1) If you don’t ask for what you want, you’ll never get it. No one else can read your mind, understand your desires, or negotiate your salary unless you fucking speak up. I’ve learned this the hard way. I didn’t know how to tell my potential supervisor what my expectations are for a job in an interview. I didn’t know how to tell my partner that I really want Mexican food, even though I knew she had her heart set on Thai. But I’ve been reminded, time and time again, that if I want a spanking, I have to ask for it. Bouncing my ass in the air is not a clear enough signal. I think if we were all taught to express our needs and desires in bed – and outside of bed – the world would run smoother. You might not get what you ask for, but if you don’t ask, you’re definitely not going to get it.
2) Negotiation is a vital part of any relationship. I remember, clearly, the first time someone actually sat me down before we had sex and asked me what I liked, what I was up for, what I wasn’t interested in. It was a groundbreaking moment for me. Now I’ve come to expect this kind of negotiation before sex. Negotiation in bed requires the same skill set as negotiation in a board room, in a marriage, or in any other sort of relationship. If you aren’t having these conversations, you should be. If you’re too scared to initiate these conversations, then it’s time to take a good, hard look at how that is negatively affecting your life. I’ve been notorious for much of my life for waxing and waning when someone asks me what I want. Kink has drastically helped me navigate these conversations. I’ve learned to categorize what I absolutely will do, what I’m flexible about, and what I absolutely won’t do. Ask someone from the State Department what they do, and they’ll tell you the same thing – communicate and negotiate. Life skills, baby.
3) Get and give consent. I cannot stress this enough. Consent is a pervasive act in my life; it does not end or begin with my bedroom door. I ask for consent when releasing medical information, consent when asking highly personal questions, consent when engaging in any sex act. I think agency is incredibly powerful, and yet, we often take it for granted. We run through other people’s boundaries – social, emotional, physical, sexual – either without regard or without recognizing our recklessness. We tell children “because I said so.” We enforce social rules and expectations on each other. We don’t actively teach people in our culture how to ask for consent, nor how to give it. I find my relationships with clients, with friends, and with lovers are deeper and more heartfelt when I ask for consent, verbally or nonverbally. For example, I’ll ask a client, “Are you comfortable discussing this (very personal traumatic) event with me?” instead of assuming I can jump right in. I’ll run my hands over a lover’s body in the morning, waiting for them to make a move to signal that they do want to get it on before breakfast. If the answer is no or the response is clearly not inviting, then I walk away. It’s really that simple.
4) Know your boundaries. In the kink world, we have a brilliant, simple signal for tapping out – safewords. Unfortunately, there isn’t always an easy exit button in real life. When my boss is pushing me to take a task I can’t handle, when I’m crying in a corner because my mother is insane, or when I’m so overwhelmed I can’t even function… well, there’s no safeword to save me. What I’m finding is, in kink, I use my safeword when I’m absolutely pushed to the point of not being able to take any more. In real life, that’s almost too late. What I can do, though, is set some boundaries. I know my mother upsets me, so I set a limit on how much time I will spend with her on the phone. I know I overcommit myself to advocacy work, so I set a clear “no” when I know I have exactly enough on my plate. Before you find a lover (or anything and anyone else) is pushing you too close to the edge, let them know what the edge is. Let yourself know what the edge is.
5) Be able to say no, and don’t play with someone who can’t do the same. I’m horrible at saying no. I am such a “yes” person. Yes, I’ll make cupcakes for the class. Yes, I’ll take a meeting an hour after I’m supposed to get off work. Yes, I’ll show up at your event, help you plan your advocacy project, help you write your thesis, and pick you up from the middle of nowhere at 2am. Except…. I find myself wanting to say no. Dreaming about saying no. Saying “yes” and meaning “no” is not acceptable. It negates the whole point of consent and agency. A few months ago, I was playing with someone who had probably never used a safeword. I wasn’t sure, but she has a hardass attitude, and I had a feeling she felt she had a lot to prove to me – and to herself. So, I put her in a situation – with her consent – and then I pushed her to use her safeword, to break that unspoken expectation that she wouldn’t need it. Safewords are useless if you aren’t comfortable with using them. I don’t want to wait to cross your boundaries – or seriously hurt you – simply because you don’t feel comfortable using a safeword. Learning to say “no” is empowering. It ties in almost everything in this list – negotiation, knowing your boundaries, etc. Just like with asking for what you want, if you don’t say what you don’t want, well, you’ll get a heaping pile of it. I practice this skill often lately. “No, I can’t be at every single event this week. No, I can’t babysit your kid for free. No, I can’t want to use bacon-flavored lube.” See, try it.
6) Don’t make assumptions. I had a friend and lover once who was built like a linebacker. He was roughly 5’11 and a very muscular 200+ pounds. His gaze could pierce a brick wall. He looked like he could dominate anything and anyone who came his way. But he was the most sweet, gentle, playful slave. I also had a boss once, a skinny toothpick of a gay man, who worked for a non-profit serving people with disabilities. He was the most homophobic, sexist, disablist asshole I’ve ever met. If you aren’t rolling your eyes yet, you should be. Appearance is definitely not an indicator of identity, beliefs, or desires, and yet, we make these assumptions every day. I do it, you do it, we all fail miserably at this lesson. Tops and bottoms, doms and subs, slaves and masters don’t have defining physical characteristics. (Neither do sexists and disablists. Assholes come in all shapes and sizes, and, apparently, all professions.) As an ex of mine used to say, “When you assume, you make an ass of you and me.” Heh. Smartass she was.