Pleasure and pain

A trio of questions about SM. Actually two questions I suppose as the first one comes more from the angle of a sadistic top, whereas the second two suggest a masochistic bottom and a possibly cautious or reluctant top. First one first:

How do physically hurting someone and loving them work together?

I could write pages and pages, probably an entire book, on this (except it wouldn’t be as good as the excellent resources out there, check out The Topping Book, The Bottoming Book and Screw the Roses, Send Me the Thorns).

Answering depends on one’s definition of love. Some of the ways I perceive love are emotional qualities such as trust, simple actions such as talking and complex actions such as being prepared to face jealousy head on rather than ignoring it. These flow both ways between me and the Boy.

Another complex way is submitting to him sexually – physically and mentally – and knowing he will honour that by taking care of me during that time. Hurting me sure, but taking responsibility for that pain. And this is a big deal – I am aware that when we play I give up responsibility, but to be safe that responsibility can’t be abandoned – J takes it on his shoulders and for a short while doubles his load through life.

This sounds dramatic but I really think that way. The only thing we have in life is ourselves and our decisions. Giving that up isn’t always too hard but taking it on for someone else can be difficult. So for me, J being prepared to do that – to hurt me and take responsibility for the outcome* – is an enormous gesture of love.

But that’s from the point of view of the hurtee. What about the person with the whip in his hand? Does he also consider it a loving gesture? That’s a bit hard for me to answer as I’m only tentatively sadistic but I’m discovering that I like hurting someone when I know they enjoy it.

Those last few words are key. You can read it in someone’s eyes – they’re getting high on what’s happening to them and knowing that is hot as hell. Watching someone get off on what I’m doing is a big encouragement to keep doing it. But I’m talking about the vanilla-ish end of the scale, let’s hear from J-dawg about the point when you start wondering whether serious harm could be done. [S, you wanna weigh in with any thoughts?]

“I believe it was Aristotle who said pain was an absence of pleasure [Epicurus: pleasure is the absence of suffering. Ed.] This is the root of the situation – not enjoying something is not the same as being in pain, and enjoying something is not the same as pleasure, the words aren’t synonymous.

“When you first engage in SM, initially you do feel worried about causing pain, but then you realize the type of pain you’re giving is something the other person is finding pleasurable. But it does take time to correct that first emotional response.

“Specifically, you get better at monitoring the path of pain – where it intersects with pleasure and where it doesn’t, what the noises mean. As always communication is key – listening to reactions and being sensitive to them is important.

“There are times when people push beyond communicating back and forth in the moment, but it still works within a framework where communication has been established. A safeword lets you communicate in a different way.

“Looking at this from a different angle, anal sex can be uncomfortable but still be pleasurable. A girl at school once came back and told me she’d just had anal sex with her boyfriend – she described it as a wonderful combination of pain and pleasure that made it unlike ordinary sex.

“There is something in that description that’s mysterious, and that makes it attractive. That same mystery surrounds sadism – the careful modulation of pleasure and pain at the same time. Witnessing and providing that is a turn on. I get turned on by giving pleasure, and turned on in a different way by giving pleasure and pain.

“But… there’s no doubt that it feels unnatural at first if you’ve been brought up to be nice, not to hit people, to help others – suddenly there’s a context where you feel you are going against that. It requires careful clarity in your mind about what is happening – that it is consensual and that what you’ve been brought up to avoid is non-pleasurable and non-consensual.

“In that sense it is a good lesson in consent. We have been taught to avoid non-consent at all costs, but in this context it is the consent that feels like the perversion or the thing we fear.”

Which sorta (not really) brings me to an important coda. SM can challenge intense physical boundaries (ever single-tail the blood out of someone?), but the end goal shouldn’t be how much damage is inflicted or sustained. Rather the skill lies in pushing people to their limits while minimizing the danger they face.

This is why people don’t do blood-letting with someone they just met on Craigslist, why we have safewords and hard limits and care about trust. I think because SM comes with so many necessary qualifiers, if they are respected it becomes easy to equate pain and love.


* I’ve simplified the first part to the point where the bottom sounds like an uninspiring sack of flour. Truth is that safe, sane, consensual play shouldn’t equate to total power transference. The top has to trust that the bottom is communicating honestly before (in terms of desires, hard limits etc) and during the scene. If you’re beating the crap out of someone you want to be pretty damned sure they’ll safeword if they need to. A stoic bottom isn’t gonna prove anything, except perhaps the awful ways people can end up in ER.

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1 Comment»

  elle wrote @

I should point out that the above is a lazy transcript of J talking – he writes (and speaks) way better than that!


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