An early sexual experience. Age 14.

Reflecting on it later, she isn’t sure how it happened. She remembers talking to one of the boys, and feeling a lot more confident than normal. (Maybe it was the memory of her sun-warmed nipples under her tshirt). She sat next to him, on a log and they shared a beer. They sat in silence mostly, watching the flames, laughing at the poor jokes made by the others. She learnt that he had recently broken up with his girlfriend, he was two years older than her. She heard one of his friends say “rebound”.

Later, back at the hut, her sister and parents had gone to sleep in one of the bunkrooms, so she and Tess lay their sleeping bags out in the other room with the group of teenagers. Part of her longed to go into her parent’s room, snuggle into her sleeping bag, fold up her polarfleece as a pillow and read her book, before blowing out the candle and saying “I love you” to her family.

Later, on the platform of top bunks, all linked up. Tess and her are separated. She’s between ‘her’ guy and the wall. Tess is two different guys away. She doesn’t know what Tess is doing. She hears lots of whispers and laughs. She doesn’t know what to do.

The guy beside her leans in, and she assumes he must be going to kiss her, so she closes her eyes and parts her lips, like she’s seen. He pulls away, shakes his head slightly, but keeps coming at her. She lies still, as his hands explore her under her sleeping bag, over her tshirt and bra. She thinks about what she knows about this: women moan and arch their backs and squeeze their eyes shut. Men conduct, with grunts and say “baby” a lot. (When she was much younger, she thought it was lovely that so many men constantly sang and talked about their babies. “Such caring fathers!”)

She tries a moan. Just quietly, breathy, just enough for him to hear. He likes it, she can tell, because his hand is now travelling down, over the waistband of her shorts and over her thigh. She tries the moan again, and now his hand is between her legs, and then cupping right up there, right up there between her legs, cupping where no one else has ever touched before. Where she has only touched a few times herself,

secretly.

(The first time she did it, she didn’t know what had happened to her, she thought the orgasm that took her body by surprise was ‘having sex’.)

She decides to see how he reacts to a back arch, so she does, but without any sound it comes across like she’s uncomfortable and trying to move away.

(Is she?)

She tries the arch and the moan together, and this really excites him, and she knows this because his hands are now under her shirt, clammy and rough, sliding all over her belly and he can’t decide whether to go up or down. He tries up, and is stopped by her underwire, and this is too hard for him, so he’s going down, way down, underneath her shorts and underneath her panties, and his hands are scratchy and hard and his fingers are in a hurry.

(She’s not. In a hurry. For this. At all.)

Then, his fingers find her and push on her clit so hard she actually does gasp, not like in the movies, but a real gasp, one of shock and pain and bewilderment. And then his fingers keep going down and they push again and now one finger is inside her and it hurts and he’s pushing, his arm is pushing hard on her pelvis and he’s leaning over her, but looking at his hand under her shorts and breathing hard, eyes half closed, face frozen, eyebrows knitted.

(She doesn’t know what to do. So she…)

Arches her back. Movie-moans. Pretends. That she likes this, this violation.

He works his fingers in her for a long time. Any lubrication she had is long gone, and it’s feeling raw. She still continues with the charade, as long as he wants to, because she doesn’t want to make a

fuss.

Eventually, dawn is peeking through the matchbox windows. Like he’s been stung, he rips his fingers from her, she bites her lip to stop crying out, and he finally, finally looks at her. She makes one last grasp at intimacy, leaning forward for a kiss, and he turns his head aside, flops onto his sleeping bag, turns away.

She’s going to be sick. The nausea is quick and rising, and she can’t do it in the hut, she doesn’t want to wake everyone, so she’s climbing over the other sleepers, down the ladder, across the floor, out the door, across the lawn to the bush and then there she is, bent over.

Dry retching in the dawn light.

It’s misty. Mosquitos are still awake and start biting her, and all she can do is stare at her toes and feel a sharp ache, in between her legs, but also deeper than that, much deeper.

Pain.

A break-up letter, Havana, March 2012.

The view from my casa in La Habana, Cuba, 2012

The view from my casa in La Habana, Cuba, 2012

Hello my love.

I’ll try and describe this room to you. It’s pretty plain, but been remodeled in ‘antique’ style, which seems very popular in both the casa I’ve stayed at. Antique style here equals a huge billowy white satin curtain covering one wall (nothing behind it, just a blank wall), a big window with a red curtain with roses on it and a huge stand-alone wardrobe with a big mirror on the front. The wardrobe has actually been scaring me. I woke up one night totally freaked out because I dreamt that I was lying in bed looking at the mirror and I saw Miss Havisham (the creepy old woman from Great Expectations) in it, staring at me. And last night I was tossing and turning trying to sleep and I couldn’t turn my back on the mirror. I was even afraid to close my eyes in case I opened them and saw someone else in the mirror.

I wanted you here, last night.

