see you squirm, to hear you scream. And for the pleasure when we do something that feels almost identical but, crucially, is not the same thing.

Did we break your trust? When you thought that we were going to, even though we didn't? We put you through exactly the same emotions, a facsimile of the situation. We are liars. We do it on purpose. We hurt you. And although we know, intellectually, deep down, that this is all fine, this is all agreed, this is all consensual. Still, we lie, we hurt. And we like it. We tell ourselves it is a consensual lie and that we are both pretending but as time goes on I'm less and less sure about this because when I play, I'm not pretending to hurt you. I am hurting you. And you are not pretending to be hurt, it is hurting.

I'm still not sure of the answers to these questions, and I'm even less sure of what to do about it, other than keep talking, keep exploring and keep trying to balance on that knife edge.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Poly Means Many: Domestic arrangements

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month six bloggers - Amanda Jones, An Open Book, One Sub's Mission, More Than Nuclear, Post Modern Sleaze, and Rarely Wears Lipstick - will write about their views on one of them. This month: Domestic arrangements.

"But how does it work, do you kiss and cuddle as well as the other stuff?"

Dinner with a friend of mine who is starting to explore the world of BDSM and we're getting into the real nuts and bolts of daily D/s life. So this month I'm going to write about how a power exchange works life and how this works in a poly context.

Ganymede recently pointed out an old post of mine on the subject of "what I want" in which I talk about Total Power Exchange, which is a form of D/s. There's a good article on it here, but in a nutshell, this is how we live. More or less. I make the rules and he lives by them. That's all very easy to say, but how does it work, and how does it work with other people? Let's start with some myth busting, as I'm in the mood, and as we go along that might help explain how it all works.

Normality rules OK. D/s relationships, and poly relationships, are a lot like other relationships. They are loving, caring and, for those in them, "normal". Ganymede and I do not spend our entire life in tight fitting black latex, with him perm
anently on his knees and me looking serious whilst holding a bullwhip. This is roughly the equivlant of assuming that vanilla couples in 2012 dress, talk and behave like characters from The Good Life. at all times. It's dated and it's hugely stereotyped. We do all the things that other couples do. We hold hands, we kiss, we joke about our kink, ourselves, our lives, we do silly things, we snuggle up on the sofa, we go to the cinema and we do the shopping.

Let's play Master and servant. All relationships have roles: modes of behaviour and a general "who does what" when you are together. This happens whether you realise it or not and once things get settled then they become standard. D/s relationships have roles, but they are very conscious ones, we decide, often in a very detailed fashion, who is going to do what and how. But most of the "what" is exactly the same kinds of things that any domestic set up needs, except with a thread of kink through them. For example, I do the cooking. I love to cook, so it makes me happy, and I like to provide for my submissive. I control what he eats, how much and when. I control what goes into him. I also take care of him, making sure he eats well.

Because we have these roles, it means that adding other people into the mix is actually relatively easy in terms of people for play. We have played with Blush, for example, several times. Coming from the kink scene and knowing her in advance really helped make those dates work. We know what we are to each other and what to expect from each other. We're very much still in a dating phase, which leads us on to the final point.

What's love got to do with it? I want to make it very clear: Ganymede and I love each other very much. We look out for each other, we want to make each other happy. The way in which we express this love is mostly the same, but crucially different from what you might term "traditional relationships." We do not believe that "love" is the same as "monogamy", and we certainly don't believe that if one or the other (or both) of us wants to have sex with someone else that points to a critical flaw in our relationship. Bodies are bodies. Bodies are fun. We like playing with bodies.

Feelings for others are a different thing entirely. And that's where you have to start thinking ethically, and considering your impact on other people. We are not in a place to add someone else into our relationship in a romantic, emotional, ongoing sense. We're not ready. We don't know if we will ever be ready because we've only been together for a few months and are just getting a handle on who "we" are. We're still very new to each other and are enjoying spending time with "just us". We have so much to learn about who we are and how we work that adding other people into the mix beyond friends and play partners would be madness. Our experiences of poly have been different. We've both been in open relationships, of different kinds and I've been part of a poly V, which had limited success.
It's something we have only briefly touched upon and whilst we certainly haven't closed it down as a possibility, it's something that would need to be negotiated within the context of our D/s relationship.

What I have learnt is that there are so many different types of relationships, and no hard and fast rules for what a relationship should and shouldn't look like. There is no "one true way" of loving someone, or some people, no way of living that is the gold standard beyond what works for you, as long as everyone is honest, open and happy. And that nothing is set in stone. Things change, people change. Life moves on and you learn as you go along. I know when I first wrote about what I wanted, many years ago, the idea of a TPE relationship was terrifying in terms of what I perceived as a huge weight of responsibility for someone else. I'm actually finding it very easy, to the point of being the most simple and pleasurable to manage relationship I've had. What this says to me is that how I thought TPE would work - one person, constantly issuing orders and planning everything, is not in fact, how it works for us. I imagine that any poly situation would be the same. We would find something that suited us, and others involved, and come to our own arrangements.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Public and private performances

Life is slowly, slowly, ever so slowly becoming something that you might call "normal". For a certain value of "normal" I suppose. I've moved house, settling into a routine with Ganymede (more on that in another post) and am beginning to find time to see friends and go to parties.

