Thursday, 2 August 2007

Fear and Sex and Power

(Well, I appear to be on staff here now. I considered doing an intro thing, but I'm terrible at explaining who I am. Hi! I'm Dw3t-Hthr, I'm (for stuff that may be relevant here) an introspective poly genderqueer sub with a thing for altered consciousness and an interestingly tense relationship with boundaries in a non-scene-delineated relationship in which the formal power exchange started I think about a year and a half ago, and I rant a lot. Hi!)

I was talking the other evening with a friend of mine who had managed to shed some of their fear around sex and sexuality and was exploring a bit what it meant to have done so, and wound up thinking a bit about some of my own experiences, and how they interact with matters of kink.

I was sexually assaulted when I was fourteen.

This did a lot of things, but the thing that gets me most is the way it linked fear and sex. Especially the concept of first sex with a new partner. And I've never had a mature sexuality that did not have some of that flavor of fear touching it, though now that that's over half my life ago, it's less of a constant awareness and more of a "Damnit, stubbed my toe on that thing again." Most of the time.

For the decade or so after the assault, whenever I started a sexual relationship, it was with that fear pushing me. I refused to admit it to partners, because it was my own private nightmare and I couldn't figure out how to talk about it. Once I got past the part that was beginning a sexual relationship, the vast majority of the fear became irrelevant, so I would stifle it and lock it away until the really scary stuff was over, and then I didn't have to deal with the emotion.

With my most recent ex, I told him that I was frightened, and when we got around to sex, I shoved the fear in the closet until it became irrelevant and went away again. But it was something, to be able to tell someone, "This terrifies me, so's you're aware."

With my most recently developed sexual relationship, I made clear that the whole thing terrified me. And we started to negotiate around it -- I need an overnight, not an evening, so I have time to be not afraid in if I manage to get there, for example. So there's time to let things settle. And we got our night -- after a couple of times when the sexual tension had gotten to a point that I didn't care about doing the sane thing, doing the thing that was acknowledging the fear and he would hold me and murmur that I'd told him I needed the longer time, and he was going to respect that. And when we got our night, he had me bring up some music because he knows I find that soothing and it keeps my mind from spinning out of control. And he held me, and took everything very slowly, and watched me with this expression of obvious wonder that included some intense, focused gentleness, noticing when I was hitting too much terror and starting to lock up, watching the emotions start to dissolve and flow away into a space where I wasn't afraid anymore.

There's a space in that wide-open terror that's not far off subspace, was one of the things I learned there. Going to the place where it feels like someone could do any of a range of things, has this sort of ultimate power aimed at vulnerability. That was why I always squashed it and put it to the side before, because I couldn't face that level of risk, and I knew that the teetery vulnerability of that new-lover space would fade once the new was over.

He opened up the space where I could ride through the fear rather than hide from it. And where I could learn the trippiness of acknowledging the risk of opening up and do it anyway.

And while I didn't ask him until months later, I'm pretty sure that that was a big chunk of what set the tone for our power relationship -- the shape of his intense, vibrant carefulness pulling me open and letting the emotions flow without doing me harm. Keeping me safe through it. And it's a cradle in which the hair-pulling rough sex is still that gentle, safe world to me, even when I get a sharp edge of fear in it, because I've been through fear and back with him.

I was reading back posts in Maybe Maimed But Never Harmed when reading blogs that commented on the femsupremacy thing, and came across this one -- a very different experience, a differently framed interaction entirely, but there's still that thing in there that I recognise, the emotional vulnerability, the riding through it.

The being okay afterwards.


(And I have places I could go with this -- stuff about kink with emotionally damaged people (you know, normal people), the way assault damage (and other PTSD experiences) can interact with sexuality, the entire altered consciousness angle ... but mostly I just want to leave it at 'the being okay afterwards' and see what other people make of my ramblings.)

22 comments:

Myca said...

This is really incredibly beautiful, thank you for writing it.

This also gets into one of the things that I value so much about domming that I think a lot of people (or probably most people) outside BDSM don't get, is the aspect of taking care of your partner and being gentle with their emotions (which may or may not be the same as being gentle with their body). It's (sweet god, it's not) all about 'kneel slut' or anything.

ALSO, I look forward to your post on BDSM and folks with emotional damage. I don't know if there are more or less of us emotionally scarred folks in the BDSM world, but what I kept thinking as I read your post was about how the anti-BDSMers like to sort of ignore that whatever the origin of our kinks, they're ours. And hey, maybe a lot of us have taken damaged things in ourselves or dark things in ourselves or things that we are scared of, and we've found a healthy safe, pleasurable way to cope with those parts of ourselves . . . and they're telling us that that's not okay.

I had a discussion with someone a little while back about how the concept of men deriving sexual pleasure from hurting women really squicks her about BDSM. Which, hey, I don't think is an unreasonable thing to be squicked by. I totally understand how that would be scary.

