There is a common misconception that submitting in the bedroom makes a person weak.  Frankly, the myth isn’t surprising.  In our society, kink is often so taboo that sex education rarely covers the topic.  And if you’re not in the habit of crying, “Spank me now!” it can be hard to wrap your head around submissive empowerment.  The truth is that most of us submit or dominate in one form or another – if not in the bedroom, then in the rest of our lives.

Even if you don’t buy into BDSM, you might well have been touched by submission and domination.  Have you ever longed for a lover to throw you against the wall, or bite your neck, or order you around?  These acts are absolutely domination and submission.  You choose to either submit or master.  In fact, the notion that submissives don’t choose their suffering is entirely erroneous.  Ever heard of the phrase topping from the bottom?  It’s used to describe a situation in which the submissive is ordering a dom around, insisting, “Tie my handcuffs more tightly!” or “You’re just not spanking me right!”

Perhaps BDSM can be tough to come to terms with when it involves violence and pain.  That said, the power to withstand pain is a very favourable characteristic in everyday life. Think of ear piercing or training for a marathon – these are all chosen acts of suffering.  In fact, I’ve heard Greta Christina argue that submission is rather like eating spicy food.  Once you can withstand a certain heat-level, you crave a hotter dish.  Apparently, the reason chili peppers are spicy is because they contain a chemical that directly triggers our pain receptors.  Think about that a moment.  We eat curry because we love the pain.  And what about stiletto heels and Brazilian waxing?  As for the latter, Rachel Kramer Bussel says it best:  “Because I lean toward being a masochist, sometimes I can eroticize the pain [of Brazilian waxing]. I think of it like candle wax in a scene, and use my kinky training to get through the momentary pain for the reward of sleek skin.”  You can read more at Rachel’s column at Sexis, which I heartily recommend.

Of course, the ultimate infliction of pain is the non-consensual kind – and that is chilling stuff*.  Outside of the bedroom, social attitudes towards brutality are often clear.  For instance, fans of the 2006 remake of Casino Royale (directed by Martin Campbell) will remember the scene in which James Bond (Daniel Craig) is bound to a chair and brutalised.  In spite of agony and restriction, he goads his torturer – and that’s “topping from the bottom” on a grand scale.  Considering our society views Bond as resilient in these moments, it is surprising that those of us who cry “Bring on the pain!” are so often dismissed as weak.

As a matter of fact, submission can be tremendously healing.  The first time I subbed was a direct result of watching the movie Secretary (directed by Steven Shainberg).  To give you the gist, a young woman starts taking charge of her life because her boss starts to spank her for minor transgressions.  Talk about hot!  I had never believed that pain could bring such pleasure, and once I’d had a go at masochism, I was surprised by how it affected my life.  Subbing taught me a lot about sexual assertion because I learnt to be both upfront and tuned into what I do or don’t want.  With a safe word, it’s not so difficult to learn to actively say no with words like “Enough,” or “Not so hard,” and this spilled over into the rest of my life.  (These are issues of consent – read more here). A friend recently told me that she was amazed I subbed in the bedroom because I’m such a dom when I’m teach, so I told her that part of being a sub is learning to assert yourself.  I’ve become a lot better at expressing my needs and defending others since I learnt to withstand erotic pain.

And if you think BDSM can’t be inspiring, think again.  When a lover finally ties you up, just as you’ve always wanted, and takes you with rough passion, the bond can be quite powerful.  You yield to your partner, who expresses his/her aggression directly – and that’s pretty intense.  In truth, this faith runs in both directions:  When, as a dom, you hit someone in the bedroom, you trust that they’ll say what they need.  You also trust that they’ll know this is a scene, not a real-life conflict, and that this violence is an expression of intimacy and passion.  In fact, I’ll leave it to Anais Nin to show us how subbing/domming can be breathlessly romantic.  Check out this excerpt from Henry & June, her unexpurgated diary 1931-32:

“He asks to see me again.  When I wait in the armchair in his room, and he kneels to kiss me, he is stranger than all my thoughts.  With his experience he dominates me.  He dominates with his mind, too, and I am silenced.  He whispers to me what my body must do.  I obey, and new instincts rise in me.  He has seized me.  A man so human; and I, suddenly brazenly natural.  I am amazed to be lying there in his iron bed, with my black underwear vanquished and trampled.  And the tight secrecy of me broken for a moment, by a man who calls himself the ‘last man on earth.'”

*I don’t think this can be reiterated enough:  You must always be aware of your power and rights in a BDSM scene.  Have a safe word and use it when you don’t consent.  This is key.  For more on consent, look up Charlie Glickman’s blog.

Photo on main page: Clarence Risher (via Wikimedia Commons)

Dear Writer

By Melissa Febos

Letters

Dear Writer,

We are sorry, but your work does not suit our editorial needs at this time. We sincerely enjoyed reading your proposal—yours is a compelling story, and just exquisitely written!—but the subject matter simply does not accord with our identity. We do not have the resources to figure out how to market a dominatrix memoir that falls above a 5th grade reading level. Perhaps ironically, we also suspect that this story has already been written.

Writer, we thank you for sending us this essay. You are a master of the finely wrought description, but have you ever heard of a plot? Perhaps we referred to it in our last letter as a “thru-line”? In any event, your story conspicuously lacks one. As a consolation gift, we will send you our next four issues, so that you can admire the prowess of our accepted writers’ thru-lines. Happy reading!

Writer, we regret to inform you that your writing suffers from a disconcerting superfluity of intimacy. In the parlance of our times, TMI, writer! Too Much Information. Our readers do not want read about your bodily excretions. They do not want the unsavory details of your most private humiliations. Readers want to feel like they are reading secrets, but they do not actually want to read about your secrets, writer.

Writer, we have done our best to remain polite, but you aren’t you listening. Perhaps our letters are too small. Please consider how many trees we are saving by rejecting your work on a less than a Post-it! Writer, we are trying. Can’t you try harder to assume a more familiar shape? You are making our heads hurt with all this brainy, dirty material. Sex should be sexy. Sex should be serious and sexy, or serious and not sexy at all, that is, serious and sad, and possibly so tragic that you never want to have sex again. Sex can also be funny, but it should only be funny and easy, and it can never be funny and gross and sad and smart. You should know this. You are a writer. Stop trying so hard to be honest. Nobody wants sex to be honest. You are making them uncomfortable. You are making our inboxes more crowded. You do not smell like money. You are making us lose our hard-ons.

Writer, we thank you for your submission. And your self-addressed, stamped envelope. Please rest assured that it’s not you, it’s us.

Love,

The Editors

Say you’ve had a story/poem/whatever accepted for publication by a journal. First of all: congratulations! You really deserved that. Soon, you’ll be famous. But that’s not my point. Say the journal in question keeps postponing the release of its next issue. You inquire and the editor assures you that it’ll be soon, maybe tosses out a likely publication date. But that date passes. And another one passes. Do you feel any compunction whatsoever from pulling the accepted work to resubmit elsewhere? How soon is too soon? When is it no longer rude, but reasonable? When are you a fool not to?