Put Your Toys Away and Build Your BDSM Skills

I’m not saying there’s something wrong with toys. Heaven forefend. I would never ever tell you to get rid of them. Not the fragile latex that makes you glitter and shine, not the gleaming leather whip that makes you swoon nor the coldly glimmering cuffs and clamps that make sex so intense. Keep those favorite joy toys that make your juices flow and cherish them.

Toys have been as integral to the wild erotic ride that is BDSM as long as there has been BDSM. One might even say that, in some ways, toys are integral to our needs and how we play. Where would the fetishist be without his beloved fetish paraphernalia? Where would the stern dominatrix or powerful master be without some leather swag and scary-cool weapons of punishment? So, please, keep your toys, take good care of them, clean and store them properly, and abandon yourself to the magic they bring to your life when you use them.

All that said, you don’t need them to have a great BDSM interaction. In fact, to hone your BDSM skills, you should periodically leave the toys in their boxes and drawers (and closets, basements, attics, dungeons, and possibly secret storage rooms in shoddy parts of town). I’m seriously serious about this: if you can’t have a totally satisfying BDSM experience without toys, then you probably don’t have totally satisfying ones with them. Indeed, one of the great secrets of successful lifestyle power relationships is that the people who live BDSM don’t even need the toys to make the dynamic feel real. It is real. From the inside out.

There are many different reasons why BDSM relationships and hook-ups fail. One of them, and I think it’s a big one, is that people confuse the toys for the roles. I’ve known way too many submissives who submit to toys instead of the people using them, for example. Maybe the best example of that is when people go to professional doms. They don’t know anything about the dom’s private life or relationships. They often don’t know if that person even does any BDSM outside of their professional life. But they see the person’s toys and their expensive fetish outfits, and their imagination fills in the rest. They confer power to the toys in the absence of knowing whether or not the person using them is actually dominant. They get off on a series of clever illusions, many of them supplied by their own need to believe their partner is dominant, whether or not that person actually lives a BDSM life in private.

The inability to separate the toys from the person is a chronic problem among newbies and even experienced people who have never plunged into the emotional depths of an authentic BDSM power exchange. I’ve worked with dozens of submissive men over the years who mistook a costume or toy chest for dominance and came away satisfied by the physical play yet feeling that something else, something profound, was missing. What was missing, more often than not, was an intangible but emotionally real sense that your partner was a true yin to your yang.

One client, who I’ll call Frank here, served a very successful and admired prodomme for years. The one thing Frank was never able to figure out was whether she was an exploiter who learned how to game the BDSM world by giving men the fantasy scenarios they wanted, or whether she was a dominant by nature who really loved to play. After all, she never played for free. And she never let clients know about how she ran her personal life, or whether she did BDSM when she wasn’t wearing expensive dungeon outfits. He had no reason to doubt that she was everything she claimed she was on her professional site. She had so many photos of her toys and herself in divine fetish wear. It looked so real. But it nagged at him. She never did aftercare. She didn’t always seem to understand about consent, either. She had never attended BDSM Community education classes. She got the totality of her BDSM knowledge from the professional dominants who trained her and a couple of books her subs gave her. Frank knew that she first got her idea of becoming a prodomme when she learned how much money she could make, not just through exorbitant hourly fees, but demanding additional “tributes” and special “gifts.” Frank couldn’t help wondering if she ran a kind of low-level grifting scheme on submissives who would literally pay anything for the opportunity to serve a “real Mistress.”

How real was she? Frank struggled with this question — and the reason he did, I believe, is because on the rare occasions he saw her outside of the dungeon, she didn’t act very dominant at all. More like a capricious, greedy and snotty girl. All the magic she conveyed in a dungeon setting seemed to vanish without the clothes and toys and sparkly shiny accessories we associate with BDSM eroticism.

