Can You Truly Consent Ahead of Time?

As you will have seen already if you’ve been reading this blog for long, I have Many Feels about consent. In short, consent is everything. In all areas of life, but in sex and relationships in particular.

Full disclosure the first: I pondered this one for a long time, nearly didn’t post it at all, then went “oh fuck it.”

Full disclosure the second: it’s relatively late on Friday night and I’m tired as fuck. This might not be my best work ever.

Psst – don’t forget to check out #KinkMonth and join the conversation!

A white pillow with the words "do not disturb" in black. For a post on sleep sex and pre consent

Today in 30 Days of D/s, Kayla and John are talking about sexual availability. They say:

In some D/s relationships (including ours), there is an agreement that the submissive will always be sexually available to their Dominant. While this can be a kinky, sexy aspect of a relationship, it always requires a great deal of trust from the submissive and responsibility from the Dominant. What do you think? Does it sound deliciously sexy? Or does it not sound appealing at all?

Pre-consent vs. sexual availability

Mr CK and I do not have this type of arrangement as such, because we’re not in a 24/7 D/s relationship. What we do have, however, is certain types of what we call “blanket consent” or “pre-consent”- which, in practice, I imagine works in much the same way as a relationship where the submissive has consented ahead of time to sexual activity when the Dominant wants it. That is, it’s okay for you to do this thing unless I explicitly withdraw consent in the moment.

One of the things we’ve put this in place for is instigating sex/play while the other is asleep. Either of us can do this, and we’ve pre-negotiated that it’s okay. I find it really hot to be woken up from sleep because he’s decided he wants to fuck me. (And I’m a LIGHT sleeper so there’s no chance of my not waking up once he starts making a move on me.)

The reasons this works and is safe for our relationship, I think, are threefold:

First and most important: trust

Pre-consent of any kind, especially for sexual activity when in a vulnerable situation like being asleep, is edgy shit. It requires a huge amount of trust. This is not something you do on a first date. I really don’t recommend playing around with this level of vulnerability with a partner until you have a seriously solid foundation of trust.

Again: this is edge-play. Treat it accordingly.

Secondly, we exercise common sense and don’t abuse the trust

Just because he technically could, under this agreement, wake me up for sex at 3am the night before an important early meeting… doesn’t mean that he would.

Part of having agreements around pre- or blanket- consent means not abusing the trust your partner has put in you. These agreements exist, hopefully, because both parties find them sexy and are enthusiastically into whatever the thing being consented to is. Using them in a way that is likely to cause your partner harm or distress violates the spirit of the very trust required to have these kinds of arrangements in the first place.

Finally, we’re both totally happy to withdraw consent if necessary

I used to be the kind of person who would think, “well, I agreed to this in advance – or at least implied I might be up for it – so I guess I have to go along with it now even though I really don’t want to.” I am not that person any more.

We both say no when we mean no. Being able to rely on each other to do this means that we can relax into the play, knowing that the consent we’re receiving from the other person is genuine.

So: can you consent to something in advance?

My answer is… kind of. In theory I’ve given Mr consent to wake me up for sex any time he chooses. In practice, I could withdraw that consent any and every time he invokes this, if I chose to… and he would respect that withdrawal without question and with no negative consequences to our relationship. So, in reality, I’m actually consenting to the activity in a very meaningful and ongoing way at the time.

Because if you can’t withdraw consent, it’s not really consent at all. In advance or otherwise.

Kinky item of the day: Cuffs! Forget metal handcuffs (they’re either shit quality or painful as fuck in a bad way, in my experience.) What about these black leather beauties?

The above is an affiliate link. All opinions are, and will always be, entirely my own.

The image featured in this post was offered for use via Creative Commons Licensing.

Building Your House Together: Using Rules for Good

Hey, I’m pro-rules in relationships. (Related, I’m also pro-hierarchy in polyamory – yes, even when I’m not the one on top of the heap. Read this to find out why.)

A close up of a section of red brick wall, for a post about rules

Did you see that I’m celebrating #KinkMonth by writing posts inspired by Kayla Lords’ 30 Days of D/s project?

Join the discussion on Twitter or sign up for the project yourself – it’s FREE and can be used any way you like. Today’s prompt is all about rules. Kayla and John simply ask:

Do you know what kind of rules you may want or need?

A note about this post: it doesn’t contain much in the way of practical tips. I will do one soon with some more concrete advice on setting positive and useful relationship rules. This one is more a primer on my personal philosophy on the concept of rules/agreements in romantic relationships.

What’s wrong with rules?

A lot of non-monogamous people are against rules in relationships. The thinking goes: if you need rules to keep your partner from hurting you, the relationship is already doomed. I kind of agree with that sentiment, in so far as it goes. But I think it presents an unhelpfully pessimistic view on the role of rules in adult relationships.

Mr CK and I have rules in our relationship. They include things like always using condoms with lovers outside of our dyad, STI testing every 3 months, not having sex with someone new until the other has met the person, and not engaging in ongoing (i.e. longer than a scene) D/s dynamics with other people.

The rules don’t exist to keep either of us in line or prevent us from running amok over each other’s feelings. If we were going to do that, no rules would stop us, in the same way that the “rules” of traditional monogamy won’t stop somebody who is determined to cheat.

We have them because they keep us, and our relationship, happy and healthy.

A better framework

Used properly, rules aren’t a tool to bash your partner over the head with or keep them in line against your will. Used properly, they’re are the walls you build – collaboratively – to contain the house of your relationship.

You can use the word “agreements,” if you prefer, but in this framework they amount to the same thing. They’re limits, boundaries or modes of behaviour that you both (/all) agree to operate within, for the good of the relationship and everyone involved. Good rules should bring a sense of safety and security, like the solid, stable walls of your home. They’re not a prison.

If the agreements of your relationship are feeling like a cage, a conversation with your partner is in order. If your partner is arbitrarily imposing new ones without due discussion and buy-in from you, that’s a major red flag. (Incidentally, you obviously shouldn’t do this to your partner either!) To go back to the shared house metaphor, you wouldn’t just decide to build an extension or divide your living room in half without consulting your partner, would you? (If you would, umm, your relationship operates very differently from mine so please explain to me how this works for you!)

Build your house – together

I was once invited to move in by a partner and metamour. The further into “how will this work?” discussions we got, the more I came to realise a troubling fact. Namely, that their concept was that I would have little to no say in the running of the house. From the colour we’d paint the bathroom to the guests who were and weren’t allowed in the house, I would have very minimal input – while paying half the mortgage, naturally. I realise now, looking back, how fitting a metaphor this was for our relationship. They made the rules and I got no say, both in our trio and in my dyadic relationship with him. We weren’t building the metaphoric (or literal) house together – I was a permanent guest in theirs. I was caged.

I share this anecdote just to illustrate how a framework of rules can be really badly misappropriated. Contrast this with Mr CK and me, who thoroughly negotiate every agreement we make as equals. We leave them all open to discussion of renegotiation at any time, and always consider them with the best possible outcome for everyone involved in mind. Saying all rules (/agreements/boundaries) are inherently bad is like saying walls or doors or windows or grey tiling are inherently bad. They’re not. They’re elements you can pick and choose for your house – your relationship – to make sure it’s designed exactly the way you want it.

Keeping the house clean

You don’t build a house, move in, and expect to never do any work on it again. That’d be ridiculous. You have to sweep, do the dishes, repaint the odd wall and occasionally rip a piece out completely and spend loads of time fixing it. Maintaining the ‘house’ of your relationship is exactly the same. You don’t set the rules once and then you’re done. No. You have to tinker, negotiate

Build your perfect relationship the way you’d build your perfect house, with walls – agreements – to keep you cozy inside. That way, you can prevent the leaking roof of drama, and always have a safe home to retreat to and invite your loved ones into.

