Tag Archives: not a competition

What are bottoming skills? // Teaching (from) the bottom, part 3

Graphic of a woman in a white shirt and dark skirt. She holds a clipboard and points at the headline 'Teaching from the Bottom, Part #3.'

This is part 3 of my “Teaching (from) the Bottom” series, a group of posts about bottoms who teach and things that are taught to and by bottoms. Please see the first post for details on my language use and other introductory notes. You can find the other parts here (more links will be added when I publish the respective posts):


Content note: This post briefly mentions a variety of BDSM practices, including pain play, power exchange, humiliation, and resistance play. It also briefly mentions abuse/consent violations and real-life pain conditions, inside and outside of BDSM.

What are bottoming skills?

After examining why BDSM workshops are so often centered on topping skills and what the risks are of not educating bottoms about safety issues and bottoming skills, it’s now time to look at what bottoming skills are in the first place (I promise there’s more than blowjob skills or bootblacking technique!).

I want to emphasize that I’m discussing bottoming skills in a context of consensual BDSM play/relationships.[1] I’m going to talk about various skills and techniques that I’ve used myself, witnessed in other people’s play/relationships, or heard/read about. Some of the skills only apply to specific kinds of BDSM scenes/relationships (e.g. if you don’t play with pain at all, you probably don’t have a strong need to develop your pain processing skills), but many of them are useful across the board. Some of the things I’m going to mention below are of course also done by tops, and some are also useful in vanilla situations.[2]

While I’m writing in a fairly generalized way (“bottoms do X”), I’m not trying to tell anyone what they should do in any and all kinky circumstances.

I also want to make room for people being new and/or needing time to actually learn these bottoming skills (I certainly wasn’t able to do everything I mention in this post in my very first kinky explorations twenty years ago!). Learning takes time. Mistakes and misunderstandings happen, even after decades of doing BDSM. (And dealing with all of that is also a valuable skill for both bottoms and tops!) I believe that expecting immediate perfection of ourselves and/or each other is not a good (or realistic) way to approach any kind of skill.

That said, I also believe that being able to use these skills usually makes one’s BDSM practice both more responsible and more enjoyable for everyone involved. So I generally encourage people (including myself) to constantly develop and hone these skills as a normal part of their life. In fact, I tend to side-eye bottoms who claim that they don’t need these skills since their top takes care of everything for them because that can be an attempt to avoid responsibility for the bottom’s own part in a BDSM dynamic. I also tend to side-eye tops who claim their bottoms don’t need these skills (or that they themselves don’t need the respective topping skills) because that can be an attempt to withhold agency from their bottom in a manipulative and potentially abusive way. That said, I’m sure I haven’t thought of every potentially imaginable constellation under the consensual BDSM umbrella, so I may have missed an exception to the rule of “these are generally good skills for a bottom to have” in my thinking (feel free to point those out in the comments).

My focus here is on what bottoms do during play, mostly because this is where topping and bottoming skills differ the most (and also because I could write a whole post about every single one of the before/after skills, too — and this post is long enough as it is!). That said, I still want to briefly list some of the things we do and skills we use before and after a scene (and/or relationship).

Before play even starts, bottoms have identified our needs, desires, and limits (or at least figured out what we’d like to try to find out whether we like it or not). We have found and vetted partners who are both compatible and trustworthy (or dealt with their absence — because for many of us, our dating pool is more like a dating puddle and there aren’t always any matches within our geographical reach). Bottoms have communicated our needs, wants, and limits to (potential) partners and (hopefully) asked them about theirs. We have learned about safety concerns and disclosed relevant physical, neurological, or psychological issues. If we’re going to offer any services to our tops, we may also have learned the respective skills (e.g. massage, bootblacking, housecleaning, bookkeeping, deep-throating) ahead of time. We also may have set up safe calls or implemented other safety measures when meeting new partners or playing with them for the first time (or the first few times). And finally, we have gotten ready for the play date physically and emotionally (or at least arrived at the agreed-upon place more or less on time and with some energy left). In some cases, bottoms may also have realized that we’re actually not up for playing at that time/place and/or with that person, so we have communicated that to our counterpart. All of these activities are complex and sometimes challenging, and all of them require specific skills. Not everyone can automatically do them, let alone do them well. But most of us can learn these things, or learn how to do them better (whatever ‘better’ means for each of us: more easily, more efficiently, more effectively, more precisely…).

So let’s be optimistic and assume the preparations were successful, negotiations have ended in actual plans and agreements, and play between at least two eager (if perhaps somewhat nervous) participants is about to begin. What bottoming skills are relevant now?

The most universal one probably is communication. At the very least, bottoms must (yes, mustexpress our ongoing consent with whatever is happening in our scene (or relationship) — or withdraw our consent if and when we want to stop an activity or the whole encounter.[3] We can do that in many different ways: By using plain language (e.g. “Fuck yeah, this is great!,” “I’ll need a break soon,” “Can you please switch to a different toy/loosen that bit of rope/tell me that you still love me?,” “No, stop!”), by using safewords (e.g. “green/yellow/red,” “mercy,” “giraffe”) or safe signals (e.g. hand gestures that align with the traffic light code; tapping out), or by using non-verbal sounds (e.g. moans, grunts, purrs, yells, crying) or body language (e.g. leaning/turning towards a sensation vs. moving away from it).[4] That said, tops are still responsible for paying close attention to their partners’ physical and mental state and for checking in if they have any doubts about their bottoms’ consent. Bottoms can of course also check in with our tops (e.g. by using “yellow” or by just asking “are you okay/still with me?”) if we’re uncertain about the top’s physical or emotional state or their consent.

