How to tell if you’re doing it right

Way back in the depths of the archives, Mistress Matisse has a really good article about how to tell if your scene went well as a top. To summarize her article, there’s a really simple 3 level scale that she learned from Joseph Bean:

  1. The person you played with wants to do that particular thing again with you. You did well!
  2. The person you played with wants to play with you again but doesn’t want to do that particular thing again. Hey, you still did okay.
  3. The person you played with wants to play with someone else in the future but not with you. Something has gone thoroughly wrong.

It’s really, really common (probably universal) for tops/doms to worry that they’re somehow doing a scene “wrong.” It’s completely normal and understandable to feel that way, but if everyone had fun then you did it right.

Another point from the article I want to reiterate is that if you have a scene with someone and they don’t want to do that particular thing again, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad top. Sometimes the only way to find out whether you like a certain thing or not is to give it a shot, and sometimes you discover that you don’t like that thing. That’s totally normal and not something you should ever blame yourself for.

There is one part of the article I want to expand on. The third level of success Mistress Matisse describes really only applies if everyone had reasonable expectations and negotiated in good faith. It’s totally normal to have built up all these grandiose expectations for your first scene if you’ve been interested in kink for ages and you’ve finally gotten the chance to try it, but you have to remember that your top is a human being. You are not going to get to live out your porniest fantasies right away, you need plenty of time to build trust before you can do really intense scenes with someone.

For female tops in particular, it’s not terribly unusual to run into s-types who have expectations that no actual human person could ever possibly meet. If you run into one of them and have a shitty scene, it’s really and truly not your fault. What’s tricky, of course, is figuring out whether the person you played with had unreasonable expectations. Without experience, it can be really hard to figure that out on your own. This is where you need to either ask around in your local scene or ask around online. God knows the internet is full of people with opinions, somebody out there will be delighted to give you theirs 🙂 Bloggers are often willing to answer reader questions too, if you want to ask one of us. Just don’t forget that anyone on the internet could be a total asshole without the common sense of a radish. Take any advice you get with a grain of salt and if at all possible read the person’s posting history before assuming they have any idea what they’re talking about.

While there’s no wrong way to do kink, it’s important to remember that both parties have the ability to ruin a scene. Tops are not all powerful and bottoms are not blank canvases.

Pushing limits

Pushing limits gets talked about a lot as part of a d/s relationship. It’s not unusual to hear people say that pushing limits is necessary or that it’s a dom’s job. That’s bullshit, but we need a little background so I can explain why.

First of all, not all limits are created equal. I’ve seen plenty of discussions of pushing limits that didn’t clarify what kind of limits they were talking about, which is kind of an important detail. Hard limits are things you are not willing to do anywhere, anyhow, with anyone, ever. Soft limits, on the other hand, are things you might be willing to do once you’ve gotten to know your partner (play or otherwise) better, or once you’ve seen them do a similar scene with someone else, or once the two of you have worked up to it.

Obviously it’s not okay to push hard limits. If someone tells you that needles are a hard limit for them, you goddamn well listen to that and respect it. Asking questions to clarify things that might or might not be okay is totally cool, but pushing or rules lawyering douchebaggery is absolutely not. For example, if one of your sub’s hard limits is needles, you can and should ask whether it’s just needles that aren’t okay or whether other pointy things like Wartenberg wheels or knives are also out or whether breaking the skin in general is out. What would be total assholery would be to hassle your sub about trying needles if it turns out they’re okay with knives and you think they should be okay with needles if they’re willing to play with knives.

Soft limits can be a little more complicated. The bottom line is still simple, though. You do not pressure people to do anything they don’t want to do. Doms are not special and we are not entitled to badger our partners to like what we want them to like.

While I’m at it, subs are not entitled to badger their partners either. It doesn’t get talked about quite as often or using the exact words “pushing limits,” but I’ve seen discussions started by s-types asking for advice to basically harass their partners into playing as hard as the s-type wants them to without showing any respect for how the partner is comfortable playing. That’s not magically okay just because the sub is the one doing the pushing. Tops have limits too, dammit.