I had a lot of fun creating a small BDSM performance of the Masque Of The Red Death for Dandy's themed birthday party last weekend. What do you get the man who has everything? A hand-made slice of blood soaked, tongue in cheek (tongue in cheeks) kinky live art. I love doing stage shows, particularly those that have a storyline to them. For this one I re-wrote the story and committed sections of the original prose to memory - I liked the cadence and feel of a lot of the language and didn't want to paraphrase. I used pre-briefed friends in the audience to act as a dumb show: laying out the events in the tale whilst I spoke and then gave the whole thing a kinky twist.

Blush was a marvellous victim, upon whom I demonstrated - for the enjoyment of all - the symptoms of the Red Death. Stripped naked with red wax dripping from a lit candle onto her flesh represented the blood pouring from the skin. Dandy, crowned and led to the stage where he could sit on a throne was the Prince and I had a number of courtiers to fawn upon him. The audience were also the guests at the Masquerade and together with the courtiers we encouraged them to dance, drink and generally get into the debauched spirit of the whole thing. I was very flattered by the reception and made a mental note to add a bit more art to future performances.

In public, things have been very good. In private, perhaps less so.

Of late I've been feeling a little sub-par in my own dominance. Play with Ganymede has been patchy. Don't get me wrong, the sex is amazing and the kinky sex particularly so, especially where sexual service, bondage or sensory deprivation (or all three) is concerned. Anything involving fucking is bordering on some of the best sex I've ever had.

But "pure" play is much more miss than hit. And that's where the dominant worries come in. We've tried some things that have not quite worked or have just resulted in feelings of upset, discomfort of "meh." None of which are ideal outcomes, particularly as a dominant of a new submissive, and a new to BDSM submissive. I am responsible, for him, that's part of the power exchange. I get his service, I take on responsibility or power, if you will. I consider myself to be part mentor, part tutor, part provider of horrible, wonderful things and his enjoyment of all things kink is mediated through me. I decided what, when, how and who we play with.

So when things don't work out I often feel as if it is my fault - my fault for not knowing him well enough, for not controlling the situation enough, or for just not reading him right. I'm not worried about us, or about our relationship. We're very well matched and well connected. What I'm concerned about is whether my idea of dominance is based on my experiences as a submissive - in short, I'm delivering the dominance that I enjoyed. Which makes sense, as my goal is to give him the sort of satisfaction that I experienced when I was submissive. And I want that satisfaction for myself, as a dominant. And recently, I haven't been feeling that way. If I'm not giving "good" dominance then I feel as if I've failed.

But what have I "failed" at? We've tried things and they haven't worked. There was no real way of knowing in advance whether they would or wouldn't. Some of the things I like, he will never like because we are not the same. And replicating other relationships with new people is never a good idea. It's difficult though, because your first dominant, your first D/s relationship sets the scene, as it were. It gives you your first thrills and contexts for how to have a different sort of sexual relationship. And these ideas and actions become ingrained, with time. That's part of how D/s works, how S&M play works - we substitute for sexuality.

Logically, there are no hard and fast rules about what a D/s relationship "should" look like, or what people "should" do when they are involved in those relationships. Yet we all have in our minds an image of what a D/s relationship is, what people do. There's part of me that feels that without doing those things I'm somehow being less of a dominant to him, giving him less of the type of play that he might expect. Breaking out of these patterns is proving harder than I'd imagined, especially with someone new. I would have thought that a partner without preconceptions would be ideal, a tabula rasa on which for me to make my mark. However, I'm finding that because a lot is new to him, there's a lot to try, and a lot to fail at, because he doesn't have experience or context. And that means more for me, and more pressure I'm putting on myself, to deliver better scenes to compensate for the failed ones.

And that's without even thinking about the emotional side.

When scenes that break down because he's not enjoying himself or it's getting awkward, then I feel terrible. It's like an anti-orgasm: entirely the opposite of the kind of satisfaction, pride and confidence I get from a good stage performance. I feel annoyed, frustrated and guilty. My dominance is part of me, it feeds my sense of self. If I don't think I'm a good dominant, I feel unhappy just as if I was struggling at work, or having arguments with my friends or family.

