I was talking with someone recently about how friendships work for me, and I’m reaching a growing suspicion that my brain handles these things a little differently from most folk. I would love to hear what the rest of you feel about this. (Assuming anyone reads this blog.)

I’ve never made friends quickly or easily. People who don’t know me well assume I’m an extrovert, but inside I very much identify as an introvert, and a socially awkward one at that. I struggle with making small talk, I have trouble connecting with people in groups (at parties for instance), and it’s tough for me to open up to be real and vulnerable with someone until I’ve really gotten to know them.

As a consequence, I’m not one of those people with a large circle of friends. I have lots of acquaintances, sure. But people I can be “deep and real” with, and really let down my guard? That’s a pretty short list.

Having said that, for those friends I tend to be pretty over the top. I like spoiling them, making them feel pampered, adored, loved. For instance, I’m friends with a couple who are hammered with work and school right now. I’ve been looking for an opportunity to have them over for dinner (the least I can do is feed them, right?), but their schedules are so tight that we can’t seem to make that happen. So I made them a quiche and dropped it off for them. And I’ll probably do something like that once a week or so until they finally have some breathing room. I’m pretty shameless about picking up the bill or even loaning money when the circumstances call for it. (I’m so very fortunate to be in a position where I tend to have more financial resources than my peers.) Taking people to the airport, helping people move, holding them when they cry… that all feels very natural to me.

The bottom line is, if you’re my friend I really want you to be happy. I want to help you feel good, in all the ways, emotionally, mentally, even physically. One of the reasons I’ve returned to my massage practice so enthusiastically is that it’s something I can share with my friends to help them feel relaxed, comfortable, and at ease in their own bodies.

And in my head, that extends to sex also. If you’re my friend, if I’m that close to you, I’m pretty happy and enthusiastic about going “there”. When it comes to offering my friends pure physical pleasure, I don’t see a massive distinction between a scalp massage and oral sex. It’s all about making that person feel good, right?

But I’m aware the lines are much more black and white for most people. Some of my friends are not comfortable with blurring those lines, and that’s of course okay. The last thing I want is for anyone to feel uncomfortable or weird and so I honor and respect whatever boundaries they might have.

But for me, it’s very much a smooth, seamless spectrum. That makes some labels challenging for me. I’m not very good at drawing boundaries between friendship, love, lust, friends with benefits, romance.

And finding that space of comfort and boundaries with a friend can be interesting. Just last night I said to a loved one (with a great deal of awkwardness), “I’m just going to take it as a given that you would prefer I not make a pass at you?” She smiled and blushed and said, “I like when you flirt with me, but for sanity’s sake we should keep it as friends.” So we smiled and hugged and I gave her some space. And later told her how hot she looked gyrating on the dance floor (because flirting had been green lighted, right?) I really hope that hasn’t left things awkward between us; I’m looking forward to our next meeting to find out.

And as I think about it further, the people I am very closest to (the Three Graces, I’m thinking of you) probably blur those lines in somewhat the same way I do. It’s a fabulous and wonderful thing to have friends, but it’s even better when they share some of your kinks.

For the past year or so, I’ve been exploring BDSM activities with a little more enthusiasm. On playa in 2014, I camped with the Theme Camp “Retrofrolic”, which is the largest BDSM playspace on the playa. I’ve taught classes on making your own flogger (from upcycled bicycle innertubes). And I am newly involved in a significantly more serious BDSM relationship than I’ve experienced before. In these experiences, I’ve been the “top”, the “dom”, the “sadist”.

Despite that, I’ve been really uneasy with the title “sadist”. It didn’t feel like it fit me, but I had a hard time articulating why. 

From a historical perspective, the writings of the Marquis de Sade describe some really extreme behavior, sexual abuse, rape, pedophilia, necrophilia… some reprehensible actions, to say the least. But okay, let’s agree that we’re only talking about the context of consenting sexual behavior involving pain and/or dominance. There are still aspects of that that sit uneasily with me. It was jarring to walk into camp in the wee hours of the morning and greet a fellow Burner who had a fresh array of bright purple welts from the small of her back to her lower thighs, purple drifting into blood red in places. And she was enormously proud of them! I very firmly believe and embrace “Your kink is okay!”, but at the same time that was a level of BDSM that I had a hard time personally relating to.

