The Epistemological Problem

My post on ‘The Path to Subspace‘ generated a number of interesting comments. One common factor that came through in them was the problem of definition. How do I know the experience I describe as subspace is similar to that experienced by others? The same could be said of any mental state, but at least life provides us with many common references points to calibrate our understanding of happiness, anger, pain, etc. Subspace is far more complex, with no common path to it and no simple reference markers.

Alex commented that a therapist had attributed subspace to dissociation. At first glance that seems logical. Dissociation can be induced by stress and is described as a detachment from reality. Subspace is reached by stressful BDSM play, and often described as ‘floating away’ or ‘zoning out’, so that seems to fit. Yet, when I read the kind of questions they use to test for dissociation, the match seems less clear. And in fact, when I look back on my own descriptions of subspace, I’m not sure I’ve done a good job of capturing the sensation.

Dissociation is described as detachment from reality, where subspace to me often feels like reality has detached from me. That might seem like silly wordplay, but I think there’s an important difference. In subspace all that matters is the domme, me and the dynamic between us. The surroundings falls away. It’s not that I’m detached, or absent from my body, but that everything in our little bubble seems hyper-real. The domme fills my world with her presence and the sensations of our play. The pain, the smells, the touch, the intimacy and the intensity. It overwhelms me, and turns everything outside our space into an afterthought. It’s not the volume on the world being dialed down, but the volume on the two of us being dialed way way up.

If you’re interested in reading more about the post title then this is worth checking out.

Trying too hard

It’s time for another post where I rag on celebrities for getting BDSM outfits wrong. Normally I’m complaining that wearing a leather jacket or a pair of boots does not constitute a BDSM outfit. In this case the problem is the opposite one.

Nobody could accuse Nicki Minaj of being subtle at the recent Billboard Music Awards. She’s got latex, chains and leather everywhere. There’s even backing dancers in pink gas masks. I’m just not sure what the hell’s going on with this outfit. It’s like she went drunk shopping at a fetish store closing down sale, and then decided to wear everything at once. Although I guess it does succeed in one respect. If I saw a domme coming at me in this outfit, I might not think it was sexy, but I’d definitely be scared.

The path to subspace

I got a very interesting question from profoundlife in response to my brain versus no brain post from last week. The post was about two different categories of play, one where the submissive could simply relax and go along for the ride (no brain) and the other where submissive was kept off balance and was regularly forced to interact and respond to the dominant (brain). The question posed was a simple one, but I don’t really know the answer.

Do you think sub space only happens really happens with no brain play?

That’s certainly true for me, but I’m not sure I can say it’s generally true for everyone. If I’m in subspace it’s almost impossible for me to interact intelligently and verbally with the dominant, or maintain any kind of complicated physical position. Being pulled into the present moment involves getting my higher level brain functions firing, and my internal mental dialog running, and that’s pretty much the end of subspace. But is that true for everyone?

Do people into verbal humiliation, public scenes or performing complex tasks for the dominant, get into subspace? Or a variation of subspace? I can imagine that being micromanaged by a domme and having to perform a lot of repetitive tasks in a very focused way might result in subspace, but that also seems like a way to turn a ‘brain’ type task into a ‘no brain’ one. The point of something like predicament bondage is to stop the submissive zoning out, but maybe some people can be so focused it turns into a type of subspace? Anyone out there have any thoughts or personal experiences?

Not sure of the original source here, but this looks like a scene from the Folsom Fair. I found it in this Femdom Destiny post. It’d think it’d be tough to get into subspace when you’re naked, leashed and on the streets of San Francisco.

Sun and Kink in Seattle

As weekends go, this one didn’t suck. It was my birthday, so I had many drinks with friends to celebrate that. After a wet and miserable winter, we finally got some beautiful sunny weather in Seattle. And finally, best of all, I got to play with Mistress Mara Mayhem.

