“But I raised you to be a nice girl…”
This is what my mother says when erotic humiliation comes up, and considering what I do for a living it comes up exponentially more than it might for others. Of course, the terms erotic humiliation or erotic embarrassment aren’t phrases that my mom use, to her it just looks like I’m “being mean.” To most people it looks like I’m “being mean” but that’s the biggest misconception about this taboo type of play.
Embarrassment and humiliation are simply different levels of the psychological experience.
First, the official definitions, from the oh-so-deep archives on Wikipedia:
1) Embarrassment is an emotional state of intense discomfort with oneself, experienced upon having a socially unacceptable act or condition witnessed by or revealed to others.
2) Humiliation is the abasement of pride, which creates mortification or leads to a state of being humbled or reduced to lowliness or submission. It is an emotion felt by a person whose social status has just decreased.
Now here’s the crux. There is a huge difference between the consensual erotic explorations of this psychological experience and someone truly just “being mean.” In fact, when it’s abusive it goes much, much farther than simply being mean.
Consent and intent, those are the key differences.
When someone is abusive, the intent is to tear the other person down, to shame them into feeling genuinely, deeply bad about themselves. The feelings that come to mind are: oppression, negative, hateful, malicious and hurtful. Abuse comes from a need to feel bigger or stronger than the other person, to put others down is the only way to feel better about themselves. Abuse stems from insecurities and there are big red flags that you can look for, such as:
1) First and foremost, if there’s been no negotiation, no expression of desire and no consent then it is abuse.
2) If the experience feels violent and leaves you feeling negative about yourself.
3) If you negotiated this type of play within a consensual scene, but your boundaries aren’t being respected.
4) If the other person is disrespectful, rude, hurtful or outright vicious on a regular basis with no concern about how it makes you feel.
5) Memories of the experience continue to make you feel sad or upset.
A person doesn’t have to be physically hit to be abused. When one partner non-consensually verbally assaults the other, that IS abuse. If it happens once, it is still an abusive experience. If it happens more than once then it is ongoing emotional cruelty and is NOT erotic humiliation.
So now you might be asking, what is erotic humiliation? To explain all of that would take a whole separate article, but here are the nuts and bolts:
1) Erotic humiliation is similar to the army in that it seeks to tear certain things down in order to build them back up again. That “building back up” is a key component.
2) Another important aspect is that erotic humiliation is, well, erotic. The response to erotic humiliation is being turned on, sometimes in the actual moment and sometimes during the memory. The fact that it is a sexual experience rather than a non-consensual experience separates it from abuse.
3) During erotic humiliation or embarrassment, there is an inherent support or affection. Superficially it’s not likely to look like that, but it’s true. When it’s done between two consenting and understanding adults it is a form of “different loving.” Similar to a cultural ‘chiding’ between two friends, erotic humiliation takes that a step further and is overtly mocking, but is done because both people enjoy it on some level. I’ll repeat that, both people enjoy it.
Watch out for red flags and be acutely aware of how the experience makes you feel. It can be helpful to have an outside opinion to keep an open perspective, but it’s important that the person is kinky (or understands kink) so those superficial assumptions aren’t made. Be honest with yourself about the motivations of your partner and whether you’ve negotiated this kind of interaction.
So, just don’t assume that all humiliation is abusive but understand that it can be used as a structure for abuse. The most important part is how you feel after the experience. Was it sexy and embarrassing? Or was it shameful and violent?