What I’ve Learned So Far: A Reflective Epistle

In the past few days, I’ve had this odd hankering to reflect on the past year in writing. I don’t yet know how my finals will turn out, and perhaps I should be working on them. But I love to procrastinate work with other work. So, here are a few things I’ve learned since I got involved as a switch in the kink community about a year-and-a-half ago:

  • I’ve learned that munches are pretty great, especially if you can tell people apart. 
  • I’ve learned how to spank, flog, strap, paddle, cane, finger-fuck, peg, and edge. I’m learning how to communicate, ask good questions, listen, maintain boundaries, process difficult feelings, and not use dominance or submission as a security blanket. I haven’t yet learned how to get anything satisfying out of the riding crop. 
  • I’ve learned to face fears and take care of myself (I even went to the gynecologist and got treatment for chronic pain). I also started this blog, and I’m proud of myself for not giving up on it–it feels good to recognize that I’m building resilience. 
  • I’ve learned that playing with lazy, unmotivated play partners is not part of ‘paying my dues‘. I used to think that I had to deal with a few blah play partners in order to ‘hone my craft,’ a bit like an apprentice doing grunt work. In real life, that translated into bending over backwards to educate and accommodate flaky, lazy men who hadn’t taken the time to educate themselves. I’ve noticed that as I’ve gotten more experience, this type of man has largely disappeared from my DMs. 
  • Through my D/s dynamics, play experiences, and conversations with friends in the local community over the past several months, I’ve learned that a lot of kink isn’t sexual. Thus, I now tend to describe BDSM simply as “One of the ways grownups play.” For example, my dynamic with my Dominant isn’t really sexual so far, and my submission to her isn’t sexually motivated. Our play and D/s interaction centers around sensuality, service, and mutual growth. If you’d told me this last year, I would have been shocked. It just goes to show that even when discussing ‘alternative lifestyles,’ we often don’t recognize the kaleidoscope of healthy, loving ways for human beings to interact. 
  • On the other hand, some of my kinky play is quite sexual! In my dynamic with my submissive, a major element of my holistic dominance is my ownership of his sexual life (long-term, encompassing control that I wouldn’t have expected to want at the start of my kink journey). I’ve learned that (consensually) stepping into someone’s personal space in a dominant frame of mind can be a strong sexual trigger. Perhaps it sends a signal to my body, paradoxically, that I can ‘let go’ and be sexual (Emily Nagoski’s “gas pedal and brakes” framework makes sense to me here).
  • I’ve discovered that I have an inner sadist (which I’ll talk about more at another time). I like to watch people grow, to assign homework, to ask probing questions that confront assumptions. To an extent, it’s satisfying to watch people struggle, knowing that they will come out of the difficult experience wiser, kinder, and more resilient. A while back, my Dominant shared some concerns she had about being in a process of growth. I said, “This may sound strange, but as your submissive, I’m still sadistic. I derive joy from your discomfort.” She wasn’t offended–that tells me that I’ve chosen a good Domme. Do I have an inner masochist? I think so. Stay tuned.
  • I’ve learned that I’m not immune to pettiness, jealousy, and consent accidents. And while we’re at it, I’m not immune to ye olde frenzy. I’ve made many mistakes and will make more (see Fetish Foibles for a couple of examples from my dominant life). 
  • I’ve had a complicated journey with submission. There’s a reason I’ve been calling it #Subpocalypse2019. Being confronted with a serious opportunity to submit frightened me, even made me feel ashamed. Frankly, it embarrasses me to think of the monsters that came out of my mental closet. I’ve learned a lot about my fears and insecurities. 
  • I’ve been learning how to manage multiple dynamics, friendships, etc. that require care and attention. I honestly believe that I’ve become more of a stickler for planning and scheduling because of my kink exploration. Planning is one way to show care for people, even if that just means planning a little extra sleep into your schedule so you can be fully alert during negotiation and play. While we’re at it, I’ve learned that gratitude is more precious than gold. 
  • In making the leap from kinky fantasy into kinky reality, I’ve learned to fantasize more responsibly. That is, I think more deeply about my fantasies and how they relate to my needs. Fantasy has been a lifelong coping mechanism for me; I’ve always been imaginative, and as a child, that’s how I spun straw into gold. I used to eroticize the feeling of being left-out and marginalized in social groups, in situations where my tender young mind saw no alternative. It went something like this: “Oh, I’ve been left out. I shall now be Cinderella.” And I would revel in the degradation of my imagined servitude. Nowadays, I try to think through my options before spinning a fantasy. For example, if I’m feeling bad, I might think, “Is this a situation that I can work through in the ‘real world’? Am I using this fantasy to make my shame feel sweeter instead of confronting it?” That doesn’t mean I restrict my imagination (or, for that matter, that fantasies are ‘good’ or ‘bad’) but that I try not to use fantasy to avoid the hard work of reflecting, communicating my needs, and following through in reality. 
  • Maybe you’re wondering whether I, a queer, kinky Christian divinity student, have any reflections on faith here. First, my journey has taught me that Dominants are not deities, though we can certainly play with those roles and language. We don’t ever ‘deserve’ anybody’s submission (we don’t even deserve the capital ‘D’ at the beginning of ‘Dominant’). Now, what about God, whom some people choose to conceptualize as the ultimate Dominant? I don’t know what to make of God, to be quite honest. God is a mystery, and I’m leaving it at that for now. I haven’t truly ‘worshipped’ in a traditional sense in quite a while, but I think God can understand that. 
  • I’m pretty sure my Christology (my sense of the divinity of Jesus) has come down a few notches–I used to really like the idea that God, through Jesus, could understand the spectrum of human suffering, but I’m not so sure anymore. Overall, I feel as stubbornly rooted in my Christianity as ever, but, to quote transgender pastor Allyson Dylan Robinson, I’ve “sacrificed my certainty” many times. 
  • I’m just beginning to explore the connection between kink and spirituality (read a bit about my frustration with traditional ‘spiritual practices’ here). But I’m finding kinky activity to be intensely connective and intimate, a time when I can be completely focused on my partners. Regardless of my role, kink requires me to be vulnerable, showing up as myself. I learned how to show up with vulnerability in part through my Christian faith and nurturing community. Yet, I find that I usually can’t show up that way when I try to pray–I have too many complicated thoughts and feelings, confusion and anger, sometimes blankness where I would once have imagined God to be. It’s hard to talk to a mystery. People are slightly easier. So perhaps kink is a way that I can commune with the Divinity in myself and others. I hope to explore this idea further. 

