Dear Patrick: I am concerned that every time I play, I seem to require higher levels of pain. Each scene is ‚ heavier‚ than the last. I always knew I had masochistic tendencies, but this is crazy! Should I be worried? Or should I just enjoy myself? Seems like I should draw a line somewhere, but when I am tied up and getting whipped, my limits just seem to melt away.–Sky
Dear Sky’s the Limit: Sorry, couldn’t help myself.
Heavy masochists are a special category of bottom. Actually, some heavy masochists are tops, believe it or not. Every now and then they need to be tortured to their limits and beyond, then they are satisfied and don’t need to get hurt again for a while. They genuinely enjoy topping, but the masochism is hard-wired into their bodies and libidos.
I believe that masochism is an inborn trait, although I have seen good bottoms stretch their limits when it comes to erotic pain. You shouldn’t feel bad about it. It’s an amazing gift, a rare talent. You have the capacity to make a handful of tops very very happy. But you do need to respect yourself and make sure that the people you play with also see you as a miracle rather than something they can just trash and then discard.
Unfortunately, the same community that talks a lot about whips and chains can be remarkably intolerant of masochism once it crosses a certain line. (That line is usually the limits possessed by the judgmental speaker.) People who don’t share your capacities will have a hard time understanding them. Rather than accepting somebody else’s judgment of how far you should go, create your own sense of what seems safe or appropriate for yourself.
Here are some potentially helpful guidelines or questions. Do you believe that the people you play with like you and honor you? When you play, do you feel better afterward, or do you feel awful? Are you getting the right kind of aftercare? Do you feel that if you had an emotional crisis after a scene, you could call the top and receive helpful intervention or comfort? On a physical level, what are the consequences of your heavy play? I would be concerned if you are getting infections, broken bones or sprains, hematomas (bruises) that take longer than ten days to heal, wounds that ought to be sutured, unwanted bleeding, dehydration or other treatment that makes you lose consciousness, or any other problem that ought to receive medical attention.
The problem is that once you are in the middle of play, you are so full of ecstatic chemicals that you are going to have a hard time enforcing a limit. So think about all of this before you play and come up with a line that you don’t want to cross. Share this line with your top. As an experiment, ask him or her to abide by that limit, even if you change your mind in the middle of the scene and beg for more. I suggest this because I think you should have the experience of playing with a top who is strong-willed enough to provide a safe container for you, and set limits on your behalf. Heavy masochists need this sort of top more than people who play on the lighter side of the continuum.
After the scene, evaluate how you feel. Are you relieved? Happy? Frustrated? Let down? Write down how you feel immediately after the scene stops, then check in and write down some more thoughts on your condition the day after and so on for about a week. In the meantime, don’t play. Read over your journal and see what the end results are of pre-setting a limit, then knowing it won’t be crossed. If you actually feel better about yourself than you do when you worry that you’ve gone too far, maybe this is a change that you can make to take better care of yourself.
If in fact you hated this process and feel that you want to negotiate or set your limits on the fly, abandon the experiment and go back to your old ways. But dump the guilt. The vague fear of going too far is not useful. Unless you can define a limit in concrete terms and share it with somebody else, it’s not very helpful, except as a tool to beat yourself up. And that’s usually not much of a good time.
Patrick Califia is a therapist in private practice in Northern California. His practice includes internet consultations as well as face-to-face psychotherapy. He is a prolific author who has published widely about BDSM and sexual politics. Patrick’s books include Macho Sluts, Sensuous Magic, and Public Sex: The Politics of Radical Sex.
This column is not intended to offer medical or legal advice. It is for educational and entertainment purposes only. If you need medical or legal advice, see a doctor or lawyer!
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