five steps for fixing a fuck-up

First things first: I’ve missed you! I just spent a week in Halifax teaching all sorts of delicious things to a fantastic community of open-minded sex-positive people, a week with Boi L in Quebec, and a week juggling crazy work deadlines back here in Toronto… add it all together and I’ve been a very negligent blogger indeed. But I’m back for a bit and I’ll do my best to spend more time here!

Next, some shameless self-promotion. Tuesday night, March 3, I’ll be teaching The Ultimate Thud at Come As You Are in Toronto. This is one of my longest-running and favourite workshops. It’s all about beating the crap out of people with your bare hands—consensually and for the great mutual pleasure of all concerned, of course. Come join me! (You can register here.) Oh, and I’m looking for a demo bottom or two. If you’re in TO and up for being beat, please drop me a line! You can reach me at veryqueer3 at yahoo dot ca.

Before I continue, I’d like to share three announcements for you. First, CARAS, the Community-Academic Consortium for Research on Alternative Sexualities, has launched a survey about educational needs in the BDSM community. It’s pretty American-centric, but a worthy endeavour if you spend time doing or learning about kink in the States. Second, Trans Day of Pride (Montreal), taking place in early May, has put out a call for speakers and volunteers—check it out below. Last but not least, the National Sexuality Resource Center (again, American) has created a petition to support various sexuality studies programs that are being targeted for funding cuts by raving bigots (surprise, surprise). Details about all three of these things are available at the bottom of this post.

And now, on with your regularly scheduled programming.

***

Today’s question is, What do you do when you fuck up?

Of course, any discussion of BDSM fuck-ups should include substantial attention to how you prevent fucking up in the first place, but I’m not going to dwell on that too much because you’ve heard it all before. We negotiate the bejeezis out of ourselves, folks. Okay, not everyone does it perfectly, but everyone knows they’re supposed to, the vast majority of us make a commendable effort to do so, and lots of us get so good at it that we could do it blindfolded and with our hands tied behind our backs. Ahem. You know what I mean. (I’ll never forget the super-excellent five-minute speed negotiation I once had in a car with a new lover on our way to my place: “Body fluids?” “All latex all the time.” “Check. Top or bottom?” “Bottom.” “Sweet. What kind?” “Thud.” and so forth.)

You’ve heard of safewords, safe signals (drop a set of keys! blink twice! whatever), checklists, red-yellow-green or “from one to ten, how much does this hurt?” and so forth. You’ve read the four dozen BDSM 101 how-to books that all say basically the same thing in different words with varying degrees of good copy editing and palatable cover art (which is not to trash these books, they’re great, but the repetition is getting to be a bit much). You’ve probably been to, or at least heard of, reams of workshops out there catering to a vast clientele of responsible, conscious kinksters who really want to learn how to swing a cane / do suspension bondage / play with needles / (insert long list of potentially dangerous activities here) safely, carefully and with minimal risk of lasting or unwanted bodily harm or disease transmission.

But nobody talks about what to do when, despite all your best efforts, you make a mistake. You leave the rope on for too long and something goes wrong. You miss hearing the safeword and give a few whacks too many. You humiliate someone in a bad way instead of in a delicious, hot, exciting way. You miscommunicate about key terms or definitions. (I will never forget the explicitly negotiated non-sexual scene in which I bottomed to someone who apparently didn’t consider tongue kissing to be sexual. Turned out fine—she was super cute—but boy, was that ever a surprise!) You trip across a psychological trigger that you didn’t know was there—and hell, maybe they didn’t know either—and you wind up sending someone into an abuse flashback, or you just plain make them upset. You notice something’s a bit off, but you don’t worry too much, and it turns out to be a lot off. (I once topped a girl who had her wrists cuffed above her head. She looked a bit tired but said it was okay. “I’m feeling a bit faint,” she said a few minutes into our play. “Pardon me?” I said, about four seconds before she dropped like a stone—all 200+ gorgeous pounds of her. Lucky for me I had friends nearby to help lift her up and untie her. Gah! Panic snaps are now a staple in my toybag…)

Or, on the other end of the spectrum, you stop too soon, or do too little, and leave someone feeling dropped or misled or under-appreciated or unwanted or unloved or unfinished. Your scene is awkward and tentative instead of powerful and transformative. You yank the ropes off just when she was starting to fly. Your top asked you if you were okay four times, and every time, you said yes even though you weren’t. Your tongue gets tired 0.3 seconds before the most explosive orgasm that never happened. Your carpal tunnel kicks in before their butt turns red. You worked things up to a fever pitch in negotiations and then all of a sudden you realize you’re just not in the frickin’ mood.

