“But I’m changing it from within!”

Many years ago, I had an online conversation with a woman who was a devout, practicing Catholic.

She was also a polyamorous, pro-choice sex activist in a live-in relationship with her boyfriend, to whom she was not married.

When I asked her about the contradiction between these two things, she said that she recognized that Catholicism was behind the times on issues like women’s rights and nontraditional relationships, but that she remained Catholic because she wanted to change the Church from within.

I was reminded of that conversation recently when i had another online conversation with a guy who claims to be pro-gay rights and pro-gay marriage, who professes horror at the Republican Party’s treatment of women, who says he is appalled at the way the Republican party uses fear of immigrants and sexual minorities to raise votes, and who says that anti-Muslim sentiment is morally wrong…but who is still a member of the Republican Party and plans to vote the Republican ticket this November.

I asked him how he can, in good conscience, be a part of an organization whose values are so antithetical to his own. He said the same thing: “I want to change the Republican party from within.”

He and the woman I talked to all those years ago had one other thing in common besides saying they wanted to change the groups to which they belonged from within: They were both rather thin on details about what work they were willing to do to make that happen.

Both of them said they want to change these groups from within, but neither one of them was working to make that happen.

Which, in my book, is dishonest.

Changing a large, entrenched organization from within is hard. It requires serious work and serious commitment. It requires sacrifice. If you are a pro-life Catholic or a pro-immigration, pro-gay Republican, you will suffer if you make those beliefs known. You will face condemnation. You will face ostracism.

Working to change an organization takes dedication. If you actually want to change a political party, that means getting involved, deeply. It means showing up at the party’s national convention. It means becoming a delegate or an activist. It means voicing objections when the party attempts to make a platform plank out of hate and fear.

If you actually want to change the Catholic Church, that means becoming part of the church hierarchy. It means going to seminary. It means becoming a respected theologian and integrating yourself into the church’s structure.

Steering a ship requires getting on deck and putting your hand on the wheel.

Neither of the people I spoke to, all these years apart, were doing any of these things. Just the opposite, they were doing exactly what the rank and file are expected to do: go to church, tithe, vote in a straight line for every name with an (R) after it.

This is not how you change a group from within. This is how you signal the group that what it is doing is working.

It does no good to toe the line while secretly disagreeing within the privacy of your own head. If you do that while claiming to be “working for change from within,” you’re being dishonest. You’re running away from the genuine hard work and the real social cost of change.

You do not fight segregation by docilely sitting at the back of the bus like you’re told, then grumbling about it on the Internet. You fight segregation by sitting at the front of the bus, getting arrested, and inspiring others to do the same.

“I am changing things from within” is, all too often, a bullshit justification, a wimpy self-rationalization for complicity in atrocity. If you can not point to direct, tangible things you are doing to create that change, even when–especially when!–it costs you, you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. You are not a force for change; you are a participant in the very structures you claim to want to change.

No bullshit, no evasion: if you’re working to change the world, ask yourself, what have I done to make that happen?

Some thoughts on social issues in video games

Unless you’ve spent the last year living entirely under a rock, far from the hustle and bustle of normal life, and entirely without any sort of Internet connection, you’re probably aware to some extent of a rather lengthy fuss about the heart and soul of computer gaming. This fuss, spearheaded by a diverse group of people loosely gathered under a name whose initials are similar to GargleGoose, is concerned about the future of comic book and video game entertainment. They believe that a sinister, shadowy cabal of “social justice warriors”–folks who are on a mission to, you know, right wrongs and uplift the oppressed, kind of the way Batman or Superman do only without the fabulous threads. This cabal, they fear, is coming for their video games. The social justice warriors, if we are to believe GameteGoose, are so obsessed with political correctness that they wish to make every game in the world a sanitized, sterile sandbox where not the slightest whisper of sex or violence may be seen.

Okay, so granted that’s not likely the characterization GrizzleGoose would put to their aims, though I think the general gist is there.

And they’re not entirely wrong, though they’re pretty far from right. There is a battle going on for the heart and soul of entertainment. For decades, comic books and video games have catered to straight white middle-class guys, who overwhelmingly make up the demographic that bought the games, read the comics, and to whom writers, artists, and developers catered with laser focus.

But times have changed, comics and games have gone mainstream, and they’re attracting more and more people who aren’t straight white dudes any more. And as other folks have come into the scene, they have started pointing out that some of the tropes that’ve long been taken for granted in these media are, well, a little problematic.

And merely by pointing that out, the folks talking about these problematic things have provoked pushback. When you live in a world where everyone caters to your exact tastes, the idea that some people might start making some things that aren’t to your liking feels like a betrayal. And the suggestion that there might be something about your taste that isn’t quite right? Well, that can quickly turn into an existential threat.

GooeyGoose has effectively capitalized on that existential threat, rallying straight white dudes into believing they’re the Rebel Alliance who are under attach from the forces of social justice while adroitly handwaving away the reality that when it comes to popular taste in entertainment media, straight white middle-class dudes are and have always been the hegemonizing Empire.

But here’s the thing. You can point out that popular entertainment media is problematic without saying the people who like it are bad people.


I play Skyrim.

Skyrim is an open-world role-playing game where the player takes on the persona of a mythic hero trying to save a world plagued by dragons, a civil war, and the restless undead. It’s almost entirely unstructured, with players having the ability to choose to do just about Anything. Non-player characters the player interacts with offer advice and provide quests, which the player can choose whether or not to do.

It’s a lot of fun to play. I’ve lost quite a number of hours of my life to it, fighting dragons, deciding which side of the civil war to support, participating in political intrigue, exploring creepy dungeons, and exploring a lush and richly detailed world.

It also has some problematic issues.

This is Haelga, one of the characters in the game. The player can be given a minor side quest in the game by her niece, who works for Haelga but doesn’t like her very much. Haelga’s niece, Svana Far-Shield, tells the player that Haelga is having sex with several different men, and wants the player to get proof in order to shame and humiliate Haelga.

The way the quest is written, it’s sex-negative as hell. It plays to just about every derogatory trope out there: open female sexuality is shameful, women who are perceived as sexual are “sluts,” and pouncing on a woman with evidence of her sexual attitude is a sure way to humiliate (and therefore control) her.

You might argue that Skyrim is set in a time that is not as enlightened as the modern-day West, but that ignores a very important reality: Skyrim is set in a time and place that never existed. There’s no compelling reason to write sex-negativity into the script. The game works well without it. It’s there not because the distant faux-medieval past was sex-negative, but because modern-day America is.

But that, too, misses a point, and it misses the same point the GiggleGoose folks miss:

It is possible to recognize problematic elements of a game and still enjoy the game.

I recognize that this quest in Skyrim is sex-negative, and that’s a problem. I still like the game.

