[Guest Post] Navigating Dissociation and Sex by Kara Bringewatt

Today’s guest post comes from a new-to-C&K writer, Kara Bringewatt (they/them.) Regular readers will know that shining a light on the intersection of sexuality and mental health is super important to me, so I am thrilled to be running this story on dissociation during sex. Grab a coffee, settle in, and enjoy!

Amy x

Navigating Dissociation and Sex by Kara Bringewatt

What is dissociation exactly? In short, it’s a way of coping by detaching from the body and from sensory experiences. This can feel like extreme numbness or a lack of connection to yourself, your body, your senses. It can feel like you’re watching a movie of your life or that everything’s being interacted with through a film or barrier. It may feel like you’re floating somewhere above your own head. Your voice might sound odd and distant and in extreme cases you might actually lose your bearings of where and who you are.

This is a natural reaction to experiences that turn on our fight-or-flight response. When we are in danger, not having to feel the panic can help us to manage our reality more easily. But when this is happening due to smaller, more mundane triggers, it can make life more difficult, particularly as it can make it difficult to communicate. 

Dissociation can happen due to sexual triggers that bring up past sexual trauma (which many of us have) or due to ongoing experiences of mental illness that includes symptoms of dissociation. These experiences are incredibly common. My belief is that we’ve normalized having really dissociated sex. Which isn’t just not as much fun (hello, diminished sense of touch when you’re trying to get off!) but can be really dangerous and become a retraumatizing scenario in and of itself. 

So what do we do exactly? Firstly, if you are dealing with dissociation, or think you may be experiencing dissociation, trying out professional mental health services of some sort is a really great first step. There are some really amazing therapists, psychologists, coaches, and sex therapists out there, and it can be really worth it if you can find someone who’s a great fit for you.

Having a professional who is knowledgeable around mental health and who can serve as a neutral party to speak honestly with and get validation from can be a game changer for many people. So can medication. Don’t skimp on getting the professional help that works for you. This is of course your choice, and there really are barriers out there. But I would be lying if I said that the therapy I’ve had and the medication I’m on haven’t helped significantly. 

So the next big piece of navigating dissociation and sex is being able to recognize when it’s happening. This can be really fucking hard if you’ve not practiced it. Paying attention to what’s going on for us emotionally and somatically in the moment can be tricky no matter what the situation, but dissociation poses a double challenge since part of the experience is extreme disconnection from our self and our environment.

On the plus side, we can use this to our advantage. Take time to notice what it feels like to be detached from your experiences. Next time you’re dissociated (or think you might be), intentionally “save” that sensation in your memory so you can start to notice when similar physical sensations occur. I know I’m dissociating when my vision gets a little blurry. I also notice myself staring off into space a lot, my breath gets really shallow, and I have trouble speaking. You might notice entirely different signs, but start learning them! Bonus points: if your partner suffers from dissociation, learn their “tells,” too!

Of course, the critical piece that almost all sex advice comes down to is this: communicate with your partners, including hookups and casual encounters. Speak to your partner about dissociation when you’re not having sex. Explain what it looks and feels like to you. Ask your partner what it looks and feels like to them. Check in regularly during sex. Pause and take two minutes to both just share what’s going on emotionally and physically in your bodies. This practice can build a LOT of awareness if you take the time to make yourself slow down and take those breaks. 

Establish verbal and nonverbal safe words and commit to using them if you are beyond a threshold of dissociation that you feel comfortable with. This may be any dissociation particularly if it’s related to a trigger or flashback. But you may also experience dissociation regularly and feel like it’s not gonna stop you from having sex. Great!

It can be useful to calibrate your current dissociation level using a 1-10 scale and then decide on what level of intensity requires stopping or pausing sex to reregulate a bit. For me, I check in with partners and let them know if I am at a 6, pause and regulate at a 7-8, and stop altogether if I’m at a 9. Your tolerance and dynamic with your partners may look different. And these numbers might skew lower for casual interactions. 

Find ways of regulating during, before, and after sex. Dissociation is just dysregulation at the end of the day. It is your body shifting into flight or fight mode rather than staying in a relaxed space. We must find ways to get ourselves back to that resting place and to grow our confidence in our ability to regulate for ourselves.

Some useful regulation practices might include sensory bathing, grounding exercises, and paced breathing. Also, definitely try using a dry brush and taking a shower (with some good smelling soap or essential oils!) This is a bit of a trial and error process, but learning the things that work for you is key to navigating these situations with more ease. Enlist partners in this exploration and make sure to communicate things that you do know to be helpful so that they can remind you if your dissociation is making your thinking a bit sluggish.

This takes practice and dedication so be gentle and compassionate with yourself. Self-care after the fact, too. Oftentimes I don’t even notice how dissociative I was until later when I “pop out of it”. It is very easy for me to ruminate on the issues this symptom is causing, and sometimes this leads into panic attacks or intense self-criticism manifesting in self-harming behaviors or urges. Be kind and understanding with yourself and with sexual partners when you don’t realize until after the fact that you’re dissociating. Self-care can help stabilize you and keep you from spiralling right back into dissociation or other intense emotional experiences. 

This all takes practice and time, and there’s many more discussions to have on these topics, but starting to have open conversations with yourself and your partners is a crucial step to handling dissociation and increasing our pleasure and communication in relationships.

About the Author

Kara (they/them) works in the interstitial spaces of identity, composition, spirituality, mental health, and somatic/sexual healing work. They are particularly fascinated and critically engaged in the desires and needs of trans* and disabled bodies, the impact of internalized shame around queer sexualities, and kink as a practice of liberation.They enjoy reading and writing endlessly, lingerie and tea on rainy nights, sharing exceptional food, and warming conversations.

[Guest Post] Aftercare for D-Types: Mental, Emotional and Physical by Kelvin Sparks

I recently put out a call for guest bloggers to write about aftercare in BDSM from the Dominant’s perspective. I published the first post earlier this week. Today’s, by Kelvin Sparks (he/him), is the second. Kelvin has written for C&K once before.

Amy x

Aftercare for D-Types: Mental, Emotional and Physical by Kelvin Sparks

Aftercare—the activities and/or attention given to a partner after sexual, BDSM, or kink experiences—is something widely discussed within kink communities. However, a lot of the discussion of aftercare focuses on aftercare for submissives, bottoms, and masochists (who I’ll collectively called s-types). This seems intuitive at first—they’re the person being acted upon, after all—but it’s important not to dismiss the importance of aftercare for dominants, tops, and sadists (who I’ll collectively call D-types).

Why Do D-types Need Aftercare?

Just as with aftercare for s-types, aftercare for D-types incorporates three kinds of well-being; mental, physical, and emotional. 

