Maxine's Journal

Adventures of the Polka-Dotted One

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On Pain, Punishment and Perverse Incentives
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I am not a brat.

I tend to keep my submissive streak rather quiet. Partly because it's very very rare that it comes out. I have gone most of thirty years and only been submissive for a few days of that, at most. Partly because I see the lack of respect towards submissives in certain parts of the kink scene and perhaps a bit selfishly, to avoid having to spend hours explaining myself or challenging prejudice, I have sometimes taken the easy route to avoiding that. Not by lying, but certainly by omitting to mention my switchy side when in public. I have also hidden my masochistic aspect on occasion, despite that being much larger, because it frustrates me when people automatically assume that masochist equals submissive, and submissive equals masochist (I've written about it in my livejournal before: http://emanix.livejournal.com/24585.html ). I work hard though, nowadays, to break down that false assumption and free other kinky folk from unsatisfying and confusing relationships. Most often, when I play these days, it's something along the lines of 'Masochist Dom' (“Spank me! No, harder! Mmm, that's good. More. Good boy!”)

But I do have a submissive side. There is a part of me that very occasionally wants someone else to be in charge, someone telling me what to do, or what is going to be done to me. It's small, but it runs deep, and comes out only when I'm with people I feel very very safe around, whom I respect emotionally and intellectually, and most often when I'm feeling pressured by the outside world and looking for a safe space to go to, where someone I trust is willing to take on the responsibility of making decisions for me, just for a while. And I am not a brat.

A brat is someone who misbehaves deliberately in order to be punished. An awful lot of masochists are brats, through nature or through training. The outside world teaches us that physical punishment is a response to bad behaviour. A child does something hurtful to themselves or others, and is given a smack as a swift way to create an aversion to that behaviour. Many countries in the world still use corporal punishment to control adults. More importantly, it is normal not to reward bad behaviour, for obvious reasons. If someone hurts you, or takes something of yours, you don't give them a lollipop. It is obvious to most people that giving someone a reward for undesired behaviour is going to result in more of that same behaviour. For a masochist, which I'm going to define here as 'someone who enjoys pain', a spanking is pretty much the same as that lollipop. If you give someone what they enjoy, every time they do something that's annoying or upsetting, you are setting them up to want to do those annoying or upsetting things more often. Even if they don't really want to do those things otherwise. Even if those things are actually bad for them. If you are habitually rewarding a person for bad behaviour, they will keep doing it because they want the reward. Curiously enough, outside the world of kink, this is known as a 'perverse incentive' (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perverse_incentive). I've known certain masochists who were trained into behaving horribly, being genuinely rude and hurtful to people who weren't consenting to be a part of their scene, because it meant they would be 'in trouble' and get the punishment they really wanted.

I am a masochist, and sometimes I'm submissive, and I am not a brat.

It's still not an easy concept to explain in the abstract, so I'll work through an example:
A few years ago, I moved from a three bedroom house into a single room, and since I had way too much stuff in a very small space, I was struggling to keep it tidy. My primary partner at the time told me he planned to spank me every time he visited and saw that my room was messy. He thought he was being wonderfully helpful – and it would have made perfect sense, in the rest of the world. But for me, that was a stressful and hurtful position to be in, because spanking was something I enjoyed and wanted, this meant I had to choose between two situations I didn't want. If I had a tidy room, it would mean no lovely spankings, but if I left my room messy then I'd get spankings but I'd also have a room I hated to live in. Whatever I did, I lost. Eventually I burst into tears and begged him to please spank me when my room was tidy, or it would never be tidy again.

Don't get me wrong, 'bratting' works really well for some people. At times, it can be a really useful way to negotiate consent without dropping out of role in a scene. When I'm in charge I might threaten to spank someone if they poke their tongue out at me, and then I know, if they poke out their tongue it's a sign they want to get spanked. For some people it's a fun game to play, to see how much you can 'get away with' before you get punished. But (and a few people might find this rather surprising) my subbie side is not a bad girl. Submissive bunny desperately wants to please and hates the idea of doing something upsetting or wrong deliberately. If I've really done something wrong, a mere expression of disappointment is enough to devastate. Punishment of any sort is rather redundant, and physical violence when someone is genuinely angry at me just feels like abuse. I really, really don't want something I love (i.e. pain) associated with negativity and anger.

So how do you punish a masochist?

Well, for one thing, speaking for a moment from the dominant's perspective instead, and an occasional student of psychology, I would question the idea of 'punishment' at all. If you're genuinely in D/s for the purpose of behaviour modification, then there's a lot of research out there talking about how positive or negative reinforcement (i.e. rewarding good behaviour by offering something nice, or by taking away an adverse condition - "you will have to put up with this thing you don't like until you behave yourself properly") is more effective than punishment for long term change. If you're just doing it out of sadism, as an excuse to inflict some torture, then why not be more straightforward about it? “I want to see you suffer. Be a good girl and take it for me.” is, at least to me, hotter and more honest than “You're a bad girl, you need to be punished!” If that's not the way you're kinked, though, and you really, really want to punish, for correction, or just to be evil, then you have to consider what constitutes a reward or a punishment for the individual. Everyone has their own 'thing'. Some people love marmite, and would be really happy to be rewarded with a slice of marmite on toast. Other folks hate the stuff, and would see it as the worst punishment in the world. Same goes for pain, isolation, being enclosed, being paid attention to, being ignored, being humiliated... I could go on and on. For every person who likes something, there is someone who dislikes it. For every fetish there is a phobia. Yes, it requires communication, it requires paying attention. It might even lead to the terrifying possibility of intimacy. For me? Quite honestly, the thought of receiving a pedicure makes me squirm in discomfort. Try inflicting that on me if I'm not in a particularly agreeable headspace and the results will *not* be good.

