Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What do you want?

[Finals are over!  WHEEE!  Big serious essay today!  Cosmocking next!]

I talk a lot on this blog about how sex should be dictated by what the partners want and the most important thing is to communicate and respect everyone's desires.  And I totally stand by that, but I also know that it's not always that simple.  It's not something I do flawlessly in my own life, that's for damn sure.

Because I am not always sure what my desires are.  My sexuality sometimes seems frustratingly opaque to myself.  I want something, I don't just want to kiss my boyfriend good night and go to sleep, but what on Earth is that something?  Why don't I know what I want?



I have been taught not to credit my own desires.  In part that's personal--one of the most insults I've been subjected to was "you're so selfish, all you want is the things you want!"--and in part it's cultural.  The socialization of young women is all about how to not indulge your desires: don't choose food because it tastes good, don't choose clothing because it's comfortable, don't come on too strong to boys, don't be a needy girlfriend, don't say "no" too stridently or "yes" too enthusiastically.  It's not the charitable or ascetic kind of self-denial, but there's a lot of desire-denial, of doing things correctly instead of the way you want.

(I don't think that young men have it so easy either--it's not the same but it's fucked up in different ways--but I don't have much personal experience with being treated like a young man.  My impression is that guys have more permission to express "acceptable" desires, but there's a pretty narrow range of which desires are acceptable.)

And sometimes when you do break through, when you do the things you want, it's impulsive.  It's not gourmet cooking but a binge on raw cookie dough.  It's not an ethical-slut lifestyle but a furtive tryst with a stranger.  It's not truly escaping repression, it's just acting-out.  It lets you indulge some of your more primal desires, but it doesn't let you lucidly understand them.



But now you're done with that crap.  You're not crowd-following or acting-out any more; you're committed to dealing with sex like an adult.  You read feminist sex blogs.  You have self-respect and you're ready to respect your desires. ...Now what?

Simply saying "that was all bullshit! have the sex you want!" isn't going to cut it.  Maybe intellectually, but not emotionally.  Here I am all prepared to acknowledge and communicate my desires, and my desires are... uh... hm.  I'm so used to putting the "no it's bad and selfish to want things" mental block between my desires and myself that I don't even know what's on the other side.

So here are some questions I've started asking myself.

"What do I fantasize about?"
It took years (okay, the years from 12 to 17, but still, those are years!) for me to go from masturbating while fantasizing about scenarios of sexual submission to realizing that I was into sexual submission.  I know it sounds silly, but I hadn't really made the connection between "thing I like to think about" to "thing I want to do."

"What are my best memories?"
Kevin only held me down and spanked me once, ever, in a yearlong relationship.  It still stands out in my mind as the best sex we ever had.

"What am I fascinated with?"
Another thing I did when I was a teenager: I used to read a lot of blogs and websites about kink, thinking that I was merely curious about this strange world I'd discovered, nothing personal, just something I took a detached academic interest in.  (Hi there, by the way, if you're reading this with detached academic interest.)  I had the same experience with healthcare, interestingly--I was reading medical textbooks "just for fun" before I realized it was a field I would actually enjoy working in.

"What am I stopping myself from saying?"
I've had a lot of conversations with partners that started "I... no, never mind, I shouldn't bother you with this, it's silly."  (Sometimes in my head, sometimes out loud, which is my way of forcing myself to continue the thought because very few boyfriends will go "oh, okay then" to an opener like that.)  They usually turned out to be really really important conversations once I broke through that.

The obvious extension of this is "What do I say when I'm drunk?"  Which is not the safest (emotionally as well as physically) way to get your truths out, but it sometimes works.

"What's the bad, obviously incorrect idea I came up with off the top of my head, the one that's weird and gross so I'm trying to revise it so it doesn't sound ridiculous?"
Pretty much always, that's the truth.

"What would I want?"
Imagine you were in Magical Fairy Land where you could have anything you wanted and a genie would give it to you and there would never be any consequences--what would you want then?  Yeah, that's probably what you want now too.

