Note: This entry is more explicit than my entries usually get. You have been warned. Also note: In all of the following anecdotes, I arranged a safeword in advance, and I would have used my safeword if I’d wanted my partner to stop.

* * *

BDSM is a 6-for-4 deal of an acronym: Bondage, Discipline, Dominance, Submission, Sadism and/or Masochism. These 6 activities are somewhat different from each other, though they’re intertwined, which means that individual BDSMers tend to really like some things more than others. For example, some people are masochists (who enjoy pain) but not submissives (who enjoy, well, submitting). Some people are really into discipline (with lots of punishment) but not bondage (rope, cages, etc). Some people are sadists (who enjoy inflicting sensations) but not dominants (who enjoy being in control). Some people are switches, who find that they can switch between roles — they can be dominant or submissive; sadistic or masochistic … I am an example of a definite switch.

Me, I get positively bored if someone takes a long time tying me up. For other people, 45 minutes of elaborate knotwork = really hot foreplay. I don’t understand this, but that’s cool; plenty of people don’t understand my preferences and we all coexist quite happily anyway.

So yeah, “bondage” — rope, cages, etc. — is not so much my thing. But there’s one phrase I absolutely love: “predicament bondage”. Predicament bondage is usually presented in a very elaborate way: for example, a submissive might be tied up with ropes binding him such that his arms are in pain — but if he moves his arms then his legs will be in pain. It’s a predicament! And it’s bondage! Whee! Predicament bondage!

However, it doesn’t have to be elaborate to be predicament bondage. I’m not into rope obstacle courses, but I started loving the phrase “predicament bondage” after a friend went to a workshop run by Fetish Diva Midori and reported back. He said:

Midori had two pitchers of water, or maybe a pitcher and a glass. She told us, “This is the simplest form of predicament bondage,” and she had the demo submissive hold his hands straight out at shoulder height. Then she placed the water in his hands. The submissive had to keep holding the water; if he failed, he knew he would be failing Midori. But there was never any threat of “Midori’s wrath” if he failed her. In fact, she spoke as if she was on his side, part of his team. In many ways, her sympathy for his plight made it all the more cruel, because she was the one doing it to him.

She explained this. She knew that his sense of disappointment in “failing” her was worse than anything she could actually do to him.

So, the predicament in that case was the submissive’s increasing arm agony vs. his fear of failing Midori. For me, that concept is infinitely hotter than a rope obstacle course. Although for me, in practice, I’d also want the pain to be a bit more … um … personal.

* * *

The first time someone flogged me, I had no idea what he was going to do beforehand; he and I had the strongest dominant/submissive dynamic I’ve ever felt, and I put myself in his hands with almost-total trust. A night came around when I felt that itch under my skin, the dark burn in the back of my mind … I knew I had to go see him. I wasn’t hugely experienced, but I knew exactly what that slow burn meant.

It was late. He was in bed, and I lay down next to him. “I think …” I said slowly, “I want you to hurt me. A lot.”

I felt him tense beside me.

“Why?” he asked.

I didn’t look at him. “Why do you ask me questions when you already know the answer?”

“Sometimes I just want to hear you say it,” he said, and stood up. “Take off your clothes and get on your knees.”

I caught my breath; did as he said. When I felt the ends of the flogger trail lightly down my back, I wasn’t even sure what the soft sensation meant, but I was already trembling anyway. I am surprised by my memory of how much it hurt when he hit me. These days, I don’t think of floggers as especially painful, but then again, I seem to recall that he left more marks than I’m used to. (I loved taking off my shirt and examining the bruises in the mirror. I glowed for days, afterwards.) So maybe there was something particular about what he did, or about his materials. Or maybe it’s just that it was my first time.

He created the predicament when I started to cry and flinch around. It was very simple. He leaned over me. “For the next three, keep your face down and your hands still,” he said. “Promise me.”

“I can’t,” I said. “I can’t promise.” I said it frantically. I was terrified of failing him. “I can’t.”

“You have to,” he said gently. “So you will.”

I cried harder. I sobbed so hard I couldn’t speak. He stayed where he was, leaning over me, and kept a merciless silence. “I promise,” I finally said, when I could shape words. My back was to him, I couldn’t see his face, but I swear I felt him smile.

When he hit me again, I barely moved. After the count of three, he said he wanted to see how much longer I could go, but the answer was that I couldn’t — I started to flinch strongly again. Of course, he kept hitting me, if only for that. But at least I hadn’t broken my promise. Hadn’t failed him.

* * *

I’ve heard about a game in which the submissive partner stands next to a wall, and holds two coins against the wall — one in each hand. The dominant then does, you know, some stuff. On the submissive’s part, dropping the coins spells failure. This sounds pretty hot, and it’s one way to make a concrete predicament. But during the above encounter — my first time being flogged — I assure you that it was plenty hot enough without any coins. With only my promise and my awareness to keep me in line.

Sometimes I can’t obey the order, no matter how hard I try. My partner may order me not to move, for example, when I can’t help moving. If I were in the above scenario, with the coins, I’m not confident that I wouldn’t drop them. It’s scary — especially if I love him, because then all the emotions are multiplied. But even if I’m not in love — as long as he’s got me in the right mental space, then if I fail, I will say “I’m sorry” over and over. I’ll be terrified of his anger; I’ll feel like I deserve punishment, and if he doesn’t keep hurting me I’ll feel abandoned.

