A Male Submissive Watches “The Duke of Burgundy”

An imperious, severely dressed lady instructs a young female servant to wash a pile of underwear, by hand. Unfortunately, the servant overlooks one pair, and in the lady’s judgement fails to clean the others “properly”. The lady hauls her into the bathroom for “a little punishment”, closing the door firmly once the two of them are inside. “Lie down,” the lady says coolly. “Open your mouth.” From behind the door, a gush of liquid is heard, followed by the servant girl’s hapless sputtering and gasping.

 ***

 That bit of apparent cruelty occurs near the beginning of writer-director Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy (2014), an intelligent and well-crafted film about a BDSM relationship involving two intriguing female characters. It’s a long way from being Hawt Lesbian Porn, and indeed the sex and kink between young Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) and the imposing Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) are kept offscreen to an extent that comes across as prudish and contrived. In most other ways, however, The Duke of Burgundy is pretty darn good, if a little pretentious and ponderously artistic in places. The writing and acting are excellent, and the women have been beautifully filmed going about their fictional lives in a strange, surreal milieu that looks in many ways like it might be some quiet European village in the early 20th century. However, the population in Evelyn and Cynthia’s world is entirely female, and the popular pastimes seem to be studying insects and, of course, indulging in the pleasures and torments of BDSM.

The best thing about The Duke of Burgundy is how cleverly Strickland first presents Evelyn as Cynthia’s obedient, downtrodden slave girl and then spends the rest of the movie using snippets of interaction between the women to show that their relationship is actually very different. The balance of this post is more like an extended rumination on that relationship than a conventional film review, and there are plenty of spoilers, so I suggest that you watch the movie – if it sounds interesting to you, and if you haven’t seen it already – before reading further.

***

Not long after Evelyn receives her “little punishment” behind the closed door of the bathroom, we see Cynthia preparing for another session. She dresses carefully, drinks plenty of water, and consults a handwritten index card that Evelyn has provided:

“My Dearest,

When I ring the door bell, please keep me waiting. A minimum of thirty seconds and a maximum of five minutes. Somewhere in the middle would be perfect. Perhaps around two minutes, thirty. But don’t do that every time, otherwise it becomes predictable. Please wear the dark red wig…”

The long-suffering Cynthia could be a case study in the distinction between dominance and service topping, as she pours physical and mental energy into playing the sadistic oppressor in endless little dramas of Evelyn’s devising. Evelyn’s appetite for the ostensibly subordinate role is seemingly insatiable, but so is her appetite for control over the parameters of each scenario and indeed over Cynthia herself. She doesn’t hesitate to snap her fingers next to the ear of a sleeping Cynthia when she wants to be caressed and threatened, or to hiss at Cynthia a couple of minutes later to “Improvise!” when the older woman’s inspiration falters and she briefly falls silent. “Try to have more conviction in your voice next time,” Evelyn says after she’s had her orgasm, though she admittedly says it hesitantly and even rather sweetly.

Even more amusing, from the viewpoint of a BDSMer who can’t help seeing Evelyn as a caricature of a certain type of greedy, self-centred bottom, is a plotline involving Evelyn’s desire to be confined overnight. She resourcefully finds a huge old wooden chest downstairs, empties it out, and gets Cynthia to help her lug it up to the bedroom. Unfortunately, Cynthia’s back gives out just as the task is being completed, and Evelyn proves to be a highly unsatisfactory nurse, massaging Cynthia for a while but eventually abandoning the task despite Cynthia’s pleas for her to continue. Evelyn does provide a pill and a glass of water, but no sooner has Cynthia sat up than Evelyn also provides one of her index cards, to Cynthia’s exasperation. We soon see Evelyn being tied up and locked in the chest, only for her to wake Cynthia in the dead of night by calling out urgently. At first it sounds almost like she’s coaching Cynthia to “be nasty”, but it turns out she’s actually saying “pinastri”, and Cynthia’s hurried, solicitous response indicates that this is Evelyn’s safeword. She releases Evelyn from the box and asks what’s wrong, only to be told the problem is a mosquito bite. “Maybe you can put me back in there, but just don’t tie me,” Evelyn suggests in her eager way, but Cynthia will have none of it. “Come to bed,” she insists – and Evelyn, though she protests ineffectually, ends up obeying a genuine instruction for a change. It perhaps bears pointing out that “pinastri” is actually an insect reference, though neither Sphinx pinastri (the pine-hawk moth) nor Hamearis lucina (the Duke of Burgundy, a kind of butterfly) is especially important to the plot of the movie.

There are other moments in the film when Cynthia appears to be in the driver’s seat, though they’re few and far between. The most significant takes place on Evelyn’s birthday, when Cynthia is angry at Evelyn for having polished another woman’s boots. Cynthia forces Evelyn to bake her own birthday cake and then, wearing comfortable clothes instead of one of the elaborate outfits Evelyn has purchased for her, digs in while Evelyn lies unhappily at her feet. “Pinastri,” Evelyn says almost immediately, only for a foot to descend gently but abruptly across her mouth. “Oh, if we could all just say pinastri to end our torments,” Cynthia intones, and for once she comes across as fully in control and determined to play her own game rather than Evelyn’s. Of course, it’s possible that Cynthia is just getting back at Evelyn for extracurricular boot-polishing here, rather than indulging a genuine dominant streak. Cynthia is a very interesting character, much more rounded and complex than the average fantasy dominatrix. Being Evelyn’s service top clearly doesn’t suit her, and she often gives the impression that she’d prefer a vanilla relationship, but her flashes of real authority make me wonder if her ideal partner would actually be a slave girl who was prepared to drop the silly choreography and concentrate on doing as she was bloody well told. Either way, if I lived next door I’d probably be asking My Lady’s permission to drop by Cynthia’s house and offer her a proper backrub.

