The Honesty Exchange (Revisited)

I wrote a post many moons ago about this concept, but it was through the lens of two back-to-back relationships ending. The concept behind it was sound and something I continue to practice in my daily life, but the examples I used to present it back then were, in my opinion, too personal and not the most effective ones to get the message across. This is my attempt to do it better.


In the world of kink and BDSM, we talk about the “power exchange.” I love to focus on the word “exchange,” not as a “one gives and one takes,” but as a mutual give and take between the people involved. It looks a little bit like the symbol for recycling – not a one-for-one exchange, but symbiotic exchange running on a continuous loop.

This particular post isn’t so much about the exchange of power in BDSM, but about the give and take that happens in relationships (I’m more focused on romantic, but this is really a factor in all relationships) when it comes to honesty.

So many people say they want honesty. I’ve been spending a lot of time reading and responding to people who are sharing some of their difficulties navigating (mostly) polyamorous relationships in advice forums. A common thread I see is that the person posting feels that they have been lied to in some way by their partner, and want to know what to do to recapture the trust in their relationships.

I hit a wall when I see those posts, because for me lies are a hard limit. I don’t make a habit of giving people a second chance to lie to me, so I just back away from responding because my response tends to be “Walk away from this – the trust is broken.”

But, I also realize that it’s easy for me to expect honesty from the people in my life because I make it very easy for people to be honest with me. That’s part of the Honesty Exchange that I’m talking about.

Expecting honesty from your partner isn’t only about wanting them to be truthful at all time, it’s also about learning to accept honesty graciously when you don’t like what you’re hearing, and learning to give honesty tactfully when it’s not what they want to hear.

I’ll start with that first part. Learning to accept honesty graciously is about not flying off the handle, or abandoning rationality in favor of knee-jerk emotional reactions when your partner tells you something you didn’t want to hear.

I have a very simple default response when I’m being told a truth that I don’t enjoy hearing. It’s similar to that commercial for the candy bar (Twix?) where someone is asked a question or put on the spot and they shove the candy in their mouth to give them a few seconds to come up with something to say….

When someone gives you information that you know to be true, but that is causing you some emotional distress – the default response is to say the following:

Thank you for your honesty.

There it is. That’s all you have to do. Breathe deeply, let your lip quiver, feel the feelings that you feel – but do your best to hold it together long enough to remember that you asked them for the truth.

And thank them for it.

Then, assess your feelings and give them some measured honesty back. Feeling like you’re too angry to discuss it? Say “Thank you for your honesty. This news is a bit shocking. I’m feeling a lot of mixed emotions, and I’d like to ask for some time to process before we talk about it further.”

Feeling like your world is falling apart? Say, “Thank you for your honesty. I’m feeling really anxious about this information. What does this mean for us going forward?”

The result of having a measured reaction to bad news is that the next time your partner has something to tell you that you might not want to hear, they’ll feel less hesitant to share it with you than they would if you’d responded to them with white hot anger followed by three to five days of passive aggressive silence or unfiltered snark.

But, just like the recycle symbol, this feeds back into another benefit for you. If you know that your partner is willing to tell you the not-so-great things because they don’t fear you’ll have an extremely negative reaction, that means you can actually believe them when they tell you the super-fantastic things. What reason would they have to lie? The good news gets that much sweeter when you know it’s true.

There is so much relief in just trusting someone. But in order to reach that with someone whose default setting isn’t “be completely open and honest regardless of feelings or consequences” you have to let them know it’s safe for them to give you bad news sometimes.

Otherwise, you’re asking them to tell you the truth only when it’s pleasant, and that just leads to questioning if everything they tell you is 100% honest.

Now to the other part of this equation. The giving of truth when it’s not a pleasant truth to give.

This is sometimes called “diplomacy,” and not everybody is very good at it. Some people are really good at honesty, and go so far as to brag about their ability to be “brutally honest” with people.

I don’t like to be “brutally” honest.

I prefer to be “tactfully” honest, or as some people recently described it, I practice “gentle” honesty.

It’s the type of honesty that is compassionate in nature. It’s a type of honesty I’ve learned is best shared when requested, because not everybody is as good at receiving the bad news – and when they ask for advice, what they really want is pity.

I feel like the best way to go about being gentle with your honesty is to put yourself in the position of the person who has to hear what you have to say. Figure out how you would want to be told and do your best to be direct, but kind in your delivery.

I’ll give a really basic example. You go to your partner’s place for the first time and they want to cook for you. They spend a few hours preparing a meal and they’re very proud of it. You take a bite and…well, it’s not edible.

