Can “No-Limits” Be Real?

Hi! You’ve been linked to this essay because the kinky forum you came from has been derailed by an argument over whether or not no-limits power relationships can be a real thing, and the person who posted the link is hoping that maybe you can cut that argument short and get back to whatever more interesting thing y’all had been talking about before.

As with many unproductive arguments, a big part of the problem here comes from people talking past one anotherbecause they have different notions of exactly what they mean by no-limits. Continue reading “Can “No-Limits” Be Real?”

Inspiring Submission

A little excerpt from my shiny new book, The Heart of Dominance.

The first lesson to learn on the path to competent dominance is that we cannot make anyone do anything. I don’t mean that just in the context of consensual dominance either. I mean that no one can ever truly make anyone do anything. This is wisdom that applies all over our lives, and you’ll find it taught in places from Buddhism through Nonviolent Communication. We may be able to limit the options that someone has to choose from, or impose consequences on their choices, but the ultimate choice of what to do (or think, or feel) always remains firmly locked within that person’s head.

If someone points a gun at my head and tells me to stand on one leg, the choice of whether to pick up my foot or not is still mine. If someone offers me a billion dollars to stand on one leg, the choice of whether to pick up my foot or not is still mine. If my partner has made a solemn vow to obey me in all things and has signed a contract in blood and has undergone decades of training and I order them to stand on one leg, they still have to make the decision to pick up their foot — every single time. Continue reading “Inspiring Submission”

Dominant Technique: Let Them See You Coming

A little excerpt from my shiny new book, The Heart of Dominance.

Many of us love to play with surprise, and for good reason. Information is power, and controlling information means holding power. Blindfolding our partner so they don’t know what we’re about to do to them, or taking them on a trip and not telling them where we’re going, or catching them off guard with a surprise tackle and takedown are all highly effective ways of inspiring feelings of helplessness in them and putting ourselves in the driver’s seat.

Some of our partners also particularly love surprise. The experience of waking up to a hand clamping over their mouth gives them a huge thrill; following their partner into the bedroom without knowing what’s in store for them lets them experience deep trust.

The danger is that if our partner doesn’t know what’s going to happen to them until it happens, then we have no way to read their reactions to see how they’re going to feel about it–until it’s too late. More than half of all of the accidental consent violations I have ever heard of involved surprise. It can happen when we misread our partners’ hints (that kidnapping fantasy they told us about really was just a fantasy), or are missing some important information ourselves (we have the living room all dungeoned-up for when they get home from work, and they walk in with the coworker who gave them a ride home). Also, some of our partners do not react well to surprise at all, or react to it unpredictably: they might go weak in the knees sometimes, but lock up or panic at others. Continue reading “Dominant Technique: Let Them See You Coming”

Three Kinds of Training

“Training” is such a sexy damn word for those of us who love D/s: the idea of one partner moulding the other, customizing them to their liking. To bring that sexy concept into a sexy reality, it helps to understand that there’s more than one kind of training that we might do with our submissive partners and to be clear on which kind we’re setting out to accomplish.

The simplest kind of training is pure personal preference. There’s a certain way we like our coffee prepared, a certain way we like to be addressed, or a specific kneeling position we like the look of. So we explain our preference to our partner, have them practice it until they get the hang of it, and done is done.

Somewhat more involved is training our partner to develop a new skill or to accomplish something that requires discipline. To train a partner to provide expert massage requires that we be a expert at massage ourselves and also that we understand something about how to teach. Or we can outsource by sending our partner to massage classes, but that may defeat the purpose if the process of training is what we were attracted to in the first place. To train a partner to always sit, stand and move with perfect posture, we ourselves need to be disciplined enough to always pay enough attention to notice and correct their posture. Continue reading “Three Kinds of Training”

The Poisoned Gift

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: “The one with the real power in a D/s relationship is the submissive, because they can choose to revoke their submission any time they want.”

I hear this idea pretty frequently, and it’s always struck me as a really weird thing to believe. Do people think that the dominant partner can’t equally well revoke their dominance any time they want? It’s a consensual relationship on both sides; so if “real power” is the power to end the power exchange then both partners hold it equally. So I could understand thinking that consensual D/s relationships are really, fundamentally egalitarian, but this idea that being able to end the power dynamic means submissive partner holds all the cards just doesn’t make any sense.

