Chosen Risk in the Time of Coronavirus (a.k.a. Why I’ve Decided to Send Nudes)

Coronavirus sucks. Social distancing sucks. I’m lucky to have a home with a yard, a stable internet connection, and an immune system that generally works well…and it still sucks. I hate not being able to visit my partners and family for an indefinite period of time–we assessed the transmission risks and decided that we can’t risk exposure while the coronavirus spreads so stealthily across the country. While we wait for more information, we have to protect ourselves and others who are more vulnerable, including those who can’t socially distance because they’re on the front lines. We’re struggling to compensate for a sluggish federal response and a broken healthcare system, doing the [helpful] we can–and we don’t know how long we’ll have to do it or what the eventual outcomes will be. That’s hard. 

The fear and uncertainty wear me down like a constant buzz of radio static. I can calculate some risks, but others are outside my control, and this situation is constantly evolving. That said, being voluntarily cooped up has reminded me that some risks can be chosen and that boundaries can evolve as we grow and change. What seemed too risky yesterday might feel perfectly reasonable with a more up-to-date risk assessment (and vice-versa). I’ve decided to use this time to re-evaluate my ‘risk profile’. By that I mean that I’m taking a second look at the things that I mentally packed away long ago as “not worth the risk,” dusting them off like provocative outfits, and trying them on for size. 

Logically, under the circumstances, this choice has manifested the most in my virtual life so far. My brain has been searching feverishly for technological solutions to a sudden dearth of physical contact, which now includes an ongoing list of screen-sharing apps that I have yet to try. But this revelation came to me fairly quickly: when my partners can’t physically touch me, the next [helpful] thing is to show them more of my skin.

Know this, gentle readers: before the COVID-19 crisis, I had never sent a nude image of myself to anyone. Over the past couple of weeks, I decided to investigate why. I’d sent teasing images, certainly–strategic pictures of my legs were a favorite (in my mind, ‘almost nudity’ was just fine) and posted them on FetLife. I had no problem receiving nude images, and in fact, I revel in the knowledge that my sub sends me nude pictures whenever I ask. But I never felt comfortable reciprocating. 

That might seem quite strange, and it is. I have no personal history of trauma with nudity or image exposure. I don’t recoil from the nude images of others. I trust my partners not to share anything without my permission. The most succinct explanation I have for the longstanding “no nudies” boundary is inertia–I came up with that boundary at a time when I was just starting to explore my sexuality, chatting casually with people I wasn’t sure I trusted, and it stuck.

Before that time of exploration, it barely occurred to me that sending a nude was an option–nearly all the information swimming around in my head about nude pictures warned of “revenge porn” and other possible dangers that ranged from embarrassing to traumatizing. I had definitely also internalized some black-and-white thinking from middle school guidance class: “Sexting – Don’t do it!” 

Early in my kinky exploration, having a universal “no nudes” policy was an easy way for me to avoid having to think about that baggage or to ask whether what I had been taught still made sense for me. I trusted myself, but I wasn’t sure I trusted others. I encountered a few pushy types. Saying that I just didn’t send nudes from the start of a correspondence allowed me to separate the wheat from the chaff–it was a litmus test that showed who would respect my boundaries. But I’ve learned that some of the arbitrary boundaries that once kept me safe aren’t suitable anymore. As an adult, I’ve learned that I can’t grow if I rely on others to choose them for me; I have to investigate the risks and choose boundaries for myself. 

As I thought and felt all of this through, I realized that I had no compelling reasons not to send nudes and no visceral feelings of distress at the idea–I felt nervous about trying something new but felt more excited about the prospect of sharing something meaningful with my partners than anything else.

I asked myself a lot of questions, like “What might I do if my pictures get leaked? What if the ones who look at the pictures don’t think they’re attractive? Which ‘risks’ are important to me, and can they be managed? Under what circumstances would I feel comfortable taking on these risks? Do I feel enthusiastic about changing this boundary?” (I think I’ll write another post about nude photo risk-assessment some time.) I decided that I didn’t need a “no nudes” boundary to feel respected and that I would send nudes consensually as a way to connect with my partners and my own sexuality during this time of distance. 

Long story short, I sent and posted my first nude photos a few days ago, a couple peekaboo shots of my chest, and it felt great. I felt cute, brave, vulnerable, attractive, handsome (yes, handsome), and powerful. I assessed the risks, I found boundaries that feel good to me, and I tried something new, understanding that I can change my boundaries again in the future if I need to. When my choices feel so overwhelming and yet so limited, finding opportunities for chosen bravery that brings me closer to others feels very healing. In those opportunities, at least, I find ways to be more hopeful than anxious. 

