Recovering after a line is crossed

====== Recovering After an Erotic Line is crossed ======

The sexual imagination may know no limits, but the human body and psyche certainly do.

Your emotional and physical sensitivity can far exceed your conceptual ability to toy with novel erotic experiences.

When exploring fantasies, having a safeword is always wise. If something feels wrong, you can stop the action immediately with one well-timed syllable. But what happens when a safeword isn’t invoked quickly enough? If you’re on the receiving end of sensation (i.e. the “bottom”), what happens if your partner speeds past a limit faster than you can conjure the idea of “RED?” Or, if you’re the active player (i.e. the “top”), what do you do when a scene takes a downturn before you recognize the signs that it’s starting to tank? In the best cases, people learn the most from these situations, and use them to fuel their growth as players, lovers and partners. In the worst cases, self-doubt or blame becomes crippling to future play, or a promising relationship is poisoned by a careless transgression.

Is there any way to recover from a disastrous faux pas and regain your comfort? Absolutely! That is, if you’re willing to use the limit-breaking episode as a key lesson in your erotic education. Take Anne and Curt, for example:

Anne and Curt had been seeing each other for a few months, happily exploring fantasies of what we call “power exchange,” i.e., bondage, s/m, dominance and submission. Both had prior experience – but not of an identical type – which made them eager to try out activities that were new and a bit of a stretch for each of them. They were a great team until, in one moment of dramatic miscalculation, everything fell apart.

Curt was planning to surprise Anne with a new sensation: [[wax play|hot wax]] dribbled over her body, starting with her backside. He’d bound and blindfolded her, hoping to enhance the intensity of her excitement by blotting out distractions and amplifying her feelings of “helplessness.” But, Curt’s good intentions were lost on Anne. When the first unexpected dribble of liquid wax seared her bare bottom, she felt a hot pain so startling that, despite being tied wrists to ankles, she jettisoned her body across the room as far from Curt as she could get. “What the F—K!” she screamed, furious and sobbing.

Curt was mortified by her reaction. How could something he thought would excite her cause such terror instead? Anne was so shaken that it was a few minutes before she would even let Curt come close enough to untie her. How did this scene go so horribly wrong?

First, Curt had been careless. He had not only failed to discuss hot wax with Anne at any point in their prior negotiations, but he’d also failed to ensure that when he did use wax, it was initially merely warm – not so hot it could shock her system. Second, Anne didn’t know that she’d hate having hot wax poured on her body until Curt did it unexpectedly…and poorly. Being both blindfolded and bound increased the intensity of the experience and it also added a level of risk that, as it turned out, was probably excessive when paired with a new and precarious sensation. True, Anne might have loved both the feeling and the surprise. (Curt thought she would because his former girlfriend had.) But Anne was different than Curt’s ex – a different woman with different sensitivities and responses – and she was traumatized in a fraction of a second by a limit she didn’t know she possessed. From that point on, her willingness to trust Curt’s discretion was severely compromised – as it probably should have been.

The gift of experiences like this is that they tell you when you are moving too fast, going too far, and perhaps not paying sufficient attention to each other’s subtle signals. More accidents occur in the name of pacing than any other benign process. An unpleasant episode need not be a disaster, however, if it is seen as a call to focus on communicating in much greater detail, and to progress more slowly in areas of play where the edges are unknown.

The truth is that when you play with fire – and erotic adventures are fire – you will get burned from time to time. What happened between Anne and Curt can and will happen in various ways to everyone who is in the least bit sexually daring. Consider their story as a cautionary tale that should be factored into your every encounter. And remember that “safe, sane and consensual” is not an empty phrase, nor meant to impact only the farthest extremes of play. “Consensual” also means that anyone who plays with erotic energy should, by definition, consent to take responsibility for their part in what goes right and their part in what goes wrong.

Anne can regain her comfort zone most surely if she refuses to feel victimized by this experience and instead realizes that she could and should have put in place the kind of simple ground rules that would have prevented it, or at least ameliorated her shock. Since she hadn’t known Curt for long, it would have been wise for her to negotiate a “no surprises” rule. That is, before Curt tries something brand new, he should make sure that she is OK with it, at least in theory, and he should prepare her so that she is an involved participant. “No surprises” is, for some people, an operational necessity – for others, not so much; at least not until they are on the receiving end of a surprise they don’t like!

