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October 10, 2012 2:43 PM   Subscribe

Why are humiliation and/or degradation sexually exciting for some?

I'm referring to anything that would make a submissive feel shame or feel bad or cry (for any reason other than physical pain, though that's one I don't understand either, but that's for another AskMe).

Specifically, I don't understand the appeal of verbal humiliation, name calling, body part humiliation and physical humiliation (being made to do or withstand or feel terribly upsetting things). I'm sure there are others that I'd consider traumatizing that I haven't thought of.

I am kinky, but these are very much not my kinks. I want to understand why it is such a turn on for so many, both dominant and submissive. Fetlife, to my knowledge, doesn't really explore the psychology behind humiliation and degradation - people who are into it "just are."

I know that for many individuals, their specific kink comes from a singular event (or series of events) in their past - but what about in more general terms? Is there more to it than that?

Are there any websites, articles or books that delve into it, without coming from the position that participants are somehow mentally damaged?

Insight, perspective, links, reference materials welcome.
posted by thrasher to Human Relations (18 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
Power rush plus intense connection with the other person.

:)
posted by By The Grace of God at 3:04 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I suspect it's for the same reason people grovel at the feet of heroes, whip themselves for gods, or hire personal trainers:
self-abasement is hard -- sometimes you need help.
posted by sarastro at 3:05 PM on October 10, 2012


Dan Savage's explanation of rape fantasies would clearly apply to what you're describing as well: "Rape fantasies are about eroticizing power, and most people find power sexy."
posted by jejune at 3:07 PM on October 10, 2012


Sex and eroticism are like music -- there are things that you quite enjoy, but other people do not, and some people don't enjoy it at all, and while we can point to formative influences, there is no simple reason why you might like jazz or redheads and someone else might like opera or spankings.
posted by Etrigan at 3:19 PM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


The wacky thing is.... we actually don't know "why"! Lots of people have theories. And some of those theories are true for some people, and then not for others. But then people had a lot of theories about why people were gay, and some of those have not panned out. We don't know why some people want their girlfriends to wear their hair in a certain way, or why some people want to get trampled on (it's a thing!), or why some people want to dress up as babies or cats or baby cats. These are all very different and rather elaborate and specific "kinks," and some of it is quite unappealing to people who don't feel similarly, but they just exist. It'd be nice to know all those things and more! (Like: why are some people bisexual and gay? WHO KNOWS.) But for now we do not. And not knowing means it does not matter. If and when we do know, they "why" may or may not matter then.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 3:20 PM on October 10, 2012


If you try to figure things like balloon fetishes into your theory of normal human psychosexual development, I think you have to wind up assuming people are innately equipped to acquire at least some cues from the environment. Presumably some things like a body's sex characteristics are especially likely targets for cue acquisition, given whatever the mechanism for this really is. But social roles and social power are as pervasive in the environment as bodies themselves, so it's shouldn't surprise that this is something many people would acquire as a cue. I don't know, but I doubt the consciousness of these kinds of cues includes any more reasoned information than you experience in an appreciation of body types, etc.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 3:21 PM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


The last thing you can really control, after everything else has been taken away from you, is your own self-image. Someone can fairly easily physically control you with bondage, and that's as far as many people wish to take it. Humiliation pushes that control further; not only are you a physical thing to be toyed with, now you're beneath the person.

I think the reasons why people want to give up control are individual to the person, but the common theme I've come across is a desire to ... hm, "retreat from reality" is the closest phrase I can think of. "Suspend disbelief," perhaps, like when you're watching a really engrossing movie and you just lose track of your surroundings because it seems so real. In real life, there is Stuff That Has to be Done and Decisions That Must Be Made, but if control is taken away from you, you don't have to worry about that stuff anymore.

I haven't run across someone who carries that shame and humiliation around with them AFTER the scene is through. I think if they constantly felt ashamed or humiliated, there would be no erotic component. So it's only possible if it's a contrast to the rest of their lives. Some people really enjoy doing something totally different.
posted by desjardins at 3:23 PM on October 10, 2012 [20 favorites]


I think in some cases, people are raised with a sense of "sex is shameful/humiliating". Like it or not, that association runs both ways. I would guess that if you aren't too screwed up, it can just be a button to play with, like "whee, shame!" Associations don't have to really involve heavy baggage, but can be just forbidden enough to be titillating or naughty fun, like gossip and other low level "bad" or "forbidden" things.
posted by Michele in California at 3:28 PM on October 10, 2012


This is Not My Kink either, but I get the sense that for some people there's something cathartic about it. Instead of feeling sort of mildly embarrassed all the time, you really get yourself good and humiliated, and then let it all go.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:30 PM on October 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


I would second nebulawindphone, at least for some examples. For anxious people, terror makes the anxiety go away. For people with social anxiety who often feel embarrassed often, feeling humiliated in a controlled context is kind of relaxing.
posted by 3491again at 3:45 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes and yes. Humiliation within a scene is cathartic and exposure therapy is a great analogy. It may seem outwardly cruel and traumatic, but on the receiving end it's more a complete liberation from the shame that humiliation relies upon. In trying to solve the question of why, I eventually came to the same conclusion as RJ Reynolds above. Nobody knows for sure.
posted by Lorin at 3:54 PM on October 10, 2012


I have a particular kink. When I engage in that kink, I'm in a very different headspace to where I am normally. I can't get anywhere close to this particular state in "real life", so it's special, in a way, and only for sex. The headspace that I'm in is a very liberating one - it's very safe there, there's no bad stuff. It's a way of not being me for a while.

I have no idea how or why it works. before I tried it, I expected the playtime to have a very different effect to the one it actually has. Maybe that's part of it, the challenging of expectations.
posted by Solomon at 4:06 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Monsieur Caution, your cue acquisition theory is very interesting to me. I have a theory that for some people at least, the interest in sexual humiliation might come from television.

