(Heads up: This post speaks explicitly about sadism and edge play.)
Here’s the truth: I’m not just in it for you. This is not selfless. I don’t pull on my boots, pack my bag, ram you against the wall, grab you by the throat, slap you across the face, take your breath, press my knife into your skin, lay lines of stinging fire on your thighs with my cane, or make you cry, because you want, need, or beg for it. (Though I do love it when bottoms own their desires, and purse their lips prettily around the word please. And I wouldn’t consider trusting you with my cruelty unless I knew that you wanted it too, that the meanness in my smile turned you on even as it scared you, that you were hoping I’d push you past tears, were aching to surrender to the pain.) I’m not unleashing my sadism on your willing self because my only goal is to take you on a journey, or create a cathartic ordeal experience for you. I’m not doing all this just for you. I’m doing it because I love it, because I need it, because it is who I am. Because scaring you makes me so damn hard. Because I am aching to build a pride of bruises on your back. Because making you cry will make me want to fuck you and hurt you more at the very same time, so that I can see the tears stream down your face as I’m ramming into you, until the sound of your sobs strokes my cock just right and makes me come.
I know I’m not alone. In quiet moments, I have sat down with other sadists, and we have told it like it is, to each other. We talk about the glory of tears, the seductiveness of fear, how much we need to unleash the beast of our sadism, and how vulnerable it is to trust a bottom to hold it with us.
I also know that if I’m lucky, you don’t want it to be all about you. You want my pleasure, my risk, my investment, to match yours. You want to hold my vulnerability as I hold yours, because that is how we reach that beautifully intense level of intimacy that feeds us both.
In kink community, we have a troubling mythology about BDSM where some forms of edge play (especially psychological sadism, heavy pain play, and cathartic play) are understood to have the singular goal of creating an experience for the bottom, taking the bottom on a journey. The top is cast in the role of neutral facilitator, helper, orchestrator. The bottom takes the ride, has the experience, is transformed by the ordeal. The top is doing, not feeling. The bottom is the one who feels.
It’s as if that singular selfless goal makes this sort of play attractive to bottoms, makes it more ok to folks outside of kink communities, makes the play feel consensual. It’s as if the top’s selflessness makes this sort of play acceptable, makes everyone feel more comfortable.
We have a lot of discomfort about these kinds of play. While there are spaces where some edge play is cool because it is edgy, our communities by and large are still uncomfortable with things like humiliation play, fear play, consensual non-consent, mindfuck, cathartic scenes that are about playing with trauma or oppression, and deep sadism. We aren’t sure, really, if those things are ok. Particularly, if it is ok to want to be the top in those scenes, to get off on doing those kinds of things to another person. We want to draw clear clean lines around play that is consensual, and these kinds of scenes feel like they blur those lines. We want to be sure that our tops are not “crazy” or “sociopathic”, and top desire to do this sort of play makes us not so sure. In short, we are uncomfortable with how this kind of play might be understood by folks outside our communities, and we are not certain it is really ok. This is partly due to the ways we have massive amounts of ableism in kink communities around psych disabilities (partly I think as a defensive reaction against being seen as crazy just for being kinky). It is partly due to the ways our communities have internalized judgments and stigma around sadism and psychological edge play; (just because we are kinky doesn’t mean we don’t have anti-kink prejudice built into kink culture).
In my opinion, this mythology is also partly rooted in the way we rarely talk about top desires, experience and journey in kink community, and the foundations that have created that as a cultural norm. My thoughts on this subject are laid out in more detail in my recent post I Talk A Lot, But Not About That. I highly recommend reading that post before continuing to read this one, as it gives important context for the thoughts I lay out below.
I find the mythology of the top doing certain kinds of play to create a journey for the bottom to be very troubling, for a number of reasons. For brevity’s sake, I will focus on just a few.
- This mythology works against mutuality in play
If the top is merely there to facilitate cathartic journey for the bottom, then negotiations are likely to be one sided instead of mutual: the top learns all about the bottom without being vulnerable or sharing much in return. The bottom is required to name their desires, needs, and limits, while the top is understood not to really have any of those things, or at least not any worth mentioning. (And if they do, they will just take care of them without anyone knowing, or needing to do anything. Because they are the top’s personal problem, not a shared concern.) The bottom will likely have a way to call the scene, while the top is likely to be playing without that kind of net.