Leading a scene can take a huge amount of mental energy. While the power exchange within D/s scenes is mutual, it’s tops within a scene who have the greater responsibility when it comes to managing risk. Being a D-type in a scene involves practiced and involved skillsets—such as using impact toys with accuracy, assessing a bottom’s emotions during a scene, and assessing risk and safety both pre and mid-scene—and the attention, careful observation, planning, and empathy involved in topping and/or domming can easily lead to mental fatigue after a scene is concluded.

Depending on what kinds of play partners are engaging in, topping can also be physically exhausting or taxing. It can be easy to think of the physical impact of BDSM scenes being only pain and/or injury, and that this is something limited to s-types, when in reality that’s not the case at all. For one, dominants can be bottoms, but it’s also worth noting some forms of play can be physically taxing on tops as well as bottoms. As an easy example, for people new to strap-ons, topping during play can be physically exhausting, as it uses muscles that they may not have used much before.

Finally, aftercare is important for emotional wellbeing. “Drop” is a well known phenomenon in kink circles, referring to the period after a emotional/endorphin high during a scene. Sometimes specifically called sub-drop or top-drop depending on who it’s used to refer to, it can happen immediately after a scene, hours later, or even days later, and is characterised by intense negative feelings.

In dominants or tops, the emotions of drop can be intensified or informed by the cultural conversation around dominance and sadism. Feeling a sense of guilt at one’s actions and desires—even after risk-aware and consensual sex—isn’t uncommon, and these feelings can be intensified for marginalised D-types. In my own experience, the guilt I sometimes feel after SM play is impacted by the cultural perception of trans people and masculine queer people as sexually predatory. As another example, some of my sadistic Domme friends have expressed that their feelings of guilt after a scene are sometimes mixed with a sense of shame for their deviance from a lot of the gendered expectations around dominance. 

What Does Aftercare for D-types Look Like?

Aftercare for D-types is as varied as it is for those on the other side of the slash. Different scenes can feel intense in different ways and to different extents to different people, and what people enjoy and/or need as part of their aftercare can vary from person to person. Depending on your wants and needs, aftercare for you may look like administering first aid, having a snack and a drink, praising your partner(s) for what they did during a scene, watching a film together, having some alone time, or creating a “buffer zone”—a period of time spent with your partner/s doing something unrelated to BDSM.

I’d also like to emphasise debriefing as a kind of aftercare in itself. Once both partners are grounded, talking over what went well (and not so well) in a scene doesn’t just help when playing in future, but can alleviate the guilt that contributes to top-drop. Hearing that their partner loved being hit and why, for example, can work wonders in alleviating the guilt somebody may feel around enjoying hitting their partner. 

Aftercare Compatibility

If both sides of the slash need aftercare, and it’s just as important for D-types as it is for s-types, how do you navigate situations where these needs are in conflict? This is why aftercare is just important to bring up in negotiation as what players are looking for in the contents of a scene. If a submissive prefers to have alone time following a scene, but the dominant person they want to play with needs cuddles and affirmations, then it’s best if these things are worked out in the discussion stage. 

In some cases, conflicting needs when it comes to aftercare can be solved by delegating aftercare to a third party person, or by players compromising some of their wants so all players have their needs met. In other cases, vastly different needs when it comes to aftercare means players aren’t compatible, even if they’re otherwise agreed on what they want from a scene. It may suck finding out you’re not compatible with somebody you want to play with, but it’s far better finding out before you attempt to play together than after.

Kelvin Sparks logo

About the Author

Kelvin Sparks (he/him) is a bisexual trans man who writes about sex on the internet. You can find him at KelvinSparks.com, or at @Kelvinsparks_ on both Twitter and Instagram.

[Guest Post] Aftercare for D-Types: The Care and Feeding of Your Sadist by Bethany Baker

I recently put out a call for guest posts on aftercare in BDSM from the Dominant’s perspective. I received a few great pitches and ended up commissioning two. Today’s piece from Bethany Baker (she/her) is the first. The second will follow later this week. This is Bethany’s first piece for C&K.

Amy x

Aftercare for D-Types: The Care and Feeding of Your Sadist by Bethany Baker

Aftercare is vital in BDSM. The focus of aftercare tips is usually on submissive types, who have experienced very intense sensations in the scene and who may experience sub drop even days later.

I’m here to talk about aftercare for the person who took the dominant role in the scene. This applies to Dominants, Tops, sadists, and so on (D-types for short) including those who identify as switches.

What is sadism, really?

Sadism is one of the Ss in BDSM. There’s a perspective on sadism that I’ve found very helpful to understanding dominant/sadistic types, which I discovered through Carolyn Elliott’s book Existential Kink and which she attributes to Tani Thole and Leslie Rogers of the Light/Dark Insitute: “Sadism isn’t necessarily the desire to inflict pain; it’s the desire to inflict sensation, to make oneself felt.”

This insight is what fully unlocked my sadistic kink. It helps to explain why kink without pain is still so, well, kinky! And when the submissive type enjoys pain, that makes it an extra fun sensation to inflict.

So, as someone who loves to inflict intense sensations of various types, what kind of aftercare is most helpful?

Tell me how it felt

I want to know that I have been felt. Did you love it? Love to hate it? Was it exquisite torture?

The dominant person in a scene is usually doing a lot of reading-between-the-lines. Submissive types are often either non-verbal (due to subspace, literally being gagged, etc) or are contrary or facetious on purpose (such as in the case of bratting). Pre-negotiation of the scene and safe words create guardrails, but the dominant person in the scene still has to steer between those.

So while aftercare for a submissive (especially after intense scenes such as humiliation play or hard impact play) involves explicit confirmation of “I am affectionate towards you, I regard you positively,” this type of explicit confirmation can be important for the D-type as well. Messages like “I love what you did to me” and “I want to do more of that” are affirming and restorative. (Always be honest. More on constructive feedback below!)

This doesn’t have to be immediate. It’s natural for it to take a day or two (or longer) for a submissive type to collect their thoughts, and in my experience, being genuine is more important than being prompt. What might that look like in practice? My partner recently said to me about a scene where he was submissive, “I love being the subject of your creativity.

Angels sang. My heart is soaring, just remembering him saying that. That is the sort of thing that goes into my mental bank of quotes to pull out on bad days. That kind of genuine feedback easily refills my bank of motivation to take the reins in the next scene. Speaking of that bank…

Dom debt and the energy bank

I’d like to put forward the idea of “Dom debt” as a counterpart to sub drop.
While submissive are generally experiencing a lot of intense sensations, Dominants are making a lot of intense decisions. We’re expending emotional energy, especially if we’re affectionate Dominants closely reading a submissive. When a dom spends more energy than they have, that incurs “Dom debt”.

My Dom debt tends to feel like overwhelm, exhaustion, withdrawal. It’s a “I just don’t have it in me today” kind of feeling. So, what to do about it?

Research shows that a small blood sugar boost (think: a light snack, a piece of chocolate) can replenish the brain’s decision-making capabilities in the short-term. Other effective strategies are adequate sleep, exercise, and relaxation (think: yoga, meditation, hot bath.)