Peter Strickland could perhaps be accused of suggesting that all BDSM is essentially contrived, that we submissives are just a caste of manipulative thrill-seekers pushing metaphorical if not literal index cards at the forbearing dominants who cater to our whims. Not having telepathic powers, though, I’m hesitant to read this much into his depiction of one particular relationship, and it seems equally possible that he simply conceived of Evelyn as a bad, bratty slave girl and Cynthia as a haplessly over-indulgent mistress. Be that as it may, you’ll have to excuse me – I’ve got some index cards to write up.

(No, not really. I shudder to think of how My Lady might react if I ever tried such a thing – and I wouldn’t want to anyway.)

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A BDSM Vignette from Two Viewpoints

Paul

By the time they’d finished washing down pieces of Marion’s birthday cake with good Indonesian coffee, Paul was feeling surprisingly happy and relaxed. He’d hoped that his wife and mistress would want to do something kinky to him on her special day, and he’d been more than a little disappointed when she’d told him to get ready to host a quiet dinner with Brian and Eleanor, two long-time friends of hers that he knew only slightly. They were a retired military couple, a good two decades older than he and Marion, and he privately considered them stuffy and tiresome. Eleanor seemed to have something on her mind tonight, and was joining only half-heartedly in the conversation, but Brian was as animated and talkative as Paul had ever seen him. A quiet dinner in decent company wasn’t really so bad, and maybe Marion would still sink her claws into him after their guests had left.

The thought made him glance in his wife’s direction, but her chair was empty. She must have slipped off to the bathroom, or out to the patio for a quick smoke, while he’d been caught up in Brian’s story about visiting Hong Kong as a young man.

“I think it’s time,” Marion said from somewhere behind him, “for us to move on with our evening.”

Paul had no idea what she meant, but Brian and Eleanor both rose immediately to their feet. Eleanor gave him an enigmatic smile.

“You stand up too, Paul,” Brian said, his tone suddenly that of a man used to giving orders. The note of authority was so compelling that Paul shot up from the table immediately. Brian grabbed his wrists, pulling them together behind his back, and Eleanor reached into the purse she’d slung casually over the back of her chair and withdrew a pair of wicked-looking nipple clamps.

“What’s going on here?” Paul asked nervously, too taken aback to struggle or protest in stronger terms. “Are you two both… I mean, are you going to…”

Marion grabbed his hair, from behind, in a way that he recognised. “Shut the fuck up,” she said directly into his ear, in the crisp, precise voice that he’d learned to associate with her most sadistic moods. “All you need to know about this situation is that you are going to be Brian and Eleanor’s slave, as well as mine, for the rest of the night. Do anything they say, and submit to anything they do to you.”

Eleanor’s smile widened, and she began to slowly unbutton his shirt.

***

Marion

Marion’s slave and husband Paul was so endearingly predictable. Before her birthday he’d been excited as a puppy, obviously hoping for a kinky adventure, and he’d been crestfallen when she’d ordered him to prepare to host a dinner with her old friends Brian and Eleanor. Paul apparently thought of them as a couple of white-haired bores, and so far she’d been careful not to do anything to dispel that impression. Now, however, it was almost time for Paul to discover that there was more to Brian and Eleanor than met the eye. Eleanor was doing a very bad job of containing her impatience, barely talking and glancing hungrily in Paul’s direction every few minutes, but Brian seemed to be revelling in the business of putting Paul at ease. As they finished their coffee, Brian had Paul caught up in some story about the Far East, and Marion decided it was time to make her move. When Paul wasn’t looking, she slipped out of her chair and stepped behind him.

“I think it’s time,” she declared, “for us to move on with our evening.”

At that prearranged signal, Brian and Eleanor rose smoothly to their feet, and Eleanor gave Paul a weird smile. Marion regretted not being able to see Paul’s face, which was probably a mask of confusion.

“You stand up too, Paul,” Brian said crisply, in the commanding voice that he’d once told her dated back to his career as a military police officer. Nowadays that voice was part of what made him a truly intimidating dominant, and Marion wasn’t surprised when Paul instantly obeyed. Heat rose between her legs as Brian pulled Paul’s hands behind his back, just like they’d planned, and Eleanor eagerly fished her favourite nipple clamps out of the purse she’d strategically hung on the back of her chair.

“What’s going on here?” Paul blurted. “Are you two both… I mean, are you going to…” Her boy was floundering, and Marion decided to step in. She moved closer and grabbed his hair in a way that she knew would get his attention.

“Shut the fuck up,” she said into his ear with what she thought was about the right amount of menace. “All you need to know about this situation is that you are going to be Brian and Eleanor’s slave, as well as mine, for the rest of the night. Do anything they say, and submit to anything they do to you.”

That clearly worked for Eleanor. Her smile widened, and she began to slowly unbutton Paul’s shirt.

***

Which version of this brief vignette did you like better? They describe the same action, convey about the same information, and contain an equal number of words (424 in each case). However, the first is written from the viewpoint of Paul the male submissive, and the second from that of Marion the female dominant. I didn’t recruit Paul and Marion as first-person narrators, but I did give the reader access to Paul’s thoughts, perceptions and knowledge in the first version and to Marion’s in the second.

