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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

I Have Boundary Issues—How Can I Safely Explore Kinky Play?

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What would you suggest for someone who has anxiety, fear of boundaries being broken and unstable self-esteem, but is interested in being a sub in kinky play (not necessarily sexual)?

Responsible kink can often be a place of healing for people whose boundaries have been violated in the past. When properly negotiated, BDSM play allows participants to openly discuss boundaries, set limits, experiment with those limits in a safe space and exercise their rights to stop play if they begin to feel unsafe.

However, in order for consensual kink to truly be a safe experience, a lot of trust, communication and respect have to be present. If you have anxiety and self-esteem issues that you have not fully worked through, you may not be able to authentically engage in either pre-play negotiation or in play itself. Many people who participate in BDSM use a standard such as “Safe, Sane and Consensual (SSC)” for their play. In this context, “Sane” can mean several things: sober and not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, activities that have an acceptable level of risk and the mental readiness of participants to engage in these activities. If someone has had a bad day, is angry or is under a lot of stress, that person may not meet the “sane” standard for engaging in play—they just aren’t in the right frame of mind to play responsibly.

When you describe yourself as having anxiety and unstable self-esteem, it makes me concerned that you may not be able to meet that “sane” standard. Before engaging in any kind of kinky play with another person, I would strongly recommend exploring your anxieties, fears and self-esteem issues with a mental health professional who is knowledgeable about and supportive of kinky play and who can help you assess your motivations for engaging in BDSM and your readiness to do so. The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom maintains a directory of kink-aware professionals that may be helpful in finding an appropriate mental health care provider.

BDSM can be a profound and powerful experience, but in order for that to happen, it’s important to have a full understanding of your anxieties and fears and be able to communicate clearly about them to a partner. All of us have our own set of triggers, fears and pressure points, so I’m not suggesting that everyone who participates in kink has to have a squeaky-clean bill of mental health. We do, however, have to have an awareness of our issues, some skills to manage them and the ability to establish mutual trust with a partner.

Laura Anne Stuart owns the Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee’s East Side. She has a master’s degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than fifteen years. Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXPress? Send them to laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.