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How Mindfulness Killed My Sex Life

The spiritual path will burn away all illusions, including the sexual kind. The good news is that something better is reborn in the ashes.

by Jessica Graham

How-Mindfulness-Killed-My-Sex-Life

Mel was tall and lanky with short dark hair, good tattoos, and a black motorcycle. I wanted her bad. Lucky for me I was in an open relationship with my partner and he was all for it. It had been a long time since I had gone for a bad girl like Mel. I figured since it was just going to be a fling, it didn’t matter that a truck full of red flags were dropped on the first date, the biggest of which was the dopamine rush coming on hard and fast like a fat line of cocaine after a long time sober. I knew I was in trouble the first time I smelled her salty skin and felt her nicotine stained fingertips on my throat.

I wasn’t practicing polyamory, per se, and my partner was my top priority. I’ve always been fluid when it comes to monogamy, depending on the relationship I’m in and how I’m currently feeling. I’m sure my poly friends probably cringe and call me a swinger. I prefer to think of myself as a free spirit. Since I wasn’t looking for another serious relationship, I needed to keep my feelings in check for the sexy butch I was drooling over. This meant getting mindful about lust.

You know the way it goes. Constantly checking your phone, even on the freeway, thinking you see the object of your desire everywhere you go, dreaming about them, the extreme highs and lows that come with seeing or not seeing them. The throes of a new relationship make most of us temporary drug addicts looking for the next fix. I didn’t want to get carried away with this culturally acceptable insanity. Lucky for me, as a meditation practitioner, I had all the tools to observe this crazy ride without climbing on it.

So I let the affair run its course (trust me, it burnt out quick—I’m not a kid anymore), while I deconstructed and carefully explored the activity of my body and mind. At first I fell into the lust trap and caused some trouble with my partner. But soon I was able to ride the wave of new relationship energy like a pro. It was absolutely comical how the chemicals would flood my system and my mind would start to swirl when I got a text from her. Pretty soon the experience became something I could just watch without getting involved in. Those sensations and thoughts were just impermanent activity and they were certainly not me. How could they be if I was witnessing them?

This wasn’t the first time I’d had the insight that I am not my mind or my emotions. Each time that insight deepens, I experience a period of disillusionment. It had happened with my career, with habits, and so on. Basically I see the emptiness in the experience and I “lose” it. That’s to say I lose my attachment to it and my ability to get a fix from it. When I saw through the self who viewed herself as an actor, my acting career crumbled. Once I knew that my enjoyment of a film or a big piece of chocolate cake was simply a collection of thoughts and emotions, I lost my taste for them as well.

This can be a painful and scary part of spiritual development. It can feel like nothing is enjoyable or meaningful. I often have meditation students report that they feel depressed and apathetic during this stage. My first meditation teacher sat me down after few classes and told me, “Meditation is going to ruin your life.” He wasn’t joking. The cost of waking up is everything. With each awakening I’ve “lost’ a little more, but I wouldn’t want to give any of it back.

So here I was getting mindful about the off-the-hook sexual attraction I had for Mel. I didn’t really consider that I was in the process of screwing up my sex life, just like I had once screwed up my career, and my love of cake. The road to hell is paved with good intentions I suppose. By the time my bad girl fling had run out of steam, my sex drive was plummeting overall. Sex just didn’t seem that important anymore. Thanks to good old mindfulness, sexual disillusionment had kicked in.

Now, let me be clear, up until this point my sex drive couldn’t get any higher. I had never had a partner male or female who wanted as much sex as I did. I was insatiable. One might say that I used sex to get “high,” to ease stress, to encourage creativity, and to feel more connected to myself and others. I had been told that one day I’d have to let my attachment to sex go too, just like everything else. But let me tell you I was hanging on tight to this last frontier. Little did I know the romp with Mel was my last hurrah.

My partner and I had always had a phenomenal sex life. It was never less than great, even after three years together. But my merciless dissection of my obsession with Mel launched us into an awkward period. I just didn’t care about sex anymore. Plus we were going through some relationship growing pains (due mostly to my actions in the early days of Mel), and not being able to use sex as a way to connect created a huge sense of separation.

