Doctor’s Note: today’s column deals with talk of sexual assault in the context of people pretending to not consent to sexual activities.
What’s up, Doc?
I’m a 25 year old male, and I’m dating a 24 year old woman, we’ve been together about two months so far, and it’s mostly been very positive. We have healthy boundaries, no end of things to talk on, and well-matched sexually, for the most part. That’s why I’m writing.
See, while we’re mostly great for each other sexually, I have one thing that I feel a bit hung up on, and it’s not so much any fantasy of mine, or hers, more that I expressed discomfort with something, and I regret doing so now…
To be specific, she mentioned that she would really like to roleplay dubious consent scenarios, and at first, I thought I couldn’t deal with that, I’m a person with a lot of feelings of guilt, and ultimately, I thought for sure I’d be unable to bring myself to even consensually act out non-consent. She said it was okay, and that she’d not pursue that route with me if it made me uncomfortable.
The thing is, I gave it more thought, and realized that it’s ultimately something that is roleplay, and we can still define clear lines of what is and isn’t acceptable in that scenario with safewords and the like, and with such safeguards in place, I feel better about it. The thing is, I’m a bit hesitant to say that I’m willing to revisit that conversation, because I worry she’ll think I’m trying to make her feel better, and that I’m not really comfortable with it, more putting on a “brave face”, something she said she very much didn’t want me to do.
My question here, is pretty simple: How do I bring it up that I’ve given it more thought, and that I’m willing to try it, without it seeming insincere in that fashion?
-Safe, Sane, and Consensual
So, before I get to your question SSC, let’s talk a little bit about kinks — particularly what’s known as consensual non-consent — and the importance of being what Dan Savage calls GGG or “good, giving and game”.
First, let’s talk a little about why the idea of GGG can be important in relationships. The idea behind it is that what any person should expect from their partner is that they will be good in bed, giving of pleasure and as a lover, and game to try the things that their partner is into, even if they’re not necessarily into it themselves. The last one is especially important because of what it means to your partner: it means that you’re listening to them and being considerate of their interests and desires. It helps your partner feel heard, acknowledged and valued. And it isn’t just competing sex-advice-columnists who recommend this. Studies have found that couples who engaged in what researchers called “sexual transformations” — trying new things — had better sex lives and higher levels of relationship satisfaction overall. Many times, being game means that while you may not be into whatever it is your partner wants to try, you’ll do it for them because they enjoy it. So while it may not rev your motor, the fact that it does the trick for your partner can often make it pleasurable for you as well.
This is one of the things that people often misunderstand; the fact that you’re not turned on by the act, or that you’re doing it for them doesn’t mean that you’re “doing it to make them feel better”. What you’re doing is agreeing to do something for your partner specifically because you care about their pleasure and this is something they enjoy. So while it may not be your thing, it’s one that you’re willing to do because it makes them feel good.
But let’s talk about the kink itself. A lot of kinks focus around what’s known as power-exchange — that is, one partner choosing to give up power to the other in one form or another. While the most common version of this tends to follow a dominant/submissive dynamic, there are a wide variety of ways this can play out. Beyond the stereotype of the dominatrix with whips and floggers, you can find forms of rope-play and immobilization, master/slave, erotic hypnosis, “bimbofication”, teacher/student or — as in your case, SSC, dubious consent or consensual non-consent. In all of these, one partner is in the position of having power over the other. It may be power to inflict some form of punishment, to command their partner to do things or otherwise compel them to act or perform in the way the dominant or top wants.
The kink your girlfriend is into, SSC, is what’s known as “consensual non-consent”. In this case, it involves playing out scenarios in which one partner either has their consent overridden, is in a position where they can’t consent or doesn’t consent and the other partner ravishes them. Notice very carefully that I say “ravish”, rather than “assaults” or “rapes”. I use that word specifically for two reasons. The first is that in CNC scenes, everything is scripted out; the roles, the acts, often even dialogue. It’s carefully planned, often in great detail, along with limits and safewords. The second reason is that these scenes aren’t about glorifying sexual assault, but often much more in line with the old-school romance novel idea of someone succumbing to someone; the person being ravished (often the one who planned and arranged everything) is giving up control and responsibility, taking their pleasure in letting the top have complete control of them. It’s an extreme form of power exchange, and one that many people find appealing.
But a lot of people also find it squicky. There’re folks in kink circles who view CNC with something of a skeptical eye because it — understandably — has the very real potential to go badly. Others are — again, understandably — uncomfortable with role-playing non-consensual scenarios, or may well be triggered by it because of their own history. And of course, there are folks who aren’t into it or repulsed by it because… well, it’s play-acting what in the real world is an incredibly violent and violating act. So it is, needless to say, not for everyone.
And it seems like you were in the latter category at first, SSC, which is totally legit. Which actually rolls back around to the idea of being GGG.
