A wrap-up of my project sooner than expected means getting back to the blog sooner than expected. Thanks again... deeply... for hanging in and expressing concern about the diminishing frequency of posts.
As an inaugural to Phase II of the blog, below you will find the article that I had always intended as the intro to the blog, laying out some principles of male/female energy that I believe underlie not just DD, but male/female relationships as a whole. Perhaps it will serve as a helpful reference point for a deeper understanding of the issues we all grapple with in regards to power in relationships and a furtherance of the very cool dialogue all of you have been adding to over the past year.
This article is a bit long and involved, which is why I've been putting off writing it. What follows is essentially a quick summary of a decade's worth of work on this subject -- radically simplified. Unfortunately, even simplified, the concepts required are fairly complex in places, so to do any sort of even basic justice to the idea requires a bit more length than is ideal for a blog.
Some of you will hopefully find it useful.
From time to time, I am asked by various writers, researchers and filmmakers to talk with them about how I reconcile my feminist views with my preference for a DD lifestyle. Understandably, this seems like a paradox to most people (even many in the DD world -- hence the title of and reason for The Disciplined Feminist in the first place!).
The interviewers are invariably surprised when I tell them that I don't see any contradiction between feminism and assuming a submissive role in a relationship with a man. They are momentarily confused, but then (ah ha!) they hit on the Big Explanation that Makes It All Make Sense To Them. They suggest that DD is consistent with feminism because I'm exercising my feminist imperative by "choosing" this way of viewing male/female relationships. (ie, we all have the Right to Choose, which is what makes us feminists).
Most people do see feminism as a choice issue above all else. Whether it's something as inflammatory as abortion or the more garden-variety choices of whether or not to marry, have children or pursue a career (or going further back in history, the right to vote), we seem to have defined feminism as the power to choose one's own destiny. A woman is either a feminist or not (your choice), depending on... well, what choices we make. We then advertise our feminism to the world with, again, our choices.
I would submit, however, that fundamentally, a true understanding of feminism at its deepest level has little or nothing to do with choice. While the ability to shape our destinies is a nice byproduct of a more egalitarian society, it is not and should not be confused with feminism.
Putting aside any contemporary, political definitions of feminism (are there any other kind, I wonder?), I suggest that feminism, at its core, is fundamentally about reclaiming the value and worth of being female. The word "feminine" forms the root of the word and thus -- as most linguists and anthropologists would agree -- the root of the concept.
To be a feminist is to insist that the mere act of being female -- of being feminine -- is a sacred experience. To be a feminist is to reclaim the power that contemporary Western culture has stripped away from women beginning in the pre-Christian era right up to the present extremist right wing religious movement in America. It is to say that feminine power, the feminine experience, is as worthy of honor and expression as the masculine experience.
To be a feminist is to claim the sacred right to be female.
All very well. But what does that mean? What is the sacred right to be female and what does it mean, then, to be feminine?
(apologies to those of you who already know this stuff)
As part of my personal journey, I've spent close to a decade now studying Jungian psychology, with an emphasis on archetypes and a special emphasis on the "heroine's journey" as it reveals itself in myth, fairy tale and contemporary storytelling. For those of you not familiar with all that stuff, that's a long, semi-fancy way of saying I'm interested in how human beings, collectively and at their deepest levels, experience what it means to be a woman. (If anyone is interested in exploring these issues and wants a recommended reading list, let me know and I'd be happy to recommend books that have been helpful to me along the way.)
As any of you who have studied archetypes and myth know, this is an extremely rich and complex subject, and by invoking it here, I run the risk of oversimplifying something that deserves a far more comprehensive explanation and treatment than is possible in a blog article. This is intended as a starting point for discussion, not a definitive or exhaustive examination of feminism and archetype (which is a life's work!). So please don't write and tell me that "it's more complicated than that." Yes, it is. But at the same time, it's also simpler, too.
Archetypal myth work is based on the premise that the reason story has been fundamental to all human civilizations since the beginning of time (even back to cave paintings and stories by the fire before written language) is that story is humankind's way of passing on our collective experiences to the next generation and articulate our deepest, most profound experiences.
This type of work is based on the idea -- supported by 2000+ years of history and anthropology -- that the same themes and patterns of story emerge across all cultures, language barriers and time periods, and that this pattern is the key to understanding our deepest, most authentic selves.
THE HERO'S JOURNEY
Joseph Campbell is one of the most famous in this field -- he posited that all men must go through a set sequence of life challenges, what he called "the hero's journey," to become complete, integrated human beings.
As many, many have pointed out since Campbell (including Campbell himself), the male journey and the female journey are fundamentally, clearly different. If one looks at the earliest, pre-Christian myths available to us, there is a startlingly clear and distinct difference between stories in which a man goes on a quest or journey and a woman goes on a quest or journey.
When a man goes on a journey, he generally (and this is, again, very simplified) leaves the home of his father with a specific mission in mind (to get the Grail, to slay the dragon). On his way, he encounters physical obstacles and must prove his character, his bravery and his worth in order to secure the prize and return home to claim his rightful place in the kingdom. The way in which the hero proves his worth is outwardly-directed. He fights, he climbs, he struggles through walls of thorns or battles raging rivers. He breaks through things, breaks down things, thrusts outward with his lance or his spear or his fists. Only once he has overcome all physical obstacles in his path through the use of force does he earn the right to return home and become king.
To become integrated, a man on his hero's journey must extend himself outward into the world. This is why calling someone a "man of action" is one of the highest compliments you can pay a man and why being a "self-made man" is one of our society's highest goals.
This "hero's journey" is manifested in our culture most obviously by a man's quest for professional success, athletic prowess or sexual conquest. Making the deal, scoring the goal, bedding the woman are all outwardly-directed acts designed to elevate status and prove to the world (and more importantly, himself) that he's fit to be king. (Side note: This is also why a smart woman knows that any man worth having will put his work before his family -- and a smart woman wouldn't ask him to be any other way)
Most people are familiar with the hero's journey. Hollywood's been making money off it for years -- it's the standard structure of most mainstream action/adventure movies ("Die Hard," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Dirty Harry," and of course, "Star Wars" which was overtly based on Campbell's work), as well as spy, western and detective novels and comic books.
THE HEROINE'S JOURNEY
Because Western culture has elevated the masculine as superior to the feminine, most people aren't as familiar with the heroine's journey. (There are movies about the female journey, but they tend to be indie films.)
Our patriarchal culture has done a lousy job of educating us on what these feminine-centered myths are (but a really good job of supressing them!), so I'm going to take up a bit of space to tell one of the most famous -- the Descent of the Goddess is the grandmama of all heroine's journey myths and for the record, it pre-dates Christianity and patriarchal power structures, so it was not written to "keep woman in her place" as many later fairy tales were.
For those of you interested in this sort of thing, it's worth pointing out that the other big famous heroine's journey myth is the legend of Persephone and Demeter, but the Descent of the Goddess came first and many believe it forms the basis for the Persephone/Demeter myth.
THE DESCENT OF THE GODDESS
So then, a brief retelling of the Descent of the Goddess (again, apologies to those of you who already know this!):
Inanna is the Queen of the Overworld, where things aren't going very well for her. For a variety of reasons (depending on the version of the story), she is motivated to visit her twin sister, Erishkigal, the Queen of the Underworld, who is grieving inconsolably from a broken heart.
To honor her sister, Inanna puts on her finest robes and presents herself at the entrance to the Underworld. However, to gain entry, she must pass through seven gates. At each gate, Inanna is required to remove one article of her fine clothing -- her crown, her robe, her shoes, etc. When she finally gains entrance to the Underworld, she is completely naked.
Even then, her sister Erishkigal won't see her and is offended at Inanna's presumption at intruding on Erishkigal's domain. Erishkigal orders Inanna hung by her hands and whipped until the skin falls from her bones and she is just a skeleton. There Inanna's body hangs for three days and and nights, dead.
Inanna's best female friend in the Overworld becomes worried when Inanna fails to return from her journey. The friend goes everywhere asking for help to rescue Inanna, but the only one who agrees to help is the God of the Sea. The Sea God fashions two sexless creatures of clay and animates them. The two clay creatures go down to the Underworld and present themselves to Erishkigal. Erishkigal is in such deep grief that all she can do is weep in her dark cave.
The two clay figures do not speak to Erishkigal. They merely witness her pain and hear her cries -- but this is key because everyone else has been too frightened of her to get anywhere near her. She's been crying alone in the dark for ages.
Just having a witness to validate and acknowledge her pain is so healing to Erishkigal that she is able to function again. In gratitude, she asks the two clay creatures what she can do to repay them, and they ask that she can restore Inanna's life and allow her to return to the Overworld.
Erishkigal complies. Inanna's body and life are restored to her, Erkshigal's broken heart is mended, the two sisters have a loving reunion, and Inanna returns to the Overworld a stronger and more complete individual to preside over a peaceful and just kingdom. In short, she lives happily ever after.
