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by Elle Stanger

“How do I have kinky sex safely and consensually?”

There are many reasons why people like to have kinky, creative sex. Creative, playful sex keeps our intimacy alive. Scenarios and collaborative roleplay can create memorable and unique bonds between lovers. For many adults stepping into the role of Master, Servant, Mommy, Daddy, or Princess gives them a chance to relinquish the monotony of work, bills, and capitalism-related stresses. Creating a unique role and dynamic in a safe scenario has proven to build confidence in individuals and to lessen PTSD experiences for some. There are so many reasons why people have kinky sex or engage in BDSM or roleplay. When kinky sex is practiced mindfully and consensually, people like myself with complex trauma histories can even heal by reenacting scenarios and giving them different endings.

Studies of American sex lives indicate that between 25-50% of us say that roleplay or BDSM interests us, so let’s discuss how to safely play and spot red flags in potential partners.

Illustration by Exotic Cancer

Illustration by Exotic Cancer

So, how do you begin? First, consider what types of touch or activities do not interest you and share this with your potential partner. Do you not like your anus touched? Tell your partner. Do you want feet to stay out of the equation? Tell your partner. For me, it’s as easy as saying, “I don’t want anything inserted in my ass unless I request it, and I don’t like spitting at all.” These are not limits to be tested; these are deal-breakers for me, and things that I want my partner to avoid unless they want me to never play with them again. Consider your deal-breakers and discuss them early, so you can find out if your partner and you have incompatible interests or desires. Dr Evelin Dacker is the CEO of Sex Positive Portland, and has created a model to help people talk about their STI status, turn-ons, avoids, relationship intentions and STI etiquette. can help you and your partner clarify these. Kink negotiation sheets are handy, but good ones can be difficult to find online. I recommend Jay Wiseman’s “SM 101” book, a kink bible for newbies and experienced players alike. Some socially progressive cities even host dungeon venues that offer workshops and classes for individuals and couples, like SubRosa in Portland, Oregon.

Know your status. Ask, “When was the last time you had an STI screening? Have you ever had a positive diagnosis?” If you or your partner haven’t got a clue about your statuses, get your buns to a clinic and ask for a full STI screening so that you can approach partners with the most information, and so you can seek medication for undiscovered bacterial infections. Many STIs do not cause symptoms in people, especially in people with penises. As an HSV1+ person, I am one of the estimated 50% of Americans who have some type of herpes virus; I get cold sores on my lips sometimes. This only means that I don’t play or share makeup or drinking glasses if I’m having an outbreak, and I’m able to play with other HSV1+ people without any concerns over transmission.

If you’ve never had an HIV test, get one. If you have a common bacterial infection like chlamydia, an antibiotic prescription will eliminate that. Sex is like any other contact sport: If you’re sharing germs, it’s important to be risk-aware and proactive. The CDC estimates that up to 90% of Americans will acquire HPV at some point in their lives — it’s time to drop the stigma about STIs. If your potential partner refuses this conversation, don’t fuck with them — they don’t have the maturity to protect their health or yours.

Illustration by Exotic Cancer

Illustration by Exotic Cancer

Pick a Safe Word. This is how you and your partner can communicate when you need to pause, or stop your play. Do not play with a person who does not use safe words. It means that this person is not invested in your consent or respecting boundaries, and it makes it impossible to know when to actually stop if needed. If a person ignores your safe word or shames you for using it when you need, do not play with them again. This person is not consensually kinky, nor are they considerate of your comfort or safety. One of the worst examples of lack of consent and of BDSM is an international best seller and was written by a person with zero knowledge or background in BDSM, and it shows. In “50 Shades of Grey,” the so-called “Dom” gets angry when his partner-Submissive uses her safe word. This is not normal or healthy or safe sex. Abuse has been glorified in these crudely-written books and films, and EL James perpetuated an unhealthy relationship model of people playing Dominant and Submissive. Avoid these books and films if you wish to really learn about kink and BDSM.