I’ve been up and down since we parted. I’m cautiously saying I’ve been up slightly more than down, but I’m not sure if that’s because I’m feeling happier, or if that’s just the glow of a new place and new adventure. I’ve had a really low day today, and I’ve been angst-ing all evening on what to do about that, what to say to you, and- this is what I’m finding the hardest- whether to trust how I’m feeling. My trust in myself is totally shaken.

I got the bus to Playa del Este today, it’s a beach about 18k from La Habana. It was pretty average, I swam a bit and read, and tried to write you. This nice guy started chatting to me- Canadian from Toronto- wasn’t trying to hit on me, just another solo traveller and wanted to hang out with someone for the day. And I rebuffed him at every chance I got! He was persistent, but friendly: asked if I wanted to get some lunch, explore the town, share a cab back to Habana, even invited me out with some of his friends tonight to a salsa club. And this is what solo travel is all about right, to leap at chances that arise, and meet new people, and challenge myself socially. And here’s my chance! And I didn’t take it. It’s Friday night, and I’m in bed writing you at 10:30pm. I haven’t been out drinking or dancing in Cuba at all yet! I couldn’t be bothered socializing with this guy. I caught myself thinking on the bus on the way back into town, if I wanted to chat with someone on the beach and explore Habana with someone, that someone is you, my partner of two years, it’s not some random guy from Toronto who I barely know.

And then I got back to Parque Centro and all I could see were couples everywhere. One sticks in my head: they were tourists, and the guy had his arm draped around the woman’s shoulder. He was pointing up at something and she was looking, and they were both smiling. And then they laughed and she snuggled into him tighter and kissed his cheek and he kissed her head. I saw that and thought, we look just like that when we’re together, and I felt so incredibly lonely then, and so stupid and confused and conflicted.

Those feelings have stayed with me all evening. I’ve been trying to write you all week, but I don’t know what to say. I need to make a decision and I just have to trust and hope hope hope that it’s the right one. My options are: A) Come to you sooner rather than later. Reconcile. We feel more like a couple, less like ‘just close friends’ (by this I mean, regular, passionate sex:)). I feel happy and content in the choice that I’ve made. Plan more travel with you. B) Come to you sooner rather than later. Spend lovely time with you, but probably more like close friends, rather than as a full on couple. You go to Costa Rica, I go somewhere close by, probably not back to Canada. We plan to meet up again sooner rather than later, but in what capacity? C) We see each other before we leave Cuba, but we know that will be the last time for a long time. I return to Vancouver, you go to Costa Rica.

I’m trying to approach this decision-making logically, which may be a bad and incredibly frustrating idea, because logically, surely, I’d want option A right? Here’s some of the things that are making this decision difficult for me.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to love you like you want me to/like you deserve/like you love me. 

I recall in one of our conversations, you said that the main thing you wanted in life was me, and that I am the top thing that makes you happy. I don’t know if I can ever say that to you, if I can ever say that to anyone. I can’t put that much trust, that much power and hope, on one person. I don’t know if I’ll ever change my mind on this, I feel it so strongly. It also frightens me, that I have that much responsibility pressing on me. I feel like if I don’t ‘give’ you myself, then I am taking away from you what will make you the happiest. That’s so conflicting, because I do want to make you happy, I do.

But this makes me feel trapped and angry! No one owns me, and no one can make claims like that on me. Similarly, I don’t believe I can make claims like that on someone else. The first person I look to in life to give me what I want is…me. And it will always be me. I’m not saying you’re wrong in feeling this way, it’s how you feel, and this is how I feel. It has crossed my mind that perhaps you would be loved better by someone who felt similar to you in this sense. I’m genuinely afraid that if I pick option A, whose to say that this won’t happen again? I left you in Varadero because I wanted something more than I wanted our relationship. I can’t guarantee this will be the one and only time.

BDSM.

It’s bizarre that I’m thinking about this, now, when I’m feeling the least horny I’ve ever been. This is tough to write to you, because I know this is something that cuts very deep with you, and something that is particularly sensitive. My recent experience with BDSM in Vancouver was eye-opening, mostly in how I reacted. The most eye-opening thing is how quickly and consciously I went against what you specifically asked me not to do. The thought of possible S and M creates an drug-like reaction in me. I wonder if it’s close to an addiction? I do things that are completely against my better judgement, I think of no-one but myself. My reaction defies all sense and logic. The second thing that surprised me is that once was never enough. If you can imagine some kind of animal tasting a certain type of meat for the first time, and then going on a feeding frenzy to get more of that meat, that is how I felt.

And the ‘meat’ wasn’t exactly quality. It excited my mind more than my body. For example, I was never shaking with horniness. I was never as wet as I am with you. I never came as hard, and as often, (and as truthfully) as I do with you. So then why did I crave it? It flicked something in my brain, something that was impossible, and still is impossible to ignore. It got closer to the core of my S and M cravings than anything else I’ve experienced, and that is something that is mean and scary. Something that is without love, something that is about pain, something that is about being used for a sadist’s pleasure. Something about being forced to submit, even though my better sense is screaming at me not too. Something dangerous and risky. Can you see why I can’t explore deeper with you? You can’t be any of those things to me, even if we’re acting.

