Want to know what your submissive is REALLY thinking? Want to be able to tell your Dominant EVERYTHING?
Communication is everything in the scene - In the vanilla world - In life in general
Homework is one of many ways you can communicate with your partner.
As a matter of fact, it's so important, that it is one of the 3 points of my BDSM - "Triangle of Communication™" along with "negotiation forms" and good old "clear and consistent verbal communication"
Truly this is a case where the three, equal more then the sum of their parts. The three work together wonderfully to give you a complete picture of your play partner, very similar to the way your body puts together different amino acids to create a complete protein.
Verbal communication is at the top of the pyramid and is always the most important. You must never stop talking and learning from each other. If you have a problem communicating verbally with your partner, TRY TO CHANGE THAT?. It's "that" important. Some people are better at it then others, and the other points of the triangle will help a lot, BUT verbally getting to know someone, in person, on the phone, under the covers, at dinner, ANYWHERE? is PRICELESS.
The second point is filling out negotiation forms, or other written documents that will help the Top find out what kind of things their partner is interested in and what they are willing to do and or not do. Although this can be done verbally, I recommend it's done in written form because your bottom may be embarrassed to talk about certain things and might not give you a truthful response if asked face to face. Also seeing a long list of potential activities is a great way to spur the imagination and to get your partner thinking about fun new things.
The third point, equal in footing to negotiation forms is what we are going to talk about today? Homework.
Homework? diary? journal? checking in? there are different names for it, but it's all the same thing.
What is homework?
Homework is simply: Communicating with a play partner in written form, to talk about shared experiences or anything else that's on their mind.
More specifically: A play partner checking in with their other play partner after a suitable amount of time has gone by for that person to no longer be in head space and have had enough time to reflect on but not forget key events and feelings. And/or: A partner wishing to share other information, from casual to cathartic, in a non-confrontational way.
"Okay Bo, so we're buying into your whole crazy Communication Triangle. We've talked to each other till we're blue in the face, we've filled out a Negotiation Form and we have to admit we had fun talking it over with each other, we even discussed safewords and have begun playing. Things are great. We're having fun...
SO TELL US HOW DO WE DO THIS HOMEWORK THING?"
Have a bottom keep a diary for you. This is not your bottom's diary. This is the Tops possession. However, the bottom should write in it as if it's their private diary and be totally frank about everything and anything. They are not writing "to" their Top directly, they are writing in an anonymous way.
It should be noted that I feel the anonymity of writing to a diary and not directly to me helps a bottom feel less self conscious about writing more deeply. Some Tops however, like my wonderfully evil friend Flagg in NYC, like to do the complete opposite. They like to make their bottom write to them directly. They feel that although it's a bit tougher at first, in the long run it can be more rewarding to learn to fully submit directly to their Top. I wonder if in the long run, they may be missing some important stuff with this strategy? If your Flagg, you probably are not? but be careful with this approach if your not completely confident that it suits you. This is just a different style. Neither is wrong or better, it's just different. Play around with different ideas in your head and do what works best for you!
With the advent of the Internet, the "virtual" diary is probably the easiest and best way to go. I like to have my subs send me an e-mail diary entry as often as possible, which I can keep on my computer or print out in book form. Some people like to keep an old fashioned hand-written diary. That's ok too, especially if you live together or see each other often. Whatever works and gets you communicating.
I feel a bottom should, at the least, write after every playtime and when they might have a thought or concern about BDSM. They should also be made to feel comfortable writing as much as they like and any time they want to share something with you, even daily if you want to make it really intense. Use the diary to gauge your growth together, monitor your relationship and to refine your scenes. It is an opportunity to unscrew the Top of your partners head and OBSERVE.
These diary entries are incredibly cathartic for the bottom, allowing them to work through their feelings and find out about themselves. Making a sub mentally review everything about a session is a hot and fun way to find out how they really felt about the scene. Moreover, you'll find out some VERY important things. You may have thought your fabulous scene with the riding crop made your bottom shiver, when, in reality, they may not even remember it. But just one little word--you forgot you ever uttered--put them over the edge!