Of course there’s a lot more to in-scene communication than just “yes, I consent” and “no, I don’t consent (any more),” though, so bottoms also use a similar variety of ways to let our tops know how we feel about what’s happening: facial expressions, eye contact (or the lack thereof), body language, sounds, words… Whether we receive a caress, a slap, a punch, a kick, an insult, a compliment, an order, or the withdrawal of stimulation by way of a blindfold, earplugs, or full-body mummification, bottoms also respond to stimulation of all kinds, whether it’s physical or psychological, ideally in ways our tops can perceive (which might be harder in low lighting or a loud environment). Depending on the bottom, the stimulation, and the negotiated style of communication, this response can be big and obvious (loud moaning, shouting, trying to get away, full-body movement, sobbing, orgasm) or small and subtle (a shiver, a hitch in our breath, a slightly prolonged blink, a swallow, a brief hesitation). Such responses can also give back energy to the top and feed their dominant/sadistic (and/or stone) desire. In scenes that focus on the bottom’s stoicism and/or self-control instead, this may take the form of not responding and instead absorbing whatever is coming at us with as little outward reaction as possible. But even then, some bottoms (and tops!) like playing up to the point where the bottom’s self-control ultimately breaks down and a response can be seen/heard/felt.

Bottoms also process pain or other intense physical sensations (and one person’s ‘boring’ may be another one’s ‘intense’ — and BDSM is not a competition anyway), both physically and emotionally (if we play with pain/sensations at all). This may include pain we don’t directly experience as pleasurable but willingly endure nevertheless because it emphasizes the dynamic between us and our tops. We may use breathing techniques to lessen or heighten the pain; we may tense or relax our muscles or adapt our position to influence how the sensation feels. We may influence the speed of an impact scene by how we respond, e.g. by only returning to the original position once we’re ready for the next stroke or by only saying, “Thank you, ma’am. May I have another?” once we actually mean it. We may work with mental images that turn the pain into warmth or waves of liquid or a blooming flower; we may mentally redirect the pain to a different body part or turn it into something arousing. We may use silent affirmations in our heads that remind us why we’re doing this or that we are strong enough to endure it (e.g. “I choose this,” “She owns me,” “I deserve this,” “I can do this,” “He believes in me,” “I’m theirs to use,” “I belong to her,” “I’m doing it to please them”). Or we may give up all attempts at (self-)control and let ourselves wallow in our utter ‘helplessness’ and deeply ‘unfair victimization’ at the hands of our ‘cruel and cold-hearted’ tops and do all the crying, wailing, and giving up we want to. In short: Processing intense stimulation may mean controlling our (outward) reaction to it, or it can mean letting ourselves react as intensely as we can. Different bottoms have different preferences, and preferences may change depending on the type of scene or the respective partner.

It all depends on the negotiated flavor of our scene and the emotions and dynamics we’ve set out to experience: Pain in BDSM scenes can be about strength and endurance, failure and victimization, sensual pleasure, punishment or reward, and many other emotions and dynamics. It’s also useful when bottoms are aware of our different reactions to different kinds of pain (e.g. stingy pain is a challenge, but thuddy pain is a sensual pleasure — or vice versa; butt spankings feel humiliating, but back floggings bring a sense of pride — or butt spankings may feel close and loving while back floggings feel distant and impersonal; a series of twenty short, intense strokes may be easier to take than twenty clothespins on the undersides of our arms that are left on for ten minutes — or the other way round). Everyone is different, so it makes sense to discuss these things with our partners ahead of time so they know what kind of pain is likely to make us feel how we want to feel (or how they want us to feel if we’ve given them control over that).

Whether our play involves any pain or not, bottoms also deal with a wide range of intense and potentially difficult emotions during a BDSM scene/relationship. This may be especially obvious if we engage in things like humiliation play, fear play, or scenes that play with consensual non-consent, but it’s also true for all other types of play that involves our minds and/or emotions (which even explicitly pain-centered play without any hierarchies ultimately does). Depending on what we play with and what kinds of relationships we have with our tops, we may experience intense feelings of fear, anger, abandonment, disconnection, grief, impatience, and/or vulnerability, either as an expected part of our play or as an unexpected side effect. We may even be triggered or otherwise reminded of trauma we’ve experienced in the past and have to handle that as best as we can. We may also have strong feelings of happiness, connection, sexual arousal, peacefulness, and/or even love. We may suddenly feel intensely romantic towards a casual/one-off partner during a scene, turned on like never before, spiritually touched, or seen and understood to an exceptional degree by our tops — ‘positive’ emotions like these can be just as volatile and difficult to deal with as things like fear or anger, especially of we didn’t expect them. We may also deal with times of doubts, worry, and insecurity during a scene/relationship and may ask our partners for reassurance. We also deal with the emotions our partners express and provide reassurance for them if they want it. Again, all of these things can change from bottom to bottom, from scene to scene, and from partner to partner.

