I’m reading this new blog called Raptitude which is sorta about mindfulness, and sorta about emotional intelligence, and occasionally about Ikea. There was a post about love…
Love doesn’t hurt. If it hurts it’s something else. Fear. Attachment. Idolatry. Addiction. Possessiveness.
Nobody’s heart aches out of love. In pop culture, love gets conflated with desire all the time. From childhood we learn you can like something, or you can love it, as if it’s only different degrees of the same thing.
Love is all selflessness. It’s the opposite of need and attachment. To an individual it’s a sensation of allowing, rather than seeking. Letting go, rather than grasping.
Love is subtle and silent and delicate, and in its beginnings it can be drowned out easily by attachment, lust and fear. Love must have space, and force is what crowds it out. Love is powerful but it isn’t forceful.
It goes on, and you should totally check it out, but I want to unpack some things cause I’ve been thinking about this.
Love doesn’t hurt. Praise my liberal highschool sex-ed curriculum for instilling in me backwards and forwards and 10 ways from Sunday that love does not hurt. I didn’t even realize how deep in my brain this fact sat until there was something with a boy, maybe he snapped at me or said something mean (he didn’t hit me), it made me cry and in that moment I had an image of my heavy-set gym teacher in her grey tshirt with a whistle around her neck: “Love does not hurt. If it hurts it isn’t love.”
Except, sometimes it does, because selflessness hurts. It doesn’t have to, but the path to enlightenment, the path away from anger and wanting, takes time, and moments on that path hurt. Sometimes a lot.
There are a lot of things that cohabitate with love. I can love and want and lust after the same person at the same time. It is confusing, but also…common. “I love you” means I want for you what you want for yourself. I want you to access your dreams and passions, I want you to be happy, peaceful and filled with lovingkindness – unless you need your anger and then I won’t fault you for it. “I love you” is about you. “I want you” means just that, I want to be near you, I want you as part of my life, I want to build a life with you. Sometimes it means I want your body, I physically want you. “I want you” is about me. Sometimes these things happen at the same time. If I love you and I want you are at odds, I love you wins. This hurts like hell.
Love happens when I feel safe. Love is not about me, but it can not happen if I do not feel safe. Maybe for other people it can and does, but I can not yet reconcile being so open and so vulnerable with someone who doesn’t help build the foundation of my safety. This sounds like love is tit for tat and I don’t have a response to that – I don’t know if love is finite but I do know that the ways in which I express love and the reserves I use to experience it are.
On a very personal level, spending time with other people who had similar desires as I did helped to legitimize my own thoughts and fantasies…
I am pilfering. I am pilfering shamelessly and entirely out of context, because I just realized something cool happened today: I explained to someone how I didn’t want to deal with the BDSM scene, how the community aspects, the political aspects of it, were deeply unpleasant to me…and I felt heard. Really heard, for maybe the first time, with openness and empathy. Without “but how are you going to find partners” or “some groups are ok.” Without the unrelenting “but this is the only place I/you/we can be accepted,” my sense of I don’t want to do this anymore and I want to be ok with that became…normal, feasible even.
But this thing I am pilfering, it’s important. It’s important because having examples of the things I want existing in the world is so very important. Examples let us shape the experiences we fantasize about, they give us language to negotiate these fantasies with others, they normalize what we want. So what if I don’t have examples of what I want?
“A desire that cannot be named or described is a desire that cannot be valued, acted upon, or used as the basis for an identity.”
Pat Califia in the introduction to Public Sex
You see, examples of what I want are hard to get because what I want is the sex I want with the people I love behind closed doors. I want a power imbalance in my relationships that is personal and intimate. I want it to be between my partners and I. I definitely don’t want to negotiate my relationships with complete strangers. I don’t want to play in public even though there’s a behavioral science voice in my head that’s all like “but third places and sacred places change how you related to yourself and others…” And you know what, I actually do want sex to be a sacred healing thing in my life (but not the only sacred healing thing in my life). I want to have the kind of sex that shifts my world not in “ooh yummy” ways but in challenging, emotional, sometimes scary ways – this is why BDSM has historically been more bonding for me than intercourse. I would also like to have ownership over this, and to have access to it, that is decoupled from the BDSM scene, which has been on my radar far more often for rape and abuse of late than for world-changing pair bonding experiences.
Seeing examples of, well, anything that happens behind closed doors is fundamentally hard. So while I know that there are people out there having amazing kinky sex without being part of the BDSM scene, I don’t have all that many examples. I don’t have the experience of my desires, my fantasies, being validated.