It was incredibly strange for me to feel sexually removed. My sexuality was something I felt so identified with. I was Jessica, the girl who loves to fuck. Meditation has the side effect of tearing your identities from you piece by piece, and this one was no exception. That part of me had vanished. I could no longer use sex as a salve for whatever ailed me. It didn’t work anymore.

As you can imagine, my partner was none too fond of this development and honestly neither was I. I trusted it would shift, but who knew how long that would take? My desire and drive to be an actor took years to come back. But I knew that when my sex drive returned sex would be better than ever. That’s what happened with my creative work. When I lost my attachment to being an actor I became a better actor and started to have a lot more fun doing it. I just hoped my new and improved sex life would materialize before my partner walked out the door.

We had sex every once in awhile, but it wasn’t great or even always good. We didn’t open up the “sex cabinet” next to our bed even once. It started to get a little dark at the homestead so my partner and I decided to keep the focus on having fun and enjoying each other’s company. It was kind of like a lovingkindness meditation for our relationship. I practiced something I call the “Just Be Nice Campaign.” It’s just what it sounds like. I was just nice. When I got annoyed, scared, frustrated, felt not heard, got triggered—I was just nice. Sometimes that meant leaving the room for a moment, but no matter what, I was just nice. I focused on being the best partner I could be and took any focus off of what I thought he was doing wrong. I kept my side of the street clean. I still spoke to someone and/or wrote about my feelings, but I didn’t take problems or negativity to my partner. I also got more clarity on what was actually a problem versus me simply being reactive.

I kept using my mindfulness practice to work with the thoughts and emotions that came up about my lack of interest in sex. People can get stuck in the meaningless trap that can arise along the spiritual path. In reality the self that thinks everything is meaningless is just another self that can be deconstructed. So, I just continued to peel back the layers, keeping my eyes and heart open as I woke up to new truths. Spiritual development is neverending. There is no graduation date. As I learned to be without my nympho identity I found new ways to ease tension and connect with others. I also found I didn’t need sex to be creative.

Not having sex to fall back on also gave my partner and I the opportunity to work through some issues that had been hiding under the surface up until then. A new kind of love and trust bloomed between us, and we started laughing a lot more. We spoke openly about the lack of sex and the challenges that it brought. We don’t lose hope. We figured it could only go on that way for so long. And then one day a few months later, as quickly as it had vanished, my sex drive reappeared. And the angels of carnal joy sang Hallelujah!

When I say it came back I don’t mean that it was recognizable. My relationship to sex had been transformed. It felt fresh, clean, and fluid. It no longer gave me a fix. Without the attachment sex became more fun, more connected, and way more pleasurable. I had been grasping at the pleasure, and now I just let it run through me, unimpeded by my mind. My partner and I dove into a whole new kind of connection during sex. I felt a deeper freedom to let loose. I was no longer limited to a fixed sense of self when it came to my sexuality. I let my sexual self die in the fire of awakening and it had reemerged shining and alive.

So yes, mindfulness essentially screwed up my sex life. But then it was reconstructed into something I never imagined possible. The self that needed to have sex all the time hasn’t returned. Previously I would pass up a good night’s sleep or a social engagement for sex. Now my priorities are a little different. Life feels fuller now, less uneven. My sexuality will continue to evolve as I evolve, and I’m willing to lose it again if need be. I’m also fully willing to embrace a period of non-stop sex. Whatever it takes. Anything to keep waking up.

Complete Article HERE!

Against the cult of the pussy eaters

By Charlotte Shane

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As a thoroughly modern straight woman, I understand the political allure of demanding that a man go down on me. To insist on sexual pleasure—empowering! To tell a man to put his face in my ostensibly shameful genitals—transgressive! The vision of a woman, at long last, being the one to authoritatively order a man to get on his knees? Yeah, I see how that might look like sweet, sweet sexual parity. But after many years and a wide variety of partners, I feel more and more a part of the sorority of women who are ambivalent on receiving oral sex.*

And from all the evidence I’ve found, I’m far from alone. “Too slimy and soft/mushy,” one of my friends declared. “I hate it,” another texted me, not deigning to elaborate. “Too slobbery, too intense, too much gratitude expected,” said one commenter under an anti-pussy-eating confessional. One anti-oral crusader emailed me to complain: “Instead of learning useful hand techniques, most men smush their faces into my pussy and think I’ll be impressed with the effort.” Amen, sister. I’ve lamented the epidemic of fingering-phobia with more friends than I can count, as we wondered what should be done about the many men who’d love to use their mouths for 30 minutes but not their hands for five. And these are the same complaints echoed again and again when women write about why they’re not as enthusiastic about being eaten out as pop culture tells them they should be. One pro-head propagandist asserts it’s only done well about a third of the time. (A pretty generous estimate, in my, and others’, opinions.)

