Sunday, February 3, 2019

How far would you go? #limits #bdsm #submission


Power exchange
By Lisabet Sarai

This month, our group topic is “Pushing Limits”. This theme could be addressed from a wide variety of perspectives: pushing one’s limits as an author, by trying new genres or formats; pushing one’s physical limits (I’m thinking of KD’s and Ashe’s pole dancing classes); pushing the limits of society’s acceptance for erotica. However, as I’m first up, I decided to take the more obvious route and discuss the topic as it applies to dominance and submission.

Although I have a reputation for publishing hot BDSM erotica, I have only modest real world experience. I’ve been involved in one D/s relationship which was quite serious and intense but which lasted, in its active phase, only about two years. Furthermore, during that entire period my Master and I lived in different cities, and early on, on different coasts. So the amount of time we actually spent together “in scene” probably totals no more than a month or two. Nevertheless, that was enough to profoundly influence my sexuality, my world view, indeed my life. Lisabet Sarai very likely would not have existed if not for GCS, to whom many of my books are dedicated.

Regular readers of the Grip will know, from my frequent posts about him and that relationship, how strongly connected to him I still feel, even forty years later and more physically distant than ever.

Anyway, in the context of BDSM, “limits” are actions that the submissive identifies as things she can not or will not do, circumstances that make her so uncomfortable that she rules them out of the BDSM interaction. (I’m going to use the female pronoun for the sub here, though I remind readers that there are plenty of femdom relationships, not to mention M/m and F/f. Furthermore, most of my observations below come from a submissive perspective, which reflects my own preferred role.)

A responsible dominant tries to elicit a statement of limits before starting any BDSM activity, and will generally respect them, not stepping over those lines in the sand. Experienced tops can often deduce a sub’s limits even when she can’t articulate them, by observing her reactions to actions or descriptions.

Part of the thrill of BDSM, however, comes from its unpredictability. If you know exactly what your Master is going to do, a scene can lose its intensity. In addition, a sub gets at least some of her pleasure from the knowledge that she’s satisfying the Master’s desires rather than just her own. What if she’s scared of the idea of getting caned, while her dom is itching to find a nice, flexible rattan rod and turn her butt bright red? Though he might choose to respect her limits at the expense of his own fantasies, she can’t help but be aware of his disappointment and feel as though she’s failed in her devotion to him.

Hence the idea of “pushing limits” — encouraging the sub to go beyond her initially stated constraints, to engage in new, usually more extreme or scary, activities or scenarios. This might sound like a violation of the “safe, sane and consensual” norms of BDSM, but in fact when managed carefully, pushing a sub’s limits can produce a more arousing and intense experience for both parties in the exchange. Why? The dom gets what he wants: more complete power over the submissive, as well as (perhaps) some sadistic pleasure from inflicting more pain or discomfort than he’d previously dared. The sub gets what she wants: the deep conviction that she has pleased her Master as well as pride in her own courage. Most important, however, pushing limits within a BDSM relationship builds trust. The sub learns that she can trust her dom to take care of her, to lead her through the fear to the pleasure beyond. The dom learns that he can trust himself to push his sub just far enough to experience the benefits, but not so far as to cause trauma.

So what about me? When I began my all-too-brief, incandescent relationship with GCS, I knew next to nothing about BDSM. I’d entertained myself with kidnap fantasies growing up, but I’d never thought of myself as the slave type. The concept of limits didn’t apply. He tempted me to step out onto the high wire of power exchange and I followed eagerly, scarcely looking down. At his invitation, I plunged into the murky depths of kinky lust. He gave me reading assignments, The Story of O and Anne Rice’s Beauty series. I devoured them, hungry for more. Whatever he suggested, I was willing to try. Indeed, I even took the initiative, searching out a riding tack store to purchase a genuine riding crop so he could use it on me.

When we were apart he’d quiz me about my reactions to various ideas, or send me images for my comments. He wrote in a letter once, “It never occurred to me that you’d refuse me.” As arrogant as that sounds (and that arrogance thrilled me), it was more or less true.