Interestingly, if a D-type can be impulsive in a scene, this can actually help alleviate decision fatigue. So, the better the members of the scene know each others’ boundaries, the more impulsive the D-type can be, and the less decision fatigue they incur. This is another reason that feedback is crucial!

Check in on how to give feedback

Affirmation is important, and so is constructive feedback. As a submissive resurfaces from subspace, it may be intuitive to share feedback with a D-type as it comes to mind. This might work well for some people, but not for everyone.

One way to care for a D-type is to check in with them on when and how to give your feedback. At the end of an intense scene, the D-type may be feeling sensitive themselves, or may be emotionally tired and have a harder time remembering or processing feedback. If that’s the case, try jotting that feedback down and then sharing it as you’re planning for the next scene. 

Mutual aftercare

Additionally, the aftercare that is good for S-types is often great for D-types too! The cuddling, checking in, gestures of affection — these are verbal and nonverbal ways to affirm the mutual positive regard in the relationship.

Curious for an inside peek at a dominant headspace in action? Check out The Art of a Bad Day, an erotic short that I wrote for Pride Month 2021.

In conclusion: want to give a dominant type a little extra love? Tell them how they made you feel, buy them sweets, confirm how to best share feedback, and most importantly… behave! 😉

About the author

Bethany Baker avatar for guest post on aftercare for Doms

Bethany Baker (she/her) writes erotic romance that blends the familiar and the fantastical, the erotic and the emotional, the silly and the sexy, into one downright tasty concoction. You can read her novels and short stories for free on bakecookieswritesmut.com because she’s just a little slutty like that, and feel free to reach out on Twitter @BakeSmut.

[Guest Post] How CBD Lube Changed My Sex Life When My Body Forgot How to Orgasm by Hattie Gladwell

Today’s guest post comes from Hattie Gladwell (she/her,) a freelance journalist whose work I have been reading and enjoying for a while. This is her first piece for C&K.

I loved this story because struggles with orgasm are so, so common, especially for cis women and other people with vulvas. The limited cultural narratives around sex can make us feel that we should all be having the most amazing sex, all the time and without ever talking about it.

Those same narratives push the idea that if we’re with the right partner, sex and orgasm will be easy and effortless, and that any use of additional tools (such as toys or lube) indicate failure. But as we can see from Hattie’s story, those things can be game changers in the best possible way.

Enjoy!

Amy x

How CBD Lube Changed My Sex Life When My Body Forgot How to Orgasm

I was in a sexless relationship for almost six years. It was difficult not just physically, but mentally, too. I wanted an intimate relationship, but sadly he wasn’t interested. Of course, I thought it was me. That something was wrong with me. I changed how I looked constantly to see if maybe he’d start loving me again, but the relationship had been dead for years. 

When we first got together, I was able to orgasm easily and quickly. Multiple times. Having an orgasm had never been a concern to me. I’d always had a good sex life before the relationship, and during the first year. But everything changed, and I don’t know why. 

When we finally broke up and I walked away from the stale relationship, I met somebody new quickly. My family and friends warned me that it was too early, that I needed to heal. But I had already done my healing over the last six months of the relationship—because I knew it was coming to an end. 

It was incredible to have sex with someone new. I mean, it was incredible just to have sex again. But, I couldn’t orgasm. It made me feel bad because I didn’t want my new partner to think it was him. My body just forgot what an orgasm felt like, and I couldn’t do it anymore. 

When I tried to get there, it was even more impossible, because I was putting myself under too much pressure. It wasn’t until I decided to “re-discover myself” alone, learning what I liked and didn’t like, and what made me tick, that finally, I came to climax again. 

I decided to show my partner what I liked, and it worked—but it still took me up to an hour to get there, and sometimes I couldn’t at all. It was frustrating and I felt resentment towards my ex because I felt like I had no control over my body.

I could only come during mutual masturbation. Never during sex. Which is annoying, because I want to reach orgasm when my partner does. It feels more intimate. It makes me feel closer. 

That’s where the CBD lube comes in. 

There are lots of CBD lubes out there, even though not that many people know about them. Of course, most people have heard about CBD and the common belief that it helps with chronic pain. But it can also help with sensitivity of the vulva, as it is absorbed through the tissues.

I was sceptical, but decided to try Dani Pepper’s “O” orgasm enhancer.

It comes in a bottle that looks just like regular, non-CBD lube, and is transparent. It’s made using organic and natural ingredients, and is water-based, meaning it’s okay to use with latex. 

I sat down with my partner and talked about using the lube, and he agreed. He was just as adamant about getting my orgasms back on track as I was. 

That night, we had sex. But before we did, we did what we usually do, and he tried to get me off. I decided to do it during mutual masturbation because I wanted my body to get used to the CBD lube in a way that I knew might just make me come. 

He put the lube on me, and within 15 minutes I started to feel more relaxed. I wasn’t worried about climaxing. I decided that it didn’t matter if I didn’t orgasm this time—I could always try again. 

But I did come. Quickly. Intensely. The most extraordinary orgasm I have ever had. 

It lasted for at least 10 seconds, and afterwards, my legs were shaking and I couldn’t speak through breathlessness. 

What I also loved is how calm I felt afterwards. I continued to feel this really relaxing sensation. Sex afterwards was amazing because, even though I can’t come through penetration still, it made us both feel accomplished. Knowing I’d “got there” meant there were no frustrated vibes after having sex—or masturbating for an hour. 

I always use the lube now; every time we have sex. It’s my go-to, and I of course have more than one bottle at a time so that I can keep myself stocked up. 

CBD lube, and specifically Dani Pepper’s orgasm enhancer, has been a game-changer for me. Not just because of the incredibly intense orgasms, but because it has brought me closer to my partner sexually. I feel like our sex life is way more intimate now, and I never feel like I’m missing out. And I won’t ever again.

About the Author

Hattie Gladwell is a journalist and editor from Sussex. She is passionate about raising awareness of mental health issues, and mainly writes about sex, relationships, parenting and mental illness.

Product recommendation is the writer’s own and is not an affiliate link.

[Guest Post] Erotic Fanfiction as Sexual Exploration by Kelvin Sparks

Today’s guest post comes from a new-to-C&K writer! I’ve followed Kelvin Sparks (he/him) on Twitter for some time and enjoyed many of his writings. I’m delighted to be publishing this essay on the history and appeal of sexually explicit fanfiction!

Amy x

Erotic Fanfiction as Sexual Exploration by Kelvin Sparks

When discussions of fanfiction reach the mainstream, one of the go-
to jabs is always to talk about erotic fanfiction as a punchline in itself.
Even when fanfiction has its defenders, they often try to distance ‘the
good stuff’ from explicit works within the genre. This is something I don’t
think is fair, not just because I think erotic work is unfairly maligned in
general, but because of the history of explicit fanfiction as a safe space
for people (particularly women and/or LGBTQ+ people) to explore sexual
ideas and fantasies.

