[Guest Post] “Silly Rabbit, Toys are for Everyone!” by Velvet Divine

Velvet Divine (fae/faer) is back again with another fantastic guest post, this time about transition, sex toys, body image, and lots more good stuff. Don’t forget to follow faer on Twitter!

“Silly Rabbit, Toys are for Everyone!” by Velvet Divine

“Hey, I’m really flattered and hella down but it’s been a while since we talked and there’s been some new developments. I’ve been on HRT for a bit now and it’s started to affect my downstairs equipment so things don’t really work the same as before.”

“That’s fine, we can still have amazing BDSM sex without a dick or even any kind of penetration.”

“You’re absolutely right, I guess I’m just still getting used to the new situation and never really thought I’d be here, ya know?

– A snippet from a conversation I had recently with an old flame about being physically intimate again. 

I was born with a penis and although knowing I was trans femme and being out socially and professionally, for the most part, I was not able to begin the medical portion of my transition until around five months ago. I shan’t bore you with the minutia of the HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) process but want to focus on one aspect of my experience: the loss of libido and erectile dysfunction as a result of the low blood pressure from Spiro and the Estrogen.

It’s not a bad thing in any capacity, mind you, I was never particularly attached to my bio dildo, to begin with, but it’s different – for the entirety of my sexual history up until these past few months, it was largely the main event or performing a duet with various accoutrements. That’s not the case anymore.

Now, I find myself in the process of learning how to make sensuality, foreplay, and various accessories the headliners of the experience. This isn’t a problem in and of itself but I have noticed that it can get tricky trying to navigate expectations, both mine and others. I’m typically physically and sexually intimate with other femme-coded people and more often than not those people have vaginas and, in the case of my last few encounters, came from mostly if not exclusively being with cis men.

A few of these people I was intimate with prior to HRT and then during, which became an interesting exercise in shifting expectations and accommodating material realities. Those liaisons did not last but they were incredibly affirming and I could not have asked for more at the time. The ones that followed were less affirming and a bit more awkward. There was disappointment that my equipment did not perform to expectation and trepidation about trying toys for the first time. They weren’t bad experiences but they were not repeated.

Orgasms are different too, they’re not quite as jolting as they used to be and I no longer feel the mounting pressure to like climax like I did prior. They’re rad enough but they’re no longer the ritz. I could take them or leave them. And I leave them more often than not nowadays since penetration used to be my main vector for climax.

I’m sure you’re about to say, “Velvet, that’s a barrel of bananas if not a whole jungle. There are so many other forms of stimulation you could receive or do for yourself”. And you’d be correct, dear reader – but here’s the kicker:

I do not want other people touching me any more than they have to. Or more accurately, by the time the trust and foundation needed for me to feel safe being touched intimately, my Fraysexuality has usually kicked in and the liaison plateaus platonically. (Fraysexuality being on the ace spectrum and characterized by a loss of sexual attraction as a platonic relationship is established and cemented. Think of it as the opposite of Demisexuality.)

Despite the complexity and frustration of the present situation, I’m making a concerted effort to approach it as an opportunity to heal and better conceptualize the relationships I have with intimacy, both the one I provide myself and the one I get from others.

I do not like my body, never have, but for the first time, I don’t actively loath it. Sure, there’s hair in all the wrong places, I feel like I’m built like a titan from the eponymous anime, and I still cringe if I catch the wrong angle in the mirror. But I’m growing boobs. That hair is growing back slower and it’s more manageable. The hair on my head (the one I actually like) is the longest it’s ever been and when it cooperates – my curls are fuckin’ hot.

(Note on the breast development: for the first twenty-four years of my life I was pretty unaware that I had nipples. Now I’m entirely too aware and they’re sore more often than not. But, boobs. So I’m pretty damn stoked.)

Inhabiting this mortal coil usually feels like being stuffed in an iron maiden two sizes too small and trying to provide myself with intimacy feels just as unwelcoming. Self massages, oils, and most spicy toys don’t quite hit the mark but hugging squishmallows, breaking out a weighted blanket, and even taking those extra five or ten minutes to pop a hoodie in the dryer for a warm treat on a cold night, have been baby steps that I can stomach.

Getting intimacy from other people, however, has proven more Icarian than Herculean. Not the least of which by virtue of the fact that being some flavor of aro/ace (Aroflux and Fraysexual in my case), at least for myself, makes it extremely difficult to discern the exact kind of attraction I feel for certain people and harder still to know the way I would prefer to express or receive that attraction.

In the event you may not be aware, there are different forms of attraction besides the classic romantic and sexual. Aesthetic revolves around enjoying a person’s appearance or style, without any desire for more. Sensual refers to wanting to touch and be touched by that person, in as far as hugs, holding hands, kissing, cuddling, etc. Alterous attraction means the lovely limbo north of the platonic but not quite romantic, you’ll often hear it in reference to queerplatonic situations.

Some people I find incredibly and even frighteningly attractive, but the buck stops there. I’m just happy they exist and I can respectfully look at the insta feed. Others are a little trickier. They might have beautiful hands that I’d like to hold and kiss, maybe I want them to hold me and play with my hair while I get lost in their eyes (no, you’re thinking of specific people right now, don’t project onto me), and some I’d be cool with having them ride my face for an evening.

