Yes, I Have a Problem with Fifty Shades… But It’s Not What You Think

It’s actually more accurate to say I have several problems with Fifty Shades of Grey, the infamous erotic trilogy (plus rewrites-with-the-pronouns-flipped) about the kinky-ish love between naive college student Anastasia Steele and young handsome billionaire  Christian Grey.

A block of grey paint samples in reference to Fifty Shades of GreyYes, I’ve read the first book, and enough of the second and third to get the gist. I’ve also read Cliff Pervocracy and Jenny Trout’s recaps (which are hilarious, by the way). Make no mistake: these books are horribly written and I did not find them erotic in the slightest. The sex depicted in them is either boringly vanilla, dubiously consensual (or straight up rapey), or both. The main characters are both awful people and the dialogue is about as sexy as a root canal. As a kinkster, I hate that people think this is what we’re about. As a writer, I think it’s a travesty that Ms James has made more money than anyone ever needs in a lifetime, while genuinely talented artists are underpaid and undervalued every day.

So yes. I have issues with this book. But they’re not that it’s an unrealistic kinky romance between a virginal college student and a vampire billionaire.

“But it’s fantasy!” fans cry.

And yes. It is. Look, I’ll be the last person to tell you that you can’t have your fantasies, even your problematic ones. Fantasy is not reality and fantasy exists to enable us to escape from the real world for a while. And nowhere is that more true than in sexual fantasy.

A huge part of the reason that erotica and porn should only be accessed by adults is that adults, typically, understand the difference between fantasy and reality. Jaime Mortimer wrote a really good post on this recently.

I’m not going to infantilise everyone who reads Fifty Shades or any other problematic book and tell you that it’s going to turn you into a rapist or make you leave your husband for an emotionally stunted billionare (or a vampire in a Volvo). I read plenty of erotic fiction and plenty of it has themes that would be super problematic if they were real – doctor/patient scenarios, professor/student scenarios, consensual-non-consent roleplay, voyeurism and exhibitionism, public sex and more are just some of the themes I’ve enjoyed in my sexy fiction.

Guess what? Fantasy. And again: adults, overall, have the capability to understand the difference between fantasy and reality.

So enjoy Fifty Shades, if it’s your thing, as a fantasy about a naive young woman being seduced by an dude with more money than God and pants that hang from his hips (yes, this is an actual line in the book). Enjoy the light BDSM, the sexy  helicopter rides, the grumpy, brooding, damaged male lead if you want to. I’ll be the last person to judge you for enjoying some silly escapism or some improbable erotica if that’s what gets you off.

My problem with Fifty Shades is actually in the social and cultural narrative surrounding Fifty Shades.

Because this is not a great love story. This is not something to which young women should aspire! And the problem is that it’s being sold that way.

There is tonnes of erotica (and straight romantic fiction) out there that relies on problematic tropes and scenarios that are hot in fiction but would be a terrible idea in reality. That’s fine. Again: fantasy is cool, y’all!

But none of that has the marketing power behind it that Fifty Shades does. Ms James and her publishing team have made their collective fortunes not on selling Fifty Shades as fluffy erotic fantasy, but on selling Fifty Shades as a style of relationship to which we should all aspire.

And that is what is dangerous about this book. Not the fantasy it depicts, but the marketing power that sells that fantasy as genuinely aspirational. Because make no mistake, the relationship between Christian and Ana is very often abusive.

How many young women do you think have watched this movie, and decided that if this is romance, my boyfriend obviously only super jealous and controlling because he loves me? Or, Ana loves Christian out of abusing her, so if only I behaved better my husband would stop hitting me? Maybe not in quite so literal terms, but make no mistake – these messages are out there, and victims of abuse are listening and absorbing.

You might think this is hyperbole, but it’s not. This is the kind of power that massive marketing budgets, ingrained cultural narratives about love, and a total lack of sensible sex-and-relationships education has.

I don’t blame Fifty Shades for my own experience in an abusive D/s relationship, of course. But I do partly blame growing up surrounded by the idea that if a man hurt me, my job was to heal him so he could love me properly in the end.