A Short History of (Explicit) Fanfiction

Although people have been a) interested in building on existing
stories and characters and b) horny for pretty much the entirety of
human history, fanfiction as we know it currently is rooted in the sci-fi fan
culture of the 20th century.

While plenty of people talk about Star Trek as having the first fandom in the 60s, many of the activities associated with this early fandom activity were derivative of more general sci-fi fandom culture. For example, Star Trek fan magazines (or ‘fanzines’) weren’t something original or exclusive to the fandom, but were simply more specific versions of sci-fi fanzines, which printed amateur writing. The difference was that Star Trek fanzines, starting with 1967’s Spockanalia, contained and popularised derivative fanfiction rather than original work.

Star Trek was also influential on modern fandom in other ways. For
one, the term ‘slash’, used to refer to same gender (primarily male/male)
pairings within fanfiction, comes from ‘Kirk/Spock’. While not all explicit
fanfiction is slash fanfiction and not all slash fanfiction is explicit, the
reputation of K/S (as the pairing was also known) fans was often as
smut-peddlers. While it’s hard to know specific details about the early
history of smut fanfiction—first-hand sources are hard to come by—we
do know that by 1978, it was prevalent enough that the editors of Star
Trek
fanzine Fantasia discussed the “rift between the porn-haters and
the porn-lovers”.

Fanfiction—and specifically smutty fanfiction—became more visible
as internet use became more common. While internets had been used for fandom since pretty much their creation— bulletin boards and mailing
lists were promenant in the 80s—the creation of the world wide web and
more widespread internet usage in the 90s drove some of the most
prominent fandoms of the period, such as The X-Files and Xena.

For the most part, fanfiction was kept in private archives, although the creation of Fanfiction.net and LiveJournal in 1998 and 1999 respectfully changed this. Fanfiction.net banned NC-17 fanfiction in 2002, and while
Adultfanfiction.net initially filled the void, Archive of Our Own (created in
2007) has become one of the leading alternatives. While AO3 doesn’t
hold a monopoly on fandom— FanFiction.net is still under use, and other
sites like WattPad have thriving fanfiction communities—it is one of the
leading communities, especially when it comes to erotic fanfiction, which
is still banned on FanFiction.net and is less prevalent on WattPad due to
its younger demographic.

Why Do People Like Erotic Fanfiction?

The main reason that people enjoy erotic and explicit fanfiction is
pretty clear—people enjoy erotic media! The real question here is why
do people enjoy erotic fanfiction over other kinds of erotic work and art?

Written erotica in general provides a space that’s low risk while being
explicitly erotic. A fantasy or desire may feel unapproachable or anxiety
inducing in real life, but fiction allows us to play with these fantasies and
desires in a space that’s totally controllable. If you like the idea of
bondage, for example, reading erotica about bondage may feel easier
than actually attempting to act out these fantasies because a book can
be closed at any time.

Written erotica tends to have an easier time expressing emotional aspects of sex than visual erotica (which isn’t to say that either is better than the other, just that they are different mediums), and for people who experience a lot or most of their satisfaction from the emotional aspects of sex, written erotica can feel more satisfying.

Fanfiction erotica can heighten some of the characteristics that written erotica already has. Because fanfiction is derivative, the audience for it already has a familiarity with the characters involved, as well as some kind of emotional connection to them. I would also argue that the writing side of fanfiction has a heavy focus on emotional continuity. In order to write a character so that they’re recognisable as their canon self but distinct enough to fit into a new universe, a writer needs to have a good handle on their interiority, meaning that fanfiction often becomes a very character-focused and emotion-focused type of storytelling.

Both the derivative nature of fanfiction and the internal tropes of the
genre can make it feel even safer to explore erotic ideas than conventional erotic fiction. Fanfiction archives often display information about the content included in the piece of fiction. For example, with Archive Of Our Own, pieces of fanfiction are given clear warnings for content like character death or violence, and authors can choose to tag works with various bits of information about their content, such as (for example), ‘Threesome – F/M/M’, ‘Rimming’, or ‘Rope Bondage’. This kind of archive system not only lets readers know about what content they’re likely to see, but allows them to search for specific or particular themes or types of content.

The nature of romance or erotica centric fanfiction often means that readers know that their preferred pairing (or more than pairing) will end up together, but the appeal of reading fanfiction is to watch the journey unfold. This safety—as well as the community built into fanfiction as a genre—means that it can feel like a safe space to explore ideas, both as a reader and writer and not necessarily connected to erotic preferences and practices. Plenty of people I know within fandom discovered that they were queer and trans through fanfiction, sometimes discovering it was even a thing because of fic and sometimes having their first encounter with depictions of what it was like to be trans/queer in terms of internal emotion be fanfiction.

My Experience with Fanfiction

No blog post would be complete without some personal context or story! I’ve drifted in and out of fanfic circles over the years, sometimes having periods of time where I write a lot of fanfic all at once and at other times not writing it for months or years at a time.

During my teenage years, I was pretty active in fandom, and used it as a space to explore my sexuality. It wasn’t so much an exploration of queerness for me. I’d already come out as trans by the time I started
writing fic, and I didn’t discover I was bisexual because of fandom. But
fandom and fanfic did allow me to explore my sexuality in other ways.

While I was already devouring romance novels prior to discovering
fanfiction, fanfic gave me access to stories and fantasies about
people outside of the cisgender, heterosexual, vanilla relationships that
I found in my my local library’s romance section. I was able to read not only
about transmasculine characters written by other transmasculine
people, but about polyamory, about BDSM, and about fantasies I would
never have come across in other circumstances.

At the same time, the fact these ideas were explored through characters I already knew and cared about made it feel far more approachable than original work with the same themes would have. It also gave me a built in audience when it came to writing my own erotic fiction, exploring what kinds of kinks, scenarios, and emotions I found compelling.

Kelvin Sparks logo for guest post about erotic fanfiction

About the Author

Kelvin Sparks (he/him) is a bisexual trans man who writes about sex on the internet. You can find him at KelvinSparks.com, or at @Kelvinsparks_ on both Twitter and Instagram.

[Guest Post] Conversion Therapy Has Rebranded and It’s Just as Dangerous by Violet Grey

I’m delighted to be welcoming the lovely and talented Violet Grey (she/her) back to Coffee & Kink with another guest post. This one is really important and also really challenging.

If you’re a straight, cis person, please take the time to read and absorb this one. If you’re queer and/or a conversion therapy survivor, please take care of yourself if you decide to engage with this <3

Amy x

Conversion Therapy Has Rebranded and It’s Just as Dangerous

TW for conversion therapy, spiritual abuse, trauma and suicide

If you’ve seen the news recently, you’ll know banning conversion therapy is back in discussion. Despite promises by the UK government to ban it back in 2018, conversion therapy is sadly still legal, with no swift action being taken to criminalise the practice. In its lengthy history and the outpouring of horrific survivor accounts, it has undergone a rebranding in recent years, but it is just as dangerous as ever. 

