Coming Out to Your Partner


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ASK THE THERAPIST

April 1992

by William A. Henkin, Ph.D.

Copyright © 1992 by William A. Henkin

<Q> How can I tell my partner I'm into S&M?

<A> In any process of coming out it's important to know your own position, the positions of the people to whom you are coming out, and your reasons for coming out to them. Ideally, you come out in order to be yourself more fully in relation to others, to enhance communication, and to deepen intimacy. But it is also possible to use coming out as a bludgeon to hurt another person, or as a device for erecting barriers to intimacy.

For the purposes of this response I assume you want to come out to your partner in order to enhance your sexual and/or emotional relationship. If I'm wrong, you may want to re-evaluate your relationship altogether. If I'm right, offer your partner the opportunity to learn about and warm up to your interests one step at a time. Don't just show up at breakfast with your spiked flogger and bodybag trimmed with padlocked loops of heavy chain.

Traditional coming out advice is to leave some soft SM literature or art around the living room so that your partner can see it and, perhaps, ask a question or make a remark that will lead to an exploratory discussion. But this approach can lead to problems if your partner ignores the bait or makes some response that not only closes off the subject, but leaves you in the company of rapists and axe murderers ("Eeuuww, how disgusting, anyone who does that must be ill.")

There are other tacks. For example, you can gently introduce SM concepts into conversations about any subject ("Did you see how Mary held her cards at bridge the other night? It almost looked as if her hands were tied together. I wonder what it would feel like to play bridge that way?"). You can open the door to light SM in fantasy conversations ("It sure is dark on this country road tonight. What would you like to have happen if we ran out of gas and were kidnapped by friendly sex maniacs from Mars?"). You can even ask leading questions – especially if you're ready to answer them yourself ("Let's talk about our most secret sex fantasies: I'll tell you mine if you'll tell me yours").

If these sorts of gambits elicit pleasing responses, or if you think your relationship is already at the next level of SM, you can introduce some real-world ideas ("I love it when you tell me how to please you: it makes it so much easier for me to give you what you want"), or some real-world activities ("It's your birthday! Can I give you your first grown-up birthday spanking? Yes, I do really mean it.")

And, of course, if you're already at the slap-and-tickle stage of foreplay you can simply say you like what's going on and ask to go a little farther.

Above all, go slowly. You may want to leap right into some month-long scene with every toy and fantasy you've ever encountered, but the world of SM is sophisticated and complex. Novices need a chance to absorb new experiences and ideas at their own pace. Give yourself a chance to succeed. Even if your partner is willing and eager to play, take things one step at a time. That way you'll always have a chance to expand your horizons tomorrow, instead of finding yourself alone at the dungeon door.


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