"Let's try this once and see how it goes."
Sometimes you can't learn without experimentation.  So I can't treat everything like a declaration or a commitment.  Sometimes I have to give myself permission to say (and to make sure my partner knows too), "hey, this might not work out, I might need to stop it halfway through, but I won't know until I try it."  It's almost impossible to be right without having a space in your life where it's okay to be wrong.



I'm not promoting selfishness here.  Knowing what you want doesn't mean always doing what you want; if you want polyamory and your partner is monogamous, or if you want to tie up your partner and they're terrified of that, then your job is not done here.  You still have to negotiate and compromise and possibly sacrifice some of your desires. But you can't even start that process until you know exactly what you're negotiating about, and that requires you to know exactly what your own raw, impractical, selfish desires are.



Me, I want four things real bad right now:
1) To have boy clothes and do boy things and sometimes be a boy in sex, but to still be a woman in the end--a really boyish woman.
2) To focus deliberately on reaching altered states through sex and BDSM, rather than having it just accidentally happen to me.
3) To be a primary to my boyfriend.  Which I am, no question, but it's something I want to keep happening and to feel secure in.
4) To get fisted, like, all the time.  Oh man is that just the awesomest thing.

And even after all this preaching I've been doing, typing those out was hard, and pressing "publish" without deleting them was harder.  This "wanting things" business is a tough skill to learn.

71 comments:

  1. Exceptional writing! Good on you for posting what's obviously an intensely personal essay.

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  2. It's true, men also pick up weird ideas about what it's acceptable to want. I'd say it's closely tied up with the same wrong ideas of what women should want.

    It's not a virgin/whore dichotomy, is more like... a gentleman/lout dichotomy?

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  3. Anon - Maybe more of a lout/pussy dichotomy. Guys who want something "feminine" are probably in a worse boat than guys who only want something "gross."

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  4. I have been doing a lot of thinking about pretty much this for the past couple of months. I'm kinky, and am actively seeking out play partners and going to parties and negotiating scenes, but I'm always a little unsure what to say to "what do you want?". It's surprisingly difficult to interpret my vague, gut-level, moment-to-moment desires into actual activities. It seems hard to take everything I find sexy and find a pattern there, you know? I could write very specific scripts, but that would sort of defeat the purpose for me. This is probably way too personal for a blog comment, but hey, I'll try meditating on the questions you suggest and see if I figure anything out.

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  5. I'm sure that's a bad deal, but even regular hetero cis guys get the message that they have to suppress their sexual desires to be good people. I think it comes from the pernicious idea that women don't REALLY want to have sex, they're just bartering for security.

    In that light, wanting to have sex with someone is, at best, a horrible imposition.

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  6. Libby - One more question that can help clarify kinky desires: "How do you want to feel?" Sometimes it's easier to start there and then work backwards to how you can bring that about physically.

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  7. This post is pretty much perfect. Some of these things I'd started doing without really realizing it, but it's extra awesome to have a list of things to think about instead of just randomly stumbling upon them.

    (Also, randomly, one of my horrible abusive exboyfriend's favorite things to say to me was essentially "you're so selfish, all you want is the things you want!" Ugh. It's hard to get over that.)

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  8. Holly-
    Just spent ten minutes or so with that one and it seems like a really good starting point. A little surprised (embarrassed?) by how much my list looks like a bunch of romantic cliches. Anyhow, I think it's working! Insight ahoy! Thanks a bunch for the tip.

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  9. (okay, the years from 12 to 17, but still, those are years!)

    I was just thinking today about how one of the reasons it was difficult to agree to putting my daughter on antidepressants as a young teen was that they would affect her libido, at this very time when kids need to be figuring out who they are sexually. And one of the doctors actually said to me, re the possibility of lowered libido, "Might be kind of a nice side effect, huh, mom?" Well, y'know, actually I am not that into controlling my daughter through chemistry. I may be a protective mom, but I have limits.

    The antidepressants turned out to be necessary for a few years, but it really weirded me out how none of the doctors seemed to think the libido issue was important to a teen (I now know it's more difficulty orgasming than lowered libido as such, but that too is obviously interfering with sexuality).

    I wonder how many teens' sexuality is seriously affected by antidepressants (at the moment I think Prozac is the only antidepressant approved for children and teens). And are there really parents who WANT this side effect, or was that truly just a little joke?