If you’re a fan of Different Loving, you may remember the late great dominatrix and Scene legend Ava Taurel saying that she began to feel really dominant when she put on her leather boots. I’ve thought about that comment ever since she made it. She literally “stepped” into role. It reminded me of an actor who needs a talisman or costume to become the person they will portray. It’s not a bad thing. We all enjoy playing at being things, and since Ava was also a film actress earlier in her life, maybe that was her “method” — letting fetish gear help her access a place within her and then achieving the role. I don’t have such a talisman. I love playing with toys but I don’t need toys to make my dominance feel real and palpable, either within myself or to a partner. When it comes to BDSM toys, I feel more like Wolverine whose weapons sprout from his body. They are extensions of my existing identity, not objects that give me a new identity.

Of course, a good fake is almost as good as a real dom, able to mimic the attitudes they’ve read about or seen on other professional dom sites, building their own identity around (mostly male) fantasies of what femdommes are. Many of them carry it off brilliantly — at least for an hour or two. And that’s part of the problem. Anyone can ACT dominant for a few hours. But actually BEING dominant (or submissive, for that matter) is a much deeper and realer experience than pretending to be that way or relying on outside objects instead of genuine identity.

So I’m talking about the value of authenticity in BDSM and the skills you never pick up in public spaces or even educational tracks that focus on protocols for safe, satisfying play. I’ve never met a serious BDSMer or fetishist who didn’t crave the distinct flavor of reality in a power relationship. That’s only human. We all share an innate need to know that our partner is genuine, that their attitudes are organic to their identity, and that they really are who they claim to be. Unless you feel some sense of assurance that your partner is there for the right reasons, you might end up feeling like Frank — fearful of letting the dominant get too close, never entirely satisfied even after a great scene, and worried that if the person isn’t the dominant that s/he claims to be, there may be other secrets they are concealing from you.

While prodom/prodomme clients and a lot of mainly-public players are apt to fall for the toys, even private, committed BDSMers can get totally kerfuffled on the authenticity front. Another client, I’ll call him Bill, was married to a woman I’ll call Margie. She was a sweet person. Margie was perfectly willing to dominate him if that’s what it took to satisfy him. She had no issues or inhibitions about doing even hardcore scenes with him. But here’s the thing: she totally didn’t get why she was even doing it. Like, she knew that putting him in a cage and refusing to let him out when he begged was his fantasy so she did it, even though it was more like work than play for her. He scripted it down to a T to make sure she knew when he actually truly wanted to get out and when he wanted her to ignore his pleas for release. And she knew exactly what outfits to wear because he had picked them all out himself, and ordered them for her. She knew all his favorite toys because he selected and bought those too and she had learned how to use them the way he taught her to use them. The only problem was no matter what she did, he made her feel like she never quite got it right.

He hired me to help change that. He wanted me to, as he put it, “teach her how to be a real dominant.” What he really meant, of course, was “teach her how to dominate me the way I want to be dominated.” That attitude is 180 degrees away from what makes a dominant a dominant in the first place: free will, and the ability to express your dominance as you (the dominant) see fit (as long as you keep it SSC/RACK, of course).

Unfortunately, he didn’t want me to really help her to be dominant — in other words, to help her authentically achieve her potential for dominance, whatever form it might take. There was no room for her to stray from his script. As I see it, he (and a few other male clients since then) hired me in hopes I’d teach their wives and girlfriends to become the dommes they wanted. In effect, they wanted the women in their lives to give them the prodomme experience without upsetting the actual applecart of power. They didn’t really want a powerful woman in their lives. They didn’t want the women to potentially make them, the submissives, do anything they didn’t want to do. You know, like in a real BDSM power dynamic? They only wanted her to act powerful to satisfy their submissive sex fantasies and then return to a place of male privilege the rest of the time. So how exactly is a woman supposed to connect with her inner femdom when her partner holds the leash? She can’t. She won’t. She’s owned. She’s being controlled.