Kinky item of the day: Nipple clamps, for squeezy, pinchy fun! I looove clamps so much, both on my nipples and labia. (Pro tip: leave them on for more than 5-10 minutes, and they hurt like hell when they come off!)

This post contains an affiliate link. If you buy through it, I may make a small commission. Opinions are, and will always be, my own.

The image in this post was offered for use via Creative Commons Licensing.

The C Word: All The Wrong Things I Was Ever Taught About Consent

Are you celebratiing #KinkMonth? If not, you totally should be! Why not treat yourself to something exciting, and enjoy a free lube when you spend at least £30 on kinky goodies at Lovehoney?

I’m celebrating by taking part in Kayla Lords’ 30 Days of D/s programme and writing posts inspired by the prompts. Today… oh boy. It’s the big one. Simultaneously one of my favourite topics, and one that feels too massive to actively delve into.

Today, we’re talking consent. 

Scrabble style letters spell out "yes" on a slate grey background. For a post on consent

Look, I can’t have my say on consent in one post. I just can’t. I’ll probably write a book on it one day (or at least a collection of essays,) but today I have to tell you something meaningful about one of the biggest and thorniest topics out there, in 1,000 words or less.

Something I learned recently: prior to finding sex-positivity, everything I was ever taught about consent is wrong. Everything you were ever taught about it is probably wrong, too.

Let’s go ahead and delve into some of the wrongness.

“Only men need to seek consent. Women don’t need to ask because men are always up for sex.”

If there is one myth that I think could fix so many of the world’s problems around sex if it would just have the decency to die in a fucking fire already, it’s this one.

Newsflash: sometimes, women want sex. Sometimes, men don’t want sex – tonight or this week or with this person or ever. Sometimes women want sex more than men[1] or at different times than men. And everyone needs to seek consent before and while engaging in any kind of sexual activity. (Incidentally, there are more than two genders and not all sex is heterosexual, so there’s that. Consent rules apply the same.)

[1] Source: literally every single male-shaped person I’ve ever dated having a lower sex drive than me, whether only slightly lower or a whole lot lower.

“Consent is unsexy and ruins the mood.”

Fuck this one! Fuck it backwards and upside down with a cactus, seriously.

Consent doesn’t have to be unsexy, awkward or scary. It doesn’t have to be a big sit-down discussion with yes/no/maybe lists (though these are awesome,) contracts and lawyers, for fuck’s sake. It can be straightforward: “I’d really like to kiss you, would you be into that?” “What kind of sex are you into tonight?” It can be playful: “Hey baby, wanna spank my ass?” It can be sexy: “God, I want to fuck you so bad. Do you want my cock?”

And you know what? Even if it IS awkward, even if you DO perceive active consent as unsexy… it’s still fucking vital. Get over it.

“If she says “no” or pushes you away, it might really mean “yes.””

No no no no no no no.

If someone says no or pushes you away, unless it’s part of a very clearly negotiated game (in which instance, you have a safeword, right!?)… no means fucking no.

Playing hard to get is bullshit. Even if you think someone might be doing it (because societal stigma is strong, especially when it comes to women being enthusiastic about sex,) the correct response is to stop what you’re doing and have a conversation with your partner about what’s going on and what you both want and don’t want. The correct response is never to just go ahead and have the sex.

No means no. Pushing you away means no. Freezing means no. Hemming and hawing without giving an enthusiastic “yes” means no. Making excuses means no. “I have a headache” means no. “We really shouldn’t” means no. Say it with me now: anything that isn’t clear and unambiguous consent means no.

“If I don’t ask, they’ll have sex with me! But if I ask, they might say no.”

If you ask and they say no, they were either never going to have sex with you in the first place and would have told you to stop when you got close to a boundary, or they would have endured an experience they weren’t really consenting to, possibly out of fear of the repercussions of saying no.

Is it worth risking maybe raping someone because you’re afraid that asking gives them permission to maybe say no?

(If your answer to the above question is “yes,” fuck off from my blog, ask yourself some serious questions, get therapy and don’t go near another human until you sort your shit out.)

“It’s really hard to know if someone’s consenting or not!”

First: no, it isn’t. Most people’s body language when they’re into an encounter is actually quite clear, and VERY different from the aforementioned “going along with it because you might really hurt me if I say no.”

Second: FUCKING ASK.

Third: if you’re still not sure, it’s your responsibility to not do the thing until you are sure.

See also: this song. [Song is “For the Guys” by Rachel Lark, who is a fucking badass genius. Lyrics include “if you’re not sure that it’s not rape, don’t do it!“]

Tell me in the comments or on Twitter: what lies were you told about consent?

Kinky item of the day is one from my “maybe someday when I have a shedload of money” wishlist: a proper custom-fit chastity belt. (Not an affiliate link and I have no connection to the company.)

Heads up: this post contains an affiliate link and if you buy through it, I make a small commission. All opinions are, and will always be, my own.

The image featured in this post was offered for use under Creative Commons Licensing.

Competitive Submission, or: A Journey Through Labels

For those just joining now, I’m celebrating #KinkMonth by writing posts inspired by Kayla Lords’ 30 Days of D/s project.

Day 3 is about labels. Today’s post is quite vulnerable and also heavily based on a stream of consciousness I splurged onto Fetlife last year. Kayla & John ask:

Beyond the basic title of Dominant or submissive, are there other titles you prefer or are interested in exploring? Are there any that turn you off or don’t seem like a good fit for you?

Some titles for Dominants may be Master, Sir, Daddy, Mistress, Lady, etc. Titles for submissives can be pet, babygirl, little one, boy, girl, etc.

A name badge style label with "submissive" crossed out and "Switch" next to it. For a post on competitive submission.

On Fetlife, you have to pick a “role” to list on your profile. There’s the usual Dominant, submissive, Master, Mistress, slave. Then there’s the slightly more specific babygirl/babyboy, Daddy, Mommy, pet, Primal. And then there’s the nondescript and vague Kinkster, Unsure, Evolving.

I’ve flip-flopped between labels over the years. For a very long time, I considered myself the most subby of the submissives. Topping was just not something I could ever see myself doing. So I listed my role as submissive.

Then, at twenty, I found myself pinning a willing submissive man to a bed and fucking him, telling him that he was Mine. And I liked it. Gradually, I explored my Dominant energy and realised I could get off on that rush of power, on reducing someone to a puddle of lust with just my hands and voice. I changed my label to Switch.

Then I realised that being young, hot and listed as a Switch brought out the worst of all kinds of men on Fetlife. The Doms were convinced their Domly dick was all I would ever need to shove myself firmly back into the box labelled “submissive”. The submissives wanted to crawl at my feet and serve me (for the value of “serve” which means “have me fulfill their every sexual fantasy”). I couldn’t be arsed with it. I switched to the vague Kinkster. Something about that nondescript label – possibly along with aging out of the coveted “18-24” age bracket – hugely diminished the number of unsolicited gunk in my inbox. But it didn’t feel like me.

In the midst of my relationship with my ex-Master, I switched (heh) back to submissive. I filled my profile with variations on, “I AM OWNED, LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE”. It worked, sort of, but it still only described a fraction of the rich and complex tapestry of the Amy.

Me and Mr CK switch with each other. This has been the case since the beginning, and will most continue to be the case for as long as our lives run in parallel. We both enjoy both sides of the slash (him more “D,” me more “). So I changed my role once again to Switch, and that was that.

And then… well. There’s no way to make myself look good here. I got competitive. Jealous. Scared.