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  10. Anon - I think it's one of those jokes that isn't--a joke that's supposed to give everyone a cue not to think seriously about the issue.

    I'd like to think that the libido-suppression of anti-depressants is more about "it's hard to get aroused and actually have sex" than about "I don't have desires," but I don't know about that and it probably varies from person to person.

    It's a troubling problem, and the fact that most people aren't troubled by it is double-troubling.

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  11. 3) To be a primary to my boyfriend.

    Could you please explain what this a bit? I don't understand what "primary" means here, and it's tough to google for.

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  12. A.M. - It's polyamory jargon - a primary is a main partner, someone you see more often and/or feel closer to than "secondary" partners, which may be more casual relationships.

    So saying I want to be a primary to my boyfriend is basically Poly-ese for saying that I want to be in a close relationship with him and not feel like I'm taking a backseat to his other relationships.

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  13. Holly, I think your picture was taken at the Pacific Science Center! This did not strike me as odd at all until I realized you aren't from Seattle like me. :P Which made me wonder--how do you choose pictures for your posts?

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  14. Stacy - They're mostly pictures I've taken myself. Sometimes they're relevant to the post and sometimes less so. This is just a picture of dinosaurs in formalwear.

    And it is from the PSC, because I used to live in Seattle! I moved to Boston just about two years ago.

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  15. So there with you. Especially on the trouble with making the "What I fantasize about"-->"What I want" connection. Something like a ten year gap.

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  16. Holly- Oh man I had no idea you were from Seattle! Awesome! And daaang that's a long move. D:

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  17. Oh Holly, reading this blog is like a dream come true. It's like someone popped into my head one day and put her arm around the shoulder of the deepest, most primal part of me that I shove in the back of my mind and said "Y'know, it's okay to come out and just chill, it's healthier and feels pretty good too." This is precisely the advice that I need. And perhaps it's some of the hardest advice to follow, but following it will be oh so much easier when I know that someone else says it's okay. I guess one of the things I want most in my life is to be able to do things without needing someone else's permission, but I'm still trying to unlearn that reflex. These words will come in handy in many aspects of my life, not just the sexual one.

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  18. *is reading this with detached academic interest*

    ...hi there. I also read medical textbooks for fun, and say "Hey, maybe we could try...eh never mind" to my very vanilla boyfriend. Wee?

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  19. "I used to read a lot of blogs and websites about kink, thinking that I was merely curious about this strange world I'd discovered, nothing personal, just something I took a detached academic interest in."

    I thought I was the only one who spent tons of time reading about kink without making the connection between being fascinated by it and actually wanting to do it in real life!

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  20. Stabbity,

    Nah dude. You are not alone.

    Holly,

    I too read the med text books. Then I worked in it! It was cool, but it was not for me.

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  21. Oh. Shit. Uh... I have been reading sex blogs with what I would have sworn was detached interest for years, especially yours. It is kind of frightening when ablog post paints such an eerily familiar picture.

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  22. re: antiepressants: I am pretty sure I was depressed as an adolescent. I had no boyfriend and no experience beyond hugging while slow-dancing before I have hit my twenties. Psychologically, my sexuality was buried under a thick layer of guilt etc. So thick that I have only started masturbating in my twenties, too. Now I am on antidepressants, and while maybe I'm less horny (but not in the days before and during menstruation :) ), the ease it gives me actually would help me figuring out things sexually... if I haven't already clarified a lot before getting on meds. So, I understand your worry, but... if there is a snowstorm, the priority is to get into a house, and worrying about the flowers on the trees can be delayed untill spring. (sorry for the kitchy metaphor).

    also, kink: I think I need security, and if right now I use extremely condensed and specific and twisted erotica to make me able to get into a sexy headspace, then it's ok, but it is also possible that with the general anxiety level decreasing, I will loose some of the kinkiness too (and that's why I don't identify yet as kinky or vanilla [besides the impreciseness of the labels etc blah blah blah]- I will figure all this out later, when more pressing problems will be resolved).

    See, WorriedParent, that's the kind of thinking I am talking about here...

