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Aftercare – whose job is it?

This past month, I attended one of my favorite monthly play parties. There, I always have a grand old time surrounded by many who I consider to be part of my large chosen family. I began my adventures with a scene with a dominant identified male who primarily engages with feet. A half hour and lots of attention via mouth, hands, and implements later, we are snuggled with my legs around his head as we stroke each other’s skin. We alternate between chatting and basking in the delicious buzz, listening to the conversation and scenes happening throughout the house. Before we parted ways to move onto our next scenes, I offered him a hand massage, which he gratefully accepted. After all, I knew he always had a full dance card and would have very busy hands that day. He smiled in gratitude, eyes closing as I began, commenting on how he rarely gets such an offer and sometimes doesn’t even have cuddles or connection past the scene itself.  

                Fast forward ahead a few hours – I have jumped in on a handle of tickling scenes as a top, endured one of my favorite sadist’s attentions, and then suffered further at the hands of two more of my favorite sadists. It had been a difficult season for me as I moved from Boston back to Philadelphia and a ton of emotion needed an outlet. Emotionally and physically exhausted, my focus swam in and out. High as a kite and floaty as a cloud, the topic of negotiation came up in some fashion. I mentioned I would be writing up a brief article on aftercare for the booklet of an event we would be attending in the spring and that I felt the need to insert something about top aftercare. My two tormentors commented that that is not the bottom’s concern and that the top is and should be perfectly capable of getting what they need via communication or another person. They made the point that the bottom is often in no shape to make any decisions or deftly perform motor function immediately after a scene, which I knew to be true for myself.  

Alright, so if you’ve had any length of conversation about kink and negotiation with me, you have probably heard me rant about the importance of aftercare. Maybe because it is a very powerful need in my own care, maybe because I’ve heard so many complaints from others about the lack of aftercare, particularly from tops. As an individual often more concerned for others, I am of the mindset that this is a wrong that should be righted. I have made it a habit of adding the topic of top care to my negotiation checklist, particularly with those engaging in pickup play. By and large, the tops presented with that topic were taken off guard, thought it was sweet, didn’t state much in the way of requiring additional care, and would then segue into what kind of care I would like. At worst, the top may deem it a silly or unnecessary question and you move on. At best, the bottom learns something about the top they may not have otherwise known.

                 Now I find myself wondering – have I been doing it wrong by trying to be considerate? Should I simply trust that personal responsibility is assumed and that they will speak up for what they need? As someone who doesn’t always have the courage to ask for what I need, I can easily see others having the same problem and would like to avoid an unspoken need going unfulfilled, if I can help it. I know, I know, I can’t read minds. I can’t make somebody else ask for what they want or need if they are really too afraid to or don’t realize that the need is there. That’s why I saw asking in the negotiation process as the best way to attempt to avoid that all too common pitfall. However, just as I need to learn to trust my knowledge of my own body and its limitations, I need to trust that others will be their own spokesperson as well. It doesn’t mean I will ever stop caring. It doesn’t mean I won’t check in once my right state of mind has returned. It does mean that I will try to place more faith in the universal importance of personal responsibility and in others.

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Being cautious for the first time

NRE – New Relationship Energy. Experienced by most and cherished by those who experience it. It’s the giddy first six months or so of your relationship where it feels like absolutely nothing could possibly go wrong. Those yummy chemicals are flooding your brain. All you want is more. More time. More energy. More of that person.

Many of us understand and experience this. For some, it occurs whenever any relationship has begun anew. For others, myself included, it doesn’t always occur, but is welcome when it does. With awareness of this phenomenon and the known effect it has on our bodies and mindsets, should we be more cautious during this period? Should we avoid moving too far forward or large decisions? Should we wait until the period has passed for talk of a Dominant/submissive dynamic to occur? Are there some relationships in which the NRE doesn’t pass?

As always, I don’t have the answers. If you do, please, feel free to share. I have never been one to be cautious or tread lightly. I will jump in without testing the waters. Even if the water is ice cold, I’m often glad for the experience of it.

I will readily admit that I am swimming in more NRE than I can handle with my latest relationship. Three months ago, I was at a weekend long kink conference full of little sleep, lots of play, continued connection with a group of chosen family I don’t get to see nearly often enough, and a very special new connection I never could have seen coming. He began that weekend as a handsome and charming stranger. He is now my boyfriend, Daddy, lover, and best friend. We are quickly flying towards a D/s relationship and would already be in one if the distance between us wasn’t so great.

