No, You Cannot Get “Addicted” to a Vibrator

Anyone who has read my work for any length of time will know how I feel about the concept of “sex addiction” – in short, that it’s medically meaningless, so broadly applied as to be useless, and the sole criteria to diagnose someone seems to be “has sex more than the diagnoser or in ways that the diagnoser finds personally distasteful.” Read Dr David Ley’s amazing book for more information if this interests you.

Today, though, I want to talk about “sex addiction”‘s equally insidious little sister – “vibrator addiction.”

A close up of cocaine powder and a rolled up £10 note. For a post about being addicted to vibrators.

I have a variation of this conversation at least weekly, either online or occasionally in real life:

Them: “I want a good clitoral vibrator for me/for my female partner.”
Me: “Try the Doxy! It’s great because…” (*sends link*)
Them: “Oh no, that looks like something I/she could get addicted to!”
Me: *facedesks into next week*

I am here to clear up this myth once and for all, and also to have a central resource to point people to so I don’t have to have this argument on a weekly basis. S0:

You cannot get addicted to a vibrator.

Repeat after me: You. Cannot. Get. Addicted. To. A. Vibrator.

The fears here seem to fall broadly into three camps, so I am going to tackle each of them one at a time.

Fear the first: “I’ll break/stretch/loosen/desensitize my vulva if I use toys too much.”

Genitals are fucking cool, y’all. They do not “break” or “wear out” from overuse, and they are remarkable at bouncing back – for fuck’s sake, pushing an entire small human out of a vagina causes it more strain than even the most hardcore of sex toys!

I think this myth is closely associated with the (also false) narrative of a vagina becoming “loose” or “used up” if its owner has too much sex or has sex with too many different people. It fails to neglect the medical reality that the vagina is a muscle and muscles Do Not Work That Way.

You cannot break your vagina. You cannot stretch it out permanently in any kind of significant way. It won’t mold around a toy and become unable to enjoy anything else. It won’t break or become unable to have or enjoy sex in the future. Promise!

There is also no evidence whatsoever that prolonged or repeated usage of vibrators – even really high-powered ones like my beloved Doxy or the famed Hitachi – causes any long-term loss of sensation in the clitoris or vulva. At most, some people report feeling desensitized for a short while after a toy session – especially with buzzier toys – but these effects are really short-lived (typically minutes or hours) and cause no long-term damage or change in sensation whatsoever.

I’ve been using my Doxy for years – probably for ten orgasms a week for two and a half years, on average? – and other vibes long before that, and I still squirm at the slightest flick of my partner’s tongue over my clit. Vibes will not ruin the nerves or the sensation in your bits. I promise.

Tangential but related: I also see a lot of questions along the lines of “I used a toy and now my bits hurt, did I irreparably damage myself?” No, you probably used a toy made from a toxic material, or used a toy made from a material you’re for some reason sensitive to, or didn’t use enough lube, or didn’t warm yourself up enough, or it’s just your body’s response to a new stimulus that it’s not used to. (A bit like your muscles ache the next day if you do a new form of exercise!)

Fear the second: “But what if using a vibrator is the only way I can orgasm?”

I’m going to say something truly radical now.

If using a vibrator is the only or the most reliable way for you to achieve orgasm: USE THE FUCKING VIBRATOR, ENJOY YOUR ORGASMS, AND DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT.

Orgasms are great, and we should all be having as many of them in our lives as we wish to. There are countless ways to reach orgasm – from fucking, manual sex, oral sex, anal play, being punched in the butt (or is that last one just me?) And, of course, via the use of sex toys such as vibrators.

Here’s a secret: all these ways of reaching orgasm are equally wonderful, equally valid and equally real. ALL orgasms are wonderful as long as everyone involved in inducing them is consenting. That’s literally the only criteria.

I encourage everyone who wants to, to experiment with all different kinds of pleasure and see what works for them and what feels good. It’s also worth remembering that these things can, and probably will, change over time. I used to come reliably from clitoral fingering by a partner, but my clit got more sensitive as I got older and now this is a pretty rare feat. Conversely, I never used to have G-spot orgasms, but now I have them quickly, explosively and repeatedly. And my experience with using toys has been that it has broadened my experience of pleasure and the ways in which I am able to come.

