Archive for the ‘Masochism & Pain’ Category

Catharsis

One of the things I hadn’t mentioned from the Beginner’s Dungeon class I went to was the discussion of chemicals produced in the body during SM and their effects on both tops and bottoms. At the time, it all sort of went past me in a stream of “yeah yeah, endorphins, I know this.” Angela, one of the presenters, mentioned her first experience with cathartic crying during a scene, and how much it surprised her — she wasn’t unhappy, or upset, but there were the tears, flowing down her face.

For me, I have certainly found catharsis in crying, but only when I am upset, when I feel like I need to cry to release the tension and worries I’ve built up. It’s still linked to a negative emotional state, for me. And so, I’ve always associated crying during or after a scene with either something going wrong or reaching a dark emotional space that needs to be touched, but that isn’t pleasant.

The other day, after the first really long scene we’ve had in a while (and which was pretty much all flogging and spanking), I suddenly started to cry. My partner held me and comforted me, and I tried to tell him that I wasn’t upset, that nothing was wrong, that I didn’t know what the deal was with these tears out of nowhere. Mostly, it just came out as sobs, interspersed with laughter — an incredulous laugh, an “I can’t believe I’m crying, what the hell?”. And a few minutes later, after the crying had subsided, I mentioned to him the workshop I’d just been at, and started talking about how I thought the crying really was just catharsis not from emotional stress, but purely from all those chemicals I’d created while bottoming for a couple of hours. He just smiled. “I know. I knew you were fine, because you were laughing, too.”

The human body is pretty fucking weird.

Piercings, Part Two

It’s been kind of an intense week.

A week ago, I found myself questioning everything I thought I’d come to terms with about my sexuality. Unsurprisingly, these thoughts first took the form of wanting to get rid of my sexuality altogether, a general purge, pushing all the dangerous, scary sex out of my life completely. It was, I thought, time to accept that I just couldn’t handle this, that I didn’t want it. Done. Finished.

Within 24 hours, I was back in bed with my partner, and everything felt good. Different, and still shaky, but good. A few days later, I broke down again when faced with the prospect of going to a play workshop I’d wanted to attend for months, terrified of being seen, not comfortable with exposing myself like that in public, even among others like me. And within a week, I got my nipples pierced while a half-dozen people watched.

About four months ago, I tried to get this piercing done, but couldn’t bring myself to go through with it. I wrote about some of the meaning it held for me, and why I was so hesitant to actually get it done. Re-reading it now, I realize there’s another level of meaning to my reluctance to get the piercings, why I was so focused on thoughts of how much aftercare they’d need, the fears of something going wrong, getting damaged. [Ahem. Aftercare. Fears of something going wrong.]

I knew that these piercings would have a very strong symbolic power for me, and that one of the reasons I wanted them so badly was that they were so connected to my image of myself as a sexual being. My nipples have always been very sensitive, and up until a few years ago, I couldn’t bear having them played with at all; the idea of having them pierced would have made me cringe. They’re also a part of my body that I’ve pretty much ignored for most of my life, along with my breasts in general. The piercings would be symbolic of how far I’ve come in both those departments: having pushed my boundaries on what I thought I could take, having expanded my vision of what activities I can find pleasure in, having accepted and learned to revel in the deep satisfaction I can find in pain; and learning to love my body as it is, finally believing that I can be considered attractive and sexy.

What I didn’t realize was that the aftercare, the thing I was so worried about, was symbolic, too. I finally understood this last night, after a sudden freak-out about how careful I was going to have to be, how much I was going to have to focus on taking care of myself, on keeping the piercings clean, on avoiding contact with body fluids, on how it was going to change my sex life. My partner calmed me down and assured me that I could handle it, that he knew I was ready for this commitment. And all of a sudden, I knew what I was afraid of. It is a commitment, and in more ways than one. It’s a physical representation of a lot of shit I’ve kept inside for so long, and of an awakened sexual identity that has forced me to become more aware of my body, my limits, and my needs. The symbolism of caring for my raw piercings, of treating them with care and helping the fresh wounds heal, is incredibly important, too. Seeing it in that way has made everything seem more manageable, and makes me even more sure that I made the right decision.

