What Kink Can Teach Us About Communication

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This blog post has the potential to make your sex life at least fifty shades better. Why? Because the protocols I’m about to introduce you to have been tested by the good folks over at the bleeding edge of sexual expression—the kink community. Because kinksters engage in sexual activities that are inherently higher risk, they have a clearer sexual communication protocol to match higher-risk play. 

For instance, engaging in what kinksters call “impact play” often involves inflicting pain as well as playing with dominance and submission. (Dominance and submission are two components of the acronym BDSM, the others being bondage, discipline, sadism, and masochism).

Knowing which kind of pain is the “good kind” that a partner wants and which is the “bad kind” that they don’t want involves a whole host of negotiation skills, pre-negotiated signs, and specific words. This helps both parties communicate effectively in these high-stakes scenarios that incorporate roleplay. Roleplay simply means when one or more people take on a different identity during a scene. Typically, one of these roles would be dominant and the other submissive. Examples include teacher-student, doctor-patient, or boss-employee role play

People in the kink or BDSM community are able to negotiate complex sex scenes because they first develop a clear picture of their desires and boundaries in their own heads. As a result, they can describe what they want and don’t want in detail, and their signals are clear and unambiguous. They continually ask themselves:

  • What do I enjoy receiving, and what do I enjoy doing to my partner?
  • What do I want to try?
  • What do I not enjoy for myself but am willing to receive or do for my partner?
  • What are my hard limits?

Not only do they start out with some idea about this, but they continually develop and refine the answers to these questions with each accumulated experience, letting their partners know along the way how their thoughts and feelings have evolved. We cover this advanced communication in some detail in my Sex Hacker Pro course. 

The Traffic Light System

Kinksters have a basic “traffic light” system for dealing with in-the-moment feedback. If someone says “green,” it means the activity is wanted and going smoothly. If they say “yellow,” it means slow down, caution, sensation is starting to near a limit or needs recalibration. If they say “red,” it means stop right then and there, immediately. 

The top (the doer) can say “check” or “traffic light” or any other pre-negotiated word to elicit this specific type of feedback from the bottom (the receiver). This gives both parties a clearly thought out, easy way to know that their play will always be safe, even when trying risky things. It also simplifies communication so both parties can stay in the moment. 

The Five-Second Rule

It can be hard to speak up in some situations. We’re social animals, and we like to be cooperative. We may experience something we don’t enjoy and hesitate as we evaluate whether to say something. The longer we wait, the less and less likely we are to speak up—and the same goes for our partners. To mitigate this tendency to wait, I set up a five-second rule with my partners: Each of us agrees to let the other know within five seconds if something isn’t working. The idea isn’t to put a cap on when each partner can speak up; instead, it encourages each of us to be as upfront as possible about what’s pleasurable and what’s not.

Kink Protocols for Further Reading

There are many more negotiation protocols that kinksters have come up with, and many of them are posted on the internet, in my course, and in books. If you want more tips and tricks like this, there are a wealth of kink resources to explore.

Check out SSC (safe, sane, and consensual), as well as RACK (risk-aware consensual kink). These camps view healthy negotiation and rule-making around sex and kink slightly differently, though both have similar basic principles. In different sex-positive communities, there are slightly different protocols, ranging from “no until yes” to “yes until no” and lots of variation in between. It’s important to figure out what approach works best for you and your partner.

 I recommend researching consent protocols so that you know the variety of what is out there. After that, you can check in with new partners about what approach they prefer, and if they are not sure, err on the side of caution. This is an area where education should precede experience, and you can recommend that your partners boost their education on this topic. 

At Hacienda, the intentional sex-positive community I co-founded in New York City, we preach enthusiastic consent. The way we like to express this is by saying, “If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a hell no!”

Now, we’ll look at some of the options for how you can negotiate specific activities and combinations of activities.

Desire Checklist

When you begin to negotiate sex with a partner, the first step is for each of you to get clear about what you want to give, what you want to receive, and what your limits are.

