“Bend over, girl, you’ve got this coming to you!” It’s one of the most common fantasies and stereotypes of any BDSM: someone’s been naughty, so someone is going to be punished. In fetish porn this is the rosy cheeks of a freshly spanked ass, or the glum face of a man put in the corner to await the displeasure of his mistress. Entire fetishes and genres of erotica have been created around various kinds of punishment such as spanking, caning, even mouth-soaping or the dreaded “sour dummy.”
In the day-to-day dealings of a power-exchange relationship, however, it isn’t quite that simple. The idea of punishment gets mixed up with the fetishes and fantasies. For example: a slave is naughty, and so her mistress needs to punish her. She could spank her, but what if (like many people) spanking actually turns the slave on? If it doesn’t turn the slave on, if it turns the Mistress on then the slave gets the pleasure of pleasing her owner. Also, aside from the original transgression, the slave is now taking up the Mistress’ time – yet another thing that she may need to be punished for.
The truth is that some people actually enjoy making it just that complicated, and delight in playing the “brat” and earning punishments as much as their dominant loves dishing them out. These “funishments” can be foreplay to hot sex or just some of the shared intimacy shared while doing something you love. The predicament of being given an impossible task and then punished severely for not accomplishing it can be an amazing turn-on, especially for kinksters with a penchant for humiliation or degradation.
The true purpose of punishment, however, is to modify behavior – as a method to either discourage one habit or encourage another. Using some activity that a submissive enjoys to “chastise” him is not going to make them stop any more than giving a puppy a treat every time he wets the floor is going to house-train him. Likewise, if the punishment is something that the master enjoys inflicting, the submissive is more likely to reproduce the behavior simply to get that positive reaction – even at the cost of their own comfort.
Every relationship is different, and what works for one might not work for another. For example, one dominant puts it this way: “The first time you do something wrong, it’s my fault; I wasn’t clear enough in my instructions. The second time it’s also my fault; I didn’t check to make sure you understood thoroughly. But the third time…the third time it’s your fault, and a punishment is called for.” However, there are a few principles that have proven effective in making punishment actually modify behavior:
1. The punishment is CLEAR. Make sure that the expectations are communicated to the submissive, and that they are aware of the consequences of not meeting them.
2. The punishment is CONSISTENT. The reinforcement of the rules must be constant. The moment a dominant lets things “slide” is the moment the submissive realizes that it’s not really that important a rule. This applies to escalating punishments as well; if the dominant used a hand the first time and promised a paddle the next time, they have to actually pull it out and use it or their word becomes just a hollow threat.
3. The punishment is UNPLEASANT. This is one that a lot of new-to-kink dominants forget: it needs to be unpleasant for both the top and the bottom. Aside from keeping the “funishments” for fun, this has the added sting of the submissive knowing they are causing their dominant discomfort by their transgression. Often this is more motivating than the physical punishment itself.
4. The punishment is ATONEMENT. In some ways, punishments are transactions; they are the price a submissive pays for whatever it is they did or did not do. Like a transaction, once the price is paid, they own it completely – continuing to hold that transgression against them cheapens the punishment and turns it into simple cruelty. There’s nothing wrong with a little cruelty in BDSM play, of course – but that’s not part of punishment.
There are many other rules and principles that people choose to go by, such as punishing immediately after a wrong, or making the punishment fit the crime. Some dominants choose never to punish someone when they’re angry. It’s important to know both your own preferences and motivations as well as your partner’s, and negotiate what are acceptable and effective punishments between the two of you.
Whatever form the punishment takes, it’s important to take the time when the punishment is over to re-connect and re-establish the bond that brought you together in the first place. A punishment should never take the place of working through actual relationship issues; instead, it can be used to constructively reinforce and build the structure of protocols and behaviors that make power exchange relationships work beautifully.
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