HOW ALL THIS RELATES TO FEMINISM
Contained in the story of Inanna is, many would argue, the essence of what feminism really means. Our journey as women is different. It is not to find ourselves by expressing outward into the world by force or penetration, but by surrendering inwards, and giving up false power (ie, Inanna's fine robes, our attempts to act like men) to find a more authentic power (ie, connection with our true selves). Being strident, bitchy, overly assertive or masculine are the contemporary "robes" that we must be willing to be stripped of if we're going to find our true feminine selves.
Analyzing the lessons of the heroine's journey contained in the Descent of the Goddess is a life's work (and many have made it just that), but for our purposes, the thing to notice here is that the way in which Inanna -- ie, the feminine -- seeks wisdom and wholeness is exactly opposite from the way a hero would (remembering that we're taking Descent of the Goddess as representative of feminine mythology). The solution to the hero's problems is to go forth and conquer; the solution to the heroine's problems is to go below and submit.
Inanna does not find power by going on a hero's journey; she finds power by claiming the right to undertake her own unique feminine journey. And she finds it by yielding rather than attacking. Instead of fighting her way through the gates or defeating those who would hang and beat her as a hero would, Inanna submits completely and without protest to the indignity and pain of the experience. This is the only way in for her.
Inanna returns to the physical world a healthy, empowered, complete woman. She does this not by fighting, but by submitting, by going without struggle into the depths of herself and surrendering her pride, her modesty and her physical power. Then -- and only then -- is she allowed access to her truer nature and her true pain. Had she struggled, she would have been denied entrance to the Underworld and by extension, denied knowledge of connection with her true Self and the opportunity to heal her broken heart.
The power that comes with yielding is not a weaker or inferior form of power, but rather a different one (albeit one that's threatening and alien to our war and aggressive-centered culture). Inanna is not weak. She is a queen -- a real one, not a false one who rules by trying to be a king. The fact that feminism has been sold to contemporary women as requiring us to act like men is a cruel, abusive and confusing lie that does more to DIS-honor the feminine spirit than the honor it (how much honor can there be in claiming that to be worthwhile, you must reject and act in direct opposition to your truest self?).
THE PART ABOUT SEX
There are those who suggest that myths are not a valid enough basis for claiming that female energy is inherently submissive resist this idea at all costs. This resistance is understandable, given that the idea that feminine energy is about yielding can seem very frightening to those of us raised to believe that equal means masculine, and given the reality that there are plenty of predators lurking to take advantage of any yielding we do.
However, any doubt that female energy is primarily inwardly directed and yielding seems quickly dispelled when we look at something much closer to home and completely outside the scope of cultural manipulation, etc.-- sex.
The most basic place to find contemporary, non-mythological evidence of the difference between the heroine's journey and the hero's journey is in the sex act. The male's role in the sex act is to act outwardly. His penis protrudes out -- literally -- into the world. To consummate the act, he penetrates into the woman -- an act of aggression and force.
The female's role in the sex act is, of course, opposite of the male's (hence yin/yang and other concepts of balance). Our sex organs are internal, not external. No matter how "feminist" (in the misunderstood way of using the term) a woman is, to consummate the sex act, we must submit to being penetrated, entered -- acted upon -- by our "hero." Yes, there are other ways to find sexual pleasure, but it all still comes down the basic, biologically hard-wired Sex Act: a man takes action and a woman submits.
It is no accident that particularly in goddess-centered spirituality (but also in the mystic texts of mainstream religions like Christianity, Buddhism and Judaism), the sex act is considered a sacred ritual for connecting with God. A male and female joined in intercourse is our most profound symbol of unity, wholeness and the elevation of the human spirit. And it is inescapably an act which cannot take place unless the female submits to penetration by the male.
In short, to find the sacred, each must play our part. The male must act and the female must submit. Put another way, the male must give and the female must receive for the spark of life to be ignited.
There is no real "choice" here. If you want to have sex -- arguably the most basic and primal expression of gender -- and you are a woman, submission and yielding of physical control is required. And if you want to have good sex, I'd argue that a yielding of psychological control is required, too. If you want to find true completion in a relationship or within yourself, that same yielding of physical and psychological control is equally required, albeit in more subtle and complex ways.
So, too, is "choice" an illusion when it comes to defining feminism. We don't have a choice as to how our archetypal selves feel and act or what they require to feel whole. 2000+ years of history and our basic biological makeup tells us who we are at our most primal levels and no amount of kicking and screaming and post-modern protest is going to change that -- at least not in our lifetimes. Archetypes and inner truths don't care about the Pill or the ERA or wage parity. They care about the deepest, truest parts of our nature that strength back to before recorded history.
A woman's journey is inward, a man' s journey is outward. A man's journey to wholeness requires outward action; a woman's journey to wholeness requires "taking in," absorbing or yielding.
We can choose not to go on the journey, of course, or we can choose to go on the wrong one, and in that sense, there is always choice. But to truly claim our power as women -- to truly be "feminist" -- requires an act of surrender akin to stripping off our pretensions (right down to the skin on our bones) and allowing ourselves to submit completely to the wisdom of our subconscious.
HOW DD RELATES TO ALL THIS
DD is, of course, a fundamental, deeply ritualized and externalized re-enactment of the heroine's journey, of this sacred joining of in and out, force and submission. By allowing our bodies to be stripped and beaten, our wills to be humbled and our tears to flow in the presence of a loving witness, we are literally re-creating the Descent of the Goddess with each punishment. I would argue that this is why the experience is so deeply psychologically resonant, for women in particular, but men also (that's another article).
Those who are disturbed by this construct of male/female power have, over the years, done much to rationalize why it just ain't so. They insist that men and women aren't so different and women certainly don't have to submit to be self-actualized. But just because we're not comfortable with a truth doesn't make it less true.
Can the heroine's journey, the act of yielding, go wrong? Be abused? Absolutely. Just as the hero can get eaten by the dragon, so too can the heroine be taken advantage of and exploited in her act of submission. But just because there are dragons out there that eat heroes doesn't make the hero's journey any less valid or necessary to spiritual fulfillment. And just because there are those out there who would (and have) sought to use the yielding power of the feminine to debase, subjugate and abuse women doesn't make those truths less valuable, less sacred, or less true.
Going through the motions in the real world, we are all Inanna, struggling to find our way without the benefit of a transcendant journey of descent into the depths of who we really are. And deep in all of our hearts, weeping alone in her cave, is our own private Erishkigal, waiting for us to come and heal her broken heart.
THE TRUE POWER OF THE FEMININE
The power of the yielding submissive feminine is in the dignity of Jackie Kennedy walking behind her husband's casket, the compassion and courage of Princess Diana holding the hand of an AIDS victim or the eloquence of Maya Angelou sharing her story of rising above her abusive childhood.
The power of the feminine is not confined to women. Martin Luther King and Gandhi knew the power of yielding and used it to change the world by fighting violent discrimination with non-violent resistence. Jesus knew it when he went willingly to the cross and submitted quietly to the violence of his tormenters (and for that matter, Mary knew it when she let him go).
Any time anyone, male or female, chooses to nurture instead of attack or forgive instead of seeking revenge, it is the power of the true Feminine changing the world.
My deepest wish for all of us this holiday season is that we open ourselves to the power of these ancient truths and that we all take a moment to find gratitude for the blessing of our awareness of the sacred power of DD to help us find our way to our own Underworlds and discover for ourselves the awesome power of true Feminism, and that once there, we glory in our true Selves and celebrate our differences. (And if we are blessed to have found a companion to help us get there, so much the better.)
A wrap-up of my project sooner than expected means getting back to the blog sooner than expected. Thanks again... deeply... for hanging in and expressing concern about the diminishing frequency of posts.
Thank you so much to all of you who wrote saying, "Hey, where the heck are you? Are you okay?" and other sorts of things.
The answer is that, yes, I'm still here, and I'm very much okay. However, I'm in the homestretch of wrapping up a big contract (I work in politics and sometimes things get very hectic). As a result, there hasn't been as much time as I'd like for things like updating the blog. I'm working hard to clear my schedule and get back to my mountain retreat for at least awhile, and should be able to do so by the end of December -- at which time, I will probably start to have a great deal to write about as my partner and I have decided to try living together as a DD couple. This will be our first opportunity to really dig in and explore the relationship dynamics of DD on a day to day basis and I'm looking forward to sharing that experience with all of you, if you all can hang in there long enough!
In the meantime, I received a very thoughtful email from a new reader that I thought perhaps would be of interest to some of you. I'm sharing it with her consent, in the hopes that some of you might have responses to her questions. I myself have many responses, as many of her questions go right to the heart of the reason I started The Disciplined Feminist in the first place. However, I'd rather not let her email languish in my inbox until I have an opportunity respond, so perhaps some of you can begin the dialogue?
I started reading your blog about DD and it really is fascinating. I am 34 and contemplating the whole DD thing but haven't told hubby yet until I am sure it is a path I really want to take.