Fifty Shades is far from the only story to suffer from this phenomenon

We have always built collective cultural narratives around these deeply problematic stories. I am reasonably confident in saying I doubt that Shakespeare intended Romeo & Juliet to be considered the greatest love story of all time. If you read it as a love story and analyse it for more than three seconds, it’s a ridiculous play. If you reread it as a satire about “love at first sight” and teenage stupidity, though, it becomes utterly brilliant. (While we’re at it, Wuthering Heights isn’t a great love story either. And Christian Grey bears a passing resemblence to Heathcliff in a variety of ways.)

Despite being for children, even Disney movies sell us some pretty horrible messages about relationships. Think about it: marriage is the ultimate goal for any girl. Once a man chooses you, you’ll live happily ever after.  Cinderella tells us to be good and subservient and pretty until a man rescues us; The Little Mermaid tells us that what we have to say is the least valuable thing about us; Sleeping Beauty suggests that kissing a sleeping stranger is totes a sensible and romantic thing to do… and so it goes on. We’re drip-fed these messages from earliest childhood, so is it really any wonder that so many of us grow up with totally screwed up ideas about what relationships are actually supposed to look like?

Don’t ban – educate

In closing: I don’t support the banning of Fifty Shades or other problematic stories. Fantasy is important and something we should all be able to have access to. Instead, we need a greater cultural understanding and greater education around separating fantasy from reality, and understanding what healthy relationships actually are.

I’d be much happier with the thousands and thousands of twenty-something women enjoying Fifty Shades as sexy, escapist fantasy if they weren’t already surrounded by a culture that teaches them if he hits you, it’s your job to be better so he can heal from his fucked up past.

I Tried to Make Him Hit Me.

This was written as part of Smutathon 2018: #SmutForChoice edition. I’m sorry it’s not very sexy, but it’s sex-adjacent and it needed writing. If you’d like to support abortion access, please click below and donate – you can also win sex toys!

A giant male hand holding a female figure crushing her. For a post called I Tried To Make Him Hit Me.The one thing he never did was hit me.

He screamed at me, including in the middle of the night, including where my flatmates could hear, including when I had no idea what I’d done. He controlled so many facets of my life, and not in ways I’d consented to as part of a kinky dynamic. Guilting and ignoring your partner because they went for an innocent coffee with a friend who happens to be of a different gender is not fun D/s. He monitored my weight and shamed me if I gained a few pounds. I was pushed on to medication. He would even punch, kick and throw objects in front of me, just so I was in no doubt how scared he wanted me. It goes on.

I have a secret confession: I tried, a handful of times, to make him hit me. On these occasions, when he shouted at me, I didn’t cower – I sassed back, very occasionally even yelled back. I called him out on his bullshit. I even, on one particular occasion, told him “you’re abusive”. That was the time I most thought he was going to throw a punch at me.

I wanted permission to leave. I wanted something that would tell me unequivocally, this is bad and you can get out. The part of me that still loved him would, I thought, quiet down if he actually raised a hand to me. The part that was sure he was the best I’d ever do would snap out of the stupid trance he’d got me in. I realise now that it probably wouldn’t – I’d probably have justified it and convinced myself that I deserved it and stuck around anyway, the subservient fucking lapdog that I was.

Just fucking hit me, I thought, and then I can leave and I won’t be the bad guy. Because if I left, I knew he’d demonise me. I couldn’t love him as he was. I couldn’t be good enough to make him happy. I’d be the girl who couldn’t handle it.

We teach women and girls that they should leave if a partner physically hurts them. But we don’t speak enough about emotional and mental and psychological abuse. Too often, the message women get is try harder, try harder, try harder! Love him into not abusing you! We romanticise control as being “protective”.  We play off screaming as “it’s only because he cares”. This starts in childhood, when we tell little girls he’s mean to you because he likes you, and it continues and continues and continues and the next thing you know you’re in your 20s and sobbing on some guy’s floor because he yelled at you again and you just love him so much you’re sure you’ll die if you leave. THEN they have the fucking nerve to say “at least he didn’t hit you.”