I honestly have more to say, but I think that’s enough for now. I am grateful for the people, the discoveries, and the opportunities to learn that I’ve had so far in the kink community. I look forward to learning more as I continue my journey.

Be of good courage!

Masturbation Monday

Perfectionism Rant

Hoooo boy. 

Classes (and new jobs) have started in earnest this week, and they’re going pretty well overall. That said, I’m a recovering perfectionist–my perfectionism is manageable, like a low staticy hum in my life most of the time, about a three out of ten. Today, it was dialed up to about a seven, sometimes blaring over the information I wanted to take in. I think that’s mainly because I’m trying so many new things this week. I know I won’t be immediately good at all of them, and they all require shifts between different modes of thinking throughout the day (from a more intellectual ‘class space,’ for example, to the practical and pastoral headspaces of my new jobs). 

Some of it’s the intimidation of the mundane. For example, I’ve never made coffee in my life (it’s just never been necessary to). I’m sure I’ll learn, but I have a feeling that I’ll do it wrong at least once–I already cringe thinking that I’ll forget to fit the lid properly. And I am writing this post in part because I don’t like the number of days that have gone by without writing anything non-academic. I don’t want to lose my commitment to this blog. Are queer, sexy, kinky things happening in my life? Yes. Do I have the energy to write about them right now? No. That will return when my schedule lulls. In the meantime, I’m going to attempt to adjust the dial by chatting with people about impractical things, sharing my anxiety here, and singing along with Steven Universe songs. Those are ways that I treat myself like a beloved friend. I don’t have any major nuggets of wisdom to offer, but I hope that anyone who feels perfectionism creeping up, like I do right now, can treat themselves with kindness (and when that’s hard, reach out to kind people). Be of good courage!

