Doctor’s Note: today’s column deals with talk of sexual assault in the context of people pretending to not consent to sexual activities.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a 25 year old male, and I’m dating a 24 year old woman, we’ve been together about two months so far, and it’s mostly been very positive. We have healthy boundaries, no end of things to talk on, and well-matched sexually, for the most part. That’s why I’m writing.
See, while we’re mostly great for each other sexually, I have one thing that I feel a bit hung up on, and it’s not so much any fantasy of mine, or hers, more that I expressed discomfort with something, and I regret doing so now…
To be specific, she mentioned that she would really like to roleplay dubious consent scenarios, and at first, I thought I couldn’t deal with that, I’m a person with a lot of feelings of guilt, and ultimately, I thought for sure I’d be unable to bring myself to even consensually act out non-consent. She said it was okay, and that she’d not pursue that route with me if it made me uncomfortable.
The thing is, I gave it more thought, and realized that it’s ultimately something that is roleplay, and we can still define clear lines of what is and isn’t acceptable in that scenario with safewords and the like, and with such safeguards in place, I feel better about it. The thing is, I’m a bit hesitant to say that I’m willing to revisit that conversation, because I worry she’ll think I’m trying to make her feel better, and that I’m not really comfortable with it, more putting on a “brave face”, something she said she very much didn’t want me to do.
My question here, is pretty simple: How do I bring it up that I’ve given it more thought, and that I’m willing to try it, without it seeming insincere in that fashion?
-Safe, Sane, and Consensual
DEAR SAFE, SANE AND CONSENSUAL: So, before I get to your question SSC, let’s talk a little bit about kinks — particularly what’s known as consensual non-consent — and the importance of being what Dan Savage calls GGG or “good, giving and game”.
First, let’s talk a little about why the idea of GGG can be important in relationships. The idea behind it is that what any person should expect from their partner is that they will be good in bed, giving of pleasure and as a lover, and game to try the things that their partner is into, even if they’re not necessarily into it themselves. The last one is especially important because of what it means to your partner: it means that you’re listening to them and being considerate of their interests and desires. It helps your partner feel heard, acknowledged and valued. And it isn’t just competing sex-advice-columnists who recommend this. Studies have found that couples who engaged in what researchers called “sexual transformations” — trying new things — had better sex lives and higher levels of relationship satisfaction overall. Many times, being game means that while you may not be into whatever it is your partner wants to try, you’ll do it for them because they enjoy it. So while it may not rev your motor, the fact that it does the trick for your partner can often make it pleasurable for you as well.
This is one of the things that people often misunderstand; the fact that you’re not turned on by the act, or that you’re doing it for them doesn’t mean that you’re “doing it to make them feel better”. What you’re doing is agreeing to do something for your partner specifically because you care about their pleasure and this is something they enjoy. So while it may not be your thing, it’s one that you’re willing to do because it makes them feel good.
But let’s talk about the kink itself. A lot of kinks focus around what’s known as power-exchange — that is, one partner choosing to give up power to the other in one form or another. While the most common version of this tends to follow a dominant/submissive dynamic, there are a wide variety of ways this can play out. Beyond the stereotype of the dominatrix with whips and floggers, you can find forms of rope-play and immobilization, master/slave, erotic hypnosis, “bimbofication”, teacher/student or — as in your case, SSC, dubious consent or consensual non-consent. In all of these, one partner is in the position of having power over the other. It may be power to inflict some form of punishment, to command their partner to do things or otherwise compel them to act or perform in the way the dominant or top wants.
The kink your girlfriend is into, SSC, is what’s known as “consensual non-consent”. In this case, it involves playing out scenarios in which one partner either has their consent overridden, is in a position where they can’t consent or doesn’t consent and the other partner ravishes them. Notice very carefully that I say “ravish”, rather than “assaults” or “rapes”. I use that word specifically for two reasons. The first is that in CNC scenes, everything is scripted out; the roles, the acts, often even dialogue. It’s carefully planned, often in great detail, along with limits and safewords. The second reason is that these scenes aren’t about glorifying sexual assault, but often much more in line with the old-school romance novel idea of someone succumbing to someone; the person being ravished (often the one who planned and arranged everything) is giving up control and responsibility, taking their pleasure in letting the top have complete control of them. It’s an extreme form of power exchange, and one that many people find appealing.
But a lot of people also find it squicky. There’re folks in kink circles who view CNC with something of a skeptical eye because it — understandably — has the very real potential to go badly. Others are — again, understandably — uncomfortable with role-playing non-consensual scenarios, or may well be triggered by it because of their own history. And of course, there are folks who aren’t into it or repulsed by it because… well, it’s play-acting what in the real world is an incredibly violent and violating act. So it is, needless to say, not for everyone.
And it seems like you were in the latter category at first, SSC, which is totally legit. Which actually rolls back around to the idea of being GGG.
When this concept is brought up, people often stumble over the last G, which is often put out as “being game for anything”. But that’s because they forget, or haven’t heard, the most important part: game for trying new things within reason. There are things that you may be neutral on, things that you feel a little weird about but can push through because of what it does for your partner… and then there’re the hard no’s, the stuff that is out of the question for you. Sometimes it can be because it’s an extreme kink or varsity level interest — cuckolding, edgeplay and the like. Other times, it can be something that just absolutely squicks you out or triggers you. CNC can definitely hit that limit for folks and that’s ok. That’s perfectly reasonable and understandable.
But you, SSC, did some research and gave it some serious consideration and came to the conclusion that this is something you could conceivably do. As you said: it’s just roleplaying, with some fairly stringent guidelines and guardrails. And you know what? Good on you for being willing to examine your feelings on it and to decide that you’re willing to give it a try for your girlfriend. That’s awesome.
Now how do you tell her that you’ve changed your mind?
That part’s easy: same way you told me. You say “you know, I’ve given it a lot of thought. It’s clearly something you enjoy and now that I’ve thought about it more, I’m willing to give this a try. How about we talk about how this would play out and what kind of scenario you’d want to explore?” Ask relevant questions, have her clarify things you may not understand… just make it clear that you’re listening and that you’re going to take this seriously and be an enthusiastic participant.
Now to be perfectly clear: when I say “talk about how this would play out”, you’re just talking about the general structure of things. When you and your girlfriend decide you want to actually do the scene, you and she need to talk this through extensively, down to every little detail. That means you and she need to be able to talk openly, completely and clearly about everything. You want to talk about what acts she wants, which ones are absolutely off the table, what areas on her that are off limits, as well as not just safe words but safe signals for times when she can’t speak or may be in a state where verbalizing isn’t possible.
Also: make sure that you schedule time for aftercare, after the scene… potentially a lot of time. You’re going to want to take that time to come down, release the roles you two were playing and get back to being yourselves again… and provide a lot of reassurance that this was not real. Aftercare can take on a lot of forms — reassuring touch like brushing hair, cuddling, hot drinks are all classics for a reason — but you and your girlfriend should discuss what aftercare she’s going to want or need before you have the scene. And the more intense or extreme the scene, the more aftercare you’re going to want to provide.
Just remember: more than anything else, all of this is going to be about communication, communication, communication. Talking about how you feel and why you changed your mind, discussing with her what she wants to try and how it would all play out, limits, expectations and needs… these are all going to be what not only reassure her that yes, you’re cool with doing this, but making sure you and she have the best time possible.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org