Self Intimacy, Sex-Positivity, Shame, and the Resilient Edge of Resistence

“Boundaries are an essential part of life. They delineate and maintain needed borders and separations, making differentiation possible at every level. Boundaries both contain and preserve the integrity of what they are safeguarding, be that physical, psychological, emotional, social, or spiritual. Without them there is no relationship and therefore no development, no evolution. But despite this clear truth, we often fall into the trap of believing that boundaries hold us back, preventing us from being free…”
~ Robert Augustus Masters, Boundaries Make Freedom Possible

skin

I heard a great metaphor for boundaries recently, from my friend and mentor Marcia. Boundaries are like skin. Skin protects us from bacteria, contaminants- it keeps the bad things out. It also holds our bodies together and keeps the good things in. It has elasticity and can stretch and squish for short periods of time (this is called the Resilient Edge of Resistance, think of it as a plus/minus margin around your boundaries). Push that edge too far, and we reach our limits- the skin breaks. It is semi permeable, so we can let good things in (like sunlight and moisture) and sweat the bad things out. And without skin around us, things get messy.

Similarly, without boundaries, life gets messy.

In polyamory we are constantly being challenged to redefine our boundaries, to explore some of the difficult stuff in that resilient edge of resistance- sometimes we reach our limits. We also traverse an emotional field where we invite more vulnerability into our lives, because we are allowing more people to connect with that core part of ourselves that the boundaries are there to protect. The more partners we have, the more we are asked to live in that space of vulnerability. Doing so feels radical, revolutionary, and many people experience a sexual and emotional liberation when they begin exploring this.

In a traditional coupled relationship, boundaries are created to protect and preserve the primary relationship. They are there, like a warm blanket, keeping the relationship safe and in a place of comfort, where the individuals in it can relax and grow and flourish. This is true of monogamous and honestly non-monogamous couples.

However, when it comes to flying Solo, it is not quite so straightforward.

Evening clouds above

There is no primary partner, there is no obvious other to create shared boundaries with- though we absolutely can, many people perceive boundaries as limitations, and equate them with primary like relationships. Ultimately, we all have to develop our own clear boundaries around what we want to nurture in our lives, and what we want to keep out- and this is far more apparent when exploring Solo Polyamory. The nature of Solo Poly relationships is so often fluid and changing, that one can sometimes feel there is no safe-house to come home to unless you create one for yourself. But, it can be easy to forget this, and when you are unattatched to a primary partner, there are plenty more opportunities to explore that Resilient Edge of Resistence.

I pushed and stretched and redefined my personal Resilient Edge of Resistence for two years. After a lifetime of frustration with the limitation of my creative expression and sexual shaming, I dove heart first into a dynamic and powerful exploration of living life without restrictions. I began to embrace my sensual expression, I grew to honor my shadow self, I found alchemy in letting my spirit blossom and fly free. I looked to the free spirits around me and followed their examples. I was going to sex parties, being guest listed for kink nights, throwing my own kinky raves with my friends, being invited to participate in the sex-positive community both locally, and internationally. I felt comfortable having sex around strangers, and engaging in BDSM play to the side of the dance floor. It was so incredibly liberating! I had come so far from the shy, ashamed, repressed young woman who flinched at the idea of talking about sex.

shattered glassAnd then, I became intoxicated with the freedom. I became addicted to my shadow self. I pushed myself too far.My resiliency broke. I lost my boundaries. I lost my skin. My guts went spilling all over the place, and toxic, unhealthy influences entered into my life.

Months later I still wake in the middle of the night from nightmares filled with flashbacks of trauma, and my heart remains heavy with heartache, regret, and deep sorrow.

After reaching a breaking point with exploring my resilient edge, I attempted to build a wall around my heart, and my Self, reinforcing my boundaries into an impenetrable fortress. While this made me feel more safe, it also made it impossible to reach out to the ones I loved- because I couldn’t connect to my heart without connecting to the pain too. They felt pushed away.

While all this was happening, I was diving into studies of the nature of intimacy, boundaries, and self-actualisation. I learned about something called Self-Intimacy, the conscious awareness of one’s own emotions, desires and thoughts. Without healthy self-intimacy, we struggle to engage in healthy conflict, and displays of affection can become shallow and disconnected. When we lack healthy self-intimacy, our negative emotions can build up, and without expression or support for resolution, they can drive us to disregard our limits, and live in a state where our resilient edges are being constantly pushed to breaking point.

I had spent so long pushing myself to explore my edges, I had forgotten how to relax, and just be with my self. My inner perfect poly person had grown adept at suppressing my shadow emotions in relationships, and my mind was at conflict with my heart. Even though I had intellectually consented to almost all of my experiences, my heart’s consent had not been present. I had been ignoring the messages from my body, ignoring the crushing pain of approaching my limits- until they had been reached, with heart-breaking consequences.

jumpingLiberating ourselves of the shame around sex and embracing sex positivity shouldn’t have to mean going to orgies or BDSM play parties. It doesn’t have to be a process of pushing our resilient edges of resistance to breaking point- either physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. It might mean those things for some people- and that has certainly been part of my own journey- but I don’t think that it has to include those things. I think sex positivity is hi-fiving ourselves and our friends and partners for good sex, sex positivity is exploring healthy connections and physically empowering chemistry. It’s about not flinching when someone else talks about sex. It’s embracing your own nature as a sexual being. It’s accepting the diversity of experiences people have had, and the complex relationships each person can have to the act of sex- and respecting that most people do not need to live in the adrenalin addiction of having their edges challenged in relationships constantly.

I’m valuing the existential crisis inherent in all of this. In my personal quest for identity, relationship, and meaning, I have too often become trapped in doing mode, a state entangled in mental pathways, removed from the experience of simply being. Rather than following my head into new situations, I’m slowing down and listening to my heart, and my whole body. In finding solitude and quietude again, I’m reconnecting with the courage to just be, and finding freedom in that. The clearer I become on what I’m living for- my deepest desires- the more my natural boundaries become apparent. The margins of my being may not be what I once thought they were- or perhaps, they have changed- and I am giving myself permission to change, and nurture my resiliency.

