Let me walk the labyrinth on my knees and blindfolded.
I walked a labyrinth for the first time in years a few days ago. In modern usage, a labyrinth is a spiritual tool, a bit like a maze with no dead ends. It takes you down a winding path to the center and then back out. Just when you think you’ve made it, the labyrinth sends you far away from your destination. People will often enter a labyrinth with a question in mind and let that labyrinth carry them through as they contemplate it. That all sounds lovely and poetic in theory, but I’ve never really ‘gotten’ labyrinths. Like many spiritual practices, labyrinths frustrate me, and not in a way that feels spiritual.
I’m a bit like Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, who once said, “I get what can only be described as road rage when I’m stuck behind someone walking slowly in a prayer labyrinth.” I walk, and I try to feel something ‘spiritual,’ and then I get frustrated with myself for putting that kind of pressure on what is essentially a stroll. I crunched through the leaf litter of this outdoor labyrinth recently, struggling to let go long enough to feel the leaves–as it was, I experienced them intellectually, outside myself, as noisemakers that could interrupt other walkers. I wasn’t always like this.
I danced through my first labyrinth, which was just a marked mat spread out in the church fellowship hall. I was a child skipping gleefully past all the adults, who took slow, careful steps, as if they were walking a tightrope. They stood for long minutes in the center like sleeping birds while I ran rings around them, giddy with the twists and turns. Now, I’m an adult, so caught up in doing it right, in making enough space for the other walkers, and trying to be remotely ‘spiritual’ on top of that. A spiritual practice that provokes that kind of excess thinking isn’t for me.
Or maybe it just requires a little modification. What if I allowed myself to dance through the labyrinth again? That would require me to overcome that sixth sense I’ve developed over the years, the one that says “It simply isn’t done.” It sounds spirited–and spiritual–to me. Conversely, what if I gave up my accustomed sense of sight, reliant on the feel of the terrain to know I was following the path? I would have to crawl, grounded in a tactile sense. Would I fight my way through the darkness? Or would I roll around in the dirt, reveling in my sightlessness? I’m not sure I could even complete a labyrinth by myself in that state. I would need the help of other people, ones willing to see me fumble around in broad daylight, to keep watch.
I can think of nothing more spiritual. Maybe I would rage at God. Or puzzle over God’s absence. Or feel overwhelmed by love. Or just pretend to be a mole. Anything but this painfully grown-up labyrinth performance. So no more spiritual tightropes. Let me not know what to say during prayer. Let me cry through my chants. Let me laugh through my Lectio. Let me walk the labyrinth on my knees and blindfolded.
Today, I want to lift the work of two late women writers of color who understood that spirituality must be embodied. Their words are powerful, challenging, and healing.
First, today is the birthday of Gloria Anzaldúa, a lesbian Chicana feminist writer and scholar. Born in south Texas, she lived life on the border, literally and figuratively. As a child, she was punished for speaking English with a Spanish accent. As an adult, she chose to write in a mixture of English and Spanish. Her award-winning work bridges scholarship and activism, addressing the strife and marginalization imposed by her blended identity and the ways that she reclaimed and decolonized her experience. Her words are sensual, poetic, and fierce.
Here’s a word from her: “Don’t give me your tenets and your laws. Don’t give me your lukewarm gods. What I want is an accounting with all three cultures–white, Mexican, Indian. I want the freedom to carve and chisel my own face, to staunch the bleeding with ashes, to fashion my own gods out of my entrails. And if going home is denied me then I will have to stand and claim my space, making a new culture–una cultura mestiza–with my own lumber, my own bricks and mortar and my own feminist architecture.”
You can read her most famous work, Borderlands, here. If you’re new to her work, I recommend “How to Tame a Wild Tongue” and “Entering into the Serpent.”
Second, we read a passage from womanist author and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison’s Beloved today in Bodies class. I have nothing to add, but I want to leave it here. “When warm weather came, Baby Suggs, holy, followed by every black man, woman, and child who could make it through, took her great heart to the Clearing–a wide-open place cut deep in the woods nobody knew for what at the end of the path known only to deer and whoever cleared the land in the first place. In the heat of every Saturday afternoon, she sat in the clearing while the people waited among the trees. After situating herself on a huge flat-sided rock, Baby Suggs bowed her head and prayed silently. The company watched her from the trees. They knew she was ready when she put her stick down. Then she shouted, ‘Let the children come!’ and they ran from the trees toward her. Let your mothers hear you laugh,’ she told them, and the woods rang. The adults looked on and could not help smiling.
