I was in a non-committed relationship once with a guy. You know the one where you’re into each other and are sexually active but it’s not labelled? Yeah, that kind. These kinds of relationships usually have one of the members wanting more and the other one saying things like "I'm just not in the emotional place to have a relationship", or “What difference does it make what you call it? You and I know how we feel about it each other.” Anyway, why I was in that place is a long story, but the point is that it definitely wasn’t mutual. I was completely in love with him.
This guy was basically out of some Mills and Boon novel (but the modern kind, the one where the hero believes in the equality of the sexes, but not really)—he was smart, sexy, funny and loved to be in control. This need for control extended into the bedroom. I had never been with someone who loved to dominate before. If anything I would have previously scoffed at the idea, what woman in her right mind would like to be dominated, right? Not really. As it turned out, I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed someone telling me what to do. I enjoyed following, submitting, watching my body being viewed as an object and knowing that it was capable to inspire such lust in someone. But there were also times where it left me confused, humiliated and broken. I felt like I was in an extremely vulnerable position and that I stayed in that position regardless of all my efforts to be otherwise. So I stayed in this rollercoaster of a relationship for a while till I realized how dysfunctional and unhealthy it was, and left.
After some time, when I’d had time to reflect on what happened there, I realized that not only had he played a role right out of a romance novel or film, but so had I. He was this romance hero and I was the independent girl who, despite all her notions of self-worth, loses it all in the face of this perfection! I became the muse that inspired him and helped him discover his hidden potential. As I helped him become less insecure, he did just the opposite with me. And because we weren’t exactly committed to each other, I felt less beautiful, less intelligent and just not worth it. It’s not like what happened in the bedroom helped. Why is it that my feelings about our sexual dynamic were so conflicted? I would work this out eventually but once I started a new relationship.
My next relationship was with a lovely, intelligent man. We contributed equally to the relationship, and we also enjoyed sexual powerplay of a similar kind as before. Sometimes we even switched things up, him playing the submissive and I the dominant role. And this time I wasn’t left feelings any of the negative and harmful emotions I felt previously. So why did I enjoy it all this time? Where did the difference lie? As I worked through the different feelings, I came up with a few ways in which the first relationship functioned.
The vulnerable, powerless position I was in sexually was the same as that which I occupied in the relationship on a whole. Since
, I was the one in need for commitment and I was the one in love, I was submitting to his needs and demands, all the time.
It was not a choice I was making - not in terms of my feelings about the relationship nor about what happened in bed. I happened to enjoy sexual submission, but what if I didn’t? The only options were having this dysfunctional relationship that made me ridiculously conflicted about my feelings, or not having anything to do with him at all. That wasn’t really much of a choice.
I knew in theory that I had the freedom to say ‘no’ or ‘stop’ if it was leaving me with such conflicted feelings but I was scared of what the outcome of that refusal may be.
I enjoyed being sexually objectified because there were times it made me feel sexy or beautiful, but when you’re in love ad it’s the unrequited kind, it’s extremely painful to be rendered an object - something that is dispensable.
My sexual choices were construed by him to be a reflection of the way I wanted to be treated otherwise. So because I enjoyed being dominated or sexually objectified in bed, I must enjoy it in every situation, everyday!
In retrospect I realize I should have talked about these things. Maybe it would’ve made a difference or maybe it wouldn’t have, but shutting up about it definitely didn’t help. So in the second relationship, I talked about it. We talked about it. My sexual choices did not reflect the power dynamic of the relationship. My desires were understood contextually. It was empowering to know I could have desires of all kinds (and not be judged for them) and in fact explore and experiment the various possibilities. The bedroom became a safe space for me - one where I could perform and simulate situations that I wouldn’t want to be in otherwise. Where I could choose and create the narrative of my desires and understand those of my partner. And most of all, I knew that I had the freedom to say ‘No. Not today. Not right now. Not this evening. Not this fantasy.’
Shamini Kothari is currently pursuing her B.A in English literature from St. Xavier's College, Ahmedabad. She is interning with Zubaan (and is also called #1 - not by choice). She loves eavesdropping in public spaces and hates the word 'impregnated'.