I don’t need to live life on the edge all the time- and neither do you, if you do not want to. You have permission to be loving to yourself, to honor your physical, spiritual, mental and emotional body and boundaries, to embrace your shadow self, and your light. Life doesn’t have to be lived on the cutting edge, doing all-the-things. Life can also be lived with warmth and nurturing; life can be lived by simply being. You can love your boundaries. You can grow roots, live a life that doesn’t push your resilient edge of resistance to breaking point, and still be radical and sex-positive.

self-empowerment
“We are not here to shed or abandon our boundaries, but to breathe integrity and strength into them, to fully illuminate them, and to make sure that they take a form that serves not only our highest good but also the highest good of all. We are not here to override or devalue our boundaries but to use them as wisely as possible… discovering the freedom in fully engaging our experience. Our boundaries stand as guardians on this path, with an authority that supports our growth and awakening.”
~ Robert Augustus Masters, Boundaries Make Freedom Possible

(with gratitude to Orion and Chelsie for editorial feedback)

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Expanding and Exploring

“You have permission to ask for what you want.”

Do you really know how to play?

Do you really know how to play?

These words of relationship advice, from Marcia Baczynski, shifted my perspective about the relationships I was in at the time, leading to an evolution in the way I have found myself approaching relationships today. I had been growing fed up of intimate relationships where it felt like no one ever knew what they were doing. In bed, I too often felt like a beautiful musical instrument, with a novice randomly plucking strings, hoping to coax a melody- or concerto- from this highly complex form. I didn’t want that any more. I wanted that to change.

Last summer at a music festival, I fell in love on the dance floor. The crowds parted and I became mesmerized by a young man spinning a glowing staff. My attention caught, I complimented him on his dancing, saw him again briefly a few days later- but it wasn’t until running into him several months later in the city that we actually had a chance to connect.

The incredibly beautiful, exotic, fire and poi-spinning Marco had me curious. We chatted online and on the phone for a couple of months before going on a date zero- I was a little hesitant to date someone eight years younger than me, but I soon forgot about that and had an amazing time. On our next date, we discovered that we lived ten minutes walk away from one another.

Marco puts extra anarchy into relationship anarchy, in a really good way. It’s almost impossible to keep up with how many women he might have dates with. His work schedule is on call and often unpredictable and so dates are sometimes really spontaneous. One of the things I enjoy the most is that the dynamic he and I share together is one of experimentation and adventure.

Where would the electricity be without willingness to experiment?

Where would the electricity be without willingness to experiment?

Our dates have included a trip to the STI clinic (followed by lunch), midnight booty calls, loud and kinky morning wake up calls, making a stilt-walking elephant together, an epic sexy after party in our hotel room where we mostly observed and directed our friends having an orgy, eating ice cream together in his bedroom hammock, sensually grinding together on the dance floor after almost 24 hours of no sleep, poi spinning lessons in my back yard, and whispering poetry to one another into the wee hours of the morning. We talk about kinky things we want to try out, we share thoughts about shamanism, and we collaborate on creative projects.

From past relationship experiences, I’ve found myself growing cautious of diving too deep into clothes-ripping passion all the time. I’ve had some really beautiful connections burn out because the focus was so much on physical expression- but not so much on exploration, and as a result I would have great sex the first few times, fuelled by the excitement, adrenalyne, novelty and NRE- but it would quickly peter off, resulting in a string of six-week long relationships.

I didn’t want this to be another six week relationship.

I also found myself in a quandry over sponteniety versus consent. Marco and I were exploring the edges of our kinky personas, and both enjoyed doing so with sponteniety. He knew I was very passionate about enthusiastic consent, and expressed once that, in his perspective, the conversation around consent was taking away from the spontaneous aspect that made things so much fun.

Just because you're enjoying something, does it mean your partner is enjoying it too?

Just because you’re enjoying something, does it mean your partner is enjoying it too?

For my part, consent has become an important part of relationships and building trust. I’d experienced holding back a lot in intimate exchanges because I was afraid of having my own boundaries crossed or of crossing someone else’s unintentionally- something that had happened for me in the past. I mean, there’s always that hope that I will find partners who are 100% psychic and can read my mind to see if I’m comfortable or not- but the reality is, we can’t expect someone to know something about our intimate preferences unless we reveal that information to them, and likewise, we need to ask our partners for feedback about whether what we are doing feels good for them or not- instead of just assuming that it probably is.

One night when Marco came over to my place, I decided that I needed to ask for what I wanted. So, I put forward a proposal to him:

“Tonight, I’d like to invite you to explore me. Just do whatever you want. Follow your instincts. And I’ll give you feedback at every step. I want you to learn my body. And if something doesn’t feel good, or doesn’t do anything for me, I’ll communicate. And if it’s amazing- you’ll know, and if I know how to, I’ll guide you on how to enhance the pleasure for me.”

Never before had communication felt so sexy. As we played, I got to show him how my different erogenous zones can be connected, how a slap or a bite in just the right place can make me melt or take me to the edge. I learned things about my own body as he experimented with differing pressures in different places. And after, we talked about all sorts of other things we want to try further down the road.

After that experience, not only was the quality of our physical intimacy enhanced, but our communication around sex grew leaps and bounds too. We’d taken time to learn one another’s language. He, as someone who plays more dominant, had discovered how to read my responses, and I’d learned how to communicate with fewer words and in ways that made the communication part of the play. As a consequence of just that one night, we started to feel more comfortable with greater sponteniety. The trust we share evolved because we took one another to the edges and learned to recognise one another’s “no”.

piano maestro

“Practice Makes Perfect”

There is tremendous power in slowing down from the insane devouring passion and finding our way into a natural flow of communication between bodies. Tuning in, and learning how to read our partners, rather than just assuming we know what’s going to feel good, assuming that all people function exactly the same.  Think of the difference between someone who sits at a piano and randomly tinkers on the keys hoping to make music, versus someone who has studied and become a piano maestro, effortlessly dancing their fingers across the keys and filling the room with the sweetest music.