What can be harder to explain to people who are wrong about limits and whether it’s okay to pressure people to do things they don’t want to do is that soft limits naturally expand as the relationship grows. That is, it’s really common to have a soft limit of having your hands tied behind your back until you’ve gotten to trust your top but if you never get to the point where you trust them enough to let them do that, you’re in the wrong relationship. From either side, I think it would be totally fair to say it’s not working and break it off.

Of course, some people do like having their limits pushed and seeing if they can do things they didn’t think they could. I don’t mean to come down on people who enjoy having their limits pushed and would be totally bored if their dom didn’t want to challenge them, I just want people to know that if their partner says it’s okay for doms to pressure their subs then their partner is being an asshole. Maybe they can be educated and maybe not, but it’s really important to know that the only person who gets to decide if the sub has their limits pushed is the sub.

If you want to push limits, for fucks sake just find someone who likes that. It’s not that goddamn hard to put that in your profile or bring it up early in the getting to know you process. It’s still totally uncool and counterproductive to lead with your kink (if you pull that shit you don’t deserve to play), but it’s really important to talk in general terms about your needs. If you’re looking for a romantic partner, say that! If you’re interested in d/s, say that! If you only want to get your kink on in the bedroom, say that! Just don’t fucking ask me if I’m willing to spank and then peg you as if you’re placing an order at a restaurant.

Pushing limits is not necessary (and never ethical if you’re talking about hard limits), nor is it the dom’s “job.” You can have plenty of fun without doing stuff that one partner doesn’t want to try and calling yourself a dom doesn’t magically make pressuring someone to do things they don’t want to not abusive. If you want to find someone who will push your limits, more power to you, but don’t feel that you ever need to accept someone else deciding that your limits should be pushed.


Things new submissive guys should probably know, part 2 of many

In which Stabbity continues to rework advice into blog posts 🙂 The first installment is over here if you’re interested.

Last time I talked about really common things new submissive guys worry about, this time I’d like to start with a slightly less common worry. I’m sad to say it’s unusual to see a guy worry about whether it’s topping from the bottom just to ask his partner if she’s interested in doing a particular kink with him. What I’ve usually run into is guys leading with their kinks to the point where I feel like a fetish vending machine. If you’re actually worried about whether you’re being pushy when you don’t mean to be and can conceive of the possibility that your partner isn’t interested in all the same kinks you are, then honestly you’re probably fine.

As well documented as my loathing of being treated like a life support system for a whip is, once you’re actually in a relationship with someone who you treat like a human fucking being, listening to and caring about your desires is pretty much the least you should settle for in a partner. Guys, if your dom doesn’t like you enough to even considering doing stuff you like some of the time, you’re dating the wrong woman! And women, if you don’t like your sub enough to do something that makes him happy once in a while, for fuck’s sake dump him and find someone you do like. Everyone: life is too short to date people you don’t like.

Also, I actually really like it when my play partner gives me ideas. Smart assed masochists with bad ideas are basically the most fun ever 🙂 It’s a lot of work to come up with all the ideas all the time, and I’ve had a lot of fun trying out stuff that I wasn’t super into but wasn’t opposed to because someone I liked wanted to give it a shot. Things you didn’t think you would really like can turn out to be pretty awesome if you get a chance to try them in a low key scene where it’s cool to change your mind at any time. That low key scene where it’s cool to change your mind at any time part is really important, though. If I don’t feel like I have the opportunity to stop doing something that isn’t working for me, I’m going to default to saying no to anything I’m not already sure I like.

Really, it is good and helpful and normal to share ideas about fun things you could do with your partner. Hot roleplay scenes aside, anyone who doesn’t care what their partner wants is an asshole and you should dump them.

On a related note, it is simply not true that there are dozens or hundreds of submissive men for everyone dominant woman. I’ve yelled about that before and I’m going to keep doing it until people get the hint. Awesome submissive men are rare and precious. Your competition for the most part is the miserable douchebags who inspired the rant above about guys treating female doms like life supports system for whips. If you can treat a dominant woman like a human fucking being, spell halfway competently, and make the slightest effort to meet people online or off, you are golden. It is really, really easy to impress dominant women. Other men have already set the bar so dismally low that we’re happy if you just manage not to message us a picture of your dick that we haven’t specifically asked for.

