I love writing moments of negotiation.
To be fair, I love doing negotiation; I generally find it really hot. I know that’s not everyone’s experience. I also love teaching negotiation, and have a couple classes that I teach on relationship negotiation, one more focused on initial negotiation and one focused on re-negotiation within polyamory. I’m a bit of a negotiation geek, really.
In this particular case, I want to talk about negotiating dominance/submission dynamics and relationships, a subject dear to my heart. As per my general style of thinking about kink, I want to start with a list.
Here is a list of common ways that I’ve heard folks talk about negotiating D/s relationships, in no particular order. (It’s from one of my negotiation handouts for one of my classes on negotiation. My handouts are full of many many lists…) In this case D-type refers to folks choosing a dominant role, and s-type to folks choosing a submissive role in this relationship or dynamic that they are negotiating. For clarity’s sake this implies two folks (one D-type & one s-type), but in reality there can be as many folks as are relevant. (And that definitely can include more than two!)
- Job Application: D-type writes job description(s), sets expectations, and creates workplace (household). s-type applies, is interviewed, is on probation, then gets job. Variation—Job Creation: s-type asks/makes case to D-type to create job especially to fit s-type, to fill gap, or to specifically match the s-type’s skill set. Variation—Consultant: s-type offers services for specific tasks in a consultant-type role, for varying degrees of time.
- Marriage: Parties commit to power exchange relationship through a ceremony, often planned solely by D-type. Contract may be included, may or may not be varying degrees of explicit and may define roles. Dynamic and responsibilities may be clearly stated or assumed, or somewhat named.
- Just in the Bedroom: Power exchange is part of sex life and is seen as living primarily or exclusively as part of sex life, often within the context of an established romantic relationship. Power exchange is often negotiated to the same degree that SM or sex is negotiated. Ds may be an assumed dynamic within the context of SM or sex, with varying degrees of it being explicitly consented to or named.
- Caretaker-child adoption: D-type takes in stray, adopts, or fosters s-type, in a caretaker-like role, with the D-type taking charge of various aspects of the s-type’s life in the understanding that the s-type is dependent on the D-type for such structure, and may not be able to operate independently. D-type may have babysitters, other caretakers, assign caretakers in case of relationship end or separation. May include formal contract designating D-type as caretaker for s-type.
- Metamorphosis: Power exchange relationship evolves from existing relationship dynamic (e.g. mentorship, romantic relationship, casual play relationship, friendship, etc.). May be explicitly negotiated prior to shift, but is more frequently negotiated after the fact, if at all, at some point after the shift is noticed by one or more parties involved.
- Enlisting in Training: s-type enlists in training, perhaps akin to being a novitiate in religious service, a mentee, a medieval page, or an enlisted soldier in the military. D-type develops training and trains s-type in specific skills. Type of training and training methods are sometimes explicitly negotiated, but are often solely determined by D-type with little to no input from s-type.
- Mutual Negotiation: Power exchange relationship is negotiated much like scenes are negotiated, with open
discussion of type of power exchange dynamic desired, type of control exchanged. Mutual negotiation of
rituals, symbols. Needs and desires openly discussed.
One of the sparks for my #NaNoWriMo novel, Shocking Violet, was from my own experience of attempting to negotiate D/s differently from how I’d seen and heard others talk about negotiating it, namely #7 on the list above. After reading a number of D/s novels that involved little explicit negotiation or one of the other types, I decided that I wanted this kind of negotiation to be part of Shocking Violet, something that is uniquely suited to these two particular characters, who are both a bit wary and have been burned in past D/s relationships.
Here is a tease for you from the novel, where Jax and Violet begin to negotiate. This is not an explicit negotiation, but a conversation that lays the groundwork for that kind of explicit conversation. As a heads up, it includes some explicit discussion of D/s and particularly orgasm control.
“So you want something with clear lines. What could that look like? Something to mark the beginning and the end, maybe?”
He opened his eyes, and she could see the gears turning. Oh yes, she’d found a good question.
“Yeah, I was thinking some kind of ritual, something to say, now we are in dynamic, and now we are not.”
“Sure, like putting on boots at the beginning, and taking them off?”
