Is it healthy to reenact childhood discipline as an adult?
August 31, 2008 6:27 AM   Subscribe

Some of the disciplinary acts I endured as a child and teenager have spilled over into my adult sex life. Is this a healthy thing to encourage, or should I avoid these acts altogether?

My parents used a certain degree of physical discipline on me growing up. As a child, I remember a couple of brutal spankings from my father that left me crying for hours. From my mother, she occasionally smacked my butt with a wooden spoon, slapped my face, or washed my mouth out with soap until snot ran out of my nose. As a teenager, my father pulled me up the stairs by my hair a couple of times. There was also a bit of verbal degradation and object breaking (calling me a bitch, throwing chairs, etc.).

Now, I don't excuse the above actions, but these were occasional incidents that occurred over a period of 15 years. This was during the 70's and 80's when spanking was more acceptable. There is also a cultural difference between my parents and the North American culture where I was raised. I recognize that my parents had my best interests at heart, and while we are civil to each other today, I will never be emotionally close to them.

I think I'm a fairly stable adult and don't consciously harbor any guilt over my upbringing. My parents had good intentions, I believe, however misguided they were. I've never attended therapy nor felt the need to seek outside help.

What worries me is that that some of these specific disciplinary acts have become sexual fetishes. The tendencies have always been there (submission, degradation) but I haven't recreated specific acts until recently. It has been even more recently that I even made the connection with childhood incidences.

Should I just continue on with my sexual urges, even if I see a connection with unhealthy childhood incidents? I feel okay mentally, but am I fooling myself???

Anon email account:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

If you're not doing any lasting damage to yourself emotionally and physically then by all means have fun. I would think you only need to reevaluate your interests if at some point you become so dependent on these particular acts that you need them.

Normal sex in America means boring sex.

If you ever need a safe word I've always been fond of "Palomino".
posted by wavering at 6:36 AM on August 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

What worries me is that that some of these specific disciplinary acts have become sexual fetishes.

That is so, so, so, so normal, and you're just overthinking/worrying here.

After all, where do you think fetishes come from? Those childhood experiences are the ones that form weird, deep, illogical and damn-near indelible patterns.

Relax and enjoy the ride. Think of it this way: maybe it wasn't fun then, but as you've grown up, you've turned it into something good. Progress!
posted by rokusan at 6:36 AM on August 31, 2008 [3 favorites]

Do that which fulfills you. As wavering said, as long as everybody involved is GGG, there's a clear regard and respect for safety, you have a pre-established safe word (something that will immediately kill sexual arousal- "Dick Cheney" is perfect), and the participants respect one anothers' boundaries, by all means have fun by whatever means possible.

Submission and degradation are so commonplace that they barely register as fetishes anymore unless taken to extremes. There's nothing shameful about embracing your kinks, actually it's quite liberating. You're taking possession of the harm inflicted on you and in that way it's no longer the instrument of control your parents intended it to be. Good for you.
posted by baphomet at 6:50 AM on August 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

If your desires aren't hurting yourself or other people (more than feels good, anyway), everyone is an adult and is consenting, and these desires aren't interfering with the rest of your life or becoming such intense fixations that you can't go to work, have friendships, or develop relationships, then there isn't anything wrong.

Lots and lots and lots of people enjoy having a bit of physical discipline and even degradation in their sex lives. That doesn't mean that they are awful, violent, or abusive people in general, or are anything other than loving to their children. They just enjoy being spanked, or calling their partner a dirty slut, or fucking in ways that are extra naughty.

Really, it is pretty much totally normal. Not so normal that everyone and their mother is doing it, but normal enough that after the video (nsfw, duh) of Max Mosley whipping and getting whipped by five prostitutes dresses as Nazi camp guards was released, he was able to sue and win, rather than have to quit and hide his face. Now, he's a particularly shameless person, and there's plenty of backstory to his case. But the actual deviance of the sex acts was largely met with a collective shrug, other than the tastelessness of the Nazi references.

So as long as you are keeping things safe and consensual and within the bounds that you are comfortable with, and you can find partners who enjoy these things, I don't think you need help from a mental health professional. But if it starts crossing a line for you, then you of course would be wise to seek out that help.
posted by Forktine at 6:52 AM on August 31, 2008

pain, terror, fear, subjugation don't have a place in a loving relationship between 2 people. What you were subjected to sounds like torture abu ghraib style. It's become ingrained in your psyche and it's now crossed over into the parts of the brain where love resides. It's like a noxious stream polluting a life giving river. It's an illness and I hope you can find someone who can help you separate the bad from the good and integrate love where only love needs to be and release the rest into a place of grieving and ultimately letting go.
posted by watercarrier at 6:52 AM on August 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

No one ever punished me by pulling my hair and yet, when I'm on the verge of an orgasm and need a little something to get me over the edge I ask to have my hair pulled. I think the "fetishes" you describe are actually incredibly mainstream and normal and I would not worry about them too much. As rokusan said, relax and enjoy yourself.
posted by kate blank at 7:20 AM on August 31, 2008

Check out Savage Lovecast #97 (last week's, around the 9:00-10:00 mark). A more extreme but very similar question, with a verdict that it's totally fine to enjoy it in a healthy way. If it's not eating you up the rest of the time, it sounds healthy.

(I disagree with watercarrier, so long as the pain and fear are consensual and not the full-time, bedroom-to-supermarket dyamic, and I'm sure plenty would modify that to just 'consensual', but there's my own bias.)
posted by carbide at 7:43 AM on August 31, 2008

Yes, it's normal. Like everything awesome, it's possible to let something rule you too much, but really, you could say that about card games, you can say it about chocolate, you can say it about Metafilter, you can say it about exercise.

