(William Blake, "The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve", 1825)
In The Mark of Cain, I speculated that, while genetic makeup might explain in part why we spankos are different from vanillas, it is certainly not the only factor. I've always believed that certain "awakening experiences" during childhood have a huge part to play, and this is my next angle of approach.
Not all of us discover our kinky side at such an early age, but many do - and we "early birds" seem to be the most dedicated and obsessive CP enthusiasts later on. That is a pretty normal pattern, really: the sooner you discover your attraction to something, the younger and more impressionable you are, the more likely it is to develop into a full-fledged, lifelong passion. So childhood experiences, and the fact that they are powerful and early, are undoubtedly a major factor. Maybe the single biggest one.
They needn't be actual personal encounters with corporal punishment. In fact, most kinky people I know were never (or very rarely) spanked at home and had happy, sheltered family lives. I never subscribed to the simplistic theory that we are all "abused children" trying to "relive" our traumatized pasts. I certainly don't fall in that category, and when you come to think of it, the whole picture doesn't make sense: if anything, someone who was severely mistreated as a kid is extremely unlikely to grow up and eroticize pain or submission. Instead, what most of us seem to have in common is that we merely heard about CP, read about it in books or saw scenes in a movie. And for some inexplicable reason, it turned us on.
It poses the old chicken and egg question: did these scenes cause the excitement (out of nothing, as it were) and turn us into future spankos? Or did we get excited because, unlike other people, we already had the disposition? The second way of putting it seems to be a lot more plausible. So once again, just like straightforward genetics, childhood psychology doesn't give a real answer, because it doesn't explain where the disposition came from in the first place. What it tells us is this: the knack has to be there already, but it probably needs to be woken up and fed early on, by "external sources".
My own pet theory is that there are many people out there who probably had the right "genetic makeup". Consider that we all have endorphins which are released as a reaction to pain. We all seem to have what the psychologists call "sympathetic responses" when we watch another human being suffer (or imagine ourselves in that position). We all experience the buttocks as an erogenous zone. These are things we share, and maybe it takes only a slightly above average emphasis on any of the above to create a potential spanko.
But while the disposition could very well be there, it might never be triggered. Maybe someone simply doesn't read or hear about corporal punishment at an early age. Maybe the scenes they hear about are too few in number or not powerful enough, because there isn't any hidden erotic tension in them. Maybe the first "good" CP scene they watch comes "too late", when they have already fully internalized the prevailing judgment that flogging your servant maid is a very evil and repulsive thing. Maybe they are severely beaten by their parents, and as a natural consequence, they come to abhor all forms of spanking and punishment - they are no longer open to the idea that there could be consensual, arousing forms of these activities.
Maybe the general disposition is there, but some other important personality traits are missing. For instance, I find that virtually all spankos I meet are more adventurous and imaginative than the average individual, with high amounts of curiosity and empathy. Many of us love historical novels, horror stories, black comedy or all of the above. We enjoy slipping into another character's mind, even and especially if the experience scares or sickens us. We also create these scenarios ourselves - kinky people tend to be elaborate daydreamers, fantasizing not only about BDSM activities, but about all sorts of other stuff as well. Above average curiosity and a fascination with the macabre are two common traits in our community.
It's true that not all spankos like slasher films or historical novels - but I haven't met a single one who was utterly unimaginative. Usually, they are interested in at least one of these genres, or some other form of complex fantasy. It's also true that many vanillas like horror stories, too - but maybe they don't quite have the genetic disposition, and that is why they aren't kinky. Combine all of the factors I have mentioned, and you see where this is going.
So let's summarize and take a look at the construct. It's just a rough outline and some of it will probably be more than a little off. Nonetheless, it offers a good starting point for a more elaborate theory and shows a direction that seems to be more promising than some of the alternatives.
For starters, let's say that part of what distinguishes the kinky person from the vanilla person is, after all, purely genetic. Maybe we release more endorphins as a reaction to pain, or we have a stronger sympathetic response when we watch another human being suffer, or our brains are just "wired" a little differently in some other way. We also have certain personality traits that are above average, such as curiosity, imagination or empathy, a knack for exploring different states of mind, trying things out and experimenting. Such traits could also be genetic, or learned from the right sort of social environment, or both.
These are the dispositions, but they need to be triggered. This usually happens when we see, hear or read corporal punishment scenes at a young age. It needs to be a powerful scene that makes a lasting mark - maybe there is a hidden erotic current, or the description is very vivid and detailed, or we are just deeply impressed for some other reason. These awakening experiences shape and reinforce a connection that is, in a way, already waiting to happen. We know that many such connections and associations that accompany you throughout your later life are formed during childhood, and the earlier they arise, the stronger and more persistent they are.
In our case, as kinky people, we come to associate what we "experience" in these scenes (pain, suffering, dominance, submission, spankings, bondage, fear, horror, any or all of these) with sexual and emotional arousal. Fantasy breeds excitement, excitement breeds more fantasy, and a sort of circle is created. Maybe "spiral" is the better metaphor, because the fantasies and the arousal usually grow stronger. It repeats itself until the connection is frequent and totally natural - a new spanko is born.
For the time being, he (or she) is unsure where to place these feelings, and almost never talks about them to others. The closet stage. Now the only question that remains is, will this individual ever decide to live out the desires? That seems like a more difficult step for most of us.
Which brings my rambling speculation to a close and to a very important final observation. The best expression I can find for it is this quote: "All theory, dear friend, is grey, but the golden tree of life springs ever green." Goethe wasn't writing about BDSM, but the wisdom of his words applies to us as well. Chasing the big elusive answer to why we exist and how we came to be is all very well. I don't expect to ever find it, but the search is fascinating in its own right. Maybe you feel the same way (if you don't, why did you keep on reading?).
But the most important thing, beyond all theory, is to simply enjoy ourselves and our strange obsessions.