Monday, June 27, 2011

Speculative Questions

In my last Kaelah's Corner post Therapy? I asked the controversial questions whether therapeutic effects explain a (smaller or bigger) part of our spanking fantasies and form of kinky relationships and whether certain experiences and patterns are more common in the kinky community than in society as a whole.

The reason for these questions was that I had come across several very different observations that had made me wonder, because they fell into one of the following two categories: The first types of observations were evidence or descriptions of negative experiences, especially physical self-harm and different forms of neglect or abuse during childhood, which I came across several times in our community but with which I had been confronted much less often in my vanilla environment. The second types of observations were about different forms of kinky partnerships which all seemed to incorporate a unidirectional power dynamics, something that I have experienced in my vanilla life as being rather negative for the people involved, but which didn't seem to be seen (or at least discussed) critically in our kinky community.

I'm always interested to learn about how kink, kinky play and kinky relationships work for others and how they work for me. And I always try to understand where the various forms of play and relationships come from and what people are getting out of them. So the observations which I had made raised many questions.

Concerning the first category of observations, I asked myself why I seemed to come across these things more often in the kinky community than in my vanilla environment. Now, as Indy pointed out in her comment on my original post, it is difficult to compare one's vanilla environment with the part of the kinky environment one is engaged in. And we all know only a small subgroup of kinksters. Ludwig and I are mostly active in certain parts of the online community and we know a few people from the local community as well. So, maybe the different experiences that I had made in the kinky community and in my vanilla community were just based on the general differences between the kinky and vanilla people I knew? Or maybe I had heard more about these things in the kinky community because there was a higher degree of openness about them among kinksters? I wasn't sure about any of these ideas and that's why I decided to ask the readers about their observations and experiences.

I was even more unsure about the question whether childhood experiences or experiences with self-harm could also affect one's kinky play and if so, in which way. I had seen people who had obviously made experiences with self-harm but didn't seem to practise it any more. There were statements of people who wrote about how they made experiences in their kink which they had missed during their childhood, like feeling guided or cared for. I had also made the observation that my personal kinky fantasies often seemed to be positive counterparts to negative experiences which I had made and to my insecurities, and that my spanking play empowered me.

That's why I had the idea that kinky play and kinky relationships could maybe be used in the same positive way concerning others' negative experiences and resulting insecurities. Hence my “therapy”-hypothesis. Ludwig emphasized on a very important point in his comment: Using spanking as a form of self-therapy obviously doesn't have to be a bad thing. I'm not sure whether I pointed this out clearly enough in my original post, but I hope that the symbolic picture which I had taken for the post already showed it.

On the other hand, I also made some negative obvservations which gave me cause for concern. I knew people who had made negative experiences earlier in their lives and then got hurt in their spanking play as well. And I came across people who stopped certain forms of kinky play, claiming that these had been based on self-destructive tendencies and therefore dangerous for them. So, I came up with my last question: Could kinky play be unhealthy as well, and under which circumstances?

I know that the question of kink and health is a sensitive question, but from my point of view it is also a necessary and important one. And I think that one can make assumptions about what might or might not be healthy and under which circumstances, especially if these assumptions are based on actual statements of people who have experienced certain situations which they later considered either as healthy or unhealthy for themselves.

The questions concerning the second category of observations were quite similar. Again I asked myself whether there were really more partnerships with a unidirectional power dynamics in our kinky community than in society as a whole. If so, what did they give those who were involved in them and in which positive ways could they be used? And, last but not least, were there similar downsides as the ones which I had experienced with the people in my vanilla environment?

Pandora commented that asking about motives for kink and motivations in kinky relationships insinuated that kink was abnormal, and that speculating about others' motives especially in combination with the question of healthiness was rude and patronising. I can see where Pandora is coming from and I agree that certain questions can be loaded.

Now first of all, the intention of my post was not to ask why someone is / became kinky. It was about how people use kinky play and why some people's kinky fantasies might be different from others. But frankly, I wouldn't mind asking about why people are kinky in the first place as well. Because for me being kinky is neither good nor bad, it is just a sexual preference which is unusual in the sense that it applies only to a statistical minority of people. I don't know why I am kinky and I think it wouldn't make a big difference if I knew, but I am curious and I wouldn't mind exploring the subject.

