Saturday, 12 January 2013

Wired Differently?

This is a blog about bdsm and mental health which I originally posted on InformedConsent. Since the sky hasn't fallen in on me I thought I'd post it on here as well, along with the comments that came in, and my replies.

In 2011 I wrote a series of articles for a local arts and culture magazine, exploring various aspects of bdsm and sexual fetish. I reviewed a fetish nightclub, interviewed a professional dominatrix and discussed possible reasons for the continued existence of the Taboo Adult Cinema in Digbeth.

I intended this to be part of a process of becoming more open about my own interests, but in the end I wasn't sure enough of what I would want to say about the subject from a more personal perspective.

The final impetus for this blog was a discussion I happened to hear on Radio 2, which actually had nothing to do with fetish or sexuality whatsoever. Instead it was about the new pay disparity between men and women in their twenties, with women now earning more than men by a small but steadily growing margin. The main reason for this seems to be the continuing decline in educational achievement by boys in recent years.

Although I felt that I had sensible political reasons for being unhappy about this emerging inequality, that didn't begin to explain just how horribly threatened I felt by the prospect of a future in which women might come to be regarded as the better educated, higher achieving gender.

I wanted to try to make sense of this and I think that can only be done by finally trying to articulate and clarify some of my feelings about bdsm, gender and power relationships.

I have always been strongly drawn, sexually, towards ideas of dominance and submission, usually with myself taking the submissive role.

I am not interested in being physically hurt, but only in the idea of being controlled and humiliated.

Occasionally, if I am feeling particularly confident or pleased with myself, the fantasies will reverse and I will want to be the one in charge, but usually I am submissive.

After years of trying to find a way to be 'normal', I am now reasonably sure that these desires are hard-wired into me.

There are some other aspects and complications to this as well, which I will hopefully get around to writing about at some point. But for now I just want to deal with the central theme of humiliation.

In the past I have experimented with this by visiting professional dominatrixes for role playing sessions. I am now lucky enough to have a partner with mutual interests.

I have also recently had counselling to try to understand the underlying issues better and to deal with the more self-destructive aspects of the fetish.

When taken at face value, rather than explaining why I feel threatened by the prospect of future female empowerment, this all seems to beg the question even more. Surely I'm the last person who would be unhappy about the likelihood of there being more powerful, confident women around?

But it isn't that simple. As soon as the erotic context is removed, the idea of being humiliated or controlled by anyone, male or female, becomes the worst thing in the world for me.

The most recent example that comes to me is from about three years ago. I was driving home from Cornwall and had pulled into Exeter services on the M5. Almost as soon as I got out of the car I was approached by a woman who looked about sixty years old and who was, for reasons I did not initially understand, apoplectically angry with me.

Apparently I had recently overtaken her at what she considered to be an inappropriate speed, and she had followed me into the services to have an argument with me about it. She didn't get one, because I didn't know what to say. I stood more or less mute as she told me, amongst other things, that I was a lunatic, probably known to the police, and that I ought to 'put my cock back in my pants' (she meant this metaphorically, by the way.)

By this time I had recognised her car and could have pointed out in reply that she had been driving in the wrong lane at the speed of a milk float, and also that the language she was using was inappropriate given that there were families with kids walking by. But the words didn't come.

I have experienced violent muggings which left less impression on me. I've avoided stopping at those services ever since, not because I am afraid she will still be there waiting for me but because I know I will not feel relaxed.

When I think about what I would consider to be the worst experiences of my life, the central feature of all of them is just the perception that someone has deliberately set out to make me feel as small and ridiculous as possible, ostensibly because of something I said or did, but in reality, it seemed to me, because of a preconceived opinion they had of me which nothing I could say in my defence could ever dislodge.

It is this perceived intent that matters to me far more than anything that actually happens.

As I write this I can see a shoulder bag belonging to my girlfriend, which bears the slogan 'boys should be kept on leads', along with an accompanying cartoon illustration. It doesn't bother me at all. However, I have worked for a couple of unpleasant female bosses in the past, and if I had seen one of them with that bag then my feelings would be utterly different.

I think this at least explains my reaction to the radio discussion. It left me with the paranoid vision of a future in which just the fact of being male might imply some kind of constant background level of humiliation.

I'm not convinced that I will ever figure out why I have this hypersensitivity. It was there in my early childhood, and when I reached adolescence it became part of a more general feeling of awkwardness and apprehension which still affects me in most social situations, particularly involving women.

So why would such a chronic fear flip over into an intense desire as soon as there is a sexual context?

My counsellor suggested that it may be a 'clever' way of coping with the fear by finding ways to enjoy it in certain situations.

Maybe it is a way of enabling me to get close to people by learning to desire what I imagine would be the worst thing they could do to me?

Given that this everyday fear is something that is clearly damaging to me, it might seem to follow that the accompanying fetish must also be inherently bad – a straightforward mental health issue. But I'm not entirely sure.