And we’ve already discussed this, and you said something in our last discussion that made my heart leap with hope. You said that perhaps I could fulfill this separate to our relationship, with your knowledge, consent and perhaps participation. This is my best case scenario. But I’m afraid that I’m unable to do it successfully. As I’ve already demonstrated by trashing the terms of our open relationship, the promise and hint of BDSM makes me crazy and stupid. It fucks with me, more so with my head than my body. I don’t know if I’d be able to have an occasional Dom on the side, without going into a feeding frenzy, without lying to you, without hurting you in some way.

THIS is what it comes down to: I don’t know myself in this situation, and if I decide to go deeper, I don’t know how I’ll react. If I want to experiment further with BDSM, it could be unfair and hurtful to do it within our relationship. And the big question is IF: is BDSM ‘just’ a sexual preference, or is it a larger part of who I am? Which do I want it to be? Do I want to find out?

I’m no longer a stable person

Ok, that sounds very dramatic! I don’t mean that I’m ‘unhinged’. In Auckland, I was stable. I knew what my goals were, they were achievable and I didn’t question them. I knew what made me happy and what made me sad. I knew what I valued and where my strengths lay. I had a mid to long term plan that filled me with hope and excitement.

Now, I don’t know anything. The goals I have are guesses at best- I’m unsure if they’re good goals or not. I have many ideas for plans, but I don’t know how to pick one- and whether they are good plans or not. I still have some idea of what I value, but I’ve been thinking about new values too- and I’m unsure whether they’re good values or not. My strengths are still there, but mostly I sense my weaknesses, and feel inadequate. And I can brainstorm thousands of things that bring me happiness- but they are things that brought the old, stable ‘me’ happiness. With little sense of, and trust in my goals, plans, values and strengths, how do I know what I’m looking for?

I need this year. I need to develop a deeper sense of who I am through experimentation and trial and error. Can I do this while in a relationship? No. I can’t live experimentally while I have the grounding consistency of a long-term relationship, one that brings all my past actions, behavior and assumptions to the present. I have to live selfishly, and just for me. I have to travel solo. Is this goal worth it, is this goal worth forsaking my happy relationship?

Yes.

I’m so sorry, my love, my best friend, my bear. I choose option C.

Fight. Come. Submit.

Lightening flashing outside, photo bulbs. Half smoked pipe on the window sill and I’ve flung the window wide open, welcoming in the damp, dripping, humid night. Quiet, stoned mind. It drifts and settles on J.

A huge man. A quiet man. Law student, PhD, powerlifter, married, polyamorous, quietly dominant. He wears thick glasses, walks with a very still upper body, has a cheeky smile, is highly, intimidatingly, knowingly intelligent.

We fight. In a hotel room in suburban Vancouver, prearranged, I turn up in a pencil skirt and blouse, no panties, no bra. At his command I kneel on the bed on all fours, he walks around me, observing me like an animal at auction. I’m frowningly obedient, bratty, scratchy. Hands, on me, running over my ass, down my thighs, between my legs. He slaps them apart, and, surveying me, slides his hand between and dips a finger inside my wet pussy. I moan.

He steps back and orders me to strip. I’m now naked, standing in front of him, skin tingling, alert. He’s almost naked, boxers still on and muscles and tattoos leap out at me. He has a hammer and sickle on his shoulder, and the union organizer in me notices this, I warm to this man even more. He’s silent, still, and this makes me nervous. My toes are nudging each other, fidgeting, sweaty palms. I look him in the eyes and through the stillness and silence he taunts me…go on.

I take one step, and then another, and then a faster one and then I’m throwing myself at his chest, strength and adrenaline pulsing into my forearms, clenched hands, fingernails bunched in fists, striking hard muscles and warm skin and I’m angry! He flips me, I’m on my stomach on the bed and he’s forcefully twisting his hand up between my thighs. I’m wet and horny, but my nervousness has gone and I’m pissed, determined, stubborn. I kick wildly, barely missing his head and squirm away from his grip, but he growls, clamping onto my leg, dragging me back towards him with speed and aggression. His spare hand is between my legs again and before I can take a breath he thrusts both deep fingers inside me. The feeling is overwhelmingly good and hot and I scream pleasure and madness into the pillow.

He can’t win this easily.

I writhe out of his grasp again and get off the bed, facing him, crouched with hands in fists, panting, sweaty. He gives me that look and I launch myself at him, this time with a yell, throwing myself across the bed and punching, punching, punching, punching him and I’m raging and storming, adrenaline and anger, and I hit him with all my strength again and again. And when he’s had enough he calmly flips me on my back and thrusts his fingers inside me.

We play this way for a while, each time I attack and he bats me off, and then he starts making me come, over and over, thighs slick with wetness, shining with sweat and tangled hair and smudged mascara and fiery eyes. I orgasm, screaming pleasure and frustration and rage into the mattress, and then kick out at him afterwards, tempting him into another bout. He never speaks, never loses control, he observes me with amusement and interest.