However, no form of pleasure or orgasm is inherently any better than any other. Some vulva-owners spend their entire lives chasing the elusive vaginal-only orgasm, but the reality is that somewhere between 50 and 90 percent of vulvas simply don’t work that way. People often become deeply upset because they, or their partner, doesn’t reach orgasm from oral sex – even if they enjoy the sensation and the act itself. I think these beliefs are heavily tied in with the mistaken notion that we should be able to bring our partners to easy and explosive multiple orgasms with nothing but our hands/mouth/dick, and that anything else – whether it’s them masturbating themselves or using a toy or even just enjoying a session where orgasm isn’t necessarily the goal – is somehow lesser.

I am here to tell you that it’s not. If you come easily in fifty different ways, you’re beautiful and valid. If you only come with a vibrator or other toy or in some other super specific way, you’re equally beautiful and valid.

The overwhelming majority of the time, my answer to “Dear Amy, please help, the only way I can reliably orgasm is by doing this thing” is “….then do that thing.”

Fear the third: “Can toys become a replacement for partnered sex?”

The short answer is no. The long answer is this post in response to a worried reader who was afraid his girlfriend’s dildo would replace him.

A lot of people are afraid that they, or their partners, will find the stimulation they get from a toy to be so overwhelmingly amazing that they won’t have any need for partnered sex in the future.

Again, this is not only completely lacking in evidence, I’ve actually found the opposite is more often true. Exploring my sexuality through toys has increased my potential for erotic enjoyment and therefore improved the partnered sex I have. I am not the only person to have reported this kind of experience.

A toy, however much you love it, cannot be a substitute for a partner. Terms like “battery operated boyfriend” or “the perfect lover” to describe toys have a lot to answer for. Until a toy is sentient, there for me, makes me laugh, snuggles me at night, watches Netflix with me, takes me on adventures and brings me coffee, it is NOT a boyfriend/lover/partner – it’s an inanimate object, a tool through which to experience pleasure.

As I said to our friend who was jealous of his girlfriend’s favourite silicone dick:

Partnered sex is about so much more than just “does your body part satisfy my body part?” It’s about connection, about the feel and smell and warmth of a partner close to you, about the thud of body-on-body, about the rhythm and the dance and the responses between two (or more) people. Partnered sex is in-fucking-credible for so many reasons and a toy can’t fully replicate many of them. Pervocracy has a great article on some of the reasons people might love partnered sex.

So no. Your girlfriend isn’t going to dump you or stop having sex with you because she likes her vibrator more, and she’s not going to get so hooked on wanking with it that you never see her. (That stupid scene in Sex & the City also has a lot to answer for here!)

In short: “Vibrator Addiction” is a shaming tactic, and nothing more.

It shames people who struggle to achieve orgasm without a toy, people who don’t orgasm in socially sanctioned ways (i.e. by penetration with a penis,) people who need a lot of stimulation in order to come… and basically just adds to the stigma of vulva-owners masturbating and prioritising their pleasure.

It’s also sexist as fuck. If a cis man masturbates to porn two or three times a day, people will see him as a normal guy with a healthy sex drive. But if a woman or other person with a vulva uses a vibrator most days or every day, she may well face accusations of being addicted.

Addiction is a serious medical problem with causes major issues in the sufferer’s life and the lives of the people around them. No-one, to the best of my knowledge, has ever turned to crime, alienated their family and friends, lost their job or run themselves into debt because their Magic Wand just felt too good and gave them too many orgasms. Minimising the very real pain of addiction and co-opting it as a sex-shaming tactic is incredibly insensitive and harmful to anyone who has suffered from addiction or been affected by having a sufferer close to them.

So let’s stop with the “vibrators are addictive” bullshit and let people have orgasms in the ways that work for them, yes?

