Monday, September 20, 2010

What Marriage is Really About

Going against the conventional wisdom, a study published last year says that couples who cohabitate before marriage are actually more likely to divorce than those who do not. Being logical and rational folks, we have the idea that we should try something out before committing to it. We test drive a car before buying it. We read a couple of pages of a book we are thinking of getting. What if, however, that attitude, rather than keeping us out of undesirable relationships, actually causes our marriages not to last.

Rationality is all well and good, but it is a double edged sword. Too often, we apply a seemingly rational process to a situation. We then pursue the result that we find with absolute confidence. After all, we reached the decision rationally. What if the process was flawed?

When heading towards marriage, many people believe that they know what they want. They might want a person with a good income, a good heart, or a good sense of humor. Perhaps they want love, attention, and passion. Marriage, however, is not about any of those specific things. Marriage is about a lifelong commitment between two people. Two becoming one. Of course, this does not appeal to us Americans. We are rocks! We are islands! We need no one else and can do everything on our own.

If you are truly an island, don't get married. You don't need to, and you will eventually divorce, finding the situation too confining for too little benefit. If you are a mortal like the rest of us, however, understand that the true value of marriage is having someone in your life whose destiny is tied to yours. For richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, two people are joined, sharing dreams, aspirations, and defeats, but always knowing that their partner is there for them on their side.

You cannot trade up from this situation. Perhaps you have been married for a long time and your spouse is showing their age a bit. You think that maybe you can do younger with a younger person. Even if this new person is everything that you could ever dream of, there is something that this younger person will never be able to offer you: the relationship that has grown through decades of sharing with and depending on each other.

The strength and value of marriage is in the connection. It is that simple and that complicated.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Time Versus Quality Time

One of the biggest issues that can develop in a long term relationship is time. Unfortunately, not all time spent together is created equal. Sometimes, a couple will spend some time together, and one person will think it is time well spend, but the other will still feel neglected. This points out the difference between time and quality time.

For some couples, they are happy to simply spend time in the same place doing, even if they are working on different things. For others, only certain activities are satisfying for quality time. Even for couples who are happy to spend casual time together, it is still important to make special time to reconnect.

The common trap, especially for cohabitating couples, is that they will spend a great deal of time in the same place and forget to spent good time together. When the couple first got together, they probably talked about other things besides bills, kids, and the slow drain in the shower. However, day by day, the little, niggling issues of life distract them. They don't realize that, while they may spend dozens of hours a week together, none of these hours are spend rebuilding and strengthening their relationship.

It is important that a couple makes time to do things that bring them together. This could mean making a date night. This could mean working on fun projects together. The important thing is to make sure that time is set aside to do things that are enjoyable to both of them. Time that is separate from the day to day tasks of living.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Modus Communicatus

The modern world provides us with a great variety of technologies which allow us to communicate more efficiently than ever. In some situations, this means that we can be much more effective. In others, it simply means that we can create more misunderstandings per hour than we ever could have without the assistance of technology. The root of the problem is that, when communication becomes easier, we are inclined to do it with less thought. Even worse, too many people, caught up in the ease of texting and other modern modes, fail to realize just how ineffective some of these methods can be, especially for more emotional topics.

Let's consider the limitations of some communication modes. In this article, we will consider 5 common modes: speaking in person, phone, instant messaging, texting, and email.

As we can see, in person communication is far and away the best method for communicating clearly. This makes sense, as it is how we have been communicating as humans for hundreds of thousands of years. We have our words, intonations, and body language to work from. In person, we might say something and immediately realize that what we said was inadvertently hurtful from the  body language of the person we are speaking to. In instant messenger, we might say something hurtful and not realize it, blithely digging ourselves in deeper and deeper.

The Benefits of Technology
Technology can be a great boon for busy people wishing to stay in touch. Text based communication allows low energy contact, which can create a greater sense of closeness in a relationship, even though little actual information is transmitted. Consider Emily's story:

Emily says: My boyfriend and I are both very busy people, and we do not get as much time as we would like to spend together. We both work jobs that are on the computer, so we keep AIM up all day and we chat while we work. It is nice, like sitting in the same room and working on different things. We don't talk about anything serious, but it keeps that closeness.

Instant messaging is a great tool for casual communication, sharing fun stories from work, expressing frustrations, etc. Texting is, likewise, a great tool for casually staying in touch, if you are one of those who does not mind trying to type on a tiny tiny keyboard.

For almost a century, we have been using the phone to make communication easier. Phone conversations do not work as background activities like IMing does, but they do eliminate the need to travel to be in the same place as the person one wishes to talk to. With being able to hear the voice of the one we are talking to, it can be like being right there, but there is still the lack of body language that can inhibit communication. However, when people are making a point of being clear, this issue can be overcome.

Where Technology Fails
Unfortunately, the same thing that makes IM and texting so great limits its utility. All that there is of the communication is what is on the screen, staring at you in black and white, or chartreuse and mauve, depending on your settings. No body language, no voice inflection. One does not even have the benefit of knowing how quickly or slowly the message was sent due to the delays at the server.

This means that these are fine modes for talking about the weather or work or whatever, but they are terrible formats for talking about serious things.

Candy says: I was seeing this guy and things were going pretty well. Then, there was a little issue. I told him it upset me, and he got upset and it got all kinds of out of hand. We were used to talking on IM all the time, so that's how we talked about this, but no matter what I said, he just got more and more upset until we ended up breaking up. I'm not even sure what it was all about to begin with.

What happened in Candy's situation is that they fell into the trap of being used to talking online about light and fluffy things. Suddenly they had something serious to talk about, and it did not occur to either of them to pick up the telephone.

The problem is that we tend to associate emotions with words. If we can hear the voice of the person that we are talking to, we will ascribe the emotions that we hear to the words. On the other hand, if we cannot hear them and only have their written words to work from, we will ascribe the emotions in our own head to the words. Words that are meant to be conciliatory can be read as sarcastic. Gentle apology can be misread as condescension.