My partner started dating someone, you see, who we’ll call The Doctor. She listed herself as 100% submissive. (Having been on the receiving end of her hand spanking my ass, I respectfully disagree with that label, but people have the right to self-identify.) It was this, more than the sex or the romance or anything else, that freaked me the fuck out. My headweasels took over and convinced me absolutely, in the space of a couple of weeks, that:

One: Identifying as a submissive, instead of a Switch, made this person inherently better at submitting than me purely on the basis that they never swapped roles.

Two: Therefore, my partner would prefer playing with her to playing with me.

Three: Therefore, my partner would use all his kinky/sexy/Dominant energy on her, leaving none left for me, start taking her to all our favourite kinky events instead of me, and collar her as his 24/7 submissive despite emphatically telling me he doesn’t want that dynamic with anybody.

Four: Therefore, my relationship would be over if I couldn’t show him beyond all doubt that I was at least as good a submissive, if not better, than this other person.

The thing is, this was all in my head. Neither of them did anything to indicate to me that there was any validity to these fears whatsoever. In desperation, not knowing what else to do to fight the battle against my own mind, I changed my status back to submissive. It took a very long and tearful conversation with my partner, in which all my fears fell out of my mouth and into his lap, for me to articulate what was really going on and say “I’m scared as fuck that you’ll leave me for someone else who’s more submissive than I am.”

That was when I learned that my Switchyness, and the Switching dynamic we share, is a feature, not a bug. It’s one of the things he loves about me. It was also when I began to internalise that:

One: Submission is not a contest.

Two: Being a Switch doesn’t make my submission, when I give it, less real or authentic or beautiful.

There’s a stigma against Switches in a lot of the kink world. Much like bisexuals, we’re told that we’re greedy, that we’re confused. That we need to get off the fence and make up our damn minds.

I tend to date either Top-leaning Switches, or exclusive Tops/Doms. It’s getting much better (thanks, in part, to fabulous partners who embrace ALL of me as I am!) but on some levels I still struggle with the insecurity whispering that, as a Switch, I’m a poor second choice and a Top/Dom would always choose a 100% submissive over me and like a 100% submissive more than me. I also worry, because Mr and I hang out at a lot of fem-sub/M-Dom events, that I’ll be judged poorly or thought less of due to being a Switch.

On the flip side, sometimes I feel like a fraud for identifying as Switch because my interests are so unbalanced. It’s really hard to put a number on it and it fluctuates. At the moment my desires are probably 90% sub/bottom and 10% Dom/Top. On the occasions when I do Top, I worry that my submissive partner is just going to say, “you’re shit at this, I’m gonna go do it with a real Dom.”

So where the fuck does that leave me?

Sadly, there isn’t a role option on Fetlife for “Basically submissive at heart but still gets a huge rush from Topping once in a while because I like the feeling of power and the reactions and the knowledge that I’m giving so much pleasure.”

So… yeah.

Switch.

Remember: a label is the beginning of a conversation, not the end.

Kinky item of the day: Collars by Kabunza. I’m not affiliated with this company in any way, but I could talk them up forever because 1) Aemilia Hawk is the most wonderful human being and I adore her. 2) their stuff is so beautiful it makes my heart sing. 3) their customer service is brilliant. 4) we should all support our friendly neighbourhood kinky businesses.

I hope you enjoyed this post! If you’d like to support me, please consider becoming a sexy Patron, buying me a virtual coffee, or shopping with my affiliates in the right hand sidebar.

The image featured in this post was sourced from Pixabay and edited by me. Please don’t steal my edit without express permission.

[Guest Post] From Clueless Virgin to Enthusiastic Wife (with Sex Therapy Along the Way) by Christine Woolgar

Today I’m so excited to be hosting my first guest post. It comes from my friend Christine Woolgar. I have known Christine for a few years, having first met her at a local munch in the city where I used to live. I’ve been an admirer of her writing for a long time and I am honoured that she has chosen to share this intense, vulnerable, wonderful story with me and all of you.

_________________

TW/CN: This post doesn’t describe abuse, but it is loaded with intra-personal dialogue that enables/allows abuse.

Headshot of Christine Woolgar, a while woman with blonde curly hair, smiling and facing the camera. For a post about sex therapy

Night 1 minus 5 days: My period is late. Darn, I thought my body had fully adjusted to the pill already. I don’t want to have sex on my period but I don’t want an argument on Night 1. I don’t want disappointment on Night 1. So I tell him now that I won’t want sex on Night 1. He agrees. We both figure it’s for the best as we’ll be tired from the wedding anyway.

Night 1: I see him naked for the first time. Wow. And just a bit scary too. But it’s OK, because I’m not taking off my knickers. Not tonight. It’s not the night I had envisaged but it’s a good night.

Night 2: I consent to taking my knickers off. We caress each other and have fun together. He doesn’t come.

Day 3: I’m kinda aroused, but he doesn’t come. Odd. I thought it’d be easy for him.

Night 3: A bit more intensive tonight, but still taking things slowly and gently.

Day 4: I think my hymen has broken. I muse on the idea that I am no longer a virgin by some definitions. And yet neither of us has come. Not what I had expected. What is wrong with me? Why is this so hard?

Night 4: I’m naked and he’s not getting hard. What is wrong with me? Am I unattractive?

Day 5: He is finally hard enough and I’m relaxed enough, but he doesn’t come. What is wrong with me?

Night 5: This is getting silly now. I feel alone. I talk to him about it and it helps.

Night 6: We caress each other. Variable arousal. He doesn’t come.

Night 7: He still doesn’t come.

Night 8: Finally! I am genuinely happy for him.

As for me, I always knew I’d be the difficult one. Can’t expect to orgasm immediately. No woman can. I knew I was lazy with my Kegel exercises. It’s my fault really that I haven’t come yet.

Day 11: Honeymoon is over and we’re back at marriage prep. I learn there are couples out there who’ve taken a year to consummate their marriage. So why am I all upset about taking seven days? I don’t have issues. I must be being picky.

Week 3: By now it’s not too much of a problem for him any more. But it stings when I pee after sex.

Weeks 4-5: It keeps on stinging badly when I pee after sex. I search for causes on the internet. Not helpful.

I feel madly uncomfortable after sex. I don’t understand why.

I know sex is important. I know sex is important for him. But I also know it’s not entirely straightforward for him, so whenever he gets hard I just have to make myself available, otherwise it’ll never happen.

Months 2-6: It takes forever for me to get aroused. I count the days between sex. I feel really bad when it’s longer than seven days. I still feel uncomfortable.

He’s always the one who initiates. I say ‘I don’t mind’. But I don’t want it. Sometimes I say ‘I don’t know’ – that means I really don’t want it. I don’t tell him I don’t want to have sex with him. That would be selfish. It would make me a failure as a wife.

If the marriage fails, it’s my fault.

I try squeezing my pelvic floor muscles during sex. OW! PAIN! BAD! Ow! That hurts! Not good! Do not want! Note to self: do NOT do that again!

I’m picking up my pill and I tell the woman there that I’m in pain after sex. She doesn’t know what to do. She talks to a colleague and comes back saying it’ll go away with more sex. I’m in tears.

He says he doesn’t like seeing me in pain. He says he wants me to enjoy sex. I wonder if that will ever be possible.

I get better at judging my body’s state of arousal so it doesn’t hurt (most times) (much) afterwards. I’m using lube, but I hate the stuff.

He asks me what I want, but I don’t know what I want. I am indifferent to his touch.

Months 6-18: Friday evenings: Tired or meeting friends. Saturday mornings: Maybe there’s a chance, but it depends on how much we need to do that day. Saturday evening: Have supper before all desire drains away. Sunday morning: I need to be up to play hymns and all that jazz. Sunday evening: I’m stressing because we haven’t had sex all weekend. Forget arousal. During the week: Forget arousal.

