You Want Reactions? (Part 1)

Superman toy eye-to-eye with rubber chicken
Image by JD Hancock (CC BY 2.0)

The number one top complaint is definitely “I can’t read your mind!” But it gets stiff competition from its close cousin: “Give me real reactions, dammit!”

This I can sympathise with. Scening is all about what’s going on in the bottom’s head. Me and my kind naturally have privileged access to this contested territory, but tops need external validation, poor souls.

But I do have a question. What are these not-real reactions? Faked overreactions? Because I haven’t seen them. I’m sure they do happen – my experience is extremely limited. But to me it looks like the far more common problem is lack of reaction.

And it’s not simply willful repression. I was utterly baffled when I watched my first demo classes, because again and again, bottoms said they weren’t scared, though we could all see them shaking. And I don’t think they were lying. Because when I myself was in the hot seat, I didn’t even know I was trembling.

So it’s not just a few stoic bottoms. To some extent, I think it’s all of us.

Why on earth does this happen? I scratched my head for months and couldn’t work it out. But luckily one of my kinky friends wrangles people’s minds for a living. I took my confusion to her and she nodded sagely. “Dissociation.”

Huh. That makes a lot of sense. I used to think dissociation meant full-blown multiple personality disorder, or the fugue states beloved of mystery authors because even the murderer doesn’t know he’s done it. But according to The Myth of Sanity by Harvard psychologist Martha Stout, everyone experiences dissociation. Maybe not the kind of rage that makes you wonder who smashed all the dishes. But it also counts if you’ve ever commuted on autopilot while consumed with grief or anxiety.

In my case, dissociation is a very old friend. As I’ve said before, writing about pre-scene jitters:

I was mostly terrified that I wouldn’t be terrified. I know me. When I miss a plane, I shrug and call the airline. When I get dumped, I smile and give my best wishes. And so forth. I have a long history of shutting down in emotional crisis.

And I don’t even know it’s happening till it goes away. I just freeze into total indifference to the crisis trigger. Scares the hell out of my ex-doms. They’ve never met this brisk, friendly grown-up before.

But then they’ve seen me dissociate when I’m scening, too, just a bit differently. Too much pain, too much real fear, and all the interesting noises shut off like a tap. Same with the grovelling gratitude, the wide eyes and trembling. Instead you get my vanilla reaction to pain and danger, which resembles nothing so much as sardonic sports commentator trying very hard for saintly patience. If you can’t imagine how that plays out, let me refer you to my CollarMe review.

Obviously this is no fun at all for the top. But believe me, it’s no fun from down here, either. I love losing my vanilla observer – in fact, it’s one of the best things about scening. When it works, I am 100% present and reacting. With the laser focus of a deer in the headlights, in fact. Dissociation is the opposite of that. It’s a hedgehog curling up when poked. Great defence mechanism against stress. But it gets in the way of our fun, dammit!

So what can we do about it?

The kinky mind-wrangler and I do have some ideas. But I’d love to hear yours first.

Or just go on to Part 2 with my blessing.

Many thanks to Mind-Wrangler and Sciophilous for their insightful input. Also to Eric Pride for the classes which started me thinking. Obviously they are not responsible for anything foolish I am saying here.

8 thoughts on “You Want Reactions? (Part 1)”

  1. Very insightful observations, Yingtai! This makes me wonder if “subspace” that everyone seems to strive for is in some way related to dissociation, except of course it’s usually thought of in a positive light. Or would you say it’s the opposite?

    1. Yikes, what a scary thought! I shall submit it to Mind-Wrangler.

      Unfortunately I have no opinion myself because I don’t go into I’m-not-here-subspace, just please-let-me-please-you-please-please-please submissive headspace. Your comment makes me wonder if that’s such a bad thing!

    2. Lace, I found an answer to your question at Submissive Guide!

      Detachment is what a lot of bottoms do during sub space, but that isn’t how you get there. If you detach you can’t get the feel good chemicals flowing through your body and aiding your ascent to sub space.

      1. Ok, I had to think about that a bit, but once I worked it out it made sense. So they are saying the process of getting there is what makes all the difference, even if the “end result” looks the same on paper, so to speak.