Nothing in life is without a resolution, and communication is a big part of making this issue go away. Getting him to talk about his feelings is proving a bit of a challenge, but on the other hand I've never struggled talking about mine, and sharing them is a good start. I'm going to try and revisit some of our earlier, extensive emails and lists of red, amber, green activities and see if we can re-build a new dynamic that fits better with the things we now know we both enjoy and we can look to explore or expand upon other kinds of play that we might not have tried yet.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Submissive styles

A conversation with a friend of mine recently helped me understand one of my own concerns about the type and response to S&M play with Ganymede. She's a switch, like me, and talked about how she "flies" when she is submitting - we spent a while waxing lyrical over the deep joys of letting go, bottoming out, closing your eyes and just being done to - rather in the manner of women discussing cakes they had enjoyed eating. But in this case, our memories of pleasure were laced with current disappointments. Neither of us felt that we were giving our partners the same depth of submission, the same overwhelming sensations or crazy, head swimming, lost-from-the-universe jouissance.

I've used that word deliberately, more on gendered reactions to sex later, hold that thought. Kristeva theorised that jouissance is a type of writing that only women were capable of performing, which interested me in terms of gendered sexual expression in BDSM. Capitalising on previous theories about how men are not taught how to express their sexual side in the way that women are - with the knock-on effect that women are overly sexualised or only valued for their sexuality and men find it hard to express submissive desire because sexual availability is seen as "feminine". This leads us on to the worrying assumption that women are "naturally" submissive, and men are "naturally" dominant. A point which is bunk, pure and simple. However, this is a social perception, and it's also a reflection of how different gender roles are assigned. What this means is that it can often be easier for women to be sexually submissive than men and that whilst many men desire sexual submission it can trigger complications, including a difficulty in "properly" submitting as well as other thoughts on guilt, shame and their own masculinity.

Could it be that men find submission harder than women? Are there tools and techniques we can use to help get over these barriers? Conversation helps. As always. Communicate and try and understand not "what is wrong" but "what submission looks and feels like". It could well be that it's a simple case of different people having different experiences, however it could be that there is something deeper driving it. Gender aside, everyone responds to play differently and that we can't expect others to have matching responses to ours. Pleasure looks different in different bodies. Just as certain people are warmer or cooler on different toys, sensations and situations so too submission looks different in other minds.

Reassuring her helped reassure myself. We both worried that we hadn't been able to give our partners that experience of sub space we ourselves had enjoyed so much and felt like worse dominants for it. But being practical, I know that I am good at what I do, I'm very skilled and experienced in both practical and psychological techniques of control, pleasure and pain. I know my partner, we talk a lot and although we are still relatively knew, I know a lot of his buttons and the more we play, the better we get.

Yet, there is also another factor. Just as dominance is an art that needs to be learnt so is submission. The practice of relinquishing control and thereby generating sexual pleasure is not as innate as some people think. There is a huge gap between the fantasy of doing something and the reality of doing it - or to be more precise, having it done to you. Certainly the desire to do it has to be there in the first place, but a lot of these feelings - physical, mental and emotional - are strange when done for the first time and unfamiliar sensations take some getting used to. The more you do it, the better you get at it and the more deeply you are able to participate. Of course, like natural athletes there are people who are just born to BDSM, who melt under a firm touch or thrill to the feel of twitching flesh under their hands. Their minds and bodies need kink like fish need water. For most people, BDSM can be an exciting addition to their lives, and their sex lives, but it isn't a need, they can - and do - play every now and then with kinky things, but it's icing on the cake. For perverts, it's the cake. And the icing. And the box the cake came in. And the cake shop. 

Ganymede is new to BDSM and D/s relationships with their hurt / comfort equilibrium of power exchange, rules of living and sexual activities that emphasises these power roles. Although we have fallen very easily into this way of living, in many ways this is sometimes not helpful. Not everything we do will be as easy for him, or as "natural" as others. My own experience and desires are only useful to a point because all they really do is outline what I want and what I like. Similarly, because he is new, we have to accept - and anticipate - that he might not be the same kind of submissive as I am. 

To take a simple example, he likes verbal abuse, which I hate, he can grin and say "yes, I am a complete slut." in a way I would never have been able to do. To give a more complex one, the concept of serving me is one that he loves, wholeheartedly, especially sexual service. He is always available for me to fuck, whenever I want, for example. The physicality of this is familiar, he's had sex with people before, the difference is his ability to chose when, who and how, which is now denied to him. The denial is tempered with the fact that he wants to be used in this way. Pain, however, is still relatively unfamiliar, and not as keenly associated with desire. He doesn't have a high pain tolerance. It's something to be used sparingly, and it's something that he suffers through, because I'm a sadist...

But not that much of a sadist that I want my bottom to suffer needlessly. I'm a trainer, first and foremost and that means a reliance on the tools of carrot and stick. In order for me to enjoy what I'm doing, I need to know that he enjoying it, even if he's not enjoying all of it, or even if he is only enjoying it because of the context.