The adult/child idea is very interesting. I do not think I am an emotional adult and have spent years pretending to be one, which is why DD appeals to some part of my inner-child. I think perhaps you really do have something there - it makes a lot of sense from a psychological viewpoint. It is often women who are strong, feminist and intelligent with a moral conscience and well developed sense of 'justice' who want to seek "punishment" or consequences for their misbehaviour. Most probably due to the strong feelings of guilt associated with doing what they know to be "the wrong thing" and the hope that in being punished their guilt will be washed away. However, I suspect it is also the "strong moral conscience and well developed sense of justice" that stands in the way of really embracing the principles of the DD lifestyle.
DD seems to have just enough of 'whatever it is that is missing from the modern relationship' to get the average, sensible, reasonably intelligent, emotionally-starved modern woman interested, and yet also has just enough inconsistencies, double standards and patriarchal overtones to give that same woman an uncomfortable gut feeling that there is something 'not-quite-right' about it too. At least that is how I am feeling about it, and the reason I am struggling and asking complete strangers questions!
One question I have is, do you think that maybe what makes the whole DD power struggle and double standards an issue is that it goes against fairness, equality and all the feminist teachings that most Generation X women have grown up with?
Also - I came across an interesting fact, did you know that the most common form of medication prescribed in the traditional marriage/Early baby boomer generation was VALIUM? Perhaps that makes being submissive easier?????
I find there are two main aspects of DD that I find difficult to process, the first is FAIRNESS, and what to do when I am angry with something HE has done - I could see myself in your comments about "When I am Angry".
The second is that I have children, mostly girls, and I look at what DD "teaches" and whether it is what I would want my girls to learn - do I want my girls to grow up to be submissive women who hand over the reigns of their life, their happiness, their emotional well being to a man ? The truth is, if they find a man who is worthy, respectable, strong, honest and displays all the positive masculine values and holds his own behaviour to a very high moral standard, then perhaps that would be ok, if it made her happy. BUT how likely is that to happen these days??? The finding a man with those traits I mean? (Even "Dr Phil" had several affairs in his first marriage! and I wouldn't want to be Robyn would you?) So honestly, I think my girls, with that teaching, would get eaten alive in a modern world.
Still, I am a 34 year old woman with a Masters Degree in Education, seven children and a husband who is a far cry from an "Alpha-male". I grew up with a weak father and a matriarch for a mother, so I could just be trying to go to the other extreme!
Goodness human beings are complicated! Really what we all want is to be HAPPY!
Apologies for the delay in posting this month's (August) article. I deeply appreciate those of you who comment and participate when I can't to keep our discussion going -- and I especially appreciate those of you who emailed me to make sure I was okay and that my slightly longer than usual absence wasn't indicative of any personal crisis. (It isn't. Just new job, long hours, high stress, etc.)
Several of you wrote comments in response to the prior article that included your thoughts on whether or not women who engaged in DD were adults. This an intriguing issue and it seems worth exploring a bit further.
In interest of stirring up a bit of controversy up front to make things interesting (!), my short response to this is that, no, I do not believe that women (myself included) who engage in DD are adults.
As I've written before in other posts, I believe DD to be, at its heart, a reaction to a deeply felt need for boundaries and accountability that is often absent in our culture, most notably as the result of so-called "progressive" parenting ("DD as a Reaction to Me-Generation Parenting") that emphasizes individual expression and personal freedom over boundaries and consequences. I've also mentioned in prior articles that DD seen in this light is an extremely healthy way for our infinitely-creative psyches to get what's missing in our lives in a way that feels safe, fair and straightforward. (see just about every entry!)
(DD does, of course, have other archetypal origins, and some day I'm actually going to write the article that explores those...)
My underlying theory here is that DD is first and foremost a re-parenting process -- a method of gifting our inner child with the experiences of being held accountable to rules and boundaries. That means that the role of the submissive partner in a DD relationship is at its core that of the externalized inner child. Spanking, scolding, corner time, grounding -- all experiences that are, of course, strongly associated with childhood rather than adulthood.
Being able to safely give up our adult selves to experience this powerful cycle of guilt, justice and forgiveness is, I believe, at the heart of what makes DD so appealing to many women. It's also what separates true DD (real punishments for real misbehaviors) for S&M sex play or disciplinary fantasies). I believe the need for some of us to have it "be real" to be effective is our strongest clue that something developmentally significant -- essential even -- is going on for us.
I believe that to fully understand and benefit from the DD experience requires us to let go of the illusion that women who have a strong need to DD are adults. We are not. If we were, we would already have progressed through the developmental stage that DD fulfills a need for.
Our society has systematically done away with most of the primitive tribal rituals that used to help people transition from childhood to adulthood -- mostly ritual pain experiences that are now viewed as barbaric but serve a critical developmental function of helping us to make the transition to adulthood. As a result, we have an entire culture of people, male and female, who live as adults, are legally considered adults, and have adult bodies and responsibilities, but who fundamentally do not have the emotional maturity and capacity of a fully grown being.
For all kinds of reasons, including social conditioning and weak parenting, they/we are lacking the internalized "strong parent" that is required for the child to become an independent, emotionally self-supporting, confident individual.
Some might be offended at the idea that women who crave DD are child-like. I hope those of you who are feeling a bit offended might re-think any perceptions our society has instilled in us that children are stupid or simple. Children are, in reality, vibrant, creative beings who actively seek out what they need to strive and grow into healthy adults. And women who seek out the loving solution of DD as a way to become healthy adults are demonstrating a striking amount of courage, creativity and resiliency that many others in our culture with similar needs (and that's probably most of us) don't demonstrate.
Most readers will probably agree that DD is one of the most elegant, simple and effective ways of meeting our unmet developmental needs -- of literally turning those of us who look like and live like adults into actual functioning adults by allowing us to turn back the clock to childhood to get the type of discipline and structure we need to complete our journey.
As I experience DD in my real life -- along with that empowering feeling of taking such literal and simple responsibility for my actions -- I can feel myself filling that long-unmet need. I'm literally growing up before my own eyes.
Becoming a real adult instead of a pretend one.
Most of the spankings in our relationship in the past few months have been "maintenance" spankings -- meaning, spankings that aren't motivated by any particular misbehavior but are intended rather as a general attitude adjustment or stress reliever.
I suspect that the emphasis on maintenance spankings in our relationship is largely because my partner and I are still struggling with the Big Problem we have with regard to DD (Domestic Discipline): I rarely misbehave in a way that, to me at least, is unambiguously my fault. (see "When I'm Angry").
I virtually always believe that my behavior is either not inappropriate at all, or if it is inappropriate, is a response to something nefarious and egregious that he did first, and thus my misdeed is at the very least, equal to his and therefore justifiable -- and therefore shouldn't merit a one-sided discipline. (and no, there's no way in h*ll I'd even consider spanking him. That would, I believe, completely ruin the archetypal male/female energy of DD and undermine his role as an authority figure much the same way that a child spanking a parent would).
At any rate, the reason that I generally receive maintenance spankings is most likely that they're safer than disciplinary ones because they don't require a judgement about fault or blame and can be given "just because."
Our habit, therefore, has become to ignore anything that would require an actual, specific disciplinary response and focus on periodic, general-purpose maintenance spankings instead.
This is, of course, a problem in a DD relationship, as there's a reason that it's called "Domestic Discipline" and not "Domestic 'Just Because'".
In addition to the problem of the Perfect Paddle, I suspect that the emphasis on maintenance spankings is equally responsible for the disappearance of all those wonderful empowered feelings I used to get from DD that have been noticeably absent since my return to my partner's city.
The disciplinary "bad girl" component of a spanking, for me, is crucial to the overall experience. I need to feel the knot in my stomach (and nervous tingling elsewhere) that tells me that I've done wrong and now I need to pay. I need to feel the embarrassment and humility of knowing that I've "got it coming" for a specific mistake I've made, that what's to come is not a favor or a way of helping me relieve stress (not directly anyway), but a fair consequence for an error that I've made.
And I need the security of knowing that when things go wrong in the relationship, there are specific, concrete consequences rather than the vague, silent tension that exists when there is no specific discipline given. And in the moment, I need my disciplinarian to be stern, distant and without visible compassion, not loving and supportive (that comes after).
Feeling guilty, then punished or disciplined, and then subsequently cleansed and forgiven, is so much a part of the cathartic, transformative experience of DD for me that without it, it's pretty much just theater. Perhaps minimally satisfying in the moment for its sexual subtext, but without any lasting psychological or relationship benefits.
This cycle of guilt/discipline/forgiveness is one of the many elements that separates DD from more deliberately erotic and sexual forms of pleasure/pain play, and puts it closer to the cathartic ritual pain practiced by many religious movements throughout the ages (starting well before the Catholic monks) as well as traditional parent/child punishments.
