I spent the summer of 2008 managing shifts at a prominent S and M club in downtown Manhattan.
As a future therapist about to embark into graduate study, I was open to any and all opportunities to expose myself to a wide variety of different souls. I doesn’t get much more colorful than spending your nine to five in a dungeon.
Despite what the noises lead me to believe, once I entered the back office it was surprisingly normal. Each day I’d set up the schedule on a whiteboard, matching the dominatrix with her client and the type of session requested. I answered inquiries, made photocopies, counted the day’s earnings—all pretty standard stuff.
The service we provided was simply out of the realm of what’s considered daytime talk.
It’s not the “what” of the club and the specific fetishes that intrigued me, it was the “why.” Why was everyone here? What is the motivation for both the client and their dominatrix to engage in this?
I longed to understand my fascination because once we understand something, we cease to judge it. We humans tend to fear what we don’t understand and the S and M culture can be fairly misunderstood, to say the least.
Perhaps I wanted to get a head start on suspending all my judgements if I was to do the work on this planet that feeds my heart and soul the most: supporting others during their most vulnerable moments.
And so, I began my studies in the world of Bondage, Discipline, Sadism & Masochism (BDSM). What I quickly learned was that this was a world full of people who all longed to understand themselves and their impulses better. Essentially, it’s the exact same motivation that brings one into a therapist’s office.
It’s about the nature of the pain and pleasure residing within us all and how we each interpret what that means for ourselves. It’s about bringing our unconscious desires and experiences to the surface so that we move through our lives with the awareness our bodies can bring.
How could someone reach the heights of obscene pleasure from what some may consider torture? This is actually a safe environment in to shed shame and raw vulnerability reigns. What separates BDSM from the abuse people believe it is, is consciousness and the complete consentuality.
It’s a highly intimate process.
“Kinks themselves are incredibly intimate. Most people have no idea why they have those kinks but they’re so innate that usually it’s something that you can’t shake. It’s something that you’re always going to be turned on by. And that is deeply personal. There is an enormous amount of intimacy between you and your partner just because you are telling them this is what I want.” ~ Mary Cyn, NYC-based professional dominatrix, Erotica author & celebrated burlesque performer
One of the biggest challenges most couples face is difficulty and fear of communicating our authentic beliefs and needs. In the S and M realm, communication is all there is. It’s the communication between partners and their bodies that brings heightened awareness to our experiences.
When there is an exchange of energy like this happening, healing is surprisingly possible. But, like with everything else, it’s a choice whether or not we will receive that catharsis.
“Catharsis is a really important thing in kink. Everybody has issues and I think a lot of people use kink in some way to work it out. If they have issues with their parents, that will often come through in different role play scenarios. People with trauma can sort of work through that trauma…I did a scene with someone one time that was single tailing (a type of whip) and single tailing hurts like a bitch, and we hadn’t played in a long time, so I think my pain tolerance had gone down a bit. When he hit me a couple times, I went down, then I breathed for a minute, got back up and then the same thing happened. It was this overcoming and getting stronger and sort of like something knocks you down for a minute and then you get back up and you ask for more…it shows you how strong you can be, and that you can push farther than you think you can…Even though, yeah you’re getting punched in the chest or getting flogged or whatever, that keeps you in the moment. Pain will take all of your attention, so your body and your brain won’t let you think about anything else. So, in a way it’s really relaxing if you are someone who has reoccurring thoughts or thoughts going a mile a minute all the time, if you have just something take you out of that…And it also feels good. Your body aches, but it aches in a way that reminds you you’re alive. A lot can come out with physical play, too. A spanking or something like that will sometimes bring up memories or emotions that I hadn’t dealt with, which happens with massage therapists, too.” ~ Mary Cyn
My experiences working in the S&M world have helped me further my understanding that it’s only when we fully sink into our bodies and allow ourselves to explore these stored emotions that actual healing is possible.
I know because I’ve been crying mine out for about 24 hours, after undergoing one of many painful healing treatments. If there was ever any doubt that the body holds our secrets, I learned firsthand after this particular treatment. Within thirty minutes of the procedure, waves of unfamiliar emotions rippled throughout my tiny body.
I’m still not sure I can fully define exactly what it was but the result was tears. Rivers of tears poured out of my eyes for 24 hours straight. Then, I remember what my doctor told me as he finished the treatment, “You’re going to be releasing a lot. Remember to give yourself the dignity of your process.”
I realize some people may not understand why it is that I put myself through a painful healing treatment, not unlike when I speak of BDSM in the same vain. But, we can get so stuck on the labels and assumption that we are missing the greater point of healing that’s happening here. I’m talking about profound catharsis.
The kind where you die a little in the process and feel every ounce of you welling out of your being, transforming into new energy. And it’s only granted after we’ve allowed ourselves to go inside the beautiful darkness of our unconscious memories.
We can shine our own light and understanding by intentionally choosing a safe place in which we give ourselves and our bodies a voice with complete and total unconditional acceptance. Each of us needs to create that space for ourselves in which to process, however that comes out.
Maybe it comes out through fetish or massage or medical treatments but it’s all about re-experiencing stuck emotions in order to fully integrate them into our current reality. We must break down the emotions and feel the pain in order to move through it and forward.
Unfortunately, many of us have been programed not to feel our feelings for so long. We are told “no” so many times when we try to be creative as kids that we end up judging ourselves as adults.
We hold onto these judgments inside our bodies but we have such difficulty connecting with them sometimes. We live in a system where connection isn’t exactly taught.
In fact, we learn tools for separation. We’re divided in rows in class. We have our assignments. We’re all like cogs in a wheel and human beings just don’t work that way.
We’re emotional beings full of constantly shifting energy. We’re not machines.
We need to process this stuff and get into our bodies and be ok with being in this life. But, what’s happening now is people can’t tolerate the external pressures because they don’t know how to feel all the overwhelming feelings they may be unconsciously holding.
“I think a lot of people use BDSM in a sort of addictive way, especially the more stigmatized it is. The more shame they feel about it, the more compulsive it becomes. Because if it’s something you’re like, ‘…yeah I like getting spanked, I like being slapped around during sex, whatever.’ You can just say that to your partner and you’re not like, ‘oh my god I hate myself because I like this.’ But, then the more you hate yourself, the more obsessive you become. It’s about repression…and the more you repress things, the more they are likely to come out in untraditional ways that scare people.” ~ Mary Cyn
I’m not suggesting that BDSM is the solution to solving trauma or all of your communication problems. Like everything else, it has the potential to be an escape from the solution if it is not entered into with awareness.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Jamie Rautenberg
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock