I would be hard pressed to find something less sexy than a global pandemic. Between heightened emotions, tremendous fear, heartbreaking tragedy and social isolation, we have been thrown into a world that is not only unfamiliar, but unwelcoming. The very ground that we walk on has collapsed and we are experiencing a version of life that no one could have prepared for. Whether we are single or partnered, this shift has resulted in significant changes to our erotic and sexual lives. Relationships that were once solid are now rocky, sex lives that were once full and exciting are now dull and for many, expression and practice of kink is now stifled.
With dungeons closed, play parties halted and general human to human contact at a minimum, it is increasingly harder for kinky folks to feel connected in a meaningful and fulfilling way. Shifts in the hierarchical structures and foundations of many D/s relationships are leading to an increase in relationship tension and overall emotional and sexual dissatisfaction. What I have witnessed in the last few months both personally and professionally is a shift in all interpersonal relationships but none more powerful than those where kink plays a major role.
While much of what people are feeling can be traced back to the financial, physical, and emotional strain that the lock downs have had on our well being, there is a piece that remains virtually hidden from the typical discourse about life in the time of Covid. The “how are yous” and “how are you holding ups” are usually meant to gauge how an individual is coping and the typical, perhaps unconscious, intent of those questions is to open the door to complain about the stressful state of our current lives. What is missing from so many conversations are the questions about how their relationships are being impacted, particularly those that exist in a hierarchical structure.
When we sit and reflect on what makes so many D/s relationships successful, it is that they are often rooted in a firm, negotiated and agreed upon arrangement of how each individual will play, work, and exist within the structure. In times of crisis, these arrangements get shaken up, with roles sometimes needing to shift to accommodate for the change in circumstances. Typically a crisis is short lived, sometimes even anticipated. Often, when a crisis hits, there is an idea of when things will return to “normal” and most importantly, when a crisis hits, we are often surrounded by a social circle, whether that be family, friends, work colleagues or a community, where members lives are relatively unaffected by our crisis allowing for us to lean on outside support to process and move forward. Experiencing collective trauma does come with a beautiful side effect of deep understanding of others and an ability to empathize on a level far greater than what is typical for people. However, collective pain also means that we cannot receive the level of support that we may need due to the empty emotional tanks that are existing within the folks in our social circle.
During the lockdown, shifts have occurred both within D/s relationships where partners are cohabiting as well as in relationships where partners live apart. The common shifts that I have seen recently are shifts in work life, increased job stress, financial insecurity, changes in childcare roles, lack of privacy and for many, the overall inability to see partners due to the restrictions on social gatherings. With all of these changes occurring in and out of the home, it is unsurprising that relationships are beginning to suffer. For some, the impact has been minimal but for others, this has resulted in more tension and conflict in the relationship than ever before.
So, as we navigate this unknown world with these new relationship challenges for kinky folks, how can we protect and nurture the valuable D/s structures in which our relationships are held up by? I believe that it starts by really understanding what has shifted and the consequences of that shift. Formulating a plan to work on the relationship challenges can only exist if we are able to get to the root of the problem. If a couple is continuously fighting about a certain topic, is it really that topic that is the problem? We need to seek the bigger picture to understand what is happening and therefore how we can start to change it.
This is the time for high levels of curiosity. Approaching the relationship with curiosity allows for less tension and blame when the sources of the problems begin to arise. In addition, it is a time for creativity to be implemented into relationships in order to keep the flame burning but more importantly, it is a time to reflect on what has been holding the relationship up. What has kept your relationship strong? Is it the clear cut hierarchy that allows for stability? It is the amount of time spent with your partner that gives you security? When we dig deeper we can find that it is typically the loss of the foundation that is the catalyst for the problems that follow and when we find the source we can usually find our way back.
Once we begin to understand the source of the struggle, it is time to move into the repair and healing phase. Honest, raw, and vulnerable conversations are the key to relationship shifts and fortunately, kinksters are exceptionally good at expressing their needs. Negotiation is fueled by authenticity and I would venture to say that taking those negotiation skills and applying them outside of the D/s dynamic would allow for an environment to be created that could make play even more fun, exciting, and ultimately intimate. When we are so consumed by the turmoil around us, it is easy to lose space, both emotionally and physically, for the relationship.
In challenging times like these, we need to approach our relationships a bit differently. For dyads who do a bi-weekly or monthly check in, perhaps they need to do it once a week. For folks who are away from their partners, implementing new rituals can be a great way to stay connected. Let’s not forget that even in times that are tough, we can use play to minimize anxiety and cultivate closeness. The scenes may be different and they may occur in a different space but the intent remains the same. While the world may be temporarily closed, the room for exploration and growth remains open. Step into that space and reignite the flame because after this terrible time is over, the flame may be burning brighter than it ever was before.
About the Author
Elyssa Rice is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in the Kink and Alternative Lifestyle community. She is a writer, lecturer and advocate for sexual empowerment and sexual freedom. She has a private practice in Los Angeles, CA and is dedicated to shifting the narrative about both the mental health and Kink community.