BDSM and Identity

My answers to a sequence of questions from a friend, asked as part of personal research, and posted here with a big FWIW disclaimer. Her intro:

Explanation: In this paper, I’m looking at sexuality as identity – specifically in the BDSM and spanking communities. Identity is different than action: a man who had sex with another man once does not necessarily identify as gay. I want to tease out what that looks like in the scene in terms of actions versus identity. I’m also interested in theological and spiritual issues that come up in the different practices.

  1. How do you identify in the scene (e.g., top, bottom, switch, Dom(-me), slave, Master, Mistress, slave, etc) and why?

    The best way to answer this one’s probably to link to something I wrote a while ago.

  2. How does BDSM/spanking fit with your sexuality? (i.e., Is it the same as your sexuality or different? What’s the difference?)

    BDSM/spanking, and a few other related fetishes which exist as satellites around a BDSM/spanking core, really is my sexuality. It’s what I think about, what arouses me, what makes me feel connected to others through my sexuality. This is particularly highlighted since I don’t do round-peg-in-round-hole sex.

  3. How does BDSM/spanking fit with your sexual orientation? (i.e., Is it the same or different? What’s the difference?)

    It depends what you mean by ‘orientation’. I can think of three distinct meanings.

    The first is the gendered one: I’m probably almost wholly heterosexual, although I’m happy to leave space for other possibilities. I have played (spanking) with a man, and enjoyed it very much, although it’s not something I would seek out. For this meaning or orientation, I don’t see BDSM/spanking as creating anything particularly different. I imagine that, were I not interested in BDSM, my gender orientation would be much the same: primarily het, but open to wider experiences.

    The second meaning is the kink/vanilla orientation. In that respect, BDSM/spanking really does define my orientation. It defines how my sexuality works.

    The third meaning relates to orientation within the BDSM/spanking world, and of course it’s just as significant as the others. I identify as a switch, although (of course) that’s a huge simplification of complex emotional issues. Certainly my fantasy life encompasses both topping and bottoming, even if things don’t entirely work out that way in practice. More than that, though, I reckon there’s an aspect of my flavour of switchiness that relates not to the presence of both topping and bottoming desires, but to a kind of third orientation, which is both, and neither, of those things at the same time. It’s more like a kind of abstracted voyeurism, which allows the appreciation of an entire scene simultaneously, without necessarily associating oneself with either participant.

  4. Where does sex (intercourse) fit into this for you?

    It doesn’t fit into it at all. I have no desire for intercourse, don’t fantasise about it, and, to the extent that I’ve done it, have found that I’m neither very good at it, nor enjoy it very much. My mind is on other things. My sexuality does encompass acts which are sexual – masturbation, anal play, etc. – but they’re a side dish alongside the main meal, which is the power exchange in BDSM/spanking.

  5. How does BDSM/spanking fit with your identity? (i.e., Does it fit with who you are all the time, some of the time, or does it depend?)

    It’s complicated. I don’t believe that there are any true conflicts between my desires for BDSM/spanking and the rest of my personality and world-view, but emotionally that hasn’t necessarily been an easy place to get to. My contacts with the kink through pornography and such while I was growing up didn’t present things in a way I could easily associate with. The voices I heard were all male, and the kink was presented to me as something which men did to women, primarily, if not exclusively, to fulfill their own desires. It took much longer to see that the kink for me was about nurturing, emotional connection, and that consensuality and gender equality weren’t just possible within the kink, but absolutely central.

    Although I’m much clearer these days about how consistent the kink can be with the rest of my identity, there are still (and always will be) traps and areas of potential difficulty. I know that I have quite a powerful attraction to the idea of being a rescuer – and that’s of course not an uncommon expression of toppishness in the kink. It’s something to be very careful with, precisely because it’s so powerful, and because it can lead easily into situations which aren’t healthy for either person.

