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.

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.

Better Than Life (continued again)

This post on sex and technology by Girl on the Net reminded me that I meant to write more on VR and Femdom. A few weeks back I posted my observations here and here on the current state of the art. I thought I’d followup with a couple of posts on my ideas for the future. Tomorrow I’ll tackle how it might lead to new types of sexual interaction. For today I’ll focus on a type of sensation play I think is perfect for VR – electrostimulation or e-stim.

I was lucky enough to enjoy a variety of e-stim play on my recent Vegas trip, and it reminded me how versatile it is. Keep it low and it’s almost like a pleasant tickling. Build it up in continuous waves and it can induce stress and sensory overload. Sudden sharp bursts are almost like canes or whips in the focused intensity. Use in with an insertable probe (like an electrified butt plug) and the muscle contractions can create a kind of thrusting/fucking sensation. I wouldn’t claim it’s a direct substitute for other kinds of play, but it does offer a uniquely versatile range of stimulation.

The tricky part with e-stim is getting it working properly. Sticky contact pads often have cheap connections and broken wires. TENS units are limited in functionality, tricky to set up and (in my experience) plagued with dead batteries. Every domme I’ve played with, no matter how organized and well equipped, always seems to be spend a bunch of time fiddling with connections and I trying to figure out why cranking the dial to 11 doesn’t get so much as a whimper out of me. I think it’s an area ripe for a high tech solution.

On the flip side, when it comes to VR, BDSM and haptic devices, there choices are pretty limited. There’s all manner of vibrating plugs, sleeves and insertables, but not a lot else. I’ve nothing against a good buzz applied to the right spot, but it doesn’t exactly scratch my masochistic itch. How about a wearable, custom designed and computer controlled e-stim device?

I’m imagining a tight rubber vest, completely interwoven with a grid of wires, wrapping all around the torso. They’d be insulated from each other, but would touch the flesh every half inch or so with a small contact patch. A connection at the bottom would hook the vest wires to a PC driven switch system and powerful multi-channel e-stim device such as an ErosTek. The e-stim device would provide the charge and the computer software would rapidly switch it across different combinations of wires to create different sensations. It could create delicate sensations that gently traced around the body. Or sharp lines of pain that shoot across like a cane strike. Or big waves of shocks that hit in a single point and then radiated out. Smart software could either coordinate the effects with the VR world  or allow another person to control it in realtime. It wouldn’t simulate human touch, or the sensation of specific implements, but it could produce complex and consistent sensations that correlated with behavior in the virtual world.

I’m possibly certainly unusual, but I’ll take a jacket that’ll shock me in strange and unusual ways over a pleasant buzz in the genitals. I just hope there’s enough technology loving kinkster out there like me to make it worth someone building and selling it.

Here’s someone enjoying some strange and unusual electrical stimulation. No fancy high tech equipment required here. Just a lady with a violet wand – a device can trace its roots back to the 19th century. The image is obviously from the Divine Bitches site.

Better Than Life (cont)

In yesterday’s post I talked about VR porn and some of the issues I’d found when trying it out. While there’s room for improvement, it’s undoubtedly a unique experience that’s worth playing with. Most people trying it for the first time – whether they’re looking at adult content or not – come away suprised and impressed.

I thought for this post I’d try and suggest some kinky femdom niches that might fit with the constraints of the current systems. Unfortunately, my kinks don’t really align to the suggestions below, so I could be way off base here. That said, if I was going to suggest who’s likely to get the most out of the current technology cycle, it’d be people into…

  • Giantesses
    Unless you manage to find a domme who has encountered strange radiation from space, this is pretty tough kink to fulfill. However, I think it works great in VR. With a low camera it’s easy to create a sense of being small and insignificant. You can do the same in regular films, but it’s a way more effective technique in 3D and 360 degree vision.
  • Fetishisation of things like boots, heels, legs, etc.
    I found the inability to touch or interact was frustrating, but if you just want to look at something and admire it from different angles, then VR would probably work better than a regular movie.
  • Humiliation, abuse and teasing.
    There’s a significant existing market for POV shots of dommes insulting and teasing the audience sitting ‘at their feet’ (for example). This’d clearly be a lot more compelling an experience with a life size three dimensional domme doing all the sneering.  If you want to be a pathetic worm who isn’t fit to speak to or touch your domme, then the lack of interaction or feel wouldn’t be a problem.
  • Sadists.
    This one is a bit of an odd one, but I think there might be a market for videos from the top perspective. As a masochist I get off on the physical sensation of pain. That’s hard to simulate currently in VR. A sadist gets off on the reaction of the masochist, and that can be observed in VR. I found one short flogging clip filmed in 3D from from the dominant POV, and it felt like a very different experience than a regular flogging clip. It put me far more inside the top’s head than normal, which was an odd place for a submissive.

The problem with all these ideas right now is the lack of content available and the lack of consumers with the right equipment willing to purchase it. That’s a catch-22 that can only be solved with time. But if I was a kinky VR porn producers, I’d focus my efforts on those four areas and hope for the best.

This Giantesses artwork is by Accasbel on DeviantArt. Of all the kinky niches that’ll work in VR, I think Giantesses is the one that’ll benefit the most.

