what is this thing called kink

At a recent event, I volunteered to be both lit on fire and stapled in the arm with an electric staple gun (not at the same time). I saw a demo on fire play, which was totally fascinating. The presenter asked if anyone had questions, or wanted to do it (and by “do it,” he meant, be the person wielding the fire), and one of the people watching asked, “Can I do it…but as the person on the bottom?” The presenter said sure, and demonstrated on the volunteer, who kept up a running commentary telling us how it felt. (“Like an extremely hot tennis ball rolling over your back,” was the best description.)

Now, I had seen fire play demonstrations before, and it always struck me as nifty, but not for me. So I’m not real sure what crazy impulse seized me when the presenter asked, “Anyone else want to try?” But, sure enough, I asked, “Can I try? …I mean, will you light me on fire?”

I’m certain that’s a question I’ve never asked anyone before. Ever.

So…yeah. Being lit on fire. It was pretty much like the other volunteer said — like an extremely hot tennis ball being rolled over my back. Because the lit baton is passed over so quickly, it lights the alcohol, and then the presenter’s hand follows right behind to make sure nothing is still burning. He did that a couple of times, and even tapped, sort of, my back with the lit baton. Weird. And nifty. Afterwards, my back felt like it had been in front of a bonfire — that sort of warmed, tight-skin feeling — and that feeling lasted for about half an hour.

I’m glad I tried it, but I don’t really see me making a regular (or even irregular) thing out of it. It was nifty, but in more of a sideshow freak way than a kink way. For me.

And then, the staples.

There was also a demo of using a staple gun during play — not a medical stapler, not an office-supply type stapler; an electric goddamn staple gun from Home Depot. The presenters were a couple — top and bottom — who actually made getting stapled in the ass look fun. (Well, maybe not the ass.) They explained in detail all the safety stuff first — how to make sure that the staples and gun are exceedingly clean — clean enough to puncture human skin without running the risk of infection. And then they just started stapling. Well, first they put strips of duct tape (ouch, right???) on the areas where the staples were going to go — arms, legs, ass, stomach (yikes, ow, and no fucking way), and boobs (again I say, NO FUCKING WAY).

And then they started stapling. That staple gun has a lot of force, let me tell you. And yet, not all the staples made it “all the way in” (allegedly) so the top started pressing on them with his thumbs, and then (yikes!) punching some of them.

Really, it’s astonishing the kind of pain that people not only take, but *love.*

After the top was done stapling the bottom, and then removed all the staples, the top asked if we had any questions. He also asked, in a tone of voice that indicated that he didn’t expect anyone to say yes, if anyone wanted to get stapled.

And watching, it was clear how much force the staple gun has (hint: A LOT), but I still wondered what it felt like. You know, like maybe just one staple.

T. raised his hand to ask a question, which made *me* say, “You’re going to get stapled? Cool!” (I knew that wasn’t why he raised his hand; he’s just fun to fuck with.) “No!!!” he said. “I just have a question…which I apparently already forgot.”

“Maybe there was never a question — maybe you just want staples in your ass!” I’m such a loving girlfriend.

After more banter in this vein, I finally said to T., “If you do it, I’ll do it.”

“Aw, shit,” he said. “I can’t turn down a dare.”

“It’s not a dare,” I said. “I’m going to do it whether you do it or not.”

“Great — I can’t let my girlfriend do it and then not do it myself! All right, let’s go.”

So T. got stapled in the thigh (6 staples), and I got stapled in the arm (5 staples). I need to note that the top wielding the staple gun used a completely different, clean staple gun on us than he used on his partner, and even cleaned the staple gun between T. and me, and put in a fresh row of staples for me, not continuing from the row that T. was stapled from.

Yes, the staple gun has a lot of force, but it’s spread out over the staple, so it’s actually not that bad. And it’s kind of a delayed reaction — staples 1 and 2 were really okay, kind of like getting an allergy shot. But staples 3-5 were done in rapid succession, and they hurt. Not horrible, bad, stop-this-now pain (although I *did* say, “You know, I think 5 is plenty for me. I’m done now, thanks!”), but more of a dull, burn-y ache.

Having them pulled out, though (I had purple duct tape on my arm first), REALLY hurt. Jesus. And the rest of the day, even through a shower and ibuprofen, it just ached like the combo of a BIG allergy shot followed up by a good hard punch. And all I could think was, if 5 staples to my fat upper arm hurt like this after the fact, how much must the demo bottom be hurting, after taking staples ALL OVER?

When I saw her at the party that night, I showed her my staple marks (“I look like a gang of tiny vampires attacked me!”) and asked her how on earth she could take so many staples and not be sore all over. “I don’t know!” she exclaimed, like she was aware it was sheer luck that she had such a high pain threshold, and then she bounced off for more owie fun. I was impressed.