The people who play these games and read these comic books are not bad people for doing so. The content of the games and comics is troubling to anyone who cares about people other than straight white middle-class men, sure, and it’s certainly reasonable to point these things out when they occur (though they happen so damn often that one could easily make a full-time career of pointing them out). That doesn’t make the people who like them Bad And Wrong simply because they enjoy them.

GiddyGoose believes that saying video games are a problem is the same thing as saying people who enjoy video games are a problem. And if you identify with comic books and video games so strongly that you can not separate your entertainment media from your sense of self, they might be on to something.

But most folks, I think, are able to take a deep breath, step back a half pace, and recognize that the writers and developers have done some really cool, fun stuff, but they can still do better. It would not kill anyone if the quest in Skyrim were rewritten (how about have Haelga’s character replaced by a man? There’s a thought…), or even dropped entirely. Nobody suffers from recognizing that it’s not cool to make fun of people who aren’t like you.

Nobody’s saying that Skyrim shouldn’t exist, or that people who play it are terrible people. I would like to think, on my optimistic days, that that’s an idea anyone smart enough to work a computer can recognize.

“Most likely a sociopath”

As many folks who read me probably know by now (and goodness, I’m doing my job wrong if you don’t!), I’m polyamorous. I’ve been polyamorous my entire life, I’ve been writing a Web site about polyamory since the 1990s, and I recently co-wrote a book on the subject.

A lot of folks ask me if I get negative responses from being so open about poly. And the answer is, no, I usually don’t. In fact, it’s extremely rare that I hear anything negative about polyamory, all things considered. I generally encourage folks who are poly (or in other non-traditional relationships) to be as open as they feel safe in being, both because stigma is reduced when many people are open about non-traditional relationships and because, almost always, the pushback is nowhere near as great as people are likely to think it will be.

But that’s not to say I never hear anything negative. Like this, for example, left as an anonymous comment to a post I made about dating and relationships on a social media site recently:

“This is what a woman had to say about you “Let me put this franklin, frank is a user/manipulator. I am sure he tells the women he is with that by being in a relationship with him and 4 other women that he is “empowering” them. You have to realize that there is a new “modern” type of feminism, these women misconstrue the term femism. The original feminist wanted to feel equal to men, they wanted more opportunities that we (women) are now given due to thier efforts. Nowadays women are empowered in a completely different way, women are mislead (in my opinion by manipulative men such as franklin) to believe that being overtly sexual is empowering, so that is why you see these women bending over backwards for men. I dont know exactly who is misleading women of our generation to believe polyamory is empowering or being overly sexual is but its someone, perhaps the feminists in the media but the question who is behind the media in the first place? I just feel bad for young feminists because they have no true understanding of what it means to be empowered and they are very confused. Franklin is smart and manipulating each girlfriend he has and he most likely a sociopath.””

Formatting, quote marks, and spelling as in the original.

So now you know, the media feminists are pushing women into the arms of sociopaths like me. Curses, my secret is out.

Rant Part II: How Not To Be a Dick To Women

With all the pushback on (and off) the Internet to any suggestion that perhaps men could maybe refrain from treating women poorly, one might get the impression that we were talking about, say, taking all the money the NFL normally makes in a year and investing it in fusion power research or something equally unreasonable. How, the thinking seems to be, can men reasonably be expected to act like decent human beings toward women when we have all these throbbing biological urges? I mean, what if we see a woman, who’s, like, totally hot? Surely acting like a decent human being doesn’t have to apply to women who are totally hot, does it? If we treat a totally hot woman like a human being, how will she know we want to put our pee-pee in her sex burrow? And what about women who don’t make Mister Happy happy…if we treat them like human beings, how will they know we don’t find them attractive?

It’s madness! I mean, really. Treat women as people? All of them? Without constantly getting all up in their faces about whether we want to sex them or not? That’s just…it’s just…it…

…well, it turns out it’s really not that hard to do.

Listen, guys, here it is. You just…think of her like she’s a person. Someone who’s a friend, even. And then you act accordingly.

Listen, I know it sounds totes whack. It goes against everything we’re taught to believe about maximizing our chances of getting to do that thing with our pee-pees. But bear with me. All it takes is a little practice, and then you, too, might be a guy who’s a decent human being and totally not a complete shitcamel.

Let me walk you through some scenarios, so you can get a feel for how this works.

Scenario 1: You’re approaching a door. There are people behind you.

If you hold the door open for people, congratulations! You’re a decent person.

If you hold the door open for women, but not for men, danger! You’re probably a misogynist.

If you hold the door only for women you want to put your pee-pee on, guess what? You’re a shitcamel.

Scenario 2: You’re on an online dating site. You spend six hours pouring your heart out in a carefully crafted message to this cute little something something whose soulful eyes make you think she could be the light of your life, and whose big bazoongas make you want to do that thing with your pee-pee. After you send it, she doesn’t email you back.

If you just go about the rest of your life, go you! You’re a decent person.

If you write her a follow-up email telling her that she owes you a response, uh-oh. Misogyny ho!

If you send her a follow-up email filled with (a) every swear word at your disposal, (b) vivid descriptions of what a bitch she is for wounding you so grievously, (3) angry rants about what unpleasant fate should befall her, or (4) pictures of your junk, I’m afraid the prognosis is: shitcamel.

Scenario 3: You see a woman talking about how creepy it is to hit on women in elevators.

If you listen respectfully and adjust your behavior and expectations accordingly, woohoo! You’re a decent person.

If you respond with a defensive lecture about how you’re totally not one of those guys and she’s just trying to say that all men are rapists, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but that that’s your misogyny.

If you go on a rant about how she’s totally saying all men are rapists and she deserves to be raped for it…well, there’s only one mathematical equation that accurately models your reaction. You = shit + camel.

Scenario 4: Women are talking about how linking birth control to employment insurance policies basically means their boss gets to tell them how to have sex. You:

…listen to what they’re saying, think about it, and realize that, actually, it is pretty messed up that the person who hires you gets to tell you how the insurance benefits you earn as part of your labor should be used, and having an employer making your decisions in the bedroom is kind of creepy. Go you! Decent person!

…say “well, you know, the employer is paying for this insurance, so the employer controls how it’s used.” Wait, what? The employer is paying a salary too, does that mean the employer gets a vote on what you buy on Amazon.com? Bzzt. Your misogyny is showing.

…say “well, you know, that slut can just pay for it herself if she wants to go slutting around.” Hello, shitcamel! One hump or two?

Scenario 5: You’re out chilling with the boys, and someone tells this absolutely hysterical rape joke. It’s funny because she is violated against her will! Get it? Get it?

You put on your best blank “no, I don’t get it” face, turn to your friend, and say “No, I don’t get it. What’s funny about women being violated again?” Score one for being a decent person! Extra special decent person points if you deliberately construct a social group of people who already get why that shit ain’t funny.