When this concept is brought up, people often stumble over the last G, which is often put out as “being game for anything”. But that’s because they forget, or haven’t heard, the most important part: game for trying new things within reason. There are things that you may be neutral on, things that you feel a little weird about but can push through because of what it does for your partner… and then there’re the hard no’s, the stuff that is out of the question for you. Sometimes it can be because it’s an extreme kink or varsity level interest — cuckolding, edgeplay and the like. Other times, it can be something that just absolutely squicks you out or triggers you. CNC can definitely hit that limit for folks and that’s ok. That’s perfectly reasonable and understandable.
But you, SSC, did some research and gave it some serious consideration and came to the conclusion that this is something you could conceivably do. As you said: it’s just roleplaying, with some fairly stringent guidelines and guardrails. And you know what? Good on you for being willing to examine your feelings on it and to decide that you’re willing to give it a try for your girlfriend. That’s awesome.
Now how do you tell her that you’ve changed your mind?
That part’s easy: same way you told me. You say “you know, I’ve given it a lot of thought. It’s clearly something you enjoy and now that I’ve thought about it more, I’m willing to give this a try. How about we talk about how this would play out and what kind of scenario you’d want to explore?” Ask relevant questions, have her clarify things you may not understand… just make it clear that you’re listening and that you’re going to take this seriously and be an enthusiastic participant.
Now to be perfectly clear: when I say “talk about how this would play out”, you’re just talking about the general structure of things. When you and your girlfriend decide you want to actually do the scene, you and she need to talk this through extensively, down to every little detail. That means you and she need to be able to talk openly, completely and clearly about everything. You want to talk about what acts she wants, which ones are absolutely off the table, what areas on her that are off limits, as well as not just safe words but safe signals for times when she can’t speak or may be in a state where verbalizing isn’t possible.
Also: make sure that you schedule time for aftercare, after the scene… potentially a lot of time. You’re going to want to take that time to come down, release the roles you two were playing and get back to being yourselves again… and provide a lot of reassurance that this was not real. Aftercare can take on a lot of forms — reassuring touch like brushing hair, cuddling, hot drinks are all classics for a reason — but you and your girlfriend should discuss what aftercare she’s going to want or need before you have the scene. And the more intense or extreme the scene, the more aftercare you’re going to want to provide.
Just remember: more than anything else, all of this is going to be about communication, communication, communication. Talking about how you feel and why you changed your mind, discussing with her what she wants to try and how it would all play out, limits, expectations and needs… these are all going to be what not only reassure her that yes, you’re cool with doing this, but making sure you and she have the best time possible.
Hi Doctor NerdLove:
So, I have a situation, and I’m not sure I’m making the right moves navigating it, and I’d like the opinion of an expert.
I’m a 32 years old straight man who never had a relationship before. In 2012, while trying to find someone on dating sites, I met a woman my age, we’ll call her R. R is a literal beauty queen (in that she has won beauty pageants) and a very interesting person. Our first date went well, until the very end when a homeless man came to us asking for money and I gave him some. She…did not appreciate this. She got heated and started complaining that she lived in the area and that he would recognize her now and harass her for money. Being quite new to dating at the time, I assumed I had made a mistake and blew it in the home stretch.
To my surprise, she actually reached back and asked for a second date, then a third. Shortly after, I introduced her to my best friend and it did not go well. My best friend is polyamorous, and she did not approve and wasn’t shy about saying so. Still, being elated that a girl was digging me, I continued seeing her. However, when I made a move to kiss her, she stopped me and said she just wanted to be friends. So we met as friends a few times.
In 2014, I met her one last time before leaving for a different city for my doctoral studies. She admitted to me then that she was interested in me, but that she wanted children, and that since I have a severe heart defect, I had “bad genes” and she thus couldn’t have kids with me. Her words. This stung. She kept trying to reach me after that, calling me often. I answered at first, but I ended up cutting contact quickly afterward. I was too chicken to actually tell her that I didn’t want to talk to her anymore, so I just ghosted her.
Flash forwards to two months ago. My doctorate now completed, I ended up moving to the city where she lived. So in November, she reaches to me on Facebook, saying she really liked hanging out with me and wanted to talk. I figured that since it had been six years, she might be different and this might be more fun. Turns out, she is the exact same. Including calling me whenever she wants and disapproving of my best friend (which she herself brought up as a topic). But she’s still seems super into me. She even said she considered a relationship despite my health problems. After a single chat, she already wanted to meet up ASAP and do things together. I almost gave in, but seeing how anxious she made me, I decided to tell her point-blank that I wasn’t comfortable with her, never had been, and while I didn’t mind her texting me every few days, I couldn’t give her more than that for now.
