“You have to communicate!” Every single power exchange class, book, or video emphasizes the importance of communication. “If you can’t learn to communicate your needs, you can’t possibly get them met.” More than that, if you have poor communication you increase the risk of having a scene go wrong. Consent incidents, a physical mishaps, or just not getting everything you wanted out of the scene – those are all symptoms of bad communication.
With physical kink this is not very complicated. “I want you to hit me, like this, with this thing, right here,” Is a pretty easy thing to tell someone. When you get into power exchange things can get a little more complicated because of the expectations and even myths attached to the roles of dominance and submission.
In fantasies, the dominant person just instantly knows what a submissive needs, even when the sub doesn’t know themselves. In those stories submissives might not even have any needs, but is automatically aware of what the dominant wants.
This is a lovely hot fantasy, but it is also a dangerous stereotype. Real people have to work to build the skills to communicate. “Work”? “Build”? Wasn’t this supposed to be kinky play? The more complicated it gets, the more it can seem to take all the joy out of the kink. Worse, some people insist that you can’t communicate clearly unless you first “step outside” of the power dynamic. For some people this works, but for others, the power dynamic is the relationship, and they feel terribly unnatural and inauthentic trying to put it aside.
Luckily, there are educators such as Mollena Williams. In her series on Diplomacy in Ds, she says “regardless of your relationship, the start of communication needs to come from respect.” This does not mean that you have to step outside of your roles. Even when you’re talking about humiliation play, the basis of a relationship is a respect for the needs and contributions of both partners. “Tell me what is going through that meek and trembling mind, worm!” can be a great start to a conversation.
Along with respect, both parties could practice what Dr. Jenn calls “mindful communication“. This is a technique that helps you notice how you are communicating (note the emphasis on the you; this is not something to analyze your partner’s communication). Dr. Jenn talks about “automatic patterns”: times when you think you are communicating, but you are simply speaking out of habit.
But how do you make it fun?
For a lot of people when you start talking about phrases like mindfulness they tune right out. Where’s the hot and sexy? Unless you fetishize communication (which is totally legit) hearing the phrase “We need to talk” can be one of the least sexy things ever.
That’s why Ducky Doolittle suggests that you “bring some flirtation into the process.” For example, if a submissive needs a certain thing taken care of, rather than simply saying “I want this” they could say “Mistress, if you gave me this thing, I could serve your needs much better.” Both Mistress and the submissive know that what we are really talking about is the submissive’s needs, but it is phrased in a way that retains the dynamic. “Serva! Kneel at my feet and talk with me. I want to practice some mindful communication so that I can find better ways to bend you to my will…” would be another great example.
Bringing in props, scripts, and even porn
Jacq Jones did a video series called “50 shades of hot sex” that includes the suggestion of “adjusting the way you are doing a role-play when you’re in the middle of a scene.” For example, a submissive who did not feel comfortable saying “no” to her Master would say “yes sir!” to anything that she enthusiastically agreed to. If she had some reservations, she could say something like “As you say, sir…” . The dominant was able to understand these terms, but the authority and willingness to serve were never altered. Of course, she still had the capacity to use a safeword or a simple “No” to maintain boundaries, but for communicating needs and wants she simply adjusted the words to feel even more in tune with her submission.
Another way to start playful but effective methods of communication is to use the print outs below as kind of invitations to talk. They are designed to be playful, low-pressure ways for a dominant or submissive to bring up the possibility of conversation, whether that’s serious or playful. Phrases such as “confess in a manner you desire” keep the tone playful and even pretty hot. Imagine how thrilled a submissive might feel to see the dominant say “I will get all the pleasure I want.” That is the kind of “we need to talk” that can make someone shiver with anticipation and delight.
Whether you are starting with simple negotiations for a quick scene or planning on having a major restructuring of a power exchange relationship, communication skills is going to be your most important tool for being able to get to the relationship, the feelings, and the satisfaction that you want.