For this week’s kinky conversation, I’d like to follow up on my article from two weeks ago that discussed how to deal with feelings of shame around our fetishes. Now that we’ve acknowledged that shame can sometimes throw a wet blanket on our sexy times, and can sometimes raise difficult and uncomfortable questions about the ways our fantasies represent parts of ourselves, let’s talk about some strategies that will help navigate these feelings and questions in a healthy, boner-edifying way.
I think one of the most important things to do when preparing to venture into the more taboo and risqué fantasies is to take some time to recognize the divide between the world of fantasy and the world of the real. Children do this all the time, as I have discussed before. They routinely flit between fantasy and real worlds in play, long after they’ve understood that Santa isn’t real and dragons are metaphors. The knowledge that the fantasy world isn’t “real” doesn’t constrict the joy of play; on the contrary, it enhances and liberates it. Knowing that their play-actions in fantasy will not ripple over into the real, they can explore fantastical scenarios, including those of danger and violence, without fearing any real harm.
A few weeks ago, I attended the inauguration of a UNESCO Research chair that a friend of mine was recently awarded. The keynote speaker was John C. Polanyi, a Canadian Nobel Laureate in chemistry, and the topic of his talk was “How Discoveries Happen.” During his presentation, Dr. Polanyi made repeated reference to the spirit of play that underlies the work of contemporary scientific research. To illustrate his point, he asked us to consider humanity’s greatest discoverers: infants! That’s right, just think about it… Babies discover everything about the world through play, through exploring, trying things out and and discovering how things work by making messes.
As we mature, the art of make-believe, and the skill of using purposeful play to test ideas, become increasingly restricted by cultural discourses linking play to juvenility. Even video gaming, a medium of play that has been catering to adult audiences for decades now, still seems to be widely considered inappropriately childish behaviour. Because healthy sexual activity is the domain of adults, there’s extra cultural pressure to keep the “childish” spirit of play separate from the exclusively adult aspects of life. This pressure isn’t new: Paul wrote (ca. 55 CE) “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Cor. 13:11, ESV).
So how can we reclaim our spirit of play and apply it in a healthy way to sexual adventuring? Well, the first thing I had to do was give myself permission to play. I am one of those people who tends to take herself too seriously, and worries overmuch about looking silly or being embarrassed, so this was actually a pretty big step for me. It’s crucial, though, because it utterly defeats the point of play to worry about looking silly while playing. Play is silly. It’s supposed to be fun. It’s perfectly okay to laugh when things go awry (and they will). It’s important, especially when digging into the deep dark never-revealed-before fantasies, to not take things too seriously.
The next step in my rediscovery of play was establishing a sort of fantasy “safe-zone”. I created a set of loose parameters that would help to more fully, imaginatively immerse myself into a fantasy scenario. I placed an imaginary boundary around fantasy-oriented sexual activity in my life, and created a few rules to apply to that zone.
Rule #1: The Fantasy Space is not governed by real-world politics, ethics, or values.
This was the most important rule for me, for a few reasons. Most prominently, a lot of the things that I fantasize about for sexual gratification are highly unethical, if not fully illegal. I am a fierce feminist, and many of my fantasies run very contrary to my personal politics; I often find myself getting off hard on fantasies that involve forcible silencing, confinement, general non-consent, and being forced by various means to embrace and capitulate to patriarchy. I think you can probably understand that for quite some time, I felt like a horrible feminist for enjoying these fantasies.
Establishing the Fantasy Space provides a way out of this shame cycle. When playing in the Fantasy Space (this need not be an actual physical space, by the way), the politics and values of the real world do not apply. In the Fantasy Space, nothing you do has any implication or effect on the world outside the Fantasy Space. You (and your partner/s) make the rules. Your only concerns are consent and pleasure. Whatever role you inhabit in fantasy, you shake off when you leave the Fantasy Space, taking with you only fun memories, and whatever your play has taught you about yourself that day. Which brings me to….
Rule #2: Every fantasy can teach me something about myself and my partner(s)
Even when our fantasies are risqué or taboo, even when they don’t seem to reflect who we are in the real world, there is something about the scenario and characters that can teach us about what drives our desires, and help us to understand ourselves and our partners better. This is, by far (BY FAR), my favourite thing about sexual play. After embracing the idea of fantasy space, and learning how not to fear my fantasies (and those of others), it became not only easier, but much more fulfilling, to think about the “why” of what gets me hot.
Once I was able to sit comfortably with the truth that, for example, having a rape fantasy doesn’t mean I want to actually be raped, or condone it in any way, I was able to better understand how that fantasy reflects deep, primal urges and needs entirely unrelated to consent (or lack thereof). Sharing a fantasy with a partner can similarly teach me about their drives, and how they attain sexual pleasure and fulfillment, not to mention fostering a delicious sense of trust and intimacy that can really bloom when we honestly inhabit that Fantasy Space together. That honesty and intimacy invariably enriches the whole of our relationship, inside and outside the bedroom.
Rule #3: Be gracious and keep an open mind
Venturing into the Fantasy Space can be scary at first. Even we seasoned fantasists sometimes feel trepidation before embarking upon a fantasy adventure into realms yet untested and untrod. With an attitude of open-mindedness, this trepidation becomes a thrilling propellant, pushing us further into the hinterlands of imagination. I can completely understand why some fantasies would make you want to clam up or go “ewwww NOPE”, but I urge you to bite down on the knee-jerk response, swallow it, and opt for something more compassionate. You’ll be amazed how much learning, growing, and maturing can happen when we embrace childishness and leap headfirst into play.
So! On this Fetish Friday, I heartily encourage you to find ways to get comfortable with embracing play, if you haven’t already. Even if you don’t consider yourself kinky, simply experimenting with role-plays can spark untapped powder kegs of sexual excitement you could never have imagined. Happy adventuring, explorers! Have a great weekend.
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