So fuck this shit. I’m a child of the internet, I know I’m not alone, the reason I’m writing this is because I just realized it’s important for you to know you’re not alone. By which I mean, if I don’t get the example I want, I’ll build it, but I want the next person to have something to link to.
I am not the first to break up with the BDSM scene. You will not be the last, so find the words for the things you really deeply want, and then share those word so we can expand the vocabulary of what is possible.
I was having this conversation with a friend on Friday, let’s say I have 100 marbles, or maybe jelly beans, doesn’t matter. On any given day it takes about 70 of these marble jelly beans to take care of myself. Some days are really easy, it might only take 50 jelly beans. Other days, or times in my life it takes much more…when I was depressed it took maybe 160 jelly beans to get through a day, but I still only had 100. Obviously, I made it through depression (I’m actually incredibly grateful for that.) I made it through because other people, people who loved me or people who cared about building community, gave me some of theirs so I’d have the 160 I needed. And that’s what happens with my spare jelly beans too – they go to people who need them for whatever reason. Sometimes these people need extra jelly beans because they are depressed, but sometimes we just all put some jelly beans in a common pot cause community happens like that.
Jelly beans have a transitive property, and sometimes trading jelly beans is intimacy building in and of itself. For example, I need 70 jelly beans to have a good day, but if I spend some of my jelly beans to take care of you and you in turn spend some of your jelly beans to take care of me, it balances. If I spend more jelly beans on taking care of you than I get replenished from interacting with you, I’ll eventually burn out. If you give me more jelly beans than you get from me, you might burn out. And there’s a sorta tricky piece where sometimes if you give me more jelly beans than I want it actually costs me jelly beans to handle and store your surplus gift.
Can trading jelly beans produce more jelly beans in that process? I think so.
But there is a concept sometimes summed up as Ani l’dodi v dodi li – I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine. For me, there is something incredibly intimate about the agreement to take care of each other, I feel supported enough to be safe dipping into my jelly beans. It’s pretty cool. So, when I say I don’t mind doing something because you do it for me, I’m not saying “let’s keep score,” I’m saying “I feel safe.”
And a little history…
2011 was a really terrible year. A partner and I broke up around Christmas of 2010 and then spent 6 months trying to make it work before calling it off over the summer. I was depressed, trying to finish my MA, just not doing well. One evening, in 2011, I called my aunt’s house…more like aunt twice removed, but whatever. She was out of town and her mother answered the phone. Now, I’d met the mother once before when having missed a bus in Ashkelon I ended up in Beersheba for the night and need a place to stay. I didn’t know her well and had never spoken to her really – well I try to say a polite thank-you-I’ll-call-back-later but she launches into her own story of how she had dated someone and the plans and the hopes she’d had with him, and then it ended, and she was devastated, but she met someone else and built things she hadn’t ever imagined. And you know what, it made me feel better. It was maybe the first time in 6 months of breakup that I thought beyond the things I was losing. She died a few weeks later, and I never got to thank her for the perspective.
There have been so many times since when I’ve been startled by the realization that if the person I was dating and I hadn’t broken up, I would have never reconnected with that sorta shy but always busy kid I’d played with in 2008, would have never gotten back into blogging, wouldn’t have realized that the lack of visible submissive men isn’t a just me problem, or gotten loud about shit that’s fucked up in the BDSM scene. Hell, I wouldn’t have worked half as hard to build my own tribe or felt like staying in California was a choice I had made for myself. I would have been happy, the person I was with was a good person and I wish him only the absolute best, but I wouldn’t have been my authentic self.
So I’ve been doing this strange thing. I’ve been explaining, with great relief, how I’m not poly, and then following it up with a hurried “oh but I’m not monogamous!” a few seconds later. At first, I really was worried that my lovers coming across this in an idle tweet would get upset. This change is internal to me, I have no interest in changing my relationships with my partners based on this and that was important. But then I tried to communicate that, to people who needed to hear it, directly. So…why am I still talking about it?
1) I am still testing the waters – I have several things I am not but I don’t have a fully grown story about what I am. Frankly, this story grows organically around relationships and situations, so I believe it’s not fully grown because it’s ever changing.
2) The power of “I’m not poly” lies in the next sentence: “and I prefer X”
Words have power. Words have the power to allow us to express ideas and communicate with others, but they also have the power of being cultural triggers.