And once or even if the mode of attraction or vector of affection is identified, how the fuck do you make that known. I mentioned in previous pieces here that approaching femme-coded people as a trans femme, especially still looking as masc as I do, can be pretty frightening but there’s even less of a script for bringing up niche topics outside of those niche communities.

Amatonormativity has set such a draconian binary between platonic and romantic affection that even among LGBTQIA+ people it can be difficult to ask for intimacy or establish connections outside of this script imposed upon us. Thus, we may end up in situations that often don’t serve us or that are downright uncomfortable because we don’t know other ways to fill those needs.

You might settle for a romantic relationship even if you’re not interested in romance because it might be the most convenient way for you to get a nesting partner, co-parent, or a source of emotional closeness when a queerplatonic situation might better serve you. For me, I engage in a lot of casual sexual intimacy not necessarily because I want sex but because it’s the most socially acceptable and convenient way for me to get the sensual intimacy I need.

And sure, I could ask. I won’t, but I could.

Besides the fact that I would rather be dead than vulnerable, there’s this tremendous fear that opening that Pandora’s Jar would irrevocably change those friendships. 

Would they understand that my sensual attraction isn’t sexual and a testament to how safe I feel with them or would they be uncomfortable around me moving forward?

Would they reciprocate or be at least comfortable with my alterous attraction to them or just consider me the latest in a line of friends that ruined the connection by burdening them with my confession?

People are complicated. Try, if you have the spoons and the patience, but toys are always an option too.

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Five Good Rules for Polyamory (and Five Bad Ones)

Rules are a divisive subject in the polyamory community. Some people require dozens of rules to feel safe in their relationships, while others feel that any and all rules for polyamory are toxic.

I fall somewhere in the middle. I’m pro-rules as long as they serve a specific purpose and are there for a good reason (papering over someone’s insecurities so they don’t have to work on them is not a good reason).

But what rules should you have and which ones cause more harm than good?

Five Good Rules for Polyamory

Your mileage will vary, of course. There are no absolutes in something as nuanced and endlessly complex as human relationships. But here are five rules that I personally consider healthy and useful in polyamorous relationships, and that might be helpful for you to think about.

“Practice safer sex”

What this looks like will vary for each individual, couple, or network. Some people might simply decide to use barriers with all partners. Others might agree to fluid bond with one partner while using barriers with everyone else. Sometimes, a closed group will agree to get tested and be fluid bonded all together and then use barriers with any external partners.

There’s no one right way but it’s essential to agree on safer sex rules with all your partners, and then stick to them. Making decisions that potentially impact other people’s health and safety without consulting them is never okay.

“Tell the truth”

What separates polyamory from cheating? Honesty and consent. And those things can only exist if you tell the truth. Lies – big or small, blatant or by omission – chip away at trust. And without a high level of trust, you can’t even have a functional monogamous relationship, never mind a polyamorous one.

By the way: if you agree to always tell the truth in your relationships, you need to be prepared to hear the truth, too. This means listening without jumping to conclusions or flying off the handle. Even the most honest partner will begin to hide things if it doesn’t feel safe to be honest with you.

Rules about financial and legal responsibilities

Again, what this looks like will differ depending on your relationship structure and needs. For some, this means no significant financial entanglements outside of the nesting or spousal relationship. For others, this means ensuring all the bills are paid and then having complete financial autonomy after that.

If you share a home with one partner, you might have rules around your shared home. “We live together and don’t want to live with anyone else” is a common one.

Consider legal commitments such as marriage, too. Remember that if you’re married or in a civil partnership (or long-term cohabiting in some jurisdictions), your partner’s finances are de facto tied up with yours. You need to have ground rules and understandings accordingly.

Finally, this may include rules around pregnancy and child-rearing. While you cannot legislate for fluke occurences and genuine accidents (and should be prepared to deal with them if they arise), “do everything you can not to get pregnant/get someone else pregnant” is a reasonable and sensible rule.

Rules about public disclosure or lack thereof

Some people are completely out and open about their polyamorous lives. Others are not, and this can be for very good reason. From losing family and friends who disapprove, through to job losses and even child custody problems, being outed against your will can be a very big deal.

If this is an issue for you, consider making ground rules to protect your privacy. This might include who you tell about your relationships, whether you can be pictured or “tagged” on social media, and whether public displays of affection are okay for you.

“Allow relationships to be what they are”

Trying to force relationships into a specific model never works. Trying to legislate for exactly what form all future relationships will take is a bit like planning your wedding to someone you haven’t even met yet. It makes no sense.

Don’t try to force something casual to become a serious relationship. Likewise, don’t try to shove something emotionally meaningful and intense into the “it’s just sex” box. And please, as we’ll discuss below, do not try to force someone to feel the same way about both you and your partner.

Allowing relationships to be what they are also extends to metamour relationships. Perhaps you have a strong preference for kitchen table polyamory. That’s fine, and a great thing to aim for! But requiring that your partners and metamours must all be friends, get along, or even be comfortable with things like bed sharing or sexual interaction is coercive.

If people feel that they have to extend (physical or emotional) intimacy to others in order to continue to access intimacy with their partner, the possibility of true consent is eroded.

Let the relationships in your network be what they are. All of them.

And Five Unhealthy Rules

On the flip side, here are five rules that I believe are likely to be unhealthy, harmful, or at least manifest in damaging ways even if the intention is good.

“Don’t fall in love”

You cannot legislate emotions – your own or anyone else’s. Many couples begin their journey into opening up by saying “sex with others is okay, but no falling in love.”

