Cuffing Season: Five Tips for Anxious Dominants

One of the first times I was dominating a new partner, I set myself on fire. I had curled and sprayed my hair and was holding a wax candle, murmuring the horrible deeds I had planned in my partner’s ear. Suddenly, flames. Having absolutely no plan for this situation, I quickly reached up to snuff out my burning hair with my hand, continuing my monologue in hopes that they wouldn’t notice my head was on fire. I was sure I had lost all credibility as a Domme. Afterward, we were chatting about the scene, and they said, “You know, that part where your hair was on fire and you just put it out… that was terrifying. You were so controlled and dedicated to what you were going to do to me that you barely acknowledged it. I was so impressed.” Sure. I planned that.

While they might not involve actual flames, anxiety-provoking situations are common. Whether it’s public speaking, managing daily tasks, or making that phone call, worries and doubts make it tough to be our best selves. If you can relate, you might also think that you’re not cut out to be the confident, controlled Dominant that your sub really wants. Turns out, you’re probably better than they can imagine. Here are five tips to help you use your anxiety as a tool, connect with your partner, and build your confidence.

Turn fears into strengths

Back when our animal brains developed anxiety, it was a tool for fine tuning our responses and keeping us safe. Unless you’re into very specific kinds of play, it’s unlikely you’ll be facing tigers or bears in your scene. How can you channel that instinct for action and preparation? Reframe and redirect. You might think, “I’m too clumsy to dominate.” Well, sit your ass down and tell your sub exactly how to lavish you with attention! Tongue-tied when it comes to dirty talk? Give your sub earplugs and a blindfold and only communicate with touch. Make a list of all the things you think of as deficits, and brainstorm ways to transform them into kinky talents. In the process, you’ll probably challenge many of the preconceptions you have about Domination, and realize that there are as many ways to dominate as there are to be queer.

Develop your own toolbox

There are plenty of tools, both psychological and physical, that can improve the way you work through a scene. People who seem to have their shit totally together, both in kink and in life, have probably just developed their own tricks and practices, and you can too. For instance, every anxious person has at one time wished they were as calm and collected as someone else. Turns out, pretending you’re somebody different minimizes anxiety, increases creativity, and allows your brain to attend to the task at hand without all that fear getting in the way. Imagine a character or person who embodies the qualities you’re looking for, and use that to guide yourself in unexpected circumstances. My favorite is Maleficent. One time, I was meeting a sub for a scene and he was ten minutes late. I had no plan for this, but I remembered that Maleficent is particularly upset by lapses in decorum. What would she do? Well, she made a whole village wait fifteen years to see their princess again, so I decided he’d have to wait 20 minutes while I called my friend and explained, in front of him, how disappointed I was with his tardiness.

You can also choose toys that are good fits for your strengths and avoid skills that you find challenging. Flogging is hard, especially if your hands are shaking. A fancy whip is not exciting if you accidentally hit yourself in the eye with it, so choose a paddle instead. If you’re going for strap-on play, find a harness that’s easy to slip on and resembles underwear. Use a stimulating balm on nipples or genitals to get your sub’s body sensitive and on edge. Vibrators, clamps, and position enhancers can all help get your sub in the mood in an accessible way that does the work for you. Same goes for your attire. If you’re tottering around in heels and your breathing is restricted by a corset, you’re not doing yourself any favors. If such an outfit really sets the mood, blindfold your sub and take it off once you’ve made your point.

Use your anxiety to plan ahead

The great thing about being an anxious person is that you’ve already imagined every disaster. You are also hyper aware of what it means to not feel safe, and are likely better at recognizing those signals in another person. As a result, you’re more sensitive and more prepared. Negotiating a mutually fulfilling, consensual scene is the core of a great BDSM experience. Still, constantly asking if something is OK might seem incongruent with a dominant demeanor. How to negotiate? How to check in? Yes/No/Maybe lists can be useful tools, but they can also feel like grocery lists. I prefer to issue small tasks beforehand to help me get to know my sub. Often, when people are asked to write out a fantasy, they draw from material that excites them. I sometimes require an “application” that includes a resume of interests, experiences, and clear boundaries. I also ask them questions: how would you feel if I tickled you? If I called you names, would you feel excited or hurt? This also helps your sub articulate their desires, communicate, and reflect on their experiences. You should also be sure to have a safe word system; I prefer a red/yellow/green check in.

I gather this material, and use it to develop a four-point plan based on what scientists call the sexual response cycle. There are four phases: excitement, plateau, orgasm, and resolution. You might also recognize these phases from English class: exposition, rising action, climax, and resolution. It’s a pattern humans are into. I start with a low intensity activity to build excitement, like tying someone up or talking dirty. Then, I follow up with something slightly more intense, like spanking. The third phase is the peak and may include an orgasm for some (but definitely doesn’t have to). Finally, I choose something soothing to guide the sub back to a relaxed state. Think about how you’re going to transition from phase to phase. Is that paddle within reach while you’re fingering their ass, or will you have to run across the room to find it? These activities are different for everyone, and should definitely be pre-negotiated. I also love to tell my sub my plans before they happen and watch their response. If something makes them uneasy, anxious people are in a great position to spot that.

Stay in the moment

Anxiety is imagination with too much weight on outcomes. Find ways to meet yourself in the present, and build grounding techniques into your scene. Do your hands get sweaty or shaky? PVC gloves can mask that and provide a silky, sensual texture to your touch. Do your pulse and breathing quicken more than you’d like? Select some slow songs with distinct beats, and take a moment to inhale and exhale for at least four beats each. Doing this while in contact with your submissive can also be surprisingly calming and intimate. Find textures, patterns, smells, or tastes that you can focus on when you feel yourself drifting toward imagined disasters. This technique is useful for helping you stay calm and maintain a slow, sexy pace to your play.

Connect with your sub

Research has found that people who seek connection with others in tough times are less likely to experience negative physical consequences of stress. Think of your anxiety as a motivation to connect with your sub, instead of something getting in your way. Additionally, creating a successful scene and confronting your fears is a great way to reclaim your sense of power. If you’re a worrier, you already know how to create tension; use it to your advantage to keep your sub on edge! To your body, coming down from an exciting scene can feel very similar to recovering from panic. If you’ve got any coping mechanisms (warm blankets! tea! cuddly cats!), you’re already a pro at aftercare.

Remember, anxiety is a tool. With these strategies, you can use it to create a deeply satisfying experience for you and for your submissive.

Sheila Rouse is a sex educator, performer, and developmental scientist. The rest is up for debate.

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