I’m a masochist. A sadomasochist, technically, but today we’re not talking about my sadistic side. I recently started dating a vanilla (I know, horrors!) and a few months ago, in the “getting to know you” phase of things, he asked me about my relationship with S&M and what being a masochist is all about, for me.
I didn’t realize just how hard my desires are to explain until I had to explain them to someone for whom the answer to “you know what I mean?” will never be yes. With other kinky folk, I can say, “well, you know how blah blah blah makes you feel like so and so etc?” And they say “oh yeah totally and also blah blah blah.” But now I was starting from scratch, with no expectation that he would relate, or already know what I’m talking about before I put it into words.
I don’t think I did that great of a job explaining it to him.
Part of the trouble with explaining what it’s like being a masochist is that, for me, pain serves a lot of functions depending on what I want from the scene. Much in the way that people have sex for a lot of different reasons (for the physical pleasure, to feel loved by their partner(s), to feel forgiven after an argument, to vent frustration with each other, and on and on), I crave pain for a lot of different reasons.
It might also be useful to back up and clarify the definition of “pain.” My very favorite sex educator, Midori, doesn’t talk about pain when she talks about S&M. She refers to “intense sensation.” Her reasoning goes kind of like this: a person just finished a long scene, where s/he was bound to a cross and whipped bloody. Tears stream down his/her face, and s/he is floaty and exhausted. Then s/he steps down from the cross and stubs his/her toe. Suddenly s/he doesn’t love pain so much anymore. I don’t necessarily agree with her choice to nix the word pain, but I’d go with “controlled pain.” The stubbed toe is uncontrolled pain. Accidental pain is generally unwanted pain. It’s pretty rare that even the most thoroughgoing masochist will burn him/herself on the stove and be pleased about it.
So when I talk about pain in this post, I’m talking about controlled pain. I’m talking about getting tied up, beaten, stretched, shoved, crushed and pushed to my limits by someone who knows what s/he’s doing and has my consent.
Definition covered? Good! Moving on.
When I think about being a masochist, there are two big umbrella categories of pain I think of. I call them the “fuck me” and the “fuck you.” As in, when I’m in pain, I’ll be screaming either “fuck me,” or “fuck you.”
The first kind of pain, the “fuck me” kind, is pain that I like. This kind of pain is pretty straightforward if you have a basic understanding of body chemistry and endorphins and such. When I get aroused, the lines of pain and pleasure get pretty blurry. And that’s all there is to that. So that means that I enjoy things like having my hair pulled or getting bitten, or smacked, as a part of sex. It feels good, it makes me wet. The fact that it does that for me and not for everyone is, I suppose, simply a difference in body chemistry.
The second category of pain, the “fuck you” kind, is the kind I don’t like. This pain makes me cuss and scream and sometimes cry in pain and rage because I hate it. But I still want it, and I still ask for it, and I’m pleased and content afterwards. Explaining this process to someone who is neither sadist nor masochist is problematic. Why do I want something that I hate? What do I get out of it?
The easiest answer would be catharsis. The misery and the rage are a release of emotion, kind of a brain dump. In the same way that some people scream and throw things and commit acts of violence against inanimate objects as a safe release for their emotions, I like to be hurt. That answer is true, but incomplete. The drained feeling when I’ve screamed and cried and my body is aching and throbbing is cathartic. But there’s something else going on in my head as well.
When I play hard with someone, when s/he gives me the “fuck you” kind of pain, it has to be someone that I trust completely, because I’m asking this person to dig into all the nasty darkness inside me and make me feel it on the outside. I’m asking my top to make me feel misery and fear and pain and rage, and to expose all of it. I don’t like to display my negative emotions in front of anyone. I consider myself pretty emotionally honest, and I’ll tell a person how I’m feeling, but I don’t like to show it. I don’t like to cry where people can see, and if I show anger I will be comically hyperbolic so it’s made non-threatening. I am pretty emotionally fragile, and because of that my emotions scare me; I constantly worry that exposing my emotions to other people will scare them too. Thus will I be pegged as “that crazy girl,” and henceforth be unlikeable. Is this a rational fear? Probably not. But it’s one I suffer from constantly, and more so within a romantic relationship, because it comes with not only a higher expectation of emotional honesty, but higher stakes if I scare the person off.
However, if the reason I’m sobbing and screaming and crying is because I spent the last 30 minutes getting caned, no one could blame me for that. I can be as vulnerable and messy as I need to be, and trust that the person I’m with expects it, and knows how to handle it. And even better, I know that my partner won’t feel the guilt that often comes with seeing someone they love in pain. If the reason I’m crying is because I’m anxious, my partner feels the need to take some kind of responsibility, that they should be making me happier. And once my partner starts to be upset, I shut my own flow of feelings off and take care of them. During a scene, my partner is making my cry on purpose, because I asked for it. My extreme emotional reaction is not going to cause guilt or worry, because it was intentional and controlled.
At this point, I realize it’s starting to look like I use pain as therapy. I don’t know if it makes it any better to point out that I’m also in therapy, but I will also say that therapy helps me in a very different way. When I see my therapist, I speak candidly about my emotions, including the hurtful and irrational ones, and the parts of my life that are affecting them. Together, we develop strategies to more effectively deal with the parts of my life that cause anxiety and pain.
When I go into a scene where I want the “fuck you” pain, I’m not trying to fix anything. I’m not trying to resolve my anxiety, I’m just giving myself permission to display all the darkness and the madness that fly around my head all day. I can give up all semblance of the emotional control, and even sanity, that define my daily existence. Afterward, if it’s a good scene, the otherwise constant noise in my head is muffled for a little while. I’m exhausted, drained, and quiet. And my partner is there with me, to hold me until I come back to being myself. I’ve exposed everything about my mind that frightens me, and my partner has caused it, seen it, and is ready to keep loving me afterward. In much the same way that having sex with my partner reaffirms that they love me and find me attractive, being hurt by a partner reaffirms that I can trust them, and that they’re not afraid of my darkness.
Every time I’ve read and revised this post, it still aches of incompletion. I don’t think there are words for the kind of satisfaction that comes from being broken by someone I love. I don’t know that I can really properly explain how it makes me feel, and why I crave it. I do hope that I’ve at least chipped away at a little of the mystery.