On December 13th, Ray Nelson, NCC and a member of the board led us through a lively discussion of less common sexual practices. As a member of the kink/BDSM community for 20 years, Ray began his talk by speaking to the importance of this topic, especially as it pertains to therapists. Namely, Ray, like many others, have had a challenging time finding a therapist who felt competent to see someone around topics related to less common practices of sexuality. In addition to a lack of therapists who specialize in such topics, it is not uncommon for people to be let go from their therapists who have felt inadequately prepared to discuss or engage with such things. And even when one is involved with a therapist, it is common to feel judged and misunderstood for engaging in kinky practices. As such, Ray is passionate about educating and creating a space to engage with such issues, to promote more understanding and curiosity toward aspects of human sexuality and its many manifestations.
Notably, Ray prefaced the presentation around the idea of “play”, a common term in the kink community for describing not just what we may think of as sex, but the space, practice, and engagement in activities and events that people do for enjoyment around their sexuality. And this may not always be explicitly sexual. Along this vein, having a kinky orientation has been thought of in a few different ways. In some sense, it is an orientation. And in another, it is a form of leisure, in which like any leisure activity, people may choose to invest time, energy and money in its enjoyment.
Ray began this next portion of the presentation by emphasizing that certain topics and words may bring up things for people in the audience, and this is particularly salient for people within the kink community as well given that its participants are so often oriented toward topics related to social justice. Concepts like “master and slave”, for example, may bring up various thoughts and feelings.
An interactive and group-led discussion, Ray created the presentation around the group’s input—we all had the opportunity to anonymously choose the topics that most interested us. As we voted for each topic via text, a poll showed up on the screen, focusing the presentation around our subsequent discussion.
The topics prepared fell into four main categories: taboo, humiliation, sensation play, and edge play. The first topic our group voted to engage with was “humiliation”. Within this category, we chose to focus on “water sports” and “cucking”. Firstly, “watersports”, involves the practice of urinating on another person or oneself. And this could be for many reasons. It could symbolize possession, marking territory, or a form of sexual punishment. Around this discussion we talked about the deeply animal component of this. Evolutionarily, we are drawn toward certain mates because of their scent. There is also an aspect of power, to demonstrate and play with themes of ownership. Nevertheless, this can also be understood from a place of deep intimacy. For example, it could be like achieving the sort of intimacy to pee in the same room whilst one’s partner brushes their teeth. There can be many elements to any form of play people choose to engage in, and these were only some ideas that both Ray and the group put forth to engage with the material.
We then discussed “cucking”, which, as a practice is typically, but not always, gendered. It often involved men who find masochistic pleasure in watching their partner have sex with another, often more “masculine” man. In this scenario, the one who is coming in to have sex with their partner is called “the bull”. In this form of play, there is an emphasis on humiliation of the often male partner as he watches his partner with a different man. This is also often interwoven with female domination. Within this there are elements of humiliation, and a reinforcement of power structures within a relationship—being made submissive, or less than, and the feeling of being left out of what is enjoyable. In our discussion, we spoke to why it might be arousing to be present to one’s partner having sex with someone else. It may be a reminder of their attractiveness and sexual independence, or that of emotional risk—a tension we all encounter in our relationships with other humans. Perhaps this is an excitation of that for some.
Most importantly as a therapist, Ray added, one must always ask their clients what it means to them, and explore what they may get out of the interaction.
We then voted to talk about “sissification”, a practice in which a dominant partner makes their, oftentimes-masculine partner assume a feminized role. This can include being made to wear women’s clothing, being called by a feminine name, or being anally penetrated. In this dynamic, there may be an element of power play—the male-identified person wanting to feel physically controlled or overpowered. It is also a bucking of gender roles.
We then voted to engage with “edge play”, which may involve practices such as body modification (hair removal, implants, etc.), rope play (shibari, breath restrictions), drawing blood, or could fall into even more extreme categories. These sorts of practices involve many elements of pleasure and pain, power and ownership. These may also be some of the more dangerous activities, involving restrictions of circulation, potential for nerve damage, and muscle strain.
Lastly, we spoke of activities of “extreme play”. This could include something like burying someone for days at a time. Among activities related to this category, the play may stray from what we may consider explicitly sexual. Yet it has many elements of the sort of relational dynamics we all engage with—the intimacy of releasing to another person, of being in their control and at their will. There is also a deep intimacy, Ray suggested, in planning a ritual, caretaking for one’s partner’s every physical need—food, water, and physical safety. There are spiritual elements to such dynamics that concerns one’s life or death.
Through all of these conversations, we spoke about certain key themes, such as the fact that regardless of these practices being less common, there are elements we may also relate to as they pertain to dynamics of sexuality and intimate partnerships. Questions like ownership, possession, and power, and the tensions they elicit and excite. We also spoke frequently of the primal—the elements of our shadow selves at play in any form of sexuality. This brings up the question of where to draw the line at what is “kink”. Is not all sexuality, to some extent, an expression of our deepest wants and longings? Or of the tensions and fundamental vulnerability of wanting and loving, coming together yet being separate?
We also spoke to the elements in which these topics are both Existential and Humanistic. Inherent in all sexuality ought be the necessity of active consent and agency. And this becomes even more important when practices bring up deep and vulnerable emotional layers. In addition to active consent, such practices also require after-care. This can look however an individual may desire it, but may involve checking in, holding, wrapping someone up in blankets, and cuddling.
Lastly, it is also not uncommon for engagement in less common sexual practices to come from those who have experienced various forms of trauma, and oftentimes of a sexual nature. In this sense, a person’s core wounding may have been in not being able to give consent. Being able to do so can be a form of integration, of taking back one’s power, and recapturing parts of oneself that were violated. All forms of sexuality may involve practices of embodiment, of body ownership and power with oneself and one’s partner or partners. And in this sense, many sexual practices can be deeply healing. In engaging with this material, whether we related to it or not, we hopefully all grew as therapists and people in our capacity to handle nuance and show up curiously. And hopefully, this will contribute to a culture of people feeling less alienated when it comes to finding a therapist and discussing such intimate and sexual topics.