They ask you “How do you like it? Be honest.”

Do you lie? You don’t want to hurt their feelings. You don’t want to be an ass and just say “Oh, this is disgusting.” That’s honest, but rude.

So put yourself in their position: How would you want someone to tell you your food isn’t great? How would they tell you this so that your reaction wouldn’t be defensive or self-hatred? (And if you think there’s no way somebody could be honest with you without pissing you off or making you hate yourself, work on that whole “Thank you for being honest,” trick).

Personally, I’d find something good to say about it – “The meat is well cooked, but it’s a little salty for my taste.” Or “The flavor is great, but I prefer it a little more rare.” Or “Well, it’s not what I’m used to…I think I might like it better next time if…..”

What do you do if they’re hurt by your honesty? Be compassionate. Show them that it upsets you to hurt them, but it would hurt you more to lie to them. Give them the space to feel how they feel, and let them know that you aren’t going to react negatively to their negative reaction.

Again, earning the reputation from the people in your life as someone who won’t lie to them and won’t fault them for having reactive emotions has really excellent benefits. People tend not to ask me what I think unless they really want to know. Most of the time, I just listen.

And people respect you because they trust you.

Trust and respect are sexy as hell. I think they’re the best aphrodisiac and my top two kinks of all time.

So, well….hopefully this is a more accessible and comprehensive understanding of the Honesty Exchange as I see it. If you want people to be honest with you, you have to be able appreciate their honesty even when it hurts; and if you want people to trust and respect you, you have to be honest with them and give them the space to react however they’re going to react, even when it’s uncomfortable.

Ninety Three Seconds

I’m certain I was yammering as we walked through the door. There was a plan: to drink, to cook, to eat, and to fuck.

I had assumed in that order, and therefore, was not expecting to be held by the hair and drag/pushed into the living room. That was certainly a surprise.

But when he pulled the pillows off the sofa and dropped them to the floor before me, I had an inkling.

And when he pulled his phone out and fiddled with it after ordering me to masturbate, I had another inkling.

Some time after the orgasm, after he’d given me a taste of him, after he’d told me to get dressed and make him a drink, he’d nonchalantly told me that it’d taken me 93 seconds to orgasm.

“Because you were watching me,” I explained.

Manual override on my own could take an hour. Any sort of stimulation when he’s watching me takes significantly less time.

Dinner was decent.

It was during the fucking when I was asked how long it took me to orgasm earlier.

I don’t know how the fuck I remembered the number.

But I did. “Ninety three seconds, Sir.”

He started to smack me. Slowly, then quickly, altering speed and intensity.

And then he stopped.

“How many is that?”

Well. I don’t know. Maybe it’s like the pillows and I’d had some sort of nonverbal cue. Or maybe it’s something I always do, the counting.

“Fifty.”

I could hear him smile. I felt the swell of my own pride in getting it right.

Here’s what he doesn’t know. I think I lost count somewhere after the next 20. I dropped into some altered state for a moment and when I came back….I could have sworn we were at 83, not 93.

But those last five smacks were double handed and hit hard.

Maybe they counted for two.

Cold Water

I like warm water.

One of my favorite feelings in the world is to be submerged in or have very warm water cascading down my skin.

He knows this. I noticed that he knew this a few weeks ago during a shower together. The memory of what it was he did is fuzzy now, I just remember realizing that he’d figured out how much I like it.

The trouble with dating this sadist is that when he learns I really like something, he has gained a new tool with which he can torment me.

And when I say “trouble,” it’s with a smile.

So, yesterday morning, we were heading over to shower and I hesitated to step in, realizing it’d not yet been on long enough to be hot.

He checked the temperature with his hand and I asked, “It’s not hot yet, is it?”

His sadist face came on.

“Get in.”

I stammered and resisted. He grabbed hold of my wrist and pulled me toward the shower door. I watched as he pushed the handle away from “hot” to “cold” and held me there.

There’s this moment where I’m faced with something I don’t want to do and the option to not do it is taken away from me. I recall, as a child, standing at the edge of the diving board when I was still dry and I knew the pool would be cold. I feared the initial shock of the cold water. Yet, I knew after a few minutes acclimate I would to the temperature and it would be a welcome contrast to the hot summer day.

Eventually, I convinced myself that all I had to do was jump. Once I was in the air, the decision to land in the water was out of my hands. I found that the lack of control mid-air made me feel less anxious about what I’d face when I hit the water.

