[Guest Post] “Liberating Myself from the Confines of Sex and Love Addiction” by Taylor Morley

This post is the second installment in my “new voices in sex writing” project. This was actually the first pitched piece that I read, and it went straight into the YES pile, on the grounds that it made me cry.

Taylor’s story is extremely powerful and I think will resonate with lots of us who have had our perfectly normal and healthy sexuality and/or romantic life pathologised. I have long been in the “sex addiction is not a thing” camp, and if you want to learn more about this from an expert’s point of view, I suggest you check out Dr David Ley’s fantastic book, “The Myth of Sex Addiction.”

Now over to Taylor… 

A spilled glass of red wine with the word "love" spelled out in the spill. For a post on sex and love addiction

“Liberating Myself from the Confines of Sex and Love Addiction”

“Maybe she abuses sex as a means to cope like her dad abused alcohol,” my psychology
classmate said, as she tapped her leg against the barstool, waiting impatiently for her
second beer.

“No,” the next one said, as she hung up with her boyfriend for the third time in 15
minutes. “It sounds like she has borderline tendencies. Like, she’s not actually borderline,
she just has the borderline-like tendency to act out sexually and lose herself in each and
every partner.”

My friend inhaled as if she was about to speak. Finally, an ally coming to my defense, I
thought naively. “I think Taylor just picks the wrong men and she lets sex negatively
impact her life. She’s definitely an addict.” Then, she changed the subject to talk about
her last failed casual hookup.

I had been the subject of many armchair psychology sessions such as this one. In these
scenarios, my body served as the blank screen onto which people projected their greatest
sexual anxieties, judgments, and fears. I would often sit quietly, as I did that night,
listening to people talk around me as they attempted to diagnose and explain me away. I
suspect that it was easier for them to categorize me and squeeze me into neat little
pathological boxes than to listen to my lived experience. If I were the only broken toy in
need of repair, then no one else would have to engage in any self-examination.

At that point, I had been in recovery for over 3 years, after my therapist and psychiatrist had agreed on a diagnosis of sex and love addiction at age 21.

But I had been a part of this process, as well. The tricky thing about sex and love addiction is that you have the opportunity to diagnose yourself. You can even do it online with a vague questionnaire. In reality, this ludicrous practice opens up far too much space for people who have been shamed sexually to convince themselves that they are, in fact, damaged. When you are raised in a society that defines ‘healthy sex’ in such a narrow fashion – heterosexual, procreative, monogamous sex with cis bodies and few partners – there is far too much room for everyone else to fall into the cracks. Down I fell.

It hadn’t always been this way.

With no basis for self-love, body positivity, or confidence
in my youth, I had somehow managed to build and sustain it on my own for a few
beautiful years. As I look back on it now in adulthood, I realize how magical and unique
that was. When I was 18, I wrote in my diary that sex was “exhilarating and life
affirming.” I basked in my own glow. I noted the way my freckles curved around the
right side of my back, and named my legs as my favorite body part. I wrote with
excitement about my last sexual encounter, reveling in the limitless feeling of orgasm.

While my friends pined for monogamous relationships, I preferred casual dynamics that
spoke to my need for exploration and freedom. But that kind of authenticity and self-
assuredness had no place in a world that refused to see me as a sexually autonomous
being, especially as a young woman. My wings would have to be clipped before I
reached the sun.

In those same years before the diagnosis, I was harassed and stalked both on and offline,
slut-shamed relentlessly by friends and classmates, sexually assaulted, and victimized by
image-based abuse (also known as revenge porn) on more than one occasion. The last
encounter with image-based abuse destroyed my budding career and all of my future
ambitions when the photos were sent to current and former employers and coworkers.
These events sent me tumbling down the rabbit hole of self-loathing, which had been the
goal all along. Once I had convinced myself that sex was negatively impacting my career
and relationships, I surrendered to the label of sex and love addict.

I went through the 12 steps, making amends to friends and loved ones, apologizing for “acting out” and allowing my quest for sex to overrule my life.

I examined past traumas, attended women-only meetings as often as possible, and took the program seriously. But as the years drudged on, questions and doubts loomed in the back of my mind. Why were straight and bisexual women overrepresented in all of these recovery meetings? Why were men defined as sex addicts, while women were always identified as sex and love addicts? If the scientific community had never legitimized this addiction, why were we so convinced that these diagnoses were correct? How could doctors even diagnose someone with a condition that did not exist in the DSM? These questions were left unanswered in meeting rooms, and they were always met with pushback and anger, as if I had pulled the rug out from underneath us all.

The underlying, bare bones message from clinicians and fellow addicts were the same:
“We see that you enjoy sex, but you don’t seem to feel an adequate level of remorse or
self-disgust about it.” The brazenness and the confidence, the casual nature of my
relationships – these were the attitudes and behaviors that needed to be fixed, or
eliminated entirely. While other people in the program insisted that recovery would bring
freedom from shame, I could not taste the independence. Instead, this so-called
‘recovery’ was a pillow held firmly over my face, suffocating me with shame. Every
subsequent sexual experience was an exercise in self-flagellation. Whenever I looked at a
man and felt a mere twinge of lust, or yearned for a casual encounter, I berated myself
internally for falling back into toxic behaviors and ran off to a meeting with my head
hung low.

When society grows tired of policing women’s sexual activity, they teach us to
police ourselves, and I was monitoring my own behavior so closely, no one else had to
weigh in. It was a dull, colorless existence, and it only served to exacerbate the
depression that was already simmering underneath.

If authenticity was my goal – and it was – I would have to liberate myself.

The first step was to exit the program and leave the sex and love addict identity behind. I sought out a sex therapist that had worked with other defectors from the program, and over the past few years, he has helped me re-learn how to have pleasurable, exhilarating, life-affirming sex without the existence of shame. It is a process that has yet to reach its
conclusion, but for the first time in over a decade, I have no interest in contorting myself
to fit into a tiny box in order to be more palatable or acceptable to society. My healthy
relationship with sex will not be explained away, or pathologized. You will just have to
sit there quietly, and listen to my lived experience.

Taylor Morley is an activist, writer, and advocate who writes and speaks on topics ranging from sexual liberation, to anti-imperialism and human rights issues. She does marketing and development for non-profit organizations in Los Angeles, where she resides with her Dorothy Parker books and her vinyl collection.

5 Reasons You Need Sex Positive Friends

After I write this post, I’m going to be jumping in the shower and then loading the car and heading off to Manchester with Mr CK. There we will convene with 8 of my amazing sex-positive friends for my 28th birthday party. Unsurprisingly, then, when I was considering what to write today I started thinking about sex-positive friendships.