Dealing with the full range of our emotions includes recognizing and identifying them (which is mostly internal work but can also be done out loud to a degree). It also includes making ethical and socially-aware choices about expressing our feelings (because it may not always be a good idea to just blurt out whatever we’re feeling without any filter — or it may be a very good idea indeed to say something even if it feels risky). To do all this, we may partly use similar techniques as we use in processing pain, and we may also take time after the scene to journal about them, turn them into art, and/or talk about them, with friends, our partners, and/or a therapist/counselor.

As I’ve mentioned before, bottoms also constantly monitor our bodies and minds during a scene/relationship, at least in terms of “am I still consenting to this?” (see above). To that purpose, we differentiate between a ‘yellow’ (= “slow down” or “something’s wrong, please check in”) and a ‘red’ (= “stop everything right now”) — and of course a ‘green’ (= “all is well, please continue”). Especially when we play with challenging emotional states or things like consensual non-consent, determining if we want something to stop or continue may not always be easy. Nevertheless, it’s our responsibility to let our tops know if there’s a physical or psychological issue that needs addressing (whether that’s “I can’t feel my fingers anymore,” “I’m having a major panic attack,” or “I just saw my abusive ex arrive at the play party” or something like “I need to pee,” “I forgot to close the curtains,” or “I’m getting cold”). Yes, if our tops know us well enough and have great observational skills, they may be able to notice some of these things and deal with them before we’ve even said something. Yes, there may be times where a bottom is so spaced out from play that they can’t reliably judge their limits anymore, so their top has to make that call by themselves. Yes, it may sometimes be difficult for a bottom to tell their top in the middle of a scene that their aim is off and the flogger keeps wrapping around their collarbones rather unpleasantly or to implicitly question their competence by asking them if this hardpoint really is suitable for suspension (especially when there’s a chosen or real-life power imbalance between them). Nevertheless, I believe the default in BDSM should still be that bottoms keep track of ourselves (along with the top) and that we’re responsible for communicating any issues (or things we expect to become an issue any second) to our tops as soon as we can. Even if that feels like a turn-off. Because our tops may consent to hitting us until our asses are bruised all over, but they may not consent to hitting us in a position that makes our sciatica act up again so we have to spend the next three days in bed on heavy pain medication. They may consent to call us all kinds of insulting and degrading names until we cry, but they may not consent to keep doing this if we regress to a younger age. (I’ll say it once again: Tops get to have limits, too.) Besides, not every top has already had the time to amass twenty years of frequent BDSM practice during which they’ve consistently improved their skills in all possible techniques to an expert level (if there even is such a thing as an objective ‘expert level’ in any of this).

Bottoms also eroticize things (e.g. pain, power dynamics, ‘difficult’ emotions) within BDSM that aren’t generally considered erotic and that might not be erotic for us in a different context or coming from a different person. We shift into a different headspace when we play (or enter into a 24/7 relationship) where different rules apply than in other areas of our life. In that headspace, we willingly suspend our disbelief and accept that our partner is now a top who is allowed to hurt us and/or control (parts of) our behavior and that we are compelled to obey them (or that they are our adversaries whom we have to resist, if that’s more to our taste). Depending on our preferences and the dynamics we’ve negotiated, we may also embody more ‘active’ styles of bottoming (e.g. doing resistance play, engaging in play fighting, being bratty/challenging towards our tops, but also begging, asking for permission, or offering services). Together with our tops, we create this alternate reality and support each other in our respective roles by using specific kinds of spoken or body language and other forms of behavior. We stay present, keep focus, resist distraction, handle interruptions, and maintain the scene space or relationship dynamic we’ve created with our tops.

So even if a bottom doesn’t look like they’re doing much during a scene, even if they really “just lie there” and do what they’re told, there’s still a lot going on within our bodies and minds to enable that degree of seeming ‘passivity’ and submission. It might not always feel like ‘work’ to those who are doing it, and not every bottom is consciously doing all of these things, especially not if we enjoy doing them and maybe also have some unexplained ‘talent’ for them, but we’re still having skills and using specific techniques in what we do (in not doing what we don’t do).

Once play is over (or at various points during an ongoing BDSM relationship), we handle its aftermath, including our part of the necessary and agreed-upon aftercare and debriefing. This may involve caring for our bodies (e.g. eating something, taking a shower, getting some sleep, caring for any injuries), our hearts and minds (e.g. by thinking and talking about the experience, journaling, taking some alone time and/or time with friends, doing therapy, having a spiritual practice), our environments (e.g. cleaning up our play space, washing and disinfecting toys, doing community work), and of course our partners (e.g. by listening to them talk about their experience and sharing ours, giving them a massage or eating them out, bringing them a cup of tea, giving them time to process). We may need to handle a (one-sided or mutual) crush or other feelings that have spilled over from play into the rest of our lives (which can sometimes happen despite all precautions). We may also need to reconcile the fact that our caring and wonderful (play) partner is also a mean sadist who wants to see us cry or bleed, or a strict dominant who wants to decide if, when, and how we get to speak, orgasm, or sit on a chair. Or reconcile the fact that we are strong, independent, social justice badasses and still want to lick someone’s boots, cheerfully cook them dinner in nothing but a frilly apron, and/or be beaten until we’re literally black and blue. We may also deal with the physical and emotional aspects of drop and/or support our partners through theirs (yes, tops can get drop, too). And hopefully, eventually, we also make plans for the next time!

I’m sure this is still not a complete list of all the things bottoms do that require specific skills and techniques, so please feel free to add additional things in the comments.