And bad oral is really, really bad. Like, not even worth the considerable risk of complete libido shut down if all does not go well. Where do I begin? There’s the exaggerated head movements. The humming. The saliva application so excessive I start worrying I’m experiencing anal leakage. Not only is it often performative and clueless—all show, no technique—but, for me anyway, stimulation that doesn’t actually feel good ruins me for stimulation that does. Under normal circumstances I might be really hot for that D, but if it’s delivered after ten minutes of bad head? Forget it.

There’s a reason for this recent proliferation of anti-oral screeds, mine included: Modern men are relentless in insisting they do it to us.

It didn’t always used to be this way. In the (very recent) bad old days, not only was women’s sexual pleasure emphatically not a priority, but the only acceptable way for her to derive any was supposed to be penis-in-vagina intercourse. But gradually, thanks to the sexual revolution and pro-clit feminism, men began to adopt a different attitude. Today, books like She Comes First are seminal sex manuals and sites like Bro Bible and Men’s Health share tips about how to better go down on a woman without making it out to be a big deal. American Pie, the movie that (ugh) defined a generation featured one man passing down the crucial skill to another, and getting him properly laid—i.e. “real” sex—as a direct result of his skill. And the rough, crying girl, Max Hardcore-lite gonzo porn of the early aughts has given way to the Kink.com trend of performers trembling through numerous orgasmic seizures, sometimes forced out of them by the infamous Hitachi magic wand.

There’s no doubt that some straight guys still deride women’s genitals as gross or dirty, and refuse to reciprocate the oral sex they inevitably receive, but we’re at the point where even hugely popular rappers brag about doing it. Straight masculinity has been reframed as establishing dominance through “giving” a woman orgasms, even if those orgasms are not—contrary to previous priorities—strictly penis-induced.

So in 2016, pussy eaters are far from rarities. There’s a good chance that by now, men who like doing it vastly outnumber those who refuse. Take the word of women who hate receiving; we pretty much have to physically fight guys off to stop them from latching onto us with their mouths. If you don’t respond positively to the basic experience of being eaten out, even competent oral is pretty icky.

But certain men aren’t willing to hear this. They often won’t listen to our clear statements that we’re not into it, because they’re going to be the special slobbery snowflakes who finally convince us how wrong we are about our own bodies. For men who appear to be in it only for their own ego—like Cosmo Frank—eating a woman out is far from proof positive of respecting her as an equal human being. It’s all about establishing how sexually accomplished and maybe even how feminist (!) they are.

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Certainly, this is an improvement from a time when the entire Western world seemed to have agreed to pretend the clitoris didn’t exist. But patriarchy and the cis-het norms inherent to it have a nasty way of reasserting themselves inside new, ostensibly progressive forms. Dan Savage’s widely embraced “GGG” (good, giving, game) mantra is today’s shorthand for being sexy, which means a wide variety of physical intimacy “within reason” should be on the table no matter what an individual’s own tastes. (Savage bestows a Get Out of Jail Free Card to partners with “fetish-too-far” requests like puke, excrement, and “extreme” bondage.)

Our current social standard for savvy young men and women is the sort of judgment-free fluidity—often called “open-mindedness”—that precludes people of all genders from expressing distaste for any sexual activity, lest they seem prudish and inexperienced. We’ve made oral sex de rigueur for progressive, or simply “standard,” sex—Dan Savage’s decree that you should dump someone who won’t do it to you, for instance, presumes universality of enjoyment.

We’ve gone so far that we’re back in a place where many women are pressured into pretending they enjoy something that doesn’t feel that good to them or else be shamed when they turn it down. It looks a lot like the same situation we were in before when vaginal, PIV-induced orgasms reigned supreme, right down to the outspokenly progressive, allegedly enlightened dudes accusing any woman resistant to a certain type of sex (oral, casual, or simply with them) as standing in the way of revolution.

