Thursday, November 20, 2014

Branded By My Craving

by Annabeth Leong

If you look closely at the right side of my lower back, you'll find a faint scar in the shape of a stylized flower. My partner hates it, because it represents a night when my cravings got out of control. I feel like I should hate it, but honestly if I had it all to do over, I might very well do the same. That was undoubtedly one of the most erotic nights of my life. I know I was being stupid, but I'm not exactly sorry it happened.

There's a club night I go to where there are sometimes demonstrations of kinky things. On this particular occasion, I walked in and saw a demo going on in a roped-off area near the bar. A woman in a pink latex nurse's outfit was using a violet wand on a shirtless man in leather pants, and I just about skipped over there in my excitement.

I love violet wands. I tried one for the first time at that very club, and I'll never forget the thrill and mystery of that moment. For those who don't know, a violet wand is a device that can apply low current, high voltage stimulation to the skin. It takes various attachments, and the sensations it produces can range from a light tickle to mind-erasing pain.

The first time I saw one in action, everyone at the club was decked out in neon and glow sticks, and black light glanced off people's shoulders as they danced. Behind a velvet curtain, a thin woman with punky hair and multiple facial piercings wielded attachments that pulsed with weird colors. I got in line to try one and discovered I got along with the brand of pain the wand administered. It burned in a way that made me feel tough and sexy. I could take it better than I expected to be able to. Once she started running that device up and down my arms, I would have done just about anything she'd asked. I would have stayed in that booth all night if she'd let me. As it was, the next morning, thin lines of scabs covered my arms from shoulder to wrist and cris-crossed my chest.

My brain pretty much turns off when a violet wand is in use. All I want is more, and all my nice knowledge of best practices for BDSM basically dematerializes. I have no idea what that woman's name was or where she'd come from. We had no safeword, no aftercare in place, no game plan of any kind. My partner was out of town, and I told myself I wasn't making out with her so it was fine, but Jesus being hurt like that is probably a bigger deal for me than any sort of making out could ever be. Even as it was happening, I knew I could spin it to a tale of technical devotion, but that in my heart I was being unfaithful.

But that isn't actually the night I'm trying to talk about. I'm just trying to explain the craving with an anecdote that probably doesn't make sense to anyone who doesn't already understand the craving. This, to me, touches on one of the central mysteries of BDSM. What is it about pain that makes me crave it? As a brief aside, here's one of the best passages I've written on the subject (this is from a story that's supposed to come out in a Cleis anthology at some point):

She pressed a sweet kiss to my cheek, and that's when I knew I was in trouble. Sweetness, for D, was useful as a weapon of contrast. My body tensed, anticipating pain, and, inside my panties, my cunt twitched and squeezed tight. I'd never understood why genuine anxiety did that to me, but until I learned how to use seemingly negative sensations for pleasure I'd always felt as if my clit were buried beneath a layer of cotton. Every touch seemed dull and distant unless pain and fear first stripped me bare.

So, given that, understand that the violet wand is the best device I've found for delivering just the type of pain and fear I need to activate my ability to feel. I now own one, but before I did, it was also a rare and expensive device that I encountered only rarely. Maybe that helps explain why I rushed over to that latex-clad "nurse" on the night in question.

I had my partner with me, as well as a friend, but everything melted away except for that nurse and that device. "Do you guys mind?" My friend assured me she did not. My partner followed me as I headed for the nurse.

Talking to the nurse, I discovered she and her compatriots had the violet wand turned up high enough for branding. The marks they would leave weren't supposed to be permanent, but they could be, and they were supposed to last at least a month.

From my current relatively sane perspective, I can easily summon the questions I should have asked and the hesitations I should have had. Again, I didn't bother to get the nurse's name. I didn't ask for any details about what she was doing or what sort of safety measures might be in place. I only asked two questions: Would she do that to me, too? When?

The answers were yes, and right then. I picked a flower stencil for the brand at random and pulled off my shirt. My partner stood in the demo area, holding onto me while the nurse approached me with the violet wand set to searing.

At home, I often surprise my partner with how skittish I can be. My pain tolerance isn't so great when I don't have an audience, and I'm as likely to fight as to submit. But when people are watching, that just adds fuel to the flames of my craving for pain. My pain tolerance becomes terrifyingly, dangerously high so long as other people are there to witness me getting hurt.

I've learned this now, and I try to make provisions for the way I'm going to lose my head if I'm playing where people can watch. At the time of my encounter with the nurse, however, I was living with a pent-up craving for pain that I'd built to the point of explosion during an eight-year relationship with a partner who wasn't okay with BDSM, and I was unleashing it wildly. I hadn't learned my limits, and I thought reading erotica had prepared me for how to be safe, but it hadn't really.

So I stood there, too aroused to care about any sort of safety, and when the nurse touched me with the violet wand, I saw white light and came while bracing myself against my partner's arms. I have never felt pain like that before or since. She giggled maniacally, which probably wasn't a good sign but turned me on even more. I knew this was too much pain, and that I was probably doing something I shouldn't, but I loved that, too. I treasure the memory of every second of her drawing that flower. Endorphins coursed through me. I could barely stand, but I had reached that elusive place where pain and pleasure become one, intensifying and perfecting each other.

She told me the wound looked so pretty, and I wanted to follow her like a puppy dog. I wanted to be hurt like that some more, possibly forever. But I went off and danced with my partner and my friend, and it was only in the morning that I looked at the wound and saw how serious it was and felt ashamed of how reckless I had been.

My partner did not want it to scar, and absolutely hated the idea that I might be permanently marked by something as random as that flower stencil, at a time we hadn't agreed upon, by a person we didn't know. But no amount of aloe or vitamin E could stop a scar from forming, so I've still got that flower on my back.