We may both be Solo, we may be one another’s ‘proximal’ relationship, we may be in love, but we also know this relationship may not last in this same form for all time. Marco reminds me to be present to what’s in front of me, to be present to the moment. We are growing and learning together, and there is no telling what the future may bring. I pinch myself from time to time that someone as unique and talented an individual wants to hang around with me, let alone undress me and devour me with so much passion- and it’s a passion that seems to just grow deeper and deeper.

Exploring the edges of our comfort zones, and expanding beyond them, has never felt so comfortable, nor been so fun. We explore eachother’s bodies, eachother’s minds, eachother’s souls.

And the lesson in this- that asking for what you want is one of the best things you can possibly do within a relationship- has me contemplating all the other things I have often wished for but never outright asked for from my partners. There’s a sliver of risk involved in asking. What if they say “No”, or judge you for it, or break up with you because you asked for something? That’s the fear dialogue running through our minds holding us back.

We don’t have to listen to the voice of fear. We can embrace the risk and choose- dare- to ask the ones we love and trust if they might be interested in something that we are interested in too. And when we do so, we give ourselves- and our partners- the opportunity to experiment, expand and explore new edges of being.

Power Play and Passion: Consent in the Kink Community

This isn’t about polyamory, but rather about a topic that is very dear and important to me: building Consent Culture.

There’s something severely broken in the way we relate to our sexuality if events billed as sexy are using visuals of war and violence, torture and objectification, gore and the glorification of power. There’s nothing sexy about war. There’s nothing healthy about subjugating a group of people to violence and death on the name of the squabbles of a few individuals.

When did this become a sexy ideal?

When did this become a sexy ideal?

This is different from power-play, different from unleashing primal instincts within us. It’s the promotion of a highly regimented and heart-disengaged approach to sex. It separates us from the beauty of things.

Personally, I’m not interested in the kink of emotional distance, nor in sex that is without heart.

A little while ago I went to a kink event where I knew several people. After this event, two friends of mine (who did not know one another) came to me and told me they had been physically assaulted at this event. Their descriptions of the assault (being physically grabbed and pushed) matched up so closely that I surmised it must have been the same person who did both,-and upon further inquiry, I found out that yes, it was the same person. And this person regularly attends similar events.

Now, I get that grabbing and pushing is something that two people might decide they want to get into in a scene. That can be someone’s kink. Heck, when I am with a partner I trust implicitly, I enjoy exploring some rough handling. But, the trust has to be there. Consent is not optional- it’s mandatory.

When did violence become sexy?

When did violence become sexy?

So, the simple fact that someone could walk into a kink event thinking that it is okay to do something like that, to grab and push someone without asking for permission, without engaging in consent-positive behavior- that deeply concerns me. It’s an example of what so many people find repulsive and disgusting about the kink world. It’s that perpetuation of the emotionally disengaged sexuality.

To put it quite simply, if your kinks revolve around being emotionally disengaged from the people who you are exploring experiences with, then something isn’t right.

That’s not to say you have to be in love with someone before you can be sexual with them. It’s about maintaining your humanity and compassion whilst engaging in kinky activities.

Aggressive actions, if consented to within the context of intimate and sexual play, cease to be violent and can become expressions of passion. Without consent, however, without an established intimate dialogue, they are violent, unhealthy, and amount to physical assault.

Physical play can be a beautiful expression of passion.

Physical play can be a beautiful expression of passion.

So- I ask you to ask yourself, what are your motivations when you are getting your kink on? Do you have empathy and compassion with the partners you engage with? Are you coming at it from your heart? And, most important of all- do you remember to ask for permission and check for consent?

Bottom line: when we connect with our innate care, compassion and consideration for other beings, consent comes naturally.  I think it’s high time that we work to put the affection back into all forms of sexy play, to let our kinks be led by our loving creativity rather than by suppressed violence.  

Shame and Sexuality

What do you know of great love? Have you ever loved a woman until milk leaked from her as though she had just given birth to love itself, and now must feed it or burst? Have you ever tasted a woman until she believed that she could be satisfied only by consuming the tongue that had devoured her? Have you ever loved a woman so completely that the sound of your voice in her ear could cause her body to shudder and explode with such intense pleasure that only weeping could bring her full release?
~ from the movie Don Juan DeMarco, 1994

I’m taking part in a workshop called The Good Girl Recovery Program. It’s run by a woman called Marcia, who came highly recommended to me by some dear friends who are poly and kinky and have made great personal breakthroughs with her support. I’m finding this course amazing. It is challenging me, inspiring me, and getting me to unpack some of the old stuff that I had buried and forgotten about.

snow-white-37-whistle-while-you-work-1-f15

We can’t just sweep all the dirt under the carpet and forget about it.

The central theme to my personal journey- in the last few months, in the last couple of years, and arguably the central theme in my narrative as an adult- has been embracing my sexuality. I was given many messages in my childhood that told me sex was something bad, something to be ashamed of, something to be hidden and not talked about. My mother described it to me in ways that made it sound disgusting, painful, and something that would detract from my evolution as a spiritual and conscious being. And the surroundings I grew up in were resoundingly not sex- positive (I was at a private all girls school for four years, at a catholic school for two years, and spent my adolescence living in a country where kissing someone in public who wasn’t your lawful spouse could have you jailed, and being gay could land you far harsher punishment).

When I was about six or seven years old, my school had a visit from a charity that worked to prevent cruelty to children. They were a well known charity, fierce advocates of children’s rights, and had very well thought out ways of reaching out to kids who may have experienced trauma and abuse in the home. Unfortunately for me, one of their excercises had the side effect of kindling shame around my sexual expression.