Then ‘Let the grown men come,’ she shouted. They stepped out one by one from among the ringing trees. Let your wives and your children see you dance,’ she told them, and groundlife shuddered under their feet. Finally she called the women to her. ‘Cry,’ she told them. ‘For the living and the dead. Just cry.’ And without covering their eyes the women let loose. It started that way: laughing children, dancing men, crying women and then it got mixed up. Women stopped crying and danced; men sat down and cried; children danced, women laughed, children cried until, exhausted and riven, all and each lay about the Clearing damp and gasping for breath. In the silence that followed, Baby Suggs, holy, offered up to them her great big heart. She did not tell them to clean up their lives or go and sin no more. She did not tell them they were the blessed of the earth, its inheriting meek or its glorybound pure. She told them that the only grace they could have was the grace they could imagine. That if they could not see it, they would not have it.
‘Here,’ she said, “In this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face ’cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! And no, they ain’t in love with your mouth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed. What you scream from it they do not hear. What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give you leavins instead. No, they don’t love your mouth. You got to love it.
This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I’m telling you. And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. and all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver–love it, love it and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize.’”
That’s all I have for today, Brave Ones. May it nourish you.
See a film version of that scene from Belovedhere.
Welcome to Fetish Foibles, the series where I recount my mistakes as a Dominant for our mutual edification. In the wise words of Queen Clarisse of Genovia, “Don’t make the same mistakes I did; make your own mistakes!”
This one’s a twofer. Both of these situations relate to the tricky issues that can come up with ‘public’ acts of submission (in kink-oriented settings). The first one is someone else’s foible, but it made me remember one of mine.
Tl;dr – When experimenting with D/s in a social setting, clarify expectations with your partner and the people with whom you’re socializing.
I had a strange and mildly unpleasant social experience at the local fetish club recently, which I’ll pick apart now. A Dom and sub asked to sit next to me on the sofa, which was fine. Then, the Dom sat on the sofa, and the sub knelt on a cushion in front of him and began to massage his feet. Neither party spoke to me after settling in. Now, normally, that sort of thing is my jam. Power exchange with service and protocol is often more interesting to me than play without power exchange. And not talking to people? Great! But in this situation, I felt like I had been roped into a scene as an unwilling spectator.
We were sitting close enough together that I could have made eye contact with the sub while looking straight ahead. I felt like I was sitting too close to something so intimate. I’ll freely admit that I’ve gotten a bit desensitized to sex. I can watch a sex scene and think “Huh. That’s nice; they’re using protection. Good technique…” without getting hot under the collar. D/s protocol scenes are a different matter. It’s the vulnerability! *bangs fist on table* And the intimacy! Ahem. Anyway. This couple could have chosen any other location in the dungeon, including various chairs. I got the sense that they wanted others to be close and to watch. That’s not a bad thing in itself, but I had two issues, which I didn’t fully understand in the moment:
They didn’t tell me they wanted to do this dynamic interaction when they asked to sit down, so I didn’t get to consent to being so close to the scene (generally speaking, it is etiquette here to stay at least a few feet away from a scene in progress).
They didn’t talk to me or even introduce themselves before starting their scene. I then didn’t feel like I could talk to them or ask for clarification, as they were cultivating an interaction with each other. I just happened to be mere inches away.
Combined, these issues made me feel like a prop. A very awkward prop.
Here’s what would have helped:
They could have scened elsewhere in the dungeon. Granted, this couple may not have thought of what they were doing as a scene, but the sofas are generally social spaces, and these two were cultivating something very specific and personal. It felt different from the kind of socializing that D/s couples sometimes do, where the s-type sits on the floor in front of the D-type while they watch others play.
They could have introduced themselves and clarified what they wanted to do. The Dom could have said “Hi, I’m So-and-so, and this is Such-and-such. I’m speaking for her right now because she’s under protocol this evening and is only talking to me. We’d like to do a little foot massage scene here because it’s right in the middle of the dungeon, but we don’t want to invade your space…” And then, I probably would’ve thought “Cool!,” introduced myself, asked a couple of clarifying questions (like whether the Dom was open to socializing or wanted to focus on his sub), and had a lovely time watching.
