My upbringing didn’t prepare me for the concept of boundaries. Instead, I learned that privacy was seen as a negative and equated to secrecy. I also learned that self-sacrifice was one of the cornerstones of love and that to say no to someone you loved made you a mean, evil person. Needless to say, I left home primed and ready for victimhood, codependent relationships, and heartbreak.
I found myself in situation after situation where I was constantly made a doormat. It didn’t matter how nice I was or how often I changed myself, the expectation was for me to take all of my partners’ negativity and smile while doing so. It had gotten to the point where mistreatment was so normalized, I could never see the warning signs and found myself in one soul-sucking relationship after another.
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Why Boundaries Matter
When I was first exposed to the kink lifestyle, I had an aversion to being a sub, or at least a service sub specifically. It was actually “littleness” that immediately appealed to me. Everything about littles — the softness, the love of stuffed animals, the inability to order food without a real adult present hit so close to home. Navigating the kink space without boundaries made interacting with people extremely difficult though and led to even more undesirable situations. My brain rationalized that with being dominated came high levels of discomfort and that endurance made me a “good girl” and my first few Dominants were not ideal to say the least.
The very first Dominant I found was on fetlife and it was a long distance relationship. He messaged me saying he was looking for a little and I thought to myself “wow, what a coincidence, I’m looking for a Daddy.” Without knowing much of anything other than the fact I was “a little” I submitted to his care. It lasted less than 3 days.
At first it was fun, I was instructed when to eat, nap, and “do homework” which consisted of some writing exercises I wanted to do. I enjoyed the structure but it was a bit strict as my hour-by-hour was dictated and there were some sexual tasks I was given that made me incredibly uncomfortable.
I was looking for a non-sexual Daddy and I learned pretty quickly that was not the norm. He ended things which I’m grateful for. I did not like my first experience and I initially wondered if that was a standard within the lifestyle. I considered that perhaps my experience was isolated so I decided to do more research before submitting to anyone else. I also thought about how I could prevent an experience like that from repeating. The solution—create a boundary.
Boundaries of Headspace
My first boundary was establishing that littleness was a nonsexual space. For the first year or two into my kink journey, I only identified as a little, I believed that as a little, the care would be directed downward to me versus in a service sub, the care is directed upward towards the Dominant. I realized that being in a little headspace was not a time I wanted to do sexual things and, thinking back, I desired to be the recipient of care.
I did like sexual things but just not when I was feeling very small however, I noticed when I saw ddlg content, it was arousing and I was able to make another boundary as a “middle space” emerged. I discovered that in little space the activities I’d do with a partner differed. I enjoyed cuddling, hand holding, and coloring while I laid by their feet. However, in middle space, I learned I enjoyed teasing my partner sexually as well as the thrill of the power exchange.
As I explored more, other headspaces and boundaries within those spaces came to light. I eventually discovered a love for being a pet and developed a love for providing services within a specific context. Going to play parties, meeting varied people, and doing my own exploration lead me to learn the importance of “limits”. I didn’t have to love every kink out there to be a good sub and it was okay to not want to try things. By being able to explore limits in the lifestyle, I was able to create boundaries in my vanilla life as well.
The concept of limits took a little time to explore because I was accustomed to accommodating and self-sacrificing for those around me. However, learning my limits was actually the first big step in learning how to set and enforce boundaries both in and out of the lifestyle. Setting a limit on what was okay for someone else to do to my body was like boot camp for setting boundaries. One of the things I love about the kink world is that it allows you to experiment in a controlled, albeit intense, setting. If I can tell a man I don’t want him to stick it in my butt unless certain conditions are met and explain those specific conditions, I can definitely find the courage to say no to that extra project at work.
I want to live a life of sexual freedom and with that comes addressing sexual hang ups and a certan level of openness. For me, soft limits are not things that are off the table necessarily. They include things that I am curious about or things that I might enjoy in a specific context.
For example, the idea of being in a cage does not immediately appeal to me. It is something that I had previously been scared of exploring. However, as I’m getting more interested in pet play, I am open to the idea of being put in a cage as part of the scene.
By thinking about my soft limits I learned to ask myself questions like:
- Do I really like this thing? Or do I only do it for my partner?
- What do/don’t I like about this thing?
- What feelings come up for me when thinking about trying this? Can that be addressed?
With being in a cage specifically, I was initially afraid of my partner leaving me there. However, seeing adult content involving cages was arousing to me which made me curious. When I dissected my dislike of that kink, it was less about the cage and more about trusting whoever I’d be playing with. It all boiled down to trust when I thought deeply about it. I was afraid I couldn’t trust the person to let me out. When I thought about it that way, it made other limits make more sense — constraints, blindfolds, etc. I secretly wanted to try them but I was afraid.
With my current partner, we’ve put time and energy into building a strong foundation of trust. He has helped me safely explore some of my limits at my own pace. I discovered that even though I mentally wanted to try some things, my nervous system would someomes respond in a negative way. This led Us to not only explore the ins and outs of my preferred type of play but also slowly unravel the issues that got in the way.
Exploring my limits in the bedroom has a lot of crossover into setting boundaries in my vanilla life. I find myself thinking more critically about what behaviors I allow and identifying what an “authentic yes” feels like. Instead of always saying yes to running an errand for my roommate even when I didn’t have the energy or time, I am more honest and say no sometimes. Instead of working overtime or off the clock, I took my breaks and clocked out at the end of my shift. I have gotten much better at not overextending myself.
