The Sex Positive Coach

Inara de Luna, Relationship Coach & Sexuality Educator


What COULD Work? Insights into Relationship Negotiation from Kink & Polyamory

Posted by [email protected] on February 25, 2015 at 1:35 PM

I recently co-presented a mini workshop/demo on how to negotiate a BDSM scene prior to engaging in one. And with the #50Shades movie still garnering a lot of attention, from both within and without the BDSM community, I thought this might make a good blog post, as well.


Engaging in negotiation in non-sexual and non-kinky contexts is different from what I presented on at that event, but there are overlaps and things we can learn from how kinksters communicate. What does negotiation mean, anyway? In vanilla (non-BDSM) crowds, “negotiation” often seems to be equated with “compromise.” That word “compromise” often leaves an unpleasant taste in one’s mouth, because it seems to imply that everyone has to give up something that’s important to them in order to get something that’s more important. It suggests that people who are in negotiations are at odds with one another.


To complicate matters further, just add people. Polyamorous households that consist of multiple adults in various intimate configurations who need to figure out how to live peacefully together soon become masters at negotiation, or the household soon dissolves.


Step one: Remember you’re on the same side


One of the first things to do when you realize a negotiation is due or necessary is to change your thinking about it. Instead of dreading the conversation and wondering what you’ll have to offer up in exchange for getting what you want out of it...try imagining you and the person/people you’re negotiating with are ON THE SAME SIDE. Rather than pitted against each other, every person for themselves, remember that you are partners, members of the same team. This is an opportunity to find the Win/Win solution to whatever thorny issue has cropped up.


The kinky crowd really gets this concept. When two kinksters are negotiating a scene, they both recognize the fact that they’re working together to create the best possible experience for BOTH of them. These negotiations are not conducted like a high-powered executive business meeting as portrayed in #50Shades. The movie did get one element right - these initial scene negotiations are conducted between equals, so that no one is acting from a place of feeling coerced or pressured due to an unfair power differential. It’s not until the negotiation is over, and satisfactory and agreed to by all parties, that the power exchange begins.


In a polyamorous family, the best outcomes are also achieved when all the members feel that they have an equal voice in a negotiation that affects the entire household. Issues between any set of individuals is not subject to group negotiation, but household functioning issues often are hammered out in family meetings. Any good group leader knows that even the quietest person needs to feel safe and empowered to offer their opinions and get their needs met.


Try a different position to shift the energy


If you’re finding it difficult to step out of the combative positions you and the other parties may have taken in order to protect your interests in a negotiation, try suggesting a change in your physical positioning. If these talks typically happen around a kitchen table, with everyone facing off, an alternative might be to throw some pillows on the living room floor and everyone lay down with their heads in the middle. This change of positioning changes the energy and the context and participants can experience an internal shift in how they show up for the discussion, as well as see a difference in how everyone treats each other.


Of course, this isn’t to suggest that kinky folk don’t also fall prey to the same mistakes everyone tends to make in relationships around communication, conflict management, and relationship negotiation..


Step two: Engage in active listening


Step two in your negotiation discussion is to allow each other the space to be heard, safely and completely. You already know what is most important to you about this issue. So clear your head and truly LISTEN to your partner(s) and engage in active listening, so that they feel heard and understood. Validating another’s words does not mean that you agree with them; instead it conveys understanding and acceptance, of both the message and the speaker.


Active listening involves being mindful of your verbal and non-verbal cues to the speaker that you’re paying attention. If you don’t already do this, then in more social situations (where a relationship is not at stake), practice tuning in to how you’re communication during a conversation while you’re not speaking. See what happens when you lean in toward the speaker slightly, widen your eyes, and make small murmurs of encouragement. Experiment with listening so intently to what the other person is saying that you can restate in your own words what you just heard, BEFORE trying to formulate a response. There are many other things involved with active listening, and learning to become adept at this can improve all of your relationships, whether kinky, poly, or vanilla.


Step three: Have a creative brainstorming session


Back to negotiating...step three is to engage in a creative brainstorming session. After each speaker has had a chance to fully describe what’s important to them about the current issue, pose the question, “What COULD work?”. Often, when we reach the solution-seeking portion of a negotiation, the other parties will engage in “devil’s advocate” games, in which every solution is picked apart and the reasons it WON’T work are highlighted. When the OBSTACLES are given more energy than the effort to find workable solutions, everyone will become frustrated and discouraged by the exchange. However, if you can engage the problem-seeking party in a solution-seeking discussion, the energy of the whole conversation changes and becomes more positive. This can lead to looking through doorways of possibility that may have remain closed before, allowing everyone in the discussion to entertain creative notions of how to get everyone’s needs met.


From here, it’s just a matter of continuing to take everyone’s needs into account as each option is evaluated. For help in learning to have these discussions, for moderation in situations that feel out of control, and for help in developing protocols for family discussions, scene negotiations, and important relationship talks, please contact us at The Sex Positive Coach. We will take your family’s needs and dynamics into account while we help you figure out how to resolve differences without dissolving your relationships.


Categories: relationship health, BDSM/kink/leather/fetish, polyamory/non-monogamy

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