In the absence of any new questions or suggestions this week (cough, cough), we decided to revisit another one of our past columns – a more serious one this time.
Q: I’m having some trouble with a new partner of mine not respecting my boundaries. I have told him repeatedly not to leave visible bite marks/hickeys on my neck/upper chest, but he keeps doing it. I think that part of the problem is that I enjoy being bitten hard, so when even though I’ve told him outside the bedroom that it’s not OK, he assumes that because it feels good while we’re having sex that it’s OK to do.
He’s definitely a kinky person and has experience having kinky sex, but is a novice when it comes to the rules that go along with that sex. For example, I had to explain to him what a safe word was, even though I could tell he was experienced in activities that would normally require one (choking, for example). He seems to be kind of uncomfortable discussing sex in a non-sexual manner outside of the bedroom, though, because whenever I’ve tried to explain why he needs to not give me hickeys, he just says “I’m sorry,” without letting me fully explicate my thoughts as if doing so will make the problem just go away.
We’re going to have an actual discussion about it in the next day or so and I’m going to sit him down and explain that not respecting my boundaries is not acceptable because it means that he is doing something non-consensual to me, but I’m not sure what to do if he “accidentally” does it again, as that’s been his excuse the last couple times ““ that he didn’t mean to and just got caught up in the moment. This is the third time he’s done it, and if he was more experienced with the rules of BDSM or relationships in general I would normally tell him to fuck off, but I’ve been giving him more leeway than I usually would; partly because of his inexperience and partly because he’s everything I want in every other way but this.
What should I do?
A: A lot of good BDSM play involves two sets of boundaries ““ there’s the “you better not do that or else you’ll get punished” boundary, and the “no seriously don’t do that.” As you know, the latter is why we have safe words, and when we’re talking to people who are just beginning to explore BDSM we always suggest that the very first thing they do is establish a safe word, especially if they are interested in exploring activities like choking. (Minor tangent: many people who enjoy acts like choking, where the recipient obviously cannot easily say a safe word, establish a system of gestures or taps or even things like dropping a bouncy ball or ringing a bell in order to signal that the action has gone too far.)
Was your partner receptive to the idea of a safe word when you explained it to him? If not, that would be a big red flag to both of us and would worry us that he is not truly invested in making sure that the sex you have is consensual and safe. Even more than whips or handcuffs, trust (and communication) is central to exploring BDSM, which is something that not everyone may realize going into it. Since it sounds like your partner may not have thought or talked a lot about the emotional and interpersonal aspects of BDSM, he may benefit from reading a book like The New Topping Book by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy. (They are also the authors of The New Bottoming Book.)
Feeling awkward or uncomfortable discussing sex in non-sexual situations is not uncommon, but it troubles us that your partner simply apologizes for giving you hickeys instead of listening to your thoughts about the situation. Whether he intends to or not, he’s shutting down a really important dialogue, and it sounds like you know that it’s a dialogue that needs to take place. One possibility for initiating the conversation is showing him a BDSM checklist ““ blogger Clarisse Thorn provides a discussion of checklists and links to a few different ones here, including a not-so-kinky checklist that might be of use to anyone who has difficulty bringing up desires and interests with their partner. You could fill them out together or alone, and a checklist might help make your boundaries appear more concrete and remind your partner that even though you obviously enjoy being bitten, your enjoyment of it does not erase your pre-established limits on the activity.
If he starts biting you and leaving marks again, you could try using your safe word to remind him of those limits in the moment. But what it comes down to (and it sounds like you know this) is that the onus should not be on you to keep telling him not to leave visible bite marks on you; the responsibility is on him to know and respect the boundaries that you have conveyed to him. Everyone can get caught up in the moment (paperispatient bruises easily and has a similar “no visible hickeys” rule that future Mr. has accidentally broken once), but it should not be a pattern or a consistent part of the sex you’re having, and that is something that any potential partner should understand, regardless of how knowledgeable they are about BDSM practice and rules. If, after the discussion you mentioned wanting to have and if you decide to go the checklist route, he “accidentally” does it again (or if he continues to be resistant to these conversations), we would both strongly reconsider being with him. You say that he is everything you want in every other way besides this, but respect for consent is paramount in a sexual relationship and frankly if he lacks that, for us that outweighs all of his good qualities.
Got a question to ask, subject you’d like us to discuss, or myth you’d like us to bust? You can e-mail us at FriskyFeminist@persephonemagazine.com, and we’ve also set up a Tumblr for the sole purpose of receiving completely anonymous questions here.