If they’d taken one of those steps, I would not have felt used (fortunately, I was able to make a fairly quick exit, as my sub prepared a space elsewhere to give me a massage).
Now, that situation reminded me of a mistake I made many months ago, when my sub and I were experimenting with ways to show our D/s dynamic in kink spaces. The first time I brought him to the dungeon, I had him sit on a cushion on the floor in front of me. What we didn’t realize was that when people see that configuration, they sometimes assume that the floor-sitter is under some sort of speaking restriction protocol. My poor sub, social butterfly that he is, found himself largely left out of conversations because people did not know how to interact with him.
On top of being in a new space and trying to meet new people, he was trying to be a good sub in a public setting for the first time, and my expectations of him weren’t clear. I simply hadn’t considered the practical, social implications of our physical positioning. It left him feeling unstable–and even unwanted. As the D-type in that situation, I should have clarified my expectations for his behavior and checked in with him about how the new protocol felt throughout the evening. If I had realized that people thought they weren’t supposed to talk to him, I would have clarified with them too, or I would have had him sit beside me so that he could converse more easily with others.
Moral of the story: when using a public protocol, don’t assume that everyone’s on the same page. Clarify expectations with your partners and others in the immediate area. And if you’re the D-type in a situation that renders your s-type more vulnerable than usual, remember that your duty of protection extends into the social arena.
Classes (and new jobs) have started in earnest this week, and they’re going pretty well overall. That said, I’m a recovering perfectionist–my perfectionism is manageable, like a low staticy hum in my life most of the time, about a three out of ten. Today, it was dialed up to about a seven, sometimes blaring over the information I wanted to take in. I think that’s mainly because I’m trying so many new things this week. I know I won’t be immediately good at all of them, and they all require shifts between different modes of thinking throughout the day (from a more intellectual ‘class space,’ for example, to the practical and pastoral headspaces of my new jobs).
Some of it’s the intimidation of the mundane. For example, I’ve never made coffee in my life (it’s just never been necessary to). I’m sure I’ll learn, but I have a feeling that I’ll do it wrong at least once–I already cringe thinking that I’ll forget to fit the lid properly. And I am writing this post in part because I don’t like the number of days that have gone by without writing anything non-academic. I don’t want to lose my commitment to this blog. Are queer, sexy, kinky things happening in my life? Yes. Do I have the energy to write about them right now? No. That will return when my schedule lulls. In the meantime, I’m going to attempt to adjust the dial by chatting with people about impractical things, sharing my anxiety here, and singing along with Steven Universe songs. Those are ways that I treat myself like a beloved friend. I don’t have any major nuggets of wisdom to offer, but I hope that anyone who feels perfectionism creeping up, like I do right now, can treat themselves with kindness (and when that’s hard, reach out to kind people). Be of good courage!
I had my first “Bodies and Theology” class today. It was great. Apropos of my last post, we started class with theatre-influenced movement exercises. At one point, the professor (who is wonderful) asked us to walk like dogs. While my classmates remained upright, I dropped to the floor and scurried around like a puppy. I got to be silly–and there is exhilarating bravery in silliness. We also created some body sculptures, an exercise borrowed from the Theatre of the Oppressed. Posing together without any foreplanning, we attempted to convey the concepts of “knowledge,” “theology,” and “God” through our bodies.
“God” was the most challenging; our professor invited those who weren’t part of the sculpture to modify it. They joined our hands together until we formed a circle. As a result, the body sculpture that started as a vision of disconnected hierarchy (one person standing, others kneeling and cowering), became an image of connection and interdependence. A very different understanding of God. Rich discussion arose from the choices that we made to represent each idea, the beliefs and biases that they revealed.
In this class, we are invited to discover God as people with physical bodies. Christianity isn’t traditionally good at that, so I’m excited about this opportunity. It also feels good to have a break from the intensely cerebral space of other classes. When we shared our reasons for taking the Bodies class, I said that I wanted to work on being ‘present’ as a body and to experience things without immediately intellectualizing them. For those who follow my kink journey, that’s also a goal I have for my current exploration of submission. My Dominant said early on that she wanted to see me “feeling without thinking.” What a terrifying thought!
