SL Letter of the Day: Flirting vs. Negotiating


"I panicked and said I wouldn't want to be with anyone else, and he said that was the point. He said that the fact that I wouldn't want to do this was what made it hot."

It kind of sounds like she did indicate she wasn't into this and he failed to pick up cues. Was this texting (where the emotion and tone and subtext of "I wouldn't want to do that" could be legitimately open to interpretation) or video chat? Because if it was the latter and he failed to pick up "no, hate the idea, panicking and feeling sick" I'd be very dubious about him picking up in person cues.

Side note for this and the repeat letter about the guy who wanted a rape with no safe word game: You don't need related past sexual trauma to make "no" okay. You can just really hate the idea.

Maybe, if you feel your demurral could be fairly read several ways and it's the past that is making this so extreme for you, give him a chance. Out of sub role, very calm and serious, "The blindfold thing is not something I would be okay with," and if he drops it forevermore maybe you can make it eventually work.

DS is not my thing, but I do know you should avoid any dom who says you don't get a safeword, don't get to lay conditions on what can happen, etc.
SUBS, it sounds like you're having a bit of trouble with the distinction between D/s and non-consensual sex. Like Dan said, many D/sers fantasize and flirt using imaginary scenes of non-consensual sex, and non-consensual violence, and non-consensual degradation/humiliation. But when they actually get down to it, nothing is EVER non-consensual.

If you have a problem fantasizing or thinking about non-consensual situations, you should tell this guy right now that that is a hard limit for you. Because if you don't, this is going to come up again. He can decide whether that is a dealbreaker for him. The two of you will have to talk in some detail about how to fantasize and what your triggers are.

However, if your fear is actual rape - the two of you actually getting together and him really doing something that you didn't consent to - then the solution is to take it slow and learn to trust him. When you feel comfortable, tell him about your issues, tell him you might have some difficulty trusting him at first, and let him know that you want to be very clear about consenting explicitly to everything that goes down when the two of you meet. If he violates any of your rules - or even seems like he might, or makes you feel uncomfortable - get out.
"I think this is what leads to a lot of the sexual dysfunction I feel in relationships. I never feel like I can fully trust anyone."

why is this person a sub again?
I have to say, this answer is confusing me a bit. Are rape games really that de rigeur that people just bust out with complex, potentially kinda scary fantasies like that in flirty chats, before even discussing hard limits? Honestly, I think that would make me nervous, even though I have no history of sexual violation.

I agree with @1, SUBS has no obligation to continue flirting with this guy. It isn't a sign of sexual dysfunction to be turned off by someone bringing up something that's a huge issue and major turnoff for you. Everyone is allowed to have limits. She can decide to give him a second chance or not, whether or not he is a Dan-Savage-certified asshole.
An experienced Dom should be expected to have the skill to pick up on cues when a Sub says they're not into something, and respect that request. An experienced Sub should have the skills to clearly and explicitly say when something is off the table.

But it sounds to me like both of these people are probably inexperienced in D/s sex. While he isn't an asshole for having fantasies like he is, he needs to learn that no means no, even when you are in the role of a Dom, and that a Sub has every right to set limits. She also needs to learn that being a Sub is not the same as being a completely passive doormat. You have a right to say no, and if something really squicks you out (as this seems to), then you need to step out of your role and clearly and explicitly state that being blindfolded is not on the table and not open to negotiation.
Get thee to a therapist, girl. You don't mention you've seen one, and your letter drops red flags all over the place that you haven't dealt with the past trauma, only repressed your emotions about it.

Obviously, you need to learn how to navigate these waters.

And, don't sub for anybody you don't trust.

P.S. I'm not saying you need to medicate yourself to death, I'm saying you need to learn how to live with this trauma, since you can't unlive it.

P.P.S. As Dan said, some do find this type of thing hot. It's not everybody. And, if you're going to role play chat with a D as an S, you're probably going to run into this again. It's probably for the best that you learn how to deal with the offer when it comes up again by talking with a kink-friendly therapist.
Sure, she did say "I wouldn't want to do that" and he didn't back off right away, but it's still fuzzy because he might have meant that what makes the FANTASY or IDEA hot is that she doesn't want to do it, or in his scenario, doesn't even know she is doing it ("it" being have sex with or be touched by someone else.) Her unwillingness or ignorance of it would be at least part of what makes this fantasy hot, I don't think that part is unusual or means he is an asshole. Clarification is needed. Also I'm not sure why her trauma of being molested in the past, which didn't involve being tricked by a third party, or something happening which she couldn't see or didn't know about, are triggered by this specific blindfold scenario. I agree with the person who says the whole idea of her being submissive seems problematic. Does this guy know anything about her being molested in the past?
Oh for god's sake. TELL HIM WHY!

