We spent most of our time with his friends in the fetish scene, and argued over who would pack the collars and cuffs when we travelled. On one trip through airport security, the TSA agent's eyes widened as he parsed out the tangle of metal implements in my bag, and I stared at my feet, blushing. "It's okay to be kinky," I thought fiercely. "They shouldn't judge us for having unusual sexual preferences." Every trip to the hardware store involved meaningful glances next to the rolling shelves of metal chain, and every time I accidentally tangled my fingers in his hair, he arched his back and moaned prettily. I was living in a parody of a music video.

The more I played the role of his perfect, domineering goddess, the less I enjoyed it. I knew exactly how to bring him to his knees (usually just by saying, "Get on your knees!"), and as he cowered in front of me and begged me not to make him crawl across the bedroom floor, I found myself first making lists of all the things I wished I was doing instead and then getting angry. In the seventh year of our marriage, I started to beat him with anger, so much that I scared myself. If there's one thing the BDSM books say you shouldn't do, it's hit someone you're mad at: you could really hurt them. Floggers are not toys — well, they are, but they're also dangerous. So when I found myself gritting my teeth and hitting harder as he writhed on the ground, completely unaware of how close I was to bursting into tears, I knew something had to give.

The more I played the role of his perfect, domineering goddess, the less I enjoyed it.

Over the years, I'd tried to talk to him about how I felt; he just told me that if I really loved him, I would learn to love these beatings and crawlings as much as he did. Today, I know enough to be wary of any phrase that starts "If you really loved me, you'd..." But then I just tried harder and harder, failing to feel anything but alienated. In couples counselling, we danced around the issue, not wanting to say too much for fear of scaring our therapist. She eventually told us, "I've never met people who liked to talk about abstract concepts so much!" I didn't know how to put into words that I felt like I was losing myself. The only part of me left was the part that did what he wanted. Whenever I saw those supposedly titillating commercials with the woman in the black PVC corset resting her thigh-high stilettos on a shirtless Abercrombie model's back, I flinched.

In the eighth year, I finally left.

You can't name a fetish I haven't tried, many of them before I was twenty-five. Piercing, candle wax, electrocution, Museum of Sex exhibits in alphabetical order: I've inflicted them all. But just because I did them once doesn't mean I can do them now... a particular tone of voice, or arch of back, and I'm right back in that dungeon with the candles flickering behind me.

Of course I know it's possible to have an authentic experience with role-playing and sexual games. That not every trip to the dungeon has to end with me crying, raising blood with the edge of a whip. But every time I pick up a flogger, I shiver, and not with anticipation.

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