Thinking and feeling are my bread and butter. My strong feelings are normally mediated through intellectual, critical thought, which is useful most of the time. It can, however, lead to a sense of distance from my body when I most want to be present, as if I’m more of a brain floating along than a full being. It sometimes means that sexual experiences feel ‘hotter in hindsight,’ more intensely erotic after I’m removed from the situation than in the moment. I hope that the movement and physicality that this class requires, my continued kink exploration, and the interplay between those two different realms will encourage me to enjoy my body and connect with the Divine in a new way–as an embodied person.
This thought was already rattling around in my brain before I saw that this week’s Wicked Wednesday prompt is “Authentic,” but reading that word clarified why the thought needles me. I will illustrate through anecdotes (note: some overthinking and self-deprecation here).
I have an unusual skill, which is that I’m very good at “Simon Says” (that childhood game where you have to follow “Simon’s” orders, but only if they specify “Simon says”–I could see this going in a smutty direction some time, but not today). I once won a Simon Says competition, beating over a hundred people (I knew not to stop spinning when the next command was given).
My skills had been honed by theatre camp. My first director was a champion Simon; she would call out commands at lightning speed, sometimes tacking “Simon says” onto the end to catch us off-guard or making the wrong motion. The only way one “Simon” was able to best me was by tricking me (“Simon says do this,” he said, while my eyes were closed; I opened my eyes, of course). I wasn’t just good at Simon Says; I also fared well as a statue when we played “Museum guard.” The object of that game was to be the last statue standing while the guards walked through, trying to get you to unfreeze (usually by making you laugh).
As I look back on that time, I find it interesting that while I struggled with improv games, I was unusually good at games that required me to be focused, still, silent, and obedient, a blank slate. I didn’t even particularly like them, but I liked the simplicity they fostered and the success of winning.
Very occasionally, I wonder, “Is that my authentic self?” It unsettles me. I don’t want to feel trapped in one mode, which those games required. I don’t want to be shamed by an inability to act decisively when I need to. I’m not clay waiting to be molded; I have my own base characteristics and agency (right?). I want to be authentic, but when I overthink, I worry that my authentic self isn’t someone that I want to be.
What I believe to be true most of the time is that I actually have many authentic selves, and I don’t have to stick with just one. I can enjoy entering that flow state of obedience without worry, as long as I feel ethical (as when I devote hours playing techie, helping a friend to edit a musical piece to her exact specifications). I can greatly enjoy being a focused, vigilant presence–I carry basic first aid supplies around for a reason. Today, I gave two classmates Neosporin. One compared me to Mary Poppins. #Goals. I also like to be mischievous and silly. I drew enormous eyeballs on the common room white board this afternoon (and got others to join in drawing!) just for the amusing thought that someone will discover them later. I sing to myself when I can. Last night, it was some mixture of “Heaven on Their Minds” and “Elendil’s Oath.”
For me, the key to true authenticity is a system of ethics that I choose to live by–love, justice, compassion, and curiosity, to name a few. I am allowed to express those values in obedient, fierce, dramatic, quiet, aggressive, wise, and silly ways, without jeopardizing the core of who I want to be. I am many things, but as long as I strive to live out my values, I am authentic. For the moment, that means I get to draw all the eyeballs, sing all the songs, and follow to my heart’s content, but I will not be roped into another game of Simon Says any time soon.
So, I’ve been unpacking and organizing my new digs. Clothes, for example, are roughly organized by type in the dresser. Two of the drawers screech horribly, so I’m avoiding them at the moment. Wintery odds and ends are shoved in the corners of the closet. *Shrug* But the toys, some of which I haven’t seen in three months? I’m treating them like lost children. “My babies!,” I think as I stroke through the floggers, hoping their tails will straighten out when I hang them up. I make a mental note to soak the end of the rattan cane. Everything gets wiped down as I unpack it into the closet. I debate whether to organize items by type (i.e. vibrators together) or activity (anal accoutrements together), or perhaps by frequency of use (dilators in front, ivory soap in back, etc.). The riding crop, which I’ve never been able to use well, is duly laid out. I add a small wooden cutting board. I thought maybe I’d contribute it to the kitchen, but now I think I’ll see how it does as a paddle. The leather care items I can put out on the shelf, at least. A short bamboo rod will arrive in the mail soon.