It’s that same moment, when my brain switches from “I don’t want to go in the cold shower,” to “He’s going to make me go in the cold shower,” that brings up a similar sense of tranquility.

And then he pushed me in.

The water was warm.

This is what I love about a sweetheart sadist. He knows I love warm water. He also knows I love it when he pushes me toward the things I resist (plus, he loves the pushing). Yesterday morning, he found a way to give me both.

The Play Partner Manifesto

When I started thinking about writing this post, I had strong feelings that I would not mind connecting with another person as a regular (non-sexual) rope-specific play partner.

And now, I finally have a few moments to write it and….

The notion doesn’t seem so shiny.

It’s an inconclusive state – do I want this, or don’t I?

And I think that the answer is that on some level, I do – but what’s lacking is the sense that the type of person I’d want to do that with is someone already known to me. So, without having someone in mind specifically, it’s hard to really imagine how it would work.

Type of person – that’s not exactly right. The person doesn’t meet a type – it’s the supposed connection we’d have that is a type.

But, allow me for a moment to process a couple finer points on this desire. Words like “benefit” and “exploration” and “free time” come up. Like, “I believe I could benefit from the exploration of a connection with another rope top during my free time on weekends.”

There are things about that statement that bother me.

I don’t want to use a person as a distraction. To connect with someone on the level that I like to connect in rope, they have to be more to me than “something to do on Saturday night.” This type of connection I’m envisioning would be one of friendship, trust, and mutual enjoyment that goes beyond “I don’t have anything better to do tonight, wanna tie??” The idea that this relationship would “benefit” me feels selfish. A vibrator benefits me because it gives me orgasms when my partner is unable to give them to me. I do not want the “vibrator” equivalence of a person to just give me what I want when my partner isn’t around. I don’t like the idea of treating people like tools.

And yet –

I wouldn’t (probably) mind more rope in my life, but I come back to that question of connection.

After I fell in love, my connection with the other people who used to tie me on occasion changed. I became strikingly aware of the difference between the connection with someone who actively wanted to tie me – who would reach out days or even a week in advance to ask if I’d be interested in a rope date; and the connection with those who would show up at the same party I happened to be attending and think “Hey, I’ve got a spare hour. You’ll do.”

That’s not really what I think they were thinking, but …that’s how it felt.

So I shifted a little – to avoid feeling that. I set a “new rule” that I would avoid last minute/pickup play scenes. That if someone wanted to tie me, they’d ask in advance.

And …well, those proposals were few and far between. Until they were so rare and sometimes felt like “Yeah, couldn’t find anybody else. Is your body available?”

It still felt like it lacked connection.

This is no judgement on anybody I’ve played with past or present, or those who do pickup play or have asked me recently if I could bottom for them. In fact, both people who have asked me recently – I’d have said yes if I legitimately didn’t have other things going on those evenings.

Bottoming for demo or practice isn’t the same as a play partner.

A play partner (to me) is something more. It’s a friendship that exists outside the confines of rope. It means meals together or movies and laughter and conversation that has nothing to do with rope . It’s connectivity on multiple levels. There’s a level of care, consideration, and enjoyment of time spent together.

There’s a tenderness to it. There has to be, because I like mean rope – so there has to be tenderness on the other side of that.

It’s a relationship.

Minus the sex.

You know, like marriage.

See, the right type of person – the right type of connection – would have laughed at that joke.

Anyway, this isn’t a statement of intention to go out in search of this connection. This is a public declaration of my motives for considering it. Much like my state of being prior to meeting the man I now love – I am in a good place in my life where not much is needed.

But if someone who happens to connect well with me were to come into my life and have an interest in pursuing this….I’d probably, carefully and slowly, give it a chance.


Rope and Photo by @mister_bacon_, my first ropey play partner. 🙂

The ol’ switcheroo

“Bear down on it,” he ordered. I was naked and collared, on my hands and knees at the foot of the four-poster bed, around the leg of which he’d used a thigh harness to strap a large, purple phallus at the exact height required for my impalement.

Just kidding. I’m not telling that story yet. I have things I want to say, but the people I want to share these thoughts with are the ones would only get this far into my essay hoping for more of that story.

I’m talking about the people who put up walls and tune out when certain words are uttered. They respond to words like “privilege” and “patriarchy” like I do to words like “prayer” and “God.”

Those are words that make me uncomfortable. They’re the words that expose the bias I have against all organized religion and religious people that’s similar to the bias our current administration has against people who are Muslim or brown in general.

