Calling my partner “daddy” in bed is new to me — I used to find the kinky term of endearment to be stomach-churning, but now I call my partner “daddy” in bed because I think it’s pretty hot. I’m 30 years old, and I’ve had sex with people of all genders, but mostly cisgender men, for half of my life. My biological father is still married to my mom. I’m not sure if I qualify as a card-carrying member of the stereotypical “daddy issues” club. I'm the byproduct of an anxiety-ridden mother and a narcissist father, but I never endured physical or sexual abuse at the hands of either of them, and I loathe the levity with which our culture mocks people who suffered abuse at the hands of their loved ones or caregivers, and I believe it’s impossible to find any individual who doesn't absorb or reflect some of the faults or neuroses of their parents, even if they were Mommy and Daddy of the Year.
Over the years, I’ve dealt with the average amount of immersion in the misogynist culture that we call America, where gender roles and traditional family structure are prized as the norm. My father taught me to throw and catch a baseball and encouraged me to climb trees, and that alone was outside of the gender norms in the small town where I grew up. I grew up where the only export is avocados, and if you hold hands with someone of the same gender while in high school, people are sure to call you despicable names like “fag” or “dyke,” at the very minimum. Growing up, the boys played sports and the girls did dance, and the boys with the fastest trucks or the speediest cars were the ones supplying the alcohol at the parties.
Being raised in such a repressive modern culture surely affected my sexual self. When you’ve been called “slut” in a derogatory manner more times than you can count before you’ve even had sex for the first time, your self worth as an adolescent girl becomes a bit shaky. Perhaps my bra strap was showing, or someone thought I smiled at their boyfriend, but I heard that slur more in my youth than I do as an adult.
Like I said, I’m older now, but I’m still growing into my sexual self, and the outside world doesn’t make that easy. Women in my generation are in a tug-of-war where we have to assert our equality without overstepping our dominance; where we must be pretty but not to the satisfaction of male gaze; and where we must cultivate independent thought without using the dreaded f-word: “feminism.” I’ve lost the energy to throw gasoline on the comment sections fed by the patriarchy and consumed by trolls. I can’t often openly state that I am a sex worker without thousands of people on Facebook claiming my alleged victim status, and I can’t talk about enjoying BDSM sex with my boyfriend without second-wave feminists asserting I’m "counterproductive" to the cause.
My role play with my boyfriend allows me to act out a salacious script that’s often used against me while simultaneously letting me flip a middle finger to the hatred that I (and so many of my peers) so commonly endure.
So I find other ways to stage my rebellion. For me, I like to role play with my boyfriend. I have many hats to wear between the sheets. Sometimes I embrace the role of “The Whore,” one of society’s favorite archetypes to hate. I ask him to f*ck me like he will never see me again;, to slap my cheeks and breasts, and I ask him to tell me that I’m cheap. It's a fun little game that we play — the joke is that I am what many consider to actually be a whore: I charge a healthy rate for sexual interaction with clients. However, when I’m working, when I’m in the Real World, I don’t allow for such disrespect. I don’t allow my clients to strike me, and I definitely don’t allow verbal abuse. My role play with my boyfriend allows me to act out a salacious script that’s often used against me while simultaneously letting me flip a middle finger to the hatred that I (and so many of my peers) so commonly endure. With my partner, the man I love, I can safely do this.
Other times, I ask my sweet, 6-foot-tall man to be “daddy.” To be clear: I run this household. I make much more money than my partner, and I call most of the shots. What do we need from the store? I’ll get it. When are we taking our next trip? I’ll tell him. What is my next step for furthering my education, or raising my daughter? I put it on the calendar. When we go out, I’m the extrovert, and we take my fast car and I’m the one in the driver’s seat while he rolls the chair back to cram his legs beneath the dashboard. We both know that in the daytime and much of the time, mommy is in charge. And so when we’re alone and the bills are paid and the house is clean and the joint is rolled and he’s run me a bath, I ask for “daddy,” and my kind, gentle 27-year-old partner takes on the role of the provider. He’s in charge, and I finally get to relax. I love this man because he knows what I need in order to nurture my submissive side, the side of Elle who rarely shows her face.
