How Can We Keep Kink-Dynamics Alive In Steady Relationships?
How to maintain the mystery and move from ‘real-life’ to ‘power-play’, and back again.
By Ena Dahl • 11 min read • ENGLISH
How to maintain the mystery and move from ‘real-life’ to ‘power-play’, and back again.
By Ena Dahl • 11 min read • ENGLISH
Im fresh out of the shower, tiptoeing anxiously around my apartment when I finally receive the text: He’s on his way and I have thirty minutes. I slip into something barely there and make sure everything’s in order; candles are lit, music is on, drinks are poured. By the time my buzzer rings I’m supple, slick, and swollen; halfway in subspace already. The familiar tingly warmth that has been building at my root rises with the sound of my Dom’s footsteps up the stairwell. He stops and slides my door open. A blanket of goosebumps spreads across my skin. Then, the moment our eyes meet — BAM — it’s on!
As insinuated in this scene, it’s easy to slide into these hierarchical dominant/submissive roles with occasional or casual lovers; when we’re not involved in each other’s daily lives and stresses. When we meet only to play we see each other at our best, and we’re often in character from the moment we lock eyes.
But, what about when we live together? When we share beds, bills, responsibilities, and perhaps even children together? On most days, as equal partners supporting each other through ups and downs, we might deal with questions like:
Honey, who’s cooking dinner tonight? Can you pick up some tampons from the drug store? Who’s taking the kids to the doctor tomorrow? Did you pay the heating bill already?
While necessary parts of day-to-day communication, they don’t exactly spell sexy-time… How, then, can we segway smoothly from that into collared submissive on our knees or strict dominant with flogger in hand? And, equally important, how do we shift back?
These predicaments have extinguished the fires of many a previously well-functioning BDSM power dynamic. More times than I can count, I’ve heard of play partners turned life partners only to lose their game — one of the main things that brought them together in the first place:
Now that I love them like ‘this’, I can’t do ‘that’ with them anymore. Or, I crave impact play and humiliation, but after we moved in together we can’t find our way back to that, etc…
What a pity! If we’re (ethically) non-monogamous, we might then choose to fulfill our desires elsewhere. But, whether we want a monogamous partner or simply want to be able to share these things with our primaries, or someone we love, it’s hugely frustrating when we can’t seem to hack it in a steady relationship.
Why does this happen? What can be done to prevent it? And, how can we successfully and smoothly shift between these roles?
There are many reasons why sexual dynamics are affected by overall relationship dynamics, starting with the daily life stressors and responsibilities already mentioned. Routine, monotony, and plain old exhaustion are other factors that put dampers not only on BDSM power dynamics but on our sex lives in general.
It’s also natural that as we get closer to someone, we’ll love them in a deeper, broader, and perhaps more comfortableway — which are all wonderful things. The catch 22 is that this can come at the cost of losing some of that delicious mystery needed to fuel our flame. This is understandable to a degree and it requires conscious efforts to counteract, which I’ll get to later. It’s problematic, however, when we can no longer reconcile our partner’s sexuality in the same way after seeing them in their other roles.
Psychotherapist and leading relationship therapist Esther Perel sums it up in this quote from her book Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic:
Love enjoys knowing everything about you; desire needs mystery. Love likes to shrink the distance that exists between me and you, while desire is energized by it. If intimacy grows through repetition and familiarity, eroticism is numbed by repetition. It thrives on the mysterious, the novel, and the unexpected. Love is about having; desire is about wanting. An expression of longing, desire requires ongoing elusiveness. It is less concerned with where it has already been than passionate about where it can still go. But too often, as couples settle into the comforts of love, they cease to fan the flame of desire. They forget that fire needs air.
As a mother who’s also a sex-positive writer and BDSM aficionado, this is a complex I’ve felt on my own skin; as a society, we don’t allow the lover and the mother to coexist. This is also the reason why I’ve told past play partners that I don’t want them to see me with my kid; I’m afraid it could change how they view me and affect our dynamic. Thankfully, my own concerns have proven to be unfounded so far, but I still hear others say things in the line of: “After seeing her (wife or partner) push a kid out of there, I can no longer see her in the same light.” How unfair isn’t that?
Just as men can be both prospective or current fathers and still remain complete, sexual beings, women must be granted the same liberties.
Women are not the only ones to get pigeonholed. Often in the BDSM and Shibari/rope world, I witness the female partner unable to get into the same mindset with their live-in male counterparts—a space they have or had no problem accessing with a casual play partner. Again, the comfort of the familiar comes in the way, and, after relating to their male partners as the safe, stable family-man he’s now become the knight, or the good guy, thus, erasing the beast, aka the bad guy.
If you struggle to see your partner, male or female, as a sexual being or in their prospective dom/sub roles after getting to know them as parents—or professionals, or just regular humans with sweatpants on the couch on a Sunday — it’s time for a check-in. I’m not claiming that this is as easily done as it’s said, yet, you can start by giving each other permission to be your whole, multifaceted selves. From there, work on finding ways to transition smoothly between your many selves without letting one version taint another.
I shrug when I hear someone say that they can’t treat them like that (anymore) because they respect and/or love them too much. On the other hand, they’re able to treat others like that when they don’t have the same feelings for them.
