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Maybe Monogamy Isn’t the Only Way to Love

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In the prologue to her new book, What Love Is and What It Could Be, philosopher Carrie Jenkins is walking through Vancouver, from her boyfriend’s apartment to the home she has with her husband. She wonders at how the romantic love she experiences firsthand is so different than the model presented by popular culture and academic theory alike. “If indeed romantic love must be monogamous, then I am making some kind of mistake when I say, ‘I’m in love with you’ — meaning romantically — to both my partners,” she writes. “I am not lying, because I am genuinely trying to be as honest as I can. But if romantic love requires monogamy, then despite my best intentions, what I’m saying at those moments is not, strictly speaking, true.”

Her book examines the long, sometimes awkward legacy of philosophers’ thinking on romantic love, and compares that with a new subfield in close-relationships research — consensual nonmonogamy, or CNM. While singers and thinkers alike have been riffing on a “one and only” for decades, she argues that space is being made in the cultural conversation to “question the universal norm of monogamous love, just as we previously created space to question the universal norm of hetero love.” These norms are more fluid than they appear: In Jenkins’s lifetime alone same-sex and cross-ethnicity relationships have become common.

When I asked Jenkins to describe how it feels to have both a husband and a boyfriend — she rejects the “primary relationship” moniker altogether — she said that it’s like having more loving relationships in your life, like a close family member or friend. She and her boyfriend, whom she’s been with for about five years, used to work in the same building; he was teaching creative writing on the floor above her philosophy department, though they didn’t meet until they matched on OkCupid. While both men have met each other, they’re not close; Jenkins describes the relationship as having a “V shape,” rather than a triangle. Both helped in the development of the book: husband refining philosophical arguments; boyfriend editing the writing, and helping her to sound like a normal person, rather than an academic.

Still, CNM faces lots of stigma; even the study of it is stigmatized. Yet in the limited yet rich vein of research out there, the evidence suggests that it’s a style that, in some populations, leads to greater relationship satisfaction than monogamy. In any case, the researchers tell me, the insights into what makes more-than-two relationships work can be applied to any given dyad, given the communicative finesse required when three or more hearts are involved.

In a forthcoming Perspectives in Psychological Science paper, Terri Conley, a University of Michigan psychologist who’s driven the field, defines CNM as “a relational arrangement in which partners agree that it is acceptable to have more than one sexual and/or romantic relationship at the same time.” That’s distinguished from the “polygamy” practiced by some religious groups, where it’s not always clear whether wives can opt out of the relationship.

I was surprised to discover how common it is: A 2016 study of two nationally representative samples of single Americans — of 3,905 and 4,813 respondents, respectively — found in each case that about one in five people had practiced it during their lifetime. A 2016 YouGov poll found that 31 percent of women and 38 percent of men thought their ideal relationship would be CNM in some way. Other research indicates that around 4 to 5 percent of Americans in relationships are in some sort of CNM, be it swinging, where partners have sex with people outside their relationship at parties and the like; an open relationship, where it’s cool to have sex with other people but not grow emotionally attached to them; or polyamory, where both partners approve of having close emotional, romantic, and sexual relationships outside of the couple itself. People are curious, too: From 2006 to 2015, Google searches for polyamory and open relationships went up. Other data points to how sticking to the boundaries of monogamy doesn’t come easily to lots of people: A 2007 survey of 70,000 Americans found that one in five had cheated on their current partner.

Jenkins says that as a tenured philosophy professor at the University of British Columbia, she’s in a unique, privileged position to openly talk about being in a nonmonogamous marriage. She’d been interested in being in more than one relationship ever since she can remember, but it used to seem like some sort of impossible dream situation — she didn’t realize it could be an option in her real life until she was about 30. (She’s now 37.)

Jenkins met her husband, Jonathan, who’s also a philosopher, back in 2009, at a philosophy workshop that he organized at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland; they later got married in the same hall the conference took place. They took one another’s last names as middle names.