“I like that. Except I’d want it to be something we did together.”
“What if the submissive put on your boots, and kissed them to begin, and at the end, kissed them, and took them off?”
That was a dreamy idea. She could feel his boots in her hands, see his face as she looked up at him…Whoa. Ok. Tread careful here.
“That’s a very good idea,” he said hoarsely, and shifted in his chair a bit. His eyes were all sparkly now. His hand felt zingy, like tiny little waves of static were running along her skin where they touched.
She smiled, feeling shy.
“Do you like boots?”
“Oh, yes,” she breathed.
She nodded, lost without words again.
“I’d also want to do a lot more upfront negotiation, talk about what things mean. Like Roz talked about at the demo. So that we’re co-creating the D/s together, intentionally.”
He squeezed her hand gently. She tried to take in his words, tried to imagine what that might mean, how it would look.
“I find that folks negotiate acts a lot, in terms of this kind of SM, that kind of SM. I like knives, boots, rough body play, and canes, what do you like? That kind of thing.”
She nodded, her mind reeling. Was he saying those were things he was into? Because that was fucking distracting. He didn’t just pull that list out of nowhere, right? It was like that fucking Julie Andrews song in here with that list. C’mon Violet, focus.
“I’m talking about negotiating D/s to that level, talking about what kinds of symbols we want, what kind of control might be on the table and in what contexts, really articulating how power is going to be exchanged.”
“What would that look like?”
“Well, there are a lot of different ways to explore control, and most of them are ones I’m not interested in. I don’t want to be in charge of finances, or choice of partners, or mental health, or what you eat, or when you go to the bathroom…”
She couldn’t help it, she made a face at that list. That kind of control freaked her the fuck out. Just hearing it squicked her. Not fucking interested in that at all, for sure.
He continued speaking slower now, almost drawling. “But, in the context of play, I enjoy orgasm control. I want you to stay where I put you. I want to lead when we walk down the street. That sort of thing.”
She wasn’t breathing. She needed to breathe. Damnit, Violet, breathe. His thumb was stroking her hand, slowly.
“I’d want to talk about what kinds of control we wanted to exchange, to draw clear lines around what is not on the table, and then negotiate the nuances of what is on the table. For example, I love orgasm control, but I don’t want to be in charge of my submissive’s orgasms all the time, just in the context of a scene. And while I do the tease and delay thing because it is an exercise of control, I am not interested in outright denial, or in chastity play.”
Ok, then. It was like he’d walked right out of the fantasies she’d put away 10 years ago, ones that she’d only let herself touch when she was jacking off. Fuck.
“I do like playing in public places, the kind of intimate bubble that you can form in a restaurant, on the subway, or in a museum, where others are around but they can’t really tell what’s going on. So when I say I like to play with this kind of stuff in scene, that doesn’t only mean in the dungeon or the bedroom.”
Was her skin steaming? He had to feel that right? She tugged her hand from his and gulped down some ice water, then placed her cold hand on the back of her neck. His voice kept dropping down as he talked. It was gravel now, almost a growl, except calm, deliberate.
“For example, if we were in dynamic, I might ask you to part your thighs for 3 minutes, even if that meant you had to spread your legs very wide to get space between them. To sit that way for me, just for three minutes, as I look at you across the table.”
Oh. Oh my. That’s an intense thing to say to a fat girl. She could tell that he knew it, too. That he knew it rode the edge of so many fucking things. That was part of why just the idea of it got him hot. She could tell it got him off just thinking about her doing that for him, could see it in his fucking eyes.
Fuck. She wanted to do it. Or at least to try. She fucking wanted to try, for him.
For those who want to know more about Shocking Violet, you can find a synopsis here. The Pinterest inspiration board (full of images that I’m using to inspire moments in the novel) is here. The first taste I offered–centering Jax’s attraction to Violet–is here. And here is the second taste, which gives you a moment from their first date, where Violet touches her own submission for the first time in a very long time. This tease of an excerpt shows Violet being tart and ferocious in a way I personally enjoy very much. I may have a crush on her myself, right along with Jax. Find other excerpts and related links here.