Some thoughts on humiliation play in BDSM

One of my particular turnons is relatively uncommon (at least in my expererience), and that is humiliation play–D/s scenarios that involve some degree of eroticised shame or embarrassment or humiliation. I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about that over the past week or so, and I think my approach to humiliation play, and the reasons it appeals to me, are unusual even for those people who like it.

The appeal of humiliation is very difficult to explain to people who don’t understand it. It seems to be one of those things that either you get it or you don’t, and if you don’t, it’s just degrading and objectifying and awful. Certainly I’ve known plenty of people who have a strong squick response to humiliation. Many of my partners have (and do) enjoy humiliation play, though, and I’ve been talking to people around me who have an attraction for humiliation play to try to get an idea about what makes it tick. (Why? Because I like understanding myself and those around me; I like understanding how people experience the world. The unexamined life is not worth living, as Snoop Dogg used to say.)

And in talking with my friends and partners about the appeal of humiliation play, I get the sense that the appeal for me is very different than the appeal for many other people.

For some people, humiliation and shame provoke a very visceral response; under the right circumstances and with the right people, there is an immediate sexual arousal attached to it. Shelly hypothesizes that it’s possible this is just good old-fashioned Pavlovian conditioning at work; we grow up in a society with a strong, almost Puritanical streak that teaches that sexuality is something shameful, and a lot of people go through periods of intense shame during puberty…especially if they grow up in repressive or sex-negative environments (Catholic schools, I’m looking at you here). It starts off with feelings of arousal and sexuality provoking reponses of shame and guilt, and those two emotional experiences become linked, so eventually feelings of shame become coupled with feelings of arousal.

This seems plausible to me, and does seem to match with the experiences of some of my past partners as well.

For other people, it seems to be the powerlessness and the sense of helplessness or objectification associated with many types of humiliation play that really do it. I can understand this; on some visceral, irrational level, which has nothing I can see to do with anything in my past or any of my experiences, powerlessness (and, conversely, control) crank my motor. It’s not associated with any kind of trauma while I was growing up; it has nothing to do with any past event, or with trying to work through problems in childhood; for whatever reason, a strong psychological control dynamic just gets me off. It’s a purely irrational thing that in some ways is like what I imagine having a foot fetish or a crossdressing fetish to be like; something that makes no sense to a person who doesn’t have it, something that has no logical reason; simply a quirk in the wiring or whatever that makes this particular stimulus really, really arousing.

I think there’s likely an element of this in people who like, for example, Daddy/daughter relationships, or who like resistance play or sexual objectification in any other form–just a good old-fashioned sexual fetish, not particularly associated with anything outside itself.

And I have talked to a few people for whom various types of BDSM, including humiliation play, is a direct response to some specific form of trauma. I’ve known people who explore BDSM as a way to get through or to gain power over some event or some part of their lives that was harmful or damaging–and I think thewre are both healthy and unhealthy ways that people do this. (There’s a term that’s used in the psychiatric community–I learned it in one of my cognitive psych classes back in the day, but don’t remember it now–for the act of processing damaging or traumatic experiences in ways that actually deepen and reinforce the trauma, with the belief that they are working through it when in fact they’re making it worse.) I think BDSM can be a positive and healthy way to explore, deal with, and ultimately regain control over some traumatic experience, though I also think that a person who’s not careful may in fact end up just hurting himself more.

But none of these things is really the reason I like humiliation play.

Now, there is an element of that irrational, almost fetishistic arousal for me, make no mistake. From either the giving or the receiving end, humiliation play really gets me off.

But that’s not why I do it. Humiliation play gets me off, but it isn’t a fetish; I can get off in many other ways, and humiliation play is emotionally risky, at least for me. If it were simply a matter of having an orgasm and being done with it, I don’t think I’d do it.

For me, the real appeal of humiliation play is as a vehicle for emotional intimacy.

When I am engaging in some kind of erotic scenario built around humiliation or shame, from either side but most especially from the receiving side, it exposes me emotionally to my partner in a way that nothing else I have experienced does. it strips away any emotional defense mechanisms I may have and lowers all of my emotional boundaries. The person you see when you see me i that context is me, undefended, completely exposed. As a tool for emotional intimacy, it can’t be beat; there’s no bullshit, no filtering any of my responses; what you see is what I am, completely unfiltered.

For that reason, I can’t do humiliation play with a casual partner, or with a person I’m not in an intimate, stable, long-term relationship with. I use it precisely because the emotional vulnerability creates a vehicle for intimacy; for me, it’s that, not the orgasm, that really matters. The fact that it gets me off is what makes me able to do it in the first place, because no doubt about it, that kind of vulnerability and emotional exposure is pretty scary shit–if it weren’t for the fact that I eroticise humiliation, I’d never have started down that path in the first place. But from the people I’ve known and spoken to, using humiliation play for the primary purpose of exploring emotional intimacy seems very unusual. It seems those people I’ve known who enjoy it have some other primary motivation–which might be something as simple as “it gets my rocks off”–and anything else it does is something of a side effect.

