Holding Myself

I’ve been practicing mindfulness daily for the past three months, largely thanks to accountability provided by my domme. Sometimes, it’s a chore–my mind just whirs and buzzes while I sit there, and I finish the practice feeling frustrated by my lack of focus. Often, it’s a time for me to recognize and tend to my feelings, to remind myself that they’re okay. That’s uncomfortable but valuable, especially now, in the midst of a pandemic that has no clear end. Occasionally, my practice leads to unexpected catharsis and insight. Tuesday’s session was one of those times. It involved a heartfelt conversation with a pillow. That will make sense later. 

You see, I’ve been coping with the stirring of dormant anxieties recently, now that my dominant and I are doing a bit of sexual exploration (remotely). As a queer woman with chronic pelvic pain and perfectionism issues, sex can be a source of anxiety and overanalysis for me. (I’m not alone in that, and I’ll elaborate on it in a future post.) One thing I’m realizing, especially as I grudgingly share my anxieties with my partners, is that I have an old fear that confiding in my partners will ‘infect’ them with my anxiety. In other words, I fear that hearing my worries will make them worry, and then my worries will overwhelm them and become real as they pull away. And then, if they can’t handle my anxiety, it’s my fault for sharing or for not framing it in the [helpful] way possible. Frankly, that’s a lot of pressure. 

I think I know when these beliefs solidified in my psyche. I experienced a lot of anxiety in my first romantic relationship over six years ago, particularly wondering what I was ‘supposed’ to be feeling and not wanting to hurt my partner. As I explained to my therapist this week, I told her about what I was experiencing, and two weeks later, she broke up with me, citing similar anxieties to the ones that I had brought to her (which, incidentally, she had not disclosed until that point). Now, there’s no way of knowing how much I actually influenced her behavior. As my therapist pointed out, I’m not superhuman. I was only twenty, and she wasn’t much older. I’ve learned so much since I was twenty (I can verify that by rereading my old journal entries from that time–such overwrought prose!). But I think that part of me has carried the assumption for years that I somehow turned the breakup that I feared into reality by confiding my worries, that it’ll happen again. 

At times, I’ve assumed that my anxiety isn’t something that my partners can hold without taking it on. I’m learning that that’s an assumption based on incomplete (and frankly, outdated) information. I’ve grown in my ability to notice, understand, and communicate my feelings, and if my partners start to feel like they’re drowning in what I’m saying, they can tell me. I know this. 

But I still need to attend to the younger self who feels ashamed. This week, I did that through mindfulness. In the middle of a practice that invited me to openness, I found myself inspired to talk to and hold my twenty-year-old self, the one who blames herself for so much. So I laid a bed pillow across my lap and imagined that it was a younger version of me. I cradled her like the Virgin Mary cradles Jesus in Michelangelo’s Pietà. Mentally, I felt around for the most tender and wounded places, speaking aloud the affirmations that would be hard for her to hear (and hard for me to believe). 

I told her that she did the [helpful] she could. I told her that she was brave and kind. I told her that I had learned so much from her, that I admired her. The tears started when I said “I’m proud of you.” I held her, marveling at how young and small she seemed in my arms. “You are part of me, and I will always hold you,” I said to her. I whispered these things over and over, letting myself weep for that heartbroken twenty-year-old who just wanted to do the right thing. ‘We’ stayed like that for a while. I wasn’t sure how to wrap it up, but when my stomach started growling, I decided to rise and let her rest in my psyche. The pillow became just a pillow again, and I went about my day. 

I don’t know how this cathartic time will affect the way that I approach my behavior now, but it was much needed. As I move forward, other ‘past selves’ will visit–I’m sure my inner five-year-old will tug at my sleeve one of these days. I will learn from them, affirm them, and hold them.

*Note: Insight Timer is the [helpful] free meditation app.

*Image: Photograph of Michelangelo’s Pietà from Wikimedia Commons

Post linked to the Sex Bloggers for Mental Health blog meme.

Penance, Part 6

Catch up on the entire series here. I’m exploring some concepts that I started to work through in my essay “BDSM is Not Repentance” using this experimental semi-fantasy flash erotica series. It is not intended to model realistic and healthy approaches to penance, sex work, or even BDSM, but to inspire thought about how we use BDSM and what role, if any, it can play in true repentance. This short installment is a response to the Masturbation Monday blog meme.

Note: this section contains some despairing thoughts and self-deprecation. 

“Try again.” They said it and left with such startling coolness that he’s forgotten to be angry. He slumps in his chair, shell-shocked. Is this it? Of all the possible punishments he’s dreamed up, he never thought of this one. He so craved the biting heat of corporal punishment that he burned through the Dominant’s patience.