We speak to a friend and he encourages us not to focus too much on coming, but on enjoying our time together. It helps. Marginally.

It’s not about what I want. It’s about what I can bear to give. Sometimes I get away with just offering cuddles. But it’s not the same as sex and we both know it. How long is this going to last?

I tell him what I mean by ‘I don’t mind’ and ‘I don’t know’. I tell him that I hardly ever want sex.

I realise that I’m actually afraid of his penis and have been since Night 1. Realising this helps. Marginally.

When he’s physically affectionate, I feel nothing in response. I just let him touch me and wait for him to stop.

Month 17: I’m talking to HR about stress and say that my sex life is through the floor. I’m in tears. HR asks how my husband’s handling this; I say he’s being a saint. But there is this aching sadness inside me.

Month 20: I’m talking to someone about it. I try and explain that I have no good memory of sex. Every time I try and have sex it’s like I have to talk myself round that it won’t be a bad thing. I have nothing to look forward to in sex. I’ve learned not to be in pain, but it’s SO HARD to get aroused enough that I’m not in pain.

There are only two things that actively get me aroused: thinking about degrading myself and the thought of being tied up. Problem is, I don’t want to degrade myself and he doesn’t want to tie me up. He’s studied too much history to want to do that to me.

Month 22: I’m talking to my pastor / minister / vicar person about it. He says it’s important that the problem is sorted. He says there’s no shame in getting professional help.

Month 25: I’m picking up my pill again and I’m in tears. The woman there refers me to a sexual health clinic.

I get a letter in the post inviting me to make an assessment appointment. It says that they can’t help couples where there is complete loss of arousal as this comes from relationship issues. We don’t have relationship issues. Letter goes in the bin. They can’t help me. I must be being whiney.

Month 27: He buys me some fantastic clothes to help me feel good about myself. They help. Marginally.

Month 28: I tell him just how bad I feel about not wanting to have sex with him. I tell him how I feel unfaithful. He tells me that I don’t need to feel like I have to save the marriage – he made a vow too. That helps. A lot.

Well, it helps me feel better about myself. Doesn’t help me get aroused.

Month 30: It’s pill time again. Tears again. This woman I speak to actually books us an assessment.

Month 31: We have the assessment. She says the clinic can help. She says it’s a six-month waiting list. We can wait. We’ve waited this long.

She says it’s no bad thing to think of degrading oneself to get turned on.

But I don’t want to.

And I don’t see why degrading myself should be the ONLY way I can get turned on.

Am I asking too much when I want to be turned on by thinking about the one I love?

Seriously?

Month 33: He buys me more fantastic clothes to help me feel good about myself. Positive effect is short-lived. I begin to feel bad about the money spent.

Month 34: He says he’s been doing some research and there are these things called ‘rope dresses’. He says in Japan, tying a rope around something can symbolise ownership. He says there’s a whole art form called ‘shibari’. He says it doesn’t have to be degrading. He says he’s willing to give it a try if I am.

We start learning about rope.

I begin to not dread sex.

Month 36: I’m getting better at understanding my body so that I don’t consent until I’m ready for him. I realise one day I’ve made a mistake: I’m not ready and he’s inside, but if he carries on he’s going to hurt me. I ask him to stop. He stops and withdraws gently. No hard feelings. He wants me to tell him if he’s going to hurt me.

He always has.

I’m no longer afraid to be completely honest with him.

Month 38: I tell HR that we’ve reached the top of the waiting list and I’m going to need regular time off work to go to the sessions. They’re cool with this.

He tells his department head that we’ve reached the top of the waiting list and he’s going to need regular time off work to go to the sessions. Department head is cool with this. Line manager however is gutted she didn’t happen to be in when he asked. Not because he’s taking time off, but because she’ll never know the reason why he asked for it.

Month 39: Therapy begins. She’s like: “So you’re no longer experiencing pain during or after sex; you already know that you love each other, even when you don’t want sex; you’re getting enjoyment out of this ‘shibari’ stuff; kinda makes me wonder what the problem is.”

It’s official. There is no problem. We are wasting therapist’s time. We are bunking off work. We have massively unrealistic expectations and should just get over ourselves. After all, no therapist can PROMISE orgasms or satisfying sex.

I move department at work and need to tell my new line manager about the time off. There’s a moment when I just don’t know how to say it. But when he hears the words ‘psychosexual therapy’ he nods and I don’t need to say anything more. He doesn’t think I’m making a fuss.

Month 40: We’re not having sex and I don’t have to feel guilty about it because it’s required as part of therapy.

Relief.

Though I miss doing rope.

Following all the exercises our therapist gives us. Must show we’re serious and co-operative.

Buy helpful book ‘Becoming orgasmic’ recommended by therapist. Massively unhelpful shop assistant waves it around and reads out its title loudly. Not impressed.

Therapist suggests I masturbate. I tell her I never have and I don’t want to start now. Besides, what difference would it make? Touch doesn’t turn me on.

Month 41: I switch shower products at therapist’s suggestion. I can now come out of the shower and feel remotely comfortable about my body. Wasn’t the case before.

I get proper lessons about the human reproductive system. Majorly embarrassed at my previous level of knowledge (read: lack of knowledge).

Therapist is like: “So on Night 1 you were both virgins and neither of you had ever masturbated in your entire lives. I’d say having vaginal sex after seven days is pretty impressive.” Feel-good feeling quickly gets swamped by feeling that I am wasting therapist’s time.

I begin to enjoy our physical time together. Though I don’t have orgasms. At least, I don’t think so. I’m not sure.

He begins to lose the fear of hurting me unintentionally.

Month 42: Therapist says we’re making progress and can cut down sessions to once a fortnight. I confide my long-standing sexual fantasy with therapist.

I come out of therapy and think about my sexual fantasy. I ask myself if there is a way I can think of it (and myself within it) that isn’t degrading. I realise that there actually is a way. So I picture myself in my fantasy – or rather, within a particular story that resonates with my fantasy. And suddenly I’m wet. I picture myself in another story I love and OH MY GOODNESS I AM SO WET!

I talk and talk and talk with him about power and types of power and all these very sexual thoughts I’m having.

Now when he touches me, I welcome it.

I wake up the next day and I’m wet the whole time. Just as well I’m not playing hymns. I remember nothing of the sermon but cry buckets with a friend after the service. I don’t tell him why, just that it’s a good thing.

Next day, I commute to work and I’m wet. I try to work, but my goodness, EVERY FIVE SECONDS I get turned on. Are people going to notice me going to the toilet so often? My knickers are soaked all day long.

Next day: Wet all day. Can barely think all day. When is this going to end?

The whole week, even the slightest thing gets me turned on. I gradually cool down, which is actually a good thing.

Next session and therapist says we’re done. We book a follow up session in four months.

Now when he touches me I beg him not to stop.

Month 44: We’re a bit stressed but go back on the ropes and find it’s a disappointment. We decide to try again when less stressed.

Month 45: Follow up therapy session. We talk over previous month. We reckon last month was a blip but generally speaking we’re on the up. We book another follow up for three months’ time – we can always cancel if we don’t need it.

Month 46: Back on the ropes and enjoying it.

I’m reading about other people’s experiences of sex and realise I DEFINITELY have not had an orgasm yet. But hey, who cares? I’m having a great time even without them.

I’m relaxed enough now that I let him touch me where I’ve never let him touch me before: directly on my clitoris.

Month 47: He’s stimulating me and it gets proper intense. Oh my goodness, what is this? Don’t stop! I scream. Now THAT WAS an orgasm! Wow! OK, I need to recover now.