He never crossed that line, and in his eyes that made him not-abusive. In mine, it just meant I had to wait for the abuse to get bad enough before I was “allowed” to leave. That took a long fucking time. Learning earlier that physical violence wasn’t the only form of cruelty I should Not Tolerate might have made all the difference.

Parents, teachers, adults: we must teach our girls that they do not have to tolerate cruelty of any kind. That they don’t have to tolerate the mental torture until he finally snaps and hits them. Please let’s do better for the next generation of girls.

On Weight, Rope and Grief for the Body I Wanted

CW: weight, weight loss, body shame, rope bondage, diet culture, food-and-diet-related abuse, bullying, abusive teachers. Please, if these topics are difficult for you, feel enormously free to skip this one.

Note: in this post when I use the word “fat” to talk about other people, I am using it as a neutral descriptive term. Using it about myself is… complicated. I am not at a place of being positive about it.

Note the Second: I DO want – solidarity, love, and encouragement that I can choose to change my body and still be feminist. I do NOT want – diet or exercise tips, urging to”find a different rigger” (more on that later), to be advised not to change my body, or to be told you find me hot unless we have already established a dynamic where that’s an okay thing.

My stomach and hips in black leggings and a purple shirt which I am lifting up. For a post on weight and rope.
Feat. my belly

I’ve only ever been “thin” twice in my life. The first time, I was fifteen and it was just the way my body was. I didn’t think I was thin at the time, of course – I thought I was huge, as most teenage girls do. But looking back, fifteen year old Amy had the body that twenty five year old Amy would have killed for. The second time was at University, when I was walking miles every day around a very hilly town and subsisting mainly off coffee, Pro Plus pills and cheap vodka.

For most of my life, my body has been what can best be described as “a few pounds over where I’d ideally like to be,” but I was rarely particularly motivated to do anything about it. I like food and (until I discovered solo, non-competitive running and tap dancing), I hated exercise. (For the value of “hated” that means “extremely deep-seated trauma as a result of horrifying abuse from fellow students and teachers, including being made to run around a track on a weak ankle until I nearly vomited.”)

I’ve been fat three times in my life. The first time was during Sixth Form, when young adulthood and increased freedom led me to eat all the things I was rarely allowed by my health-conscious parents. The second time was in 2015, after I dumped my abusive ex (more about him in a minute) and gained 4olb in six months because in my head, eating whatever I wanted was a fuck you to him. It took me two years to lose those 40lb. The third time?

Well, the third time is now.

Let me back up a minute and talk to you about my ex. He was fat when we met, and gained weight steadily over the first three years or so. Then he suddenly decided to lose it all, began to religiously count calories, and took up hardcore exercise. Unfortunately, these traits combined with an addictive/obsessive personality quickly let to what I can only describe as a raging eating-and-exercise disorder. It “worked,” in that he became thin and muscular, but the punishing regime made him miserable and with that misery, he treated me and his wife even worse than previously (which was pretty badly already, TBF.)

With these behaviours directed towards himself came greater food and exercise scrutiny directed at me. At one point, he was making me weigh myself in front of him in the morning when he slept over. Weighing less than me, a 5’4″ woman with no muscle to speak of, became a point of pride for him and a point of criticism to level at me, all at once. I once asked him why he slept with me if he didn’t like my weight, and he countered that he couldn’t afford to be picky because fat women were all he could “get”.

So when we broke up, of course I went a bit mad with freedom. I ate everything I wanted and sat on the couch as much as I wanted, with an “I DARE you to judge me” attitude. But the net result was that I gained over 40lb, as I mentioned above. Then I lost it all, with two years of calorie counting and step counting and punishing gym workouts.

Until a few months ago, when I started putting it all back on. At first it was a few pounds, then a few more, and now… now I’m almost back where I was at the end of 2015, less 5lb or so.