There’s no way for him to contact them directly, he realizes, even as explanations for his behavior begin to rise, some bullshit about serving and ignorance. They don’t matter. All correspondence goes through the Agency office. The Dominant can ignore him for as long as they want, even blacklist him. He can’t make them come back. And, he realizes, he wouldn’t. 

His thoughts race as he sits there longer. Is the Dominant gone for good? Their shoulders were set as they walked out. He groans into his hands. Why did he have to push like that? Why couldn’t he just ‘chill,’ as his nieces say, and let the Dominant lead? The blue notebook lies on the coffee table. His own words taunt him, repeated back in that musical voice. He did write the same thing over and over, feeling so clever, so sure about ‘moving forward’. Maybe he can’t move forward at all. Maybe the Dominant knows it, and that’s why they’ve left him alone. He can’t even move from the chair. They might as well have chained him there, he thinks as his eyes rove the cavernous space, seeing nothing. 

Then, he spots a flash of red and black. The Dominant’s handkerchief, folded with care–left on purpose? He looks up. The Monstera plant, watered. The notebook, within reach. Try again, they said. The man swallows. He reaches for the notebook, turns to a fresh page, and begins to write. 

-To be continued- 

Masturbation Monday

Why I Don’t Archive ‘Christian’ Sex Shops – Yes, They’re a Thing

Several self-described ‘Christian’ sex shops exist online, from Married Dance and Honoring Intimates to Covenant Spice. These shops sell “marital aids.” I have a lengthy and growing Resources page with several recommended adult retail vendors. I list sex shops because I want to connect readers with the safe, high quality sex toys and other adult items that work for them. I don’t want readers to feel shamed or excluded by the sex toy-buying experience. Thus, I don’t archive Christian sex shops among my recommendations. Why? In short, because they offer similar products to secular shops but vilify pornography, homosexuality, and sex outside of man-woman marriage. Some such sites even recommend that customers not use their toys for solo masturbation. Others don’t carry toys like strapon dildos, the sort of thing they might associate with queerness. 

For them as retailers, Christianity is a matter of marketing to a niche audience. That’s not necessarily an entirely bad thing. The religious selling point is what makes it okay for Christians (especially more conservative ones) to buy sex toys; I’m all for happier marriages and sexual exploration. 

Another differentiating element of Christian sex shops is their general refusal to associate with pornography. While I believe in promoting ethical pornogrpahy, if someone doesn’t want to see pornographic images, I understand. I wish that more websites had customizable menus, allowing viewers to opt into the various ways that it’s possible to engage with sexual information and content. That’s why I’m working on detailed systems of post categorization for this site–I want readers to be able to consent to what they are viewing. 

That said, while they expand the borders of what’s acceptable for Christian sex, these Christian sex shops still serve a purity-based framework that says “All sex is impure unless the participants meet an arbitrary set of standards.” For those who can meet the standards, whatever they are, these sites may be tenuously validating, but they invite a shaky and false sense of moral superiority (Honoring Intimates touts “Passion without perversion”). For those who don’t meet the standards (queer/trans folks, single and polyamorous folks, people who can’t marry, people who just want to explore their own sexuality without a partner, etc.) these sites perpetuate shame. 

When these shops call themselves “Christian-friendly,” they only mean friendly to a specific subset of Christians that fit their mold. It makes me sad. So many Christians (and non-Christians!) with passion to explore, and so few considered pure enough for vibrators and sexy underwear. For now, I’ll stick with the ‘heathens’.

Have you found any more inclusive Christian sex toy shops? If so, let me know!

BDSM is Not Repentance

[Image description: Photo is of a black flogger draped over a gold handheld mirror.]

Content notice: possible self-harm, police brutality 

Some time ago, I read about a guilt-ridden police officer who went to professional dominatrices to be beaten and humiliated as punishment for his habit of mistreating the people that he stopped on the street. As far as I know, his kinky sessions didn’t stop him from hurting the people under his power. He was still cruel. To put it in religious terms that I understand, he wanted to burn off his sins by ‘suffering’. Instead, he just burned off his guilt and went on his way. Shame covered him like a blanket of ash. 

He wouldn’t be the first to try to use BDSM to cope with guilt and shame. Some reading this post might wonder whether typical kink ‘punishment’ activities like being caned, forced to do chores, or verbally degraded will allow them to compensate for behavior that they’re ashamed of. My answer is “Maybe, but probably not.” 

My full response would be a real treatise, accounting for the various ways that people like to define BDSM and even ‘punishment.’ I’d also have to talk about whether I think that consensual punishments are fruitful (I have complex feelings). I’ll save those for other posts and spare you the ninety-five theses. 

For now, I want to talk about repentance, something more powerful than self-punishment. The Hebrew and Greek words that we often translate as “repent” appear over and over in the Bible.  