Before embarking on this exercise, I assumed that Paul’s viewpoint would turn out to be the more interesting and compelling. Perhaps I was a little biased in that judgement by my own identity as a male submissive, but I also had in mind the advantages of making the protagonist of any story somewhat vulnerable and denying him or her the knowledge of certain crucial facts. Submissives don’t normally encounter real danger to life and limb, but they do have adventures that test their resolve and endurance, and they often don’t know what their dominants have planned for them on any given day. In the first version of the vignette, the reader can vicariously share in Paul’s confusion and consternation when Brian and Eleanor move in on him, and easily imagine his reaction – perhaps a mixture of relief and trepidation? – when Marion reveals her plans for the evening. Submissives are underdogs and victims of circumstance, and those qualities make for an exciting main character. There’s a reason Lord of the Rings concentrates on Frodo’s perspective, rather than Sauron’s.

What I didn’t fully appreciate when I started, though, was that the dominant’s perspective could be equally fun in a somewhat different way. There’s no rule that says the reader needs immediate access to all the thoughts of a character whose viewpoint is being considered, so Marion’s plans for Paul and her knowledge of Brian and Eleanor’s dominant side can emerge gradually as the action develops. Instead of vicariously sharing Paul’s uncertainty, the reader gets to share her anticipation, while possibly feeling some sympathy for Paul as it becomes increasingly clear that the other three characters are preparing to make him their plaything. I’m tempted to conclude that hot kinky action can be fun from any viewpoint, and also that Lord of the Rings from Sauron’s perspective might actually have been a pretty interesting book.

Postscript: After reading my first draft of this post, My Lady ordered me to link to the following pieces by Xan West, one of her favourite authors, that discuss the dominant’s perspective in both reality and fiction: Kinky erotica from the top’s point of view and I’m Not Just Doing It for You. They’re both pretty good, but I’d particularly recommend the first one, which makes the excellent point that dominants can be more interesting as characters when they have some vulnerabilities of their own.

Dominant Doppelgangers, Dominant Opposites

In an erotic story I’ll probably never find the time to write, the submissive protagonist – let’s call him, say, Rupert – will come across an ornate, obviously antique mirror in a neglected corner of a house he inherited from an eccentric aunt. Rupert will be contemplating his own reflection, thinking it looks wrong in some subtle way he can’t quite pinpoint, when the man on the other side of the glass will step casually out of the mirror and begin giving him commands. Subservient to his own long-suppressed dominant side, which the power of the mirror will have captured and imbued with physical reality, Rupert will bow his head and begin to obey without a word of argument. As he sheds his clothes and sinks to his knees in front of his new master, it will occur to him that his aunt used to spend surprising amounts of time behind closed doors in this same wing of the house, doing heaven knows what.

***

Like Lewis Carroll and many other writers, I find mirrors evocative, but my submissive side is also intrigued by the idea of being dominated by someone very like myself – if not a doppelganger out of a magic mirror, than another straight, white male academic on the verge of middle age. His background, experiences and sensibilities would all be similar to mine, except of course that he’d be dominant and sadistic rather than submissive and ambivalently masochistic. In some ways, all that common ground would be reassuring. My doppelganger and I would rarely misunderstand each other, and our shared attitudes and cultural reference points would give us plenty to talk about when he wasn’t actively bossing me around or standing over my naked, writhing body with riding crop in hand. Perhaps he’d share enough of my foibles and shortcomings that he wouldn’t be inclined to discipline me too harshly for them, and enough of my vices to be lenient about letting me partake. To the extant that humans naturally identify and sympathise with people similar to themselves, my dominant doppelganger might be a relatively gentle master, careful not to push too hard and quick to extend mercy.

When he did choose to get tough with me, though, or to indulge his sadistic side at my expense, he’d have a formidable hand to play. Our similarities would make it easy for him to get inside my head and push my buttons, and he’d have little trouble figuring out what rewards to offer when he wanted to motivate me and what deprivations and discomforts to impose when he wanted to torment or punish. He’d know just what to say and how to behave in order to keep me on my toes, lull me into complacency, put frenzied butterflies in my stomach, or elicit any number of other reactions. He’d be able to read me like an open book, play me like a fiddle, or reduce me to trembling submissive jelly any time he wanted. He’d know all about the kinds of suffering I could easily withstand, and also the kinds I couldn’t. The other side of that coin is that I’d also have some intuitive understanding of how to push his buttons, which might be useful when I wanted to beg a favour or plead for lenience. But given the power imbalance between dominant and submissive, I expect the advantages of our mutual familiarity would lie mostly on his end of the whip.

***

Another kind of magic mirror might summon up a dominant who was the unsuspecting victim’s polar opposite, a mysterious figure that insinuated itself like a ghost into the background of the reflected image but then announced its all-too-real physical presence by tapping the victim sharply on the shoulder and issuing some first instructions in a firm, authoritarian voice. In my case this kind of mirror-dominant would have to be a woman, to contrast with me as much as possible, and she’d have to be rather old or rather young (the former, to my way of thinking, would mesh more easily with her authority, but I have to admit it would be interesting to take orders from a woman who was barely legal). She’d be from a different culture and country, perhaps from the other side of the world, and her upbringing and perspective would be vastly divergent from my own. My values, loyalties and deepest ideals would seem ludicrous to her, possibly even incomprehensible. Hers might strike me about the same way, if I dared to judge.

Such a dominant would probably have a little more difficulty figuring me out than the doppelganger from the first kind of magic mirror. She’d know that she could make me suffer by beating or starving me, because those things are pretty much human universals, and she’d probably understand intuitively that she could reward or indulge me with orgasms, alcohol, free time, or a few other obvious pleasures. The more nuanced and individual aspects of my personality, though, might take her a good while to understand and work out how to manipulate.