As human beings, most of us have consciences -- and a desire to cleanse them periodically. Unfortunately, our culture has precious few outlets for clearing one's conscience. The Catholic Church has the Rite of Confession, but most of us, of course, aren't Catholic. For most of us, unless we receive a speeding ticket, a library fine or a reprimand or other disciplinary action at work, there are very few healthy mechanisms in contemporary culture for expunging adult guilt for a transgression (and precious few mechanisms for kids either, thanks to so-called "progressive parenting" -- see "DD as a Reaction to Me Generation Parenting")
Much of the power of DD -- whether we realize it consciously or not -- comes in its ability to formalize and provide a safe, contained way of cleansing our consciences for wrongs that we've done to ourselves and those around us. To remove the element of guilt/punishment/forgiveness from the DD experience by giving too many spankings "just because" risks removing the basic psychological element that makes DD "work."
That's not to say, of course, that there isn't a place for role playing, erotic spanking and other non-disciplinary activities -- of course there is and those things can be a lot of fun, but at their core, they generally (though not always) lack the psychological element of conscience-cleansing that's inherent to DD. As an example, my "Perfect Paddle" was indeed perfect -- for sex play and fantasy, but not for discipline. (and has accordingly been shelved by mutual agreement between my partner and myself)
The difference between DD and these more sexually-oriented activities is that DD speaks directly to the very real, very human need to pay for one's crimes. And I suspect the growing appeal of DD has much to do with the lack of socially-acceptable ways for adults to pay for our transgressions, in a culture where anything goes and too many people seem to believe they have the "right" to treat anyone any way they please without consequences. (If you want to experience this lack of personal responsibility directly, just try asking someone to put their dog on a leash or not park their SUV in a compact spot and see the reaction you get.)
Deep down, the wiser, better part of us knows we don't have the "right" to behave badly just because we're adults, whether we push that knowledge away, cover it up with aggression and bravado, or acknowledge it. Those of us who recognize our need for DD are fortunate to be at least a little bit more in touch with our social and personal consciences than many of those around us -- which gives us a better-than-average shot at being better, more decent human beings than we would otherwise be.
Whether or not DD is ultimately a viable lifestyle option remains to be seen -- the surge of interest in this lifestyle seems the beginning of a social experiment in human behavior, sex roles and power in relationships. Time will tell whether or not the Big Problem of how to deal with the dominant partner's transgressions will be DD's undoing.
But divorcing DD from its fundamental role as a mechanism for regularly and safely experiencing the cycle of transgression, justice and forgiveness is doing the lifestyle and the people who take great personal risks to practice it a grave disservice.
If there is an answer to DD's Big Problem, it lies somewhere beyond removing one of the primary elements that make DD such a potentially healthy relationship choice.
After much consideration, I have arrived back in the same city as my partner (though not yet in the same household, we're not quite ready for that) with the intention of staying through the summer to see how things develop between us, both in Domestic Discipline (DD) and in the rest of our relationship.
As is par for the course with us, getting back into the rhythm of DD is not without its bumps and hiccups -- though this time, I'm happy to say not because of any reluctance of his part or mine. On the contrary, he's embraced the DD lifestyle with a consistency and enthusiasm heretofore unseen in our relationship.
A week or so before I left, I happened to find a paddle at the local thrift store. It was one of those paddles that's clearly not a cheese board or a game paddle, but a bona-fide spanking paddle meant for the infliction of corporal punishment.
The paddle looked to be perfect and my heart gave a bit of a flutter when I picked it up. It's just thin enough to sting, not thud (stinging being my sensation of preference), wide enough and long enough to fully cover the area in need of correction, with a good solid grip suited for a man's hand. It's made out of hardwood, so despite its thinness, it's not likely to break at an inopportune moment.
The first time I was asked to "Go get the paddle," I presented it proudly, imagining how much richer our DD experience was about to become.
And as soon as I felt it on my backside, I knew I was right. We'd found the Perfect Paddle.
By "perfect," I mean that it felt just right. And by "just right, " I mean that it hurt exactly as much as I imagine in my head that a spanking will hurt, and it hurt in exactly the way that I imagine a spanking will hurt. For the first time, my real-life spanking experience matched almost exactly the spankings of my fantasies.
Spurred on by my enthusiasm, my partner has subsequently used said Paddle of Perfection on a regular basis in an effort to get our relationship back on track.
It's failing miserably.
The Perfect Paddle feels "perfect" and "just right" in imagination and application. But it fails in every really important way. It leaves no marks or bruises. The pain stops as soon as the spanking stops. There is no day after (or as before, week after) soreness to remind me of the session. Heck, there's barely even a "minute after" -- two minutes after the spanking (before corner time's even started), it's as though the spanking never happened.
I expect it's different for everyone, but for me at least, the psychological benefits of a spanking come largely in its aftereffects. Every time I see the bruises or sit down and feel the twinge of pain and ache on my backside, I get a little jolt of that miraculous DD-juice -- self-confidence, personal power, a wonderful feeling of being loved and cared about by my partner. I go a week or so -- minimum -- on a spanking like that and still feel empowered, loved and a bit like I'm walking on air. But without those aftereffects, the power of DD, at least for me, is nonexistent.
And yet.... that paddle feels so perfect....
It's an interesting lesson for me on the difference between sexual fantasy and reality. Fantasy is wonderful, but it's rarely the key to personal growth.
The spanking of my fantasies, so long craved and searched for, carries little to no power in real life. And the thicker, "thuddier" paddle that wields such power on my psyche in real life rarely appears in my fantasies.
I expect a lot of things are like that, especially in the DD and D/s world. The perfect DD partner of our fantasies might well be completely ineffective and disappointing in real life and the guy you'd never think knew his way around a paddle might be the most effective disciplinarian we'll ever meet. And of course, I've had any number of D/s scenarios that seemed wildly exciting in my head turn into a big snore when tried out in the real world.
The Case of the Perfect Paddle is a valuable lesson in remembering that DD, when practiced between two living, breathing people, is about reality, not fantasy.
And it's an even better reminder that DD is a living, fluid thing, and that there are dangers in clinging too much to how we imagine it ought to go. In having overly specific or rigid expectations of how DD "ought" to work, we may miss out on experiences and nuances that are richer and more valuable to us than the scenarios in our imaginations.
And so it's with a heavy heart that I will request, humbly, that my partner set aside the Perfect Paddle (except for in future potential play situations, which we haven't yet explored) and once again take up the dreaded thicker paddle that strikes fear in my heart, but creates those lovely bruises, aches and pains that seem to hold the key to my better and higher Self.
But maybe I'll wait until I've had just one more spanking with it... :-)
When I was in high school, I was fortunate to have one of those wonderful teachers who genuinely loved and understood Shakespeare and knew how to get her students to love and understand it as well.
As a result of her teaching, I'm one of the those fortunate few who laughs at all the right places during Shakespearian plays not because the person next to me does, but because I actually get the jokes -- a gift I'm forever grateful for.
The tragedies were my favorite and I was fascinated at the idea of the fatal flaw that undoes the classic hero. I understood about Othello's jealousy and Macbeth's ambition, but when my teacher suggested that indecision was Hamlet's fatal flaw, I was stumped.
How in the heck could indecision rank up there with jealousy and ambition as something that could wreck your life?
I don't know where that teacher is now, but if I did, I'd email her and say, "Oh, I get it now." No wonder Hamlet's the most famous of Shakespeare's tragic heroes. I'd take jealousy or ambition over indecision any day.
After yet another long separation, I spent the last two weeks with my partner. Predictably, despite all our problems and my doubts about the future of our relationship, all it took was about five seconds in the same room with him and I fell in love all over again (and predictably, suffered total amnesia about all of our problems). And all it took was one "welcome back" spanking for me to remember why I'm going through all this trouble to keep this relationship in the first place. We may suck as a contemporary couple, but we kick *ss on the DD front when we're doing it right.
But it's becoming more and more clear to me that, at least for us, this long distance thing isn't going to work. I suspect a couple has to be much further down the road with DD, and have a much more solid foundation of trust and good communication, for long-distance DD to work. And as regular readers know, we've got anything but that.
So I'm now faced with the decision: to stay where I am, snug in my little mountain hideaway, safely distant from the everyday dramas of a relationship that may not work out but without the possibility of using DD to make things better, or do I go back and try to work through that murky pit of past trouble that I wrote about in a prior post.
And that's where I began to realize the perils of indecision, because of course, every time I decide one way, I realize what I'll be giving up and so I swing the other way. I've been doing that for weeks now, if not months. It's driving him crazy, and honestly, it's driving me crazy, too. (too bad spankings don't make me more decisive)
As I was shifting back and forth (and back and forth) again this afternoon, trying to figure out what to do, I realized with abrupt clarity how many of my decisions are motivated by a need to avoid pain. And in the next instant, I realized another reason why DD is such a potentially healing and powerful force in my life.
The trigger that causes me to swing one way or the other on this decision and other major life decisions comes when the excitement of the positive parts of the decision momentarily give way to the mourning for whatever it is I'll be losing. And that pain is so scary that I immediately swing the other way to make it go away. Which is does, for a little while, until the relief of having reclaimed what I had lost goes away and the pain of the loss on the other side seeps through. Then it's back the other way I go. (For those of you who are wondering, this will eventually lead back to DD.)
