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The vanilla world could learn a thing or two about communication from their kinky counterparts. Alexandra Cruz submits to going first …

I’ve been on a mainstream dating site for exactly one week – seven very long days. I’ve scrolled through countless profiles of men who profess an unwavering love for tacos and honesty (I didn’t know tacos were so popular).

The profiles are paired with beautifully curated photo galleries – images of men with their dogs or cradling babies in their strong, protective arms; action shots where they’re skiing black diamonds or powering through the final leg of a Tough Mudder race.

When I get bored, I go to another website, one where men pursue darker delights: deep throating, spanking, bondage. The photos on this site are mostly tight shots of ripped abs and cocks, grainy silhouettes of broad shoulders and blurry faces. I toggle back and forth between sites, sometimes placing both browser windows right next to each other, picking and choosing the best traits from both sides and building the perfect imaginary partner, the one that loves dogs and runs races and protects babies and every so often asks me to serve him tacos, on my knees. I scroll and I wonder … I wonder how many of these men are on both sites, like me.

“My kinks never negated my broader interests: theater, books, travel, humanitarian causes, meditation – all these things coexist within me.”

I’m a submissive who’s been dating exclusively within the kink world for the past five years. After my last relationship with a dominant ended, I decided to diversify the search for a partner. My kinks never negated my broader interests: theater, books, travel, humanitarian causes, meditation – all these things coexist within me. I thought it would be easy to revisit vanilla online dating. Turns out I was wrong. Those five years of exploration created a space between both worlds that I wasn’t aware of – a chasm that I’m finding difficult to bridge.

I’ve stayed up nights mulling it over. Why do I feel this way? Why the frustration? The problem, oddly, is that I felt far more freedom and empowerment while searching for a partner as a submissive in the kink world than I do as a woman in the vanilla world. Probably because the process of vetting a dominant partner is anything but passive. Let’s break it down.

First, for me, submission requires communication and consent. Before I meet a dominant in person, I vet his communication style. If he comes off pushy, or tries to assert dominance too soon, the communication will cease. If he’s respectful and a gentleman, communication continues. If we have common friends in the kink community, I’ll reach out to them to find out if he’s safe to meet with. If I know other submissives he’s been involved with, I will contact them as well. If all that goes smoothly, we set up a meeting in a public place to meet face-to-face. A safe call is scheduled for before and after we meet, I send my safe call his photo, online profile, and place and time that we’re meeting.

Second, I ask for what I want. Exactly what I want. If the first initial dates go well, we move on to negotiation. This involves sitting down with a potential partner to explore what we want from one another; long term, short term, five minutes, an hour, sex, no sex, companionship, friends with benefits. Whatever it is, it’s discussed.

“Before the clothes come off we talk about aftercare, what each person wants or needs after sex.”

Submission doesn’t always mean sex. But let’s make this example about sex. During negotiation we go over a long list of sexual acts together and discuss what we’ve done, what we’d like to do, and what’s completely off the table. Sometimes we talk about fantasies and fears, the names we want to be called and places on the body where we like or don’t like to be touched. We talk openly about STD testing and establish safe words.

Third, we take care of each other after sex. Before the clothes come off we talk about aftercare, what each person wants or needs after sex. Do you want to be held, have your hair stroked, do you need verbal communication, do you need silence. I had a partner who liked to watch Archer and eat ice cream with me after sex (bless his dom heart). If you need a check-in phone call a day or two after, then you ask for it. We’re human beings, not mind readers. That uncomfortable guessing game of what to do “after” – I don’t do that shit.

“Look, things still go wrong, even with all the communicating and planning. In the end, you’re just two people trying to connect and make some sexy magic.”

Fourth, if something goes wrong, we talk about it. What’s the quote about best laid plans? Yeah, that. Look, things still go wrong, even with all the communicating and planning. In the end, you’re just two people trying to connect and make some sexy magic. If something didn’t work, we talk and troubleshoot to keep it from ever happening again. Communication isn’t just comforting, it’s damn sexy.

So, what now? I can’t go back to pre-kink relationship settings and I don’t want to deny myself potential partners who align with all my other interests. Perhaps there will be a hybrid site created that will enable the merging of all our selves: the naughty, the nice, and everything in-between. In the meantime, maybe I’ll just try to be brave and inspire some of those conversations on my own. How ‘bout it? Can we can get to it? I promise to go for tacos after.

A version of this interview first appeared in the February 2020 issue of W42ST magazine. Stay in touch with W42ST and be first to read stories like this when you subscribe to our daily newsletter at w42st.com