Old Style Play

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September 1998

by William A. Henkin, Ph.D.

Copyright 1998 by William A. Henkin

<Q> Every place I go these days, tops seem to think that spanking, whipping, caning, and other forms of flagellation are for punishment and punishment only, and that punishment of this sort is or ought to be humiliating. But I remember a time when tops used to spank me as a reward, and cane or whip me for the energy exchange we'd have. Those spankings began gently and lovingly, built to a pitch a little stronger than I could stand, and when I started squealing enough to tickle the top's pleasure, they'd often end like the blow-off at a fireworks display, with resounding slaps that made me writhe and scream and even, sometimes, come. The whippings might go on for hours, till the top and I often felt that we were flying. Cane strokes were moments of pure, distilled intensity. Have things really changed in the past few years? Or do people other than me also miss these kinds of play now?

<A> In some regards at least some parts of the scene really have changed significantly in the past handful of years. It isn't entirely the case, but when SM was less visibly acceptable in mainstream society – when it was more a subculture that remembered its outlaw roots and less the fashion statement that it later became; when you could read about it in the pages of Drummer, Dungeon Master and Sandmutopia Guardian, but not in the pages of New York, the New Yorker, and Vogue – the community itself had a different sort of cachet, felt differently about itself, and, necessarily, attracted some rather different people. I'm sure the same could be said with even greater emphasis about the changes that have taken place since before there was a Drummer, since before people who practiced what we call SM even thought of themselves as part of any subculture, though admittedly that was before my time.

Communities have lives of their own, and in this community, as in all communities, people come and go, bringing and taking with them their own special interests, talents, and needs. Some creative, experienced, and very prominent players who seemed to be everywhere 10 or 20 years ago are much less visible or even invisible today, either because they tired of the public scene, or they found they had other commitments that conflicted with community activities, or they moved away, or they developed new and equally consuming interests; and of course some number of them died. Meanwhile, other creative, experienced, and prominent players emerged to be leaders or presences in their own rights, and it is they who in some measure now define the community and what it means.

Change is even apparent in the professional SM community, where there are many more pro-doms now than there used to be a dozen or even a half-dozen years ago. While once upon a time a substantial proportion of San Francisco's pro-doms were also members of Janus and participated in many of the community's activities, today a smaller percentage of the pros may share your tastes or have a significant interest in your particular expressions of SM. But then, in exchange, you may have many more styles of play to choose from, and there still are pros who play the way you like, both among the older and the newer Mistresses and Masters. But as with playing in the community, if you want a scene such as those that prevailed a decade or more ago you'll have to pick your pro with care, and you may have to rethink your SM life a bit.

Change notwithstanding, I think things are much as they always were in the personal world of BDSM: people play together for mutual satisfaction, learning what they can if they have an interest, negotiating more or less explicitly for what they want and need, enjoying some scenes, and surviving the ones that don't go well. Though some are gone, many other of the people who were around, say, a decade ago are still around, and as far as I know those who played the way you describe still play that way. Many players who are newer to the scene than that also learned the kinds of play you describe. So if you're hanging in that part of the community you ought to be able to find the kind of play you like. But as always, make sure you negotiate your scenes to your own satisfaction.

You may also find what you're looking for among the community's teachers – at Janus meetings, Differences, QSM, and elsewhere. Not only may you find companionable partners, but education is an important part of any community's heritage: an important part of the way knowledge is passed on from one "generation" to the next. Lots of people talk about the experience of bottoming but, like the weather, few do much about it. Given the history and the depth of experience you're talking about, you might want to consider offering some programs to the community yourself. Who knows what tops will flock to your tent then?

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