Now married for almost eight years, they talked about polyamory early on, though defining the relationship that way came later. As philosophers are wont to do, they soon wrote a bit of a manifesto about their arrangement. They observed that even if their wedding guests were woke in any number of ways — not batting an eyelid if a colleague was gay or bi, eschewing heteronormative assumptions, and the like — there’s still the shared assumption that a nonmonogamous relationship is less sexually safe and less committed than a regular ol’ monogamous one. “Even our very liberal pocket of our relatively liberal society is massively — and, to us, surprisingly— mononormative,” they write. “Acquaintances, friends, and colleagues are constantly assuming that our relationship, and indeed every relationship that they think of as ‘serious’, is a sexually monogamous one.”

To Jenkins, the biggest struggle with polyamory isn’t from managing multiple relationships — though Google Calendar is a crucial tool — but rather the strong, sometimes violently negative reactions that she gets, especially online. When I spoke with her by phone, she was struck by a comment to a YouTube interview of hers, where a pseudonymous user invited “everyone” to read her column in the Chronicle of Higher Education about having multiple loves.

“THIS WOMAN IS A DISGUSTING ANIMAL,” the troll wrote. “Every bit as twisted and queer as the Mormons with their multiple lives [sic]. This femme-pig is the spectral opposite of Trump; a far far left-wing freak that desires to completely overthrow Western Christian Civilization.” Jenkins walked me through a deep reading of the bile: Bundling in politics — the “left-wing freak” bit — with the monogamy norms signals to her that there’s a judgment of what it means to be a good person in here, since politics is about living correctly, collectively. Plus “if you’re an animal, you’re out of the range of humanity,” she says. She’s also gets a lot of “get herpes and die, slut” suggestions, she says, which speaks to the hypersexualization of CNM. Nonmonogamy leads to lots of sex, the presumption goes, and with that STIs, and it proceeds from there. The way news articles covering CNM tend to be illustrated with images of three or four people in a bath or bed doesn’t help, either.

“The way we normally think about romantic love, we don’t imagine that it’s entirely about sex,” she says. “For a lot of people sex is a part of it; if we’re just having a hookup or a friend with benefits, we don’t call that romantic love. When it comes to polyamorous relationships, if you’re in love with more than one person, the same applies — to fall in love with someone is not the same as to sleep with them. We’re clear with that distinction in monogamous relationships, but in CNM that distinction between love and sex gets collapsed.”

Researchers who have studied stigma around CNM have found lots. In a 2012 paper, Conley and her colleagues found that monogamous relationships were better rated on every metric by different sets of the population, including nonmonogamous people. When 132 participants recruited online read relationship vignettes that were identical except for one being monogamous and the other not, the CNM was seen as riskier sexually, more lonely, less acceptable, and having a lower relationship quality. People in CNM were also seen as worse with non-relational things, like making sure to walk their dog or paying their taxes on time. Amy Moors, a co-author on the paper, says it had some of the biggest effect sizes she’s seen in her research. Elisabeth Sheff, a leading polyamory researcher who left academia for lack of grant funding, now frequently serves as an expert witness in custody battles; she says that often a grandmother or a former spouse will find out that a co-parent has multiple relationships, be scandalized, and demand to take the kids — even though her longitudinal research, reported in The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple-Partner Relationships and Families, indicates that kids who grow up in polyamorous families aren’t any more screwed up than average American children.

That same paper finds that there were no differences in relationship functioning between monogamous and nonmonogamous couples. People in CNM had lower jealousy and higher trust — yet also lower sexual satisfaction with their partner. Polyamorists were more satisfied than people in open relationships, perhaps because it’s hard to block of feelings for people you sleep with frequently. Polyamorous people were a special case, with higher satisfaction, commitment, trust, and passionate love than monogamous individuals, though they had lower sexual satisfaction. CNM people also had higher sexual satisfaction with their secondary partners than their primary partners, though that difference fell away when controlling for relationship time, with primary relationships averaging three times the length of secondary relationships.

“Overall, the standard for human responses for relationships is habituation,” Conley says. “That involves a loss of sexual attraction, and we can tell that from stats from therapy. And to the extent that a couple is frustrated sexually, it spills over to other parts of life.”

There are other explanations for high satisfaction scores for polyamorous people, she adds. It could be that they’re just acting out a social desirability bias, given that they’re participating in a study about CNM and want the lifestyle to look good; it could also be that people who enter into polyamory have self-selected themselves into a hypercommunicative population — all the poly self-help books emphasize the importance the need to explicitly talk things out. “People interested in polyamory are more relationship-y than the average person,” she says. “They like thinking about relationships, talking about relationships. That’s great in monogamy, but needed in polyamory.”