It doesn’t help that nobody talks about novices. What happens when you’ve never bottomed before, or never topped? How can you possibly know what your limits are when you’ve never experimented? And where do you turn to figure out how to experiment when all the manuals seem to assume that you already know what you like and don’t like? Community wisdom dictates that “‘never’ means wait six months,” meaning that even among experienced players, limits and desires shift and morph all the time. So how do you find out whether or not you’re okay with piss play, how many whacks to the ass you can take, or whether it’ll be sexy to be trussed up like a turkey and left on the bed for an hour in real life (never mind how hot it is in your mind) without making some mistakes along the way?

And when you make those mistakes, how do you deal with them? Do you write off BDSM as being that sick, ugly thing you always knew it was, and dismiss its practitioners as maladjusted perverts because you tried it and it didn’t work for you (just like you’re not a lesbian because that girl in college was a sloppy kisser)? Do you shrug it off and go back for more without processing what went wrong? Do you bring it up in therapy? Do you pull back and go slow? Do you bravely truck on in your quest for sexual self-exploration? In short, do you heal? And if so, how?

I don’t pretend to have the perfect answers for all these questions, but I do think they’re worth discussing. As imperfect, wholly human beings, we are bound to fuck up every once in a while, even those of us with lots of experience, and I honestly don’t see the point in trashing each other or beating up on ourselves when it happens. In fact, I want to posit that mistakes are actually essential to one’s personal growth, and certainly to the full development of one’s kink. I’m not talking about deliberate disregard for negotiations, or play that’s knowingly unsafe or deliberately ignorant. I’m talking about the fuck-ups that teach us things—things we simply will not, can not, learn any other way. This is hardly rocket science. In fact it sounds a bit like something off that painfully simplified “everything I really need to know I learned in kindergarten” poster that kinda makes me wanna barf. Nonetheless, I actually believe that if we fear our future fuck-ups to the point that we never go ahead and experience things—or if we collapse and retreat when we do fuck up—we can’t possibly move forward.

The trick is, fuck-ups on their own aren’t necessarily the problem. Some minor ones are barely worth the processing time it takes to figure them out. But especially when it comes to bigger fuck-ups, it’s what we do about them that counts. We can do things beforehand to prevent them from occurring, as discussed; and once the inevitable has happened, we can do a hell of a lot afterward. If you repeatedly dive into fuck-up territory with no preventive measures and no effort to repair said fuck-ups, then you’re basically an inconsiderate lout who shouldn’t be playing at all. Short of that, though, read on.

So you’ve fucked up. Now what? I present to you a five-step process for dealing with it. It would be far too simple to suggest that that these five steps cover every eventuality, but I do believe they are widely applicable to most fuck-up situations, and can be altered to fit the situation as needed, as long as the basic gist is respected.

The following presumes that you actually did fuck up, by the way. As in, you did something you realize you should not have done, and you feel bad about it. This does not necessarily apply to messy or confusing situations in which something went wrong for which you are not responsible, or when you aren’t sure if you’re responsible. Please note that if there is any confusion, there’s nothing wrong with having a conversation in which you try to figure out what you did wrong, if anything. Also please note that if you think you never fuck up, and that everything is always the other person’s fault, you’re wrong. You should take a good hard look at yourself and figure out why you’re in denial. Last but not least: fuck-ups are not just for tops. Bottoms fuck up all the time, too. Don’t think you get off easy because you’re the one on the receiving end of the action: we all bear the responsibility of our kink.

Step 1: Be a grown-up and own up to it. Pretending it didn’t happen doesn’t cut it. Trying to convince someone you’ve hurt that it didn’t happen, that it wasn’t really all that bad, that really the problem is all their fault—that doesn’t cut it either. It’s dishonest, hypocritical and unfair, and worse, it robs you both of the opportunity to work through things and come out better on the other end. Sure, you can explain what happened if that helps clarify things; you can talk about your good intentions, the circumstances that thwarted them, and so forth. But don’t waste your time making a bunch of excuses. Anything that distances you from your own responsibility makes your apology an empty one.