Being a bi person of faith (Christianity and Quaker teachings) I know not all Christians support conversion therapy. In fact, most I know are vehemently against it. However, it is a large, systemic problem in the church that needs confronting. 

What is Conversion Therapy?

Conversion therapy (sometimes known as Cure or Reparative Therapy) is a pseudoscientific practice of “repairing” or “curing” an LGBTQ+ person (usually teenagers and young adults) to change their sexual orientation to heterosexual, or gender identity to cisgender. 

It is usually undertaken by religious communities (in this case, I’m talking about Christianity), but is also known to be done by a select few medical professionals. It stems from the belief that being anything other than heterosexual and cisgender is wrong, and therefore should be treated. 

Such “treatments” to “cure” or “repair” someone of their homosexuality, bisexuality (often referred to as SSA or “Same Sex Attraction” in these circles,) or trans identity have included, but not been limited to: 

  • Biblical “counselling“: a mixture of psychotherapy-style sessions with spiritual advice. It is not uncommon for the counsellors to have no qualifications in counselling and people will be asked to sign a waiver acknowledging this. 
  • Praying and scripture study: Also known as “pray the gay away,” or praying for God to help the person with their “struggle” of Same Sex Attraction, again often reinforcing self-loathing. 
  • Physical torture, including starvation and beating
  • Exorcism
  • Electroshock Therapy 
  • Forced sterilisation and surgeries 
  • Chemical castration: The use of anaphrodisiac drugs to reduce a person’s libido or sexual activity. While it can be used to treat certain cancers, this has been used on LGBTQ+ people to “reduce homosexual urges.”

The medical community has denounced conversion therapy as a dangerous pseudoscience (with incredibly high failure rates) that contributes to PTSD, depression, anxiety, and even suicide in those who undergo it. There are countless studies with findings all pointing to the same conclusion: conversion therapy doesn’t work, and you can’t “make” someone straight any more than you can “make” someone gay.

Being LGBTQ+ it is not a choice, it doesn’t disrupt the family dynamic, and it is not caused by childhood trauma. We just are who we are. 

Rebranding: Hate the Sin, Not the Sinner

Rebranding of conversion therapy has been happening in the last fifteen years or so, primarily since the legalisation of same-sex marriage across many parts of the world. Since then, in my experience with homophobic views, they have shifted from “being gay is a choice” to “God may have made you gay. It’s just the act of homosexuality that’s a sin” in order to come across as more accepting. 

This is just as bad. One: love (and sex) is not a sin. Two: it gaslights the person through spiritual abuse. Three: it leaves already vulnerable LGBTQ+ people with two choices: 

  • A lifetime of celibacy. So no masturbation, no same-sex relationship, no sex, no nothing. 
  • A heterosexual marriage with someone we might not even love. 

Either way the options are clear: a lifetime of misery, or a lifetime of misery. But hey, God loves you, right? 

Biblical “counselling” and prayer is being championed in the wake of this so-called progressive view, to “help” people who want this so-called help. However, this toxic doctrine has been internalised in not LGBTQ+ people, but the very people claiming to help them. 

These views usually echo in the various groups: 

  • Folks who like to Bible thump and control
  • Christians who still believe sexuality is a choice
  • Well-meaning Christians

Now, “well-meaning Christian” interlinked with homophobia does sound like an oxymoron, and it is. However, with such messages being preached from the pulpit or in a mistranslated Bible verse (there are 450 English translations of the Bible!) these views will either be all you know, or even be considered a liberal take – especially if you come from a conservative background.

Their view, from my experience, does not come from malice (though I don’t justify it at all.) They genuinely feel they are doing the right thing. They think they are helping, but conversion therapy doesn’t help and in fact, can and does still cause significant harm.

The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions

For the well-meaning folks, who believe in “hating the sin and not the sinner,” I just want to say this: I’m not trying to attack you or limit your faith. But from a fellow Christian, and a queer one at that, this take is still hurting people and we need to acknowledge this. Then we can enact truly positive change.

Sadly, this doctrine of “tolerance but not really” further reinforces self-hatred in the name of love. It reinforces distress that shouldn’t be there in the first place, and is not justifiable with any of Jesus’ teachings. 

We are called to love our neighbour and consider the fruit we bear, but if the fruit we produce leads to trauma, self-loathing and even suicide, we can’t dig our heels in with, “But the Bible says…”. There is no Biblical justification for the torture we as a community have, and continue to, put LGBTQ+ people through.  Who are we as Christians to tear two adults in love away from each other and condemn them to a life of misery?

Breaking Up with Toxic Doctrine

The truth of the matter is that Leviticus, Romans 1, 1 Corinthians, and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah were about sexual violence and abuse of power. 

We are using the Bible as a weapon when it was never meant to be. The Bible is a rich, historical document full of context to be learned, as well as a religious text. Literalism is killing people and if we want to try to be more Christ-like, we need to focus on what Christ was about: love. 

Now, there is a shift towards churches becoming LGBTQ+ affirming and progressives, both clergy and parishioner, are leading the way through thorough research of doctrine. However, it goes without saying that there is backlash against this. So while we are making positive baby steps, we’ve still got a long way to go. 

Violet Grey describes herself as “your 20-something lady who loves to write. I write erotic fiction, along with real-life sex stories, thoughts on sexuality, kink, BDSM, and generally whatever else is on my mind.” Check out her blog and give her a follow on Twitter!

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[Guest Post] Kink in Context by Quenby

It’s time for another guest post and I’m delighted to be bring you another piece from Quenby (they/them) who has written for me before and always has such great things to say. Today, they’re exploring the limits of “your kink is not my kink but your kink is okay.”

Remember: you can always chip in via the tip jar to help me keep commissioning awesome guest writers.

Amy x

Kink in Context by Quenby

“Your Kink Is Not My Kink, And That’s Okay.” This concept has become an article of faith within the kink community, a rallying cry of mutual acceptance. And I think the basic idea behind it – that we shouldn’t shame people simply because they have kinks we don’t – is sound. But it’s often used to shut down any criticism of people within the kink community. And that is a dangerous situation in any community, and particularly for marginalised people within that group.

Kink is a distinct subculture, with its own behavioural norms and distinct culture. But any subculture exists within the context of the wider culture it’s embedded in, so it os not isolated from the issues which affect the dominant culture[*]. So kinks are connected to mainstream culture, they often play with the idea of taboo (i.e. relating to social norms by violating them). And that means we need to think about how our kinks can reinforce the existing problems in our culture.

This isn’t exactly a new idea. There are countless pieces out there discussing whether you can be a submissive and a feminist (spoiler alert, yes you can). Last year the iconic Sinclair Sexsmith wrote about the issues of Master-slave dynamics in a world where racism and slavery are very real issues. 

