For those of us to the left of the slash (dominant, top, etc), we often make decisions for the good of our partners without telling them. Even with the best of intentions, these decisions often have the opposite effect if we fail to communicate.
I recently had arranged for a particularly brutal scene with a partner of mine. She had requested a heavy beating and I was prepared to give it to her. We had been building up the tension for about a week. The time came and the scene began. She was on the ground, where I had been kicking her. Then suddenly, just as we were really getting going, I stopped. I got her some water and a blanket and sat down near her head. She took the water, rejected the cover and asked, with growing anger in her voice, “Is that it? Are we done?”
She was right to be angry. I had been building expectations for days about how intense this was going to be and it had failed to meet that expectation. What’s more, I had played with others earlier that day, so she likely began to assume that I had wore myself out and left nothing for her.
Her anger was not wrong, but it was misplaced. And it was my fault.
What I described above was her perspective on what happened. Here is mine:
I had been looking forward to this scene all week. We picked out a spot in the dungeon with (somewhat) padded floors and the wall of the giant cage nearby for her to cling to. I started hard. No warm up. It was my way of telling her that we weren’t fucking around and she better hunker down because she was about to get hit by a train.
The only tools I brought with me were floggers. I used them, but sparingly. For the most part, I used my own body. I punched. I dug into pressure points. I kicked. I let myself reach a glorious flow where I anticipated how she would move after each blow and aimed my next hit to land on a part of her that would be exposed. Eventually, she went down to the ground from her previous standing position. I stomped and punched and threw the flogger without restraint. When she began to cry, she rolled onto her stomach. I straddled her lower back and slammed my fists repeatedly into her shoulders.
Then I laced my fingers through the hair on the back of her head and pulled her head back, straining her neck. That’s when a small, insidious voice in my head told me slam he face into the concrete floor.
At the appearance of an impulse which, to say the least, would be going to far. I stopped. I got up and stepped away from her. I took some breaths and realized I needed to break for a moment or I was going to really hurt her, and not in a fun way. We were about twenty minutes into a scene that I had planned to take an hour or more. I wanted to keep going, but I needed to stop and take a break. I got her the water and the blanket and sat quietly to regain control of myself.
I have no problem dancing with the darkness, but I need to know that I’m the one leading.
And that’s when she glared up at me, hurt and angry, and asked “Is that it? Are we done?”.
Once I explained what was happening, her anger evaporated. She understood. She’s a switch and she’s felt that impulse, that push to say or do something that can’t be undone. Once I felt ok again, we resumed playing and had an amazing scene. But for those few minutes in the middle, I caused her pain inadvertently. And I only ever want to cause pain intentionally.
I could have prevented that problem by simply saying why I was stopping. Or for that matter, simply using a safeword (yes, tops are allowed to use them, too). If I had said “Yellow” before I stepped away, she would have felt concern rather than rage. The safeword would not have been enough, of course. At some point I would have to say what was going on, but if “yellow” was all I could manage, it would have been sufficient to prevent her from feeling neglected.
But by saying nothing, my efforts to care for her in the interim were misinterpreted and caused her mental and emotional pain, by leading her to believe that I was abandoning her just as she was beginning to reach the “good part” of the scene.
Tops: Use your words. Communication is not just for bottoms. If there is something going on with you, let them know. If not, their mind will often reach its own conclusions, and they will probably not be good ones. What’s more, they deserve to know. If something is affecting your mind or body in a way that impacts your ability to play, they have the right to decide whether to keep going or not. That’s part of informed consent. So if you are distracted or struggling with the intensity of the scene or not feeling confident enough in what you are doing, you should share that.
As tops, we expect our bottoms to tell us everything that might affect play, from medical issues to mental distractions. Yet we often feel like we don’t have an obligation to do the same. But we do.
Talk to your partners. Sooner rather than later. Communication is the #1 way to avoid problems. We all make mistakes, sometimes. This one was a pretty big one for me. But I learned something from it and I’ll make a different choice next time.