ASK THE THERAPIST
by William A. Henkin, Ph.D.
Copyright © 1999 by William A. Henkin
Q: How would you advise a novice dominatrix to bring out a reluctant straight man who is clearly interested in BDSM but extremely frightened that his "normal" life will somehow be disturbed?
A: Why does this novice dominatrix want to bring the reluctant straight man out? Has he said he wants her help? Or is her quest to be helpful more truly a cover for seeking her own pleasure at what might be his expense?
After all, depending on what his "normal" life is, the man may be very right: coming out into SM might indeed disturb things he might not want to risk, from his standing with family, friends, and lovers to the security of his job, his religion, and his self-image. The step into a sub-cultural world that is easy for one person can be fraught with dangers for someone else; and even if your own crossing was difficult, the rewards that you found tantalizing enough may not seem as great to him. In brief, his caution may be appropriate, and only he can make that judgment. On the other hand, of course, his caution may simply keep him from having the good time he'd prefer if he could only get past his fear -- but once again, only he can make the judgment. And finally, he may want just this sort of help, but he may not want it from the novice dom in question -- either because she's a novice, or because he's a masochist who is not submissive and she's a serious dominant but not much of a sadist, or because their non-scene relationship isn't want he needs to come out, or for any other reason.
If I were the novice dominatrix, therefore, and without knowing more about either the man or the woman, I would first ask if he wanted my assistance in coming out. If the answer were No, I might best keep my counsel and let him live his life his way. If the answer were Yes, then I would take each step gradually enough that he could keep tabs on his normal life; yet I would want to proceed with enough vigor to push -- albeit gently -- against what he believed to be his envelope. I would find out what he had already done, BDSM-wise, and how he felt about each activity: for example, did he like it? dislike it? or was he uncertain? I would find out what else interested him to try, or what he specifically did not want to try -- at least for the time being. I would ascertain his limits, and find out what he could offer me in a scene of whatever sort seemed to interest both of us most. I would make sure he understood about safewords and knew how to use them, I would make sure to honor them any time he did use one, and then I would make time to discuss his reasons for doing so: sometimes novices use safewords simply out of fear of what might be coming next and not because of imminent danger, and if were built the more thoroughly trusting relationship time requires we might, in time, obviate the need for many such calls. I would also encourage him to examine his feelings about what we were doing frequently, whether he used a safeword or not, so he could get a clear sense of his own progress. And at some point, if I ever thought he was actually out at least in the context of our relationship, I'd ask how his normal world looked to him from where he was, and how he wanted to proceed next.
I think I liken your question and my answer to one about teaching someone to swim. Assuming the person wanted to learn -- which, after all, not everyone does: even some people who like the water want to see it from the comfort of dry land -- I'd want to make sure he was safe and wouldn't drown, and I'd also want him to feel safe and to feel he wouldn't drown. That way he'd be most liable to learn the pleasures of swimming as well as the basic skills. I'd hold him enough to keep him afloat while he learned his basic strokes, then gradually let go until I was certain he could swim on his own. Then and probably only then would I let him see that my hands were not actually holding him any more, and that in fact he was swimming just fine. Thereafter he'd be on his own, in a sense, to swim or not to swim as he wished. Land -- his "normal" life -- might feel a little different to him after he got out of the water as a swimmer, and the water would almost certainly feel different to him next time he got in.
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