In Greek, the original written language of the New Testament, the word is “metanoia,” “to change the mind.” In biblical Hebrew, words literally meaning “to turn” or “turn around” are common (a little more on the language here). 

Wikipedia calls repentance “the activity of reviewing one’s actions and feeling contrition or regret for past wrongs, which is accompanied by commitment to change for the better.”

In short, repentance isn’t just about feeling sorry. Feelings are important, but they don’t do much in themselves. Instead, repentance is about harnessing thoughts and feelings through reflection in order to change behavior. 

Let’s consider the police officer. Did he repent? No. He felt bad and used BDSM to feel better. Perhaps, he thought that because he had chosen to experience pain, he now understood the pain he had caused others. Maybe he thought that his pain (carefully calibrated to satisfy him, as kinky pain usually is) would balance out theirs.

Repentance doesn’t work like that. For those who use Christian God language, God doesn’t work like that. 

Jesus didn’t say “I was in prison, but you felt bad and punished yourself.” Jesus said “I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me” (Mt. 25:43). 

This passage might sound harsh and confronting to some readers. It is. It doesn’t leave room for us to pretend that feeling bad about something is the same as doing something about it. 

But it also means that God doesn’t demand that you punish yourself to counteract the suffering you have caused. It means that you get to choose how you respond to that suffering. 

In the police officer’s case, there was most likely nothing he could do to repair the harm he had caused. The bodies he bruised (probably black bodies) would have to heal themselves; the heartache and trauma might never fully go away. He numbed them out with his own ‘suffering’. But he has the power to recognize what he has done and to make different choices, I hope with the help of a good therapist and strong community. That in itself is painful, and not in a fun way (think of a much less extreme version of Voldemort’s fractured soul).

The temporary hurt of kinky play is not a shortcut to understanding the harm one has caused, and it isn’t repentance. 

That being said, does BDSM have a role in repentance? Maybe so (and I’ll talk about that more in another post), but it depends on one’s goals and attitude. I want to practice treating others well through kink, and I want to give myself care in the play that I choose. I want what my sub experiences under my direction to have a positive impact on the way that he interacts with the world outside of our dynamic. I believe that kink can help people to reflect and grow. In the end, though, repentance is a chosen struggle, and there is no substitute.

Be Whoever You Are – An Epistle on Feelings

[Image description: Photo is of a glorious sunset silhouetting trees, buildings, and light poles.]

Note: This post deals with some difficult feelings and anxieties related to sexual orientation. If it hits you hard, remember the Resources page! 

Greetings, Beloved!

After yesterday’s bear of a post, I thought I’d make today’s a short one, inspired by a recent conversation with a friend about sexual attraction and identity. My friend shared that they felt some anxiety about how to define their sexuality (essentially because their feelings don’t appear to fit neatly into a particular box). It reminded me of a worry that I used to have that sometimes crops back up (thanks, brain). 

In college, I experienced a lot of anxiety about whether the sexual orientation label I used matched what I thought I should be feeling (it didn’t help that I was very aware of the social and political consequences of identifying as queer and bisexual). At the end of my first romantic relationship, an ill-timed long-distance relationship with another woman, I worried that I had deceived myself into thinking that I was attracted to women at all. I read every resource I could find, trying to make sense of my experience. Internally, I cycled through a host of possible labels, even flirting with the idea of asexuality before eventually concluding that ‘bisexual’ still suited me. 

I struggled that year with a cocktail of hard thoughts and feelings: guilt and shame about my apparent inability to just get over the relationship, worries that I would never love again, and the nagging fear that I could be lying to myself about this whole thing. I thought that I couldn’t enter a sexual relationship without harming my partner(s) because my feelings seemed all wrong. Can you tell I was a perfectionist? Seriously, bless my heart!

Perfectionism can turn feelings (in themselves neutral) into reasons for self-judgment and shame. In hindsight, I was so busy measuring and judging my feelings that I couldn’t fully live my beautiful queer life. I had to get help. Fortunately, my college had a free counseling center.  

Through therapy, the support of great friends, some true tea from Brené Brown, and the healing influence of time, I gradually began to make peace with the fact that feelings are weird and finicky–including those related to sexuality and attraction–because people are weird and finicky. 

Here’s some informal advice that I gave my friend about attraction:

  • Attraction Is fluid and complicated.
  • It may change and expand…but you can’t force it to change.
  • You get to choose how you identify. 
  • You don’t have to force yourself into any label or situation that you don’t feel right about. 

So, feelings don’t come from nowhere, and it can be worthwhile to reflect on “why,” but at the end of the day, you feel what you feel. Your feelings might not be what you expected. They might not fit the mold. They might change. That’s all fine. What you choose to do with them is a more complicated matter, but whatever your feelings are, they’re okay. Let’s start with that. 🙂 Music for your consideration: “Be Wherever You Are” by Rebecca Sugar