Personally, it’s feminisation which hits the hardest. Seeing a cis man feminised as a way to humiliate him hits a little too close to home. At its worst, it feels like this reproduces trans trauma for the entertainment of people who will never actually have to live with this. Yet I know several people who worked out they were trans through this kink. And when it’s done by trans people to reclaim power over their trauma, it’s a very different situation.

This piece mostly deals with these questions in the abstract, so what does this look like in a practical sense? Let’s take a relatively simple example, I really love it when a partner refers to me as a filthy slut. Part of the reason that’s hot to me is the taboo, the way it degrades me for violating the social norm of “you shouldn’t be slutty”. But if you’re not careful, using this language in a kink context can normalise using it more broadly, and reinforce the slutshaming within our society.

There’s a conversation connected to this around reclaiming language (for example, The Ethical Slut reframes the word “slut” as something which isn’t inherently negative,) but a big part of this is how we behave outside of kink. I would never allow someone to call me a slut in a kink context if they also used it as a derogatory term in real life, and for me that’s an important distinction to make.

I don’t have all the solutions here. There aren’t simple answers of “this kink is wrong”, or “you have to engage in kink in this particular way”. How to engage with a culture without reproducing its harmful elements is a very complex question. But I’m pretty sure that the answer isn’t to simply ignore how kink can reinforce and normalise real social issues, or excuse the harm this can do to real people for fear of kink shaming. 

Perhaps all I can ask is for people to think about what they’re doing. To look at the kinks they engage with and consider how these relate to the real world – the privileges they possess within this context and the unintended consequences on people around them. It’s not easy. In the “filthy slut” example alone, I found so much to unpack from three simple syllables. Thinking about how this applies to the intricacy of different kinks is a daunting task. But these are questions we need to be asking.

Bias, privilege, and marginalisation are built into our society, as a part of that society each of us carries these problems within us. This is not done equally, some of us try to address internalised biases while others embrace them. But we are all, on some level, part of the problem. And we all need to be part of the solution.

[*] The mainstream culture which dominates society, not the culture of Doms

Quenby is a queer perfomer, writer, and activist. If you liked this post you can check out their blog, or follow them on FB and Twitter @QuenbyCreatives.

[Guest Post] Using Gender-Neutral Language Isn’t Enough

Today’s guest post comes from Shannon Burton (they/she) who I met through the Smutlancers community. They’re a brilliantly talented writer and I’m thrilled to be publishing them on C&K for the first time, talking about gender-neutral language and how to use it.

It’s important to note that though this article uses one specific example of problematic language as its jumping-off point, it’s not about attacking or critiquing an individual. This is stuff that virtually all cis people – including me! – could do better with. I learned a huge amount from this and I’m sure you will, too.

They’ve helpfully included some working definitions for those of you who are new to these concepts, so I’ll include those first and then we’ll dive into the article.

Amy x

Definitions

Cis/cisgender: when someone’s gender identity matches their assigned sex at birth

Trans/transgender: when someone’s gender identity is different than their assigned sex at birth

Genderqueer/nonbinary: when someone’s gender identity falls outside the categories of man and woman

Intersex: when someone’s sex characteristics such as chromosomes, hormones, gonads, or genitals don’t fit neatly into typical definitions of male or female sex. Being intersex does not determine a person’s gender identity.

Vulva-owner: person with a vulva (generally including the mons pubis, labia majora and minora, clitoris, and vaginal opening.) Being a vulva owner does not determine a person’s gender identity.

Penis-owner: person with a penis (generally including glans, shaft, and foreskin.) Being a penis owner does not determine a person’s gender identity.

Using Gender-Neutral Language Isn’t Enough by Shannon Burton

Sometimes, even our best intentions fall short.

Such was the situation in the very first lesson of Dr. Emily Morse’s “Sex and Communication” Masterclass.

“I want this class to include everyone,” the Sex With Emily podcast host begins promisingly. “So instead of hearing me say woman, I’m gonna say vulva-owner or vulva, and instead of man, I’m gonna say penis-owner or penis.”

Arrrrgggg!

This is a perfect example of trying to be inclusive of trans, genderqueer, and nonbinary people and falling short. Our bodies do not always indicate our gender. Yet, this statement still implies that women are vulva-owners and men are penis-owners. It also implies that being inclusive is just a matter of swapping out gendered words (woman, man) for neutral, body-based ones and then—hurray!—our work here is done.

But not every man has a penis, and not every woman has a vulva. While this body-centered language helps when giving sex advice and talking about bodies without assuming gender, this introduction unfortunately undoes its own intent.

Without that statement, the rest of the course is pretty gender inclusive. Dr. Morse uses body-centered language throughout the lessons (slipping up just once), so that vulva-owners and penis-owners of all genders can tune in to relevant information about themselves and/or their partners. That introduction, though, leaves viewers free to mentally substitute gendered terms when they hear the gender-neutral ones, maintaining the status quo that marginalizes trans, genderqueer, and nonbinary people.

What could Dr. Morse have done differently? What can those of us who are trying to be more inclusive in our work and day-to-day life do to be better at keeping up with and using terms correctly, especially when it feels like they’re constantly changing?

The first step is to get in our own heads about gender.

Decoupling Body from Gender

Body-centered language (like penis-owner and vulva-owner) is becoming more common in some contexts, and for good reason. In reproductive health settings, for example, it’s important to know whether someone has a uterus or testes. Asking whether someone is a woman, man, or other gender identity can’t tell you that, since there are men with uteruses, women with testes, nonbinary and genderqueer people with either, and intersex people of all gender identities.

In other contexts, however, body-centered language isn’t always necessary. For example, when discussing social issues that disproportionately affect different genders, it’s appropriate to use those gendered terms. (i.e. “Women tend to make less money than men for the same work,” “Men are more likely than women to develop a dependency on drugs or alcohol,” or “Trans people experience higher rates of sexual assault than cis women and men.”) Our socially-constructed gender identities are a major part of these social problems, so using those terms makes sense.

When it comes to talking about sex, things can get messy (no surprise there!) Sex is socially stigmatized, and people of different gender identities experience different pressures as a result. Meanwhile, sex educators and businesses aim to provide helpful advice and knowledge that often involves talking very specifically about people’s most intimate body parts. 

This requires ongoing work on our part to decouple bodies from gender in our own heads, while still considering how those things interact. That’s going to look different for everyone, but one place I like to start with cisgender friends is to ask a question you may have already asked yourself, seriously or not:

What would you do if you woke up tomorrow and your body’s sex characteristics had changed?

In this thought exercise, you’d still be you… but your body hair, chest, hips, and genitals would be different, and perhaps your voice, too. If you currently have a penis and testicles, you might now have a vagina, uterus, and ovaries, and vice versa.

