Wednesday, May 25, 2011

"I don't know."

I've talked a lot before about the need for communication in BDSM and in relationships in general, but for the longest time I had trouble doing it honestly. Because the advice is usually "ask for what you want," but I didn't always know what I wanted, and I felt like that rendered me unable to communicate. It's one thing to say "I like thuddy impact especially on my shoulders and upper back and I'll be cooperative but not submissive in my role"; but if all you can put together is that you think you'd like kinky stuff and to be on the bottom and for it to be sexy and you don't really know exactly what that means, what do you say?

The answer is "I think I'd like kinky stuff and to be on the bottom and for it to be sexy, but I don't really know exactly what that means." It's okay. Better than bluffing like you're experienced, better than mumbling into your hands--simply say what you're thinking even when it isn't totally clear and coherent. That's what really helps a partner work with you.

(In kink, talking about how you'd like to feel--"I'd like to be a little afraid," "I'd like to feel totally under your control," "I only want the physical sensations,"--can also help. It's not a replacement for explicit negotiation, because different things scare different people, but it starts the "well, what makes you afraid?" conversation.)

This goes for relationship stuff too. When someone says "Where do you think this relationship has going?" there's no need to try and make up something that sounds sensitive (or to cannonball out the window, do a shoulder roll, and run down the street screaming). If you haven't thought about it, "you know, I haven't given that enough thought yet, but I do love/like you a lot" is the answer that can start an honest conversation.

I know this sounds incredibly obvious, but it took me a long time to learn how to say "I don't know" gracefully and while still providing as much information as I do know. Communication doesn't mean saying the right things. It means saying what you're really thinking.


  1. This is one of the reasons why I think the whole concept of "scenes" is so great. Scenes have a beginning, middle, and an end; an inside, and an outside. Scenes really emphasize the idea that you can play around with a dynamic or a new activity -- and if you don't like it? You don't ever have to do it again.

    I advocate coming up with scenes together that are silly, or involve things you and your partner have never done and aren't on your OMG WANT! list. I definitely discovered that I liked things that really had just never crossed my mind before.

    It's a great way to expand your sexual repertoire, and you don't have to know how it's going to work or how you're going to feel up front.

  2. I think I still have a hard time saying I don't know. Or if not *saying* it, at least admitting it to myself.

    And even when I do know, there are no guarantees as to how I'll be feeling after and/or during.

  3. You ever have one of those moments where you never thought of something, and now that someone has explained it to you, it's so obvious that you wondered how you missed it before?

    Yeah. That.

  4. Please keep talking about communication in such an understandable way. My boyfriend and I have life communication down pat, but I've always been awful at sex communication. Between this and Cueing, you're absolutely speaking my language.

  5. Yeah, even in my fairly vanilla sex past, it was frustrating to hear "ask for what you want if you actually want to orgasm." Well, I wasn't orgasming (with another person) because I didn't know what worked, so being told to ask for it didn't really help. Ask for what?

    It especially didn't help that female orgasms are generally regarded as a male triumph, so telling the man involved that "yeah, this isn't working" is, at best, a difficult conversation to have.

  6. Oh man, I'm still new to this and haven't had much experience.

    I've found saying "I don't know" just gets me reviled and I get no help whatsoever. But I don't know! How am I supposed to know until I try? And coming up with a "scene" just seems so bloody difficult without any help. It seems like such a barrier to doing anything if I don't yet know everything I want.

    Sorry, thinking about this just made me so mad. The best discussion about this stuff that I've had so far is a partner who is also inexperienced and wants to try things out.

  7. PersonalFailure - Saying "I don't know" isn't, obviously, the end of the conversation, but you can go from there to "I don't know what worked, but here are some things that feel good to me for us to try."

    The Apprentice - Who was making you feel "reviled"? Maybe they just suck. Maybe they also don't know what they're doing and can't admit it.

    I will say, though, that only saying "I don't know," is not super helpful--it's more helpful to say "I don't know exactly what to do, I'm not real experienced, but here are a few things I've seen or heard about that I'd like to try--with the understanding that because I'm so new I may not like them, and that's okay, we'll just stop early then."

  8. One thing it took me a while to really get a serious grip on is the fact that every adult human being has the absolute right to decline to communicate. The logical corollary is that no one has the right to force anyone else to communicate.

    This becomes most important in close relationships where one party demands to know what another party thinks or feels about something, or demands an explanation for some statement, decision, or action. Everyone has the right to choose not to satisfy such a demand. This is a matter of personal autonomy, and browbeating in the face of such a refusal is a denial of personal autonomy and not something that someone who claims to love another person should ever do. (Of course, the person making the demand also has the right to interpret such a refusal however they choose.)

  9. That last line there, "It means saying what you're really thinking.", is what my wife and I do all the time. We'll usually preface it with something like "This is going to sound really disjointed but..". And then we will just start doing like a running commentary on our thoughts. Just letting them come out naturally with no editting. I'd say its helped our marriage tremendously :)

  10. Oh yes, so true! When I first started doing kink stuff I had a) a huge bunch of extreme stuff that seemed hot in my head, b) no idea what would actually work on me c) massive shame and confusion about my kinky fantasies and d) no idea what people (and specifically my new gf) did in real life.

    I could not tell her what I wanted to do except that I wanted her to dominate me. So we started small and gradually explored and it has become an amazing magical thing.

  11. I had a guy in the community disappear because I couldn't answer well enough for him. Reviled was rather strong, I retract it to "unpopular".

    But I have PMS today so my sense of frustration over a lot of things is strong.

    I've definitely had a better time mutually learning with some partners, than anyone who is more experienced.

  12. The Apprentice - That guy, most likely, didn't know what he was doing, or at least didn't know how to work with someone who didn't script the entire scene for him. It's not your fault for not being a polished player from the very beginning.

    There are people out there who are good at playing with newbies; don't be discouraged because someone made you feel like his lack of creativity was entirely your fault.

  13. I love helping people figure out what they want in a scene. I'm a good brainstormer and I think I'm good at asking questions that get to the heart of the issue...also I kinda fetishize inexperience.

    I'm sorry you ran into such a douchebag, Apprentice. Rest assured that lots of people will be fine with or even excited by "I don't know"...because it means you get to break new ground together.:D

  14. This is a great post. It's something I've struggled a lot with, not just in relationships but in life in general: I always feel like if I am going to say anything, it needs to be all figured out and packaged up in a neat little bundle, as few words as possible. Learning how to just TALK it out has been a real trial, but an incredibly enlightening one. =)

  15. Oh man, THANK YOU for saying that! I have been wanting to get in the scene for about two years now, but have always been hedging around the outside. The fear of not being able to say "I honestly don't KNOW what I want" has left me completely disabled to even try!

    So yes... thank you for saying its okay to say "I'm a newbie"

  16. If you read some dirty stories, maybe together, that could provide food for further discussion. "Like that one, but without the pinching, you know?" Or "No, DEFINITELY not like that one, what were they thinking?"

    (For my particular kink the go-to location would be the Erotic Mind Control Story Archive, which has a lifetime supply--a really boggling amount of stories.)

    I like written form erotica over visual for this because it seems less prone to performance anxiety and "I don't look like that/I can't physically do that" issues.

  17. This is really important.

    No matter how obvious it may sound, too many people are really bad at saying "I don't know" -- To the point where they cause problems for themselves and partners in scenes.

    Great stuff, thanks!