I agree with Pandora that one must be very careful when exploring subjects like these. But I don't think that declaring certain questions a taboo area can ever be a good thing. When I wrote my Kaelah's Corner post, I tried to be very careful by always talking about my personal observations and how things seemed to me, rather than making blunt assertions. And I openly asked whether others had made different experiences which contradicted mine.

I am aware that it is difficult to speculate about other people's motives and about the power dynamics between others, and that one should be careful about making generalisations. As Abel pointed out, there are all kinds of kinky people and kinky relationships and there is a lot of variety. But first of all, I think that understanding other people's motives is essential for human beings, and secondly, to my mind, it is possible to make well-founded assumptions based on what people have said about themselves in combination with observable behaviour. These assumptions can then be used for asking others about their opinions and experiences and learning from them.

I have to admit that I am very critical about any form of restriction of freedom of speech, especially when it is said that certain questions should not be raised because these questions could be used to portray the community or society which they concern in a negative way. To my mind, asking a question can never be as dangerous (as long as it is a real question and as long as it is asked carefully) as prohibiting open discussion.

I also don't think that asking questions causes prejudices. Rather, I think that it gives us the chance to diminish them. After all, if different points of view are mentioned openly and honestly, people have a chance to learn about them and to adjust their point of view in case they come across arguments they hadn't thought of. That is why, to my mind, it can even be very useful to talk about one's prejudices and where they come from. I'll do so in my next Kaelah's Corner post which will focus on the power dynamics of kinky relationships, because that was the topic that led to the most vivid discussion after my last post.

Today, I would like to close with some thoughts about the topic of physical self-harm, though, because the comments on my last post made me look at this aspect from a completely new perspective. My personal assumption about kink and physical self-harm had been that the explanation why I had been confronted with that topic more often in the kinky community than in my vanilla environment was at least partly based on the general difference between the kinky and the vanilla people whom I know and a certain openness about these things in the kinky community.

I wasn't sure whether there was any further correlation between self-harm and kink at all. The only idea that I had was that spanking might cause a similar feeling of relief as self-harm and that it therefore could possibly be used as a healthy substitute for self-harming activities. Georgia's comment seemed to support that idea because she pointed out that while from her experience self-harm and kink were based on very different desires, she could achieve the same kind of high and relaxation from both of them.

Pandora's and Prefectdt's comments then gave a for me completely unexpected explanation for a possible correlation between kink and self-harm. Pandora wrote about having used self-harm as a child, when she didn't know how to interpret her erotic masochistic desires, yet. And Prefectdt had tried self-harm as a substitute at times when he didn't have the possibility to share spanking play with others. It didn't work in his case which Prefectdt traced back to the difference between the male and the female body chemicals. I'm not sure about this additional idea, but to my mind it might also have to do with the fact that the important part of sharing the experience was missing?!

Of course, these are just isolated personal experiences which don't allow any general conclusions. But I found these comments very interesting nonetheless. Although I had of course come across the topic of self-spanking, it never occurred to me that some self-harming experiences in the kinky community could be results of attempts to substitute erotic spanking experiences!

In my view, the chance of getting new ideas and insights like this one is worth the risk of writing about controversial topics / observations and the questions they raise. And I would like to thank everyone who shared their thoughts and personal experiences so openly and honestly. Of course your thoughts about today's topic are very welcome as well!


Our Bottoms Burn said...

A thoughtful and thoroughly scholarly article. I would not pretend that I could add any significant content to your thoughts.

Rich Person said...

I think this is a topic that should be explored further. It is easy to become overly reactive to the combination of BDSM and therapy because, I'm sure, anyone interested in therapy would worry that it might put people off about therapy if they thought it was related in some way to practices they didn't feel comfortable with.

But, I think that there are a lot of elements of what we do that could address issues. I don't think that people that have had some childhood trauma are that much more likely to be involved than the general population, and I think that what limited studies as have been done bear that out.

