Is This SM?


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ASK THE THERAPIST

February 1996

by William A. Henkin, Ph.D.

Copyright © 1996 by William A. Henkin

<Q> Even though I'm a Janus member I really don't want to inflict pain or humiliation on someone else, or to suffer at someone else's hands, either. I do enjoy and get turned on by erotic stories and films involving dominance, however. Why do I get turned on by these things I think I dislike?

<A> First, you may not be making a distinction between the intense physical sensations that are generally a part of SM, and the intense psychological control that is generally a part of dominance and submission (DS). Second, you may not be distinguishing between reality and fantasy. Third, you may be of two minds about these activities: some part of you may enjoy games of erotic power exchange while another does not. And fourth, you may dislike what you don't enjoy because you were not taught about it adequately.

If you get turned on by stories involving dominance, you may find greater enjoyment playing with scenes that involve submission, service, and surrender than you do playing with scenes that involve pain, intense embarrassment, or ego reduction. This is something like preferring romance novels and bodice-rippers to slasher novels and spy thrillers, but both forms of play, like all forms of fiction, involve fantasy. After all, however much a bottom may like to imagine being mauled by a stranger in a dark alley, and however much the same person may enjoy really being mauled by a lover in the dark alleys of his mind, he is far less likely to be pleased if the person who does the mauling is a real stranger in a real dark alley. Trying to live out your fantasies when you play is a practice that can cause problems by itself, since virtually everyone's fantasies exceed what she or he wants in reality. One of the values of fantasy life is that in our minds we really can go where no one has gone before – or, perhaps, would even want to.

If some part of you likes DS or SM while another part does not, the simplistic answer is to let the first one play and leave the second at home to do what she or he enjoys. I know that dividing the self that way isn't as simple as it sounds, or desirable in the larger scheme of things, but it is one framework for working out such an inner conflict: we all do something similar on those hungry, brain-dead evenings when we have to settle our minds between pizza and Chinese from Waiters on Wheels. And if you were inadequately taught about the skills involved in the games you've tried to play, whether as a top or as a bottom, you might very well dislike an activity you could enjoy if you knew more about what you and your play partners were doing.

Finally, you may really just like stories of dominance. While many players don't like the reality of dominance outside the fantasy worlds of their bedrooms, you may not even want to be involved in playing with its concepts and emotions. From where I sit there is no hierarchy of SM play: I don't think it's better to be a heavy military top who doles out stupendous beatings in week-long interrogation scenes than it is to be a sissy baby who likes to be trussed up in pink ruffled dydies on the odd Friday night. Fantasy play is fantasy play, and everyone's fantasies both inform and are informed by the nature and tone of his or her reality. If you derive your erotic power play pleasure from watching movies and reading stories – read; watch; enjoy. Why you enjoy what you enjoy personally is a larger question than I can answer here, but what you like doesn't seem to be a problem unless you believe you're supposed to like something else instead.


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