Writer’s note: This column contains mention of rape/non-consensual sex.
I’ve been dating the sweetest guy. Well, sweet in ways that he always helps with housework, takes care of my dog for me, and is ALWAYS there for me.
He’s a solid and loyal dude which is kind of a different pace than what I’m used to. He’s a shy boy. He’s 30 years old and I may be the only real girlfriend he’s had so far. We’ve been together a little over three months.
The sex has always been pretty good, but I’m craving more heated passion. Last night I was wearing pantyhose and after sex I told him that I almost asked him to rip them off of me. He immediately got a look of concern. Then he looked and said “What!? No! Isn’t that like rape!?!?”
I assured him it’s not rape if it’s consensual. He kind of just looked confused and I kind of just drifted off to sleep.
I’d like to help him be more adventurous in bed but I’m nervous to bring these things up. I do enjoy spanking, hair pulling, and the like. How do you teach nice boys how to play a little more rough?
Bite Me Already
Dear Bite Me,
First, you’re right. Some defining differences between rape and consensual sex are that consensual sex involves explicit communication, permission-giving, listening, and enthusiastic, informed, voluntary, explicit agreement to what is happening in the interaction.
However, consent is a two-way (or more-way) process. If what you’re into is being roughed up, tearing those panty hose off, getting that hair yanked, and taking some well-timed spanks then that’s all well and good. But if your partner doesn’t want to do that, then persistently talking him into it isn’t exactly keeping it consensual.
People’s hesitations to kink can be complicated, of course. Sometimes we’ve got hang-ups around sexual shame telling us that we’re dark and perverted if we enjoy consensual play around power dynamics, dominant and submissive roles, and the line between pleasure and pain.
Sometimes our understanding of what differentiates consensual, sexualized power play and non-consensual sexual violence is limited to the simplification that “all roughness = violence” and “all tenderness = consent,” neither of which is inherently true. Consensual play can take many forms and, in fact, so can non-consent, rape, and sexual violence.
So, how do you find the balance between informing your boyfriend about the differences between consensual play and non-consensual violence without forcing him into doing something he’s simply not comfortable with?
First, have a conversation about what you see as the differences between the two and what you enjoy about rough sex outside of a sexual context. Rather than saying “Babe! Come on! Pull my hair!” in the middle of the moment, discuss it over breakfast or on a walk with the dog — any context where the clothes are on, the adrenaline is down, and the brains are functioning lower and slower to allow for clear processing. Don’t forget to listen to his concerns and how he’s learned to equate consensual rough sex with non-consensual violence.
Then, refer him to some outside resources that explain kink in a friendly and approachable way like the New Topping Book and the New Bottoming Book by Dossie Easton & Janet W. Hardy. You can also check out my article on Mashable.com called “Can you be a feminist and still like rough sex?” which incidentally quotes a whole bunch of great sex educators who teach about consensual kink.
If your dude does decide to dive into consensual rough play, make sure the two of you are crystal clear on the boundaries and limits to reduce any mistakes that may inadvertently confirm his fears of hurting you, and reinforce how much you’ve enjoyed yourself (if you did, that is) when the play is over.
In the end, however, the driving divide between kink and violence is consent, so if your dude’s answer is “no” then the answer is “no” and re-evaluating where and how you’d like to get your own kink needs met may need to be up for discussion.
Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and her professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com.