Hello from Vienna, Austria, Yana!

Over the years I’ve realized that I like being dominated in sex. I want strong men who play with my brain, mainly verbally. A year ago I met a guy on a kinky hookup app. We went out on a date and hit it off immediately. In the beginning, he showed me so much about bondage and I had my fair share of bruises from skilled hands. We became a couple really fast, moved in together, and our partnership is very mature and feels like never before.

But now we’re in a problematic situation: he says he now sees me at eye level and therefore dominating me doesn’t work for him anymore. He says that we are such good partners in so many ways that he can’t bring himself to tell me what to do or give me orders anymore in our sexual play.

I feel really stuck because I long ago promised myself that I would never again remain in a relationship where the sex isn’t fulfilling for me. But our relationship is wonderful in all other aspects. We talk very openly about this — he knows my sorrows, holds me when I cry, but doesn’t change a thing.

He says it will be OK and that he will be ready one day. For now I still have hope, but not sure for how long. Any ideas?

—Unhappily Untied


Dear Untied,

One of my favorite things about kinky sexual and relational dynamics is how they push the folks in the dynamic to deeply consider their boundaries and desires on an ongoing basis. The primary and most crucial component of ethical kink dynamics that separates them from physical and emotional abuse is that they are informed, consensual, and adaptable. So, it’s excellent that you’re both communicating openly about this and that you aren’t pushing your partner to engage in a dynamic that used to be OK with him and is now feeling challenging.

Many people are subconsciously susceptible to viewing women in what’s known as a Madonna/whore dynamic. This is a socially-informed predicament made from consistent, sex-negative messaging that overtly implies that women can only be one (Madonna) or the other (whore), but never both. The “Madonna” is sexual only in specific, typically “vanilla,” love-making ways while the “whore” is open to a variety of sexual explorations, but isn’t who you fall in love or have kids with.

Of course, this isn’t true. Plenty of nurturing mothers are also total kinksters, plenty of social renegades aren’t interested in sex at all, and plenty of kink dynamics are tender, sweet, and downright loving.

The reason I bring this up here, Untied, is because I wonder how much of this Madonna/whore dichotomy is influencing your partner’s feelings that he can’t both dominate you and share domestic love and care with you. How did he learn that these two things cannot coexist? Does he believe this or is it based on a social system he would like to challenge? Is believing in the dichotomy serving him? One way he could explore this is with an individual kink-competent therapist.

Another thing that seems present is “scene bleed,” where a kink dynamic starts showing up where it doesn’t belong. Though the two of you may have consensually negotiated what you want to do within the bounds of your Dominant/submissive scene (“Tie me up! Tell me I’m worthless! Smack me around!”), I would hope that your loving, equal, partner doesn’t really think that you are a “worthless little worm!” in your everyday lives, once the scene is over.

Remind yourselves and each other that your dynamics within a scene are clearly different than your dynamics outside of your scene. Tighten up the boundaries of your scenes with rituals that clearly indicate that they are starting and ending like putting on/taking off a collar or lighting and then blowing out a special candle.

If he’s willing, experiment with different D/s dynamics that carry more of a flavor of tenderness than your original dynamic, but that still satisfies your desire for mental/physical domination. There are plenty of varieties of D/s roles that aren’t solely based on mean Mr. Top and poor, degraded bottom. The New Topping Book can be a great place to learn more.

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.