How to broach rough sex safely with your partner

WORDS by izzy wight

An introduction to the world of consensual kink.

In recent years, social media has played a hand in making the presence of acts like slapping, spitting, choking and hair pulling feel commonplace in our sex lives. A TikTok song about ‘letting a man spit in your mouth’ has amassed over 105,000 videos under the sound, while widespread ‘vanilla-shaming’ has led to internet users feeling embarrassed about their sexual preferences.

As explained by Bust journalist Molly MacGilbert, “we are ​​learning to equate sexual liberation with kinkiness… it needs to be taught that sexual liberation is the freedom to choose and vocalise what you don’t want during sex, just as much as what you do”. It’s true: we can understand and explore our desires – whatever they may be – in a safe, consensual and pleasurable way. Vanilla sex can be fabulous and kinky sex can be great too, as long as all parties involved feel heard, comfortable and relaxed.

For more sex-related stories, head to our Life section.

And if rough sex is something you might be interested in, this is the article for you. With the plethora of ‘kinky vs vanilla’ discourse on the internet, broaching the subject can feel a little intimidating – particularly with a partner. Brisbane-based sex and intimacy counsellor Amanda Grogan often speaks to individuals and partners dealing with feelings of shame and confusion.

Specialising in non-monogamy, polyamory, kink and fetish, Amanda offers counselling services for kinky people or those wanting to explore their thoughts, feelings and actions when it comes to sex. Because let’s be honest: sex can be tricky at the best of times. So whether you’re contemplating rough sex or feel ready to just dive in, these are the basic need-to-know boxes to check before playing rough.

Rough sex, BDSM, kink – what does it all mean?

For those new to the world of kink, it can be confusing to navigate the wide glossary of terms, subcultures, fetishes and fantasies. Like with any highly stigmatised aspect of sex, kink (and consequently, rough sex and BDSM) are often misunderstood. Despite their differences, BDSM and rough sex are often lumped together under the vague umbrella of ‘general kinkiness’. 

“Let’s first define the difference,” Amanda says. “[The term] Rough sex is often referring to actions such as choking, slapping, spanking, hair pulling, etc. BDSM – the acronym for ‘bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadomasochism and masochism’ – is not another way to say rough sex. While there may be elements of it involved, many aspects of BDSM are not rough at all. It’s also important to note that BDSM may not even involve sex.”

If it’s something you’ve been thinking about, you might already have an idea of the kind of rough sex or BDSM-categorised activity you’d like to try. Before experimenting with anything new, Amanda suggests trying to understand your desires on a deeper level. “Starting with conversations about the differences between BDSM and rough sex is a great place; even starting with a question for yourself: ‘What is kink?’.”

According to Amanda, the answer is simple – but not always straightforward. “Kink is often described as anything not vanilla or out of the mainstream,” she explains, “But how do we define what mainstream is? Does that look different depending on your family, upbringing, country, culture or religion? These conversations with your partner(s) can help you all feel comfortable with the basics before diving into your desires, which can sometimes feel a little scarier.”

Setting boundaries

I’ve said once and I’ll say it again: the most important aspect of any sexual act is consent. This is particularly true in the case of trying something new or previously out of your comfort zone – consent can be given and taken away as liberally as you would like. In a recent video (recommended by Amanda) by sex and relationships creator Hannah Witton, she explains that “It’s not consenting if you don’t feel like you can say no”.

“RACK (Rise Aware Consensual Kink), SSC (Safe Sane Consensual) and PRICK (Personal Responsibility, Informed, Consensual Kink) are all models that people in the kink community use for communications and boundaries,” Amanda tells me. “These can be helpful, but if you’re new to this world it might feel overwhelming. You don’t have to know anything about BDSM to begin – you can expand upon your existing communication and boundaries when it comes to sex.”

While you might be keen on choking, hair pulling could be off-limits, and your partner must understand exactly what is and isn’t okay. As Amanda explains, “Creating an environment in your relationship to talk about sex when you’re not having sex is a great way to establish a space to openly discuss new fantasies or ideas.

“For example, directly say to your partner, ‘I’d love it if you pulled on my hair. Would you like to pull my hair?’ and create your boundaries from there,” Amanda says. In Hannah’s video, she suggests creating a ‘Yes, no, maybe list’. “This is where you take a big list of sex and kink acts, language you might want to use and emotions you might want to feel and separate them into yes, no and maybe columns,” Hannah explains.

After your lists are made, you and your partner then come together and compare lists and focus on the ‘yes’ acts you have in common. Following this, have an open discussion and work out exactly what want you to explore and play with together. By making a physical and specific list, your boundaries are very clear to both you and your partner.

The nitty-gritty

So you’ve talked, explored your desires, set your boundaries and confirmed all parties have given their enthusiastic consent to giving this a red-hot go. What now? If you’re looking for a practical way to ease into it, Amanda suggests starting with a ‘buffer’ – “showing your partner(s) an erotic story, photo or movie that you love and asking them their thoughts”. Set the erotic mood, make yourself comfortable and take it slow. Remember: rough sex should also be pleasurable sex for everyone involved.

For more on how to safely enjoy rough sex, head here.

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