Most items? They get thrown together. Toys? They get special care. Maybe that’s because I intentionally bought or received most of them as gifts. But some of them, like the cutting board, are just ‘pervertibles’. I value them because their meaning is the meaning that I give, the life I breathe into them as a player. They’re not just objects, but histories told and adventures waiting to happen. I’m eager to learn what new adventures the next three months will bring–maybe even the mysterious crop will reveal its insight.
Psst–If you’re looking for a great toy-focused blog, check out JoEllen Notte, a.k.a. The Redhead Bedhead.
Content warning: discussion and description of consent violation
Greetings, Beloved. I’ll be posting more sporadically than usual over the next couple of days because I’m getting ready to travel and start a new divinity school semester, but I just want to say this: men’s consent matters just as much as anyone else’s. Asking for consent is not optional, no matter how strong, tough, or manly you perceive someone to be. That goes for sexual encounters and other kinds of touch and intense interaction. Men’s consent gets violated in multiple ways each day, and people have a tendency to make light of it.
This is what made me think of this topic: a viral video has been circulating around my Facebook feed recently, a (straight) wedding reception video that looks like it belongs in a BDSM dungeon. In the video, the groom, blindfolded, kneels in front of someone that he thinks is the bride to pull the garter off with his teeth (viewers realize that it’s actually another man, a co-conspirator with the bride). The groom, still blindfolded, proceeds to grind sensually against the other man. When he pulls the blindfold off, he realizes the deception.
Now, in fantasy, that’s kinda hot. In reality, I’m troubled. Here’s what I see happening: the bride engineered a situation in which the groom had sensual and sexual contact with another man without his knowledge…which was then played for laughs; I don’t even know how the other guy felt. There’s a homophobic element to that–I’ve noticed that conservative Christians sometimes like to go “Teehee It’s two men! That makes this funny!” Even if the three participants were somehow all in on the game (if it’s some fantasy they’ve had for a while, perhaps), the viewers don’t know that. As far as we know, it’s a real deception. We see a consent violation played for laughs and circulated as a hot prank. Blah. You can’t give consent if you don’t have basic background knowledge. Like who your partner is. Anyway, in conclusion, men get to have boundaries, their consent is important, and viewer consent is important in play. Thanks for reading my rant!
*Some time ago, in the olden days, two new friends sit by the fire, furtively passing notes to each other on a single piece of parchment…*
Cloris (she/her/hers): “It was lovely to make your acquaintance yesterday.” *Attempts to sketch a marigold*
Beau (he/him/his): “Likewise.” *Squints at page* *Sketches an apple tree*
Cloris: “There’s a nice tree on the edge of the property. Perhaps we could take a turn about it?”
Beau: “I’ve got two nice apples.”
Cloris: “Oh, wonderful!’ *Sketches a rose*
Beau: *Sketches what he believes to be an anatomically correct image of his own member*
Cloris: *Crumples up the paper* *Throws paper on the fire* *Storms off to complain to Agatha*
-To be continued-
Oof. Poor dears. They weren’t exactly ‘on the same page’ (hehe).
Thus begins a series on sexting etiquette! Sexting is “sending, receiving, or forwarding sexually explicit messages, photographs, or images, primarily between mobile phones, of oneself to others. It may also include the use of a computer or any digital device” (thanks, Wikipedia).
Like any other form of communication, sexting is a social behavior. In social settings, we use ‘etiquette,’ a system of often unspoken rules, to guide our behavior and expectations, ideally to show consideration for others and make communication smoother. Etiquette varies from place to place and should change with people’s needs. It doesn’t cover every issue, and it’s not inherently ‘good’ on its own.
For example, I like to open doors for people, a common part of social etiquette whose meaning changes with circumstance. To me, it says “I care.” To others, however, it might say “I don’t think you can handle this yourself” or even “I want to hold power over you.” Thus, my door-holding behavior isn’t always appropriate. I have a habit of almost always holding the door for specific friends. They know what I mean by it because…we’ve talked about it. The same caveat applies to sexting etiquette; there’s no universal language, and it will have to change over time.