  2. I’ve never been troubled by a submissive’s reaction or lack of reaction. Well, I like tears and I like orgasms, but I like everything, really.

    That includes silence and immobility. Everybody’s different and therefore every submissive is different, and some submissives react to my best overlording and painful oppression by going somewhere inside themselves, and going still and silent.

    From de-briefings afterwards, I’ve learnt not to worry and to recognise that as one way of going into floaty subspace (which isn’t a single thing, as far as I’ve seen; it takes many forms). Being still is a reaction; quite a strong one.

    A lot of screaming and complaining and wriggling around trying to escape (studiously avoiding the words “yellow” and “red”) is the opposite of that, I guess. But … that’s usually an excuse for the dom to put down the insurrection and turn those squeals into “yes Sirs”, and that’s also highly enjoyable.

    Abject gratitude is good, too. Most of us have enough ego to think that’s (almost) entirely right and reasonable, and completely hot anyway.

    So, thinking about it, I’m damned if I can think of a submissive reaction or lack of reaction that doesn’t please and reward me, and presumably most other doms.

    You talked about being too scared to react. If you’d frozen with fear, the dom should probably pick that up if you’re too gone to mention it yourself, and give you reassurance, including salient reassurance, until you’re unstuck again.

    There aren’t any unreal reactions. Unless you started gurning and groaning like a porn star before he’d even touched you, in which case you’d be taking the piss. So I think the fault is with the dom shouting, “Gimme real reactions, dammit!” That’s … Doing It Wrong.

    1. Hah! Well, I must admit that the “dammit” was editorialising. But I can tell you that most doms do seem to say this. Sometimes it’s clearly intended to be reassuring: “All you have to do is give me real reactions.” But that does have implications.

      And in my case it is not being frozen with fear, which would be a fun reaction (as you point out). I can’t describe it any better than what I said, getting suddenly kicked out of the submissive headspace into a totally vanilla observer headspace. When I’m like that I’m not scared. I’m a little bored and impatient with an unpleasant stimulus. It is no fun at all for me. Does that make more sense?

      I have a feeling that a dom who considered all reactions to be equally good might just roll with the challenge and hit harder. And if I enjoyed being a brat then I daresay that would make everyone happy. But since my submission is kind of the opposite of brattiness, it just triggers an extremely unpleasant feedback loop. So I am definitely of the opinion that some reactions are more equal than others.

      But I would agree that they are going to be different for everybody. My danger signals aren’t going to be the same as other people’s.

  3. Liking every kind of reaction doesn’t mean you respond to every reaction as if it’s the same, and as if the best response is to hit harder. Excellent default though that always is.

    Every session is created by the dom and the sub. What the dom does is always going to be in response to the sub’s reactions.

    Also, it’s still sex. The dom may not say so, if he’s worried about not sounding dommy enough, but he’s bound to be trying to please the sub as much as she’s trying to please him. If only to get return business.

    I did say all reactions are good, but yes, I wasn’t thinking of boredom, irritation, bounced-out-of-the-mood, etc. Those aren’t good.

    If I got those reactions, from someone who’d been keen and interested before we started, I’d be inclined to think it’s much more likely my fault than hers. Like I read her reactions wrong, like I jumped too fast from one intensity to the next level … Or I didn’t establish a set and setting that allowed her to feel psychologically comfortable in the midst of all the other discomfort. That’s mostly the dom’s job, I think: to not fuck it up.

    It’s the sub’s job to offer information and warnings beforehand, so the dom should know what’s most likely to bounce you out of the scene. To help him not fuck it up.

    (One thing that strikes me, while thinking about this, is how little I know, directly, about what other doms do in sessions. I don’t mean techniques, I mean style and intangibles like that. Most of what I know is extrapolation from myself, plus what subs tell me.)

    1. Ah. Well, agreed, except that I tend to think messing up is inevitable, so I would lay more stress on forgiveness.

      And you are seriously tempting me to play a game of one-downmanship. How can anyone have less exposure to different doms’ styles than me?

What do you think?