Our culture is filled with preconceptions. One is that religious groups must have a binding creed or dogma, often rooted in a particular mythological narrative. Is it any wonder, then, that many are confused when first hearing about Unitarian Universalism – a pluralistic and non-creedal faith movement? And I’m sure many other UUs out there have experienced the frustration of trying to describe our movement to someone who simply cannot get past their preconception of what a religion ought to be.
Likewise, many of us have inherited preconceptions about sexuality and relationships. One of the biggest is that, since sex is supposed to be pleasurable, and since the opposite of pleasure is pain, then the very idea of being sexually aroused by pain is, well… you get the idea.
Closely related to that is fear. We kinksters often play with fear, uncertainty, and other otherwise unpleasant emotional states. And, just as with pain, that goes against what the vast majority of us have learned about sex and intimate relationships. You’re supposed to be loving and gentle with your partner, feed them strawberries and give good hugs … not scare the bejeezus out of them!
Well, what if they want to be scared? What if they are wired in such a way that they need more extreme stimulus than the average person?
And it’s not like vanilla folks avoid fear and pain completely. How many of you love going to scary movies or riding really wild roller-coasters? Or ordered the extra-spicy Buffalo wings, or more exotic fare like Icelandic cured shark? How many of you out there have run a marathon or lifted weights, and continued even when every muscle in your body screamed with pain? Or done bungee-jumping, hang-gliding or parachuting, even when – or because – it scared the bejeezus out of you?
The fact is that context is very important to how scary or painful we perceive an experience to be. One time when I was a kid, we were rushing out of the house before sunrise for a long drive to my grandparents. I grabbed what I thought was a pitcher of orange juice, hastily poured a glass, and found myself unexpectedly drinking grapefruit juice. It would take years before I drank another glass of grapefruit juice, and it was from that I learned about how your state of mind can affect your perception of reality. And that in turn would help me later in understanding how my submissive play partners so thoroughly enjoyed otherwise painful or frightening experiences, just as some enjoy intensely spicy foods or wild amusement park rides while others may shudder at the thought of them.
Delivering such experiences is no easy task. Just as you need an instructor to guide you in parachuting or bungee-jumping, so BDSM practices require specific knowledge and skills to be done right. There also needs to be full communication between partners, if both are to enjoy the experience they share.
But for many outside of the Scene, the question still remains: Why do these particular things? The exact answer can vary from one individual to another, but overall it is because it’s not simply about intense emotions and sensations. It is also about trusting another, exploring the primal depths of our desires, and creating a safe place to dance with the shadow part of ourselves.