So does he. He wasn’t expecting me to scream and only kept going because I was giving continuous active consent.

Next day: second orgasm (a less dramatic experience for us both, but no less satisfying).

Next day: third orgasm.

Next day: don’t need to keep count.

Month 49: Last therapy session. I tell therapist that looking back, there was DEFINITELY something wrong, but there isn’t now.

I now KNOW I wasn’t a time waster. Relief.

Sex life gets better and easier. We can enjoy rope but we don’t need it to enjoy sex. I squeeze my pelvic floor muscles during sex – no pain.

Month 52: We’re talking about consent. We talk about the early days when I didn’t want sex and he got frustrated. We talk about the upset that put on me. We talk about the pressure he didn’t even realise was there for me to say yes. We realise there were times when I said yes, because I couldn’t allow myself to say no. He is deeply, deeply upset at the thought of violating my consent (his words), even if it was something he only did because I deliberately hid my true feelings from him. We both know better now. We share big hugs.

Month 56: I wake up in the early hours of the morning. I lie still so I won’t disturb my dearly beloved. I start to think about my dearly beloved caressing me. And then, almost before I know what’s happening, my body gives me a gorgeously gentle orgasm. It is the first orgasm I have ever had without being physically touched. Wow.

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About Christine: For anyone curious to know a bit more about me, I would describe myself first and foremost as a Christian theological thinker. I live in the UK with my husband, and have a passion for shaping the church’s attitudes in areas around consent, sexuality and equality because… well, you can probably guess why from this post. I am unafraid to tackle awkward questions and I’m an unashamed critic of Fifty Shades.

You can find me and more of my writings on:

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Footnote for anyone concerned about the non-consent described in this story:

I used to think in terms of male privilege and I didn’t know it. Yes, that terrifies me. No, no one had taught either of us about enthusiastic consent. Yes, I am working on changing this. I have blogged in more depth about how I now frame consent in a long term relationship and you can read about that on a fabulous blog run by Ashley Easter. Yes, she’s a Christian blogger. No, this post doesn’t talk about religion. Or marriage. Despite the title.

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Longer footnote for anyone concerned that my husband and I are at risk of going to hell and/or besmirching the name of the church:

I thought long and hard about sharing this story in this much detail.

A lot of what is here is already in the public domain. Back in 2011 (around month 26) I made a short video in which I disclosed publicly that we didn’t have sex in the first seven days of our marriage; the narrative of that video that was also published in 2013 on a multi-author Christian blog. In February 2016 (that is, two years after month 56) I blogged for them again about being on the ‘receiving end’ of sex, and disclosed that my husband and I had sex therapy. Shortly after, I blogged on my own site about our learning experiences of going through sex therapy, writing an open letter to a Christian evangelical couple who I knew were considering it.

I know that these posts have really helped people.

Now, I grant you, none of them were as explicit as this writing is. And although anyone who follows my blog knows that I’m not afraid to write about BDSM, this is the first time I’ve disclosed that my husband and I actually practice anything that remotely resembles BDSM.

Yet this is my story and I believe that sharing it has the potential to really help people. For some people, it might open up conversations on Christianity that wouldn’t happen otherwise. Yes, I have asked myself whether it’s right to disclose this much detail. No, I’m not 100% certain that I’ve got it all right. But then, I don’t think I can be certain because whatever I do, I won’t please everyone.

I decided to disclose about the shibari because if that hadn’t been within our story, then I’d never have started to engage with people in the BDSM scene. You see, around month 43, my husband asked whether we should starting trying to make connections with people on social media and engage in discussions about BDSM, given that we had benefited from the idea of shibari. It was just a question, but as soon as he asked it the Holy Spirit was persistently on his case, saying “Yes, this!” And that’s what led to my blog. Gosh, that’s what led to me being even capable of writing the stuff that’s on my blog. And it is bearing good fruit. So if you’re worried about me, judge me by my fruit. My times are in His hands.

The image featured in this post was provided by Christine and is owned by her. It must not be reproduced or copied without express permission.

Terrifying Sexual Laws You May Not Know About

[Note: this post focuses on UK laws and is by necessity limited to my own country.]

Sexuality has been criminalised in various ways for the vast majority of human history – in particular female sexuality, LGBTQ+ identities, and anything else the wider culture deems ‘deviant.’ This post will explore a few of the more fucked up laws of the last 100+ years…

A judge's gavel and 2 books for a post on historical sexual laws

Hysteria & Nymphomania

Around a third of female patients admitted to asylums in the Victorian era suffered from this supposed ‘mental illness’. ‘Symptoms’ included promiscuity, bearing illegitimate children, or masturbating. To say that these places were prisons is probably understating the horrors these women would have suffered – at the worst end of the spectrum, rape and murder of ‘inmates’ were not uncommon. In the 1860s, clitoridectomy – the surgical removal of the clitoris – became briefly accepted as a treatment for various ‘conditions.’

Criminalisation of Male Homosexuality and the Sexual Offences Act

Any act of homosexual sex between two men was criminalised until 1967. The Buggery Act of 1533 made ‘buggery’ (sex between two men) punishable by death. This was replaced by the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, which reduced the highest sentence to life imprisonment. Male homosexual sex remained a crime until the Sexual Offences Act 1967 finally decriminalised it between consenting men over 21. (The age of consent for heterosexuals was sixteen. 21 was lowered to 18 in 1994 and only equalised to 16 in 2001.)

Interestingly, sexual activity between two women was never technically criminalised in the UK. An urban legend suggested that this was because Queen Victoria held that ‘women do not do such things’. But historians now widely consider this to be untrue. Some suggest the male establishment avoided legislating on lesbianism for fear of giving women ideas. Others believe that it simply did not occur to the male lawmakers of the day. Whatever the truth, until the age of consent was legalised across the board in 1994, there was no statutory age of consent for lesbian sex.

Two high-profile men who fell foul of this law were Oscar Wilde, who was sentenced to two years’ hard labour in 1895 and died 3 years after his release, and Alan Turing, who killed himself in 1954 after being sentenced to chemical castration for “gross indecency” two years earlier.

Spousal Rape

It was completely legal for a man to rape his wife in the UK until 1991.

Read that again.

I’m not very old and that was within my lifetime.

This is because, historically, marriage was a contract of ownership and women were considered the legal property of their husbands. Sir Matthew Hale in his History of the Pleas of the Crown (1736) wrote that ‘the husband cannot be guilty of Rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given herself up in this kind unto her husband which she cannot retract.’ In other words, by consenting to marriage (and the concept of ‘consent’ is dubious at best under a system in which a man could sell his daughter off to the highest bidder) a woman was consenting to any and every sexual act her husband might wish to perform upon her.

I’m ambivalent towards legal marriage anyway. I cannot imagine ever wanting it under a system like this. Again, marital rape has only been a crime in the UK for 26 years.

Section 28

Section 28 or Clause 28 was enacted in 1988 by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government and stated that any local authority ‘shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality’ or ‘promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.’ In other words, homosexual sex had become legal two decades previously, but discriminating against LGBT+ individuals was not only legal but borderline government mandated.

In practice, Section 28 made it illegal for authority figures like teachers to tell children that being LGBTQ was okay. This led to not only widespread homophobic bullying with little to no recourse, but also LGBT+ young support and social groups, particularly in schools and colleges, being shut down for fear of breaching the Act.

This law was only taken off the books in 2003. I was thirteen in 2003 – I’d already had some 3 years of whatever shitty sex ed schools had to provide. At no point had we been told that being anything other than straight was even an option. I was questioning my sexuality at 13. It might have saved me many years of confusion and self-loathing if my teachers had just been able to say, ‘some boys like boys and some girls like girls and some people like both and by the way, boy and girl aren’t the only gender options.’