A group of grey kittens in a basket. For a post about sex positive friendsSince I joined the sex-positive and sex writing communities, first on Twitter and then in real life, I have met some of the most amazing people I have ever been privileged enough to call friends. So this is a little celebration of them all, and some thoughts on why you really need sex-positive friends in your life.

You don’t have to self-censor

I hate self censorship, and I do it a lot out of desire to not lose my day job or alienate my family. But sometimes you just want to say “I got fucked realllllllly good last night!” or “check out this awesome shot I took of my boobs!” When you have an awesome group of sex-positive friends, fear of oversharing is… if not entirely eliminated, at least substantially reduced. No-one’s going to say, “ew, I don’t want to hear about your sex life!” when you literally became friends with them through sharing your sex life on the internet.

You don’t have to explain yourself again and again and again

Sure, you’ll occasionally run across someone who doesn’t know the term you’re using, or someone else will use a term you’re not familiar with. And that’s absolutely fine! But the vast majority of the time, terms like polyamory, open relationship, bisexual, pansexual, genderqueer, BDSM, D/s relationship… can just roll off your tongue and no-one will look at you like you’ve grown an extra head.

You can also throw out phrases like, “so my boyfriend’s wife was saying that…” or “when my partner’s girlfriend came over…” without the constant double-take, the wait-what-did-you-just-say?

I don’t mind explaining myself occasionally, and I love dissecting the nuances of our different identities and what they mean and how they manifest for us. But doing polyamory/swinging/kink-1o1 again and again and fucking again is exhausting. With sex-positive friends who get it, you don’t have to do that.

Sex-positive friends will be your biggest cheerleaders

I’ve rarely come across a group of people so loving, so affirming and just so goddamn supportive as sex bloggers, sex writers and other sex-positive folks. These are the people who will retweet the shit out of that thing you wrote that you weren’t sure about, or respond with some variaton of YOU ARE A BEAUTIFUL GODDESS when you share a nude, or celebrate with you when you hit a goal, big or small. We lift each other up when we’re down and we share the highs when we’re up.

Affection is free and easy, and so is consent

Something that sex-positive people understand is that the lines between what society considers appropriate vs. inappropriate between friends are almost entirely arbitrarily imposed. They get that everyone has their own unique boundaries and comfort levels, and that individual relationships get to decide what is and isn’t within their rules. The net result of this is that affection tends to be very free and easy – hugs and cuddles can be joyfully shared without it necessarily needing to mean anything bigger, and kisses and kink play and even occasionally sex can happen between friends without it having to make things weird.

It also means that consent is at the heart of all interactions. In these circles, I’ve also never felt pressured into anything I didn’t want to do. Basically, the deciding factor in whether or not to do something isn’t friends do X, lovers do Y, but simply: does everyone involved enthusiastically want to do X, Y and Z?

I don’t want to go all “hashtag-blessed” on you, but…

Basically, I believe this community has made me a better person. It has certainly immeasurably improved my life and made me a lot happier. I only hope I can give back some small measure of all that these amazing people have given to me.

#ManchBirthdayFest, here we come!

Ask Amy #7: “Respectful Flirting for Queer Women”

Today’s advice question comes from one of my wonderful Patreon supporters, who has been very patient in waiting for me to get to it. I’ve also, I must admit, been sitting on this one a bit because knowing how to answer it was tricky.

The reader in question is a woman, in case that wasn’t clear from context. Let’s go…

Two women drinking coffee at an outside table. Only their arms are visible. For a post on flirting as a queer woman.“Hey Amy,

I like girls but am very nervous about flirting, in part because they’re so cute my brain melts, and in part because I want to be polite and respectful.

What are your tips on approaching cute humans in public places (cafes, bookshops, etc.) in a respectful way, to tell them their shirt is nerdy and cool, and to maybe indicate I want to start flirting with them?”

Oof. My dear reader, if I knew the definitive answer to this one, I’d date a lot more girls. But I will do my best, writing from the perspective of a woman who likes women and is maybe open to being flirted with by them.

A cool thing I learned about flirting a long time ago, which has always served me well, is to consider treating it as an end in and of itself. Flirting is a joyful activity as long as both parties are fully on board with it, and it does not necessarily need to lead to sex/a date/a relationship in order to be “successful”. This mindset will both help to guard you against crushing disappointment if that cutie you’re chatting to turns out to not be interested in taking things further, and helps to prevent you coming across as “creepy” or having an “agenda”.

To approach or not to approach?

When it comes to deciding whether to approach someone in public, it’s important to look for visual clues as to whether they may be open to being approached or not. If they’ve got headphones in, for example, or are hiding away in a corner behind a book or laptop, they’re probably either super busy or wanting to be left alone. Body language and general demeanor are important too. Does she look sad, stressed out, pissed off? That person is unlikely to be in the mood to chat. But someone who seems chilled out, happy or content is more likely to be open to meeting new people.

What to say?

A good way to approach someone and gauge if they’re interested in chatting to you is to offer an opener that they can either pick up and run with, or answer quickly then get back to whatever they were doing.

“I love your shirt! Where did you get it?” is a great one, especially if they’re wearing something that reflects a shared interest. You can also substitute “shirt” for bag, item of jewellery, shoes, cute notebook, etc. etc. Anything that clearly reflects an interest or personality trait. The key is to be genuine in your compliment. That way, if she’s not interested she can say thanks and you’ll have made someone smile. If she is open to more conversation, you’ve got a perfect first thing to talk about.

“Oh, I love [Author Name]” is also a good one if, say, you’re browsing the bookstore and see a cutie checking out one of your favourites.

Then, if she seems open and receptive, you can maybe tell her your name and ask hers, and see if you can get a conversation going. Ask if she wants to sit with you, or if she’s up for company at her table or would prefer to be alone. If you’re scared of backing her into a situation where she feels unable to say no, try the ball-in-her-court approach: “I’ve got to go meet my friend, but I’m [Name] on Facebook if you fancy looking me up. I’d love to get coffee and geek out over [shared interest] with you sometime”.

The “is she even into girls?” problem

Of course, you can’t usually tell by looking at someone if they’re queer or interested in your gender. There’s no easy way around this unless they “flag” in some way. Many people prefer not to be openly queer until they know they’re in a safe space to do so. This is particularly true in small or conservative communities.

There’s not a super easy way around it. Often, you’ll find out if someone is queer or available in the course of conversation and getting to know them. But one way to show that you’re a safe person to be open around is to flag queer in public, however subtly or overtly you’re comfortable with. This also makes it more likely that other queer folks who think you’re cute will approach YOU! Consider a rainbow bracelet, a “queer” or F/F symbol pin badge, a bi pride necklace, a risque phone case, or an LGBTQ/sex-positive tee.

