I once had a partner who I loved and whose happiness was super important to me. As her lover and her top I was particularly invested in her sexual satisfaction; I wanted to know all about her passions and her fantasies, and to be part of realizing the ones she wanted to see made real. I delighted in getting to support her in squeezing as much sexy juice out of life as possible, whether that was exploring new kinky territory together or supporting her in seeking and enjoying other partners.
I once had a partner who I trained to be nothing but a cum dumpster, and the hottest thing about owning her was how I could use her without any consideration for her pleasure at all. I’d make her lube herself up and wait silently on her hands and knees for me to decide to come and get off in her, without allowing her any of the kind of touch that’d make the sex pleasurable for her. Sometimes I’d have a romantic, sexy time with a real woman, and then make my dumpster eat the cum when I was finished.
As you may have already guessed, both partners are the same person.
Power exchange practice is chock full of this kind of contradiction, and it provokes some fascinating and important questions about what is real in the realm of beliefs, emotions and desires.
I wasn’t just pretending to care for my partner to flatter or placate her. I really had great affection for her and felt that warm glow that we get from seeing someone we love be happy, successful or fulfilled. If she didn’t derive deep satisfaction from pleasing me and being degraded by me, I wouldn’t have enjoyed using her the way I did.
But it also wouldn’t be right to say that I was just playacting when I used her as my dumpster. It really was the core of our sexual connection, and if she’d suddenly stopped wanting to be mine in that way we’d have had some hard negotiation to do about how our erotic relationship was going to continue. I really did use her body in ways that had nothing to do with her pleasure, and I delighted in the terrible one-sidedness of it. So there’s a lot of honest truth in saying that she really was my cum dumpster.
There lies a broad and multi-dimensional range of realities in between feeling or believing something with 100% unqualified conviction 100% of the time, and just playacting feelings and beliefs that we absolutely don’t mean ever at all. And different peoples’ different kinky passions, fantasies and urges fall all over that map—including one person being at different places for different kinks, or at different times in their lives. Even the same same relationship at the same time can have pieces or aspects that are at wildly different places within that vast territory.
Imagine a couple who like to whisper dripping dark fantasies during play, about how the dominant is getting bored of playing with the submissive, so she’s going to have his balls cut off and keep him around purely as menial slave labor. And that’s hot playacting for both of them, that they wouldn’t be interested in any part of in reality.
They also do cuckolding play, and the dominant really does bring home dates to fuck in front of the submissive, and really does enjoy having the freedom to have sex with other people and during a date really, hugely, gets off on giving the submissive barely any attention or consideration. But it’s also true that on a bigger scale she cares deeply about the submissive’s happiness, listens to his feedback about how much cuckolding feels deliciously awful and when it starts to feel just plain shitty, and limits the frequency of dates to stay on the right side of that line. And if he broke down in the middle of a date the dominant would end it, and would really want to end it, and focus on taking care of him.
And also the dominant is training the submissive to be punctual, and they are 100% real about it. She feels genuinely disrespected by his habitual tardiness, really isn’t going to accept it, and really intends to change his behavior—and he is really committed to submit himself to that training, and there are zero excuses or “I don’t feel like playing this time.” And if he didn’t make progress on improving his behavior it would be a genuine problem for their relationship.
Three points spread widely across the map of degrees and flavors of reality, and all occupied simultaneously by one relationship.
One regrettably common response to this wide open space is to start trying to draw lines across it to separate it into arbitrarily binary notions of “real” and “fake”, sometimes with an additional category of “unhealthy” (whatever the line-drawer considers to be too real) thrown in for good measure. Sometimes the purpose of the line drawing is to manufacture status, like “You should look up to me as a real Master because I want to control someone’s life with no limits.” Sometimes it’s to manipulate consent, like “A real slave would be happy to procure other women for her Master.” And often it’s coming from a totally understandable desire for things to be simple and easy to categorize.
Wouldn’t it be great if everyone’s kinky desires, including our own, were consistently and straightforwardly real? If they didn’t have any internal contradictions and were never dependent on our moods and weren’t ever in competition with any other parts of our whole selves and we all felt the same ways about the things we wanted to do?
It would make finding partners easier, that’s for sure. We could look up everybody on Fet who was into “bathroom control” and know that they all wanted it in the same way and took it just as seriously as we did. Instead of having to sort through the people who seriously think that if the top is out of contact the bottom just has to hold it `till they wet themselves, even if that’s in the middle of a family dinner. And the people who really just want to pretend to exercise control for a few hours of sexytimes each week and lose interest as soon as they cum. And the people for whom it is a nurturing parental kind of feeling vs. a structure and discipline thing vs. a disgustingly humiliating experience.