And it doesn't sound like you are anywhere near that limit. BDSM-folk have a term - safe, sane, consensual. What you are doing is safe. It is consensual. You're concerned about sane? It's sane. (See the link below.)

I think it is horrible that your parents treated you that way. I have very strong feelings about that, and think it is well over the line for them to do so. But as an adult, what you do in your own sex life is between the people involved and no one else, and if everyone is a consenting adult and it's not affecting anyone else ----

Anyway, here's that link that I mentioned. People like watercarrier may need to read these things before judging people based on their own biases, but so be it.

Als a final note, the fact that you are into kink in general may well have NOTHING to do with your childhood - most people who are have no such histories anyway. It may be coloring HOW it's expressed, sure, but that's how our brains work. They feel something, they try to line it up with past experiences, which can be confusing, but take it up with the designer, not me.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 8:19 AM on August 31, 2008 [4 favorites]

Please feel free to ignore watercarrier's answer, and those of and his / her ilk. D/s play is entirely normal, psychologically and otherwise, and has been recognised as such since the 1970's.

To me it's useful, even vitally important, to understand context. The behaviour of your parents during your punishment as a child was non-sexual, domineering (using their power and authority over a smaller, younger, weaker you), made in anger, and, most importantly, not consensual.

Your brain has, like many people's, re-contextualised and re-associated some of those childhood experiences into pleasurable ones as an adult - sexual, dominant, consensual behaviour.

This doesn't validate your parent's behaviour. It doesn't excuse them, or make them right. It simply re-frames what they did in ways that are now pleasurable for you - which, as a coping mechanism, is a pretty awesome one!

Another example. Let's say a stranger came up to you on the street and bit you on the neck. It's sharply painful. That's assault: you'd be entirely justified in an angry, violent, and legal reaction.

Now, in bed, in the throes of passion. Your lover bites on the neck in the same way. Your reaction is entirely different - the pain blurs with the pleasure, and enhances it. The passion grows deeper.

Physically, it's the same bite. But the context is entirely different.

The other answers are good ones. It's really important to understand that even if you desire the feeling of powerlessness during a scene with your partner, everything is negotiated beforehand. You set the boundaries, the actions, and the no-go areas, in negotiation with whomever you're with. Safewords, as mentioned, are important.

But so is ensuring that you're in loving, supportive relationships. This stuff is, as you're discovering, powerful psychological mojo. A scene can be both physically and mentally intense. Make sure you have the support and understanding you need. Be loved, and cared for, outside the immediate context of the scene. You'll find that this can deepen your communication with your partner - by all means, use that. And, keep the "punishment" play in a context that works for you, and that you're comfortable with: it's a special Friday night, leave it there.

You're not a bad person. This is bringing pleasure to you and your partner in the context of a consensual, adult relationship. Go forth and have fun - and feel free to MeMail me from your anonymous account if you'd like me to expand on anything I've said here.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 8:37 AM on August 31, 2008 [11 favorites]

I, too, think the actions of your parents were deplorable. But, I don't think you should necessarily conclude that your kinks are a result of some unhealthy link to the kinds of misguided "discipline" that you endured. Submission and degradation scenarios may have appealed to you regardless of your upbringing. Enjoy!
posted by mistsandrain at 10:38 AM on August 31, 2008

As has been noted, plenty of people who were never spanked by their parents and never had their hair pulled by mummy or daddy certainly grow up to enjoy spanking and hair pulling and other reindeer games as part of their sex lives. I would not be too quick to make a connection, but even if there is one, I also do not see a point in trying to submerge part of your sexuality as long as everything is legal and between consenting adults.

You might spend some time considering issues of control, as well. As a child, you had zero control in these situations and acts were inflicted on you without your consent. That makes you a victim. But as an adult, even when participating in the exact same scenarios, you are in control and choosing to take part. That makes you an active and willing participant. The two experiences are as far apart as they possibly can be.

In fact, I'd argue that the latter can actually be healing for victims of the former, but I don't have any studies or anything to back that up.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:07 AM on August 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

it's the 21st century, and we're apes, not platonic beings of reason. have fun.
posted by By The Grace of God at 11:12 AM on August 31, 2008

watercarrier is full of it. You're normal. Have fun.
posted by charlesv at 11:23 AM on August 31, 2008 [4 favorites]

If you're worried about the relative healthiness of it, you could always have your sexually arousing spankings, your submissive hair-pullings, and your weekly session with your professional psychotherapist about the abuses your parents put you through, too.

They're two different parts of your wiring. They have actions in common, yes, but not context or result. I expect that-- although it might take legwork and research on your part-- you could certainly find a shrink who's willing to speak to both sides of your nature with understanding and empathy instead of condemnation and stigma.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 2:21 PM on August 31, 2008

Generations of men raised in the British public school system say it's fine.

OK, that's a flippant answer but it's a serious one, too. What you're describing as a very mainstream set of interests.

The only things you should, I think, be concerned with is whether you're comfortable (which is sounds like you are), and whether your partner(s) understand that liking submission in the specific context of sex doesn't mean they can carry dominance behaviour outside the bedroom.
posted by rodgerd at 3:03 PM on August 31, 2008

As far as sexual fetishes are concerned, everything is fine until it no longer feels good.
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:10 PM on August 31, 2008

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