I also want to acknowledge that in rope communities, bottoming skills and how to learn/teach them[5] have been discussed a lot more clearly than in other areas of BDSM. My own thinking and (self-)perception has undoubtedly benefited from that, even though I myself haven’t done a lot of rope so far.[6]

The next part of the series is about what can make it hard to deliberately use bottoming skills in our BDSM encounters even if we know what they are and why they would be useful.


Notes

[1]  I’m sure some of these techniques can also be used to survive a non-consensual situation, inside or outside of kink (so if you find yourself in one of those and you can’t get away immediately, please use whatever works to help you survive!), but I’m not writing this to help anyone endure real-life abuse longer than is absolutely necessary.

[2]  Some of the techniques mentioned below can be used to deal with non-kinky pain (e.g. from an illness, injury, or disability — or from getting a tattoo) and non-kinky emotional challenges. Again, if that’s your situation, feel free to use/adapt what I say here, but be aware that my focus here remains on consensual kink.

[3]  Here’s a part of my personal consent ethics (yours may be different): In situations that have started out as consensual and during which everyone stuck to the agreed-upon limits, where a bottom simply changed their mind (which they can of course do at any time and for any reason), they must give an indication if they want to withdraw that consent. Otherwise, how is the top supposed to know that the situation is no longer consensual? Even tops with amazing observational skills aren’t mind readers. So if we can’t express this consent withdrawal (which unfortunately might happen), we also can’t accuse the top of knowingly violating our boundaries afterwards. In situations where previous agreements were violated by the top without consent from the bottom, I don’t think bottoms have to explicitly state that things have become non-consensual (because the top should know), even though it’s usually still helpful to do so for clarity’s sake (if only because even experienced and competent tops who care a great deal about everyone’s consent sometimes genuinely forget things or misunderstood the original agreement). If a situation is already at a point where openly stating “I don’t consent” will put the bottom at risk of (more) violence or other form of retribution, I don’t think they have any ethical obligation to keep repeating their “no” and are completely justified in doing whatever will get them out alive and as unharmed as possible. And just for the record: While I’m focusing on the bottom perspective here, the exact same logic applies to tops who want to withdraw their consent or have their consent violated by anyone.

[4]  Body language and non-verbal sounds might be more easily misunderstood than plain language or prearranged safe codes, so it’s good to clarify ahead of time if crying/giggling/silence is a sign that everything is going great for this particular bottom or if it’s a sign that there’s trouble.

[5]  Just in case you have trouble accessing the six different parts linked in this overview through Wayback Machine, here are the direct links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

[6]  There’s also some good writing about rope bottoming on FetLife, but since that’s a closed platform, I’m not going to link these articles.


Image source: Pixabay, text added by me.

What yoga class has taught me about BDSM education: A teaching philosophy of sorts

Photo of a tabby cat stretching between a sidewalk and a car wheel

Today I realized that my approach to teaching BDSM skills and concepts has a lot in common with the things I liked in the weekly drop-in yoga classes I took for a while.[1]

In those classes, there is basic instruction for everyone, no matter if this is the first time they ever get on a mat or if they have done this for a decade already. Breathe. Arrive in the moment. Stay on your own mat; it doesn’t matter what everyone else can or can’t do, measure yourself against yourself. Focus on here, on now.

There usually is a basic version of an asana, a yoga pose, that is taught first. Feet like this, weight there, stretch out from here. It is the raw material from which your version of it is created. Because there are always adaptations, and they are of equal worth. Yoga is meant to adapt to us, to the way we are, right here, right now.

If you have trouble with your knees, do it like this.  If you have a sensitive neck, leave out that bit. If you can’t reach this body part, reach that one. You can do this pose like this, like this, or like this. If you like, you can use a belt, a block, a cushion, a blanket to make it work for you. If you can’t stand, do it sitting down, like this. If this is too much for you today, only take it until here. It’s always okay to take a break. Listen to your body. Stay on your own mat.

If you’d like more of a challenge, try it this way. If you can reliably do this version, try out that one for variety, if you like. If you feel like experimenting, you can try changing this part of the exercise and see which one feels better to you. Listen to your body. Stay on your own mat.

When you start struggling, end the pose or take it back to a less demanding version. Arrogance and overconfidence are likely to get you hurt. There’s always more to learn, for everyone. Find your own range of movement. Take breaks if you need to. Listen to your body. Stay on your own mat.

It is assumed that everybody, every body is different. We are middle-aged and youthful and old, skinny and slender and chubby and fat; we have scars and injuries and constant aches and weak spots and that one muscle that keeps tensing up. We do this for the company, the challenge, the comfort; because our doctor told us, because our friend is here as well, because this is our last hope, because we are just curious, because this is part of our spirituality, because this is a type of sport that works for us. We have all lived a different life before we’ve arrived in this class.

It is assumed that even the same body, the same person will be different every time we get onto the mat. We’re tired, distracted, nervous, recovering from an illness, well-rested, up for a challenge, bubbling with energy, quiet, centered. It’s all okay. We’re all here, now.