This can happen with email, Facebook comments, and other epistolary communications, but it is even more pronounced with instant messaging. In an email, you might take a moment to reread the letter before replying. Instant messaging tends to be more instant. One often reads quickly and replies quickly. Looking back on a chat log, one will often find that they were the one to accidentally inflame the situation by misreading a statement by the other person.

The acronym above stands for "Pick Up The Phone". Email, instant messenger, and text are great for what they are good for, but always remember their limitations. When things start getting heated, pick up the phone, or, better yet, talk to them face to face. It doesn't matter if you are talking to a friend, a coworker, a romantic partner, or a business associate. Why risk the relationship over some stupid miscommunication, when you could clear things up easily by picking up the phone.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Power Dynamics

Few topics are more relevant to almost every aspect of our lives than power dynamics. In almost any situation where people come together, there will be people in more dominant and people in more submissive positions. BDSM-style Dominance & Submission is a process of intentionally creating artificial power dynamics for the enjoyment and satisfaction of the participants, but these dynamics occur naturally everywhere.

There are some situations where the dynamics are fairly obvious: a boss and employees, parent and child, etc. However, often the dynamics become more complex.

Power Struggles and Control
In many situations, the lines of authority can become blurred. Imagine a situation where parents lose control of their children. Even when power dynamics should be obvious, there are always ways for authority to slip away from the dominant position, such as a parent who loses credibility in the eyes of their children through hypocrisy, or a teacher or boss who undermines their authority with capricious and unfair discipline.

In many of the situations described above, the authority figure takes power, rather than having power given to them. An employee submits to the boss because it is necessary, but not always because he respects the boss enough to choose to submit. This will always result in a non-ideal situation. The boss' authority is always in doubt. Those who are forced to submit, only do so because of the external and titular authority that the boss has. If the boss' position ever comes to be in doubt, he will discover that power taken is only as strong as the authority by which one has taken it.

Earning Power, Giving Power
The best way to gain power is to earn it. This means developing respect in the subordinate such that they would gladly submit voluntarily, not just because they have to but because they want to. One might subordinate themselves for any number of reasons. They could do so because the authority figure makes them feel that he cares for them. It could be that the one that they give respect has earned it through competence and achievement. Or, it could be for any number of other reasons.

The important thing is the loyalty that this kind of power dynamic creates. A subordinate who respects a leader will support that leader in rough times as well as smooth. He might even follow the leader if the leader were to leave the organization. This is true loyalty, not just following orders.

Power Dynamics in Romantic Relationships
Relationship power dynamics are fairly similar, except that power which is taken is not only a recipe for a weaker connection, but it is unhealthy. No one in a relationship should ever subordinate themselves because they feel that they have to. Unfortunately, this often happens for a number of reasons. It can be economic, where one party is bringing in the money and the other is financially dependent. It can be emotional, where one holds the emotional cards and the other is afraid to lose their partner that they will do anything to stay. These situations only become uneven power dynamics if the party with the power chooses to use it to create the dynamic. There are plenty of relationships where one person makes much more money but they still treat it as an even partnership, making it perfectly healthy.

On the other hand, a healthy power dynamic can be created when power is given. One partner may choose to submit to the other. They may do this for a specific time or in specific arenas or it can be overall throughout the relationship. This can be sexual, as in a D/s relationship, but it can also be non-sexual. A man who brings home the paycheck but his wife handles the finances is an example. He is giving her the power to control the purse-strings because of his esteem for her abilities. On the other hand, she may yield to him the power to represent the family in business matters because she respects his abilities to negotiate. In this case, there is a power dynamic. Each person gets some control over the other, but this control is given voluntarily, and can be revoked if it is every abused or misused, creating a healthy situation.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Vanilla Fetish

Most everyone has some sexual interest which is not strictly mainstream. This does not mean that they act on it or even know that they could act on it, but there is something beyond simple missionary position that would really get their blood pumping (and possibly other things). If you find someone who is really into nothing but "normal" missionary sex, one could call that a fetish. It is certainly rarer than many of the more common fetishes out there.

On the Novicies & Newbies Group on Fetlife, there are often questions about how to find other kinky people, as if kinky people are some different sub-species from the rest of the population. There are, indeed, two kinds of people, but they are not kinky and vanilla. They are people who know their kinks and fetishes, using this understanding to have a more fulfilling sex life, and there are those who do not indulge in their kinks because they do not understand that they can.

Emily says: When I first realized that I was a masochist, I was not sure where to find kinky people. I would get into a relationship, but when I told the person that I was kinky, they would often get scared off. I later came to realize that when they hear "kinky" they are thinking of someone who is into being suspended from hooks in their back while being whipped and lit on fire, when all I wanted was spanking, biting, and flogging.

Labels are valuable for quick and easy identification. When one kinky person says to another that they are kinky, what they are saying is that they understand that people have kinks and are open to learning about other people's kinks. They are not saying what they are into. When one tells a "vanilla" person that they are kinky, there is the danger that a great deal more will be grouped into that label than is strictly true.

As Emily found in her experience, there are many people out there who would not call themselves kinky but are perfectly happy to spank their partner if it turns her on. Even if it does not do anything for them, they might be happy to do whatever their partner is into, as any good lover is interested in pleasing their partner in any way that they are able and willing to.

If one says that they are kinky, it could make their partner nervous, not knowing what to expect. However, if one says that they are into being spanked, or even something heavier like choking, the other person might be willing to do it. They are accepting that they will do this one thing, as opposed to "trying out kink," which sounds a bit more involved.

Dominick says: If I meet a woman who is not in the scene, I don't talk to her about kink in general. That might scare her off. I will just mention or just try certain things. Most women respond well to light to medium scratching and some biting. A surprising number of the "vanilla" women I have met very much enjoyed a hand on their throat. You never know until you ask.

As I said before, kinky people are not a different species. Kinky sex is also, for most people, not so much different from vanilla sex. There is a large grey area between them. Sure, golden showers and blood play are pretty clearly on the kink side of the line, but biting, scratching, spanking, and even light choking are all quite common in the vanilla world.