But there is a kind of therapy that I think is called "reactivation therapy" or something similar to that, and the theory is that we can effectively dissipate the negative consequences of a bad experience by reactivating the memories in a way that allows us to deal with them.

If you take this at face value, then it would seem that some of the extreme experiences in the SM world might replay former, perhaps overwhelming, experiences in a context where the participant can deal with them. If an experience is overwhelming, then it can get stuck in our minds and never resolve itself. But if you then experience something like that in a way that you can handle (in essence, in a consensual situation), then you might be able to release some of the trauma.

While I don't think that this would be used as therapy, I would think that the experiences common in our community might tend to help participants in this way.

There are many more aspects to this, and I think that we would discover a lot more if we faced this with courage.

Kaelah said...

@ Our Bottoms Burn:
Thank you very much for your kind compliment! I always try to put much care into sensitive topics like this one, but still it is very difficult to hit the right tone of voice, to avoid misunderstandings and not to oversee important aspects...

@ Rich Person:
Thanks a lot for your comment and for sharing your thoughts about the topic!

I was of course by no means talking about a real "therapy" and about something people should do consciously in order to solve a certain issue. I used the word "therapy" in the sense that kinky play could be even more than fun and sexual pleasure, that we might also be able to use kinky play and kinky relationships in order to grow from our experiences and to feel stronger, safer or more balanced. I don't think that kinky play can solve any major psychological issues, though, to my mind these issues need a professional treatment.

I absolutely agree with you in that I don't think that there is a higher number of people with negative childhood experiences in the kinky community compared to society as a whole. To my mind there could be two main reasons why I have been confronted with that topic more often in the kinky community: First of all I think that there is a certain openness about these things in the kinky community. Secondly I assume that negative experiences can affect our kinky play in the way that they define either no-go-areas or important parts one might be longing for. Both aspects could explain why negative childhood experiences seem to be mentioned more often in our community.

From my point of view kinky play can't really help to overcome any severe trauma and I assume that very negative past experiences can rather become landmines that should be avoided in kinky play. The only positive effect I can imagine is that the experiences of living out sexual fantasies that require a lot of trust and living in a relationship with a caring and trustworthy partner can be positive counterparts to negative experiences from the past.

Concerning "smaller" negative experiences which didn't cause a severe trauma but caused sadness nonetheless I agree with your idea that reactivating them in spanking play but giving them a positive ending could indeed be helpful. To my mind another possible approach is to incorporate things into one's kinky play or kinky relationship that one misses in one's "vanilla" life or has missed in the past, for example feeling strong and invincible (an important factor in my heroine play) or having a caring father figure (like in a daddy-girl-relationship).

I think this is indeed an interesting field for further discussions, but also a very sensitive one!

Respecting Mistress said...

Hi Kealah. Another interesting and well thought-out post. Thank you.
I’m nowhere near as eloquent as you in explaining my inner thoughts or interests and, I’m not even sure this really answers any of your questions, but I’ve grappled for years to understand my kink which, as you know, has always been an absolute desire to suffer corporal punishment at the hands of a woman.
Most of the time I just accept who I am now and enjoy my kink – and rejoice I have a partner who enjoys employing corporal punishment methods to keep me in line. But from time to time, especially reading posts like this, I do start to reflect on how I ended up with my kink…..
I’m lucky enough that I never suffered any trauma as a childhood so I can’t lay any blame there. Except, looking back, I realise now that I lacked a lot of confidence and self esteem – things which have moulded my life and that I still suffer from today.
Being like that, I always suffered from acute embarrassment and, as a child, I suppose that affected me more than I thought. I had a few good friends but, because of my rather reserved nature I didn’t have a lot of relationships with girls (shyness through fear of being embarrassed and the fear of rejection perhaps?).
My sexual fantasises as a child were always corporal punishment based. Never do I recall fantasising about normal sexual activities and if a porn mag appeared I was far more excited reading three or four paragraphs about some CP encounter than looking at all the naked flesh.
The one fantasy that featured predominantly in my head was taking blame for something one of the girls had done wrong at school, obviously the girl I fancied at any given time. The result was that I’d be caned in front of the class but only she would know I’d done it for her and I’d win her affection.
Deep inside though I had an absolute fear of the cane at school – not so much the actual pain it might inflict but having to endure the whole ritual of being called out in class, being caned, trying not to stifle any emotion. And then having to live with the thought that everyone was talking about how I’d been caned and how I’d taken it etc. Because that was the way when I was at school. Who had been caned, why they had been caned and how may strokes they had suffered was a popular topic of conversation not just among the boys but the parents too. My mother often came home saying, ‘Mrs X was saying today that her Jimmy got caned for stealing then……’
I’ve wondered for years if the fear I experienced was actually bordering on excitement and made me who I am.