That said, we often don’t apply basic rules of consideration to sexting situations in the first place, which is partly why I think that intentionally using the lens of etiquette can help. Sometimes, we’re so embarrassed by the prospect of sexting that we don’t know how to think of it as a social situation with another human–we spend so much time seeing sex as this scandalous, unspeakable thing that when we actually get to be sexy, we don’t know how. We may not know how to initiate, how to say what we want (or what to say at all!), and how to stand up for ourselves and set boundaries if sexting feels uncomfortable. So, let’s start with some basic rules and guidelines for ‘initiating’.
First, decide whether it’s ethical and appropriate for you to sext. If there’s a major power difference or professional boundary between you and the other person/people (Ex: you’re their employer, they’re your pastor, etc.), it’s not advisable. As a rule of thumb, if one of you might be afraid to say no to the other, don’t do it. A general note on power: All kinds of power differences affect our interactions with others–wealth, age, gender, race, and citizenship status, to name a few. As a man, Beau has social (and even legal) power that Cloris may not have as a woman, but if Cloris is much wealthier, she may leverage that wealth against him. There are few easy answers when it comes to power difference, but it’s important to recognize where they exist.
If the playing field is relatively even, you may ask for consent to start sexting. We’re not always good at asking for consent before diving into something sexually explicit–it’s easy to forget that there’s a real person behind the screen, not a fantasy-fulfiller.
Even if think you’re ‘flirting,’ don’t introduce an explicit sexual element without checking in. Make sure that the other person wants to participate. This is especially important with new partners. In that vein, sending a picture of your anatomy without asking, like Beau did, is not a good way to obtain consent. It’s the texting equivalent of flashing someone in the street.
I wonder how differently Beau and Cloris’ conversation might have gone if Beau had taken more time to understand what Cloris’ messages meant, gotten to know her better, and then asked what she wanted.
He might have said “I am sexually interested in you” and waited for an encouraging reply from Cloris that wasn’t just a flower. Then, he could say “I would like to write about my desire with you and hear your desire” and later, perhaps, “May I offer you a portrait of my member?” Then, Cloris could be like “I’d like to see the real thing. There’s an apple tree at the edge of the property…” (Of course, she might just be like “What’s a member?”)
Note: In this situation, you might be thinking, “Well, Cloris might feel like she shouldn’t say yes because she’s a proper lady.” Very true! Her refusal is valid regardless.
If you’re not sure what something means, ask! (For Cloris, marigolds symbolize happiness. She was schooled in the language of flowers. Beau is not.) If you think something would be really sexy to talk about, ask if you can talk about it. We can’t take our own standards for granted when interacting with new people.
A partner might be comfortable with text but not pictures. Maybe they’re at work and don’t want to risk others seeing. Maybe they only feel comfortable talking about sex with you in a theoretical way. (This is a common issue for people who work in the sexuality field; people assume that because they talk about sex professionally, it’s okay to sext the professional without asking.)
Say what you want and ask them what they want. Does that sound awkward and vulnerable? It is, especially if you’re new at it. That’s okay! It’ll get smoother, and if you keep talking to the same person, you may gain enough familiarity after a while to sext them without negotiating each time beforehand. Ask, and (maybe) you shall receive.
In short, treat your potential sexting partner as a human being who is creating an experience with you. No need to be as formal as Beau and Cloris.
Here are a few ways to gauge comfort levels and ask for consent in different contexts (your mileage may vary):
“I’m pretty sure we’re flirting. Are we? *wink face*”
“I love your FetLife photos! Can I send one of mine (it’s a nude)?”
“I’m feeling really turned on right now. Can I tell you about it?”
*sends devil emoji* (Their response will give me an idea of how to proceed.)
“OMG I just had a hot sex dream. *blush face* Want to hear about it?”
“How do you feel about anal?”
“My hand is on your thigh. Tell me where you want it to go.”
“(Are you okay with using pet names when we sext?)”
As you get more familiar with your sexting partner, you may be able to use the shorthand of the dynamic you’ve fostered to gauge some things without asking. You might give blanket consent for sexting after a while, with the understanding that it can be withdrawn. For example, I am currently comfortable with my sub sending explicit messages to my phone most of the time, though there are specific times during the day when I don’t want to be messaged (namely, when I’m asleep). If I don’t want to receive sexts at any point or don’t like something, I just tell him. Those boundaries don’t work for everyone, but they work well for our dynamic right now. Pro-tip: If you have a smartphone, modify your settings so that message contents don’t show up on your lock screen.