I understand now that I do have some hard limits: choking or asphyxiation, punching or being hit with a blunt object, extreme sensory deprivation, being fucked in the pussy by an object that has been in my ass. I don’t like the idea of being gagged. Needle play scares me, though I can’t say I’d never do it. But he and I never got to that point. We were still in the breathless, experimental stage—he probably marveling that he’d found such a willing partner, me overwhelmed by the emotional impact of surrender—when we officially broke up. I married a lovely, horny, but definitely vanilla guy. He found another sub, at least for a while. We never really got to the stage of pushing limits.

My memories and feelings for him fueled my first novel and have had an enduring influence on most of my stories since. As I continued to write erotica, I found myself using my tales to explore alternative worlds in which we’d stayed together. What would it have been like, to live together, perhaps to marry? How would our kinky games have evolved? How do you keep the thrill of BDSM alive when your relationship includes all the real world stuff: work, finances, family, illness, children, aging? Can you continue indefinitely to push limits into more extreme activities? How do you know when to stop? And if you do stop, if you draw lines you know neither of you dare cross, will the magic evaporate?

Many of my stories are explicitly about pushing limits, or at least exploring new territory. In “Just a Spanking”, for instance, the dominant asks, “Could you come from just a spanking?” The couple proceeds to answer this question. In “Body Electric”, my heroine succumbs to a charismatic nerd of a dom very much like my own Master, who proceeds to demonstrate his experimental electrical apparatus, to her mingled terror and excitement. In “Muse”, an author of erotic romance finally meets the brutal and demanding dominant of whom she’s dreamed, but never dared write.

One of my most emotional stories of this type is “Limits: A LoveStory”, about a long-established D/s couple who decide to advance to his cutting his initials into her flesh. That story begins:

He's the sadist in our relationship. But I'm the one who's more extreme.

This succinctly captures my fears about myself. Do I really have limits? Would I know when to stop? Would he? And if he did, would I be disappointed?

Fortunately or not, I’ll probably never know. But I continue to speculate on expanding limits in my tales of erotic power exchange, a legacy of that long-ago love.

6 comments:

  1. From a literary/film perspective, I usually prefer things that could not or should not happen in real life, at least not in the way the story presents. Limits and negotiations make for better essays than fiction. But there are exceptions. The Submission of Emma Marx, for example, is something I would cite as a case where the idea of contracts and pushing limits contributes to the story rather than detracting from it.

    Still, there's something to be said for pure fantasy. After all, most classics in the genre fall into that category. (Dominique Aury was asked whether Story of O was based on her real life, and she said no. Jean Paulhan liked the idea of whipping her, but she was too squeamish. And she liked the idea of being fucked by several men, but Paulhan was too jealous. So they never acted out those fantasies.)

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    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I agree that the ritual aspects of BDSM can become arousing in themselves. Also I know that I wouldn't dare act on many of my fantasies, which are often quite extreme. That's one reason I write erotica.

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  2. “Could you come from just a spanking?” I had to laugh when I read that. As impossible as most people would believe, it's true. At least for a certain subset of the population when they are tied up and whipped. You know they are serious when their safe word is "Don't Stop!" LOL

    A couple we knew, back in the mid-west, were in a D/s relationship and she would climax while being flogged or at least gave all the outward signs of a orgasm. Then there is a cop sergeant who loves to have my wife's spike heel in the middle of his back, when she's beating him and wearing her leather bustier and thigh high leather boots. She always calls him up when she needs her boots licked clean.

    While not in the BDSM scene except as a voyeur and photographer, I can see that people enjoy the feeling of giving all control up to someone else who will take you right to the edge and leaves you hanging by your fingertips.

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    1. Thanks, Larry!

      We should have you come by for a guest post!

      In the case of this story, though, the couple usually mixes sexual contact in with the discipline. So the question becomes, can a spanking by itself, without any other stimulation, be enough to trigger an orgasm?

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  3. I imagine that a spanking alone could trigger an orgasm just as well as a fantasy alone (with no physical stimulation). Years ago, I taught myself to come that way. It's possible, though it takes more self-discipline (so to speak) than an ordinary hand job.

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    1. I wish I could do that! It's encouraging to know that the idea isn't totally fantastic.

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