Nevertheless, she probably would learn all about me in time, given a touch of intelligence, mental flexibility and motivation. I’d be obliged to answer any questions she might think to ask, and of course she could experiment with different rules, regimens, torments and communication styles until she figured out how to make me respond in the ways she found most pleasing and advantageous. Meanwhile, I’d be in the hands of a dominant who regarded me as a barbarian, a misguided fool, a silly young boy or deluded old man, perhaps even a natural enemy. I couldn’t expect much in the way of empathy, sympathy or even understanding. Rather than enjoying relatively comfortable interaction with someone I saw eye-to-eye with, I’d find myself dealing with a taskmistress who had little reason to think of me as a reasonable human being. Equally, I’d have to get used to serving and obeying a dominant whose priorities and preferences seemed almost alien, and whose wishes were difficult to anticipate. Perhaps I’d slowly develop a better grasp of what made her tick, and perhaps she’d eventually come to appreciate and value me, but on the whole I think she’d seem enigmatic and inhuman till death (or some other eventuality) did us part. When I really think about it, that sort of dominant seems much more intimidating – and therefore, I must admit, more thrilling to my submissive side – than a doppelganger could ever be.

***

The one major spanner in the works of that analysis, though, is the issue of gender. To a point, I think gender would work like anything else – age, national origin, basic philosophical commitments – in that similarity and difference would each have their hazards and their compensating silver linings. A male dominant would find my body and my sexuality to be familiar territory, and could use that knowledge against me in all kinds of ways. If a male dominant either caressed my balls or gave them a smack, he’d have a pretty good idea of what kind of sensation I’d experience as a result, and if he imposed a period of chastity then he’d know what sort of frustration and discomfort he was condemning me to. On the bright side, perhaps he’d be relatively permissive about “guy things” like masturbation, pornography and alcohol consumption, since they’d probably be as basic to his life as they are to mine. A woman might be stricter on those fronts, and less forgiving of lapses, but she’d probably also have a harder time working out how to exploit my body’s specifically male vulnerabilities and how she could make use of my sexual needs to control, reward and punish me.

In the special case of gender, though, there are important complications, some of which are a product of my fundamental heterosexuality. When I’m being worked over by a woman, the eroticism engendered by my helplessness and suffering coexists with the straightforward sexiness that flows from her proximity. Even if I’m hooded or blindfolded so that I can’t steal glances, I can still appreciate her scent, her voice, the intimacy of her hands on my body. All those things tend to make the experience seem softer and less oppressive, and give me something to think about besides pain and fear. If the person holding the flogger is a man, on the other hand, proximity and intimacy are if anything a bit distasteful, just one more small torment to be endured. The whole interaction ends up feeling starker and harsher, which is exciting but also somewhat unnerving.

Quite apart from my lack of sexual attraction to dominant men, I find them especially daunting because I simply perceive them as more imposing in some subtle way than their female equivalents. It’s deeply ironic, considering how much I appreciate female dominance and strong women in general, but there’s an unreconstructed circuit buried somewhere in the depths of my brain that associates authority and toughness – not to mention lust and sadism, and the rougher, more dramatic side of life in general – with masculinity. Fantasising about female tyrants who delight in having trembling victims of both sexes hauled off to dark dungeons and well-stocked torture chambers somehow doesn’t stop me from instinctively expecting real women to be gentler than men, and more inclined to mercy and sympathy. My polar opposite might be more frightening than my doppelganger in most respects, but her femaleness would at least make submission to her feel a little safer and sexier.

***

In fact, one reason I find sadistic female dominants so compelling is precisely because their very existence flies in the face of the stereotypes about feminine kindness and compassion that cast an unwanted shadow over my perceptions. I’m practically awestruck by My Lady’s penchant for inflicting pain and other forms of suffering on willing victims like myself, and almost equally appreciative of her capacity for being hard with me – setting firm rules, holding me accountable, unapologetically ordering me to do things that please and benefit her regardless of how I might feel about them. To be fair, she’s often willing to be a bit flexible, and she makes allowances for the fact that I’m only human and sometimes mess up or find myself hopelessly overcommitted. In a lot of ways, despite the difference in gender, she’s more of a doppelganger than a polar opposite; My Lady and I are both thoughtful, rather introverted people, in love with the written word and prone to analysing things to death before making up our minds about them. However, the rapport and mutual understanding that exist between us don’t seem to soften her treatment of her boy, which is all to the good considering that softness is the last thing I need or want from her. Perhaps another few years of her firm hand and stinging cane will even erase the insidious tendency to link femaleness to fuzzy pink sweetness that I’ve either absorbed from the surrounding culture or inherited as evolutionary baggage. I’ve already learned a healthy respect for her authority and a thoroughly erotic fear of her flights of sadism, but for the moment I can’t help finding her enthusiasm for witnessing BDSM action (and, gulp, sex) between dominant and submissive men to be one of the most fear-inducing things about her. If my doppelganger ever did step out of a magic mirror, blazing with sadistic intensity and eager to get his hands on my subservient body, she’d probably hand me over to him in a second – as long as she got to stick around and watch the show.

