Reader question #90: The Sexy Thesaurus

Hi Captain Awkward!

So, my boyfriend is a masochist. I’m not a sadist. Don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoy pleasuring him, but I don’t actively get joy from causing pain. The only thing that bothers me about the whole situation is his use of the word “abuse” in reference to the completely consensual things that I do to him. I grew up in an extremely abusive household. That word rightly holds a lot of negative baggage with me. We’ve talked about the use of the word and he’s fine with changing it if there was a better word to come around. Unfortunately I cannot think of another word to use for it, and this has led to me being less than happy about inflicting whatever it is that we do together on him. I don’t want to keep this to a situation where I feel bad about doing something that is pleasurable to him but I also don’t want to be abusive and that is the connotation that I currently have with what that is going on because of the word choice.

So is there a better word that we could use? Or am I just going to have to suck it up and deal with this? 

In Need of a Better Word

It’s problematic language week at Captain Awkward!

I am maybe not the best person to ask about this stuff, because I think that context is king and most attempts to divorce words from their context quickly get absurd.  For example, my aunt plants trees in tiny pots in order to retard their growth and turn them into bonsai. There is some evidence that rapeseed oil can have ill effects on asthmatics and hay fever sufferers. Still, I certainly understand why the word “abuse” has negative connotations for you, so I don’t want to try to talk you out of you of your own feelings. You have an absolute right to set a boundary with your boyfriend for whatever reason you want, and given the kinds of games you’re playing you have an absolute obligation to set a boundary to say and do only things you are comfortable with.  Since you’ve asked your boyfriend not to use that word, he has an obligation to comply with you if he wants to to remain as awesomely GGG as you have been with him.

Quickly consulting a thesaurus, I can suggest the following sexy synonyms: Debase, exploit, harm, defile, damage, pollute, hurt, manhandle, mistreat, violate.

You could also go with a strict diet of verbs that describe specific actions:  Hit, strike, bind, grasp, grab, shove, punch, twist, slap, spank.

Hopefully your dirty talking can get more specific and more hot as a result of this exercise.

Problem solved?  Because, I have to ask:  As a regular Captain Awkward Dot Com reader you are obviously of above-average intelligence and good looks, and both you and your boyfriend could have consulted a thesaurus on your own at any time. If you are an abuse survivor, I can absolutely see how certain BDSM practices would bring that stuff up for you – maybe in a bad way, maybe in a good way, always in a messy and unpredictable way.  You owe it to yourself and your partner to make sure you’re really, really safe and really, really comfortable (or willing to be interestingly uncomfortable) with exploring this side of sexuality.  You’ve been willing to explore this with your boyfriend, but you can renegotiate this stuff at any time and make sure that, to quote Commander Logic, “kink is A Sometimes Food.”

12 thoughts on “Reader question #90: The Sexy Thesaurus

  1. How about “Punish” (or “Punishment”) or “Discipline”? These are pretty common BDSM words that mean “fulfill a masochistic urge in the expected way”.

    Being the word-fan that I am, I realize these words do not really connotate the same experience as “abuse”, and may not “feel” the same to your boyfriend.

    In which case, my advice would be to take a bit of a more active role in your boyfriend’s sexual fantasy; I understand it’s not really your thing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t reach into the fantasy and say “I’d be more into it if we did it THIS way”. Put your (thinking-type) heads together and see if you can’t come up with a sexual fantasy or “headspace” where some word you’re more comfortable with than “abuse” feels just as good and natural.

    Now i don’t know you, your boyfriend, your relationship or your sexual practice, but I do know that when my SO comes to me and says “let’s have sex, I’d like it better if we changed it up a bit” I always agree, because after that, comes the sex.

  2. I’m wondering if a more context-specific sexy thesaurus isn’t in order. I haven’t done a lot of deep reading on BDSM myself; I have, however, read a fair number of sex books that include a chapter or two about BDSM, and those chapters usually include some advice about how to talk about it and the breadth of terminology that folks use to describe their kinks. I’m wondering if the LW wouldn’t benefit from buying and reading a couple of books on this subject:
    I’ve also heard really good things about this book, and it apparently discusses BDSM a bit.
    That might be more than you feel like you need, since you don’t mention that your past has any ramifications for your present other than with the language stuff, but it might be useful.

    Apologies if you’ve already done some reading on this stuff and this is all terribly condescending and unhelpful. From your letter, it does sound like you would benefit from investigating these issues in a more detailed way.

    1. Of the books listed on the Good Vibes site link, I recommend The Topping Book and The Bottoming Book. I found* that they did a really good job at articulating “Oh, *that’s* why someone might like that!” and weren’t dismissive of dynamics like service topping (e.g. “You! Hit me just like I like it! That’s awesome!”) that are often taken less seriously. I suspect that they might be useful for giving the LW and her boyfriend some ideas of some more varied dynamics to play with (if they want them) as well as some more varied vocabulary. For instance, power dynamics and who’s hurting whom can have little to do with each other. If he just wants to be hurt vs. wants to be not in control, those can be very different things (though they often come together).

      *That said, I started off kinky so didn’t need much *convincing* that kink is pretty shiny.

      1. hi,
        so I guess I should give some more insight. First off, my bf is totally understanding and wonderful about the abuse thing. He stopped using the word “abuse” as soon as I said that I was uncomfortable with it, and didn’t make a big deal out of it at all. It’s just made the conversations outside playtime awkward because he doesn’t have words to bring up the conversation of “I’d like you to [blank] me in this way” My bf likes blunt pain and pressure/squishing, as well as things things like scratching, but not spanking flogging etc. Since the abuse I faced at home was of the latter variety and not the former the things we do don’t trigger me or make me uneasy because of what I’m doing to him. Also, your power play is right on the money. He’s a total top who happens to get off from pain. Even as an outsider I never really saw anything odd about that. I really like the terms punishment/punish. Thank you for the book recommendations.

          1. ha ha this is true. I talked to him about it and he definitely agrees that funish/funishment is THE BEST WORD EVAR and perfectly describes kink. He was so happy to have that little piece of awkwardness relieved

  3. Cap’n, I really like the insight about whether the fear of the word “abuse” might be masking some deeper unease with the actual content of this activity.

    That said, in my experience finding a better/different way of talking about things can clarify what it is that’s really going on.

    It used to drive me nuts that my wife would ask me “do you want to go scoop the cat litter?” and things like that. I finally broke her of it, so that she would instead say “could you please go scoop the cat litter?”

    Trouble is, as it turns out I just don’t like being told what to do and I still get annoyed when she reminds me to do stuff I’m supposed to do. But we got the language bit out of the way and now everybody’s aware of the situation.

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