Brainstorming: ‘non mainstream’ and ‘connected-to-bad-things’ are not equivalent categories.

{Originally posted on my tumblr on Sun Jan 5 2014}

Subtitle: this asexual masochist would like to have a word on some anti-asexual attitudes in kink-shaming.

[My last brainstorming post kind of turned out to be a proper post instead. This one, I think, is closer to brainstorming, which is to say, I think I know what I’m trying to say, but I don’t think I’m yet at the ‘saying it very well’ point].

In both of my previous posts about kinks-connected-to-real-world-bad-things, I’ve been specifying before I start that I’m using the ‘I have a thing for this’ meaning of ‘kink’. In the same post where I talked about that definition, I also talked about another one – “Often, kink doesn’t just refer to having specialfeelings for anything, it refers to having specialfeelings for things outside the mainstream”. Now, as far as I’ve seen, in a lot of anti-kink circles, it is common to see that definition of kink and the connected-to-real-world-bad-things category of kinks as one and the same.

I strongly disagree with this. First, there are absolutely kinks-connected-to-real-world-bad-things that are perfectly mainstream – virginity is a big one there. However, more to the point of this post, there is a whole subset of non-mainstream things that I would say are not connected-to-bad-things. This would include the subset of things that people like on a purely physical-action level. Which, in my opinion, includes some forms of pain things.

One of the things that tends to severely put me off the radfem type of anti-kink people is that they have a tendency to put all pain things in with the connected-to-bad-things category. Which, as far as I can tell, tends to look rather like ‘well, I (and people I know) find this unpleasant, so therefore it’s bad’.

Now, to clarify. Lots of pain kinks are absolutely in the connected-to-badthings category. Example: kinking on enduring pain that you hate but are being forced to keep taking, or on the idea that you’re being punished with pain for being a bad person, or on pain in the context of roleplaying torture. However, lots of sex kinks are also in the connected-to-badthings category (example: being used), for pretty much any sex act one can name, but these physical sex acts themselves tend to be much more positively regarded. I am talking here exclusively about the ‘I like it because I/my partner finds it physically/mentally pleasurable’ type of pain kink (‘mentally pleasurable’ here means ‘my brain just likes and desires this’). (Note: a lot of my own pain kinks are the connected-to-badthings type. I’m talking here about the ones that aren’t).

The reason, I think that this is such an issue for me is that the things that it is most common/accepted for people to find physically/mentally pleasurable don’t really work that way for me. As a major example of this: I don’t like open-mouthed kissing. In fact, while I’m not particularly sex-repulsed, I am much closer to kissing-repulsed. It feels wet and squishy, it sets off my hygiene issues and meanwhile it causes me no physical and mental pleasure whatsoever. Most sex acts, for me, are incredibly emotionally complicated and not particularly physically pleasurable. Being hit with things, on the other hand, is something I desire, it gives me physical and mental pleasure, it’s what can get me happy and euphoric and after-glowy.

But the thing is, I know my feelings are not universal. If I did – if say I thought that everyone experienced kissing physically the way I do – it would make perfect sense to me to go around to people who talk about liking kissing telling them how awful they are for inflicting such an unpleasant sensation on their partner, and don’t they know it’s dangerous and can transmit diseases, and they’re not even using a dental damn. It would make sense for me to tell them that there must be something really terrible making them think they like it, and I feel really bad for them and hope that someday they’ll be able to heal and get past it and start experiencing a healthy sexuality by liking the things I like instead. But because I’m a minority, I know that my feelings are not universal. I know that when people say they like kissing, they’re saying this because to them it feels good and is awesome and desired and endorphin-making. But also because I’m a minority, people tend not to realize this about the things I like.

Anti-kink people of the type I’m talking about will tend to hide behind the idea that causing pain to someone who doesn’t like it is violence. Which, yes, it is, and that’s horrible. But kissing someone who doesn’t like it is sexual assault, so that’s making the wrong comparison entirely.

This also connects to the reason why I feel asexuality ties into this. Because, for any physical interaction, there are going to be people who experience it negatively. Any physical interaction, when done without consent, is a violation. So saying that some physical interactions are uniquely and always bad, while others aren’t, means the distinction has be made based on some intrinsic assignment of value: ‘these are the bad things and these ones aren’t because that’s just the way it is’. And, pretty much invariably, the things put in the ‘not bad’ category, the good category, the healthy category, the category being privileged, are the very things that are likely to be unpleasant or not positive for me and people like me, and the things we are likely to be pressured into doing and abused for not liking.

So I guess to come to a conclusion: I get my physical and mental pleasure off of different physical actions than is standard in our society. It bothers me when people treat the things I enjoy as things no one could ever actually enjoy and if they think they do it must come from something terrible. It bothers me even more that this seems to come with its own form of compulsory sexuality, where a particular set of intimate physical actions (a lot of which are not particularly positive and even negative for me) gets held up as what should be the healthy, pleasurable, positive intimacy that is the ideal for everyone. And what this comes down to all together is: if you tell me that my preferences in physical enjoyment are wrong, then either you are being a part of compulsory sexuality (whether in a ‘you should do this’ or ‘hopefully, if you get the healing [‘fixing’] you need, you can do this’, or ‘this is just better and healthier’ way). Or you are telling me ‘well, you’re so broken, you just shouldn’t get to experience this kind of pleasure at all’. I don’t think it’s very hard to see why this upsets me.