You don’t say anything. After all, if you don’t laugh, that means you’re not like those guys, right? Bzzt! Wrong. If you just sit there, they might assume you’re a little slow, but hey, you’re still just like they are. Sorry, your misogyny (and privilege) are showing.

You laugh, because nothing is as absolutely hysterical as talking about women getting violated! Plus, when those feminist harpies start shrieking about how uncool it is, you get exasperated because clearly they just don’t get it. For God’s sake, it’s only a joke! Free speech! Free speech! Heigh-ho, shitcamel! What’s your camel-made-of-shit encore, putting on blackface and joking about Negroes wanting the vote or something? They’re all just jokes, right? Free speech!

Some thoughts on privilege: Look, it isn’t about your guilt.

I participate in a lot of online forums about polyamory. It’s almost impossible to talk about polyamory without eventually talking about OK Cupid, which is arguably one of the best places online for poly folks to meet each other (I met my live-in partner zaiah there). And it’s almost impossible to talk about OK Cupid without talking about how often women tend to get harassed on online dating sites. Any online dating sites.

And, it’s almost impossible to talk about how often women get harassed, on dating sites or anywhere else, without a whole succession of men trotting up to say “well, I personally don’t harass women! Women act like all men are harassers! I’m totally not like that, and I don’t understand why women don’t talk to me online! I totally deserve to have women talk to me online! If I spend my time writing an email to some woman online I am entitled to a response, even if she doesn’t want to date me!”

And, of course, from there it’s just a short hop to talking about male privilege, and as soon as that happens, inevitably those same men trot up again to say “this talk of privilege is just a way to try to make me feel guilty!”

And I gotta say: Guilt? Seriously? You think it’s about guilt?

Guilt is for things you can control. Feeling guilty over things you can’t control, like the race or sex you were born with, is silly.

If you think talking about privilege is about making people feel guilty, you’re completely missing the point.

It’s about being a decent person.

People who are privileged may still struggle, may not always get what they want, but the whole point is they have a lot of advantages over other people. Advantages they can’t see. Advantages they don’t know about.

Talking about privilege is about awareness, not guilt. When people don’t know about the advantages they have, they act in messed-up ways that show insensitivity to others. Like, for example, telling women who experience harassment on a scale that men can’t even understand how they should feel about it, what they should do about it, and why they should, like, totes respond to ME because I’M not like that! I’M not one of those entitled jerks, and therefore I DESERVE a reply!

The purpose of understanding your privilege isn’t to make you feel something. Not guilt, not shame, not anything else. It’s to help you understand that you have a set of things you take for granted that other people don’t have, so that you can change the way you act.

Got nothing to do with feelings at all.

Change the way you act in small ways. Like, not telling women how they should feel about sexual harassment. Like, not telling inner-city blacks that the police are their friends. Like, listening when women talk abut harassment, instead of just saying “oh, you’re saying all men are harassers.” (Hint: No, they’re not.) Or saying something like “well, I just don’t see color.” (Hint: Not seeing color is something you can only do if you happen to be the privileged color. When you belong to an oppressed minority, you don’t get the luxury of not seeing your status.)

Change the way you act in medium ways. Like, if you are a man with a normal social circle, statistically you probably know at least three harassers and at least one rapist. Seriously. So, when you’re with a group of your friends and someone makes a racial joke or a rape joke or talks about how women are bitches or whatever, speak up. Remember, if you don’t say anything, those harassers and that rapist in your social circle–and yes, they are there, even if you don’t know who they are–assume you’re on their side and think the way they do.

When people make cracks about sending a woman into the kitchen to make a sandwich, or talk about how they’d sure like to get that hot chick drunk and bend her over the table, speak up. Say it isn’t cool.

Yeah, it’s uncomfortable to speak up when all your friends are yee-hawing and back-slapping about how absolutely hysterical that rape joke was. Deal with it. The discomfort you face speaking up ain’t nothing on the discomfort women face just walking down the goddamn street.

Change the way you act in large ways. Don’t vote for political candidates who talk about how only lazy blacks are on welfare or blab about “legitimate rape.”

People aren’t telling you you’re privileged to make you feel guilty. People are telling you you’re privileged because privilege is a system and an institution that benefits you and that you participate in without even knowing it. When you know about it, maybe you can stop participating in it. Maybe, if you’re brave and willing to pull on your big-boy pants, you can even put yourself on the map against it when the folks around you are participating in it.

The More Than Two crowdfunding campaign is live!

We’re making this happen!

Yesterday, the crowdfunding campaign for More Than Two,the book about polyamory I’m writing with Eve Rickert, went live, and as of this afternoon we’re already north of $2,500 in contributions!

Additionally, Ken Haslam (the curator of the Kinsey Institute polyamory collection) and Alan M (of Poly in the Media) have pledged matching contributions up to $6,000 toward the project.

We hosted a crowdfunding launch party last night that drew people from all over the Western seaboard, including Cunning Minx of the Polyamory Weekly podcast.

Want to get involved and see what’s happening? Check out the project on Indiegogo at

http://igg.me/at/morethantwo/x/4157007

Even if you can’t support us directly, use the tools on the campaign page to share te campaign on Twitter, Facebook, and so on, and comment on the project in the Comments! That helps boost our exposure, and if enough people do it, we might even make it to the Indiegogo home page!

BDSM Ethics Part 2: Some Thoughts on Making the World Better

In Part I of this essay, I wrote some initial thoughts about the BDSM Pledge Web site. To recap briefly (as if I am ever brief): The BDSM Pledge site is an attempt by Kink.com, a producer of BDSM-related porn, to start to codify a set of guidelines for responsible, ethical BDSM.

This is not really a new idea, of course. Folks have been thinking about how BDSM is distinct from abuse for at least as long as there have been words for consensual BDSM. A lot of folks have coalesced around two short, bumper-sticker-sized expressions: “SSC” (for “Safe, Sane, and Consensual”), and “RACK” (for “Risk Aware Consensual Kink”). They both have the notion of consent in common, but after that, things go a bit off the bend.

The RACK folks like to point out that no activity, from whipping your lover to climbing a stepladder with a hammer in your hand, is really entirely ‘safe,’ and ‘sane’ is often in the eye of the beholder. The SSC folks, on the other hand, see the notion of risk-aware consensual kink as overplaying consensuality to the point where it leads into some decidedly questionable territory; if two folks decide they have a cover-the-submissive-in-chum-and-drag-him-through-shark-infested-waters fetish, does that mean the unfortunate outcome is okay because they both knew the risks and were on board with the idea?