Looking back, I'm realizing only now how much of my life has been mismanaged out of a desperate desire to avoid pain -- irresponsible spending ("I have to have it now!"), quitting school - twice ("School is boring."), walking away from worthwhile projects and professional opportunities ("This is taking way too long and I hate getting up early."). But the end result of avoiding short-term pain is suffering far greater long-term pain -- be it too much credit card debt or unfulfilled educational or career goals.
And that's where DD comes in. (See, I told you I'd get back to the topic.)
DD is all about experiencing short-term pain to avoid long-term pain. Spankings and other discipline hurt now, but they keep things from building up, both personally and in the relationship, that will hurt a lot more for a lot longer if they're not dealt with.
And predictably, even though I know this to be true, I dread discipline of any kind, and when the time comes to accept it, I'll do whatever it takes to stall and avoid it. (My partner, to his credit, is beginning to figure out that he's not doing me any favors by allowing me to get away with these tactics.)
To have the life I want, I have to learn to let go of things, to make sacrifices for long-term goals, to do all the things that, in short, grown ups know how to do, but that I was never taught as a child because no one ever discplined me when I got lazy, put things off or quit when the going got tough.
I believe that, whatever the problems in our relationship, DD will help me to learn those things. Often, I think I focus too much on whether or not DD is helping the relationship, and I forget how much it's helping me.
Tonight, I'm pretty sure it's time to go home -- largely because I want to be the person that I am when DD is in my life, and I can't have that where I am now. Tomorrow, I may feel differently. But DD is teaching me that the ultimate decision needs to be based on what I want overall in my life, not on avoiding the inevitable short-term pain that comes with picking one option over another.
I received an email from a regular reader today who was having trouble posting comments to this blog. He emailed me (and I hope I'm not violating any confidences here!) that he'd tried unsuccessfully to post in the past and when his comments failed to appear, he thought perhaps I'd rejected them because he was male and didn't want men's opinions on the blog.
For the record, this is not the case! In fact, just the opposite is true. I see a serious lack of the male perspective in online DD material, and would love to have much more input from the male/dominant point of view.
In light of this unfortunate misunderstanding, I've revised the email policy posted in the sidebar.
My reason for the initial "no emails from men" policy has been that I tend to have a serious problem enforcing personal boundaries. Particularly in the areas of sex and relationships, I tend to ignore those helpful instincts that tell me when a situation is unsafe or unhealthy until it's far too late to safely extricate myself from it.
It's only recently that I've begun to realize I have not only the power, but also the obligation, to keep myself safe by enforcing personal boundaries -- hence the prior "no email from men" policy (and the trouble in my current relationship...). But erring on the side of overcompensating isn't healthy, either -- hence the correction to the policy. So provided I don't become inundated with strangers emailing to ask me what color underwear I prefer, I'm happy to accept emails from any and all.
But the whole incident got me thinking about something very related to DD: boundaries.
As I've explored a bit in the past (see"When I'm Angry"), the biggest weakness of DD seems to be that the dominant partner has the ability to enforce personal boundaries and the submissive partner doesn't. And in many cases, the dominant partner also claims (largely erroneously) the right to decide what the acceptable boundaries are not just for himself, but for his partner as well.
Like many women passionately committed to living a DD lifestyle, I've done back flips trying to rationalize why either A. this isn't the case, or failing that, B. this isn't a problem.
Putting aside for a moment the possibility of discipline going both ways a la the Spencer Plan (the subject for another post), the flat out truth is here is very simple:
A. it is the case and B, it is a problem. At least for me.
The issue of boundaries is, unfortunately, fundamental to why my current DD relationship seems to be imploding at lightning speed.
As long as I don't enforce my boundaries, we're blissfully happy. When I do call attention to something in the relationship that violates my sense of self, he gets angry. If I press the point, I risk discipline. And because I know that there is always the possibility that I will be disciplined for defending my boundaries, my need to protect myself keeps me (rightly) from being able to submit fully to his discipline.
Fundamentally, while I completely trust that he won't abuse his power during the actual disciplinary process, I don't trust his judgement when it comes to determining who's at fault for an "incident" -- me, him or both of us. And trusting the judgement of one's disciplinarian is so fundamental to the feeling of safety and love that healthy DD creates that the experience doesn't hold up long-term without it.
Interestingly enough, I was fully aware of this weakness (minefield? powder keg?) in our relationship before I even suggested DD. In fact, it's one of the reasons I suggested it in the first place. I decided that if I was going to have to back down most of the time anyway to keep the peace, I may as well fill the emotional need I had for DD in the process and turn a negative into a positive.
Wanting my partner so much, and wanting DD so much, I naively thought that the benefits would be so overwhelming that they would make up for this deficit in our core relationship, and that in a sense, we'd both get what we wanted. He'd get to be "right" most of the time, and I'd get the safety and security of DD.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
There is no benefit, DD or otherwise, that is powerful enough to make up for a lack of respect or a diminishment of self. If there were, there would never have been a women's movement (or a civil rights movement or an organized labor movement). Women would have been happy to be cossetted, protected and cared for in exchange for putting up with being talked down to, excluded and dehumanized.
But it doesn't work that way. The innate human need for self respect is too powerful.
Am I then suggesting that DD is, after all, inherently abusive and sexist?
I continue to believe that, when it's in the context of a healthy, mutually respectful relationship, DD speaks to a basic, archetypal need in those who seek it -- first, to fulfill unmet childhood and developmental needs, (see "DD as a Reaction to Me Generation Parenting") and second, to balance the male/female archetypal energies that our culture has twisted beyond recognition. (I really need to get around to finishing that post...)
But because there are no external forces checking the behavior of the dominant in a DD relationship, the only check on the system that prevents abuse is self-control, an internal responsibility on his part and a willingness to admit freely when he's wrong. Lose any of those and the relationship -- and the woman specifically -- are in dangerous territory.
As Ollie wrote so beautifully in his comment on "When I'm Angry," (and I'm paraphrasing here), power corrupts. And in a situation where one human being has ultimate say over right and wrong, few of us, male or female, could resist the temptation to avoid taking responsibility for our mistakes.
This is all too human an impulse. In fact, I think it's safe to say that most women attracted to DD are attracted precisely because we recognize our urge to avoid responsibility and want to be forced to accept it.
I imagine myself with a paddle in my hand, and while I'd like to think I'd be fair, truthfully, I doubt it. If I were that good a disciplinarian, if my judgement were that sound, if I were that emotionally balanced, I likely wouldn't have such strong need for an external disciplinarian, and my interest in spanking and discipline would likely revert to a strictly sexual one.
Fundamentally, then, the issue of boundaries goes back to the prior post -- it seems that for a traditional non-reciprocal DD relationship to work, the trust has to be firmly established prior to the introduction of DD. The respect of boundaries has to go both ways -- and his way is harder, because he has to do it of his own free will. Otherwise, there's simply too much temptation to abuse the privilege of power.
Perhaps the ongoing attempts by myself and others to negotiate a successful DD relationship can be compared to finding that "sweet spot" during a spanking -- it hurts in all the right -- and none of the wrong -- places.
Regular readers have no doubt noticed a sharp decline in the frequency at which new articles appear on this blog. My apologies.
The truth is, I haven't written because I've been reluctant to face what's most on my mind these days with regard to Domestic Discipline (DD).
A few months back, I wrote a post questioning whether a relationship is real if the only thing holding it together is DD. ("If DD is the glue, do the parts really fit?")
At the time, I concluded that the answer was yes, because for a relationship to thrive, what was required was trust and communication, and something, be it DD or a more traditional method, has to provide a framework for that trust and communication or the relationship won't survive.
I'm no longer at all sure of that position.
Back in March, Bonnie posed the question on "My Bottom Smarts" as to whether you'd leave a relationship if the other person wasn't interested in DD. But it's the opposite question that's on my mind now. Do I stay in a relationship that seems to be fundamentally unhealthy for both parties just to keep DD in my life?
As many of you know, my partner and I spend most of our time apart. This isn't for professional reasons, as with many couples. Rather it's because after six years of being together, when our relationship became so difficult and painful we couldn't be in the same room together without hurting each other, I left. And he agreed that I should leave.
I moved 800 miles away to get some time to think things through and start over. Ironically, once I did leave, the pressure was off, and we had the time and space to find each other again -- largely through an exploration of DD -- both through extended phone and email conservations about our expectations from a DD relationship, and then during the extended times we've been together in the last year.
As with many couples, things improved rapidly for us when DD became part of our lives. Almost overnight it seemed, we went from tears, fighting, accusations and anger to intimacy, love, communication and talk of marriage and life commitment.
But now, our separation is more extended than it has been in the past and since for us at least, DD does not seem to work when we're not physically together, things have fallen apart again in a serious way. Once again, it's hard to believe we're the same two people who were so close last time we were together. I feel as though he's a stranger most of the time, and I don't seem to be able to find back the wonderful person with whom I have such a unique and powerful bond. And I suspect he feels the same way.