INSIST ON HONESTY AND COMPLETE DISCLOSURE BUT NEVER PUNISH A BOTTOM FOR WHAT IS IN THEIR DIARY!!
Ok.. this is so important... let's say it again. INSIST ON HONESTY AND COMPLETE DISCLOSURE BUT NEVER PUNISH A BOTTOM FOR WHAT IS IN THEIR DIARY!! Or you'll never get anything out of them again. If your sub says, "I wish my Lord and Master would stop wrapping the cane every time he hits me with it." Don't get mad, be glad you've learned something and now have the opportunity to improve yourself. Your bottom may never have known any other way to tell you that, but through the diary they can. I can't tell you how many shy subs this technique has helped!! Sure, they know you read it?but if you don't harshly confront them every time they tell you something you might not want to hear, the diary becomes an anonymous entity that they can trust and you can learn so very much from.
When you write in a traditional private diary, no one ever answers. That "safe space" feeling is what I'm trying to re-create. When we start doing homework I usually respond to the first few emails saying things like "GREAT JOB" or "This is fantastic" or "A good start, but you need to go deeper". In other words, I will comment on getting the diary & how I want it done, but not so much on it's contents. I also tell my partner that they should not feel bad in the future when I don't respond to their diary. They should know that I always read it, but that I want them to have the feeling of anonymity and if they need an answer on something specific they should make sure to communicate it to me verbally or in a separate email.
That said, your going to DEFINITELY still find times you should respond to something said in a diary. Often a bottom will become negative about themselves, or have stated something I know to be incorrect or are troubled by something that is not too serious. With these situations I usually will send them an email response addressing the issue, staying positive and reassuring them. Other times, If the homework is really asking for an answer, asking you to solve some sort of problem or there are serious issues being discussed, I'll usually start a conversation away from the diary verbally to address the issue.
How deep should we go?
In my mind, part of being a good Top is being able to gauge your partner's interests, directions and compatibilities with you. It makes no sense to try to fit a square peg into a round hole? unless your into that kind of thing? ;)
If you play with someone who is casually into BDSM, it probably is not a good person to try to get to write you diary entries on a daily basis, enforcing strict protocol; using lower case "i's" when referring to themselves, etc etc. However I think that it's very understandable to ask a play partner to send you homework after you play together, or whenever the TOP decides they want homework. Especially after you explain to your partner the potential benefits to your relationship.
Now of course, I don't mean that every person you meet at paddles that you wind up giving a spanking to should be filling out negotiation forms and homework in triplicate by morning! But then again? it has happened ;) Use your judgment, sometimes this type of rigid beginning can be a hot entrée to a new relationship. Of course OTHER times it will cause you to look like the insane, obsessive compulsive you are!
Not everyone is interested in the "whole ride". But if they are, I believe that submitting completely includes submitting your thoughts. Being able to get someone to the point where they trust you so completely that they will bear their soul to you can be very intense. I call this NO FILTERING.
It also can be dangerous. You have to be able to handle what you're going to hear!!! You can't demand this level of deep disclosure and then be pissy after every journal entry because you don't like what was said! Remember, if we could read peoples minds, we'd go crazy. Your thoughts flip around like salmon swimming upstream. "I love him.. I hate him? ewwwwwwwww he makes me so mad... (and then aloud) What time to you want to go to dinner sweetheart!" If you want to play around with raw, straight from the tap thoughts, you better be ready for it. Don't forget that you will ruin all the hard work of getting someone to trust you if you cop an attitude with your bottom for something they have written. Be thankful that you know about it, and either change it or not?. But don't be angry.
Another intense direction you can take, is to purposely do or say things in your playtime or relationship and wait and see how it is handled in the diary. It can be lots of fun "planting" certain things and waiting for the inevitable feedback you'll get later on.
"Wait, what if they don't give you feedback." Well then you need to talk to your partner and encourage them to go deeper. To not just give you surface information or tell you what you want to hear. You need to make sure that they know that homework is worthless without sincerity, honesty and a genuine effort to bare ones soul as much as possible.
I believe very strongly that BDSM can be a healing thing when done with love and of course, done safely sanely and consensually. How does this tie in with doing "homework" specifically? I think you'll see some very interesting similarities in the following clinical research and information I've uncovered.