Christ. Tell him you were assaulted and that is out of bounds. You don't have to go into details, but lay out a general scenario of what happened and THEN gauge his reaction.

If he's a good guy he'll flip and say "oh my god, I'm so sorry that happened to you....let's talk about how we can do this and make it hot for both of us without traumatizing you."

Dear letter writer,
I half-jokingly tell pretty much everyone I would like to fuck that, "I don't flirt, I interview." I've have nonconsentual experiences, and so when I feel the need to set a hard limit, I do, even if that's totally not the tone of what we're talking about, even if a second ago we were flirting playfully, even if I'm supposed to be the submissive. Sex is fun and pleasure is good for you etc, but sex is also a serious exercise in trust and responsibility. Never be afraid to turn something into a serious discussion if you feel the situation warrants it, particularly because this doesn't sound like something you're just not that into, this is something that actively traumatizes you when you think about it happening to you. .

It helps if you verbally delineate, as in, "For real though..." "I'm serious about this..." "This is cool to talk about but in real life..." "I'm uncomfortable even talking about..." etc, so your potential partner understands that although you may be laughing and smiling and in the middle of a hot flirt, you're talking real limits. Your potential partners can't guess your limits or triggers, so they've got a right to be told directly and honestly. And then reinforce it during the negotiations you will do before a real scene. There will be people, in my experience particularly tops with whom I am not compatible, who will be really turned off by this direct approach and not want to play with you. That's okay. If you communicate a limit or a trigger and they don't respond with the utmost respect, be completely unforgiving. Walk away and never look back. It feels really good, especially after you meet some people (and you will) who treat you the way your deserve to be treated.

My approach to dating and relationships doesn't work for everyone and not everyone would WANT to conduct themselves like I do, but I'm healthy, happy, and I've got more lovers, partners, and fuckbuddies - who I respect and trust and who trust and respect me - than I can shake a stick at.

I'm also going to second therapy/continued therapy. Not because you're broken but because it can help to have a professional to talk to, someone who is obligated protect your privacy and be nonjudgmental. Seek a sex-positive/kink-friendly therapist, if you haven't got one already.

Final note: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO TELL HIM WHY YOU'RE UNCOMFORTABLE/FREAKED OUT. Past sexual trauma can be a really important thing to hash out in a serious relationship (however you define that), but you don't have to disclose, or hint at, anything you don't want to. No means no, because it makes you uncomfortable and you said so. There's nothing more complex to it that you need to share unless you want to.
The most depressing thing about this letter is that the longest paragraph is the reason why the LW wants to set a limit. If it feels necessary to provide all this justification for something that requires no justification, that doesn't bode well, but with a little better preparation and perhaps a better partner the LW might manage to get this reasonably okay.
This letter writer is a bit exasperating. I'm sympathetic that she was traumatized, and that she got a Big Sad from the scenario this dude laid out.

But did she explain to him why this was a no-go for her?

Does she understand the Safe Word concept applies to online sexy chat too? Or just the notion of telling him "WHOA. Time out. We're not in sexy time talk anymore. You've hit a big-time trigger for me, and we're in no-go territory. If you tried this shit on me in real life, and didn't respect my Safe Word, you'd be an absolute abusive asshole fuckface. I want to be totally clear that healthy Dom/sub for me includes you respecting the hell out of my no-goes. And this is one. Got it?"

You gotta communicate clearly, letter writer. This dude may have just been springing ideas on you, to feel out your boundaries, your likes, your dislikes. That's called 'getting to know each other' in sexy-chat or in real life. Getting a Big Sad without clearly communicating to him is unfair to him. He may well be an asshole, but you can't be sure until you give him a Big Dose of Righteous Truth and Fury, including setting limits and rules and Safe Words, and see how he responds.
SUBS, here is are some keyword searches for you: SSC & RACK.

Safe, sane, consensual vs. Risk-aware consensual kink.

Learn the difference. Read up on it. There's a whole world out there, just waiting to be discovered.
If I heard "I panicked and said I wouldn't want to be with anyone else", I would understand "I don't want to cheat on you!" not "I don't like the idea of the scene." Maybe her Dom interpreted it the same way.
It does not matter WHY she doesn't like it/ WHY she panicks. The only thing that she has to communicate clearly to the Dom is the fact THAT she doesn't like it/ panicks.
Or do you want to say that only people who have already been traumatised have the right not to be traumatised?