Labels are valuable for trying to identify and group people and concepts, but don't get carried away. Labels should improve communication. As soon as they create confusion, discard them and find a new way to look at things.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Relationship Levels

As we have discussed in previous articles, there are many varieties of relationship style. There are also different levels of commitment in relationships. In this article, we will be discussing various levels of relationships. What follows is sampling of relationship levels, providing a rough framework. This is not an exhaustive list, and the specific terminology is not standardized. The purpose of this article is to make clear that there are a great variety of levels of commitment in relationships.

In this article, I will be referring to the Three Axis Model as discussed in this article.

Chew Toy (a.k.a. Hook-Up)
This term describes an extremely casual relationship which is purely on the Physical Axis. The partners are interested exclusively in physical contact and little else.

F*&%buddy (a.k.a. Acquaintance With Benefits)
This is a casual, sex-based relationship in which the participants have social contact and might even have a bit in common, but the main cohesive force of the relationship is sexual relations.

Friend with benefits
Similar to the above, but with a stronger element of the Friend Axis. This relationship has a sexual element, but the participants also get along well socially. The emotional (love) aspect is not present in any significant way. (See Friends With Benefits)

Casual Dating
This is similar to friends with benefits, but the objective is different. Generally friends with benefits relationships are not intended to develop into anything more serious. Casual dating, on the other hand, is intended as a test drive for a potentially more serious partner. One will often casually date multiple people in order to get a good idea of what they are looking for. (See The Lost Art of Casual Dating.)

Once one has selected a serious partner, they will move onto a more committed relationship. This usually starts with terms like girlfriend and boyfriend, and may progress to fiance/ee and, eventually, spouse. This is where we start moving into to more serious, three-axis relationships.

This is a polyamory term for the main relationship. Generally, this relationship is a serious, committed relationship. If it is necessary to choose between partners (e.g. one is moving across the country and the other is staying behind, what should you do?), the primary is generally chosen. The primary partner may also have some control over other relationships that their partner has.

This is a polyamorous term for relationships beyond the primary relationship. These relationships can be every bit as serious as the primary relationship or they can be relatively casual. The important factor is that it is understood that  the primary relationship takes precedence over secondary relationships.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


A reader asked that I write an article about monogamous/polyamorous relationships, meaning a relationship in which one partner sees other people and the other does not. This is a fairly broad topic, but I will give an overview. The main question that the reader was asking is "Can poly/mono relationships work and what are the issues that should be considered?"

The most important question in looking at a poly/mono situation is why the situation exists. The poly/mono situation can occur for a number of reasons, and this means that two poly/mono situations can be extremely different in the issues that can arise.

I Cannot Satisfy That Need
One common situation is that in which Partner A feels that they are unable to satisfy their partner's (Partner B) needs for one reason or another. Sometimes it is as simple as Partner A has a reduced sex drive for whatever reason and encourages Partner B to find someone else to satisfy that need. In other situations, Partner B has some sort of fetish which Partner A is unwilling or unable to fulfill but wants Partner B to be able to satisfy their need.

Partner A's motivation here is generally a combination of the desire to please their partner and the desire to remove pressure from themselves to satisfy a need that they cannot satisfy. The most common pitfall in this situation is that Partner B will not believe that Partner A is really okay with the arrangement such as the following situation:

Suzie says: I had a friend who was married. After a few years, she lost her sex drive for various reasons including some medication she was on. Her husband, obviously, was not happy about it, so she told him that she would not mind if he found someone else with whom to get her needs met. He thought it was some kind of trick, so he never took her up on it. They ended up splitting up, and a good part of that was his sexual dissatisfaction.

The other pitfall is that Partner A is not really as okay with the idea as they think they are. They will think that they can handle it, but jealousy will rear it's ugly head once theory becomes reality.

As in all "non-traditional" relationships communication is vital as unexpected emotional issues will come up. These issues can be dealt with if both people are willing to be open, honest, and loving in dealing with the situation.

You Cannot Satisfy That Need
Another situation is that Partner B finds that Partner A is not satisfying their needs in some way. A poly/mono situation can be the solution to this, but tends to be a very difficult solution to implement successfully. First, it is important that Partner B be quite happy with Partner A in all ways except that one particular thing that is missing. If there are serious underlying problems in the relationship, adding more partners will only make things more complicated and messy.

It is also very difficult to have the conversation of "I love you, but I have needs that you cannot fulfill." Many people will take offense at such a sentiment. However, if Partner A understands the situation and recognizes that it is not a personal failing on their part.

Poly Sounds Good, but I Don't Need It
Another common situation in which poly/mono can work is a couple in which one partner has the desire to see other people and the other simply does not.

Emily says: I am polyamorous and always will be. One man that I dated had no interest in seeing other people. His attitude was that one woman is more than enough work, why would he want more? He had no problem with me seeing other people, but he just didn't want the effort.

This situation can work very well as long as it is true. Some people will claim to be okay with their partner seeing other people, especially when the relationship is starting, because they want to be with the person and will say whatever they need to in order to do so. Then, once the relationship gets going, it will come out that they are not comfortable with things. This never ends well.

I Think We Should See Other Occupations
Some people are so serious about their work or other commitments that it could be considered a secondary or even primary relationship. These people are often perfectly happy for their partner to see other people while they are exclusive to their partner. Because they are extremely dedicated to their work or other activities, they do not want to have to be everything to someone, and they are happy that their partner can have their needs satisfied without them having to take the energy.

These are just a few examples of poly/mono situations. As always, your mileage may vary. There are as many ways to set up a relationship as there are relationships. Some couples are partially open. For example, they can do sadomasochism with other people, but they don't have sex with anyone else. Other couples will make out with other people at parties but be otherwise exclusive. There are challenges to any form of relationship, but as long as the couple is willing to be open and honest in their approach, anything can work if it is what works for them.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Three Rules of Polyamory

Relationships are complicated. Multiple relationships per person is considerably more complicated. There are a great many bits of advice that I could give to make things run more smoothly, but this article is about three common rules which one who is engaging in polyamory would ignore at their peril.

