You can listen to this musing here, or read it below.
From an incestuous fantasy to a beating daydream into a heroes journey; That’s a crazy connection, I think to myself while reading a summary of psychoanalytic view on masochism. There are many wild ideas about why people are attracted to sadomasochism, and the truth is that no one really knows, but one thing is for sure; it happens mainly in the head, in the dream-like narratives between the conscious and the subconscious. Bodies bound, skins impacted, nipples clamped, and orders uttered. They are all trip-wires into the mind, or maybe the soul is a better word. A BDSM session is a joint enactment of an almost spiritual belief that upgrades mechanical sex into the mythical eros.
Tantra is the same, even if the methodology is different; that is why they marry so well together. Of course, some people enjoy spanking for the feeling of palm against buttock and intercourse primarily to make kids. But really, in my experience, most people are mesmerized by the journey rather than the footsteps. And the questions it awakes about our sexuality; What does it mean, what is the meaning, why does it feel meaningful. And the story of BDSM offers the answers with sadomasochism, exhibitionism, voyeurism, control and surrender.
It is a controlled exploration of taboos that is both safe and brave at the same time. No one wants to hurt or get hurt, for real. Ultimately we remain in control, by consent, in one way or another. That’s the line in the sand that separates BDSM from abusive and self-destructive behaviour. Even Freud agrees; erotogenic masochism is a conscious choice in the search for pleasure. Pathological masochism is not, he explains in the essay The Economic Problem of Masochism (1924). Before I go on, I feel that I need to take a step away from the psychoanalytic tendency to boil everything down to the oedipal relationship with our parents. But I believe in the importance of fantasy; in the stories, we tell ourselves about how things are. The stories of our eros, and that is the purpose of this musing.
A session being. I sit down behind her. I take a deep breath, feel my weight grounding me into the floor, and neatly fold my glasses away on the mahogany stool next to us. Maybe she also feels the balance of floor shifting so ever slightly as I move closer. She is certainly aware of me. I take my time to be comfortable while she attentively listens. Time passes; I lean closer and fold her hair to the side to expose the neck. Maybe she feels the warmth of my breath as her head bows forward in the act of submission.
The exact details and orders of things are hard to know in this story that we tell together. It is fresh and new to the conscious mind, and the presence between us is continuously creating it. But to the subconscious, it is a symbolic language as old as time. I’ve literally seen thousands of people claiming to know nothing about it, instantly dropping into it during workshops and festivals. To consciously be aware of these more mysterious aspects of our eros, I think, is essential because we are losing the symbolic relationship to the world that is increasingly becoming more fractured in its 280 character long Twitter-truths.
Freud’s daughter Anna wrote about these subconscious stories in the essay Beating Fantasies and Daydreams (1922). I think it is a common sadomasochistic theme. The process of someone being “forced” forwards submission, but it is a “happy” experience with feelings of excitement and pleasure. Or, as Freud would put it, a masturbatory drive. I think it is a longing for belonging, as I mused about a year ago. To unconditionally be given an exciting path in a world where we are overwhelmed by dull choices. Growing up is a transition from the colourful fantasy world into a grey and harsh reality.
As a kid, I played a game called the “Vita Stenen”, where we challenged each other with dangerous but exciting dares to temporary claim the ownership of a white stone. The symbol of power. The girls were hunting the boys, capturing and kissing us, to spread the girl-flu. My kindergarten teacher mused after “efter bråk blir det barnbidrag”, roughly translating to “after fighting, there will be birth”. Years later, someone would be locked in a closet, pretending to be the mailman delivering hugs, kisses and handshakes, to random victims in a very ritualized game.
These were and still are controlled fantasies of danger and excitement. As kids, the play was innocent. In the daydream, the dreamer plays all the roles simultaneously. In the BDSM session, the surrounding frame is consent, which makes it safer. Anna described these beating fantasies in her psychoanalysis as disciplinary school institutions, knights and princesses captured and tortured, adoption by evil step-parents, etc. Can you see the Harry Potter connection? Obviously, there are tons of shame and taboo around erotizing such fantasies, even as adults interacting with other adults.
Being civilized means controlling the eros and not as an animal being a slave to desire. So the stories of our eros are instead retold in movies, books and theatres. The erotic element is transformed into general excitement, and the story is acted out by someone else, with us safely in the audience. Most of the time, it is some kind of heroes journey. The protagonist temporarily loses control by all sorts of hardships but eventually wins through some insight, endurance, or transformation. The end is the climax.
I think there is a vast longing to reclaim the stories of our eros, which started as innocent games and turned into taboo daydreams and finally ended up as safe heroes journeys on the silver screen. And I think it’s beautiful to allow a BDSM session to be symbolic and storytelling, and in a way reconnecting to our personal and common taboo fantasies.