Honestly, I see both points. It makes sense to me that both SSC and RACK are reaching toward something that’s simple in conception but slippery in the details: different people have different tastes, there is no such thing as perfect safety, and as long as the folks involved understand that and aren’t being totally reckless with one another’s safety, there’s value in letting people get down to it.

But I don’t think SSC or RACK are, by themselves, sufficient for ethical BDSM. In fact, I think they’re both so narrow in focus that they miss something really important: There is more to ethics than what you and your lover get up to in the bedroom (or attic or kitchen or dungeon, as your tastes may dictate).

It’s one thing to be ethical to your partner, your confidant, and/or the source of your nookie. It’s an entirely different thing to be ethical toward members of your community, even ones you don’t like, and toward the great mass of humanity as a whole. After all, we as human beings are arguably hard-wired to behave very differently toward people in our inner circle than we are toward acquaintances or strangers. One of the failings I see in many conversations about ethical BDSM is that the discussions tend to focus on the ways we behave toward our partners, but not on the ways we behave toward folks we aren’t involved with. I think that’s a shortcoming of ideas like RACK and SSC; a code of ethics needs to be broader in its scope.


I’ve written before about how we in the BDSM community tend to talk the talk about consent, but we often don’t walk the walk. I have seen behavior at BDSM events and play parties which I think violate the ideas of consent and autonomy, in ways large and small–swatting the ass of that cute submissive who walks by, wrongly believing that just because she’s a submissive so that makes it OK; disregarding people’s boundaries because it’s an acceptable thing to do (after all, isn’t the point of BDSM to challenge people’s boundaries? Right?); even full-on sexual assault. Granted, no community is perfect; take any group of people (folks interested in BDSM, folks with red hair, folks with medical degrees, folks who drive Toyotas) and if it gets sufficiently large you’ll find some bad actors.

But it’s particularly worrisome, to me, to see people behaving poorly in the BDSM community, precisely because the BDSM community claims to value consent so highly.

Consent is the cornerstone of what we do. Consent is the defining element that separates us from abusers. Yet, in spite of that, I have seen far too many examples of non-consensual behavior in the BDSM community for my liking, and more to the point, I’ve seen non-consensual behavior tolerated. That’s something that a code of ethics needs to address.

When we talk about people behaving unethically in the community, it’s surprising how many times it seems that everyone knows who the bad actors are. There’s a good essay on this topic called The Missing Stair over on The Pervocracy. When something bad happens in any community, far too often everyone already who the perpetrators are. The bad actors are like a missing step in a staircase, in that when you become accustomed to jumping over that step, you can forget how dangerous the missing step actually is.

A comprehensive set of ethics must include not only ethical treatment of our partners, but also ethical treatment of other people in the community. And, as an important element of that, it must include creating a community that does not shelter people who behave badly.

I’ve seen the BDSM community close ranks behind a member who sexually assaulted submissive women in the community, without their consent; I’ve seen how people who came forward to talk about the assault were ostracized. This is something that simple slogans like “Safe, Sane, and Consensual” or “Risk Aware Consensual Kink” don’t address. Ethics means more than “I will only engage in consensual behavior toward others;” I think it also extends to “I will not excuse non-consensual behavior on the part of others in my community,” too.

I read recently about sexual assault that took place at Burning Man, and one of the things that struck me about the story was the commenter who said “I’m sure this guy [the rapist] knew someone out there… where were they to keep him in check?”

Which, I think, misses the point. In any community, it is not the responsibility of the people who know the bad actors to keep them in check. It’s everyone’s. If you’re there, that means it’s yours. If I’m there, that means it’s mine.

It is incredibly difficult to intervene when we see something bad happening. It’s easy to ignore evil; it’s easy to rationalize non-intervention. Someone else will do something, we say. It’s not my job to police the community. Where are his friends? They should be the ones to keep him in check. I don’t even know this guy; why should I be the one to step in?

And so, nobody does. The missing stair goes unfixed.


So, let’s get down to the meat of the issue. If I were to invent a set of ethical guidelines for BDSM, what would it include? It’s important to understand that ethics go beyond simply taking responsibility for our own actions; they also extend to not standing idly by while other people behave unethically. And, most importantly, any reasonable code of ethics must include the idea that each one of us bears responsibility for making our community an ethical place.

So I were to invent a set of ethical guidelines for the BDSM community, it would probably look something like this:

• In my interactions with partners, I recognize that their ongoing participation is voluntary, even in total power exchange or M/s style relationships. I recognize the agency of my partners, and I understand that the moment I attempt to do things to a partner that he or she no longer wishes to participate in, or that a partner attempts to do to me that I don’t wish to participate in, we have moved away from BDSM.

• I recognize that my tastes are not shared by everybody, and other people’s tastes may not be shared by me. Because of that, I respect the agency of the people around me. They are more than simply a role; I will not make assumptions about what is and is not permissible to do with someone simply because that person identifies as “at top” or “a bottom” or “a submissive” or “a dominant,” without actually considering that not everyone regards these roles to have exactly the same meaning.

• I acknowledge that unethical behavior is something that can happen in my community, and when it does, that is a reflection not only of the person who is committing the unethical acts, but also on me, and on the rest of my community. I can be judged positively on my willingness to intervene against unethical acts, or negatively on my willingness to look the other way.

• Consent is the cornerstone of ethical behavior. Even small violations of consent are unethical acts. Therefore, I will make consent a priority. Sloppy attitudes about consent, such as swatting the ass of any attractive submissive who walks by, or barking orders to anyone who presents as submissive regardless of whether or not any sort of relationship exists, are not acceptable.

• In addition, I will expect the rest of my community to step up and make it clear that sloppiness about consent isn’t OK. There’s a Geek Social Fallacy that says “Ostracizers are always evil.” This fallacy needs to be recognized for what it is. Folks who behave inappropriately need to be told they are behaving inappropriately. It needs to stop being ignored. A person who witnesses inappropriate or non-consensual behavior in the community and does nothing about it, becomes complicit in it. It is not evil to take a stand against people who behave inappropriately. If I am the person witnessing inappropriate behavior, it is my responsibility to be the person who steps forward.

• I will not behave with hostility toward people, especially women and most especially submissive women, who come forward to report abuse. (When my friend was raped–and let me make clear that this was not an edge case, a fuzzy boundary thing, or an after-the-fact buyer’s remorse thing, but a he-physically-restrained-her-and-put-his-penis-in-her-vagina rape–the amount of backlash she experienced when she came forward to talk to other people about it was astonishing. And not just from self-described dominants or from men; the number of women who responded with some variant of ‘well, if you were REALLY a TRUE submissive then you wouldn’t have problems with this’ was just amazing.) I will make it my responsibility to build a community in which this kind of thing is not acceptable. I recognize that people who engage in victim-blaming and rationalization are part of the problem; whether it is their intent or not, they are providing cover for abusers.