One of the core concepts of Smart Love is that there is a great deal that monogamous couples can learn from poly couples. To help illustrate this, each of the three rules of polyamory will be accompanied by a companion rule of monogamy.

Smart Love Poly Rule #1: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Mono Companion Rule #1: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Entire articles could be written just on this rule. In fact, entire books could be and have been written on this topic. Communication in any relationship is vitally important. It is even more so in a polyamorous relationship because of additional factors that must be managed.

One of the most common reasons not to communicate is that someone does not want to cause trouble. They might be worried that saying something would cause a fight or make the other person unhappy. What they forget in doing this is that the issue will come out sooner or later. When it comes out later, it usually comes out at a much more inopportune moment and often with much greater emotion making it more difficult to deal with than it otherwise might be.

I discuss some other aspects of this topic in this post.

Smart Love Poly Rule #2: Never Make One Choose Between Lovers/Never Accept an Ultimatum
Mono Companion Rule #2: Never Make Your Partner Compete

Emily says: I was in a relationship of a few years when I met and started dating a new boyfriend. At first, things were great, but then the new boyfriend started to think that the old boyfriend was not good for me. There was no real basis behind this, but he got more and more down on the old boyfriend. Finally, he told me that I had to choose between them. I was young and foolish and still wrapped up in new relationship energy, so I picked the new one. It lasted about a month after that before I got fed up with his jealousy and possessiveness.

This illustrates the second rule of polyamory, which is that you should never ask a partner to choose between you and another partner. Conversely, if someone demands that you choose between them and someone else, choose the someone else. Why? Because someone who really understands what polyamory is about will respect you enough to respect the choices that you make, even if they are not thrilled with them. If you yield to one ultimatum, perhaps the next one will not be far behind.

This rule does not completely apply in the situation of primaries. In a primary relationship, it is not uncommon for the primary to demand that a relationship not begin or, if it has already begun, cease. The difference here is that, in a primary relationship, the authority to make such demands is often pre-negotiated. This is very different from a secondary coming into an open marriage then demanding that his lover leave her husband for him.

The companion rule for monogamy is not to make your partner compete with your outside interests. It almost goes without saying that your partner should never feel that he or she is competing with other people that you might otherwise be dating were you not with your partner. This rule is also saying that your partner should not have to compete with other activities for your affections. She should not have to be more fun than a baseball game or more exciting than a trip to the mall. These activities provide something different from and not comparable to your partner.

Smart Love Poly Rule #3: Don't Let Strife in One Relationship Create Strife in Another
Mono Companion Rule #3: Don't Let the World Outside Your Relationship Create Conflict Inside
Into every life a little rain must fall, and this is quite true for relationships. It's not always clear weather and smooth sailing. Sometimes something will go wrong. This is even more likely with new relationships. An advantage that some people find in polyamory is that they get to experience new relationship energy again and again. The flip side to this is that they get to experience the stress of new relationship growing pains and even failure again and again.

When one decides to enter into a poly relationship, it is understood that they may encounter these ups and downs. It is important, however, not to allow these tribulations to spill into other relationships. Every relationship has its own internal conflicts. If you allow the conflicts in one relationship to spill into another, you may soon find that your strife from on relationship has started marching through your life like Napoleon's armies through Europe.

This is not to say that you should not say anything about what is bothering you. Your partner can be an excellent source of support in hard times. However, there is a difference between getting support and dragging your partner into your conflicts with shortened tempers and even accusations of being part of the problem.

Likewise, for both polyamory and monogamy, it is important to do your best to insulate your relationship from outside stressors. Fights with the boss, defeat of your favorite basketball team, getting a ticket on the way to work, etc. These are fine things to talk to your partner about, but they are no excuse for losing your temper or  becoming more demanding at home.

This is certainly not everything you need for a successful relationship, but if you keep these three rules in mind, you may find that you are able to avoid a great many of the more common pitfalls in polyamory.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Kink 101, Part 6: Safely Expressing Extreme Fetishes

This is the sixth in a six part series on kink. In this series, we have discussed the following topics:
8/16: Introduction to kink
8/17: Sadomasochism
8/18: Dominance and Submission
8/19: Abuses of Power
8/20: Your Kink Is OK
8/21: Safely Expressing Extreme Fetishes

When we are young, we intuitively understand that value and versatility of make believe. Somewhere during the course of growing up, we set aside this "childish thing" and live firmly in the world of the real. When we cross "make believe" with kink, we get sexual role play.

Role play is exactly what it sounds like, each partner takes on some kind of role and acts it out sexually. Sometimes it is something simple and amusing, like naughty nurse and patient. It is a pleasant excuse to get a little bit away from the norm. It could give the participants a chance to play roles that they do not usually get to in real life, like the high powered executive taking on the role of gardener seducing the lady of the house or a construction worker playing the executive with his secretary.

Some couples enjoy role playing a pick up, where they will go to a bar and pretend to meet for the first time and go home like a couple hooking up for a one night stand. They could even play with themes of cheating, playing with the excitement of doing something forbidden, exorcising the desire to stray without ever leaving the relationship.

Role play can even be an opportunity to act out scenes which would be somehow objectionable in real life, either due to impropriety, danger, or even physical impossibility.

Before continuing, I would like to refer back to last week's post on "Your Kink is Okay." In that post, I discussed the fact that a person's desires are the result of their experiences, upbringing, and other factors beyond their control. What a person desires is simply a fact of their mind which no one should judge. As long as their expression of their desires is safe, sane, and consensual, their kink is just as okay as any other.

Emily says: One guy I was with was quite aroused by the idea of choking a girl out. Of course, he knew that was terribly dangerous and should not really be done, but he told me one day that it turned him on. I suggested that we could role play it. His idea of role play was naughty nurse kind of stuff. He'd never though of using role play for this. We role played it out. He pretended to choke me and I pretended to struggle and pass out. I thought that I was just doing it to make him happy, but it turned out that the feeling of losing control like that, even pretending, without having to worry about safety issues was quite a turn-on.

