Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Mark II: Dispositions and Triggers

(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.



I do not want to go into too much detail about a particular period of my life (it was very bad) but it did end up with myself doing a lot of time with a psychologist. After "giving up" for about 3 years the breakdown of my emotional defence systems was traced back to the time I stopped getting my ass whupped. In the end the diagnosis was resume the life style because it is imposible to cope with the rest of life without it (I have to get spanked, I have a note from the doctor).

The upside of this was an evaluation of the pre sexual childhood fantasies and the effects that puberty and adolesence have on those. The "kink" is basicaly an entity on it's own and becomes mixed up with sexual turn ons as people grow up and become sexualy aware. Most people are unable to seperate the sexual and non sexual sides of their kink but they are seperate and seperable.

I have not put that very well but what I am trying to say is that someone who has a greater knowledge of the workings of the human mind, than myself, has informed me that it is not always about sex and athough it is not a bad thing to combine the sexual side and the kink side, the two can be seperated and enjoyed on their own.


Ludwig said...

I'm not really sure what you (or your doctor) mean with "the sexual side" and "the kink side". I agree that spanking and CP is "not always about sex". For me, it isn't about sex at all, I don't combine it with sex and I don't like movies that combine the two.

That said, I do believe that spanking and CP are always an erotic, arousing thing, and that this is how the kinky side arises, because we make a connection between the two. But if I understand you correctly, your doctor said that the kinky side (as it arises during childhood) is seperate from sexual turn ons, and that they only come in during puberty.

It's an interesting view, but I'm not sure that it is accurate for all cases. I certainly remember being sexually aroused by scenes of spanking and CP during childhood. That said, I could be wrong. Memories can be unreliable, especially when they are from so long ago. But I am fairly sure that it was always an erotic thing for me, even before puberty and before I knew what the word "erotic" meant.

In any case, thanks for your comment, it adds another angle to think about.

Indy said...

Blake, Goethe, spanking and how we got to be kinky all in one post? Very impressive. I agree with you about both triggers and hard-wiring playing a role. I think the triggers may play a greater role in *how* the kink manifests itself than whether it does, though.

I also agree about imagination and a sense of adventure. Probably also about a fascination with the macabre, even though I don't share that trait. I get too involved when I watch films and can't separate them from reality very well, so horror films are out for me!

I think a lot of kinky people also have a fascination with power and authority that stems in part from a tendency not to accept societally imposed power structures. So one imagines creating one's own power structure for play. Or from the other side, one makes a game of fighting the imposed authority, subtly or blatantly, and for most of us, much more daringly than we would in real life.

Ludwig said...

"Blake, Goethe, spanking and how we got to be kinky all in one post?"

It is a bit pretentious, but then again, that's just how I am... The Blake didn't really fit except for a vague connection with the "Mark of Cain" theme, but I just love his painting.

"I think the triggers may play a greater role in *how* the kink manifests itself than whether it does, though."

Yes, that is probably true. The kind of scenes you see will certainly make a difference. In my case, it was spankings, whippings and canings. With other people, it could be bondage, racks or any other kind of torture. I still believe that there are people out there who could have been kinky (genetically speaking) but aren't, because they never got to see any trigger at all when the time was "right".

"I think a lot of kinky people also have a fascination with power and authority that stems in part from a tendency not to accept societally imposed power structures."

That's a very interesting idea. I hadn't considered it before, but now that I've thought of it, it makes a lot of sense. Thanks!

Karl Friedrich Gauss said...

Now if you're willing to consider the possibility of reincarnation, that opens a whole new window on the subject of predilection, whether it be to sexual kinks, or anything else for that matter.

Read Alex's historical treatise posted today on Catherine de Medici and ask yourself whether she'd still be kinky if she was reincarnated today.

Indy said...

I love the Blake painting, too, Ludwig, and I don't think I've ever seen it before, so thanks for working it into this post, no matter how tenuous the thematic connection!

You might want to read this post from Schwartz Thoughts, which got me thinking about the authority issue. He mused that a strong dislike of authority would be more likely to make you a top, whereas those who didn't mind it would be bottoms. Several bottoms took issue with that. He didn't respond, so the conversation didn't continue, but it is a very interesting post. My take is that the people who accept authority blithely are more likely to be vanilla than bottoms. I'd be interested to know what others think.



Ludwig said...

That's an interesting post, Indiana, thanks for bringing it to my attention.

Like you, I don't really agree with Jon's theory, though, and I see several problems with it. To start with, he seems to think that "authority" is synonymous with "unjust authority". At least the examples he cites are usually of unwarranted, excessive punishments. So the dislike he feels as a reaction seems to be not so much a dislike of authority per se, but a dislike of injustice. These are two seperate things.