The kink community has great resources for negotiating play, which you can also find in my Sex Hacker Pro course. On “The Pervocracy,” a kinky, feminist sex blog, you can find a kink negotiation worksheet to help you and your partner understand what you want from sex, any fetishes you may have, what you’d each like to do, and what you don’t want to do, and what protections you want to put in place to minimize risk, including risks to your sexual health or your mental health. The questionnaire isn’t just for kink; it also contains considerations for any kind of sex and can be used in any sexual relationship:

  • I want to play because ________
  • When I play, I want to feel ________
  • One thing I would most like to experience today is ________
  • Do I want to act out a certain role or scenario?
  • Do I want to use toys? If so, which ones?
  • My safe word is ________ and my caution word is ________
  • We will avoid STI transmission and/or pregnancy by ________
  • Is there anything else my partner should know about me, my needs, or my desires?

Another way for you and your partner to communicate your desires is with a yes-no-maybe checklist. You can find dozens of examples of kink checklists online. From anal sex to whipping, you can go down the checklist and note whether you’ve had an experience with each act and how willing you are to engage in it, either for a single session or at some point in the future.

Each person’s desires set the range of activities that are possible. From there, you begin to think about communication preference and style.

Communication Styles and Preferences

Sometimes one of the most dreaded questions on a date is “what do you want to eat” or “what do you want to do tonight?” If you’re Pinky and the Brain, the answer to this latter question is always “The same thing we do every night, Pinky. Take over the world!” For everyone else, the answer is much more complicated. 

Below are three of the main communication styles to help navigate sexual choices with your partner. There’s no one style that is better than the others; it’s a matter of what you and your partner are comfortable with and enjoy.

Let’s See What’s on the Menu

Just like you would walk into a restaurant and survey the options to see if there’s something there you want, one option for sexual negotiation is to create a list of sexual possibilities and have your partner choose from the list. There are a few ways of going about this.

If you’re in a longer-term relationship and have the time to do a deep dive, you can really spend time exploring all of the things you love, are curious about, and want to try with your partner. You can take the time to review all the possibilities—even doing some research or creating imaginary scenarios with a lover—and develop a really extensive menu for yourself and your lover. 

I recommend Justin Lehmiller’s Tell Me What You Want for learning about some of the most popular fantasies in America. And my colleague Lola Jean has created an actual set of menus on her website that provide an example of how you can do this. If you come up with examples that you and your lover are curious about, this is a great time to attend some classes together and be co-pilots on your sexual adventure. 

This process of imagining new possibilities together and exploring them is erotic and fun in and of itself. From there, once you’ve created your menus, separately and together, it’s about choosing what you’d like to try that evening. This is a rather in-depth way of going about this style of play and can be a great way of figuring out new things to try with a long-term partner.

If you’d like to try a simpler version of this, you can simply offer your partner a set of options from which they can choose an experience. For instance, if you are on a first date or just meeting someone, you could create an actual paper menu of a few sexual possibilities. When you are eating dessert, you could ask them if they’d like to see what’s on the menu after dessert, and then excuse yourself from the table while they read the erotic menu you present them. This should be small enough to not be overwhelming but include some creative options that can be mixed and matched in. 

For instance, you could create three multiple-choice options: spanking or blindfolds; lingerie or latex; rimming or anal penetration. Then they choose one from each column. This is just one example of a menu. What you put on the menu should be representative of what you know they like or what you think they might like if you don’t know them well yet. 

The more options you have to present on a menu, the higher the likelihood that when a new partner walks by your restaurant, so to speak, that she’ll choose to come inside. Knowing more makes you more versatile and adaptable; you can tailor your approach to a new partner or to your current partner’s mood that night. You have new things to try with a long-term partner or something novel to wow a new date. 

If you’re still fucking the same way you did in high school, you’re basically offering the same burger and fries to everyone every night. Women complain in private about the “basic bro package”: the guy makes out with them for a few minutes, squeezes or sucks on a boob for another few, and does a few minutes of obligatory pussy eating before sticking his dick in. I have seen more than a few women make vomit faces when it comes to this type of experience. Moral of the story: don’t be boring and commit to some personal growth. Develop a variety of techniques (and spend time on actual foreplay). 

Once you develop your menu, either solo or with a partner, this option is a great way to let both parties have some degree of control without getting bogged down in an endless cycle of indecision or ending up repeating the same sexual routine all the time. Plus, it’s fun!

 

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