My counsellor's approach throughout was not to try to cure me of the fetish, but to try to address why I felt so ashamed of it and why it felt so self-destructive at times.

Some of the role playing I have done has felt wrong and ridiculous, but also sometimes it has been intensely enjoyable and somehow liberating. Sometimes afterwards I have been consumed with self loathing, but equally sometimes there is a feeling of catharsis and of having established a deep and unique level of trust with another person.

I've met people in the bdsm scene who are completely open and at ease about their kinks, and who are, as far as I can tell, both happy and successful.

I also increasingly get the impression that perhaps most people have some passing interest in fetish. There are a growing number of bdsm-themed books aimed at women, and an awful lot of pornography aimed at men which has some element of dominance or submission to it.

Maybe most people are relaxed enough about the contradiction between their fantasies and their real-life morality to prevent it from having any noticeable negative impact on their lives?

When I picture a future in which I had overcome my fear of humiliation and my awkwardness then I can see clearly how much happier I would be and how obvious it is that this is a goal worth working towards, regardless of the likelihood of my ever getting there.

But when I imagine a future in which I was free from any interest in dominance or submission the results don't seem so clear. Life would be simpler, but I seem to be left with the prospect of a strange, diluted sexuality, devoid of any real intensity.

For this reason I don't think I would like to be 'cured' of my fetishes even if it were possible. Instead I'd like to see if the process of being more open about them will transform them from a source of unhappy self-destructiveness to one of harmless enjoyment. Maybe that wouldn't make me so different to most people after all?

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REPLIES

6 Jan 13, 7:30 PM, eloesa

Everybody is wired differently. I cant help feeling from reading your blog that you see it as a extremely negative thing - like an "abnormal" anomaly and you even say you have "spent years trying to be normal". Difference isn't necessarily bad. There needs to be variation and difference in every thing and everyone. You may find it hard to accept the way that you are, but, with respect, it appears to me that you seem stuck with overthinking and over analysing .

You are the only one who will understand the reason behind your feelings around humiliation, D/s and female domination both sexually and non sexually and why it matters to you so much.

From an outsider, You have a partner who understands you, you are obviously intelligent having written articles etc and even this thought out blog. Going public with your feelings may help catharticly(?sp) but actually , only you can make the start to feeling more positive ..move on, stop worrying about why and what's happened in the past-Instead, look forward to you and your partner having happy times, making happy memories that aren't riddled afterward with guilty thoughts of your reactions. If both of you like what you do- then relax.. Life's too short to worry about things, instead be proud of who you are and revel in the difference that makes you unique.

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6 Jan 13, 10:12 PM, emerson

Hi Eloesa,

Until a few years ago I did see the fetishes I have as being a really negative thing, but the more I talk about it and write about it the less this is the case.

I know logically that there is nothing to be ashamed of at all, but if you have been in a particular mindset for a long time then I think it can take a while to move away from it, and you just have to be patient with yourself

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7 Jan 13, 12:59 AM, NightFox

You are comparing real life with your fantasies. You have explored and no doubt still exploring your fantasies by visiting Pro-Dommes and now having a partner with whom you have common ground. These are all situations in which you have control over. ie the Pro-Dommes would be catering for you tastes and you partner probably does the same.

The situation with the angry lady at the service station was totally out of your control and from what you say really caught you on the back foot. I wonder though that if the lady had been a lot younger and attractive whether you would be feeling the same way about it ? You may have been still surprised and shocked by it at the time, but after the event you may have reflected on it differently. You may still be stopping in at that service station and having a wry smile on your face !

Any fetish is difficult to understand even for the person who has the fetish, never mind the people who don't. I think the common factor is that we all seek, whatever our fetishes and fantasies are, to fulfill these with people who understand them and with whom we feel confident and secure with. In these environments we are having these fantasies fulfilled without any real malice or ill-felling and, in reality, within our control.

A common fantasy for some women is the rape scenario. They may want to experience the physical violence of being raped, but only pre-arranged with someone they may know and trust, and probably are attracted too. Being actually raped by a stranger in a situation totally out of their control would probably just as horrific and damaging to them as to a women who never had a rape fantasy.

I can give you my own experience which perhaps has some connection. I work in an office environment and until six months ago the sales support team was managed by an attractive girl who I did not particularly get on with or like. We had a few clashes over various issues and they did leave me angry and not having particularly nice thoughts about. However she left and was replaced by another attractive girl who I get on well with. We have clashes as well, but I never feel angry in the same way with her, and my mind soon goes into fantasy mode...

The mind works in peculiar ways.

NightFox

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8 Jan 13, 7:26 PM, emerson

Hi NightFox,

I don't actually think it would have made any difference if the woman at the services had been younger or seemed more attractive. For me it's more about the other point you make, about feeling secure and confident with the other person, at least ideally.

Sometimes my fetishes do have a self-destructive side (hence the counselling) where I will want to give up control to someone who might cause me genuine harm, but even then I would want to know that they understood the mentality involved, and I would want to be in control of the way I gave up control, if that makes sense.

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