Thoughts? Opinions?

Writing Clearly for Fun and Profit…

…or, how to make sure your LiveJournal, mail list, and newsgroup posts don’t just get skipped over by your audience.

Forums like Weblogs and mailing lists are written media. In these forums, we see nothing of what people are save for what they write. In any written medium, people who write clearly and distinctly, and who use language precisely and in an easy-to-understand way, will likely be read more often and given more attention than people who do not.

Anything you do that makes your messages harder to read or harder to understand will make it more likely that people will not pay any attention to anything you have to say. The written word is the only thing you have here; if you do not use it well, then your ideas, no matter how good they may be, will be disregarded.

There are many things that people do which make their messages difficult to read–and everything that makes a message difficult to read will cause some people not to read it.

The worst offenders are:

1. using runonsentences that are not properly spaced.especially when there are no spaces after the punctuation,when you do this with commas,it gets really,really,really hard to read.this makes everything run together,in a mess that is almost impossible to extract meaning from.really.

How to avoid it:

– Put a space after every piece of punctuation. Notice that a space follows the period at the end of a sentence, and follows a comma within a sentence.

– Do not use run-on sentences. If you are expressing two different thoughts, use two (or more) sentences.

2. Putting all the mass of text in one big lump. I guarantee, this is one of the worst things you can do.

How to avoid it:

– Break your thoughts up into paragraphs. Put double-spaces between the paragraphs. By breaking up your text, you make it far, far easier to understand.

3. Using AOL cht-spk or 1337-5p34k. Using terms like “u” unstead of “you,” “ppl” instead of “people,” and so on makes your message much more difficult to parse; as a general rule, I almost never read messages that use these styles of abbreviations; especially when they are combined with jargon or other abbreviations that are not immediately obvious. Add emoticons and the like to the mix, and you have an impenetrrable mess. Remember, your goal is to communicate; do not create artifical barriers to this communication.

4. Using the D/s writing convention invented in some of the more obnoxious online BDSM chatrooms and, unfortunately, spreading like typhus or bubonic plague throughout much of the rest of the Internet community. I’m referring, of course, to the use of hybrid upper and lowercase letters when referring to a group of people that may include folks who identify as dominant and submissive: “W/we would like to ask Y/you for a favor. Please attend O/our combined play party and English grammar dissertation; it will be the best time Y/you will ever have outside an insurance seminar.” I’m waiting for the day people begin applying this grammatic monstrosity to individuals who are switches: “I/i am a S/switch, which means I/i can be Dominant or submissive.”

How to avoid it:

– Don’t. Seriously. Just don’t do this. I/i M/mean I/it. I/i automatically disregard A/any message from A/anyone who writes like T/this. A/always.

5. Using metaphors that are only obvious to you, but are not obvious, or even decipherable, to anyone else. “Well, if you think about the implications of teleology as applied to the political situation in Nazi Germany in 1943, you will immediately see that life is a battlefield seen through endless masses of Jell-O.” What?

Some metaphors can be figured out from context; if a restaurant has signs on the restroom doors reading “Popeye” and “Olive,” most adult Westerners can figure it out from social context. If the signs read “Turtles” and “Tortoises,” then you have a problem.

Some people think in metaphor more easily than others, but even so, a metaphor that relies on some connection or association known only to you and your fifth-grade science teacher, and nobody else in the world, will not succeed for anyone. Often, the cynical side of me suspects that some people, particularly in some parts of the New Age community, use incredibly flowery, over-the-top metaphor merely to impress themselves, or to conceal the fact that their central idea is weak.. (I see this on the World Polyamory Association mailing list from time to time, for example.)

An actual, real-world example: “Not only have the fnord weavers exploited the normal Human needs for love, acceptance, shelter, belongingness and justification by making us feel that we must join one of the state-sanctioned types, they also exploited and reinforced our natural xenophobia when we encounter those outside of our group. When we encounter the rare, indefinable, personality we have been taught to go into panic mode.” This particular post, taken from a newsgroup I read, goes on in this vein for hundreds and hundreds of words.

How to avoid it:

– Do not make assumptions about your audience; in particular, do not assume your audience can read your mind, or understand the way you use words if you do so in a radically unconventional way.

– Be clear in your own head of what you plan to say before you say it. If you can not explain something to your grandmother, you probably don’t understand it yourself.

– If you must use words in an unconventional way, explain your usage. If you are using a metaphor that your audience may not follow, explain the metaphor.

– If you introduce something into your post which you believe is relevant (in the case of the post I cite above, it touches on everything from Hebrew numerology to clothing to mathematician John Nash), explain the relevance of this thing. You’re not going to win points and impress people by name-dropping or dropping references to things you think will impress your audience if those people or references are not clearly connected to your idea.

