In a recent discussion thread, someone mentioned that their relatively novice Dom has suddenly shut down and very nearly stopped being sexual. The sub was wondering if it related to his religious upbringing, which is why there are references to being Catholic in my answer. As I said in my answer, I have no idea from what was said in the thread whether his experience matched mine, but that it sounded familiar from my past life experience.
Here was my observation:
Actually, I honestly don’t find it that odd for someone to have a period of successful D/s and then slam himself shut. It very nearly happened to me, and I thought I had worked through all the religiously related things years earlier when I came out as gay (and was summarily pitched out of the Church).
Can’t say whether this is anything resembling what is going on for him – all we have is what you told us, and you’ve made it clear that you don’t know what’s going on. But here’s something that happened to me and nearly scared the hell out of me.
I had gotten through my personal issues about being sexual, and in my case about being gay, and had dated and had sex in those relationships, and, having known all along that I was turned on by leather and kink and S&M, eventually set out to include that in my sex life.
To great success. I “knew what to expect” (having watched plenty of porn and all) and had found a wonderful community that included people teaching me what to do and how to do it safely, and was starting to get good at a few of my favorite activities. For about six or eight months, I connected up with some wonderful playmates, including one who was starting to turn out to be a regular playmate and, while we both openly agreed it probably wasn’t going to turn out to be True Love, he was as interested in “really getting into it” with someone he trusted as I was.
So we did. And it was great. And it was hot, and we were safe, and all was well. I was topping and domming and getting turned on and getting off, and he was submitting and bottoming and we were having a great time.
And then, completely unexpectedly, one day, with nothing else being the slightest bit different, something new happened that nobody had ever (successfully) warned me about. It was one of those situations where people had said, and I had heard, but until it happened to me, I never realized just what it was that they had been telling me.
Some inner wall went down, some door opened, and I went into an altered state I had never dreamed existed. At no point did I ever lose control – in fact, I was more in control than I had ever been in my life – but the entire world went away except him and me and the toys I was using, and then the boundaries in my head between what was him and what was me and what were the toys blurred, all my actual conscious thought went away, and something completely animal while at the same time totally controlled happened. There were no bodies, there were no people, there was just the moment, and the sexual energy. I was conscious of every tiny movement of his body, every flinch, every moan, every gasp. I WAS those flinches, moans, and gasps, because I could cause them exactly when and how I wanted. His body became an extension of mine and he melted into me.
And I cannot describe how intensely I loved causing those reactions. I would say that I loved “beating the crap out of him” because that’s genuinely how it felt, but it wasn’t that, because I didn’t leave a mark on him or cross any limit of his or of mine, but one of the incredible thrills of it was being consumed by the intensely erotic knowledge that the only reason I wasn’t literally beating him black and blue without mercy was because I didn’t choose to, and that if at any moment I changed that decision, then that’s exactly what would happen.
If virginity was sitting at home dreaming of the beach, and vanilla sex for me had been paddling around where I could touch bottom and stand up any time I chose, I had felt that what I had been doing in leather and S&M had been going out into the deep water and swimming, confidently, fearlessly. This was being picked up by a huge crashing wave and, standing on top of it, surfing with complete control, knowing that I could fall off and be tumbled at any instant, and at the same time, knowing that that was simply not going to happen. It was glorious.
And when the scene was over, and I came back into my body and into the real world, I was absolutely horrified. It’s hard to explain, looking back, but it completely rocked my sense of who I am. I had worked out all of the things we tell people who have moral and ethical issues about kink – it’s not only fine, but actually wonderful, when both people really want this, it’s not using people who want to be used, and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying giving and receiving pain as one of the many erotic sensations involved in consensual sexual play. I believed that going into it or I never would have started.
I had seen myself as a wonderful, warm, decent guy who had an edge and enjoyed a wider range of sexual activities than my vanilla peers did, and was happy to be one, and thrilled that I had finally gotten a chance to live it. But now I knew that wasn’t the truth. I wasn’t a decent guy who had a vibrant kinky sex life. I was a monster. I wasn’t someone who enjoyed S&M. I was someone who enjoyed S&M. All of a sudden, it wasn’t a game any more. And what the hell did that mean? If I wasn’t who I had always thought I was, who the hell was I? What kind of person gets off on doing this stuff? This was completely Jekyll and Hyde territory, and nobody had ever really said how incredible it was to let Hyde out.
If I had read what I just wrote before this happened to me, I would have said, “Well, yeah, I know all that. How overly dramatic! It’s just about ethical choices, and I understand that, and I have made those choices. Good God, get over yourself.” But when it happened, it knocked me for a complete loop, scared the hell out of me, and drove me into sexual seclusion for a while. And that was without a committed partner that I had any fear of hurting.
It wasn’t about them, it was about me. I had to come to terms all over again with who I knew I was. People all my life had cavalierly talked about having a “dark side” or about “embracing their shadow self” – and suddenly it wasn’t poetry or psychobabble. It was me.
Enough of that – end result is, I came to realize that yes, it’s real, and yes, it’s true, but that having those feelings has nothing whatsoever to do with losing control, and that for me, having them come out was a measure of the control I did have, not a measure of the lack of control. It really reinforced for me how fundamental consent, limits and negotiations are – I often sense that the Doms who brush those considerations aside in the blithe reassurance that “Oh, I am so damn good I can read any sub like a book” have never had this experience, and may never have it. And if so, that doesn’t mean they aren’t perfectly safe to play with (though I’d make sure to pay real close attention to find out if that’s as true as they claim.)
It still happens to me. Actually, more often than not, but now the “monster” is an old friend, and I love surfing while letting myself be him, because I’ve built up the life experience to know that I’m never out of control, and truly can stop and act responsibly whenever I need to.
Long-winded. But whenever a Top or Dom who was happily galloping along with their dominance comes to a screeching halt, pulls in, closes down, and slams their sex life shut, I can’t help but suspect that something like this is a possible explanation. If so, you aren’t dealing with someone who has suddenly decided he doesn’t like S&M or D/s, but that it isn’t a game any more, they are scared as hell that they won’t be able to handle it, and that they’ve discovered that they are some sort of monster – the kind that everyone tells everyone else to watch out for and shun completely.
I hesitate to use religious metaphors – and while the Catholic tradition doesn’t put nearly the weight on the “born again” experience that many Protestant traditions do, in a lot of ways it’s very similar. It’s an overwhelming experience of having what you thought you knew and what you thought you were doing utterly transformed in an instant into something permanently and entirely different, without appearing to change materially in any outward way. It’s disorienting, and frightening, and the phrase, “Oh, that’s what everyone was talking about!” doesn’t even begin to cover it.
If that’s what he’s experienced, reassure him that he’s not alone, he’s not a monster, a lot of us have been through it, there’s nothing wrong with him, and while he’d be a complete idiot to think “nothing could go wrong,” (because it could, and he damn well knows it, that’s the whole point), what is true is that he is fully capable of making sure that nothing will go wrong, and that the kinds of things, like accidental bruises or hurt feelings if he does overreach when he’s on the edge, that will go wrong are things that you are happy to sign up for and that you trust him, because you know him, to stop when he needs to stop.