On Faking Orgasms

[TW: this post makes brief reference to sexual intimate partner abuse]

Sometimes it’s hard for me to cum.

And sometimes I can get there, but it takes a long time. Or what feels like a long time to me, though I think I’m actually fairly average. According to the International Society for Sexual Medicine, one study showed that the average person with a vulva (they said “woman” but let’s use inclusive language here) takes around 14 minutes to climax during partnered sex. It is a little unclear whether the researchers were using “partnered sex” synonymously with “intercourse“. However, I’m assuming they are referring to any kind of partnered sexual activity since anything from 50% to 80% (depending on which study you believe) of people with vulvas don’t orgasm solely from penetration at all.

After the first time we slept together, my now-girlfriend and I discussed the orgasm difficulty thing because I was feeling a little self-conscious over how long it sometimes takes me to get off. During that conversation, she asked me to please not feel any pressure to fake it. And I hadn’t realised how much I needed to hear that explicitly until she said it.

Why Fake Orgasms?

I’ve definitely faked orgasms in the past, and for a few different reasons. At the absolute worst, when I was in an abusive relationship, faking it was sometimes the best way to get things I didn’t like and didn’t feel comfortable with to be over. In those relationships, even if the sex itself was consensual, it wasn’t necessarily safe to ask for what actually felt good and would help me to get off. Abusive men don’t take well to any threats to their egos.

On a less sinister note, I’ve had a lot of consensual-but-bad sex in my life. Whether it was partners who couldn’t be bothered to learn how to please me, or just my own insecurities and unwillingness to speak up, lots of factors played into this. Half way through I might realise that I wasn’t going to get there no matter how hard we tried. At those times, faking it sometimes felt easier than saying “can we stop?”

I’ve also faked orgasms in group sex situations before. Those spaces are typically less about the actual orgasm for me. I often won’t cum in a group situation, though there are of course exceptions to this generalisation. They’re more about the overall sensuality, shared sexual energy, and just the feeling of being in that erotic space. Even so, it can feel like the goal in those situations is “everyone has an orgasm” and like I’m letting the group down if I don’t. In those circumstances, it has sometimes felt easier to fake it than to draw attention to it.

Why I Decided to Stop

Quite a few years ago now, I swore off faking orgasms. So what changed? A few things.

First, I realised that I deserve pleasure as much as my partners. I was primarily sleeping with men and masc-of-centre people at the time, and the orgasm gap is a real phenomenon to which I have no desire to contribute with my sex life.

Ironically, discovering that I have an orgasm denial/orgasm control kink helped, too. This means that if I’m having fun but not getting off, I can eroticise the build-up and the unreleased sexual tension in and of itself. Enjoying the process freed me up to enjoy sex more fully without needing to chase a destination that can be highly variable in its reachability. (And yes, I also appreciate the irony that someone growling “don’t you dare fucking cum” in my ear will often get me close faster than almost anything else.)

I also realised that faking it just begets more frustration and unsatisfying sex. If a partner believes that what they’re doing is making me cum, they will (reasonably) continue doing those things when we have sex again in the future. By faking orgasms, I was literally teaching partners to continue touching me in ways that didn’t work for me. What’s the point of that?

I recently saw this article about why faking orgasms “may not be as bad for your relationship as we thought,” and… it made me kinda ragey. This part, in particular:

If your partner feels insecure about their sexual ability and you don’t have an orgasm during sex, sometimes telling them you did is an easy out from having to console them. As much as you love your partner, having to reassure them their sex skills are top-notch can be taxing. That’s why, in these situations, it’s fine to spare their feelings to avoid having to comfort them for hours on end.

– Amanda Chatel

What? WHAT!? No! I’m sorry but if someone’s ego is so fragile that they’re going to make my body’s quirks about them, or that they’d rather I lie to them rather than learn about what actually gets me off (and accept that sometimes it might not happen through no fault of theirs or mine), we shouldn’t be having sex.

Another change was discovering the wonderful world of sex toys. Over a decade ago, I went through a period where I was unable to orgasm due to starting new antidepressants. It was a mains-powered “back massager” vibrator that helped me eventually power through that block. I didn’t really start exploring the full joys of the sex toy world, though, until I launched this blog. (And then it all got slightly out of hand… *glances around at vibrators spilling out of drawers, baskets, boxes, and door-hanging shoe holders in my office.*)

Discovering toys gave me new options and avenues for pleasure and orgasm. New ways to experience intense sensations when my body needs more powerful stimulation to break through an orgasm block. New ways to cum and new possibilities to reach for if hands or mouths or cocks aren’t quite getting me over the edge.

The absolute number one change, though? The single biggest thing that turned all of this around? Safe relationships.