We come with different inherent abilities, have made different experiences in and with our bodies, learn at different speeds and in different ways. Some of us spend the best part of the hour battling memories of humiliating experiences in physical education class where we were most definitely not okay the way we were then, the way we maybe still are today. Some of us constantly put ourselves down if we don’t get it “right” on the first try because no one ever told us that getting it “wrong” is a normal part of learning. Some of us need to learn how to learn in the first place because we’ve never been in a situation where we were bad at something, where we had to practice to get better, where we had to work for anything. Some of us feel like we have to be the best at all times or we will be the worst because no one has ever given us permission to be mediocre, just okay, just good enough. Some of us find everything easy and fun and playful, until we acquire an injury, an illness, a disability and have to recreate our yoga practice from scratch, and then everything is just hard and sad and frustrating for a long time. Some of us need to learn how to have compassion for and patience with others in the same class who struggle with things that were always easy for us. Some of us need to learn to leave their complacent comfort zone and take a bit of a risk. Some of us need to learn to stay with our comfort zone. Some of us need to learn to even feel their bodies at all. All of us need to learn to be okay with how we are, right here, right now. All of us need to learn that this is not a competition. There’s always more to learn, for everyone.

***

And there is one teacher (with their own complex backstory and their own current struggles), speaking to everyone in their class. The class consisting of random people who just dropped in out of curiosity, people who will be here once and never return, people who want to get back into this after a health-related time-out, people who have finally worked up the courage to deal with their bodies and all the history stored in them, people who have been here every single week for years, people who will fall in love with doing yoga instantly or slowly or not at all; random people who practice yoga every day at home, people who go to extra yoga workshops and yoga retreats and read books about yoga, people who will never get on a mat outside of this class, people who have acquired exactly the gear that works for them (this mat, these pants, that shirt; this color, that material) after years of trial and error, people who just threw on a band shirt and a pair of sweatpants because that’s what they had; random people who consider this a lifestyle, people who like the movement but can’t relate to anything woo-woo, people who consider this a sport like any other, people who have no idea what yoga will mean to them, what place it will have in their lives, but are curious to see where this takes them.

So the teacher has to adapt. To everyone. They need to explain in words, in technical terms as well as in metaphors and analogies, need to show how it looks and point out the important details, know the places people tend to not pay attention to, need to let people try it out and walk around to offer instruction, motivation, comfort, a challenge. They first have to make sure that no one is hurting their bodies, have to correct the twist of a torso, the placement of a knee, a distribution of weight, suggest a break. Then there is time for variations, further steps, background information. They have to remind everyone that yoga is not a competition, to stay on their own mats. They have to welcome the newbies and recognize the regulars, understand who needs a challenge and who needs an easy success today. They need to remember to ask people before they touch them — and remember who of the regulars already gave them blanket permission to adjust their bodies and who of the regulars prefer a hands-off correction at all times. All of us learn in different ways, and one is not better than the other. So the teacher has to teach in more than just one way.

The teacher also needs to question any assumptions they might make based on looks and other first impressions of their students. Because that super-fat person over there in the ratty old t-shirt and the neon-colored tights may be more experienced and well-balanced than anyone else in the room (including the teacher), and that skinny person with the flowing cotton shirt and the thermos of herbal tea who keeps talking about their amazing trip to India may be nothing but a clueless poser about to hurt themselves badly and alienate everyone else with their casual racism and gender essentialism. They need to be aware of their own biases (and every teacher has some) and be transparent about them so their students can contextualize what they are being taught. They need to be able to say “I don’t know,” and then ideally follow up with, “…but I’ll look it up/ask someone else and get back to you” or “…but you could look/ask for that information there.” They need to keep learning.

The students have to learn to stay on their own mats and to focus on their own minds, bodies, and reasons for being here in the first place. They need to face all the places in them that are stiff and limited for lack of use, uncomfortable for the history they hold, too unstable to safely carry the weight put onto them; that resist change, that open up only on the thirty-seventh try, that want more than they can take without causing damage; that bend beautifully, that stretch further and further, that sink steadily into the ground like an anchor, like roots to grow from, that are light and easy and just a complete joy to hold and move and relax. If the students stick with it long enough, everyone will struggle with something. This is a normal part of learning.

***

My intent behind writing the educational material on this blog is similar to these yoga classes. I’m trying to talk to everyone who shows up, offer something useful for the complete beginner, for the one who has done a bit here and there and now wants more, for the one who has taken a long break and is now carefully coming back, for the person who has been doing this for decades. I try to give you the information you need to avoid injuries and other harm, and to take calculated risks if you like. I try to share ideas for something new, for a different angle, for you to try out and play around with. I may offer a new perspective that you haven’t seen before. I try to be mindful of different backgrounds, different philosophies, different abilities so no one is excluded by default. I hope people learn enough from me to make their own adaptations and fill in the gaps I’ve left. I hope I’m not the only teacher they ever have (in fact, I encourage everyone to check the educational information I give here against the input of other educators and practitioners — after all, I will always have gaps in my knowledge and experience, I may be misinformed myself, or I may simply make an error, as much as I try not to).

That said, not every piece of information, not every example, not every idea in this blog is meant for everyone. I trust all of you to be able to make your own choices about how to engage with my material, to take what feels useful, to adapt what needs adjusting, to leave what isn’t for you. I trust you to figure out which is which for you.

What I offer here won’t be perfect for everyone who comes here. That’s okay. If you find something in this blog that seems way too advanced, scary, disgusting, or weird — or way too boring, cliché, repetitive, or uninspiring to you, please move on to something else because clearly that content is not for you, at least not right now. Find a different post on this blog that speaks to you more. Find a different blog, a different teacher. Write a comment or send me a message that points out or adds the pieces that are missing for you. Come back another time. Skip the educational bits altogether and just read the other parts of the blog. Do what works for you.