If you believe the smear campaign against women who don’t like receiving oral, the reason for any distaste is elementary: The chick is just too insecure to enjoy it. Pop psychology says that if a woman doesn’t like a guy tonguing her, it’s because she’s neurotic and hates her own body. “A lot of women don’t like getting eaten out because they’re insecure about how their pussies look,” one site confidently states. “A lot of women have hangups about oral sex,” says another, which goes on enumerate these as “genital shame” and “trust issues.” One doctor’s advice column characterized a typical internal monologue as “good girls don’t have sex just for their own pleasure…”

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In other words, uptight, fretful broads can’t relax enough to enjoy this premium sex thing—which obviously always feels amazing just by virtue of it involving her junk—and so the lack of enjoyment is almost entirely on her and not her partner. This rhetoric is not progress.

Many straight women are sexually experienced, sexually voracious, self-assured people who know what they like in bed. Some of them know that they don’t like laying back and taking a licking. Yet there’s a micro-industry that equates self-confidence with enjoying oral, while tacitly admitting that enjoying it may not be the norm. Articles purporting to help women learn to love being eaten out often suggest recipients are self-conscious of how long it takes them to come, worried that the man administering the oh-so-progressive mouth love is getting bored.

Folks, we aren’t worried about the guy. We know he’s loving it. We’re the ones who are bored. Because in spite of all the hype, some sex educators have found that only about 14% of women report that receiving oral sex is the easiest way for them to get off. And if we do take a long time to come (whatever that means, by whoever’s arbitrary standards) it’s likely because the stimulation isn’t that successful. Women’s orgasms don’t take any longer than men’s—if they’re masturbating. Look it up.

Ultimately, the reason why some women don’t like oral sex is irrelevant. So what if someone is too self-conscious to enjoy it? She should endure an unspecified number of uncomfortable and unsexy sessions in the hope of forcefully changing her own mind? Since when does it show more confidence to allow a man to do whatever he want to your body than it does to speak up about what you actually enjoy? Or to suffer through something sexually unsatisfying to prove some larger point?

And for the record, the number one impediment to men being any good at crooning to the conch is their conviction that showing up is the only effort required. Going down on a woman is like any skill; it takes intelligence, attention, and practice. Putting your face in the general vicinity of someone else’s genitals is simply not sufficient. Combine baseless, wrongful self-congratulation with the already inflated yet desperate male ego, and it’s a recipe for very bad sex indeed. If you’re a guy reading this, and you’re feeling exasperated, please don’t. There’s a very simple rule: Be as effusive about going down on a girl as you want to be, but don’t let your own excitement for it manifest as ignoring her disinterest.

The big secret about eating pussy is that it’s really fun to do. As someone who has tongue-tickled the pearly boat—people call it that, right?—on more than one occasion, I can report that it’s extremely sexy. No man, and dare I say no human, deserves a gold star just because they’re willing to put lips to labia. Such a notion is just another part of the patriarchal conspiracy to keep women’s sexual standards low.

So go forth with your hatred of being dined upon, my fellow harlots. A sexual revolution that requires we endure head when we don’t want it is a revolution that comes at too high a price.

*This article primarily addresses het sex because the vast amount of pro-head propaganda out there presumes the women it addresses are straight, and I’ve not come across forums of queer women speculating that their female partners aren’t wild about being eaten out because they hate their bodies. But if you’re a queer woman pressuring your partner to submit to oral sex when you know they don’t like it, you should feel bad, too!

Complete Article HERE!

Becoming a Power Bottom 101

By Jace Payne

Power bottoms are guys who aggressively enjoy being the receiving partner in anal sex. A true power bottom doesn’t just on their back and get penetrated; a good power bottom can assume the dominant role while being fucked. Porn stars like Jessie Colter and Brandon Jones are great examples of true power bottoms.

Bottoms-upThere are many benefits of learning how to be a power bottom. First, preparing your body for this kind of role will make the act of bottoming more pleasurable; it’s not a skill most guys possess naturally—not every bottom is a power bottom. Tops, who especially like long and rough sessions, enjoy it when their partner can enjoy a pounding without becoming tired or sore.