Other ways to meet people

It’s probably also a really good idea, if you don’t already, to try to join some activities where people like you will congregate. Is there a feminist book club, a queer women’s social, an LGBTQ+ film group, a board game geeks’ night, anywhere near where you live? Go along and make friends, not with the specific intent of getting a date, but with the intent of meeting other people who share your interests and making friends. One of these people could be the next love of your life! Or they could invite you to a party, where one of their friends will turn out to be the cutie your heart desires.

In these environments, you’ve got a huge advantage over just meeting people in public. Everyone is, presumably, there to socialise and meet others to a certain extent. Not to mention you’ve got a ready-made thing to talk about! If you’re nervous, “I’m new, how long have you been coming?” is a fine opening gambit.

Most importantly: give yourself credit

Meeting people is hard. Saying hi to someone in public is even harder. This is all amplified by a thousand when you’re a queer person trying to get by in a heterocentric world. So if you say hi to someone cute, congratulate yourself! Maybe you’ll get knocked back, maybe you’ll make a friend, maybe you’ll get a date. The result isn’t the only point. The point is you put yourself out there. Confidence, coupled with a healthy respect for other people’s boundaries and comfort, is sexy as hell. So go you!

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Ask Amy #6: “The Care and Feeding of Your Unicorn”

A "support me on Patreon" buttonAsk Amy is brought to you by my lovely Patreon supporters. To support my work and get free bonus content every single week, click here and join at any level.

Whew, it’s been a while since I had an advice question from a lovely reader. This one, I must confess, has been sitting in my inbox for a while. Thanks to the person who sent it in, both for the excellent question and for waiting so patiently for an answer.

An artistic drawing of a sitting unicornNOTE: For those who don’t know, a “unicorn” is a person (usually a woman or AFAB person, though not always) who gets into some kind of relationship with an existing couple. So called because this type of person is almost as rare, precious and highly sought-after as the mythical horned horse. “Unicorn hunter” couples get a bad rep because so many of them approach this type of relationship from a fantasy-fulfillment perspective without due regard for the third person’s feelings, needs or, well, humanity.

Let’s dive in…

Hey Amy,

So my primary and I have suddenly and quite unexpectedly acquired a unicorn! We love them so much (we’ve been friends with them for years). So far we are all three having a delightful time. We are, as much as possible, using our polyamory skills to continue this state of affairs.

But I am nervous. Obviously being a unicorn is a terribly vulnerable position and so many unicorns end up really hurt. So: can you give me some tips from your own experience on making sure we keep our unicorn as gloriously happy and safe and secure as they deserve, while also making sure that we look after our own needs too? Because, my goodness, they deserve all that is good and wonderful.

Dear Nervous Unicorn Handler,

Okay, first of all, I LOVE this one. Not only because you say you are all having a wonderful time in your newfound triad, but because you are obviously as invested in your new partner’s happiness as you are in your own and your Primary’s. So, yay for you! You’re already way ahead of the curve here.

You’re also doing the right thing in realising that being a unicorn is a vulnerable position. Your unicorn has a certain level of advantage in that they’ve been your friend for a long time, but you and your Primary will still have tonnes of shared history, intimacy and knowledge that your unicorn has not been privy to.

I find myself wondering if you’ve talked to them explicitly about this? Even something as simple as “hey, we understand that being a unicorn can be a really vulnerable position, and we want you to know that we love and value you so much and are really invested in your happiness in this relationship. Please don’t be afraid to tell us what you need and let us know if something doesn’t work for you” can go a really long way. Then, obviously, follow through on that with actions such as listening actively, consulting them on things that affect them, and not getting upset with them for expressing needs or emotions.

Balancing multiple people’s needs is tricky in any relationship. It does, of course, become somewhat more difficult the more people are involved. However, there’s no reason you can’t keep all of you safe, secure and happy for a long time to come!

Communication, as ever, is key. It sounds like you’re well aware of that and all making efforts to communicate well. Keep doing that!

I also advise, in so far as it’s possible, each of you having one-on-one time with your third partner sometimes as well. Just as the two of you need alone time together in order for your relationship to flourish, your relationship with your unicorn and your partner’s relationship with them needs the same to a certain extent. But, of course, lots of lovely all-three time is also really important to schedule and prioritise.

Looking after your own needs is vital in any relationship. So, try to keep a good handle on where you’re at internally. Ask your partners to look out for themselves similarly. Have you considered a periodic check-in meeting for all three of you? This can be by Skype or phone if you live far apart, or around the kitchen table over coffee, or even snuggled up in bed together. It doesn’t have to be serious. It can just be, “how are we all doing? Anyone got any issues they want to raise?”  Then if anything comes up, you talk about it. If it doesn’t, you carry on doing the snuggling/coffee drinking/kinky fuckery. Obviously, you can react to things as they arise. But don’t underestimate how useful it is to have a designated time to check in with everyone and focus on your three-way relationship.

Beyond this, the things that spring to mind seem obvious and I’m sure you’re doing them/not doing them already:

  • Don’t try to control/limit who your unicorn can date. Having a secondary relationship with them while being in a primary relationship with your existing partner is A-okay, but don’t try to make them be exclusive to you or make it difficult/impossible for them to date others.
  • Discuss, with your Primary AND all three of you together, what will happen if someone feels jealous or left out. “We’ll close down the relationship and kick the unicorn out” is not a valid answer to this.
  • Keep your promises and honour your commitments. Emergencies happen, of course, and a degree of flexibility is important. But your partner should feel that the two of you are reliable and will do what you say you’ll do.
  • Related to the above, don’t make promises you may not be able to keep.
  • Never, ever, for the love of all that is sexy and good in the world, throw your unicorn in the middle when you and your Primary have a disagreement.
  • Try not to set rules on who is supposed to feel what for whom. This is a recipe for disaster because the heart doesn’t obey rules. Expecting your new partner to feel exactly the same way about each of you, for example, is unrealistic at best and straight-up coercive at worst.

I just want to finish by saying this seems like a really positive, healthy relationship. I’m not getting any of the red flags I so often see in a couple+unicorn situation. You’re doing everything write, Letter Writer, and I wish you all the best for a long, loving and wonderful relationship.

Again, please submit your questions to me for an anonymous answer on the blog. Patreon supporters get priority!

[Guest Post] Forget Perfection, Bring Me the Glory – Life as a Disabled Kinkster by Pippin Strange

Today I am so, so honoured to be sharing a guest blog from one of my most favourite people. Pippin is my metamour – my sweetie The Artist’s primary partner – and a dear friend. Among many other things, they identify as disabled, queer and a survivor. They are also supremely wise, powerfully compassionate, ridiculously talented, and kinky as fuck in the best possible way. 

Content notes  are: chronic pain, intestinal health, ableism, intimate partner abuse and rape. Please look after yourselves when engaging with these topics.

Buckle in and get some coffee for this one, folks. It’s longer than I usually post, but I devoured every word and you should too.

