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How to safely explore your 'sexual shadow'

Gigi Engle

October 9th, 2021

There’s a little darkness in all of us when it comes to sexuality. The key is to learn how to play with it in a secure way among consenting adults.

Have you played with ‘edges’ during sex? If not, have you ever wanted to? Does the taboo delight you, sending those butterflies right down to your genitals? You’re not alone boo.

The idea of the ‘sexual shadow side’ (aka: the ‘edge’), one of the great opposing forces to the ego, has been a part of psychological theory since its inception. ‘In Jungian psychology, integrating the ‘shadow’ can bring us closer to realising a sense of wholeness,’ explains Jordan Dixon, clinical sex and relationships psychotherapist. ‘Exploring our ‘sexual shadow’ gives tremendous opportunities for growth and development.’

Here’s the truth: we are all entrenched in the arms of this beguiling part of our sexuality (not including our asexual pals). If you ask me (and I know what I’m talking about), we’d be a lot better off if we embraced it a bit more and shamed ourselves a bit less. 

Are all things ok to do? No, of course not. For valid and ethical sexual experiences to take place, everyone involved must be an enthusiastically consenting adult. The key to playing with the ‘shadow’ is to learn how to engage with it in a secure way that everyone involved can enjoy.

So, how do we go about doing this? We’ve got you covered. We know how important it is to be able to be your most authentic, sexy self. What happens between consenting adults is really no one else’s business, after all. Here are five ways to bring your ‘edges’ into your bedroom:

1. Figure out what the ‘edges’ are for you (and your partners)

The ‘shadow’ is the side of you that normally feels impossible to share with others. It’s the dark thoughts, the intense images, the ‘cringe-worthy’ things you fantasise about and (possibly) feel guilty about later. BDSM, role play, alien dildos, tantric massage, threesomes – all of these are a part of our ‘shadow side’. But it’s not limited to the ‘freaky’. Because sex is culturally considered ‘negative’ and something we shouldn’t talk about, it is consigned to the shadow. Desire, lust, fear, shame – they’re all the dark side.

The ‘shadow’ is rarely bad or harmful when used responsibly. Many of our deepest fears, often grounded in a juvenile context of misinformation of shame, can ignite deep, intense erotic desire. It’s possible to take something that once made you feel shameful or take something dark that gives you an erotic spark (like spanking, spitting etc.), and turn it into something very powerful and useful for your sexuality and overall well-being.

Your ‘shadow side’ is basically everything that turns you on. Dixon says that ‘we can view ‘edge play’ as a broad spectrum just [like] the number of kinks that exist today. It’s an umbrella term, ultimately defined by its practitioners.’ This means that what is an ‘edge’ for one person isn’t an ‘edge’ for someone else. It’s all about interpretation and personal feelings.

Step one is considering what these ‘shadows’ might be for you. Lucy Rowett, a certified sex coach and clinical sexologist, tells us to investigate our fantasies and consider what we want. And so it begins…

2. Learn your stuff

Workshops, books, articles, Feeld’s top notch IG presence and Labs resources. There are many sex-positive places to look online to help you delve deeper into your sexuality. Being good at sex is not something we inherently know how to do. It is a learned behaviour. ‘Skills can often shorten our journey between bad sex and great,’ Dixon says. Sure, sexual chemistry plays a vital role in attraction, but depending on it as your sole skill will not be fun for anyone.

Take time to learn your stuff – with all forms of sex. We’re all students of the ‘Sex Deity School’. We are collectively on a quest to be ‘Good Lovers’. And when it comes to ‘edges’ – things that are not part of the normal sexual script – these skills are even more important.

3. Live and die by RACK

In order to play with the ‘edges’, you need to understand RACK: ‘Risk Awareness Consensual Kink’. ‘It means that whatever you want to explore, you do it with full awareness of the risks and take steps to ensure the safety of yourself and your playmates, and that everybody involved is fully consenting throughout the process,’ Rowett says.

This is where all that juicy enthusiastic consent comes into play. Once you know what might be an ‘edge’, you can explore it with partners who are here for it. 

You need to go through a scene (a fantasy acted out IRL) thoroughly with whomever you’re playing with. If you’re playing with bondage, for example. You need to negotiate your limits and what you’re interested in trying. Your partner would do the same. It’s all about creating a context where both people are safe and enjoying the experience.

Remember, you are not entitled to have your needs met by a partner. An ‘edge’ can only be a part of play if all parties involved are excited about it – or at least very open to it.

4. Take your darn time

When I said ‘at least very open to it’, what I meant was that someone may be super down to clown around, but they can still be a bit nervous or unsure. Maybe it’s you, maybe it’s your partner(s), or maybe it’s both. ‘It's super reasonable to be nervous having our ‘edges’ pushed, or even playing with another person’s limits,’ Dixon says. 

Because of this reality, you should take it slowly and take it seriously. There is no need to rush. Playing with ‘edges’ can be ‘just as rewarding as it can be devastating,’ she continues. ‘Give it the respect it deserves and feel your feelings.’ 

5. Use a safe word

A safe word is a non-sexual word designed to stop all sexual play in its tracks. This word basically means, ‘I need to take a break,’ ‘I’m uncomfortable,’ ‘I don’t like this’. It’s a hard STOP. This word is very helpful when you’re feeling overwhelmed, upset or anxious during sex. 

‘Non-sexual’ straight up means non-sexual. A safe word is designed to safeguard your sexual comfort but shouldn’t sound like anything sexy. It doesn’t have to be silly, but it does have to be something you both understand means: ‘I need to take a break’.

These safe words are useful for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, in certain sexual situations, the word ‘no’ doesn’t work. For instance, if you’re engaged in a ravishment fantasy or a BDSM scene, saying ‘no’ might be a part of your or your partner’s character. So if you say ‘no’, your partner might not know you literally mean, ‘NO. STOP’. This has worrying implications. You don’t want to say ‘no’ and for your partner not to understand you. That is scary.

A safe word dissolves any grey area you might experience in these kinds of scenes. When you use the safe word, there is no doubt about what you mean. This prevents you from going too far when you’re not feeling comfortable or safe. I recommend keeping it simple with the traffic light system: Green means: ‘yes more, baby’. Yellow means: ‘I’m getting close to my limits’. And red means: ‘STOP’.

In the end, safely exploring the boundaries of our sexual desires can be very intense and deeply liberating. It takes knowledge, consent, technique and a willingness to explore. Everyone can play with their ‘edges’. We just need to give ourselves and each other permission. Happy trails, pals.

  • Unconventional Relationships
  • Exploration