When I was in one of my basic psychology courses in undergrad, the professor described sublimation with the following example.
Say you have someone who really likes to hit and beat up people. This is not an acceptable impulse in most of society. So he chooses to pursue a career as a professional boxer. He takes his desire to be violent and to hit people and sublimates that desire by channeling it into a professional career.
We can’t really talk about BDSM/kink and healing without addressing sublimation.
Sublimation is problematic for healing in BDSM. It can create very unhealthy dynamics and it fails to address the root of the issue someone is dealing with. The best example of sublimation gone wrong is what I have deemed “The Secretary Fantasy.” In the movie The Secretary the dominant (played by James Spader) finds out the submissive (Maggie Gyllenhall) is a cutter. He introduces her to impact play (spanking) and then tells her to throw away her cutting tools and he will replace it with impact play. In the movie this works. She tosses her cutting kit and they live happily ever after, never to be bothered again by that pesky mental illness.
This, of course, is complete movie magic and fantasy. Neither a command from a d-type nor sublimating kinky play for the desire to self harm actually works.
Mental illness isn’t something that can be commanded to go away or eliminated by the need to please some d-type. Mental illnesses are a combination of chemical disorders, unhealed traumas, distorted thinking, and brain physiology issues. Depending on the disorder, people can treat it with medication (both prescription and through supplements), body work, talk therapy, exercise and a whole host of other treatments. BDSM/kink might be part of the solution but will only help if the illness is approached more holistically.
I want to discuss a few ways people confuse sublimation through kink and actual healing.
Self harm is common. In the United States, between 12 and 37 percent of adolescents has admitted to self harming behaviors (e.g. cutting, burning). For most people, this behavior abates by the late 20s. This means that a significant number of people in the kink community have been or are currently engaging in self harm.
There is a perception that people may sublimate the need to harm by engaging in various types of kink play. For example, if you are a cutter and you choose to engage in knife scenes, people can assume that the need to cut will be replaced by the consensual play.
Here is where that falls apart. Self harm comes from an emotional place of needing to hurt or harm oneself. Most healthy kink play works to avoid harm (we talk about the difference between inflicting good pain and harming someone). If you are engaging in an impact scene, the goal is to use impact methods (canes, whips, hands, paddles) to bring about a certain feeling at the end. This may be catharsis, or joy, or erotic desires. Healthy kink scenes do not end in trying to destroy your partner physically. Basically – don’t break your toys.
Because healthy kink play has a goal of something other than the destruction and harm of the s-type, the emotional competent of why people cut isn’t being addressed. You may have knife marks on you from a scene, but the emotional aspect of feeling you were destroyed or harmed isn’t there. Therefore, healthy kink cannot replace unhealthy cutting (or impact, or other play).
Some folks in the BDSM scene will frequently engage in cathartic play – engaging in a scene with the goal of being reduced to tears at the end. This type of play can be very useful for some folks.
However, I have known several individuals who live with severe depression. Clinical depression is more than just “feeling sad.” Clinical depression can include feeling numb, being unable to feel a connection to other people, feeling worthless, wanting to die, and feeling empty. Additionally, to get a diagnosis of clinical depression, the person has to feel this way for a minimum of two weeks.
Depression is horrible to live with (as someone with Bipolar Disorder, I experience clinical depression more often than I ever want too). The feelings of emptiness and hopelessness are not abated by having “a good life.” I have been my most depressed when people though I “had it all.” Even in a high powered, high paying job with several fun sexual partners, a place of my own and national attention, I was horribly depressed.
Some people try to relieve that depression with a cathartic scene. A cathartic BDSM scene can release a number of good neurotransmitters (oxytocin, serotonin, neuronitn) as well as endorphins and momentarily leave the person feeling great! There is a momentary reprieve from hopelessness and emptiness.
The problem is, after the scene ends, these good chemicals start to leave the system. Within a day or two, the person is back to feeling horrible, hopeless and empty.
Like a drug, cathartic play can lead a depressed person into an addictive cycle. Get depressed, engage in a cathartic scene, feel a bit better, get depressed, engage in a cathartic scene, feel a bit better, get depressed. This becomes radically unhealthy.
