“Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.”
Oscar Wilde said it, Frank Underwood quoted it and the girl whom I chased for most of my senior year of high school meant it.
I was someone who had a traditional notion of a relationship built on affection and trust, but she was interested in something very different. She absolutely loathed my affection and instead what she wanted from me was much more straightforward: to control me. She wanted a relationship in which she dominated me in all aspects of the word, because for her, the lines between power and pleasure were blurred.
I remember the night she told me she was into BDSM. When she first brought it up, I consulted Wikipedia to learn the acronym: bondage, domination and sadomasochism.
She had me watch a video to understand. I remember being stunned at the sight of the dungeon, ballgag and whip and chains that I watched with her for the next 20 minutes. I remember her being aroused from the squeals of pain. And although I knew they were just actors, I was uncomfortable and sad.
As a straight-laced, relatively nerdy male who even felt guilty watching soft-core porn, I never could have predicted that the girl I would spend most of my senior year of high school madly pursuing would be a bit of a Christian Grey. We were never officially together, so when I refer to this “relationship,” I mean it in the vaguest sense.
I hope that this strange dip into the world of domination can provide useful advice for people who might be interested in or are simply curious about these types of relationships. This is not based on studies, data or anything quantitative; it is purely what I feel.
It is my belief that when you mix power and pleasure, the lines get blurred.
I remember her always wanting to prove she was in charge. I remember her telling me that it was such a pleasure to emasculate me, make me feel helpless. Only a few weeks after meeting her, she said she wanted to use a strap on.
I certainly didn’t start off as a person who found domination attractive. My initial reaction to her interests was honestly uneasiness. But it is much harder to be the masters of our subconscious than we believe. I liked her, and I kept chasing her through it all.
She built an association between sexual arousal and being dominated. After a time, I felt almost trained to respond to abuse with arousal, like Pavlov’s dog was trained to salivate at the sound of a bell.
My friends would ask me why I didn’t end it. I still don’t have an answer that I find adequate. What I do know from my experience as the person on the submissive end of this relationship is that it is easy to get used to, essentially addicted, to the feeling she gave me. Even though she could make me feel terrible by devaluing any contribution I made to the relationship, there was a part of me that craved her approval and loved the intrigue. I convinced myself that it was what I wanted, even though the relationship felt wrong.
By nature of a sexual relationship based on dominance, it is difficult for each in the relationship to have a fair opportunity to communicate desires. This poor communication often permeates the relationship outside of the bedroom, so the sexual dominance becomes difficult to separate from the rest of life. This is not to say that all interactions revolve around sexuality without exception, but sexuality and its implied power relations can influence our interactions more than we realize.
Of course there are people who use bondage in the bedroom and seemingly maintain a healthy, committed relationship. What I have found is that an association between pain, domination and arousal is not something that is healthy in the long run. To associate physiological pleasure with exerting power over a person seeps into your daily routine and affects the way you think about your loved one.
Even months removed from the relationship, I struggled to separate arousal and the feeling of being overpowered. My desires changed in ways I couldn’t have foreseen and wasn’t able to prevent. And losing control of one’s desires like that is a problem not worth the pleasure.