Confessions of an Ambivalent Masochist

I’m not sure whether I should call myself a masochist. My body has no secret alchemy that transforms pain into pleasure, and I don’t even usually feel a blissful rush of endorphins in the aftermath of a good thrashing. On a few occasions I’ve experienced something like a giddy, flighty high after a close encounter with a sadist, and I guess endorphins were probably to blame, but “blame” is exactly the word from my subjective and probably hopelessly warped point of view. Endorphins aren’t something I crave or even welcome in the sacred precincts of the torture chamber, because they interfere with what I perceive as the purity of the experience.

What I do crave, and feel profoundly grateful to My Lady for providing on a regular basis, is abject suffering inflicted with a high level of thoughtfulness, deliberation, creativity, and responsibility. Having considered the matter carefully, I don’t think the motivation of the person dishing out the suffering is particularly important to me. Though I’ve never been seriously tormented by anyone other than a sadist who enjoyed watching me squirm, I can imagine (ignoring, in some cases, the bounds of verisimilitude) other possibilities that seem equally erotic: a submissive instructed by someone else to work me over, a professional torturer just doing her job, a slave trainer breaking me in to transform me into a more valuable commodity, a prison guard seeing to it that I’m properly punished for real or imagined misdeeds, even a heathen priestess subjecting me to some bizarre ritual.

I’m also far from insensible to the many different guises in which suffering can approach, beyond the sting of the cane and the thud of the paddle. Oh goddesses of agony, leave me squatting in a tiny cage for hours on end! Bind me till I cramp, exercise me to exhaustion, bore me to tears, make my food bland and meagre, chill my showers, harden my mattress, clutter my to-do list with menial tasks, parade me naked, deluge me with urine, work me round the clock, priff my shuckle (I don’t even know what that one means), make me sweat, deny me orgasms and good books, scrape the hair off my chest with a rusty razor, hang me upside down, lock me in the basement, leave me out in the sleet, shove dildos down my throat and up my ass, forbid me to listen to anything but Justin Bieber, throw me in the deep end, pelt my nude body with snowballs and beanbags, probe the depths of my urethra, drive me round the bend, scare me shitless, clip my wings, shatter my illusions, rain on my parade, take me to the woodshed, force me into perspiring intimacy with another male body, eat my lunch, kick my butt, hunt me down, box my ears, burst my bubble, bust my balls, put me up for jury duty, make me lick your wasabi-smeared boots and kiss the thorns on your roses!

It’s all good, quite honestly. If what another person is inflicting on me is at all uncomfortable, harsh or unpleasant, if it’s vexing or cruel or degrading, if goes some way towards making me feel helpless, frightened, downtrodden and miserable, if it seems like a mean and nasty thing to do to someone, then I’ll almost certainly welcome it at some level, provided consent is in place and the treatment being applied won’t somehow wreck my life. The only real exception that comes to mind is the kind of humiliation that involves telling me I’m worthless, stupid or otherwise contemptible, or that I don’t deserve my tormentor’s attention. I do long to be valued, if only (or perhaps especially) as an entertainingly responsive plaything.

Nevertheless, I do acknowledge sheer physical pain as the queen of torments, as the essence of suffering in its most raw, intense and unadulterated form. Being hurt by a sadist captures my attention and underlines her power over me like nothing else in the world, and incidentally makes me moan, whimper, writhe in my bonds, and wish desperately to be elsewhere while simultaneously savouring every second of the rare and extraordinary thrill ride I’m experiencing. That contradictory response is a tricky thing, and I suppose it makes me a complicated and difficult submissive in some respects, as if my mind is operating at two distinct levels. Superficial Wheldrake is a straightforward character who likes beer and pizza, hates pain, and would rather be pretty much anywhere else than tied up in a torture chamber. Deep Wheldrake, on the other hand, is a subtle, twisted inner presence whose greatest joy in life is peering out from the shadowy recesses of my psyche and watching poor Superficial Wheldrake get terrorised and tormented by sadistic oppressors, whether the torment involves Queen Pain or only some of her handmaidens. Superficial Wheldrake values things that are congenial and pleasureable, whereas Deep Wheldrake is more drawn to things that are interesting and exciting – and there seems, for whatever reason, to be nothing he finds more interesting and exciting than the experience of being deliberately but consensually made to suffer.

It’s Deep Wheldrake who is writing now, as Superficial Wheldrake is an agreeable fellow who doesn’t assert himself much as long as he’s physically and mentally comfortable. Under those circumstances Deep Wheldrake can come to the fore, explain his perspective, and sometimes even get Superficial Wheldrake into terrible trouble. It was Deep Wheldrake who agreed to submit to My Lady, and Superficial Wheldrake who had to feel her cane while Deep Wheldrake (deeply shrouded, at that point, in the blazing curtains of Superficial Wheldrake’s suffering) silently cheered her on and worshipped at the altar of her sadism. I expect a Freudian would identify Superficial Wheldrake with my id and ego, and Deep Wheldrake with my superego.

The following quote, from The Story of O, goes some way towards capturing my feelings about being helpless in the hands of an expert tormentor:

O had never really understood, but she had finally come to accept as an undeniable and important verity, this constant and contradictory jumble of her emotions: she liked the idea of torture, but when she was being tortured herself she would have betrayed the whole world to escape it, and yet when it was over she was happy to have gone through it, happier still if it had been especially cruel and prolonged.