All this suggests the kind of people that are the right fit for CNM. Beyond being relationship-y, a Portuguese study out this year found that people with a high sociosexuality, or disposal to casual sex, had less relationship satisfaction when in a monogamous relationship, but those effects disappeared if they were in CNM. Still, they were just as committed to their relationships — signaling that exclusivity and commitment may not be one and the same. Harvard sexologist Justin Lehmiller has found that people who are more erotophilic — i.e., that love sex — will be a better fit for CNM; same with if they’re sensation-seeking.

Amy Moors, the Purdue psychologist, has found that people with higher avoidant attachment — where you’re just not that into intimacy — have positive feelings about and a willingness to engage in polyamory, but they were less likely to actually partake of it. While a correlational study, Moors explained that from a subjective perspective, it makes sense: “When you have avoidant attachment, you like a lot of emotional distance, physical distance, time by yourself,” Moors says, which is not a fit for the relationship-y remands of a poly lifestyle. Also, there’s reason to believe that folks who have relational anxiety, and are thus sensitive to separation, might be prone to the jealousy that’s known to flare up in CNM, though it’s not like that doesn’t happen in monogamy, too.

What motivated Jenkins to write What Love Is, she says, was a gap — or silence — in the philosophical literature, that polyamory was rarely discussed or even acknowledged as a possibility. “Noticing these philosophical silences and denials, while simultaneously being made aware of how society at large viewed me for being a polyamorous woman, made me realize there was something important here that I needed to do,” she says. “To do it meant bringing my personal life and my philosophical work into a conversation with one another. The familiar slogan says that the personal is political, but the personal is philosophical, too.”

Two key themes emerge from reading the book: that love is dual-layered, with social scripts overlaying evolutionary, physiological impulses. And that the “romantic mystique,” like the feminine one before it, assumes that love is mysterious and elusive and corrupted from examination — a sentiment that protects the status quo. But with investigation, and conversation, the mechanics of love reveal themselves, and norms can change socially, and be tailored locally. Like Jenkins, you can custom-fit your relationships to your life — if you dare to talk about them.

Complete Article HERE!

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It’s time to get to know your body

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Understanding your body is essential to building healthy relationships with others and yourself

Understanding your body does not require a medical degree and is integral to your overall wellness.”

By Sky Jordan

Bodies do some pretty astonishing things. Everything from love to sex to reproduction is such a personal experience, and each experience means a different thing to each person. It is extraordinary when you consider all the experiences your body has allowed you to have and will allow you to have.

However, in order to understand these magnificent experiences, we need to gain a better understanding about our bodies as a whole. This will allow us to create and facilitate healthy sexual experiences and make healthy decisions about our bodies.

Sexual education does not stop at high school or middle school, it should continue in college. ASU provides STI testing to students, but not much is provided for students who do not have extensive sexual education. Of the programs provided at ASU, most are centered around sexual assault and not exactly sexual health.

Educating yourself about your body can include anything from reading about your anatomy to sexual exploration. It’s a personal learning experience, and it’s up to you to decide how you do it and with whom you share it.

Many people believe that their bodies are too complex and intricate that they are impossible to understand without a medical degree.

For example, it’s a common expectation for women to orgasm via penetration alone, when in fact this is only possible for 25 percent of women. Similarly, many people do not know that men have a G-spot. There countless other misconceptions about anatomy and sexuality that can curb positive sexual experiences.

It’s exceptionally important to learn about our bodies. We can’t expect to have good sex lives if we do not understand how our bodies function.

Knowing and understanding one’s body can be really overwhelming and difficult for some. A lot of people are very reserved when it comes to sex, which is completely okay.

However, it’s important to note that sex is a major facet of life. Becoming more comfortable with your sexuality by understanding and learning about your body can create positive sexual experiences and positive body image. If we learn about our bodies we can get rid of common misconceptions and construct healthier expectations.

“‘Normal’ has a wide range of possibilities,” Dr. David Glassman, an OB/GYN and member of the Phoenix OB/GYN Society, said. “Having knowledge of your body plays a role in feeling comfortable with yourself and (your) sexuality as well.”

