Dear Dan: I’ve been enjoying consensual nonmonogamy for the past two years, in part thanks to your column and podcast. I have a delightful young lover, and our connection has evolved into a kind of Master/slave relationship. I “allow” her to fuck other men and women, and she delights in asking my permission and recounting the details of her other trysts to me. We are curious how much of this she needs to disclose to her other lovers. They know she isn’t monogamous and they are aware of her relationship with me, but so far she has chosen not to tell them the extent to which I “own” her and have jurisdiction over her body and actions. Of course, it’s just an elaborate role-playing game — but is it wrong to be using these people as pawns in our game without their knowledge and consent? If so, when should she tell them? Before she sleeps with them even once? Or after she’s developed a more intimate rapport with them? There’s a perverse thrill in her other lovers being totally oblivious to it, but we want to be ethical in our polyamorous ways.
—Masochists And Sadists Tackling Ethical Relations
Dear MASTER: This falls under the header of permissible secret perving (PSP), MASTER, and I will allow it — with one caveat.
My go-to example of PSP is the foot fetishist who works in a shoe store. So long as he’s good at his job and his secret perving is undetectable — no bulges, no heavy breathing, no creepy comments — no harm done. And if he goes home and jacks off about all the sexy, sexy feet he saw and, yes, handled during his shift, he’s not hurting anyone or doing anything unethical. It’s important, however, to note that the foot fetishist salesclerk’s perceptions aren’t the ones that matter. If he thinks he’s playing it cool — he thinks his perving is secret — but his customers or coworkers are creeped out by his behavior, demeanor, heavy breathing, etc., then his perving isn’t secret and is therefore impermissible.
The secret perving you’re doing — the girlfriend has to beg for your permission to fuck other people and report back to you afterward — is small and it’s a bank shot. The other people she’s fucking provide mental fodder for your D/s role-playing games, MASTER, you aren’t directly involving them. Your role-playing games take place before she fucks someone else (when she asks your permission) and after she fucks someone else (when she recounts her experience). And what turns you on about your girlfriend sleeping with other people — and how you and your girlfriend talk to each other about it — is no one’s business but yours.
Now for the caveat: If one of your girlfriend’s lovers strongly objects to Dom/sub sex, relationships, or role-playing games, and your girlfriend is aware they object, and you two want to be exquisitely ethical, MASTER, then either your girlfriend shouldn’t fuck that person or she should disclose your Master/slave dynamics to that person and allow them to decide whether they want to fuck her anyway.
Zooming out for a second: Some people in open relationships don’t want to know what their partners get up to, and these couples usually have “don’t ask, don’t tell” agreements about sex outside the relationship. But many more people in open relationships do want to hear about their partners’ adventures because it turns them on. Someone who doesn’t want to risk being fodder for a couple’s dirty talk or even their D/s role-playing games shouldn’t be sleeping with people who are partnered and in open relationships. There are things we have a right to ask the people with whom we have casual sex — like whether they’re practicing ethical nonmonogamy, if they have an STI, what kind of birth control they’re using, whether they’re on PrEP, etc. — but a casual fuck isn’t entitled to details about your relationship.
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