Dear Dr Ren,
I am recently single and enjoying meeting new men. Although I have been able to connect with men easily, I am a little put off by the obsession with being identified as a top or bottom. Does the position each person chooses really need to be the first thing I know? Maybe I’m alone here, but for me the decision to have penetrative sex seems rushed and shallow.
How can I have a discussion about sex where I can tell them . . . neither?
– Fish nor Fowl
Dear Fish nor Fowl,
Not only do I appreciate such a pertinent question, but I’m heartened that you realize the solution lies in communication! Funny, isn’t it, that it is often more comfortable for us to engage in sexual behaviour than it is for us to talk about it?
The reasons for this are understandable, given our ambivalent cultural attitudes toward sex. We’re fascinated by sex yet shy about it. Compartmentalizing our behaviours permits us the luxury of sexual release while insulating us from emotional closeness, which requires far more skill and vulnerability than many of us can handle.
In any new relationship, we risk rejection. To decrease our anxiety about that potential outcome, we start in a defensive stance and lower our barriers only as we receive positive feedback. Sensible. When the object of our desire is significant, we project even more what we hope will be well received.
When enjoying purely casual sex, however, we need to exchange only sufficient information to move recognized desire into quick consummation. This quick pace reduces the significance of potential rejection, but it also requires some complex questions to be asked and answered almost instantaneously. Hence the development of the shorthand of labels like top and bottom.
Routes to pleasure get demoted to methods to climax. When the nuances are eliminated, so are the possibilities for adventurous exploration. Foreplay is foreshortened, and coming becomes the only goal.
Without plans to develop an ongoing relationship, efficient behaviours reign. Since our limited expectations necessitate rapid arousal and release, we disregard sensual activities in favour of sexual ones.
When the goal is to get more, faster, sex with strangers is the consequence.
If you are seeking ways to have a conversation about your hopes for a successful — and pleasurable —sexual encounter without the assumption that it will end with penetrative sex, the BDSM community has developed respectful and efficient sexual negotiation skills and the language to talk about sex in various situations. You can find copious resources, including current terms and sample contracts, by exploring the BDSM blogs.
Good communication requires your awareness of what you like sexually and your willingness to risk divulging that information very early in your negotiations. It requires sufficient interest in your hookup’s likes and dislikes to listen to his list and imagine how best to incorporate your wishes and his into a mutually enjoyable experience. You’re then ready to discuss your options and plan your encounter.
If you find resistance to such a discussion, perhaps you are engaging in sex you don’t really want, with men who are unprepared or disinclined to invest in meeting your needs.
You can ask for what you want and even demand it, but it’s more difficult with anonymous partners. Nevertheless, the better you get at communicating clearly and respectfully, the easier it will be to expand the possibilities beyond fucking.
Seek guys who share your appreciation for a slower, more nuanced approach to the enjoyment of sexual excitement. Wait for those opportunities that promise fulfillment rather than instant gratification. Risk, and appreciate, personal revelation. Set your standards and stick to them. You are not alone in hoping for more authentic encounters, however brief they may be.