“I’m interested in manipulating what’s in the mind.
The brain is the greatest erogenous zone.”
-Lily Fine, Professional Dominatrix
. . .
I was a nine-year-old sadomasochist. I swear, it was nothing sexual though – I just liked being the boss. There were numbers painted on the concrete in front of the Anne Frank Little School House where the kindergarteners lined up every morning in anticipation of an escort to class. These numbers served a different purpose when the bell rang for recess, though. One through ten, I’d have all my forth grade friends line up and we would play “boot camp”. Hands planted on my hips, I’d march back and forth in front of the line of elementary soldiers shouting orders. “Touch your nose! Hold your breath! Stand on one leg for ten seconds!”
There would be serious consequences if a soldier disobeyed or lost their balance. I’d swoop into the ignorant soldier’s view, pressing my forehead against hers, screaming, “What the hell do you think you’re doing!” She’d wobble a bit, attempting to regain one-legged stability before I shouted some more. “Drop and give me a million!” The soldier would plop onto hands and knees and I’d march away, arms folded, with a grimace slapped across my face. Then the bell would ring and we’d all laugh, scurrying back to class. This was how I had fun.
Eleven years later and I find myself strapped into an under-the-bed restraint contraption, my bare ass glowing red. “Harder!” I cry, and SMACK. I cringe, my entire body tensing up as Eric’s white handprint radiates before quickly fading back to red. I lie on my stomach, his two hundred eighty pound frame now straddling my thick hips as he grips my hair, yanking my head back towards him.
“Tell me you love that fucking cock. “
I keep my lips sealed, squirming beneath him. He wraps his arm around my neck, my mouth forced open for air.
I gasp. He squeezes my head tighter and I finally shout.
He grips my hair again, burying my face in my pillow. Long story short, this is how I fuck.
I tried explaining my sex life to a friend once without growing a lady boner. I’d reminisce about the difference between Velcro and metal cuffs, always preferring metal because the Velcro could be wiggled off easily and they didn’t leave marks. I craved the cold, hard surface of metal digging into my wrists like a chisel into stone. I was once left with the kiss of a handcuff, a greenish bruise on the inside of my wrist, for a week. This is sexier to me than any hickie. My friend shuddered.
“Jesus Christ dude, doesn’t it hurt?”
“Well yeah, but that’s kind of the point. “
There are two key elements to S&M – pain and power. The latter is kind of easy for me to dissect – I’m a dominating kinda gal, taking leadership roles on film sets, in my job, and even with my indecisive friends who can never decide what our Friday nights should entail. I’m naturally a powerful person, so I get off when someone else can overpower me. But the pain aspect has become trivial to me. It hurts. Like, really fucking hurts. But what keeps me begging for more?
Bettie Page is probably the most notorious fetish model. These days, you can find her voluptuous figure and trademark Bettie bangs plastered on t-shirts and coffee mugs and air fresheners almost anywhere. But at the time of this photo – around 1955 – any person gaining pleasure from this image would have been deemed mentally ill. For over a century the American Psychiatric Association considered anyone who got off on bondage, beating, and humiliation to have a mental disorder. It wasn’t until the 1980s that it was removed from the Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Honestly, I can see how the APA could screw this up. Though it’s ridiculous to consider the act of being bound and gagged as a disorder, I wouldn’t be surprised if many people involved with S&M suffer from some sort of psychological illness, but instead of acting out in a destructive manner, they find solace in S&M. Scientists at Northern Illinois University helped solidify this idea after finding that S&M can help fight depression. The NIU team took couples’ stress levels before and after their “tie-and-tickle sessions” and found that, yes, stress and testosterone levels rose during the act, but they felt happier afterwards. A separate study done by the Novosibirsk Institute of Medicine found that spanking eases depression because it releases endorphins that leave you feeling euphoric. Yep – that’s right, bitches – we can fight pain with pain!
The film Secretary, a feature adapted from Mary Gaitskill’s short story of the same title, explores the idea of overcoming self-injury with S&M. A wimpy girl named Leigh is released from the loony bin and finds a job as a secretary for E. Edward Grey’s paralegal office. He catches her cutting one day and confronts her about it, but she’s not sure why she does it.
“Is it that sometimes the pain inside has to come to the surface, and when you see evidence of the pain inside, you finally know you’re really here? Then, when you watch the wound heal, it’s comforting, isn’t it?”
He then commands Leigh to stop cutting. And she does. She stands at the edge of a bridge with her sewing kit – the purple box that houses her razors and iodine and a fairy figurine with a sharpened edge – and she dumps it into the river, releasing herself of her instinct to self-harm. But this recovery doesn’t happen so easily – no, because her impulse is replaced with her new relationship with Edward, one that includes spanking and restraints. After finding a new obsession in this film, I began making sense of my own situation.
After four years of being cut-free, I was lured back to the false comfort of the razor blade, along with the 3 million other students, housewives, cashiers, servers, and accountants who succumb to self-injury every year. Summer break forced me away from my second home in Chicago, sending me back to the east coast. I would hibernate in the dull pink bedroom assigned to me in my parents’ new suburban home, locking the door and blaring RuPaul’s Drag Race so my parents knew not to disturb me (because drag queens are as high a priority to me as breathing). Then, retreating to my bed, I’d bury myself under quilts and pillows, planting headphones in my ears. Kathleen Hanna’s words would seep into my head, her voice watered down from the usual grungy vocals of Bikini Kill to a sweeter hum. I can’t say everything about it in just one single song. I can’t put how I feel in a package and sell it to everyone. A warmth grows behind my eyes and I cringe. I hope the food tastes better in heaven. The warmth leaks and I reach for the box cutter stolen from my dad’s tool kit. But no one said life was easy. The blade dances across my belly, careful not to collide with my stomach tattoo. No, no one told me anything to prepare me for fucking this.
Roy Baumeister, a social psychologist at Case Western University explains the idea of replacing self-harm with sadomasochism, saying, “The satisfaction gained from S&M is something far more than sex. It can be a total emotional release… Sadomasochism is a way people can forget themselves.”
Two months after I was reunited with the razor blade, I was finally able to stop picking at the scabs. I was able to let the wounds heal, allowing golden scars to form, hibernating between the stretch marks above the tattoo on my stomach. I was back to my preferred home in Chicago, and Eric was pulling my hair again. I haven’t made myself bleed since.