When you’re with safe partners, faking orgasms becomes unnecessary. With both Mr C&K and my girlfriend, I feel able to say either “please could we do this different thing that might help me get there?” or “I don’t think it’s going to happen tonight but I’m still having tonnes of fun” and I know that that will be heard and accepted with love. Feeling safe and loved totally removes the need or desire to fake anything with them, including my orgasms.

So sometimes I still struggle to cum. That might always be true. And sometimes I might worry that I’m taking too long. That my partner(s) will feel bad if I don’t get off. That they’ll get bored with the process. In those situations, faking orgasms does still occasionally seem like a tempting solution. But I promised myself and my partners that I’ll never do that again, and I intend to stick to it.

I deserve more than fake pleasure and so do my partners. Because if we can’t be authentic with each other, what’s the point?

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[Guest Post] Revisiting My Erotic Fiction with a New Perspective on Consent by Alex Holmes

I’m pleased to be welcoming Alex Holmes (he/him) to Coffee & Kink with his first guest post. I’d also like to thank him for his extraordinary patience while I took a million years to read, edit, and publish this piece.

Alex has also, coincidentally, covered the subject of revising your boundaries downwards in this piece. This is something I think we don’t talk about enough and something I really want to write about more in the future. So look out for that coming soon!

Heads up: this post discusses forms of violence including rape, sexual abuse, “stealthing” (which is also a form of sexual violence,) murder, and intimate partner abuse. If that’s likely to be triggering for you, please skip this one if that’s what you need to do to take care of yourself.

Amy x

So, I have a confession: a few years ago, I wrote a series of erotic novels (under a pen name, before anyone stops reading this to go hurriedly searching for them!) They did pretty well, as erotica goes. But these days, I’ll admit that I’m hugely conflicted about them.

Don’t get me wrong, they were decent books – well-written (if I do say so myself), decent plot (ditto), plenty of “action,” and they sold well enough to pay a few bills and get excellent reviews along the way. They still sell, albeit occasionally, and I still get the odd quarterly royalty payment from them even now. None of that was the problem.

The issue to me, now, is that two of those books are very clearly based around an implicitly consensual non-consent (CNC) setting that’s, in hindsight, more distinctly borderline on the “consensual” part than perhaps I’d like if I were writing them today. Put bluntly, they feature a very obviously “fantasy” slavery setting that a decade or more later I’d have to say I’m not particularly proud of. I was younger and I’ve learned and grown since then, what can I say?

Now, these books were very clearly set in a fantasy alternate history, behind a very clear These stories are fantasy. In real life, consent and safety are two of the most fundamental cornerstones of BDSM…’“introduction, and no-one – I felt then – was going to take the “captured heroine” thing seriously as an expression of how women should actually be treated. Moreover, a significant proportion of the readers were women, and all the comments I ever heard about those stories –from all genders – were entirely positive. They were fantasy. People got it, and readers enjoyed them.

The stories obviously played to the same fantasy audience as Roquelaure and Reage (to be clear, though, they weren’t anywhere near as well written as either!): the idea of fantasy helplessness, of being in a situation where choices were taken entirely out of our hands and safewords and traffic-light check-ins were unheard of, appealed to audiences of all genders, it seemed. No-one suggested that there was anything going on other than some relatively okay-ish erotic writing and a little fantasy alone-time.

In private, I’d continued to practice kink with consenting partners, and with discussed and agreed-upon limits, aftercare, safewords, easy-release knots, safety rules, and regular wellbeing check-ins. At no point did I equate that world – other than in an occasional “shared storytelling” sense – with the fantasy land of poor Princess Elizabeth (my protagonist) and her unfortunate downfall and eventual rehabilitation and revenge.

Why Consent Is On My Mind (And Should Be On Yours, Too)

I started thinking (again) about this stuff recently, in response to the Andrew Tate arrest and the unfolding horror of what was allegedly going on in his house in Romania. It coalesced into a coherent (I hope) set of thoughts in response to a number of tweets I’ve seen talking about masculinity in BDSM, and how – apparently, according to a certain section of Twitter populated entirely by profile pics of faceless men in suits and ties, often holding a leather belt – “feminism has no place” in D/s. Women, apparently, have no place in dictating what Dominants (read: men, or so these people assume) can and can’t do. Essentially it was toxic, who-gives-a-damn-about-consent? masculinity writ loud.

Those tweets, and the stories of misogyny and the radicalisation of young men lured in by Tate’s philosophy that were coming into the mainstream media in the wake of his arrest, triggered some of those concerns I’d had previously. This raised (or maybe re-confirmed) a bunch of questions for me about how we talk about consent. As much as I believe I’ve learned and grown in the period since my books were first published, and as much as the stuff I’ve written more recently (and the way I try to treat others in the bedroom and in general) is hopefully a little more “two-way-street,” it saddens and disturbs me that, in the third decade of the 21st Century and sixty years since the height of the Sexual Revolution, an article on consent even has any reason to still be written. And yet, here we are.