I first discovered that passage in a different translation, I think, but I’ve liked it ever since I was barely legal. For me, however, the underlying dynamic is that Deep Wheldrake is usually at the helm when I’m not actually being tortured; and Deep Wheldrake, naturally, both likes the idea of torture and is happy to look back on it in retrospect. When the torture is actually happening, though, Deep Wheldrake tends to find himself elbowed aside by mewling, desperate Superficial Wheldrake – although of course Deep Wheldrake is still down there somewhere, not plotting to betray the world but rather savouring Superficial Wheldrake’s hot tears of desperation. Superficial Wheldrake’s tears and Deep Wheldrake’s excitement both tend to be more muted if the torture involves something other than physical pain – mere discomfort, say, or some form of degradation – but the basic psychology is basically the same. If I’m a masochist, then my masochism is a broad thing that embraces the erotic possibilities of a whole cornucopia of large and small cruelties, indignities and impositions.

But am I a masochist at all? I honestly don’t know, and I try not to worry too much about the label as opposed to the reality of my emotional response to being consensually tormented. I do know that part of me craves suffering in nearly all its myriad forms, and part of me doesn’t. But it’s usually Deep Wheldrake who gets to sit down in the sober light of day and make decisions about what experiences and interactions I’m going to commit to, and poor Superficial Wheldrake who then has to live with the agonising consequences. It’s a very specific and lopsided kind of ambivalence, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s widely shared among my fellow submissives.

The Joy of Fear

Another Halloween has come and gone, and the goblins must be safely back in their caves under the hills. That particular holiday is mostly just silly, campy fun, at least for adults, but it’s also a journey through the harmless border regions of the sinister. Every Halloween we rediscover the exhilaration of playing around with imagery that taps into some of our primal terrors – the walking dead, monsters that blur the line between human and beast, things that go bump in the night. A hint of dread, divorced from any possibility of real harm, can be a wonderful intoxicant.

Halloween is, of course, popular among BDSMers, for more than one reason. People who enjoy dressing up in extravagant leather, rubber and latex outfits (a subset of the BDSM community that doesn’t include me or, as far as I know, My Lady) probably find that slipping into a costume at the end of October comes naturally, but I think there’s also a deeper affinity based on the idea of safely exploring the darker side of human experience. A dominant sadist, like a Halloween vampire, is cloaked in an aura of exciting menace but can be trusted not to pose a real threat to life and limb. However, the average party-goer in a vampire costume is unlikely to sink his or her teeth into anyone, whereas a sadist presented with a willing victim just might – metaphorically, and perhaps at some point quite literally.

Being taken on that kind of journey by a sadist, as I know from personal experience with My Lady and others, can involve a heady and bewildering mixture of sensations and mental states. Pain is the key ingredient, at least normally, but it can be accompanied by things like discomfort, degradation, helplessness, vulnerability, and even desperation. For me, however, the prevailing emotional texture of such adventures is defined by various kinds of fear, at every stage – fear of the sadist herself, and of what she might do to me. It begins with the nervous anticipation of knowing that a skilled and enthusiastic tormentor is going to make me suffer, an ominous feeling that rises to a crescendo as I find myself being prepared to receive her cruel attentions. There might be a slow walk to a well-equipped room in a suburban basement, a casual order to strip partly or completely naked, an implacable tightening of cuffs around my wrists and a gentle caress of dark fabric settling over my eyes. Nudity, blindness and physical helplessness bring a terrible and wonderful sense of vulnerability, an inescapable awareness of being in someone else’s power. As blows begin to fall and strong fingers begin to pinch and prod at the most delicate parts of my body, the agony is mixed with an inevitable fear that it might get far worse, that I might end up shrieking and sobbing and pleading desperately for just a little mercy. Certain cues can induce a more immediate terror: the swish of a cane from somewhere behind me, a threat whispered or growled into my ear, a hand meandering across my thigh towards my defenceless crotch. And when the torment is over, for the moment, I can start to worry about what ordeal might come next.

My Lady’s ability to scare me isn’t limited to the rare occasions when she can get her hands on me in person. I don’t think I’ve ever, since I first surrendered to her control, opened an email from her without at least a little thrill of trepidation. Subject lines such as the dreaded “Instructions” and the thankfully infrequent “Punishment” ratchet up the tension, but even messages with totally innocuous headings can contain alarming surprises. My Lady is, after all, a whip-smart and wickedly inventive dominant who has had a few years to get to know me and figure out how to push my buttons, and she doesn’t hesitate to use her knowledge and imagination to come up with unexpected ways to make me squirm. A few quick lines of text is all she needs to torture my naked flesh with clamps or clothespins, slide a plug deep into my submissive ass, harness my cock and balls in that tight leather and metal restraint she made me buy several months ago, or impose new restrictions on my culinary and masturbatory pleasures. It would be a miracle of complacency if I wasn’t scared of the woman.

What makes my fear of My Lady exhilarating and arousing, instead of miserable and debilitating, is that I know I can trust her not to go too far. She’s not going to kill, maim, infect or traumatise me, and she’s not going to send illustrated reports on my submissive side to my friends, family or coworkers. My dread of the suffering she inflicts so expertly and gleefully is quite real, but knowing that I won’t be harmed in the process (at least, beyond the odd welt or bite mark) prevents any slide into the sick horror I imagine I’d feel if I were kidnapped by mobsters or terrorists. The great paradox of my inner erotic life is that suffering at the hands of someone like My Lady is also tremendously exciting, and the fear both fuels the excitement and combines with it to create an irresistible cocktail. I’m sure that I could get something out of submitting to a dominant who didn’t frighten me, but a vital component would be missing from the experience – as if I was being stalked through a haunted house by a vampire without any fangs.

Life in the Invisible Chastity Belt

Monks and nuns are supposed to live according to the dictates of poverty, chastity and obedience, and as a submissive I’ve acquired direct experience with two of those things. My Lady has never tried to keep me in poverty or otherwise control my finances, but obedience has been the cornerstone of our relationship from the day I surrendered to her authority. Chastity, on the other hand, came much later.