*Note: For the time-being, I won’t be posting any nudes on this blog. That’s not what this space is ‘for’. If you want to connect on FetLife, where some of the fabled nudes will reside, do send me an email.

Wicked Wednesday


An Aural Epistle

Note: This one’s sexually explicit and about me. Beware! 

Auralism: the fetishization of sound

I’m an aural person. I enjoy hearing words, sounds, and songs. In sexual contexts, I’d much rather hear than see. There’s something about the unspooling of the voice as arousal builds that just gets me. My sub is quite vocal, and he’s gotten louder with training. I delight in the unconscious sounds that he makes, from little gasps to broad, ecstatic moans. And I admire them. It takes guts to be so noisy. 

Sometimes, I have him send audio recordings. He always records himself when I allow him to orgasm. Several days ago, I gave him permission to play with himself, with one caveat: he would have to ‘talk’ the whole time. Now, to be clear, this was not a phone conversation. This was sexting; he would be talking to himself. I imagine that’s difficult, but he did it. 

Somehow, just knowing that he was obediently narrating his desires to an empty room aroused me almost as much as hearing him in person. While he edged, I settled in and started to explore my own body–I ended up doing a little edging of my own. The thought of him panting as he forced himself to make words was almost enough to tip me over the edge, but I wanted to wait. I told him that I expected him to speak right up to the moment of orgasm.

I can’t capture sound in writing, but the result was delicious, right down to the fuzzy microphone feedback. He told me how much he loved being fucked by me, described what he wanted me to do to him, and begged to cum. His orgasm came like a record scratch, mid-sentence. Mine followed by mere seconds, nearly silent. And then he thanked me. 

Silence is dignified, but sound is brave. Through hearing, I share in my sub’s bravery. Next time, maybe I’ll do the talking.     

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That Awkward Moment When Even Theoretically Discussing Punishment Makes You Cry…

[Image description: Photo is of an old bamboo rod, not recommended for heavy impact.]

Negotiations continue for #Subpocalypse2019. I’m currently negotiating a new D/s dynamic and making discoveries along the way. Today, we’ve been discussing the concepts of “bratting” and “punishment.” I asked my prospective Domme to give her thoughts. She explained the nuances of bratting well. Bratting is a slippery term that encompasses many complex ideas (including but not limited to playfulness, manipulation, flirtation, and acting out). Folks pursuing D/s, make sure you’re on the same page about bratting! But I’ll reserve thoughts on that for another post. The concept that really got to me today was Punishment. 

Now, I know I’m not the only kinkster who grew up dreading punishment, whose childhood school identity was “angel” rather than “brat.” I glowed under the praise of my teachers and rarely got in trouble. Of course, the other side of that coin was that on the rare occasions when I actually did get in trouble, I was a wreck. The punishments felt so public–through the fourth grade, most teachers used a tag-pulling system, cutesy laminated construction paper cut-outs labeled with our names. If you got into trouble, you had to “pull your tag/card/take down your airplane.” For me, having to go up and move my own name to lower level was embarrassing, even shaming. And yet, other students, whose identities were not rooted in their similarity to divine beings, got in trouble daily without a care. I’ve learned some of their habits over the years. I’m recovering from perfectionism and have grown a fiercer, more flexible approach to life–one can’t be an angel in justice ministries; only humans need apply. 

Today, however, I read this Domme’s descriptions of the scenarios that would warrant punishment (mostly outright disobedience or disrespect) on the brink of tears. It wasn’t just vulnerability related to giving someone the authority to punish. Apparently, the prospect of punishment–even entirely theoretical–was enough to put me right back into that third-grade “I disappointed the teacher!” mindset. 

So, you might wonder, why even make punishment part of the dynamic? Not all D/s dynamics incorporate real punishment (and most scenes use, at most, ‘funishment’). In vanilla life, I have limited faith in the utility of punishments to change behavior. But. I can’t imagine subbing to someone in a stable dynamic without giving them the power to punish. As a Dominant, I occasionally use punishment in my dynamic with my sub. To me, in a D/s context, punishment calls attention to a problem quickly and decisively, it reinforces the power exchange dynamic, and it helps both parties to reset and move forward. 

Does punishment itself modify behavior? Perhaps, but not necessarily. As I think back to my school days, I imagine that I would’ve made about the same number of mistakes with or without punishment. Disappointing people that I respected, on top of failing publicly, regardless of the reason, hurt.