It was quite a simple excercise. We had activity sheets given to us that had three sillhouettes of ginger-bread-men like figures. One had a green outline. In that one, we were asked to color in areas where we liked to be touched. The next one was red- that was for where we didn’t like to be touched. And then there was a third, I think it was orange, and that was for where people touch us.

Now, I loved riding my bike. Why? Cos it felt so good in my crotch. It felt better than good- it was amazing! And I also loved jumping on my space hopper. So my crotch was colored in quite intensely for the green figure. And, since it was somewhere I liked to touch myself, I colored it in very strongly on the orange figure.

My parents were called in to the school. I was questioned by the principal separately from my parents. After i explained that it was me who did the touching of my vagina, my parents were sent home with the message that their daughter might be sexually aware too young. My mother- who I later learned had experienced sexual abuse from a family member- was already very protective of me, and became even more protective after that. I wasn’t allowed to touch myself, not even to scratch. The first time a boy asked me out, my mother said I wasn’t allowed to go out with him unless I had a chaperone (that boy dumped me as a result). She watched my first high school boyfriend like a hawk and terrified him. And the first time I was out later than midnight with a boy, when I was sixteen, I came home to my mother sitting on the staircase, brooding and fuming, and received a lecture about staying out late that still, to this day, brings up feelings of terror and fear within me. She was very effective at making me feel ashamed of my body, and of my sexuality.

Shame around sexuality is something institutionalized and ingrained at the very core of current day society. I’m not blind to the fact that I now live in a delightful bubble of sex-positive, open minded, accepting, and pretty rad people. Sadly, the majority of the world is not like this. For the majority of people alive today, there are many mixed messages about sex, that it is sinful and dirty, that it is something to use as a tool for power and control, that it makes it okay to objectify the human form, that it should be hidden and hushed, that it is something we are all supposed to do eventually and then be ashamed of immediately afterwards.

I sometimes wonder if my mother has ever had an orgasm, if the trauma of her own abuse has stood in the way of her ever experiencing sexual pleasure. I know my grandmother, on the other hand, was a very sexually astute woman- and she may have been bisexual. She taught me about what all the parts of my vagina were for when I was a kid (“And this is where special honey comes from, for the boy you marry”) She was prescribed the use of a WAHL personal massager by her physician as part of the treatment for her hysteria when she entered menopause. I have a foggy memory of my mother and grandmother arguing about the presence of this WAHL vibrator on my grandmother’s dressing table.

wahl

I came close to loosing my virginity a few times as a teenager, but held off. I was shy and afraid and had no idea what to do. I masturbated by myself plenty, and enjoyed it a lot, but had no idea how to share that experience with another person. My first attempt at penetrative sex was when I was 20, with my ex boyfriend Tony who I’d dated when I was thirteen and trusted immensely. It was awkward and weird (we both agree, looking back with the hindsight of experience) and I remember thinking “Is this it? Maybe my mother was right.”

And then I ended up marrying the next guy I slept with. He knew how to play with my body and would let me masturbate to orgasm before we had sex, and that was a mind-blowing revelation for me. But, during my relationship with Finn, sex was often an obligation. “We should have more sex, we’re married,” was the line I often heard.  And so sex became a thing I’d do begrudgingly. Even when I didn’t want to. And I slowly began to close up my sexual expression.

The truth was, I was having fantasies I couldn’t fulfill with him. I was watching lesbian porn. I was watching kinky porn. I had desires to be tied up and to do the tying up. I wanted to experience giving another woman an orgasm, and to have sex with other men- and maybe several of them at once. Since adolescence I’d held fantasies of crazy group orgies, of being both the instigator of such events, and also the recipient of attention from multiple people simultaneously.

And Finn just wasn’t in to all that kinky stuff. Kinky for him was buying a “sensual cocoa butter massage bar” which did one thing only: stain our sheets.

The first time I experienced a squirting orgasm, it was using my vibrator externally. It was about six months after I’d been living by myself, and I hadn’t had sex in a long time. I think I’d been going for about an hour, and thought I might never orgasm. I’d edged close to that precipice but each time my body shut down- something mental was going on for me, some sort of shame about sex would kick in and take me back a few notches. But then- then something magical happened.
Maybe it was that the music I was playing shifted, perhaps it was my body reaching a point where my mind couldn’t fight with my body any more. My mind let go, and my body convulsed in a crescendo of joy and deep moans of pleasure for a split second- and then I began to cry and scream and yell, like some old pain within me was being released.  I lay in stillness. The sheets and pillows around me were soaked with sweat, cum, and tears. Was the pain from the years of repressed sexual joy? The hurt I felt inside from my two miscarriages? The restriction of my full sexual expression?

columbia_river_waterfall_gorge_oregon_wallpaper-1024x768

This mental block thing still happens to me when I get near orgasm. It has made it really challenging for me to orgasm with someone else unless I can trust them and open up about the most vulnerable parts of myself- and if I feel shut down, dismissed, or judged for any part of that, I can’t continue. Orion has helped me immensely in moving through the many aspects of the shame I feel around this. We’ve been exploring together ways to use elements of BDSM play to accentuate the experience of being trapped- taking it from a mental limitation into a physical limitation, and seeing how both my body and mind react in different ways. It has been immensely liberating to discover that I can have earth-shaking orgasms with other people on a consistent basis, that there is indeed a method to the madness.

I’m learning to be more articulate about what I want and don’t want. Over the last few weeks I have been developing a new relationship with a man who, for the purposes of the blog, we’ll call Gerard. He has been with women before who have had sexual trauma, and is incredibly aware about communicating proactively about what’s happening in the moment if he has a concern. And he has absolutely listened to all my “no”s. He’s been keen to learn my body, to figure out the little subtleties of what works, and is always keen to make sure I have satisfying orgasms. For a while, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to have sex with him- but after a great date zero and a fun date one, we chatted online and talked about kissing. And the next time we hung out, we kissed. Just, kissed. We made out for a few hours. And then we talked about sex, but didn’t have sex. But we talked about it, and so when it came down to peeling off our clothes two dates later, we already knew where we were going, and were not fumbling around in the dark, so to speak.