This epistle has focused mainly on what happens before or when you’re just starting to sext. In future installments, I’ll talk more about ongoing negotiation when the sexting gets hot and heavy, how to state boundaries and protect privacy, sexting in kink-specific contexts (like power exchange dynamics), and using sex-positive sites like FetLife.
We’ll also find out whether Cloris and Beau kiss and make up. #Boris?What’s your “sexting etiquette”? Let me know in the comments!
I’m working on a series about sexting etiquette–it’s inspiring a lot of thoughts that are hard to articulate. In the meantime, here are some older thoughts on pastoral care and kink (yep, these words do occasionally belong in the same sentence). Why? Because certain concepts prized in the kink community should inform our approaches to pastoral care.
Wikipedia defines pastoral care as “an ancient model of emotional and spiritual support that can be found in all cultures and traditions.” That’s a pretty good start. I would add that pastoral caregivers are often professionals and/or working in a faith-based context (like a parish or campus ministry). I’ll link more info on pastoral care at the bottom of the post.)
I’ve read a lot of great pastoral care theory, including books that are aware of the impact that factors like race, class, and gender can have on care needs and approaches. I’ll learn more as I take more care classes and gain experience. That said, I want to add two ideas that many pastoral care class readings don’t explicitly articulate:
• The importance of knowing when one cannot give pastoral care
• The value of framing conversations so that people can choose whether and how to take part in the care process.
I’ll use the lens of BDSM/kink to articulate these concerns. This section will discuss potentially ‘erotic’ activities including impact play (playing with physical hits from canes, floggers, etc.) but nothing explicitly sexual. [Note: Since my main experience at the time that I wrote this was with dominance and topping, this essay is a little top-heavy.]
Throughout my pastoral care class, I was struck by the similarities and transferable skills between kink interactions and pastoral care. Kink and pastoral care are both emotionally intense by nature. In kink, direct communication, trust, and boundary-setting are vital. It is the responsibility of all parties involved in a kink scene or relationship to maintain proper boundaries and communicate their needs. In a power exchange (in which one partner takes on a “dominant” role and the other takes on a “submissive” role, either during a scene or in a relationship), the dominant has to handle the authority that has been temporarily granted to them wisely.
Pastoral caregivers are often in positions of authority, whether because of an official title or the culture of their community. I wonder about the sense of ‘power exchange’ that occurs in a pastoral care relationship. I think that new pastoral caregivers may be prone to a sense of pastoral “frenzy.” In the kink community, the term frenzy describes the urge of an (often) new kinkster to try everything immediately or jump into intense dynamics. Frenzy is sometimes experienced as a visceral ache. When pastoral caregivers discover that they have a knack for caregiving, they can also experience frenzy, a desire to help literally everyone. This is a recipe for heartbreak and burnout. I will discuss that dilemma a bit more when I describe the limitations of kink as a lens.
In kink, good faith negotiation is key. A good dominant often asks lots of questions, trying to get to the core of what kind of experience the submissive wants and a sense of what might hold them back. Scenes begin with negotiation, check-ins, and warm-up (physical and mental); when a dominant gives a flogging, for example, it is customary for them to begin by gauging the submissive’s pain tolerance (often on a scale of one to ten) or to start with the lightest, gentlest touch, not the heavy over-hand strikes.
While a pastoral care conversation may not require the same level as what’s required for a kink scene, I believe that it is important for pastoral caregivers to remember to step back mentally from the conversation when the consider care. They need to assess what the care-seeker is looking for and ready for. You cannot open mental wounds unless you are prepared to deal with their aftermath. Conversation sometimes flows naturally, but it’s important to check in. When you as a pastoral caregiver want to take “agential power” (Doehring 45) and become more directive (perhaps wanting to escalate the conversation into deeper, more personal, or more emotionally wrought territory), you might follow these steps:
1. Take a step back to assess your own needs. Are you prepared physically, mentally, and emotionally to escalate this conversation? Is the care–seeker? If you’re not prepared, you don’t have to escalate. You can make a judgment call about whether to proceed, express that you are unsure how to move forward, let the careseeker lead the conversation, or help them find someone who’s more equipped (to ‘refer out’).
