TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains descriptions of sexual coercion within an abusive relationship.
I started having sex because I thought I was supposed to.
I was good at school and generally praised as mature by adults who really meant that I didn’t act like a teenager—I didn’t smoke, drink, do drugs, cut class, dye my hair, etc. I learned early on that there were right ways to do things, and that what made me special and valuable and worthy was that I was very good at doing things right.
So when my high school girlfriend—who, unlike me, had been in relationships before—told me how sex was supposed to be done, I immediately deferred to her expertise. I let her tell me that being in love meant we had to have sex. I let her tell me that every teen couple was having sex, so of course we should too. When she wanted to touch more and more parts of my body, I shifted my boundaries as fast as I could for her, until the night I—half-excited, half-resigned—said, by way of signaling my readiness, “I guess I don’t have any boundaries anymore.”
We never talked about the physicality of what we were doing. When she talked about sex, she used words like “soft” and “spiritual” and “the closest you can get to someone.” None of that prepared me for the realness of our bodies together in her dad’s bed one summer afternoon, scared and sweaty and sticky and certain there was no way out but through. I don’t know what to do, I wrote over and over in my journal that night, recounting the experience. No one would tell me the right way for girls like us to have sex, and I didn’t dare ask. Embarrassed, afraid, and overexposed, I decided I’d just do whatever my girlfriend did, whatever she hinted at wanting.
We never talked about desire. I mean, on some level we did. I remember her asking me what I liked once, and telling me a fantasy or two, though couched in euphemism. I remember having no answers to her questions, feeling confused and defeated and hopelessly wrong. I didn’t know how to look inside myself and notice what I wanted. Or maybe I stopped myself, knowing that if I looked hard enough, I’d see that what I wanted most was the time and space to figure all this out on my own terms, and that, surely, was the wrong answer.
So I kept on doing what was expected of me, touching her until I thought she’d let me stop, willing my body not to humiliate me with noises or fluids or movements. And long after we stopped having sex, long after we broke up, I carried our legacy with me.
I carry it still, and every time I have sex, those stories about why I’m doing it are there, waiting for an opportunity to tell themselves. I am doing this because I owe it to you. Because there’s a right way to do it (though I’m probably doing it wrong). Because this is what you do with a body like mine. Because you’ll be mad if I stop.
But this isn’t just about the past—I want to talk about how kink and trauma intersect for me now. How D/s is both hot and healing. How power exchange in sex makes it possible for me to simultaneously act on my desires and manage (many of) my triggers.
Mostly, it’s as simple as this: dominance is core to what I desire. And doing what I desire feels both hotter and far less dangerous than simply doing what is expected of me. I have a strong commitment to consent now, and giving myself permission to say no to things I don’t want makes it so much more possible to notice what I do want and to act from it. And sex is part of a conversation now, an explicit conversation where emotions and moods and energies are connected to bodies, rather than used as a way to avoid talking about the physical.
But also, D/s tells a story. A hotter, better, truer, and far more consensual story than the old ones. A story like I am using your body for my pleasure or I am guiding you through an experience or you are letting down your walls and I am growing big enough to hold you. A story we agree upon, that we tell each other with our touch, our breath, our eye contact. A story that I use to keep myself anchored and present while we do this together, here, now.
Which isn’t to say that any of this is easy. It’s a process and it’s work, and I don’t always get it right (and oh, when I get it wrong, it is as raw and scary and heartbreaking as ever). But for me, power exchange makes joyous, connected, rooted-in-my-desire sex possible. And that’s a pretty big step.
3 thoughts on “Sex and Power Exchange and the Story of What We’re Doing”
The way you’ve articulated those two stories really resonates with me. I should state at the outset that there’s no abuse in my history (though I’ve been in coercive situations), and I’m not in a D/s relationship. But those two stories are absolutely some of what I tell myself, and some of what I want to hear.
Thank you for this. It’s making me think.
I’m really glad this spoke to you, and thanks for saying so. FWIW, I don’t think you have to identify as someone with abuse in your history in order for this stuff to resonate. Which I say because I’ve sometimes found it tempting to think, “I haven’t had it nearly as bad as so-and-so, how dare I identify with something they wrote,” when in fact I think there’s plenty of room for all of us to connect with each other’s experiences, as long we can be respectful about it.
Oh, I agree! Now that I read back, I see that most of my comment was disclaimer rather than the meat of what I was trying to say. I suppose I can be overly-cautious about not ham-fistedly co-opting others’ spaces (“Your house burned down? I once burned my toast. Comrade!”)
But what I really mean is, ain’t it beautiful, how that kind of connection is possible?
I also glossed over something above, and I had better articulate it. Your post made me think that it may be useful for me to look at the process of healing from abuse as a way of addressing that harmful story I tell myself, even though I don’t believe that my version of that story was born of abuse. Which is a scary thought, but helpful and beautiful too. So, thank you.