While I do consider myself an experimentalist, there are some things that I know I’m better off not experiencing. For example I like anal sometimes, I don’t love it. So the idea of fisting is not appealing at all therefore, I don’t need to try it out to confirm. As well, watching adult content that involves fisting isn’t appealing to me.
Any play that has the potential to crush my spirit is off the table. I have a history of being in relationships where I was talked down to, so I know degradation will only make me feel negative, non-sexy, and problematic emotions. Since I don’t want to feel those sorts of emotions, degradation play and certain derogatory names are off the table.
While my soft limits have some wiggle room, which I leave to my Dominant’s discretion to execute, hard limits are not on the table. I’m now weary of Dominants who would even imply they would cross my limits in the name of dominance. That being said, caging was previously a hard limit for me, but my Caregiver at the time allowed my own natural curiosity to form and shift it into the “soft limit” category. There was never a push towards hard limit items.
Having hard limits in the bedroom has also crossed over to my vanilla life. By learning what my “hard nos” are and affirming those in the kink spaces, I gained confidence to be able to set “hard nos” in other areas. It’s mostly shown up in terms of relationships and work but by now, it’s showing up in all areas. When thinking about what treatment was unacceptable to me, I’d come to realize some things like:
- I don’t want to be in platonic, professional, or romantic situations that make me feel less than.
- I don’t want to take projects that pay less than the minimum in order to gain “experience”.
- I don’t want to be romantically involved with anyone who tries to guilt me into action.
- I don’t want to go to a social engagement if I don’t have the adequate time, energy, headspace, or money to go. These are acceptable reasons and I am allowed to keep these reasons private if I’d like.
In martial arts there are often sparring matches and these have their own protocols, rules for engagement, and exist in a controlled environment. That controlled environment is what allows participants to play safely to their heart’s content as well as learn more about their practice and understand the capacity of their own power. The more you practice, the more you have an idea of what you’re capable of and what your physical and mental limits are.
I see the kink world as an avenue for developing my emotions. The way I move about the world is through my feelings and I can accept that about myself. It is my superpower but, without training, it can be my greatest hindrance. Through play, I’m exploring how to experience pleasure, satisfaction, validation, and peace. I’m learning how to experience those feelings alone and with others and explore what combination of factors heighten those feelings. Those are worth protecting and setting boundaries is the best way to ensure that the play is safe. Knowing what my limits are and having ways to express that to my partner either verbally with a safe word or through tactile cues is crucial. It helps my partner create a safe space for me to explore while also giving me a way to indicate when something goes wrong which in turn creates a safe space for my partner to explore as well .
I found I have a much better handle of my emotions overall because I’ve explored the upper echelon of many of my emotions through play and learned to think deeply about them. When dealing with sub-drop, for example, many negative feelings come up for me and learning how to mitigate them, think critically about them, and practice sorting them out to return to a place of emotional neutrality has really helped me in the vanilla space. Due to my upbringing and past relationships, there are some things that trigger unpleasant memories. However, I’ve learned what “being triggered” feels like for me because it is different from other negative emotions.
Scenes don’t always end with the perfect orgasm or the perfect descent into a neutral headspace though. If my partner and I have to cut a scene short due to an unforeseen time constraint, other responsibilities, or an emergency, there can sometimes be a drop for us both afterwards regardless of the reason. If negative emotions pop up for me during a scene, we might transition into more gentle play or stop the scene. Or, if I’ve had a difficult week, it may be a bit harder to get into the right headspace for play.
When trying to invoke those positive emotions during a scene, it’s natural, and sometimes unavoidable, for negative ones to crop up as well. That’s why setting the parameters of play is so important. My Dominant knows to be more gentle with me and the right language to use to get me to the headspace I’d like to be in. Our aftercare plan is set up so that if negative emotions crop up, it’s not as damaging. We have follow-up sessions to debrief, and I also have my own self-soothing activities such as cooking, a bathing ritual, and journaling.
The Importance of Communication
People won’t know my boundaries unless I communicate them properly and I can’t communicate my boundaries unless I have an honest and open conversation with myself. Having a boundary crossed in the bedroom can create incredibly strong, scary, and uncomfortable feelings — even if it happens by accident. Being able to communicate with my partner to ensure accidents are minimized and address them if they do occur, is essential for both of us.
The way I think about it, it’s unfair of me to put my partner in the position of thinking they are doing something pleasurable when in reality they are causing harm. Bestowing them with the guilt and shame of having unknowingly hurt me is not fair to them so I make sure I communicate in a way that works. I learned that I tend to go non-verbal when I’m uncomfortable so, to avoid potential triggering or mishaps, we’ve developed hand signals instead so that the play always stays safe. By establishing effective communication techniques, I keep myself and my partner safe.
Boundaries Create Better Play & A Better Life
By Scarlette Hemsworth
Scarlette is a polyamorous kinkster, freelance writer, sex worker, and indie author based out of California. She was introduced to the kink world in 2018 and identifies as a 24/7 little, sub, and ABDL. Scarlette enjoys watching anime, playing video games, and building terrariums in her spare time.
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