And maybe neither of you will ever fall in love with someone else! Maybe you’re truly sexually open and emotionally monogamous. That’s completely valid. But making rules against feelings, rather than actions, leads to repression, lies, and resentment as soon as anyone feels the “forbidden” emotion.

This is sort of the reverse of “allow relationships to be what they are”.

Overly specific rules around physical intimacy

Those long relationship contracts about precisely who can touch which body part on whom and under which circumstances? They’re exhausting, untenable over the long term, and tend to leave people feeling disenfranchised and pissed off. I remember reading them and thinking “I’m never going to remember all of this”, which led to me pulling back from intimacy entirely for a long time out of fear of breaking a rule.

A few broad guidelines are useful, and even a couple of specific no-go areas might be okay, but tread very carefully. In general, the only people who should be making rules about physical and sexual interactions are the people actually having those interactions.

Veto rules

A veto is a rule whereby one member of a couple can unilaterally order their partner to end an outside relationship and expect that they will do it. Veto is toxic for so many reasons: it creates an unhealthy power dynamic, it puts the veto-issuer into a parental role, and it infantilises grown ass adults. It also tends to hurt everyone it impacts, including the person issuing the veto (if you force me to break my own and someone I love’s hearts, we’re not going to be in a good place).

Slightly less pernicious but still far from ideal is the “screening veto”. This is when the primary partner gets to give or withhold permission for their partner to date a specific third party, but cannot later end the relationship once permission has been given.

Screening vetos are slightly less destructive, but they still serve to create an unhealthy permission-based model and infantilise the person who has to ask their partner for permission.

“We only date together”

Don’t do this. Please don’t do this! If you and your partner meet someone you’re both into and who is into both of you, then amazing. Have fun! But going in looking for someone who will date both of you leads to toxicity and frustration.

Trying to make someone be into both of you in the same way at the same time is a recipe for failure. Human hearts just don’t work that way. Almost no single polyam people will date couples with this rule, because it’s a surefire way to getting discarded with a broken heart.

Oh, and if you’re a male/female couple looking for a bisexual woman to “complete your triad”? It is called a unicorn for a reason.

Curfews and tight rules around time

This can appear under lots of different guises.

“You can go out, but you have to be home by midnight.”
“You can see your other partner in the week, but weekends are for us!”
“I always need you to be here when I get back from work.”

The purpose of these rules is usually to ensure that needs get met. But you can get your needs met without being so rigid, at least in a good relationship! If your partner wants to spend time with you and keep their commitments to you, they will. If they don’t, no amount of rules legislating that they can only go out on dates every third Wednesday will help you.

Instead of making rigid rules, talk about needs. Do you need to spend an evening of quality time with your partner uninterrupted at least once per week? Ask for that. Do you collectively need to ensure that the kids are picked up from school or that your shared car is available when it’s time to go to work? Then discuss logistics and negotiate accordingly.

Don’t issue adults with curfews and don’t claim ownership over someone else’s time.

What rules of engagement do you and your partner(s) have in your polyamorous relationship? How do they work for you?

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I’m Hotter in My 30s (or: Why I’m So Over Men who Fetishise Youth)

When I was much younger, I used to often feel that my youth was the most important and appealing thing I could bring to a relationship. That’s because the men I dated largely treated me as if it was. At 19, I started sleeping with older men – much older. Even today, I tend to date older men pretty often.

But something in my approach has changed dramatically over the last decade plus. And now I’m in my 30s, I’m so, so done with men (it’s always been men in my experience) who fetishise youth. Men whose dream women is 18 or 19, maybe very early 20s. When I think back to the way some of my past older partners reacted to my age, the way they’d treat me like meat or potential bragging rights when I walked into a sex positive space, it makes my skin crawl.

But what’s wrong with dating younger?

Nothing, inherently, assuming all parties involved are consenting adults. But your motivation and way of thinking about your (actual or hypothetical) much younger partner really matters.

It’s one thing to fall in love with someone much younger than you, if you genuinely connect and have things in common. It’s another entirely to consider age itself to be a selling point. At this point in my life, if I see a man exclusively chasing very young women, I consider that a serious red flag. What is it about women his own age that he can’t handle?

We live in a youth-obsessed world

In a world where a 37 year old female actor is considered “too old” for a romantic role, in a world where women are encouraged to use anti-aging products in our fucking twenties, in a world where a man in his 30s on a dating site will tell a women of 26 that she’s too old for him, we cannot deny that we live in a youth-obsessed world.

There’s an immense power to saying “fuck it” to this. It’s not easy, and it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I certainly haven’t got it completely down, and I definitely Had Some Feelings when I turned 30.

But I’ve also realised that I’m way hotter, more desirable, and more of a catch as a partner in my 30s than I ever was in my teens and early 20s. And I fully expect the same to be true into my 40s and beyond. Here’s why.

I know who I am now

I know exactly why a certain type of older man likes very young women. It’s because they feel that they can mold those women, shape them into their idea of feminine perfection. And when I was that naive teenager and 20-something, I let men (one in particular, but not just him) do that to me.

But you know what’s awesome? Someone who knows who they are. There’s a tremendous confidence in being able to say “this is me, take it or leave it”, and knowing that if they choose the latter, they’re the one missing out.