Amy x
______________________

A person sitting in their wheelchair facing away from the camera looking up at a big tree.It’s a bad pain day. My joints are twinging; something untoward is happening in my lower abdomen; my neck feels like two bars of iron stuck on either side of my spine. And my fatigue levels are high – even sitting forward in my wheelchair is a challenge, and I’ve done well to make it out of the house.

Suddenly we come to a patch of bumpy pavement. The Magician increases their pushing speed ever so slightly, and every little jolt sets my buttocks singing with joyful agony from last night’s caning. It’s exquisite. Once we’re on the smooth ground again, I tell them my arse still hurts and it’s all their fault. Even before they stop pushing, I know they have broken into that devilishly handsome, sadistic grin. I shiver. They bend down and we kiss deeply, leaving me wanting more.

I’m Pippin Strange, otherwise known as the Minstrel. I’m a genderqueer, queer, polyamorous switch in my late thirties, with two delightful partners – the Magician (also known on Coffee and Kink as the Artist!), and the Ranger. My relationship with each of them includes kink – I submit to the Magician (who is my primary partner), and I switch with the Ranger.

I’m also disabled. I have joint hypermobility, and an unnecessarily interesting selection of long-term mental and physical illnesses, the former including Complex PTSD, the latter including ME/CFS and some form of seizure disorder. I’m also neurodivergent, with no formal diagnosis but the strong likelihood that I am both dyspraxic and autistic. I take several forms of medication, I’m housebound a lot, and I usually use my beloved wheelchair when out and about. For good or ill, being disabled permeates every part of my life, including my sex life, and it has done ever since I reached adulthood.

An evening in a university town, nearly twenty years ago. I’ve just come back from the bathroom. My lower abdomen is again in a scary amount of pain. The Saboteur – my boyfriend, later to become my husband – is not shy of expressing his disappointment that I’m yet again not well enough for intercourse. I’ve been close to screaming with the pain, but instead we focus on his sadness that we’re not going to fuck. I assure him, desperately, that yes I really am trying my best to sort out whatever is wrong with my innards so that he can be inside me again. I feel like a failure.

I say “an evening”. Actually this happens several times. On at least one occasion, I decide to give it a go anyway, because I can’t bear the guilt any more. The pain is too much, self-preservation kicks in, I speak out. He stops and withdraws. But he is the wronged party; I get no sympathy from him.

Fast forward to the present. An afternoon in an industrial city in the Midlands. The Ranger is above me, fucking me, and it’s glorious. His hands pin mine above my head. My lips are pressed against his collar bone, moaning words of helpless submission into the his soft skin. I know I’m not going to come like this, not in this position, but I love it, I love it so much, and I’m desperate to keep going, to feel the rhythm change and hear his gasps as he comes inside me. But my thigh muscles are too weak, and my right hip joint is complaining. This is not a sexy pain. I keep going anyway, because it is wonderful and I want it so much. But he notices something, checks, asks if I’m comfortable. I realise that I’ve been foolish, and admit that I’m not. He pulls out of me, shifts aside so I can stretch out. I breathe an apology for having to stop but he tells me I have nothing to be sorry for. He smiles at me, praises me for answering his question honestly, tells me how good I am. And seeing I’m eager to stay in the scene, he starts dominating me in a different way…

Looking back, I’ve been a sub-leaning switch for as long as I’ve had any sexual urges at all. And I suspect that I have being disabled, even more than being queer, to thank for how much I’ve allowed this part of me to blossom. My body is already othered, already weird, already unacceptable. I’m already rebelling against a cultural norm every time I use it in any way that brings me pleasure. So if conforming is impossible, at least for someone with my drives and my stubbornness, I’m damn well going to rebel in whatever way I like best. And now that I’m gnarled and middle-aged (and the hottest I’ve ever been) and I only have sexual or romantic relationships with people who are actively lovely (rather than, say, completely dreadful), kink – as both dominant and submissive – has become a crucial part of my sexual identity. And a crucial part of how I cope with the day-to-day reality of my health conditions and the impact they have on my life.

A winter morning. I’m so fatigued that my arms have mostly stopped working. But I have the Ranger stretched out at my side, beautiful and helpless and mine. I can do so little to him physically right now, but there’s so much I can order him to do to himself – and I do, stroking his face and holding his gaze with mine and enthralling him with words. I have no power to do much with my muscles, but I have so much power over him.

To be a disabled dom makes, I would say, an instinctive sense. I’m someone who feels far too powerless in my life far too much of the time. And here is the Ranger, a man I love, kind and fascinating and staggeringly gorgeous. And here he is handing temporary control of his body and mind to me, calling me “Sir”, eyes widening with pain or pleasure as he falls at my command and I play with the power he’s given me. Yes fucking please, on every level. 🙂

And the flip-side of that: one of the worst frustrations I experience in being incapacitated with fatigue so much of the time is how little ability I have to do caring, lovely things for the people who I love. Put simply, my dominating the Ranger makes him happy, and I love making the people I love happy.

When I’m submitting, it’s more complicated. I already spend far too much of my life feeling powerless and in pain. So why does, for instance, being held down by the Magician’s firm hand while they torture my nipples until I squeal not only make me wet, but also give me a welcome sense of peace, healing, well-being, and even power?

The obvious answer is that in that situation, however powerless I feel, I actually am nothing of the kind. Every instant is something I have passionately chosen. But it’s more than that. While I do struggle to feel powerful in my everyday life, something that I never struggle to feel is responsible. With PTSD, an anxiety disorder, and a mind that is by nature a constant torrent of words, the feeling of falling into subspace and allowing my mind to be quiet, slow, responsive to what is immediate rather than what is ongoing, brings an instant and glorious relief, and, ironically, a growth of true power within me that lasts long after the scene. As an abuse survivor who struggles with low self-esteem, being praised for my submission by a beloved partner is incredibly healing. As a caree who does not always feel at ease about my needs, to have a situation in which I am cherished and guarded and cared for as a submissive, and in which that adds to the pleasure experienced by the dominant, reclaims some of that space for me away from my own internalised ableism.

And the pain? As every masochist and every chronic pain sufferer knows, pain varies, in quality as well as in intensity. The angry bite of a headache, the enervating ache of a stiff muscle, the sickening dragging agony of an inflamed intestine… “pain” is one word for all these things, but they have little in common beyond it. I defy anyone to enjoy anything about having Ulcerative Colitis, but most of the pains involved in sensation play within kink are of a kind that are at least potentially pleasurable, and at no point give the kind of “wrongness” signals that the body is coming to serious harm. Even when I’m being spanked to the point of tears, I know that I’m safe, that no harm is coming to my body worse than a few bruises or welts. It is blessedly different from anything that comes from my health conditions. It’s not uncommon, even, for kink sensations, coupled with post-impact endorphins, to temporarily overwhelm and drive out my chronic pain; especially useful for me given I cannot safely take most painkillers!