You cannot beat someone happy if they are living with clinical depression. You can’t love them into a happy space. Depression needs to be addressed outside a BDSM scene. For many people, they find either psychotherapy or prescription medications helpful in treating depression. For some of us, natruopathic supplements, meditation, energy work, diet and yoga are effective treatments. For others yet, there is a combination of medications and exercise.
Trying to mask the depression through intense BDSM scenes will not effectively address depression. It may break a cycle long enough to get someone to seek help. But BDSM alone will not fix depression.
Ultimately, if you engage in BDSM as part of your healing process, you need to understand what it can and cannot effectively address. Anyone living with a mental illness or trauma needs help addressing the underlying issues – trauma, chemical imbalances, distorted thinking – with a long-term solution.
If you are struggling with a mental health issue, the National Assocition of Mental Illness (NAMI) is a great place to start. They offer education for both someone living with a mental illness and for friends and family. They are connected with therapists and doctors across the U.S. If you need a good reference or peer support group, give them a call at: 800-950-6264
We need to talk to our kids about how to watch porn. I have had this conversation a lot since I put out my book last year. I think it is critical that we talk to kids about what porn is, the messages in porn, and porn logic.
I suspected that with the great proliferation of the availability of porn and “erotic romances” that kids and young adults were turning to these resources for information. A new study, profiled this week in the New York Timesverified these suspicions. Researchers found that about 60 percent of youth turn to pornography for information about sex. They are not looking for information about the mechanics of sex, they are looking for information about the emotional side of sex.
Anyone familiar with how we talk to kids about sex and what sex education is in the United States (and many other countries for that matter) should not be surprised at this at all. We provide kids with basic (but generally poor) information about the mechanics. If you kid is in a school that requires non-abstinence based sex ed (delightfully now abstinence only is not funded by the Feds!) most curricula include diagrams of the anatomy, warnings that sex leads to STIs and pregnancy, and instructions on how to put a condom on a banana. And that is about it.
Tab A in Slot B Sex Ed
For adults with sexual experience, we know sex is a lot more involved than “Tab A in Slot B.” Sex, good and bad, one-night stands and lifelong partnerships, and everything in between, involves human relations, emotions, and has lasting psychological impacts. It involves learning how to approach people about wanting to have sex. It should involve talking about consent. It should involve talking about needs, wants, and fantasies.
The thing is, when kids learn about sex. all it seems to be is, “Tab A in Slot B.” In California and New York, teens in high school have to be taught about the idea of “affirmative consent” – the idea that you have to agree to various sexual acts if you don’t want to engage in rape. That is a little better. However, that leaves 48 states in the US with no required discussions about consent.
Beyond what is taught in schools, parents have a hard time talking to their kids about sex. Its awkward. Its embarrassing. People on both sides of the conversation don’t really want to be having it. So, many parents – understandably – don’t go into great detail about the emotional impacts of sex.
This is where porn comes in for a lot of people. Lacking information about how to negotiate this type of interpersonal interaction, people go looking. Porn, being so readily available, provides an opportunity to learn.
School of XXX
So, what do you learn from porn? [I will stick to mainstream porn here – niche porn is usually not discovered until one is a bit older.]
First, everybody in porn wants to have sex, and wants sex to start within two minutes of arriving at someone’s place. Person A enters a room. There is a little chatting (if you don’t click the fast forward button, you see this). Within two minutes, people are boning away. Or, a guy drives up to some girl at a gas station or a club or a bar, says “Hey Baby! Want some D?” and the chick gets into a car with a stranger, gets all hot and wet, and leaves without being assaulted.
This, of course, is not real. This is fantasy. The thing is, this is now the model for many, many people. And we can see the repercussions. When I was in the dark world of online dating, many men would approach me on line and within two or three message exchanges, ask, “Do you want to hook up?” or more blantantly, “Hey hottie! Wanna fuk!” [Spelling and grammar seem to also be lost these days.]
Initially I thought this churlish behavior was just keyboard bravado. But, most of the men who took this approach were under 30. In light of the numbers of people turning to porn for information about how to engage in sexual relationships, this ham-fisted approach to sex makes sense. They are simply modeling what they have been taught. And as women, we are taught by porn that we should be receptive to this type of behavior.