Step 2: Apologize. And mean it. By that, I mean clearly state exactly what you have done wrong, and say you’re sorry for it. It’s a pretty solid formula. If you’re the one who realizes what you did wrong, give the apology straight up. If the other person has brought it to your attention, recognize that took some courage, as nobody likes conflict, and thank them for telling you. Don’t get defensive; it’s not an attack, unless of course it is an attack, in which case you’re not obliged to take abuse. But even then, this is probably not the time to counter-attack, because if one of you wins—whether it’s you or them—you’ve effectively both lost.

Oh, and please don’t do that eternally frustrating thing that some people like to do: do not apologize for how the other person feels. “I’m sorry you felt abandoned” completely sidesteps Step 1 and effectively makes the entire situation the other person’s problem. “I’m sorry I abandoned you” means you take responsibility for it. There’s no point in apologizing for something you didn’t do, so don’t bother trying if you genuinely don’t feel did anything wrong—have some other conversation instead. And if you did do something wrong and you know it, don’t pass the buck to your victim. That’s just shitty boundaries.

Step 3: Listen. This isn’t a discrete step so much as it is a general guideline for the whole process. Remember, this is not about you. If you fuck up, now is not the time to be explaining how your mother criticized you too much as a child; it’s also not the time to be engaging in a self-indulgent guilt-wank. “Oh, I’m such a rotten person, I hurt you! I deserve nothing less than to be thrown out of a moving vehicle on the 401! You should hit me! Come on, I mean it, hit me!” That sort of shit keeps you focused on how terrible you feel about your fuck-up but prevents you from actually engaging with the feelings of the person whom you hurt. Not only that, but it places the hurt person in the uncomfortable position of having to reassure you that everything’s okay, rather than having their needs taken care of. It’s profoundly selfish and completely unproductive. In addition, pouring your energy into self-flagellation actually reduces your capacity to repair your fuck-up. Guilt is absolutely useless, and in Western society, we waste way too much time on it. Repeat after me: guilt is not responsibility, and responsibility is not guilt. So turn the focus of the exchange where it belongs: the person receiving the apology. How did the fuck-up affect them? How do they feel? What do they need?

Step 4: Repair things. An apology is actually pretty useless if you don’t make some effort to fix what went wrong or put some sort of measures in place to make sure you don’t do the same thing again. This may involve asking the person what you can do. Can you listen to them vent? Can you buy them a toy to replace the one you broke? Can you drive them home, owe them a favour, validate their feelings? It may at times involve telling the person what you intend to do—“I’m going to sign up for a seminar on that technique so that I know for sure how to do it right next time.” And it may involve enlisting them in the rebuilding process: “I’m going to do some serious thinking about why I missed that cue you gave me, and I’d really like to talk with you again about it, if you’re willing to engage in that process with me.”

This last one is especially key if you’re engaged in an ongoing relationship of any kind because coming together to discuss and heal post-fuck-up is crucial to sustaining the trust that you need to move forward. (I believe this is helpful in fleeting relationships, too, just perhaps less likely.) If you are fortunate enough to fuck up with someone who’s willing to explain to you, in detail, what effects that fuck-up had and what they think you should do differently, take that as the gift it truly is. That doesn’t mean you should suspend your judgment—there are, after all, nasty people out there who say vicious things when they’ve been hurt that only serve to undermine—but it does mean that if you have the opportunity to learn from the source, take it.

Step 5: Follow through. This is where trust-building happens. Whatever you promised to do in Step 4, do it. Don’t make excuses. Don’t find reasons to avoid the person or the repair. Just make it better. If the same situation should come up again, take it as a very fortunate opportunity to show that you have followed through. This doesn’t mean you have to be perfect, or that you’re not allowed to make a mistake ever again; it just means that making the same mistake twice shows quite clearly that you didn’t actually follow through on repairing it the first time around, and that makes for a deeper hurt because not only have you fucked up, you’ve now broken the trust the person had in your ability to repair a fuck-up. All the validation you may have given them in steps 3 and 4 is out the window, and now they might even feel foolish for having given you a chance. This isn’t necessarily a hopeless situation, but it’s a heck of a lot closer than the first time around. So if you have to make a mistake at all, make a different mistake.