• It is an unfortunate fact that abusers can exist at any level within a community, even among community leaders. This creates a particularly difficult situation, because when abuse done by a community leader surfaces, there can be a powerful incentive to look the other way. Rationalizing is astonishingly easy to do. “Well, I wasn’t there and so I don’t know what REALLY happened, and I’ve hung around with this guy and he seems like an OK dude to me, so you know, maybe there’s nothing really to it, I bet she’s just causing drama…” If I learn about inappropriate behavior in the community but do nothing about it, I become complicit in it.

• Reputation and references alone are not necessarily reliable indicators of a person’s character. When a community punishes abuse victims from coming forward and shields abusers, then says “If you want to protect yourself, just see what other people have to say!” the result is to create an environment that makes it almost impossible to spot the bad actors. Of course people who have had bad experiences aren’t going to come forward and say so; the price is too high. The result is a situation like the one my friend experienced where she asked a lot of folks around the community about her attacker and got glowing reviews, even though he was a serial abuser…because the community is so hostile to people who talk about abuse that none of his previous victims came forward.

• Affirmative consent is important. If someone does not say “it is OK for you to put your penis in me,” I will not put my penis in that person. It’s not enough that she didn’t say “no, you can’t put your penis in me.” I will not assume that simply because I haven’t been forbidden to do something, that means it’s OK to do it. (This does not necessarily mean that it’s not OK to play with consensual non-consent, of course. I personally am a big fan of consent play and consensual non-consent. I talk to my lovers about it before doing it; it is absolutely possible to have affirmative consent to engage in consent play.)

• It is my responsibility to be compassionate and receptive if I am told of abuse within the community. There are significant barriers to disclosure, both institutional in the community and personal in the shame that tends to follow sexual assault. I will not add to these barriers. I will not become part of the reason that victims feel they can not step forward.

• Consent for activity A does not imply consent for activity B. Consent to a light spanking scene does not imply consent to a singletail scene. Consent to being tied up does not imply consent to sexual intercourse. At the end of the day, if person A puts his penis in person B without permission, anything that happened in a BDSM context up to that point is utterly irrelevant; it’s assault and it’s not OK.

• There needs to be less trivializing and minimizing when assault happens. “So he fucked you after you agreed to be tied up. That’s not REALLY rape; I was assaulted in an alley by strangers, and that’s far worse than what you experienced!” is not OK. While it is part of human nature to do this, and identifying with the attacker and minimizing other people’s victimization are part of the defense mechanisms we employ against abuse, this kind of minimization of poor behavior creates an environment where poor behavior is tolerated. A policy of no tolerance for assault, violent or not, in the BDSM community is an important part of ethical BDSM.

• On the flip side of the same coin, it is important to understand that if I am assaulted, the assault is not OK even if I did agree to be tied up first, or even if I did agree to play with this person first. People who are assaulted will often tend to trivialize their own experience. Better policing of the community, less tolerance by members of the community for assault, and better education for what constitutes assault are all important.

• It is not OK to play the “shoulda game.” When my friend was assaulted, a lot of folks came forward to say “well, she shoulda done this” or “you know, she shoulda done that.” When the “shouldas” are about things that happen before the assault (“well, she shoulda got more experience with him before she agreed to let him tie her up,” “well, she shoulda said ‘no’ more plainly”), it’s just plain old-fashioned victim blaming. When the “shouldas” are about things that happened after the assault, they’re a form of abdication of responsibility. After the assault, I heard one person in the community who is generally an otherwise decent bloke say “Well, she shoulda gone to the police after it happened,” and then used that as an excuse not to support her, but to support the attacker instead. We can’t expeect victims to follow some script that we make up in our heads and then withdraw support from them if they don’t follow that script. The community needs to be better at policing itself and enforcing standards of acceptable behavior regardless of whether or not people who are assaulted respond to the assault the way we think they should.

Many of these ideas center around the way we conduct ourselves in our community rather than simply in private. This is necessary, both to create a vibrant, healthy community that does not shield abusers, and to help ensure that our community is not targeted as a haven for abusers by the outside world. Whether we like it or not, and whether we agree with it or not, when members of our community behave poorly, it is a reflection on all of us…particularly if we fail to step up and stop it.


My buddy edwardmartiniii has written an essay on the value of policing our social groups in order to create ethical spaces. He also has some suggestions about fixing the problems we see around us. I have linked to these before, but I think it needs to be mentioned again. If we are to do what it is we do ethically and with compassion, these are important ideas.

To that end, I now wear a blue button on my jacket. That button is a reminder to myself: if I am to be an ethical, compassionate human being, it is not enough that I do no evil. I must also choose not to look the other way when others do evil within my community. If I want a community that does not offer a haven to abusers, it is my responsibility to make that happen.

Some Thoughts on Morality and Power

If someone walks up to you and starts talking to you about good morals and the importance of morality, what’s the first thing you think of?

If you live in the US, odds are pretty good that anyone who wants to talk morality with you is actually talking about sex. How to do it, where to do it, when to do it, in what position to do it, who to do it with…the term “morals,” especially in political discourse, has come to be a synonym for “sex.”

And if the person talking to you is a conservative Evangelical, ten will get you twenty that somewhere in that conversation about morals, you’re going to hear about sex with a partner who’s the same sex as you are–something that seems to be right down at the bottom of the Pit of Immoral Behavior, just slightly below pedophilia and at least two and a half yards beneath genocide on the relative Scale of Morality.

And that’s really weird.

Or at least, it seemed really weird, until I thought about it for a bit.


The word “immoral” isn’t used to describe people very often these days. At least, it isn’t used to describe heterosexual, monogamous, married cisgendered people very often in the court of political discourse. It’s still quite popular among some segments of the conservative religious community, but it generally gets applied to sodomites, gay and bisexual people, transgendered folks, and other folks who don’t fit tidily into the prescribed box of sexual norms…with occasional side-branches directed at atheists, of course.

In the late 1800s, notable cynic Ambrose Bierce defined the word “immoral” to mean “Inexpedient. Whatever in the long run and with regard to the greater number of instances men find to be generally inexpedient comes to be considered wrong, wicked, immoral.”

And I submit that the laser focus on sex that we see in almost any popular political or religious dialog has at its heart a very potent expediency indeed, because it serves to distract us from true immorality, and causes us to focus on that which doesn’t really matter to the betterment of some very evil people indeed.


Take Pat Robertson.

No, I don’t mean take him out behind the chemical shed and shoot him; I mean take him as an example. Pat Robertson has made himself a very wealthy, powerful, and influential man by talking endlessly about morality. Or, more specifically, talking about sexual morality: sex before marriage (he’s against it), homosexuality (against), gay marriage (against), non-traditional sexual unions (against), sex work (against, even though he admits to having employed the services of prostitutes), oral sex (surprisingly, for…as long as it’s between a married man and his wife. He’s silent on the subject of whether or not they can have onlookers watching the act.).