The first step to becoming a power bottom is to learn the basics of how to bottom. Before you start engaging in any kind of play, you need to start with a hot shower. Learning how to properly cleanse your ass is key. It’s called douching. Douching is a requirement if you’re going to be bottoming. There are many types of anal douches you can choose from; the most popular are a small enema bulb or a more elaborate hose system that connects to your shower head. Fort Troff has a spectacular selection of anal douching kits designed for bottoms that are serious about having a good time, and they are made to be hygienic and user-friendly.proud bottom

Next you must learn to relax. Being topped aggressively can be overwhelming, and it’s important you learn proper techniques to keep yourself calm so you can enjoy the experience. Practice deep breathing to ease your mind and to relax your body. Being a good power bottom is learning how to maintain the proper mindset. If you’re tense up, then you aren’t going to enjoy yourself as much as you could be and it’s going to become painful and uncomfortable. It’s just as important as breathing. If you start to tense up, just take a couple of deep breaths. Communicating with your partner will let each other know what’s working, not working, what would make it more comfortable or pleasurable.

Becoming a power bottom doesn’t happen overnight, and you have to work towards it with a top that understands how to listen, and is willing to work with you as you progress. When selecting sex slingsomeone to help you become a true power bottom, find someone that is not only a skilled top, but patient, and well-versed in foreplay.

Foreplay should be fun and help you relax. A great way to get started is with some light finger play with some lubricant. Once you start to loosen up and are comfortable, rimming is a great way to have some more fun before getting to the more serious action. Rimming does wonders for helping to relax your hole.

When it’s finally time for get to the point where you are going to attempt to be penetrated, use plenty of lubricant. There are various types of personal lubricant to choose from including, water-based, silicone, and hybrid. Never use baby oil, Vaseline, hair conditioner, soap or other types of products not intended for this use because they can hurt and damage your sensitive skin. Learning how to be a power bottom will take much longer if you’re constantly damaging your asshole. You’re dealing with sensitive equipment, so treat it as such. Even when you are advanced, there is no reason to go balls to the wall without lube.

When first getting started with bottoming, it’s totally acceptable to take breaks. All-too-often people get too excited and want to do too much too quickly. Give your body time to adjust and becoming accustomed to what’s being done to it. Being able to get fucked relentlessly is a skill that has to be developed over time. If you are bottoming and it starts to hurt, then stop immediately. That’s your body telling you it’s time to take a break. You can either stop until the pain subsides and try again, or stop and try again the next day. If there are any signs of blood, stop right away and do not continue.toe curl

There are a few things you must not do in the beginning. Bottoming is a skilled art. It takes time. Rushing is a big no-no. Your top shouldn’t escalate to big thrusts before you’re ready to take them comfortably. If he does then things will come to a crashing halt fairly quick. The saying “Go Big or Go Home” only applies to advanced bottoms, not those who are still learning the ropes. Start small and work your way up gradually. Pay attention to what you’re feeling and take not of what hurts and what’s pleasurable.

Lastly, do not turn to drugs, alcohol or poppers to become a better bottom. This can lead to unpleasant, physically damaging, and possibly dangerous scenarios. You can become a power bottom without being under the influence.

Trust that if you take the appropriate steps and respect your body, you will be able to achieve great sexual feats in no-time.

Bottoms Up!

Complete Article HERE!

Gags & Nipple Clamps 101

Lookin’ to spice up your Valentine? When roses and chocolates just ain’t gonna cut it…

Nipple clamps

Gripper Nipple Suckers by Atomic Jock

Gripper Nipple Suckers by Atomic Jock

First up are the infamous nipple clips or clamps. They are a favorite in sensation play. Whether it’s sucking, pinching, prodding, or pulling the nipples, clamps are meant to flirt with the painful side of pleasure. Don’t let the discomfort angle scare you off . Nipple clips can be perfectly harmless, especially for beginners, when used correctly.

Also, remember, both genders have nipples, so this needn’t be for women only. When picking out a tit torture product, you can test the strength on your finger or even better, the flesh of your arm, which is fairly sensitive. A good rule of thumb is that if it hurts your finger, your nipple is not going to be happy. Definitely work up to a stronger clamp if that’s your goal.

3-Speed Vibrating Nipple Clamps

3-Speed Vibrating Nipple Clamps

For beginners, I suggest a sucking type of clamp like Gripper Nipple Suckers by Atomic Jock to stimulate your nipples to full attention. They are easy to use (simply squeeze and let go on the nipple). If you are up for something a bit more edgy, try the 3-Speed Vibrating Nipple Clamps.

