On Play- Using Pain to Control Pain

Read first: Hey there! If you’re here then you may or may not know me offline, either way thanks for being here! I’m sure you’ve noted the title- just to be clear this is going to be about sex, BDSM, and specific sexual practices- if any of those things upset you then feel free to skip this. If you do know me offline think about whether or not engaging writing about my sexuality and experience with kink is going to impair your ability to have a relationship with me. Understand I am a dynamic person and you make not know me in the capacity below. That is okay. If you feel reading about my sexual experiences will negatively impact your perception of me then please check out some of my other writings .

If you’re all set then let’s continue!

Now, without further ado……

Let’s talk about kink!

Most of my friends know I like BDSM. It’s not necessarily something I talk about with everyone, but it’s not particularly secret. For the past five years, I’ve been involved in kink spaces in some way.  At first, I mainly engaged BDSM through online platforms (Fet and CM then CS once it changed) then moved towards offline events. As my experience with kink grew and developed I became interested in writing about kink and finding ways to merge that into my academic life. This manifested in several papers and projects in undergrad, including some original research in linguistics regarding the nature of how power is established, communicated, and sustained in digital BDSM erotica (no one ever died from a little shameless self-promotion). Since graduating my desire to marry my kinkiness with my writing has not dissipated.

Some months ago I mentioned wanting to write a paper about kink as a platform for black folks to heal from trauma. It seems I am always coming up with prompts for projects I never actually start! Either way, I think it’s a deeply fascinating idea. Sexologist Dawn Serra facilitates an amazing annual digital a summit called Explore More and at this years summit, Feminista Jones was a featured presenter. I knew Feminista from twitter where she engages a myriad of topics- in her presentation she spoke about using BDSM as a means of healing from racial trauma, it was a phenomenal discussion. Since then I’ve been thinking off and on about that concept and specifically how things like impact play, predicament bondage, and other various acts allow for healing and ultimately how it connects to my own life as a kinky queer black femme.

Kink spaces can be sites of racism, transphobia, anti-blackness, and often are not welcoming to folks who are not Cis and white.  For this reason, interacting in these spaces can be incredibly draining (at best) and toxic/dangerous (at worst) for QTPoC to interact with.  So if we consider Feminista Jones assertion the question becomes How can we access the potential healing BDSM has to offer when kink spaces often perpetuate the very same trauma we seek to evade?

The answer is transparent: We must create our own spaces.  Cultivating space is no easy feat and there are often barriers to creating radical spaces, I am incredibly, INCREDIBLY fortunate to know of such an intentional communal space.  There is a local QTPoC only playgroup facilitated by an amazing local organizer.  Not only does the group host play parties, but workshops, events and all sorts of wonderful programming with wonderful people. At one of their play parties the other day, I discussed needle play with someone.  Now, I have a pretty decent list of hard limits: no intense verbal degradation, no medical play, no scat, no race play, etc.  Then I have a decent amount of soft limits; my soft limits are things I am open to pushing back on, learning more about or trying under the right circumstances. I have to admit needle play has always piqued my interest. I wouldn’t say I’m afraid of needles, but they’re not my favorite either. I notice whenever I get shots or bloodwork or anything involving needles I pinch my skin about wherever the needle is entering my body. I feel if I am able to focus on another pain that I am in control of then I can tolerate the process easier. I do the same whenever I get pierced. I find the more I have to focus directly on my skin being pierced by the needle the more difficult it is to accept. When I got my most recent piercing (triangle) the piercer was doing a lot of prep and it was difficult to brace myself for the shock, which is a large part of my own ability to process pain.

I’d like to see myself move beyond bracing myself for pain. All of this discussion of needles is meant to show how I spend a lot of time distracting from pain by trying to control it.

This is where kink comes into play. If we’re talking roles then I am pretty submissive.  To be clear I am a switch and a service top, but more often than not I do not want to be in control. I find topping to be rewarding, but I find submission to be fulfilling. I want someone and something else to be in control. Beyond submitting I’d like to suffer. I find suffering to be deeply beautiful (at least it has the potential to) and I want to suffer for the right person. I love the idea of someone making me hurt. My relationship to pain is complex and as a person with chronic illness, I often plan my days around managing it. Since becoming chronically ill the idea of confronting pain has become fascinating to me. I often wonder if BDSM would allow space for confronting pain in a controlled way. Needle play is not necessarily a kink of mine, but I think it’s something I could easily get into. Ultimately I don’t know that I could do elaborate displays, but I do think I’d enjoy it (“enjoy”) for the sake of masochism. I’d like to take time to explore masochism more.  I certainly am masochistic and enjoy pain in many ways.  Some kinky and some self-destructive, but that is a different point for a different time.

I mentioned earlier that I think there can beauty in suffering, I also think that pain has value.  I’d be lying if I said I don’t sometimes listen to Depeche Mode’s Strange Love and imagine getting flogged (cus damn).  The link between pleasure and pain is nothing new, people have long explored this line and whether or not its something mild, like spanking, or something intense, like figging people are often enthusiastic to add some level of pain to their pleasure.  In my experience pain feels great in tandem with pleasure.  A well-timed spank, yanking someone’s hair, bites, chokes, even slaps all feel amazing (or at least have the potential to) when coupled with pleasure.  I love that.  Pain by itself on the other hand…that just hurts me.  This is not to say I think it’s unappealing. Again, I want to suffer. My desire to suffer comes from wanting to suffer for the right person, make me suffer for you, get it?  At my first play party, I got tied up and had wax poured over me.  That shit fucking hurt and I don’t mean in a sexy, fun, “ooo that’s hot” sort of way; I mean in a someone is pouring 135-degree liquid onto your skin repeatedly sort of way.   I was tied to an ottoman in a hotel room and a dude I just met was pouring hot ass wax all over my back when I tell y’all that mess stung and burned I thought I was going to tap out.  But I didn’t.  I just let the hurt come and dealt with it as it happened.  But why? Why would someone endure pain simply for pain’s sake? Well, I’m glad you asked- I’ve often found it’s not only for the sake of pain, but for what pain affords after.

The capability for catharsis is a huge draw in impact play. Remember when you were a kid and something upset you? Maybe you fell out of a tree or lost a favorite toy? So you cried, but not just regular crying.  You did that crying where you breathe so fast you start to hyperventilate, snot coming out of your nose, your face red, and cheeks hot? What happened when you were done? If you were anything like me then you immediately phased into the best sleep ever.  You had this emotional release and then a nice little nap, pain play is not too different.

Throughout this I’ve mentioned control a lot.  It seems strange for someone who talks about submission to think so much about control, doesn’t it? Yes and no.  Our understandings of D/s often fail to reflect nuance and experience. The idea that there is a binary where submissive is on one side against dominance on the other is inaccurate.  I’m often submissive, but I still enjoy aspects of control.  Is it wrong to want to suffer on my own terms? To control the pain that goes into my body, how long it stays there and when it comes out? I don’t think so. I don’t think desiring some control in that way fails to make me submissive. Both dominance and submission are concerned with control, how those manifest is different.  My submission is dynamic; there are times when I want to give up control only partially, other times more.  I’m not sure it’s possible to ever give power up totally as roles each maintain some, after all a sub can end a scene at any time.

BDSM and kink as a whole allow for very intentional and controlled pain and I’d like to see how controlling the pain I experience in a different way than I’m used to impacts my relationship to pain as a whole.

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