It IS [Mostly] All About the Sex

For today’s #KinkMonth post, it’s all about SEX! As you’ll have gathered (unless this is your first visit, in which case – welcome!) I’m doing posts inspired by Kayla Lords’ 30 Days of D/s. Today, Kayla asks:

Have you ever considered D/s without a sexual component? Would you be interested in something like it? How important is sex to your current or future D/s relationship?

A pair f black lace panties lying on the floor next to two condom packets, one torn open. For a post about people saying BDSM is not about sex

I do it because it gets me off.

For some reason, it seems to be a thing to deny that BDSM is mostly, or entirely, about sex. And for some people, this is probably true. But, if I’m completely honest, I’m a bit sick of it.

For me, kink and BDSM are, and always have been, overwhelmingly about sex. Yes, they’re means of connecting with people I love. They’re sometimes spiritual. But for fuck’s sake, the vast majority of the time, I do this stuff because it makes my cunt wet and gets me off.

People have tried to divorce BDSM entirely from sex. I am willing to entertain that there are some people – folks at the far end of the Ace spectrum, for example – for whom this is the case. But at its core, I do believe it’s fundamentally a sexual or sex-adjacent practice 99% of the time.

I don’t fuck everyone I scene with, but I do get turned on during pretty much any good kink interaction. It’s part of my pre-negotiation with new partners: “you don’t have to do anything about it, but you need to be okay with the fact that if we have a good scene, I WILL be aroused.”

What’s wrong with sex anyway?

We live in a world where it’s pretty hard to admit that something we do is mainly or entirely about sex. Sex is not seen as a good enough reason to do something – there has to be a higher purpose, a better reason.

Confession I’m seriously not proud of time: pre-20, I was really judgy about people who have casual sex. “I only have sex when I’m in LOVE,” I proclaimed loudly, as if it made me better than other people. Thankfully, I 1) grew the fuck up and stopped being a judgemental bitch, 2) learned the awesomeness that is good casual sex.

A lot of polyamorous people – and yes, I used to be one of them, much to my embarrassment – go around saying “it’s about LOVE, not SEX!” This often goes hand in hand with, “we’re not SWINGERS!” The problem with this is that it implies being a swinger is a bad thing, that love is inherently superior to sex, and it neglects the fact that sex is a hugely important part of romantic love for a lot of us. In this way, people who are ostensibly part of the sex-positive community fall into sex-negative and sex-shaming patterns.

It’s easy to do and I sympathise with it. We’re taught, more or less from birth, that sex is bad. Dirty. Gross. That sex is only “when mummy and daddy love each other very much and want to have a baby.” A huge part of sex-positivity and the sex-posi movement, in my view, is about unlearning these toxic narratives and trying to do better.

Real talk: I don’t have an IUD to control my period (though that’s a nice side effect.) I have it for sex.

For evidence of pervasive anti-sex sentiment, see also: “I use birth control for reasons that have nothing to do with sex, like controlling my painful periods.” Again, for a lot of people with uteruses (uteri?), this is entirely true and it’s completely valid.

However, lots of us DO use birth control for sex, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Saying that it should be freely available BECAUSE it has uses that aren’t sexual is really problematic. It should be freely available because it’s a normal part of healthcare, and lots of people like sex while also liking not being pregnant.

Let’s all just admit that some things ARE about sex

My challenge to you, and to myself: next time you find yourself wanting to defend a part of your life or identity with “it’s not about sex!” …Stop. Think about it. And resist the temptation to jump to this defense. Because sometimes, it is about sex. And there’s not a damn thing wrong with that.

I’ll leave you with my favourite quote from the great Oscar Wilde: “Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.”

Kinky item of the day: Condoms! If you engage in penetrative sex or share toys in non fluid-bonded relationships, you need condoms to keep things sexy and safe. Buy 2 packs for 20% off.

Heads up: this post contains an affiliate link.

The image featured 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.”


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.

How Not to Punish

If you’ve just now found the blog, you may not know that October is #KinkMonth! Go check out the hashtag, and also don’t forget you can get 15% off at Lovehoney until 15th October when you spend £50 or more.

