The nerves in my body rested on the precipice of my skin as she circled the slate-black bedding, after ritualistically blindfolding me while on all fours. Each palm pressing into the sheets as she rubbed, pricked, and punished me with her wooden paddle, her wartenberg wheel, her crop — all coming from different angles to keep me guessing with each sensation. Even though I couldn’t see it, I knew my ass was turning a delicious crimson shade. With every hit came a new bit of sadistic energy from her; changing the air in the room to the darker, more emotional, 100% consensual space that I wanted. A pinpointed whack came out of nowhere, followed by — what I can only guess — beaded blood on my ass and non-stop tears from my face.
“Oh my gosh, are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m fine, I’m fine.”
Of course she was concerned. We had previously discussed the scene, the outcome, what we both wanted to get out of it — but had not fully considered how to check-in without stopping the momentum. When she asked if I was okay, my brain snapped out of the world we had built and returned to the normal, everyday universe where we would absolutely make sure the other person is doing okay, making it difficult to get back into that headspace.
Sexual etiquette is a delicate but necessary line to walk as we learn, grow, play with our partner(s); a different language that keeps the mood intact while making sure the other person is enjoying the ride. We do not need to be clinical when it comes to checking in — you can make it as hot as you want.
Before we move forward, let’s talk about scenes. It is a word used to describe the beginning, middle, and end of how you are playing (i.e. how you are engaging with each other sexually or physically) — kind of like in a theatrical play. And just like an actual play, the scenes have characters, power dynamics, activities, emotions, a start, an end. Your scene with your sexual partner could be as simple or exaggerated as you want, it could even be just about sex without set power dynamics. The main objective is to be aware of how you want to connect to keep yourselves in the moment.
Sexual etiquette can be used when planning a scene as well as in the middle of one. It is incredibly important to communicate with your partner(s) about the things you want and how you want them; keeping in mind your own sexual history as well as theirs to steer clear from judgement as your proceed forward. Maybe you want to try something new with your partner and you’re not entirely sure how to go about it. Try a Yes, No, Maybe List. This is an easily searchable or DIY list of every sex act (or most). The goal is to write Y, N, M next to each option with a note about whether or not you want to top or bottom in that scenario, giving you a tangible list of your boundaries as you negotiate who you want to play with and the scenes you want to be doing. I’ve kept track of my Yes, No, Maybe lists for the last 5 years, and it’s so interesting to see what has changed, what I’ve tried, what moved from a M to a Y or a N.
If you’re doing this with a partner: complete the list separately from each other, then go over it in a neutral space like a coffee shop or a park bench — not the bedroom. Go down the list to see where you both added yes. Talk about it. Why yes?! You’re both clearly into it, so get into the nitty gritty. Discuss your maybes. Where does the hesitation lie? Be clear. For example: “I put Maybe for Anal Sex because I don’t know a lot about it and scared of it being painful.” A quality follow up would be, “That’s a great answer. Is this something you’d want to explore as a top? Bottom? Would you want to read a book on it with me or take a workshop? Or, should we put a pin in this and come back later?” If there is a no, it’s a no. If you or your partner are open to talk about it, amazing. If not, then leave it! There is no room for “Come on, tell me” in sexual etiquette.
Think about this. Every single thing you do has a headspace attached. When you wake up to go to the gym, when you have a meeting on the calendar you’re dreading, when you meet your date at a dimly lit restaurant — your headspace is always changing to get you in the mood — the same as sex and sexual activity. Know your headspace and what you want to accomplish in your scenes by talking it out with your partner. There are some days where I just want to be sadistic and top my sexual partners, and there are days where I want to be penetrated and let out all my emotions — my headspace will ebb and flow based on my feelings, and it’s important to communicate that.
Like before, this can be as simplistic or exaggerated as you want. Sometimes it can be a sexy exchange of: “I want to fuck you so hard” and “Yes, yes, yes, I want you to fuck me so hard I cum.” Or it can be: “I want to arrive wearing __________ and fulfill your fantasy of me worshipping your __________ ; then I’d like to try __________ that you brought up in our last Yes, No, Maybe check-in, ending with __________ all over my body” and “I love that! Can we switch out __________ for __________?” Knowing where you want to go makes it easier to stay within your intended headspace.
Now that you have gone through your Yes, No, Maybe list and understand your headspace, let’s talk about how to communicate during the scene without stopping the energy surrounding your play. Safe words are a great way to convey what you need without breaking character. Any safe words are perfect to communicate when you need to stop. I always find that I’m looking to temperature check how my partner is doing in the middle — using the Stoplight method is a great way to understand what’s happening without going full, “Hey, are you okay?”
Red = stop, yellow = slow down, green = go. Simple enough. An easy way to get an answer from your partner is to say in your sexiest, dominating, or sultry voice: “Is this green?” Of course, put your own spin on this phrase to channel the headspace you have both agreed upon. My favorite is holding my partner by the throat and asking after every chest slap: Does this feel fucking green to you? It does the trick without changing the energy.
You can also uses lengths of time to guide your check-ins. Turn on your sexiest Spotify playlist and tell your partner they are going to get spanked (or anything else you both have agreed upon) for one song. At the end of the song, your bottom partner can request another song or change/stop the scene.
Another way to keep the mood going is through non-verbal communication. You’re not always going to be able to hear your partner for a myriad of reasons, so it’s good to have a few actions that keep the sexy vibe without stopping the scene. Ask your partner to hold onto an object; if the object drops, it’s time to stop — or any configuration of what you want that drop to express. If you’re in a loud, crowded space or play party, use a double squeeze on a thigh or arm to impart your message to stop, slow down, or keep going.
Take all your newfound etiquette with you during aftercare where you both take care of the things you need to return back to the normal universe. Talk about aftercare when you’re building out your scene or when you’re on a date prior. “I’d love to make sure I have water and 5 minutes to catch my breath after.” Perfect, bravo. And sometimes, aftercare might not involve the other person — my aftercare is often sipping water, eating a snack, and closing my eyes for a few minutes; no cuddling, no talking. Imagine how rude it would be to have this intense orgasm and then to have the other person start playing loud music when you just want to slip off into post-climax bliss? Yeah. Read the room, babes, and ask your sexual partner what they need when you reach the end of the scene.
Sexual etiquette is basically having good communication skills. It is the please and thank you of the naughty world; allowing for all of us to get what we need in pre, present, and post play without having to kill the mood to check-in. You’re all going to be fine, babes!
Laura Delarato is a writer, body-positive activist, sex educator, and the creator of 1-800-HEYLAURA, a newsletter dedicated to great sex and loving yourself.