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Myself and pain

This writing was prompted by two things: first, a writing prompt that I found here while searching for BDSM writing prompts, and second, a friend suggested pain as something I might want to write about. The prompt was this:

“If SM is a part of your dynamic explain how pain works for you. Is it a sexual turn on, a healing release, a spiritual moment, a session of giving?”

So, how does pain work for me?

First, a ‘how we got here’ overview:

  • Pain is something I desire. As far back as maybe middle school, I can remember moments of telling myself stories when they frustrated, when they didn’t work, because I could talk all I wanted, describe things in any detail, copy my characters’ positions and movements with my body, and the feeling would still not be there. This year I once ended up in near-tears from the same issue- I was trying to enjoy the story, and I just couldn’t, because it wasn’t working, it was empty and blank (this was, incidentally, before I was lucky enough to find a partner).
  • Pain is something I cannot experience in any way except physically. I cannot imagine pain. I write stories with lyrical, detailed descriptions-at-length of the pain my characters feel, but I feel none of it. I do not feel pain in dreams- moments that clearly should be painful give the odd sensation of a tangible absence. I cannot remember pain I have felt when I am not feeling it. I can remember that I did feel it, I can remember how it made me feel, if I think of descriptions in the moment, I can remember them, but the sensation itself is beyond me.
  • Pain is something I have sought out experiences in. Two summers ago, I burned myself on the upper thigh with a paperclip. Three times, heating it red-hot in a candle. I still have the scars. This summer it was on the inside of my arm, and molten sugar. I tried hitting myself with various items. I have now tried me-getting-hit-with-things with the aforementioned, and very awesome play-partner Spiral (I believe the proper term for this is impact play).

So, now that I have had these experiences, what do I know? First, I enjoy them, quite a lot. Second, in terms of the prompt, none of the above. Pain is not in the least bit sexual for me, and it does not arouse me. I don’t feel healed, or spiritual, or giving.

So, what do I feel?

  • First of all, I experience pain as pain. I’ve read the term ‘experiencing pain as pleasure’. It doesn’t quite make sense to me in terms of myself, since to me pain is a physical sensation and pleasure is a mental experience, but even aside from that, this isn’t something I experience. Pain for me hurts. When I burned myself, I was holding the metal against my skin, and my mind was going ‘oh dear god’. The few times I manage to hit myself hard enough to hurt, my mind goes ‘ow!’. When Spiral hits me, my mind goes ‘ow, ow, ow this hurts, ow’, and I move around and can’t force myself still and make quite a bit of noise out loud as well.
  • Second, pain makes me incredibly excited. I get euphoric, cheerfully elated, I smile very widely, my eyes get bright, my talking to myself is excited bantering conversation. After the paperclip, I ran to Zack’s room, basically bouncing up and down going ‘honey, guess what?!’
  • Third, and as I said before, I enjoy the experience. I like it. I like it happening, I like it having happened, I like planning things knowing that it will happen. I like the side-effects- the flooding-though warmth that’s the aftermath of hitting, bruises and the scabs and blister on my burns and the scars I now have. Close to the fact, they make me excited as well, somewhat farther they make me happy, beyond that they make me satisfied. They feel right.

Some final thoughts:

  • While this is possibly obvious, I do not enjoy all pain. Stubbing my toe, period cramps, headaches, are as non-enjoyable to me as, I’d imagine, to most others.
  • Trying to obtain pain, and not getting enough of it, frustrates me. I’ve tried dripping molten wax on my skin, and it’s nice enough, but it’s not enough. Hitting myself is usually much the same. (I have had a pretty satisfying experience with that, but it was my first one, I successfully and purposefully gave myself two bruises, and I was at it for over an hour).
  • If I ever find some way of getting (enough) pain such that I can do it to myself, it doesn’t cause damage, isn’t a limit issue for me, and is quick and reliable, I will be very, very happy. The fact that in very many of my stories I focus a lot on this kind of pain- on pain spells and machines that copy them, on experiences in magical virtual realities where all the senses work but the real body is unaffected- and that characters who can cause this kind of pain really appeal to me when I find them in other works, may be related to this.
  • I have yet to experience pain past the point where I am enjoying it. I think I’ve gotten close- at several points when Spiral was hitting me, my mind went ‘OK, this is approaching the line beyond which I will not enjoy it’- but I have not yet crossed that line. Also, crossing this line is something that appeals to me. It may work out differently in real life, it would have to be carefully arranged to make sure of safety, and I would probably need help staying in place, but it is an experience I feel I want. Part of the reason for this is ‘research’- my characters experience that kind of pain, and I want to know what it is like. Part of the reason, I suspect… isn’t.

And there we are.