This lack of mutuality begins with negotiation and traces through the scene. The bottom is all in, so much on the line, while the top can hold back, has less apparent investment and risk. The bottom is naked in their desire, while the top remains fully clothed and armored in their supposed selflessness. The bottom’s needs, desires, and consent are at the center as the scene unfolds, while the top’s needs, desires, and consent are hidden, not part of the focus or consideration. The experience of the bottom, their trepidation, exaltation, struggle, release, healing, and triumph, are all under a spotlight, while the experience of the top is backstage. We never witness or discuss the top’s fears, glory, transformation, self-doubt, leaps of faith, and erotic explosions. When a top talks about pride, they are not talking about pride in themselves for overcoming obstacles or pushing themselves in new ways but their pride in the bottom’s courage, perseverance, or performance.
- This mythology is a red flag for abusive and neglectful behavior
(As a heads up, I’m going to talk about abuse and trauma in this section, though I will not share details.)
I’ve taught and attended quite a few kink classes for trauma survivors, and many more classes on edge play. Inevitably, folks (mostly bottoms) ask questions about playing with past trauma and other sorts of cathartic play. And inevitably, I watch tops circle, talking about facilitating experiences and creating healing. When I teach classes on these subjects, I talk about caution, and managing risks, ways to approach psychological edge play (especially as a survivor seeking play that engages trauma) that are not about jumping in with both feet. But I do understand, from experience, the seductive fantasy of a top that promises to help you heal, to take care of everything, that says they know exactly what you need. I know why those circling tops seem so very attractive.
In my experience, it is a red flag for abusive and neglectful behavior when tops talk about being purely a facilitator on the bottom’s journey and express no needs or desires of their own. From what I’ve experienced and witnessed, promoting this mythology in the context of psychological edge play (like cathartic play that engages a survivor’s trauma history) can be a red flag. An indicator that this may be the kind of a top that will blithely stride into the complexity of a bottom’s trauma triggers or psychological vulnerabilities, with not a lot of skill and quite a lot of entitlement, and use the bottom’s psyche as their playground, with little care for the bottom’s well-being. (To be clear, a red flag does not equal abuse, it’s just a sign of potential trouble, like the ones Andrea Zanin so eloquently satirized in her post Trust Me. I am not saying that everyone who evokes this mythology is abusive.)
The mythology of the top that has no needs or desires of their own provides a way for tops to obfuscate their intent. It allows tops to hide in the shadows, unknown and invulnerable to their partners. It also makes it easier for tops to avoid looking in the mirror. The myth of the top who is only a facilitator makes it more difficult for bottoms to assess the risks of this sort of play with this particular person.
- This mythology makes it difficult for tops to express needs and vulnerabilities
A top who is in it to create an experience for the bottom is a top fully focused on someone else. It goes beyond service topping, because folks who offer service are not just in it for the ones they serve, but also get pleasure from offering service, doing a good job, anticipating needs, making something easier for someone they care about, etc. In this mythology, tops are doing it only for the bottom; their sadism and dominance are a selfless gift. This leaves no room for tops to have needs of their own that might be met by this kind of scene. Because the top is there solely to create a journey for the bottom, they are expected to be on top of everything, running the show; they cannot show vulnerability, or need help.
When I top these kinds of scenes, I have quite a few needs. I have aftercare needs. I sometimes need bottoms to support me during the scene. I often need to take a break in the middle of play, or to ramp things down a bit before I ramp them up again. I need to have a way for me to call the scene. I have limits that are deal breakers for me. I have access needs that are likely to come up during play.
Playing with heavy sadism, doing cathartic play, and doing psychological edge play are all edgy for me as a top. They are not just edgy for the bottom. I need to be able to talk about the ways they are edgy for me. I need there to be room for me to be vulnerable with the bottom. I need the bottom to get that I’m stone and really be ok with that, not just tolerate it hoping it will change. I need the bottom to get my gender and help create a space where my gender is seen and celebrated.
I most especially need, if I am going to take those kinds of emotional risks, to have the bottom know me as a complex whole human being. I need to know that the bottom is not wanting me to make the scene all about them. That they care about my needs, desires, and experience in the scene. That they don’t believe the mythology, or even want a top that is solely there to create a cathartic experience for them.
- This mythology leaves no room for sadistic desire
I am a sadist. (A stone dominant sadist, to be exact.) I get off on creating intense reactions in my partners. All kinds of intense reactions. This can include pleasure and pride. It can also include fear and tears.