When my partner and I added DD to our relationship this time around (we'd tried it before, but that's another article!), we realized we had a lot of clearing the air work to do. To accomplish this, we did the traditional "clearing the slate" ritual -- an extended, intense disciplinary session meant to expunge the hurts and betrayals of the past and start us on a new, healthier path together.
This ritual was helpful, to some extent. That level of ritual pain is powerful and it can't help but be cleansing in many ways. But the reality is that one afternoon of DD, no matter how intense and emotional, isn't going to erase years of mistrust, hurt, anger and miscommunication. That's not realistic, but more the stuff of romantic DD fantasy. Also significant is that the slate clearing was about me making up for what I did. We have yet to find an effective, DD-themed mechanism for making up for what he did -- one of the potential flaws of a traditional DD relationship. (see "When I'm Angry")
No matter how many spankings are given or how much time is spent in the corner, at some point in a relationship, you have to sit down across the table from the other person and talk with them about what's going on between you. And that's where the problem is, at least for us.
The truth is that neither my partner nor I are particularly good at communicating with each other about our feelings. (except where DD is concerned) When we talk about the issues in our past, I get emotional; he withdraws. I get more emotional because he withdraws; he withdraws even more. And so it goes.
And as a result, nothing really gets resolved between us. This lack of closure and resolution is why DD is such a welcome change for us. No leaving things to simmer and fester -- a spanking clears the air and gets us back on the right track.
But spankings now don't seem to help us with things in the past. And for us, there is a lot of pain in the past. Big Pain. Not "don't leave the toilet seat up" kind of pain, but big, Lifetime Movie of the Week pain. A sticky, seemingly bottomless pit of mistrust, anger and hurt that I'm not sure can be cleared up with any method, DD or otherwise.
My new answer then, to whether a relationship is legitimate if the only thing holding it together is DD is, sadly, probably not.
It may be that for DD to work as it's intended, it has to start from a place of trust and communication, rather than standing in as a substitute for those things. It may be that trying to use DD to rescue a relationship full of pain and anger and miscommunication is like putting a band-aid on an infected wound. It covers it up, but it doesn't make the wound go away.
And so I've been contemplating the possibility that's breaking my heart: That this wonderful, beautiful relationship that feels so right, so complete and so safe in so many ways (in many ways beyond DD) may not be the right one after all.
And with that, of course, comes the fear that I may never find anyone else again who understands this need in me as completely as my current partner does. I may find someone else willing to spank me, sure. Easy enough. But as we all know, DD is much, much more than that. Will I be able to find someone else with such a solid grasp of the psychology involved on both sides of a DD relationship? Who understands why living this way is so important to me and what my life experience was that made it so? Who comes to DD with such exquisite sensititivity and respect for my personhood? Doubtful. But possible.
Even more than the obvious heartbreak of losing my partner and all the wonderful parts of our relationship when it's working, it's devastating for me to think of forever losing a chance at being the person that I am when DD is working. The sense of empowerment and confidence. The feeling of finding my truest feminine self in a way that I haven't found anywhere else. To give that up terrifies me and keeps me hanging in, trying to make this work long past the point where I probably should have realized it's not going to.
If he asked me to marry him today, would I say yes, despite the ongoing problems, despite that murky tar pit of Big Pain in our past? Probably -- almost certainly -- yes. And that scares me even more. That I want and need DD in my life so much, and that I'm so afraid this is my only chance at having it, that I'd be willing to make a lifelong commitment to a relationship that's so fundamentally flawed just to keep it. Yikes.
Ah well... the good part about being separated from my partner (again!) is that I have lots of opportunity to consider what I miss most about DD (Domestic Discipline) when we're not together.
I miss the spankings, of course, as I've written about in prior posts ("Why Spanking Matters"). But interestingly, perhaps even more than spankings, I miss the corner time that follows the spankings.
In our relationship, mandatory corner time follows every spanking. Depending on how much time we have, the seriousness of the offense and my attitude preceding it, corner time generally lasts at least 20 minutes, sometimes an hour, and occasionally longer for a more serious misbehavior.
Corner time is meant as discipline, of course, and it is certainly that. It's embarrassing, particularly since I'm required to "serve my time" with my newly-spanked bottom exposed. It's occasionally frustrating, if I haven't yet had a chance to tell my partner my side of the misbehavior I'm being disciplined for. It's occasionally painful -- depending on the severity of the spanking I've just received.
And yet, despite these unpleasantries, corner time is one of my favorite parts of DD.
Imagine having someone you love tell you, for the next half hour (or more!), your only responsibility is to Be. You have nowhere to go, nothing to do, no emails to answer, no obligations of any kind except to be still and present with yourself and your breath.
A lot of people pay a lot of money to take courses and attend retreats on meditation, yoga and other relaxation techniques. I know, because I used to be one of them. To relieve my stress and quiet my mind and just give myself permission to Be, I've tried yoga, meditation, chanting, deep breathing, mantras, affirmations, prayer, you name it. Some of these worked better than others for me and, of course, all of them can be deeply effective methods for connecting with that calm, still, sacred part deep inside of all of us.
But for me, none of them have the meditative, calming, centering effect that corner time does.
I suspect a big part of the reason corner time works so well to calm, center and relax me is that it's mandatory. All of the other techniques -- meditation, yoga, etc. -- are voluntary. I can stop whenever I want to. And because I have an extremely short attention span and because I have have a very hard time not fidgeting or moving around, I generally stop way before traditional methods like meditation have a chance to work.
But with corner time, I can't "stop." I'm there till my partner tells me I can go, period. (Why? See "Why Do I Obey.") So I can't bail out when I get restless or bored or fidgety. I have to stay and see it through.
There's a certain pattern to corner time, at least for me. And that pattern is virtually identical to the pattern commonly associated with traditional meditation (when it's working). Both are a psychological journey with several stages, from stress to peace.
When I'm first sent to the corner, I'm all good intentions. I stand obediently still, focused largely on the sore bottom I've been sent to the corner with. But it doesn't take long for the fidgeting to set in. I shift weight from one foot to the other. I move my hands from front to back and to the front again. I rock my head back and forth. My eyes shift this way and that. (Should my partner discipline me for excessive fidgeting in the corner? Good question. Perhaps. Would that get me where I need to go faster, or is the fidgeting a necessary part of the process?)
And although my partner always gives me specific instructions as to what I'm to think about during corner time, my thoughts wander everywhere. From the spanking I just got to what I did to deserve it to what I want for dinner to the emails I have to answer to... etc, etc, etc. "Monkey Mind," the Zen teachers call it, climbing out of the corner and roaming everywhere but where it's supposed to be.
But sooner or later, all these random thoughts subside. My breathing slows down. I stop fidgeting. Things get very quiet in my head and heart. I find myself resting my forehead against the corner, taking deep, slow breaths and relaxing my shoulders, my abdomen and my neck (all the places I carry my stress). Time slows down and I lose all sense of how long I've been there. All that matters is my breath and the peace I feel inside.
20 minutes is about the minimum amount of time for me to get to this place and stay there long enough to feel the benefits. As with meditation, though, the longer I stay, the more I feel the benefits (up to a point, I suppose, though I haven't found that point yet). By the time my partner says my corner time is up, I feel like I've just had a really good yoga session. He tells me that when I come to him from the corner, I look especially beautiful and relaxed. And that's how I feel, too.
Corner time for me works particularly well following a spanking because the intense, sharp, external energy of a spanking is a perfect contrast to the peaceful, internalized, calming energy of corner time. For me, the contrast is what brings the transformation. Being taken to an emotional high by the spanking, and then allowed, slowly, to come back down into the peace of corner time is a profound spiritual experience. Corner time without the spanking preceding it doesn't carry the same transformative power.
I've read a lot of comments from women in DD relationships that express their resistance to corner time. Usually the reason given is that it's boring or that they'd get impatient and restless if they had to spend more than a few minutes there. And yes, it's certainly not as glamorous or dramatic or even sexual as a spanking is. The power of corner time is more subtle and nuanced, and it's buried deep in the hidden, personal stillness of our hearts.
We live in a culture that doesn't value stillness, patience or the virtue of just Being. But like many things tossed aside by the frenetic, media-driven culture we live in, stillness is necessary to keep us in balance.
We've all met people who can't stand to live in silence. Who turn the TV on as soon as they get home, take their iPods on a hike rather than just listening to the quiet sounds of nature, or blast their car radio everywhere they go. Or what about those among us who can't live in stillness? They multi-task -- doing two things at once all the time. Reading while they eat, cleaning the kitchen while they're on the phone, heck, even listening to language tapes while they sleep!
Somewhere along the way, we've been taught to fear silence and stillness. Perhaps because it's in the silence and stillness that the truth of our emotions and our authentic selves come out, and some of those emotions are difficult, painful and uncomfortable to face and some parts of our authentic selves may not be parts we want to acknowledge. Easier to drown our feelings and our authenticity out with constant noise and movement.
