You can listen to this musing here, or read it below.
I often talk about insecurity as the step away from safety, away from the known and into the mystery. It’s the first tiny step, and I think it is the longing of many. If one continues on that journey comes maybe unease, anxiety, distress, fear, panic, and apathy. Most want to be brave enough to take the first step, but few want or perhaps no one to go all the way. Moving towards the unknown activates the nervous system; the interpretation depends on the window of tolerance if it is arousing or stressful.
There is this story about a newly graduated reporter who is about to interview an Olympic sprinter before the 100m race. And he asks; you have the whole world watching you, and you are competing against the best runners in the world. Aren’t you nervous? The experienced athlete replies; No, I’m excited. The fresh reporter probably felt the activation in the nervous system as fear because his window of tolerance was very different from an experienced runner.
If my soft and cuddly tantric BDSM often is about surrendering control to another, then fear play is more about losing control or having it taken away. And playing at the edge of the windows of tolerance, where the arousal is experienced as fear. Also, the biochemical response is different, as the body enters fight or flight mode by releasing adrenaline rather than endorphins that encourage surrender and acceptance. So playing with fear becomes a rush rather than a meditation. You can read more about this in my text about Pain and Kinbaku.
Playing with fear can be a shared narrative that everyone chooses to believe and uphold, such as kidnapping, sexual assault, or interrogation. And then it is kind of roleplaying a scary situation, and even if one knows that it is not real, it is still possible to dive deeply into it. Another way is to include activities that are not wanted, things that the partner fears for real. These are usually used as punishments to showcase that particular behaviour is not acceptable.
I remember a Canadian workshop leader explaining the difference between fear and dread. Fear would relate to something one experienced, so the fear is accurate in a way. While dread is only in the head, and it’s the imagination going wild. Applying this logic to knife play, the rustly butcher’s hatchet is a good knife for dread play but horrible for actually cutting someone in a conscious and consensual way. So it becomes crucial to clarify if the kink is fear or dread.
I played with a partner in ropes many years ago, using a burning candle close to her body. It excited her, the sensation of the flame almost touching her skin and almost burning her pubic hairs away. Dread experienced as arousal inside her safe and predictable narrative, but once the flame touched her skin, she panicked. Of course, we didn’t talk before about fear and dread, or precisely what would happen; we didn’t know as we had taken the first steps away from safety. Luckily, we could reconnect again afterwards, and no long term damage was done. So I learned a valuable lesson that day.
Discipline is similar to fear because it’s also something that is “done to” another. And I think it is a more advanced practice because it is deliberate and aims to shape submissive behaviour rather than a raw, primal expression of the dominant desire. It is usually motivated by a combination of positive re-enforcement and fear of punishment. Desire compared to discipline is more here and now and expression of what is. Maybe lust.
In contrast, discipline is about restricting and adhering to specific behaviour. For example, some typical discipline play scenarios are learning and staying in different challenging submissive body positions or learning how to serve tea or give a blowjob ritualistically. In addition, there is a drive for perfection, which is part of the reward of excelling at something given the dominant value. Finally, as a dominant, there is long term gratification in moulding the submissive behaviour into something desirable. It is an investment in a relationship.
Archetypical, it is fascinating to me to see what drives a submissive desire. Some long to be slutty and hedonistic as a way to allow their lusts and give space to their sexuality. While others want to be “the good girl” who is obedient and excel at specific tasks, often restricting their desire to serve their dominant. In my experience, most people are a mixture of both, but I think it is essential to know why one wants to play with both fear and discipline. And what kinks they are related to.