Personal truth: if someone tried to coerce or manipulate me into being dom strictly for their pleasure and not for mine, I’d offer them a cup of coffee before I kicked them out of the house. The fastest way to annoy me is to believe that it’s a dominant’s job to value a sub’s needs above their own. Think about it: do you expect a dom to be your sex slave? I hope not. That’s what professionals are for and bless them for offering their services as fantasy facilitators. It’s a fair trade: you pay them a wad of cash and they reward you with the fantasy you want. But as a non-pro, if I don’t get reciprocity out of doing it, we’re done. You are, in effect, screwing me out of the reason I showed up in the first place: my own pleasure.

It’s a lesson I learned the hard way when I pro-dommed for a year in my 30s. It didn’t take long for me to realize I hated having to dress up the way men expected me to dress up and didn’t particularly care for being told what scenes and what features of a scene I had to play out. I’m not talking about the normal negotiations BDSM players do as they compare their lists of likes and limits or special considerations when someone has a fetish or a “must include” toy or outfit. I’m talking about being purely a fantasy facilitator. The money was awesome but I felt it eroded some important boundaries for me personally, like my preference for partners who actually sexually aroused me or the freedom to wear whatever I felt like that day, whether it was butch urban street girl or fetish femme queen.

It was all brought home to me the next summer when I was hanging with two of my kinky besties in New York at the end of a long day. It was brutally sweltering in the city, I was so sweaty I had to shower, and when I stepped back into the living room where they’d been waiting, I was in a fresh t-shirt, cut off shorts and cheap flats. Like, the antithesis of BDSM hotness, right? They begged me to play with them and I hesitated for a moment — I didn’t have any fetish gear with me, no toys. After a year of prodomming I felt a little naked. And then it sank in that maybe it was good to be naked. Maybe doing them in whatever I happened to be wearing, without any toys or tools, was sexy enough. They insisted it was even sexier in some way for me to be all dominant and sadistic and teasingly playfully mean to them exactly as I was, without any artifice of any kind. Just me, being me, doing them. We had so much fun that night! It turned out to be one of the most memorably sweet scenes of my life.

Even if you’ve already mastered your BDSM skills you can still refresh your bond and hone your skills by trying these two different techniques to take control (or release control) and create personal magic at any time and any place, whether or not you have the toys on hand. Do them one time, once a month, once a year or every time you play. Any time is a good time to practice authentic BDSM skills. You will be using the most powerful tools all BDSM/fetish/leather people have: our minds and our hands.

 

2 Toyless BDSM Scenes To Try

 

THE STARE-DOWN

 

Tantra students and married couples do a version of this at their educational seminars. BDSM people need to do it at home. All you need are the eyes in your head for this.

 

DOMS: Before you touch them, before you pull out the toys, though hopefully not before you’ve negotiated some limits and set mutually agreeable boundaries, use your eyes to pierce through the sub, slave or bottom’s defenses.

You can put them on their knees or just sit next to them on a sofa, whatever works best for you. Then lock eyes with them and tell them, just using your eyes, that you want to use them. Let them know by growing the attitude in yourself and then letting it glow from your eyes. Silently convey to them that you are in control. You are taking charge. You will own them for the time you both agreed to do this thing you are doing.

If they avert their eyes from yours, take their chin gently but firmly in your hand, and make them look into your eyes until they literally can’t stand it. If they show defiance the whole way through, end it there. They aren’t there for the power experience. They are there to challenge you. Too much work and, in the end, very little reward.

But if it goes right, you will see them melt to putty before you ever put a collar or cuffs on them. Expect whimpers or trembles and other signs of arousal that show a heightened awareness of how owned and helpless they feel in that moment. Let them see that you know how weak they feel with your eyes too. A slight cruel smile helps. Let them see the sadist in you.

 

SUBS: If your dom never does this, ask them to try it with you — show them the above if you dare. 😉 When the dom is staring into your eyes, let yourself read what those eyes are saying and let yourself give in to the message. Assuming you picked someone you trust, and that you can trust they will follow through on their commitment to protect your safety, you can let go now. You can take deep breaths and open yourself up to their power. If all you see is someone glaring at you in anger, run away. If the dom can’t handle staring you in the eyes, run away. They’re hiding something or don’t share your courage to be naked.