I agree with IPJ @1 and Mr. Ven @ 11.
SUBS - my personal experience is that these types of memories can't be kept at a "reasonable distance". Eventually, they become issues, and if you're anything like me, you'll have an easier time navigating these issues if you can find someone to talk to about them, and if you can accept that as a child you are not responsible for the shitty things done to you by other people. Sorry you went through all that.
"Is this a thing some people actually like?"

Probably. Irrespective of whatever the referent of 'this' is, the answer to that question is always 'Probably.' At least 'Probably'.
"It kind of sounds like she did indicate she wasn't into this and he failed to pick up cues."

Or he did and decided to push her to a breaking point.
Not that Dan's answer is useless, but I'm thinking the letter writer needs a (good) therapist, not a sex advice columnist.
@ 12- "But did she explain to him why this was a no-go for her?"

She doesn't need to have a "why" and she certain't doesn't need to "explain to him why." She does not have to justify herself. I hope what you meant was: "But did she explain to him -that- this was a no-go for her?"
velour@3 >> "I never feel like I can fully trust anyone." why is this person a sub again? >>

Some people get turned out by exploring things that feel dangerous to them. People with trust issues in particular can find it exciting to play around with those issues. In fact, many subs would be frustrated by a dom who stayed well within the sub's soft limits.

That said, it's hard to build any kind of trust long-distance. Also, SUBS should be encouraged to think about and spell out her hard and soft limits, and any specific triggers she has identified. For instance: "intercourse with other people is a hard limit; thinking I'm being left alone is a soft limit (one I'm willing to explore), and blindfolds give me panic attacks."
SUBS, here are some good blogs from other subs--both Clarisse Thorn and Thomas MacAulay Millar are very interested in how to negotiate clear boundaries (and enthusiastic interests!) and give very good advice.


Asher Bauer:


My two cents? You never have to explain "why" you have preferences or boundaries to your partner. They are YOURS; you don't have to justify them to anyone if you don't feel comfortable.
Re 20 (and 11, 15, 22): The idea that the only justification for the word "no" is a sufficiently traumatic sexual assault is really disturbing. You're supposed to be able to express limits and dislikes without needing an appropriate rape to go with each one or you're required to say "yes" instead.

"I'm not into blindfolding/clowns/adult baby play" should not be a statement that you have to defend and justify.

edit @21: some people get turned on
Dan, I really think you missed the mark on this. It sounds to me like LW did indicate she wasn't into it, and the Dom's response was "Yes, that's why I'd like to do it." This sounds like it isn't about flirting vs. not (I mean, she says she thinks it's not just a fantasy, but that the guy would actually do it against her will), it's about the fact that both are inexperienced and have no idea what safe BDSM entails. (Which, again, she specifically states is what she's asking for help with!) Hopefully she comes to understand that she can in fact set hard limits, and even more importantly, gets him to realize he has to respect them.
@23: I'm not into D/s, and don't really get the nuances of the flirt-threat thing, but I would suspect that there is a point where "no" doesn't always mean no -- that's why in actual play, there are safewords established, so "porcupine" can mean no, and "no" can mean "oh, god, yes, yes, yes".

If people are inexperienced, or just kind of awkward, I can see a lot of possibilities for confusion during that threat-flirt thing. Did the letter writer say "no", which might be interpreted in context as "oh, god, yes, yes, yes" or did she say "no, really no. not hot. no", which even an inexperienced Dom would probably figure out means "no"?

SUBS doesn't have any obligation to say why she isn't into it, doesn't need any trauma to back up her disinterest, but she does have an obligation to be clear.

When she then writes "How do people navigate through power dynamics in D/s relationships? Is the submissive really not supposed to set limits and actually do everything the Dominant wants even if she feels like its traumatizing?", I assume either she isn't likely to be being clear, or that this guy is a Grade A Manipulative Asshole if he's the one pushing the idea of subs not being able to set limits.
Tell him you are invoking safeword (he ought to know what that means, but if he doesn't, explain it before proceeding), so that he knows there is absolutely zero percent roleplaying in what you are about to discuss. Then calmly explain your situation.

"I understand that pushing boundaries is part of the game, but this particular thing does not feel like a game, it makes me panicked and nauseated. If you try and push in that direction, it will make me feel that I can't trust you, and that will destroy the relationship. Are you perfectly clear on what that means in terms of consequences?"

You can explain your history here if you want, but it is totally optional -- not a requirement for you to have been molested in order to justify molestation scenarios being unacceptable to you. All that matters are your boundaries and the requirement that he honor them.
One thing worth noting: From the wording you used in the letter, it's not clear that he was intending to actually share you while you were tied up and blindfolded; just creating enough environmental cues to make you wonder, thinking that would be exciting to you. (Probably less exciting to him, seeing as he would be seeing the trick from behind the scenes.) That could explain why he was slow to pick up on your response, because he was thinking to himself, "What? I'm just talking about a pretend game. Jesus, do you really think I want my friends pounding you for real?"