Respecting Mistress said...

Hi Kealah. Just some more thoughts.
The other thing about my childhood I recall was playing up in front of visitors who came to the house. Despite my shyness, somehow I always seemed to run riot when relatives came in. Not doing really bad things but just being a bit of pain, interrupting conversations and generally showing off as children do. The outstanding memory of this was hating myself after this. There was never any punishment from my parents, rarely even a mention of what I thought was bad behaviour. But something inside told me I was in the wrong. I never recall thinking I deserved some kind of corporal punishment sanction but in hindsight maybe it was a form of ‘bratting’?
This feeling of, what shall we call it, self-disgust, has stuck with me into adult life. Things like having a little too much drink and being overbearing in company. Not even having too much drink but still having that feeling of being overbearing. I suppose I don’t like being the centre of attention and don’t know how to deal with it.
Looking back, maybe the problem with my childhood was that I didn’t receive any corporal punishment. I often wonder what if I’d been sent to the Headmaster’s office for six of the best? Or if my parents had a cane hooked on the back of the kitchen door.
But now my kink is put to good use because it from being a game Mistress and I played, it has now become a form of therapy. We both realised that at heart I am lazy, selfish and yes, overbearing person, and the use of corporal punishment to correct my real faults is a good tool to keep me in check and our relationship on an even keel.
Of course you could argue that we are essentially still playing out my fantasies, but used in the right context we both feel it is working as ‘real punishment’.
The one thing we have to overcome is that feeling I know others with similar interests have of actually ‘needing’ to feel the cane at certain times and the use of maintenance punishments to avoid ‘bratting’. But now I’m right off subject…..

Anonymous said...

@ Rich Person: interesting to hear about reactivation therapy. It sounds related to how spanking play can be used to process challenging past experiences.

For instance my peers and I went to a strict Catholic school where CP was very much the order of the day.

When we played school, it was all about the teacher ordering the others around and giving them spankings. I think you could say we were just "processing" or trying to come to terms with what we had "learned' in school by acting it out for ourselves in role play.

Our discussion (in this post and the last) so far has been about what I'll call secondary levels of spanking therapy. But let's not forget that spanking was invented primarily as a therapy for bad behaviour. Interesting to look at how that works. My guess is that it has to do with connecting the message -- typically repeated during before and after the spanking -- with intensifications of feelings. Really it's pretty simple. Does it work? Well, what do you think?

With that understanding in mind, we would do well to be careful what messages we're programming our partners with during play spanking scenes.

A more extreme version of the same principle is, I'd say, trauma based mind control programming, about which you can find a lot on the web from former sex slaves and Satanic cult victims like Cisco Wheeler.

While that sort of thing is revolting in the extreme, I wonder if one of the ways in which our spanking play can be therapeutic on a species-wide level, is that it's a way of us processing all the abuse we've been dealt in the name of discipline and maintenance of the social order over the past millennia.

On a personal level, an interest in spanking culture does sensitize one to power dynamics in vanilla interpersonal relationships -- office politics and the like. We can spot what's going on in attempts of one person to dominate others perhaps more easily that the average man on the street.

Michel Foucault in his book "Discipline and Punish" talks about the evolution of thought when it comes to how society deals with miscreants. According to him, the idea that punishment should be meted out against the body of the wrongdoer is rather more ancient than the modern forms of incarceration which amount to psychological punishment. I'm sure he's written a lot more about our themes but I've yet to read it all.

