BDSM: bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism.
What does it feel like to need that kind of thing?
One of my friends said, “It’s about fear, isn’t it?” Well, no, it’s not. I’m afraid of contact lenses and rollercoasters and they don’t do a thing for me. And I have been genuinely afraid that my partner wanted to hurt me. I can’t remember ever feeling more frigid in my life.
Possessiveness. Contempt. Wisdom. Kindness.
So then I thought it was vulnerability that did it for me. But I kept noticing all kinds of other things that worked. Possessiveness. Contempt. Wisdom. Kindness. Really, anything which says power does it for me. Looking back, I’m amused how annoyed I was that other people were right about my own kink and I wasn’t.
But the reason I was trying to identify a more specific turn-on is that power just doesn’t sound that sexy. With fear, you can completely see how the raised pulse and endorphins could contribute to the, ah, fun. With vulnerability, think of all those sensitised nerve endings. But power?
I’ve seen so many people try to explain what feels good about power. The safety and freedom of knowing that someone won’t let you put a foot wrong. The heart-wrenching rush when someone puts their life into your hands. The sheer entertainment value of getting massive reactions to your slightest manipulations. The trust, the hyper-awareness, the honesty.
The trust, the hyper-awareness, the honesty.
The list goes on. And yes, all those things do feel good. But ultimately, I don’t think they explain it. If entertainment value was enough for sadists we could just rent them Disney movies. Besides, I react instantly, before I’ve had time to feel safety and freedom and connection. Imagine if homosexuals tried to explain their desires this way. “It’s the way their shoulders move under their shirts when they laugh and knock back their third beer of the night …” I’m sure it’s nice, but it’s not why.
So I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that there is no why. Power, and power alone, does it for me with no intermediate messenger. There is a word for things like that, and I didn’t like it very much, but there’s no point hiding from the truth: it’s a fetish. Power is my fetish.
And I think that once we accept this, it becomes paradoxically easier to explain how it feels. Do vanillas get turned on by things without rhyme or reason? Yes, of course. The same way male chimpanzees get turned on by pink buttocks. And you didn’t decide to become a breast man or a leg man, or to get a thing for Asian women or men in uniforms. It’s the kind of thing we learn about ourselves by trial and error. We don’t choose what to imprint on.
Power is actually one of the more common triggers. It does something for maybe one in ten people. I am simply one of the unfortunate ones who need it. Vanilla sex scenes leave me cold, no matter how much destiny and feeling and pressed pink flesh are crammed in. Without power – pain alone isn’t enough for me – I am an eunuch. I wish it weren’t this way.
And that’s what it really feels like. That is where the horror and denial and suicides come from. It is nothing like enjoying the novelty of a blindfold or spanking once in a while. Imagine if you had to shout abuse at a beloved child every time you filled your stomach. Now imagine being like us, turned on helplessly, exclusively by oppression and torment.
Your conscience throws up every time, you know.
Your conscience throws up every time, you know. Or your pride. But the hunger always returns, and if you deny yourself, you reach for it in your sleep. Then you wake up with the eyes of every real victim in history upon your betrayal.
You wish you were gay. Homophobia can be laughed at.
That’s what it’s like, until you find out that your equally appalled mirror images exist. Until you find the impossible path through the labyrinth and learn how to do this without destruction, with consent and respect and laughter. Maybe you even learn to ache for those with other fetishes who will never get meaningful consent.
Curiously, like the fairies in Peter Pan, the path can’t exist unless you believe in it. One word, one look from someone you half-trust, and the vortex snatches at you again.
But from personal experience, I can also say that every time you come out to a friend and they believe you are still the same person you were before – temper and forgetfulness and curiosity and all – the infusion of strength is unbelievable. All seven of my closest friends and family have known for years, and all of them still treat me exactly like before.
I hope it can be the same with you.