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If there’s one thing I’ve learned from practicing kink, it’s that there’s no such thing as objectively good or objectively bad.

What I like might gross you out. What you like might hurt me too much. What I hate might make you laugh. What you hate might turn me on. When it comes to kink, one man’s trash is another man’s pleasure.

I thought about that a lot while trying the Rouge Garments red padded collar I was sent by Bondage Bunnies. It’s awkwardly wide (2.75 inches, to be precise), making it feel like a neck brace when I wear it. The thick padding seems like it would increase comfort, but it actually makes the collar bulkier and more restrictive. The collar’s thickness and rigidness make it difficult to turn my head while it’s on me. Its clasp is difficult to undo on my own, often taking several minutes of pushing, pulling, sweating and swearing before it’ll pop free.

imageBut look at that list of defects again, and you’ll see that this collar is surely exactly what some people are looking for. Bondage toys are, by their nature, meant to be restrictive and uncomfortable; it’s just that some people like more extreme levels of restriction and discomfort than others. For me, this collar was too much; for some folks, it’d be ideal.

My relationship to collars is, I will admit, somewhat frivolous. Aside from this one, I also own a pink and black Aslan Leather collar and one from Ardene that is technically a dog collar. For the most part, I consider them fashion accessories – but in a deeper sense, I do think of the Aslan one as “my collar.” I put it on when I’m feeling subby and want the sense of calm I get from wearing it – or when a dom partner tells me to.

My Aslan collar is suitable for both everyday wear and kink play, because it’s unobtrusive and not especially over-the-top. Wearing it in public makes me look more like a goth babe or a fashion-forward scene kid than a full-on kinkster. Its 1.5″ width is noticeable without being annoying, and it’s made of leather so soft and pliable that it’s always comfortable.

None of that is true for the Rouge Garments collar – but I know some people want to notice their collar when it’s on, want to be aware of it at every moment, want to be constricted by its insistent bulk. And to those people, I say: I will not yuck your yum, although it isn’t mine.

 

Thanks to Bondage Bunnies for sending me this product to review!

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Two major things happened to me in February: I had one of the worst depressive and anxious spells of my life, and I became obsessed with giving blowjobs.

I don’t think it was a coincidence that these things happened at the same time. We’re drawn to what we most need at any given moment: when your body’s deficient in magnesium, for example, you might crave chocolate. And likewise, I see now that when I most needed to clear my mind and focus up, I craved the sexual act that gave me that experience most readily.

This connection didn’t really hit me until the owner of my favorite BJ dick skipped town and I found myself in a fellatio drought for a while. As my anxious and depressive episode worsened, I craved blowjobs the way I’ve craved other life-affirming touchstones: nutritious food, quality friend-time, creative expression, cat cuddles. It ran deeper than my typical carnal hankerings. It felt more like a core psychological need.

When you struggle with anxiety and depression, people constantly offer unsolicited advice. So I’ve heard it all. “Get more sunshine!” “Try yoga!” “Eat more greens!” One suggestion I’ve heard many times is mindfulness. This seems counterintuitive at first blush – if my issue is feeling sad and scared, won’t focusing on those feelings just make me sadder and scared-er? – but I actually find it works the opposite way. Acknowledging my negative self-talk, greeting it like an old friend instead of slamming the door in its face, diffuses some of its power. And then I refocus on my breath and my body instead of my buzzing brain, and those quotidian sensations are calming in their simplicity. It’s not a magic pill, but it’s something.

That’s what blowjobs can be for me: a venue for mindfulness. They force me into my body and don’t allow me to fall back into my anxiety-brain until the deed is done.

When I first started giving BJs at age 19, I didn’t find it hot at all. “My mouth just isn’t an erotic zone for me,” I remember telling a friend. I felt all those mouth sensations very vividly – the weight of a cock on my tongue, the texture of the skin sliding over my lips, the smells and tastes – and they captured my attention so completely that I couldn’t focus on other things, like my own arousal or pleasure. I hadn’t yet developed a concept of sexual enjoyment that didn’t centre on my own genitals, so I interpreted my BJ dalliances as, “My mouth just isn’t eroticized.” Wow, how wrong I was.

That sensory overwhelm is the main reason I enjoy BJs so much now. They are unique among sexual acts for me in this way. When someone’s fucking me, fingering me, or even going down on me, I can tune it out to some extent if I want to. My mind can wander into anxiety-land, and sometimes I need to remind myself, “Oh, right, I’m having sex right now!” I never, ever experience that with a blowjob. I can’t. My mouth is so front-and-center in my perception that I can’t think about much else when I’m slobbin’ on the knob. It’s just me and the dick, and nothing else matters.

