From a young age I had sexual fantasies that revolved around power. I got off on the idea of being totally overwhelmed by and surrendering to another person’s desire. They weren’t rape fantasies exactly but they were close enough to scare me. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, sexuality was already terrifying terrain filled with shame. The idea that I might get off on something that even resembled violence made me feel deeply fucked up. As a teenager I devoured anything I could find about recovering from childhood sexual abuse. I remember reading a passage that said it was common for survivors to eroticize the violence that happened to us, and that we could find ways to heal from this. The text suggested imagining lying under a waterfall and becoming turned on by the waters’ caress. Then and now, waterfalls don’t get me off. But something else did, something scary that as a survivor, and as a feminist, I believed I definitely shouldn’t be into.
As I grew older I learned about BDSM and I definitely considered that I was a submissive. But as I was swept away in the blur of c-ptsd and alcoholism, reliving my traumatic childhood in one abusive relationship after another, I didn’t have the opportunity to explore BDSM in a safe context. Instead, I became someone who liked ‘rough’ sex and who let my partners do things to me that weren’t exactly negotiated. Once I got sober and started intense trauma recovery work it was easy to dismiss my submissive drives as the dysfunctional result of a lifetime of trauma. I decided to reject that aspect of myself and embrace being vanilla. Something which, I must assert, is totally legit. There is no hierarchy of liberated sex and honestly, claiming vanilla sex is a profoundly powerful act in queer ‘sex positive’ spaces that can reverse mainstream hierarchies and act as if kink is inherently more subversive or liberating. It’s not.
I finally found myself, in my early 30s, in a safe secure relationship with someone who is into kink. From the beginning, my partner modelled consent practices that I had never known in all my sexually active years. The first time we had sex they asked me things like “What are you into?” and “Do you have any hard no’s?” These questions, I now realize, are an important part of establishing consent and having hot sex, whether the sex is vanilla or kink, but at the time it was all new to me. I felt safe and considered. I felt like I had a say in what was happening. Initially I told my partner that I’m vanilla, but I was open to exploring. The flicker of old desires was alive just under the surface and I was finally in a situation in which I could explore them in a safe way.
I am incredibly blessed to have a partner who is patient, considerate, kind, and experienced in both good consent practices and good BDSM practices. It’s disturbing that I describe this experience as being ‘incredibly blessed’ because consideration and good consent should be standard. My life experiences show that they are not standard, and I am grateful to be in a relationship where I can explore my sexuality, including my submissive desires, in a safe, chosen, consensual way. We have long conversations about sex when we are not having sex. We share our fantasies with each other over facebook messenger, differentiating between what might be hot to do ‘irl’ and what we want to keep in ‘fantasy land.’ My ‘no’ is always welcomed and encouraged. My partner also always plays close attention to my body language and checks in with me. Unlike the abusive relationships of my past, in this relationship I am encouraged and expected to be my own complete person, with desires and interests, sexual and otherwise, which extend beyond the scope of our partnership.
It is in this context that I connected with my deep deep submissive desires and pleasures which feel so viscerally good and right that I can’t believe I went thirty years without them. It is in this context that I finally stopped shaming myself for being a desperate sub and learned that my submission is a form of trauma magic, a space in which I work through trauma and heal on deep psychological and spiritual levels. It is in this context that I learned that my submission, freely chosen, deeply desired, and carried out in controlled, safe, consensual ways, is a feminist act. My body belongs to me. My pleasure is inherently good. Kink is a space in which I can explore power and powerlessness, themes which were imposed on me my entire life, in a safe and empowering way.
Once my partner and I were sexting and an aspect of the fantasy they were relaying triggered me. It opened up an area of great pain. I told them that and we talked about it. My partner accepted my trigger and we found ways to explore the fantasy without that aspect. My ‘no’ was listened to. Later, when I was getting myself off, I found my mind wandering to the aspect of the fantasy that I found triggering. To my surprise I felt a flood of pleasure unlike anything I had experienced before. I made myself cum over and over, thinking about this thing which I usually find very upsetting. At first, I was freaked out by this. I wondered if I was broken, if this was some fucked up trauma response. But I talked to some other trauma survivor submissives I know and they assured me that it is not uncommon to eroticize our triggers, that there’s nothing wrong with it if it genuinely feels good, and that the process can in fact be transformative.
After much careful discussion with my partner, and much assurance on their part that I absolutely could leave this fantasy in ‘fantasy land,’ I asked them to carry it out with me. We did and this opened up an entirely new, deep, and incredibly fulfilling aspect of our D/s dynamic, and our partnership. This strangely paradoxical experience taught me some important things. First, that being allowed to say no creates the conditions in which we can truly say yes. Second, that no sexual desire is inherently bad, traumatic, or degrading, what is bad, traumatic, and degrading is when things are done to us without our desire and consent. Third, that eroticizing (some of) the things that really upset and trigger me can be incredibly liberating and transformative. The entire charge of the trigger is transformed into a profound pleasure. Not only do I experience this as hot as fuck, but it is trauma magic in action. I am healing deeply by changing my relationship to my trauma, in a way that is explicitly chosen and desired by me.
I don’t want to lie naked under a waterfall. I want to be gagged and hooded and left in a closet for long periods of time dripping drool all over myself. Neither scenario is inherently wrong; it all depends on my desire and my consent. Is my desire for submission related to my trauma? In my opinion, yeah probably. Probably my desire to explore power and submission in a consensual erotic context is connected to my history of never having a choice but to experience powerlessness. The difference is that now I do have a choice, and this is what I choose. Rather than framing it as a pathological or traumatic result of being a survivor, I choose to see it as a powerful, hot, incredibly creative way to heal and transform. For me, kink is a practice of trauma magic.