ASK THE THERAPIST
by William A. Henkin, Ph.D.
Copyright © 1996 by William A. Henkin
<Q> Since coming out into SM I have almost totally lost interest in vanilla. What do you make of this?
<A> If your lack of interest in vanilla does not cause problems in your personal, professional, or social lives, and if you and your sexual partner(s) find that the play you do have is satisfactory, all I make of it is that you found something new that you prefer to what you used to do. In this sense I might extrapolate "vanilla" to a more common realm: what would I make of it if, after discovering chocolate, you almost totally lost interest in vanilla ice cream? Probably not much: I'd just figure you'd eat what you liked.
The important question is not what I make of it, but what you make of it. If you're concerned about your lack of interest in vanilla for any reason at all, I encourage you to explore your concerns and the reasons that might underlie them with a competent, disinterested party. We all have blind spots about ourselves, and sometimes it's some little irritant or curiosity we don't understand that makes us question our behaviors and motives, nagging us to pay attention to them for reasons we cannot easily guess.
Some worries can be very simply laid to rest. For instance, I might ask how long ago you came out into SM. Novices in almost any arena, from SM to Scrabble to opera, frequently go through a blowout period in which they pursue their new interest to some measure of extremes, even to the exclusion of other interests. In this way a new interest can be a little like a new love affair that takes us away from our old friends and leaves them tsk-tsking about how we've changed. But we haven't changed, especially, so much as we've shifted our focus much as they would in similar circumstances.
It's famous that many new SM players buy clothing, gear, and accouterments as if they'll never see another leather store or community exchange; others read all the books and magazines ever published on the subject. For a couple of years after I first joined Janus and I've heard Sybil Holiday and other people say the same thing I went to nearly every meeting whether I cared about the program topic or not. Partly I wanted to hear anything I could about this amazing world I'd finally uncovered, and partly I wanted to be in the company of kindred spirits. But partly, too, I was in my own blowout phase when, for awhile, everything was about SM.
Eventually, of course, I settled back into my real life, where SM has its place as do my hosts of other pursuits. And if you're new to the scene you, too, will settle into a level that's right for you.
On the other hand, some worries turn out to be important. For instance, particularly if you have a partner who isn't interested in SM, your lack of interest in vanilla might signal some deeper desire discrepancy, or indicate that you have some difficulty with intimacy. These are the sorts of concerns that are worth some investigation on your part, for despite my somewhat flippant suggestion at the top of this answer eroticism is a bit different than food; and in any case, whether the subject is sex, food, or surfing the net, an interest that is too consuming to allow for balance in your life over a long period of time is more liable to do you harm than good.
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<Q> What is the line between "play" and "torture" as in nipple play compared with nipple torture, or genital play compared with genital torture?
<A> In this context "play" is lighter and usually indicates activities gentle and/or otherwise amusingly pleasurable enough to be thought of as teasing, whereas "torture" is heavier and generally indicates sensation intense enough to be easily recognized as pain.
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