When I first explored this question with friends in high school, our answers predictably ranged from “freak out” to “find someone to go down on me.” Go ahead, have fun with the thought exercise yourself. Think of all the things you’d do with a different appearance and new sex organs. Then, really sit with it. What would happen if you woke up with the new body day after day, week after week? What if you’d have it for the rest of your life?

For most cisgender people, I think this would be very distressing. They’d know, to their core, that they are a “woman trapped in a man’s body,” or vice versa. The body would not feel like their own, and they might seek to change it with hormone therapy and/or surgery, if they had access to that and could afford it. They’d resent being treated as a gender not their own in day-to-day interactions, and told their gender identity is wrong when they correct people.

This is often the trans experience: one’s body does not reflect the gender one knows deeply to be true. (Please note, however, that despite this not all trans people desire hormone therapy or surgery.)

When you begin to understand how your gender identity is separate from the body you possess, you begin to understand why saying something like “instead of women I’ll say vulva-owners” is well-intentioned but still problematic. Not everyone who knows in their heart that they are a woman has a vulva.

What Sex Educators and Businesses Can Do

How could Dr. Emily Morse have done better? An improved introduction might look like this:

“I want this class to include everyone, so instead of giving advice based on gender, I’m going to focus on the parts of the body many of us use during sex. You’ll hear body-centered language like penis-owner and vulva-owner to help indicate which information is most relevant to you and your partners.”

Sex educators and sex-related business owners can learn about and use better language by consulting with gender-aware writers and editors for their content. They can also commit to further educating themselves by seeking out trans, genderqueer, and nonbinary authors, bloggers, podcasters, and educators. They can read, watch, and listen to what these people are sharing to build a better understanding of how different people experience gender.

Most importantly, they shouldn’t stop here. I am but one nonbinary person and this post is a very limited introduction to thinking about gender and language. Check out resources like this guide for writing about transgender people, which is constantly being updated, and the Trans Journalists Association style guide.

Our understanding of gender is constantly changing. The language and ideas I’ve used in this post may be problematic without me realizing it, or may be outdated just a year or two from now—and that’s okay. I trust my fellow trans, nonbinary, and genderqueer comrades to hold me accountable and offer better alternatives, and you should, too. Be okay with making mistakes.

There are way more unanswered questions about gender out there than answered ones, so doing better at being inclusive is a life-long learning journey. Accepting that is a huge first step to being part of a safer world for people of all gender identities, and it’s worth taking.

About the Author

Picture of Shannon Burton, guest blogger writing about gender-neutral language

Shannon (they/she) is a sex coach and content writer residing in New Orleans. You can find them at SexCoachShannon.com or on Twitter @SexCoachShannon.

Remember: you can help me pay more guest bloggers (and pay guest bloggers more!) by donating via the tip jar.

[Guest Post] Happy Never After by Velvet Divine

Velvet Divine (fae/faer) is becoming something of a C&K regular at this point! I’m delighted to welcome faer back again with this wonderful person piece about being on the aromantic spectrum. Don’t forget to follow Velvet on Twitter!

Happy Never After by Velvet Divine

It’s fitting that I compose this piece as Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week comes to a close.

Let’s start from the top – my name is Velvet Alicia Lilith-Victoria Azshara Divine. I am trans-femme, non-binary, Sapphic, and – most recently discovered – aroflux.

Aroflux falls under the aromantic spectrum and is described as fluctuating between points of aromanticism (not experiencing romantic attraction) and alloromanticism (experiencing romantic attraction.)

I describe my particular experience as an inability to distinguish between romantic and strong platonic affection. I love my partners in the same manner that I do my closest friends, the only real difference comes in the manner that those affections are expressed and reciprocated.

This can also make something as simple as a crush or casual interest wildly frustrating as I’m never sure if I want to friend-up or bone-down, much less where the other party stands! Furthermore, it’s quite a hurdle to forming any semblance of a relationship or consistent companionship, at least on any level north of the platonic.

Alloromantic folks are (understandably) reticent about getting involved with someone on the aro spectrum and for those that I have been involved with, it was always understood to be an ephemeral arrangement, lasting just until the fire faded or they found an alloromantic partner.

I wish I could tell you that I’ve embraced being aroflux as easily and even enthusiastically as I have being non-binary, but that would be a fib of the highest order.

Most days I resent the realization.

As someone who has a voracious craving for physical intimacy and relies on sexual intimacy to find validation despite vicious gender dysphoria and body dysmorphia, it’s a cruel joke to only find those things in incredibly niche circumstances.

In no way do I want to imply that physical or sexual intimacy is necessary for a whole and fulfilling life or relationship, but these are aspects of intimacy that are important to me. Moreover, by niche circumstances, I refer to the already small dating pool as a trans femme Sapphic being further shrunken by those willing to engage in the necessary level of communication and understanding to navigate the caveats of my being aroflux.

Ironically enough, I’ve been essentially navigating the hookup and casual sex scenes as an aroflux person, just without the label. My various trysts and liaisons were short-term or consented to end at a set point – whether I felt I had too much going on to try to establish a relationship or the other party found a partner more suitable. At points, I even thought it was simply a matter of working through my baggage and trauma before I would be able to connect with someone on that level.

As my therapy progressed and under the copious amount of self-reflection required to cope with the current pandemic, I had the opportunity to do a lot of self-reflection and evaluation of what it is that I truly want out of an interpersonal relationship. This is when I began to realize just how little difference there was in my interactions and expressions of affection between my intimate partners and my close platonic friends. Often, the difference was only a matter of physical or sexual intimacy.

There’s an incredible beauty to the way I approach relationships and I’m endlessly bemused by the fae-like, casual contracts I have with certain connections regarding the comfortable ways we can exchange affection and the term limits that dictate until when that mode of affection may continue. But now and then I feel almost cheated.

I have a lot of trauma surrounding attachment and abandonment, to the point that I will frequently check in with people I’m close to just to ensure that my company is still desired in some capacity. I’ve lost track of the times I’ve expressed some version of the sentiment, “I don’t care in what capacity, I just want to be a part of your journey”. Up until recently, I had always held out hope for that fairytale type romance, whether that came in the form of one partner or many – the type of love my mother has told me my entire life does not exist and that society all too often tries to tell me that I’m not worthy of.

Now, by some caprice of fate, the door to a classic happily-ever-after is closed to me. 

I know that romantic love is far from the end-all-be-all, and maybe my current frustrations stem from a place of internalized arophobia and conditioned amatonormativity, but I find that I no longer have any clear picture or idea of what a possible physically intimate relationship would look like for me. A dear friend of mine recently asked me what the ideal scenario would look like for me and I said that the most plausible scenarios would be some kind of non-monogamous situation or some kind of queerplatonic arrangement with another allosexual aromantic person in a similar position. 