If even pretending/simulating the scenario is beyond the pale for you, that's entirely fine. I'm just suggesting that there may have been a miscommunication, rather than an actual intent to push you into something you really weren't happy with because doms get to make subs do whatever they want. Again, something to be hashed out in a safeword-on/flirt-free discussion.
SUBS, if you're reading comments (and I'm sorry if you are, because there is a LOT of apology for potential rapists here) all I can say is that you don't need anyone's permission but your own to put a stop to something you don't want to do - and that goes right down to talking about it with inexperienced/might-be, might-not-be assholes. Repeat after me: "I DO NOT OWE ANYONE ANYTHING."


You don't owe him an explanation or even a goodbye. This is the virtual equivalent of walking out of the room when someone goes beyond your limits. That is effective communication all by itself, no follow-up chat required.

What stands out for me in your letter (because I'm a woman, and Dan is not) is that *your gut feeling here* is that he seems likely to make you do something you don't want to do. It may not be a legitimate threat, sure. It may be a clumsy error on his part. BUT WHO FUCKING CARES, when you consider also that we live in a world where women are raped every day, right? (Jesus, Dan. Way to overlook women's reality there.) Really - what good does it do *you* to presume that it some clumsy move on his part and not an actual threat, when your guts are screaming at you? I really don't see any reason why this *relatively small possibility* is the primary basis for Dan's reply. He might not be a rapist (yet), but what do you gain by assuming that, compared with what you stand to lose? Women are raped, often, and without justice ever being served, this is the world we live in - and it's supported by exactly the attitude in this column and in a lot of the comments.

Ironically, the same commenters would probably pull similarly apologetic-to-rapsits garbage out if you did meet this bozo - even to give him the chance to explain himself. 'Well, she should have known! Geez! What kind of rube meets a guy from the internet who sounds threatening?' Right.

So? Ignore these ignorant fuckers who insist (in some fashion or another) that you should talk this through, or give him some chance to explain himself, or what.ever.the.fuck. You owe him nothing, and your guts have important information for you. Listen to your guts, they have a lot more stake in this than anyone else yammering here, jesus h.
Question for SUBS: Who brought up the D/s stuff in your chats? Have you had ideas/desires on your own about being submissive, or is this a concept that your new guy introduced you to, with him being the Dom ("why, naturally, of course, who else would we be")?

This is not for the purpose of labeling him an asshole or a potential rapist, nor to imply that him bringing it up indicates that he intends to force you to do things that violate your boundaries (all failures on my part that will doubtless piss off #29), but simply to note that perhaps D/s fundamentally isn't your thing, especially based on your history.

You weren't wrong to explore it with him, and he wasn't wrong to bring it up in the first place (if that's how it in fact happened), but you might want to think about what the concept of surrendering control means to you, if it means anything. What would be an okay way, in your mind, to submit to him, if the one he just mentioned freaks you out? (Doing his dishes, maybe?) I'm not saying you have to come up with one. I get the impression that the answer for you might be, "Actually, nothing, come to think of it." And that's fine.
@SUBS, sorry this thing freaked you out and drudged up some (sounds like pretty horribly) bad memories. If you don't trust the guy, then that's probably a deal breaker for certain types of play. If you think you might be able to trust the guy, but are feeling nervous, try to sort out what you'd need from him in order to have a good time. If it's unfixable, it'd be polite to let him know, but either way move on. But if it's fixable, work with him on it. If you're serious about getting into D/s, I'd say you might want to figure out a way to let people know (early-ish) this is a serious trigger for you so they don't accidentally step on it, in the same way you might tell someone about a physical injury that would inhibit activities. It's not a bad thing to say: hey, there's some soreness over here. Go easy or I'll have to stop.

As a side note re: why...
I don't think she has to explain why she doesn't like something, if she doesn't want to. That you don't like it is the important thing. That being said, context can be one (of several) handy and quick ways to get a hard-limit sorted out fairly quickly. So, SUBS, you may find mentioning your background a useful technique when you're at the negotiating stage, if it hasn't come up before. Good luck!

I dont know, how about the people being accused of rape apology cause the letter writer wanst clear on whether or not she actually said no in real terms, and made it clear it was a real no and not a fantasy no.

Does she need to explain? Yes, but only in so far as to make him understand it is a hard line boundary and beyond that is her choice.

If she continues to explore submissiveness many prospective partners are going to suggest the possibility of the unknown lover.

And if this is going to be a constant problem, perhaps she should set up that boundary before the flirting even starts