In a few short weeks, I have the honor of presenting at the healthy vs abusive kink and mental health round table, I will be teaching a brand new class, called Troubleshooting Kink, on aftercare and conflict resolution.
For those readers not well versed in kink/BDSM terminology, there are traditionally three “phases” of an episode of kinky play: negotiation, play, and aftercare. Aftercare is a space where participants have a chance to debrief, decompress, and recalibrate after the play is done. This could be curling up with each other while snuggled under warm blankets, having a check in conversation immediately after and/or a few days after the scene, giving and receiving verbal validation, and so on.
In many ways, my new class is a companion piece to my Breaking Silence class. A major component of my Breaking Silence is about how to have healthy and productive conversations around abuse and high conflict situations in kink. Troubleshooting Kink looks at the aftermath of conflict and hurt in relationships where no abuse is present. This is not something I’ve seen addressed very much. Sure, most intro level kink classes mention aftercare and highlight its importance, but I have yet to see a class that goes into the hows and whys of effective aftercare. From what I’ve seen and heard, which I’ll grant is hardly a statistically significant sample, most people think they know how to engage in aftercare, but don’t know how to manage regrettable incidents, mistakes, or problematic situations. So when a scene goes off the rails, the results can be devastating not just to the players involved, but their friends and communities who get caught up in the conflict’s wake. To further complicate matters, non-coercive conflict, if left unaddressed, can look remarkably similar to honest to goodness abuse or be treated as such. It breaks my heart when I see communities torn asunder by a situation that could have been so easily mollified with effective aftercare.
I’m really enjoying the research involved in putting this class together. In all fairness, I’m a sex/relationship nerd and an unabashed perpetual learner. This class came out of Gottman’s repair suggestions for what he calls the “four horsemen” of the relationship apocalypse; criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling (shutting down). However, I’ve been reading Harriet Lerner’s Dance of Connection, which beautifully fleshes out and augments Gotmman’s repairs. I also found that the concepts in her book translate well to kinky aftercare.
For example, here is what she says about setting boundaries around conflict:
Couples need to establish some ground rules for fighting rather than assuming that feeling enraged (“I can’t help myself”) gives you license to say or do anything. If you can’t maintain control of your own voice, you need professional help. As psychologist Marty Klein points out, even war has its rules. In World War II, for example, there was a rule that you couldn’t bomb the enemy’s hospitals. Surely couples can agree on a few rules (“No name calling, no screaming, no bringing up past grievances and hurts during a fight”) or can get help to do so.
If kinky couples and configurations set such rules around conflict after the fact, I think our communities would be far healthier, happier, and more welcoming. When it comes to kink, one also cannot assume that one’s identified role precludes one from setting and abiding by ground rules. No matter how complete or structured a power dynamic is, we all have personal responsibility and accountability for our actions. Therefore, a Dom does not have the right to be rigid or cruel at the expense of their partner’s well being. Conversely, a slave or submissive cannot use their role as an excuse to abdicate personal accountability.
I will be discussing this in more detail, of course, in my class. Assuming things at the Flea go well, I hope to teach this class again in the near future.
As a sneak peak, so to speak, of what I’ll be discussing, here are some rules for fighting fair, which I adapted from a list compiled by Pamela Landau.
- Stick to the present
- Do not use absolute words, such as always or never
- Do not bring up past partners, especially as points of comparison (“My former sub was fine with big-toe suspensions” is the opposite of a good thing to say)
- Do not play amateur psychologist or insinuate that a partner has issues (As someone who has been on the receiving and, I’m ashamed to say, the giving end of this one, I can confirm its toxicity.)
- Do not threaten to tell others, out a partner, or write about the issue on the internet