And yet, for all his preaching about morality, Pat Robertson is by any reasonable standards of decency an astonishingly, breathtakingly evil man.

Pat Robertson has yet to meet a wealthy foreign dictator he doesn’t like, at least when it’s economically expedient. He cozied up to Liberian strongman, sex trafficker, and war criminal Charles Taylor in exchange for a gold mining contract in Liberia. He owns African Development Company, a corporation which snuggled up to Zaire’s warlord Mobutu Sese Seko to win rights to so-called ‘blood diamonds’ mined by slave labor.

Or look at “Family Values” candidate and politician Newt Gingrich, who divorced his first wife after an affair, married his mistress, then divorced her to marry his second mistress. Said second mistress, who is still married to him, is apparently spending her time these days doing fundraising for the Romney campaign…on a platform of (wait for it) family values.

Gingrich, despite being a serial adulterer, is perceived by many folks on the right as being “moral,” presumably because hey, he ain’t gay. Yet to anyone who believes that morality lies in treating others with compassion, he is unquestionably an evil man.


This is not a new observation, of course. Many of the people who talk the loudest about “morality,” on both sides of the political divide, are deeply and profoundly evil. Mahatma Gandhi was quoted as saying “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” It’s not exactly a revelation that those who use talk of morality, particularly religious morality, in the public sphere are very often deeply immoral people.

Which is where Ambrose Bierce comes in.

It is not simple hypocrisy that explains the prevalence of evil among those who speak of morals. It is not that we are all born of frailty and error and each of us relates imperfectly to those around us.

It is, rather, a calculated and deliberate expediency.

Pat Robertson, Newt Gingrich, and all their ilk are evil people, consumed by a desire for power and wealth. They do not hide this at all. But there is a dilemma. In a Third World country, powerful strongmen can do pretty much whatever they like, without needing to justify themselves to anyone. But in an industrialized nation, maintaining power and wealth often requires maintaining the general goodwill of the people. How to do that, then, when you are a serial adulterer? How to do that when you own a mine that uses slave labor?

The answer, brilliant in its simplicity and obviousness, is to change the public dialog about what it means to be good, and what it means to be evil.

An evil man can gain the favor of generally good people, if he can set the tone of the dialog about good and evil. If he can redefine “evil” so that, rather than meaning “exploiting slave labor in Third World countries to become fabulously wealthy” it means “having sex in the wrong way,” he not only can deflect attention from his own evil, he can short-circuit the conversation about his own evil before it even begins.


When this image dominates the public dialog about morality, someone is being snookered.

We have come to a place where “morality” means “sex” because that state of affairs is expedient to powerful, wealthy men who want to be able to indulge their lust for wealth and power unchecked.

According to the Bible, it is the love of money which is the root of all evil. It is not premarital sex, nor gay marriage, nor the burning question of whether or not married couples are allowed to give head.

Yet among the Religious right, discussion of money is strangely absent from the morality debate. The beginning and end of morality revolves exclusively around who one has sex with, and under what circumstances.

That didn’t happen by accident. That isn’t a coincidence. It happened because evil men set out, systematically and deliberately, to focus the lens of morality away from their own evil.

Every time we accept this definition of morality, every time we allow the conversation about morality to get bogged down in irrelevant sexual minutia, we work in the service of these evil men.

All sin lies in treating one another poorly. Rather than talking about the morality of gay sex, perhaps we should talk about the morality of slavery. Perhaps, if we re-focus our dialog about morality onto the evil that those who campaign on platforms of morality and virtue do, we will begin to see a better world. I would far rather that Pat Robertson divest himself from his blood diamonds and give the vast wealth he created from slave labor to the poor, than see him continue to hold influence by talking about how immoral we are if we don’t have sex the same way he does.

If homophobic Christians read the Bible, what would the world look like?

When i lived in the South, I will admit I used to eat at Chick-Fil-A all the time. I was dimly aware that they had some sketchy religious leanings or something, and they tended to hire only surrealistically white people to work in their restaurants, but hey, the sandwiches were good.

Well, not really good. But at least better than much of the mediocre fast-food stuff you could get at, say, Taco Bell or Burger King.

I wish I could say that I was surprised to learn that Chick-Fil-A has bought into the virulent strain of anti-gay nonsense that seems to have the self-described Christian conservative bits of society in such a frenzy, but I’m really not. Like I said, I was dimly aware that ther was some kind of right-wing religious something something at play.

But the media attention about Chick-Fil-A and gay marriage got me to thinking. Most self-described Christian conservatives base their opposition to gay marriage on two Bible verses. Leviticus 18:22 reads:

Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is an abomination.

Leviticus 20:13 says:

If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

The rest of Leviticus goes on to say similar things about cutting your beard, wearing clothes made of different fibers, eating shellfish, having sex with a woman on her period, letting different kinds of cattle graze in the same field, and executing women if their husbands cheat on them they cheat on their husbands (seriously, it’s there, Leviticus 20:10).

Most Christians don’t follow these rules, arguing that Jesus made them irrelevant except the ones about homosexuality because those are totally different from the shellfish ones because of reasons, and some will even quote a third Bible verse, Romans 1:26-27, to justify banning gay marriage:

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

But the Bible, both old and new testaments, actually spends a whole lot more time talking about divorce than it does about homosexuality. Both testaments are very, very clear that divorce is never permitted, and that those who divorce and remarry are guilty of adultery, a sin forbidden by the Ten Commandments, and with the penalty of death according to the old testament…

Um, wait a minute, didn’t we recently see a serial divorcee running on some kind of pro-family, conservative Christian platform?

In fact, the Bible even claims that Jesus, who never spoke about homosexuality at all, had plenty to say about divorce, in Matthew 5:31-32:

And it was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce’; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

The Bible has Jesus speaking the same message many more times, in Mark 10:2 and Luke 16:18, for example.

So I wonder…

What would the right-wing Christian pronouncements look like if they actually applied the same thinking on divorce to their supposedly “Bible-based” blatherings about homosexuality? What would happen if you took their hysterical anti-gay screeds and replaced the word “homosexual” with the word “divorce”? It seems a fair substitution; the same moral, Biblical justifications for opposing homosexuality even more strongly apply to divorce, after all.

I started Googling Christian proclamations about homosexuality, which…well, if you have ever felt the need to go trolling on a motorboat down an open sewer, doing that sort of Google search will give you a similar experience. And I took “homosexuality” and replaced it with “divorce.” The results were…interesting.

Clicky here to see what happens!

Interview: So your girlfriend has read 50 Shades; now how do you start with BDSM?