The sense of achievement in sensation play is also a mighty difference between kink pain and chronic pain, and gives me a taste of something that I miss. I’ve always loved the feeling of having successfully pushed my body beyond what I believed it could do. To stand, for instance, on top of a big Scottish hill, gazing down at the incredible view, and thinking I made it. Since I now have moderately severe M.E., exerting my body beyond very narrow (and varying) limits is actively dangerous – it can make me more ill for days, weeks or even months. But a hard spanking challenges my body without that risk. And since I’m afterwards able to gaze on the Magician or the Ranger, the view’s not bad from the top of that hill either.

When it comes to sensations that are pleasurable as well as painful (clothes pegs on my nipples, a punch on my butt, a flogger on my thighs, a bite on my shoulder…), my body gets to feel something it can relish, just as much as with sensations that are purely pleasurable. More so, often, since the high background level of tension in my body can make pure pleasure paradoxically painful to me. A mixture of kink pain and pleasure allows my body to relax into the sensations and relish them intensely – and to be able to relish a physical experience in this body is a powerful thing indeed. Like a lot of people with chronic pain, I wrestle with the temptation to hate my body or feel thoroughly disconnected from it. At its best, sensation play as a sub brings me back into affectionate synchronicity with this fractious, fragile, and yet utterly wonderful meatsack of mine. It is beyond precious.

As I write this, the ring and little finger on my right hand are a trifle numb. Two days ago, with the Magician’s own chronic pain flaring but both of us feeling enthusiastic, we tried something new. They sat back on pillows, comfortably, calmly eating an apple like a (gorgeous) movie villain. And I gave them a show. Stripping at their instruction, torturing my nipples, scratching my thighs, pleasuring myself while they watched me and praised me and noted with delicious smugness that turning me into their helpless toy and slave had been so very, very easy…

It was wonderful. Squirmy and embarrassing and hot and beautiful and loving. And I wrenched my neck. It had been playing up for a few days, and the slightly unfamiliar position I was lying in did the rest. I felt odd after I came (I mean, happy! but odd), and the following day I woke up with my neck, jaw, and shoulders a mess, and the obvious symptoms of some mild and hopefully temporary nerve damage, as well as some indications that I’d had a seizure in my sleep. I don’t regret a thing about that scene (although I am thinking that I might need to go to the doctor if the symptoms continue…), but in future I’ll need to take a lot more thought about how I position myself, and ask for some Tiger Balm or ibuprofen gel as part of my after-care…

I don’t want to give the impression that being a disabled kinkster is easy. That, it certainly is not.

Events are a problem. I can’t get out of the house much, and when I can theoretically get to something, worries about access and the likelihood of running into at least some kind of ableist bullshit can be prohibitively exhausting.

Meeting new potential play partners is a problem. I’m horribly vulnerable, and already a survivor of assault, harassment, rape and ableist relationship abuse. Disabled people are on average twice as likely to be abused over the course of their lives as currently-abled people, and to say that I am very wary of the possibility of it happening to me again is an understatement. The kink scene and the polyamory scene are both riddled with ableism, from the usual cultural disdain for disabled bodies, to the fetishising of certain of those bodies in Fetlife groups, to the extreme end of Relationship Anarchy that rejects anything like a carer/caree (or mutual carer!) relationship between romantic partners – or even one that is merely stable and secure and committed, as is essential for me – as intrinsically oppressive. On top of that, anyone I go on an actual date with needs to be someone both the Magician and I trust to be, at least in a small way, my carer for a couple of hours – including pushing my wheelchair if the situation requires it. Thankfully I already have my two wonderful partners, not to mention three superb “kissing friends”, one of whom I may also start kinking with soon; I am quite beautifully polysaturated! But even if I were more interested in, say, casual play with a stranger or acquaintance than I am, it would not be remotely an option for me.

And then there’s the actual impairments. There are some activities I’d love to do that are either physically impossible for me, or which I cannot do for long. Ever tried giving a blow job with your jaw a clicky mass of pain, and when you have both a strong gag reflex and emetophobia? Not the easiest thing. 😉 I actually love sucking my partners’ cocks, both as a dom and as a sub, but my Gods do I have to be having a good day before I can, and deep-throating is most definitely not an option. And sometimes I am just too mentally ill for kink to be safe. Anxiety and depression and even flashbacks are one thing, and under the right circumstances kink can actively help, but on those thankfully rare occasions when my perception of reality is a little porous, let’s just say that telling a partner I’m their helpless captive is not a sensible plan…

But those limitations do come with their own blessings. I can’t have some perfect scene that lasts for hours and doesn’t require extensive in-scene management of my energy, pain levels, and whatever my brain might be up to. And since I can’t have it, I don’t need to try. Instead, my partners and I can get on with doing what works for us on the day – and finding creative solutions to some of the difficulties. After the Ranger and I stopped having PIV sex with him on top in the scene I describe earlier, we found another position that was a lot more sustainable for me, and in which I was able to come really quite explosively. Would we have found that position if my hips had been behaving themselves? I’m not sure we would. My difficulties with stroking his cock for any length of time I have gone some way to fixing, buying him as an anniversary gift a stroker toy that gives me a much easier grip, and which he loves in its own right (not least because it is purple!). The frankness about my body that I have had to develop to survive means that I’m good at giving accurate feedback, vital when trying something new.

The Magician and I, since we live together, engage in a lot of micro-kink: scenes that last literally seconds long and which we fit randomly into our day whenever we’re both up for it. A brisk hand or hairbrush spanking while we run a bath. Their hand closing briefly over my mouth while we’re snuggling. A glare over the top of their glasses that rapidly becomes a contest, with me trying to make them laugh before they can turn me into a subby heap (they usually win 😉 ). Even the very fact that they’re my carer sometimes creates micro-kink situations, as helping me out of bed turns into mutual fondling, encouraging me to rest becomes sternly ordering me to, and helping me undress when my arms aren’t working properly becomes, well, stripping me naked.

Perhaps this above all: every body and every brain has its moments of misfiring. The Magician is disabled too; the Ranger is also not in consistently perfect health. And they both know they can trust me absolutely to understand and empathise when it’s their needs or limitations that mean that a scene has to be changed or halted, or just isn’t possible that day. I don’t want to romanticise the lessons that being disabled has taught me, when the primary lesson it has taught me is that all disabled people live in severely ableist societies with inadequate access, respect, and understanding, and that this desperately needs to change. But I have been forced over the past two decades to teach myself something powerful about how futile it is to search for what is perfect, and how much better it is to build what is glorious instead. And if there is one thing that makes me both a good dominant and a good submissive, it is probably that.