Leo Babauta calls this concept “the universe of a single task” (albeit in a rather different context!). He writes that you should “make each task its own universe, its own specialness.” This is an approach I try (and often fail) to bring to my relationships, my creative work, my very existence as a human. But for some reason, when it comes to blowjobs, I succeed. A beej can be my entire world for its whole duration and I don’t feel deprived or distracted. It is my everything.

This is highly affirming at times when I feel like a fuck-up in every other arena. Maybe I’ve missed a work deadline, or I’m fighting with someone I love, or my financial situation is unsteady. It doesn’t matter. Faced with a dick to suck, all that other shit fades away. A blowjob is a task with crystal-clear parameters and expectations, unlike many other challenges we face. I know exactly what I am supposed to do and how to do it, especially if the person I’m blowing is someone whose body and preferences I’m familiar with. I’m not an Olympic-level cocksucker, but I feel fairly confident in my skillz. Giving a good beej makes me feel empowered and successful even when I don’t feel that way about my life as a whole.

Of course, I’m a kinkster, so my brain is forever swimming in kink, and that probably informs the psychologically restorative way I experience BJs. Being a good girl – in this case, by giving good head – is a way for me to feel valuable when I otherwise don’t. My boss, editor, dad, and best friend could all be fuming at me, but if I’m pleasing a dom partner, that’s all I’m thinking about at that moment – and I’ll feel great about it. Maybe that’s fucked up, but there’ve been times when the satisfaction I glean from pleasing a partner was the boost I needed after depression dug me into a hole in every area of life.

Giving head is also an activity that gives you moment-to-moment feedback on how you’re doing. That is precious and rare in this world of anxiety-provoking uncertainty. I can try out a new trick during a BJ and know in under five seconds whether it’s a flop or a worthy addition to my repertoire. Nifty!

This all makes it sound like I approach fellatio as a zen monk would approach his meditation cushion, and that’s not quite right. True, sometimes kneeling at a partner’s feet to take his dick into my mouth feels akin to prostrating myself before a statue of a revered deity. But there is, of course, a sexy element too. Beyond just having a straight-up BJ kink – which I absolutely do – I also think the psychological calm I get from sucking cock takes the pressure off my sexual brakes. The less anxiety and overwhelm I’m feeling, the easier it is for sexual arousal to flow into my body and mind. Abraham-Hicks says your mood is like a cork held underwater, and it rises fast as soon as you let go of it; I find it’s the same with my arousal. The less I cling to my anxiety, the quicker I turn into a hot puddle of arousal in the presence of things that turn me on. Hence, a meditative blowjob – or other anxiety-quashers like marijuana, booze, and sleepiness – makes me hornier by sheer virtue of eliminating my stressors.

Naturally, this process relies on having a partner I trust – someone who I feel safe relaxing around. But I’ve found this penile peace with more casual partners, too. It’s a nice moment for both of us – him luxuriating in pleasure, and me zoning out on his dick. It’s why, for example, my Tinder hookup in Minneapolis asked me mid-beej if I wanted to “do anything else with that cock,” and I looked up at him with confusion in my eyes and said, “…No.” It had been a couple months since I’d had a hard dick in my mouth, and dammit, I needed my fix.

 

Do you find certain sexual acts meditative or calming? Got any stories or suggestions?

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I remember the exact day I decided monogamy wasn’t for me. Actually, it wasn’t a day; it was a night, in late May 2012. Some friends and I checked out the first-ever Crush T.O. at a small, intimate bar. My then-boyfriend accompanied us, and while I loved him deeply, I found myself wishing I could escape his just-slightly-possessive gaze to go cavort with some cuties in a dark corner somewhere.

That night, we had our first of many arguments about monogamy. “Honestly, I wanted to flirt with people at that party tonight,” I told him when we got home. It was a mild assertion, by my present-day standards, but that boyfriend was (and, as far as I know, still is) one of the most monogamously-minded people I have ever met, so he felt threatened by it.

“Monogamy has felt like an itchy sweater to me recently,” I wrote in my journal that night. “I love ____ so much, but our world together feels limiting and insular… I want to meet new people in a flirty context that gets me giggling with glee, but that’s impossible when my über-monogamous boyfriend is glued to my hip. I miss and long for the feeling of a fresh crush. The exciting open waters of new flirtation.”