I’m not sorry I did it, but, much like the fire play, it’s not something I can see me making a regular (or irregular) practice of. That’s a bit much for me to handle.

But it’s a great story.

My astrological sign is Cancer, and while I don’t put any serious credence in astrology, one of the strong characteristics of people born in Cancer is that they’re caretakers. And that’s “caretakers” in whatever way it manifests — I tend to feed people. Come through my front door, cross my path, sit next to me on the bus — I’ll offer you food. More than once. When I have guests in my home, I make every effort to make sure they’re comfortable (as well as well-fed), and sometimes I have to stop myself and just say, “Okay, I get obessive about making sure everyone has what they want, and that makes me ask ‘Do you need anything?’ WAY too often, and it’s been suggested that this drives people nuts. So…if you need anything, please tell me, or help yourself.”

But even after I say that, I still keep my eye on glasses that need refills, empty plates that are in the way, etc. It’s what I do. Caretaking is a tangible way for me to show love to people.

Which is why I think I’d be a splendid service submissive, given the right dominant and the right circumstances. I enjoy taking care of those who I love. It pleases me to make sure they have everything they need before they even have to ask. And when I know that they’re aware of what I’m doing, they never need to thank me. It’s when people take it for granted that I’m disinclined to lift a finger for them.

Sex Geek has a recent post on entitlement, and how that plays into D/s relationships that touches on this. It doesn’t focus on service submission specifically, as much as the larger issue of how a sense of entitlement plays into a power exchange. On the face of it, entitlement sounds like taking something for granted, without any appreciation. At least, that’s how I’ve always thought of entitlement.

But Sex Geek explains it much better than I can — in a power exchange, entitlement is not taking something for granted; it’s expecting something that the other person wants to give, and expecting it with the knowledge that the other person wants to give it, and, more specifically, give it to YOU.

An example that Sex Geek gives is this:

Boi L once told me that if I were to take off my jacket and let go of it without even looking behind me to see if she was there to take it – if I assumed her to be paying attention, without feeling a need to check and make sure – that would be a high compliment, because it’s an indication of my trust in her service.

In that situation, that relationship, Sex Geek isn’t assuming from a place of arrogance that Boi L will take her jacket because that’s what she deserves. No, she’s aware that Boi L wants to serve in that capacity, and therefore Sex Geek can meet Boi L’s need to serve her by taking off her jacket and let it go, expecting Boi L to take it.

I guess I wouldn’t have called such a dynamic “entitlement,” but I see what Sex Geek means when she uses it.

In any case. I am, as always, switchy to the core, but there are times when — and people with whom — I know I could be a splendid service submissive. At the right time, and with the right person, who has that attitude that Sex Geek describes, I actually crave it. There’s something about caretaking that, for me, is deeply satisfying.

The other day, I was listening to the Ropecast (Graydancer’s podcast about shibari and other kinky things), and much to my delight, Midori was a guest. She and Graydancer talked about a variety of topics, including her “Elements of Suffering” performance.

In describing “Elements of Suffering,” Midori talked about the Japanese cultural virtue of enduring. She didn’t elaborate on the reasons that enduring is a Japanese virtue; she just explained that it’s a common theme. And then she related that back in to her “Elements of Suffering” performance, talking about the idea of enduring hardship (or suffering).

When I first started reading books about BDSM (thank you, Amazon.com, for making it easy for shy kinksters to get their hands on good reading material!), one of the first books I read was Janet Hardy and Dossie Easton’s New Bottoming Book. In it, they tell the reader to think about what it is that he or she wants to get out of bottoming. In other words, what are you looking for, what do you want to achieve — why are you doing this?

It wasn’t a question I could answer right away; certainly not until I got involved with other kinky people and started playing at parties. Even then, I was just trying to learn everything I could, experience everything I could (or what I was willing to experience), and see what I liked.

Figuring out why I liked it could come later.

And, eventually, what I realized was that, when I bottom, what I want is to endure. I want to take the flogging/beating/pain and get through it, get past it, and see what’s on the other side. (I also want to be praised for taking the pain, to be told I’m a good girl, but that’s not my primary motivator in bottoming.)

This is very much in contrast with T.’s goal in bottoming; he very often wants to be broken, to be pushed to the point where he can’t take the pain any more. And as much as I’ve gone there with him, as his top, it’s not something I want to experience as a bottom.

Neither way is “right,” of course; when it comes to kink, there’s only what’s right for any given person. And it’s endlessly fascinating to me to see just how many permutations there can be, how many different ways people have to embrace and express their kink.

Bitchy Jones has a recent post describing the stereotypical asshat male dom (it’s pretty accurate, IMO). Here is her take on the attitude that asshat male doms have about switches:

“there is nothing worse than…

“Switches! Switches are worse than mansubs, because like bisexuals in straightland, they look normal….