Easier, but not, ultimately, healthier.
The good news is that as practitioners of DD, we're way ahead of most of the rest of the world (with the possible exception of those Zen teachers...). We've already experienced the amazing benefits of expressing our deepest needs rather than suppressing them. We're learning the joys of living our lives in harmony with who we really are, even when the rest of society doesn't understand or approve of our authentic selves. We're much less likely to fear our inner voice, and thus much less likely to drown it out inner voice out with constant motion and noise. Therefore, in theory at least, we're much more open and available to the peaceful, stress-relieving benefits that corner time can bring to our lives.
So I'd encourage those of you who haven't done so yet to give corner time a chance to work its meditative magic. Yes, those first five or ten minutes can be difficult, but like any meditative practice, there's a payoff if you hang in there long enough. And you might come to find, as I have, that it brings a new level of spirituality and empowerment to your relationship and to your life as a whole.
About two weeks ago, I was happily working away on a project one afternoon, when a little voice inside my head said, "You need a spanking."
This message from my subconscious was unexpected and I stopped to consider the possibility. I didn't feel as though I needed a spanking. On the contrary, I felt relaxed, reasonably centered and confident -- all the qualities that come from having been recently spanked (although I hadn't been) rather than from needing one.
But the voice was insistent. Throughout the day, it popped up in the most unlikely places, always with the same message, "You need a spanking."
Sure enough, the next day, I started to feel just a tiny bit edgy. And that night, my partner and I had one of those all-too-familiar conversations that end in tension and tears. "You need a spanking," my partner said afterwards.
So was that voice in my head from the prior day an indication that my partner has learned to communicate telepathically? No (though that'd be really useful!), but the experience did show me yet another benefit of living a DD (Domestic Discipline) lifestyle -- an increased awareness of my inner emotional state.
About a year ago, I started charting my fertility using the Fertility Awareness Method, a method of natural birth control based on learning how to read my body's indicators to determine whether or not I'm fertile. (check out this link for a really great software program that helps track fertility) .
In charting the various physical changes throughout my cycle, I've been amazed at my growing ability to sense even the tiniest shifts in my body as they relate to my fertility. Things so small that I hadn't noticed them before, that are clear indicators as to whether sex is safe or not on the day.
Similarly, as my partner and I get more into the rhythm of DD, I'm noticing a corresponding sensitivity to my psychological states as well. Tiny little shifts of mood or flickers of tension that I wasn't aware of before we started DD.
These tiny little mood shifts are the sparks that, in the past, went unnoticed until they exploded into full-blown arguments and fights between my partner and me. Usually he would notice that something was wrong before I did, as I began to become brittle and bitchy without realizing it. Then of course, he would respond to my brittleness with bristliness of his own, and I would respond to his response (accusing him of starting it), and so on until there we were, hurling insults and ad hominems at one another and ruining our relationship in the process.
One of the many gifts of DD is this ability to catch and deal with these emotional fluctuations before they do any damage.
But of course, reaping the benefits of this gift of emotional sensitivity requires being willing to take the appropriate steps to stop the impending "bitchy spell" before it escalates. And herein lies the challenge, of course.
Either myself or my partner has to step up and give the needed discipline at the first signs of a mood shift. But of course, if my partner notices the mood shift, that means I've already crossed the line and demonstrated inappropriate and/or disrespectful behavior -- behavior that's destructive to the relationship
The best scenario for using DD to maintain peace and harmony in the relationship is for me to recognize the warning signs before they affect my behavior, and then step up and ask for a discipline session -- turning the interior "you need a spanking" into a verbalized "I need a spanking."
Now as most of you know from experience, having your partner tell you that you need a spanking is vastly different from asking for one. However "comfortable" we are accepting discipline imposed by our partners, those familiar demons of embarrassment and rejection re-appear in full force at the prospect of asking for it ourselves.
But, of course, in addition to being a tool for building a stable relationship, DD is also (perhaps even foremost) a tool for personal growth. It's a way to build self-discipline, boundaries and self-esteem we didn't build earlier in life (see "DD as a Reaction to "Me" Generation Parenting").
The little voice in our head that tells us it's time for a spanking is a valuable opportunity to learn to take responsibility for our own emotional well-being, rather than remaining reliant on someone else to manage our psychology for us.
Having the courage and maturity to ask for discipline when we need it is a valuable opportunity to develop our own internal parent -- the same internal parent who's telling us we need the spanking even when we don't think we do. And I'm going to go out on a limb and say that virtually everyone who's attracted to DD (and just about all the people who aren't as well) has an internal parent that isn't strong enough to get the job done without external help.
Recognizing a need and stepping up to proactively ask for help in addressing it is a major step on the road to becoming a healthy, integrated human being. It's a difference -- perhaps the difference -- between being a child and being an adult.
And that's perhaps the greatest gift of of the "little voice" -- the opportunity to take another step on the road to personal empowerment by exercising personal responsibility and developing a stronger, more reliable and trustworthy internal parent.
Most couples engaged in a Domestic Discipline (DD) lifestyle are well aware of the power of ritual to create psychological change -- whether we consciously label it as such or not.
For many of us, it is the ritual aspect of discipline that holds much of the emotional power of DD. Maybe it's that particular phrase our partner uses to let us know that we've crossed a line and earned a spanking, or maybe it's the position we're required to assume, or how we reconnect once the discipline is done. Whatever the specifics, practicing DD generally includes repeated meaningful words and actions that evoke feelings of safety, love and connectedness for both partners.
For me, the importance of ritual in a DD relationship is one of the most positive aspects of this lifestyle, and a much-needed counterbalance to the unfortunate lack of ritual in our secular, "rational" Western culture.
For the most part, Western society has eschewed ritual on the grounds that it's irrational, backwards and meaningless. Young girls, for example, no longer have an established, culturally-accepted way to acknowledge their first menstruation as a transition into womanhood and as a result, often grow up feeling shameful and secret about their bodies and their femininity. And young men, denied even the physical demarcation of menstruation, have virtually no societal benchmarks or rituals to acknowledge their passage into manhood -- leading to a culture in which the majority of young men spend most of their lives unsure of whether they're adults or not.
What few true rituals we have left in our culture -- marriage, graduation, funerals -- commemorate only a handful of public events in our lives, leaving the smaller, more personal, and often ultimately more significant passages we go through unacknowledged and undervalued.
There's good reason why ritual has been an important part of virtually every culture since the beginning of civilization (ours notwithstanding). And there's a reason that spirituality and religion are founded almost entirely on the mindful practice of ritual. A culture without respect for ritual pays the price sooner or later.
Whatever we realize it or not, human beings need ritual if we're to grow into healthy, integrated adults. Ritual helps us to come to terms with our shortcomings and to celebrate our triumphs. And more than that, ritual creates a structure that helps us to make sense of the dizzying cacophony of random experiences we live through day-by-day. It gives the little things we do meaning and purpose by putting them the context of our larger life's journey.
Fortunately for us, DD is all about ritual (impromptu parking lot spankings not withstanding). The rituals of domestic discipline help us to incorporate the lessons we learn in our everyday lives into our deeper selves so we can become healthier people.
Our DD rituals also create a safe, mutually-understood mechanism by which we can connect with the deeper parts of ourselves that are normally less accessible to us.
For me, the ritual aspect of DD is what allows me to submit to the discipline that I've consented to (but don't always want in the moment). When my partner says, "go get the paddle," the familiarity of those words -- the same ones every time -- acts as a Pavlovian trigger, shifting my psychology from rebellion into submission more quickly and gracefully than if he used different words every time.
And the more those words pass between us, and the more we step through the increasingly-familiar dance of discipline, the more the practice and the benefits of discipline become engraved in our minds (our neutral networks, if you take the scientific approach). Ritual, at its core, is meaningful habit.
But most significantly, the ritual of discipline is a deeply spiritual process that helps us to to realize the effects of our actions on others and their actions on us. Discipline is a ritualizing of the universal emotional journey from anger (disconnection with humanity) to repentance (acknowledging our own humanity) to reconciliation (reconnection with humanity).
In my experience, when it's done well, Domestic Discipline is an experience in finding the divine spark inside myself that allows me to forgive myself and others for being human. Being reminded that my actions affect others in turn reminds me that I am connected to others.
The rules of DD mirror those of life -- when I hurt others, I am hurt, but when I love others, I am loved.
How Ritual Works
For many years, I misunderstood the nature of ritual, and mostly did it backwards. I thought ritual was something you were supposed to do when you were ready for it, and not before.
To use a small example, after one of my favorite cats died, I planned to scatter the ashes, but I kept putting it off. I felt like I couldn't scatter the ashes until I was ready to say goodbye. But a wise friend pointed out to me that I would likely never be ready to say goodbye unless I completed the ritual of scattering the ashes. If I waited to scatter them until I was ready, I'd probably have dead-cat ashes on my dresser for the rest of my life.