I’m celebrating by writing posts inspired by the topics in Kayla Lords’ brilliant 30 Days of D/s project. Today’s prompt was all about punishment and discipline. Kayla and John ask:

A white male fist punching downwards onto a hard surface. For a post on how not to punish your submissive.

As a submissive, are you willing to allow a Dominant to discipline or punish you in your relationship? As a Dominant, are you willing to require discipline or give out punishment? What kinds of punishments can you imagine for bad behavior?

First, some disclaimers:

Note the First: When I talk about punishment here, I am talking about the type that is genuinely intended to correct or admonish someone for perceived or actual negative behaviour. I am NOT talking about “funishment,” wherein the idea of “punishment” is used as part of a game, roleplay or kinky scene. In other words, “funishment” isn’t intended to genuinely correct any behaviour.

Note the Second: I’m going to admit this straight up: I’m skittish about the idea of punishment. Yes, even in 24/7 D/s relationships. I lean very strongly towards the side of “adults are not children and punishment does not belong in a respectful relationship”. However, I also acknowledge that this is largely as a result of my baggage from non-consensual “punishment” dynamics in my past. I 1000% respect the right of other consenting adults to feel completely differently and to include punishment in their relationships.

Therefore, here’s a short list of things to be aware of if you do decide to include punishment in your D/s relationship. This is aimed at the D-types, but I would implore submissives to please also be on the look out for these things happening and seriously reevaluate if they do.

Don’t Punish in Anger

Please never, ever, ever punish somebody in anger. Even if you’ve agreed you can punish your submissive when they fuck up, when you’re angry in the immediate aftermath of the mistake is not the time to be dishing out punishment. Being angry opens you up to the risk of going too far, hurting someone (physically, mentally or emotionally) in a way they haven’t consented to, breaking consent and permanently destroying trust. Just don’t do it. Ever.

Don’t Punish for Real, Serious, Possibly-Relationship-Breaking Transgressions

I’ll probably catch some flack for this, but if your submissive has (for example) cheated on you or something equally serious, that’s not the time to start whaling on their ass. Even if spanking is something you’ve explicitly negotiated as a punishment. A fuck-up, mistake or betrayal that epic requires you to sit the fuck down as equal adults and have a very serious conversation about the state of your relationship and where to go from here.

Don’t Punish With Triggers

Triggers are things that evoke a serious and visceral negative emotion or “flashback” as a result of past trauma. They can take all kinds of forms and it’s your responsibility to be aware of these and avoid tripping over them as far as you can. Absolutely do not use them against your partner in punishment. For example, if your partner has an abandonment trigger, punishing them by not speaking to them is likely to be devastating. If they have childhood trauma from being spanked, throwing them over your knee and hitting them will cause real and genuine harm. Using triggers to punish someone is abuse.

How do YOU feel about punishment? Tell me in the comments or tweet me with your thoughts.

Kinky item of the day: I’m pretty anti-punishment in my relationship but I LOVE funishment, being bent over the bed or someone’s lap and thoroughly spanked. Therefore today’s item is one of my favourite tools and one of the easier impact play toys to use: a classic spanking paddle.

Note: this post contains affiliate links. If you shop with one, I may make a small commission. All opinions are and will always be my own.

Five Things I, a Swinger, Hate About the Swinging Scene

I consider myself a swinger, in that I’m in a committed Primary, living-together-as-married relationship wherein we have sex with other people outside of our relationship together. (We’re also polyamorous and form independent romantic/sexual relationships with other people – yes it is possible to be both, but that’s a topic for another day.)

A close up of a swing, for a post about the problems with the swinging scene

There are a lot of things I love about swinging – the opportunity to play with all different people with all different kinds of bodies, the voyeuristic fun of watching my partner playing with someone else, the exhibitionist joy of being watched, getting to indulge in different kinks and fetishes, the fact that swing clubs are more accessible to me in a variety of ways than ‘normal’ nightclubs ever were, the social aspect of meeting lots of new and interesting people, and much more.