Between my recent experiences with Orion, and the new experiences with Gerard, I’m feeling far more confident in being able to talk about and express my sexuality. I’m realizing that I’ve been limited by labels of things, and that at my core, sexuality is something I enjoy being creative with when I share it with others, and that I don’t like to go at half-arsed. I can’t do quickies. I want to take my time to explore- and to be explored. I’m broadening my horizons. I’m daring to be out as sex-positive. ElkFeather posted something to facebook recently, about the word “pomosexuality“, a word that seems to describe transcending the ideas of clear cut orientation labels that might limit us (gay, straight, male, female etc) and that’s very appealing to me.  I value the ways that people choose to identify, and at the same time, it’s not the labels that matter to me. It’s what someone has beating in their heart, the longing in their chest and their loins, and desires and the potential for mutual exploration where chemistry exists and inspiration strikes. That’s what matters to me.

My mother turned up in town a few weeks ago. Since I have now made it very clear on several occasions that I don’t want to have her in my life as long as she continues to believe that “gays are mentally ill” and that her attempts to send me “love and blessings” in the form of condescending sex-negative conversations are not welcome, I did my best to keep a low profile while she was around. After I found out she had tried to stalk me at work (unsuccessfully) I strategized where to could go on my day off where I could guarantee I wouldn’t run in to her. As it so happened, there’s an amazing store not far from where I live that specializes in celebrating and empowering women’s sexuality. And, as luck would have it, they had a sale on. I spent a good hour and a half in the store, picking up toys, asking questions, chatting with the sales associates about the pros and cons of different lubes for different uses, and even managed to learn about some things you can do with power drills that don’t involve construction or carpentry work.

I left the store with my proud purchase of a stainless steel butt plug. A milestone in the ongoing evolution of my sexual un-shaming.

The njoy surgical-grade stainless steel plug comes complete with tasteful gift box.

As I release the hold that shame around sexuality has had on me, as I stop letting myself shrink away (so beautifully described in this video going viral), and really embrace this process of blossoming in to the full expression of all who I am, I’m also beginning to embrace my dominant side. Asserting my boundaries in the bedroom, articulating with openness and honesty about intimacy ahead of time, and a genuine desire to help others fulfill their fantasies and release their own sexual shame, is leading me quite naturally to learn more about how to take control- with consent- and create positive experiences for others where I’m in charge.

Orion’s been teaching me a lot with this, and has half-teasingly called me a ‘shamanatrix’, because I keep referring to being a dominatrix as a potential extension of my existing work in the wellness industry. Not that I think I would ever do it professionally- though I can’t absolutely discount the possibility.

I like being sex-positive. I like being kink-positive. I like not letting judgmental attitudes about alternative lifestyles get the better of me. I like that I am now navigating sexuality not by what someone else has told me is okay and not okay for my body, but by what my body tells me feels good, and doesn’t feel good. I’m learning how to ask others about their body, their desires, their fantasies- and to never assume. And I am discovering that we are- all of us- delightfully creative, each of us ‘freaky’ in our own right, and that there is so much diversity- a diversity that is liberating.

There is still a lot that I’m working on. But, I feel like the cap has been lifted. The waters have broken, and this new, assertive, sexually empowered and knowledgeable, goddess-version of me is birthing her way in to the world and learning how to grow and flourish. I don’t know how this would have been possible had I stayed married, or if I had embraced monogamy. I’m committed to expanding the definition of who I am, and every single intimate relationship I’ve enjoyed in the past few years has revealed new aspects of myself to me and invited me to stretch beyond the squishy limits of my comfort zone.

comfort zone

Polysingleish Interviews Franklin Veaux, Part 2: Sex and Boundaries

In Part 2 of my interview with Franklin Veaux, blogger extraordinaire and author of xeromag.com, and of poly resource site morethantwo.com, we discuss Poly drama and politics, Sex At Dawn, the darker recesses of the BDSM/Kink community, how passive participation can enable sexually predatory behavior, and coming out to your family. Note: this article discusses some things that may be triggers.

POLY DRAMA

M: People tend to think of the poly community as being implicitly ridden with drama. What is your experience of that like?

FV: The poly community is absolutely ridden with drama! It’s true! But it’s not because its about polyamory or because of the relationships. Its because every community is ridden with drama. The poly community’s got nothing on the Model RC Airplane Enthusiast community I used to part of. Dear god, these are people obsessed with their planes!

Some people say that anything that is emotionally unsettling or uncomfortable is drama, and I don’t necessarily think that’s true at all. But yes, there’s drama in the poly community. There is drama in every community. I don’t think the poly community is any more or less than any others. A lot of the people I have met in the poly community are really good communicators and that helps cut down on the drama.

SEX vs LOVE vs RELATIONSHIP

M: Some people seem interested in polyamory, but actually just want to fuck a lot of people, without building connections or relationships.

 FV: I think it’s inevitable. We live in a society that has conflated sex and relationship by saying that the only time it is appropriate to have sex is when you are in a relationship and the only person it is appropriate to have sex with is the person that you are in a relationship with. So as soon as you start talking about relationships with more that one person, people start thinking oh yeah that means sex with more than one person because these ideas of relationship and sex have gotten so conflated. So they see a justification for having lots of sexual partners. Because society says lots of sexual partners is bad, but if you have lots of relationship partners, then this group of people over here say it’s cool, and if you want to have a lot of sex, you can go over and be with those guys and you don’t have to be a dirty promiscuous slut, you can be polyamorous, and get all the sex you want.

Until we start to look at them separately, I think it’s inevitable that a lot of people are going to hear polyamory and think sex.

Sex At Dawn. Haven’t heard of it? Visit http://www.sexatdawn.com to find out more.