Consent is Fluid, Changeable, and Revokeable

I’ve always believed that, in any D/s scenario, the power lies with the bottom, not the top; submission is a gift that’s given to a partner, not taken, and it can be revoked just as quickly if things no longer feel safe or enjoyable. Similarly, we know that consent isn’t a fixed, one-time thing. It’s fluid, and it can be withdrawn if something no longer feels right. We’ve heard a lot recently about “stealthing”, in which men receiving consent for safer, condom-clad sex only to surreptitiously shed the contraceptive and try to slip in bareback in the hope that their partner doesn’t notice until too late. A note to those men: if it wasn’t what was consented to, then it’s non-consensual. And there’s another word for that.

But consent can also be withdrawn for stuff that you thought you wanted and then it turned out you didn’t; sure, if you like being spanked then you might think “I quite fancy being caned”, or paddled, or whatever. It’s a reasonable progression to consider. But after the first stroke you realise that, in fact, it’s a very different experience and actually you’re really not into it at all. It’s entirely reasonable to ask for it to stop. That’s withdrawing consent, and it must be respected and accepted without question.

Revising Your Boundaries Downwards

But it’s even more nuanced than that. What about those things we used to love, but which kind of don’t fit quite so well anymore? We all talk about how, particularly in long-term, supportive relationships, our boundaries and trust develop and things that perhaps we didn’t feel comfortable asking for become easier or more natural. But it happens the other way, too.

Sometimes, stuff that used to make us as hot as fuck sometimes just feels kinda… ookie. That’s ok. We’re allowed to have that to happen, and we should be able to say “yeah, I don’t want that right now, actually” without incurring the “well, you used to be fine with it” huff.

Fantasy and Reality Are Wildly Different Things

When I was researching for my books (and yes, I did actually research stuff), I did a fair amount of talking to people in BDSM groups, in person and online, to find out what was and wasn’t considered okay, rather than just relying on my own take. I realised I wasn’t the oracle on this, and that other people had a great deal more experience and knowledge than I did. Part of that involved spending some time in online chat rooms and message boards, where I was amazed at the number – and it’s a stupifyingly high number – of supposedly Dominant men who thought that, simply because someone has a lower-case letter at the start of their nickname (signifying their being a sub), they’re fair-game for opening up with “on your knees, slut.” I watched it, time and again, thinking “would you start off with that opener to someone you’d never spoken to before down the pub?” There is, it seems, a significant number of people who can’t tell the difference between dominance and simply being an aggressive asshole.

So what’s the point of all this? I guess, fundamentally, it’s one that every good partner should know. Whether we’re in a D/s scenario, in a more vanilla setting, or just living our lives together, respect and communication are paramount. That trust is fundamental, and it’s built slowly and lost in an instant. Afriend of mine used to say that “trust arrives on foot and leaves on horseback.”

Consent is an active thing, and it’s constant, fluid, and not “one time only”. The safety and welfare of our partners is way more important than our particular fantasy or getting our rocks off – and that goes for dom/mes as well as subs. Aftercare and check-ins are fundamental to safe and consensual play, both ways around.

To bring it full circle back to those old erotic stories again, the fantasy idea of being chained up in a basement and used for fun – or whatever – is more common than you might think. CNC, bondage, and the loss (or temporarily giving away) of control can be fun, if they’re done within the right situation and context.

The kind of content Tate was peddling to millions of boys and young men across the world, though, normalises the misogynistic, violent, oppressive view that they really have a right to take away women’s consent, control, and agency. In a world where one in three women and one in four men suffers some kind of intimate partner violence, and where over 130 women are killed by a partner or family member every week globally, that line between consent and coercion should be at the forefront of our minds in any interactions – regardless of what the Tates of the world would have us think.

You can find Alex on Twitter @AlexJH1973, on Facebook @alex.holmes.96780, and on Instagram @alexh1973. In lieu of accepting payment for this piece, Alex asked me to make a small donation to Studio Upstairs, a mental health arts charity. You can learn more about them, and donate if you feel so inclined, here.

A Dom Ignored My Safeword. Now What?

No, the title of this post isn’t something that has happened to me recently, so please don’t worry! But it’s something I see shockingly frequently, from Fetlife to Reddit’s r/BDSM and many other places on the internet. “My Dom ignored my safeword. What do I do now?”

I hate how common this question is, and I wanted to address it.

For anyone who doesn’t know, a safeword is an agreed-upon word that clearly and unambiguously means “stop immediately”. They’re often employed in kink and BDSM situations, particularly those where words like “no” and “stop” not being taken at face value is part of the game.

“Red” is a common safeword (with the accompanying “orange”/”amber” meaning pause and check in). But your safeword can be whatever you want it to be. My first one was “canary”.