Writing a journal in general can be a very healthy activity. Writing as therapy actually has an ancient history. James Pennebaker, Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas, is a leading expert on this subject and has actually proven via numerous experiments conducted by him and his colleagues that this simple procedure leads to improvements in not just mental but physical health as well.
It's not known exactly how this can occur. However, scientists speculate that the energy expended in holding in a trauma has effects on physical problems such as asthma and problems in immune function. If the energy isn't spent on "holding in", it can be used in more healthful directions.
A recent study by Pennebaker in 2001 reported at the American Psychological Assocation looked at the role of journal writing in helping people cope with job loss at mid-life. Persons who wrote out their feelings about job loss for a period of 20 minutes a day for five days were more likely to be working again when followed up eight months later, in comparison to those who did not do the writing exercise. These findings suggest that putting feelings down on paper may help to get rid of feelings of anger or other negative emotions and allow a person to move forwards towards constructive action.
Researchers have also found that the benefits of expressing your feelings are only of value if you do so with a genuine and sincere attitude. "Token" expressions may not bring you much relief.
In his book "Opening Up", Dr. Pennebaker discusses his research into the mind-body connection, and about how mental and physical health can be affected by how people express their deepest feelings about important life experiences.Dr. Pennebaker says that the many studies he has taken part in and the case histories of individuals he has observed in the course of his career prove that writing (or verbalizing) the details of and emotions surrounding people's most traumatic (and occasionally most positive) life experiences can affect well-being. It is fascinating to learn how interconnected the mind and body actually are, and how effective the act of putting one's experiences into words can improve people's quality of life, or conversely how expressing the wrong kinds of feelings or expressing them inappropriately can do just the opposite.
I asked one of my play partners to tell us what a diary means to them:
- Homework helps you recall and examine the scene you just experienced.
- For myself homework always turns into an examination for myself, my life within the scene, my life not in the scene and of course the scene itself. It let's my Top know what is going on in my life and my mind.
- Homework can help the bottom/sub to safely explore their feelings of the scene that they had, it helps them work out what they liked, did not like or were not sure about regarding the scene. Homework helps you to explore more than just the physical aspects of the scene, it helps you to explore the mental side of the scene too.
- Homework is a great communicator in that if the bottom/sub has something to say to the Top/Dom regarding the scene, regarding any negotiation, regarding aftercare or anything that they feel that they cannot tell the Top/Dom face to face this (homework) is a great safe haven for the bottom/sub. I am never be punished or yelled at for what I write in my homework and that makes a great difference.
- Do not always expect an answer from the Top/Dom regarding your homework. This is a communication tool, but also it is something for the Top/Dom to see what is happening in your head. If they feel as if you said something that might be important to address they will.
The following are real excerpts of homework I've received.
The names have been deleted to protect the not-so-innocent ;)
This recent play partner and I were talking on the phone. Our conversation was very complicated so I wont get too into details, but all you need to know is that I had told her in no uncertain terms that "she would tell me everything" about something specific we were talking about. She became dead silent and evasive so I let it drop. You can see here how her homework allowed her to fess up that her feelings were, as I suspected, embarrassment of the positive, not negative as it appeared. This is a perfect example of something that could have wound up lost forever between us because she couldn't bring herself to admit to something face to face. You also can see how she is fighting herself to "not filter" and doing a wonderful job. Giving me great insight to her personality.
I thought I was gonna die when he started saying how" I'll tell him everything" and then "he'll do everything" I tell him about. That was sooo damn hot! I don't have too many deep, dark desires?well... maybe I do. I think the things I'm the most reluctant to talk about are things that involve 'force' and some of the edgier stuff that I've done before, but I'm much more guarded about now, because of past negative experiences.
Shit. I'm not some wounded little bird... that's SO not me. It's hard to even think that I have stuff in my past that could still get to me now. It seems weak to me and I like to think that anyone who knows me knows that I'm far from weak.
Ack! My brain is telling me to delete that last paragraph. But He wants to know I how feel, and I guess that includes telling him the stuff that sounds neurotic to me.
