Part 1 of this series is Kinks, Fetishes and Roller Coasters. In this discussion, I’m going to use all male pronouns because I’m thinking of it in terms of m/m romances, but really the pronouns are irrelevant and interchangeable.
I don’t have to search very hard to find a book with a sexy dom restraining and spanking, flogging, caning and generally causing delicious pain to a delighted sub. And I am very happy to find these books (as long as they’re well done) and I enjoy them immensely, but there are other ways to play and it surprises me how seldom some of these other areas seem to find their way into the m/m romance/erotica, at least outside of the porn without plot realm.
Humiliation play tops the list of kinks I expect to see in fiction a lot more than I do. In fact, Jeff Erno’s Puppy Love books are the only ones I can remember reading that had this type of play in any sustained way. These books impressed me by really pushing that edge. Usually, if I see it mentioned at all it takes the form of, “I’m not in interested in humiliation play,” or “I’ll do anything but humiliation play.” I wonder if a basic misunderstanding of the nature of this play accounts for the general lack of inclusion. And so, to hopefully rectify this knowledge gap, I will attempt to explain.
For ease of discussion, I’m dividing humiliation play into two types. As with many things, these types really exist as ends of the spectrum with a continuum between them, but that doesn’t really change the explanations. One end I’ll call “humiliation/praise” and the other “humiliation/insult.”
“Humiliation/insult” to me means that the dom insults the sub, sometimes having the sub perform actions around issues the sub has strong conflicted feelings about. The sub sexualizes these strong feelings and ideally comes to some kind of acceptance or peace about them. I believe that the sub has some sense of atonement for these perceived ‘flaws’ which allows an ability to move past them. It can also help build defenses for dealing with people in the outside world. These ‘flaws’ can be specifically sexual or not. I have never actually played this way on either side of the coin. I’m basing these suppositions on watching this kind of scene and talking to people who have played this way. I must say that these scenes can be the most difficult to watch, since they seem very harsh and unkind to an outside observer, as well as very difficult to understand. I also suspect that most people think of this kind of scene when they think of humiliation play and so tend to react to it negatively. For some reason, most people can more easily imagine letting someone strike them with flogger than letting someone, much less wanting them, to poke at their most vulnerable psychological buttons.
The other end, in my own personal dichotomy, is “humiliation/praise.” This involves taking traits and actions, usually at least somewhat sexual, generally portrayed in a negative way by society and turning them into positive, praise-worthy things. For example, “I love how eager you are to be fucked – such a sexy slut,” said in a tone of obvious approval, may be part of mild humiliation play, but it is meant to encourage behavior society generally finds shame-worthy. I said “may be” in the last sentence because humiliation play is first and foremost about an emotional and mental state and connection. Any activity that some people engage in for this type of play, other people engage in for complete different reasons. The emotional state, not the type of activity, determine whether people are engaged in humiliation play.
To get a better sense of this distinction, think about the following list of types of scenes that can involve humiliation, but may also just involve the fetishes for that kind of play.
- Human ponies
- Human puppies
- Boot-licking or other types of body worship
- A wide range of verbal play that can reinforce embarrassment or just represent someone enjoying “dirty talk”
Though very different, a general sense of societal disapproval binds these activities. That disapproval makes them ripe ground for using them to play with feelings of intense embarrassment. However, people may also just sexualize and enjoy these activities for their own sakes without necessarily caring much about any embarrassment aspect. And of course, as with almost everything with humans, you also have every point in between.
That still doesn’t answer the question of why people enjoy embarrassment. This goes back to my theory in part 1 of this series. If you take an intense emotion and put it in a safe setting and make it feel positive, the feeling can be incredible. And embarrassment is an intense emotion. The phrase “I thought I’d die of embarrassment,” exists for a reason. Embarrassment is also fascinating because it is an entirely social construct, which adds to its fluidity. Different cultures, different groups, different people all have unique norms and expectations as to what is acceptable behavior. Realizing this and playing with this can feel very freeing, as can embracing feelings that you may believe you shouldn’t have.
Any thoughts or questions? Any recommendations of good m/m fiction that deals with humiliation play?