They vibrate wirelessly (which can help intensify the pressure in a good way), are waterproof, and, best of all, fully adjustable for whichever kind of level you are at. Pairing some trusty nipple clamps with restraints (and heck, throw in a blindfold!) will work superbly as torture play. Tease, tease, and tease your partner some more with the exquisite pressure of nipple clamps. They will definitely bring out your naughtier side.

Blind folds

Institutional Fleece Lined Blindfold

Institutional Fleece Lined Blindfold

Next, is the realm of sensory deprivation.

It may sound like an insignificant and simple item, but a blindfold can make a world of difference. Covering your or your lover’s eyes creates a vulnerability that can be quite thrilling.

If you don’t know when or where the next caress, pat, or lick will go you can be sure that this will create a whole new level of sensual tension. Plus, with a good quality blind fold impeding your sight, other sensations will take charge with a vengeance.

Try covering your lovers eyes while whispering something suggestive into his/her ear. Or, even better, both strip to the buff, make sure the blind is secure, and surprise them by ravishing different parts of their body, or rubbing parts of yours all over them. Especially paired with your favorite restraint, blindfolds can be a surprisingly new way to spice up your sex life.

Most any cloth material will work as a makeshift blindfold, but I suggest something like the Institutional Fleece Lined Blindfold as a starter product. It’s soft, dark, and molds to your face making each wear comfy with all the sexy benefits of sensory deprivation.

Restraints

Cotton Bondage RopeRestraints also heighten sexual tension. Whether it’s the cool metal of handcuffs (please, make sure you have the key!), the flexibility of rope, or the simplicity of scarves and ties, whatever you use to restrain your lover will provide a whole new dimension to sex play.

But first things first, some safety tips.

Have an exit: Make sure you both are comfortable with untying the knot or unlocking the cuff. Have a pair of scissors near to hand just in case.

Too tight is not right: This is a biggie: watch how tightly you knot the material or cuff. Cutting off circulation will get unsexy in a hurry. So if you or your partner feels any numbness, pain, or strain in their tied limb, speak up so the restraint can be adjusted. Having a mutual safe word as well as trying a few practice knots on yourself so you can be up to par and ready for the real session.

Once you’re a-OK with ropes, cuffs, or whatever you’re using, get ready to tease your partner KinkLab BedSpread Under Bed Bondage Strapsuntil they beg for more! For beginners, I would suggest using either Cotton Bondage Rope or the KinkLab BedSpread Under Bed Bondage Straps. Both are very user friendly (the bed bindings doesn’t even need a post or headboard!) and will ease you into your bondage fantasies.

Once you or your partner is successfully restrained, tease your way up and down their body, varying the pressure and consistency of your touch, pats or (even better) licks. Incorporate other sensations  (cold or hot, silky or rough, etc.) or other toys. Even your most steadfast vibrator can turn into a whole new experience once you’re no longer in control.

Gags

Tantus Beginner Ball GagThough there is very real potential for drool with this torture device, I say go for it! You will also be depriving your partner of speech. When they can’t tell you what they want, you must rely on moans, groans, and body language. The gag can be a major prop in role playing too.

Try some rougher play, with restraints and even a blindfold. The gag is meant to be power play, so maybe a game of sex slave for the afternoon with your lover on hands and knees with the ball gag and nothing else. Or the classic break-in situation, with a burglar restraining and gagging the unsuspecting victim before ravaging their body. It’s completely up to you.

As for products, try the Silicone Ball Gag w/ Garment Leather Strap to see if you like the feel. Those looking for more might consider stepping up to the Tantus Beginner Ball Gag. Just make sure you maintain proper hygiene in safely washing these toys, since they are going in your mouth. Many are silicone, rubber, latex, or metal, so easily washable, or even bleachable.Silicone Ball Gag w: Garment Leather Strap

Simply insert the gag into your/your partner’s mouth, adjust the strap, and there you go. Some more complicated gags have different parts, metal bits, or can be adjusted in multiple fashions. Also, since a safe word will be harder understand, be sensitive to each others body language, as it will indicate what they’re feeling. Overall, make sure you’re comfortable with the gag and then unleash your wilder fantasies.