I HATE watching people be humiliated on TV shows like Bloopers and Practical Jokes, Punk'd, etc. I can totally understand how someone who watched, say, Groucho Marx squirt someone in the face with water from the flower on his lapel might twist that into finding it sexually exciting to be pissed on, or to piss on someone. Am I crazy for making that association? (I've mentioned this on Fetlife before and I don't think anyone really understood the connection at all.) That's just one example, and a silly one at that, I know.
posted by thrasher at 4:06 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


You might find Miss Midori's essay about the subject here helpful. I like her writing in general.
posted by koucha at 4:17 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are some good answers above. I'd add that the parameters of degradation can be more complex than it might look. For example, just a couple of days ago, I stopped in the middle of doing something fun (and very mild, particularly compared to the things one reads about on the internet) with my partner and asked her point blank what she got out of being degraded like that. She cracked up and said it was just a control thing and that there was nothing degrading about having fun.

So the point being, sometimes it really is straight up degradation and humiliation, but sometimes those are just the visible signifiers of something else that the person is looking for and getting out of the experience. Moreover, there's always a tension between what you personally find degrading, and what you know other people would see as degrading. For many people, things like anal sex or facials tie into that -- knowing that they are talked about as "forbidden" and "bad" and "degrading" allows you to both consent fully and enthusiastically, and simultaneously have the titillation of seeing the experience through disapproving eyes.
posted by Forktine at 4:51 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it's ultimately because we humans have such a long period during which we're small and sexually immature, and that's not because we couldn't grow faster due to physiological limitations either-- black bear females are sexually mature in their fourth summer and grizzlies are typically sexually mature by 4.5-7 years.

The delay is arguably because we, in contrast to bears, have so much cultural information to learn, and stretching out the critical periods in which learning can best take place (or take place at all in some modalities, perhaps) requires extending the period before maturation.

But we don't seem to have done that stretching out linearly; sexuality appears to raise its head in many children around 4 or 5-- when we might expect it to appear if we were animals without complex culture-- and then go back underground for most of another decade. Freud called this sexual emergence the phallic stage, and the succeeding interval of repression the latency period. I have no definitive knowledge of what kind of odor this idea is in among child development researchers today, though I suspect not very good, but I certainly experienced it myself and believe I've observed it in many children. I think of latency as a kind of "Panda's thumb" -like period grafted onto an already existing developmental trajectory.

During this period of repression, I think we put sexuality in with the other things we repress, such as violence, social faux pas of all kinds, like shitting and peeing in inappropriate places, swearing, yelling obscenities at people and behaving in other embarrassing ways, all varieties of self-harm, which might include subjecting ourselves to "verbal humiliation, name calling, body part humiliation and physical humiliation (being made to do or withstand or feel terribly upsetting things)", and so forth.

Then when we derepress sexuality later, it comes out trailing clouds of the things it was repressed along with (and those things remain repressed, by the way, except insofar as they're involved in sexuality), or if you prefer a possibly more appropriate metaphor here, covered in the things it was repressed with, and retains tinges of or is deeply dyed with those things for the rest of our lives.

I think this also has the effect of giving almost all forbidden things an overtone of sexuality, too.
posted by jamjam at 7:13 PM on October 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


This might be triggering, I'm going to mention some seriously misogynistic language.

Basically what forktine said. I've been genuinely surprised by people's assumption that certain activities are inherently humiliating or degrading in the same sense as, say, an abusive boss screaming at you would be humiliating or degrading. It may look similar but it's totally not the same; there's often an element of fantasy there. When you call them "traumatizing" or "upsetting" you're somewhat assuming that they are exactly what they look like. In some situations, being called a dirty whore would be frightening and traumatizing, but in the right context it's hot and thrilling. There are definitely things that I find hot and not give a second thought to, but if the wrong person tried them they'd be absolute headfuckers because I wouldn't actually be sure that it was playacting--there would be an element of genuine contempt or misogyny there and ugh.

In terms of arousal, the brain is not actually that good at figuring out why your autonomic nervous system is doing what it's doing. Heart beats faster, face flushes, hands shake...are you about to give a speech in front of a huge audience, or are you turned on? Some people might have those particular wires crossed a bit more than other people do, and they might more actively associate fear with sexual arousal. This could be due to a formative experience, or it could be genetic, or both...your guess is as good as mine!

And there's something nice and intimacy- and trust-building about letting someone see you in what society views as degrading or humiliating circumstances. If someone has seen you literally covered in urine, watched you get called a slut, or spent an hour focused on your physical imperfections...and even after that, that person is still super into you...it seems like that would contribute a lot to a feeling of security and acceptance.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:28 PM on October 10, 2012 [12 favorites]


There's also the element of submission. Just like some submissives enjoy flogging even though they aren't masochists, some submissives surely enjoy it as a demonstration of their powerlessness OR of their dedication to willingly choose to please their partner despite their personal preferences.

You haven't gotten many answers about why tops/dominants like it; as someone who has topped this kind of scene before several times but doesn't consider this my primary fetish or kink, it's a power thing and it's also what the person is into so I'll do it, because I like getting a strong reaction (again the power thing) and it's something nice to do for the other person if they really get off on it.

There's also the same feeling of intimacy and trust from the other direction; having someone trust you enough to let you do things like that to them is quite a rush and very ego-boosting.

It also inspires a lot of affection and, oddly enough, protectiveness. I find that to be true of many of the unpleasant/painful things that I do. They engender a sense of responsibility for the other person's well-being that is very satisfying for me in a way that other forms of connection aren't. I wouldn't assume that this is true for every dominant/sadist/humiliation top--there are definitely different styles and orientations here.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:31 AM on October 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


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