Being a Body

I had my first “Bodies and Theology” class today. It was great. Apropos of my last post, we started class with theatre-influenced movement exercises. At one point, the professor (who is wonderful) asked us to walk like dogs. While my classmates remained upright, I dropped to the floor and scurried around like a puppy. I got to be silly–and there is exhilarating bravery in silliness. We also created some body sculptures, an exercise borrowed from the Theatre of the Oppressed. Posing together without any foreplanning, we attempted to convey the concepts of “knowledge,” “theology,” and “God” through our bodies. 

“God” was the most challenging; our professor invited those who weren’t part of the sculpture to modify it. They joined our hands together until we formed a circle. As a result, the body sculpture that started as a vision of disconnected hierarchy (one person standing, others kneeling and cowering), became an image of connection and interdependence. A very different understanding of God. Rich discussion arose from the choices that we made to represent each idea, the beliefs and biases that they revealed. 

In this class, we are invited to discover God as people with physical bodies. Christianity isn’t traditionally good at that, so I’m excited about this opportunity. It also feels good to have a break from the intensely cerebral space of other classes. When we shared our reasons for taking the Bodies class, I said that I wanted to work on being ‘present’ as a body and to experience things without immediately intellectualizing them. For those who follow my kink journey, that’s also a goal I have for my current exploration of submission. My Dominant said early on that she wanted to see me “feeling without thinking.” What a terrifying thought!

Thinking and feeling are my bread and butter. My strong feelings are normally mediated through intellectual, critical thought, which is useful most of the time. It can, however, lead to a sense of distance from my body when I most want to be present, as if I’m more of a brain floating along than a full being. It sometimes means that sexual experiences feel ‘hotter in hindsight,’ more intensely erotic after I’m removed from the situation than in the moment. I hope that the movement and physicality that this class requires, my continued kink exploration, and the interplay between those two different realms will encourage me to enjoy my body and connect with the Divine in a new way–as an embodied person.

Sex Dreams – A Grumble

You know, I can see a variety of reasons to cultivate a ‘lucid dreaming practice’. Not automatically dropping out of the air mid-flight when I realize I’m dreaming is one of them. Another reason? I would love to have a good sex dream. My sex dreams, like most dreams, usually end up mixed-up and stressful. Oftentimes, there’s some obstacle to sex, overwhelming desire thwarted by lack of privacy or another problem. I’ll keep looking for places to have sex, only to find that my partner isn’t who I thought they were (or, alternatively, scorpions come out of nowhere).

Last night’s sex dream had all kinds of obstacles. In the dream, I had some serious sexually submissive feelings toward a cis man (I almost never have such feelings toward men in real life). And this was the worst possible man–he was ‘the Reverend’ from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (honestly, couldn’t it have at least been Gretchen?). Having somehow decided that kidnapping and fundamentalist cult leadership weren’t deal-breakers, I threw myself at him. He responded favorably. And then he uncapped his dick, which was like a set of Russian nesting dolls. I didn’t like the new shape he revealed. I then realized we didn’t have any condoms or dams and backed away from the encounter. Well, at least dream-Perpetua had some sense. I wish I could lucid dream my way into a positive, safe experience or let go of reality entirely. Yes, maybe I will cultivate that lucid dreaming practice. It’s on my to-do list. 

Penance, Part 7

Catch up on the entire series here. I’m exploring some concepts that I started to work through in my essay “BDSM is Not Repentance” using this experimental semi-fantasy flash erotica series. It is not intended to model realistic and healthy approaches to penance, sex work, or even BDSM, but to inspire thought about how we use BDSM and what role, if any, it can play in true repentance. This installment (a bit long for flash) is a response to the Masturbation Monday blog meme.

After a few days’ thought, he washes the handkerchief and hangs it to dry on a tiny shoestring clothesline rigged across the Monstera plant. It seems like the right thing to do. He’s filled the first notebook with writing about anything and everything he can think of. His secretary looked at him like he had grown an extra head when he asked for paper (what she doesn’t know is that he first tried to filch it from the printer, accidentally breaking it in the process, and had to hire a repair worker from his own pocket as a result). 