I’m exhausted, and slowing down. I’m lying on my stomach, the sheet bunched in my fists, my chin hanging off the side of the mattress in my attempt to crawl away. Legs are clamped wide open under his thighs and his fingers are working inside me again, and I’m coming hard: muscle-clenching-body-shaking-pussy-spasming-eyes-squeezed-mouth-silent-pleasure hard. It subsides and the pressure on my gspot is too intense and I’m begging: “Please no more please please no more now please”. He pulls out, spanks my ass leaving a wet handprint and walks to the bathroom.

And I’m still. I don’t move, I don’t try to roundhouse kick him in the mouth or elbow jab his ribs. I listen to my breath, short, quick pants as my head hangs over the edge of the mattress. I’m aware of my sweaty, sore, exhausted body, my wet and tingling pussy. My fingers and hands relax. I stare at the sisal carpet and follow the floor to the full length mirror on the wardrobe door just in front of me. I slowly look up until I can see my reflection: crazed hair, legs sprawled wide, cheeks red and makeup smudgy, lips puffy and slightly open. I am a hot mess. My eyes are bright, glazed, watery. I see defeat, exhaustion. I want to cry, and at the same time, I feel such relief, such peace.

I burrow my face into the sheets. My body cries, but no tears come to my eyes.

He is beside me on the bed now, pulling me into him. His fingers are stroking, claiming, owning my body and there is no resistance, I don’t even think about fighting. This man has beaten me and he has won my submission. This feels very good. I shyly nuzzle into the space between bicep and pectoral and tell him this. He chuckles, the first sound I’ve heard him make for hours, and looks at me under his glasses, one eyebrow raised, quizzically.

That look says: Good. That look says: You interest me. That look says: I never doubted that I would have your submission. That look says: Is there any other way?

Monogamy, celibacy and long-distance submission

We locked eyes in a freezing city, and spent 10 days hungrily exploring.

He opens me like no-one else.

“I’m going to fuck you now. You know your safe word. If you call orange I’ll stop what I’m doing and fuck you like I usually do. But use this carefully, because you can only use it once. If you say red I will stop everything immediately.”

Eyes wide, watching him. Wary, but trusting. He pushes inside me, gently, confidently, swiftly. Gasping, clinging to each other, my body molds his. I burrow my face in his neck, squeezing my eyes shut in the slow intensity of it all.

I wrap my legs around his back, arch my pelvis towards his, invite him into me. I feel greedy for his cock, and urge him deeper with my legs. He quietly instructs me not to move, and holds me possessively, hungrily, firm hands gripping, handling, manipulating. Dark brown eyes staring right into me, noses touching, lips bumping, breath quietly mixing. I am remarkably present, oblivious to anything outside our bubble of touch, taste, sound and sight.

“Tell me you love me.” My throat constricts, heart beats fast. The transition from dreamy pleasure to alert fear is instant and threatens to overwhelm me. I’m scared at how close his eyes are, how vulnerable I am. I want to sink into the car seat and disappear, shy out of his grasp, away from his stare, out of his enveloping arms. I start to panic, contemplate my safeword, try to push his arms away from my sides (impossible). He doesn’t let me, he traps me, he holds me, he forces me to relax. And I do, I return his gaze, muscles softening, quiet quick breaths. I submit to him with a sigh of relief, sadness, acceptance and love.

“Babe, I’ve got you. It’s ok.” I’m suddenly close to tears. He’s got me. I don’t have to survive on my own. I can relax. He’s got me. No-one has ‘had’ me in a long, long time. I am so moved, so grateful to this man. He thrusts into me, impossibly deeply, and I feel my entire body offer myself to him. I am his. And I cannot remember the last time I felt this safe.

Laughing, teasing, curling my fingers around his bicep, questioning, questioning, questioning.

Do you read?

Why did you decide to renounce religion?

What’s your ultimate sexual fantasy?

What do you look for in a partner?

What scares you about marriage?

What was your childhood like?

Top three most attractive body parts?

Do you enjoy your job?

Does semen have protein in it?

Do you want children?

What is your relationship like with your Dad?

What kind of wedding do you imagine for yourself?

What music do you listen to?

Who is your best friend?

Our difference fosters mutual fascination. We’re so far apart, but are growing closer together with noticeable speed. We delight in finding each other, basking in the other’s company, appreciative gazes, loosely locked fingers, forehead kisses.

His body is magnificent. Lean, muscular, a finely tuned machine. I greedily stroke the planes of muscle and skin, tracing his beautiful tattoos. In bed I wriggle my back into his chest, grinding my ass into the big-spoon curve of his crotch, getting teenage butterflies at how well we fit. At how small I am compared to him. At how my soft femininity is so complimentary. God. He’s so sexy.