Emily's story is an example of using role play to satisfy a desire that could not be safely expressed otherwise. However,  Emily's partner was quite satisfied by the simulation, as was Emily herself. His interest was not in the fact of choking someone but in the reactions, the emotions, and the intensity of it, which are just as satisfying in simulation as real life. It also has the advantage of not being immoral and illegal.

Many people in the kink world have even more extreme desires than Emily's partner, and many of them find satisfaction in role play. If a person found the innocence of youth arousing, they could role play it with a partner of legal age acting and dressing like someone underage. If a person was aroused by lethal violence, they could role play it in a safe environment with a partner playing the role of a victim.

An individual who has desires which cannot be acted out safely could talk to her partner to get to the root of what it is about the fetish which really turns the person on. Perhaps it is the sense of total domination, extreme submission, irresponsibility, or simplicity which appeals to the person. Whatever it is, a scene can be crafted to focus specifically on those areas. Role play gives the participants the opportunity to custom write their own life-action pornography and live it for real.

While the underlying desires that are satisfied by this kind of role playing are the sort that could lead an unbalanced person to commit offenses to law and morality, used in role play, these desires can be the fuel that drives scenes of great intensity and satisfaction for both partners.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Grass is Just As Green

You've probably heard the expression "the grass is always greener on the other side." Nowhere is that more true than in the world of relationships. People often look around and think that what they see is better than what they have. The fact of the matter is that everything that we encounter in every aspect of our lives has its pros and cons.

Dan says: I was dating this girl exclusively, and she was pretty cool, but I kept wondering what I was missing out on by not seeing other girls. Then I met this other girl. She was wicked hot, and I ended up leaving my old girlfriend for her. Turns out that she was just another girl, and I threw a great relationship away.

It is common for someone in an exclusive relationship to wonder what you might be missing out on, but the fact of the matter is that the value of a relationship is in the connection that builds over time, and one should think long and hard before throwing that away to try something new.

This is also true of various relationship styles. It is a common belief among many people that everyone else is having more and better sex than they are. This is even more the case when monogamous, vanilla people first learn of polyamory or kink. They learn about polyamory and get the idea that that polyamorous people get all the benefits of a relationship without having to limit themselves. What they don't understand is that, while polyamory does allow the options, there is a great deal of work that has to go into those relationships. Work on trying to compromise among the needs of not just two people, but multiple people; work on dealing with jealousy; even work on arranging schedules.

This principle applies to everything in life. Before looking on the other side to find what you are looking for, perhaps you will find that what you seek is actually right there beside you.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

On Common Interests

As I have been handing out a great many fliers for Smart Love at Pi-Con, I decided to delay part 6 of the Kink 101 until Monday. Don't worry, I did not forget.

Dan says: When I date someone, I want them to be into what I am into. When I go to a sci-fi con, I want to be able to bring her with me and not hear her complain that she is bored all the time.

Suzie says: A guy doesn't really need to be into the stuff that I am into. It is good to have outside interests. Sometimes you need to get away.

Some people feel that it is very important that a couple have common interests and enjoy hobbies together. Others feel that hobbies are good separate. They do this thing with their partner, but this other thing their partner is not involved in at all. Both of these viewpoints are entirely valid, but they will create different forms of relationships.

All Together Now
Many of us know a couple that is an inseparable unit. I don't mean the lovebirds, joined at the hip because they cannot stand to be apart. I am referring to the kind of couple that complements each other's skills and work together on a business or some other project. This can work very well. They are a tight team and they trust each other implicitly. They have the constant comfort of being part of something strong like that. On the downside, they do not get much time apart. If they need a great deal of alone time, this situation will cause friction. It is also very important that both people be good at conflict management. It is very difficult to leave work at the office, when the staff at the office comes home with you.

Some couples enjoy going to events such as conventions or nightclubs together. In the old days, a married couple was seen as an indivisible unit. Without discussing the greater social implications of this, I will say that when one encounters a couple like this, there is a certain amount of stability and gravitas that they project. These two people together are not just two people, they are an institution created by the strength of this relationship. Each member of the relationship also feels the confidence that comes with being something strong and stable. Of course, this is only the case if the couple comes across as being a strong, stable couple. The illusion is somewhat lost if they are fighting and sniping in public.

Often couples are more accepted than individuals, especially individual men, because a couple is seen as more stable and less threatening. Simply put, people are less concerned that a couple will run off with their wife or husband or daughter or son. This is not to say that single people are viewed with suspicion, but couples tend to be viewed with less concern. Interestingly, this phenomenon exists in the polyamorous as well as monogamous worlds.

Separate Paths to Meet Up On the Other Side
Some couples like to do their own thing and specifically spend their together time together. They each have their own hobbies and interests and when they spend time together it is intentional time with just them. This is a fine situation for many people. It means that any concerns and stresses from their activities will not splash back into the relationship. On the other hand, there is always a certain amount of distance that will remain in the relationship because of the separation. Each person will have people at work or in these other avocations that they share things with which their significant other will not understand.

Mr. Jennings says: I love to go out hunting, but Mrs. Jennings has no interest in even hearing about it. I love the smell of the woods, the thrill of the hunt. Since Mrs. Jennings is not interested in it, I have some buddies that I go on my hunting trips with.

While Mr. and Mrs. Jennings have a very close relationship, there are things about Mr. Jennings that Mrs. Jennings will never understand. Since he spends about 7 weekends every summer in the woods, there is a large piece of his life that she is not a part of. Neither of them mind this. He gets to do what he wants to do and she does not have to be involved in it. As we know, no one person can satisfy every single need of another person. In this case, Mr. Jennings satisfies his need to go hunting with his buddies. They know of a side of him that his wife does not and it works very well for everyone.

