My Safety Philosophy: Why I Practice (C)RACK

I always listen to Loving BDSM Podcast the day it comes out (Fridays), usually on my way to work. They’re always insightful, frequently hilarious and often make me think.  Today’s episode was all about the different safety philosophies within the kink community. Kayla and John discussed why they personally practice SSC – Safe, Sane and Consensual. As always, they’ve got loads of great things to say and I highly recommend you take a listen.

A cracked wall with flowers growing out of it. For a post on safety philosophies in kink.As I was listening, I realised I’ve written about safety tips for kink, but I’ve never actually written about my own personal safety philosophy before.

In kink, the three safety philosophies you’ll mostly hear cited are:

SSC: Which states that everything we do must be Safe, Sane and Consensual.

RACK: Which urges us to practice Risk Aware Consensual Kink.

And PRICK: Which asks us to take Personal Responsibility (in) Informed Consensual Kink.

Each of these has their merits and I will never knock anyone else’s safety philosophy as long as it’s based around the cores of safety and informed consent. Personally, though, I practice RACK. Let me tell you why.

What is “safe” anyway?

Very little in life is completely safe. We take risks in our life every day. It would be absurd to think that sex or kink could be completely free from risk. I take a risk every time I use a sharp knife to chop vegetables. I take a risk every time I get in my car (driving, when you think about the size of the machine you’re in and the speeds at which it moves, is fucking terrifying). And I definitely take a risk every time I let someone spank me, string me up in ropes, or get into edgy and emotionally fraught places in my psyche. (Yes, not all risk is physical. Mental risk is just as real).

Risk Aware, for me, doesn’t just mean knowing the risks are there but taking active steps to reduce them. We know driving is dangerous, so we wear seatbelts, don’t drive drunk, and don’t text while we’re driving. And in kink, it’s exactly the same.

Being risk aware means letting a partner know about any physical issues I might have that could impact our play, and keeping an eye on them during. It means letting my partner know about a pinched nerve or pins and needles in my hands. It means, when I’m Topping, getting proper education on the acts I want to do to another human being and not playing beyond my competence level.

So: nothing we do is, or can be, completely safe. Even vanilla missionary position sex with the lights out carries some degree of risk. By being informed, we can meaningfully mitigate risks to the best of our ability.

Who gets to define “sanity”?

I, like approximately 1/4 of the adult population (conservative estimate,) suffer from a mental health problem. Does that mean I’m incapable of doing kink responsibly? No, absolutely not. As a person with mental health conditions, I find classifications of “sanity” to be intensely problematic.

As long as I’m aware of where my mental health is at, and can communicate that to a partner, it’s generally reasonably safe and completely healthy for me to play. Which… circles us back around to that risk aware piece, doesn’t it?

At best, sanity is nebulous and difficult to define. What feels “insane” to one person might be “average Saturday afternoon” for another.

My unease with PRICK

PRICK is a fine philosophy, in so far as it goes. But it makes me feel a vague uneasiness whenever I hear it, and today I finally put my finger on why.

I’ve been involved in various ways in anti-sexual-violence activism for 6+ years. The phrase “personal responsibility” has been thrown at me and so many of the survivors I know more times than we can count. In those instances, unfortunately, it is taken to the extreme of meaning that you are ultimately responsible for everything that happens to you.

This means that a generally good philosophy (“look out for yourself, take responsibility for your actions and the impact they have on yourself and others around you”) has been co-opted and twisted to mean “if someone harms you, it’s your fault”.

It’s not that I’ll never play with someone who practices PRICK, but I would need to make damn sure that their meaning is closer to “we are responsible for taking care of our own and each others’ safety and wellbeing to the best of our ability”. That’s what a good philosophy of personal responsibility would look like.

Sadly, I just know too many people who say “personal responsibility” when they mean “if you get raped, what were you wearing how much did you drink why were you out late how did you not know that guy was a rapist?????

It all comes back to consent

Whichever you practice, you’ll notice that the one thing all these philosophies have in common is consent. Consent is at the core of everything we do. However, it occurred to me today that there is one key ingredient which none of these philosophies explicitly address…

The missing piece

Kayla and John so often come back to the importance of communication in their discussions on Loving BDSM. I often find myself nodding along, and am in absolute agreement with them that effective communication is at the core of everything we do. You cannot have safe(r) kink and sex without communication. You cannot have a good relationship without communication! And I don’t think we can meaningfully discuss good philosophies of safety without also discussing the importance of strong communication.

Therefore I present to you my new philosophy, adapted from RACK, which you are all welcome to use if it speaks to you:

CRACK: Communicative (&) Risk Aware Consensual Kink.

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Image from Pixabay and used under 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.

It’s Okay to Play When You’re Depressed

It’s #KinkMonth! I’m celebrating by writing a post each day inspired by Kayla Lords’ fab 30 Days of D/s. A week in and I can say that it’s been a brilliant and enlightening experience – I’m already thinking about things I hadn’t considered, or hadn’t considered in a long time, and looking at approaching them from different angles.