I enjoy being led, being second in command. I try on this new coat of submission with a shy inquisitiveness. What would it feel like? It surprises me how good it feels, how natural and easy. How happy it makes me! How much trust I put in him immediately. He’s got me. I smile, relax and bask in this new role, and feel myself open towards him, grateful that he has enabled me to do this. I needed to open. He made it safe.

After a year of polyamorous ethical sluttiness I chose monogamy. For a man I had only spent 10 days with. And then, I flew to live in another hemisphere, with a frustratingly inconvinient time difference. Crazy? Yup.

We’ve been apart for 5 months. We have 4 more to go. At times it feels almost too easy, and then others it’s impossibly hard.

However, I am without a doubt that this is what I’m meant to be doing, because simply, in my world, nothing ever goes wrong.

On being a slut

I started having sex two months after my 16th birthday, and I loved it.

I lost my virginity on the beach my family have been camping at for years, bathed in a full moon, moaning enthusiastically, and thoroughly enjoying myself. Later, recounting this at a party with friends and hearing their stories of virginity regret, I felt awkward and mumbled something along the lines of, “Yeah, I wished I had waited until I had done it with a boyfriend.” But this was bullshit, because I didn’t regret anything about this. On a beach, deliciously doggy-style, with a gorgeous man 2 years my senior who I had only just met? Perfect! Sex was fun, pleasurable and I liked it!

Slut.

This was what was whispered behind my back, and then to my face. I was happy and excited about sex, and naturally, I told my ‘friends’. I made trips to see my beach hook-up a couple of times more, and enjoyed hours of sweaty, clinging, exclamatory sex with him. Then, I was curious to see what it would be like to have sex with someone different, so I met a man at a party and I did. I told my friends all of this, and then was surprised, and ashamed and hurt when rumours circulating my high school got back to me. I think these made it as far as my parents, because I remember my mum buying me condoms, and quickly saying to me that since we live in a small town, it’s a good practice to keep ‘personal’ things to myself. We never talked about my blossoming sexuality, I never told her about my first time. I think she just sort of knew, but not in detail.

So, I stopped talking. I had my first real relationship around this time, and this lasted 5 years. This gave me licence to explore, and I did with so much pleasure. My boyfriend was initially taken aback with my enthusiasm, but he was wonderful and open, and we experimented with spanking and hints of D/s. I didn’t broadcast all the new fascinating things I was discovering about myself, but it was a small town and word still got out. “Slut” wasn’t said outright, rather I would be referred to, with more than a little bit of passing judgement as “___’s nympho girlfriend.” This became so common place that it was said to my face, my boyfriend didn’t argue it, and I was a little unsure what it meant so I stayed quiet, smiling uncertainly. People started relating to me differently. Men would hit on me, hoping to ‘score’ me (even though I had a boyfriend), but not viewing me as a potential partner, only as a trophy fuck. Women felt threatened by me and gossiped. I was viewed as a sexual object, age 16.

However, I had the right amount of bullet-proof naivety that none of this stopped me. I was just so…driven…and curious…to explore everything that had the potential to be sexually pleasurable; with a partner, or several, or just by myself. I was fascinated by my body’s reactions, by secret little spots that could make me feel so good! Honestly, writing about it now brings a smile to my face. My exploration was wonderful!

My curiosity also spelled the end of our relationship. We separated for various reasons, but one was that I cheated. Twice. When I went to university I was madly curious to see what it would be like to sleep with this particular person? Or this one? In this way? With this dynamic? (A small, secret part of me was also curious to see what it would feel like to hurt my partner, and myself by doing this. What would it feel like to shatter trust and cause pain, to both of us? Could I survive it? This fascinates me: why was I so interested in exploring emotional pain?)

Both times I cheated I told my partner the next day, and after the second time, after calling me a slut, he understandably finished our relationship.

Sexual confidence and enthusiasm took a bit of a nose-dive. My rebound man was a marathon runner, with the most beautiful cock I have ever seen. He was right-wing, arrogant, immature. We fucked on and off for 2 months, and when he called it off he told me that I was TOO open with him, and that he wished I had been more secretive so he could work harder to get to know me. The subtext of this was that he wished I had ‘withheld’ sex for longer, so he could feel that sleeping with me was more of a challenge. He also called me a slut.

This hurt, and in my already fragile state I took this on board. I decided that there was something wrong with me, that I was a ‘nympho slut’ (in all the negative sense of the word) and that I should grow up and conform to the feminine ideal: hard to get, shyly flirtatious, make men work for ‘it’, not give ‘it’ up too easily. I decided the easiest way to do this was by cutting all penis out of my life and becoming celibate, age 21.

I stumbled into the weird world of ‘with-holding’ sex: if I told a man that I liked him but wasn’t interested in sleeping with him because I was celibate, they would take this as a challenge, and do everything they could to ‘make’ me have sex with them. It was a side to men I’ve never seen before- ultra charming, manipulative, attentive to the point of harassment, they would pursue me with vigour. Creepy. My trust in men plummeted.