A safeword is an absolute. You should never play without one, no matter how long you’ve been together, and you should never, ever ignore one. Oh, and by the way? If you haven’t explicitly agreed otherwise, “no” and “stop” are the ultimate safewords in every context.

First: no, you’re not overreacting

When a Dom has ignored your safeword, you might feel a range of different emotions. You might feel angry, sad, betrayed, frightened, numb, or something else entirely. When a Dom ignored my safeword in a scene years ago, I felt scared first, sad second, and angry much later. Your experience might look very different.

Whatever you feel, and whether the harm is physical or psychological or both, your feelings are valid. You are not overreacting.

Seek support if you need it

Do you need to talk to a kinky friend or another partner, see your therapist, or yell into the void of an anonymous online forum? You get to seek support, whatever that looks like for you.

If the consent violation occured in a public or semi-public location such as a dungeon, sex club, munch, or even a private kink party, consider telling an organiser, team member, or dungeon monitor. They should make sure you’re okay and help get you the support you need in the moment. They may also remove the perpetrator from the space and perhaps even issue a (temporary or permanent) ban.

You might also have been physically harmed. If you have been physically injured or been sexually assaulted in a way that leaves you vulnerable to an STI or an unwanted pregnancy, please seek medical attention immediately.

You don’t have to confront them (though you can)

Your only job is to take care of yourself. You don’t have to confront the person who ignored your safeword and call them out on it. But if you want to, you’re also within your rights to do so.

If telling them that what they did was fucked up and not okay, have at it. If you’d rather stay far away from them, you get to do that, too.

You don’t have to decide immediately if you’ll ever play with them again

If you ask me if I think you should give a Dom a second chance after they violate your safeword, I will always say absolutely not. I can forgive a lot of things, but this is such a complete and total annihilation of trust that I would never let that person near me ever again.

But your mileage may vary. If you feel conflicted, you don’t have to decide straight away. You get to take all the time you need and you’re allowed

Also: you’re not obligated to give them a second chance, no matter how apologetic and contrite they seem. Don’t let them guilt you into it if you don’t want to.

Their reputation is not your concern

Choosing whether to speak out publicly in the community about your experience is a very personal decision. There are good arguments on both sides and ultimately, the best choice is the one that’s right for you.

Either way, remember that their reputation is not your problem. You do not have to keep silent to protect them. You also do not have to make excuses for them or downplay what happened if you do choose to share.

Sadly, when someone speaks up and says “this Dom ignored my safeword”, some people will accuse them of exaggerating or instigating a witch-hunt. You’re not. Keep speaking your truth if you want to.

Don’t blame yourself

You might be tempted to blame yourself. You might be wondering if you didn’t say your safeword loudly or forcefully enough[1], if you should have put up more of a physical fight when the Dom continued, or if you just safeworded when it wasn’t “necessary.”

Sometimes, the D-type in question will seek to blame you, too. One common tactic amongst abusive Doms is to say something like “I knew you could take more”, “I know what you need better than you do”, or “I told you I played hard so you should have known what to expect”.

No. All of this is bullshit. The only person to blame for ignoring your safeword is the person who did it, and there is never any excuse. Kink is about consent and without ongoing, active consent, it is abuse. You get to safeword at any point for any reason and have that respected.

If you take nothing else away from this piece, please take this: it is not your fault.


[1] I want to acknowledge that there might be rare incidents where a Dom genuinely does not hear a safeword. This might happen in a loud environment like a play club. But in those circumstances, they will be mortified and apologetic and go out of their way to take care of you the moment they realise what has happened. It is also the Dom’s responsibility to ensure consent is ongoing in those environments, whether through clear non-verbal safe signals, regular check-ins, or even just choosing to play somewhere a little quieter.

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Feelings Aren’t Emotional Manipulation

I’m a very emotional person. I cry a lot. A short and incomplete list of things I’ve cried about semi-recently include: someone with a gorgeous voice singing at my friend’s birthday Zoom party, a Cats Protection ad about a rescued kitty finding his forever home, a pitch (that I wasn’t even all that attached to) getting rejected, a near-stranger’s story of surviving abuse, and the mushy ending of my favourite TV show. My emotional nature means I’ve been accused more than once of emotional manipulation.

I’m a cryer. It’s how I process feelings, both good and bad. Fundamentally, I’m a very emotional person.

My ex hated it when I cried. Which was unfortunate, because he was very good at making me cry. I don’t know if he expected me to be an emotionless robot or if he just didn’t like to be confronted with the consequences of his behaviour. But if he yelled at me and I got upset, he’d just yell at me more. If he called me a horrible name and I cried, he’d call me something even worse. When I tried to express how he was hurting me, he’d tell me I was being manipulative.