2. If you think that it would be helpful to go deeper, put a mental ‘pin’ in the conversation and state out loud that you want to go deeper. Give the care-seeker a way to opt in. For example, you could say “I think it might be helpful to talk about X now. I know that may be difficult. How would you feel about that?” or “I’d like to try something…” or “May I ask a question about X?”
3. If they say yes, thank them and proceed. If they say no, thank them and let them set the course for the conversation. Never take their vulnerability for granted. Don’t attempt to pry secrets out of them, no matter how cathartic you think the sharing would be.
The reason that I list these steps is that it is important for caregivers to be mindful of their own boundaries and limits, not to be overcome by the zeal for helping and take over the conversation. The caregiver and care-seeker always need to be able to opt in.
Of course, the nature of human life means that the caregiver and care-seeker will sometimes hit emotional landmines (and/or try lines of questioning that are not productive). The boundary-centered framework of kink is helpful in this case too. Even when kinky play is going well, players may need to draw back or ‘dial it down’ temporarily.
There may be times during kink scenes where one partner is unexpectedly triggered. The dominant has to be mindful (and humble) enough to stop, deescalate, or change the scene so that they can check in with the submissive. They can’t just stick to the original plan and hope for the best. Players, dominant and submissive, should not feel trapped in an activity. Pastoral caregivers also need to have this flexibility (which makes the various tools discussed in class helpful to know).
Kink scenes traditionally end with “aftercare,” the process by which the players wind down the scene, come out of their scene roles, take care of any wounds, and sometimes debrief (generally) about how the scene went. There *probably* won’t be any wounds from a flogger, but lotion, a snack, and a glass of water might be in order for both parties. The sub may be riding a high of endorphins from the scene (and the dominant may also need to “come down”), so they will often spend some time wrapped up in a blanket and cuddling together, talking about idle things. Nobody will drive or operate machinery for a little while. While it isn’t always possible to transition peacefully out of a pastoral care interaction because of time or institutional constraints, a caregiver may want to…
• lay out the estimated time for the conversation from the beginning
• keep snacks on hand
• have a bank of organized quick referral resources at their fingertips
• encourage a care-seeker to take time after the conversation to reflect
• take a few minutes for their own ‘aftercare’ to breathe and debrief before seeing another care-seeker
While pastoral care and kink relations have many similarities, they are, of course, very different. Pastoral care-seekers should not feel dominated. Kink can be a modality with skills that transfer well to pastoral care, but it would be ethically problematic, to say the least, to try to mix the two situations in reality. In The Practice of Pastoral Care, Carrie Doehring warns that to “engage in sexual or romantic relationships with care seekers” would be sexual misconduct (77). This is a good general rule. I want to make exceptions for professional sex workers (including surrogates) who have clearly bounded sexual contact with clients (as sex surrogate Dr. Helen Fisher does in The Sessions). Sex work is emotional labor often adjacent to and even overlapping with clinical therapy. That should be acknowledged (and decriminalized regardless). In most cases, however, the kind of intimate ‘play’ that people enjoy in kink or in romantic and/or sexual relationships should not take place between caregiver and care-seeker in a pastoral care relationship, nor, in some cases, should a person with pastoral care skills try to use these skills in their private lives. Be mindful when you use your skills. Notice when you choose to take care of someone. Even if you’re not officially a pastoral caregiver, those caregiving skills can be all too easy to fall back on!
While a pastoral caregiver may find their listening skills helpful in resolving emotional conflicts with a friend or partner, they may fall fully into the pastoral caregiving role, implicitly assuming an emotional distance from personal conflicts that do not exist. This assumption can damage the relationship and leave both parties hurt and exhausted. In the same way that one wouldn’t just initiate a kink dynamic without prior discussion, it’s important not to charge into caregiving without considering consent and awareness.
Pastoral Care Resources:
Carrie Doehring’s The Practice of Pastoral Care
Stephanie Crumpton’s A Womanist Pastoral Theology Against Intimate and Cultural Violence
Sonia E. Waters’ Addiction and Pastoral Care
Gregory Ellison’s Cut Dead But Still Alive: Caring for African American Young MenHerbert Anderson and Kenneth Mitchell’s All Our Losses, All Our Griefs: Resources for Pastoral Care