Again, I don’t think these steps cover every situation all the time, but I do think their essence is worth applying in most circumstances to the best of your ability. Remember, we all fuck up. I do, and I’m not shy to say so. I have yet to ever meet someone who hasn’t fucked up. Fuck-ups are not the end of the world. Your next fuck-up could very well be the beginning of a wonderful journey in self-knowledge and trust-building, and that, my friends, can lead to some very hot sex indeed. Yep. It’s all about keeping your priorities straight.

***
Into BDSM/Fetish/ Kink/Leather? How do you get YOUR education? What works for YOU? How is the BDSM community is doing when it comes to educating people about relationships, fetishes, kinks and techniques? Please help us find out!

Please participate in BDSM Community Educational Needs Assessment, a national effort to gather information on peoples’ experiences and viewpoints on how BDSM communities organize, produce and present information to newcomers and experienced kinksters alike. The project will document how the BDSM Community is doing when it comes to addressing the educational needs of the BDSM Community. After gathering the information, some suggestions will be made based on the survey’s results. The survey was produced by the CENA (Community Educational Needs Assessment) project, a division of CARAS (Community-Academic Consortium for Research on Alternative Sexualities).

Please participate in our BDSM Community Educational Needs Assessment survey today by clicking on the link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=iG8LaEIcMpw_2bRR9spo_2bXig_3d_3d The Survey should take 30-45 minutes. All surveys are anonymous; no names or other identifying information are required. Please feel free to forward this message to other groups and individuals.  Thank you for your time and for sharing your experience!

ABOUT CARAS:  CARAS is dedicated to the support and promotion of excellence in the study of alternative sexualities, and the dissemination of research results to the alternative sexuality communities, the public, and the research community.

ABOUT CENA:  The broad purpose of the CENA project is help identify needs and implement positive community-level changes in the content and professionalism of educational activities hosted by the BDSM community.

MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE SURVEY:  The BDSM Community Educational Needs Assessment survey was inspired and requested by a number of BDSM/leather/ kink community members who are teachers and producers of BDSM educational events. The project will gather information in three ways: an Internet-based survey, a number of focus group interviews in a various communities across the U.S., and a database on educational presentations.  The project will document what is going on, what needs are being addressed and not addressed, and make some suggestions for future possible developments. The staff of the survey can be found on page two of the links above.

***
Trans Pride

Hello everybody!
For its 6th year, the Trans Pride is actually looking for voluntary helpers and speakers.  This year, Trans Pride will be held at the Pavillon de L’Éducation of UQAM on May 2nd. (same as 3 years ago). More details will come soon.

Speakers
We are still looking for speakers to fill up the schedule for this unforgettable day! So, if you have a subject related to the Trans community or if you have a workgroup that could make people participate, we are waiting for your propositions. The selection committee will then decide which ones will be chosen. This year’s theme is “getting out of the shadow”! By the way, and this is for the trans-boys: Speak-up! Don’t be shy, we want to hear you!

Deadline: March 15 2009 info@fiertetrans.org

Voluntary helpers
Since Fall, we have formed a small team that has started to work on this project. At less than 2 months to go, we are still looking for volunteers to help during the days before and the day of the Trans Pride. The volunteers could do things like: setting up the room and putting up the public notices/posters and putting everything back in its place during the evening, guiding people during the day, etc…

We are waiting for your participation! info@fiertetrans.org

Finally, since a day like that can’t be done without expenses, we will, in another email, ask for the generosity of the community and its allies to help this day being successful!

Danielle Chénier
ATQ & trans pride

***
Greetings Friends and Allies,

The National Sexuality Resource Center is asking you to  support the field of sexuality studies and the role of science in policy development and health interventions by promoting, blogging about and linking to the ‘Save Sexuality Studies’ petition that we launched yesterday.

Called “disgusting” by legislators, queer, women’s and sexuality studies courses and research are being sliced or threatened at some public universities in the US under the guise of budget cuts–and what we stand to lose is the important contributions that research and scientific inquiry make to sexuality related policies, programs and interventions. Any researcher, program or class across the country could be next. Whether we work as advocates, researchers, students or health educators, these cuts will ultimately compromise the integrity and accuracy of all our work.

