"Maintenance" vs Discipline: A Question of Conscience

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.

The Perfect Paddle

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... :-)