I’ve let go of the deadlines looming in my inbox, the LEGOs on my floor, the mildew in the kitchen that just won’t scrub off. I’m not thinking of the catcalls I’ve heard and the ones I’ve yet to, of possible fender benders or menstrual cramps. I'm free and I'm safe in the arms of the man taking care of me. In this moment, I live in my fantasy world, and my decisions in the bedroom don’t negatively impact other people. It feels good for him. It feels even better for me.
In reading about other women’s attitudes toward daddy-play, one common statement in opposition is: I want my partner to respect me as an adult. So do I. And my partner does respect me as an adult, because he never attempts to shame me for my desires, and he doesn’t ever try to control any aspect of my life. Role play is where the participants play with cultural mores and flip them on their asses. It relies on mutual trust, communication, honesty, and vulnerability. Holding a door open for a woman does not mean that he respects her, and calling my boyfriend “daddy” does not mean he doesn’t respect me.
When my partner assumes the role of “daddy” for me, I don’t have to think about anything. I just receive pleasure. I don’t think about my biological dad, a man I haven’t referred to as “daddy” since I was perhaps 5 years old. I don’t worry about what terms of endearment or kink my own parents use when they have sex. I’m able to separate the encapsulated experiences lovers have with the public moments those same couple shares with the public world. I talked with a friend, Loveline host and author Dr. Chris Donaghue, and he agrees:
I think there is something truly powerful about sexualizing a term that is usually reserved for endearment. That’s feminist sex! Reclaiming a word and a role that is usually occupied by a male authority, your father, and using it to make your partner submit and to control them.
There are no rules when you’re in fantasy land. When those words pass from my lips to his ears, I know I’ve enveloped myself in a soft blanket of care and warmth. I’ve let go of the deadlines looming in my inbox, the LEGOs on my floor, the mildew in the kitchen that just won’t scrub off. I’m not thinking of the catcalls I’ve heard and the ones I’ve yet to, of possible fender benders or menstrual cramps. I'm free and I'm safe in the arms of the man taking care of me. In this moment, I live in my fantasy world, and my decisions in the bedroom don’t negatively impact other people. It feels good for him. It feels even better for me.
Yes, I am a parent. But my status as someone's mother doesn't automatically withdraw my right to sexual pleasure.
Sometimes, when my partner plays the role of “daddy,” I role play as the “b*tch.” In this scenario, I don’t allow him to touch me or penetrate or stimulate me until I finally relent. We wrestle, we play fight. I make him use his body to pin down my own, and in this way I make light of the fact that women are and should be the “gatekeepers” to sex simply because we are often the ones stereotypically thought to be penetrated. As a survivor of rape, I find this light-hearted struggle a catharsis for much more sinister events I’ve endured. We have a safe word — “skateboard” means stop in any scenario. I always love these pseudo-struggles because I know I’m safe with this man. And I get to thumb my nose at a half-lifetime of walking the tightrope of the Madonna-whore complex.
"Anything said or done within the context of a consensual and caring sexual relationship is fully acceptable”, Donaghue tells me. "Arousal requires novelty and transcending the mundane. The use of ‘daddy,’ either as a term of sweetness or submission (or even to eroticize parental reenactment) is an attempt to move into fantasy or sex play that leaves behind everyday life, which is the power and goal of sex.” I co-host a podcast with a stripper peer and a sex counselor, and my sexuality counselor co-host Buster Ross has said it before:
If only, on the first day of sex ed, you were told that, ‘You will be aroused by things that are taboo,’ maybe fewer people would have anxiety over what is quite normal and healthy.
Yes, I am a parent. But my status as someone's mother doesn't automatically withdraw my right to sexual pleasure. When I'm with my child, I'm loving in my touch, expressive in my play, and articulate in my language. When I'm with my lover, I'm loving in my touch, expressive in my play, and articulate in my language. The sex I have is of no relevance to my ability to take care of my daughter. I am a consenting adult in adult spaces, with adults, doing adult activities. Did my parents ever have kinky sex? I have no idea, because it’s none of my business. Will my daughter have kinky sex? I have no idea, because that too will be none of my business. My only hope is that she’ll have confidence in her body, and share touch with people who treat her in the way that she dictates, just like her mom does.