Regular readers with good memories may remember I last got together with Mistress Mara in Chicago last year. This time she was visiting Seattle and, despite a tight schedule, we managed to fit in a session on Sunday afternoon. It was a lot of fun, despite a rookie error on my part. I thoughtlessly mentioned it had recently been my birthday which, for pretty much every domme in the world, can mean only one thing – birthday spanks. You can see the end result on my posterior in this twitter picture Mistress Mara shot. I will not say how many spanks it was, but I think it’s safe to say my ass will be red for a few days to come.

This is the beautiful Mistress Mara in a shot from her twitter feed. I believe it was taken immediately before our session. If you’re interested in arranging a session with her then this is her site.

Keep it simple

Predicament bondage is often shown in very complex set ups – like those in my last two posts. The kind of thing that looks like you need to be a cross between a structural engineer and a mad scientist to pull off. But it need not be like that. I remember doing a scene with my hands bound behind me while I was trying to hold a coin against a wall with my nose. That was an interesting predicament to hold, particularly when the caning started.

The shot below shows another simple technique, using something sharp under the heels. In this case its a pair of spiked wallpaper strippers placed there by Miss Deelight. The rest of the set-up (as shown in this post) is more complex, but this element of the predicament would be easy set-up in the comfort of your own home.

Miss Deelight is a pro-domme based in South Whales and the South West of the UK.

Brain versus no brain

I was thinking today about two different styles of play that rarely get talked about. I say styles of play, but really they’re more categories that specific play styles can be grouped into. I’m not sure they have a well defined and widely understood name, so I’m just going to call them brain and no brain.

No brain is play where the submissive only has to exist and react to the domme in instinctual ways. Simply to be there, in the moment, and twitch, moan or scream is enough. The domme is still gathering feedback to guide the scene, but the submissive can be floating away in subspace, zoning out or trying to push through a pain threshold. There’s no higher level though process needed.

In contrast, play in the brain category involves the domme engaging with the submissive at a more conscious level. She wants to pull him back into the present, catch him off guard and generally stop him relaxing into the scene. This often involves asking questions, or have him verbalize what’s happening, or define some protocol to be followed. There’s an element of right and wrong for the submissive, with the heightened anxiety that brings.

Some styles of play naturally align with one or other of these categories. Mummification and sensory deprivation clearly align well with no brain. Predicament bondage is very much a brain thing. Other styles can work well in either. A domme could cane a submissive and let them focus on processing the sensations while draped comfortably over a padded bench. That would be a no brain approach. Alternatively, she could make him hold a particular pose and count the strokes, while trying to make him slip-up on the count. That’d clearly be in the brain category.

I mention all this because it struck me that these two categories rarely get talked about directly, but actually make a big difference to how play unfolds. In negotiating scenes I’ve seen lots of lists for activities to try and lots of suggestions for different roleplay scenarios, but nobody has ever asked me if I like to use my brain in a scene or not. In my experience, while no domme plays exclusively in one category, a dommes natural style does tend to align more towards one than the other. Some like a lot of verbal interaction and to create a D/s dynamic by keeping the submissive off balance, either literally or figuratively. Others are happy to work more instinctually, and let the submissive drift off into subspace as they build layers of sensation.

I personally prefer a no brain approach to sessions. I like to unplug my conscious mind  and relax into whatever is about to happen. I think I might start calling that preference out in scene negotiation. Maybe it’s something for others to think about in their scene planning?

This rather elaborate predicament bondage set-up by Mistress Sidonia is definitely in the brain category. Hard to relax when you’re rigged up like that. You can see more of Mistress Sidonia’s devilish predicaments in this post at the English Mansion blog.

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

The ratio of dominant women to submissive men is a topic of conversation that pops up fairly regularly across femdom blogs and forums. Most submissive men will maintain their are lots more of them than dominant women. In contrast, I’ve observed some dominant women claim that lots of the play events they attend have a ratio close to parity or even skewed to a majority of dominants.

