Writer’s note: this column discusses sexual assault and trauma.
I’ve been seeing/having sex with this guy for a little while now. I really (really really) like him and feel super comfortable with him and we’ve had super good conversations about boundaries and consent. I tend to dissociate a bit when I start having sex with a new person, and I’ve been really open about that with him and about past trauma. (I was physically and sexually abused in previous relationships/“hook ups”).
Right now I feel comfortable and safe enough with him that those things (panic attacks, dissociation mostly) don’t happen very often and if they do they’re fairly mild/we are able to address them with a fair amount of ease (whether that means stopping sexual stuff altogether or just taking a break and doing breathing exercises, changing it up etc). He’s very active about checking in and making sure I’m still there, being more submissive, letting me take the lead, and practicing radical consent.
Now I want to start getting a little more adventurous with him! I really like being spanked but I think he’ll feel at least a little wary of it because of how sensitive he is (and how sensitive I am!) to what I’ve dealt with in the past.
How can I have a conversation with him about the desire to be hit in a specific context? I’m not even sure I understand this desire and/or how it relates to my trauma!
Dear Seeking Spanks,
It sounds like y’all have already created a great toolkit to navigate trauma symptoms like dissociation and panic attacks and it’s wise to review them before venturing into Spank City.
But first, I love that you’ve voiced this question about the link between kinky sex/BDSM and trauma as it’s one that’s often theorized about, usually in pathologizing ways. All kinds of people explore and enjoy consensually kinky, freaky sex, so why is automatically linking kink to trauma so popular?
Why, sex negativity and fear, of course! To link these two is to imply that kinky desires are negative, unhealthy, and necessary to justify because of their deviance (pearl clutch!). Rarely do we wonder to ourselves “My oh my, perhaps I am so vanilla in bed because I’ve been spared sexual assault!”.
Does this mean that your love of a consensual swat is completely separate and compartmentalized from your trauma? Not necessarily. But your traumatic experiences are not inherently linked to your kinky desires. One more time for the Freuds in the back: traumatic experiences do not give someone a Case of the Kinkies (gasp!).
Experiencing non-consensual trauma at the hands of an abuser is not the same as experiencing consensual kinky play with a chosen and trusted partner. So, make abundantly clear to yourself and your sweetie the line between consensual play and assault. Clarify boundaries around what’s okay (spanking my cheeks at a pain level of 6 on a scale of 1-10), what is not (calling me [insert dirty word] while you spank me), and where the hard limits lie (never ever hit me anywhere else).
Review what you’ve successfully utilized in the past to address triggering moments and discuss how they might apply to spanking play. Remind your sweetie what your warning signs look like and/or borrow from classic BSDM and verbalize Green for “Keep going”, Yellow for “Slow down”, and Red for “Stop right now”. Check in frequently with these words, especially the first time around.
Have an advanced plan for if things go awry (If I call “Red” stop everything and cuddle me). This kind of plan both makes sure that you’re taken care of as the triggered person and also helps your partner know what to do to help him feel competent, prepared, and brought back to the reality that he’s your loving, considerate, consensual lover and not an abuser.
This planning might seem excessive, but it only takes one accidentally disastrous attempt at kinky play to create and reinforce a fearful, shame-based dynamic that can throw up barriers that are difficult to deconstruct once they’re up. For continued kink education, turn to trusted sex educators like Tristan Taormino’s book Ultimate Guide to Kink or Sinclair Sexsmith (sugarbutch.net).
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, http://www.yanatallonhicks.com.