Monday, December 10, 2007

Embarrassment Versus Humiliation

I have been trying to understand the appeal of humiliation. It is part of many D/s relationships and online D/s and BDSM is full of stories of various types of humiliation, from "scenes," to humiliation as part of an ongoing lifestyle dynamic.

I recently found a humiliation scene from a Youtube video on a blog which shows a man wearing a little girl's dress, without makeup or wig, going into McDonalds and sitting down in eyeshot of a table of vanilla women who we see stare and snicker at him. Then we see a hamburger on the floor, a high heeled foot step on it, squishing it into the dirty floor, and then the man gets down on all fours and proceeds to eat it. As this is happening the camera cuts to the group of women who are now leaving and stop to watch and laugh at him on their way out. Obviously I don't know if this is real, staged or what, but it is a perfect demonstration of the humiliation often present in D/s relationships.

There is tons of art depicting D/s acts of humiliation, more often than not, with a female "D" and a male "s." The men are not always emasculated, but almost always shown as the subject of exposure, ridicule, and humiliation, often either as pets, on display for others, or looking like they are being forcibly raped or made to perform various sexual acts. The women are often overweight, at times vixens, often pictured as cold or callous, often made to appear nonchalant regarding say, the naked man they have standing in attendance with a leash around his penis as she casually chats with an equally nonchalant girl friend. The message it sends is that men don't matter. That they exist for service and humiliation and that they are interchangeable and as disposable as batteries...or dildos. It also sends the message that dominant women are self centered, uncaring, at times callous to the point of cruelty. To me it isn't a pretty picture for either, nor is it the poster image for S-D/s relationships.

I have no idea what the turn on is in this. I don't know why people, in this case men, would be excited by this level of humiliation or what women find admirable or enjoyable about humiliating them or the way they themselves come across in this regard. I do however accept that for some, possibly many, there is something in it for them. I wonder about the health of it though.

I have always been of the opinion that whenever people engage in what is generally considered unhealthy activities, there is something in it for them. Whether it is a woman who stays in a relationship that is physically, mentally, emotionally or sexually abusive, to people who would eagerly submit to all manner of degradation, the "victim" or object of the abuse is clearly getting something out of it, perhaps as much or more than their tormentor/perpetrator. Although there are those who would no doubt disagree with me and defend what I might consider unhealthy relationships and dynamics as being perfectly acceptable, I have a hard time buying into it. I think that there is something else that healthy people can engage in that doesn't degrade at a level of self esteem debasement.

There is embarrassment. At first thought you might think that humiliation and embarrassment are the same, but I would argue that there are several differences. Humiliation may be embarrassing, but embarrassment isn't always humiliating. For one thing a person can be embarrassed on their own without the involvement of others. For example, tripping over one's own feet may be embarrassing, but it isn't humiliating in any kind of degrading way. A story of an embarrassing moment might be told to a group of friends, but it doesn't call the person's core self image or character into question necessarily. Humiliation, especially in the D/s and BDSM sense, is often about a conscious and deliberate act of saying things, doing things and demanding things of the submissive or slave that are specifically made to humiliate them, and may indeed cut to a core level. It often involves or requires exhibitionism and exposure to others to bring about humiliation. The degradation may reinforce existing beliefs in ones lack of value or self worth or worse. There is always the possibility that the object is somehow emotionally healthy and the humiliation and degradation is not doing any kind of emotional or psychological damage, but in such cases I would wonder what the appeal would be. In the mental health arena people define mental health problems as anything that gets in the way of leading a productive, happy life or conversely, anything that impedes productivity and happiness is unhealthy. Based on this, in the case of humiliation and degradation, only the individual can know or say for sure as to whether or not it is healthy.

Embarrassment on the other hand has a much healthier potential. In her book, Sexual Power for Women, Georgeann Cross goes into depth regarding why embarrassment of her lovers works as such a compelling aphrodisiac. Although I am not necessarily endorsing all of her methods, the overall value and power of what she calls the Loop is intriguing as a way for women to take control of their relationship through sexuality which creates deep intimacy and passion.

Many "dommes" are dismissive of men who only want to submit sexually. To them sexual submission on the part of men is always self-centered, about their (the submissives) needs, and something to be regarded as sexual kink rather than true submission. I am not sure whether it is those domme's lack of imagination or a lack of genuine enjoyment of sex that is responsible for their response, but I would propose that when a man is interested in submitting sexually - whether it is a kink, or "bottoming from the top," as is so often the accusation - to ignore this and thus his needs is to ignore a great mutual opportunity for both to get their needs met both in bed and out.

In Cross's book embarrassment is the key element in turning otherwise vanilla lovers into her love or sex slaves. Her point of view is refreshingly compassionate and based in the understanding that she wants the best for both her and her partner and that she, along with women in general, are best suited to know what is best for their men and their relationship. By creating a power dynamic where both she and her partner are aware of the fact that he is turned on by his own sexual embarrassment, which she is controlling and creating, she has taken ownership of the relationship. In a pure sense, a love or sex slave isn't the same as a submissive, but with her prescription you have the potential for the best of both worlds and all without potentially unhealthy humiliation. And she has the world's simplest barometer of success, the one thing a man can't fake or dismiss - his arousal. Barring medical ED problems of course, she knows at a glance if her tactics are working. He is embarrassed by such obvious and uncontrollable exposure and as a result of that embarrassment, he becomes even more sexually aroused.

