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I’m a sexual deviant. How do I tell new partners?

Ask Roe: I enjoy being dominated, but are these desires always going to be a problem?

Dear Roe,

I’m in my early 40s and have always known that I’m a bit of a sexual deviant. I have a high sex drive, am willing to try most things, and enjoy exploring kink with my partners. I enjoy many of the basic elements of being dominated, including playing with being bound, constraints, dirty talk, hair pulling and exploring other physical boundaries.

But I have two problems. One is finding people who have the same interests and aren’t scared off by my desires, and the other is that often when I do start exploring kink with someone, it’s never as fun or as exciting as it is in my head, and that puts me off trying with them again. I have just started seeing someone and like them but know I need to tell them my preferences and I want it to go better this time.

Are my sexual desires always going to be a problem or is there a way I can make these interactions go better?

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It’s wonderful that you’ve discovered sexual activities that excite you, and that you’re open and willing to explore these sexual dynamics and acts with partners. Your sexual desires are not a problem at all, but it does sound like there have been problems in both conveying and enacting your desires in ways that are satisfying to you and your partner, and I believe working on your communication skills is essential.

There are two words in your first three sentences that indicate to me that your problem is communication issue: the words “deviant” and “basic.”

Your sexual desires are not a problem at all, but I believe working on your communication skills is essential

I understand you’re claiming the term “deviant” as empowering, and a way of indicating that your sexual desires may fall somewhat outside the norm of what is usually referred to as the “average” sex life; sex that isn’t kinky and that can be commonly called “vanilla.” (Note I said what average sex is often portrayed as, not what it actually is; sex lives are rich and varied and like many things, common conceptions usually dampen down the interesting details.) Some kinky people and sex-positive people have embraced this reclaimed version and use it in positive ways, which is how I think you’re using it.

However, I do think it’s important to note that the term “deviant” has historically and is still now used to stigmatise, oppress, criminalise and pathologise many people’s sexual desires. It’s quite a loaded term that can be painful to hear for those who have been victim to it, intimidating to those who aren’t kinky but are open-minded, and simply unclear to people who don’t know what you mean by it. It is vague and open to misinterpretation.

If you have been using this term when you start describing your sexual desires, I would urge you to be very specific and clear with people when explaining and contextualising what you mean by it. While it might create some moments of solidarity with other kinky people who use it in a similar way, you will still have to clarify your interests eventually – and you could be alienating some other people who could be great partners, but are unsure of that word’s ambiguity. “Deviant” is an umbrella term that could be less clear and helpful than you think.

The other word that I believe could be blocking rather than aiding clear communication is the word “basic”. To you, your interests are basic because you have long enjoyed them, tried them, consider them a fundamental part of your sexual desires and fulfilment – all of which is fine. But again, to other people, these acts may not seem basic – or connected.

What may be enjoyable, overlapping activities to you may be new, extreme or simply unconnected to others. Dirty talk is very different to being bound or constrained, for example. Just because you enjoy both does not mean that these acts are inherently connected or that someone else will or should be immediately comfortable with both.

You need to get comfortable being specific while initially explaining your desires, and then you can start taking steps towards incorporating mutually agreeable acts into your sex life

When you lump sexual acts together and use vague, highly subjective terms like “basics”, you’re leaving a dangerous amount of room for confusion, miscommunication, discomfort and even violation. Consent is of course essential in all sexual activity, but when you’re exploring dynamics like dominance, submission, and emotionally and physically vulnerable acts, you need to have even stronger communication skills so that everyone is safe.

Even for people who share your desires, the way you are – or are not – communicating and approaching these conversations may be, justifiably, making some partners believe you aren’t a partner who can be trusted to navigate kink safely.

You need to get comfortable being specific while initially explaining your desires, saying “I really enjoy playing with dynamics of feeling dominated. I really enjoy [these acts], have never tried [this act] but would like to try it sometime, and I know I’m not comfortable with [this act.] What about you, have you ever explored these types of dynamics and acts? What do you enjoy? Is there anything you want to try? And what are your hard limits; is there anything immediately off the table?”

This type of conversation should happen before sex, so you and your partner have a clearer understanding of each other’s desires – and then you can start taking steps towards incorporating mutually agreeable acts into your sex life.

I suspect the lack of these specifics-driven conversations may also be why your previous experiences haven’t lived up to the fantasy of what you have in your head. It’s completely unrealistic and even dangerous to assume a new partner will telepathically understand what exactly you want without you explaining. In fact, if a partner did claim to understand your kinky desires without discussion, I would tell you to immediately run from them.

It’s notable that you say you don’t like trying again with partners when it doesn’t go perfectly – rather than being a reflection of their skill or interest levels, it indicates a lack of effort on your part to clearly communicate, and have a sexual relationship grow and evolve. You’re assuming someone should not just be completely open to your sexual desires, but an expert in them

It is easy to get attached to a fantasy, and sometimes some fantasies are worth enjoying for their own sake, because you’re in complete control and get to skip over the communication, any awkwardness, any mishaps. But if you want to explore your sexual desires with a real person, you’re going to have to embrace reality, the humanity of your partner, and communication. Start talking.

Roe McDermott is a writer and Fulbright scholar with an MA in sexuality studies from San Francisco State University

If you have a problem or query you would like her to answer, you can submit it anonymously at irishtimes.com/dearroe. Only questions selected for publication can be answered