On Compersion

This is my stop on the blog tour for Alison Tyler’s new book, Never Say Never: Tips, Tricks, and Erotic Inspiration for Lovers. I have snippets from three stories included as “erotic inspiration”. I’ve already written about the backstory for “Strong”, and for “Nervous Boy”, so this post will be about the origins of my story “Compersion”.

I first heard the word compersion when I was doing programming for an alternative sexuality conference, and scouting educators. A polyamory educator I was considering was teaching a few classes at another conference,  and I decided to check out the one on compersion.

Compersion was explained as the feeling of joy that can occur when witnessing a partner in another relationship they are enjoying. Basically you are happy because they are happy. The joy is catching.

In the class discussion, I was struck by how much compersion seemed to be understood as this goal to strive towards, an “antidote” to the “bad” feeling of jealousy, something that was about being a “good” polyamorous person. It was framed as a higher state and one you have to work hard at. Compersion sounded like it was mostly something folks tried to do, and felt like they were failing when they didn’t.

Yikes. That’s a pretty shitty set up for everyone involved. Between the bad/good feelings, the almost guaranteed failure, the goal-oriented frame, and the whole “good poly” higher state business, you’re pretty much screwed in a painful bad way, no matter which role you’re in. The class tempted me to toss the word compersion altogether.

Here’s the thing, though. I thought then, and think now, that compersion is a valuable concept, especially if we widen it, and understand it more as kin to empathy. Caring about someone, witnessing their joy, contentment, pride, growth, etc. in another relationship and feeling connected to that, sharing those things because I am connected to them. Excited because they are excited, getting tingles from their NRE. This is a lovely ride to experience, where you float alongside someone you care about, sharing their happiness. Pretty amazing shit.

In my experience, it doesn’t only work with “positive” emotions (as compersion was framed in the class), but with most emotional responses. Feelings about relationships are rarely simple, so I might be wary, and happy, and nervous, and excited, as my partner also is, about a new relationship.

I might even be turned on, because they are turned on, might be able to ride that experience too.

That’s called erotic compersion. Eroticism can be shared between partners, where your partner being turned on is a turn-on for you too, where you are hot for the idea of it or the stories about it or the action in front of you. Erotic compersion is very much a part of my queer kink community life, and a big part of the queer men’s community I came out into. It is something that has been part of my erotic life pretty much since I claimed my own desire. However, erotic compersion was barely discussed in the compersion class, and when it was mentioned, it was described as nearly impossible to “achieve”.

Right around that same time, an editor who I was working with nudged me to submit to his current call for voyeuristic gay erotica. I decided to write a story that illustrated erotic compersion, partly because I think it’s so damn juicy and gorgeous, but also in response to my experience in this class, where erotic compersion was barely discussed and characterized as mostly impossible. I wanted to claim compersion for myself, in a way that more closely matched my own experience of it.

(I’m sure it didn’t hurt that I was in a relationship with someone who had a primary partner, and we were planning a visit that might involve some erotic compersion of the watching variety. A partner I had hit on after watching them bottom to their partner in the hottest scene I’d witnessed that night.)

So I imagined a sadist Daddy who loved watching his boy bottom, and a boy who loved “showing off” for Daddy. I brought in a sadist couple to play with the boy, and the couple’s bottom to be a footrest for the Daddy as he watched the scene unfold. I called it “Compersion”.

I chose to use the word compersion partly as an inside joke for the friends who attended the class with me, and partly as a way to educate about it. I also used it to mark the story as being in conversation with the class—this story is in part an answer to that rather alienating experience. It is deeply queer, situated in a gay kink community where erotic compersion is a vital part of the cultural landscape. It treats erotic compersion as an everyday reality that takes no particular effort, because that’s been my experience of it in those contexts.

The story is told from the Daddy’s point of view, centering erotic compersion as the source of his pleasure in the story. That felt really important to me, that the compersion be the core erotic experience we witness. Through his experience, we get a taste of how very hot it can be.

At the height of one of the erotic arcs in the scene, the Daddy describes why he loves to watch his boy bottom. One of the core reasons is that he gets to sink into his own visceral pleasure as a sadist, watching his boy experience pain, without having to be careful not to sink too deep and harm his boy. He doesn’t need to be guarded, doesn’t have to leash his inner sadist, but can be fully in his pleasure. That felt like a very real experience, one I’ve been in myself, where watching my submissive bottom to another sadist has sparked intense erotic enjoyment, partly because I could really let go and enjoy. Writing this felt like an important and new way to honor that experience and celebrate my own sadism.

Three days after I submitted it (a record for me), “Compersion” was enthusiastically accepted for the collection I Like to Watch, with the comment from the editor that it was “fucking intense”.

A couple years later, Alison Tyler, one of my favorite editors to work with, put out a call for snippets about voyeurism and exhibitionism. I sent her excerpts from “Compersion”, along with several other stories (a lot of my stories involve those things, actually). She was putting together this book that was part erotica collection, part erotic inspiration and advice for couples, and in addition to the full length stories she used at the end of each themed chapter, she decided to include snippets from other erotic stories.

This month, Never Say Never: Tips, Tricks, and Erotic Inspiration for Lovers has been released. It includes snippets from three of my stories: “Compersion” (in the Trading Spouses chapter), “Nervous Boy” (in the Spanking chapter), and “Strong” (in the Exhibitionism chapter). I am thrilled to see my work included in one of the most unique (and hot!) sex advice books I’ve ever had my hands on.

If you liked reading this, you might also be interested in other stops on the Never Say Never blog tour.

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3 thoughts on “On Compersion

  1. Pingback: Cleis Press is having a summer sale | Kink Praxis

  2. Pingback: Nuts, Bolts, & Decisions: An Interview on #Writing #Erotica with #ShowYourselfToMe Author Xan West | syrens

  3. Pingback: Nuts, Bolts, & Decisions: An Interview on #Writing #Erotica with #ShowYourselfToMe Author Xan West | The Breathings of My Heart

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