I hate having my shoulders touched.
I used to joke that I’d let someone fuck me long before I let them close to giving me a massage, but the truth is, as is so often the case, I was ‘joking’ as a way to communicate how I actually felt. I come from a family of people with back problems, who live with constant pain in their neck and shoulders. I was sixteen before I realised that daily tension headaches weren’t something everyone suffered from (and I mean the kind of tension headaches where taking painkillers and sitting completely still doesn’t even take the edge off). I used to rock-climb, and if I pulled a neck muscle, it would be a week of agonising pain every time I tried to get dressed or moved my head too much. My friends would tease me and say that I went around with my shoulders glued to my ears. It took two years of Alexander Technique to get them down to ordinary levels of ‘tense’.
What this means is that when inexperienced masseurs grab me by the shoulders, I am likely to scream. I’ve got a lot better since adolescence, and the headaches I get are less frequent and less painful, but it’s still something I’m very aware of. The trouble is that amateur massages are often a common part of foreplay, even flirtation. I’ve lost count of the times where a new partner has tenderly put their hands on my shoulders, or asked me to roll over for a back massage, and I have sat bolt upright, tension flooding every part of my body. Occasionally, if I’m with a partner I absolutely trust with all my heart and soul, I’ll allow them to touch me if they promise to be really really gentle. Sometimes it’s nice, though usually by that point I’m so nervous that it’s very difficult to relax enough that I don’t flinch by reflex. On the whole, it’s not worth it.
(I should maybe add that my wonderful housemate Pyrrha has qualified as a professional masseuse. She used me as her ‘body’ for her assessment, which she said was really helpful as part of being a massage therapist is being able to adapt the pressure depending on what the person wants. She is allowed to give me massages. Sometimes.)
I bring this up on my shiny sex positive blog because I have to explain myself. A lot. My partners generally get very confused by this, especially because I talk about kink so much, and the kind of pain I’m into. I enjoy being whipped with a belt, but I can’t handle a light massage? It doesn’t make any sense to them. (Nor, indeed, does the fact that I hate having my hair pulled. I used to say that was a hard limit, whereas bloody scratches and purple bruises are welcome. I have recently discovered that I actually love my partner pulling my hair, or rather I hate it, and I love hating it in such a way that it’s really damn hot. But only with one particular person, and only in certain situations, and never ever without prior discussion. It’s confusing.)
I was at a munch recently (a.k.a. kink meeting, though I kinda prefer that term since it makes us sound like a secret society), and one of the women there asked if she could stroke my hair. I love having my hair stroked, but I tensed up automatically, and stuttered ‘Yes, but I really don’t like people touching my shoulders, because I have issues with muscle tension and it really really hurts even if it’s very gentle and I know that sounds weird, especially when we’ve been discussing hardcore masochism, but please please don’t?’.
Or at least, I started saying all that. What I actually said was ‘Yes, but I really don’t like people touching my shoulders because-‘, and then she cut me off with ‘That’s cool, I won’t do that’. And she didn’t. And then she stroked my hair in an entirely non-sexual way, and I felt calmer.
If you read anything about the BDSM community, you’ll quickly come across discussions about communication, and the importance of establishing clear limits. And in some ways the scene totally mirrors real life. In general, nobody is going to beat you senseless unless you discuss it first. (That’s a really great distinction if you’re at all confused by the difference between BDSM and abuse, by the way.) But something as mundane and ‘vanilla’ as a light massage, well, that’s something that people in ‘real life’ often don’t feel the need to ask about.
And do not even get me started on tickling. Attempt to tickle me, and I will kick and scream and try to claw your eyes out. Seriously. I hate it. Not love to hate it, just hate it. I have always hated it, and I have always had an impossible time trying to convince partners how much I hate it. Funnily enough, I’ve read at least three other S&M bloggers who say the exact same thing, and have talked about how they’ve had to use a safeword to stop tickling. People just do not take me seriously when I say this, at least not the utterly vanilla ones. Those that are into kink, even if it’s in a purely theoretical way, tend to get it. Limits are limits, whether it’s scratch me but don’t break the skin, or touch me but no penetration, or whip me with a riding crop but don’t you dare under any circumstances touch my shoulders.
I’m still finding my feet with the kink community, and I’ve got a lot to think about. But I like not having to explain myself. And I like having my hair stroked.