This isn’t an isolated experience. It’s not even unusual. Spend any time in the hellholes of places like Reddit Relationships, Quora, or Facebook groups dedicated to relationship advice, and you’ll see it:

“She cried in front of me and now I feel manipulated!”
“I was upset and he said that I was manipulating him.”
“She started crying and now I feel guilty!”

“Why do women turn on the tears to manipulate men?”

This is also an incredibly gendered phenomenon. In 99%+ of the examples I’ve seen, the person being accused of being “manipulative” is a woman or someone read as a woman. It’s also usually in the context of their (usually male) partner having done or said something that a reasonable person is likely to be upset by.

But here’s the thing: having feelings and expressing them isn’t manipulation.

Some people are generally more emotional than others. Some keep their feelings under wraps while others wear their hearts on their sleeves. But to dismiss someone’s genuine emotional response as a trick or a ploy is incredibly cruel.

Is my partner manipulating me with their emotions?

If your first response to your partner or loved one’s distress is “but what if they’re manipulating me?”, you have a big problem. You either don’t trust this person at all, or you have little to no regard for how your behaviour makes them feel. Either way, you probably shouldn’t be in a relationship with them.

If someone is upset about something you did, you should at least consider that maybe you did a shitty thing. If you’ve upset someone, your first response shouldn’t be “how dare you be upset about what I did/said?”. Doing this can be part of a tactic known as DARVO: deny, attack, and reverse victim and offender. It’s a particularly insidious and dangerous form of gaslighting.

This won’t be true in absolutely all cases, of course, and sometimes it will be a grey area. It’s possible to acknowledge that you made the right decision for yourself AND acknowledge that it’s reasonable for the other person to be upset about it. You might or might not have the ability or capacity to support them through those feelings, but don’t write them off as nothing but a calculated emotional manipulation tactic.

Is it possible to use feelings in a manipulative way? Yes, absolutely. But simply having them and expressing them, even strongly, isn’t manipulation.

Am I manipulating my partner?

As one very smart person on a Reddit thread about this topic said: “manipulation is about intent.” If you fabricate or exaggerate an emotional reaction to persuade someone to do what you want, you might be being manipulative. If, on the other hand, you’re just expressing what you feel, that’s not a manipulation tactic. That’s part of being a person.

Dismissing someone’s feelings can be a form of emotional abuse or emotional manipulation. So if your partner routinely tells you that your genuine feelings are manipulative, that’s a huge red flag.

Your feelings are real and valid and you’re allowed to feel them. People who love you will make it safe for you to express your emotions, including the difficult ones. You’re not manipulating anyone by feeling sad, angry, disappointed, frustrated, or any other emotion.

What to do if you’re being emotionally abused

Again: emotional dismissal can be a part of emotional abuse. This form of abuse can be extremely hard to spot and even harder to extricate yourself from.

If you feel unhappy or unsafe in your relationship – including emotionally unsafe – you are always within your rights to leave at any time for any reason. Please consider telling a friend, family member, or other trusted person. They can help you get to safety or start making a plan to leave the relationship.

Resources

If you’re a woman in the UK, you can call Refuge on 0808 2000 247. Men in the UK can call the Respect Men’s Advice Line on 0808 8010327, and LGBTQ+ people can use Galop’s helpline on 0800 999 5428.

If you’re in the US, no matter your gender you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline on 1800 799 SAFE (7233).

For those in other countries, there’s a large list of resources here.

You Need to Listen to Survivors. Now More Than Ever.

TW: this post is about sexual assault, harrassment, and violence against women.

This has been a hard week to be on social media as a survivor of sexual violence. I was tempted to step away from the internet entirely but, well, I can’t really do that thanks to my job.

So I stayed. And I read the stories. And I sent love and solidarity to my fellow survivors all over the world, even as I felt increasingly hopeless and increasingly retraumatised.

I was 12 years old the first time a boy grabbed my breasts without my consent. I was 13 or 14 the first time I can remember having something obscene yelled at me in the street. The first time I felt creeped out by an adult man’s behaviour? I was 9. The first time a boyfriend pressured me into a sex act I wasn’t comfortable with? I was 15.

None of this is unusual. In fact, it’s heartbreakingly common. It’s practically ubiquitous.

All the stories that are pouring out on social media right now, in the wake of the murder of Sarah Everard? If you’re not a survivor, I want you to listen to those.

If you’re not a person who experiences misogyny, I want you to sit with this and listen to it. Not because we think you’re to blame for the actions of all men. The point isn’t that all men are perpetrators, or even that only men are perpetrators. Obviously that’s not the case. The point is that virtually all women – probably every single woman you know – has been on the receiving end at some point or another.

Maybe someone walked a little too close to us as we walked home at night, or maybe someone yelled something disgusting from a passing car. Maybe we were raped or assaulted by a man we trusted. Perhaps we convinced ourselves it wasn’t really assault, it wasn’t really harrassment, it doesn’t really count. Perhaps we didn’t report because we felt like no-one would believe us, no-one would care, it wasn’t really that bad.