But the longer I spend in the swinging scene, the more problems I see with it too – and that saddens me. Mr CK and me don’t intend to stop swinging any time soon, but we’ve certainly become choosier and choosier about the kinds of behaviour we’re willing to accept and the kind of venues and events we feel comfortable frequenting. So here are five things I see all too often in the swing scene which I do not love.

The racism.

I’m white. Mr CK is white. However, we’ve made a policy of blocking and not engaging in anyone who has any variation on “white people only!!” or “no blacks or Asians” on their swinger profile. (We are not looking for ally cookies here. This is basic fucking human decency, not some awesome selfless act of deigning to not fuck racists.) Our block list is ENORMOUS from this alone. Swinging has always been, and sadly still is, largely the realm of upper-Middle class white people. Unfortunately, huge swathes of this group seem to think it’s entirely reasonable to make a snap judgement on every single potential partner of certain races. It’s not “just a preference,” people. It’s racist.

The body shaming.

I keep my body hair fully natural and have done for a good couple of years at this point. My partners love it but, much more importantly, I love it. However, the number of people whose profile includes a line along the lines of “we’re clean shaven everywhere and expect the same” is astonishing. And it’s not just body hair – fat people, disabled people, men shorter than 6ft, men without big muscles, and non-gargantuan penises also get hate piled on them from people screaming “just a preference!!!!” all over their profiles. We block those people too. Are you surprised our pool is diminishing every time we log on?

The heteronormativity.

Holy shit, the heteronormativity! The assumption is that if you’re a swinger, you’re a cis person married to another cis person of the opposite binary gender. People who break this mold are few and far between, and often treated as some kind of exotic curiosity. Similarly, it’s often expected that women will play with other women, but only if their bisexuality is performed in a way that’s centred around men’s visual enjoyment. And as for the men? It’s still taboo at best to be a bisexual man in the mainstream swinging scene – some clubs even go as far as banning man-on-man action (we won’t go to those clubs.)

The vanilla-normativity.

At our first swing night, we asked about kink rules. The club owner, who knew us from fetish events we’d attended in the same venue, was hesitant. “Um, well, I guess light kink is probably okay. But don’t scare my regulars.” So, spanking? Floor-work bondage? Nope and nope. Turns out “light kink” translated to “sex that is maybe a tiny bit rougher than missionary-with-the-lights-out.” Okay then. When we did engage in a bit of rope play in a semi-private room at the same club, we gathered a crowd of sweet-but-clueless gawkers who thought they’d never seen anything quite so weird in their lives before. Obviously not everyone has to be kinky, and I understand vanilla swingers might not want blood being drawn in their nice clean clubs or bullwhips flying everywhere, but being treated like a sideshow because we like something a little different gets wearing really fast.

The toxic masculinity.

My above point about male bisexuality being taboo is relevant here – many of the men I meet through the swing scene are not just straight but aggressively straight – the idea of even being in proximity with another penis is terrifying and some couples even go as far as to say they won’t play with a man who has ever had sexual contact with another man. Bisexuality isn’t catching, y’all! But it’s more than just this. Comments about being/only wanting “a real man” abound. Aggressive hatred piled on men who cross-dress or otherwise don’t live up to masculine stereotypes. Excessive boasting about penis size and/or sexual prowess (honestly, I don’t care if you have a 12″ dick and love “eating pussy” (ew) if you can’t hold a conversation.) Borderline-rapey comments about “just knowing” what women want. It’s all there and it’s all gross.

Sometimes it makes us despair and makes us want to withdraw from the whole game for a while. But just occasionally, we do meet awesome, genuine people who are on the same wavelength as us, and then it feels more worth it. But the mainstream swinging scene still has a lot of growing up to do.

I want to keep slutting it around with lots of lovely sexy people and share these experiences with my partner, but we want something a bit… more body-positive. Queerer. Kinkier. Different. Even if it takes longer to meet our people and build our sexy little community.

Did you enjoy this post? You can help me out by buying me a coffee to say thanks! <3

Ask Amy #3: “Red Flags?”

Today’s question comes from a reader who reached out to me via Twitter. Her question is short and simple, and yet oh-so-complex to answer.