If only.

BDSM: The Spanner Case and beyond

The Spanner case was a landmark case in 1990. 16 gay men were handed sentences of up to 4-and-a-half years in prison for engaging in consensual sadomasochistic activities. Their defense – that it was all consensual – was denied and the convictions have since been upheld. This case is complicated – there was video evidence (technically extreme pornography) and an extensive investigation of what the police initially thought was a snuff film, meaning the investigators may well have felt compelled to bring criminal charges so that the investigation had not been a ‘waste’ of time and money.

Consent is not always a defense. Under UK law, you cannot consent to assault. Judge Rant decreed during the Spanner trial that ‘bodily harm applied or received during sexual activities was lawful if the pain it caused was ‘just momentary’ or ‘so slight as to be discounted.” His judgement applies also to bodily marks such as those produced by beatings or bondage. These too, according to him, must not be of a lasting nature. In essence, Judge Rant decided that any injury, pain or mark that was more than trifling and momentary was illegal and would be considered an assault under the law. This means that while most common BDSM activities are not illegal to perform in and of themselves, more extreme acts could technically fall foul of the law – however consensual they may be.

There are very very few documented cases on the books, but involvement in BDSM is not legally protected. In theory, a person could be fired, lose custody of their children or be evicted from rented accommodation for participation in BDSM.

The amazing organisation BacklashUK campaigns for sexual freedom and believes that these laws and others like them are outdated, harmful and discriminatory. We agree. That’s why we’re supporting them with Smutathon 2017. Please donate here if you believe this work is important.

The image featured in this post was offered for use under Creative Commons Licensing.

When Consensual Sex is Punished More Harshly than Rape [or: Smutathon – the Reason Why]

[This post comes with a HUGE trigger warning for sexual violence from intimate partners. Please feel free to skip this one or step away to care for yourself if you need to. It also carries a hefty dose of vulnerability and exposure of my personal traumas. Victim-blaming or doubt-casting comments will be deleted and the commenter permanently blocked. This is a one-strike-and-you’re-out deal.]

The Rape Crisis England and Wales logo for a post about Smutathon and rapeThe Backlash UK logo for a post about Smutathon and rape

I was sexually assaulted for the first time by a classmate when I was twelve. It was “only” breast and crotch grabbing through clothing, but I was deeply troubled by and ashamed of it. It was three years before I could even begin to find words for what had happened, let alone how it had made me feel.

More than one of my early relationships were sexually violent. By the time I was fifteen, I’d been coerced into sex acts I absolutely did not consent to and was not ready for by a much older boyfriend.

At nineteen, I pushed a man away seconds before he penetrated me – penetration that I had explicitly said, repeatedly, was not on the table that night. On the second date with the same guy (yes, there was a second date) he pushed me to drink and drink and drink, before telling me he wanted me so black-out pissed that I wouldn’t remember anything in the morning. Later, our previously sweet online chats took a turn for the dark as he described his violent, graphic fantasies of raping me (fantasies, he made very clear, that were not about CNC but about Actual Genuine Rape.

A year or two later, a boyfriend threw me out of the house for not acquiescing to sex. And on and on and on it goes. Sex became about obligation, pressure, coercion and survival. I became divorced from my own body, my own pleasure. They took me years to reclaim.

The point of all of this is to say that I didn’t understand until years later that sex under duress counts as rape or serious sexual assault, even if there was little or no physical force involved. I didn’t understand that as a minor, what happened to me at fifteen was statutory rape as well as sexual assault under coercion.

I didn’t seek any help until I finally got a counsellor, long after it was all over. I dimly understood that places like Rape Crisis existed, but I thought they were only for people who’d been raped at gunpoint or assaulted by strangers in dark alleys. “My boyfriend uses the threat of the roof over my head to make me have sex I don’t want, and my other boyfriend tried to rape me once and is weirdly obsessed with getting me drunk and telling me graphic fantasies of raping me” just didn’t seem serious enough, somehow, especially as I’d also had consensual sex with both of these men and others.

I wish I’d known then what I know now – that Rape Crisis would have listened with sympathy, love and support, given me resources to help me get out of those relationships, and told me that in no way in the world was it my fault.

That’s why #Smutathon2017 supports Rape Crisis.

In all but one case, I didn’t even report because I knew I’d be putting myself through hell for a less than 1% chance of justice. None of the men who assaulted or abused me have ever suffered consequences of any kind.

The same, alas, cannot be said for the not-insignificant number of people over the years who have been punished (legally, financially, employment-wise and more) for engaging in completely victimless fringe sexual practices with other consenting adults. From 1987’s Spanner Case (in which a group of gay men were prosecuted for participation in consensual sadomasochism) to the infamous ‘tiger porn’ debacle, to those who have been fired or had their kids taken away for participating in BDSM, sex work or pornography, sexual freedom is constantly under threat.

I cannot sit back and be okay with innocent, good people being prosecuted for consensual sex while only 0.6% of rapists ever see a day in jail.

And that is why #Smutathon2017 ALSO supports Backlash UK, an amazing organisation that defends freedom of sexual expression for consenting adults.

Please donate and support these two brilliant charities if you can. I hope none of you will ever need them – but if you do, they’ll be there for you.

The Tyranny of ‘No Rules:’ in Defence of Polyamorous Hierarchy

Buckle in, folks. This has been a long time coming and it’s gonna be a long one.

Three red hearts arranged diagonally across a tic tac toe board. For a post on polyamory and hierarchy

Hierarchy is the subject du jour in current polyamorous discourse – mainly how it’s evil and we should avoid it. Polyamory educators I deeply respect and admire have spoken out as being largely against hierarchical structures. And that’s fine – as with any information providers, I draw from the many pieces of their work I find useful and don’t worry too much about the rest.

But I’ve been feeling for quite a while that a major piece of the picture is missing from the conversation around hierarchy in polyamory and that it has become somewhere between unfashionable and downright shun-worthy to tell enlightened polyamorous folks that you practice a hierarchical structure. The voices of people who have been hurt by hierarchy or power structures carelessly wielded have been amplified – and this is a Good Thing without a doubt. But what is largely absent or drowned out or shouted down, now, is the perspective of people who are very happy within a hierarchical structure. I am here to provide one small piece of that perspective.

Firstly, what do we mean by hierarchy?

The dictionary defines hierarchy as ‘a system in which members of an organization or society are ranked according to relative status or authority.’ In polyamory, though, it’s more specific –  polyamorous hierarchy refers to a structure in which one relationship, or one partner, is ‘Primary’ and other relationships are ‘secondary,’ ‘tertiary,’ ‘non-primary,’ or other similar terms. Exactly what these words mean will vary between people who use them. Sometimes it’s as simple as “my Primary is the person I own property and raise children with,” and sometimes there are elaborate systems of rules with pages-long documents outlining them all.

My own structure falls somewhere between the two. Mr CK and I are Primary partners and we do have a written relationship agreement, although it’s quite short and in practice hardly ever needs to be referred to. We have a system of guidelines for acceptable behaviour and some hard-and-fast rules. Every rule or guideline we agree to abide by is thoroughly negotiated, everything applies absolutely equally to both of us (read more about why that’s important to us here) and is open for renegotiation if necessary.

Why is hierarchy supposedly bad?

Like so many things, it’s bad when it’s misused and it can be wielded to cause great harm. Some Primary couples certainly have a habit of running roughshod over secondary/non-Primary partners’ feelings, needs and boundaries and asserting power in inappropriate ways. We’ll tackle the specifics later in ‘Towards Ethical Hierarchy.’