To reiterate the advice from my last post, you are probably going to be fine.

Punishment dynamics

Punishment dynamics (also known as domestic discipline) are one of those things that really seem to polarize the kink community. Either you insist on having a punishment dynamic in your relationship or you absolutely refuse to, there just don’t seem to be a lot of people in the middle.

To make sure we’re all on the same page, when I talk about a punishment dynamic or domestic discipline, I’m talking about the d & s in a d/s relationship agreeing that when the s does something wrong, the d has the authority to punish them in some manner. The punishment could be anything from corner time to writing lines to doing the task that wasn’t done properly over and over to physical punishment like caning, basically anything that the d & s type agree on. Funishment, on the other hand, is when people enjoy doing a little role play about what a bad boy you’ve been and how hard it’s going to be to make up for it. It’s a completely and utterly different thing and not at all what I’m talking about in this post.

In case it wasn’t clear already, not everyone has even the tiniest bit of interest in having a punishment dynamic! If people didn’t keep assuming I must be into that because it’s obviously the One True Way™ then I wouldn’t so irritated by the whole idea. If you like having domestic discipline in your relationship that’s totally cool, just look for someone else who also wants that and don’t hassle people who aren’t interested.

Personally I’m not interested in domestic discipline, but I can see how it can actually be a useful tool if you’re willing to use it. And just to get it out of the way, when I talk about domestic discipline of punishment dynamics, I’m talking about rational grown ups who talked the problem out first and made their apologies before they moved on to using punishment to help the s-type stop beating themselves up or to actively repair the d/s dynamic. I know the most common objection to punishment dynamics is “in my house we talk our problems out like grownups” but even I can admit they’re not mutually exclusive.

As a bit of an aside, my understanding of animal training is that punishment is not an effective way to modify behaviour. It doesn’t work on children either (not to mention that hitting a small defenseless person who literally depends on you for food and shelter is absolutely reprehensible). Yes, your partner isn’t a child or a puppy, but the point stands. If your partner is doing something you don’t like (other than continuing to beat themselves up about the original issue when you feel it’s resolved, which punishment actually can help with) and saying “honey, it makes me really unhappy when you _____” doesn’t fix it, punishment isn’t likely to help either. I know it’s tempting to look for a quick fix, but there just isn’t one.

So, the first thing thing punishment really can be good for is helping the s-type who messed up feel like they’ve “paid for their crime” and stop worrying about it. It’s not exactly unusual for people whose whole relationship style is based around pleasing their partner to take it really hard when they fail. What I’ve heard from s-types who do punishment is that getting a physical punishment after everything’s talked out helps them feel like they’re absolved now and can stop worrying about it. On the other hand, some s-types feel even worse if they’ve screwed up so badly they need to be punished, so approach the whole idea with caution (you know, like everything else we do).

Another thing punishment can do is actively repair the dynamic. For example, if one of your agreements is that your sub texts you when they’re going to be home late and they forget, that can feel like a rejection of your dominance and your whole dynamic. Performing a punishment like texting you status updates every time they do much of anything can help rebuild your confidence in their desire to obey you and reinforce your dynamic where it got torn.

Those are actually really useful things, so why am I so totally uninterested in punishment? Mostly because I can’t separate the idea of punishing someone from the idea of treating them like a child. I know it’s not the same thing, but I still have this visceral ‘ugh’ reaction to the idea of treating an adult like that.

Another issue is that running my own life is quite enough work, I don’t need to run anyone else’s. If you need someone to spank you if you don’t finish your chores, I’m just not the dom for you. I also have this association between people who are interested in punishment and people who are interested in super high maintenance rules and protocols, and I can in no way be bothered to enforce rules I don’t care about. If god forbid someone who did like rules was interested in me, he’d end up miserable and feeling ignored when I totally failed to work with his relationship style.

Maybe punishment is for you and maybe it’s not. Either way we’re cool as long as you don’t bug me about how I’m supposed to want to do something I just don’t care about.