Leaving aside that a lot of sadists are sadists regardless of the sex or gender of their partner (it's not about hurting women necessarily, it's about hurting your partner), what we sort of ended up talking about after a long time was that for many people . . . these urges exist whether they exist in a BDSM framework or not.

So then maybe BDSM sadists are the people who see that they get off on causing pain, and say to themselves "Here is this dark thing. I must apply a scrupulously consensual framework to this dark thing so that I can take something that could hurt the people I love, and transform it into something that brings joy and pleasure to the people I love."

And I find that personal transformation from monster to lover beautiful.

Trinity said...

This post is amazing.

I was thinking the other night -- well, something silly frightened me. No real reason.

All of a sudden I thought of sex. Suddenly I was so horny I thought I might explode. I didn't touch myself at all, I just lay there thinking, the totally unrealistic thought that I was in horrible danger... flowing in my head.

I felt more intensely sexual and more alive than I have in a long time. If you saw my recent post at my spot, that's where it came from.

Trinity said...

"Leaving aside that a lot of sadists are sadists regardless of the sex or gender of their partner"

*wave*

"So then maybe BDSM sadists are the people who see that they get off on causing pain, and say to themselves "Here is this dark thing. I must apply a scrupulously consensual framework to this dark thing so that I can take something that could hurt the people I love, and transform it into something that brings joy and pleasure to the people I love.""

Yes.

And thanks for the compliments.

But for me it's less about "I want to make this dark part of me a gift" and more

"life is pain. yet life is also good, or supposed to be. for these two things to co-exist and for me -- and I imagine others struck by the hell of living, which is to say, a lot of us -- there must be some way to reconcile the two. there must be some pain that IS a gift: enriching to feel, blessing to offer. I want to give someone that. I want to make more of that in the world."

So I do.

verte said...

Wonderful. Delicious.

Lots I empathise with. That sense of wonder in someone's eyes when you allow them to push those buttons for the first time and the continued wonder as they push you deeper and deeper.. I can think of few things more erotic than that look. I have vaginismus, so first time anything is fraught with anxiety, on top of a sexual assault (I'm still wanting to write my rape play post, but haven't quite found the courage yet).

Looking forward to more of you writing.

Myca said...

"life is pain. yet life is also good, or supposed to be. for these two things to co-exist and for me -- and I imagine others struck by the hell of living, which is to say, a lot of us -- there must be some way to reconcile the two. there must be some pain that IS a gift: enriching to feel, blessing to offer. I want to give someone that. I want to make more of that in the world."

That's a really interesting (and IMHO, positive) perspective, Trinity! I would imagine that your medical history plays into this a bit?

And thanks for the compliments.

You're welcome! I was talking about myself too! :-)

maymay said...

"Going to the place where it feels like someone could do any of a range of things, has this sort of ultimate power aimed at vulnerability. […] it's a cradle in which the hair-pulling rough sex is still that gentle, safe world to me, even when I get a sharp edge of fear in it, because I've been through fear and back with him."

I have always loved how different experiences lead to similar, and not identical, insights for so many people.

In a way it is ironic that, as a submissive, I have always been more afraid of revealing the submissive part of me because I thought no dominant could handle it. It is certainly not the typical understanding of the two roles. It's still only Eileen that I've ever shown that to in full force.

Great post. And thanks for the kind words on mine.

Trinity said...

"I would imagine that your medical history plays into this a bit?"

Yeah.

Renegade Evolution said...

beautiful post...seriously.

Curvaceous Dee said...

A beautiful post, and it really resonated with me (as did maymay's - thank you for the link back to his!)

It's hard for me to allow myself to become emotionally vulnerable, even when submitting. You have given me some marvellous food for thought.

And I'm glad you are OK afterwards :)

xx Dee

Sabrina said...

I love this entry because it reminds me of all the fear I have with new partners in the beginning and after a while I forget about it. It's a great reminder that we should talk about how we're feeling.

Trinity said...

"I love this entry because it reminds me of all the fear I have with new partners in the beginning and after a while I forget about it."

I get fear too sometimes, and, hell, I'm a top. And have never been sexually attacked... though I have been in other ways?

Sexism? The memory of violence? Both?

Myca said...

I think I get it too, and I'm a male top.

I really don't know why. Perhaps fear of rejection? Body fear?

Or are you folks discussing something seperate?

Trinity said...

"I think I get it too, and I'm a male top.

....Or are you folks discussing something seperate?"

I don't think we are. I was musing aloud about whether women are more fearful. Part of me thinks we probably are -- sexual violence is more likely to hit us directly, in some ways -- but part of me thinks that people often try to gender experiences that are actually common across the board.

So... I don't know.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Thanks, everyone, for your responses. (I honestly wasn't sure what anyone would make of this before I started it, so it was an interesting leap to just put it out there and see what happened.)

I want to reply to this, from myca:
This also gets into one of the things that I value so much about domming that I think a lot of people (or probably most people) outside BDSM don't get, is the aspect of taking care of your partner and being gentle with their emotions (which may or may not be the same as being gentle with their body).