There are many examples of this – veto (also discussed later,) one partner in the Primary couple unilaterally closing down the relationship, messing secondaries around with plans and so on. These things happen. They’re shitty and they’re totally not okay. They’re examples of power imbalances used to deliberately cause harm or to get what one person wants at the expense of hurting someone (or someones) else. This is not ethical hierarchical polyamory.

The things is, non-hierarchical systems can also be abused. Relationship Anarchy (which I am not well qualified to talk about but you can read a basic definition here) is fine in and of itself, but just think about the following phrases (I’ve heard all of these):

“I’m a relationship anarchist which means I do what I want, when I want. If my partners are upset because I broke my commitments to them, that’s their fault for expecting me to keep my commitments.”

“I don’t have to consider your sexual health because I’m RA, that means no rules. By insisting on knowing my sexual health status you’re oppressing me.”

“Lies and cheating don’t exist in relationship anarchy.”

Suddenly, those statements make RA look super unhealthy and scary, don’t they? But it’s not, in and of itself. It’s just a relationship philosophy that can be used for good, evil or indifference. The same goes for hierarchical polyamory.

I think the question of whether someone’s acting unethically is also often approached in a really problematic way. A major problem I have with so much of the current discourse around hierarchy is it seems to forget this one fundamental truth:

Not Getting What You Want Does Not Necessarily Mean Someone Else Did Something Wrong.

Say it again for those in the back: not getting what you want does not necessarily mean someone else did something wrong.

I’m sorry*, but take this hypothetical scenario: you got into a non-primary relationship with a married man, knowing he’d never leave his wife for you or offer you a nesting relationship… then, two years down the line, you decide you want to live with him (either with or without his wife.) If he repeats what he said earlier, “my wife and I do not want anyone else living with us, now or ever, and I have no interest in leaving my wife,” he’s not doing something wrong (and neither, it bears stating, is the wife in this hypothetical.) He’s stating their boundaries. What would be wrong is if he’d said “you can probably live with us in a couple of years” at the beginning of your relationship, knowing full well this was never going to happen or was tremendously unlikely. Lying or omitting important information to get someone hooked in (also known as the “bait and switch”) is never okay.

Defending your boundaries, reasserting your position, and not giving somebody something you never promised to give (even if they really really want it) is always okay.

Take another scenario I’ve actually been in from all three positions, at various times in my life: A might want to do sexual acts with their partner B, that is currently a boundary or limit for B’s Primary partner C. This does not mean that C is doing something wrong in having that boundary. Nor does it mean B is doing something wrong in taking C’s boundaries into consideration and placing limits on what sexual activities they will and won’t engage in. What would be wrong is if C changed the rules on a whim, didn’t communicate the agreements clearly to A, or were totally unwilling to enter any kind of dialogue about it at any stage. What would also be wrong is if, at the beginning of that relationship, A was told “we don’t really have any rules” only to have the bait-and-switch pulled on them once they were invested. See the difference?

Boundaries and Choice

This is what it boils down to, really. Primaries (particularly wives or female nesting partners, I’ve found, which probably carries a hefty dose of unexamined misogyny) are vilified again and again and again for daring to have, set and maintain boundaries.

Mr CK and I agreed a long time ago that nobody else will move into our shared home. This was a condition of moving in with him for me, and one that worked well for him too as he prefers to live with only one person. This is a boundary we get to set around this shared space that we alone own and inhabit, and we’re not harming anyone by having it. Someone might really really really want to live with us, and in that instance I am sorry that this is going to be hard for them to hear, but… the answer is no.

Yes, it’s a rule. It’s a rule that if either of us broke it, our relationship would almost certainly end.

We have also agreed since the beginning that we will not engage in sexual activities with a new person until the other has had a chance to meet that person (a Skype meeting is acceptable if there’s distance involved.) This is because we both have baggage around being lied to, kept in the dark, or deliberately kept from meeting a metamour in order that direct metamour-to-metamour communication be rendered impossible. This a boundary we get to set around our relationship and our bodies. If someone doesn’t want to date me because they don’t want to meet my partner, that’s their choice, but the answer is that they don’t get to date me.

Yes, it’s a rule. It’s a rule that if either of us broke it, it would be considered cheating.

Yes. We have rules and we expect of each other that they will be kept. Anyone who tries to make us break them will receive a firm and resounding “no.” I can’t believe any of this is up for debate, but the number of times I’ve been told that if a secondary wants me to break a rule/agreement made with my Primary that I should do it, is frankly ridiculous.

Crucially, non-Primary partners get to set boundaries and expect them to be respected too! In all the relationships I’m in where I am a secondary partner, for example, I have been crystal clear from the beginning that none of those partners will exert any kind of control over what I do with my body outside of our relationship.  (More about this under ‘Towards Ethical Hierarchy.’) I have set boundaries around my time, my availability and the sexual acts that are and are not available. All of my partners get to set similar boundaries for themselves too, and those boundaries are as valid and important as mine or my Primary partner’s and must be respected.

At the end of the day, my Primary partner is my Primary partner because he chooses to be, just as I am his because I choose to be. He does not control me and I do not control him. We make mutual agreements that work for both of us, and we both stick to them out of choice every day because we love each other, prioritise each other’s happiness, and value our relationship. If you want to view making and keeping agreements as controlling each other then I think we have very different definitions of what control is.

“No Rules” is a rule.

A rule to not make or follow rules… is still a rule. An expectation to be able to do whatever you want without any responsibility to your partners… is still an expectation. An agreement to have no agreements is… still an agreement and still one that you get to opt in or out of.

I simply could not live this way. Because:

Structurelessness is a special kind of hell.

Some people value fluidity, ever-changing situations and no certainty. That’s beautiful and valid. I am not one of those people. I am a person who – while a certain degree of flexibility is essential – values structure, a level of predictability, and Knowing Where The Fuck I Stand. That includes knowing where I am in the hierarchy with each person I’m involved with.

I need to know that the person I share my home with will prioritise me consistently. I need to know whom I can rely upon in a crisis (all my partners, I hope, but it is right and expected that a Primary will put more time and effort in than a non-Primary.) I need to know to what degree my relationship with someone can grow and the point at which it can go no further. I need to know exactly what’s allowed and what isn’t in order to be sure I’m not trampling on any boundaries or breaking any consent.

I would go mad in a system with no rules. I could not function in a system where I am not allowed to admit that there is a single person who, when it all comes down to brass tacks, I am likely to prioritise over all else.

Towards Ethical Hierarchy

Despite what some people would like to believe, hierarchical relationships aren’t going anywhere because they work too well for so many of us. So instead of shaming people out of having hierarchical structures (or worse, shaming them into pretending not to have hierarchy while still practising it, which tends to lead to head-fuckery all around,) let’s look at how we can make our hierarchical relationships happy, considerate and ethical.

Don’t restrict your non-primary’s freedom. The only person apart from myself who gets a say in whether I go to sex parties, have lots of casual sex or start new relationships is my Primary. (I was once in a situation where my secondary forbade me from going to sex parties with my Primary. Yeah no.) If a non-Primary partner has concerns about these things, of course I will listen to their concerns and talk things over with them, reassure them where I can and consider if their reservations have merit. But putting their foot down and saying “no?” Not a chance. And I wouldn’t expect to have that power over them either.

You do not get to forbid your secondary from having their own Primary. Ever. I can’t believe this needs stating, but this was a reality I lived with for four years before I realised how fucked up it was. If your secondary doesn’t have a Primary and is happy with the situation (maybe their job, child, pet or hobby is their Primary partner, maybe they just like a lot of their own space,) then obviously this isn’t a problem, but if they don’t have a Primary and want one (which includes not wanting one previously but changing their mind and deciding that now they do,) you have no business being anything but supportive.  “You’re my secondary but you don’t get to have a Primary of your own” is some bullshit that will not fly with me.

