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How Do I Navigate BDSM While Remaining Safe, Comfortable, And Feminist?

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We're bringing you this Q&A from the Sex Files in our January/February 2019 print issue, featuring advice from sexologist Dr. Carol Queen.

I’ve enjoyed engaging in BDSM consensually for many years, but recently I have experienced multiple incidents that caused me sexual trauma. In one of those instances, when I asked the man why he didn’t stop after I told him to multiple times, he said that he thought I “meant it in a 50 Shades of Grey way.” I now have a consistent sexual partner for the first time in a long time. I trust him and feel good about our sex life, but I want to get into BDSM again. I’m not sure how to navigate this—specifically my desire to be submissive—while also remaining safe, comfortable, and feminist. –Angry But Horny

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I really hate to think we are going to have to ask our Tinder dates to share their thoughts on 50 Shades of Grey before we get with them. Honestly, that is not the world I’ve been trying to build. Would everyone please yell this into the void along with me? “50 Shades is not BDSM education!” Louder!

Wow, I feel much better now.

There are two old-school BDSM strategies to help you with this dilemma. Saying “no” or “stop” in a kinky scene can be misconstrued as part of the play, since after all, some kinksters just love yelling those words—it feels cathartic and powerful. Now, especially in this day and age, anyone ought to check in if they hear a “no,” so I’m not letting your 50 Shades-reading date off the hook, and I’m so sorry to hear that traumatic (and stupid) shit happened to you. Going forward, I’d recommend you employ a safe word—a word or short phrase that isn’t likely to come up under play-related circumstances. Many players use “red” and “green,” like the old kids’ game “Red Light, Green Light.” Of course, “red” means “stop.”

Second, think carefully about what you do and don’t want in a BDSM scene, and negotiate for these things before the scene begins. If you like, start with, “When I tell you to stop, I mean stop,” and add anything else that seems important to you. BDSM isn’t supposed to be a type of play in which the top does things to you. The top and the bottom do things together. And the way you keep things mutual is by agreeing to your parameters first, sticking to those limits, and using and respecting the safe word in the event those limits change during play.

You didn’t say whether your new boo is experienced along these lines, so it might help for him to learn the ropes (ha-ha). There are lots of resources to support him, and you, as you explore. I still love the bookConsensual Sadomasochism: How to Talk About It and How to Do It Safely by my old friends Sybil Holiday and Bill Henkin. There are other great books and other materials to help, too. Especially if your partner isn’t already experienced, read them together so you can discuss your decisions about what to try. Take it step by step, give and ask for feedback, and use this as a way to heal some of the ways your consent has been breached. The easier it is for you to talk about what you do and do not want, the likelier it will be that in the future your ideal kinky sex life will manifest.

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Carol Queen’s latest book (written with Shar Rednour) is The Sex & Pleasure Book: Good Vibrations Guide to Great Sex for Everyone

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2019 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!  

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Tags: BDSM , sex , Carol Queen

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