Over the ensuing days, we negotiated an arrangement that seemed to be, at first blush, a reasonable compromise. I was allowed to flirt with and kiss other people, to assuage my understimulated heart. But I couldn’t go any further than that, and I wasn’t allowed to tell my boyfriend about these dalliances, because hearing about them would make him uncomfortable.

While this seemed, theoretically, to solve the problem I was experiencing, we quickly realized it wasn’t a perfect solution by any means. For one thing, it’s very confusing for other people when you tell them you’re allowed to kiss them but things have to stop there. Several of my makeout partners wanted more, and so did I; it felt unnatural to stop them, every single time, but I nonetheless did it, every single time.

Secondly, the “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule started to grate on me. My partner was my best friend and closest confidante; it felt unnatural to hide these exciting exploits from him. Plus, in retrospect, it seems to me that he created this rule because he was 100% Not Okay with me romancing people but knew he’d lose me if he corralled me into absolute monogamy, so he basically wanted to pretend I wasn’t doing that stuff. It felt to me like cheating, every time, even though it was ostensibly allowed, because I had to keep it a secret from my love.

Thirdly, our compromise remained unsatisfying to me because I still had the sensation of being “owned.” Beyond just being denied the extracurricular sexual experiences I wanted, I also wasn’t allowed to post nude photos of myself online, perform in sexy cam shows, or even pose solo for the porn company my friends had just launched. My body, mind, and sexuality were controlled by my partner, and while that’s a standard feature of monogamous relationships in “vanilla-world,” it was not what I wanted.

Years later, I had a conversation with a fellow poly-inclined friend in which she said, “Monogamy feels inherently abusive to me.” I agreed completely. This is a controversial statement, so let me explain. I’m not equating happily monogamous relationships with abuse; monogamy is often chosen, and abuse is obviously not. Monogamy makes some people very happy, and abuse obviously does not. But when monogamy is not chosen – when one or both partner(s) is shoehorned into it because it’s the expected default in our sexually possessive culture – it feels like a totalitarian regime is being imposed on your genitals and your heart.

To me, the most upsetting part of monogamy is the sense that another person gets to decide what I do and don’t do with my body, and what I am and am not allowed to feel in my heart. My independence and autonomy are fiercely important to me, and I don’t feel independent or autonomous when I’m in a monogamous relationship.

I bumped up against this issue again four years later. Back in March of this year, I started dating a boy who agreed to non-monogamy immediately when I brought it up. What a relief, I thought, when it seemed we were on the same page about this issue. He wanted us to always ask each other’s permission before each individual encounter with another person, and while this seemed reasonable at first, I quickly discovered it gave me those same “You own me” feelz as my more strictly monogamous relationship had. One time I asked this new boyfriend if he would be cool with me shooting blowjob porn with a friend, and he furrowed his brow and replied, “Yeah, since it’s just for porn, I’m okay with that.” The implication was that he would object to me sucking another guy’s dick if it wasn’t for porn, and, let’s face it – I would definitely want to do that at some point. So it seemed our ideas of non-monogamy didn’t quite line up, and that relationship didn’t last much longer.

Now, I’m dating someone new. We met a few weeks ago, on Twitter of all places. He’s smart, funny, kind, cute, and great in bed – so, of course, I was really hoping our feelings on non-monogamy would align. And so far, it seems that they do! He’s dating someone else, happily encouraged me to keep seeing my beloved occasional fuckbuddy, told me to keep him posted if I start seeing anyone new, and values open ongoing communication the way I do. YAY!

This is my first time delving into #PolyLyfe in any real way, and I’m sure I’ll encounter some challenges: jealousy, communication problems, social stigma, and so on. I hope to write about these as they come up, chronicling my foray into the weird, wild, wonderful world of ethical non-monogamy. But for now, I’m over the moon. It’ll be difficult, but not anywhere near as difficult as it was for me to deny my true self and live an unsatisfied monogamous existence for so long. When you desire the destination bad enough, you’re willing to put some work into the journey!

Tina Horn has one of my favorite brains in the world, as I’ve told you before. When I heard she was writing a book about sexting, I texted my best friend a mangled string of all-caps words followed by a glut of exclamation points. I can’t help it: a favorite writer of mine writing about a favorite activity of mine? Sign me up.