A safe word should be a word or phrase that typically isn’t stated during sex; “banana” or “poodle” tends to be popular. When I engage in tickle torture with my boyfriend, the word “skateboard” is uttered by me so that my boyfriend knows to stop so I don’t pee all over him. Some people like to use a “stop sign” signaling method to their partners, indicating to keep going with “green,” use caution or slow down with “yellow,” and to stop right now with “red.” Whatever you and your partner choose, making your safe word memorable and silly can help lighten the mood if your scene needs to pause or stop.

Allow your desires to develop organically. Kink contracts can and often should be rewritten as people learn more about what they like and don’t like. It is incorrect if a play partner tells you that a contract is permanent and can’t be altered. A kink/BDSM contract is like consent: It can change depending on context and changing factors. It is common for sex and turn-ons (and offs) to develop or alter over time. If a partner or potential partners tell you that your agreement to an activity or relationship is permanent, this is a red flag. All sex, including kinky sex, is meant to be fun and pleasurable, so if you need to adjust your requests and practices, do it. And if it’s not creating pleasure or adding quality to both your lives, why do it at all? I like the advice offered in “Tongue Tied: Untangling Communication in Sex, Kink, and Relationships” by Stella Harris. Dominant and Submissive roles do not have to remain affixed; after years of experimentation, I’m a happy “Switch.. The dynamics of my roleplay vary according to my partner(s) and I. Play into whatever roles feel good, and tell your partner what those are so they can best support you or participate.

Don’t get wasted. Many kinksters prefer to play sober, or nearly sober, and a one- or two-drink limit is a good idea in general. Intoxicants make it more difficult to gauge your touch to communicate or think clearly. People use drugs before sex because it can lessen anxiety, but if you’re feeling anxious, take some deep breaths and remember that life doesn’t look like the movies. It moves more slowly and people take breaks and readjust.

Get real about your sex. Don’t expect your play time to look like porn or television — you’ll fail to listen to your body and brain in real time. Porn and television is optimized for viewing, not feeling, and there is a fun aspect of shock value present in lots of art and porn. There always has been.

Entertainment often does not reflect realities or safer sex practices. The folks on Pornhub doing fun things like anal fisting and group sex also probably traded STI screening results and prepped with enemas before filming. Porn is entertainment, but it’s not real life. Sex workers and adult entertainers have real responsibilities when they produce pleasure scenes, and even they take water and bathroom breaks.

Communication is the key. Kink and BDSM does not have to be about impact play or hitting of any kind, but it’s a fun chosen activity for many kinksters. Impact play should start out slowly; begin with slight or small pressure or touch, and increase it as the Submissive requests. As the excitement and arousal builds in the person receiving the impact, so does the endorphin and adrenaline in the receiver’s body, which is why being hit safely and consensually can feel so good. The Sub should be the one who determines the power of the impact. It is the duty of a good Dom to serve your Submissive responsibly.

Illustration by Exotic Cancer

Illustration by Exotic Cancer

Establish dynamics and responsibility. It is a Submissive’s responsibility to communicate their boundaries in order to maximize their pleasure and to keep themselves safe. Your partner cannot read your mind and will continue to do things that you don’t like if you don’t guide them.

It is the Dominant’s responsibility to imagine a creative scene and initiate it, and to respect the boundaries of the Submissive throughout the interaction. Books like “The New Bottoming Book” or “The New Topping Book” by Janet Hardy and Dossie Easton, respectively, are recommended reading. Being a Dominant is not about having ultimate control; it is a trusted responsibility to hold, and if you are inflicting control or force during the scene, offering aftercare to your partner is also recommended. Aftercare looks like whatever the Submissive needs: Do they need you to draw them a bath? Hold them in blankets and bring them water? It is common to offer check-ins after a scene has passed. A text or email the day after a scene is considerate and encouraging of a Dom/Sub bond.

Consider your needs. For folks with physical disabilities or chronic pain, being tied up or holding poses can be impossible or risky, so more adjustments may be needed and negotiations might need to be more specific. For example, saying, “Please bind all of my limbs but not my left leg, I’ve had a knee surgery and it can’t move that way” is an excellent piece of information to share with your Dominant. If you’re like the millions of Americans who live with trauma or mental health challenges, aftercare from a scene is even more important. Play with partners that respect your body and mind. Happy roleplaying!

Elle Stanger is a certified holistic sex educator, sex worker, and host of Strange Bedfellows Podcast.

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