When I say these things you have an image in your mind, right? You and I may have different images, but if we come from similar cultural contexts there are probably at least some similarities. Both of our classrooms might have blackboards and desks. The 1950s has, depending on who you ask, two-martini-lunches, poodle skirts, and civil rights riots.
We bring our past experience to the conversation, and what’s more, we probably assume shared experience and understanding for common words and then we act on these assumptions. So, when I say poly, you probably have some idea of what I mean. This might include how many people I’m dating, who they date, how I interact with those people, etc. If we’re in Boston, you might ask if you’ll see me at the Diesel on Tuesday because poly community, like BDSM community, is a community of interest with it’s own 3rd places. In fact, we even get our own jargon.
This is useful. It allows me to take a conversational shortcut: I am poly and therefore we can start by assuming X, Y, and Z are true. But it also means we assume X, Y, and Z are true, and I’m not really confidant right now that they are. So, in one sense, “I’m not poly” is freedom from the poly rules.
Beyond poly rules, spoken and unspoken, I am also looking for freedom from what I’m calling the poly daisy chain. Lets say you’re dating Bob and Bob is dating Sue, and Sue is married to Dilbert and Dilbert lost his job. Dilbert’s job loss impacts Sue, which impacts Bob, which in-turn impacts you (like that Passover goat song, but hopefully with fewer sticks). This is how community works. However, I don’t want this daisy chain of emotional impact in my life (as a mandatory component of my relationships). Or more importantly, I want the freedom to evaluate and select only those intimate and emotional relationships that I want to participate in for myself. As a complete oversimplification, in picking Bob, I don’t want to get married to Dilbert too.
But then why not the simpler option of monogamy? Many reasons. The first and most emotional is that I am blessed with people I love with whom I share emotional and sometimes physical intimacy, they are far too important to me, and if you think I’d cast them aside for a new shiny or less complicated thing you don’t know me very well. But there is a more structural reason that’s internal to me: I value autonomy above all else in this equation. There is something that “not poly” and “not monogamous” have in common: both I and my partner have the freedom to select the types of intimacies that are most fulfilling and desirable to us. I have to prioritize autonomy because it’s what makes me feel safe in my relationships also. And something fun happens here, if I set autonomy as a priority, in fact as my top priority, things click into place. I really, really like priorities because it makes it possible for me to make difficult decisions in times of stress. In this case, it allows me to select my intimate relationships based on my preferences and not my partners’, reminds me that my partner’s autonomy is more important to me than any one decision they make, and returns to me a sense of control over who I am intimate with that I lost in the daisy chain.
Of course this too has problems. We are influenced by the people we love so who my partner chooses to interact with changes them, and my other intimacies, be they sexual or otherwise, change me. I don’t know that I have a solution to this, this is not written in stone. This is written on the internet, it’s written in a medium that came to life with a knowledge of ctrl+alt+z. This feels true now, and I’m trying to live in the here and now, but I also know that being friendly with my partner’s other partners has been hugely important to me in the past. In fact, having no comfortable channels of communication would be undesirable still, and I know that at least recently “do I like who else you’re dating” was something I’d ask myself before getting close to someone. So, it’s an evolution, maybe a new lens to try, or maybe just a case of making space in my heart and in my world for a plethora of diverse and complex experiences.
