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Is this just about BDSM fantasy, or is he paying for a dominatrix?

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Beantowngal07 asks:

I recently stumbled upon some disturbing web sites that my boyfriend had been looking at on the internet. Mostly they were in regards to BDSM and submission. I am not a prude, and porn does not bother me, the thing that bothered me the most was that the most frequently visited sites were for dominatrixes in our area who perform these acts for money. There was not much about sex, but I am worried that my boyfriend is engaged in these activities. I am not a prude, and would love to act out fantasies with him, but I would be heartbroken to discover he had or is currently visiting any of these people. Especially since he would be paying for it. I don't know how to go about discussing this with him. We have a healthy sex life, but he never wants to try anything new. Had he discussed this with me I would be open into role playing these fantasies. I don't know what to do...any advice PLEASE!!

Heather Corinna replies:

It seems to me that we have four likely possibilities here when it comes to the pro-domme websites.

1) Your boyfriend is simply curious about and/or turned on by BDSM. Pro-domme sites are often free, and tend to have photos as well as information about BDSM. Some even have some bonafide, all-out education when it comes to BDSM, which is one reason why someone curious but uneducated about it may be cruising there. They also will often detail what a scene with that particular dominatrix is like, which, for obvious reasons, is a turn-on for someone fantasizing about being in a scene themselves, but which also can let someone in on what a scene is all about if they're unfamiliar. He may even just like how pro-domme's look or dress: again, most of these sites are free, and many other visual BDSM sites are not.

2) Your boyfriend is considering hiring a pro-domme, or curious about what that entails.

3) Your boyfriend does already engage the services of local pro-dommes.

4) Your boyfriend once did use pro-domme services, and is engaging in a bit of nostalgia.

Obviously, I have no way of knowing which of those things -- and it may be more than one -- is the case. But your boyfriend will, and clearly, you need to talk with him because this is obviously, and understandably, distressing for you. Whether he's paying for it or not, every partner who is within an agreement or shared understanding that they are in an exclusive partnership is entitled to know if a partner is not honoring that agreement. You need to know that when it comes to safeguarding your health, to consent to taking extra risks multiple partnership presents, and to consent to being in a relationship if there is more than one partner involved/which is nonexclusive. If you share finances, and a partner is using those shared finances to purchase sexual services, you obviously should get a say about if money that may also be yours is being spent in a certain way without your agreement.

Not knowing how you fell upon this, it's hard for me to tell you how to bring it up, other than to tell you not to jump to conclusions. I also don't know what your individual communication dynamics are like. But since you don't know what is actually going on here, and since you're obviously pretty freaked, I'd suggest first letting him know you found this -- and if you snooped in something private to do that, you're going to have to fess up about that -- and letting him know that whatever is going on, your issue isn't with his interest in BDSM, but with your concern that he's possibly having other sexual partnership. By all means, if you also just have personal opposition to sex work and a partner you're with engaging in it, you get to have that, and that's something you may also want to discuss if it's not something you've both discussed before. I'd suggest you try and be calm, and I'd also suggest you give him room to talk, and do some listening. Lastly, if this is about nothing but his fantasy, I'd encourage you not to try and claim any ownership of his internal sexual life by insisting he explores this with you if that isn't something he wants or wants right now.

Obviously, if this has been actuality, not fantasy, and involves him going outside the bounds of the exclusivity you've agreed upon, you're going to have some choices to make about what you do with the relationship, and what you are and are not open to.

When it comes to him not wanting to try anything new, even though it seems like he has some interest, or at least a curiosity, in BDSM, it may be that this is simply private for him right now, something he wants to keep for himself in his solo sex life, separate from you, or it may be that it just isn't something he feels comfortable asking you about. Do understand that even if he is not taking other partners for BDSM -- not engaging the services of a pro-domme -- that sometimes we simply have a facet or two of our sexuality that we prefer to keep for ourselves. Sexual partners are never obliged to engage their partner in every aspect of their sexuality, after all, and even with a partner, we still do have our own, separate sexuality. We simply choose to share parts of it with our partners. If a partner doesn't share every single aspect or fantasy, that doesn't mean there is necessarily something wrong with the relationship, nor that they are hiding sexual activity with someone else. So, it may be that this is about his own sexual fantasy, and it's not something he's ready to share, not something he wants to share, or not something he has interest in making a part of your relationship. He gets to have any of those preferences, and that gets to be okay.

I want to bring up one last thing here. Twice, in one short paragraph, you've told me you aren't a prude. I hope that you know that however a given person feels about sex, whatever their limits and boundaries are, whatever they are or are not comfortable with is perfectly okay. It'd be okay if you were bothered by porn, for instance, and it'd be okay if you did not want to act out BDSM fantasies with him, and neither of those issues would make you a "prude." That term is about as useful as the opposite side of its coin, slut. They're both arbitrary, and both also tend to put a judgment or a social status on a given person's sexuality or sexual choices, which is never helpful, not to me, and not for you. I encourage people to consider just dropping that whole dichotomy from the way they think about sex and sexuality, because I think it tends to stand in the way of really seeing and understanding human sexuality and sexual behavior as individual, and respecting the fact that we're just all different -- and none of us better than another in this way -- which is completely alright.

Here are a couple extra links for you, dealing with communication as well as some address of BDSM:

written 27 Jan 2008 . updated 30 Jan 2009

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