But if you hate my essay, you're welcome to spank me for it. I'll just enjoy it

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*nods* interesting thoughts.

The 'bad' sort of bratishness you describe, where it's really topping from the bottom, is I think a sign of poor negotiation and communication as it's something that should come up in discussion after the first time or too it happens if either party doesn't like it (not judging mind - I've done some shabby negotiation in my time!).

I'm not bratty as a rule, but sometimes it comes up in me if, as you say, I need to negotiate for more in a scene. Usually it involves me being dismissive of how much pain I'm in in a 'come and have a go if you think...' kind of way. I'd want to talk it over after the scene, and I'd hope the top would 'orange' if they weren't comfortable with it. Once I've become submissive again it's a good sign I'm *really* in pain now ;)

Someone I'm currently playing with is totally allergic to topping from the bottom, which has got me thinking about it more. I don't think I top from the bottom in scene, but I do sometimes encourage toppy behaviour between dates in a way that X doesn't take to. But for plenty of others, this gives them the confidence to up the pace a bit. So I assume X doesn't lack in confidence already ;)

Re: I want to see you suffer be good and take it: Oh yes indeedy!

Reading back I wonder if this sounds like I think 'topping from bottom' in scene always bad, which I definitely don't!

Thanks for writing this. I'm struggling to put into words my own response. I had a real problem with the whole "I will reward you for 'bad' behaviour" contradiction myself because as you say "punishing" someone makes sense in every other context except this one where it becomes a reward. I'm really glad to hear I'm not the only one who thought it didn't make a lot of sense!

Makes sense to me, particularly also being a switch whose subby side very rarely comes out... though I'm also more of a sadist than masochist.

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I'm reminded of a joke. A masochist says to a sadist "Hurt me" and the sadist says "no".

I've fortunately never encountered or before heard of that sort of misbehaving or brattery. I've only ever heard of one instance of actual disrespectful actions towards a sub, but I get the impression there were other problems in that relationship.

I did speak with a domme about her and her husband's subs, and she didn't consider what they, meaning her and her husband, did to them, meaning the subs, to be punishment. It was reward, and I think punishment was something like making them sit in a corner.

I'm also not as active in my community as you are in yours, so there is a difference in the groups sampled and number of samples.

I guess it's a good thing that I enjoyed the essay, as I'm not in range to spank you anyway.

I've been thinking about this off and on throughout the day, trying to gauge where I lie in relation to what you're saying, and my basic conclusion is this:

I'm more of an age player than a kinkster. I know, age play is often lumped in with kink, and in some ways they do go together, but in my head "kink" encompasses some grown up elements of my headspace that age play would never touch on. Part of the need for distinction is due to the fact that in grown up headspace, I do have a mild masochistic tendency paired with some subby tendencies, but in Little headspace things look very different, so part of my difficulty in formulating a response to what you'd written had to do with the extreme dichotomy between those two mental places.

First off, as far as kinky things go, when it comes to subby things I'm not the kind of sub that goes into all of the ritual and stuff like that. I tend toward the practical "I see a need and I can provide for it so I do," type stuff and I feel very little need to broadcast my subbyness and a great deal of need to speak up for my own needs, be responsible for my own needs, and be a person before I'm a sub. I don't put up with that "you're a sub so you are automatically submissive to me, the dom/me" stuff and I feel like that is never okay unless previously negotiated. As a sub, mostly I want recognition that what I'm doing is good and worthwhile and for us to have fun playing together, which includes pain as far as sensation play goes. I don't feel the need to be punished for things, and I don't need a lot of discipline. I'm definitely not a sadist and I don't enjoy doing things that other people won't like, but there are times that I'll enjoy hurting a masochist entirely because that person enjoys it so much, so I don't view it as punishment in the least.

As a Little, I don't like pain. Pain is not a good thing, and I want nothing to do with it. I also do not want to be punished for things, but I do feel the need for someone to enforce some limits and discipline even if I won't necessarily enjoy it. I'm not necessarily talking about spanking or other physical punishments however - I suspect a spanking might do very well for me since I grew up with spanking as a disciplinary tool, but sitting over me and pulling me back to cleaning my room or grounding me until a certain chore is dealt with or stuff like that can be just as useful tools if not more so. Mind you, I prefer positive reinforcement as well, but sometimes a mixture of disciplinary actions in response to undesired behavior and positive reinforcement of desired behavior can be incredibly effective.

As far as bratting goes, when someone first meets me in Little headset I will be a perfect angel because it's not nice to be anything other than a good girl. Over the course of getting to know someone, inevitably I hit a point in the relationship where I will do some bratty stuff. I'm testing limits, but not the kind of testing limits you refer to where I'm seeking reward in the form of punishment; at that point I'm looking for two things: whether you will still care about me if I'm not always practically perfect in every way and whether you care enough to let me know in an age appropriate manner when something isn't okay. If someone does care and does set limits, there may be a period when there's a lot of misbehavior just to see what does and does not merit intervention and to be sure that this person I'm interacting with won't be scared off, but eventually things'll settle down to life with a basically normal kid. I'll behave well most of the time, but I'm far from perfect, and I have a mischievous streak that I like to enjoy in harmless but sometimes obnoxious ways, especially if it garners a reaction.

Thanks for writing this.
(I have little brain for commenting today, but:)
I really don't get on well with "you have been bad and I will punish you" as a top or as a bottom. I like "we're going to do this thing together, and it might be really difficult for you to take, but I'm here to help".
I don't mind that other people play differently; I don't like people assuming that telling me I'm bad will be OK. It will not be OK - if you tell me I'm bad I'll think you think I'm bad.

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