That was right before Christmas. I didn’t hear from her for two weeks after that. Then she texted me again saying that, and I quote, she couldn’t live with the restrictions I put on her, that she needed more freedom, and that she couldn’t handle having me as a friend but not being able to contact me. I told her again that she was welcome to text me. She said that she didn’t want to only text me, because of her dyslexia, and that I live less than ten minutes away from her anyway.
(I should clarify that I had no idea where she lived when I moved in this city. I didn’t even know if she still lived here.)
I haven’t responded yet, because I don’t know what to respond. On the one hand, I’m just not feeling it. On the other, I’m no Chris Evans. Women don’t throw themselves at my feet for a chance at spending a night with me, much less a long-term relationship. And here is a gorgeous woman being clearly into me, and I’m thinking of saying no? What’s wrong with me? If she is still that interested after six years, then surely it means something, right? My friends are divided on the issue. Some think I should get over myself and take her up on her offer, while other think I should just break up the friendship. Personally, I’m afraid that if I pass on this opportunity, I’ll have missed my only chance of not dying alone.
What should I do? Which group of friends should I listen too? I’d like to hear from someone with more credentials.
I’m Just Not That Into Her
First, IJNTIH, a general rule: it’s far better to be alone because you’re alone than it is to be alone because you’re with the wrong person.
Because HOLY HOPPING SHEEP SHIT, DUDE, R is the wrong goddamn person. And I don’t mean for you, I mean for just about anybody.
I mean, fucking hell super-chief, let me count the ways that you’ve said she’s awful. Getting snippy with you for helping someone who’s homeless would be a first strike for me. And while I’ll be the first to tell people that hey, polyamory ain’t for everyone, the fact that she apparently couldn’t not avoid insulting your friend is another strike. I mean, it costs nothing to just shut up and let other people do their thing, especially when it has precisely zero effect on her. Aaaaand then there’s the “well, you’ve got shitty genes, that’s a no from me, sorry, LOL” bit which to me would be a “fuck you very much, there is the door, and don’t think it hasn’t been a little slice of heaven… ‘cuz it hasn’t.”
So in and of itself, those are all very good reasons to lose her number and otherwise forget that she exists. But then she came back into your life years down the line and… manages to be just as shitty, occasionally in new and impressive ways. I mean, bringing up how much she disapproves of your best friend’s love life unprompted is a sign. “I considered having a relationship with you despite your heart condition” is some condescending bullshit.
But here’s the big, flashing neon sign that says “DO NOT ENTER”, IJNTIH: it’s the part where she says that she “can’t live” with the “restrictions” you put on her and that she “needs her freedom” because she needs to be able to contact you at will after you stated that you weren’t comfortable with her and the way she behaves. What she is doing right there is telling you, point blank, that she does not give a single, solitary, malnourished fuck about your boundaries. You have stated clearly that you are willing to have a relationship on these terms and these terms only and her response was “LOL no”. That, king, is what we in the relationship-advice-giving business call “a huge fucking red flag”. That is more red flags than the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. She has shown you exactly who she is and what she cares about, and what she cares about is not you. She cares about her and only her.
And look, I get why you’d think about it. She’s hotter than a four alarm fire and probably has a body that’s wolf whistle jaw drop lip bite. The idea of her naked probably makes your junk stand at attention and sing “Rosanna” in three part harmony. And trust me: it ain’t worth it. I have yet to meet a woman who was so hot — and I have met a metric fuckton of insanely hot women — or so good in bed that it would be worth putting up with bullshit like this. She has insulted you, insulted and mocked your friends, shown herself to be a selfish little shit and has no compunctions of telling you that she doesn’t want to respect your no.
Trust me: that is not somebody who’s going to be worth banging, even for the stories. These are the hallmarks of someone who is selfish in bed (at best) and who will treat you like dogshit if you let her into your life.
What’s wrong with you? Absolutely nothing, chief. The fact that your instinct is to tell her “no” is a sign that you are thinking very clearly and correctly. The fact that she’s still interested after six years may be flattering, but it doesn’t invalidate the “oh, right, still an awful human being” part. This isn’t a “get over yourself” situation, this is a “you have too much respect for yourself to consider it”.
Personally, I’m siding with your friends who’re telling you to end the friendship. Although, if I’m perfectly frank, I wouldn’t consider this a friendship. You may be her friend… kinda. But she’s definitely not yours.
Oh, and one more thing. Passing on this opportunity doesn’t mean you’re missing your only chance, nor does it mean that you’re crazy to pass it up. The takeaway here is that you can do so much better than her. You’ve got a literal beauty queen bootie calling you because she’s been after you for six years. Take that aspect and realize that there are other, equally hot — if not hotter — women out there who will also think that you’re a tall glass of “fuck my brains out” who aren’t shitty people. Who will actually be sweet and funny and generous and treat you with respect and, y’know, not insult you or your friends.
Block her number and go find them instead.