I taught a workshop on the violet wand a couple months ago and showed that scar as a cautionary tale. But then I had my partner demonstrate the violet wand on me for the edification of the class and that craving returned at once and my ridiculous pain tolerance kicked in. The attachment that terrifies me at home became a fun toy, and despite my efforts to rein the craving in, I still wound up covered with those thin lines of scabs, my torso burned and aching. It is better than it used to be—I've learned to negotiate, and I do try to keep myself safe and avoid playing with strangers. On the other hand, the violet wand activates a special, reckless, wild need in me, and I'm sure that wasn't the last time I'll go overboard while in the grip of its allure.


  1. Annebeth:
    Your posts regularly take me to places I wouldn't think of going. Thank you for allowing this voyeur to be in attendance. You're right. I don't get it but I am beginning to understand. Adrenalin and endorphins are powerful chemicals supposedly as addictive as crack. In fact if I have my stuff right, it is crack which mimics those two biochemical and the results are plain to see in abusers. No doubt the violet wand stimulates both. The line between craving and addiction is fuzzy. Cravings can be denied. Hope it just stays a craving for you.

    1. Thanks so much, Spencer. I think taking people to places they wouldn't think of going is a major goal for a writer. As far as craving vs addiction, I can definitely behave in unwise ways when in the grip of arousal (and can't we all?) but it's hard to imagine what it would be like as an actual addiction (outside of those old Victorian descriptions of falls from grace).

  2. Funny, the differences in human beings. If you look at my bio, you'll see I'm no stranger to pain, but permanently altering my body has never had any appeal for me. I have no piercings, tattoos, or other permanent body decorations, and my scars, although many, have never been something I've wanted in any capacity. Have fun. Stay safe.

    1. Yeah, I'm not sure what motivates these differences. I have two tattoos and had one unusual piercing (which I allowed to close a few years back). And those were things I did on purpose!

  3. Thank you for this edifying post, Annabeth. And I'm not just talking about education in BDSM details, though in fact I didn't realize a violet wand could cause permanent damage. You've precisely articulated the craving for pain that motivates some BDSM practitioners - something I don't think I really understood until reading this account of your own desire for terrible, cleansing, focusing hurt.

    Every touch seemed dull and distant unless pain and fear first stripped me bare.

    My own attraction to BDSM is so different, it's amazing it could be labeled the same. I can't imagine offering myself to a stranger in this way. And although I've definitely experienced painful sensations as pleasure, and I like to fantasize about truly extreme actions (a category in which I'd put this vignette), it's not about the pain at all, but about surrender. There might be an edge of fear, but that's not the aphrodisiac for me. I get off on the trust that pushes me beyond the fear.

    I'm grateful for this fascinating, honest glimpse into another world.

    1. Correction: I can imagine offering myself to a stranger, but that's only fantasy. And in that fantasy, there's an immediate connection, even though I've never met this person before. We're partners in pushing limits.

    2. Thanks so much for reading, Lisabet, and I'm glad this was an illuminating post for you. My partner and I have discussed at length the different motivations for BDSM. I'm interested in how these four particular letters are lumped together. At this point, I identify as a masochist, but not as a submissive, and the attraction to BDSM that you describe sounds to me like the attraction associated with submission (surrender). I think there are people who like pain because they like submitting to it (surrender), but I like it because I need to feel it. We've actually had trouble over the years because we'll slip into D/s mechanics that don't really work for us, simply because they seem like the way things are done.

    3. I'm definitely more of a submissive than a masochist. Certain types of pain can begin to feel good when one is aroused. Furthermore, the idea of suffering to please one's Dom turns me on. However, the notion of experiencing pain for its own sake doesn't resonate with me at all.

      I wonder whether this is connected to the fact which I've mentioned before, that I live much more in my head than in my body, with regard to sex particularly. One consequence is that I remember the most intense D&S experiences I've had in terms of emotions, not sensations. In fact, I can't even remember whether I had orgasms or not, because that was not where my attention was focused.

      Your comment about "slipping into" D&S mechanics is interesting. I think there's a story nugget there.

  4. Sometimes I think I'm missing something by not finding pain or submission arousing. (Okay, maybe a little pain of a certain kind, but really, not much.) In fact I know I've missed something in the past, when I would have been willing to pretend to be submissive to please someone, but that someone couldn't be fooled. I've known some people well enough to understand their needs on a fairly deep level, and, I hope, to edit stories (and even occasionally write them) that deal with those subjects, but I don't get there myself. Maybe just as well, I guess.

    1. I was recently talking to someone about how there's so much BDSM writing that the kink seems, perhaps, more normal than it is. I'm pretty sure there are a lot of people who don't find pain or submission arousing. I'm not sure I would call that missing something. Sometimes, I feel like I'm missing something for feeling bored without it.

  5. This is a fascinating post, Annabeth, and I find it intriguing for the same reasons as the other commentators. I have had painful experiences, some of which were consensual or voluntary (childbirth, getting tattooed), but I've always considered chosen pain as a means to an end, not a goal in itself. Even if you didn't intend to become permanently scarred, your scar sounds attractive. I just hope you stay safe.

    1. Hi Jean, thank you! I do think means to an end pain is pretty different. I've gotten better about safety and I really do try to remain risk-aware, etc. I've learned, though, that it doesn't work as neatly in real life as it does in the books.

      I was once at a reading of Lee Harrington's (excellent kink writer and educator), and he read a passage about how the marks of branding are never as temporary as they're supposed to be. It made me feel better—I'm clearly not the only one who's made this particular error.


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