Every person’s body is different. We can more easily celebrate this by learning about our bodies and understanding that our bodies do not have to look a certain way.

This will ultimately lead to more accepting and loving attitudes toward ourselves. Having a healthy body image will positively influence every aspect of your life — including sex.

If we know our bodies, we can learn what feels good. This will enable us to communicate more effectively with our partners. As a result, we can develop healthier sexual relationships in which each partner feels fulfilled.

“As time has gone on sexuality has opened up a lot and has become more acceptable. People are much more comfortable talking about it. The more you know and understand the safer (your experiences) will be,” Glassman said.

Educating ourselves on this subject will also teach us about sexual experiences we do not feel comfortable with. This will allow us to prepare for when these situations arise, so that we can make healthy decisions and be able to accurately give and receive consent.

Learning and exploring our bodies will allow us to foster healthier body images, healthier sex lives and healthier relationships.By understanding ourselves and how our bodies work we can begin to construct more fulfilling lives and experiences as a whole.

Complete Article HERE!

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If You’re Totally Clueless When It Comes to BDSM, This Video Clarifies a Lot

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Think of the things you might have learned about BDSM from Fifty Shades of Grey. OK, now forget pretty much all of that. While the books and movies got a few things right, there’s a lot more to the multifaceted world of BDSM that people should know (and try out, if they’re interested!).

BDSM is an umbrella term comprising the words describing the erotic practices of Bondage and Discipline (B and D), Domination and Submission (D and S), and Sadism and Masochism (S and M). Carvaka Sex Toys — creators of the informational and ultra-classy Butt Plugs 101 video — just released another instructional video that breaks down the basics of BDSM. Here’s what anyone interested in delving into the kinky world should know.

Words to know:

  • Bondage — The act of tying someone up. This is done to render the submissive or “sub” vulnerable to the desires and actions of the dominant.
  • Dom — The dominant partner.
  • Sub — The submissive partner.
  • Switch — Someone who switches between the roles of dominant and submissive.
  • Discipline — When the submissive obeys the commands of the dominant.
  • Sadism — Enjoying the act of inflicting pain.
  • Masochism — Enjoying the act of having pain inflicted on you (ex: flogging, spanking).
  • Safe word — A word that is decided upon before the session and is said when the sub wants the act to stop. A safe word is used in place of “stop” because the safe word is supposed to be something that wouldn’t come up naturally during a session, in order to ensure that the word, when spoken, is taken seriously and that the action is stopped.
  • Hard limit — An act that can’t be tolerated and that cannot be done. Doing the action may provoke the usage of the safe word and can also end the session/relationship.
  • Soft limit — An act that stresses a sub but that he or she can “take in moderation.”

And one of the most common questions: why do people enjoy bondage? Well, it’s pretty simple. It’s fun!

BDSM can be exciting and can even allow participants to feel like they are experiencing a new world. Many subs enjoy the feeling of security they get from being controlled, and oftentimes doms enjoy the feeling of power that comes along with being the one in control. BDSM may not be for everyone, but for many, it’s the perfect way to explore their sexuality and add excitement to their sex lives and relationships.

Complete Article HERE!

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Romping 50 Shades of Grey-Style? Rope in your Doctor

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Whips. Chains. Paddles. Rope. Thanks to the pop culture explosion that is 50 Shades of Grey, these words are now part of the mainstream sexual lexicon. But while the book and film franchise has increased awareness about kink, many people are still keeping their bedroom habits secret, and it’s impacting their health.

Amy in Winnipeg has lived the BDSM lifestyle (that’s bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism) and she’s the first to admit that, “it’s nothing like the tame version of the books or movies.” She’s experienced, abrasions, rope burn, sciatic nerve pain and spankings that left her so raw that “it got to the point where I had huge pieces of flesh missing…I couldn’t sit for a week.”

As Amy explains, “if not looked after properly, abrasions can lead to bacterial infections,” which is exactly what happened to her after a particularly painful spanking injury. “I went to the doctor to get cream and I explained myself,” she says.