I was far from disappointed with My Lady’s initial lack of interest in limiting my masturbatory activities, but I was a little surprised. Orgasm restrictions are a recurring theme in stories and online discussions about male submission, to the point where they’re a major focus of entire blogs like Steeled Snake and Denying Thumper, and my one serious BDSM relationship before I began submitting to My Lady was with a woman who actually did include a ban on ejaculating without permission in the list of rules she laid down at the very beginning. So when My Lady took charge of me back in 2012, I assumed my onanistic freedom would be coming to an end in pretty short order. What I didn’t fully appreciate, however, was the impact of her background on her approach to handling submissive men. Because she spent many vanilla years as a lesbian and many kinky years as a pansexual submissive, she had never developed much enthusiasm for controlling male genitals or learned a great deal about that form of dominance. As a result, she wasn’t particularly interested in the contents of my briefs, especially given the long-distance nature of our relationship.

For the first few months, then, the topic of masturbatory restrictions barely came up in our correspondence. As My Lady slowly became more familiar with my submissive side and my sexuality, however, she began to take more of an interest in my private parts and what I did with them. There was a period of over a year when I had to keep a record of my sexual activity for her occasional perusal, but could still indulge freely while she observed, learned, and mulled over possibilities. Then, near the end of March 2014, she finally lowered the boom with a characteristically understated instruction at the end of one of her emails:

While tidying the bathroom today, I found a note to myself about limiting your masturbation… Unless otherwise directed… you may not come or do more than your casual stroking until April, my time.

“Casual stroking” was a term we’d been using to describe any kind of masturbatory activity that stopped short of ejaculation, so I could still play with myself. Nevertheless, I was glad the end of the month was only a few days away, and I wrote back that I was “looking forward to April”. My Lady’s reply was ominous:

Don’t be too sure of that.

In April I was indeed allowed to ejaculate as often as I wanted – but I had to ingest my own semen each time. In May, the price of an orgasm was pain, to be inflicted on myself before each masturbation session. It turned out that the last few days of March weren’t just a short-lived experiment in chastity, but the introduction of a new state of affairs in which my orgasms were going to be as strictly and meticulously rationed as they were in my previous BDSM relationship. My Lady imposed the change suddenly, firmly and without fanfare, but after collecting plenty of pertinent information in the form of the sexual diary, which is typical of the way she wields her authority over me. She’s not a theatrical or flashy dominant, but she’s a scarily thorough and deliberate one, and when she gives instructions she expects immediate and total compliance as a matter of course.

Since then, the exact rules limiting my access to sexual pleasure have continued to change occasionally at My Lady’s whim. Most of the time, I simply have to ask permission for each orgasm in advance. Once in a while she’ll just say yes, but more often there’s a condition attached – ingestion, clamps on my nipples while I masturbate, or something equally painful and/or degrading. She’s never given me a flat “no” and left me to stew in my own frustrated arousal, but I’m nervously aware of the possibility whenever I ask “My Lady, may I ejaculate soon?” Therefore, I try not to tempt fate (or rather, tempt her) by asking too often.

Of all the ways My Lady constrains and torments me, the tight control she exerts over my orgasms is probably the facet of her dominance that goes the furthest in making me feel helpless and subservient. From what I’ve seen, this kind of reaction to being kept in either a physical or a metaphorical chastity belt is common among submissive men, which is why male chastity is such a widespread theme in both erotic fiction and real kinky relationships. Taking away a man’s freedom to masturbate not only deprives him of one of life’s great pleasures and asserts control over the most intimate parts of his body, but also makes him dependent on the dominant for periodic release of his semen, which may be necessary in order to avoid physical discomfort. I won’t try to speak for submissive women (though I’d be interested to hear from readers who have experience with female chastity, on either side of the equation), but we boys tend to be putty in the hands of anyone who’s in a position to tell us when we’re allowed to get our rocks off – and when we’re not. Of course, being controlled in that way is also exciting, and for me at least the fact that the keys to my invisible chastity belt are in the hands of a woman rather than a man adds an element of intrigue. My Lady has never personally experienced the surging pleasure of male orgasm or the aching frustration of male chastity, but she sure knows how to indulge me with the first of those things and torment me with the second.

The fact that I’ve already slowed down a fair bit, sexually speaking, definitely makes it easier to endure this aspect of my submission to My Lady. Even in my mid-twenties I was still masturbating almost every day, but that stopped abruptly when I fell into the hands of my previous dominant. More than a decade later, I’d probably ejaculate every few days if I had the freedom to do so, but a week or so of deprivation – which is par for the course now that I’m in My Lady’s invisible chastity belt – is bearable if not exactly comfortable. Drinking alcohol seems to take the edge off a bit, as do my bouts of casual stroking. It also helps that I get occasional breaks from My Lady’s control when I’m with my vanilla partner, who is also long-distance. On the other hand, pornography, erotic writing, or anything else that gets me thinking about sex, dominance and submission revs up the engines and makes chastity harder to endure.