Well, I think I’ve got it figured out. I don’t think that anyone actually believes that dominants can’t end their D/s dynamics; it just doesn’t occur to them to think that they ever would. Because they’re imagining D/s as a thing that the submissive partner gives to the dominant one, an idea that often goes by the name the Gift of Submission, or “GoS” for short. Continue reading “The Poisoned Gift”

Collar Inspirations

Last week I wrote about assumptions and manners for behaving well around collars in kinky community. This week I add some ideas for using collars in your own relationships. It remains a great truth that there is no One True Way to do it, and the best set of rules and rituals around collaring is the one that works best for you and your partner. So the following are not prescriptions but inspirations: ideas for you to take or leave or adapt for your own purposes, and questions for you to answer in whichever way you prefer.

Who Owns the Collar?

One popular tradition is that the collar is and remains the property of the dominant partner. The symbolism here is powerful: the collar is not given to the submissive partner as a gift that they then own, but put around their throat as a symbol that they themselves are owned. The dominant retains property rights over the collar, and sometimes over the submissive as well.

An alternative tradition, most popular among people who consider slavery their vocation, is for the submissive partner to have a collar that they own and that symbolizes their capacity for submission or service. When they enter into a relationship with a dominant partner they can offer up their collar to be placed around their throat as a sign that their service has been engaged but the collar–and the capacity for service–remain intrinsically theirs. Continue reading “Collar Inspirations”

Collar Manners

There is no more powerful and widely recognized symbol of submission than the collar. Collars are used in all kinds of different kink communities and in a myriad of styles, from a leatherman’s heavy chain and padlock to a kitty’s belled ribbon, but everywhere they are understood to signify ownership.

Some people, and a few communities, have developed very specific expectations around exactly what sort of ownership a collar ought to signify, how collars ought to be worn, how they ought to be given, etc. Some of those folks will tell you that their set of expectations is the universally correct way to use and understand collars and that if you don’t follow the same rules they do you are doing collars wrong. As is usually the case with One True Ways, this is bullshit. There’s no one correct set of collaring rituals that most kinky people agree on, no standardized criteria for when granting a collar is appropriate, and the really important question is simply whether the way you use collaring works well for you and your partners.

What does really exist are a few common assumptions about collars that are good for folks participating in kinky communities to know about, and a few loose guidelines for behaving in a way that most people who use collars are likely to find respectful. Continue reading “Collar Manners”

The Imperative Mood

We’re having dinner with friends. She says to me, “Those potatoes look delicious. Would you like to pass them to me?” and I smile.

We’re in the car. I’m driving while she navigates. She says, “You want to take the next left,” and I feel proud of her.

She’s giving instructions for a party game. As each player’s turn comes up she says something like “Draw two cards” or “Move one place to the left.” When she gets to me she pauses almost imperceptibly before saying “The next thing to do is play any card and discard another.” No one else notices the difference, but I do, and what I notice turns me on.

Continue reading “The Imperative Mood”

Dominant Technique: Paraphrasing Fantasies

Really powerful dominance is founded on really deep knowledge of our partners. We can rule them and guide them and play them like instruments because we know how they work: what they need, what they fear, what inspires them, what puts a smile on their faces and, perhaps most of all, what gets them so turned on they can’t think straight. As dominants, getting to know our partner’s sexual desires better is always a good investment.

Here’s a simple technique that’ll help you learn to push all your partner’s buttons with confidence and grace. I call it a fantasy paraphrase, and it’s a three step process. Continue reading “Dominant Technique: Paraphrasing Fantasies”

Negotiation Tip: Get to the Heart of Desire

I have a bone to pick with negotiation checklists. Anyone who’s looked for education or advice on how to negotiate for the kinky experiences you want has seen these things recommended. They’re these multi-page lists of every kinky activity the list author could conceive of, where you’re supposed to rate each one on some scale of desirability. Like:

  • Flogging
  • Flogging, Hard
  • Flogging, Twizzlers
  • Bondage
  • Bondage, Rope
  • Bondage, Chain
  • Bondage, Red Vines

Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera…

And okay, I see how they can have some utility for some people some of the time. But I think they promote a fixation on toys and techniques that doesn’t get at what’s really most important for many of us to negotiate. Continue reading “Negotiation Tip: Get to the Heart of Desire”