Religious people frighten me because of the atrocious things done in the name of religion throughout humanity’s history. But, I remind myself that #notall religious people are power-hungry, hypocritical, selfish, and hate-filled people. That’s what separates me from this administration and its followers: I wouldn’t kick all religious people out of my country – but I admit that I sometimes fantasize about what this world might be like if nobody had ever invented religion.

So, here I want to share my thoughts on so many of the subjects that would include words like “privilege” and “patriarchy” and “equality” and “marginalized” and “personal agency” and “women,” and I know that the people I want to reach have already bailed.

They don’t want to be made to feel guilty.

But that’s the thing. I’ve found in my own life that digging in at the things that inspire icky feelings like guilt or resentment has been the first step in my moving past those feelings. Similar to how it works in the final stage of mourning, it’s acceptance. Those of us who cling to the #NotAll when we’re feeling lumped in with a group that does bad things need to lean into the discomfort of being seen as #OneOf and make a conscious choice to listen to those who have been affected.

That’s it. Just listen. Don’t argue. Don’t #NotAll. Just hear out the people whose words bring up those yucky feelings and try to empathize. If there’s something you don’t understand, ask the question – respectfully. And if they don’t want to answer it?

Then keep making an effort to listen. Go in search of the answers by others who have already shared their truths with the world. All the answers are out there.

Eventually you might discover that there have been some instances in which you didn’t do all you could to help their cause because it was easier for you not to, and that the only person that’s making you feel guilty is you.

All guilt ever did for me was two things: 1) make me feel resentful, and 2) make me react defensively.

But after I decided to confront that discomfort and take ownership over my part in these things, the guilty feelings started to erode. You don’t have to take the blame for the continued existence of all the isms and the phobias: just recognize the areas where you have inherited an advantage and accepted it without question. Once you do that, you might find yourself able to let go of the guilt and start taking action to help our shared society move past this.

Listen – not everyone’s gonna welcome you as an ally. You just have to do your best to be the best version of a human being you can be. But don’t cut corners – if you are able to tune out the injustices of the world, that’s evidence of your privilege. If you choose to tune it out, then that’s when you are part of the problem.

This from someone who tuned it all out in the wake of her husband’s unexpected death because she couldn’t handle negative information. I recognized my privilege. I know why I did it. I would counsel someone struggling with that degree of trauma to do the same.

But not everybody can. There are people whose lives and livelihoods are constantly under siege and have been for a long, long time. They don’t have the privilege of tuning out injustice, because it is part of their daily lives.

So I won’t tune it out. Not anymore. Not because I feel guilty, but because I feel it’s right.

That’s not the same as disconnecting for a night and focusing on the things that bring me joy for a few hours. That’s self-care. Deciding that I’m just not going to think about, talk about, or pay attention to politics at all, or go pretend I’m still ignorant of the issues facing marginalized groups? That’s tuning it out.

The people who have read this far already grasp this. As soon as this post was not about the time I was ordered on all fours to be fucked from behind by my bedpost while my lover knelt before me and jackhammered his lust into my hungry and willing mouth, the ones I wanted to reach had already tuned out.

But those of you who stuck it out this far, at least get to know how that story ended 🙂

What’s next?

He’d been driving at least an hour to get to my house. He’d told me before he left that he’d want a shower upon arrival, so I responded that I’d wait to take mine with him. He also usually wanted a drink, and sometimes a smoke. And at some point, we were going to have to eat.

And fuck.

“What would you like to do first?” I asked, after kissing him hello

“Pee.” He answered.

“Okay,” I answered, smiling and stepping aside so he could move past me and toward the bathroom.

When he emerged, I was waiting for him in the living room. I inched closer to him, staring into the deep blue pools of his eyes. “What would you like to do second?”

What started as a soft kiss quickly escalated. His hands were everywhere: around my throat, in my hair, clawing at my breasts and thighs. I gave him what I could, and what I couldn’t he took from me.

I paused to catch my breath. “I still need a shower,” I whispered. He chuckled, “So you’re saying you’re a dirty whore, right now.”

He spun me around and held me tightly against him with his forearm across my chest. “Yes, Sir,” I answered.

Then I was bent over a chair, my skirt hiked up. I could hear zippers and rustling. When I looked down on the floor I saw his shadow cast from the lights behind him. He’d undressed. He was walking toward me, carrying something.

I feel the first strike of the belt across my ass.

By the fifth or sixth they were making me jump.

He’s fucking me. My god, it feels amazing, but my leg is cramping up. I try to shake it out, but my calf is seizing. I tell him so.

He drags me by the hair up to the bed.