This extends to knowing my body, too. Men like some of my exes, men who want women as close to virgins (a social construct, by the way) as possible, are missing out. The purity-obsessives I’ve slept with wanted to bring all the ideas, call all the shots, introduce me to all the things I’d never done before. They never considered how awesome it might be to have sex with someone who could bring her own ideas, introduce them to some things too, or tell them exactly how to get her off.

I can say no now

I was never very good at saying no in my younger years. Whether it was going along with sex I didn’t want, smiling and swallowing my disappointment when a guy let me down again, or wearing shoes I couldn’t walk in just because he thought they were sexy.

But when you don’t feel like you can say no, your yes is meaningless. The older I get, the more I embrace the power of “no”. And to paraphrase something one of my partners said recently, if they can trust me to say no when I mean no, they know that my yes is genuine and heartfelt.

And enthusiastic, wholehearted consent is sexy to any right thinking person.

I’m no longer relying on something fleeting

Here’s the biggest headfuck about dating a man who fetishised my youth: I knew that I was worth less and less to him with every passing year. None of us can get younger. None of us can magically become nineteen again.

But now I’m in my 30s, I feel as though I’m relying on other things to attract and keep partners and lovers. Personality, intelligence, kindness and compassion. (I would say wit, but I’m not funny – I know my limitations!)

And those things don’t fade with each year that passes. Focusing on things I can cultivate, rather than something that will disappear no matter how hard I try to hang onto it, has been profoundly freeing.

I expect more now

Self-esteem and valuing of yourself is extremely sexy. (And if you think it’s not and prefer partners with low self-esteem, well, that sounds like a significant You Problem). I’m less easily impressed and hold my relationships to a much higher standard.

As I explained it to my metamour recently, there was a time that I was always the youngest and maddest of any polycule I was a part of. This meant I inevitably got cast in the role of the flit-in, flit-out Manic Pixie who would let the older men I dated vicariously re-experience their own youth.

But I’m saner and tireder and I expect more from relationships now. I’m done being some dude’s midlife crisis. I’d rather be his equal, whether we have an age-gap or not.

A note to younger women

None of this is intended in any way to disparage young women in their late teens and early 20s. I am not, as someone rather charmingly put it on Fetlife recently, simply jealous because my “older pussy” is less desirable to men.

If anything, what I want younger women to take from this is a message of hope and empowerment. I have all the love for you, because I was you a few short years ago. And I don’t want you to give these years of your life to an older dude whose main reason for being with you is your age, not because you’re amazing (even though you are).

If you take nothing else from this post, take this: men who fetishise you for your youth are deeply creepy and should be avoided. You deserve someone who knows you get more and more awesome with every passing year.

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On Suttard, Fundamental Incompatibilities, and Happy Ever After

This post contains spoilers for all five seasons of The Bold Type! Stop reading now if you don’t want to be spoilered.

Like many fans of Freeform’s The Bold Type, which just finished its fifth and final season, I was rooting for a happy outcome for Sutton Brady-Hunter and Richard Hunter (known collectively by the fandom as “Suttard.”) They’re the best straight couple on the show by far, from their Bluetooth vibrator sex date to their incredible Paris reunion in the season 2 finale.

At the end of season 4, the newly married couple have a blow-out argument when Sutton realises she doesn’t want to have children, causing Richard – who longs to be a dad – to leave her and then (at the beginning of season 5) begin divorce proceedings.

Over the course of the final season, Sutton destroys her wedding dress, throws a “divorce party,” starts therapy, and quits drinking in an attempt to get over Richard. Then they meet up to swap divorce papers, predictably fall into bed with each other, and Richard realises how much he loves her and that he doesn’t want a life without her, even if it means giving up his dream of having children.

So far, so romantic? But…

Fundamental incompatibilities

No two people will ever be perfectly aligned on every issue or desire. That’s impossible because we’re all multifaceted, nuanced, and complex creatures. But there are, I believe, a few fundamentals. Things you need to agree on (or at least be genuinely, wholeheartedly happy to compromise on) in order to have a functional relationship.

Having children is one of those things. (Others might include getting married or not, being monogamous or not, and possibly even political affiliation.)

Some things are just deal breakers. Some things should be deal-breakers. Because in reality, much as we want to believe that love conquers all, it doesn’t. Love doesn’t conquer wanting different things in uncompromisable situations. You can’t have half a child. You can’t be half married. Love, however real and powerful, doesn’t make these incompatibilities go away or create the potential for a compromise where there is none.

Fairytale endings: fantasy vs. reality

I’m glad the writers chose to end The Bold Type the way they did. Ultimately, this show is escapist fantasy – a Sex & the City for millennials with little grounding in the real world. Suttard fans were crushed when the couple split up and were rooting for them to get back together and somehow find a way through their conflicting desires.

The writers gave us what we wanted. Find me a single fan who didn’t let out a collective “awwww” at this moment:

GIF of Richard Hunter and Sutton Brady (Suttard)

But it really is just fantasy. In reality, fairytale endings like this don’t happen. Or if they do, they cause intense resentment and bigger problems down the line.

I admit that I struggle to relate to Richard, personally. As someone who decided early on that I will be childfree for life, I find it very difficult to imagine wanting to have children more than wanting to be with the person I love. (And my god, these two really do love each other – Meghann Fahy and Sam Page have incredible on-screen chemistry!)

But many people do feel like that, and it’s valid and real. Many people want to be a parent more than anything, even if it means they can’t be with the person they thought was their forever person. And those people can’t just switch that off the way Richard seems to in this too-neat-to-be-real happy ever after.

