Let’s Talk About Masochism

Agonised soldier pinned by aluminium baseball bat
Image used with permission of Steven Miscandlon.

As you may remember, I have no shame about being female and therefore in a position of weakness. Nor do I feel particularly bad about being submissive and therefore wanting some such predicaments.

But my masochism? Let’s not talk about it.

No. Let’s talk about it.

Masochism has a bad name. To the observer – even your own memory – it can seem so obviously sick, a perversion of the mind. And I think this is because it looks like an unnatural appetite for self-destruction. It conjures nightmare images of a hand reaching to strangle its own throat – or worse.

That’s not what it feels like.

It’s not really a hunger. It’s a path. And it starts and ends in the same moonlit places as any story of electric intimacy. It’s just that instead of a companion, you have a guide.

It begins with fascination. The warm laughter that flips your heart over, the cool strength you can’t look away from. The brushing touch that makes your heart stand still and everything else inside you rush around in hyperdrive. You’re open to everything this sudden stranger can give you, make you. Enjoy you.

And the scene changes. A lightness of being once you’re secured. A wash of surrender through your vitals. Pain shocks you with pleasure, leaving you mesmerised.

Others have said it before me. Turning My Head Off is the title of one submissive’s blog. And there is a bestselling vanilla novel, The Time Traveler’s Wife, which mentions being taken several steps down the evolutionary ladder.

In this way, you come to a place with no will and no self, just awareness. Sometimes it blots out everything else, and that’s when we call it subspace. But usually you still have one foot in this world. It makes you want nothing and everything – anything your partner wants – urgently, mindlessly, wholly.

And if you have experienced the act of love as communion, I think you have been to where our path ends. We splash and dive in the waterfall that you stand and admire, but that’s all the difference.

So yes, it is about self-annihilation. So is Buddhist meditation, or Christian prayer, or Sufi mysticism. We have a different way to let go of the self, helped by those others who will catch us and fill the void. Thank God they want to do it.

When shame overtakes me, as it always does, I ask myself the only question that matters: Is this wrong? Forget who I think I’m supposed to be. If it is wrong to make a gift of myself and my feelings, then I should be ashamed. Everything else is pride – or fear – and I have too much of both.

Maybe I’m lucky to be what I am. It shines a torch on who I should be.

4 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Masochism”

  1. Really interesting comparisons you draw here… I have never given much thought to how religious prayer (or meditation or mysticism, but I’m not as familiar) mirrors masochism.

    People use prayer to ask God to tell them what to do, because they don’t know the right path. They apologize for transgressions. They thank God for everything he gives, even the pain and suffering, because he helps them see the good all around them. People submit to God in order to get comfort, attention, and approval, yet they profess to be unworthy of it. I’ve seen people all but literally sacrifice themselves to do right by God. Religious self-flagellation is not really popular nowadays, but it certainly has been. People wouldn’t go through all this if they weren’t getting some emotional return out of it all.

    In the context of religion, I often find it frustrating — frankly, because I can’t convince myself that any God up there would care about all those small deeds and professions of faith. But whether their God is actually listening vs. how prayer makes the person FEEL…well those are two completely different things.

    Maybe if folks who pray (or who can understand the powerful emotional needs it fulfills) saw these correlations, they’d gain a bit of perspective on that oh-so-scary word, “masochism.”

    Ugh — long comment, sorry. But you made me think!

    1. Long comments are an honour! And you always make me think, too. I’m so sorry about the delay. As you know, a lot has been happening.

      I guess I’m *really* irreligious. It hadn’t occurred to me that religious activity could have a point other than the emotional payoff. That’s always how religious people try to sell me on the idea of religion! So yes, it would be nice if they could see the parallel here. But you know, it could work the other way. Couldn’t they say we are idolising a fellow mortal in a way that should be reserved for God? And after all, this perspective hasn’t managed to cure my shame yet, so I don’t think it has a very good prospect of curing their disgust. I think I’m preaching to the open-minded.

      I actually wrote this post for a vanilla friend who has been asking a lot of good questions. He wrote back and said he didn’t think the recoil was about self-destruction, because we don’t react that way to bungee jumpers, etc. He may have a point. I’m starting to think it’s actually about not being able to cope with the instinctive fear and horror when lust and affection are also apparent. We humans have a disproportionate reaction to conflicting signals.

      I’m curious what you think. (Or anybody else?)

  2. This is a lot to think about, all good stuff. I am not religious, but spiritual. I am submissive to those I cannot control or have no power over. I observe them, try to encompass myself in their power. I feel I hold onto my own power if I accept this or them as just that, and allow whatever to happen…Not sure if this is self destructive, or just my way of humbling and surviving.

What do you think?