Our resident agony aunt Rhona McAuliffe has some advice for a feminist who might need a sexual awakening
I’ve been with my boyfriend about three years now. When we first met the sex was passionate and frenzied, though nothing particularly adventurous. After about a year we seemed to settle into a fairly safe routine of bi-weekly sex, which wasn’t earth-shattering but it worked. It was comfortable, easy and familiar. But recently, my boyfriend started talking about trying different things, like role-play where he plays a CEO who’s disappointed with one of his employees, for example. I laughed it off – as you would! – and nothing much changed. Until about a month ago when he started spanking me when we were having sex and became more excited than I’ve seen him in ages. He was a little sheepish afterwards but says that spanking me really turns him on. Since then it’s become a regular thing. If I’m honest, it doesn’t bother me either way – I’m not turned on or off by it – but I do have a problem with being demeaned, when I really think about it. We’re very equal in our relationship and when he spanks me I feel like I’m his property. He definitely feels like the dominant one and that annoys me. Am I wrong to feel that, as a feminist, my values are being challenged? Or should I just humour him? I feel if I bring it up all the joy for him will be gone. But then I think, what about me?!
Feeling Weird About It, Cork.
What about me is exactly where your head should be at right now. It’s great that you’re engaging with your likes and dislikes and starting to process your sexual preferences. Just mailing me is a huge step in that direction, whether or not you follow my advice!
Your mail suggests that maybe, just maybe you slipped into auto-pilot after your first year of heady passion together. Although you were having regular sex, you describe it as ‘easy and comfortable,’ an activity you might squeeze in between a double cleanse and an episode of The Staircase on Netflix. Which is absolutely fine, as long as your partner was reefing on his bed socks beside you.
And even if he wasn’t, there’s no point micro-analysing the pre-spank era because up until now you’ve had no indication that your boyfriend was dissatisfied or wanted to get the party started. Now you know and it’s up to both of you to negotiate the next phase of your sexual evolution.
As an erotic act, spanking goes way back. In 1960 an Italian archaeologist discovered an Etruscan tomb, dating from 490 BC, with a mostly preserved fresco of two men spanking a woman, one with a stick and one with his bare hand. The woman seems to be pleasuring one of the men but the painting is too damaged to discern exactly what is going on other than the context was overtly sexual.
Kink in the 21st century classes spanking as ‘light play.’ It is often referred to as a ‘gateway BDSM drug,’ a safe way to test boundaries before experimenting further. However, there are lots of people who spank but don’t partake in any other kinks. Finding out where your boyfriend features on the Kinkometer is a good place to start. He’s done the really hard work already ‘coming out’ to you so opening up the conversation beyond that should be easy. You already know that he’s interested in role-play, which goes hand-in-cheek with spanking, but is he into a few playful smacks during sex or delivering a good paddling?
Encouraging full disclosure on his deepest desires now will gauge your long-term sexual compatibility.
Dan Savage – my favourite US sex therapist – says that all kink cards should be upturned and on the table three years into a relationship. This allows the potentially non-kinky partner to decide if the fetish revealed is a deal-breaker. It’s also especially relevant for more niche fetishes like, for example, psychosexual infantilism, where one partner (usually male) likes to regress to being a toddler, wearing nappies, crawling and being mothered. The chances of finding a game partner beyond a small fetish circle are slim. Sometimes, the non-kinky party in that scenario agrees to their partner attending fetish nights alone rather than occupy the Mother role. This also supports the theory that ‘it takes a village.’ Either way, they move firmly into the pro-relationship leagues.
The good news is, your man skidded in with his revelation – the most common fetish, as it happens – right on deadline. The next move is yours.
So what about you? What turns you on? Are you resolutely ‘vanilla,’ preferring conventional sex, no fetishes? Or is it possible that you haven’t explored your sexuality yet, that you might be blinkered to the myriad possibilities? Sherri Winston’s best-selling Women’s Anatomy of Arousal is a great place to start if you’re curious. Ideally you would reach a point of deeper self-knowledge and be able to balance your desires with your partner’s. If you decide that, after a full audit (CEO-speak) you are game for some spank-play only to accommodate your partner, then you have to come to a 50/50 agreement with him. That means, spanking can only feature in 50% of your sexual encounters. The rest of the time should be focused on your wants.
In terms of being a ‘bad feminist,’ there’s no compliance manual on dominant and submissive play. Your body, your choice, right? As long as it’s consensual, your partner is respectful, you’re doing it in a safe environment and are in control of when it stops (as often ‘subs’ are) then you have nothing to worry about. But do set ground rules. Agree your boundaries, a ‘yes’ today is not necessarily a ‘yes’ tomorrow, for example. How hard can he hit you? Rate it on a number scale of 0 to 10. If you find 7 too painful, request a 3 or a 4. Have a ‘safe word’ so you can tap out if you need to. And make sure your boyfriend knows the no-go impact zones with this colour-coded body map. Lower back is out, bum and thighs are in.
And if you find, six months down the line, that it’s really not your thing then you have no choice but to take spanking off the table. Maybe you’ll allow your boyfriend to explore it outside of your relationship? Or maybe your next boyfriend will have a foot fetish. Just me?
Rhona McAuliffe might not be a trained therapist but she does have very big ears, quite a long nose and a gaping heart. If you have a problem that won’t just go away, she’d love to hear it. Write to Rhona at [email protected]