It struck me as completely wrong that I could be enthusiastic about sex and met with judgement, yet be actively celibate and have men flocking to me, trying to ‘win’ my sex.

And then, thank god, in a culmination of different circumstances, I acknowledged that I was kinky. I started reading BDSM blogs, I was introduced to the world of sex positivity, to amazing phrases like “yes means yes”, and “ethical slut”, and I felt like crying and laughing and shouting and rejoicing because this was my space, and these were my people! I fit here! This was me!

Now, I’m 25, and have slightly more maturity to see through the dating, pick-up bullshit. I choose men who are attracted by enthusiastic consent, because of course, they are definitely out there. I am not at all interested in men who want to play games with me, who view sex and my body as something to be won, as a challenge to be conquered (because, of course, they are also definitely out there). I am really drawn the performance model of collaborative sex (Let’s Jam!). The term ‘enthusiastic consent’ has given me freedom, and a place where I can relax. I was reflecting that before I came across any of this the only exposure to sex-positivity I had in my late teens was Christina Aguleria and Little Kim singing “The guy gets all the glory the more he can score / While the girl can do the same and yet you call her a whore“. Isn’t that sad?! I’m planning to become a sex educator to work on changing exactly this, but that’s something to talk about later.

Now. Let’s turn this all on its head.

Through BDSM I explore the dark side of myself, of relationships, of sexual interactions with men and women. I go to places I’m too scared to go in my vanilla life. And one of these places has been around enthusiastic consent.

Okay…writing this feels complex and very sensitive. As I write I’m very aware of all the “Yes, buts” that can be thrown at this…’Yes, but aren’t you just propagating gender stereotypes”, “Yes, but haven’t you been brainwashed by a life of patriarchy”, “Yes, but aren’t you just giving another man a chance to ignore you as a woman and treat you like an object.” I ask myself these things regularly (and recently, I found this blog post which asks a lot of good, challenging, difficult questions). I haven’t yet been able to come up with a perfect answer to these “yes, buts”. BDSM has taught me so much about communication, negotation, trust and self reflection, more than any sex education class. And, selfishly, it makes me happy.

I’ll try to write this next part as cleanly as possible.

In my ‘consent play’, I’m drawn to scenes where I don’t LOOK enthusiastic, where I actually say “No!”,  I struggle in partner’s grasp, physically fight them, try to run away. I’m drawn to scenes where my partner exhausts me to submission, where they trap and trick me, where sometimes, they even force me. I’m drawn to scenes with physical violence and emotional manipulation. I want my partner to call me a slut, and a dirty whore, and a nympho bitch. I want them to degrade me to the point where I feel like nothing more than a vagina on legs. I want them to sexually objectify me.

But. Here is the beauty. After all this has happened, they gather me up in their arms, and stroke my hair, cheekbone. Kiss me gently all over and pay adoring attention to every inch of my tender, sensitive body. They tell me that I’m a good girl and that they’re proud of me, and make me hot chocolate and silly jokes and we giggle.

It is empowering for me to explore these feelings of shame and fear in a situation I’ve created, and I can emerge from as a whole person, with my partner’s support.

(Would I feel the need to be treated like this if I had grown up in a sex positive community? I’m unsure. My attraction to this type of BDSM wasn’t necessarily a conscious plan, I just knew I needed it. I have spent hours asking myself “why?”, but at the end of the day, as long as I feel my practices are RACK (risk aware consensual kink), then I do angst over why like I used to).

Because, I have ultimate control. I create these scenarios, I consent to being used in this way, I negotiate with a partner and have safe words I can call anytime to stop, if I’m not enjoying how things are going (and I have done this!). I now explore what intrigues me without hurting others, in a community that is as sex-positive as I could have ever hoped for. I AM a slut! And how awesome is that?!

This feels so damn good. I am very grateful I let my sexual curiosity, awakened in my teenage self, prevail and lead me to this beautifully kinky world.

The model in the tower: image and consent in San Francisco

Exhibitionism.

This word hissed into my life with a chance, and I leapt at it. It represented something I hadn’t realised I’d been craving until I got to explore it. Then, I donned the title of ‘Exhibitionist’ like a scarlet cape, wrapping it around my shoulders, whipping it over my head, flirtatiously smiling as I passed it across my face.

I was good at it, and I was hunted for it. Rue99 was the “mack daddy of fet photography” (as one of his fans dubbed him) and he wanted me to be his muse for the weekend. No matter that I had only had two photo shoots in my life. No matter than I was as fresh as a (mt cook) daisy.

He picked me up from the youth hostel in San Francisco, and whisked me off to his spare condo in a gritty upmarket neighbourhood where I was to stay for the three days we had together. My middle-aged, Asian prince charming, armed with a camera and a nervous smile. He had the worst people skills of anyone I’ve ever met, but the intelligence, bluntness and intensity of a fast friend. We clicked quickly, and my appreciation for him grew after his embarrassed apology for a “very nice” comment when I stripped. He didn’t like to personally appraise his models. He didn’t want me to feel uncomfortable in any way. And, exhibitionist that I was becoming, I didn’t.