The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect

Some weeks ago, I was chatting with zaiah online (which, by the way, is great fun, and I heartily recommend it), and she directed me to an online work of fiction called The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect.

The last time someone did that, I lost many hours’ sleep. That time, it was Shelly, who discovered the (very long) online novel John Dies At the End, one of the best pieces of amateur fiction I’ve ever read and a work that sucked up several of my nights. (I was up until nearly sunup reading at one point…but I digress.)

At any rate, The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect is a neat little transhumanist (or, really, anti-transhumanist) story, that echoes some of the themes of Iain M. Banks’ “Culture” series–Look to Windward, The Player of Games, and so on–but from a very different angle.

It’s a good read. datan0de, zensidhe, and smoocherie, you guys in particular might like it…though you may find yourselves disagreeing with the author about the inability to find meaning in a virtualized world, as I did.

By the way, this is not a story for the squeamish. Extremely graphic and explicit sex, some of which is more than a little bizarre.

The idea that people cannot find meaning if they live in an environment where all their needs are met instantly, and that human meaning is only possible against a backdrop of struggle and death, is not a new one in science fiction, and I wonder why that is. I personally do not believe that my lifew is given meaning only by death; in fact, quite the opposite–death robs life of meaning, by destroying all those experiences that make us who we are.

And speaking of wonder, and mystery…

Hubble Deep Field Telescope Image

This picture was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope’s powerful deep-field telescope instrument. It shows a patch of sky about one millimeter square.

With the exception of the bright white object with diffraction lines radiating from it to the lower left of center (which is a star here in our own Milky Way galaxy), every single thing you see here is a galaxy. An entire galaxy, each with tens of millions or billions of stars.

This is not a remarkable section of sky. It looks like this no matter where you point the Deep Field Telescope.

Every one of the things in this picture. Every dot, every fleck of light. An entire galaxy.

So much for the notion that there is no wonder in science.

In which Franklin gets very, very, very cranky

In his book The Demon-Haunted World, Carl Sagan writes, “The siren song of unreason is not just a cultural wrong but a dangerous plunge into darkness that threatens our most basic freedoms.” The book was published in 1988, when trickle-down economics and alien abductions were all the rage, and it is hard to imagine anything more appropriate today.

The last six years or so have proven Sagan right in a way I doubt even he could have imagined. In 2006, nearly twenty years after those words were penned, we have an American President who is a fundamentalist Christian and who seems to believe that science and highfalutin book-larnin’ never did nobody a lick of good; anti-intellectualism is rampant in American society and politics; and people are actually arguing about “Intelligent Design”–Intelligent Design, fer Chrissakes!–as if it were something for real that should, y’know, be taught in schools.

And frankly, it all pisses me right the fuck off.

Shelly tends to get frustrated with me, because I get so frustrated whenever I see credulous, anti-intellectual claptrap spewing out of some hole somewhere. And, to be quite blunt, it’s everywhere. It’s as if somebody plugged all the sewers in New York City, and all this brown stuff is bubbling up out of the manhole covers and flooding the streets, and nobody notices.

Hell, people seem to like it.

And it pisses me off. It pisses me off because these people should know better. It pisses me off because gullibility and credulity are corrosive to society; the United States today dominates the world politically, socially, and economically largely on the strength of our belief that the world is knowable and comprehensible, and that the pursuit of reason is a valuable undertaking. (I’m sure the Chinese, who could not hope to compete with us otherwise, are more than happy to see us abdicate our global leadership as a powerhouse of knowledge and research; they don’t have to defeat us; we’re happy to defeat ourselves!) It pisses me off because reason is the greatest single gift that humankind has, the thing that sets us apart from all the rest of nature, and to squander that gift–to fritter away our reason, to exchange knowledge and understanding for faeries and pixie dust–is a travesty beyond imagining.

Faeries and pixie dust are remarkably seductive. Continue reading

How dumb do these guys think I am?

So over the past three days, somebody has placed orders for a whole bunch of T-shirts from my online T-shirt store…nearly $1,500 worth of shirts in all.

These orders, each of which is typically for anywhere from ten to twenty shirts, are all placed with different credit cards, and all ship to different addresses, mostly in Ghana and the UK, occasionally in the US. Each has a different name. Yet the same email address is being used for every one of them…an email address on an ISP in Nigeria.

Does this guy really think I’m stupid enough to let him rip me off for fifteen hundred dollars?

The quest for truth

In the never-ending quest for truth which has dominated mankind’s history, one question stands above them all.

No, not “Is there a god?” or “What is the meaning of life?” The real question is…

What is the coolest thing in the world?

There may, of course, be more than one coolest thing in the world; philosophy is all about keeping your options open. There are, however, things it cannot be; for example, we have ascertained conclusively that the coolest thing in the world is not Microsoft, armpit hair, or Hoboken, New Jersey.