And if you don’t understand something I said, please ask for clarification in a comment below the respective article or in a message and I will do my best to answer.[2]

***

If this is too much for you today, only take it until here. It’s always okay to take a break.

If you’d like more of a challenge, try it this way. If you can reliably do this version, try out that one for variety, if you like.

When you start struggling, end the pose or take it back to a less demanding version. Find your own range of movement. Take breaks if you need to.

Listen to your body. Stay on your own mat.

There’s always more to learn, for everyone.

And that includes the teacher.


Notes

[1]  Please note that not every yoga class is like this. In fact, not every yoga class I took back then was like this. These are just the parts that worked well for me (and sometimes my ideas for alternatives to the parts that didn’t work for me at all), the parts I took with me as lessons about how to respectfully teach a body-and-mind-related thing to a group of random people who are all very different from each other.

[2]  This is a declaration of my intent, not a legal contract I’m making with anyone. If I can’t do it, or can’t do it quickly, I won’t. This blog is not the most important thing in my life, and even if it was, sometimes other shit just happens and gets in the way. I also reserve the right to shut down/delete, mock, or just ignore questions that seem to be asked in bad faith or that appear to be asked with the sole intent to hurt me or provoke an emotional reaction in me. I may also refuse to answer questions if the answer would compromise my privacy or that of the people who appear in my writing.


Image source: Pixabay

I want to be a good girl

Photo of a shelf of 19th-century painted mugs. The one in focus says

One of my longest-kept kinky secrets is that I want to be a good girl. I want to please my partner, use my skills to serve them, quietly predict their needs and strive to fulfill them before they even think of asking me to, be praised for my ability and eagerness to follow someone else’s will, stick to their rules, obey them.

I’ve felt a lot of shame about this desire. You see, I wasn’t supposed to want any of these things.

First, there was my mother who told me over and over again to never be dependent on a man and encouraged me to be smart and successful on my own.[1] Then there was the rebellious youth subculture that saved my teenage self from her futile attempts to be “normal” and taught me that resistance against pretty much any authority was a virtue and that I should follow no one’s rules but my own.[2] No gods, no masters. Almost at the same time, the first flavor of (second-wave) feminism I discovered repeated a similar message yet again: I was supposed to be a strong, independent woman. I was supposed to reject any and all traces of stereotypical femininity.[3] I was supposed to never be the proverbial woman behind a successful man. I was supposed to speak up and demand respect at all times. My body, my choice.[4] And I was to eroticize similarity. Egality. Sisterhood is powerful.[5] Then I found queer culture which tended to prescribe boundless fluidity and flexibility as the solution to all ills related to gender and sexuality. More role erotic switching was better, more gender ambiguity and variability was more desirable, and all desires were to be expressed freely.[6] Fuck gender. Assume nothing.

Don’t get me wrong, these were all highly valuable things to learn. I still cherish my ability to question authorities (including authorities within my own communities). I still cherish my knowledge that there is absolutely nothing that needs doing in my life that requires a man to do it.[7] I still cherish my awareness that there is no characteristic or interest or behavior on this planet that is inherently female or male. I still cherish all the insights I gained when I played around with drag and switching and genderfuckery and excessive femininity and general sluttiness. I still cherish being able to say “no” to so many things in so many different ways.

Of course, I carried these lessons over to my first ventures into BDSM. Which worked well for a long time. Especially since I never had much shame about my interest in kink to begin with.

Except for that one secret desire.

After several years of doing kink in a queer context, I realized that I was done “experimenting.” I was done sticking to all these strongly implied rules about how to be a proper queer feminist pervert. I realized that I didn’t want to be or play any gender besides femme, top anyone, or play as a cheeky brat anymore. What I actually wanted was to be a good girl. Or whatever the grown-up version of that was, because I was also tired of being permanently stuck somewhere between 16 and 25.

I wanted to submit, without any previous resistance whatsoever. I wanted to put on some pretty underwear and a nice dress, without any irony, and kneel before a butch, a trans guy, a nonbinarily-masculine being of the queer persuasion. Just because they wanted me to and because I wanted to. And because we both understood that this act expressed an intimate gift and that it didn’t diminish my value as a person or my ability to take responsibility for my life. I wanted my partner to give me a clear set of rules to follow, and I wanted it understood that I would do my best to do so, that I would not fail in order to provoke a reaction from them. I wanted to succeed at the tasks set before me, and I wanted to stretch myself to become ever better, and I wanted my partner to recognize and appreciate and desire that. And I wanted them to tell me so.

Once I had realized this desire, I started remembering moments from my past. Moments where I had had an inkling of this desire and then pushed it aside again. I was surprised at how many of these moments there were, all different, but all echoing the same theme: I want to be a good girl. I had to recognize that I had been wanting this for a long time, much longer than I liked admitting even to myself. That took a bit of work.

And because I had learned my lessons well, I then started to talk about this desire. Because in my experience, telling people what I wanted still was the way that would most likely get me what I wanted. This also took some work. I brought up the topic carefully at first, and often in hints and jokes because that was the only way I could speak about it in the beginning. And with practice, it got easier and I grew more comfortable with claiming this desire in my kinky public.