 

WHY IT IS A GREAT EXERCISE: For most adults, it’s actually easier to be physically naked than to be emotionally naked. Call it social training or an innate survival skill but we train ourselves to hide parts of ourselves so we can fit into the world. The eye-lock exercise breaks down the walls we hide behind. It takes intimacy and transparency to a higher level. It forces your mind to accept that you are in an intimate power dynamic with your partner. It forces you to embrace a role (whether dominant or submissive) according to that dynamic. It helps you to connect on the inside with the effects that such raw emotional power has on you.

 

 

HANDS-ON HEDONISM

 

Your hands are your next most powerful tool to make your sub/bottom/slave surrender to you and to bring home the reality of a power exchange in knee-weakeningly moistening ways.

DOMS: Before you use a toy, use your hands. I don’t just mean use them to spank and pinch someone in sensitive erotic areas of their bodies, like genitals and asses. I mean USE those hands ALL over them. An early mentor of mine tipped me off to the trick of getting out a ruler or measuring tape and measuring every part of their body, as if you were judging them like prize animals up for a blue-ribbon. That is one way to play it if you want to make it a game or to stretch it into a whole session. The idea is simply to let them know, through casual touching and improper invasions by hand, that their body is your body now, to play with and explore and use as you wish. If your agreement includes penetration, then explore all their nooks and crannies. If it’s an external play scene only, then go everywhere that doesn’t violate your agreement — including ear cavities and oral cavities, tits and taints, and other places that will make them squirm and feel totally vulnerable and naked. If the person keeps stopping you, pushing you off, safe-wording or complaining, git along to the next little dogie. Your parnter may have fears and inhibitions that will crop up during toy-time and other times. Don’t get your heart broken by someone who can’t handle the hedonism of BDSM.

 

SUBS: Ask yourself how many different possible ways a dom could turn you on, and then volunteer to be their testbed. Your part of this is to receive. Yeah, you like that, don’t you? 😉 Focus on learning how many different types of touches and physical sensations can put you into subspace. For example: the humiliation of having your dom examine your mouth like you were a pony being sold at market. Or the way you feel when they stick a finger in your belly-button or your nostril, and you hate it but you know you can’t stop them either. Let your internal door to perception hang open and let your freely explore your body. Ask for a safeword if they touch you in a way that actually feels unpleasant and then explain to your dom how and why it felt unpleasant. Ask for a greenlight word to tell them when it feels especially thrilling. This helps you to teach your dom how to handle your body in more satisfying ways for you both, since no (good) dom wants to push you into a negative place in your mind. If the dom does not hear you, does not honor your limits or can’t stick to their agreements, get dressed and go. Seriously. If a dom can’t do you well with their hands alone, and even if they’re great at throwing a whip, their heart is not in the right space to get you to totally believe in their authentic power. Without that sense that this is a real dominant using you, a real submissive, you may also never feel erotically satisfied by them.

 

WHY IT IS A GREAT EXERCISE: People have been doing BDSM since there have been people. In one form or another, power relationships expressed through sexual behaviors are as old as time, well-documented throughout human history, from the ancients down to us. The main difference is that people weren’t mass-producing cock rings and cheap handcuffs in 5000 B.C. Long before any of the enticing gadgets and gizmos were invented, people found ways to express power and while surely some of them turned to nature for whippy sticks and stinging nettles to inflict devilish sensation, the majority likely relied on attitudes, assumptions, and their hands. I mentioned how I feel an intrinsic connection between my dominance and the toys I use earlier. We all know players, though, who use their toys and tools as distancing devices. They will only physically engage with you through toys, as if they’re too fastidious to touch flesh. They may even be great with the toys, but chances are they won’t be great at giving you a full-body ride through sensuality or intimacy, for that matter. Learning how powerful or, conversely, how submissive you can be just through touching, tweaking, pinching, slapping, grabbing and different types of caresses, from sweet to exquisitely agonizing, allows both sides of a power relationship to build a complete sensual platform for intimate, orgasmic and mutually passionate BDSM.