Compartmentalize Your BDSM Self

Learn To Compartmentalize Your BDSM Self

For Healthy Roleplay in BDSM

Much of what we do in BDSM involves roleplay, and not just the ‘strict teacher / naughty student’ dress-up variety. Simply acting as the top or bottom in a scene is a role in itself, complete with its own responsibilities, energy, and intentions. The more we’re able to immerse ourselves in the headspace of our role during play, the more powerful the experience becomes.

The intense experiences we have during play have the potential to transform our everyday lives, for better or worse. For BDSM to be a healthy practice, it’s crucial that we refine our ability to cleanly separate fantasy from reality. Learning to compartmentalize BDSM will allow you to reap the benefits of kinky sexploration while continuing to function harmoniously outside the bedroom.

If we don’t learn to compartmentalize, BDSM can end up negatively impacting our psychological state, our relationships, and even our career. For example, identifying as a dom during play with consenting submissive partners can be a deeply erotic and empowering experience. Allowing one’s desire for domination to bleed into other areas of life, however, is a great way to lose friends. These kinds of conflicts are obviously best avoided.

Tips for Compartmentalizing Kink

Make sure you’ve got a clear understanding of what BDSM is

It’s easy to misunderstand BDSM when we’re introduced through fictional means like porn or erotica. Kinky entertainment tends to focus on the fantasy of power imbalance while skipping the steps that keep BDSM sustainable in reality. There are still oodles of people who can’t clearly define the difference between BDSM and abuse. Make sure you’re not one of them. Knowing what kind of behavior is or isn’t healthy in a kinky relationship will help you avoid toxic territory.

Keep equality in mind

Power exchange is a lot of fun, but without an underlying foundation of equality, the contrived imbalance of agency between dom and sub can begin to feel real. (Or worse yet, be real in the mind of one or both partners.) Make sure you and whoever you play with have a genuinely equal level of control over what does or doesn’t happen within your dynamic, as well as a strong sense of mutual respect. This will provide you both with the assurance of safety necessary for pure enjoyment during scenes.

Approach BDSM with realistic expectations

Regardless of how compatible you and your partner may be, real-world BDSM will never play out exactly like your fantasies. It’s great to know what you’re looking for, but try not to get carried away chasing an impossible dream. Understand, also, that while BDSM may satisfy some of your deepest and most primal desires, it won’t solve all your problems. Intimate connections will always come with challenges and BDSM can end up complicating rather than simplifying our relationships.

Consider how ‘out’ you want to be about your kinks

Though BDSM may be more mainstream than ever, it’s still considered taboo and your proclivities can be used against you. For instance, people still lose custody of their kids in divorce proceedings for being kinky. Decide for yourself how ‘out’ you want to be about your kinks and plan accordingly. Would you mind if your family, non-kinky friends, or coworkers knew of your proclivities? If so, it’s probably best to stay out of any photos or social media groups that could link you to the fetish world. Many people in the BDSM scene use a pseudonym while they’re out and about making connections in the community so they can keep their personal and private lives separate.

Get clear on the status of your relationship with your partner

BDSM tends to cause intimacy to develop at lightspeed. While I’m not crazy about labels, I also find it difficult to enjoy play if I suspect my partner and I aren’t on the same page about our connection. Are we playing casually or working toward a committed relationship? Do we share the same goals and intentions for our dynamic? Is love involved, and if so, do we have the same ideas about what that word means? These are questions worth discussing if you’re seeking immersive roleplay.

Decide the contexts in which your roles will apply

You and your partner may have different ideas about where and when you’re willing to slip into play. Some kinksters prefer to draw a hard line by only getting into their roles while they’re technically ‘in scene’, meaning the relationship is essentially vanilla while scenes aren’t happening. Personally, I like a bit of light roleplay while flirting with my partners during everyday life too. Others go for a 24/7 dynamic in which they’re both, more or less, always ‘on’. Will your dynamic apply in public or only at home? What about at BDSM events or in front of other kinky friends? Talking about this with your partner will allow you compromise in ways that feel respectful and fulfilling to you both.

Negotiate continuously

Carrying serious worries about what will or won’t happen during play will take your head out of the fantasy, which is why negotiation is so important. There’s no hard-and-fast handbook on what to cover during negotiation, but it’s key to at least mention preferences, limits, safewords, and what serves you best during aftercare. Bring up any and everything you like. Keep in mind, also, that negotiation shouldn’t be a one-time convo in long-term play-partnerships. As you grow and change, check in with your partner about your feelings.

Make peace with your fetishes

Many BDSMers carry shame due to the stigma surrounding kink, and this can be a huge barrier in the path to enjoyment during roleplay. Feel free to drop any guilt you may have about your fetishes. As long as you’re playing in ways that are safe, sane, and consensual for all parties, chances are you’re doing no harm and don’t need to beat yourself up over what you like. (Leave that to your partner and make it fun, why doncha?) Our world can always benefit from greater pleasure, intimacy, and relaxation. Practice self-love and enjoy!