Should you share your hobbies and interests with your significant other? That is a question that only you can answer. Perhaps you would find it more comfortable to keep your interests completely separate. Maybe you would love the idea of conquering the world side by side with your soul mate. Perhaps you are somewhere in the middle. There is no right answer except for the answer that is right for you and the person you are with. The important thing is to communicate about it openly and honestly and to be sure that the style that you choose is the right one for everyone involved.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Kink 101, Part 5: Your Kink is Okay, So Is Theirs

This is the fifth in a six part series on kink. In this series, we will discuss the following topics:
8/16: Introduction to kink
8/17: Sadomasochism
8/18: Dominance and Submission
8/19: Abuses of Power
8/20: Your Kink Is OK
8/21: Safely Expressing Extreme Fetishes

There is a common expression in the kink community: "Your kink is okay." It is an expression of understanding that everyone in the kink community enjoys activities that might be considered unacceptable in the mainstream public. Kinksters may find that other people's kinks are disturbing to them, but they understand that some find their proclivities improper, so they try to show acceptance to others.

My Kink is OK, Yours Is Messed Up
This is not as easy as it sounds. Humans naturally form biases against people who are not like them in one way or another. Even the kinkiest, wildest people out there, people's whose lifestyles are too extreme to talk about on pay cable TV, even these people may look at someone else's interests and think that they are "messed up."

Dominick says: I'm into a whole lot of kinky stuff, but there are some people out there in the scene who are really screwed up. I mean, there is something wrong with them. Watersports? Seriously! Why would anyone do that.

Like any other community, there are behaviors that are considered normal and others that are considered deviant. For example, in Dominick's circles, thug play is common. While Dominick understands that there are many who would find the violence in thug play too intense to even watch, he does not understand that he should afford to others the same acceptance that he expects from others.
Safe, Sane and Consensual
For many years, the standard in the kink community has been "safe, sane, and consensual." There are some in the community who prefer the term RACK (Risk Aware Consensual Kink). I will discuss the difference in a moment.

By safe, this standard means that the participants avoid activities which have a reasonable chance of causing severe physical injury. If the activity that the participants desire to engage in is inherently dangerous, such as breath play, then they will take all precautions to make it as safe as possible.

Sane is a subjective standard of sanity of the activity. Golden showers are not really dangerous, and many people find them objectionable, but they do not tend to lead to negative consequences, so they would be perfectly sane for this purpose. On the other hand, a couple into sex in public doing it on a public bench on Fifth Avenue would not be, in the author's opinion.

Consensual is exactly what it sounds like. Both parties must consent to what is going to happen with full knowledge, as much as possible, of the implications of the activity. This consent must be revocable by either party at any time for any reason.

Because the kink community is a group of people who a brought together by the common factor that mainstream society thinks that something they do is improper, it is a bit improper in itself for one kinkster to judge another kinkster's interests unless there is something about it that fails to be safe, sane, and consensual.

RACK (Risk Aware Consensual Kink)
Some people disagree with the use of SSC because they feel it is too limited for some activities. They feel that some things are inherently dangerous and engaging in them entails a certain degree of risk, thus not "safe". The "Risk Aware" portion replaces "Safe, Sane" meaning that all parties understand all risks and have done their best to mitigate them. The debate between SSC and RACK is mostly a debate of semantics rather than actual philosophy, but I felt the need to touch on it here to stave off reader discontent.

Your Kink is OK, and So Is His and Hers
As you consider your own interests and desires, it is important to remember that, just because something does not appeal to you does not mean that there is anything wrong with it. You may not like Indian food, but that does not mean that every Indian restaurant should be closed down, just that you should not eat there yourself. Likewise, with any activity that is safe, sane, and consensual, you may not be interested in engaging in it, but you have no right to judge someone who does enjoy it.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Kink 101, Part 4: The Line Between Kink and Abuse

This is the third in a six part series on kink. In this series, we will discuss the following topics:
8/16: Introduction to kink
8/17: Sadomasochism
8/18: Dominance and Submission
8/19: Abuses of Power
8/20: Your Kink Is OK
8/21: Safely Expressing Extreme Fetishes

It is important to speak of abuse in regards to kink for two reasons: the first is that some who are uninformed will mistake healthy, consensual kink for abuse. The second is that one might confuse abuse for kink.

Abuse can only really happen in a situation where there is an uneven power dynamic. If someone walked up to you on the street and hit you, you would probably fight back or call the police. However, a person with whom you have a relationship hurts you, they may leverage their power in the relationship to keep you from taking action. Furthermore, they may use isolation and ego-busting language to make you feel powerless to respond.

In a vanilla relationship, there are fairly clear markers for abuse such as violence, humiliation, and isolation. These three things are inappropriate in a vanilla relationship, but they are all themes which may be played with in a kinky relationship which may make it more difficult to be able to easily discern when play becomes abuse.

Relationships Should Make A Person Stronger and Happier
One rule of thumb to keep in mind is that a relationship should make a person better, stronger, happier. A submissive should feel pride and self esteem at his ability to please his master. He may feel disappointment when he fails to please his master, but this disappointment should be out of a desire to do well, rather from a sense of inadequacy.

Good Pain, Bad Pain
It is common in kink for a top to perform violence upon the bottom. Sometimes this violence is pretty clearly sexualized, such as spanking and flogging. However, some couples will indulge in activities like face slapping, choking, and even punching. They do this because they enjoy the sensation of it and/or the scene that it creates, and there is nothing wrong with it as long as it is consensual. The bottom must always have the power to stop the scene immediately, and the top should never be striking the bottom in anger outside of a scene (unless this has been pre-negotiated with the bottom).

It is also very important that any sadomasochistic activity be done with great care for safety. Abuse is generally striking out in anger or to maintain an inappropriate level of control. Sadomasochistic violence, on the other hand, should be very controlled and, to some degree, planned. The sting of a flogger may be sexy. The throb of a twisted ankle is not.