Photo provided by the author. Do not steal it.

Massive Age Gap Relationships: FAQ

For those of you who don’t know, I am in a relationship with a massive age gap. There is more than 20 (though less than 25) years between me and Mr CK. When we started our relationship, I was in my early 20s and he was in his late 40s.

Yet it works.

A pair of hands making a heart shape against a sunset. For a post about age gap relationships.
Inevitably, we get a lot of questions about our dynamic and how it works. So here, I am going to candidly answer as many of them as I can think of.

Notes:
1.
Everything here assumes minimum legal age of consent is met in all cases.
2. This is written from the perspective of a much older man dating a much younger woman, as that’s my experience, but most of this works for most genders.
3. TW for brief mention of DDlg kink (no details) and discussion of hypothetical death of a partner.

Okay, let’s dive in!

“Isn’t it really creepy for a much older man to be dating a much younger woman?”

My answer to this, surprisingly, isn’t “no”. My answer is “it depends”.

I don’t judge any couple based solely on the age gap between them. It’s if a much older guy exclusively or mostly dates extremely young women that my side-eye starts to creep in.

If I’m dating a guy 20+ years my senior, I don’t need to be the only exception but I really don’t want to be the rule. I want his dating history to be varied and filled with women of many different ages. If everyone he’s dated has been under 25, it tells me two things:

1. There’s probably some weird youth/inexperience fetishising going on.
2. He will probably be looking elsewhere before I’ve hit 30.

If he’s much older than me, I want to know that he sees me as a person, not an age. That he’d have dated me if I was 25 or 35 or 55, because he loves who I am. I’ve been with men with a “barely legal” thing, and I’ve been with men with virgin fetishes who want their women as young and inexperienced (they assume, but lol have you met me?) as possible, and I’ve been with men who saw me as a trophy to brag to their friends about (“yes, she’s only 19! Do I get Man Points for getting the teenager into bed!?”)

What do your family think?

They adore him, because he loves and respects me, treats me well and makes me happy. Thanks for asking.

If you’re thinking of entering this kind of relationship, this is something to consider. One or both families may well not approve. The older party’s family may view the younger partner as a “gold digger,” especially if there’s a significant wealth disparity involved. The younger party’s family might view the older partner as a creep or a pervert. (Mr CK says: “I mean, I am a pervert!”) Or they might just see that you’re happy and in love and that’s enough for them. You know your family best, and ultimately you know how much their opinion matters to you. Make your decisions accordingly.

What about kids?

We don’t have any and we don’t want any.

I appreciate this might be a concern for other people in or considering entering into a Massive Age Gap (hereafter M.A.G) relationship. Only you can make that decision for yourself. I decided long ago that I don’t want children and my goal was to find a partner who felt the same, which I have done. Their age is irrelevant – what matters is that we want the same things out of our life together.

That said, I have seen M.A.G relationships break up – breaking everyone’s hearts in the process – because the younger party wanted children and the older party felt they were too old/had already been there and done that/was no longer biologically able to have children. Anyone can change their minds, and you might think you don’t want kids now but then change your mind in 5 years and have a very difficult decision to make, but that can happen in any relationship. And you may well end up really happy with your decision several years down the line, which has been my experience.

Do you like older men because you have daddy issues?

Nope! I have a really loving, supportive relationship with my father. No issues there at all. I’ve never actually met a woman who likes older men whose preference was caused by “daddy issues”. What does that even mean!?

Is it a money thing?

No, he’s my life partner, not my sugar daddy. (Not that there’s anything wrong with sugar relationships between consenting parties, of course!)

I have my own money and no interest in getting my hands on his.

Is it a kink thing?

About 2% yes and 98% no.

It’s certainly not a DDlg thing, that’s a pretty hard limit for me. As a submissive, I gravitate towards partners who give off the kind of Dominant energy that I like. I do tend to more often find this in older men, it has to be said. But it’s less specifically an age thing and more a confidence and experience thing, I think.

Mostly, though, no. Speaking of which…

So why an older guy then?

Older guys, broadly speaking, have their shit together in a way I find much easier to be in a relationship with. They’ve made all the early relationship mistakes and so are less likely to bring them in to their connection with me. They know what they want, what their likes and dislikes and boundaries are, and they know how to communicate.

This is all a sweeping generalisation, of course – I’ve fucked more than my share of “18 year old boy in a 40+ man’s body”. But the qualities I like tend to manifest more in guys with a good 10 years or more on me.

Plus, not gonna lie, I just find a lot of older men fucking sexy.

Don’t you worry that he’ll die years before you and leave you alone?

Of course I do. I worry about that… not every day, but frequently.

The thing is, you never know what the future holds. He could be the exact same age as me, and get incurable cancer or get hit by a bus tomorrow. I, as the younger partner, could have those things happen to me any time too! But no-one ever says “don’t you worry your partner will die and leave you on your own?” to partners close in age.

We never know what’s ahead, but we cannot let the fear of what might happen one day stop us from accepting the love and joy that is offered to us now. If I do lose him someday, I will be broken-hearted and devastated. But I will also be thankful for every happy day we did share. Same as anyone who loses a partner they love.

I’mma insert a gratuitous Rent quote here, because I can and it seems pertinent:

“There’s only now, there’s only here. Give in to love, or live in fear”.

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How Sex Toys Improved My Relationship

Almost unbelievably now, regular use of toys is a pretty new addition to my partnered sex life. It’s less than two years since Mr CK bought me a Doxy (still the love of my life – yes, the man and the toy!) and only about a year since I started buying, and eventually being sent, toys to review. But I can unreservedly say that adding in toys has massively improved my sex life, and my relationships as a whole.

A pink banner ad for The Pleasure Garden. For a post about using sex toys in a relationship.

More to Explore…

Using different kinds of toys means that sex with my partner can be really diverse and interesting, even though I’m fucking the same person many times. Whether it’s a ring that makes his cock vibrate, a toy that sucks on my clit, or a dildo you can cool down or warm up, toys allow for a range of possibilities that simply aren’t physically possible with our factory-installed bits.

“Sex toys for couples” are really popular, and there are some great ones in particular that are designed to be worn during intercourse, if that’s your thing. However, something I’ve learned is that literally anything can be a couple’s toy. A vibrator, a cock-ring, a dildo, a stroker… if you use it with a partner, congratulations, it’s a couple’s toy. It sounds obvious, but this was a revelation for me when I realised there was nothing wrong with reaching for my favourite vibrator during partnered sex.

Continued sexual exploration keeps things exciting, but it also builds physical and emotional intimacy, provides opportunities for vulnerability and openness with your partner, and allows you to see each other’s pleasure and desires in whole new ways.