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  23. ps: I mean, "extremely twisted" in a silly, compared-to-the-NORMS way. heh. In fantasy, it's all fne, and in reality I have no bad intentions. just to make clear.

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  24. This really made me think. Trying to figure out what it is I want.

    I hate that I feel lame for primarily wanting good sex, something that has evaded me to date. *bops self* Nothing wrong with wanting good, hot, mindblowing sex!

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  25. I spend tons of time reading about kink because a lot of my friends are into kink and are highly engaged with their own lives, and thoughtful. I read your blog for similar reasons.

    I guess I have a fetish for thoughtful, engaged people.

    Oh baby. Ruminate some more. God that gets me so hot.

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  26. with stabbity & Nikki!!
    I've had an other lover over the last few months, which has brought out how difficult I find it to express 'what I want', even to know it myself. with him we found we were both used to leading sex, had amazing switching. I feel a frustration with my primary partner that he often seems to be doing the 'correct' thing instead of the 'what he wants' - I have difficulties communicating this. I don't want a specific thing so much as to cede control - trying to get that without having to actively lead it... tricky. I think I know what advice to give myself though, y'know.... talk about it?

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  27. Lovely post! These questions are very useful.

    thinking that I was merely curious about this strange world I'd discovered, nothing personal, just something I took a detached academic interest in.

    Stabbity:I thought I was the only one who spent tons of time reading about kink without making the connection between being fascinated by it and actually wanting to do it in real life!

    Not me. The other way round. I was extremely unlucky with all my first SM-related material (in books and other print media). I started out with the idea that this was possibly something interesting to me, and then what I read and saw convinced me that this was all completely off-putting and not attractive to me at all. Ha. Another one successfully repelled.

    But not forever. :)

    ‘"What do I say when I'm drunk?" Which is not the safest (emotionally as well as physically) way to get your truths out, but it sometimes works.’

    I prefer ‘What do I say when I’m in a relaxed, intimate moment with someone I trust to hear me out and be kind to me.’ There’s always a risk inherent in revealing intimate things, but it’s worth it.

    Anyway, not very fair to thrust complex stuff to think about on someone if said partner happens to be drunk as well.

    Let's try this once and see how it goes.

    Yes! And possibly try it twice or thrice, if there’s an agreement that it may merely have gone wrong because of peripheral reasons – inexperience, unfavourable circumstances – and not because of a substantial ‘Not into this’.

    ‘It took years (okay, the years from 12 to 17, but still, those are years!) for me to go from masturbating while fantasizing about scenarios of sexual submission to realizing that I was into sexual submission.’

    It can require an extra step to untangle this when ‘what’s happening to myself’ is not in the foreground of one’s sexual fantasies, but ‘what’s happening to someone else’ is. I don’t fantasise with myself as a main focus. Never did. I fantasise about objects of my desire: men.

    I wonder how many people with dominant interests just slip through the net of shoddy surveys which merely ask:

    Do you fantasise about dominating someone?
    Do you fantasise about submitting to someone?

    but omit to ask:

    Do you fantasise about someone else submitting?

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  28. Great post, Holly. I've been meaning to read Jaclyn Friedman's What You Really, Really Want for a few weeks no because I think she's asking these same questions. Maybe we can do a co-read/co-blog thing.

    Also, for years before I went to film school I:

    a) watched and argued about movies, obsessively
    b) sometimes snuck out of my job to go to the movies ("I've got a meeting...with a client...oh, you want to know which client?")
    c) was roommates with a film major and would just casually pick up and read ALL of her textbooks

    It took a long time to say "I actually want to make movies," but I knew long before I knew knew - my brain was like "Let's stay cool about this, she's not ready" because admitting it was a scary thing that meant changing my life a lot.

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  29. Holly--

    You might have intended this for sexual desires, but I find pretty much all of it applies to anything else you want.

    BRB, using this to figure my shit out.

    --Rogan

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  30. This. Right here.

    "It's not the charitable or ascetic kind of self-denial, but there's a lot of desire-denial, of doing things correctly instead of the way you want."

    Also this:

    "It's almost impossible to be right without having a space in your life where it's okay to be wrong."

    Truly exceptional post, Holly.

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  31. I... can't quite say how much I get this post.