Or maybe we did report, and maybe we were gaslighted into believing we imagined it. Maybe we were told not to make a fuss, not to ruin his reputation, not to go out at night or wear that dress or have that second drink if we don’t want our bodies to become public property.

Many of us were children the first time this happened.

If you don’t experience misogyny and you’re not a survivor, I need you to hear this. We don’t need self-congratulatory posts about how you’re such a good guy and feel ashamed to be male because of what others of your gender have done. We don’t need to hear “I would never do that.” Instead, we need you to listen to us. To ask how you can help. To talk to your fucking friends and to stop asking that one creepy, gropey, rapey guy to your parties. We need you to step in and stop being a bystander.

I want to stop hearing about how people don’t think they’re part of the problem, and start seeing them be part of the solution.

But first I want you to listen.

And I want you to believe us.

[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 cause harm, particularly to young women, when the terms are implicit.

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. 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.

Five Lessons I’ve Learned About Reclaiming Pleasure After Sexual Violence

Pleasure is complicated at the best of times. And reclaiming pleasure after you’ve experienced sexual violence can be an absolute minefield.

The first, last, and most important thing I want you to take away is this: your journey is your own. There is no correct way and there is no set path. To that end, this is not a how-to guide. It’s just a set of lessons I’ve learned that helpd me. Maybe they’ll help you, too, or maybe you’ll find something completely different that works for you. It’s all good either way.

Trigger warning for abuse, trauma, and sexual violence

Reclaiming pleasure after trauma is not a linear journey

It’s not a straight line. You won’t just get better and better each day until suddenly, you’ll find that you’re fully healed. At least, I don’t know any survivors whose experience has been this way.

You’ll have good days and bad days. Sometimes you might feel like you take two steps forward and one back. All of this is normal. It’s complicated, multi-faceted, and messy. You don’t need to berate yourself because it’s harder today than it was yesterday.

Be where you are today. Wherever that is, it’s okay.

A healthy sexual relationship with oneself can be immensely healing

“Sex” doesn’t have to involve another person unless you want it to. In fact, masturbation can be a really important part of healing from sexual violence and trauma.

Masturbation and solo sex is something you do entirely for yourself. You don’t have to perform or worry about pleasing someone else. You don’t even need to involve your genitals at all, if you don’t want to.

Self-touch is a wonderful way to get to know ourselves, to be kind and loving and gentle with ourselves. Pay attention to your body and what feels good. Do you just want to run your hands over your skin for now? Perfect, do that. Does using a wand vibrator through your clothes help you access pleasure in a way that feels safe? Amazing.

Your healing is for you. You don’t owe it to anyone else

I hear a lot from survivors who are anxious to recover or “get over” their experiences because they want to be able to give their partner a certain kind of sex. Sometimes this pressure comes from the partner. Other times, the partner is completely supportive and this pressure is internalised.

What I want to say to these survivors is this: your healing is for you.

Yes, it’s wonderful to be able to share awesome sex with your partner(s). But ultimately, it has to be for yourself first. No-one has the right to access to your body. Not even if you’ve been married for fifty years. You can’t heal for somebody else, and you don’t owe your partner(s) a certain kind of recovery.

There is no one correct version of healthy sexuality

Pleasure is many different things, and a healthy relationship with your sexuality means something different to everyone.

There’s a sadly very common narrative that says that promiscuity after trauma is by definition a sign of dysfunction, damage, or lack of healing. For me, it was the opposite. Having lots of hot, filthy, consensual sex with lots of different people has been tremendously healing, validating, uplifting, and a massive part of reclaiming pleasure and my relationship with my body after the abuse I went through.

Find what works for you. Monogamy or polyamory or singledom. Vanilla or kink. Masturbation or partnered sex. All the sex, or none of the sex. It’s all valid and there is no script.

Some things might never go back to the way they were

This was perhaps the hardest thing to learn when I started healing from my abuse experience and reclaiming pleasure and sexuality.

Abuse changes us. It has a deep, profound, and lasting impact. I know that the things I’ve experienced will, in some ways, be with me forever. I’ll never go back to the way I was before – not completely.

But that’s okay. Nothing stays the same forever, and every experience we have shapes and molds us. So no, I’ll never be the person I was before. But I can grow into someone else – informed by my experience, but not defined by it.

If you need crisis support after sexual violence, please contact RAINN in the USA and Rape Crisis in the UK.

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What is Consent? 10 Fundamentals Everyone Needs to Understand

Most of us think we know what consent is. But when you start to look at it more closely, the “what is consent?” question becomes murkier and far more complex.

Today I want to share ten basic but essential fundamentals that I wish everybody understood.

Content note: this one contains discussion of sexual violence and a reference to murder.