He knows the Dominant will visit this evening. The Agency sent a confirmation message yesterday. He felt relieved–he’d half-expected that they would drop him altogether after last session’s disaster–but somehow more nervous than he was before the first session. He is, as his mother would say, ‘a wreck,’ pacing the condo, fluffing pillows and such. He’s even set out a carafe of water and two glasses. He has a feeling that last week’s behavior won’t go unaddressed. 

The Dominant appears in his doorway empty-handed. No implements, but the electric blue streak in their hair today makes the back of his neck prickle. Danger? Arousal? Who knows. He lets them in without fanfare. He wills his hand not to shake as he pours the water. The Dominant makes themself at home, once again going through their papers. He sits stiffly and waits. Finally, they fold the papers and take off their glasses.  

“There’s something different about you today,” they say. “You’re all pulled in. Like your wings are folded to your sides.” 

He looks down at his lap. He’s never thought of himself as a bird before. 

“Tell me what you’re holding in.”

He looks up at the command in their tone. He senses that he has to answer. “I was disrespectful last week,” he says after a moment, in a small, brittle voice. He can’t say anymore, can’t bear to look at that furrow in their brow, so he focuses on the handkerchief, still hanging. 

“Yes, you were,” the Dominant says after a beat. “I see that it’s affecting you.” 

To his horror, tears spring to his eyes. Before anger can claw its way up through his shame, the Dominant speaks very quietly. “Good.” Good? Unable to trust his voice, he fights to sit up straighter, wills the tears to dry under the breeze of the air conditioner as he stares a hole through the cloth. 

“I see that this is hard for you.” He can’t speak. “Here’s what I want to happen,” they say. “Look at me for a second.” He does. They point at the floor between their legs. “I want you to take this cushion and sit here, facing away from me.” 

He doesn’t think to disobey. The floor creaks as he fits himself into the small space between sofa and coffee table, drawing his knees up. He feels the warmth of the Dominant’s legs on either side of him, the hard boots bracketing him. They’re a bit scuffed-looking up close. 

A soft voice floats down from above. “Lean back a little.” As he does, he feels their hands strong on his shoulders, holding him in place. He swallows, again finding the handkerchief in his vision.

“You cleaned that for me, didn’t you,” the Dominant says, pressing on his shoulders gently. “Thank you. That pleases me.” 

He nods. He feels surrounded, enfolded, so close to the ground. He tilts his head back, feels their shirt brush against his hair. 

“I want to stroke your hair.” 

“Mmyes,” he replies, feeling mellower in spite of the tears starting to track down his face. They cup the back of his head and massage, occasionally catching enough hair to tug on his scalp, just a little. One finger finds its way to his cheekbone, collecting a tear on its way. 

“Good,” he hears again as his eyes fall closed. He stays there, resting in that pocket of warmth, for the remainder of the session. 

-To be continued-

Masturbation Monday

A Note From the Front – Non-Affirming Church Family

I had a couple of epistles in progress that I hoped to have posted by now, but it’s not happening. Tonight, I’m just sad. My home church met this evening to discuss a congregational survey that we took a few weeks ago to assess our strengths and growth areas for the future. Overall, that process was uplifting and helpful. Unfortunately, the last page of our results (the extra feedback about how we can make our church distinctive) contained a nasty surprise. 

Someone in our very small church wrote something like, “We shouldn’t be so political. We need to stop talking so much about LGBTQ issues as if they’re the only thing that matters. We need to love everyone, but the Bible is clear.” It hurt to read. I know not everyone in my church is affirming, but the fact that someone whom I surely love decided to sound off like that was…painful. 

The answer didn’t even make sense. The question was about our distinctiveness as a church; not talking about LGBTQ issues isn’t an unusual trait in my corner of the rural South. I spent the remainder of the discussion time wondering who wrote it–was it someone who raised me, or was it someone I grew up with? And what a pity that is, because so much good came from the discussion overall. 