While Amy wasn’t afraid to open up to her healthcare practitioner, she’s in a minority. According to a new study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine titled “Fifty Shades of Stigma: Exploring the Health Care Experiences of Kink-Oriented Patients,” less than half of individuals surveyed were open with their doctors about their kinky sexual practices. The main reason for keeping quiet? Fear of judgement. Also, as the study highlights, many individuals are afraid their physician will misinterpret their consensual sexual acts as partner abuse.

It makes sense. While my experience with anything kink-oriented is extremely limited, years ago I sustained some gnarly carpet burns after an encounter with an ex. When I went to see my family doctor for my annual exam, I blurted out, “I slipped while playing a game of Twister with friends!” I have no idea why I thought this sounded remotely plausible to anyone, but it was the first thing that came to mind. In retrospect, I think she knew what the deal was, but chose to be discrete. However, not everyone is so lucky.

Despite increased visibility in pop culture, the stigma associated with BDSM is still very real. However, so are the potential risks. Injuries that arise from BDSM can potentially mushroom into more serious issues if left unattended. Anna M. Randall, LCSW, MPH, is a San Francisco-based sex therapist and the executive director of The Alternative Sexualities Health Research Alliance (TASHRA), the team behind the study. As she told Cosmopolitan magazine recently, “big bruises can develop into hematomas, for example.” She goes on to say that “there are rare injuries from rough sex that may lead to serious complications, such as torn vaginal tissue or scrotum injuries, and because more risky sexual BDSM behaviors may include controlling the breathing of

a partner, those with asthma face real risks if they’re not treated for attacks immediately.”

However, for Cassandra J. Perry, an advocate, researcher and writer, her injuries were all due to health conditions she didn’t realize she had at the time. Perry’s first injury occurred when she shredded the cartilage in her left hip joint (an injury called a labral tear.) She says, “even if you think you’re sex-savvy smart, you could probably be and likely should be safer!” Also, as she points out, “If we practice bdsm, that’s a good reason why we should have our annual physicals. And it’s a really good reason to pay attention to what our mind-body tells us. If something seems off, we need to be persistent with getting answers and care (when possible) and to be cautious when engaging in BDSM activities that may interact with some part of our health that concerns us.”

However, as Stella Harris, a Sex Educator & Intimacy Coach explains, “The risks of BDSM aren’t just physical.

Make sure to look out for the emotional implications, as well. Some of this play can be very intense, and you want to make sure you’ve planned all the necessary aftercare.” This is going to look different for everyone and can include everything from cuddling with your partner to routine check-ins with them over the following days.

Lastly, Harris reminds us, “I always advocate honesty with your medical professionals. When you’re finding a doctor, screen for someone you can be open and honest with, who has passing knowledge of kink, and who isn’t judgmental. If you go to the doctor with visible bruises, just be honest about it and tell them the bruises are from consensual kink activities. They might have questions, but it’s best to be clear and upfront, before they assume the worst.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Coming down from the high:

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What I learned about mental health from BDSM

By Jen Chan

Not too long ago, I took my first step into the world of kink. I was a baby gay coming to terms with my borderline personality disorder (BDP) diagnosis, looking for any and every label that could help alleviate the lack of self-identity that comprises my BPD.

I knew I was queer. I knew I identified as femme. But I didn’t know if I was a dominant (top), a submissive (bottom), or a pillow princess; I didn’t even know if I was kinky.

So I tried to find out.

I began to notice a pattern. The sheer rush of euphoria and affection created a high I felt each time I “topped” my partner, and it would sharply drop the minute I got home. I was drained of energy and in a foul mood for days, often skipping work or class. I felt stuck on something because I wanted to feel that intensely blissful sex all over again, but I couldn’t figure out how to get it back.

If you’re familiar with the after-effects of taking MDMA—the crash, the lack of endorphins, the dip in mood for up to a week later—then you’ve got a pretty good idea of how a “drop” felt for me. Just add in an unhealthy serving of guilt and self-doubt, a pinch of worthlessness and a dash of contempt for both myself and my partner, and voila! Top drop: the less talked about counterpart to sub drop where the dominant feels a sense of hopelessness following BDSM—bondage and discipline, domination and submission, sadism and masochism—if after care is neglected.