It’s not just about sex

Consent is vital when it comes to sex, of course. But if we only apply consent to sex, we’re missing out a whole bunch of really vital steps.

Instead, I’d like us to conceptualise consent as something we apply in all areas of our lives. If your child doesn’t want to hug or kiss a relative, don’t make them. When your partner tells you they HATE being tickled, don’t take it as a challenge. If your friend has decided to quit alcohol, don’t push them to drink. And so on and so on.

If we normalise respecting people’s choices and autonomy in all areas of life, it becomes easier to normalise informed consent as a minimum standard for sex.

It’s contextual

Consent to something in one context doesn’t imply consent to it in another. I might love my partner casually grabbing my ass in the kitchen while we’re cooking dinner. It doesn’t mean I want them to do it when I’m on a work call!

Never assume that consent in Context A implies consent in Context B. Always ask if you’re not sure.

It’s not transferable

Consent is inherently person-specific. In other words, consenting to something with one person doesn’t mean you’ll agree to it with someone else. This one should really be self-evident. Unfortunately, in a world where prior consensual sexual activity with someone else is still widely used to discredit survivors of sexual violence, it still needs reiterating.

It’s reversible

Consent is not meaningful if it cannot be revoked. In other words, all parties must be able to stop the activity at any point. That might mean ending an interaction, changing up the activity, or even walking away from a relationship entirely.

I don’t care if you’re the most Twue Real D/s Couple that ever existed. Consent is never, ever, ever irreversible. If it can’t be revoked, you don’t have a relationship, you have a hostage situation.

It must be informed

Consent without all pertinent information isn’t really consent.

Years ago, a friend of mine agreed to engage in a knife play scene with a Dominant who said they had years of experience. My friend found out later that the person had lied – they had hardly any experience at all. This rendered the consent she’d given meaningless, because it was given under false pretences.

In other words, lying or deliberately omitting information in order to obtain someone’s consent makes it meaningless.

It’s specific

Consent to Activity A doesn’t imply consent to Activity B. If I’ve consented to kiss you, that doesn’t mean you can stick your hand down my pants without asking. If I say you can tie me up, that doesn’t mean you also get to spank me unless I say you can. And so on.

Never assume that someone is up for something based on their having consented to something different. If there’s any doubt, ask or check in.

It’s about much more than just “not saying no”

Sadly, I still hear “but she/he/they didn’t say no” as a defence when consent has been violated. Here’s the thing: consent is about much more than just the absence of a “no”.

Is the other person actively engaged in what you’re doing together? Are they responding positively? If not, pause and check in. If they shrug, say something non-committal, or otherwise seem uncomfortable, stop.

It’s everyone’s responsibility

Standard sex education is too often based on a “boys push, girls say no” model. But this is a gross over-simplification of what consent is and how it works.

Bottom line? It’s everyone’s responsibility. Never make assumptions about what someone might be “up for” based on their gender or any other characteristic.

It has limits

As a general rule, I’m a proponent of allowing informed, consenting adults to make the best decisions for themselves. However, this principle has its limits. Following the murder of Grace Millane, the UK outlawed use of the so-called “rough sex defence” in murder trials.

Here’s a great article from my friend Franki Cookney on why the rough sex defence is an antithesis to what consensual kink is all about. The bottom line? Fun, consensual kink play doesn’t cause serious harm. People cannot consent to GBH or death.

You’ll mess it up sometimes

This is the hardest one to swallow, and yet the most essential. We are, all of us, human and imperfect. I’ve made consent mistakes in the past, and I’m sure you have too.

Here’s the thing: making a mistake or fucking up in good faith doesn’t make you a garbage person. It makes you human. Apologise, change your behaviour, and learn from the incident so you don’t cause the same harm again.

What we can do is to do our best in all circumstances. This way, when we make a mistake it’s likely to be relatively minor, rather than an enormous violation that will cause someone else untold damage.

Consent is complicated!

What do you wish someone had taught you about consent?

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[Quote Quest] You Need to Have Power Before You Can Give it Away

“Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.”
Oscar Wilde

TW: abuse, abuse of power, shitty Doms

I’ve always found the term “power exchange” – to describe a Dominant/submissive dynamic, relationship, or scene – fascinating. It’s not called a power over or a power from, but an exchange. I think there’s a reason for that. And I think that reason is as this title says: you need to have power before you can give it away.

Have you ever noticed how toxic and abusive Dominants (particularly cishet male Doms) try to get into relationships with the most powerless people they can find? Dominants who are insecure in their own masculinity and their own power chase submissives who are extremely young, extremely inexperienced and new to the scene, and whom they can groom into a relationship under the guise of “that’s what dominance is.”

It’s no surprise that those relationships tend to end up with, at best, a wildly uneven level of dependency. Often, they end up horrifyingly abusive.