    Also, I still have huge difficulties with the actual practice of bottoming, which are completely to do with issues of control. It’s something of a cliché that bottoms are often people who want and/or need control in the rest of their lives, so the attraction of bottoming is precisely in the letting go of that control for a while. That’s mostly the appeal of bottoming for me, but in practice the letting go of the control over my own life/body, which is completely central to my identity, turns out to be very difficult.

  6. How long have you considered BDSM/spanking to be a part of yourself or your life?

    From early childhood, although of course I wouldn’t have thought about it that way at the time. Certainly from a pre-sexual developmental stage, which I do think is significant. I reckon people who have kink awareness before (perhaps) puberty, are far more likely to associate with the kink in ways that are distinct from conventional sex. The comics I read as a kid each week, in which the kids were often – and with great theatricality – spanked at the end of the strip for naughtiness, were profoundly interesting to me. Although I would have been both terrified and deeply resentful of such things happening to me, I was on some level envious of how smoothly and healthily the parent/teacher and child relationships functioned. The normality of it was deeply appealing. As an adult, I’m not really in favour of CP for kids. The apparent inconsistency isn’t lost on me.

  7. How does pain fit into the picture for you? (e.g., Is it the focus, a main goal, an unwanted by product, not a part of the experience, or something else?)

    Pain isn’t central for me. It’s a kind of key to open the door sometimes, the thing that’s on the other side of the door being the real goal: emotional connection, nurturing, catharsis, security, etc. Those places can sometimes be reached in other ways, though.

    I don’t think a scene which was entirely about causing or receiving pain would be terribly interesting to me, although I’m not blind to the bliss that can result. I did bottom one time hard enough – and in a context where there wasn’t really a constructed frame for the scene – that all the right endorphins kicked in afterwards and I flew for a while. But the ratio of genuine hurt during, to emotional buzz afterwards, was quite high, and it’s not a type of scene that I feel drawn to.

  8. What do you do with pain? (e.g., Do you channel it, ignore it, fight it, surf it, bypass it, or something else?)

    Definitely fight it. I haven’t been able to find any headspace which would enable me to process it otherwise, so it feels mostly like an endurance test. I know there are good things waiting on the other side, but the journey isn’t really an enjoyable one.

  9. What are your thoughts on the relationship between BDSM/spanking and spirituality/religion? (i.e., What have you or people you know experienced in this area and what do you think about it?)

    Between BDSM/spanking and religion, none for me. I’m an atheist.

    Between BDSM/spanking and ‘spirituality’? It depends on the meaning of the word, which isn’t one I like to use very much. It comes with too much baggage, and is too different for different people. If ‘spirituality’ refers to a connection with some entity/force/collective outside of one’s own body, then, again, I’m reluctant to use the word.

    If ‘spirituality’ refers to the relationship between BDSM/spanking and one’s emotional state or well-being, then there’s obviously a relationship, although ‘spirituality’ isn’t the word I’d use – again, it’s too loaded. I’d prefer just to talk about emotional state or well-being.

    Perhaps the best answer I could give would be to say that the times I’ve felt most deeply connected with other people have been related to BDSM/spanking, and that there’s a calm and fulfillment to be had from BDSM/spanking play which I’m not sure is achievable for me in other ways. Perhaps equivalent in scope but different in kind.


  • You haven’t really surprised me with anything you said (in as much as I’ve known you for a while), but it does surprise me that you know the answers to all these questions, and are capable of expressing them.

    No, I’m not saying I’m surprised to find that you’re not inarticulate. Just that I’m envious of your level of self-awareness.

    (Hmm. What the hell do I do with pain? I really don’t know. I hurt, mostly.)

  • Haron:

    Just that I’m envious of your level of self-awareness.

    Ha. It’s overrated. It’s possible to be way too introspective, and it maybe comes with a price. Is it better to have the self-awareness to know that my kink is complicated and conflicted and in some ways difficult to express, than to have a kink which is simple and fun and easily-expressible, but not to be quite so aware of how and why it works?

  • Paul,
    Perhaps if you are contemplating whether being introspective is worthy of envy or not, *then* you are being too contepmlative.
    Something else to contemplate, I suppose 😉

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