    It was only really recently that I realized I'd /always/ been a masochist - that this wasn't something 'new' when I realized it with a high school boyfriend. I'd gone through a New Agey-phase in middle school, complete with lots of candles... and I used to play with the hot wax all the time. Because it hurt, and that was fun. I stopped after I'd read an article about teens who used burning as self harm - they always described feeling better after, and I always felt better after pouring hot wax on sensitive bits, so I totally freaked out that I was doing something wrong without even knowing it.

    It wasn't until really recently, like I said, that it hit me that the reason it had felt good was that I get sexual pleasure from pain. Somehow, the years of sexually submissive fantasies had 'clicked' when I realized I was a submissive [that it needed a click moment at all is a different story], but the hot wax thing never had.

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  32. Hey Kat, me too. I read quite a bit when I was younger, and cleared my way through the teen section of the library from 8-11. Having read quite a few books that included self-harm themes, it wasn't until about age 13~14 did I actually start to realize that liking pain doesn't necessarily mean I was using that unhealthily as an outlet.

    It's something the stories didn't really show: it was implied that liking it at all was made you instantly qualifiable for mental health intervention.

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  33. But what about fantasies that really ARE just fantasies, that you DON'T really want to have happen in real life? Seems to me every halfway sensible book on sex I've ever read has said don't feel guilty or weird about liking to fantasize about things that totally wouldn't work in the real world (heck, some of mine would be physically impossible). I can see that such fantasies might still provide clues to what you like, but it could be a lot less direct.

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  34. Anon - That absolutely happens. Fantasies can be clues to desires, but they're often not 1:1 representations.

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  35. I've been telling myself for decades that I'm totally monogamy-minded...but remembered the other day that I used to daydream all the time about dating (and being in love with) two hot guys at once - as far back as high school.

    This post reminded me of that.

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  36. admitting it was a scary thing that meant changing my life a lot.

    Emerson, of all people, once said "Always do what you are afraid to do." I'm not sure it's what he meant, but I've found that stuff you want but are afraid to let yourself have tends to be connected to deep issues that it's a really good idea to daylight.

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  37. @Ranai: "It can require an extra step to untangle this when ‘what’s happening to myself’ is not in the foreground of one’s sexual fantasies, but ‘what’s happening to someone else’ is. I don’t fantasise with myself as a main focus. Never did. I fantasise about objects of my desire: men.

    I wonder how many people with dominant interests just slip through the net of shoddy surveys which merely ask:

    Do you fantasise about dominating someone?
    Do you fantasise about submitting to someone?

    but omit to ask:

    Do you fantasise about someone else submitting?"

    This, exactly. It's taken me a long time to come to the realization that I have dominant interests because of the same reason. I rarely am part of my own fantasies and when I've tried I get turned off very quickly. I finally realized that I like watching people being dominated because I have dominant interests. It all was very roundabout but as captainawkward said it's an awful lot like my brain was saying "dude, they're not ready for this yet. Give them time to grow into the idea."

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  38. Thank you so much for this. As usual, you put things so clearly which I am struggling to identify.

    Actually, you frame things so clearly, which I had failed to connect. And again you do it here.

    I have huge problems asking for what I want, and by extension even allowing myself to want things. It's got to the point where anything I want must be bad, because it's a want. I'm trying to change that, and I think this might help.

    Thank you again.

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  39. It's frustrating to realize that as involved as I've been in the kink world for years, I'm only now starting to be comfortable articulating to MYSELF how my deepest fantasies would play out in real life. There's a lot more social approval for the more public manifestations of my sexuality - topping/bottoming in public play spaces, topping in general (because it can be so servicey and unconnected to my own needs), and so forth. I am working on it but it's really, really frightening to speak from a place of my deepest desires, even though (and perhaps because) they are so relatively innocuous.

    -Katie

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  42. It isn't just kink. I spent about a week once working up the nerve to say that I liked -- get this -- being KISSED ON THE BACK OF THE NECK. Why is this so hard?