But reality isn’t going to do us the favor of actually being simple and binary, so it’s to our benefit to wrap our brains around the complexities of our own desires with as much insight as we can muster, and to be able to communicate them to our with our partners and potential partners with clarity and integrity. Being able to coherently explain how real we want our power exchange to be is a huge advantage in finding the kind of relationship we want and taking it as deep as we want.
The first part—getting clear on our own reality—can take some time, introspection and experimentation. It’s hard to know how much we’ll like the reality of something we’ve always fantasized about until we’ve tried it a few different times, a few different ways, and with a few different people. And even then it’s a moving target; many of us have our desires shift and flow over time, so we have to keep re-exploring and redrawing our maps.
Here are a few tips and tactics for the internal explorer.
When you’re trying something new, be ready for the reality of it to be different from how you’d imagined it would be. Especially if it’s something you have big, long-cherished fantasies about! So approach it as an exploration where you’re gonna discover the parameters of how you like it, rather than coming in set on how real it should be and how it should feel and then feeling like you (or your partner) have failed if it doesn’t match your expectations.
Learn to recognize pressures to err either on the side of more real or less real. Some folks carry a lot of shame around the perverted things they want to do or have done to them, and can waste a lot of their life hiding behind “it’s just roleplaying I don’t really mean it” as a way to distance themselves from what they really, truly, badly want.
On the other side, some of our kinky communities place a lot of status on being sufficiently real, and many people feel pressured to be or to seem somehow “realer” than they actually enjoy. Like maybe you really only enjoy acting like a cruel, hardassed control freak as foreplay before sex, but you want everyone to look up to you and respect you as a True Master so you put on an act that you really are that hardass all the time.
Either way you end up not doing what you really want to be doing, and that gets draining and embittering over time.
Notice the difference between “turned-on you” and “baseline you”. Many, many of us have different priorities when we’re on the edge of orgasm than we do when we’re driving to work. And it’s common to have fantasies that, when we are turned on, we think we want to be real forever and always. But that do not feel worthwhile when we aren’t turned on.
So if you’re all hot and bothered and get the fantastic idea to make it a rule that your submissive is never allowed to choose their own clothing and must always wait for you to dress them—it’d be wise to give some serious thought to whether you’re going to feel the same way about it every damn weekday morning when you haven’t had your coffee yet and you’re scrambling to get out the door for an AM meeting.
Sometimes it can actually be pretty fun to let turned-on you write a check for baseline you to cash. It’s a good tactic for stretching your comfort zone, for sure. But do it thoughtfully and maybe make the commitment for a week or a few days rather than forever and always.
Watch for approach/avoidance behavior. That’s psychology-speak for repeated seeking something out and then running away right before you get it. And it’s a strong sign of conflict in what level of reality you’re seeking.
Sometimes it means you’re struggling with some kind of inhibition or fear that’s getting between you and something that you really want.
Sometimes it means that you don’t actually want the reality of this thing, but it’s super duper hot to convince yourself that you want it. Your real favorite place on the reality-fantasy map isn’t actually reality, it’s the alllllmost there spot just shy of reality.
The big problem with approach/avoidance is that you end up dicking other people around. Ask any pro domme how much time they waste corresponding with incredibly enthusiastic potential clients who are 100% sure that they totally want a session and yes let’s do it Tuesday at three and it’ll be the most amazing experience they’ve ever had and then they don’t show up.
If you find yourself repeatedly setting up play that you then back out of, consider letting potential partners know that this kind of play is complex for you and that you haven’t quite figured out how real you want it to be yet. Then they can decide either to support you through figuring it out or that they don’t want to hang with the uncertainty.
And if you’re on the other side of approach/avoidance behavior, remember that actions speak louder than words. No matter how fervently your partner talks about wanting to be gangbanged, how many gangbang groups they’re part of on Fet, or how huge their orgasms are when you’re whispering gangbang fantasies in their ear–if there always seems to be some kind of excuse why they can’t be in a gangbang exactly right now, then this is not a person who really wants, or is really ready, to try gangbangs with you. Decide what is right for you accordingly.
Accept that the answer doesn’t always resolve to something neat & tidy. Maybe sometimes you absolutely need your partner to treat you cruelly and you’ll be utterly unsatisfied if you aren’t 100% convinced that they really don’t ever care how much they hurt you. But at other times you really need to know that your partner cares deeply about your well-being.
What can you do with that?
Well, you can be aware of the contradiction at least, and refrain from blaming your partner for not being able to be two mutually contradictory things. That’ll go a long way toward being able to have smoother relationships. And you can make a conscious choice (though also a hard one) about which side of the paradox to favor. Seek a partner who’s caring when you need it and accept having to suspend disbelief a bit when you’re wanting cruelty? Or seek a genuine bastard and get your caring support elsewhere? Maybe seeking different partners to fill your contradictory needs would be a good solution.