And I’m angry. I’m angry with my ex for putting me in the position of getting into this yo-yo cycle in the first place. I’m angry with the kids who bullied me and the teachers who abused me into such a fucked up relationship with exercise. I’m angry with myself for ruining all my hard work and getting back to where I started. I’m angry with myself that I am now even further from the body I wanted.

I’m angry that I can’t stand being hungry, because if I could just ignore the pangs then I could go on the starvation “shakes and meal bars” diet my colleague keeps trying to push on me every time this topic comes up. I’m angry at the marked difference in how I am treated in this body shape, even aware of the relatively huge amount of thin privilege I do still enjoy compared to many other folks.

But more than angry, I’m grieving. I’m grieving for the body I wanted that is now even further away than it was before. I’m grieving for the delicious meals and treats I can no longer enjoy without a painful twinge of guilt in my gut. I’m grieving for the people who used to find me attractive and now reject me and my partner because I’m a fat girl and that apparently tells them everything they need to know about us. I’m grieving for the privilege I enjoyed when I was thinner, the marked difference in everything from romantic interest to professional respect. And I’m grieving for the pretty clothes I can no longer wear, the things I can no longer do, the things I can’t even hope to do unless something changes.

An artistic drawing of a woman in a shibari chest harness. For a post on weight and rope.Rope is one of my passions. It has been for a long time. And rope is one of the things that is markedly harder for me – and for my partner, my Top and rigger – at this weight. Some of this is small things – ties that took two ropes now use three, positions I could hold when I was fitter and more flexible are now next to impossible.

We’ve been starting to explore suspension in workshop settings, and it’s wonderful and I love it. We want to explore further. Unfortunately, we discussed this at length and realised that there is no way we can safely do 1-to-1 suspension scenes at the current time. Due to physical limitations the details of which are not mine to share, if something went wrong and we had to cut the rope or get me down very quickly, there’s no way my partner could support my current weight. There would be a risk of serious injury to one or both of us.

We can still do things with a second person on hand, of course, but a lot of our best play happens in private and I would absolutely love to be able to be suspended in private. For those of you who haven’t visited us, we have a Victorian house with gorgeous high ceilings and we’ve been looking at putting a suspension hard point in one of them for exactly this purpose. But this dream will have to wait, possibly for a long time, until I can get my weight under control and back to the place I want it to be.

I am aware that “too heavy to suspend” isn’t really an objective thing. That’s not the issue here, exactly. The issue is that my current weight and my partner’s current legitimate physical limitations are not going to play nicely together – that’s no-one’s fault, but it is a reality.

I cannot express how much shame this fills me with. I feel that by letting myself get to this weight, I have failed not only myself but my partner as well. I can’t do the things I want to be able to do, and I can’t give him the things I want to be able to give him as his partner and his submissive.

And that is breaking my heart.

I have a hard road ahead of me to get my body back to where I want it to be. I want to be the particular number that has been sitting in my head for the last three years, the number that currently feels impossibly low and far away. But more than that, I want to be able to float blissfully in his ropes without anyone else needing to be around to “rescue” us if something goes wrong. I want to look in the mirror and like what I see again.

A few nights ago, my boyfriend looked at my naked body and called me beautiful. I couldn’t explain why I looked like I might cry. I hope this post goes some way to explaining it.

Heads up: this post wasn’t sponsored but I’m really spilling my guts here. If you felt inclined to buy me a coffee, I would super appreciate it. 

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

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

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

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

Amy x
______________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo provided by the author. Do not steal it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bring the collar.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re not my blood and breath. I am.

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

 

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

Communication When Your Partner is Carrying Trauma

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

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

Anyhow, today, Kayla and John ask:

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

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

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

Be prepared to offer reassurance.

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

Be prepared to repeat yourself sometimes.

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

Say exactly what you mean.

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

Speak and behave calmly.

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

Don’t succumb to personal attacks.

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

Above all: ask.

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

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

The Price of Admission

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

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

An admission ticket torn in half

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

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

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

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

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

And what did I get out of all of that?

Him.

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

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

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

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

You don’t have to.

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?

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.