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  43. (tiny voice) academic doesn't necessarily need to equate to 'detached' and dispassionate most of us are incredibly passionate about what, we do and study we just inherited a bad reputation from science (boohiss)... mumble mumble

    You're fantastic

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  44. Wow. I can't show your post to my students without getting into serious trouble (they are ages 11-15) but I'd really like to adapt it to use it in counselling and tutoring! It's a great guide on figuring out what you want, even for matters entirely outside sex :)

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  45. Also, congratulations on finishing yr exams!

    -Katie

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  46. I have a fantasy as a single male to have sex with another man. However I would never tell my girlfriend that. I have fear I would be rejected. My bisexual fantasies began about 17 I am 34. I have fantasy of me and her sucking another man and him penetrating me while I watch. I like hairy men. See I would never admit this to my current girlfriend of 3 years for fear she would leave me. I applaud Holly's honest and openness.

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  47. I want to fuck monsters....

    But ill settle for my partner in a mask and gloves, making monster sounds.

    And it was the hardest thing ever to tell him, and it was such a relief when he took it (and then subsequently me) the completely right way.

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    1. Aww! That's such a happy story ^_^

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  48. I'm sure this'll have me thinking for a while (and isn't that part of the point?), but the best I can say right now is just 'Thanks for writing this'.

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  49. "I wonder how many people with dominant interests just slip through the net of shoddy surveys which merely ask:

    Do you fantasise about dominating someone?
    Do you fantasise about submitting to someone?

    but omit to ask:

    Do you fantasise about someone else submitting?"

    Wha- wh- whrble...

    I, uh, I think I'm having a click 'oh my GOD' moment right now. Heh.

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  50. Thanks for a wonderful and inspiring essay!

    I'm in my late 40's, have been dominant my entire life, meaning for more than 30 years of relationships I've been attracted to submissive women. That background includes tying up a girlfriend for sex when I was only 17, back in 1980.

    But, only within the last few months have I become truly comfortable as a dominant, have I been able to really embrace every aspect of my own sexuality, light or dark in nature.

    Like the sudden motivation to quit smoking, it took a life changing experience for me to experience this epiphany,

    What life changing event caused this breakthrough?

    My Mother died.

    I woke up one day and realized that there was no one left to "judge" me, no one left to "disappoint" by being who I really am.

    Oh, that I had learned even sooner, to throw off the internal shackles I'd created for myself, the limits I'd placed on exploring my own true nature.

    Only then was I free to truly ask - "What do I want?" - without considering the expectations of others.

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  51. exceptionally inspiring . . . more than I imagined or knew . . .

    I had to write a full reply . . .

    http://www.spiritualbdsm.com/2011/12/what-do-you-want.html

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  52. What if you find that what you want when you go through your n-step program isn't exactly sex?

    I found that when I imagined wonderful sex and thought back to the times sex had made me feel the best, they each involved a women who I trusted very much and felt safe with initiating and leading, and me just lying back and enjoying it. But there's also the experience from about 35 years ago when my girlfriend visited me and was sitting in a rocking chair in my room and I fell asleep on the bed near her, and though there was no sex at all, it gave me exactly the same feeling.

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  53. Well, I'm coming at this from a theoretical point of view, not being the most experienced person at life, but... do what you like doing and don't worry about it?

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  54. It took years (okay, the years from 12 to 17, but still, those are years!) for me to go from masturbating while fantasizing about scenarios of sexual submission to realizing that I was into sexual submission. I know it sounds silly, but I hadn't really made the connection between "thing I like to think about" to "thing I want to do."

    It took me a long time to recognize that my fantasies represent things actual people actually do in the world.

    * * *

    Laplace Demon:So there with you. Especially on the trouble with making the "What I fantasize about"-->"What I want" connection.

    I have fantasies that I don't think would be at all feasible -- I'm in a monogamous relationship, but that's not even why, I'm talking about things that violate the laws of physics/biology/physiology/the land -- so I have trouble counting them as "what I want." But of course they are, in metaphor, or, like, aspirationally, in the sense that it's a jumping-off point for doing things that are possible that I want.

    Ranai: Yes! And possibly try it twice or thrice, if there’s an agreement that it may merely have gone wrong because of peripheral reasons – inexperience, unfavourable circumstances – and not because of a substantial ‘Not into this’.

