A Path

There is a path that I seek.

I have oft repeated the mantra that I am not a douchebag, yet I have failed to adequately explain exactly what that means, even to myself.

The problem, you see, is that behavior that might be traditionally seen as epitomizing that of a douchebag is sometimes, depending on the context, completely appropriate. This dichotomy is both obvious and yet difficult to define in the context of BDSM, especially during edge play.

Beating a lover, for example, is something that is, for most people, the worst sort of behavior. Intent alone is not a defense. How often do we hear stories of douchebags that claim they were doing it for the victim's own good? Similarly, with phenomena like Stockholm syndrome and behaviors of victims of domestic violence that may be construed as acceptance or even as implicit consent, how can we ever reach a point where we're 100% sure of full and aware consent without detailed negotiation before, during and after a scene?

Many, many discussions over the years, and several different philosophies of BDSM have been centered on physical safety, but comparatively few discussions have been about the emotional and psychological well being of we that play. According to David Stein, the man who coined the phrase, even the 'sane' in SSC was not an exhortation to look after the mental state of yourself and your play partner. It was "so you don't end up dead or in a hospital - or send someone else there."[PDF] RACK makes no mention of mental well being at all.

"Gnothi seauton", and "Primum non nocere." These two phrases have been the cornerstone of my personal philosophy for a very long time. The former, "Know thyself" has led me back to this community. I can no longer deny that I am a part of it, and that it is a part of me. The latter, "First, do no harm", is the one that I struggle with, because I feel like we're collectively walking a dangerous line with regard to how we tend to form and maintain relationships in our community, and while it's easy to rationalize it, and I have, I want to find a way to no longer need that rationalization.

I can't take responsibility for what everyone else does, but I can take responsibility for myself. I don't want my enjoyment of kink to lead me away from or stand in conflict with the other things in my life that I believe matter: fairness, justice, truth, integrity, leaving the world a better place that I found it, and showing love to the people that are important to me.

The path that I must find is one that allows me to maintain those aspects of my life while flogging a screaming and bound lover, and to do it without a shred of hypocrisy. That is my challenge, and that is one of the things that I'll be exploring here.

It's almost certain that my way will not be your way, but I remain hopeful that my questions, at least, might lead some to find answers.


RACK makes no mention of mental well being at all

Actually, I'd strongly argue it does.

Risk - to me, this has always included physical, emotional / mental (which actually could probably be separated into their own categories, but that would fuck with my analogy). So if you're viewing it only a physical, then yeah, it's missing stuff; but risk isn't a two dimensional line of low vs high. For me, the risk plane looks like this:

           | emotional risk
     X     |
--------------------- physical risk

X here being me getting myself into a play scene with someone I know and trust because I'm craving connection and trying to replace the D/s that's missing in my life. Physically, he know his stuff, so I'm physically safe. but (for me) playing from this place fucks me up emotionally and leaves me feeling like I just whored myself out, so it's an emotionally risky activity.

ps - the formatting is fucking with my graph, so imagine the emotional axis runs through the centre of the physical axis.

Edited by matt to fix the graph formatting.

Re: RACK makes no mention of mental well being at all

That a person may infer emotional distress as a risk included by the RACK philosophy is a fair point. You could even argue that people should do just that. At the same time, I don't believe that people generally do, and indeed, I don't believe the risks of long-term emotional effects (whether caused, enabled or reinforced by play) are discussed enough in the community.

To be clear, I have no interest in dictating to others how they should play. I do have an interest in dictating how I should play, and I'm not sure SSC, RACK, PRICK or anything else I've run across has created a framework that is anything other than minimally acceptable to me. I want to do better.

There is so much psychology involved in a scene, so much emotional and physical stress, that it seems irresponsible to me to enter into something unaware of the potential consequences. We talk openly about things like conditioning and hypnotism, but it's infrequent that we delve into why somebody wants to participate in either end of either one.