Don’t use veto. One example of hierarchy being used to the detriment of the people involved is through an agreement commonly called ‘veto power,’ wherein one member of the Primary couple has the power to order the other to end an outside relationship with the reasonable expectation that they will obey. Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert put it well in More Than Two when they state that [paraphrased slightly] ‘the problem with veto isn’t that it can be used inappropriately but that it tends to cause major problems however it’s used.’ Which it certainly does. If you veto someone your partner loves, you’ll hurt them both but it will also bite you in the ass when they resent you for it down the line.

Use your words, not a kill switch. Talk about what you’re feeling and why. Listen to each other. But please don’t do this, it won’t go well.

I’m actually in favour of the ‘screening veto’ at least in theory. We don’t practice it in an “I forbid you to date this person case closed” sort of way, but Mr CK and I certainly give an awful lot of weight to each other’s opinions on the people we’re looking at getting involved with. If he’s interested in someone who would make me utterly miserable for whatever reason, it’s better to raise it at the beginning before anyone is invested. My metamour The Minstrel and I had a discussion about veto not long after I got together with The Artist, our shared partner, and I was worried I might fall in love and then find myself suddenly vetoed. They said this:

“I think I had the veto the first time you and I met? Like, if I had had an, “erk” reaction then, I’d have said, “I’m sorry, love, I can’t with her” to The Artist. But once I’d given my consent for the two of you to be together? That’s it. No veto from then on. Your relationship may not be a [Primary] relationship but it is a real and valid thing in itself, and I neither want nor should have the power to make it end at my whim.”

Preach. (Did I mention my metamour is pretty great? They are.)

Be upfront about the rules, agreements, boundaries and what you can offer. As discussed above, it’s really not okay to pull a bait-and-switch, where you hide the truth about yourself/your relationships/what you can offer until after someone is already emotionally invested.

Anyone who wants to date me will know right at the beginning that I have a Primary partner I’m very happy with and will not leave for anyone, that living with me or having kids with me is permanently and non-negotiably off the table, and what I can and cannot offer in terms of time commitments.  If that doesn’t work for them, that’s their right. It’s also their right to be told the truth and make an informed choice. (And if you think no-one will date me with these stipulations, you’re so wrong – I’ve found multiple wonderful people it works really well for, many of whom are in similar situations with their own Primary relationships.)

Be flexible. Mr CK and I were once both out on a date on the same night and had agreed to both be home by 11pm. When he phoned me and said his partner had had a medical emergency and may need to go to the hospital, meaning he might be home later than planned, I didn’t say “you said 11pm so you have to stick to that.”  I said “take as long as you need and I hope she’s okay.” This is flexibility. This is kindness where it’s needed. This is also not the same as rocking up at 3am when you agreed 11pm and going “oh sorry we were so busy having sex we lost track of time.” Keep your commitments wherever humanly possible, and give flexibility when it’s warranted. Yes, you can have both.

Don’t wield rules capriciously. Just because you could demand your Primary partner cancel a date at a moment’s notice (Note: me and Mr CK actually have an agreement that we CAN’T do this unless there’s an emergency, because it’s dickish) does not mean that you should. “Because I’m your Primary and I said so” is not good enough. Make agreements that work for you and stick to them. Don’t pull rank in a situation that really doesn’t call for it just because you can.

If your Primary fucks up, it’s (probably) not their secondary’s fault. If your husband stayed out until 2am when he agreed to be back by midnight because he lost track of time, that’s on HIM. It’s not on the partner he was with and it’s not her fault (unless she knew the agreement and deliberately and willingly flouted it with him – then you’re totally okay to go ahead and be pissed at them both because they’ve both behaved like assholes.) Similarly, if your wife lies to her hot co-worker and says that you’re cool with their fling when actually you know nothing about it, that’s HER fault – it’s not on the dude who was being lied to as well. I know it’s tempting to blame a third party when your partner fucks up and hurts you, but they’re an adult and responsible for themselves.

The bottom line to consider when making rules: does this agreement infringe upon anyone’s reasonably-assumed rights in this relationship?

Dating me does not give you a right to live with me, to meet my biological family, or to do every sex act you can possibly think of with me (three things I do not and will never offer to non-Primary partners.)

What it does give you is the right to open and honest communication from me, kindness and support and respect, to be told the truth, to get a place at the negotiating table on things that affect you directly, to know what the deal is from the beginning and all the way along.

Therefore, “I will never allow you to move in with me” is a valid boundary to hold in a secondary relationship. “I will lie to you randomly and switch the rules at a moment’s notice because my Primary said so” is not.

“Oh, but Amy! You’re only defending hierarchy because you’re top of the heap!”

Right, except in all the instances where I’m not. Yes, I come first with Mr CK, as he does with me. But my metamour The Minstrel comes first with my partner The Artist. Fondlebeast and Twistergirl prioritise each other over me. Evil Genius’s wife, other serious partners and children are way higher in the hierarchy than I am. ALL OF THESE ARE GOOD THINGS and it would be absurdity of the highest order to try to pretend these relationships were all equal. I don’t feel oppressed or diminished in any way in these relationships. I went into them all with eyes open, knowing what the scenario was, and I’m happy with the way things are. If that ever changes, I am allowed to leave the relationships. I am not allowed to trample all over their Primary partner(s) to get what I want.

Say it again: I am happy being a secondary and I would much, much rather this was openly acknowledged than that we lived some kind of lie where no-one is more important than anyone else in a romantic relationship. We’re so saturated with stories of abused unicorns, that we forget:

Being secondary is not necessarily a miserable place.

I created the hashtag #HappySecondary on Twitter and asked people to weigh in with their experiences of being a happy non-Primary in a hierarchical arrangement, because I couldn’t believe the experience was unique to me. I got some amazing quotes and I’d like to share just some of them.

“I’m a #HappySecondary in an LDR. Solopoly with no desire to build a home with anyone, don’t want what his wife has. Every visit is vacation!”

“Being R’s #HappySecondary is great! I get to plot with their Primary and things.”

“Very #HappySecondary in 2 relationships here.”

“Being a #HappySecondary gives me space when I need it but contact when I do. Helps that our schedules let us get together 2-3x per week.”

Stop assuming we’re all miserable if we’re secondaries. Stop assuming we’re all treating our partners badly if we’re in a Primary couple and practice hierarchy. Lots of us are very happy where we are, and our experiences are valid too.

[*No I’m not.]

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[Offsite] The Five Biggest Lies I Was Told About Sex…

…And You Probably Were Too!

I’m honoured to be featured again as a guest writer for the excellent Exhibit A, talking lies we were all fed about sex, love and relationships. Here’s the teaser…

We are all fed toxic beliefs about sex and relationships from the time we’re tiny. Whether it’s parents, the church, teachers, your peers or crappy internet porn teaching you these things, they’re almost impossible to escape. Here are some of the most toxic, thoroughly busted by Yours Truly.

  1. “Your first time will be the best sex of your life.”

Why It’s Told: We live in a society where (female, or those read as female) virginity is highly prized and highly commodified, and where woman/vulva-owning people are not supposed to enjoy sex or seek it out for its own sake. Setting up sky-high expectations for the mythical perfect ‘first time’ puts young women under huge pressure to find the ‘right person’ and effectively serves as a warning. If it’s with the ‘wrong’ person, we’re told, we will miss out on the One And Only Opportunity to have The Best Sex Of Our Lives.

Read the whole post here.