    That's true, but I would try hard not to come across as pressuring someone with "how do you know you don't like it, you've only tried it once." That's worse, to me, than "how do you know you don't like it if you haven't tried it," and there are things I haven't tried that I'm fairly confident I wouldn't like.

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  55. @Jak and Anonymous on December 18, 2011 7:42 AM:
    :-)

    @ Hershele Ostropoler

    there are things I haven't tried that I'm fairly confident I wouldn't like

    Same here. I trust my personal turn-offs, as I trust my turn-ons.

    I would try hard not to come across as pressuring someone with "how do you know you don't like it, you've only tried it once." That's worse, to me, than "how do you know you don't like it if you haven't tried it," and there are things I haven't tried that I'm fairly confident I wouldn't like.

    Yes. That is true. It is exactly what I mean when I write 'when there's an agreement'.

    My usage of 'agreement' corresponds to my usage of 'consent': based on voluntariness of all persons. Neither includes 'giving in to pressure'.

    If one person talked of 'peripheral reasons', and one person said 'I'm not into this', there would be no agreement.

    Exercising pressure deliberately reduces the space to say 'No'. Giving in to pressure is not voluntary.

    This is actually pretty interesting when you look at how sometimes people misperceive BDSM from the outside: They misunderstand reductionist descriptions, which cite consent as if it were the only difference between BDSM and abuse. Misunderstandings then equate 'consent' with 'giving in to pressure', and change the whole thing to a distorted 'abuse + passive acquiescence'.

    http://ranai.wordpress.com/2011/12/02/introductory-texts-about-bdsm-for-educational-settings

    And then you have the whole mess of people telling happy masochists 'Yeah yeah, you've "consented" (i.e. "passively given in"); it means nothing, you're being abused.' You've probably already seen how this routine misunderstanding plays out. Because of this routine misunderstanding, it's certainly always worth repeating that consent needs freedom to say 'No', and thus can not be done under pressure.

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  56. My response to this was so long it turned into a blogpost of its own... http://acanopenerinawormfactory.wordpress.com/2011/12/19/its-not-what-but-who-the-problems-of-desire/

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  57. @Ranai: "I wonder how many people with dominant interests just slip through the net of shoddy surveys which merely ask:

    Do you fantasise about dominating someone?
    Do you fantasise about submitting to someone?

    but omit to ask:

    Do you fantasise about someone else submitting?"


    You seriously just blew my mind. Oh my god.

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  58. I'm a bit late with this comment, but I read the post a couple times and thought about it before it occurred to me. There's one blocker to knowing what you want that I don't think anyone has mentioned, and it's fear. Fear that wanting what I want makes me "bad" or dirty or weird or perverted. Fear of loss, of the person I confide my want to, fear of losing the image of myself as...whatever I think I am. Fear of not being understood, either in terms of literal comprehension or empathy. It seems easier just not to go there than to face the fear of wanting what I want, sometimes.

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  59. I'm late this party myself, however how timely is this post. Although my kink has finally become something I'm comfortable with and in the process of making it as my own, the poly side of my life is still fresh and new. I am constantly questioning myself how poly fits into my life, how to incorporate this into my existing relationship with my primary boyfriend, and what I want from all of this. I'm still debating whether or not I want another submissive male or a vanilla lover, or both (in one man? two different men?). Hell, I even complicated this further when I wondered to myself if I could bottom to someone else (For the record, I'm a top-leaning switch that submits to one guy).

    I think this is the universe's way of teaching me patience and I should well heed its call to take the time to reflect.

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  60. Oddly enough, these were the exact kind of questions I started asking myself once I learnt of the existence of asexuality and I realised it might actually be my orientation. My fantasies? It turns out they're really PG-rated. That doesn't make them any easier to express AT ALL.

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  61. I wasn't a teen, but my experience of the SSRI antidepressant I was on was that it didn't decrease my desire for sex, or even my initial enjoyment of sex, but it totally blocked out the altered states and thereby made orgasm impossible, plus I was scatter-brained enough that I'd get bored after a bit. And really physically frustrated, because arousal without orgasm makes me feel bad.

    I know a male teen on SSRIs whose experience is that it takes more stimulation--his stimulant of choice is internet porn--but doesn't prevent orgasm.

