I start to believe that Karl is truly enjoying the D/s lifestyle, that while he might not have the depth of commitment I have, he is finding pleasure in domination on a scale similar to the thrill of submission I feel. I think maybe it is like riding a bike. If I push the bike and run along next to him for a while, eventually he’ll catch on and the momentum will carry him away. That’s how I learned to ride a bike. I think, maybe I am the kind of person who was born knowing how to ride and Karl wasn’t, but that doesn’t mean he has to walk forever. He can learn how to ride even better than me and in his own style, too. And I will adapt to his style, because I’m adaptable.
Karl becomes skillful in many bdsm areas, especially wielding the singletail. A singletail is a kind of whip, about four feet long, made out of braided leather. Whips vary in quality, but the nicest are handmade from kangaroo hide and lovingly crafted by big names in the field. They sell for lots of money. Karl starts an email correspondence and telephone friendship with a legendary whip maker in California, Joe Wheeler. Joe’s products are in such demand that he has a long waiting list of customers. He takes months making each whip, because they are mostly special orders with multiple strands of leather in the braiding. Cheap whips have only a few strands, but the most expensive have 21 or 24 woven together and are supple and elegant.
Finally, after many conversations with Joe, Karl receives his singletail. Joe likes him so much he moves him up to the front of the line. The whip is beautiful. Karl practices with it for hours, sets up a row of candles in the garage and flicks the flames out. It takes control and finesse. The thing about whipping in D/s is that you don’t just lay it on. A whip can be a deadly instrument of punishment if you’re a mutineer, I suppose, but dominants aren’t trying to break the skin or do any damage, they are looking for erotic pain and a caressing touch.
We also have an array of floggers. Floggers are nice bdsm tools, short with mop heads of leather strips. The sensation when a flogger strikes is much different from that of a whip. It certainly hurts, but it’s a diffused sensation as opposed to the sting of a singletail. Most anyone can make a flogger, so they are not particularly expensive or hard to find. They’re a beginner’s toy compared to whips because you don’t need a lot of expertise to use them.
We buy all different kinds of restraints. I have leather wrist cuffs, ankle cuffs, thigh cuffs, handcuffs, even toe cuffs. Cuffs are items you need to spend money on, because cheap ones rub and have sharp edges that cut into skin. The ideal cuff is comfortable, believe it or not. You don’t want accidental discomfort, as opposed to intentional. I also have all kinds of collars. My first one is leather with a big D ring on the front for tethering, it’s my everyday collar for ordinary occasions. I also have fancy collars made out of metal, and one very wide leather collar that is so tall it makes me lift my chin up like a surprised cockatoo. I look nice in collars. I think they are very flattering.
We acquire at least ten dildos of varying shapes and colors, some of which vibrate and one you can pump up like a balloon. I guess using a dildo on a woman is exciting to some men, and it is certainly useful if you are engaging in long-distance sex over the phone or internet where you don’t have a real penis in front of you. I find that I am not much of a dildo fan, but just in terms of appearance my favorite is a huge chrome one that weighs 10 pounds, it looks like a polished penis trophy or guided missile.
Karl buys a very elaborate kit of electrodes and straps which he wants to attach to someone, he hopes me. The idea is that you put the electrodes on different parts of the person, like their nipples, and send little shocks. There is a central control that looks like a seismograph. It takes about 45 minutes to put it all together and get it going, and I hate it. It reminds me of when I fell against an electric fence in a cow pasture. In general, the more complicated the bdsm toy, the less I like it. Karl, on the other hand, is fascinated by interesting devices, although we never actually use most of them because if he brings them out I start to whine. I like it simple.
I love corsets. There’s definitely a reason corsets were popular for so long, they make a woman look gorgeous. They are not very comfortable though, especially if you’re like me and cinch them so tight you can hardly breathe. My favorite kind of corset is cut straight across, about nipple height, makes your breasts billow out so that you can balance a plate on them. Corsets look good with garter belts and stockings which are hard to find in ordinary stores these days. There are racks and racks of panty hose and one tiny corner of stockings.
One of my first purchases when we start playing is a pair of very high heel shoes, five inches actually. It’s almost like being hobbled, I can’t really walk in them, just mince. I wear them to our very first party, it’s the middle of winter in Vermont and have to make my way from the car to a house through slush and ice, clinging to Karl desperately. I guess there’s a reason such high heels don’t show a lot of wear, best place for them is in bed.