My Lady and I have occasionally discussed chastity devices, with an eye on the extensive and slightly unnerving (from my viewpoint) range of male ones on the market. I think she’d enjoy the security of knowing my genitals were actually locked up, and being physically unable to play with myself would undoubtedly make me feel more submissive than ever. However, the practical problems surrounding things like hygiene, airport scanners and the logistics of ultra-long-distance keyholding will almost certainly keep my invisible chastity belt from turning into a tangible one, for the foreseeable future. Luckily, My Lady knows I’ll obey her rules and faithfully report any lapses, so the invisible belt works as well as anything for keeping her boy on the straight and narrow. On my side, I wake up every morning knowing that my cock and balls are under a woman’s firm control, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Seven Dimensions of Dominance

Wearing My Lady’s collar, figuratively and often literally, doesn’t stop me from thinking about the qualities I find appealing in dominants in general. What follows is a list of the top few, approximately in descending order of importance. I’m not nearly presumptuous enough to regard them as some kind of gold standard that everyone should follow, and I’m well aware that many people will have different ideas as to what attributes are suitable and desirable for a dominant to possess – My Lady, for example, doesn’t share all my views on this subject. Nevertheless, the list does lay out the qualities I personally admire in a dominant and feel drawn to, for whatever that might be worth.

  1. Responsibility. Considers the impact her actions and instructions (I’d rather stick to the case of a female dominant than keep writing out things like “her or his actions and instructions”) will have on her submissives, and tries hard to avoid hurting them except in ways that she intends and they’ve consented to. Consistently acts like one of the adults in the room, and doesn’t shrink from making tough decisions when necessary. Can be trusted with a high level of control over a submissive’s body, reputation, emotional well-being, and/or bank account. Would never describe herself as a “brat”.
  1. Authority. Likes telling other people what to do, and finds it fulfilling and erotic to be obeyed. Has no problem delegating complex tasks to people she trusts, but can also give detailed instructions and keep a submissive on a very short leash when she considers it warranted. Is good at making decisions, including decisions that affect others, and at formulating rules and routines for her submissives to follow. Communicates orders clearly, and doesn’t hesitate to ask uncomfortable questions and insist on explicit, substantive answers. Holds submissives accountable for their actions, and disciplines them firmly when appropriate. Can be demanding, intimidating and uncompromising. Huge bonus points for an interest in using bondage and confinement to maintain direct physical control over submissives, in either the short term or the long term.
  1. Sadism. Enjoys making people suffer, watching people suffer, and thinking about ways to make people suffer. Routinely inflicts pain on submissives for her pleasure, not just for disciplinary purposes. Huge bonus points for an interest in subjecting submissives to types of unpleasantness other than physical pain, such as fear, discomfort, degradation, nervousness, sexual frustration and even boredom.
  1. Expertise. Has mastered some safe, highly effective techniques for restraining willing victims and making them suffer. Also has a bag of interpersonal tricks for keeping submissives on their toes, catching them off-balance, staying one step ahead of them, and bossing them around in terms that greatly encourage obedience. Knows pretty much what she wants and how to get it. Bonus points for both a penchant for meticulous planning and an ability to improvise.
  1. Imagination. Possesses a wicked creative streak and frequently comes up with new ways to enjoy and torment her submissives, or new variations on her tried and tested methods. Loves to surprise submissives by issuing instructions they would never have expected from her, or using them in ways they could never have anticipated.
  1. Enthusiasm. Takes great pleasure in her dominant role, and is willing to put serious time, energy and money into honing skills, acquiring equipment and orchestrating kinky adventures for herself and her submissives. Loves to mull over sinister possibilities for things she might do to compliant men and/or women, or make them do for her. A little note of excitement may creep into her voice when she discusses her exploits, or dominance and sadism in general.
  1. Tough-mindedness. Is not easily shocked, alarmed or offended. Has no interest in condemning sometimes-controversial practices like raceplay, ageplay, or consensual non-consensuality (definitions in this handy glossary) – and may actively embrace any or all of those things, depending on her own inclinations. Doesn’t feel guilty or conflicted about what she does to submissives, provided they’ve clearly said “yes”, or recoil automatically from words like force, abuse, cruelty and evil when they’re being used to describe consensual activity. Understands the difference between fantasy and reality, and opposes attempts to constrain or police the former. Tends not to get gushy, or at least not too gushy, over puppies and baby pandas. May well own a gun, enjoy watching a good boxing match, and/or support the death penalty.

The first three characteristics on that list are, to me, the holy trinity of BDSM. A dominant needs authority and sadism in order for submission to her to feel erotic, and needs responsibility in order for submission to her to feel safe. Although I’ve been using feminine pronouns up to this point, and although dominant women will always hold a special fascination and magnetism for me, my inclinations by now are sufficiently pansubmissive that I’d find literally any adult well-endowed with those vital three qualities – male or female, young or old, of any creed or colour – at least somewhat appealing as a potential captor, tormentor and overseer. The other four are something of a bonus, and there are many more I could have included in this category. In no particular order, the list includes: maturity, intelligence, libido, physical size and strength, gravitas, humour, emotional stability, financial resources, groundedness, openness, kinky connections, many books, decadent tastes, macabre sensibilities, a capacity for self-indulgence, and a few rough edges. I’m sure there are others I’ve forgotten.

Most of the attributes I’ve mentioned in this post, such as imagination, are ones that I appreciate in people in general. A few are more specific to dominant individuals; but for the most part, the ingredients for a dominant I would be especially eager to submit to are about the same as the ones for a person I would be interested in hanging out with socially, plus a few extras like authority and sadism. My Lady is imbued with all seven of the qualities I’ve described in detail, admittedly to varying degrees, and with many of the others listed at the end of the last paragraph. Whenever I open an email from her, there’s at least a little twinge of both excitement and trepidation, and that’s enough in itself to tell me that I belong at her feet.

Are there qualities that you find especially appealing in a dominant, or in a submissive? Feel free to post your own list!