The worries of the effect of NRE on our judgement is actually a large part of why he is not *technically* my official Dominant as of yet. He’s a crafter by hobby, and a pretty darn good one. The last time I was with him, I asked him to make me a necklace out of leather to remember him by. So that I would have something tangible to touch and remember him by while we were apart. His eyes widened and he walked towards me, asking if I were asking him to collar me. I grinned shyly and blushed, looking down. He brought my chin up with his hand, piercing my heart in the best of ways with his gaze. I wanted so badly to say Yes. To kiss him deeply and run towards the dynamic. But I cared enough for our longevity to say No. Not yet. It’s too early. We’re too far. I said it because I am painfully aware of the possibility of NRE and don’t want it to cloud our judgement in such a major decision.

I am still allowing myself and us to enjoy it to its fullest. We have good morning and good night calls. We text throughout the day. Our sex and kink are steamy, deliciously dark, and so well matched that it’s like he leapt out of my fantasies. I love him so much that it makes my chest ache and my passion burn. He inspires me to do better. To be better. To take care of myself for him. To take care of his most cherished property. This is the first time I am being cautious because of the NRE. Because I want so badly to be with him for years to come and be his as fully as I can be. I’m not sure when the newness may fade. Unlike with past relationships, however, I welcome the comfort. I welcome the fading of new and shiny. I want the dust to settle and the sky to clear and then begin to build from where we stand. For the first time, I’m being cautious because I care.

Let’s start at the very beginning…

…it’s a very good place to start. Good, first musical reference out of the way! Appropo, since the above picture was an 18 year old me in Austria. I figured I needed an old picture for a post about the old me.

I always knew I would be different. Different than the rest of my immediate family, who have remained in the same tri-state area for the duration of their lives. Different than most of the kids I grew up with. I never much cared. I took weird as a compliment, did my best to purposefully stand out, and was too busy with the myriad of theatrical productions and concerts I was involved in to care about my lack of social life.

I always knew, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was…until puberty came. I had my first sexual stirrings in the form of a dream, as young teenagers often do. To spare you all the details, I’ll just say it involved the Queen of Hearts, an almost-impossible-in-real-life rope suspension, tickling, and what I didn’t know yet to be an orgasm. I wouldn’t know what one of those was in any form of reality until I was 19.

That didn’t stop me from chasing the unfamiliar yet pleasant sensation of arousal, though I had no comprehension of what it really was at the time. Like a good little milennial, I turned to the internet and found my solace in stories. They fed my desires and fantasies and created new ones as well. Alone, I started doing unspeakable things to my favorite dolls, crafting my own sordid tales.

There were challenges, of course. Being caught by the parents was a constant concern. I didn’t know exactly what it was that I was doing, but I knew my parents wouldn’t approve one bit. I grew up in a tight knit Christian community and attended Christian school until college. Christian guilt was an on and off battle. I would feel the uncomfortable pangs of guilt (no doubt unconsciously fostered by my born and bred Jewish mother) and consciously abstain from the stories for six months or so. Eventually, the yearning would grow too strong and I would come back. No matter what, I couldn’t keep my mind from expanding outside of the norm and into the darker recesses of my mind. There, my curiosity and imagination grew by the year. It was only a matter of time before I acted on them and I knew it…I just needed to be out of the house.

I’ll save that chapter for another day. It is here that I pause and wonder – what on earth put those first stirrings in my mind? Why were my first sexual thoughts centered on a cold and cruel dominant woman when my reality was completely centered around heterosexuality being the only acceptable way of life? The question of nature or nurture is age old and a bit of a moot point overall. I’m into what I’m into and I’ve become what I’ve become. Does the source much matter?

At the end of the day, I suppose it doesn’t. But as humans, we are prone to chasing the unanswerable questions. Some psychologists are wont to explain it away with trauma, mental disorders, dysfunctional family lives or troublesome childhoods. Fortunately, not all believe that is the case and consider it a healthy outlet as long as the end goal is to hurt and not to harm.* Some find the following comforting, while others feel as though accepting it is resigning those of alternative lifestyles to a difficult fate – maybe we are born with it after all.

  • *above, I’m referring to “hurt and not harm” as consensually participating in sadism/masochism without permanently harming and individuals mentally or physically