I had already been feeling vulnerable because I do talk about LGBTQ issues a lot in church; I believe it’s important to help my church family understand why I advocate. And then this person said I shouldn’t, I guess because it makes them uncomfortable to have their bigotry challenged. They prefer to think of my rights as ‘political’ and thus not worth discussing. I know I wasn’t the only one in the room who was hurt by the statement–while I was the only out queer person present, several of the older adults have grown LGBTQ children whom they affirm. But I felt that if I said anything negative during the discussion process, I would be seen as derailing it with my hysterical hurt feelings. I held them in for quite a while, even when one of my grandfriends pointed at the page and frowned in commiseration. 

My mom came in to check on me tonight. I promptly burst into tears. She held me and let me talk. I also talked to some friends who reminded me that I’m loved and that my work matters. Additionally, one of my cats came in and purred on my chest for a while. He seems to have a knack for knowing when someone needs comfort. 

Will I stop loving the person who wrote this ignorant statement? No. It is their loss if they can’t open their mind, and I can’t save them. I need to take care of myself. I’m fortunate to have a strong sense of self and confidence in my identity as a queer Christian. But it still hurts when people don’t want to understand, so tonight, I’m just letting myself hurt and be comforted by people I trust. 

More on my church family and my spiritual journey here
Therapeutic music: “Change Your Mind” from Steven Universe

Penance, Part 4

Read all installments here. I’m exploring some concepts that I started to work through in my essay “BDSM is Not Repentance” using this experimental semi-fantasy flash erotica series. It is not intended to model realistic and healthy approaches to penance, sex work, or even BDSM, but to inspire thought about how we use BDSM and what role, if any, it can play in true repentance. This installment is a response to the Friday Flash blog meme. 

He slams the microwave shut. He braced for days for this night to leave him bruised and welted. Instead, he’s remarkably…unmarked–maybe a bit saddle-sore from the stool. And now he’s fuming again. No whips and chains today. ‘You’ll have to earn them’? The Dominant left not long after saying those words, sliding that notebook toward him with a knowing smile. Like a perverse Mister Rogers, they re-laced their boots, rattling off instructions for ‘self-aftercare’ or something in dulcet tones. As if they’d actually done a scene, and not just sat there drinking water. 

The stool slides with a horrible screech as he shoves it back under the island. He eyes the notebook with suspicion but doesn’t pick it up. He hasn’t used anything like that since the eighties. Nice joke, but why go back? Seems his laptop updates every other day. That’s how he likes it. 

His hands shake as he puts the empty water glasses in the sink. He scowls at himself. Time to get a grip. 

The space fills with the smell of buffalo sauce, steaming and popping with heat. He throws himself onto the sofa and bites into the first wing, not caring how hot it is. The notebook still sits on the counter. He soldiers through the wings, letting their untempered spice overwhelm his anger. 

By the time he’s blotting the cushions where juices have splattered, he’s more curious than anything. All but jogging back to the island, he opens the notebook. His stomach gives an unpleasant flip when he sees writing inside. “Welcome, Penitent,” it reads in fine, slanted writing. “Here’s where you’ll write about what brought you here. Write something every day until our next session. I won’t read it unless you ask me to, but you will write. Buen Camino!” They want him to keep…a diary? He flushes. ‘Diaries are for girls!,’ a little voice pipes up in the back of his mind. ‘Travel journal’ is more apt, he thinks, even though this is unnecessary.

He will write? A new surge of anger wells up at the thought. He doesn’t need diaries or journals; what he needs is good old-fashioned corporal punishment. He’ll just put the notebook away somewhere and give it back next time. He pauses. Then, he pulls out the pen tucked in its binding. In glistening purple ink, he writes “I don’t need to write in this.” After a beat, he adds “sir.” Signing and dating, he claps it shut. He knows what to do. He’s going to show that Dominant exactly what he needs.

