I Can’t Say No …
… and other realizations.
I just finished reading Clarisse Thorn’s account of her developing relationship in South Africa with a Baha’i sex educator, who is for religious reasons abstinent. She doesn’t yet know what the parameters of that are, and Clarisse being Clarisse, she’ll probably write some interesting things about it as she finds out. (These Carnal Nation bloggers make my life easy. They have all this smart stuff to say, and I just bulk-paste it and comment on it.)
So far, she says, she’s told him: “I promise not to push you- though I confess I’m curious about the vow’s limits. ” Clarisse, as she communicates clearly in this piece and at her own blog, is a BDSMer, and a BDSM educator. For her (and for me), eliminating any one act from the palette of sexual intimacy is not really all that critical. She muses, for instance:
And maybe, just maybe, his vow allows him to practice BDSM … a girl can dream, right? But seriously, if we can do BDSM together, then I just might be his dream partner. I’d be happy to focus our sexual time on BDSM and foreplay, and to ignore “actual” sex indefinitely.
I bristle at the “foreplay/actual sex” construction. I think that’s part of the problem. But that’s a minor point.
BDSM, depending on the BDSMer you ask, may be sex, or not sex but sexual, or not sexual but sensual, or not sexual at all, depending on the participants and the particular scene. It makes perfect sense to me that this guy would be able to do a lot of varied and very heavy BDSM with heavily erotic components without feeling he’s in violation of his vows, but I don’t know enough about Baha’i religious thinking, or about him, to know if that’s how it actually works for him. And apparently neither does Clarisse. Yet.
At a minimum, Clarisse is thinking here about embarking on a relationship without PIV for the forseeable future. She notes the irony, but that should be entirely workable. I’ve been in a long relationship that involved BDSM but no PIV (though it was an open relationship). It wasn’t a problem. I can and do negotiate my sexuality around my partners’ needs and limits. We all do; it is only a view of sexual conduct that places PIV on a particular pedestal that makes this limitation any more problematic than many others. Speaking for myself, I certainly could not have a relationship without BDSM unless I had another outlet for it; while no PIV in my primary relationship would be a relatively less significant issue for me. I’m not the only person to say that; Patrick Califia said some time back when the earth was cooling (and before he transitioned) that he’d rather be stuck on a desert island with a leatherman than a vanilla dyke.
But I realized that the flexibility that I adopt for my partners’ needs may sometimes be at the expense of flexibility for my own needs. Clarisse said,
I think a man who wants to abstain has a far trickier journey ahead of him than a woman: America’s sexual assumptions may be formed around stereotypical male sexuality—which really sucks for women—but it’s a very narrow stereotype that limits men too. Men are expected to be insatiable, and preferring not to have sex casts a man’s entire masculinity into question. His abstinence can cause anxiety for the female partner, too: after all, given an assumption that men are nigh-indiscriminate sex machines, a woman might feel that there’s something terribly wrong with her if a man won’t bang her.
I’ll cop to this being hard to write.
I can’t say no to my spouse. In thirteen years together, I have not turned her down for sex; not once, not ever. If she wants me to top, I’ll top. If I’d rather bottom, I’ll ask. If she wants to be eaten, I go down on her, and if she wants to be fucked, we fuck. If I’d prefer to get fucked or to get a handjob, I’ll say so; she’s flexible about how she and I get off. I have no problem communicating a preference in how we’re sexually intimate, but … I can’t say no. I can’t just say I’m not interested.
It’s not like she hasn’t noticed. She has said outright that she knows I’ve never turned her down. And that if I ever did, she would know something was seriously wrong. And that’s true. I wouldn’t turn her down just because I’m too tired or I have my mind on other things. I can always get my head in the right place at least for a quickie; I always have.
In a way, it’s a moot point. The reason that’s the pattern is in part because I’m so hypersexual. Even as my body ages and finds its limits, my preference for frequency is much higher than what our lives allow. I pretty much am good to go all the time. And yet, it has occurred to me that our dynamics have evolved so that it’s not really an unconstrained choice.
This is not a two-way street. She can be, and frequently is, too tired, or unwilling to give up the extra sleep, or just plain not in the mood. I don’t nag; if she says “no”, it’s a complete answer. Not that she ignores when I say no. I just … don’t say it. Not ever.
The reason I bring this up is that I don’t know how much of this is my need to keep my partner happy; and how much of it is Thomas the self-described hypersexual kinkster. A certain amount of “anywhere, anytime” is important to my self-definition. And I don’t know how much of the rest is me playing out just the gender role Clarisse points out, and reacting to that role as my spouse projects it on me. But it’s not right to just let these assumptions hang around unexamined. So there it is.