Wednesday, March 23, 2011

No and no and no and yes.

I was at a play party a ways back, and they were sealing people into a latex vacuum cube. This is a big cube that looks like this (your head sticks out) and seals to your body, cutting off all movement. All movement; once the air is pumped out, you're not wiggling your toes without the cube's say-so. And it says "nope!"

So it's a fairly intimidating thing. And when people asked me if I wanted to get into the cube, I was nervous.

But in BDSM-land, you can negotiate. It's not "get in the cube and come what may, you're taking it." I trusted the people there more than that, or I wouldn't have been playing at all. So I said: I just wanted to feel what it was like in the cube. I did not want to be hit, groped, rolled around, or otherwise messed with while I was in there. And I got in and they pumped the air out. I felt what it was like--interesting, frankly kinda creepy--and they let the air back in and let me out.

In other words: because I could say "no" to the things I didn't want, and trust that "no" would be respected, I felt safe saying "yes" to something fairly wacky. If I hadn't been able to set limits on the experience, I wouldn't have been having the experience at all. If I sounded like Little Miss Prissy saying "not this, not that, none of that kind of fun either," I wasn't all that prissy when the end result was me getting sealed into a freaking latex vacuum cube.

I do this for regular sex, too. If I can say that no, we're not raw-dogging it; no, you're not sneaking it up my ass; no, you really have to stop when I say stop; then I can say "yes" to the sex itself. Limits may feel all limity, but within those limits, some fucking hot sex can happen. Without limits, you're not allowed in my house, much less my vagina.

You can have sex without explicit limits, but there's a catch: it has to be extremely predictable generic sex. If you have totally culturally "normal" sex--man initiates, manual, oral, then genital, orgasm and go to sleep--then there are some limits built in. But the instant you go outside that norm in any way, you make your partner worry how else you might go outside the norm. If you can't talk about that, it means that everything "weird" is off the table automatically, because enforcing total "normalcy" is your only way of ensuring they don't suddenly come at you with a greased pineapple. It's only possible to break the generic-sex script when you can explicitly say to each other, "we're going to do some weird stuff, but we agree, no pineapples."

Consent isn't just about the right to say no to everything. Sometimes it is, and that's part of it; I had every right to not go in the cube at all. But sometimes it's about saying the no's that make yes possible.


  1. I'm sending this to my wife.

  2. Call me boring, but what is the pineapple for?

  3. @ anon 3:57-- I'm not sure, but I'm trying not to imagine.

  4. This reminds me of a horrible ex of mine who, after I asked to stop having sex once because I was uncomfortable with her focus on trying to get me to come, told me that it made her feel as though every previous time we had had sex she had been raping me. It was so bizarre.

    When I think about it, though, it may have been more of her manipulative crap than a misunderstanding of how consent works.

  5. You can have sex without explicit limits, but there's a catch: it has to be extremely predictable generic sex. If you have totally culturally "normal" sex--man initiates, manual, oral, then genital, orgasm and go to sleep--then there are some limits built in.

    Maybe, but it only works if you're willing to set limits as needed. I've been with two women who didn't want cunnilingus, which is something I enjoy, so they stopped me. It's a benign example, but illustrates that even within the scope of "nothing kinky" boundaries can and should be set.

  6. Thanks for this Holly, it really resonated. Being able to set certain limits and know they'll be respected, or rule out certain activities, has definitely enabled some of my most exciting sexual experiences. Same goes for relationship rules, actually; if you're going outside the cultural norm of monogamy you really have to be able to talk about limits. (I've been lurking and enjoying your writing for awhile, this post just finally made me want to comment for some reason.)

  7. I would say that you can't truly say yes to something unless you can also say no- and "normal" sex involves an awful lot of "eh, it's not the worst thing ever so I guess I won't complain", which explains why, when I'm barely kinky, I spend so much time lurking around in the kink community. It's amazing to see people talking about sex and talking about limits and such. We should all be having these conversations every time.

    Oh, and I have a pineapple in my kitchen and it is now freaking me out.

  8. This post is the perfect argument for those guys who show up on every discussion of sexual consent to say "But sometimes a woman says no when she means yes! Don't you see? I have to go ahead and fuck a woman no matter what she says or else she might get mad!"

    I would wager that for every weird passive-aggressive bitch who gets upset at being taken at her word, there are at least five other women who will go further sexually with a respectful, communicative man than they would otherwise - simply because they feel safe.

    Not raping people: it's the moral high road and it will get you laid more often. Tell your friends.


  9. What's "raw-dogging it"?

  10. ^sex without a condom.

  11. Pineapples actually make really fun impact/sensation toys. But I would not advise them as insertables.

    I always point to my BDSM community as an example of the fact that we can, indeed, change our culture to require affirmative consent, to create a world where a woman can walk naked through a room without fear of getting assaulted, etc.

  12. interesting article. your stance on limits apply rather a lot to the drug game as well. as long as you try it with people who you trust not to take advantage of you and won't pressure you to do anything you're not comfortable with.

    and that cube thing looked really cool