With practice, I also lost a lot of the shame over wanting something that seemed to contradict almost my entire life. Because, as I finally understood, there really is no contradiction: This is a choice that brings me pleasure. This is a choice I made even when I was sure there would be disapproval from those I cared about most (and there sometimes is disapproval). This is a choice I’m making in a thoroughly queer context where the majority of people would rather have me make a different choice. This is a choice, the details of which I am negotiating with my partner(s) instead of using any one-size-fits-all relationship or sexuality model. This is a choice. And I’ve spent my entire life learning how to make that choice. And how to make a different choice if this one stops working. I may still have some residue of defensiveness about it when I talk to people who may not be entirely approving, but I have no doubt that this is what I want: Being a good girl.

So here I am, a queer feminist femme pervert who wants to (temporarily, but regularly) submit to a masculine person[8] and finally be the good girl I’ve eyed with so much suspicion and pushed away for such a long time. The good girl I never thought I could be, should be, was allowed to be.

The good girl no one ever expected me to be.


P.S. I really wanted to work in a link to Kate Sloan’s “I’m a Good Girl,” but wherever I tried to put it, it felt forced. So you’re getting it here. It hits different notes than this piece, but I wanted to represent her type of good girl along with mine. Because it really is a lovely account and I was very touched when I first read it several months ago.


Notes

[1] Whether she herself was as independent as she wanted me to be is a different question to be examined elsewhere. The answer is probably complicated.

[2]  Except the subculture’s own rules, of course, as much as it pretended not to have them.

[3]  At least when it came to appearances. I still got disciplined for using “masculine communication patterns” (read: stating my opinions without wrapping them in apologies for sharing them in the first place — which I thought was a feminist achievement at the time) and punished for pointing out other women’s manipulative behavior (e.g. guilt-tripping others so they’d get what they wanted without ever having to state it directly).

[4]  Yes, I know this is originally a pro-choice slogan. I’m most definitely pro-choice, and I think the slogan works just as well in a broader context of (not just) female self-determination.

[5]  Striving for erotic “sisterhood” also led to me having the most awkward and unfulfilling sex in my life. Which is also a story for another day.

[6]  Especially the desire to have switchy, fluid, somewhat kinky sex without any permanent or serious power dynamic and preferably between two (or more) people who had been assigned the same gender at birth.

[7]  If you think this means I categorically hate men, you need to pay more attention to what I’m actually saying instead of what you’re projecting onto me.

[8]  Who is probably not a cis man. See footnote above.


Today’s #Kinktober prompt was “praise kink.” This is not exactly that, but it’s close enough.


Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Group dynamics

1890s drawing of a woman tied to a ladder. Her skirt and pantaloons have been pulled aside so her butt is removed. She looks over her shoulder at the viewer.

It’s her birthday and she has announced to us that she’d like to receive a birthday spanking. As we arrive in the assigned room, she has hiked up her flouncy skirt, bared her lovely fat, pale ass, and bent over a high bench facing the wall, leaning onto her elbows, hands flat on the padded surface. Her face is hidden from us by arms and hair; she doesn’t see who came to be a part of this. I already admire her courage and trust in us and hope we won’t disappoint her.

We spread out in a half-circle behind her: tops, bottoms, switches; femmes, butches, trans guys, the genderfluid, the non-binary, the undefined; swagger, shyness, quiet confidence; many shapes and sizes, some of us decades apart in age. Some of us have never spoken to each other before, some of us have years of history as friends, partners, collaborators, some of us are currently not speaking to each other anymore. Our curiosity, expectation, and a hint of reservation waft between us. This is not an organized group, but we’re all ready to be a part of her birthday gift.

One of us has agreed to keep track of things and direct as needed. She stands next to the birthday girl, tells her how pretty she looks, tells her there are a lot of people to fulfill her wish, asks if she’s ready to begin. Birthday Girl affirms, and the air becomes a bit thicker as our collective focus gathers on her.

Directrix turns to her side and nods an invitation for the first smack. The tall butch top next to her steps up, takes a swing, their hand landing surprisingly small on Birthday Girl’s big ass.

Tall Butch and I have played together in the past, then shit happened, and currently we each pretend the other doesn’t exist so we can keep sharing social spaces. I still feel bitter about the careless way they ended things between us and my perception of them now is always tinged with distrust and disappointment.

Directrix asks Birthday Girl to guess who just hit her; Birthday Girl laughs in surprise and protest and points out that she doesn’t even know who’s in the room. Directrix says, “So what?” and just smiles maliciously. Birthday Girl guesses and is wrong. Directrix is amused.

We seem to have silently agreed to do the first round in order of our arrangement in the semi-circle. Next is another butch top, flat hand smacking onto the middle of Birthday Girl’s wide, round ass. Two other people follow, bottom-leaning switches delivering hesitant slaps, not too sure yet, maybe still finding their feet in this scenario.

This was already almost a tenth of the smacks Birthday Girl is going to get today – birthday spankings are very predictable that way, after all. I wonder how she feels because she hasn’t responded much to any of the smacks, yet. Is she nervous and still too tense to react? The stoic type who just takes it all in but doesn’t let out much? Perhaps she’s slightly bored and hopes we’d stop with the warm-up and get on with the good part of this spanking? It’s hard to tell from three steps away, without a view of her face and with the background music obscuring any small noises she may have made so far.

I’m also surprised that none of the people who approach her before me take any time to get a feel for her, to connect with her one-on-one. They all just step up, deliver a blow to her butt, then retreat to their place. It all looks so impersonal, so disconnected. I wonder if they perceive this as merely a functional favor, as a task that doesn’t require their full presence as long as they deliver heavy palms on skin. I’m glad I’m not the bottom in this arrangement.