I danced naked in his condo, rolled in playful masturbation on his hardwood floors in the sun, snuggled my tummy into his white fur rug, lounged on silk while exploring my g-spot. He clicked away, snapshots. When he went home I ate almonds, played Drake obsessively, read Marquis de Sade (masturbated some more), practiced distracted yoga and preened myself. I was his model in a tower.

We met for a purpose, and on our second night together I was released from the tower. (I don’t entirely know why I’m writing it as if he was holding me captive. He really wasn’t, I could have left anytime I wanted to. In actual fact, I really enjoyed being in one place, having only one very large open plan room to process and live in for a couple of days. At that point I’d been on the road for over a month. My world needed to shrink for a while). We’d agreed that I was going to model for him at Masqerotica, a kinky ‘lifestyle’ expo in San Fran. “Lifestyle” is the key word, and in retrospect, I don’t know why I picked up on this earlier.

Let me back track for a second to how we met. He emailed me, with this:

I’m looking for a model for a photo shoot performance event for Masquerotica which will show the shots on a 20′ screen while posing for/with attendees. Last year’s was a huge amount of fun.

1. Twenty something years old (must be at least 21)

2. Reliable, energetic, fun, and being an exhibitionist doesn’t hurt

3. Nice figure/face

4. Two or three 30 minute modeling sessions from 9 pm to 1 am

5. No experience necessary

He had me at exhibitionist.

I asked him what I would be wearing?

You’ll be mostly naked. I can cut some duct tape for nips. Do you have a skimpy black/flesh thong for the bottom? Also, a sexy top is nice for an option.

Without baulking, I wrote back:

Everything sounds great! I have a light pink thong with a cute black ribbon- it’s basically flesh coloured. I also have a red one which I love! Duct tape is fine, but I’m happy with uncovered nipples, if that’s allowed. I’m comfortable with pretty much anything. I’m happy with touching, nudity, being manipulated into different positions.

It was a done deal.

San Francisco’s Premier Annual Lifestyle event. I stalked in: lacy gstring, silver tape over my nipples, red lipstick, black eyeliner, red fascinator, stilettos and a smile. Excitedly I helped him set up, met his helpers and the other models. As I’m finding more and more often at fetish events, these meetings are full of warmth and good cheer. Kinky people love other kinky people. However, there was a difference between the kinky performers and the “kinky” voyeurs. For the latter we’re talking fluffy handcuffs, 50 Shades of Grey and some light spanks before orgasm.

I’ll be brief, this doesn’t warrant more than one more paragraph.

Masqerotica, San Francisco October 2012. Photo credit: Rue99

Masqerotica, San Francisco October 2012. Photo credit: Rue99

Positives: took hundreds of photos, was seen by thousands of people. Compliments were rained on me. I was the centre of everyone’s attention- each time a photo was taken it was projected onto a huge screen. This attracted a three-person deep crowd just watching the photos happen. I got to try lots of different postures and expressions for modelling. I was the exhibition.

Negatives: I was the exhibition. I no longer had any say, any control over who had my image. Cellphones were on me, taking photos of R taking photos. People I didn’t know had photos of me, posing suggestively with strangers, in a gstring and duct tape pasties. Compliments were rained on me. I felt consumed. I felt powerless. I felt a little bit icky.

By the end of the night I was thankful to return to the tower. The next day, on the way to his studio, I discussed this ick with R. Our discussion boiled down to consent. I am consenting for R to take my image, and I have an element of control about how it is used. However, Mr “Likes it Rough” and his girlfriend at Masqerotica do not ask my consent when they whip out their iphone, they do not ask my consent when they capture me posing for someone else’s photo, and they do not ask my consent before they publish this photo on Facebook. This is troubling for me. We have a good discussion about consent and image theft.

This doesn’t trouble me enough to stop shooting with R. However, I can now draw a line in the sand to where my exhibitionism will take me. I am only an exhibit with consent. If my consent isn’t explicit, then I am simply consumable. This doesn’t do it for me. This doesn’t make it to my fetish list.

Our shoots culminated with rope and challenge: a wrist suspension in his studio, my legs tied to cinder blocks and stretched wide, my entire body weight hanging from my tiny wrists in a taught X. I didn’t just survive this suspension, I modeled it. I looked right at the camera lens with a “come fuck me” expression and R was jumping in delight and ejaculating praise. My wrists hurt for days afterwards, but that was a small price to pay for the rush. This rush is addictive…adrenaline from pain, overcoming physical challenge, pleasing a well-known photographer, making myself proud.

I kicked ass. Turns out, this woman from little old New Zealand is a fetish model, and a trooper at that!

(I love this, and keep it close to my chest, my secret to help me through my computer tapping, flourescent lights glaring, airconditioned office days).

Can I let myself be a kinky, spiritual feminist?!