Praise the Contrary and Its DefendersPraise rising up. Praise unlawful assembly.Praise the road of excess and the palace of wisdom.Praise glass houses. Praise the hand that cradles the stone.Praise refusal of obedience. Praise the young on Raamses Street.Praise Galileo. Praise acceleration.Praise bombshells and en masse.Praise sit-down strikes. Praise outside agitators.Praise Red Emma. Praise her pistol and praise her restraint.Praise living your life. Praise Joan of Arc.Praise wayward daughters. Praise their wayward sons.Praise the power of indulgence.Praise Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses. Praise the nailand the printing press. Praise the First Amendment.Praise free verse. Praise yellow sunflowers.Praise red wheelbarrows and transcendental leanings.Praise illicit beauty. Praise the poets of Guantanamo.Praise the poets of Burma. Praise the noisy streets.Praise those who tear down walls and climb fences.Praise Letters from Prison. Praise those who say yes.Praise the bound notebook and what is within.Praise Legal Aid attorneys. Praise kitchen-table conspiracies.Praise insomnia. Praise our hunger. Praise dayswe are the bread. Praise farmers’ markets.Praise Al Gore and quantum physics.Praise Schrödinger and his cat. Praise jumping in.Praise talking snakes. Praise history & run-on sentences.Praise what are the odds? Praise purposeful wandering.Praise the best minds of any generation. Praise John Brown.Praise Newt Gingrich. Praise enough is enough.Praise Walt Whitman and the self. Praise the body’swild intelligence. Praise ACT UP and Vagina Monologues.Praise getting satisfaction. Praise Gertrude Stein.Praise cross-dressing. Praise untouchables,partisans and riffraff. Praise slackers. Praise thosewho talk back. Praise sympathy for the devil.Praise the oldest profession. Praise mothers of the disappeared.Praise mothers of the found. Praise mothers not yet mothers.Praise not looking away. Praise realists and Cubists.Praise prohibitionists & remorse. Praise hitting your headagainst the wall. Praise giving peace a chance.Praise Zionist conspiracies. Praise free elections.Praise Selma, Alabama and early voting. Praise mutiny.Praise backyard whiskey and those who cook with fire.Praise Priscilla the Monkey Girl. Praise her admirers.Praise Freud and Marx and Sinatra. Praise Earhardt.Praise those who remember what they are told to forget.Praise agnostics. Praise what we are not supposed to praise.Praise the electrical storm and the still small voice.Praise all the proverbs of hell. Praise thosewho see it coming. Praise those who do it anyway.Praise whatever happens next.(—Sue Swartz)
Oh hey, it’s been a while since I updated and I was missing this space. It’s been an interesting couple of weeks much of which I spent on the East Coast getting snowed on. Currently on my mind:
The nature of privacy, still. The first time I used a proxy server was not for privacy, but for utility. I was living in a country that censored a good deal of western media and everyone used them to, basically, access cat videos on youtube. I don’t think it occurred to me that I was circumventing a government at the time, I just really wanted my cat video, so, proxy it was. Recently I’ve been thinking about my internet traffic in more privacy centered terms, and, while it’s convinced me that Tor is freaking awesome and should be a thing that happens in the world (and while I might use it more to normalize its use) I’m still thinking about all the various ways people get fingerprinted. Do you email the same people over and over? Do you visit the same venue or type of venue? Do you purchase a specific category of things online frequently? Bonus points if it’s something unique like vintage coins previously owned by US senators. Did you use Tor to log into Google and then search for something? Did you carefully not log into Google or Facebook but then searched for bars that have pinball machines in a specific town? Anyway, I guess all I’m saying is that it’s a hard freaking problem and I keep feeling like I’m plugging holes in a sinking ship. I definitely want to keep plugging those holes, but I sorta want to aim for dry land as well.
Life in general. 2013 started off sort of strange and it might be sorta finding its theme. I’m not sure I like this theme, so I am reframing it as getting grounded in the things I want, the things I need, and the things I need to break free of. Mostly this is a moment of shifting my vision from “next month” to “next 6-9 months.” Right now, this looks a lot like: “OMG!Panic!” “Wait, no, doesn’t matter right now, check back in a month.” Which is to say, conscious competence. I feel really grounded and happy with a…well not a clear direction actually but a clear sense of what I want isn’t direction it’s openness, but then whenever something comes up I have to remind myself that no, really, it’s not a big deal/it fits like *this*.
Connectedness. I got to spend time with some awesome people while I was out east. Some of them I’ve known for close to a decade, others were new to me, but important to people I cared for. It was nice in that sense to see that mirror of my past and to unpack some of that mythology. One of those new-to-me people found every point of tension in my body, poked hard enough to leave bruises (but also to break the muscles out of their habitual strain) and then got angry in that way only energy workers who found the tension you’re hiding get – “Let it go. That thing you think you can’t have, you can have it now fucking let it go!” It was…educational.
Oh, and then I got some of that thing I thought I couldn’t have. It didn’t come from where I thought it would (ah, yes, the universe has a sense of humor!) but it was nice to be reminded of the fact that it is in the world and I can access it. And it was even sweeter to know that it is still a thing I can offer to others.
So now I am thinking about holding space and bearing witness. About the role that healing of all sorts has played in the sex I’ve had (and want to have in the future). About how sometimes the most earth shattering thing you can do is facilitate the thing that feels inaccessible…and much as I savor doing that for others, apparently I needed that done for me.
My partner, one of them, tracks his orgasms. Actually he tracks edges, orgasms, and a couple other things. He does this for a number or reasons, perhaps the most obvious that comes to mind is that I asked him to.