As I think about it more, while I would hate to do something ‘punishment-worthy’ as a sub, I also realize that I’m not stuck in the ‘angel’ mindset anymore. This is a dynamic that I’m choosing as an adult. I’ll try my best, but I don’t have to be perfect. My identity isn’t built on that anymore. And when–not if–I get punished, I won’t be recoiling in defense of that identity. Punishment is not about ‘being bad’; it’s about using all the tools available in this consensual power exchange to learn and grow, even when it’s hard. I will need to be vigilant when that ‘angel’ mindset pops up, but I now have the resources (perhaps including punishment) to treat it as a way of thinking borne of perfectionism, not my core identity. 

For other takes on punishment, check out my new flash erotica series Penance and my essay “BDSM is Not Repentance.”

“Just as I Am” – Confessions of a Kinky Churchgoer

[Image description: Photo is of a cautious but curious calico cat that has just stepped through a doorway.]

Church felt weirdly relevant today. Not that church is ever irrelevant, but I kept making connections between this morning’s worship service and my personal life in ways I don’t always. You see, I’m currently negotiating a new power exchange (which I will hereafter refer to as #Subpocalypse2019), and it’s brought up a lot of difficult feelings. I’ve felt more overwhelmed, afraid, even desolate in the past couple of days than I have in months. Maybe that’s tuned me in more than usual. 

My sense that the service was speaking directly to my inner turmoil started with the Prayer of Confession: “We fear failures, and we cling to unquestioned habits […] Show us your way. Open our eyes to new ventures,” we prayed. I do fear failure in this new venture, one that’s appeared seemingly out of the blue. It will involve questioning my habits in unusual (and embarrassing) ways, as I make my life available for another to view. I felt like that prayer was for me. 

Other messages jumped out at me as the service continued, especially in the hymns. When I saw “Just as I am” in the service order, I looked up from my bulletin suspiciously. “Just as I am though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt…” the song goes. I could give or take some of the theology in that hymn, but the thought of just…being…and showing up as myself with all my fears feels especially poignant right now.

Fortunately, I have a supportive pod of people who are proud of me for showing up and have given me space to feel scared without judgment. My sub is excited to see me experience life on the other side of the D/s slash; he’s been giving me pep talks over the past few days and encouraging me when I’ve been tearful. I don’t know how much involvement God has in shaping personal relationships, but I think God understands my feelings and is proud of me too. 

The final hymn was “Here I Am, Lord.” That one’s just always a tear-jerker. It was a very special song to one of our members who died a couple of years ago. It illustrates his way of being so clearly. It’s a song about committing to mission even when you feel unprepared and vulnerable–it also imagines God as immensely loving and thus, vulnerable to hurt. 

Today’s service was about being courageous, vulnerable, and flexible in ministry to the world, but I hear it another way too: I hear a call to minister to myself. I hear a call to grow more loving to myself through the discomfort that submission brings. With the guidance and care of others, I am called to minister to myself “just as I am,” fearful and brave and loving. 

*Prayer is from Feasting on the Word Worship Companion, John Knox Press, 2013.

Submission is Scary

[Image description: Photo is of a freshly rained-on brick patio with plants growing around the edges and through the cracks. A pair of pale human feet is at the edge of the frame.]

This’ll be short because I’m emotionally exhausted.

I’ve heard it said that in BDSM, dominants learn power, submissives learn courage, and switches learn wisdom (I wish I could find the original source). That statement oversimplifies things for sure, but it illustrates where I am right now. Looks like I’m about to be very courageous. I’m talking with a friend about experimenting with a low-key D/s dynamic where she is dominant and I am submissive; it’s more of a mindset than a specific kind of play. Not having had any experience with actually submitting before, I’m terrified. 

She brought up the idea of D/s a couple of days ago, and my subconscious wouldn’t leave it alone (I actually dreamed about it; I pay attention to dreams). When we finally started discussing it in messages, I had a physical fight-or-flight response–pounding heart, churning stomach, etc. Having only experienced kink so far as a dominant and top, giving up control and letting myself be led is scary. But scary doesn’t mean bad, and I’ve learned over the years that if I don’t let myself be scared sometimes, I won’t grow. 

Even though I’m intimidated by the vulnerability of it, I’m proud of myself just for being courageous enough to explore this path–I feel braver already. I’m also terribly curious about what I will learn and the wisdom that this experiment will bring. 

That’s all I got for now, but I’ll have more reflections soon!