Simply called Sexting, the book is as straightforward and to-the-point as its title would indicate. It contains practical advice on all things sexting and sexting-adjacent, from online dating to selfie-taking to vocabulary choice to sextual aftercare.

Tina’s book is written such that a beginner to the world of sexting can pick it up and learn, but you’ll come away with some fresh tips even if you’re a seasoned sexter. I love this book and find myself referring to it time and time again!

Incidentally, it was on Tina Horn’s podcast that I first heard about this next book, Sex with Shakespeare by Jillian Keenan. Jillian is a lifelong spanking fetishist – in the true sense of the word “fetishist,” i.e. she has never had an orgasm thinking about anything but spanking. This would be interesting grounds for a memoir in and of itself, but Jillian’s also a Shakespeare nerd, so she’s interwoven her personal story with kinky analysis of the Shakespeare plays that helped her process her emotions as she came to terms with her fetish.

Prior to reading this book, I liked spanking and kinda-sorta liked Shakespeare; now that I’ve read it, I like (and understand) both a whole lot more. Jillian’s writing transports you around the world and throughout history, and you learn a whole lot about her kink and any kinks of your own on the way. Now I’m hungry for more memoirs by clever fetishists like Ms. Keenan!

I read Sex with Shakespeare on my Kindle, but there are good reasons to go analog with this tome. When I gifted Georgia a hardcover copy, she proceeded to (consensually) spank me real fuckin’ hard with it while I was bent over the arm of her sofa. Be still, my li’l kinkster heart!

I recently found out a friend of mine is chronically abusive, and cut him out of my life entirely. I’m very lucky to have been spared the majority of his abuse, but nonetheless, it was a difficult experience to process. I kept wondering: what made him do those things? Was he aware of what he did to those women, or was it inadvertent? How could I have been so blind to his tactics? Or, to put it how author and domestic abuse counselor Lundy Bancroft puts it: Why Does He Do That?

I picked up this book as research for a writing project, but it quickly became clear that I needed to read it for personal reasons, too. Learning about the mindset of abusive men helped me understand what I’ve been through, and gave me tools to analyze potential red flags I see in the behaviors of other men as well. This book is written specifically for women currently mired in relationships with abusive men, but you’ll find it interesting and affirming if abusers have ever confused or frightened you in any capacity.

 

What books have you read and loved recently? Lay ’em on me!

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It’s funny to me that many people think of kink as dark, dangerous, and edgy. It can be all of those things, of course. But for me, it’s not scary or mysterious. It’s a key part of how my brain works and how I relate to other people. It’s a sexual interest and also a non-sexual paradigm. And sometimes, it’s a boon for my mental health.

Earlier this year, I entered the last semester of my four-year journalism degree, and found myself unable to cope with the challenges it brought. Newsrooms are an anxiety-provoking place to begin with, and I was also experiencing one of the worst anxious and depressive episodes of my life – so, as much as I wanted to be up to the task, I just wasn’t. Two days in the newsroom were enough to convince me of that: the real work hadn’t even begun yet, and already my heart pounded, my mind shouted self-hating epithets at me, and I found myself thinking everything would just be easier if I walked out in front of a speeding truck.

I spoke to one of my instructors, and she – blessedly – was sympathetic to my cause. We discussed possible accommodations and arrived at the idea that I’d get my final credit by creating a journalistic audio series on a topic of my choice.

Over the preceding months, I’d found that my bad mental health days could sometimes be turned around by an intense spanking, a service-submission BJ, or various other acts of kink. Giving up control to a partner made me feel, ultimately, more in control of my life. So the intersection between kink and mental health was front-and-centre in my mind at that time, and I pitched that as a topic for my audio series. My prof loved it, and so I began.

I spent the next six weeks producing Beating the Stigma. Several local sweethearts volunteered for interviews, and generously lent me their time and energy to discuss this topic on tape. Our conversations ranged from intense to funny to mindblowing, and were often all three. I’m so so grateful to my interviewees for being candid and clever every step of the way.

You can listen to the whole series by clicking here, or you can skip to specific chapters below:

Chapter 1: Introductions

Chapter 2: Pain

Chapter 3: DD/lg

Chapter 4: Dominance

Chapter 5: Safe, Sane and Consensual

Chapter 6: Trauma and Recovery

Chapter 7: Sex 2.0

Chapter 8: Aftercare

I hope this series sparks some thoughts and feelings for you! The process of producing it certainly brought a lot to the surface for me.