One idea I've been kicking around for a while (and I would appreciate others' help in tracking down its origins) is that idea that what I'll call social memes -- I consider spanking to be one -- start out as survival techniques, evolve from there into quasi-codified elements of the social order, and from there into playthings of the leisure class.

With the advent of the internet I believe there's been a mass awakening of consciousness around the spanking meme. I'd say it's something like the 100 monkeys effect.

Now turning our minds for a moment to 2012 and all that, there are those who'd say we're needing to work through our stuff so that we can take that quantum leap to a further level of consciousness or whatever you want to call it when the stars align for 2012. See Richard Tarnas "Cosmos and Psyche" for more on world transits and cultural history.

So is our preoccupation with spanking play and discussion a part of working through our issues, or is merely another form of indulgence? Or something else?

Karl Friedrich Gauss


About the self harming thing. I would like to say that what I think is just a suspicion, I do not have enough knowledge or evidence to even call it a theory. I have never heard of a male spankee using self harm in a way that helped them or they felt the desire to do it (unless you count self spanking of coarse). This does not mean that it is proven that it does not happen amongst men, just that I have evidence of such. It could just be that men who self harm are also very tight lipped about it.

Since I started reading blogs though it became evident that many of the female spankees, that write blogs, have self harmed in the past.

Why there is this apparent difference between the two sexes is something that I would like to know more about and am always looking for further information.


Rich Person said...

Kaelah, I think you were careful to use the term therapy in a non-technical sense. I guess I would not put limits on what might result from kinky experiences. But I think most people would agree that we don't have good control of what happens, which is why any therapeutic results are kind of incidental and what prevents this from being therapy in a technical sense.

Anonymous, I found what you said quite interesting. And I think you have a very good point about being careful what kinds of messages we use in our play. These messages may become very deeply embedded in the unconscious. And, in fact, I think carefully about what things I say to my submissives because I want to build up their self-esteem.

Respecting Mistress, I was very interested to read about your experiences. I think this shows that one of the most important aspects is not what you do but how you use it. Spankings can be used to tear down or to build up. It's fascinating how humans can take experiences that, on their face are very difficult, and integrate them into their lives to make those lives better.

Kaelah said...

@ Respecting Mistress:

Thanks a lot for your interesting comment and for sharing your thoughts! I can definitely relate to your “saving a girl from punishment and being a hero” fantasy. That one is right up my alley. I also think that it is normal that there are the mixed feelings concerning spanking, while the fantasy is hot the idea of the real thing is scaring. I'm very glad that I wasn't spanked as a child, because I think otherwise it might have affected my kink negatively.

I think it is great that you and your wife have found a way of using your desire for spanking in a way that works for you. I'm quite sure, though, that you see yourself much more negatively than you are. To me you generally seem to be a very kind and not overbearing person. And I'm sure that your wife wouldn't have married you if she didn't love you for who you are. If DD helps you to achieve certain goals and to feel less guilty about your flaws (which everyone has) that is of course great! Maybe you will one day find a mixture of DD and erotic spankings (which you seem to crave as well), so that both of your desires will be fulfilled. I don't think that there must be a contradiction between doing both things.

@ KFG:

I absolutely agree with you that one should be very careful about the messages one is programming one's play partner with during a scene!

@ Prefectdt:

The question about differences between men and women concerning self-harm seems indeed to be a difficult one. I've taken a look at the Wikipedia article about the topic and it says that some years ago the theory was that self-harm is much more common among women than among men. Newer studies imply that the difference concerning the numbers isn't all that big, but they seem to be different forms of self-harm. Not sure why that is. I haven't read anything about differences that are caused by the different body chemistry, though...

@ Rich:

I'm indeed careful about using the term therapy in a technical sense, because I think in case of bigger psychological issues one should seek professional help and that it can be dangerous to try any form of self-therapy under these circumstance. But I think that many people very consciously use spanking in order to deal with negative emotions and to feel more balanced (or that they are at least aware that this can be a positive side-effect of spanking). And to my mind that is a very good thing!