Reliable Orgasms

My clitoral orgasms have always been somewhat unreliable, and more so for the last six years as I’ve been on antidepressants. Struggling to come from manual, oral or penetrative sex can lead to a really frustrating and stressful experience for all involved. I start putting pressure on myself, which makes the orgasm drift further away, which feeds into the whole vicious cycle!

With toys, though, my orgasm becomes much more reliable. Even when I’m really struggling to get off, the vast majority of the time I can grab a high-powered vibe and get the job done in less than five minutes. More reliable orgasms means more relaxed sex, less pressure for all concerned, and a happier Amy and more satisfying sex and relationship life as a result.

Speaking of less pressure…

Using toys also releases pressure on bodies to perform a certain way. We grow up with a narrative that suggests that sex works in one specific way – you kiss, then you get naked, then you do hand stuff, then she goes down on him, then he maybe goes down on her (but probably not for more than a few seconds), then fucking happens – and that if a dick doesn’t get hard, a pussy doesn’t get wet, or orgasms don’t happen simultaneously, it’s a failure.

Do you need me to tell you that pressure to conform to a really narrow and prescriptive view of sexuality is the opposite of sexy?

One thing I love about using toys is that they free up bodies to do what they’re gonna do with much less worry. A cock isn’t getting hard when you want it to? No worries, grab a dildo instead. If my partner’s bad neck is playing up and he can’t go down on me for an hour or more, he can probably still hold a light bullet vibe in just the way I like. The key for me here is to think of toys as an extension and expansion of what our bodies can do, not a replacement or a poor second choice.

Asking for what you want

I’ve historically been really bad at asking for what I want both in and out of the bedroom. I used to drive past partners crazy because I couldn’t even express a preference in something as simple as where we would go for dinner!

Using sex toys with my partner has helped me to cultivate a greater ability to ask for what I want and clearly advocate for my needs. It’s really hard to be vague when what you mean is “fuck me with that glass dildo until I have to safeword out” or “hold the vibe still against my clit and oh god yes don’t move it a fucking millimetre“. Toys helped teach me that I deserve pleasure and that I deserve to get my needs met. When you make a habit of asking clearly for what you want, your whole life improves, and this goes far beyond sex.

Fun with gender

Toys also bring some really fun opportunities to play with gender, gender roles and power within a relationship. I’m pretty cis and very femme, but that doesn’t mean that occasionally I don’t want to have a cock and fuck my lover with it hard. Toys give me the ability to do this. And for my cock to be purple and sparkly if I want it to be! This means that, despite what cisheteronormativity tells us, sometimes I can be the fucker and he can be the fuck-ee. And this is just one of the ways in which we’ve examined societal gender roles in our relationship and thrown out all the ones that don’t work for us.

Sometimes it’s as simple as being seen and understood

I’ll finish with something simple but true. Whether it’s really seeing and noticing and putting into practice my body’s preferences based on my toy usage, or buying me the perfect toy gift for my birthday, sex toys have helped my partner to see and know me in a deep and profound way.

Tweet me and tell me: how do YOU use toys to enhance intimacy, connection and love in your relationships?  What’s YOUR ultimate couple’s toy, whether it’s marketed that way or not?

Banner ad for The Pleasure GardenThis post was sponsored by the wonderful folks at The Pleasure Garden, an inclusive online retailer committed to body-safety and gender-free marketing. If you buy toys from them with my links, you support a small feminist business AND send a little bit of commission my way to help me keep doing what I’m doing. All views are, as ever, entirely my own. Images are property of The Pleasure Garden and must not be used without express permission.

Love-Letters to People I’ll Never Fuck

It’s Valentine’s Day! However you feel about the Day of Love (and I know there’s a lot of feelings out there about it,) we can’t deny that it’s culturally ubiquitous and impossible to escape. This day has long been associated with hearts, flowers, chocolates, elaborate proposals and quintessentially romantic love.

A puppy and kitten cuddling in a patch of sunlight on some grass. For a post about Valentine's Day and non-sexual love.

Now, I love Valentine’s Day. I love it because I love love. But as a polyamorous person – and just as a human being with lots of important people in my life – I believe in not only many loves but many kinds of love.

So today I want to celebrate some of the most important non-romantic and non-sexual loves in my life. People I’m not fucking and not in hearts-and-flowers love with, but who have had a profound impact on my life in some way and to whom I can comfortably say I love you.

One.

You are my best friend and I love you. People talk about an instant connection that then stands the test of time in a romantic context, but with you it was instead the kind of friendship that comes when you meet a kindred soul.

You’ve always been the person I know I can call in the middle of the night; the person I can confess the most personal things to without judgement; the person who has been there for me, through thick and thin, through university and work and moves across the country and bad decisions and terrible boyfriends. And you’re also the person I have more fun with than almost anyone. When we hang out, I can briefly be 19 again.

I don’t know what I’d do without you. You’re one in a million, and I don’t even care how corny that is. You’re one of the best people I’ve ever known and had the privilege to call a friend.

Two.

You were a surprise. I’ve never clicked with a metamour as fast or as easily as I did with you, nor have I ever had such a profoundly positive relationship with one.

You make me feel welcomed and valued in a situation where my experience has usually been one of being pushed to the side, grudgingly tolerated at best, constantly reminded of my place at the bottom of the priority heap. You didn’t do any of that – you were the opposite.

I am in awe of your wisdom, your kindness, your generosity, your strength and your spirit.

One of the best things about the many great things about being in a relationship with The Artist is that I get to be metamours with you. Thank you for doing so much to restore my faith in this little thing we call “polyamory”.

Three.

You have the honour of “oldest friend I’m still actively friends with” at this point. I don’t know if I ever thanked you properly for everything you did for me when we were growing up. In a world that terrified me and a life I didn’t want to be in much of the time, you were one of the people who stood steadfastly by my side and didn’t really care that I was a socially unacceptable person to hang around with.

You were always wise beyond your years and kind beyond the life experiences you had.

Four.

We might have drifted into very minimal contact – unsurprising, I suppose, given 14 years (half my life, fucking hell) and 12,000 miles. But I haven’t forgotten a single minute.

You probably saved my life. Did I ever tell you that? I still believe we’ll meet again, though I don’t know when or where or how, but even if we don’t…

You’re with me like a handprint on my heart.

Five.

I don’t pretend to understand you – I spent years trying to puzzle you out, but eventually I realised that you’ll always be something of an enigma to me.

I was a little bit in love with you, once upon a time. Of course I knew it would never come to anything (that pesky “you being straight” thing was a hindrance if nothing else!) but it was never supposed to. You taught me how to love freely even from a place of complete confusion.

You drift in and out of my life, each time different and yet somehow always kind of the same. I rarely know what’s actually going on in your life any more, but whenever we do end up thrown back together there’s always nothing but love there. And for that, I am grateful.