M: The book Sex At Dawn seems to have done a lot to promote that. The whole premise is that intrinsically we’re not monogamous, that we’re wired for sex and promiscuity. What do you think about that?

FV: I really like Chris Ryan a lot. I don’t want to critique the book, because I really do like him. He’s a really interesting guy. I am skeptical of the entire field of evolutionary psychology though. The evolutionary psychologists are the people that sociologists can point to and say ‘Those guys over there aren’t really doing science’. It’s difficult sometimes to see evolutionary psychology as anything other than a way to construct stories that validate social norms.

I like sex at dawn because it is an evolutionary psychology book that is not trying to validate monogamy and traditional 20th century western notions about what relationships are supposed to look like. It’s important to have that conversation, to say, well maybe its not natural for people to be monogamous for life.

At the same time, I have a hard time taking evolutionary psychology with any kind of real serious rigor. You can’t go back and do the experiment. You can’t go back and set up a society control and a society experiment to see how changing cultural norms changes behavior. It doesn’t work that way. So, you are storytelling.

KINK AND POLY

M: Lets talk about the whole kink and fetish thing… you write a lot about BDSM and Kink. How does that fit into polyamory for you?

FV: Wow. That’s a loaded question. I have a lot to say about the BDSM community and a lot of it is not really very pleasant right not.  I am a little disenchanted with the BDSM community these days. I have seen a lot of dysfunction and really reprehensible behavior in it. A friend of mine last year was sexually assaulted by somebody who is a well known and respected BDSM community leader, and when she came forward about being assaulted the community closed ranks behind him, and against her.  It was really horrifying and appalling to see it happen. There were the men of course, who were like, “What did you do to bring it on, you must have wanted it somehow, you must have done something to provoke it,” and then there were women who were like, “Well, you know, if you were a real submissive you would have been okay with what happened”. And, that’s fucked up!

The BDSM community prides itself on consent and makes consent the whole corner stone of what separates kink from abuse, and then responds to breaches of consent very poorly. A lot of people in the community talk the talk but they don’t walk the walk and that really bugs me.

There is a huge amount of overlap between BDSM and poly. A lot of people I know who are poly, though certainly not all, are kinky as well. There are a lot of people I know who are kinky who are also poly. I’ve noticed a huge difference between people who say, “I’m a poly person who is kinky”, and “I am a kinky person who is poly”. And I have discovered that I am not likely to be compatible in relationship with people who say, “I am kinky first and poly second”. One of the big differences I have seen is that people who are kinky first and poly second will see polyamory as ‘The Dom gets to do that, the sub doesn’t have any say about it.’

There was a conversation thread I saw on fetlife- before I quit using fetlife a while ago- where somebody said “I am a submissive woman in a poly BDSM relationship and my partner, my Dom, has taken this other submissive and I’m really jealous and really insecure. I don’t want to be poly, but he’s the Dom so he gets whatever he wants, and he says we’re poly so we’re poly. And I’m not really sure how to deal with these jealous and insecurity feelings that I get.” Several of the replies were of the form of “Well, if you were a good submissive and properly knew your role you wouldn’t be jealous.” “This means the Dom is failing because he is not keeping his submissives in line because if he was doing his job properly then all of his submissives would know that their role is to serve him and please him and they wouldn’t have time to feel jealous.”

And I’m like woah! Are you people serious? Have you met any human beings- like, ever?

And yet, that is not an aberration. That is a mindset I see often in people who identify as BDSM people who are also poly. And I think that approach is wildly incompatible with mine.

M: I’ve noticed there’s this line where, for me, kink stuff is bedroom specific. I can’t imagine allowing myself to be submissive with someone in bed and then allowing myself to be submissive to them in everything else in life.

FV: That’s not something that works for me either. I’ve met people who work that way and it seems to work for them. If they find the right partners. There is a danger there of what some people call “sub frenzy’, if you are a person who really craves being submissive and having someone take control. You do that to a point where it can cloud your ability to make judgments about partners and big decisions. Someone comes along and says “Oh yeah, I’ll Dom you” and that person is totally incompatible with you, or worse, actually a predator or an abuser. You can sort of get roped into that. But I have also seen people who are in full time BDSM relationships and are really well put together and in healthy relationships, so its a dynamic that can work, it just doesn’t work for me.

PROTECTING BOUNDARIES

M: Connected to this then- how do you set out your boundaries? Not necessarily just in kink. In relationships too. This goes back to: how do you say no in a respectful way?

FV: Ooh. There are entire essays about that. On the Yes Means Yes (http://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com/) blog there’s a really interesting essay about how people are conditioned not to say no. We live in a society that makes it very difficult for us to just look someone in the eye and say no to something they want directly. We tend to be culturally conditioned to say no in very indirect ways. It’s easier to say yes than it is to say no. And that gets a little messed up because if you see people who say things like no means no when it comes to things like sexually assault, well people rarely say no directly. So what I think is a much better approach, and they talk about this in the yes-means-yes blog, is that only an affirmative yes means Yes. Anything else means no.

I think it’s important to not lead people on. I think its important that if the answer is not ‘Maybe’ or ‘I’ll get back to you’ that you don’t say ‘Maybe’ or ‘I’ll get back to you.’ The best way to say no is probably the hardest, which is just to say no. At the end of the day I think that’s a lot more respectful than dodging the question. 

M: I’ve been following on the news lately this sexual abuse scandal in the UK. Over several decades, hundreds of children were abused by one man, sometimes right on the premises of the BBC, a trusted institution. Many lives were deeply hurt and traumatized by what happened. He was a well known and respected celebrity. He received a knighthood. And all I can think is, “My god, what was going on there? How did the wool get pulled over so many people’s eyes? ”

FV: The wool gets pulled over so many people’s eyes because people are willfully blind. People make choices to not want to see things they might have to step up about. It is so much easier to look away from abuse than be the person who says, “You can’t do this”. It’s very hard to do that.