“But, really, switches! That lovely M/f couple with him all puffy chest and her knowing her place and then, OMG, he says he switches. Ew. Ew!. EW! Switches are all wrong because being submissive (if you are a woman) or dominant (if you are a man) is something you ARE, not something you try on for fun. Goddamnit. When will people understand. This is not about sex!”

I would accuse Bitchy of shortsighted stereotyping, but the thing is, I encounter that attitude All. The. Fucking. Time. And not just from male doms, but from female subs, female doms, male subs — at some point, my existence as a switch has been met with incredulity by people in pretty much any role other than switch.

That, in and of itself, pisses me off, because *I* don’t doubt others’ self-proclaimed roles, and I’m not known for being (1) a liar or (b) schizophrenic, so I haven’t given others any reason to doubt *me*.

But what pisses me off more, what this entry is about, is the assumption that, because I switch roles when it comes to BDSM, I also switch how I interact with the world outside the dungeon. Uh, no. Who I am is who I am.

An example: I was at a meeting of the local BDSM group, and we were splitting into small groups to get some administrative crap done. It was like herding cats, and, because I’m bossy and anal and would have made an excellent dictator of a small island nation, I took charge and directed the groups to where they should sit, made sure everyone had pens and paper, etc.

The president of the group (who happens to be a male dom) snarkily commented, “Well, I see which way *you’re* switching today!”

Uh, no. My whole life, I’ve been bossy and pushy and anal-retentive and really good at organizing things and people. I’ve never been shy and retiring or too timid to speak up, EVER. Just because I’m being outspoken doesn’t mean that I’m “being toppy.” If I *were* taciturn, that wouldn’t mean I was “being submissive.”

Seriously, that pisses me off more and more just thinking about it. I switch when it comes to kinky shit. That’s it. How hard is that for people to grasp?

It’s the same line of reasoning that gets trotted out to sneer at submissives who speak their mind — just because someone identifies as a submissive, sexually (and let’s not forget that this is really what it’s all about, okay — SEX), doesn’t mean that she’s a timid shrinking violet who can’t speak up in a social situation. The other side of that coin, of course, is that just because someone identifies as a dom definitely doesn’t mean he’s a good leader. I’m sick and fucking tired of seeing doms put in leadership positions of BDSM groups, just because they’re doms — yup, it happens all the time — only to have them step down from the leadership position because it turns out that they’re crap at actually, you know, LEADING.

The role a person chooses when it comes to BDSM has nothing to do with how he or she acts in the rest of his or her life. It *can* match up — see also, timid submissives, loud-mouthed doms — but it doesn’t have to, and, frankly, is insulting when people assume it does.

Because where does that leave the lowly switch, the spork of the BDSM world? Getting pummeled with asinine assumptions about things that have NOTHING to do with our switchiness, that’s where.

A recent question at Fetish Meme asks, “Do you require a safeword? Did you always? Would you refuse to play with someone who refused to either adopt or allow one?”

T. and I have been in this relationship for almost 2 years, and have been playing together for almost 3. We’ve always used — and still do — safewords. They function mostly as a failsafe, at this point; by now, T. and I know each other and know each other’s responses well enough to differentiate enjoyable distress from end-this-NOW-you-asshat! distress.

However, when I top, I’m still getting used to playing as hard as T. often likes it. Despite knowing that he wants me to play that hard, despite knowing that he likes it and needs it, I can’t entirely quiet my inner worrier who keeps exclaiming, “Ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod, that’s too much too hard too painful!” So knowing that he has a safeword, knowing that he’s perfectly willing to call yellow or red if he needs to, makes it a lot easier for me to go hard on him and not hold back.

When I bottom, I always have safewords available, and I don’t hesitate to use them. I haven’t had to use them often, but I *have* used them. And knowing that they were available for me to use didn’t take *anything* away from the power exchange-y-ness of the scene.

Safewords are there to prevent harm. Because if someone gets hurt — physically or mentally — even if it’s unintentional, it’s not a power exchange any more; it’s a problem. Safewords help avoid problems.

I know that there are submissives who don’t like safewords because they think it means that they aren’t totally helpless. But all I want to ask them is this: Is being “totally helpless” worth getting injured or emotionally traumatized because you can’t stop something from happening that you *could* have stopped with a safeword?

I know that there are dominants who don’t like their submissives to have safewords because they like the feeling of being in Total And Utter Control(TM). All I want to say to them is this: When you have to take your submissive to the ER with second-degree burns, tell me how great that Total And Utter Control is, okay?

Frankly, I don’t trust people who won’t use a safeword with me. [Please note: I said “with ME.” If you really want to forgo safewords amongst yourselves, that’s up to you.] If a dom/top won’t give me that failsafe so that I can protect myself, then I damn well don’t trust them. Because unexpected shit happens, and if I’m tied up and I notice it first, I want to be able to call attention to it and get out of those ropes before I get permanently hurt.

If a sub/bottom wants to play without a safeword with me, I won’t do it. The person who I have tied up knows if their hands are getting numb, and they will likely know a hell of a lot sooner than I will, even if I do regular check-ins. I don’t want my partner getting hurt; as a top, I am absolutely vigilant during a scene, but, like I said, there are some things that a restrained person will notice sooner than their top will.

Safewords are absolutely NOT antithetical to power exchange. They’re smart. We’re all human, we’re all breakable, in a million different ways, and sooner or later (usually sooner) the unexpected happens. Safewords are just a way of breaking glass in case of emergency.

Over at Fetish Meme, Richard asks, “Do you — bottom or top — ever or always require aftercare at the end of an intense BDSM experience? What elements are important to you for good aftercare?”

I had this conversation with T. just the other day. Back in the days before I ever did any sort of kinky activity with another human being, back before I joined the local group and started playing at parties and in private, I read a LOT of BDSM-related books. I’m a big bookworm wordnerd, and the wonders of online commerce meant that I could order all the books that are commonly recommended to newbies, and then hide them under my bed (even though I lived alone….shut up) and read them at my leisure.

Due to all my reading, I knew about aftercare — what it was, why it was important, why it should be included in pre-play negotiation, etc. And based on everything I had read, combined with what I know about myself, I just assumed that I would be the type of bottom who would need a lot of squishy, snuggly, attentive aftercare. (I tend to be emotionally needy, although being in a relationship with T. has reduced that to almost nil; however, in the past, I could be a giant sucking black hole of emotional neediness.)

Turns out that, no, I *don’t* need much in the way of aftercare. (At least, up to this point in my kinky travails I haven’t needed much — if any — aftercare.) We’re done, I’m good, I could use some water and help in finding my shoes, but that’s about it. I’ve been that way with T. as well as with the small handful of other people I’ve played with (people who are my friends, but with whom I don’t have a close emotional relationship).

I’m not really sure why that is. If I had to guess, a lot of it probably comes from the fact that I’m a control freak and I’m — “standoffish” isn’t the right word — very guarded when it comes to how emotionally close I let anyone get. And since bottoming is a very vulnerable state to willingly put myself in, I think maybe I don’t *want* aftercare because once the beat-y, ouchie part of the scene is done, I want control of my vulnerability back *right now,* thankyouverymuch.

That’s just a guess, though; I haven’t really given it any thought until right this moment.

T., on the other hand, needs/wants/likes lots of snuggly, attentive aftercare. When he bottoms, he likes to play hard enough that he either is (1) broken (in the sense of “I will break your fighting spirit!”), or (2) exhausted from struggling. After a scene like that, he just wants to collapse and be snuggly and wrapped up in a blanket and be cuddled. And then he gets water, and later food.

I don’t think that either one of us is “right,” because what you need (or don’t) is just…what you need (or don’t).

Over at Fetish Meme, Richard talks about titles and honorifics.

I have really complex feelings about using honorifics with people in the lifestyle with whom I don’t have a power exchange relationship (i.e., I don’t play with “Sir Geoffrey,” and never have, which makes me much more inclined to call him “Jeff” when we’re hanging out, but what it he’s That Type Of Dom who wants to be addressed by one and all as “Sir Geoffrey”?), and I’ll save all those musings for a different post.

For now, I just want to talk about How The Switches Do It. Or, rather, how T. and I do it. (No way in hell could I try to speak on behalf of all switches. Besides, how T. and I handle titles doesn’t have anything to do with the fact we’re switches; it all has to do with, well, what we like.)

I’m not “Mistress.” I can’t carry it. I don’t feel like a “Mistress,” even in my most kick-ass, I-rule-the-WORLD moments. I dislike “Lady,” and “Goddess” — while I know of women who use that honorific and carry it off well — makes me giggle helplessly. And I’d prefer my title, such as it is, to not make me actually snort with laughter *while* I’m using it.

We settled on “Ma’am” for me, and T. uses it only within scenes. (Occasionally at home — or elsewhere — if I ask [or, okay, TELL] him to do something, he’ll reply with “Yes, Miss [lastname],” which I think is cute as hell, but it doesn’t really have anything to do with our power exchange-y-ness.)

I think “Lord” is as silly as “Lady,” and “Sir” would never work for T. In fact, when T. tops, he’s always cross-dressed, and, somehow, “Mistress” suits T. perfectly at those times. And it feels *right* when I say it.

We don’t *need* the titles, but they do serve a purpose within the scene: they underscore the power exchange. They’re a simple way to add that emphasis: Right now, you’re MINE. And it works.

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