Today’s prompt is all about negative emotions:

How do you handle negative emotions like anger, jealousy, and fear now? How do you expect that to be different in D/s?

A cute black dog looking up at the camera. For post titled It's Okay to Play When You're Depressed - the dog refers to the Black Dog metaphor for depression.

If you’ve been doing kink for any length of time, you’ve probably heard “don’t play when you’re depressed,” “don’t play when your mental illness is flaring up,” or some variation thereof. While the sentiment kind of makes sense, I don’t think this is useful or even realistic advice. Let me tell you why.

For some of us, managing our mental health is a daily reality.

Statistics state that 1 in 4 adults will suffer from a mental health condition during their life. For some of us, these conditions are permanent. I have depression and anxiety which, well-managed though they are, aren’t going away.

It’s actually really ableist to imply that someone who is suffering from a mental health condition can’t engage in kink, BDSM or sex. Why should only neurotypical people be able to enjoy kink? Why should mentally ill people only be able to partake in it on especially good days?

For some people at some times, playing can actually help.

Sometimes, when I’m bone-numblingly depressed, a good hard fucking or a nice cathartic spanking – the kind that makes me cry – can really help to lift my mood. It could be the rush of endorphins. It could be the feeling of being wanted. Maybe it’s the sheer release that comes from being pulled out of my head and into my body. I don’t know. Maybe it’s all of them in some combination. All I know is that sex and kink (including masturbation) can be really wonderful tools in managing my mental health.

Only you know your own limits.

Having said all this, there might be times where your mental health is in a place where playing really isn’t wise for you, but you’re the only person who can make that decision! You know your mind, your body and your condition, if you have one, the best. You know what types of scenes will work for you and what is likely to trigger you or be mentally unsafe, as well as if there’s a point where you can no longer meaningfully consent. No-one else knows these things as well as you do.

“Don’t play when you’re depressed” is vague and subjective to the point of meaninglessness. Different people’s definitions of “play” (as well as their definitions of what constitutes a good or bad mental health day) vary wildly.

Instead: cultivate self-knowledge and communication.

Learn your triggers, your tipping points and your safe limits. Look out for your partner’s best interests and expect them to look out for yours. Communicate, communicate and communicate some more!

Be excellent to yourself and to each other.

Kinky product of the day: A classic Wartenberg Pinwheel, which is great for sensation play and less scary than it looks! (It doesn’t break the skin. Promise.)

Note: this post was not sponsored. The above is an affiliate link and if you buy through it, I may make a small commission. All opinions are and will always be my own.

The image featured in this post was offered under Creative Commons licensing.

Communication When Your Partner is Carrying Trauma

It’s #KinkMonth! I’m celebrating by writing posts inspired by Kayla Lords’ fabulous 30 Days of D/s project. #KinkMonth is brought to you by Lovehoney, who are currently offering 2-for-£15 on gorgeous sexy stockings, as well as lots of other exciting sales.

Today, we’re discussing my second favourite c-word. No, not CUNT (that’s my first favourite.) It’s COMMUNICATION. Communication, the experts will have you believe, is the key to life, the universe and everything. (Or was that 42? I forget.)

Anyhow, today, Kayla and John ask:

What is your communication style? What happens when you try to communicate your thoughts or needs?

I can be hard to communicate with. This is a thing I know about myself. I do consider myself to be overall a good communicator, but these skills have been hard won and it hasn’t been smooth sailing. Sometimes I jump to the worst possible conclusion in a single leap, sometimes I find it hard to believe what my partner is saying to me even as they’re spelling it out in plain English, sometimes I look for the hidden meaning behind their words when there isn’t one.

This is all because I am still carrying trauma from past abusive relationships. Of course, it is my responsibility to deal with this stuff, which I am doing with the help of a therapist. However, there’s definitely a role for my partners to play. So here are a few things I’ve learned are helpful in communicating with me. Everyone is different, but if your partner is carrying trauma, here are some communication hacks I’ve found to be helpful.

Be prepared to offer reassurance.

Your partner might need to hear that you’re not mad at them, or that the discussion at hand – even if it’s a conflict – doesn’t mean the end of your relationship. They might need to hear that you still love them, that you value them, that they’re a good person, that everything is okay. Ask them what reassurance is meaningful to them. This is especially important if their love language is “words of affirmation.”

Be prepared to repeat yourself sometimes.

These things might not go in the first time. Or even if they do, they might need repeating the next time a conflict or important discussion arises. When someone is traumatised through abuse, the trauma is drilled into them over weeks, months or years – they’re hit with it again and again. You cannot expect to say something once and have it overwrite a trauma-driven narrative immediately.

Say exactly what you mean.