I’ve done my own highly unscientific research in the past, and now OKCupid  have done something a bit more scientific, sampling their userbase. They have a chart showing ‘Turn-ons by gender’, which has good news in general for kinky people, but bad news for people searching for a Femdom relationship.

The good news part is a lot of people seemed to be into general kinkiness. Over 60% of both genders liked of the idea of ‘rough sex’ and over 50% ‘being bitten’. Even enjoying ‘some pain’ was over 30% of both genders. Those numbers are higher than I’d have guessed, although I’m sure the general populace would skew lower than OKCupid users.

The bad news is that the survey terms that tend to be high for both genders don’t differentiate top from bottom. Once you start doing that, then a more stereotypical view of kink emerges. Over 40% of men in this survey like tying people up but less than 20% enjoy being tied up. A majority of them like taking control (~60%) but only around 20% are happy for their partner to take control. Women are pretty much the reverse of that Less than 10% of survey women like taking control or doing the tying. In contrast over 40% like being tied up and over 60% like their partner taking control.

That means, purely from a population size perspective, anyone hunting on OKCupid for an M/f relationship is likely to have a much easier time of it than an F/m one. In terms of the ratios, then it looks roughly like a 2:1 between dominant women to submissive guys. Almost 20% of guys like being tied or giving up control, where a little less than 10% of women enjoy being in charge of the ropes.

This is by the photographer Martin Duerr from a series called The Hotel.

Something for the grandchildren

This shot is apparently by Amauary Grisel (featured here in the past). I say apparently because I haven’t managed to track down the original posting, despite lots of other sites listing this as by Amauray Grisel. It makes me smile and I’d love to know the background story. It looks like a shot from a quirky indie horror movie featuring ravenous kinky grandmothers who like to tie up their man meat before devouring it. And also, maybe snap a few selfies for the family while they’re doing it.

Needle Smart

Melissa Febos is back in the news to annoy my over my morning cup of tea. For those that haven’t heard of her, she’s the author of a book called Whip Smart about her time working as a pro-domme in a dungeon in NYC. Her story is a familiar one. Full of the confidence and immortality of youth, our author-to-be does a bunch of drugs and develops a heroin addiction. She then spends several years trying to combine a normal life, a drug habit and a secret job that can sustain said habit. Eventually she kicks the drugs, ditches the job and writes a book about how crazy it all was. It’s a time honored tale, and one practiced by many authors.

I’m happy she got clean, got published and got a different job that she’s clearly better suited for. What annoys me is that in the countless interviews she does, she never provides broader context for domination or shows any self-awareness of herself in the bigger kinky picture. You get the impression she thinks she’s a truly representative example of a dominatrix and is providing a valuable insight into that world. Where in reality she was hired as a pretty face, working with zero training in a McDungeon. It’s a bit like a 3rd string quarterback, who never made it beyond the practice squad, writing a book on being a professional NFL player. He might have a great personal story, but he’s not exactly Tom Brady. In that case I’m sure he and his interviewers would understand that. In the case of Febos and her coverage, I’m not sure that distinction gets drawn.

I also find it odd that the dangers of what she did never get addressed. For example, she did risky kinky activities like breathplay while high on drugs. I wonder how the interviews would have gone is her side gig had been say a carer at an old peoples home? I’m guessing all the funny stories about the stupid shit she did with the crazy patients while on heroin wouldn’t have gone down so well.

The other thing that bugs me – while I’m ranting here – is how she trades on her time as a dominatrix while also complaining about people bringing it up. Several times in this recent Guardian article she writes disapprovingly about people mentioning it, and is mad that a colleague makes a joke about it. You don’t get to write a book, and do countless interviews on a subject to flog said book, and the declare it off limits for comments. If you’re making money off it, you should probably learn not to be embarrassed by it.

Mistress Mattisse wrote a review of the book and also chatted to Febos. I think she covers the issues pretty well.

Melissa FebosPhotograph is of Melissa Febos. Post title and ‘McDungeon’ stolen shamelessly from Mistress Matisse.