Happy endings don’t exist

A much younger, more naive version of me thought that I’d find a happy ending someday. When I left my abuser and fell in love with Mr CK, I wondered if I’d found it – if everything would be plain sailing from here.

What I can tell you now, years later, is that no. I hadn’t found a happy ending. Not because this relationship isn’t wonderful. It was then and it is now. But because happy endings of the fairytale kind don’t exist.

Real relationships require constant communication, ongoing compromise, and recalibration as you both grow and change. You can decide to be together, to commit, to go all-in, but that doesn’t take away from the very real work required to make love work long term.

Love is messy, love is nuanced, love is the best thing in the world. But it is not magical. It does not remove all obstacles or effortlessly sweep them aside. And some obstacles are too big to overcome.

So I’ll enjoy the Suttard happy ending for what it is: escapist fantasy wrapping up five seasons of escapist fantasy. But I’m glad it’s not real. Because as much as I want someone to love me for the rest of my life, I would never want them to give up their greatest dream to be with me.

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What is Commitment Without Entanglement?

I’ve been thinking about commitment a lot recently. What it is, what it means, and how I can ethically incorporate it into my life in a way that aligns with my needs, my values, and my partners’ needs and values.

As a polyamorous person and an ethical slut, commitment matters a lot to me. Does that surprise you? Many people assume that true commitment is impossible in a non-monogamous context. Of course, I don’t agree.

What is commitment, anyway?

Oxford Languages suggests the definition of commitment as “the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc”. I think this is actually a pretty okay definition.

We all think we know what commitment means in a relationship, especially as it relates to mononormative culture. People often equate commitment with things like getting married, living together, and raising children together. Our society also strongly equates commitment with exclusivity. (Hands up every polyamorous person who has been asked “when are you going to commit to one person?”)

As a non-monogamous person, I suggest we look at commitment a different way. Instead of asking “what does society tell me a committed relationship looks like?”, ask yourself “what does commitment mean to me?”

Here are five things commitment means to me.

  • Commitment means I will prioritise you highly. This does not necessarily mean I will always put you first, and I will not necessarily prioritise you to the detriment of other important things in my life. But I will always consider you and strive to behave in ways that honour our connection.
  • Commitment means I will attempt to work through problems that arise in our relationship, engaging in good faith and seeking solutions that work for everyone involved.
  • Commitment means that I honour the ways in which you, I, and our relationship will grow and change. I want to grow along with you, not away from you.
  • Commitment means I want you to be in my life for as long as it is a happy and healthy choice for both of us. Ideally that means “for life,” but I accept things change. If our relationship is no longer good for one or both of us, I will let you go.
  • Commitment means that your happiness matters to me. To the best of my ability, and to the extent it doesn’t harm me or anyone else to do so, I will behave in ways that faciliate your happiness.

Your answers may be different. But I encourage you to think about what commitment is to you and maybe write down a “commitment manifesto” like the one I’ve shared above.

What is entanglement?

When I talk about entanglement in a relationship, I’m broadly referring to what is often known within polyamorous communities as “the relationship escalator.” Coined by writer Amy Gahran, the relationship escalator is described thus:

The default set of societal expectations for intimate relationships. Partners follow a progressive set of steps, each with visible markers, toward a clear goal.

The goal at the top of the Escalator is to achieve a permanently monogamous (sexually and romantically exclusive between two people), cohabitating marriage — legally sanctioned if possible. In many cases, buying a house and having kids is also part of the goal. Partners are expected to remain together at the top of the Escalator until death.

The Escalator is the standard by which most people gauge whether a developing intimate relationship is significant, “serious,” good, healthy, committed or worth pursuing or continuing.” (Source.)

The relationship escalator isn’t inherently bad, if it’s something you genuinely want (as opposed to something you’re following because of social, cultural, or familial pressure). But holding up the escalator model as the pinnacle of relationship achievement is deeply damaging to many people.

On or off the escalator?

Even though I strongly identify as non-monogamous, I’ve always valued having a core, deeply entangled relationship in my life. This is what Mr CK and I have. We live together, we share bills and cats and household chores, we are at least somewhat financially entangled. We’re each other’s next of kin at the hospital. We make big decisions together, and we hope to be together for life.

I also do not want all my relationships – or indeed any others – to be this entangled. The beauty of non-monogamy is that relationships don’t have to be all or nothing. If you have great sex but don’t have romantic feelings for one another, you can have a great friends-with-benefits arrangement. If you love each other but don’t want to live together, you can enjoy the connection for what it is without pushing for it to be more. When you have a need one partner can’t or won’t meet, you can get it fulfilled elsewhere.

This means you get to choose whether each relationship is on or off the escalator. It means you get to choose what level of commitment you want, and what that means for you and your partner(s).

You can even decide to take certain steps on the escalator but skip others, if you want to. For example, “we want to live together but no kids,” or “we want to get married, but monogamy isn’t part of our arrangement.”

Commitment without entanglement

When you try to define commitment without the trappings of heteronormative, mononormative, escalator-driven relationships, it gets complicated fast. It also gets really, really diverse.

Here are five things I’ve learned about how to do commitment without entanglement.

Create milestones that matter to you

Every serious relationship has meaningful milestones. What these look like and what they mean to you both/all will be different in each relationship. A few common milestones that don’t necessarily imply entanglement include the first kiss, the first time you say “I love you,” the first time you have sex, and the first night you spend together.