The more I fail, the more it hurts — more than physical pain ever could. Slamming up against my own limits makes me feel terribly inadequate. It’s hot, but it’s dangerous; it can rip me apart. At times like that, I often need my partner to tell me after we’re done: “I still like you and think you’re a good person.”

And sometimes I need to hear that especially if I safeword out of the encounter, because sometimes — not always, but sometimes — calling my safeword can feel like the worst failure of all.

* * *

When I trace some of the weirdest and most random situations that get me hot, I see that predicaments come up all the time. For example, I have a terrible tendency to try and make out with a partner right before we’re expected to be somewhere. I might be totally cold 30 minutes before we have to leave, but 10 minutes before we have to leave, ding! It’s like a switch flips. We’ve got to leave, but I grab him and now he’s turned on, oh no! And now we’re late! Whee!

One of my exes pointed out my tendency to make out with him while his car was stopped at traffic lights that were about to turn green. “I know!” I said. “I don’t really get why I do that, myself.” He responded, “Predicament bondage!”

* * *

Sometimes, when the pain is getting intense, I’ll play a little game with my partners. (Kind of a game, except it’s also serious, or it feels serious at the time; usually, when I start playing this game, I am not even close to coherent enough to ponder tactics; I’m running on instinct.) I think of this game as the “aren’t you scared of the neighbors” game. In the “aren’t you scared of the neighbors” game, I start making noise loud enough that I might catch outsiders’ attention. Part of me is hoping that my partner is worried about the neighbors; that he’ll relent, that I can use my tiny advantage to convince him to pull back. That I can play for a moment of relief, a smidgen of mercy. (The lovely and talented Miss Calico has written about something similar.)

Of course, if I’m lucky, my partners will then just order me to be quiet while they hurt me. Which creates a predicament! Because being quiet is actually not at all easy, and it gets more difficult the more it hurts.

And then there’s the distraction game. I don’t always do BDSM with partners I’m sexually attracted to; even with partners I’m sexually attracted to, I don’t always feel sexual during our BDSM encounters. But when I feel very attracted during a BDSM encounter, oh, man. That’s when I play the distraction game, which involves attempting to distract him by turning him on. Again, I’m not really coherent enough to be planning strategy at times like this; I’m more going on instinct; instinctively, it’s like I’m trying to bargain. Maybe if I can turn him on, he’ll have sex with me instead of hurting me ….

If I’m lucky, he’ll recognize what I’m doing; he’ll be pleased, amused even, but he won’t stop. One recent partner had me handcuffed to a car seat while he was hurting me. (Doing this in his car was not my idea, but at least we weren’t moving. Nor were we paused at a traffic light.) I couldn’t move too much, so I started licking his hand when he reached for me. Kissing his palm, his fingers — he groaned, and then he laughed.

“You are a switch,” he said, “trying to control me even now.” And he didn’t stop.

* * *

“No,” I breathed, a few months ago, during an encounter with someone who’s really good at this. “You don’t get to say no,” he replied, so I bit back the word. Had to fight against my own desperate instinct to say it, over and over.

Later, he murmured, “It’s so cute how you act like you don’t want this,” as he leaned in to inflict dark bruises on my shoulder. His words almost brought me to tears. But I don’t want it. Do I? How can I want something that hurts like this? But I’m not stopping him — did I really ask for this — I must want it – Forcing me to face up to my own consent: a predicament?

I fought back when he hurt me, instinctively pushing him away. “Don’t push me away,” he instructed. “Put your arms around me,” and I did. But we moved around, and moved again, so I had my arms back — and again, I couldn’t seem to control my instinctive struggling.

And so he stopped for a moment, held my arms in place, and laid down the law. He knows I very much prefer some kinds of pain over other kinds of pain, so he told me this: “If you want the kind of pain you like, you have to let me in close.” Layer upon layer: he’s not just forcing me to take the pain; he’s making me complicit. I think there were also practical considerations, in that it was actually difficult for him to control how he hurt me when I struggled a lot, but, still …. It was so hot it made me gasp.

I’m not sure, but I suspect that a few years ago, I might not have been able to handle that level of complicitness: forcing me to acknowledge what I like. Back then, I was too appalled by my own desires. Now, this level of complicitness adds another level of pain — emotional pain; mild pain that I can cope with — which is awesome. But although feeling complicit is a new tactic, it’s part of an old game. It’s merely another kind of predicament.

Fundamentally, what’s hot about predicament bondage isn’t the mechanics of what my partner says or does. It’s not about the scenario or the equipment or the exact words. It’s knowing that he won’t stop hurting me, no matter how I fight or beg or scream. It’s feeling that every moment, every action reinforces how much I’m in his power.

It’s knowing there’s no way out.

* * *

This piece is included in my awesome collection, The S&M Feminist: Best Of Clarisse Thorn. You can buy The S&M Feminist for Amazon Kindle here or other ebook formats here or in paperback here.

* * *