Maybe you know the following situation from your own experience: It's the end of a busy day and you decide to relax a bit and read some kinky stuff and/or chat with some kinky friends before going to sleep. Suddenly you stumble across some pictures or comments which make you feel uneasy, provoked or even disgusted. Maybe you can't even tell exactly what it is that causes this bad gut feeling, but it is there and your evening is ruined.
Erica Scott wrote about such an experience in her post Correspondence Hall of Shame, 2/25: So I try to distract myself and go on FetLife last night, attempting to have some fun, and all I see on the activity feed are graphic, gross and extreme photos, with severely thrashed bottoms, tops bragging about having made them that way, and other bottoms oohing and ahhing over how pretty they are. You know... I wish I could understand this. I wish I knew why it offends me so. I mean, these are clearly consensual scenes and the bottoms aren't upset about them. So why should I be? Ack. Perhaps I should stay off FL for a little while and clear my head. When I'm in judgment mode, I know I'm a bit off and I need to be quiet until it passes.
The more regular readers of this blog know that I have struggled with the more severe form of CP play myself, but that I also strongly believe in the protection of everyone's right to live out their kink as long as it is safe, sane and consensual. That's why I liked Erica's insightful description of her thoughts and feelings very much – she very clearly distinguished between her personal gut feeling and moral judgements. And of course I could relate to her struggle, especially since I had the feeling that it had been rather the comments made by the tops and the bottoms which had caused her negative emotions, not the pictures per se. In a comment, I told her about my point of view and about how much I appreciate her clear distinction.
I wanted to add a sentence about the attitude of a top which was more important to me than the severity of someone's spanking play. But my comment was long enough already, so I erased the sentence. Erica's answer however showed that my suggestion had been correct: Kaelah -- thank you for acknowledging and appreciating my struggle. I really don't like myself when I'm being judgmental. I think it was just a last-straw kind of thing the other night. Someone had pulled up about a dozen different photos of bottoms that looked like raw meat, and commented on each one, "I did that!" "I did that!" "I did that!" etc. With grin emoticons. That upset me, and I really shouldn't have paid it any mind. It's not my business.
With that additional explanation it became even clearer to me what had upset Erica so much about the pictures. To my mind, the comments made by the top who posted the photos lack any sign of attachment to the bottoms he or she had played with. Instead, the sentence “I did that!”, which from my point of view comes very close to the “I was here!” scribblings on toilet walls, doesn't sound very adult. The association which comes to my mind is in fact that of a teenager trying to look cool in front of his or her peers. And that picture in combination with severe CP play makes me feel uncomfortable because it makes me wonder whether this top only uses severe pay and the bottoms who put themselves in a very vulnerable position for very selfish reasons and to cover her or his personal image neurosis.
But, stop, doesn't all play as a top at least partially fulfil very egoistic desires? Doesn't everyone have a dark side and isn't sadism (= the desire to cause pain) always a part of it? Leia-Ann Woods recently did her first interrogation scenario in the position of one of the interrogators. She had done several of these scenes as a victim, but this was her first time “on the other side”. It made her think about her dark side and she wrote a very insightful account of the scene and her feelings afterwards titled The dark side of the Moon: I was very nervous before, worried I would not have the skill to pull it off. However, when the scene began I was quickly immersed in it and before long I was enjoying taking an active role. I found I revelled in throwing buckets of water on a subject and was happy to take part in the psychological tricks we had up our sleeves to break them down. The scene culminated with each subject undergoing a session of waterboarding […] I happily watched all four subjects go through this and even chuckled when one sobbed after being instructed she would have to suffer fifteen further sessions (we did not do this but it must have been psychologically painful).
The scene ended, there were hugs all round and off we went back to London. It was late when we arrived so I thought little on what we had done and headed straight for bed. The following afternoon I had a crisis of conscience and was highly emotional about the events of the previous evening. How could I have done such awful things? Worse, how could I have done such awful things to my friends? I had watched four people be broken and taken an active role in it. I believed I was a terrible person. I talked with the other members of the team which really helped clear my mind. I realised that if asked to do this to an unwilling person I could not do it, so the major difference here is consent. These people all wanted to go through this and would get something out of it, both physically and mentally. So, is it a bad thing to have a dark side? Well, yes and no. It depends on how the dark side manifests itself. Mine only comes out to play with those who wish to see it.
Now, I can only look at this from an outside perspective because I'm not interested in this edgy type of play (in fact, I am quite sure that I'm one of those people who would be harmed by the experience). But I can absolutely relate to the questions Leia-Ann asked herself. When I started exploring the world of spanking, I had similar questions on my mind concerning a slightly different topic. At the beginning of our relationship, I was quite confused about Ludwig's fascination with severe play. And I asked him questions like: “Do you enjoy other events where people are physically harmed, too? Where is the limit?” And Ludwig's clear answer was that he wouldn't be able to enjoy it if there were no consent or if any permanent harm were done.