Then there’s the second piece: communicating with our partner. It can be powerfully beneficial, while we’re negotiating the things we’re going to do and say together, to also negotiate how we’re going to mean and believe and feel about those things. It means taking what understanding we’ve gained about ourselves and getting it out in words, and also asking after and paying attention to our partner’s meanings and realities.
Like: I want you to call me a “dumb slut” while you fuck me, and I want you to say it like it’s bad, degrading thing, but I don’t want you to mean it at all. I’ll feel safest expressing that fantasy if I know we’re both on the same page that it’s totally just superficial playacting and you’d never think that I was promiscuous or unintelligent.
I want you to kind of mean it, but only while we’re fucking. I really want to be fucked with contempt, and know that my partner is getting off on treating me like a brainless piece of meat, but when we’re done I want my intelligence respected.
I want the “stupid” part to be just playacting, but I really do identify as a slut and I want you to see me that way too–and love me for it. I want hear affection, not contempt, when you call me your dumb slut, and I want you to prize my unfettered and insatiable sexuality. If you don’t actually offer me to your friends occasionally I’ll be disappointed.
I need a partner who genuinely thinks of me as a brainless piece of fuckmeat. I really do not want to have to think in our relationship, and I do not want to be respected. And if you’re just playacting calling me dumb to get into my pants, I will notice and I will dump you like month-old milk.
The more clarity we can muster in describing when and how we want our power exchange to be real, the more likely we are to get what works for us.
There are a few different reasons why it might be powerfully tempting to not be clear.
Maybe we’re in the flirting and seducing phase of getting intimate with a prospective partner and it’s juicy and sexy and so exciting to talk as though we want to take all of the sexy kinky games we’re talking about to the 100% real extreme. It can feel like a drag to break into that flow for a serious checkin about what part of that is serious planning and what part is exaggeration, fantasy and pillow talk.
Easier to just not think about it, pretending that reality will be just like fantasy, or assuming that our partner just intuitively knows that when we say “I’m going to keep you on your knees like a dog, you dirty bitch” that we mean we’re going to keep them like a dog two or four nights per month, but want to be coequal primary partners with them most of the time. And that we’d love to have a circle of kinky friends who know them and think of them as our dog, but also have them come meet our family as our respectable, vanilla-seeming fiancee.
But there’s a damn good chance that their assumptions are not exactly the same as ours. That they are so excited about our budding relationship because they’re hearing that they get to be our dog almost all the time! Or that they’re assuming that being our dog is something that will be real only in the private confines of our bedroom and that we’d never treat them that way in front of any other person.
Or maybe we’re afraid that no one could possibly accept the full reality of our desires. So it’s easier to pretend that we’re pretending: to say (or let our partner assume) that when we call them worthless or ugly, or say that they are nothing but a dog to us, that we don’t really mean it at all even though we kind of (or completely) do.
But not only is that being dishonest with the person we’re playing with, it’ll tend to blunt our own satisfaction as well. Because we’ll always know, in the back of our mind, that it’s a fraud. And because at some point we’re probably going to get called on it. Like when we’ve been playing with that “nothing but a dog” for a year or so and one day they propose to us—because we’ve let them assume that really underneath it all we were headed along a traditional relationship trajectory and now they’re ready to move in together, start raising babies and do all those traditional couple things that we have no real interest in doing with them.
On the listening side, it can be really, really hard to hear what our partner is actually saying about their meanings over the din of what we wish they were saying. Having finally found someone who’s excited to be the dumb slut we’ve always dreamed of having, it’s powerfully tempting to take that dream slut of ours that we’ve been masturbating over for the last decade, and superimpose them over the real person who’s actually standing in front of us. Instead of recognizing that, while our dream slut is always happy to have sex with us but only theoretically promiscuous, this person won’t be happy unless they’re really having sex with different people every week.
Ignoring or trying to brush aside those differences in meaning or level of reality rarely works. But if we can be conscious enough to recognize them, compromises sometimes can work. Even if we and our partner aren’t fed by exactly the same things, perhaps we can find ways to feed one another. Or perhaps we can’t, but at least we’ll know early on.
Thinking seriously about the reality of our kinky feelings, desires and beliefs—not just in binary “real” or “fake” terms, but in all the messy of detail of how and when and in what way they are real for us, can be tremendously valuable for being able to seek and find fulfillment around those things.
And finding the words and the courage to be as honest as we can with our partners about those realities, while it might be awkward or vulnerable, can save us from much greater awkwardness, heartbreak and wasted time farther down the line, and help us to find deeper satisfaction in relationships that are what we’re really really looking for.