What is it that makes this particular person want to stand naked in a room full of people and be lashed with a signal whip? If the answer is that the person is seeking endorphins, is that different from a drug addiction? If they're the same, is either one bad? If the goal is to act as a means to forge an intense interpersonal connection, what is stopping the person from doing so in a vanilla context? What is the pain hiding? What are the endorphins replacing?

What is it that makes a person want to hurt another? Is it to watch their reaction? To control their behavior? To control their mind? Given that it is easier to inflict intense pain than it is to inflict intense pleasure, is sadism a matter of taking the easy way out? Is domination an opportunity to let your inner petulant child take over the reigns for a while? Is submission an act of penance for some previously perceived sin?

Again, I'm not judging other people's behaviors. I simply want to understand my own motivations and those of the people with whom I play. I'm asking the nasty, taboo, reaction-getting questions because I don't want to gloss over anything. I don't expect these answers to come easily, if at all, but I'm fairly certain I'm not going to find them in RACK, at least not the way I've seen it implemented.

Aside from the issue of

Aside from the issue of psychological well-being, which should be foremost in the negotiation for any scene or semi-permanent arrangement, I look at the "hard" questions you asked a little differently than you have laid out here.

First, I think it's a mistake to ask why the kinkster can't get their jollies in a vanilla way.  Considering that the great majority of kinksters I know are pretty normal as people, it strikes me that if there was a way to get the same result within the borders of "acceptable" social interaction, they would likely do it that way.  Many people I know have tried, and been less than satisfied with the results.

I know you know this, I'm not trying to be pedantic.

Re: addictions, people can be addicted to caffeine, adrenaline, carbohydrates...  Try asking a hard-core jogger not to go for their morning 5-k.  That's endorphins and adrenaline.  It's not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing in itself.  It happens, and it's only the type of addiction and how it impacts your life that makes it a good or bad thing.  I tend to classify addictions in general as bad for me, though I struggle with the temptation in a few different directions.

If a couple really wants a strong interpersonal connection, what makes you think that they're not already doing everything vanilla they can think of as well as the kink?  Why does it have to be either/or rather than a continuation of effort?  You can have a really strong connection without having sex too, but it's considered an important part of a healthy committed relationship (not knocking the single folks, just rhetoric).  For kinksters, it's healthy also to incorporate kink into their lives.  On some level it doesn't matter why we want it, like with sex.  You have to consider the impact on the rest of your life when you choose when and how and with whom to have sex, and the same goes for kink too.

As to the causes of masochism and sadism, I think it changes from person to person, from time to time, and that's one more reason to know the people you're playing with, because in my opinion psychological health awareness should happen across the board when you're even approaching an act you'd have to come out of the closet about, if only just for that reason.  Regardless of whether you use RACK or SSC or PRICK.  That said, I think that both RACK and SSC do indeed mention psychological health.  If you're not being aware of possible emotional damage, you're not being risk-AWARE, and you're not being safe.  If you're being vague enough to just use the words "safe" and "risk," then you can't make any assumptions about what might be included in that.  While I like PRICK for some reasons, it seems a little limited to me.

My 2c.

My issue with RACK and SSC,

My issue with RACK and SSC, etc. I think stems from the fact that the indoctrination that I had in them at no point emphasized emotional safety vs. emotional risk. That was an intellectual leap that I had to make on my own.

Now admittedly, almost everyone I know in the scene gets it, because I suppose it's not a terribly large leap to make. My point here is that there is no guarantee that just because someone knows what RACK or SSC is, that they know how to actually do it. We as a community seem to take the attitude that this is wisdom that requires experience to gain, whereas there are times when I feel like it should be a prerequisite for entry.

Again, I'm not trying to fix everyone, but if I can see the deficiency in another person's understanding (and I can in more than one case), then who's to say that somebody that's been around longer and/or has a better aptitude than I do can see a deficiency in my understanding. I, for one, would want that person to take me aside and point out what I'm doing wrong. I know enough to know that I don't know much in the grand scheme of things.

Lest it be somehow lost, I do take comfort that at least two of the people whose opinions I value seem to worry about the mental aspects as much as I do, even if you disagree with me on the prevalence of that concern. ;)