Better Than Life (or not)

I recently purchased a HTC Vive Virtual Reality system. It’s a technology I’ve always been interested in – I even worked on it back in the 90’s – so I was intrigued to try out the latest and greatest systems. There are lots of companies investing in this space, including Facebook, Sony and Google, but the Vive looks to be one of the more advanced options right now.

Obviously, for the purposes of writing this post, I had to try out some VR porn. My readers deserve a proper investigation into the topic I thought. It would have been almost be selfish of me not to look at it. My top piece of advice for anyone in a similar research mode would be to buy the Virtual Desktop application. It makes browsing and running movies in different VR formats a breeze. When you have to deal with clunky headsets, headphones and twisty cables, the last thing you want to be doing is pulling it all on and off while you try and figure out why the naked people aren’t showing up properly.

Based on the very limited number of movies I’ve tried so far, my impressions are mixed. It does undoubtedly give you a much greater sense of presence and of being ‘in the scene’ than a regular movie. Sometimes, with the performer close and talking directly to camera, it was almost uncomfortable, a sense that my personal space was being invaded. Taking the headset off can be quite disconcerting, the sense of being elsewhere is so strong, that coming back to reality is a jolt.

However, making it more real in one aspect also highlights how unreal it is in others. You can’t touch. You can’t feel. You can look around, but not move around. The actors can’t interact with you. In that sense, it was much more frustrating that regular pornography. Watching regular femdom movies will often make me wish I could do a scene with the domme involved, but I never want to actually be in the scene I’m watching. It wouldn’t make any sense to think that – it’s obviously a movie. VR scenes did create that kind of frustration. I wanted to feel the pain, the pinch and the pull. I wanted that cock getting whipped to really be mine. Instead it was like my body had been anesthetized. Ironically, the virtual reality material actually created a greater desire to go out and play with real people in actual reality.

I’ll follow-up with some more thoughts on this topic in a post tomorrow. In the meantime, here’s a shot of Maitresse Madeline and Mike Panic in a cuckold scene from the Kink new VR studios.

Oh, and 10 kinky bonus points (no redeemable value, offer not applicable in all States, participants must be over 18 years old) to anyone who can tell me where the reference in the title comes from. As a hint, it’s a comedy reference.

Dana Kane

In the early years of this blog there was a fair amount of discussion, in both posts, links and comments, about the validity and authenticity of professional domination. Some maintained that the financial aspect always made the D/s dynamic inauthentic. A few people even held that pro-dommes were a significant negative influence on kink and femdom and the community would be better off without them.

Over time that kind of discussion seems to have faded. Possibly I’ve convinced people that while the professional aspect certainly makes a difference, it’s not the defining characteristic or necessarily a negative one. Possibly everyone who argued otherwise has got fed up and gone elsewhere. Maybe I’m just more sure of myself and therefore less likely to take offense and pick an argument.

If I was still regularly engaging in that kind of debate, then I’d certainly want to highlight a post (from 2015) by professional disciplinary Dana Kane on her relationship with one of her playmates Paul. It’s entitled ‘Can I come to your funeral?‘ and, as the title suggests, it’s both a powerful and emotional one. It covers both the development of their relationship and what happens when Paul becomes ill. It’s tricky one to summarize beyond that, so I’m not going to even try. Just go read it. I think it does show what a caring person Ms Kane is, how important kinky relationships can be to people, and also how complex and conflicted they can potentially be.

This image is of Dana Kane spanking Michael Darling for the Dreams of Spanking site.

The places you’ll go

Writing about Kink’s Armory space last week got me thinking about all the different play spaces I’ve experienced over the years. If you’ve never visited a professional BDSM space, you might be surprised where they pop up. Old industrial buildings in the cheaper parts of town are certainly common, but they’re not the only option. For example, over the years I’ve experienced:

  • A big McMansion in a rich suburb. A large chunk of the second floor had been converted to the play space. It was odd to experience being bound and beaten while chinks in the window blinds gave me glimpses of people watering their lawns or kids playing in the street.
  • An ultra-modern loft style condo. I was late to arrive, as I spent the first 10 minutes convinced that the play space must be in the old brick warehouse across the street. That seemed so much more likely than the trendy and expensive condos.
  • The top floor of a downtown office block. It was an incredibly well equipped space, and it must have been a nightmare to get all the big heavy dungeon furniture up the lifts and stairs without arousing suspicion.
  • A townhouse in the heart of San Francisco. I was banned from visiting during the day, as it was thought my screams would disturb the dot com company next door.

Most spaces adopt the functional but cliched black / red color schemes for the walls and equipment, but there are a few happy exceptions. Troy Orleans in NYC has a beautiful establishment with natural light, clean white walls and a very well thought out use of space (see a shot here). Similarly, Lucy Khan in LA has a luxurious and well composed space that actually looks like an interior designer was involved (see a shot here). Personally, I always prefer to play somewhere that feels like a beautiful space to be in, rather than in a dungeon cliche.

This image is by Natasha Gornik and was featured on her tumblr. It doesn’t say so on the post, but I believe that’s Miss Troy Orleans again. I think it’s a nice example of an intense scene but with still a clean and beautiful aesthetic.