Here is an entry from another play partner that I definitely responded to verbally later. Note how she is working thru her feelings. She had worked hard on a particular (really long) diary entry, when it was mentioned during the day, I had told her that "I hadn't had time to finish it and that I'd forward it home to read". Unfortunately I'd forgotten to do that and when we continued the conversation on the phone later that night, I must have given her the incorrect impression that I didn't care about it that much. In reality I was very concerned about her and what she had to say as it was a bit traumatic. I was amazed that she felt this way when I got the email. It just goes to show you how things can be so misunderstood.
"sort of got my feelings a little hurt last night when Daddy said that He didn't finish reading all of my diary entry. He keeps telling me how important it is. i felt hurt i guess, that it took alot for me to write what i did, and yet He didn't finish reading it. i didn't ask Him why, because (of course) i didn't want to hurt His feelings. but i thought about it later, and He did say that he meant to forward to the house. so i guess He had planned on reading it at home, where He could give it His full attention, which is a good thing. i know He was busy at work too, so i thought of all the positive reasons, instead of dwelling on the bad ones that were going on in my head, and whether or not Daddy didn't get to finish reading my diary doesn't mean that He's not there for me, or doesn't care."
A favorite old play partner of mine wrote this, towards the beginning of our relationship. This is a testament to how good communication can make you look like your some sort of mind reader. I didn't do anything amazing; I just listened and was observant.
"When he was whipping my breasts, and my pussy.... it was as if he knew about me.... about what i liked.... i was wondering, did he read my checklist, or does he just know from my reactions, but still? how could he know so much? He knew my nipples were sensitive, from the first time we played.... most Doms would tend to shy away, knowing my reaction, but not him..... he wanted that reaction.... knowing he was hurting me.... but also somehow knowing that to be hurt like that, was exactly what I wanted. "
Here is a wonderful entry from a play partner taking an opportunity to work thru some important feelings
My therapist asked me tonight why I play with you, why did I let you in my life. I said because I trust you. I know that you won't betray that trust, because it is sacred to you. That is what I feel. You are a man that I can trust. Every man who has been important to me has left me on some level. I have not thought of my father for a while, I am afraid to. Maybe the other night was a sign of me trying to break free of that fear. After our intense scene I remember sucking on your thumb, I remember being calm and I understood that I would not have been weak if I had called yellow, but even knowing that I still have a need to be strong all of the time. I have to hold everything together. I am embarrassed if someone sees that I am weak and can't hold my own. I won't be a good person if I can't hold it together. Playing helps me hold it all together; it is a test at times for me.
Sometimes homework has nothing to do specifically with BDSM. Sometimes it allows a Top to be the loving ear that's there to listen.
i don't feel so well. i lost the scholarship. i'm still sick so i'm keeping to myself. i'm so frustrated i need to go for a run to get it out of my system but i still haven't been able to go a day without using that fucking inhaler. i got a parking ticket. i've been wanting to call you, but then i'll start missing you and i'm trying so hard to keep all my feelings turned off. i feel so terrible i just want to take some somas and sleep. As i was laying here i realize i owe you $45 and you never asked me for it, i HAVE to send it to you. i wish i had your arm with me right now cuz i need it, but i'm not going to think about that cuz i'm about to start crying and if i do i won't be able to stop.
In closing, remember, in BDSM there is NO ONE WAY to do anything. As long as it's Safe, Sane and Consensual? it's all good! This is just one way to do homework, if you like it, feel free to follow it. Most importantly, I hope that my ideas spark your imagination and inspire you to develop your own personal style. Never forget? ALL COMMUNICATION IS GOOD COMMUNICATION.
Bo (aka Master J) has been in the NYC/NJ BDSM scene since the mid 80's. He is the Patriarch of the Sovereign House Leather Family and been a Teacher, Speaker & Advisor with many organizations and events over the years. He is a Board member of TES, the oldest & Largest BDSM support group in the USA as well as their Novice Group Co-Facilitator and Promotion Chairman. Bo lives in Northern NJ with his partner in crime, and equally Dominant/Poly "significant other" Domina Skye, and their four cats. Bo can be reached via e-mail at Bo@LeatherFamilyOnline.com