I am so nervous at that first party, I drink too much, three Bloody Marys and I feel like the queen of the may. We are there with my friend Richard and his latest girl Chris. By an amazing coincidence, Chris is independently interested in BDSM. She meets Richard when she hires him as her divorce lawyer. Women like her make up Richard’s personal dating service. He doesn’t have to go looking for girls, they just come into his office. Lawyers aren’t supposed to have relationships with their clients, so Richard always has to find a new lawyer for them.
Richard embraces D/s because he doesn’t care how he gets sex so long as he gets it. If Chris had been a dominatrix rather than a submissive, he would have been just as happy. I have fun going to parties and big D/s weekends with them and we make other friends in the scene too, especially couples around our own age. We are not the only middle-aged people by any means. Some have been involved with D/s for years, but lots are like us and new to the scene. The internet doesn’t help just me discover D/s, it is the moving force for many people.
Karl and I make up a story to tell when new acquaintances ask about our experience. The background is that modern D/s really begins, as an alternate lifestyle, back in the 1960’s and ‘70’s, mostly with gay men. You are a top if you are dominant and a bottom if you are submissive. By the 1970’s a few groups and small underground organizations form the mythic “Old Guard.” The Old Guard isn’t an actual entity, just refers to the people practicing D/s when public attitudes toward sadism and masochism are harsher than today, and when people who like BDSM have to have a great deal of courage to express their sexuality in the face of public taboos. The popular belief then is that if you like to be whipped you suffer from a serious mental disorder. There’s still some of that today. Anyway, the Old Guard develop the rituals and protocol that make up a good deal of what’s acceptable in lifestyle D/s today, and carry a powerful mystique.
So Karl and I tell people that we were involved with the Old Guard for decades. “You know, the famous Traverse City scene in Michigan,” we say. They nod in awe.
As we meet more and more people involved in D/s, it becomes obvious how mainstream most of them are, a cross section of the population. You see everyone from leather guys with rings in their nose to businessmen and housewife types and everything in between. Age isn’t a limit. There are grey-haired dominants and submissives and lots of twenty-somethings. Nobody does anything terribly weird. There is often, at least at the big gatherings, someone who likes to show off intricate Japanese bondage techniques, a few puppy girls and boys, sometimes even a pony race. Pony play is an interesting D/s fetish, where you get a submissive all dolled up with a bit and halter and boots with hooves on the bottom, and they race or trot or perform. Puppy play is when you train a submissive as if she were a puppy, and she has to wag her tail and bark and crawl around and eat out of a dish on the floor. Some puppies have wonderful costumes to wear during play, complete with tails and ears.
But by far the most common sight at any of these gatherings is everyday bondage and erotic discipline with paddles, whips and floggers. The only universal requirement for play is that it be safe, sane and consensual. Safe, so that nobody gets permanently damaged, sane, that both parties act rationally, and consensual, the most important factor, that the participation of both dominant and submissive be knowing and voluntary. These are the ingredients that distinguish D/s from abuse and give rise to an erotic conspiracy.
Being a submissive for me doesn’t mean just the sexual excitement of being whipped or flogged, it involves the potential for continual low-level arousal based on control. And when I am controlled in the D/s sense, I feel a sense of security, of being cherished and loved, that has nothing to do with orgasm or titillation. My problem is that although Karl learns how to wield a whip, he never understands the psychological aspects of D/s, does not comprehend that the whip is the least important part for me. I can make love for an hour and not feel a thing, I can get whipped and flogged and caressed and be numb. On the other hand, a word spoken in a certain tone of voice can electrify me. Karl could say the word, but he doesn’t, not because he doesn’t want to make me happy and please me, but because nothing connects for him. Even if I out and out tell him the word, he isn’t able to say it with the right tone of voice, with the intent or commitment that is necessary. So although I am happy for a lot of the time we practice D/s, there are other periods when I realize it isn’t working at all. Mostly, I attribute any problems to Karl’s need for more experience to develop his own way of doing things, or my inability to be malleable enough to accept his techniques. As long as I think that we are making progress, I don’t get too upset.
Because I believe that the erotic nature of power exchange is universal, I cling to the hope that it is just a matter of time until Karl recognizes and accepts it in himself. Eventually though I admit that in some people any sexual response to power exchange is buried too deep to be accessible. I have to admit it because of Karl. It’s ironic that someone who looks like such an ideal dominant should be so uncomfortable dominating.
We gradually fade out of the D/s lifestyle and one by one drop our D/s habits and ways of interacting with each other. Outside the D/s context control is just bossiness. I hate bossy.