Sometime ago, an article appeared on Fetlife titled Kink Psych: Is There Greater Intimacy Within BDSM Relationships?
Within 24 hours, 255 kinksters "loved" the article and about 50 people left public comments. But, five private messages captured my attention. They were from members of our community who confessed that they have struggled, and at times suffered, within their relationships (or lack of) due to the fact they have felt ashamed, guilty or embarrassed about BDSM or their kinky fantasies.
This article is dedicated to anyone who has felt shame, guilt or embarrassment about BDSM.
Welcome To The Family!
Ok, "Family" may be a stretch for some whereas "community" may feel sterile to others. In short, we are a group of people who are interested in BDSM.
"For centuries, the community has always been the place where people congregate, and it is the place where social ties initially form. Years of social anthropological observation tell us that the majority of relationships in our social network were first established in some communities." (1)
BDSM practitioners are no different when it comes to forming and building communities. Just because you recently discovered BDSM does not mean that BDSM is a recent phenomenon. "The history of BDSM spans thousands of years across many different cultures. To truly understand the roots of BDSM, we need to look at the fundamentals of the way humans interact."
Here is a timeline of the origin of BDSM to give you some perspective:
Now that we know that BDSM has stood the test of time, is cross-cultural, seduces both genders and includes a limitless number of fantasies and fetishes." But there "are those of us who have trouble swallowing the content of our desires, are confused or unsure about its meaning, and feel conflicted about our fantasies and fetishes."
You are not alone! This article will walk you through 3 emotions that most new folks face when they first discover BDSM.
Let's Start with the Basics: Humans Are Emotional Beings
"Fundamental in the field of emotions is the question of how many emotions there are, or there can be. The answer proposed here is that the number of possible emotions is limitless. As long as society differentiates new social situations, labels them, and socializes individuals to experience them, new emotions will continue to emerge."
For purposes of this article, we are focusing a specific type of emotion called "self-conscious emotions."
What Are Self-Conscious Emotions?
They are "an emotion that condemns or celebrates the self and its actions when we are being evaluated by another person. This emotion is experienced either to hide some flaw or to expose some good quality."
There are numerous self-conscious emotions such as shame, guilt, embarrassment, jealousy, empathy, pride, and so on. Tonight, we are going to discuss embarrassment, shame, and guilt and how they can affect your relationships.
Embarrassment: The Naughty Alarm
Definition: When we are not behaving according to our standards, rules, and beliefs, our naughty alarm goes off in the form of embarrassment.
Purpose: "It makes us feel bad about our mistakes so that we don't repeat them, and one of its side effects—blushing—signals to others that we recognize our error and are not cold-hearted or oblivious."
Potential Problems: We withhold information about our truest self to avoid rejection.
Benefit: "Feelings of excruciating embarrassment may be crucial for your wellbeing in the long term. One theory is that it’s a natural reaction to the fear of being “found out.” The psychologist, Ray Crozier at Cardiff University, found that embarrassment typically involves the potential exposure of something private, even if it’s something to be celebrated." Our sexuality, fantasies, and desires are a part of who we are as individuals so, celebrate!
Shame: The Quintessential Feeling Emotion
Definition: "The painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another."
Purpose: "It gives us a feeling of control over other people's feelings and behavior" and "it protects us from other feelings that we are afraid to feel, and gives us a sense of control over our feelings."
Potential Problems: "If you are finding it difficult to move beyond shame, it is because you are addicted to the feeling of control that your shame-based beliefs give you - control over others' feelings and behavior and control over your authentic feelings. As long as having the control is most important to you, you will not let go of your false core shame beliefs."
Benefit: A study published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that shame is an emotion that helps buffer people from social backlash.“To say that shame is bad just because those things feel bad is a case of blaming a messenger of bad news,” says Daniel Sznycer, the lead author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher at Arizona State University. “The real problem with bad news is the news itself … Shame is a signal that things are going to be ugly.”The new research suggests that, much like pain, shame keeps people from making poor decisions in the first place."
Guilt: The Wrong-Doing Emotion
Definition: "A feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined."
Purpose: "Guilt usually serves three main functions, the researchers found: to maintain relationships, to exert influence and to redistribute emotional stress." How?
a. To help maintain relationships, "guilt is a big force to make people pay attention to other people."
b. "Guilt also helps people in close relationships control each other's behavior," Roy F. Baumeister says to influence their decisions. (i.e.: If you loved me, you wouldn't do THAT!)
c. "Finally, guilt can redistribute emotions." (12) When we admit our guilty feelings to each other, we are showing that we care. This eases the pinned up emotion that we feel when we "do wrong."
Potential Problems: Guilt "occurs when we establish unreasonably high standards for ourselves with the result that we feel guilty at absolutely understandable failure to maintain these standards. This kind of guilt is rooted in low self-esteem and can also involve a form of distorted self-importance where we assume that anything that happens is our responsibility; it may come down hard on anything perceived as a mistake in our lives and has the added anti-benefit of often applying to other people too, so that we expect too much from family and colleagues as well as ourselves."
