Content note: This post features brief mentions of self-harm (but no detailed descriptions or images) and briefly refers to a consensual scalpel scene (again, without details or images).
This post is part of a miniseries exploring the nuances of different headspaces I access through kink! You can find the first one, on ‘ropespace’, here.
You can also find an extended piece of my erotica featured on Erotica at Doxy, which I am fucking ecstatic about, right here. Or you can stay on this webpage and read my musings on masochism.
One of the first essay-type posts I ever drafted, when I was first considering starting a kink-focused blog, was an impassioned rant in response to a recent ex saying that I was using masochism as a proxy for self-harm after he’d seen the aftermath of my first ever scalpel scene all over my thighs. (I should point out that I’d talked to him about the scene beforehand, because surprising a partner – or anybody – with potentially disquieting or triggering wounds is, under most circumstances, a dick move.) I eventually decided that it was too direct, too angry and too personal to be much use to anybody else, but it sits in my Google Drive nonetheless, and it served as a brilliant initial exercise in kinky introspection.
Defining masochism in opposition to self-harm has some drawbacks (primarily, it can be limiting and makes me sound acutely defensive) but it’s a good starting point. Self-harm, for me, is an impulsive action (or series of actions) that I carry out hurriedly, in secret, as a means to an end: I just want to stabilise my brain chemicals enough to survive the day.
By contrast, playing in a masochistic space is a deliberate and shared experience that I seek out and savour. Much like bottoming in a rope scene, bottoming in a sadomasochistic scene requires me to be grounded, present and super attuned to my body and the signals it’s giving me. My job in an S/M scene is to be receptive and responsive, and, above all, to enjoy the array of sensations that my top is providing me with. Self-harm is an attempt to manipulate my body and brain; masochism is an attempt to relax into them.
Masochist-space feels meditative, more so than some other subspaces. Often I’m beaten, pinched, slapped, etc, to a particular rhythm, and reminded by my top in a warm (if condescending) tone to breathe deeply between strikes. I focus almost exclusively on relaxing my muscles and on every sensation I’m experiencing – including non-pain-related ones like the texture of the bedsheets I’m on or the sounds of the impact implements being used. Sometimes I process pain by making noises, and those noises reverberate pleasantly in my chest. I feel as present in my body as it is possible for me to feel, and the pain transforms from something I’m enduring into a catharsis I’m enjoying.
Masochist-space also feels more performative than some other headspaces – but not in an inauthentic sort of way. All the sounds I make (and there are a lot of ’em!) and all the ways I articulate that I’m in pain (like scrunching my face up or writhing) are reflexive and beyond my control, but the process of receiving pain in and of itself is, in part, a way of expressing what a Good Pup™ I can be. I use S/M scenes to showcase my abilities to be determined, resilient, responsive, dedicated to a top, mentally ‘strong’, brave, and/or vulnerable. Like service space, masochist-space allows me to show off, and cultivates a feeling of self-worth in me that I (currently) find impossible to manufacture on my own.
The other thing about masochist-space that separates it from other headspaces is that it requires a sadist in some capacity. Pain for the sake of pain ranges from inconvenient to downright miserable, whether it’s in the context of self-harm or a stubbed toe, but pain for the sake of someone else’s enjoyment is as satisfying as any vanilla thing that brings someone you like some joy – like baking something your partner really likes, or massaging their neck after a long day at the office. I worried for a while that this didn’t make me a ‘true’ masochist: shutting my finger in a drawer didn’t instantly get me wet, and my enjoyment of pain hinged upon someone else’s enjoyment of administering it. It took me a long while to piece together that this was, in essence, a consent issue – I didn’t ask my joints to sublux or the coffee table to get in the way of my shins, but I did ask my Daddy to do whatever he wanted to my ass until I cried “Yellow” or he got bored. And, again, this explained some of the difference between masochism and self-harm, because I was never enthusiastic about the pain I caused myself or the circumstances that forced me to it; the only thing I was enthusiastic about was a spike of endorphins and a quick distraction from my thoughts.
This post has only scratched the surface of my deep love for S/M scenes (get it…? I’ll show myself out) but I hope it’s made clear the uniquely meditative and connective nature of masochist-space as I experience it. I leave you with this quote from the angry essay I wrote to myself last year:
In letting a partner mark my body during a scene, I am consciously handing over ownership and control of my body to somebody else. The marks, wherever they end up placed, will remind me for days or weeks to come that I had enough autonomy to surrender my body to somebody else – somebody who treated it exactly the way I wanted it to be treated.