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Tuesday, November 16, 2004

punishment: signal vs noise

I have three or four partially finished blog posts currently beginning to collect dust in various odd corners of my mind. I had resolved that this evening I was going to complete one of those and publish it here before any more time passed since my last writing. Before doing that I opened my beloved L's weblog to read her latest entry. I knew she'd written last night while I was occupied with another project, but by the end of the evening we were both so tired that I'd neglected to ask about her post.

I was a little surprised, but certainly pleased, to discover that she'd blogged about punishment, giving a fair accounting of a couple of our recent conversations on the subject plus some additional thinking she'd done since we last talked about it. Reading our essential consensus expressed in her words made me feel that it would be worth taking the time to do the same. So, the other works-in-progress will have to languish for at least another day while I now indulge myself with this.

I'm aware that some of the things we do (and don't do), some of the attitudes we thankfully share, may make us seem a bit different from the BDSM community as a whole ...or at least from the blogging BDSM community. But as I talked about in my last post, I'm now more than ever dedicated to the proposition that we must be true to what's right and good and appropriate for us, and not worry about how we may compare to other couples. It's not that we're trying to create some sort of "kinder, gentler" D/s relationship. We'll be the first to tell you that ours is absolutely not THE way, but it's the way for US, at where we are now in the journey. One of the areas in which I sense we may differ from "the norm" is in our approach to punishment.

L asked me a few days ago about my thoughts on punishment and I began by saying that I definitely believed punishment had a place in a real D/s relationship. A truly loving dominant simply must care enough to punish when punishment is deserved. It's the why and the how that are subject to individuals' interpretation.

To me, punishment and discipline are two very different things. In my mind discipline is about the bringing of a sense of order and focus and purpose to a submissive's life by the efforts of the dominant. Punishment, on the other hand, is more about creating an aversion within the submissive to repeating improper behaviors (sins of omission as well as commission). The techniques used to achieve that must be appropriate for both dom and sub.

I told L that I've long had the feeling that using "corporal punishment" for a submissive with a strong masochistic streak would serve to implant mixed messages, even if not on a conscious level. She receives pain when she's good... when she's bad she receives more/different pain. While I have no doubt that I could create physical punishments that she could never confuse with play consciously, it's the subtle potential longterm less-than-conscious effect that causes me concern. To be fair, I do see where an argument could be made that both types of pain are an expression of love ...just as loving parents (such as mine) often physically punish errant children... but that gets into a whole other minefield beyond the scope of what I want to address here.

Mainly I worry that, for us at least, there's a real potential concern for the signal getting lost in the noise when it comes to physical punishment.

But if not physical punishment, then what? Again, that has to be unique to each couple and likely to each situation. Dominants as a rule are magnificently imaginative creatures, and I can readily conceive of a variety of things I could use. Occasionally, I'll arch an eyebrow and playfully remind her that, "bad girls DON'T get spanked," but I suspect it would be difficult for me to withhold play as a means of punishment... just as I would not want to withhold affection. It just tastes wrong to me.

What would be the ultimate punishment in our relationship? I think I know.

I am unimaginably blessed by the type of relationship that L and I share. We are passionate lovers. We are best friends. We share a vast array of interests, tastes, likes and dislikes. We communicate exceedingly well, and there is a bedrock-solid foundation of mutual respect and trust. The most painful thing I could do to her would be to violate that respect, break that trust. I pray that I never would, never could do that because it would be betraying us both. Short of that, though, about the most painful thing I can imagine for her would be to know that she had truly disappointed me. And from what she's said, I believe L agrees. She wrote: "...the punishment my own head would bring in the form of mental self-flagellation would be far far worse than anything...."

The realization that wrongfully displeasing/disappointing me would bring such anguish to her seems the best possible type of "behavior modification" ...the type that works to prevent improper words and actions, rather than punishing them after they occur. And it occurs to me that prevention may be the most effective solution to the "signal-to-noise ratio" problem.

posted by John | 9:17 PM [permalink]


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