Porn often models two or more people having sex without much communication. The dialogue, if there is any, tends to be more directional than interaction-based. “Take this dick!” “Suck me!” “Put it in my ass!” are common refrains. Questions like, “So, do you like it when I go down on you?” “How are you feeling?” “Is this okay?” “What do you want?” are almost never uttered. Even the question, “You like that?” is often issued more as a command than as an actual question requiring feedback.
This would be okay in porn if people watching recognized porn as fantasy and not a model for behavior. However, many people seeking out porn are looking for information on behavior and relationship issues, not just fantasy.
What Can We Do?
I don’t expect scripts of porns to change anytime soon. I don’t really think this study will suddenly convince producers to start modeling healthy relationship behavior in “MILF Ass Gangbang 14” as a response to this study. But, I think there are some things parents and other people who talk to kids can do to help change this.
First, we need to stop focusing on the technicalities of sex and focus on the psychology of it. We need to start talking to our kids before they reach puberty about the need to respect their bodies and the bodies of others. We need to talk to kids about caring for other people and thinking about other people. We need to emphasize the relational aspects of sex.
Teens and young adults need to know that all sex, casual or otherwise, carries the opportunity to connect with someone and make everyone involved feel good about the encounter. We need to let people know that sex is not just a physical act. Every sexual encounter, no matter how insignificant, can impact a person. Letting your one night stand know that you are concerned about their enjoyment, showing respect and using good manners is important if you don’t want someone to end up feeling used. Even if all you do is hook up in a bar bathroom a, “Thank you,” or “I really needed that. You were great!” makes the whole thing a loss less narcissistic and less of a situation where someone just gets used.
Yes, you pre-teen and teen need to know about condoms and lube and spermicide and Plan B. Yes, they need to understand the very real risks of getting an STI and where they can go to have it treated. They also need to understand that they are engaging with another human being who has feelings and both parties could walk away feeling good, feeling used, or really upset depending on how things go down.
We need to talk to kids about negotiating sex. This is important if they want to have sex and even more important if they don’t feel ready to have sex. Our cultural emphasis on intercourse as the only acceptable form of sexuality puts a lot of pressure on people to engage in that specific type of sex. Kids need to know that there are lots of options: making out, gentle touching, flirting, writing romantic letters, simply kissing. We need to start talking about how it is okay to only want some things out of sex but not everything.
Finally, we need to talk to kids about porn. We need to explain “porn logic” versus reality. You cannot pay for a pizza or a plumbing bill with sex. Likewise, you need a bit more warm up than “Hey, wanna fuck?” We need to talk about how, before a porn gets made, actors are talked to about what they will and will not do on screen. We need to let kids know that actors prepare for the sex they are going to have on screen. We need to know that most people are not simply ready to go for anal sex, not everyone enjoys oral sex, and slamming away for 15 minutes is not always good sex.
Don’t want to talk to your kids about porn? Don’t think they want to talk to you? They may not. But they do want to know about the emotional aspects of romantic relationships. They are looking for models about how adults interact around sex. Chances are, if they are looking at porn these days, they are looking for information about these aspects as well as filling up their spank bank.
I know it can be awkward to talk to a teen about these things. But honestly, talking to your kids about emotional connections and the need to be good people with the people you want to have sex with is a bit easier than showing them how to put a condom on a banana. It will be through having these conversations with kids that we create people who are respectful, and loving, and enjoy sex and relationships and don’t just seek out an easy lay from a person disconnected from their humanity.
There are three major categories: Best Sex, Best Kink, and Best Humor. All movies can go up for the forth category: Best in Show. Films are limited to 5 minutes. They are shown at three screenings and people vote. Winners get $$$$ and better yet, their movies get shown all over on the HUMP Tour!!
I want to send love out to all the people involved in this project. Foremost I send love to my two stars. These guys were troupers for me and are really, really, really brave!!! To my voice over guy, Stones McCoy, you rock dude! To Chuck Schubert and Cash Cartell, love your music and so happy to have you in on this project! I think you are all amazingly awesome and talented people!!!
To anyone going to the HUMP Festival showings in Seattle, WA; Olympia, WA; Portland, OR — VOTE FOR THIS FILM!
I created a film for this year in the comedy category. The link to it appears below. THIS IS XXX PORN. NSFW!!!!
When you click on the image below, you will need to enter your DOB to prove you are over 18 since this film is rated X.
Running Time: 4:30
Written, Directed, and Filmed by: Rebecca E. Blanton