In the BDSM community, it’s common to talk about the submissive (sub) experience: To communicate the expectations and needs of the submissive partner before engaging in consensual kinky play, to make sure the safety of the sub during intense physical and/or psychological activities is tantamount, to tend and care for the sub after the scene ends and they’re brought back down to earth.

Outside of this, the rush of sadness and anxiety that hits after sex is known as post-coital tristesse, or post-coital dysphoria (PCD). It is potentially linked to the fact that during sex, the amygdala—a part of the brain that processes fearful thoughts—decreases in activity. Researchers have theorized that the rebound of the amygdala after sex is what triggers fear and depression.

A 2015 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that 46 per cent of the 230 female participants reported experiencing PCD at least once after sex.

Aftercare is crucial and varies for subs, depending on their needs. Some subs appreciate being held or cuddled gently after a scene. Others need to hydrate, need their own space away from their partner or a detailed analysis of everything that happened for future knowledge. But no matter what the specific aftercare is, the goal is still the same: for a top to accommodate a sub and guide them out of “subspace”—a state of mind experienced by a submissive in a BDSM scenario—as directly as they were guided in.

I asked one of my exes, who’s identified as a straight-edge sub for several years, what subspace is like. As someone who doesn’t drink or do drugs, I was curious about what it was like for them to reach that same ephemeral zone of pleasure.

“It gets me to forget pain or worries, it gets me to focus only on what I’m feeling right then,” they told me. “It’s better than drugs.”

My ex gave up all substances in favour of getting fucked by kink, instead. I’m a little impressed by how powerful the bottom high must be for them.

“The high for bottoms is from letting go of all control,” they added. If we’re following that logic, then the top high is all about taking control.

We ended the call on a mildly uncomfortable note, both trying not to remember the dynamics of control that ended our relationship.  Those dynamics were created, in part, by my BPD, and, as I would later discover, top drop.

In the days to follow, I avoided thinking about what being a top had felt like for me and scheduled a lunch date with another friend to hear his perspective.

“Being a dom gives you the freedom to act on repressed desires,” he told me over a plate of chili cheese fries. This is what his ex said to cajole him into being a top—the implied “whatever you want” dangled in front of a young gay man still figuring himself out.

He was new to kink, new to identifying and acting on his desires, and most of all, new to the expectations that were placed on him by his partner. He was expected to be a tough, macho top to his ex’s tender, needy bottom. His after-care, however, didn’t fit into that fantasy. If that had been different, maybe he wouldn’t have spiraled into a place where his mental health was deteriorating, along with his relationship.

The doubt and guilt that he would often feel for days after a kinky session mirrored my own. We both struggled with the idea that the things our partners wanted us to do to them—the things that we enjoyed doing to them—were fucked up. It was hard to reconcile the good people that we thought we were, the ones who follow societal expectations and have a moral compass and know right from wrong, with the people who are capable of hurting other people, and enjoying it.

For my friend, there was always a creeping fear at the back of his mind that the violence or cruelty he was letting loose during sex could rear up in his normal life, outside of a scene.

For me, there was a deep instinct to disengage, to distance myself emotionally from my partner, because I thought that if I didn’t care about them as much, then maybe I wouldn’t hate them for egging me on to do things I was scared of.

My friend has since recognized how unhealthy his relationship with his ex was. These days, he identifies as a switch (someone who alternates between dominant and submissive roles). The deep-seated sense of feeling silenced that was so prevalent in his first kinky relationship, is nowhere to be seen. He communicates his sexual needs and desires and any accompanying emotional fragility with his current partner. He’s happy.

I’m a little envious of him. My second-favourite hobby is rambling about all of the things I’m feeling, and it’s a close second to my favourite, which is crying. I credit my Cancer sun sign for my ability to embrace my insecurities, but there’s still something that makes me feel like I’m not equipped to deal with top drop.

There’s an interesting contrast between how a top is expected to behave—strong, tough, in control—and the realities of the human experience. When a top revels in the high of taking control, but starts to feel some of that control fading afterwards, how do they pinpoint the cause? How do they talk about that insecurity? How do they develop aftercare for themselves?

One of the hallowed tenets of BDSM and kink is the necessity of good communication; to be able to recognize a desire, then comfortably communicate that to a partner. Healthy, consensual, safe kink is predicated on this.

Complete Article HERE!

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