I first asked him to do this back in October, and he started tracking in November of last year. I should say, he started tracking for me in Nov, he’s tracked for his own interest on and off for much longer. Then we fell off the bandwagon for a couple of months while a lot of his orgasms and edges were in physical proximity to me and it turns out I am actually really bad at tracking things. Then, last month, fueled by my new obsession with the quantified self movement, I asked him to start tracking again.
Why track orgasms?
Well, “you can’t change what you don’t track” is a truism usually thrown around in Business 101, but as we both get off on orgasm control, I’m just gonna roll with it here too. Really understanding how his sexual response cycle works over time, looking at various factors that might impact it, and getting a feel for his “normal” lets me fuck shit up with greater precision.
Lets say I was gonna make a rule about how often he’s allowed to have an orgasm. Let’s say I was gonna say once a week…Well, I know at least one person for whom that would be extremely challenging, that person would not be my partner. By watching his orgasm patterns over time I have a much more intuitive understanding of the easy -> moderate -> challenging ask scale. Oh but wait…
As soon as I asked him to start writing down, in a place I could easily access, all of his orgasms and edges he started having more orgasms (and fewer edges) than I expect. Weird right? Actually it correlates with something he’s told me before about orgasm control fantasies being soooo hot that those are the ones that actually lead to orgasms not edges for him. Awesome, so with that in mind, and with this shiny graph I’m making that is going to tell me how long this initial peak lasts, I can make a few guesses. I can guess at what a reasonable ask is for him based on how acclimated to play he is right now. A reasonable ask isn’t just not too hard, it’s also not too easy. Lets say, and this is just a guess, that he has a lot of orgasms when he firsts starts recording and then it peters off in a week or two. I can then expect that when I first ask him to do something in this realm, like not to have orgasms, it’ll be really hard balanced with new and interesting, but as he settles into it, he can refocus on other things*. This isn’t shocking news. In fact I think I wrote about this wearing off of urgency before, but is it helpful for me to remember when designing asks? Yes. And it’s also something that can enter the “I know this is hard and I expected this to be hard for you but what you’re doing is making me happy” conversation.
There’s another thing that is really important here, and that is that the observer effect is really real. Writing down his orgasms changes his sexual drive based on the data I have at hand. And it’s not a problem. I thought it was, but it’s not. The thing that matters here is that it is consistent. As long as he always records his orgasms and edges there will be a consistent level of this kind of noise, which means I can actually introduce variables and see how they impact his sexual response patterns later compared to this recorded baseline. More importantly, this is why I want him to record this for me regardless of if we are actively playing or not. Data that is complete over a longish time period means I will actually start seeing natural peaks and valleys. If he only recorded when we were playing we’d always have this “oh orgasm control is hot” shock every couple of months as we restart recording at the same time that we’re looking at hot orgasm control porn together.
So what am I hoping to learn?
First off, the tracking part actually really turns me on, so to some degree, I’m justifying, retroactively, data collection I want to do for it’s own sake. #overlyhonestresearchmethods
That said, there’s also a few things I want to know more about. I want to know, for example, what happens just before he gets really horny so I could replicate it. I want to know how long he typically stays horny so that if he doesn’t want to have sex, I can make a guess at natural valley or external stress. And I want to know what the optimal conditions for him to be horny look like because a huge part of the active appeal of orgasm control for me is seeing him horny and listening to him beg – so how do I maximize that?
Of course pretty graphs aren’t enough
Tracking my partner’s orgasms is hot because it’s a shared project. The patterns become meaningful because we can talk about them and because he gives me enough information to put the dots together. I have shared orgasm control fantasies with this person for years, and we’d been actively playing with this together for at least a year before doing this sort of data tracking made sense.
* I mentioned one not unexpected thing I learned (confirmed?) through this exercise – initiating anything in this realm comes with an initial interest spike. But here are some other things I’m starting to pull apart:
- He expresses sexuality on multiple channels (I could look at the log or I can take a look at a semi-private porn stash he curates, or I can look at themes in our communication via IM or email)
- Asking him specifically to have orgasms or edges is a much bigger challenge than asking him not too, or rather, it’s a much bigger ask and big asks require more hospitable contexts
- Because I really like the fact that he is tracking stuff *for me* I generally want to acknowledge log entries as “you did the thing I asked for correctly, good boy” (which sounds more like “saw the entry, thanks.”) I am trying not to comment on every entry for various reasons involving popular theories in behavioral science.
- Slightly surprising is that while not actively traveling or managing travel logistics seems to be important for moments when he’s horny, work doesn’t seem to get in the way as I’d previously thought.
So that’s that. I’m keeping the graphs private, but I’m having fun digging in