She asks:

“What are the red flags to look out for when starting a new relationship with a Dom or a sub?”

Four red flags blowing in the wind

I have many, many feelings about this question and all the possible ways to answer it. As I often do when I’m mulling over a topic, I took it to Mr CK for a male-and-mostly-Dom perspective (and also because he’s at least as smart as I am!)

His response, I think, was utterly brilliant: “don’t get into a relationship with a Dom or a sub. Get into a relationship with a person.”

What I love about this answer is that it cuts through all the possible answers I was thinking of giving, and straight to the heart of the issue: get to know somebody as a real, three-dimensional human being before you seriously consider them as your Dominant or submissive. Spend time – LOTS of time – talking, communicating and seeing how they interact with you and the world. A good D/s relationship is a place of profound trust and vulnerability on both sides, and these things cannot be rushed. A real-life D/s relationship is nothing like an endless kinky fantasy – first and foremost, it is a relationship.

My partner is so fucking smart, y’all.

As an aside, I really recommend you check out Loving BDSM Podcast, as they’ve got some great things to say about building trust and getting to know someone at the beginning of a relationship, as well as every other kinky topic you can image. I particularly recommend episodes 31 and 83 for this topic.

In terms of more specific and concrete red flags to look for, I have some thoughts there too! I’ve tried to keep these applicable to people on either side of the D/s slash, and relevant whether you’re meeting online or in meatspace. Your mileage may vary, of course, but I would view any of the following with some serious side-eye and a healthy portion of skepticism:

Demanding too much, too soon.

You wouldn’t give someone the keys to your house or ask them to marry you on a first date, would you? Therefore, you shouldn’t be giving or accepting a collar, issuing or receiving orders, or committing to any kind of serious ongoing protocol or dynamic before you fully know someone.

If a Dominant expects you to kneel and call them Master the first time you meet, RUN. If a submissive expects you to invite them to move in and run every aspect of their life when you’ve barely got past coffee… you know what I’m going to say.

Referring to themselves as a ‘Real’ or ‘True’ ANYTHING.

There is no such thing as a True Master, a Real Submissive, or a (*inserts tongue firmly into cheek*) Twue Dominate. Those of us who have been around the (spanking) block a few times call this One True Wayism. It’s frowned upon for good reason. People who think their way is the only way tend to be snobbish, elitist and derisive of others at best. At worst, they can be seriously dangerous – thinking you know everything, refusing to learn and refusing to be questioned is a recipe for disaster.

If you identify as a Dom, you’re a Dom. If you identify as a sub, congratulations – you’re a sub! There is no One True Way.

Using language like ‘if you were really [X] you’d do [Y.]’

‘If you were really a sub, you’d give me all your passwords and your bank account login!’ ‘If you were really a Dom, you’d take care of everything for me so I didn’t have to take any responsibility for my choices!’

Extreme examples, perhaps, but both examples I’ve encountered. If someone questions your identity or tries to use it against you in order to get you to comply with something you don’t want to do, run a fucking mile.

See above: no such thing as a ‘Real’ or ‘True’ anything. You don’t owe anyone proof of your subby or Domly Credentials.

Claiming to have no/very few limits.

EVERYONE has limits, folks. Absolutely everyone. Someone who claims not to have any (or to have “very few”) is woefully unprepared for what BDSM can actually entail. Even if you think you’re the most hardcore true subby who ever subbed, I promise there are things you would never consent to – and this is a good thing! Dominants have limits, too.

Repeat after me: EVERYONE. HAS. LIMITS. The sooner you learn what yours are and how to communicate them, the better your kinky fun is likely to be for all concerned.

Lying. This includes lies of omission.

The absolute foundational basis for any healthy relationship, kinky or vanilla, monogamous or polyamorous, is trust. Without trust, there is no relationship. Therefore, lying is arguably the biggest and reddest Big Red Flag out there. This includes big barefaced lies, of course, but it also includes lies of omission. “Forgetting” to tell you he’s got seven other submissives at home is a huge fucking deal and not something you should overlook.

The person who lies to you in the beginning will lie to you all the way along. Whatever your role, you’re a human being first and you deserve to be told the truth.

