Posts Tagged ‘shame and guilt’

Today’s question is a juicy one, which is just how I like it. Lots of issues to address – so let’s get right to it.

Dear Delilah,

Can you talk a little about psychological hang-ups around topping? (If that’s the right term–I get top & dominant mixed up.) Here’s the thing. If my partner and I are doing a dom/sub or top/bottom play, and I’m on top, I’d like to feel pleasure beyond “I’m doing this because it makes you feel good.” Likewise, when I’m being submissive, I would like it if the dominant person was getting something out of it more than just pleasing me. As wonderful as it is to know that you’re making another person feel fantastic, it’d be nice to get some more…direct?…satisfaction.

But that’s where the hang-ups show up. You see, if I’m being dominant…what if I really do like seeing my partner helpless? Getting satisfaction out of that feels icky and wrong in a way that getting pleasure out of being tied up doesn’t. And I’d be weirded out, during a bit of play-humiliation, if I thought that my partner really wanted to humiliate me. Can you suggest ways to develop a sense of enjoying dominance without this guilt? How do two submissive-inclined switches develop their dom sides? Is it about drawing the hard line between play and reality, or about accepting power, or about…

There are so many issues in this question that I don’t know where to start, but I’ll give it a shot.

First of all, let me differentiate between top/bottom and dom/sub, since it’s a question that comes up a lot. Midori addresses it really well using a kind of graph and including the sadist/masochist binary as well; I’ll try to address it here in words.

“Top and bottom” come from gay nomenclature originally, and tend to designate who is the active partner and who the passive or receptive. If you’re getting fucked, fingered, or fisted, you’re “bottoming.” If you’re fucking, fingering, or fisting, you’re “topping.” This translates into BDSM the way you would expect: the person tying the knots, holding the whip, or attaching the clamps is the “top.”

“Dominant and submissive” refers to power dynamics. The dominant is the one controlling the scene, whatever activities are going on.

“Sadism and masochism” gets into the question of who likes to give pain and who likes to receive it.

This is where things get tricky: while traditionally, the person holding the whip is certainly the top and probably the dominant as well, some people are dominant masochists – they want their submissive to whip them according to their orders and specifications. Some people are service submissives: though they are subs, they are also tops in the sense of being the active partner (performing oral sex, worshipping feet, serving tea). Their actions, however, are controlled by the dominant.

It’s worth knowing, however, that “top” and “dominant” are often used interchangeably, as are “bottom” and “sub.” And I’m willing to bet that a submissive that goes from being tied up and beaten to being released and made to suck cock doesn’t think of him- or herself as having gone, within one scene, from “submissive masochist bottom” to “submissive service top.”

What I hear you saying here is that since you are both submissive-leaning switches (I’d call myself the same, incidentally), you can both more easily identify with what’s hot about being tied up or otherwise “done to” than what’s hot about doing. It also sounds like it feels okay to like having power taken from you, but not okay to enjoy power over someone.

Your instincts about how to resolve this within yourselves are good: it is partially about remembering that your power dynamics are confined to playtime and aren’t about who you are to each other in everyday life. But it also is, indeed, about accepting power.

Submission is a gift. It’s a gift of trust, and of one’s body. It is a (usually) temporary and well-boundaried giving-over of control in a way that is, in the best of circumstances, about love for the dominant partner as well as about the pleasure of the submissive. And it is profound in the sense that the submissive truly puts his or her life in the dominant’s hands.

This leads to a lot of responsibility for the dominant, which can be overwhelming. But the acceptance of this responsibility, the awe of the power of the gift, is possibly the first step to allowing yourself to enjoy the power of it. Just think of it: there’s your partner in front of you, ready to do whatever you ask. You may give them pleasure or pain, allow them to orgasm or force them to hold back, make them your servant or your slave or your special toy. And it’s okay to enjoy it – because it is freely given.

You ask, what if I like seeing my partner helpless? What if my partner really enjoys humiliating me?

And I say, what’s the point of doing it if you don’t enjoy it?

That’s somewhat glib of me, of course: it can be a struggle for both dominants and submissives to accept their desires given what we’re told is culturally acceptable. And while suffering as a means to ecstasy is a time-honored tradition, being the one who inflicts that suffering is a much less respected role.

So I’d say: start with appreciating the gift of the submissive. Next, there’s what’s easy to enjoy about topping: getting off on your partner’s pleasure, and knowing that you’re the one delivering it. Dominating someone isn’t very exciting for me if the submissive doesn’t react; I can’t stand stoic submissives. Accept that part of the pleasure of being dominant is, in fact, transitive: you’re taking pleasure from the pleasure you’re causing.

The other thing to remember is that you can take direct pleasure from the submissive. What gives you pleasure? Remember that being fucked doesn’t make you automatically submissive. (There are much-more agreed-upon models for this with male doms: what male top porn scene doesn’t end with him fucking her?) Or make him go down on you in an uncomfortable position. If you can get into taking pleasure from your submissive as well as giving pleasure to him, you might begin to see what all the fuss is about with domming.

As far as going beyond that, and beginning to take pleasure in your partner’s pain, or humiliation…well, do you? You don’t have to, you know. But your question makes me think that you’re beginning to, and you’re wondering about what it might mean.

My honest answer? I wouldn’t worry about it unless you feel it’s going to affect how you behave in the rest of your life. If you start enjoying how it feels when your partner is suffering at your hands, and then you start treating your friends like shit? That’s a red flag. But I think for people who are as clearly thoughtful and self-aware about this stuff as you seem to be, given your question, I don’t think that this is a concern. Kink, for you, may provide a safe context in which to explore these feelings in a way that not only doesn’t harm anyone, but is actually good hot fun for all involved. (Major win, there.)

I will also add that when I started working as a dominatrix, I experienced an increase in confidence. I didn’t become a bitch, as I think some women do when they take on this mantle. Instead, I found I got the attention of customer service more quickly, was more able to get what I wanted in a polite way, lost my temper less often (having more power means you don’t have to get angry or mean), and generally moved in the world more easily. So you can get positive changes out of accepting erotic power as well.

One last thing about this, though, for those married couples out there who are doing kink. It is often true that people who do heavy kink have better luck exploring it outside of their primary relationships; doing it together, when there are bills to pay and dishes to wash and kids to raise, can sometimes be too weird. It’s also probably true that the two of you know each other better than anyone, and so you not only have the best access to each other’s hot buttons, you also are more vulnerable to each other than to anyone else. This makes it easier to do actual damage within scene, so while I don’t think you should worry too much about enjoying it, I would talk to each other a lot beforehand about what things might truly hurt you. In my experience and knowledge, these things are more likely to be psychological than physical, so I would negotiate a lot more beforehand about, say, a humiliation scene than I would about, oh, a spanking.

Most of all, though, have fun. Revel in each other. And hell – play with switching within the same scene! Turn the tables! If you’re both so inclined, why not mix it up?

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