This post is predominantly aimed at men (particularly cismen) who tend to play with predominantly people who are socialized female. Predominantly,not exclusively; these things are applicable to any configuration of top/bottom individuals. And dear god, please don’t “not all men” here; I’m very aware that not all men do anything. This writing is in response to a general trend I’ve seen that tends to occur in masculine top/assigned female at birth bottom configurations, so I’m acknowledging that perspective- not saying this always happens or that it doesn’t happen outside that particular configuration.
I think, by and large, people want feedback on how scenes went, especially from the top side. They want to know what went well and what didn’t- particularly if they want to play with that person again. But just as often, I hear people saying, “no one ever told me X was a problem,” or “I want to do better, but I’m not sure how to.”
There is a difficulty giving men feedback sometimes. I want to believe you’ll take it well, but I’ve seen people get defensive and not take it well- often from a fear that they’re being called a consent violator.
Here’s the thing: every time something goes sideways in a scene does not mean someone is a consent violator. Sometimes mistakes happen, or we misunderstand something, or whatever. And as a bottom, I just want to give you a heads up that this thing didn’t really work for me; it doesn’t mean you violated my consent.
A lot of the time, if we don’t know something is an issue because no one says anything to us, it becomes a pattern of behavior and all of a sudden, we find out that several people have had issues with how scenes went. There are a lot of ways this can go. We might find that someone we really enjoyed playing with doesn’t want to play again, or we might find that we have a reputation of playing fast and loose, or not respecting boundaries, or whatever. I believe- I have to believe- that most people have good intentions and don’t want to cause harm. (There are, of course, exceptions, but I’m talking to the vast majority of people who genuinely want to have good scenes that are fulfilling for all parties.)
So getting feedback is good. But we have to make ourselves accessible, and sometimes, it can be hard or scary to hear that we did something not so great. But on the flip side, it can be really hard to bring up those things- especially if they aren’t Big Deal things, but just small, “hey, by the way…” kind of things.
As a switch, I have the benefit of knowing how difficult it can be to bring up something that happened when I’m bottoming. So when I top, there are things I do to specifically make it as safe as possible for someone to tell me if something wasn’t ok that I’m not aware of. It’s been my experience that these things make it a lot easier for people to let me know if something is wrong, and gives me actual feedback on a scene instead of, “everything is great, thanks!”
Let people know you want to follow up
It can be in pre- or post-scene discussion: “hey, I’d like to follow up with you in a couple days, see how you’re feeling. Is that alright with you?” Or, “As part of my aftercare as a top, I’d like to touch base and see how you’re doing, and hear if anything felt off or not good for you. Would that be ok?” It gives people to option to say no. It’s hasn’t happened for me yet; your mileage may vary.
Follow up at least twice:
Try to touch base at least once in person and once online, if possible. Sometimes it’s easier for people to say things in person, sometimes it’s easier in writing. Sometimes things take a day or two to sink in, and where everything might have been fine day-of, something might have come up in thinking and processing that should be discussed.
Be really specific in your follow up:
Asking, “everything good?” is likely to get you a “yeah, thanks!” Ask, “hey, I wanted to see how you’re feeling today. Does anything hurt or feel off in a way that isn’t ok? Is there anything that happened during the scene that you’d like to address with me? I’m open to discussing any issues or anything that felt off during our scene.”
As a top, I recognize that it’s up to people to advocate for themselves, but I also appreciate that it can be really hard to bring things up. So I want to make that as easy as possible: I want to let my bottom know that I am open to hearing any critical feedback because I recognize that I am not perfect, and can’t read people’s minds, and genuinely want to know if something happened that isn’t ok.
How you phrase it matters. If what you’re looking for is people to give you genuine feedback, then make that as clear as possible.
Hear the feedback
If someone does bring something to your attention, thank them for sharing that information, and ask some follow-up questions: “Thank you for letting me know X; I really appreciate it. Is there anything I can do to alleviate or make amends for X?” You might also ask something like, “In the future, if I were to do Y instead, do you think that would help mitigate something like this from happening again?”
Don’t defend yourself. Don’t explain or justify why it happened. Just hear them. Maybe you did something different this time than you normally do and it didn’t work out. Ok. You don’t need to tell them that or explain what happened; just hear them and integrate the feedback.
You might not agree with that they said. They might say something like, “well… we negotiated ‘no sex,’ but when you did X, it felt really sexual and like you were trying to turn me on.” Maybe you weren’t. Maybe that had never crossed your mind and wasn’t your intention at all. You might say something like, “I’m so sorry you had that experience. We absolutely negotiated no sex, and I was unaware that X felt sexual to you. Thank you for bringing this to my attention, and I apologize. I will definitely make a point in the future to more explicitly negotiate what ‘no sex’ means. Is there anything I can do to support you?”
No blame. No, “but I wasn’t intending to do that!” No, “well, that’s not really a sexual thing.” No defensiveness. Just, “thank you; I’m sorry; how can I support you?”
It’s really that simple.
(And for the record, you might not agree with something someone says. But if you get the same feedback over and over, you might want to revisit that particular point because your perspective seems misaligned with the perspectives of the people you’re playing with.)
Don’t punish people for giving feedback
It might be that you decide you don’t want to play with that person anymore. But it might be that you do. Don’t be so afraid of the thing that they brought up with you that you blacklist it from your play with that person. Don’t be so afraid that it’s going to go wrong again that you never do it again.
We are human. People make mistakes, things happen. If you say everything right, but never engage that person in that thing again- even if it’s something you both enjoy- it feels like punishment for bringing it up in the first place, and they are less likely to tell you in the future if something feels off.
Get back on the horse. It might be terrifying and nerve-wracking, and that’s ok. You might play it a little extra-safe and that’s ok. You can build back up. But if you pinch someone’s nerve in rope, and after healing, they want to be in a box tie with you again, and that’s still within your risk profile, go for it. It feels healing- sometimes for both parties. It makes it ok to give you feedback, and know that you will listen and still trust that person’s agency to speak up in the future. It helps develop trust, and makes you a safer person to play with at the end of the day.
Note: I don’t do this with every play partner every time. My general policy is to do this with new/first time play partners and after doing something new with a consistent play partner. But when it’s someone I have been playing with a while and we are doing things we have done several times before, I do expect them to be able to come to me if something is amiss- which is something we discuss.