Now that I've started switching, I found out that I can enjoy topping, and I'm talking not only about the joy of giving the bottom an experience he or she seeks, but also a more egoistic form of joy, like the joy of causing reactions or marks. But, and that is the important point, I can only enjoy topping at all if I know that the bottom is okay and that the experience won't do him or her any harm! And I know that the same is true for Leia-Ann. When Ludwig did a short interview with Leia-Ann after our fun shoot last year, she said that she enjoyed topping now because she could take people to the places she liked to go to when she played as a bottom. So, it seems like the well-being of her victims is always in the back of her mind, even if and when she also enjoys a scene for more “selfish” reasons.
So, what is sadistic play? Something dark and (potentially) dangerous, something dark but absolutely not dangerous or maybe nothing dark at all? Well, to my mind real sadism always has at least a selfish component. Maybe one can also call it dark because it involves a desire to hurt others. But, and that is the important distinction between pathological sadism and attached sadism, the attached sadist feels with his or her “victim” and can only enjoy a scene if it is consensual and if there is no permanent physical or psychological harm done. On the contrary, usually attached sadists enjoy a scene much more if they can give their “victim” a good and special experience.
Still, to my mind, even erotic sadism can lead to dangerous play if the sadistic top is a careless person, doesn't put the bottom's needs before his or her own or isn't capable of critically questioning his or her play and limits. That's why I found all the questions on Leia-Ann's mind good and important nonetheless because even though her fear of having done something wrong was unfounded I think that the questions will make sure that she'll only do these edgy scenes with people who really want to do this and who won't be harmed by it.
Of course the wording used in a comment doesn't say too much about someone's real attitude. In his behind the scenes report from his Mood Pictures shoot, Ludwig made a lot of tongue-in-cheek comments, for example in his conclusion about the shoot: I closed my eyes and saw Rita Goord's tear-soaked face before me. The blood splatter on the cane. I knew that I was lost. Only then, too late, did I realise what topping for Mood Pictures really means. It is not just another kinky adventure. Nor is it strictly a professional job. It is, in truth, a vile, sinister, corrupting influence on one's immortal soul. As you can see, Ludwig also didn't deny the fact that having done such a severe scene and having produced these heavy marks gave him a lot of sadistic joy and was a dream coming true.
But at the same time you'll find that a much bigger part of his report is about the safety measures, the aftercare for the models, their mood during the shoot and after the action scenes were shot. Even concerning the marks, Ludwig was not only attracted by the severity. What was at least as important to him was his accuracy, which allowed him that grade of severity without any risk of causing unintended harm to a model through mishits. Ludwig also mentioned that Rita was a very experienced model and how well she took the caning and he was very glad that even his second “victim” Tammy, for whom this was a first and who struggled much more during the caning, made a second video with Mood only a few weeks later. To my mind all these things show that despite of his selfish joy and his tongue-in-cheek comments Ludwig thought a lot about the well-being of the models and obviously needed the reassurance of them being well in order to be able to enjoy the whole experience without regrets.
So, maybe the “I did that!” comments on FetLife were only tongue-in-cheek as well. That one sentence doesn't provide enough basis for a safe judgement about the attitude of the top who wrote it. What causes a bad gut feeling nonetheless, when I read comments like these, is that they reminded me that not every top is safe to play with. Most of the bottoms I know, especially those who try more edgy types of play, of course select their play partners very carefully. Emma Jane, who was one of the “victims” in the scene Leia-Ann wrote about, published a wonderful post about the aftercare that was provided by the former “interrogators” after the scene. Mistress Switch, one of the interrogators, commented on Emma Jane's description of the scene and pointed out how important it is to try something like waterboarding only with people whom one can absolutely trust and who would only do this edgy form of play with someone they know well enough to be sure that this person won't be harmed by the experience.
But unfortunately, I also know a few bottoms who have made poor choices about the tops they trusted. They played with people who just satisfied their own pleasures without caring about the bottom's limits and well-being. And so these bottoms got badly hurt. But even then, they are adults and I'm not in the position to tell them with whom they should play or which safety measurements they should take. The only thing I can do is write about the topic and hope that this encourages people, especially the newbies among our readers, to select the people they play with carefully and to make sure that their limits are respected.
Yes, sadistic tops might release a bit of their “dark side” in their play. The fact that they feel joy during a play session and that they are proud of causing reactions and marks from my point of view is a normal part of attached sadism. But, tops who loose their self-control during play, tops who disrespect the bottom's limits, tops who aren't 100 per cent accurate and safe in the forms of play they practise, tops who don't question their play and the safety measurements they take at least from time to time, tops who try to tell bottoms that “real” bottoms don't have any limits or that “real” bottoms do everything to please their top and tops who obviously use their spanking play to show how tough they are and to cover their image neurosis aren't “cool” or maybe “excitingly edgy”. They simply aren't adult and sane enough to be safe play partners!
Scribblings about your thoughts in the comment section are of course very welcome!