Doubling up on dungeons

The closure of kink.com’s armory space got me wondering what’ll happen to all the fancy equipment they’ve built or collected over the years. I can’t imagine there’s another single place in the US with quite the depth and range of BDSM toys and furniture that they have. Losing it would be a great shame. Although maybe there’s a business opportunity here?

BDSM play spaces in the US are normally tucked away in odd corners of cities, with unclear rules about who can rent them and elaborate protocol for how to approach them inconspicuously. There’s always an understandable desire to avoid annoying the neighbors or drawing the attention of local authorities. Some have great equipment, but it’s often squeezed into a few small rooms, and the soundproofing can be less than ideal. If kink.com is going to spread filming to new locations in different cities, how about building out these facilities so they can be rented by others? That would allow them to get value from the space when they weren’t filming, and allow kinky people to play with the fancy equipment. Plus, any space already zoned for filming kinky porn with a cast+crew shouldn’t have an issue with 2 or 3 private people turning up to use it.

Obviously they’d need something a bit more permanent than a set that gets torn down between each shoot, but with some themed areas and equipment that can be moved easily, it should be possible to make it flexible enough. I can imagine pro-dommes would love to be able to offer clients a play experience in a setting they already know from watching kink’s movies. Alternatively, given the popularity of clip stores, they could rent it out to dommes wanting to do their own filming. It’d already have all the infrastructure in place ready for setting up lighting and sound.

When it comes to interesting play spaces, it’s hard to beat Germany. The photographs below are from Avalon Studios, and specifically their private residences. They offer a complete self-contained complex for rent, with multiple guest rooms, a dungeon, a clinic, a school room, a set of cells, etc. It’s can be rented by pro-dommes, BDSM film makers or just people wanting a kinky themed holiday. How many other dungeons out there boast a confessional for sharing all your naughtiest sins?

Tips for the talented

Adult content on the internet is in kind of an odd space right now, at least from an economic perspective. At one extreme there’s a handful of premium content creators (like Kink, Femme Fatale Films, Femdom Empire, etc.) and at the other extreme there are countless free sites (blogs, tumblrs, instagrams, etc.), often packed with content from the premium creators. In between there really isn’t much. If you’re not making expensive movies, or making ad revenue by stealing other people’s expensive movies, then it’s hard to see how money can be made. That strikes me as an unhealthy situation to be in.

Of course this isn’t unique to the adult area – as newspaper, magazine and encyclopedia companies will tell you. It’s the classic micropayment problem. There’s no good way to make quick, easy and small financial transactions for online products. It gets even trickier in the adult realm however, thanks to the persistent discrimination by banks and credit card companies against sex related industries. Engadget published a very depressing and eye-opening article on that back in 2015, and the situation certainly hasn’t improved since then.

One possible solution to this is the Patreon model. I’ve written about this briefly in the past. It’s a system that allows you to set up just a single account with a credit card and then give just a few bucks a month to content creators you like. They aggregate the payments together (minimizing the hidden credit card fees) and users don’t need to enter credit card details anytime they want to tip a content creator.

It’s an approach that seems to be gaining some traction. For example, Bacchus at ErosBlog has set up one to support more in depth writing and deep dives on his site. Violet Blue has one to support her work on her Tiny Nibbles site. Erika Moen has one for her excellent Oh Joy Sex Toy comics, and so on.

The challenge can be finding the interesting stuff. So what I’ll try and do in the future is periodically put up a post with some femdom and kink related Patreon creators. That’ll point readers at fun new stuff and hopefully send a few dollars towards the people who actually create all this great art. For today’s post I’ll take the chance to (again) feature something by one of my favorite artists – Yumine Guo. Her Patreon account can be found here.

This image is from her Storyland tumblr.

When no means yes

Ferns left me an interesting comment to my previous post on the use (or not) of safewords. You can read the whole thing here, but to excerpt a relevant part…

When I played, I pushed him to fall over into that space where his voice was unfiltered and when he was like that, he would say ‘no’ or ‘please stop’ or ‘I’ve had enough’. It was visceral and instinctual and he couldn’t stop it coming out, but he also *didn’t mean it*. He wasn’t role playing, everything in him was saying ‘no’, but he didn’t want me to stop.

I do think it is super hot when you get into that kind of space (as Ferns says), and her comment makes an excellent point, but I don’t think it changes my underlying idea. The goal is good communication, however that is achieved. If you’re role playing, or the kind of submissive who says no when you mean yes, then safewords are definitely for you. If you think you communicate more clearly without them, then I personally wouldn’t impose them unnecessarily.

Of course, in some ways it’s impossible not to have a safeword. If someone starts yelling ‘red’, ‘safeword’ or ‘vomit’ in the middle of a scene, I don’t think it really matters what you negotiated beforehand. The message is pretty clear. So in some ways picking a safeword is less about acquiring a way to stop the scene and more about negotiating away possible ways to stop it. Which is a kind of weird way to think about it.

happycbtThis image has nothing to do with safewords. I just thought it was a hot and fun. I always love a happy domme. This is Miss Annalieza.