Unromantic milestones matter, too. In my relationship with The Artist, I remember feeling like our relationship had turned a corner the first time we navigated a (non-relational) crisis together. It wasn’t fun at the time, but in the long run it cemented our bond even further. I felt similarly after the first time they saw me in the middle of a major mental health crisis and didn’t run away.

What relationship milestones feel significant to you and your partner(s)? Think about both things you’ve already done (“the first overnight we spent together felt really significant to me”) and things you’d like to do someday (“I really want to introduce you to my best friends.”)

Have each other’s backs

For me, one of the biggest signs of commitment is when someone is by my side through difficult times. I enjoy the sex-with-no-expectations brand of relationship with some people. But I want to know that my inner circle people are there for me.

If you’re around when you want a hot shag but then disappear when I’m sobbing on the sofa because my depression is so bad, I won’t see the relationship as a committed one and will adjust my expectations accordingly.

Having each other’s backs isn’t the same as expecting the other person to drop everything to care for you in every crisis. But it does mean stepping up when you can, being there for the bad times as well as the good, and going out of your way for the other person at least some of the time.

Ask, don’t assume

When was the last time you asked your partner what love and commitment means to them? It’s easy to assume other people define these things in the same ways that we do. But assumptions are the fast-track to hurt feelings and miscommunications.

If you’re not sure what your partner needs or wants, ask them! If you’re not sure how they’re feeling, don’t try to guess. Just talk about it.

Learning each other’s love languages can be useful here. People often make the mistake of assuming that everyone gives and receives love the way they do. The love language framework isn’t perfect. But it gives you a way to explore and communicate your needs to your partner and to understand theirs.

Asking isn’t unromantic! Asking someone what they need or want is actually a huge sign of love and respect. Mononormative culture holds that we should be able to read our partner’s mind. This is bullshit. Don’t try. Seriously, I cannot emphasise this enough – just fucking ask.

Stand up for the relationship

When I was with my ex, one of the things that stopped me ever feeling safe was the fact that his wife had veto power. Even after years together, she could have told him to dump me at any time and he would have complied. Even though it was only ever hypothetical, we talked about the possibility at length. One of the things that really hurt was the knowledge that, if push came to shove, he would not stand up for our relationship.

I won’t date anyone with a veto arrangement any more. I believe that longer-term and more entangled partners should absolutely get a say and be able to voice concerns. But I cannot be in a situation where my relationship could be unilaterally ended by someone who isn’t even in it.

If you want to show commitment to your non-entangled partner, that means being willing to stand up for your relationship if you ever need to. This might mean telling your spouse or nesting partner that no, they don’t get to slam a veto down. It might mean speaking up when your friends or family (if you’re out to them) dismiss your non-entangled relationship as not real, not serious, or not important.

Keep the promises you make (and don’t make ones you can’t keep)

To my ex, promises made to me were always breakable if anything better came up (or his wife just had a bad day). This prevented me from ever feeling truly important to him.

In general, if you make a promise or commit to a plan with your partner, you should do everything you can to honour it. Emergencies happen, of course. Part of being in a long-term relationship means being flexible enough to roll with the punches when crises arise. But breaking promises or cancelling plans for minor reasons impedes building a true sense of commitment in a relationship, in my opinion.

The other piece of this is not making promises you can’t keep. My ex used to tell me that we – me, him, and his wife – would all live together and I’d be an equal co-primary someday. I eventually realised this was never going to actually happen. If I’d known that earlier, I could have adjusted my expectations accordingly. Instead, by promising something he never intended to actually follow through on, he deprived me of the ability to make an informed and consensual choice about how much I wanted to commit to that relationship.

If your non-entangled partner is asking for something, it can seem kinder to say “yes, someday” then just keep pushing it off into the distance. But if the real answer is “no, never” or “probably not,” it’s actually much better to tell them that. Hearing “no” to something you want is never fun. But it’s much better than being strung out on a false promise and then being let down again and again.

What does commitment without entanglement mean to you?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments. I’m so curious how other non-monogamous people handle this.

Reunion

Have you ever just fallen into someone and held onto them as if you would drown if you let go? That’s how it felt to me when I saw my secondary partner[1] for the first time in sixteen months this last weekend. Throughout the 30 hours or so we spent together, I had to keep touching them just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

The last year has not been kind to many people, including us. We’ve survived many things in the four and a half years we’ve been together, from a terrifying car accident to my mental breakdown in 2019. But a pandemic that separated us for almost a year and a half was a different beast entirely.

Of course, our relationship wasn’t on hold during all this time. We couldn’t see each other physically, but we kept in touch with Skype calls and sexting and app-controlled sex toys and online theatre and movie dates. But it’s not the same. Sometimes I wanted to hug them so badly it hurt. Often, actually.

Even so, I went into our reunion not really knowing how it would go. So much has changed in the last year. Life is not the same. I am not the same. I’ve changed not just my hair and my body, but also my career and my relationship with myself in the past year. In some ways, I am far better. My self-esteem and my relationship to my work are both hugely improved. But in other ways, I am carrying the inevitable scars of the last year. I am jumpy and scared of things I was never scared of before. I don’t always know how to people any more, after almost a year in such isolation.

So no, I wasn’t sure if we would still fit. Because when people and circumstances change, relationships do, too. I think it’s fair to say they were more sure than I was, but I think they also had their doubts. How could we not, after all this time?

