ASK THE THERAPIST
by William A. Henkin, Ph.D.
Copyright © 1998 by William A. Henkin
<Q> I won't go so far as to say I really want to be abused, but the feeling that I might be, or that I could be the feeling that my top has the right to abuse me if he wishes is clearly part of what makes a scene hot for me. I like to believe that I'm really helpless, really in someone else's control, and really can be taken where and how he wants me. Realizing that this is so, even though I know I wouldn't actually want someone else to have such a right in an unnegotiated, nonconsensual situation, I'm left with two rather uncomfortable questions. First, do my desires indicate some history of abuse in my past that I don't remember? And second, how can I square my interests with safe, sane, consensual play?
<A> Many people have fantasies that are considerably more extreme than the realities they want to play out. As scenarios, it is these fantasies that let us know the directions we want to explore, these fantasies that fuel our pleasures that make our scenes hot and these fantasies that often propel us to try the new experiences by which, ideally, we can grow. SM itself was once a fantasy for many players something beyond our real experience that tantalized or appealed to us and for many people it required the same kind of courage that it now takes to try a new scene in order to attend a Janus orientation, or to play for the first time, or simply to acknowledge that they found something attractive in SM.
Do your desires indicate some history of abuse in your past you don't remember? Well, what do you remember of your history? "Recovered memories" have gotten a bad rap in the press the past few years in part because journalists don't understand the workings of memory any more than most of the rest of us do, and in part because apparently some psychotherapists sort of "suggested" memories to some of their clients who may not so much have "recovered" them as "discovered" them.
But we all recover some sorts of memories at different moments of our lives: a photograph of an old lover brings back memories of times we spent with him; some special perfume on the evening breeze reminds us of our mothers; certain cheap cigar smoke out of doors reminds me of Brooklyn Dodgers baseball games at Ebbets Field with my grandfather; Marcel Proust's long novel, Remembrance of Things Past, is nothing but recovered memories inspired in the narrator by the taste of a piece of cookie; and when Freud wrote about the conscious mind reclaiming things from the unconscious mind he, too, was writing about recovering memories.
Current research suggests that generally people who don't remember anything at all like abuse in their childhoods probably weren't abused as therapists usually mean the word; but anything at all could cover a lot of bases. Certainly, as we all have recovered memories, so also we all have experiences we've repressed, suppressed, and/or forgotten, and abuse may sometimes be included in those hidden memories. We also all have memories sometimes very clear ones of events that didn't happen, or didn't happen the way we remember them, which is why eyewitness accounts of crimes are notoriously faulty. People both in and outside the SM communities sometimes suppose that a person would have to have been abused to want to engage in this form of eroticism, but that's a simplistic view of a complex phenomenon. Yes, some people who enjoy SM were abused as children, but so were some people who enjoy golf, hang gliding, and playing chamber music. By the same token, not everyone who enjoys golf, hang gliding, chamber music, or SM was abused. If you are troubled by your SM desires for any reason, whether you were abused or not, find someone to talk with about your concerns and work them through: there's no sense doing SM and having a bad or a worrisome time when you could be having fun. And if you are having fun, and your desires don't trouble you or interfere with your personal, professional, or social lives, perhaps you don't really have anything to worry about.
As far as squaring your interests with safe, sane, consensual play is concerned, you'll feel easier if you know your top well and make sure he knows you well also, so you have a bond together that's formed in trust. While even trust isn't perfect, at least it helps you to be able to negotiate your needs and desires clearly. One of the pleasures of bottoming is having the chance to be more or less out of control, but for a scene to be safe and sane, someone else has to be in control: that's the top's privilege.
Joseph Bean has sometimes talked about Rule One, which preceded the leather communities' motto of "Safe, Sane, and Consensual." Rule One is for a top to make sure his or her bottom is neither damaged, nor deranged, nor frightened away as a consequence of playing. If after a scene a bottom is any of those things, the top has broken Rule One. When negotiating with your top, make sure he is willing and able to abide by Rule One. If so, you will likely be able to play safely (no damage), sanely (no derangement), and consensually (no one runs away), even if you haven't touched on every specific point that comes up during your scene.
Now I have a question for you. You write about liking to believe you're really helpless, and liking to believe your top has a wide range of powers over you, but as I read your query I'm not sure whether you really like to believe these things, or you like to pretend that they're true. Perhaps the question that can guide you in figuring this out for yourself is, If the abuse became real, whatever that means to you, could you leave the scene or the relationship, by safeword or any other means?
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