I got my piercings at the Fakir Piercing Intensive, taught by the “Father of the Modern Primitive Movement” Fakir Musafar. I found out very last minute that the class needed more people for students to practice on; my decision to get my piercings done there was somewhat spontaneous. I liked the idea that if I someday decided to take out the jewelry and let the piercings heal (whether because they got infected, made my nipples way too sensitive, or just were taking too long to heal), it wouldn’t feel like a complete wash to me, because the piercings would have also been a learning experience for someone else. I would feel free to change my mind later without feeling too disappointed about it. As it was, I was really happy that I decided to get pierced at the class rather than in a studio. It felt much more personal, and took much longer; one of my two piercers had never done nipples before, so there was a lot of instruction and advice being given as he marked me and got everything ready. I would have thought being pierced by novices would have made me more nervous, but I felt very safe throughout, and confident that my piercers knew what they were doing. The instructor sat next to me and had me focus on my breathing, grounding me and helping me “sink.” Another person came up to my feet and gently rested his hands on them, then on my shins. It seemed perfectly natural, and felt comforting, like someone holding my hand.

The actual piercings were simultaneous — one piercer on each nipple — and slightly unexpected. I wasn’t quite ready for the piercings when they happened, and was mid-breath. (I had hoped to be able to slowly exhale as the needles went through, the technique I’ve used in the past.) I gasped as they pierced me, and then started laughing at my reaction. Strangely, the pain in one nipple was sharper and more prominent (and felt better) than in the other, which felt duller and took longer to dissipate. The pain was somehow both more and less intense than I’d expected; at first, it felt stronger than I was ready for, but then, it also hurt for a shorter amount of time than, say, having clothespins taken off.

Afterwards, I talked to the piercer who’d never done a nipple piercing before. He told me about the endorphin rush he’d had, as well, which made the experience all the better; it was something that we had shared, not something that a detached professional had simply performed, not a service given. He took a picture with me, and both piercers gave me big (but gentle) hugs before I put my shirt on and headed home, lightheaded and blissed out. I couldn’t have imagined a better piercing experience.

More Pain Processing

The other day, my partner was looking at the scars left from the last time I used self-inflicted pain to jostle me out of a numbing depression. “I can’t imagine burning myself like that,” he said.  I pointed to the brandings on his hands, markings that were far, far more painful than anything I’ve ever endured.

“That’s different,” he said. “It’s different if it’s someone else doing it.”

That struck me as so odd. For me, pain has always been easier to endure when I’m the one doing it; I think it’s because there’s an element of control that I feel when I’m doing it myself. I’ve pierced my own ears several times by myself, and the pain was, I thought, pretty minimal. Yet when I went to get one of them redone by a professional piercer (I love self-piercing, but have come to accept that I do a pretty crappy job of it), I was in a cold sweat, and it hurt much more than I’d experienced at home.

Bringing it back to erotic pain, Juliet at The Power of And writes that in her experience, self-inflicted pain is “about control and clarity,” while other-inflicted pain [received in SM play] is about giving up that control, “letting someone else take responsibility.” For her, the two are completely separate, and so it makes perfect sense that she’d want different kinds of pain at different times:

When I feel sufficiently badly stressed or upset, I get both extremely protective of my boundaries, and confused within them; I start to feel very detached from my body. Letting someone else take control feels far too dangerous. SI [self-injury] is a way of reattaching, reconnecting – and for that to work I have to be right there, part of the reconnection. Bottoming, for me, creates detachment – in a different and much more positive way. So for me, the two things are a very long way apart; despite the superficial similarity of “pain”.

All of that makes perfect sense to me. I commented on her blog that I have experienced a few occasions where other-inflicted pain has helped me through a tough mental block—but then, the pain I received on those occasions was not in the context of a scene. It wasn’t play. And so I think, at least for me, the crucial difference is whether or not my desire for pain is of an erotic or therapeutic nature. Especially because pretty much all play is linked to the underlying D/s of my relationship with my partner, it’s difficult for me to receive pain in an eroticized context without it being tied to a state of submission, to a lack of control. And when I’m stressed, when I’m concerned with keeping myself intact, when I feel like shrinking away from an overstimulating world and reasserting my boundaries, submission play just isn’t something I want to be messing with.

But pain is. Controlled, almost ritualized pain—and like Juliet, I find that being the one to inflict it does provide a sort of reconnection that other-inflicted pain just can’t provide. Still, I wonder if there aren’t some ways in which my partner can help in this, as he has before, as long as the pain is something I can separate from eroticized pain, something I can separate from submission. How different would it have felt if he’d been the one to burn me?