Benefit: "Guilt promotes socially desirable behavior. It is an intrinsic punishment for socially or morally unacceptable behavior. It provides an incentive (in the form of a negative sanction) for working to become more socially acceptable by punishing us for being socially unacceptable. It reaffirms our feeling of empathy while reminding us to act from empathy."
When and How Do We Develop Embarrassment, Shame & Guilt?
Between the ages of 18 months to 3 years of age, toddlers start to learn about the "the concept of self" and thus, they start to develop such emotions based on their view of themselves, the "standards, rules, and goals of the people around him/her and their interactions with others."
Fast Forward To Adulthood
Now you're an adult, and you've discovered kinky fantasies make your balls ache or your pussy drip. If I had to guess, you feel like you stepped onto a roller coaster going 70 miles per hour with an 116-degree drop.
...extremely thrilling, suspenseful and exhilarating
...you get strapped in, and all you can hear is the buzzing of excitement
...your neck hair peaks with anxiousness
...your ears are hypnotized
...your blood starts rushing
...you feel a rumbling as gravity rips you down
....slapping you in the face
...the ear piercing screams
...adrenal glands are pumping full throttle
...your body is shaking
...excitement consumes you
...your brain is floating in a space created by the experience
...you can not forget that ride.
How you feel when fantasizing and experiencing BDSM for the first time can often mimic the same sensations that you may feel when you step onto a rollercoaster.
What Do Your Sexual Fantasies Mean?
"Feelings of guilt, shame, and confusion about our fantasies and what turns us on are common in our society. We want to know, “Why do I feel this way and where does this come from?” The short answer is our sexual fantasies are likely a reflection of the stimuli we were exposed to during our sexual awakening.
What is often difficult for people to understand is that sexual awakening happens when we are children. Although childhood sexuality is a natural part of development, it is often ignored in our culture, shunned, or brushed under the rug as wrong. The child is made to feel ashamed or guilty for having sexual thoughts and desires. No explanations are given, and nothing is talked about.
By remembering that sexual curiosity and the desire to feel pleasure is a normal part of a child’s development, we can eradicate much of the shame and guilt we have about our early sexual experiences. It is this shame and guilt that may lead to our current state of confusion regarding our desires.
"Sexual fantasies may also be a reflection of our daily anxieties. For example, the individual who worries about having too many responsibilities in daily life may fantasize about being completely dominated and controlled in bed. The woman who feels small and unattractive may fantasize about being a dominatrix.
The key is to remember that we are creatures of balance. What we present to the world and feel on a daily basis often needs to be countered by its polar opposite, which could be manifesting in our sexual fantasies and fetishes. In other words, if an individual fantasizes about being sexually dominated in bed, it does not mean they are weak and helpless in real life. Frequently, the opposite is true.
Sexual fantasies are often representations of parts of our lives, whether past or present. When we break them down and take a closer look, we will see that they are normal reactions to our life experiences."
5 Questions to Ask Yourself
1. When you have a sexual fantasy, don't push it away or repress the fantasy. Ask yourself personal questions to see if you can figure out why it turns you on?
2. Do you hold yourself to a "personal standard"? Is attainable or out of reach?
3. What is your personal belief system look like?
4. Do you allow yourself to express your emotions in a calm, non-judgemental way?
5. Are you willing to apologize (or forgive), accept yourself, and move on?
New Mindset; New Opportunities
The world of BDSM is a fascinating place, but finding your way in and then finding your place once you are inside is not easy.
One of the biggest problems is recognizing, and accepting, BDSM needs and desires within yourself. In our society, we learn that we are all equal, that we should be kind and gentle and not hurt others. But these "lessons" often go against what some say are the "primal" needs that we feel when we are "into" BDSM.
Most people in BDSM, be they Dominants or submissives, go through a phase, as they are starting up, where they question themselves. They find themselves wondering something like, "Am I some pervert for wanting this?" or, "Am I sick in the head?"
And what sort of mental leap does it take to accept that flogging and whipping your masochistic partner, or clipping clothes pegs on her nipples, is an expression of love and tenderness rather than just plain brutality?
It is not easy to accept any of these things.
Or maybe you are aroused by movies or stories of torture, and you imagine yourself as the torturer ... or as the victim.
For some people that is as far as it goes--vague ideas or hunger quickly suppressed because they "aren't right." Other people go further and start exploring these desires, often secretly, and often with feelings of guilt.
Be sure, if you do have these feelings, fantasies, and desires, that you are not alone. There is a whole world of other BDSMers out there who share similar feelings to yours, and who have gone through much the same as you have.
Maybe one of the best ways to handle accepting these feelings and learning what to do about them is to talk to other people who have already "been there and done that". It can be an enormous help to know that there are others, with needs and desires just like yours, whose guidance and advice can help you find your feet.
There are many people in the BDSM community--Dominants, submissives, sadists, masochists, bondage enthusiasts, etc.--who are only too happy to talk to newcomers and offer advice."