So I’ve been pondering this term, “sadist”, talking it over with partners, even talking about it with a local meeting of sex geeks (wow, I love Portland!). And I think I’ve finally figured out my own personal relationship with the term.

I have relationships where I really enjoy exerting control and dominance, where I provide verbal abuse and inflict considerable amounts of physical pain. And I’m not a sadist.

Let me explain by giving you an example from my massage practice. Nearly every massage I do includes some work with my fingertips on the client’s temples. Most clients really love this, but there are a few that hate it and I make a note to avoid it with them in future massages. And some clients like it but only with the very lightest of pressure, while others wants me to wear a groove in their skulls. And you know what? It’s all good. I don’t think less of the people who hate it, and I’m not upset at someone who doesn’t want me to bear down as hard as I might. The point isn’t to flex my finger muscles; the point is to make that person feel good! And if that particular move doesn’t work for someone, I move on and find something that does make their toes curl!

And that’s very much how I feel about my BDSM practices. I have had a few girlfriends who enjoy aspects of those behaviors. And I’m currently involved with someone who is taking me to the limits of where I thought I could go. But I also have a partner who has no appreciable interest in those activities at all. And it’s all good! I’m not grumpy and sad because I have a girlfriend who doesn’t want to be flogged ruthlessly. For me, the point isn’t the pain, the point is to use that pain as a vehicle for bringing someone pleasure. And I’m really talking about “for me” here. I hugely enjoy giving my partners pleasure. I like bringing them to a fevered spot in their head where conscious thought stops and their senses are electrified. If getting there involves some extra dirty talk and a little spanking, I can handle it. If it involves causing screaming pain and some bruising, I can hang. But I have no desire to go there if it doesn’t make my partner’s toes curl.

If I were really a sadist and had a partner who wouldn’t let me beat them savagely, I have to think I’d be really disappointed in that. “Aww, here’s this girl I’m really into, and I can’t indulge this thing that I really love to do. That sucks!” In fact, I have a kink I feel exactly that way about. I love giving a woman head. Even if it isn’t that pleasurable for a particular partner, I still enjoy licking her pussy. The smell, the texture, the taste. Mmm, the taste. That richer, muskier taste that comes when she is thoroughly aroused. It makes me growl with hunger. If I had a partner who refused to let me eat her pussy, I would be hugely sad. It would feel like a huge loss in the relationship, to me. ‘cause that’s my kink. (And your kink is okay!)

But I don’t feel that way about BDSM. If that doesn’t work for a partner, I’ll find something else that will. I’ll find something that will make them gasp, stop them in mid-sentence, make them see a mandala of light pulse in their vision. As long as she also lets me eat her pussy every so often. 🙂

My soundtrack for this discussion is courtesy of Momus: I Want You But I Don’t Need You

When a new acquaintance tells me they are “vegetarian“, I can’t help but wince. Not because I begrudge them their food choices, not even a little! I wince because there’s just not a lot of information I can glean from that label. Do they eat eggs? How about fish? Dairy? Really, all I know for sure is that this person has some dietary preferences, mostly (but not necessarily exclusively!) around meat.

The reason I bring this up on this blog is that I have much the same feeling around the labels “polyamory” and “open relationship”. The spectrum of options and possibilities under that label is so impossibly broad as to carry almost no data at all. About the most I can assume is you’re doing something that is not quite the same as (and maybe completely, totally different from) traditional monogamy.

While the subtle details and implications may be far more than your parents care to know, if I’m considering getting involved with you I want to know all the juicy details of what you mean by “open relationship“. For instance, does your partner(s) know? (Yikes! I hate that this question even needs to be asked! How do I know your partner(s) are really on-board?) Is this a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” arrangement, or do you discuss every little detail with your partner(s)? What rules of engagement do you practice? Are you in a closed polyfidelitous structure, or do your partner(s) have other partners? How long have you been doing this? Is this a decision you made at a rave last weekend, or is this something you’ve been doing for years?

Worse yet, there’s the risk that I might assume your definition and understanding of the label is identical to my own. (Red flag word, assume.) This is an area where I want to make sure there is a minimum of accidental misunderstandings before things progress too far.

Bottom line, a label as broad as those is not an answer; at most it is a starting point for a more involved and pointed discussion. Beware of big labels and when in doubt, ask lots of questions!