Curt needs to learn from his incautious preparation and reconsider his tendency to make faulty assumptions: If partner “A” likes something, surely partner “B” will, too. Not so. He’ll be a better play partner if he accepts that with new partners, baby-steps are better than giant leaps. Curt needs to promise Anne that before he adds a new twist to their play he will talk to her about what he has in mind. When someone has been scared or hurt, above all they need to feel a sense of partnership in each ensuing encounter, so that they can rebuild trust in their partner and – even more importantly – trust in their own ability to handle the emotional and physical fallout of their experiences.

Sometimes, when a scene goes bad, a confident bottom will brush it off as no big deal, while the top is scarred by the event. There are many more self-castigating tops than there are daredevil tops, and they need to be reminded that mistakes should not be grounds for relentless self-criticism. Learning to forgive yourself and move on may be one of the most precious lessons your fantasy life can teach.

Forgiving and forgetting comes most easily when you quickly operationalize the lessons of your experience. As kids, we’re told that if we fall off a bike or a horse, we need to get right back on. Well, a tumble during fantasy-play demands the same grit, whether you’re a top or bottom. Unless the activity is truly offensive, try the “bad” scene again – but do it very differently. Discuss every detail, read more about the activity, and practice it in shorter, softer bits. As a bottom, use a tier of safewords to slow things down and retain control. (“Yellow” or “mercy” is a way of saying “lighten up” without forcing the action to a halt.) Cooperate with one another. Check in often to see if your partner is OK. Remember you are not doing this just for thrills, but to replace the memory of a painful encounter with mental images of thoughtful, successful practice. And it’s fine if this doesn’t initially send you to the moon – after all, you’re just working out the kinks. In the end, the activity may be one you choose to scrap altogether, or you may find that it’s pure bliss once that all-important trust is in place again. Either way, you’ve turned an unpleasant faux pas into wisdom.

And that’s a good scene – whether or not it’s a hot one.

**About the Author:**

psychologist and sex therapist based in New York City, Dr. Joy Davidson has been involved in the development of internet-based sexuality education for much of her career. Convinced that the internet has the capacity to revolutionize intimate connections, she has been actively researching and writing about the internet as a vehicle for sexual expression, education, and therapy for nearly a decade.

Dr. Davidson was a key contributor to MSN’s pioneering online magazine for women, Underwire, as well as a sex and relationships columnist for MSN’s,, and Offline, she was for 8 years the sex columnist for Playgirl magazine and Men’s Fitness magazine. In addition to her current articles on, she hosts a sexual enhancement video series, The Joy Spot, which can be viewed on other major video sites as well. Dr. Davidson’s personal website is

Dr. Davidson is the author of Fearless Sex: A Babe’s Guide to Overcoming Your Romantic Obsessions and Getting the Sex Life You Deserve (2004, Fairwinds Press), which, in hardcover, was a selection of the Literary Guild and the Venus Book Club. As an expert on sexual issues in popular media and culture, she is also a contributor to four of Benbella Books’ acclaimed “Smart Pop” anthologies and the editor of an upcoming fifth release.

Her astute insights and warm, vivacious personal style have made Dr. Davidson a sought-after speaker at seminars and conferences, and a guest on hundreds of national television and radio shows, including Oprah, 20/20, CNN News, Entertainment Tonight, Montel, and Bill O’Reilly. She was the host of 36 episodes of the Playboy channel’s series, “Secret Confessions and Fantasies,” and the writer/creator of the Playboy/Sharper Image home video series, “Secrets of Making Love to the Same Person Forever.”

Dr. Davidson is a frequently featured expert in national magazines and press, including USA Today,, Redbook, Wall Street Journal, Glamour, Marie Claire, Men’s Health, and Cosmopolitan. She holds a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology and a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology. She is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, an AASECT certified Sx Therapist, and a member of AASECT’s Board of Directors.

Article: Dr. Davidson (c)

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