So that’s me, folks. Tell me about your non-sexual loves this Valentine’s day?

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Image courtesy of Pixabay, an awesome site of royalty-free images.

“Bring the Collar”: The True Story of a D/s Break-Up

I don’t want to write this post. I really don’t. I’ve been mulling it over all day and a huge part of me just wants to go, “oh fuck it” and write a generic “how to get over a break-up” listicle.

But I feel like that’d be a cop-out. Today’s 30 Days of D/s prompts is all about break-ups, and to be honest I’ve been inspired by Kayla’s amazing raw honesty in telling the story of her own D/s break-up a few years ago. So… here goes nothing, I guess.

A vase of dead roses. For a post about my D/s break-up

Realistically, I knew we were breaking up. Our relationship had disintegrated beyond repair now I’d finally, a good five years too late, begun to stand up for myself.

We were to meet in the park. Neutral ground. The stated aim: to have the make-or-break conversation. My true intention, though: to escape as quickly as possible with my head held high and my dignity intact.

All of this to say, dear readers: I knew it was over. It was overer than over. That relationship, like Marley, was dead as a doornail.

Still, it was three words on a text that broke me into pieces and tested my get the fuck out resolve to its limit.

“Bring the collar.”

Of course, I’d known he would want it back. That was in the contract. The Contract, to love and protect on his part. To love and obey on mine. Worth less, in the scheme of keeping us together, than the notepaper it was written on. But even so, this was the moment it sunk in. But Master is releasing me. He doesn’t want me any more.

My subby heart broke then. I’d thought I was as good as over it – mentally checked out of the relationship I was technically still in. I’d mourned the man I’d loved, come to accept he’d never been real and this monster who now stood in his place had been him all along. The guy who told me I was the most beautiful woman he’d ever known, one perfect night in a student dorm room when I was nineteen, and the man who looked me in the eyes five years later and told me I was poison, were one and the same person.

But as his sub – his slave, he’d called me, though I was never entirely comfortable with the connotations of that word – I’d tried so hard to please. To obey, do everything he said, shut my mouth and look pretty and never take up more space than my little allotted corner. A toy isn’t supposed to complain when it’s tossed aside once playtime is over.

What I felt then, when I kissed the little silver lock of the collar one more time and handed it over to him while I tried not to cry, was that I’d failed. He’d thrown it at me plenty of times over the preceding weeks, while whatever was left of our love dripped down the drain. Bad sub. Not really submissive. Disobedient. If you’d just shut up and do as you were told, we’d be fine.

For years, I’d twisted myself until the core of my identity was being his. I wrote him a poem in the early days. In it, I said, “You are life. You are oxygen. You are everything.” My blood and breath. My heart and soul. More myself than I am.

What I know now, and wish I’d known then, is that I wasn’t the one who failed. I was just a young girl who got thrown into a lion’s den too complicated and fucked up to comprehend, and then spent years trying to tame the most vicious, dominant lion while he snapped and snarled at her heels.

He was the one who failed me. He promised too much, delivered too little, broke me down too hard. I gave love, and what I got in return was emotional devastation, over and over and fucking over.

In that moment, I saw him as he was. All my idealistic, teenage bullshit fell away and I saw a man who could never love me. In that moment, I took myself back. I gave him back his collar and I took back my agency, my power, my life.

You’re not my blood and breath. I am.

I belong to nobody. I am free. And I am happy.

 

No kinky item today. This is too raw to add anything to it. Today’s image, as ever, was provided for use under Creative Commons Licensing. I’ve used an image of dead roses because we exchanged roses as part of our collaring/vows ceremony. 

The Price of Admission

Anastasia: And what do I get out of this?
Christian: Me.
– Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James

It is no secret that I am not a fan of those books. I might eventually write more fully about why, but other writers have already done this so beautifully I’m not sure I have anything to add to that particular conversation. However, the above quote captures the essence of this topic perfectly. Hmm… maybe Ms James did have some insightful moments after all!

An admission ticket torn in half

When we’re children, we’re taught that no-one’s perfect. It’s a platitude, though a truism, perhaps to encourage us not to criticise others – or ourselves – too harshly. And because no-one is perfect, I firmly believe there is no such thing as a Perfect Relationship. There are amazing, incredible, wonderful relationships – and I count myself lucky to be in one of these. But perfect? With all our flaws, foibles, beautifully messy humanity and inevitable mistakes? No.

My relationship has imperfections. So does yours, I guarantee it.

We come, all of us, with our Price of Admission. These are the things about us that are imperfect, maybe even problematic, that someone must live with in order to be in a relationship with us. These are the things, be they big or small, that we don’t see eye-to-eye with our partner on. The things that, if you dwell on them, form the end of the sentence “the relationship would be PERFECT if only…

We all have to pay a price of admission to be in meaningful relationships with another human. Whether it’s as relatively benign as putting up with your husband’s snoring, or as troubling as knowing your friend has a serious drug/alcohol problem but being unable to intervene, every relationship has one – or more likely, several of varying degrees of significance. But here’s the thing about prices of admission. We get to choose whether to pay them or not.

One of the major problems in my relationship with my abusive ex was that he believed that no matter the price of admission, I would continue to pay it regardless. And for many years, I did. I was madly – and I mean that in the literal, not-quite-in-my-right-mind-when-he’s-around – in love with the man. As such I felt I had to do absolutely anything to keep the relationship. When the price of admission was putting up with lies and half-truths, I turned a blind eye. The times that the price of admission was him screaming at me for a tiny perceived infraction, I tried to harden myself to the yelling. When the price of admission was an uneven, enforced mono-poly dynamic, I pretended I didn’t want anyone else anyway.

And what did I get out of all of that?

Him.

Which was enough… except that it wasn’t. I convinced myself I was happy as long as I was with him, this person I idolised. But he didn’t meet my needs and he didn’t hear my voice. If I complained the price for the relationship was getting too steep, he might as well have laughed in my face and said, “but you’ll pay it, because the other choice is walking away and we both know you don’t have the balls to do that”. It was years before I finally decided the price had become undeniably too high.

In our final make/break conversation, with all the characteristic arrogance that believed I would never be the one to walk away, he laid out his Terms for continuing the relationship. And for the first time, I refused the offer. The price was too high and I wasn’t buying. It was no longer worth it.

The point of all of this is to say: you get to decide when the price of admission into any given relationship is too high.

However much you love this person, however much you think you absolutely need them no matter what, you do not have to accept the terms they are offering. You do not have to pay a price of admission that includes abuse of any kind, that includes being cheated upon or lied to, that includes a relationship structure that is unworkable for you, that includes sex acts you can’t or won’t consent to, that includes losing yourself or your self esteem, that includes fundamental differences in beliefs or values, that includes anything that makes the relationship unhappy or unhealthy for you.

You don’t have to.

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