I love the journey toward your fear, from nervous stammers, to lowered gaze, to held breath. Then, when your eyes get wider and your body goes perfectly still, I take my time, knowing I’ve begun to scare you, not wanting to miss a single moment of that. I love noticing the pulse race in your neck, watching you struggle against the urge to flee, adrenaline pumping. Riding the gulp stuck in your throat, as fear comes off you in waves, and we stand still together in the roaring surf of it. I ache to lick that delicious terror off your skin, savor the metallic taste of it. It makes me want to mark you and fuck you and claim you, watching you brave your own fear, for me.
I get off on tears. They are pretty much guaranteed to get me hard, to make me want to hurt you more. Tears are the best lube in the world; they juice me up when I see them fall on my cock, or my boots. They are intensely sexy for me, and the sound of your sobs, the sight of your eyes spilling over, can drive me to orgasm. When I make you cry, I want to rub your tears into my skin, lick them off your face, claim them for myself. I love thrusting one more orgasm out of you through your tears. It makes me growl, makes the sadistic beast inside me curl it’s claws around you and ram itself into you, makes me fill with feral need and possessiveness, makes me come so fucking hard I’m undone by it. In that moment, I know you are mine, and I am wrapped in a deep satisfaction. The combination of sex, tears, control, and sadism is what gets me off the hardest. One of my all-time favorite things is to fuck you as you cry, from helplessness, from too much intensity, from pain, from fear, from being forced to come so many times it’s overwhelming. Whatever turns it for you, pushes you toward that release.
I know that part of what makes you feel like you can let go, like it’s ok to cry, is when I let you know how much it turns me on. Knowing I want your tears, get off on your tears, helps unlock them, helps you trust me enough to show them to me.
I think that tears are a basic human need, and that many of us need not only the release of solitary sobs into a pillow but to be witnessed in our tears. We rarely get permission for that. Most of the time, the second we begin to cry, we’re handed tissues, told to suck it up, or given other signals that we need to stop. Most folks have internalized this, and shut down their own tears, often before they let them out. The folks I play with ache to cry; they want that release in play, but some of them have had too many tops get freaked out by their tears, wrap up the scene the second they begin to fall, treat the tears as a sign that they have gone too far. So a lot of bottoms who want more of what is happening, or are concerned about freaking out the top, will shut down their tears when what they really want, and need, is permission to let go and sob.
I wrote about this in my story, “Strong”, which was first printed in Say Please and was just released in Best Lesbian Erotica 2015. Here is an excerpt. (As a heads up, it includes descriptions of sadism, D/s and pain play.)
The invasive pain spilled through her and out her eyes, tears streaming down her face.
“That’s right, cry for me. It will only make me want to beat you and fuck you harder, girl.”
I struck harder, repeatedly, watching it sink in. That she was helpless, exposed, vulnerable. That I would take it all from her. That she was free to move all the way through it and out the other side. It took me a long time to get her to a place where she was willing to cry. Before me, she had not met a top that didn’t stop the second the tears started flowing. She still didn’t quite trust it, needed me to show her, again and again, that I would keep going, that she could be that strong, give that much, let me see her tears.
The pain moved through her in waves, pouring out her eyes, and I could see the joy spread over her face. She was beautiful in that moment, and I savored it, pouring pain into her and watching it flow through her, riding that.
Part of why I think showing sadistic desire is so important is because we are in this together, for each other. Feeling certain that I will not see tears as a red light, that I will not stop hurting you when you cry, makes it possible for you to let them fall. Showing you my desire helps create your permission. Just as seeing your desire helps create mine. We work in tandem that way. You need to know how much I want this, need this, just as I need to know the same from you. That’s how we create the magical space that lets us carefully tread on the sharper edges together.
Sadistic desire is also important in its own right. It is liberating and vital and beautiful to be witnessed in our desires, to be accepted and celebrated for who we are and what we want. That is one of the reasons I find it troubling that we are so damn scared of sadistic desire in kink communities, that we feel the only way it is ok to be sadistic is if we are doing it for the bottom’s sake.
I have fought long and hard with my own internalized anti-kink prejudice, in order to claim my sadism. And I continue to work on that, because internalized societal prejudice is pervasive and difficult to root out. Part of what helps is to have supportive community. What I want, what I need, from kink community is for us to work on our fears about top desires. To make space for top needs and vulnerabilities. To root out the myth that any kind of play needs to be selfless in order to be ok.