A Coke and Some String Cheese

[Originally written as a reply to a (long-gone) blog post, this sort of works on its own.]

I think it’s generally a mistake to approach the concept of someone being disciplinarian for someone else assuming it’s really complex or subtle, especially if it’s men we’re talking about here. Since when did thinking of men as complex beasts get anywhere? I think it’s also a mistake to think of it as at all altruistic. I don’t believe in altruism at the best of times (don’t believe that it exists, that is; not don’t believe in behaving altruistically), but especially not in a situation like this.

I’ll speak only for myself, but I do think this mostly abstracts generally: people want to connect with other people. Specifically, they want to be wanted, and need to be needed (in the words of the late 20th century philosopher, Peter Gabriel). People express those needs in different ways, and need them to be fulfilled in different ways, but the basic needs are very similar. It’s a very cold universe out there, and to be needed by someone whom nature has made attractive to us is about as powerful an emotion as we’ll ever experience. When what they need from us is consistent with a kink that’s also fundamental to who we are, the pieces just fit. We’re not so far from cavemen that we — even the diffident and introverted of us — don’t get pleasure from being the strong protector. Rather than considering that people of kink get close to each other so that they can express kink, it makes far more sense to consider that they express kink so that they can get close to each other. Kink isn’t an end in itself. The warm body beside us is the end. The happy, contented, safe, warm body beside us carrying marks that we’ve put on its skin, is a kind of belonging, a kind of home.

Discipline is also of note in the kink because it typically implies not just a closeness, and a protectiveness, but also an exclusivity, a possession. It might be a transient exclusivity, but it’s there for at least a moment. It says not just that we can meet a need in someone we care about, but that, at that moment, of all the people they might have chosen to meet that need, they chose us. It’s a direct line drawn between two people, to the conscious (and often public) exclusion of others. It personalises the need; it makes the need about us, rather than just about itself. There is, of course, an echo of parenting in kink discipline, even if it’s not part of the exterior trappings or the language used, and I think it’s a mistake not to use parenting as a useful analogue — whilst recognising its limitations. It clearly matters to a discipline relationship in the kink that it have the basic one-to-one topography of a parent-child dynamic, even if the balance of power isn’t — for obvious and very good reasons — so clear cut.

The problem of punishment and how a disciplinarian can get anything out of it is a big red herring, I think, mostly because they don’t have to get anything out of it for the wider relationship to be working just fine, thanks very much. We accept all sorts of situations as packages in life, knowing that they’re indivisible, and that the gnarly bits are worth it. However, there are all sorts of ways in which a disciplinarian can find punishment fulfilling, with it still genuinely serving as punishment, the most obvious being a careful unleashing of sadism, the enjoyment of causing pain being orthogonal to its purpose and effectiveness in changing behaviour or expiating guilt. Even without such layering, fulfillment in administering punishment isn’t a huge conundrum; it’s a restatement of the need and the want and the exclusivity which make the relationship matter. The process of creating vulnerability and then being protective of that vulnerability is a very practical way of showing that the vulnerability is ring-fenced to keep it safe. It’s also, of course, a way of obtaining reassurance that one is trusted, and wanted, and needed.

But punishment is hardly the only way of feeling needed. I came back from Shadow Lane in Las Vegas over the weekend, having scarcely played, feeling that the most significant moment for me was not playing with a particular someone, at a time when what she really wanted was a Coke and some string cheese. Going out to buy them and bringing them back to the hotel room for her might well have been the toppiest thing I did all weekend. Explaining that might take a little longer.


  • This is a beautiful, brilliant essay Paul. I think this is sort of what A. first tried to explain to me years back when I asked him what attracted him to discipline. And in practice it’s always been about that symbiosis of feeling safe enough to be vulnerable and feeling glad to be trusted and needed. Thanks for putting it in such an elegant way.

  • Hi Paul,

    I think you brought up two really valid points that haven’t been either made or admitted before. First,

    “I think it’s generally a mistake to approach the concept of someone being disciplinarian for someone else assuming it’s really complex or subtle, especially if it’s men we’re talking about here.”

    LOL. While it might be perfectly acceptable for you to say that, it’s not really polite for me (or any woman) to say it, as it really does sound like a stereotypically sexist thing for a woman to say about a man.

    Secondly, you wrote,

    “However, there are all sorts of ways in which a disciplinarian can find punishment fulfilling, with it still genuinely serving as punishment, the most obvious being a careful unleashing of sadism…”

    I think this is an important point that is similar to a point that I was pondering in conversation yesterday (with women who can speak up if they want) about sadists in general, but specifically, sadists who engage in punishment. We didn’t quite say it this elegantly, but I think this is the conclusion we were trying to reach when we got distracted by our surroundings and dropped the subject.

    Thanks for taking the time to think this out and express it so well.


  • This is really cool to read as someone who’s entering into a relationship with someone who is (will be) my top but is not my significant other. The question of “but why would he want to” in terms of investing in me to such a great extent has been a huge barrier for me and questioning his motives has been a huge process as I work towards fully trusting him. What you said about creating vulnerability and protecting it makes a lot of sense and makes things click in a way they haven’t yet — so — thank you.

  • Michelle: Cool, thanks. 🙂 Maybe it’s because I’m a switch, but neither end of things has ever been particularly puzzling to me. I do think the way to see things a bit more clearly is to step outside the kink and ask, well, what do we all want? We all want to belong and to feel wanted and needed. Then you can start thinking about how different flavours of the kink might satisfy those basic needs in different people.

    sparkle: Having written this about men specifically, I’m now sitting here wondering how much my answers apply to female disciplinarians too. There’s no reason at all why it has to be the same balance of things. Might female disciplinarians (of men) tend more towards the careful unleashing of sadism rather than the desire to be needed or wanted? Dunno. I reckon a lot of male topping tends more towards wanting to feel loved, whereas I don’t get the impression that female/male disciplinarians are quite so motivated by insecurity. Maybe they are, though. I do tend to be far more cynical about men than about women.

    Jenna: Nuh-uh. Thank you. And good luck in what you’re doing.

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