So although I didn't feel ready to say goodbye to my best kitty friend, I took my friend's advice and did the ash scattering ritual. Afterwards, I was surprised to find that I was able to say goodbye. The thing I thought I couldn't do until I was able to let go is actually what enabled me to let go. I'd been approaching the whole process of ritual backwards.
DD rituals work the same way. We step through them not because we're already ready, willing and able to accept discipline, but to help us get ready and accept it more humbly, gracefully and spiritually. If we waited until we were ready before bringing our partner the proverbial paddle, most of us would never submit, and we'd lose the powerful and amazing benefits of that submission. And our partners discipline us not because they've already forgiven us for what we've done, but as a way to help them on their own journey of mercy and understanding.
Our Commitment Ritual
The benefits of ritual are particularly on my mind just now, because after three beautiful weeks with my partner, we're again in different parts of the country for another month-long separation.
The day of my departure, we spent the afternoon at the beach. During that time, we talked about the challenges we still have in building and strengthening our DD relationship.
I talked about the fears I have that he doesn't take this crazy lifestyle seriously and is just humoring my "kink." I also shared again how hard it is to hold onto the connection we have when we're apart. He talked about his struggle with how to handle the times when I resist discipline, and how those incidents fuel his continued fears that I could revoke my consent, and then turn around in a moment of anger and accuse him of being abusive.
These are huge issues, of course, and I confessed that I despaired of ever truly resolving them. That's when he suggested that perhaps we needed a ceremony, a ritual, in which we both stated our commitment to a DD lifestyle, and said the things the other needed to hear in a formal pledge.
There wasn't much time to set it up, since I was leaving in a few hours. But another thing I've learned over the years is that simple rituals are often much more effective than elaborately planned and scripted ones, the latter of which often take so much concentration and choreography that there's no time to be in the moment.
So off we went to the local tourist shop, where we bought a simple $5 silver ring (for me, since he doesn't wear jewelry). Holding hands, we walked to a beautiful bench overlooking the ocean, and discussed what kinds of things we each needed to hear from the other to feel safer and more confident in our relationship.
As we sat side-by-side on the bench, I handed him the ring, promising that it symbolized my consent, commitment and submission to his discipline. I promised that the consent I was giving was true, no matter what I said or did in the heat of the moment. I also promised that to help him tell the difference, if I truly wanted to revoke my consent, I'd do it in a calm, rational, non-disciplinary moment. Finally, I explicitly pledged that I would not betray our trust by turning on him and accusing him of abuse for administering discipline, but to trust and talk through situations when I'm angry or when things go wrong.
As he put the ring on my finger, he promised to always strive to discipline with love, although he reminded me there would often be anger and disappointment, too. He reiterated his serious commitment to a DD relationship, and his willingness to do the hard work of building it. He reminded me that we are connected and that the energy between us is present, even when we're apart and it's harder to feel that connection.
We kissed, then held each other for a moment. We hadn't said anything that we hadn't said many times before, but this time, we said the words more formally and with the strength of our solemn word behind them.
A few hours later, it was time for me to leave. But this simple, impromptu ritual has had a surprising power. The presence of the ring, a physical reminder of our commitment and my consent, on my finger made the separation easier (the ritual pre-departure spanking helped, too, of course). And now that we're apart again, having something tangible to see and touch when my fears come up has been very stabilizing. I can touch the ring no matter where I am or what I'm doing and instantly invoke the power of the ritual and the special bond we share together.
The acid test of the ceremony came a few days later when our tempers flared during a phonecall (about not being together!) and I shifted into my habitual bitchy attitude, complete with the petulant hang-up. He called back a few minutes later, as he almost always does. Normally, I either pick up the phone with a nasty attitude or don't answer it all, knowing that he's almost certainly calling back to discipline me (and knowing full well he can't do much if I say no, given he's 1000 miles away).
But this time, almost without thinking about it, I felt the ring on my finger, remembered the promise of consent that I gave. My word means a lot to me, and I realized that simple promise on the beach had weight -- weight enough to cause me to pick up the phone respectfully, prepared for the consequences of my disrespect. It wasn't a perfect interaction -- if it had been, I wouldn't have hung up the phone or been disrespectful in the first place, but it was a lot more better than it had been in prior instances.
In sum, I'm deeply grateful for the presence of the rituals of DD in my life, and for a partner who recognizes the value and power of them. I feel extremely fortunate to have access to such a powerful way of reconnecting with the transformative power of ritual.
I would love to hear about any rituals or ceremonies that you've used in your DD relationships to overcome relationship issues, solidify bonds or make the experience more emotionally and spiritually meaningful. Along with comments, please feel free to contribute to the discussion your rituals of preparation, discipline, reconnection or commitment. (long comments are fine!)
After an extended separation and a rocky reunion, my partner and I seem to be back in the Domestic Discipline (DD) groove. Translation: peaceful relationship, great sex and a sore bottom -- my first in three very long months.
After the last few posts focusing on the dangers, pitfalls and setbacks that can happen with a DD lifestyle, this seems like be a good time to revisit the reasons why we put ourselves through the complicated and occasionally comical process of developing a solid DD relationship in the first place.
Those of us who are already in (relatively) successful DD relationships are well aware, of course, of the benefits of this lifestyle. And part of the fun complexity of DD is that the benefits are different depending on which side of the paddle you're on.
For the most part, our partners benefit from DD indirectly. (I'm assuming here a traditional one-way DD relationship in which the dominant partner disciplines the submissive partner. ) Our partners benefit not so much from the discipline itself, but more from the effect that the discipline has on us and on the relationship.
But our partners don't get the privilege of experiencing the visceral, dramatic attitude shift that we get when we're properly disciplined. It amazes me how radically the presence of a sore bottom affects not just my relationship with my partner, but my entire outlook on life.
A sore bottom is a gift (that keeps on giving...?). It's a precious gift from my partner that demonstrates the love and commitment he has for our relationship, and for helping me to grow and become healthier human beings . Every time I feel the after-effects of a spanking, I am reminded that I am loved, cherished and important to my partner, and that he demonstrates this in part by taking the time to spank me.
A sore bottom also gives me a delicious sexual charge that helps to keep my relationship with my partner romantic and excitin. Since the majority, if not all, women come to DD out of an interest in erotic spanking, even (and perhaps especially) a disciplinary spanking has erotic overtones (after all, aren't most of our fantasies about disciplinary spankings?). A sore bottom is a little reminder of that sexual energy. Feeling that soreness makes me desire my partner more, which in turn makes me more sexually responsive to him, which in turn makes for better sex for both of us.
Perhaps the most intriguing benefit of having a sore bottom is that when I have one, I feel more feminine and submissive, and more confident and capable -- all at the same time. For me, this is the most fascinating and powerful part of DD -- its paradoxical ability to empower me through the experience of submission.
A submissive reaction to DD is, of course, something of a given. The experience of being spanked (i.e., physically and psychologically dominated) by my partner encourages my submissive side to come to the surface. And when I have a sore bottom, I can feel myself striving to act more respectful, loving and nurturing towards not only my partner, but towards the other people in my life. And because a spanking is also an effective stress reliever, a thorough spanking causes me to radiate a feeling of calm, peaceful energy. I am slower to anger and quicker to forgive. In short, I am softer.
My partner also tells me that I'm particularly beautiful after a spanking, and I feel that way, too. Perhaps it's a self-fulfilling prophecy -- because I feel more beautiful, relaxed and nurturing, I radiate that inner beauty to others. After a spanking, I'm also aware of feeling more physically graceful. My body posture and movements become more fluid and elegant. I tend to select softer, more feminine clothing. I walk and speak more softly. I walk more softly. And I laugh and smile more easily after a spanking. In short, I am more feminine.
But the most intriguing part of a sore bottom to me is that when I am well and regularly spanked for my misbehavior, I experience a significantly enhanced feeling of self-confidence and personal power. With a sore bottom, I feel as though I can do things that I previously didn't feel capable of doing. My head is clear and I seem to make better life decisions. And I am told by my partner (and others who don't know the cause) that I have a particular aura of confidence when I've been recently disciplined. In short, I am more powerful.
And here then, in the experience of a sore bottom, is the missing element of feminism -- that true feminine power is rooted in softness. True feminism isn't about borrowing male power and trying to make it fit. It's also not about disowning and repressing our softer, more nurturing qualities as signs of weakness.
For years, feminism has carried the message that to be an empowered woman, we have to act like a man. To be strong, we have to do his job (and do it the way he does it), wear his clothes (a skirt doesn't fully feminize a power suit) and play by his rules ("there's no crying in baseball!"). But the implication of that approach is that as women, we have no strength of our own and that the only way to get power is to imitate men. And that viewpoint strikes me as profoundly dis-empowering and anti-feminist.
The paradox of DD and of feminism is that the more in touch with our authentic feminine nature we are, the more empowered and capable we become in our careers, relationships and in the world in general. We can go out in the world and be leaders if we choose to, but we can do so as women, not as pretend-men. True feminine power -- the deepest, more primal essence of being female -- is the ability to find strength in our softness, not in spite of it.