This originally appeared as a guest post on Ozy Frantz’s Blog. Ozy has taken down their blog, so I am reprinting it here instead.
When we eroticize shame… is the shame “real”?
Expand that. When we eroticize powerlessness, helplessness, cruelty, punishment, power-hunger, fear… are these experiences “real”?
I’ve been promoting the book on Facebook, with excerpts. This promotion has resulted in some… conversations, with people who are unfamiliar with kink and are weirded out about how stories depicting such obviously negative experiences could possibly be considered pleasurable by anyone who’s emotionally healthy. And one person in one of those conversations made an argument I’ve seen a number of times — that the shame experienced in consensual SM scenes isn’t “real” shame.
It’s a point I’ve seen made by other kinky and pro-kinky people: SM shame isn’t “real” shame — it’s play-acting, pretend. The line from Dan Savage gets quoted sometimes (it got quoted in the Facebook conversation I’m talking about): that “BDSM is cops and robbers for grownups.” Even eroticized pain sometimes gets referred to by kinksters as “intense sensation” rather than pain.
And I started thinking: Is this true?
I’ll speak here for myself. This is not true. When I feel shame in an SM scene, it’s real shame.
Ditto for helplessness. Fear. Pain. And since I switch: Ditto for cruelty. Ditto for taking pleasure from inflicting pain. Ditto for being a power-hungry control-freak. But since shame is what got me thinking about this — and since shame is such a loaded experience, one that’s hard for many people to imagine eroticizing, and also just for the sake of brevity — I’m going to stick here to talking about shame. And no… the shame I sometimes experience during SM is not pretend. It is not play-acting. It is not cops and robbers. It is damn well real.
At the same time, it is very different from shame that’s non-consensual, shame that’s not erotic. But it is still real — and while it’s different from non-consensual shame, it’s not entirely disconnected from it, either.
I’ve been trying to explain, to others and to myself, how shame that’s consensually eroticized and shame that isn’t could be both the same and not the same. And here’s an analogy I’ve come up with:
The shame I experience in an SM scene is like transparencies laid over each other.
There’s the experience of shame. There’s the experience of consent and pleasure and eroticism. And I experience both at the same time, and I see each one through the lens of the other, and each experience casts its image onto the other.
So the image of “shame + consent and eroticism” includes the experience of “shame” all by itself — but it’s not the same.
When I’m being shamed in an SM scene, I feel the same internal squirming, the same sense of exposure, the same sense of smallness, the same sense of having my dignity and defenses stripped, that I do when I experience shame outside the bedroom. But overlaid on top of that experience like a film, and underlying it like a foundation, and surrounding it like a frame, is the knowledge that I negotiated this. That I agreed to it. That I specifically asked for it. That it is a collaboration. That it is making my pussy wet.
Those are the same experiences — and yet not the same — as the experience of being shamed without the film, the frame, the foundation, of eroticization and consent. In the same way that an image of a knife is both the same and not the same if it has an image of a kitchen overlaid on it.
And each transparency casts its image on the other, and shapes how I see and experience the other. Each transparency highlights and enhances some parts of the other, blocks out other parts. Each transparency makes some pieces of the other more important, more noticeable… and makes different pieces secondary, trivial, even invisible. The experience of eroticism and consent shades “exposure” into “intimacy and connection.” It shades “stripped defenses” into “excitement and adventure.” It shades “loss of dignity” into “letting go.” It shades “smallness” into “trust.” And vice versa: the experience of shame shades eroticism and consent into transgression, intensity, a feeling of being overwhelmed.
So the shame I hope to inspire in readers of “Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More”… is that real shame? Is the shame I hope some readers will feel when they read it and have sex or whack off or beat each other, the shame I specifically wrote many of these stories to implant in readers even as it makes their clits and their dicks hard… is that real? The exposure, the smallness, the sense of dignity and defenses stripped, that I hope some people will be feeling when they read “The Shame Photos” or “Christian Domestic Discipline” or “Dixie’s Girl-Toy Gets Spanked for the First Time… is that real?
I sure hope so.