-To be continued-

Nightmares of Narnia – A Suffering Epistle

Content notice: description of torture and murder of anthropomorphized animals

I tend to dream vividly, often in rich detail. Sometimes, my dreams are delightful, affirming, empowering. Most of the time, they’re strange and disjointed. And occasionally, they are truly horrific. Last night’s dream fell into the third category. For context, I grew up reading The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis’ Christian allegory fantasy series. Narnia was a land populated most notably by talking animals and fantasy creatures, a reflection of sorts on our world. 

Lewis’ Christ figure, a lion named Aslan, was crucial in shaping my concept of God. Through Aslan, I learned that God was strong but gentle, nurturing, and self-sacrificial (for example, in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Aslan allows himself to be killed by the evil White Witch to save a human child who had betrayed him). 

In some ways, it was easier for me to connect with Aslan than with Jesus or ‘God,’ who seemed so abstract. As a child, I used to dream that I could visit with Aslan in a corridor between the world of Narnia and my own world. I tried to hold onto my time there with the bittersweet understanding that I would someday become too old to visit him there–in the books, the main human characters eventually ‘age out’ of being able to visit Narnia, instead charged with taking what they have learned into their own world. Oftentimes, I feel like one of those children who have aged out. I don’t connect so easily with the wonder of Narnia anymore, but I try to carry its lessons with me. 

Last night, I dreamed of Narnia for the first time in years. I dreamed that I was watching Aslan die again. As in the book, I watched the White Witch have him bound, tortured, and shamed, his mane shorn off. This time, however, he also had to watch, powerless, while the Witch had several smaller animals executed. A weasel was beheaded. A badger was drowned. Their corpses were thrown away. And Aslan wasn’t stoically silent this time; he wailed and cried, protesting the murder of these innocent creatures even as dogs tore at his own flesh. I woke up, heart pounding, right after the Witch had finally done her part and stabbed him to death. 

In the book, Aslan rises from the dead the morning after his death, vindicated by his sacrifice and prepared to defeat the Witch and her armies. I didn’t get to see that in my dream last night. Instead, I saw the depth of his despair, his powerlessness, the raw terror that I probably wouldn’t have been able to handle seeing as a young child. 

I wonder why my mind shuffled through my experiences and brought back Narnia last night. Perhaps it’s secondhand horror from the deaths of so many innocent people at the hands of a white supremacist gunman in El Paso last week (how interesting that Aslan’s killer, who orchestrates so many deaths, is called the White Witch). Perhaps I needed my heart to catch up with my intellectual belief that God understands our suffering. Knowing that Aslan could do nothing but cry in that moment as he watched his loved ones die made the torture so much more severe. I was frozen too. Perhaps I fear that loss of power. Perhaps I’m not sure whether “God is in control” is anything more than a platitude. Perhaps I’m being called to intervene somehow, or even just to let myself feel. I don’t know. I hope I’ll dream of resurrection tonight. For now, I’m just sharing my dream with you. 

Fetish Foibles, Part 2 – Cleaning Communication

Welcome to Fetish Foibles, the series where I talk about my kinky mistakes! Read Part 1 here

One thing I’ve discovered in my time as a Dominant is that I enjoy receiving practical, concrete acts of service. My sub enjoys serving. I present this scenario for your edified entertainment: my apartment needed cleaning. My sub and I decided to try a scenario during which he cleaned my apartment in the nude, that classic staple of D/s fantasy. I made him a list of things to do. He stripped naked and got to cleaning. 

I, meanwhile, caught up on homework. When he finished tidying and scrubbing, I ‘inspected’ his work, feeling like Mary Poppins in her white gloves. My sub confessed a few minutes later that he felt bad about my assessment. I realized that I had been overly harsh for the situation; I had fallen back on corny erotica tropes about cold, critical Mistresses who demanded perfection instead of treating the cleaning like the loving service that it was. While we cuddled, I apologized and thanked him for letting me know how he felt. Through that process, we discovered a few issues that made the task less satisfying for both of us than it could have been.

First, we came at the service from different standpoints. I wanted practical, time-saving service that would free me up to do other things. My sub wanted to clean as an extension of our erotic play, imagining me watching him, teasing him at various points throughout the service task. A more thorough discussion of our wants and expectations would have helped us both. 