My final tip is to keep your experimentation playful. Have a sense of humor about the whole blasted thing. If this play becomes a chore or a bore, shut it down and go back to your former alleged life.

Good luck

BDSM Versus the DSM

A history of the fight that got kink de-classified as mental illness

A history of the fight that got kink de-classified as mental illness

By Merissa Nathan Gerson

Asking your partner to tie you to the bedpost, telling them to slap you hard in the throes of lovemaking, dressing like a woman if you are a man, admitting a fetish for feet: Just a few years ago, any of these acts could be used against you in family court.

This was the case until 2010, when the American Psychiatric Association announced that it would be changing the diagnostic codes for BDSM, fetishism, and transvestic fetishism (a variant of cross-dressing) in the next edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published in 2013. The new definitions marked a distinction between behavior—for example, playing rough—and actual pathology. Consenting adults were no longer deemed mentally ill for choosing sexual behavior outside the mainstream.

The change was the result of a massive effort from the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF), an advocacy group founded in 1997 “to advance the rights of and advocate for consenting adults in the BDSM-Leather-Fetish, Swing, and Polyamory Communities.” At the time, these types of sexual behavior, by virtue of their inclusion in the DSM, were considered markers of mental illness—and, as a result, were heavily stigmatized, often with legal repercussions. In family court, an interest in BDSM was used as justification to remove people’s children from their custody.

“We were seeing the DSM used as a weapon,” says Race Bannon, an NCSF Board Member and the creator of Kink-Aware Professionals, a roster of safe and non-judgmental healthcare professionals for the BDSM and kink community. (The list is now maintained by the NCSF.) “Fifty Shades [of Grey] had not come along,” says Bannon, an early activist in the campaign to change the DSM. “[Kink] was still this dark and secret thing people did.”

Since its first edition was published in 1952, the DSM has often posed a problem for anyone whose sexual preferences fell outside the mainstream. Homosexuality, for example, was considered a mental illness—a “sociopathic personality disturbance”—until the APA changed the language in 1973. More broadly, the DSM section on paraphilias (a blanket term for any kind of unusual sexual interest), then termed “sexual deviations,” attempted to codify all sexual preferences considered harmful to the self or others—a line that, as one can imagine, is tricky in the BDSM community.

The effort to de-classify kink as a psychiatric disorder began in 1980s Los Angeles with Bannon and his then-partner, Guy Baldwin, a therapist who worked mostly with the gay and alternative sexualities communities. Bannon, a self-described “community organizer, activist, writer, and advocate” moved to Los Angeles in 1980 and soon became close with Baldwin through their mutual involvement as open participants in and advocates for the kink community. “I’m fairly confident that I was the first licensed mental-health practitioner anywhere who was out about being a practicing sadomasochist,” Baldwin says.

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The pair was spurred to action after the 1987 edition of the DSM-III-R, which introduced the concept of paraphilias, changed the classifications for BDSM and kink from “sexual deviation” to actual disorders defined by two diagnostic criteria. To be considered a mental illness, the first qualification was: ‘‘Over a period of at least six months, recurrent, intense sexual urges and sexually arousing fantasies involving the act (real, not simulated) of being humiliated, beaten, bound, or otherwise made to suffer.’’ The second: ‘‘The person has acted on these urges, or is markedly distressed by them.’’

“1987 was a bad shift,” Wright recalls. “Anyone who was [voluntarily] humiliated, beaten, bound, or any other alternate sexual expression was considered mentally ill.”

With the new language, Baldwin says, he quickly realized that laws regarding alternative sexual behavior would continue to be problematic “as long as the psychiatric community defines these behaviors as pathological.”

“I knew there were therapists around the world diagnosing practicing consensual sadomasochists with mental illness,” he says.

At the time that the new DSM was published, Baldwin and Bannon were planning to attend the 1987 march on Washington, D.C., in support of gay rights; after the new criteria came out, they decided to host a panel discussion for mental-health professionals in the State Department auditorium, where they announced the launch of what would come to be known as “The DSM Revision Project.”

“We asked how many people in the room were mental-health professionals,” Baldwin says, and “two-thirds of the people in the room raised their hands. And we said, ‘The way this needs to happen is, licensed mental-health practitioners need to write the DSM committee that reviews the language of the DSM concerned with paraphilias.’”

