Who you love — and WANT — is about so much more than gender...
When asked about my sexual orientation in the past, I've found it easier to reply, "I'm bisexual" than to explain my more complex, and more authentic, orientation.
When I was 9 years old, I made myself a "bottle" to live in until my Master came and found me.
I grew up watching I Dream of Jeannie like lots of kids I was friends with, but none of them shared my fantasy of living in a bottle and doing whatever Master asked them to do. When we played together, they would talk about getting married and having a husband or a wife. Some of them didn't talk much at all during these discussions (these girls later identified as lesbian).
My friends would sometimes look at me strangely. They did not understand what I was going on about. Why would anyone want a Master? I couldn't explain it. I just knew that I wanted someone else to be in control and that when I thought about this, I became all hot and bothered.
When I would masturbate at night before bed, I would dream of being owned and kept and ordered to do all sorts of things. I didn’t know what those things were, I just knew that they were exciting. (Yes I did masturbate most nights when I was 9, but that is another story for another time.)
As I got older and started having sexual experiences, I was attracted to men, women and some folks somewhere in between.
However, I found myself most attracted to people who were dominant when it came to flirting and sexual play.
They have an energy, an edge and a presence that made me light up like a neon sign.
I was 15 when I discovered the Story of O in a second-hand bookstore in Andover, Massachusetts. I was attending summer school to study Russian and it was my first time away from home without constant supervision. I read that book so often that the binding broke and pages started falling out. When I was 16, I saw the film version and it had the same effect.
Like many of us, it took me many years to fully identify and accept my desires and therefore to recognize what drove me sexually.
I realized the main factor in my sexual attraction to people has nothing to do with gender — and everything to do with power exchange.
Power exchange in a BDSM relationship is when a couple mutually and proactively agrees who will hold the power and control (i.e., who will be the Dominant or top) and who will surrender their power and control (i.e., who will be the submissive or bottom). This is exchange is made with the explicit acknowledgment of each partner's consent, limits and boundaries.
It's important to recognize that power exchange and dynamics exist within ALL relationships.
Within many classical, heteronormative relationships the man goes to work and controls the financial aspects of the relationship while the woman stays at home and looks after the kids, the residence and the social aspects of their lives. There is power on both sides of this dynamic, and neither is better or worse as long as the dynamic — the power exchange — has been decided and agreed upon with the consent and interests of both people in mind.
To understand the power dynamics in your own relationship, take a few minutes to complete this exercise:
1. Think about your relationship (or your last relationship) and answer these questions:
- Who makes most of the major decisions?
- Do you make the major decisions together by consensus?
- Who manages the money?
- Who manages things relating to the home?
- Who initiates sex most often?
- Who is on top and who is on the bottom in the bedroom? Or do you switch?
If you answer "both of us" to most questions, you may have a fairly equal relationship. However, it is rare that both people manage ALL of these areas together. It would simply take up too much time. Usually, there is a division of labor and therefore one person may have power in one area and the other person in a different area.
2. Now think about your parents’ relationship and ask yourself the same questions.
Think about how power was apportioned in that relationship and the impressions that left on you.
Once you have done this a few times looking at a variety of relationships, you’ll have a feel for power dynamics and how you relate to them.
Remember these dynamics are generally fluid. Power in relationships can change over time and in response to specific circumstances.
For example, a man who is the breadwinner may lose his job and the woman may then becomes the breadwinner. When power dynamics shift, the relationships will often require some degree of adjustment. When they shift without prior expectation or agreement from both people beforehand, it can be devastating.
In a relationship that includes a consensual power exchange, the couple decides together who will be in control/have the power in which areas of the relationship.
Some people have a power exchange relationship in the bedroom only.
Others extend this further into other or all aspects of their relationship.
As I've experienced more relationships of my own and have given this concept more thought, I've realized that I, personally, am most turned on when I surrender power in many areas of my relationship.
Over time I've learned that sexual orientation is not binary — and it is not static.
Sexual orientation is an enduring pattern of sexual and affectional attraction. People are increasingly using a wider variety of labels to describe their own orientation, sexual orientation need not contain only one label (heterosexual for example).
I describe sexual orientation across three dimensions:
1. From heterosexual to bisexual to homosexual (i.e., which gender(s) are you attracted to).
2. From Dominant to submissive.
3. From highly sexual to asexual.
(Remember that I am talking about orientation rather than gender identity. Gender is how I see and experience myself and does not necessarily apply to how I relate to or with others.)
In describing myself, as an example, I view my sexual orientation as bisexual, submissive and highly sexual.
The most intense focus within this orientation for me is the submissive one. For me, the best sex involves me giving up control to another person or persons — regardless of their gender. I have always been this way and this has been more important at some points in my life than at others.
Now that you have this information, what is yours?
Dr. Lori Beth is an intimacy/sex coach and psychologist who helps individuals, couples and polyamorous groups create their ideal lasting relationship(s). You can sign up for her newsletter and find out more about her adventures on her website and check out The A to Z of Sex podcast on iTunes. Write to her with your questions by clicking here.