This isn’t the time for coded messages, hidden meanings or vagueness. Be clear, be xplicit, and don’t play head games where they have to “work out” what’s going on.

Speak and behave calmly.

Don’t shout. Try not to raise your voice. Watch your body-language and make sure it’s not intimidating. Clenching your fists, hitting or throwing objects, or even standing over someone who is sitting or lying down can all feel really threatening.

Don’t succumb to personal attacks.

“I felt upset when I came home late and had to do the dishes, despite you being at home all day” is a statement of what happened and your feelings about it. This is a great place from which to start a conversation! “You’re so lazy” (/stupid/inconsiderate/etc.) is a personal attack. You shouldn’t do this to anyone, but doing it to a person with relational trauma can be triggering and can seriously erode trust.

Above all: ask.

Ask your partner how they want to be communicated with! Ask them what makes them feel safe and heard, and what makes them shut down. And most importantly: listen to the answer and behave accordingly.

Kinky item of the day: This lovely blindfold, which is currently on sale. Sensory deprivation can be sexy as fuck!

Tools to Help with Your Sexy Negotiation

 

If there’s one thing you should have learned about me if you’ve followed me on social media or read my blog for any amount of time, it’s that I am a geek about all things sex, kink and relationships. Like, seriously, I am always looking for new tools and hacks to make this stuff better and easier.

A yes/no checklist with a person's hand ticking the "yes" box. For a post on negotiation tools.

I’m celebrating #KinkMonth by writing articles inspired by Kayla Lords’ brilliant 30 Days of D/s project. Today’s prompt was all about negotiation! Kayla and John have this to say on the subject:

People read the word “negotiation” and imagine some sort of back and forth thing around a table in a formal way. It can be that, sure, but mostly it’s just the conversation you have to figure out what kind of D/s relationship you want for yourself. Submissives have the right to, and should, ask why a rule/task/ritual is being put in place and both sides should have the freedom to disagree, suggest other things, and make sure their needs are being met.

Negotiations aren’t a one time thing either. You’ll come back to this over and over again in your relationship. Will you have a contract? Do you need a checklist? What exactly does a negotiation sound like? 

So, in the spirit of this and my unending geekery, I thought I’d share with you my favourite tools for aiding with your kinky and sexy negotiations. You can adapt these for a new relationship, a changing relationship, or even exploring something new with the person you’ve been married to for twenty years. Tips and tools are there to serve you. Pick and choose the bits that work for you.

Tool #1: A really good Yes/No/Maybe checklist

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of these available for free on the internet. It’s essentially a huge list of different sexy and kinky activities. Uou go through and mark each activity as “YES I like that/want to do that,” “NO I don’t like that/want to do that,” or “MAYBE I would be open to trying that under specific circumstances”. You can either go through it together, or do them separately and then swap to compare. Either way it’s a brilliant tool to get discussion flowing, figure out what kinks you have in common, and maybe discover some brilliant new activities you didn’t know existed.

(Ask me how I learned what “figging” and “rimming” are.)

This one is ridiculously thorough and even includes a 0-5 scale for rating how into something you are.

Tool #2: Google Docs…

…Or any other browser-based shared editing system! This is a great way to share a checklist and compare answers easily. Maybe have a list with a column for each of your answers, side by side? You can even edit it as you explore and your limits evolve and change.

Tool #3: Pervocracy’s ‘Concise Kink Worksheet’

The Yes/No/Maybe list is wonderful, but it’s also LONG. When you’ve established you have some compatible kinks and are wanting to get down to playtime, this sheet suggests talking points and cuts straight to the core of the things you need to know in order to have a safe, sexy and satisfying play session.

Tool #4: Instant Messenger

Facebook, WhatsApp, Signal or even boring old text messaging. Is having those early negotiations face to face too hard? Do you find yourself getting tongue-tied trying to talk about the things you want to do? Don’t underestimate the power of getting the conversation moving in written form… even if you live together! You’ll have to move face to face eventually if you want to actually do the kinky fun. But there’s no shame at all in doing some of the preliminaries in writing. (It can actually be really useful to be able to refer back to what you both said later, too.)

Tool #5: The 30 Days of D/s project!

Kayla’s 30 days of prompts are brilliant for beginners to kink and D/s, to be sure. But they’re also useful for the more experienced among us to delve more deeply into our thoughts and feelings on all things kinky. I’ve been doing this stuff for *cough* years and I’m getting tonnes out of this project. You can use it as blog prompts, journal ideas, conversation points to bounce around with your partner, or even just things to quietly think about and maybe come back to later. It’s FREE too (unless you want all 30 days in one easy workbook, in which case it’s a stunningly good value $4.99.)

Bonus Tool #6 AND kinky item of the day: The New Topping Book and The New Bottoming Book (not affiliate links) are still among the best and most informative guides out there for people new to kink and looking to get started… or even as a refresher for those with a bit more experience!

If you enjoyed this post and would 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.