A short time ago, I received an email from a writer for Men’s Health magazine who’d found me online and wanted to interview me about BDSM. Specifically, the interview was about how someone who’s read the book 50 Shades of Grey and found the ideas in it interesting might take the next steo and start exploring BDSM in a relationship.

The interview was focused mainly on maledom/femalesub dynamics, presumably because that’s the type of D/s described in 50 Shades. As of writing this, the issue of Men’s Health containing the interview isn’t on the newsstands yet, but I’ve received permission from the interviewer (@ peachesanscream on Twitter) to post a raw transcript of the interview here.


I’m writing an article for Men’s Health magazine as a beginner’s guide to BDSM. The idea behind it is that their girlfriend has read 50 Shades of Grey and they’ve experimented with sex toys, but now they want to go a bit deeper into BDSM.

I was wondering if I could please ask you a few quick questions and in return credit you in the article?

I realize that 50 Shades of Grey is credited with helping to popularize the idea of BDSM, but I don’t think it’s actually a very good introduction to the subject. It’s a fantasy story, and as fantasy it doesn’t paint a good picture of BDSM. It’s a bit like taking marriage and relationship advice from the Disney movie “Sleeping Beauty,” only with the added problem that many of the activities described in 50 Shades aren’t very safe.

Still, it is helping to open a dialog about BDSM. If it helps open the door for people who ‘ve always wanted to explore spicing up their relationship but haven’t been able to figure out how, that’s awesome.

Role play: how do you get started? How can a man act dominant without being mean or scaring his partner? Things like eye contact, instructions, body language etc?

As with any new thing in a relationship, you get started by talking. Sounds simple, right?

The hard part is that we live in a society that does not teach us how to talk openly about sex. It can be scary to talk about exploring something new; what if your partner says no? What if your partner thinks you’re weird? What if you try it but it doesn’t work? Does that mean your partner will reject you? How do you bring it up? Is it normal to want to do these things? It’s easier to just not talk about it.

Getting started with role-playing (or with any other kind of BDSM) requires being able to talk about it, and that takes courage. The best way I know of to start that conversation is directly, with “Hey, you know, I love having sex with you, and there are some things that I would like to try. I think it might be fun to explore ___. What do you think?” As tempting as it is to try to bring things up indirectly, by dropping hints, that almost never works. After all, if it’s something that’s too scary for you to talk about directly, why would it be reasonable to expect your partner to be willing to talk about it directly?

Communication is important because being dominant is different for every person. What one person thinks is sexy, another person would find intimidating and a third person would find mean. Some people like the idea of having their partners tie them down; other people don’t like that, but might want to be held down; still other people don’t want to be restrained at all, but might be turned on by the idea of being spanked; and other folks might not like any of that but be thrilled by their partner telling them what to do. All of those things count as “acting dominant.” It’s important for the dominant partner to learn what gets the other person going (and what doesn’t), because this sort of thing really only works if it works for everyone.

Talking about what turns you on and what you don’t like is the key to creating a safe, happy, healthy space to explore things like role-playing or dominance.

What sort of things should he say?

That’s something that depends on the people involved. The most wonderful thing about BDSM is there isn’t just one way to do it. It’s something that every couple creates themselves out of the things that turn them on.

Sometimes, a good way to have a conversation about what you’d like your partner to say or do can be started by reading erotica. If there’s some passage in 50 Shades or a letter in a letters magazine that revs your engine, sharing it with your partner and saying “I like this, what do you think?” can help get the conversation going.

Whatever he (or she; it’s not only men who are dominant!) might say, one important trick is to say it with confidence. A simple “Go into the bedroom and wait for me” spoken with confidence is a lot sexier than the most elaborate scenario spoken with hesitation.

One of the things I personally enjoy is taking my lover close and whispering in her ear exactly, in precise language, what I would like to do to her body. It’s fun to do this in public, say if we’re out running errands, to help prime the pump and get us both thinking sexy thoughts. When we get home, she will know what to expect.

Another thing I’m quite fond of is lying in bed close to my lover, snuggled up against her while I tell her how to touch herself.

As with anything else, different people have different tastes. Exploring, experimenting, and finding what works is the key.

What about verbal abuse? Is it ok to call women names eg. filthy slut, during sex? How does he know not to go too far?

One thing I believe quite strongly is that abuse is never appropriate.

Having said that, anything that is consensual and done for the pleasure of everyone involved isn’t abuse. If a woman is aroused by her lover whispering filthy things in her ear and calling her dirty names, that’s very different from a stranger on the street calling her the same names. The first one is not abuse; the second is.

I have had partners who like being called names during sex and partners who don’t. For me, it can be fun and sexy, if it’s something she likes. I can often tell how a lover will respond to this kind of verbal play by asking her “Do you like being a dirty girl?” while we’re making out. If she finds that arousing, it’s usually pretty obvious.

This is something that a lot of men have difficulty with. I’ve talked to many men who have partners who’d like to try dirty talking, but the men don’t know how to start. There are a couple of things that can make it hard: fear of feeling silly, and a deeply-ingrained belief that it’s wrong to talk to women that way.

Fortunately, both of those things tend to go away pretty quickly with practice. There’s nothing wrong with feeling a little awkward when you try something new. After all, nearly everything we do is awkward the first time; remember how awkward it was the first time you tried to ride a bicycle? And it’s never wrong to talk to a woman the way she wants you to talk to her. In fact, treating someone the way they want to be treated is, to me, the highest kind of respect. I can say all kinds of dirty things to a lover, call her all kinds of sexy names, and still keep in mind that it’s a form of role playing; it doesn’t actually mean that I don’t respect her, or that I think less of her.

What signs should he look out for that she’s offended? How can he tell if he’s gone too far?

That comes down to communication again, and to paying attention to what she likes and how she responds. The simplest way I know of to find out how far is too far, or what a woman does and doesn’t find sexy, is to ask her!

Different people have different tastes in dirty talk. Some women love being called a dirty, filthy slut, but don’t like words that go to their self-worth, like “stupid” or “worthless.” Some women love the C-word, some women hate it, and some women don’t have strong feelings one way or the other. And, of course, some women don’t care for dirty talk at all.

It gets a bit complicated because most of us, no matter how well we know ourselves, have a hard time predicting how we will react to something new. I’ve known women who believed they wouldn’t like dirty talk, but who found it arousing when they were turned on. I’ve known women who liked reading stories involving dirty talk but didn’t like it in real life. That’s all a normal, natural part of human variability.

So the only way I know of to stay within the lines and keep it fun and exciting is to go slowly and to pay attention. Start simply–“Are you a dirty girl?” Invite a response. And, as always, talk about it.

Do you have any other tips for how a man can play the dominant role as a beginner in BDSM?