Good Humiliation, Bad Humiliation
The purpose of humiliation in a scene is to create an artificial power dynamic which is sexy by its contrast to the reality. Even in a humiliation scene, the submissive should feel better about himself after it is over, proud of his performance and the appreciation of his dominant. If a scene is causing the submissive to think less of himself, to feel dirty or uncomfortable, then it is inappropriate.

Just as with sadomasochism one must be careful about causing physical harm, with humiliation and other psychological play it is just as important, if not more so, to be careful about causing psychological harm. Scenes like humiliation must be conducted carefully, and the top must be very careful to monitor the bottom in order to make sure that he is still  in a mental place to be able to use the safeword if necessary.

Isolation and High Protocol
High protocol relationships must be crafted carefully to avoid potentially abusive dynamics. A high protocol relationship is one in which the dominant controls many details of the submissive's life. There may be rules for how the submissive may address the dominant, and even rules for how the submissive may speak to those outside of the relationship. For some submissives, this kind of relationship is very comforting. The rituals and structure create a sense of comfort and safety.

It is important that the protocol must be structured in such a way as to allow the submissive to address concerns to the dominant. It is also important to make sure that the protocol does not disrupt relationships with friends and family. It is entirely possible to get so deep into protocol that one forgets the importance of maintaining these crucial outside relationships.

Dan says: I had a friend who got into a high protocol relationship. I tried to talk to her one time, and she said to me, "Do not approach me when he is not present. He will take offense." I was shocked and this friend of a few years has not talked to me since because of this "high protocol" situation.

The Rest of the World is Not In Your Scene
Dan's story brings up the important point that other people are not in your scene. You can do whatever you want between the two of you, but do not expect friends, family, and strangers to abide by your relationship protocols.

Overall, a relationship should make you happy. It should make you a better person. If some part of your relationship makes you uncomfortable, you should address it. Your discomfort is a warning sign indicating a problem with the situation, never a failing on your part.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Kink 101, Part 3: The Power to Surrender

This is the third in a six part series on kink. In this series, we will discuss the following topics:
8/16: Introduction to kink
8/17: Sadomasochism
8/18: Dominance and Submission
8/19: Abuses of Power
8/20: Your Kink Is OK
8/21: Safely Expressing Extreme Fetishes

Like many of the topics I am approaching in this series, dominance and submission (the DS in BDSM) is a large and complex topic which I will only scratch the surface of in this article. This article is intended to be a general overview of the topic. As always, I am happy to explore any topic of interest to my readers in deeper detail.

Dominance and submission is the voluntary surrendering of power from the submissive to the dominant. This transfer of  power can be for a single scene or it can be for a 24-7 relationship. The level of power transferred also varies from one relationship to another. In some cases, it is simply a matter of attitude, in others the submissive expresses their submission by allowing the dominant to control anything from choice of clothing to restricting the use of certain words in their vocabulary.

Dominick says: While the popular image of a Dom is a person dressed in leather with a bullwhip, dominance is a mental state, not a style of dress. A dominant can be dominant in a business suit, a leather suit, or a birthday suit. Attire and equipment can augment the image, but the force of dominance comes entirely from within the dominant.

The most important thing to understand is that a healthy Ds relationship exists within a few boundaries:

Revocable Consent - The submissive is willingly and knowingly surrendering power to the dominant. The submissive also has the power to revoke the dominant's power at any time.

The Power to Submit - One cannot transfer a power that one does not have. The submissive must have power over themselves before they can surrender it to their dominant.

Rational Boundaries - Sometimes, Ds can get very extreme. Consider the scene in Secretary where Lee has to report to Mr. Grey what she is eating and he instructs her how much she can eat. It is important that this not get to the point where it affects real life things like work, friends, and family.

Who Submits?
For some people, the idea of being in control and calling the shots is very enticing. For others, the release of responsibility in handing power to another is very appealing. People generally have a good idea of if they are naturally a dominant, a submissive, or a switch. (A switch is one who enjoys both dominance and submission.)

One who is not familiar with Ds might get the idea that dominance and submission is a matter of strength and weakness, but this is not entirely correct. It would be more accurate to say that it is a matter of strength and surrender. The dominant is strong enough to be able to hold the responsibility for both the dominant and the submissive, and the submissive, recognizing that strength, is comfortable enough to give over power to the dominant, knowing that he or she will use it responsibly, keeping in mind the needs of both the dominant and the submissive.

While many dominants are male and many submissives are female, it does not break down along gender lines. Many women enjoy being dominant, and many men enjoy submitting.

In many scenes, the dominant is also the top, and the submissive is the bottom. However, it is not uncommon to switch those roles. For example, picture a dominant man who orders his submissive to get into the missionary-female-dominant position. He is still in control, even though she is in a "top" position. A dominant may also enjoy receiving pain, such as a flogging, and he may give orders that the submissive serve her in that way.

On Being a Dominant
As a dominant, either in a scene or in relationship, one has the opportunity to have power in a way that most people do not experience in our daily lives. While the power differs from scene to scene and relationship to relationship, a dominant in a scene might be able to give explicit orders to the submissive to carry out specific instructions. The dominant in a relationship might create lists of tasks to be completed by the submissive. The submissive will carry out these instructions, often with pride and enthusiasm. Even if you are a manager in your day job, the kind of obedience that you will get from your subordinates is nothing like what you will get from a submissive.

Being a dominant is not just giving orders and calling the shots. It is also very challenging. The dominant is responsible for both herself and her submissive. That is a great deal of responsibility. In a non-Ds dynamic, both parties are involved in making sure that everyone enjoys the scene. In a Ds situation, the enjoyment of both people is in her hands. Furthermore, the submissive's safety is also in the hands of the dominant. The submissive always has the option of using a safeword, but there are always other issues of safety that the dominant must consider. Some people find this very appealing, but others find this to be too much responsibility to be fun.