I’ve come more times than I can count. We’ve reached the point where I’ve stopped asking for permission to come and I’m growling at him, “I want it. It’s mine. I want it, now!”

I explode. I can feel him starting to twitch. He surprises me. In a flash, he’s pulled out, flung the condom off and he’s coming on me. A drop lands directly in my mouth, the rest on my neck, chest, and belly.

It takes a few minutes to regain coherent speech.

“What do you want to do third?” I ask.

Tourists in Dropland

Those of us who’ve spent some time in the kink/BDSM world are eventually educated on the concept of “drop.” Google “BDSM drop” and you’ll get over 770,000 mostly relevant results.

After an extreme experience, there’s a period of time that last hours or days, or depending on the longevity or intensity of the experience – longer, of feeling mildly down, fatigued, and maybe a little self-loathing.

Our friends out there in the non-kinky world don’t really have a frame of reference for this concept; and these are nothing if not extreme times.

I’m starting to see it again today – the fatigue. There is a constant onslaught of news, and it’s not good news. For many who had previously lived a relatively neutral existence (read: those with significant, albeit unrecognized privilege) this is the first time that they’ve been on the business end of a series of emotional wallops for which they were completely unprepared.

Even the ones who raised the alarms during the election are now starting to fade – to say they just can’t anymore. Not one more thing.

But we don’t have a national safeword, and I have a feeling the Tyrannical Tweeter isn’t one for aftercare.

It was someone on a kinky social networking site I frequent who first identified it for me. He posted a status update after the Women’s March suggesting that many of his friends seemed to be suffering from March drop, then followed up with a comment on one of my posts with the point that his “vanilla” friends (not my preferred terminology for the non-kinky) didn’t understand what was happening to them.

But, we do.

I was chatting with another friend this evening and he made a very astute observation: “We live in the extremes, they don’t. So protest drop is gonna be bad.” He went on to say “We’re the locals in drop-land. They’re tourists.”

I sat in the parking lot outside of my office building for an hour today, scrolling through the day’s twitter updates and facebook posts. It was an hour of informed consent to the harshness of a very cruel and very scary reality to which I was willfully submitting myself. It wasn’t until I looked up and noticed how dark it had gotten that I looked at the time.

Just like how an hour in an intense rope scene can fly by, only with fewer orgasms.

Right now, I’m sitting cross-legged on my bed. My brother’s phone number is still written in sharpie across my ankle, where I’d scrawled it yesterday on my way to the Los Angeles International Airport.

I regard this marking similarly to the marks I receive in the course of play, only this is a little different. As I’m not an enormous fan of bruises for bruises sake, I accept them as a consequence of the type of play I enjoy with my consenting partner.

This was different. And yet, not so different.

It is a visible, lasting reminder of an extreme shared experience. Only instead of being in a dimly-lit room with my loving partner, I was one of tens of thousands assembled in peaceful protest of the Angry Mango’s latest Executive Order.

Recognizing the feeling, I went in search of connection to those with whom I’d shared this awesome, powerful experience – only to find that many of them have gone rather quiet on social media today.

I wish I could just go on facebook and explain “drop” to them. Those who intersect with kink have already figured it out. As soon as you say “drop,” they go “Oh shit. Yes. Time for some self-care.”

Me? I like bubble baths.

Anyway, it’s not as easy a concept to convey to the unkinkformed. Less easy if I’m attempting to protect them from having a little too much information about my sexual preferences. (Sexual is not the best word to use there. It’s not necessarily about sex, but like “vanilla,” it gets the point across quickly.)

I’m starting to get a few more twitter followers now who’ve added me in the last week or so when I’ve been a bit more of an “activist” type than a “sex blogger” type, so maybe this post will help a little.

But to the rest of them…I don’t know.

I want to find the words to explain it to them. To help them understand that taking a break to go see a movie, to make love, watch funny cat videos, or to have a bubble bath with an old-fashioned is not the same as going into a “news coma” and willfully turning a blind eye to a world that needs you by hiding in an impenetrable bubble.

We absolutely have to keep doing the things we enjoy, and finding ways to express love, compassion and care for ourselves and each other. That’s what fuels us to keep going. It’s what brings back the equilibrium that helps us stay in this resistance for the long haul.

That’s how you fight drop.

Find a little peace tonight. Your voice makes a difference, it absolutely does….but screaming until you go hoarse will silence you for too long. We need to pace ourselves. We need to take care of ourselves.

Even our heroes sometimes take a moment to stop and smell the falafel.