The doubt dissolved the moment I saw them, the moment we clung to each other and I buried my face in their shoulder and I remembered all the ways we fit together. Every time I looked at them, I wanted to laugh and cry all at the same time. Because yes, it still works. The love is still there. Our connection was tested but never severed. Our hearts and our bodies remember each other, and that matters more than days or months or distance.

Sometimes, in the sea of everything changing, you just need something that still feels right. You just need someone who will hold you as though they felt every damn second of all the months you were apart.

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[1] We use “secondary” as a descriptive term, not as any kind of pejorative, and we love each other deeply and fiercely despite not being on the relationship escalator with each other.

I Don’t Believe in Soulmates (But…)

“A true soulmate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life.”
– Elizabeth Gilbert

I don’t believe in soulmates.

Well, it’s not quite that simple. I don’t believe in soulmates in the “one person on earth for everyone who will complete you” kind of way.

Aside from the previously discussed mathematical absurdity of imagining there’s exactly one person designed for one other person, the One True Soulmate thing doesn’t account for polyamory, or people who are widowed and then find love again, or just people who have multiple serious relationships in their life because something isn’t retroactively less real because it ended. Then there’s the fact that we are all whole already and don’t need another person to complete us.

I’m not sure I even believe in souls, at least not in the metaphysical or religious way the term is often used. I’m both an atheist and fundamentally quite cynical.

So no, I don’t believe in soulmates. That doesn’t mean I am cynical about love. I’m not. I do believe in powerful connections between people, which might happen quickly or might grow over years.

When I hear “soulmate,” I think it implies a situation where you’re so made for each other that everything is easy. It’s the Disney-fied, romcom-style happy ending where all problems vanish and you live blissfully ever after.

But that’s not real. It’s a seductive lie, a dangerous fiction, a marketing ploy that leads real people to believe their relationships are inadequate.

I don’t want always-easy, because always-easy does not exist when it comes to meaningful relationships. What I want is someone who sees me completely. Someone who sees everything – the good, the bad, the ugly, the broken – and loves me anyway.

And, yeah, someone who can call me on my bullshit.

I don’t believe that anyone can know us better than we know ourselves. That is a fallacy. No-one else will ever be in your head or your body and you are always the ultimate and final expert on you. But I do believe that another person can see the bits of us that we’re not seeing, or choosing not to see, or trying to choose not to see.

Of course, it requires trust and vulnerability to let someone in that far. I’m not very good at either trusting people or being truly vulnerable. It takes me a long time to get there and the rest of the time, there’s a protective layer around me. Sometimes it’s a steel wall a foot thick, sometimes it’s barely perceptible and almost permeable.

A soulmate, in that fiction, would be someone who immediately fixed all those issues with their True Love. That doesn’t exist. What I want is someone who takes the time to see everything that is behind that wall, makes the effort to understand it, and wants to stay even then. Someone who does not expect pretense or perfection, but who embraces all that I am and – and this bit is important – all that I will be.

The “soulmates” ideal implies something static, something immovable and permanent. Real love isn’t necessarily like that. Our souls – our selves – are not static. Instead, I want a person who commits to growing alongside me. Someone who is all in, for the messy as well as the tidy, for the worse as well as for the better. And honestly? Someone who will walk away if it is truly no longer working, rather than someone who is so attached to an ideal that they stay to the detriment of both of us.

So no, I don’t want a soulmate. I want people who will do the work, make the effort, and show up again and again when it’s hard as well as when it’s easy.

It might not be quite so picture-perfect, but at least it’s real.

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[Guest Post] Happy Never After by Velvet Divine

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

Happy Never After by Velvet Divine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most days I resent the realization.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Things That Matter More to Me Than Looks

I won’t pretend that looks are completely unimportant to me in a relationship. There does need to be a level of physical attraction – I need to be physically into my partners and have them be physically into me. But looks only get you so far and they’re so much less important than a great many other things.

I have met people I was physically attracted to, only to have that attraction greatly diminish or completely switch off due to some other trait in the person. At least a couple of crushes have been snuffed out when the hot person turned out to be an asshole.

So here are a few things that are ultimately way more important than looks.

Kindness

When it comes to dating someone or having them as a close person in my life, this is probably the single most important attribute they can possess. If someone isn’t kind, I’m unlikely to want to get close to them.

Even if I’m not immediately physically attracted to someone, kindness is one of the most reliable indicators that attraction could grow.

Things in Common

Obviously, no two people have everything in common. And separate interests and activities can be healthy in a relationship. But if we don’t have enough in common that we can share at least some hobbies and enjoy doing some things together, that’s unlikely to be a good fit for anything more than a very casual fling.

Matching Goals for the Relationship

I’ve been in relationships before where we wanted wildly different things out of it, and this is its own special kind of hell. While some things are open for negotiation, our core hopes and goals for the relationship should match. If one person wants a very serious, entangled relationship and the other wants friendship with casual sex, that’s likely to lead to resentment and frustration on both sides.

Compatible Kinks

Sex is important! If I’m going to have a romantic relationship with someone, chances are that sex and kink are going to be a part of it. That means that compatible kinks matter.

Again, no two people will have 100% crossover. Kinks and preferences are far too unique and nuanced for that. But there needs to be a pretty significant overlap for things to work.

I’m primarily a submissive, so while I enjoy dating switches, dating someone who wanted to bottom a lot of the time wouldn’t work for me. Likewise, dating someone whose main kink is my hard limit is unlikely to end well for either of us.