On Being a Submissive
Our daily lives are full of responsibilities. Homework, taxes, work, family. At the most practical level, a submissive has the opportunity to set all of this aside, placing all of this responsibility into the hands of the dominant. Of course, this requires a great deal of trust. The submissive needs to trust both the dominant's integrity and her skill. Different levels of trust are required depending on the nature of the relationship. For a simple scene, the level of trust is not the same as that needed for a 24-7 relationship.

The Appeal of a Dominance and Submission
Many people, dominant, submissive, and switch enjoy seeing a good dominant or submissive, both in and out of the bedroom.

Have you ever seen someone who seems completely in control of a situation? A person who walks into a room and can take control of it, not through aggression or threat but through strength and confidence. The kind of person that you want to follow because you know that he will lead to places you want to follow. Even if it is not a sexual attraction, one might find a great appeal in this kind of person. In a scene, a submissive has the chance to get this kind of person all to himself, up close and personal.

A submissive also demonstrates a very appealing kind of strength. He has the confidence to trust his power to the dominant. Anyone can yield from a position of weakness, but a good submissive is sexy because he is surrendering his power entirely of his own free will. Not because he has to, but because he wants to.

Brats and Rolling
In some Ds dynamics, the transfer of power is entirely pre-negotiated. The submissive surrenders power to the dominant as a matter of negotiation. In other dynamics, the the dominant has to work for it.

A "brat" is a submissive who only partially submits. She will submit but may resist some instructions, requiring the dominant to work to maintain his dominance in the scene or relationship.

Candy says: I'm not a brat. I'm an "independently minded submissive."

"Rolling" is the term for flipping the power dynamic. This is most common in a relationship between switches. Some people roll their partner simply by demonstrating dominance with a look or tone. Others roll their partner by physically wrestling with them.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Kink 101, Part 2: Making It Hurt So Good

This is the second in a six part series on kink. In this series, we will discuss the following topics:
8/16: Introduction to kink
8/17: Sadomasochism
8/18: Dominance and Submission
8/19: Abuses of Power
8/20: Your Kink Is OK
8/21: Safely Expressing Extreme Fetishes

Sadomasochism is the element that mainstream people most commonly associate with kink. The whip bearing dominatrix. The submissive begging for punishment. These are some of the archetypal images of kink. While there is a great deal more to kink than sadomasochism, it is a very common kink pursuit and a good place to start.

This is an area of kink where safety is extremely important. Nobody wants to have to explain a bedroom injury to an emergency room doctor. More importantly, people are generally playing with someone that they care about, and most people would rather not cause serious injury to someone that they care about (or even someone that they don't care about, for that matter.)

As we discussed yesterday, the appeal of sadomasochism is that it creates an intense experience. The pain is felt as intense sensation, which, for a masochist in the right headspace, is quite pleasurable. The extreme sensation causes the release of endorphins, the same neurochemical that causes runner's high.

Sadomasochism can take many forms. Some tops use the tools that God provide with their body: hands for spanking and slapping, nails for scratching, and teeth for biting. There are also implements, sometimes referred to as toys, which are used for causing erotic plain. Almost anything can be used, as long as it is used safely. Two of the most common toys used are floggers and paddles.

A floggerOriginal image address
One of the most common toys used for this kind of play is a flogger. This description is from the Wikipedia article on flogging: 

The flogger used in this context consists of a handle with an number of attached thongs known as "falls". Falls are typically made of materials such as suede, leather, rubber, rope, or other or flexible materials. The length, number, and composition of the falls determines the sensation caused by the flogger. Floggers are usually characterized by the sensation they cause. "Thuddy" floggers typically impart a broadly felt deep muscle impact, while "stingy" floggers are felt as a sharp stinging sensation over the skin. The sensation of floggers can also vary with the techniques used by the dominant (or top).

Floggers are typically applied to areas of the body which are well muscled, or protected by body fat, such as the upper back or buttocks. Vulnerable areas such as the abdomen, kidneys, and face are to be avoided. Some areas, such as female breasts, can be lightly flogged safely if appropriate care and skill is used. Intense flogging can leave bruising but typically does not cut or permanently mark the skin.

A Wooden Paddle
From Wikicommons
Another commonly used implement is a paddle. This is a piece of plastic of wood which is used to strike the buttocks. Some tops will also strike the upper thigh. It is important to be a very careful with a paddle. While a flogger may be somewhat forgiving, a paddle is a very solid and unyielding toy. Striking too hard can cause welts, or even, if one is not careful, break skin. It is also important to aim carefully, because a strike on the tail bone will not lead to a pleasant result.

Sadomasochism In Other Scenes
Often sadomasochism is done on its own or as foreplay for a sexual encounter. A flogger, for example, can build up sensitivity in the skin, and heighten the sexual experience. 

Pain can also be used in role playing scenes. For example, a couple might engage in an interrogation scene, where the bottom is tied up and beaten by the top in an attempt to extract some piece of information. In this type of scene, the pain is often just a vehicle for the top to express dominance.

Sadomasochism for Beginners
Due to safety concerns, it is important to ease into sadomasochism. One should not just grab an implement and start whacking away. First, it is important for the couple to discuss their limits and desires. Both people must be clear on what the other is hoping to get out of the experience as well as what the other is comfortable with. Yes, that communication thing again!

Often, many couples start with spanking with a hand. This is a good starting place because it does not require any special equipment, and it is relatively easy to avoid serious injury. The top is advised to start lightly and work up in intensity. This is for two reasons. First, it is better to hit too light than too hard. Second, for many bottoms, they need to work up to the headspace to enjoy a more intense sensation. Even if the top was hitting hard last time, he should still start slower the next time, to give the bottom a chance to get  into it.

If one is interested in getting more heavily involved in sadism, it is important to do the homework. Research the types of sadism that one will be using. If there is a munch or kink group in the area, it is good to go there and ask more experienced people about what dangers and pitfalls one should avoid. If there are no resources in the area, one should go on Fetlife to one of the groups for newbies. The Smart Love Group is also a good place to ask questions.

If you have specific questions and would like to remain anonymous, you may ask them through the anonymous FormSpring page for Smart Love.