I could carry on as I have and see for how long this revolving door method is sustainable, but I’m tired of having to get close to people who will not be staying or being a placeholder until a better alternative appears. I could come to terms with the fact that what I want is unattainable and that it’d be better in the long run for me to get used to filling those needs with toys or vicariously through ethical and worker-owned media, but I can’t imagine either filling the gnawing void. Maybe nothing ever will. Which would track for me.

None of this to say that I don’t receive an overwhelming amount of love and support from my friends, I do, and I’m beyond grateful for it. However, there are things that my platonic friends cannot do for me, one of them being to commiserate with me on this topic. As far as I know, none of my friends are aro, and the few aros that I have met are aro-ace. So while there’s plenty of solidarity and support to be had around being aspec in an allo world, I don’t have anyone to relate to my specific situation.

I’m allowing myself the time and space to mourn the model and vision I had for myself as far as relationships go, even deleting my dating apps and taking myself off the proverbial goblin market while I work through some issues that continue to impact my interpersonal relations.

I hope that with time, I’ll learn to like and appreciate being aroflux for what it is. But until then I’m choosing to give myself grace for once and let the process play out.

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[Guest Post] Is All Sex Transactional? By Anaene Achinu

Today’s guest post comes from Anaene Achinu (she/her) who has written for Coffee & Kink once before. I’m thrilled to be hosting her words here again! Today she’s talking about transactional sex and the ways in which it can be problematic.

Amy x

Is All Sex Transactional? The Danger of Implied Terms in Sex

Very few things in life come ex gratia. Our basic needs – food, clothes and shelter – nearly always come at a price, regardless of the century, geographical location or culture you live in.

The world laughs at those who think life is a fruit tree, waiting to be plucked without a fee. The blurrier the transaction, the harder it is to get the best from it. This is why we have contracts, verbal agreements, implied terms and conditions, and so on.

When we fulfil our end of a bargain, we act in good faith, an interesting combination of hope and entitlement because, despite our finest attempts, the other party can still back out at the last minute.

Heterosexual sex is quite the phenomenon. Here we have two people, a man and a woman, in a position where they are to “consummate” their attraction to each other. However, in my experience, the bedroom tends to be more of a negotiation room. We are not inches away from the finish line, no, this is the climax.

Regardless of the physical stimulation experienced by both parties, society has never really considered sex to be anything more than an inconvenience for women, even when they proclaim otherwise. Pornography often teaches us that sex is a performance, a place where sex is acted upon a woman, a mere object and recipient to the erect pleasure of a man.

Even the LGBTQ section, especially lesbian content, is targeted for men; a virtual enactment of their fantasies. It is no wonder women, even the most libidinous, rarely have the luxury of seeing it from an uncomplicatedly carnal point of view. There is an imbalance somewhere.

The politics of sex shows us that sex is rarely solely about penetration. It is viewed as a prize awarded to the man for his efforts, his swaying and wooing and spending. In the case where a woman pursues it, it is empowering, flipping the script, asserting sexual autonomy, maybe even just an itch to scratch. Even when it is the other way around, the fact remains that sex is often viewed as trade-by-barter, a physical expression of a social, financial and at times emotional exchange.

I grew up with strong religious convictions, praying to the biblical God to wipe me clean, to rid me of my sex dreams, to aid me in my pursuit of sexual purity until marriage. And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for a childhood acquaintance five years ago.

Suddenly, the concept of lust, a sin I was told to flee from, felt like a cruel joke, something only a wicked person would say. I did not go all the way with him, because my virginity was a badge of honor back then, but I had tasted the forbidden fruit.

Of course, this was not a purely sexual arrangement. He had to wine me, dine me. Text me every other minute. Send a meme. Compliment me, unprovoked. Give and take. He gave me his time, his ideas, his encouragement. I gave him my body. And although pleasurable to the both of us, it was clear who was the one in control. No malice, no dark undertone intended.

When you receive, be it gifts or sex or something else entirely, without stating your desires before, during or even after, you will lick the crumbs and say thank you. It was not a coincidence that as soon as we started making out regularly, the other perks evaporated. No more movie nights, no more open mics. The compliments still came, but mostly as a result of the acts I performed, or my reception of his skills.

Is that a bad thing?

It could be.

Financial, emotional, or social vulnerability can disrupt the germination of a mutually beneficial relationship. He pays for all of the meals, you love him more than you love yourself. Your biological clock is ticking. You have too much at stake. Exploitation sets in. It can be subtle or it can be overpowering, but it is bound to happen.

For a long time, I assumed that by acting in good faith, by holding up your end of the deal, the other party would do their own share of the work, and we would all live happily ever after. Oh, the joys of naive intelligence, where you are incapable of seeing past the logic of “doing the right thing”.

Then I met him. A man in a long-distance marriage who thought I was remarkable, who couldn’t get enough of me. The relationship had been blurry from the start, arising from a mentor/mentee relationship to surface level parental-style guidance, culminating in an expression of latent sexual feelings for a young, fresh girl with a sharp mouth not saddled down by marriage and children and a competitive career.

To an extent, we were kindred spirits. I was who he would have been if he had not given in to the conventions of a nuclear family. I was unattached, no obligations, no raison d’etre other than to simply be. He was an embodiment of rags to riches, a walking parable of the looming fear of tasting all too familiar poverty once again.

He worked hard, although he was looking for ways to work smart. Meeting him in that hotel room was an act of curiosity, digging into what it really means when sex is a weapon of mass destruction. Bottom power. And it worked, when I did not demand much. The potency dwindled when I started asking for things outright. Suddenly, our text messages were filled with excuses.

But that’s not all. As I demanded more, he demanded I earned it by risking my safety, proposing all sorts of adventures, looking for adrenaline.

The ultimate was when he asked me to come to his family home, posing as an employee. It baffled me, the audacity. What can one say? Tit for tat. I will acknowledge that at the time, I was unemployed, flat out broke, financially vulnerable, all known to him. Yet, he had every intention to make me work for it, to the detriment of my personhood.

At first, I left the affair wounded. Had I been in love with him, or wanted something more from him besides the clandestine meetings or intellectual sparrings, perhaps one could have questioned my lucidity. But the terms and conditions were implied.

I present to you my youth, my freedom, my body. You buy the meals, the experiences, the gadgets. The obvious disparity in age, class and pedigree. You pay in part and in full. However, the other party in this contract showed that he was not in it for the long haul, so I dissolved the contract.

We live in a world where no matter the role you play, as a woman you take the heat for it. You owe it to yourself to be explicit in your wants and needs, to take control of whatever capacity you can, regardless of the nature of the sexual relationship.

Most women learn this with time and age. But we must document these things. Archiving our experiences will prevent a lot of unnecessary trauma in the future. It is an honor to discuss this, however morally questionable to some. I continuously look forward to the possibilities, of a life where women are confident, where they have less to lose, and ultimately, where the scale is balanced.

Anaene Achinu is a New York based writer.