Me at the top of Tajumulco, a volcano in Guatemala

At the top of Tajumulco, the highest volcano in Central America. Guatemala, November 2012

Sometimes, I feel I am one giant contradiction.  Once again I’m pondering two core themes:

1) Can I be feminist and submissive?

2) Can I be masochistic, yet strive towards the practice of non-violence?

Oh tricky, tricky BDSM.

1) I know, intellectually, that I can. One of my favourite bloggers regularly teases this out:

Clarisse Thorn: I felt like: Goddamnit, I will show you that I can be an independent and rational woman who values voting and abortion rights and equal opportunity and consent — and be into S&M at the same damn time.

I’ve contributed to Fetlife discussions on this very topic, I can talk about this confidently with friends and partners, littering the conversation with words like empowerment, sex-positivity, choice and personal freedom. But. Honestly, I find the two things so hard to reconcile WITHIN myself. At the stage where I am at in my life right now, I feel proud and happy in my activism: working as a national union organiser, facilitating a network for LGBT* and questioning youth, part of a woman’s action group, and passionate about enthusiastic consent and sex-positive education. I love doing all these things, and when I’m in the thick of it, my future plans are full of leadership positions, brave travel and volunteer work, groundbreaking research, creative facilitation and radical activism. And this ‘future me’ is always transient, solo, strong and selfless.

When I picture this, I occasionally feel a “what about a partner and kids?” pang. But my pride in being so fiercely, successfully solo and totally bad-ass always trumps this.

And then. And then, as happened recently, someone comes into my life and forces me to address something else that I truly do crave, but hate (and I really mean that…hate) admitting to myself. I want to be anchored. I want to stop having to be brave and solo. I want to stop making all these huge decisions for myself and my life. I want to stop being so damn responsible and ambitious…it’s exhausting. I want to be taken care of. I want to submit to someone, and know that they will always have the final say. I want to be an ‘our’, rather than a ‘me’. I want to have someone else make the plan, tell me what to do, take charge. I want to be someone’s girlfriend, partner. I want to be a mum, and concern myself with my bubble and not gang rapes in India or shockingly low female literacy in Guatemala. I want to curl up to someone’s chest and know that they’ve got me, and I can relax. I want to be someone’s submissive, I want to be owned, I want to let myself feel pleasure in serving.

Ugh, it’s hard not to delete the above paragraph because I feel so…ashamed…at the woman it portrays. But I’m anonymous so far on this blog, and that offers an element of protection.

I … am nowhere near having the answers to this question. Of course I can write and talk about how I can be both, how a woman can be a strong in her submission, how I can easily find a partnership that will honour my submission and independence in equal parts, how I can wear a collar at home and hold a leadership position at work bla bla bla.

But, what it really comes down to, is will I let myself be both? Can I find a space in my life where I can be the ass-kicking feminist and the doting submissive? Do I need to look for a way to reconcile the two, or can I let them sit alongside each other, harmonious in spite of their contradiction?

2) I spent 2 months last year at a yoga and meditation retreat in Mexico. This immediately sounds wanky, I know, but it wasn’t. It was simple and cheap, filled with young travellers and teachers, full of love and energy and community. I blossomed there, and found much needed clarity and strength. I’ve been physically practising yoga (Iyengar and Hatha) for 8 years, but the two months I spent in Mexico illuminated my practice: I needed yoga to expand my consciousness, realise inner calm, meditate on the essence of who I am. Physical yoga was merely a crutch to higher things.

I was introduced to the yamas and niyamas, ethical guidelines by which to live a life of fulfillment while benefitting others. The yama that I resonated with the most was ahimsa, the practice of non-violence. After I left the retreat I took a tapas, which is like a spiritual vow, to fully apply myself to practising ahimsa for one month. In this month I was to end each day asking myself if I had caused harm in thought, word or deed to anyone, and if I had, extending warm and unselfish love to them. This was a beautiful time, it was challenging initially, but by the end of it I was shining.

However, I discovered in reflection that I hadn’t fully been practising ahimsa. Because, a core part of ahimsa is not thinking, saying or doing harmful things to yourself. And in that month I had a new partner, and we negotiated for him to hurt me- physically, emotionally, degrade me, verbally abuse me- again and again and again. And I endlessly fantasized about how he could satisfy my masochism, and all the different sorts of pain I could subject myself to.

So, my sexuality is in direct conflict with ahimsa.

Crap.

I can intellectualize this too. If I felt so happy practicing ahimsa in my own way for one month, what does it matter that I also engaged in deliciously nasty BDSM? But I feel uneasy, I feel that perhaps I’m only half-heartedly practising ahimsa. I feel guilty, and keep BDSM hidden from the yoga community I am part of.

Because, they just don’t fit. They are one big, fat contradiction.

This has been a pretty tough blog post to write, my brain is mushy, this doesn’t have the simple eloquence I would like. But I think it’s because this topic doesn’t lend itself to simple eloquence. BDSM contradictions are mushy and jumbled and tough.