Please read and sign our petition now to support sexuality studies,  at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/savesexualitystudiesnow, link to the petition from your website, newsletter, list serve, Facebook profile or blog, and pass the petition on to your friends–we must work together to support this critical work. You can also read our blog (and see the ultra-offensive video from GA legislator Charlice Byrd) at http://nsrc.sfsu.edu/dialogues/users/Christopher.White/blog/sexuality-studies-under-attack.

Thanks for your support!

National Sexuality Resource Center nsrc.sfsu.edu


Ann Whidden, MPH
Communications and Internet Director
National Sexuality Resource Center
835 Market Street, Suite 517
San Francisco, CA 94103
telephone 415-817-4514
whidden.nsrc@gmail.com
nsrc.sfsu.edu

See what we’re up to on our homepage:

http://www.nsrc.sfsu.edu/

For provocative articles on sexuality, visit American Sexuality Magazine:

http://www.americansexuality.com/

6 Responses

  1. Thank you so much for posting “Five Steps for Fixing A Fuck-Up”. It was awesome to read; as someone who is currently trying to figure out topping, I was just musing recently that this is one thing no one talks about. I particularly like the section on how guilt is not useful and how you should be focused on what would be productive, instead of beating yourself up.

    I have been reading your blog intermittently for a while now and I think it is great. Are you ever in Boston giving talks? I think it’d be great to hear you present on pretty much anything, at least if your posts here are any indication. :-)

  2. ironrose – Thanks for the note! I’m glad you got something out of the post. :) As for your question – I haven’t spoken in Boston yet, but I love the city and have a number of friends there. So if you’re hooked up with any local kink organizations or sex toy shops that might be interested in bringing me in, I’d absolutely love to pay you a visit! Feel free to drop me a line at veryqueer3 at yahoo dot ca if you want to follow up on this. In the meantime, enjoy your explorations!

  3. It was very important for me to read this today:

    “If you are fortunate enough to fuck up with someone who’s willing to explain to you, in detail, what effects that fuck-up had and what they think you should do differently, take that as the gift it truly is.”

    Thanks again for writing such a smart blog about kink.

  4. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! This blog entry was so validating. I feel like you wrote exactly what I’ve been trying to explain to people for so long!

    I was in a dating/new sexual energy/nre situation this last summer and had a lot of people telling me I was being irrational about the boundary crossing I was perceiving from them, so I kept stickin around in hopes that my friends were right and because the sex was really good (until the emotional stuff got too big of course). I was also in the midst of this person deflecting and blaming me a lot in the subtle ways you mentioned (making it about them, sorry you had that feeling, ect.) and I decided to still try it because that’s where I was at, and somehow it seemed like trying something different or braver (hormones were a-racing).
    In the end, I learned what I needed to from that experience which was to listen to my gut that those kinds of responses and super important semantics were SO important. Ultimately, it was proved to me much more harshly than started through immensely obvious boundary crossing, and it seemed that no matter how much I offered why i was feeling hurt, this person could only make it about them. Thank you calling what I offered a gift. I needed to hear that affirmation. These suggestions and pointers are no joke and next time I’m going to watch out for them more closely.
    I know you meant them for things to do yourself and I acknowledge that, although feel like this kind of behavior is a bit more built in for me. It’s kind of like you were saying in the problems of polynormativity about how some rules just shouldn’t have to be made. Fucking up is similar in that it’s all about the kind of line crossed, how big, how little, and how much would that be intuitive for someone whose the kind of person you want to have x, y, z, m, k, whatever kinda relationship/hookup/play/etc with. Thanks again.

  5. Just found your blog and love it! Just wanted to make one distinction on guilt vs. shame which Brene Brown in her TED talks discusses as well (so credit goes to her). Guilt is ok – I made a mistake. Shame is the issue – I am a mistake. In the Step 3 part, where you talk about listening and how guilt isn’t useful at all – I think a better description would be to refer to that as shame. :)

    Thanks for all the wonderful posts!

  6. […] Be kind. Be consistent. Be generous. Ask explicitly for what you want. State clearly what you need.Apologize when you fuck up, and try to fix it. Find strategies to compensate for your shortcomings, such as forgetfulness or anxiety or lack of […]

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