Breaking boundaries, including small ones.

Abusive people don’t start by trampling all over your boundaries in huge, glaring ways. If they did this on the first date, after all, they’ll never get as far as a second date. No – predators and abusers often ‘test the waters’ with a new victim to see how much they can get away with.

If they persist in using language towards you that you don’t like, touching you in a way you’re not comfortable with, or even subtly negging at you in small ways, YOU ARE NOT BEING TOO SENSITIVE. They are testing you. They will push bigger and bigger boundaries if you continue a relationship with them. And more often than not, you will find yourself in a full-on abusive situation.

What do you think, dear readers? Did I miss out any glaring red flags that our lovely friend should know about?

Do you want your question answering in a future Ask Amy column? Get in touch!

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

“Pretty” is Not My Success: On Being a Swan

I grew up ugly. Well-meaning family would probably tell you otherwise, but by conventional Western 21st century societal standards of attractiveness, it is objectively true. I tried not to be, of course. In a rough English secondary school in the early 2000s, ‘ugly’ was just about the worst fate to which one could possibly succumb. But whatever I tried, it didn’t work. I would always be too fat, too frizzy haired, too hairy, too unfashionable, too this, not enough that, to be anything other than a perpetual joke.

A baby swan swimming along in some water. For a post about being an ugly duckling

The words people said to me for the first seventeen years of my life were so vicious and cruel that even now, I can barely bring myself to repeat them. I still feel the pain when I think back, like an old injury that still twinges from time to time.

Growing up, The Ugly Duckling was my favourite fairytale. I used to dream that one day, maybe I could wake up and be pretty. Then everyone would realise I’d been a swan all along! I very much painted this hypothetical scenario in my head as a kind of justice, perhaps even revenge. When I was pretty, they’d realise they were wrong about me. They’d see I had never deserved all the cruelty they threw at me.

I actually got my wish. Okay, it wasn’t quite so sudden, but sometime between seventeen and nineteen I got hot. It’s taboo for a woman to love herself at the best of times. Typing these physical attributes that I like about myself is surprisingly difficult, but here goes: I have a pretty face, hourglass figure and an ass to die for. I’m pretty fucking cute.

For a good couple of years after I finally escaped the constant bullying for being ugly, I would frequently comfort myself with the thought that I’d got the best possible revenge by becoming pretty.

Being pretty affords me certain privileges. Of that I am absolutely certain. It is well documented that people perceived to be “beautiful” are often treated better by society. It also comes with some downsides, which Emilie Autumn described better than I ever could.

But you know what? The Ugly Duckling is fundamentally a lie. Growing into my looks and becoming pretty wasn’t the thing that saved me. It sure as hell wasn’t what made me happy. And it ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN AS ALL EVERLOVING FUCK wasn’t what made me grow into the amazing, worthwhile human I am today.

We shouldn’t be reading a story to kids where the moral is “don’t be mean to someone who isn’t pretty because they might be pretty some day”. How about, “don’t be mean to someone who isn’t pretty because looks are 99.9% genetic and seriously how decorative they are is literally the least interesting and important of a million awesome things about them?

I’m a success despite the intense trauma I experienced as a child and young adult. I’m smart, I have a killer work-ethic, I put myself through two grueling degrees. I have a job I love that makes a real difference to people’s lives. I’m indulging my passions for writing and sex education and starting to build a name for myself in those worlds. I have amazing partners who love me. I generally strive to be kind and compassionate and make a positive difference in the world.

If I’d stayed ugly, I would still be absolutely everything else on this list.

My “fuck you” to the bullies wasn’t growing up to be hot. It was growing up to be a hundred awesome things that have absolutely no bearing on whether I’m hot or not, and that will make a positive imprint on the world long after my looks have faded.

Pretty is not my success. Beauty is not my justice. “Hot” is an accident of biology lining up at least somewhat with arbitrary societal standards. I didn’t not deserve the cruelty I received because I was a swan all along. I didn’t deserve it because I’m a goddamn person and people should not judge me on my decorative value.