Get to know your partner’s kink self

The role your partner embodies during play may differ greatly from who they are outside the bedroom. For instance, I know more than a few badass feminists who get off on fairly misogynistic themes during scenes in spite of their beliefs. Your partner’s sexual self is one dimension of who they are and getting to know that aspect of their personality will guide you during roleplay. At the same time, being able to separate it from their everyday identity will help keep your connection respectful, fun, and consensual.

Choose safe places to play

Doing certain kinky activities in the wrong place can effectively ruin your life. Kissing in public is all well and good, right? Spanking, biting, or pulling hair, though? A concerned samaritan might try to interfere or call the cops and report you for assault. Don’t ever assume the people around you will understand your dynamic or be able to infer that what you’re doing is consensual. Even in the privacy of your own home, louder forms of play that involve screaming or crying can attract the wrong kind of attention from neighbors. This is why sex parties and dungeons are excellent spaces for going all out. Wherever you decide to indulge, protect yourself by keeping the people around you in mind.

Develop crystal-clear communication systems for play

Using coded signals allows us to communicate our true feelings without breaking character and spoiling the magic during roleplay. Deciding on a safeword is a good start, however, a multiple-safeword system can be great for covering a wider range of expression. The so-called ‘stoplight system’ tends to be popular for its effectiveness.

Green = “I like this. / Let’s keep going. / Don’t change a thing.”
Yellow = “Something needs to change. / Please don’t hit so hard. / I’m approaching my limit.”
Red = “We’ve reached my limit. / I want the scene to stop now.”

This strategy also makes it easy for partners to check in during scenes by asking, “What color?”

In addition to verbal signals, non-verbal ones can facilitate safety, especially if the bottom is to be gagged. Having them hold a heavy or noisy object to drop when their limit has been reached is a popular choice.

Keep a part of your mind on lookout from the sidelines of your scenes

Complete immersion in roleplay is an enticing goal, but an impossible one if you want to play safely. A part of your mind needs to be on watch during scenes so you can keep yourself from getting carried away or becoming unable to communicate properly. As an example, I recently took part in a consensual non-consent scene with a friend who played the role of a violent rapist. The part of me playing the victim was filled with adrenaline and the instinct to fight back. However, the part of my mind that I had set aside to hold the reins chimed in to keep me from doing anything stupid. “He’s your friend and this isn’t real. For god’s sake, don’t bite his dick off!” Through this strategy, we were able to walk away from the scene relatively unscathed. (And yes, his dick remains happily intact. Thanks for asking!)

Practice good aftercare

Coming down from the physical and emotional highs of play can be rough, especially after intense scenes. Good aftercare can ease this transition back to reality. Follow up play in whatever ways you and your partner need in order to feel good. Keep in mind, also, that aftercare involves self-care too. Do what you have to do while your brain chemicals are balancing out, and don’t get down on yourself for feeling bad. It’s a natural and sometimes unavoidable reaction to BDSM.

Continually develop your skills

I refer to BDSM as a ‘practice’ because it takes time and experience to get good at it. We all have questions and make mistakes— or, as Bob Ross might say, ‘happy little accidents’— when we’re first starting out. Like most activities that require practice, you’ll learn BDSM best by actually doing it. However, workshops and classes can help a lot, especially if you’re into the more technical aspects of play, like rope bondage or needles. By refining your skills outside of play, you’ll feel more relaxed and confident during scenes with your partner.

Consider connecting with a mentor

Topping, bottoming, and switching all come with their own sets of challenges. If you’re running into issues during your journey, as most of us do, you might consider looking for a mentor who’s been in your shoes, has ample experience, and is available to provide you with advice tailored to your situation. (Note: Your partner can’t objectively fulfill this role. Always listen to your partner’s input and opinions, of course, but understand that expecting them to coach you on how to be a better dom or sub may end up ruining the magic of your dynamic.) A great mentor will be able to guide you toward safe and effective strategies. Reach out and get the advice you need to feel comfortable and confident. There’s nothing worse than feeling alone in times of hardship and there’s also nothing wrong with asking for help. We’ve all gotta start somewhere.

So, whatcha think? Have you used any of these tips in the past? Do you have additional suggestions for compartmentalizing kink in healthy ways? Share your knowledge by letting us know in the comments.

By Molly Lazarus

Molly Lazarus is a sex blogger, kink educator, and erotic fiction author. Her website, Kink Out Loud, serves as a resource for readers who are curious about BDSM or new to the practice. Offline, Molly acts as Volunteer Coordinator for the Bay Area chapter of Kinky Salon. You can follow her on Facebook and Pinterest, or browse her fiction on Amazon.

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