This is something I actually do interesting loops with, because in my experience it's something that tends to get implemented in interestingly differential ways from different sides of the exchange. (And this is where the language about power and intent gets insufficiently nuanced for me.)

There's the sort of emotional care that comes with the ability to open someone up and treating that responsibly -- and then there's emotional care offered as a form of service.

My leige had a stressy day at work yesterday, and told me in the evening that one of the things that went through his head was that he would be seeing me soon, and would thus be able to partake of my willingness to relax him. (She said euphemistically.)

He has expressed several times that my submission is something that he can take as a point of stability and support to better manage his cope in the rest of his life -- whether it's sexual services for one form of direct stress release or his ability to hand me a minor support task and expect it to be done competently so that he can focus his attention on one of his projects. (This has ranged from stuff like 'do the fetch and carry for the carpentry project so he can just work' to 'make sure the turtle doesn't climb out of the dishpan while he cleans the crap out of the tank'.)

v said...

This was a wonderful post. Thank you.

One basic question - can you say more about what your non-scene-delineated power relationship, and how it works? There's so much pressure and focus on scenes and play within most D/s relationships, this concept sorta turns that on its head...

Dw3t-Hthr said...

That was me trying to be reasonably efficient about saying, "Look, there's a lot of stuff that's scene-based, this is persistent" without using "24/7" (which Trinity hates ;) ) and "lifestyle" (which I consider both offensive and inaccurate).

It's like being married (which I also am); I am married 24/7, all the time. That's not always relevant to a given situation -- I may not be with my husband, or doing things involving him, or whatever else, but that doesn't mean that our marriage only happens in the times when we're together or doing specific things that are marriage- or relationship-related (as opposed to, say, playing cards).

I am my liege's submissive at all times. It is not always relevant, but it's always true. In our actual interactions, it's always present, even if it isn't a specifically active factor. (Another sub pegged us as having some sort of power exchange relationship a couple weeks ago when she was helping us fix his tyre -- he'd misplaced the cap, she found it on the sidewalk, and he said to me, "I should have given it to you to look after" and I said, "This is why you need minions.")

We have occasional interactions that I suppose someone who thinks in scenes might parse as 'a scene' -- 'a bondage scene', or 'a serious d/s sexual interaction', or whatever else -- but I don't find the distinction meaningful or useful. If the way he rests his hand on the back of my neck when I'm stressed and overtired is a 'scene', then the concept is diluted beyond any actual usefulness; if it's not a scene, then there's no place I see plausible on the whole continuum to separate out chunks of relationship as 'scenes' and chunks as 'not scenes'.

Trinity said...

"I am my liege's submissive at all times. It is not always relevant, but it's always true. In our actual interactions, it's always present, even if it isn't a specifically active factor."

That's how my dominance works in relationships too.

faustopheles said...

Great post.

I used to go caving with a guy who started caving because he was claustrophobic. By the anti-sex/bdsm/porn/sex-trade reasoning, caving was not ok because he had emotional damage. But it was exactly what he needed. And other people did it for different reasons. Kinda like saying, "medicine is bad because only people who have suffered from illness need it".

If we don't face our daemons, whether they are from past trauma or just the ordinary run of the mill anxiety closet stuff, we don't grow. And a lot of what I do as a top involves helping people grow. And the more you have recovered from past problems and the more extra fears you have successfully endured, the more prepared you are to face life's challenges.

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself". Well, not the only thing but fear of X often causes more damage than X itself.

subversive_sub said...

"But it was something, to be able to tell someone, 'This terrifies me, so's you're aware.'"

It's only in my first (and current) relationship with a dom that I felt free enough to do this, to admit my fears and inhibitions around sex.

I think there's something about BDSM that makes those who play with it more accepting of the relationship between fear and sex. When you're regularly engaging in sexual activities that emulate scary situations, you obviously have to take a lot more care and precaution, check in with your partner, etc. etc. And for me, anyway, this has made it so much easier for me to admit when I'm scared, when something is too much, too far, too scary, without feeling ashamed about it. It forces both of you to become much more aware of where those boundaries are, and to talk about them -- something that everyone, not just kinky folk, should be doing with their sexual partner, but usually don't...

EthylBenzene said...

"I used to go caving with a guy who started caving because he was claustrophobic. By the anti-sex/bdsm/porn/sex-trade reasoning, caving was not ok because he had emotional damage. But it was exactly what he needed. And other people did it for different reasons. Kinda like saying, "medicine is bad because only people who have suffered from illness need it"."

Wow, what a great analogy! I am so stealing that! Very perceptive.

Subversive -- that level of communication is one of the reasons why I always kind of have trouble picturing what "vanilla" people are doing in bed. How do they know if their partner is ok? How do they know exactly how to please the other person? Weird.

A. J. Luxton said...

"Kinda like saying, "medicine is bad because only people who have suffered from illness need it"."

That's like the joke about finding out that the crime rate is highest in cities with the most police, and firing the police...

muebles camobel said...

This can't have effect in actual fact, that's exactly what I suppose.