So fuck that story for teaching me that I’d eventually become pretty and then it would all be okay.

Can we have a realistic version where the “Duckling” wakes up as a swan and then spends ten years in therapy to overcome the horrific lookist bullying he suffered in his formative years?

Or better yet, a version where the Duckling goes “oh fuck this shit, these people are petty bullies and pretty is only surface deep” and whether he becomes a swan or not is totally immaterial because he’s off curing cancer or flying to the moon or becoming a badass sex educator and saving the world with dildo reviews or some shit?

Can the Concept of Foreplay Just Die in a Fucking Fire?

Controversial opinion time: FOREPLAY IS NOT A THING.

The lower half of a woman's face, sucking on a strawberry in a seductive fashion. For a post about foreplay

There’s a big problem with the concept of foreplay. I don’t mean the acts it entails – fingers, tongues, mouths, toys, making out, massages, undressing each other and more. All of those things, and many more, are wonderful and valid expressions of sexuality.

But those things? They are not foreplay. They are sex.

Let’s break this down. ‘Foreplay’ implies that it comes before something – namely, of course, penis-in-vagina (hereafter PIV) sex. And this is problematic on a number of levels.

First of all it’s heteronormative as fuck. Not everyone is straight and cisgender. Not every sexual pairing consists of one penis and one vagina. The implication here is that only heterosexual, cisgender people have Real Sex (TM) and everything else is ‘merely’ foreplay.

Secondly, and this may come as a shock – not all straight, cisgender people like PIV sex! Even pairings of one penis-owner with one vagina-owner does not necessarily imply that PIV will be their favourite sexual activity or even part of their sexual repertoire at all.

Personally, I love PIV sex. I come really fast and repeatedly from g-spot stimulation and Mr CK’s cock hits that sweet spot just perfectly. But there was a time – a long time – when it wasn’t my favourite sexual activity, because earlier in my development intense g-spot pounding did very little for me.

I’ll let you in on a secret – even though I love it, loads of the sex I have isn’t PIV focussed. Plenty of the sex me and the Mr have together doesn’t involve penetrative fucking – just last night, for example, he caned my ass then watched and talked dirty to me while I got myself off with my Doxy. And it was a wonderful and fulfilling session. For various reasons relating to non-monogamy agreements, the Ace spectrum and people’s boundaries, I’m only quite rarely having PIV sex with anyone other than Mr CK right now. The sexual relationships I have with other people are still amazing, hot and fulfilling. And sometimes, this queer girl even fucks other people with vaginas! (Shocking, I know.) Those sexual encounters with other vagina-owners are not, I promise you, any less amazing than those with penis-owners.

When a guy bends me over his lap, spanks me until I’m dripping and then fingers me hard while telling me what a dirty slut I am? That’s sex. When I pin a girl down while Mr uses the Doxy on her until she comes and he doesn’t even take his pants off? That’s sex. When I’m playing with another woman and I go down on her and she finger-fucks me until we both come? Sex. When he holds me and reads a filthy story to me or talks me through a hot fantasy while I wank? You guessed it… sex.

That’s why I want to kill the idea of foreplay forever. It places PIV as the pinnacle of sexual experience and everything else as something lesser, something not quite real, something before.

There is no such thing as this thing called ‘foreplay,’ because there are a million things under this amazing, huge umbrella that we call ‘sex.’

This was my final post of #Smutathon2017. If you’ve enjoyed it, please donate to the amazing charities.

The image featured in this post was offered for use via Creative Commons Licensing. It’s the pic that came up when I searched “foreplay” on Pixabay and it amused me, so it stays.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s why #Smutathon2017 supports Rape Crisis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Firstly, what do we mean by hierarchy?

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

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

Why is hierarchy supposedly bad?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boundaries and Choice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No Rules” is a rule.

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

I simply could not live this way. Because:

Structurelessness is a special kind of hell.

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

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

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

Towards Ethical Hierarchy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being secondary is not necessarily a miserable place.

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

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

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

“Very #HappySecondary in 2 relationships here.”

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

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

[*No I’m not.]

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