Whenever you try anything new, it won’t always go 100% the way you expect it to 100% of the time. Be willing to be surprised. There may be times when your partner has an unexpected reaction to something, and you have to stop what you’re doing. That’s OK. It doesn’t mean you’re doing things wrong; it just means that when you explore something new, things won’t always be perfect.

A lot of people who talk about BDSM talk about it from the perspective of taking care of the submissive partner and being aware of the submissive partner’s limits. But it’s also important to understand that being in the dominant role can make you feel vulnerable, too. Dominants also have limits, and it is possible for something to happen that triggers a reaction in the dominant partner. The people involved should keep the limits and responses of the dominant in mind, too.

BDSM is about exploring pleasure and trust together. When you look at it from the outside, it can seem like one person doing things to another person, but it’s really more about two people doing things together, but in different roles. The goal is to have fun. If you’re doing that, it’s all good.

Unlike what you tend to see in books and movies, BDSM doesn’t have to be serious all the time. Sometimes, it can be very silly. There’s a game I like to play called the “two frogs” game. A frog has two eyes and four legs, so two frogs have four eyes and eight legs. I’ll say “Three frogs! One frog! Four frogs!” and if she doesn’t respond instantly with the right number of eyes and legs, she gets spanked. It’s very silly, but also a lot of fun.

How do you broach the idea of using stronger sex toys such as nipple clamps on your (female) partner? (( we’re assuming that they’ve already experimented with sex toys at this point. So it’s not totally virgin **ahem** ground)) Should you start by squeezing her nipples during sex, then asking her after? Is there a smooth way to do this?

I’m a big fan of communication in a relationship, as you’ve probably guessed. A good general rule abut sex that I’ve found works pretty well is don’t just do things and hope for the best; talk about them first. You can’t always be expected to know where someone’s boundaries are, and you don’t want to find them by accident.

When it comes to anything, from using a vibrator to using nipple clamps to chaining my partner to the wall and spanking her until she’s squirming, I find out whether or not she’s interested by talking to her about it. A great way to do this is by discussing fantasies (and this is a two-way street; talk about the things that interest you, and also encourage her to talk about the things she fantasizes about). And remember that being receptive is also a two-way street…if you’d like her to be open to the idea of having nipple clamps on her, you can’t freak out if you discover she’d like to use them on you!

A lot of people ask me “How can I get my girlfriend to do so-and-so?” I think that’s the wrong approach. You don’t GET your partner to do things for you; this person is your lover, not a circus animal. Instead. you talk about things you’d like to explore, you listen when she talks about things she’d like to explore, and you find the overlap.

How do you broach the idea of trying anal sex? Is there a non-offensive way to do this? Should you try touching her there first to see how she’d react?

People tend to be touchy about their asses. Legions of bad advice columns in Cosmo magazine aside, I don’t think it’s a good idea to go poking at a lover’s ass and hope for the best.

Is there a non-offensive way to ask? Sure! “I’m interested in exploring anal sex. How do you feel about it?” Talking directly and openly about what interests you is never offensive, provided you’re okay with hearing “no” as an answer. To me, it only becomes offensive if you have an expectation that the answer has to be “yes.”

And remember the part I said about being receptive to what she has to say if you want her to be receptive to what you have to say? If she says something like “You know, I’ve always wondered if it would be fun if I stick my finger up your bum while I give you a blowjob” and you freak out about that idea, then you can’t really expect her to be calm about the things you suggest. It’s okay if that idea doesn’t appeal to you, just like it’s okay if anal doesn’t appeal to her; if she suggests something that doesn’t work for you, a simple “Well, that doesn’t really do it for me” is enough.

How can you gain her trust enough to get her to cede control to try light bondage? Would it be something like agreeing safe words before? Or using ties that don’t tie up too tightly? Or maybe letting her try it on you first or using your hands?

I don’t think that you “get” someone to trust you. Instead, I think people trust you when you are a trustworthy person. There is no secret to getting people to trust you other than being a person who deserves trust.

Part of the way that you earn trust is by respecting your partner’s boundaries. Part of it is by treating your partner with respect and compassion, even if she says things that surprise you or that turn you off. And I shouldn’t really have to say this, but part of it is by being a person who’s honest, someone who can be relied on to behave with integrity.

I had an acquaintance many years ago who was a serial cheater; he would brag about all the women he’d cheated with, and he tended to go through partners pretty quickly. He always wanted to try bondage, but he never found a woman who would say “yes.” I think on some level all the people he slept with knew that he couldn’t be trusted. One of his partners, for a brief time, was a model. I was a photographer at the time, and I did a bondage photo shoot with her. He was very surprised when he saw the pictures, because he’d asked her about trying bondage and been told “absolutely not.”

I think that people often are apprehensive about trying new things in the bedroom, and bondage is no exception. Starting with light bondage is perfectly appropriate, as is agreeing on a code word that means “untie me right now.” I also advise that people keep a pair of bandage scissors handy when they explore for the first time. You can get these for a couple of dollars at any drug store. They have one pointed blade and one rounded blade, and they’re designed to be slid underneath a bandage to cut it off without risking cutting the skin. If you get into trouble with bondage, they’ll cut your partner free in seconds.

Being willing to respect a partner’s limits, being willing to show that you are trustworthy, being willing to suggest ideas without trying to pressure your partner into saying “yes,”and being willing to talk about what you can do if things go wrong goes a long way toward creating a safe environment for exploring bondage.

Are there any important points that I should include?

Safety!

Safety is a bit tricky, because sometimes what feels safe and what is safe are miles apart.

For example, when we think about bondage, a lot of folks think “pink fuzzy handcuffs.” But I know several serious, die-hard, long-term kinksters who won’t play with handcuffs because they’re just too dangerous. A lot of people who first dabble with tying their lovers up might use silk sashes or nylon stockings, because they feel less intimidating than using ropes or leather cuffs. But these, too, are dangerous.

Handcuffs are dangerous because they are completely inflexible and they put a lot of force on a very small area. If you struggle when you’re wearing handcuffs, it can be surprisingly easy to do permanent damage to the bones or nerves in your wrist, and it can happen very quickly.

Silk and nylon can have a tendency to pull tight, making them almost impossible to untie. They can also cut off circulation without warning. When you get into trouble, it can be hard to get them off quickly. Ropes are a lot safer for bondage, which is why kinksters use them.

It’s usually a good idea for people exploring BDSM to create a “safe word,” which is a special word that means “stop, really, I mean it.” Especially if you’re trying role play scenarios where words like “no” and “stop” are part of the role play and don’t really mean “no” or “stop.”

There are a lot of resources out there for people who want to learn how to explore these things safely and respectfully. My own Web site at www.xeromag.com has a beginner’s guide to BDSM and a list of resources, and there are many more as well.