How Do You Know if Your BDSM Dynamic is Healthy?

How do I know if my D/s dynamic is a healthy one?
It’s a question I get often asked- sometimes this directly though more often not. Usually, this question is asked by people who are new to kink, but not always. Sometimes it’s asked by people with years of experience under their belt trying to start again. Sometimes it’s asked by folks trying to put their finger on a funny feeling they can’t explain but can’t shake either.

‘Are my relationships healthy’ (and feel free to sub in ‘life affirming,’ ‘net positive,’ or ‘a Good Thing in my life’ for ‘healthy’ as desired) is one of the foundational questions to my work. It’s what I’ve been putting thought into for years and I know I am not going to be able to solve that question in this blog post… but I’m going to keep trying to have the hard conversations because I believe in the importance of question if the relationships we find ourselves in hurt us or serve us – and I think that distinction matters. How often Kink dynamics wind up mimicking or replicating abusive or problematic examples of how power plays out in our society concerns me. The lack of reflecting around this replication concerns me even more. Is ‘I chose this’ a high enough bar? I am honestly not sure it is. Unfortunately, it’s often hard to look at a relationship that involves power exchange dynamics and make a judgment about if this is an ultimately ‘healthy’ relationship or not.

So instead I want you to consider a question. What about what you have going on feels good to you? And I’m not talking about respite here. I’m not talking about the relief that comes from feeling bad so often that neutral feels positive; I’m talking about pleasure. About joy and celebration. Smiles that stay so long they hurt your face. Security that wraps you up so warmly you can breathe deeply enough to fill your lungs entirely with new air. Sex that feels so damn good you high five everyone you see for the next day and a half.

WIthin the question I just asked is the tool I want to offer you today for considering the healthiness of your relationships: Pleasure! As Emily Nagoski says, when it comes to evaluating how good your ____ is, let pleasure be the measure. I want you to take this measurement and apply it to your relationships, play, sex, and intimacies. How much pleasure are these things bringing you?

I hope your answer is ‘a lot.’

I know it’s unlikely that your answer will be all pleasure-all the time. Nerves and insecurities are a real thing that can interfere with how good our interactions feel – but I’m talking beyond this. There’s a line that gets cross at some point and normal human fear of rejection or abandonment changes into a codependent craving of acceptance that costs you personal power. That costs you the ability to participate in your dynamic as an equal and is a serious red flag for a dynamic that might be sliding towards abusive – if it wasn’t already set up that way in the first place.

Remember, the structures and activities we add to our relationships are meant to serve us, to bring goodness and blessings to our lives. To bring us joy and pleasure and fun. Your dynamic with your partner should be one that affirms you, not leave you constantly wondering if you’ve ever been able to do anything right in your life. Your lovers should be invested in your pleasure and enjoyment — even if that enjoyment looks like erotic embarrassment, chastity, or cane strokes that hit so hard you think you might really vomit this time.

Pleasure doesn’t need to look the same way to everyone, but for relationships to be healthy, it does need to be present. D/s is not about turning yourself into a martyr for someone else’s demons. Kink is not finding new ways to engage in self-harm. Power exchange is about mutual benefit – it should not be trapping anyone. If things have become that, they’ve gone off the rails, and you’re no longer in healthy relationship territory, and you’ve got a new question to ask yourself – what are you going to do about it?

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