M: I found myself in that situation for the first time a few months ago. I was at a party, and a friend of mine got drunk. For some reason the drinking was out of control, and his knowledge of where the boundaries were was not there, and he physically abused another man there who I knew; he groped him. And I was there, I witnessed it. This guy’s partner was there and witnessed it. The guy said, ‘That’s not ok’. My friend backed off for a moment, “Yeah yup, you’re right its not okay,” and then moments later he did it again, saying, “Oh no you like it really.”

FV: Oh yeah, at that point that’s deliberate.

M: Yes, and that’s really NOT cool. So I told him, “That’s not cool.” The guy and his partner were also saying, “That’s not cool.”

Now, afterwards, the next day I think, I talked to this guy that this happened to and said “Look, I feel really bad I brought my friend there. I feel some level of responsibility because I introduced him to this group and to you, and then this thing happened. I also don’t understand what’s going on for him and I think you should tell him, reiterate to him that what he did was not okay, because otherwise he’s going to think he can do that and there’s no repercussions.” And this guy said, “No, I don’t want to have anything to do with him, I don’t see any need to talk to him.”

And, whilst I respect this guy’s choice, that sucks, because now my friend thinks it’s okay for him to do that because there are no repercussions. So I had to go to my friend and say “Look dude, you behaved inappropriately at the party: you offended, you upset, you crossed people’s boundaries, and I’m not cool with being friends with someone who is going to do that.” My friend could have turned around and said, “You know what I was really drunk and I don’t remember what happened, I’m really sorry.” He could have reached out and made apologies and got into a dialogue and realized he has drinking and boundary issues that need to be addressed. But instead he denied it ever happened. And I lost the friendship with him completely.

INDIRECT PARTICIPATION IN INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOUR

FV: There’s a friend of mine here in Portland who has been writing about the idea that if you are a part of a group and there are people- and this is especially important for people who are seen as leaders of the group, but really anyone- if there are people who behave inappropriately and you don’t speak up, essentially what you are doing is sanctioning that behavior. You are saying that behavior is appropriate and that you are willing to at least indirectly participate in it. And he has written a lot about that and I’ve linked to some of that in my blog, but this is something that I’ve been feeling really passionately about lately as well, and he and I are working on setting up a website with the idea of promoting the sort of notion that as part of a group it is YOUR responsibility to step up if you see someone who is behaving inappropriately. It is your responsibility to police behavior that is inappropriate. If you are looking the other way, you are participating.

M: I really agree with that. That’s important. I’ve been really surprised by the reluctance of people in a position of leadership to do more.

FV: Its been my experience that people in leadership positions in a sub community are often more prone and not less prone to acting out and to being inappropriate or predatory, and to looking the other way when other leaders are inappropriate or predatory. If you are a person who is predatory, a subculture is an ideal hunting ground: people feel a closeness, they’re not likely to reach out beyond that sub community and if you can get yourself into a leadership position, you can pretty much behave with impunity and people wont speak up, because they wont want to loose access to the things you bring to the community.

M: And the leaders as well, I can see them being in a situation where they don’t want to loose the ‘faith’ of the people who they are leading. That makes it sound like a cult, but even in just facilitating events, they want to please the majority and not ruffle any feathers. It can be easier to maintain status quo.

FV:  People don’t want to let go of things. People don’t want to say, “Oh yeah this guy is a predator because he’s hosting play parties and I want to go to these play parties, and if I speak up I’m going to loose access to that.” It is already very hard to come forward if you are an abuse victim. We already treat people who are abused poorly. On top of that, if the person who is the predator is viewed as a respected leader in the community, it’s even harder still because people’s natural instinct is to rally behind that person, and that’s fucked up on so many levels.

M: I’ve also heard the argument of “Well you went to that play party, you knew what you were getting into.”

FV: And that’s the other issue. Consent to one activity does not imply consent to all activities. Consent to being tied up does not imply consent to sexual intercourse.

coyote roadrunnerRECOGNIZING PREDATORS

M: There are some really awesome fetish parties around here, and they have a small dungeon area at the events, with a dungeon team doing rigging. The last event I went to I thought it would be great to get tied up and do some suspension. I got there and checked out the guy doing the rope work and watched him working on the girl, and I got this creepy vibe. He was enjoying it just too much.

FV: One thing a friend of mine wrote about lately was that we can recognize predators. You can recognize predatory behavior. You can tell, you can sense the vibe- unless you are talking about people who are really socially stunted in some way- we recognize it when we see it. But predators are so skilled at riding the line right at the edge where you can’t point to any single thing they have done and say ‘that was inappropriate’. It is difficult to speak up because you can’t say, “This thing that he did was wrong” or. “This thing she did really pushed this boundary”. They are really good at riding that. So you end up in a situation where you know by feel that this person is behaving inappropriately, you can tell there’s something icky going on, and you’re like, “Well what if I’m misreading it?” And it becomes easy to rationalize, well what if it’s just the feeling that I have and everything is really ok. I can’t point to something this person is doing, so you know maybe im making a mistake. What do you do with situations like that?

M: Yes. There have been situations where people have asked me to come to the mixers for play parties, and I’m not sure if I want to do that. Maybe I’ll go meet people, but I don’t know if I will go to the play parties. That seems to require just so much trust, and if this is a room full of people I don’t know? My walls go up, and I wont enjoy it.

FV: When I go to play parties, it’s invariably with a person who is a partner. And then you can create that sort of environment where you can enjoy what’s happening and not be looking for, or open to participation by, people who are not your intimates and that really makes a big difference. But yeah if you are going into a situation like that and you don’t have someone there who is your intimate, then yeah, that doesn’t really sound like a lot of fun.

POLY POLITICS

M: I’ve heard people say they hope the 21st century will see the acceptance of non-monogamy as mainstream.

