Tread gently: This article refers to activities that may be discomfiting to some.
What is play, really? It could be something that takes us away from our all-too-serious lives, nudging us to tread lightly, or to make room for delight, or be simply about fun. However, the moment one sits down to write about play and sexuality, isn’t one looking at play seriously? This is what came to my mind for the first time, as I sat down to put my thoughts together. It made me think, a lot. It got me to question a lot of choices I had made – in a calm, introspective, thoughtful way.
I come from a group of people who use the term ‘play’ in the sexual context all the time. We do not refer to play as usual sexual activity per se or even to ‘playing with yourself’. We use the word ‘play’ when we speak of inflicting pain, or enacting roles in the bedroom. We also refer to bondage, erotic humiliation, and so much more, as play.
A lot of it is delight, but a lot of it is not ‘light hearted’. It is not ‘just’ play, you see! Most of it can cause bodily damage, sometimes the kind you do not want. So, we end up negotiating boundaries, way more than most ‘vanilla’ people do, when having sex. We discuss soft limits, hard limits, safe words, and safe calls. We talk not just of likes and dislikes, or sexual identities, preferences, or fantasies, but also about how to end a session, despite the heat of moment. We do not think of ‘play’ as a game, but as a sport.
I think that’s what provoked me. I have heard from a lot of people who practice kink to ‘let my hair down’. After all, it’s just play, right? Well, you know what? It’s not ‘just’ play. It’s about my vulnerabilities; it’s about emotions that I might not openly accept; it’s about a lot of past lessons, both sweet and bitter. It’s not ‘just’ play!
Play in the BDSM context might be about roles to some. All power to them! Yet to others, it’s about deepening their self-awareness. It’s about a spiritual journey that they make into the abyss of their souls. They hope that they will make this journey with someone who will respect their consent or their refusal as sacrosanct. They hope that their partner will not be upset with the refusal, but will be willing to inquire into it, sometimes gently nudging growth beyond refusal, at other times simply accepting the refusal as it is. Master-slave is not about raunchy sex with a lot of cos(tume)play (BTW, that’s hot too!). It’s about actually surrendering one’s will not just in the bedroom, but also outside of it, to another human being. It’s something that takes every ounce of one’s courage, and leaves one deeply fulfilled. It’s not ‘just’ play.
Play is not only about cocks, balls, vaginas, paddles, or anything that happens between two consenting adults in the bedroom. It’s also about what goes on in a masochist’s mind before they submit to a cane, or a whip, and before they orgasm from the pain. The joy, the pleasure, the delight, the catharsis is not rooted only in the activity, but also in the acceptance of a sadist that they enjoy hurting another person.
When an emotional sadist and an emotional masochist ‘play’, consider that they have dealt with hundreds of ‘why’s about themselves, their preferences, and their safety mechanisms. Surrendering one’s will to another, ensuring that it doesn’t get abused, to simultaneously keeping a keen eye on the relationship, without getting carried away in the excitement of kink, and avoiding toxicity isn’t ‘just’ play.
To ensure that you do not question your self-esteem or your value system because you have extreme fantasies like ‘rape fantasies’ is not easy. Yet, it can be easy to wonder about the sanity of people who may be into kink like ‘needle play’ or ‘golden showers’. One might easily fall into the trap of sitting on a moral, ethical, hygiene-related high ground without even bothering to figure out what RACK (Risk Aware Consensual Kink) might mean. It’s not ‘just’ play.
This brings me back to where I started – What is play really? Is it ‘anything goes’? Is it Safe, Sane, Consensual? Is it Risk Aware Consensual Kink? Is it about identifying and embracing your truth just one layer deeper? Is it about an opportunity to learn more about play itself ? How much of it is really play? How much of it is ‘just’ play?
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