This prompts two questions: First, it’s problematic to refer to BDSM practices as treating someone like that as it implies that we carry beliefs that there’s something inherently wrong or shameful about what we do. As always, when something takes place between two willing, consenting adults there’s no right or wrong, good or bad.
Secondly, by separating between who we can treat like that or who we can’t, we’re inadvertently saying that we respect some people more than others. The lack of romantic or loving feelings for someone shouldn’t come at the cost of our respect for them as human beings.
If you and your partner enjoyed something when you were just playing, but now you can no longer do it, despite your partner indicating they still want it, ask yourself why this is. It could be time to revisit both your beliefs and feelings around your sexuality and towards kink and BDSM in the first place.
After examining the whys; our habits, beliefs, and attitudes and we can look for ways to work with and around them. My actionable strategy consists of two main elements: The first is all about establishing triggers, which work like powerplay on/off buttons. The second—which is also a key to the success and longevity of any relationship—involves setting aside time for special (play-) dates.
As safety-oriented kinksters, we use safewords as code for when we want to pause or stop a play session. The opposite is appropriately called a danger word and is to be used when we want to start something.
Not only are we humans fickle in that we want both clear communication and a bit of mystery—often at the same time—but it doesn’t always feel comfortable or context-appropriate to spell it out; “Hey you, what about some sex?” or “Let’s play?” Like bait on a hook that can be slid discreetly into a text message or conversation, your danger word makes it easier to ask — without really asking—makes a potential rejection easier to handle too.
Make your word, phrase, or sentence as simple or complicated as you want. It could be something that relates to or is the opposite of your safe word, an internal joke, or reference. Consider having response phases that mean yes, no, or later.
Some couples make use of visual markers or gestures to signalize that they’re open to or want to play. The marker can be anything that triggers you, from a special piece of jewelry, such as a ring of O, or a collar. The partner of a foot fetishist might put on sheer or fishnet socks, or a designated pair of high heels as an invitation. You can signalize that you’re ready for action by placing an item in an agreed-upon location, such as a do-not-disturb sign or ribbon tied around the bedroom door handle. Or, you can simply text each other a special emoji.
Your trigger can also involve using a certain tone of voice, gestures, or calling each other specific pet names—or a combination of several of the above—as long as you both know what they mean.
As important as finding smooth ways to opt-in to play, we need ways to say stop or not right now for situations when our sexual power dynamics unwantedly leaks into our everyday lives.
Imagine waking up to cook a relaxed breakfast with your partner after a hot session the night before. Still buzzed, and sore in all the right places, it can feel natural to let power dynamics trickle over into an otherwise casual scenario. When the mood is right, you do want your Mistress to call you boy while you fry her eggs, or perhaps Daddy feeds his little girlblueberry pancakes on a Sunday morning? On the contrary, when you’ve already started mentally preparing for Monday morning’s work meeting, it can feel plain wrong, or even disrespectful.
The problem is that your partner doesn’t automatically know where your mind is, and asking, too matter-of-factly, runs the risk of killing the mood. A great solution is to create a separate code word that applies exclusively to these kinds of situations. The daily-life safeword (again, this can be anything from a simple word or a phrase to a knock-knock joke) helps you say no, clearly, yet gently. The discreet nature of it also makes it useful in public or around other people when you don’t want to reprimand your partner with a firm, “not right now, Honey!”.
A major reason why BDSM dynamics die out, as well as sexual tension in general, is rooted in laziness. When we become too comfortable, we often get bored, and thus even lazier. It’s a vicious cycle!
We can break this cycle by stepping out of our comfort zones and back to our dating days. Remembering the words of Perel, we must maintain and create mystery, novelty, and the unexpected in order to keep desire alive.
The opening scene of this article doesn’t have to be reserved for casual play partners—if we decide to consciously recreate it within a steady relationship. The trick is to remain proactive and creative as we cultivate the erotic.
There are endless ways to do this starting by setting clear, non-negotiable dates specifically for play. Then, proceed to building anticipation for days by planning, picking outfits, teasing, and titillating each other.
If you date at home make sure you set aside time to make it special. Some couples use a different room in the house if they have one, others get creative with roleplay and costumes. For a special treat, you may want to take a weekend trip, book a hotel room, or play space for a night? Or how about planning a naughty rendezvous during the day using one of the many daybreak or by-hour hotel booking sites. How about sending your partner the address and room number to wait for them in costume and character when they arrive? Or text instructions with the promise of punishment should they not comply?
No matter what you do, try going back to your dating days for inspiration; to when things were fueled by the mystery of the uncertain. Agree that, unless someone calls their safe word, you remain in character from the moment you meet until you leave.
Shacking up doesn’t have to mean the end of your thrilling power play days. On the contrary, many of the most active and inspiring couples I know from the scene have been together for years and share families, homes, and everything in between. What I usually see in these unions is the ability to turn the comfort and stability of the familiar into their strengths; their mutual trust allowing them to dive even deeper into their joint kinks. Common is also a dedicated commitment to putting in the hard work—knowing the reward makes it worth it.
As mentioned before, I don’t claim any of this to be easy, and while I doubt Roosevelt had this specific scenario in mind when he said that, “nothing worth having comes easy”—it couldn’t be any less true!