FV: Well, cultural ideas change all the time.  If you go back, in the roaring 20s, homosexuality was more accepted than it was in 1945. There are always cultural ups and downs in the way that sexual minorities and subcultures are treated.  It’s hard to look at the subculture and extrapolate from that. It’s a tough question.  We don’t exist in the vacuum. Everyone one of us has grown up with idea that when you know you are in love and have your own true soul mate, then everything will be perfect forever. It affects us, and it’s really hard to filter out.

I would argue that because we are social animals there is no such thing as our intrinsic nature, because our intrinsic nature is to be affected by the societies we create. It’s a pickle! How do you say what a human being’s intrinsic nature is?

M: There’s a fanatical element within the poly community, those who have taken it on as a political movement, and absolutely, its important to fight for rights. We are lucky to live where things are more liberal now, in terms of how we can have our relationships. I can love a man; I can love a woman, that’s acceptable. In Canada, it’s not technically illegal to have more than one common law partner, though it isn’t technically legal either. We are very fortunate. But there are some people who seem to take it too far in that fanaticism, they take it too far, “Everyone has to be polyamorous. No one is allowed to be monogamous, and anyone who says anything about monogamy, we’re going to shut them out.”

FV: I think that’s inevitable. You’re going to see that in any sub community or subculture of people who feel under attack or under threat. There are going to be some people who respond to that by saying, “If you’re not with us you’re against us. If you’re not like us you’re a bad person.” You see that in the BDSM community, the LGBT community. It’s an inevitable consequence of being human.

COMING OUT

M: Switching topics slightly. Your family- do they know about your polyamorous love style?

FV: My family of origin? My family has always known that I’m poly because it would have been impossible to hide it.  I mean I took two dates to the prom when I was in high school! Little bit of a giveaway there. My mother is really laid back and really cool and has always been an awesome person. My father doesn’t know quite what to make of it. He keeps veering back and forth between “Oh my god you go! My son is such a stud,” and, “Well why cant you just be normal like everybody else?” My family has met most of my partners throughout my life and they have always been very, very open and accepting.

M: That’s awesome.

FV: It is.  I got lucky in that way.

M: Yes. You are very lucky.  I have noticed there can be this attitude that, if you are sexually deviant, there is something wrong with you. “You’re dealing with mommy or daddy issues. You have a weird fetish? You must have been traumatized as a child.”

FV: Yeah… I look back over my childhood, which was actually pretty good, and I’m a kinky mutherfucker. Maybe- it’s just a normal part of human variability!

Kickin’ it Kinky

At one point on my OkCupid profile I described myself as something like vanilla ice cream with white chocolate and raspberry swirls, aspiring to be drizzled in butterscotch and meringue pieces.

I’ve got a fun and creative side that has only started to be explored sexually in the last year. There’s all different shades of kinky, its true, and a question that keeps coming up for me is- am I kinky?

I read some blogs that are UBER kinky. I read kinky porn sexy stories. Heck, I’ve been known to enjoy some BDSM porn every now again (especially if its all girls). Almost all of it though seems a little impersonal, and whilst I can get excited as an observer, I find it challenging to get into on a real-life level because so much of who I am is about connecting with lovers on a very personal and profound level.

Rope- I love it. There’s something fun about getting stuck, and its very liberating to experience a freedom within that. Blindfolds, a change in sensory awareness are also fun. And I love to dress up, whether its with the intention of having sex, or not. Chains and collars and whips and paddles and all that jazz? That I’m not so sure about. I mean, it might do something for me. I can’t say I’ve tried everything out yet (and I’ll try anything twice before I decide if its for me or not). The whole handcuffs thing and sexy oil massages…  the only time I really really tried the handcuffs and massaging thing was with my ex husband, and, if you’re one of my twenty adoring hardcore fans, you’ll have read about our unsuccessful ventures into bondage in a previous post. That stuff just doesn’t get me going. And, whilst I’ve often enjoyed being talked dirty to, its a stretch for me to think of anything dirty to say back to my partner- mainly because my brain seems to loose its language capacity when I’m really enjoying myself!

Really, I think I’m more of a tantric kinkster. If, that is, that’s a thing. If its not, I’m making it a thing, as of now.

I went searching at a local new age bookstore for books on Sacred Tantra. All the books I found were either too ‘hippy dippy’- with photos of hemp wearing new age rainbows-and-light folks dancing and leaping through their chakras pre and post orgasm (dude, I can do that already, I don’t need a book)- or they were all science and no spirit- with diagrams and photos of positions and of how the breathing patterns should move and for how long you breathe into each centre, like a scientific manual. Actually they weren’t too dissimilar to the Kama Sutra. If you ever pick up the original text of the Kama Sutra, I dare you to read a bit out loud with your best David Attenborough voice- its really just a scientific commentary on human mating practices, rather than the actual nature of intimacy and energetic connecting that happens during lovemaking. I did find a couple of interesting books that attempted to put a neuvo-spiritual spin on the tantric spiritual and sex practices, with some simple excercises to try out (like eye gazing with your partner during intercourse) and yet lacked the spiritual backbone, and so they skipped over what, to me, is the real gold in the treasure trove that I feel sure is there.

I want a tantra that is sacred and sexual, that’s grounded and enlightening, that teaches you about your body and soul, as well as reveals your partner’s body and soul. Teasing and intimate, present and fun.The kind of pure living-in-the-moment and breathing-creativity that grants you the experience of orgasming with the whole universe. Delicious and decadent. Liberating lovemaking.

I asked Orion about this conundrum of mine. He’s far more experienced in this stuff than I am- hence why he’s my personal rope tutor.

“There’s only two things you need to be kinky,” he said, “Presence, and Imagination.”

Really?

I think I can do that.

Perhaps one of my strengths as a lover is in being creative, and in applying myself to relationships much the same way I do to my creative endeavours- constantly seeking out my edges and daring to traverse them in whatever way works the best for me. Courageously catapulting myself into uncharted territory of tantalizing tantric tenderness.

So here I am, forging my own style of tantric kink.

That might need to be a blog all of its own….