Is it really consensual dominance if you take control over someone who has so little power, relative to you, that they can’t meaningfully push back or say no or leave? I don’t think it is. Are they truly giving power consensually if they can’t take it back? I believe not.

My first Dom was intimidated by me the moment I gained any real power. When we met, I was meek and quiet and obedient and so very, very young. A few years in, when I went to University and met my people and found my voice. He told me that he didn’t know what to do with me any more. “You don’t need me any longer,” he said. What he meant was, you can live without me now. And he didn’t like that.

Later, he told me that he couldn’t be my Dom any more because he was worried I was smarter than him. Because I was suddenly confident and outspoken. And what I realised is that he didn’t want to consensually dominate someone who was consensually subservient for fun. He wanted to domineer over someone who he could conceptualise as genuinely lesser.

Power is complicated and multi-faceted. You can have more power than someone along one axis, and less power along another. It’s not always an easy thing to quantify. That’s especially true when Dominant and submissive kink dynamics come into play.

But if you’re seeking out someone who doesn’t know any better due to age or inexperience, who won’t question you, who won’t leave because they need you or feel like nothing without you… ask yourself why.

If you feel threatened by someone who is a little older, has a modicum of experience, or is as smart or as successful or as confident as you (or perhaps even more so,) you need to interrogate that. Why do you need to feel like your partner is beneath you? Isn’t it more satisfying for someone who has a secure sense of their personal power to choose to give it away to you as their Dominant?

And if someone is chasing you who clearly has a hugely disproportionate level of power over you, ask questions. Do they fetishise your youth or your newness or your inexperience or your naïvety or the sense of security they get from feeling like they’re just kinda better than you? Do you feel the urge to put them on a pedastal or to do everything they say, even if it doesn’t feel right, because they say they know better?

Don’t give power over you to someone who doesn’t view your personal power as a beautiful thing that you alone own.

Learn yourself first. Explore with people who will make space for you to be curious, to try things out, to not know. Not with someone who treats you like an untouched lump of clay they can mold to their specifications.

Because you can only consensually give away your power, for a scene or a weekend or a few years or a lifetime, if you have that power to begin with.

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[Quote Quest] I Wrote My Way Out

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
– Sylvia Plath

TW: mentions of trauma (no details), self-harm, alcohol, and psychiatric medication

Writing is how I heal. It always has been.

The truth is I don’t remember the point that I started making up stories in my head. I am sure it was before I knew how to write them down. It was before they taught me how to survive.

Without going into too much detail (I’m not ready to do that here, I don’t entirely know I ever will be) I experienced quite a lot of trauma quite early on in life. And at some point in the middle of it all, I realised that writing it all down helped me to survive.

I journalled obsessively from the ages of 12 to 17. Pages and pages, night after night, juvenile rambling that I am quite sure would make me cringe now. The pages soaked up my pain. The more hurt and angry I felt, the faster my pen flew across the paper. Sometimes a tear would smudge the ink, other times I’d get cramp in my hand from gripping the pen so tightly.

Some time around fourteen, I realised I was going to be a writer. I started writing things and sending them off to publishers and entering them in competitions. I never got anywhere, of course. My creations weren’t ready to for the wider world, and it would be a long time before they were. I wrote a novel, then another.

The summer that I was fifteen, I got it into my head to write a bastardised mash-up of autobiography and fiction in an attempt to make some sort of sense of what I was going through. 150,000 words poured from my fingertips in three weeks. I couldn’t escape the near-daily hell I was living in because, y’know, I was fifteen. Since I couldn’t run, I wrote my way out instead.

I did a degree in Creative Writing. And then another one. I got better, but I still didn’t get published. I wrote a blog, built up a decent following, then shut it down because it was full of stuff about my abuser.

For some reason, I decided I wanted to write about sex. I started this blog. I was twenty six the first time I got paid for words I had written. But long before this blog or any of my writing was a source of income, it was a source of survival. A place of safety. The one way I could make sense of this fucked up world.

And even now, on the days when I am drowning in self-doubt and fear for my future, I know that writing is the one thing I will always have. The one thing I know I am good at. When I want to scream and rage about the fucking ugliness and unfairness of the world right now, I can type and type and type until I feel calm again. On the days when my depression feels so bleak I feel like I will never get off the sofa again, finding the right combination of words still brings me a glimmer of joy and hope.

Sometimes, I feel like my trauma is a slow-acting poison that will destroy me from the inside out if I don’t occasionally exorcise some of it from my bloodstream. Writing is that exorcism, that bloodletting, that antidote sucking the venom out of me. It has saved me so, so many times.

Long before I started reaching for alcohol or razor blades or psychoactive medication to help me survive, I reached for words.

So when people ask me why I write, I tell them I couldn’t not write. That it is my oxygen. That I couldn’t live without it.

(By the way, if you don’t know where the title of this post comes from, go and educate yourself immediately.)

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