Unless the domme is simply not interested in sex, in which case she is looking for a non sexual submissive to serve her in other ways, she has sexual control which is the key to virtually any kind of control she wants. In some ways it goes back to an old feminist era philosophy of sex as weapon or bargaining chip, but in this case it lacks the potential antagonism that withholding implies. She has gotten the man's "buy in" to be her sex or love slave and part of that understanding is that she is in control. Since she has proven that he is turned on by his own embarrassment, which she instigates and perpetuates and thus for which she is required, her control can extend to areas outside of bed. The result: everyone gets their needs met. No one feels humiliated. Both are appreciated and needed for their equal value in the power exchange of the relationship and there is an ongoing, foolproof, simple way to see that the system is still working.

Healthy sexual embarrassment as opposed to potentially unhealthy humiliation and degradation. The foundation for another kind of dynamic, which for those of us interested in S-D/s, may be a perfect manifesto for fulfillment.


SplasherGirl said...

It's interesting... I draw the line a little further out than you do, but I basically agree with what you've written. The McDonald's scene makes no sense at all to me, and I couldn't relate to a man who wanted such a thing. Likewise the idle chit-chat in the presence of the guy wearing the cock leash.

I have put my husband on display in front of other girls, but not casually, as in the common CFNM fantasy. I made him cum while all our attention was on him.

I know couples who have D/s relationships and never fuck anymore, and every time the woman makes the man cum, she keeps rubbing a lot longer than he can stand. At least one of the women has told me that she's commented to her husband while she was doing it, "I must seem really bad, treating your penis so callously after all those orgasms I had, making love with you inside me." But those couples are older, and the reasons the women chose to do things the way they do include vaginal atrophy and erectile dysfunction. My line between what's hot and what's sickening takes coulples like that into account, but I think you can recognize that they're within the range of erotic embarrassment.

mnwhr said...

I've not had much experience in this realm, but I can understand the desire for humiliation as opposed to embarrassment. As a person who wields a fair amount of authority, sometimes the desire to have your pleasure regulated totally and completely by another is sexually gratifying in itself, no orgasm is necessary. It roughly equates to the more power I wield in life, the more I can occasionally enjoy serving as the object of humiliation. The McDonalds example is a bit extreme for my taste, but thats me.

saratoga said...

I think you have completely missed the allure of humiliation in a committed, loving, alternative FemDom relationship.

What you have written is based, of course, on what you, or others, would observe.

What you don't observe, but, for example, I feel, when engaging in public (or private) humiliation play, is excitement at celebrating my FemDom relationship with my Mistress, serving her, and enduring some suffering, in the form of humiliation, for her pleasure.

As an example, I have posted periodically about our "FemDom Nights at the Movies." I will feed my Mistress, XM, popcorn, by hand, while her own leather-gloved hands pointedly remain in her lap. I'll lift the soda straw to her lips, for her to effortlessly drink from it.

The stares we often get, especially from obviously-envious women, whose own male partners are seen texting or playing cell phone games, are many and long.

What I feel is pride in treating XM like a Queen, and enduring some small public embarrassment, and humiliation, for doing something obviously taboo for the general public.

In private, humiliation from things like being her spittoon, drinking my water from her mouth, or having a pony head harness and bit on, serve to strengthen our intimacy.

This is what you don't see. My opening myself up to her by enduring embarrassment or humiliation brings us closer. Being so vulnerable, yet trusting her to not go overboard, strengthens our bond.

It's not just the public spectacle. In fact, it's not about that at all. It's about doing the unexpected that may involve sacrificing my ego, that gives the zip and erotic charge to humiliation play.


SplasherGirl said...

Well, saratoga, all I can say is, "Different strokes for different folks." I wouldn't be happy in your mistress's place, and I know my husband wouldn't be happy in your place, but somehow it's all called D/s.

Anonymous said...

My experiments with sexual embarrassment began in college with my boyfriend at the time. By mutual agreement we had a close friend of mine over and I had him expose himself to her. He didn't cum, too nervous at that point, but on later occasions he did this for another girl. The embarrassment was powerful in that it drew us together in a more intimate way, because we had shared his experience.

Anonymous said...

I'm also intrigued by Ms. Cross's idea that sexual embarrassment and exposure increases intimacy and domination. The girl I lost my virginity to and I had a three-year relationship, which gradually developed into my submitting to her sexually, in many ways. She would remind me often that she had been the first to see me come, and I think for that reason she enjoyed bringing me off with her hands, so that she could watch the results of her work. She enjoyed tying me nude, legs spread completely open, to her bed, and then toying with me for hours at a time. I eventually began masturbating for her as well, which she enjoyed, and we established that I had to ask her for permission to masturbate, which she loved. Like others here, she also eventually invited a friend of hers to see me nude and climax, which to this day remains the single most erotic memory I carry.

Dominant Muse said...

I personally do not understand humiliation (in the example mentioned). What I do understand and have even practiced with my own submissive males is the public submission which for many is considering humiliating.

But then, I am (what I like to think) different than the stereotypical image of what a Domme is.

Interesting reading, got her by way of Mystress and paladin's blog. I will read more and look forward to it.

Be Well