Similar Politics

Some people believe you can have very different or even opposite politics and still have a relationship. I do not believe that. I need someone whose politics are broadly aligned with mine if we’re going to be partners, lovers, or even close friends.

We don’t need to agree on everything. I think nuanced discussion and learning things from each other can be a wonderful part of a trusting relationship. But realistically, no-one who is right of centre is ever going to be a good match for me. We need to be on the same page about the important stuff.

What matters more to you than looks? Let me know in the comments.

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[Guest Post] How I Accidentally Brought Out the Kink in My Vanilla Partner by Erato Feistein

Today’s guest post is from a new-to-C&K writer, Erato Feistein (she/her.) I love this piece because I’ve always dated other already-kinky people, so a story about introducing kink to a previously-vanilla partner is quite a different story! What I love about this piece is that it didn’t require the relationship to get to crisis point before kink was introduced to “save” it, and no-one cheated or did anything shitty. It’s a lovely example of how communication, honesty, and vulnerability can take a relationship from great to amazing.

I’ll hand you over to Erato. And if you want to write for me, check out the pitch guidelines.

Amy x

How I Accidentally Brought Out the Kink in My Vanilla Partner by Erato Feistein

Whenever I begin exploring sex with a new person, I am always nervous to go all-out with my desires. I wonder if my partner will be able to accept my sexual desires. I be perceived as “freaky” or “sex-crazed”? How do I introduce my kinks to them and will they receive them with an open mind? 

Kink shaming is very real, especially in countries where sex education is not valued. As a child in Eastern Europe, my only conversation about sex included my aunt demonstrating how to properly put on a condom using a desk reading lamp. I had never heard girls or women openly talk about sexual pleasure until I was in my 20s. A friend of mine, left wanting more from her partner, asked me “Will he always be this vanilla? When does it get spicy?” 

It takes a level of trust to confide your sexy secrets to your new partner. Sometimes, your kinks don’t match up with theirs. It can be hard to find romantic partners who share our ideas of great sex. But chances are, your partner(s) are aching to please you. It’s just a matter of open communication. 

When I started dating my current boyfriend a year ago, we didn’t talk about our sex life. I had accepted our conventional coitus and didn’t bring up anything that could be considered a “deviation” from it. He seemed to be enjoying it, so I didn’t want to disappoint him by voicing that I needed more. I didn’t bring it up for a couple of months, until I decided to weave in some kink references into our conversations to see what kind of reaction I would get out of him. 

Almost as a joke, I suggested that we take the BDSM test as an informal reference point for our preferences. While my results were a colourful mix of masochist, rope bunny, experimentalist and switch, his results came out as mostly vanilla. 

As we are in a monogamous relationship, finding sexual pleasure elsewhere was out of the question. So we sat down to have the anticipated conversation about how we can both be sexually satisfied, without overstepping each other’s boundaries. This got us talking about our desires, fantasies, and favorites in sex. To my pleasant surprise, he was really interested in the things that turned me on, even if those included rope play, for example – something he had never tried before. We talked over the things we would never do (hard limits) and set up clear parameters for the things we were willing to try together. 

Honestly, I was not expecting this conversation to go so smoothly and for him to be so open to exploring new things for us to try. So far so good. But was he actually willing to do those things, or was he just fascinated by the variety of kinks and fetishes that exist? Well, let’s just say that the next time we had sex he tied up my wrists and ankles with my satin scarves and even choked me a little bit! The next time, he poured hot candle wax on me. I would say it was significantly less vanilla than our usual sex play. 

I recognized my partner’s efforts to adhere to my sexual desires and that in itself was a huge turn-on. Since he was actively trying to understand my wants and needs, I made sure to check in with him and ask him if it was something enjoyable for him, too. I worried if he was going too far out of his comfort zone to please me without finding pleasure for himself. Many of the things we were trying out were brand new to him. 

When I asked how he felt about the kinks we had incorporated, he told me he was actually surprised how much he liked it! 

In our daily lives, I am certainly the more dominant one – very outspoken and sometimes a bit controlling. As he tends to be more laid-back and reserved in his day-to-day, he said exploring dominance and kink in our sex life has been refreshing for him. It is a space where he can safely delve into another version of himself. Being dominated and degraded tends to have the same effect for me – I can release the need to control the situation and allow myself to be vulnerable under someone else’s authority. In a way, this power shift teaches both of us about the spectrum of our emotions and characters. 

So it turns out, my partner is not so vanilla after all. We just needed some open communication to build that level trust in our relationship to experiment sexually. Our conversations and ventures into kink have opened up a whole new world of ideas in our relationship. We have both found new things that turn us on and work for us. 

While I realize this is certainly not the case for every sexual partnership, educating each other and talking openly about our wants and needs in sex opened up my partner to the world of kink, which has definitely been a positive shift in both our sex life and our relationship. 

About the Author

Author pic for Erato Feistein

Erato Feistein is a freelance writer, photographer and digital marketer in the daytime. At night, she comes alive with the desire to share her erotic tales with the world. While she is new to the field of sex writing, she hopes to share her personal experiences with other open-minded people and, in turn, both teach and learn a thing or two about kink and sex. Outside of her daily digital life, she loves to climb cliffs (preferably with rope), experiment in the kitchen, and go on long, romantic walks on the beach with her dog, Ella.