Around 40 or 50 people left the session with the information needed to write the letters. “We did not know exactly what would result,” Bannon recalls. “We did not think we would see dramatic changes suddenly.”

They didn’t—but the changes they did see were positive. The next edition of the DSM, published in 1994, added that to be considered part of a mental illness, “fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors” must “cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.”

“This was a definite improvement from the DSM-III-R,” says Wright, who later took over leadership of the DSM Revision Project from Bannon and Baldwin.

“These criteria gave [health professionals] wiggle room to say, ‘They have issues, but it is not about their kink. For the vast majority, it is just the way they have sex,’” Bannon explains. “Rather than saying, ‘Because you are into this method of sexuality, you are sick,’ [they could say], ‘Pathologically, if this impacts your life negatively, then you have a problem.’”

But the new language in the 1994 DSM also allowed for wiggle room of a different kind: The threshold of “significant distress” was often loosely interpreted, with the social stigma of kink, rather than kink itself, causing the negative impact on people’s lives. Workplace discrimination and violence were on the rise, according to a 2008 NCSF survey, and people were still being declared unfit parents as a result of their sexual preferences: Eighty of the 100 people who turned to the NCSF for legal assistance in custody battles from 1997-2010 lost their cases.

A few years after the 1994 DSM was published, Wright decided it was time to fight for another revision. When she founded the organization in 1997, the NCSF’s goal was a change to the APA’s diagnostic codes that separated the behavior (e.g., “he likes to restrict his breathing during sex”) from the diagnosis (e.g., “his desire to restrict his breath means that he must be mentally ill”). The next DSM, the group argued, should split the paraphilias from the paraphilic disorders, so that simply enjoying consensual BDSM would not be considered indicative of an illness.

Their efforts were largely ignored by the APA until early 2009, when Wright attended a panel discussion at New York City’s Philosophy Center on why people practice BDSM. Among the panelists was psychiatrist Richard Krueger, whose expertise included the diagnosis and treatment of paraphilias and sexual disorders.

During the meeting, Wright says, “I brought up the point that the DSM manual caused harm to BDSM people because it perpetuated the stigma that we were mentally ill. [Krueger] heard me and said that was not what they intended with the DSM.” Krueger, it turned out, was on the APA’s paraphilias committee, and following the meeting opened up an email dialogue between Wright and the other committee members, in which Wright provided documentation about the violence and discrimination kinky people experienced. “I credited that to the DSM,” she says. “Courts used it. Therapists used it. And it was being misinterpreted.”

Over the next year, “I sent him information, he gave it to the group, they asked questions, and I responded. It was very productive,” Wright recalls. “We [the NCSF] felt we were heard, we were listened to—and they took [our arguments] into account when they changed the wording” of the DSM in 2010.

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Another major factor in the NCSF’s favor was a paper, co-written by sexual-medicine physician Charles Moser and sexologist Peggy J. Kleinplatz and published in 2006 in the Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality, titled “DSM IV-TR and the Paraphilias: An Argument for Removal.” According to Wright, the paper, which “summed up opinions of mental-health professionals who thought you shouldn’t include sexual activity in the DSM,” played a significant role in the paraphilia committee’s eventual shift in language.

In February 2010 the proposed change was made public—clarifying, Wright says, that “the mental illness [depends on] how it is expressed, not the behavior itself.” The new guidelines drew a clear difference, in other words, between people expressing a healthy range of human sexuality (for example, a couple that likes to experiment, consensually, with whips, chains, and dungeons) and sadists who wish others genuine harm (for example, tying and whipping someone in a basement without their consent).

The DSM-5 was released in May 2013, its contents marking a victory for the NCSF, Bannon, and Baldwin. The final language states: “A paraphilia is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for having a paraphilic disorder, and a paraphilia by itself does not necessarily justify or require clinical intervention.”

“Now we are seeing a sharp drop in people having their children removed from their custody,” Wright explains. Since the change, according to the NCSF, less than 10 percent of people who sought the organization’s help in custody cases have had their children removed, and the number of discrimination cases has dropped from more than 600 in 2002 to 500 in 2010 to around 200 over the last year.

“The APA basically came out and said, ‘These people are mentally healthy,’” Wright says. “‘It’s had a direct impact on society.”

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