I realize I’m starting to lose trust in my fellow kinksters here. While this probably began when I noticed that Tall Butch would also be part of this scenario, there’s more of my past in the emotional mix now. This ritual of standing in a semi-circle, watching the person in the middle is like my physical education exams back at school. This is a setting where I’m used to exposing my utter lack of athletic ability, which is then met with collective contempt, a loss of social status, and bad grades. And then there’s the history of all those people assuming that my femininity means that I don’t have any relevant skills and don’t need to be taken as seriously as anyone more masculine than me. From this sneaks a suspicion that even some people in this room may think that my submissiveness means that I’m just here to fill up the space between the Real Tops with my irrelevant hands. And this is where I become defiant.

It doesn’t matter anymore if anyone here really thinks I’m less competent, less important, less worthy. Now I have to prove that I deserve my spot in this circle, that I’m on equal footing with any damn tall butch top, that my choice to bottom and submit is because I want to, not because I’m categorically unable to top (and even if I was, that also wouldn’t make me less). Even if I’m the only person in this room who needs that proof.

I feel the heat of my resentment rise up my spine and remind myself that BDSM is not a competition. Yeah, right, snorts my inner cynic who thinks she’s the realist here. Like I’m the only one who brought her ego to this room. I tell myself to focus on Birthday Girl and her enjoyment, not on the complicated dynamics between the rest of us in the room, whether they exist right now or are just echoes from my past. Either way, I have something to prove. As a femme. As a submissive bottom. As the one who has been treated with such a shocking lack of care by Tall Butch and dismissed too often by other residents of the masculine spectrum. I know that I will be on display as much as Birthday Girl once I step forward for my solo in these group dynamics. I don’t like that this is the way things are, on this day, in this room, between these people, within myself, but I accept the challenge nonetheless. Defiance can be very motivational.

I balance my posture, proudly grounded in earth and air, shifting into a mode that welcomes the attention. I’m not the awkward approximation of a girl I used to be and I know it shows. I step forward to the center, high heels clacking on linoleum-covered wood. My first pair of high heels was a fundamental tool in my work to become a different kind of girl, one I liked better. One with more agency. Today’s heels are an implicit reminder of that. I stand to the side of Birthday Girl, rest one hand on the large small of her back. It’s a greeting, a tuning-in, our first direct contact today. My back is turned to Tall Butch, as if I don’t care, as if I’m excluding them from this moment. Because this particular moment of connection is for no one but Birthday Girl and me.

Or maybe not exclusively for us, because I still know I’m being watched, and still I have a strong urge to show them how to do this properly. An urge to fill the gaps left by the ones who came before me. To show Birthday Girl that I see her and her courage, her desire, that I care about her, and that I’m fully present, for this entire minute we’re sharing. I breathe out, let go of all the rush within me. Trail my fingers across the expanse of Birthday Girl’s cool, rosy ass, briefly rest my palm where a handful of her lightly sinks into my hand. Then take a swing and land a beautifully, perfectly resonating smack right onto her sweet spot. She gasps, like she finally woke up, and calls out, remembering her task and sure of herself, “That was you, Directrix!”

Nobody laughs. Directrix just says, “Nope!,” a hint of amusement at how badly Birthday Girl is failing this impossible task in her voice. But nobody laughs at me.

This is all the proof I needed. I won. I’ve won this challenge set to me by my own brain (and perhaps by a faint echo of doubt in someone else’s head). I’ve shown once again that I can fill the center of a semi-circle of observers with something other than embarrassment and failure. This is all the trophy I need: I claimed my place as an equal to every damn top, to every damn person more masculine than me, beyond the shadow of a doubt. Because everyone here has just witnessed Birthday Girl finally come to life at the skilled smack of my hand. Everyone has seen me pay attention to her as a whole person and not just treating her as a disembodied ass, without me saying a single word. Everyone has seen me read her right — she was getting a bit bored. Everyone has heard my smack and her gasp and knows it has landed exactly where and how I wanted and where she enjoyed it. Everyone here has just heard Birthday Girl conclude with absolute conviction that this experience could only have been created by Directrix, who everyone in this room knows to be an experienced sadist.

I quietly return to my place on the edge of the circle, allow myself a small, smug grin, and pass on the attention and the responsibility to the person next to me. After that, Birthday Girl never goes back to being bored. After that, I put away my ego again. I’m done competing.

Eventually, we’re done with the forty-odd strokes counting up to Birthday Girl’s new age. She straightens her body, her skirt, and her hair, gathers the parts of herself that have come loose. She turns around to face all of us for the first time this evening and thanks us for making her birthday wish come true. Soon, the circle dissolves and starts fading out of the room. I wait until she’s done thanking Directrix, then make a point of thanking her for the invitation, the opportunity and her delightful reactions throughout.

I just wish I hadn’t been the only one to acknowledge her skills in this.


No, really. BDSM is not and should not be a competition. But sometimes, it is a bit of muddled, impromptu group therapy. A place to question and renegotiate established orders and reflect on our choices. And a place to publicly recognize and celebrate the competence of everyone involved. And I’m definitely here for that, even if it gets a bit messy at times.


Today’s #Kinktober prompt was “spanking.”


Image source: 1