Some bottoms / submissives I know enjoy "injustice" in a kinky scenario (I don't think anyone enjoys injustice in real life) - excessiveness, coercion, abuse of power. They actually get off on that. Others prefer a scenario where the authority is just and, in a way, benevolent. Where they agree with the purpose. "This is for your own good, young lady! You do know that you deserve this punishment?" "Yes, Sir, I do!"

They all like finding themselves under someone's authority in a scenario, they just like different forms of it. And maybe, depending on the personality of the submissive, it's not the acceptance of authority they enjoy, but the rebellion against it. Judging by my own experience, it is probably a little of both: you rebel, and then you are forced to comply. That seems to be the kick for most.

On the other hand, none of the submissives / bottoms I know unquestioningly accept authority in real life. In fact, they have a strong non-conformist streak, just as all kinky people do. I'd say that you need this streak, and a strong, independent personality, in order to be able to give up control and be a submissive in the first place.

I agree with you that someone who unquestioningly accepts authority in real life will probably turn into a vanilla, because they will accept the prevailing attitude that vanilla sex is the only "normal", hence the right way. They're not going to turn into kinky submissives.

So Jon not only confuses authority with injustice, he also confuses acceptance of authority in play with acceptance of authority in real life. Obviously, though, you can be a strong individualist and a non-conformist in real life, and in spite of this (maybe because of it!), you can crave authority in a kinky scenario.

As well as that, his theory seems to run into problems when it has to explain the existence of switches. Is a switch someone who dislikes authority or who accepts it? Or both at the same time, somehow? It's true that very few switches are dominant and submissive in equal measure - usually, one of the sides is stronger, like the dominant side in my case. Still, the "authority theory" is in trouble here, because if it were true, there probably wouldn't be switches of any kind.

I'd say that a switch will tend to be a non-conformist in real life, as most kinky people are. In play, he / she will enjoy all the aspects of authority that make it interesting for a dominant or a submissive, depending on his / her frame of mind at the time: craving authority, rebelling against it, being in charge, building your own power structures etc.

Fascination with power and authority seems to be a common trait of kinky minds, both dominant and submissive. I feel silly about leaving it out in my original post - maybe I overlooked it because it is so obvious. The real-life scenarios we enjoy playing out are all about power structures (school, prison, military, boss and secretary...).

And for quite a few of us, this fascination also seems to extend beyond kinky play. I certainly have it, and it probably explains, in part at least, my interest in history and politics. I've met many other spankos who were interested in the same things, and not just for kinky inspiration.

In summary, while I don't agree with Jon's take on it, the whole power / authority issue, and the question of whether it forms an integral part of the kinky mind, is certainly worth pursuing. Thanks again for brining it up.

Anonymous said...

I hope you'll give the full treatment to a post on power structures and the authority issue because I see those elements at the core of all my fantasies.

In reality I'm highly resentful of certain types of authority and erotically charged by others. I can't help but squirm every time I'm faced with the passport control queue in a foreign airport. I always try to pick the most "toppish" looking man to hand my passport to.

Uniforms do trigger something in me, though the person wearing it won't find me submissive unless they have genuine authority. (A belligerent cop, for example, wouldn't earn my respect.)

However, women are at a disadvantage with me and I can probably count on one hand the female authority figures I have genuinely respected in my life. (Freud would have me blame my mother and he'd be absolutely right!)

That's not to say I'm naturally submissive to men. I do certainly get a kick out of rebelling and being subdued. And in that sense, with the right person, I get off on all kinds of abuse and injustice - especially in scenarios where I'm the victim of some political machine. I might be able to fight against one person - a kidnapper, say - but a whole regime? That's a really heady one for me.

When I try and trace it back I recall being strongly affected by scenes in movies and books. I learned to eroticise fear from horror movies. Being chased, cornered, captured, tortured, escaping only to be recaptured, etc... And of course there were other torture/interrogation scenarios - the Spanish Inquisition certainly sticks in my head, though I can't remember what films I saw about it as a child. Though I thought I was sick, torture fascinated me endlessly. All those ingenious devices designed for the purpose of having total control over another person... Yeah, it made an impression.

Ludwig said...

"I hope you'll give the full treatment to a post on power structures and the authority issue because I see those elements at the core of all my fantasies."

Yes, I've decided to do that already. Originally, "Mark of Cain" was supposed to be a trilogy, with the third part not going into any more theory, but describing my own "awakening experiences" during childhood. But I find the authority issue so interesting myself that I'm going to do a post on it, and after that, "Mark IV" will be about me.

So it's going to be a tetralogy now - I believe that is the word.

Indy said...

Ludwig, I think if you go past a trilogy you're obligated to write six Mark of Cain posts so that you can have two trilogies.

I'm enjoying reading everyone's responses and look forward to the next installment.