Second, we threw nudity in without considering our task environment. If you’re gonna clean in the nude, remember the factors of chemical exposure and room temperature–my sub got cold! 

Third, I used a more critical approach to assess the work than I normally would–one that was not true to my needs or our D/s dynamic. In my sub’s case, it was reminiscent of a difficult dynamic from another part of his life that he didn’t enjoy. It is perfectly fine to negotiate a service task in which the Dominant acts very stern and critical, but that emotional dynamic should not be taken for granted or forced upon a situation where it has not been negotiated. 

Nowadays, I still assign practical service tasks that aren’t the slightest bit sexy for my sub (they’re still sexy for me; being served and obeyed is immensely satisfying in many ways), but I’m more mindful of the importance of clear communication about our expectations and desires from service.

That Awkward Moment When Even Theoretically Discussing Punishment Makes You Cry…

[Image description: Photo is of an old bamboo rod, not recommended for heavy impact.]

Negotiations continue for #Subpocalypse2019. I’m currently negotiating a new D/s dynamic and making discoveries along the way. Today, we’ve been discussing the concepts of “bratting” and “punishment.” I asked my prospective Domme to give her thoughts. She explained the nuances of bratting well. Bratting is a slippery term that encompasses many complex ideas (including but not limited to playfulness, manipulation, flirtation, and acting out). Folks pursuing D/s, make sure you’re on the same page about bratting! But I’ll reserve thoughts on that for another post. The concept that really got to me today was Punishment. 

Now, I know I’m not the only kinkster who grew up dreading punishment, whose childhood school identity was “angel” rather than “brat.” I glowed under the praise of my teachers and rarely got in trouble. Of course, the other side of that coin was that on the rare occasions when I actually did get in trouble, I was a wreck. The punishments felt so public–through the fourth grade, most teachers used a tag-pulling system, cutesy laminated construction paper cut-outs labeled with our names. If you got into trouble, you had to “pull your tag/card/take down your airplane.” For me, having to go up and move my own name to lower level was embarrassing, even shaming. And yet, other students, whose identities were not rooted in their similarity to divine beings, got in trouble daily without a care. I’ve learned some of their habits over the years. I’m recovering from perfectionism and have grown a fiercer, more flexible approach to life–one can’t be an angel in justice ministries; only humans need apply. 

Today, however, I read this Domme’s descriptions of the scenarios that would warrant punishment (mostly outright disobedience or disrespect) on the brink of tears. It wasn’t just vulnerability related to giving someone the authority to punish. Apparently, the prospect of punishment–even entirely theoretical–was enough to put me right back into that third-grade “I disappointed the teacher!” mindset. 

So, you might wonder, why even make punishment part of the dynamic? Not all D/s dynamics incorporate real punishment (and most scenes use, at most, ‘funishment’). In vanilla life, I have limited faith in the utility of punishments to change behavior. But. I can’t imagine subbing to someone in a stable dynamic without giving them the power to punish. As a Dominant, I occasionally use punishment in my dynamic with my sub. To me, in a D/s context, punishment calls attention to a problem quickly and decisively, it reinforces the power exchange dynamic, and it helps both parties to reset and move forward. 

Does punishment itself modify behavior? Perhaps, but not necessarily. As I think back to my school days, I imagine that I would’ve made about the same number of mistakes with or without punishment. Disappointing people that I respected, on top of failing publicly, regardless of the reason, hurt.

As I think about it more, while I would hate to do something ‘punishment-worthy’ as a sub, I also realize that I’m not stuck in the ‘angel’ mindset anymore. This is a dynamic that I’m choosing as an adult. I’ll try my best, but I don’t have to be perfect. My identity isn’t built on that anymore. And when–not if–I get punished, I won’t be recoiling in defense of that identity. Punishment is not about ‘being bad’; it’s about using all the tools available in this consensual power exchange to learn and grow, even when it’s hard. I will need to be vigilant when that ‘angel’ mindset pops up, but I now have the resources (perhaps including punishment) to treat it as a way of thinking borne of perfectionism, not my core identity. 

For other takes on punishment, check out my new flash erotica series Penance and my essay “BDSM is Not Repentance.”