    Reactions to these drugs vary hugely both from one person to another and from one drug to another. *Never* let your insurance company claim that SSRIs are interchangeable.

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  62. "sometimes be a boy in sex"

    What does that mean to you? I'm honestly genuinely curious. To me "being the boy" means, more or less, being the penetrating partner. I can't think of what else this might mean, so I am genuinely curious as to what you meant by this.

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  63. Thanks for saying this, Holly! I really identify with wanting to be more of a "boy" with my partner. It should be easy (he's bi) but it still feels really awkward. He giggles at me a bit when I get out my Feeldoe, even though he will play with me & it. I tried to talk with him about it, but I could only do it in one of those "I'm talking to you from the other room" conversations.

    Anyhow, I would love to hear more about how that plays out.

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  64. "My impression is that guys have more permission to express 'acceptable' desires, but there's a pretty narrow range of which desires are acceptable."

    Spot on. The take-home is that if we don't express the acceptable desires, or worse, express unacceptable desires, then we're not men: irresponsible, unfit, weak. I know well enough to call this patriarchal bullsh*t (directed largely against straight cismales, note) but it's still tough when you live in a society that uniformly believes and behaves as though it were true.

    P.S.: Dr. Charlie Glickman's "The Performance of Masculinity" has really informed my thinking on this. Required reading: http://bit.ly/jSS2Sj

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  65. Great article here! There's another issue here that I wrote about on my blog today; and extra problem when it comes to trying to work out what we want is that sometimes we feel like we want things because of various external forces and our own thoughts about desire and what we should want. I've had an experiance recently of realising that many of the desires I've been having are not truly what I want, that they were actually damaging for me and came from a wounded place.

    Anyway, the blog post is here: http://thebentpentacle.wordpress.com/2012/01/12/on-desire-and-will-2/. It's a blog on queer paganism, so it talks about things in a spiritual context, if you think this is bullshit then I have no problem with that!

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  66. Dozens of people have said it already, but an absolutely stunning article, and very timely for me.

    It took me 6 weeks just to admitt to myself that I was interested in trying d/s 'properly' rather than as an occasional role play thing or that much mentioned 'detached curiosity', and it took me one hell of a lot longer (and a lot of alcohol, blusing and false starts) actually to ask my husband about trying it. Which is stupid: I knew I liked being both dominating and submitting since before I even lost my viginity, and I've always thought I was totally confident in my sexuality. Still, even now I can't talk about my fantasies unless I'm very horny or rummed up - if my husband interrupts me, even in a supportive way - I'm likely just to stop, or change the subject. Which is stupid because I know he'll still love me and desire me no matter what crazy, messed up stuff I say.

    But you're right, we're told not to want, not to ask too much and then there is the fear of judgement, not just from the conservatives, or our partners, but from ourselves and our own ideologies. If I want to be dominated and humilited, does that mean I'm not a feminist? Not an anarchist? Is this not just self-harm returning in another form? Saying it aloud or in type makes it real.

    It's really difficult to overcome these fears, to speak up, to understand ourselves in the strangest, darkest bits of out minds, and articles like this are so vital in realising that these difficulties are really widespread, and also really unreasonable. Why should we be ashamed of wanting, provided we ask nicely and are prepared to take no for an answer? So, thank you for your honesty and bravery here; I can see it helping so many people (including me).

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  67. I dug through your archive to reread this post. I've started seeing a new partner recently and the other day he asked me what I like and I couldn't reply. I felt awful, especially since I was so proud of myself for really striving for transparency and consent in our sexual interactions. There I was being all feminist-y and awesome and I totally blew it. Although I am far from ashamed of my sexuality, I'm still really shy so I don't know how successful a face-to-face conversation about my desires will be so I am going to make a list of some things I like that I can comment on and clarify for him. It might be a little awkward, but awkward is better than unresponsive.

    Thank you, Holly. Posts like this have really helped me start to overcome my communication barriers and in turn help me become a better feminist and (perhaps more importantly) a better partner.

    -Q

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  68. Hello. I read this blog with what I like to classify as detached academic interest and that hit particularly close to home.

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