Kink and Trauma

16 Oct

WARNING:  this post discusses sexual abuse and past trauma and could be triggering.

A couple of people asked me yesterday what i meant about the interaction of kink and past trauma {at least i think that’s how i phrased it, and think that’s what they wanted to know.}

i’m on the run this morning, but i want to touch on that ~ i think there are a zillion misconceptions about past trauma, and i don’t want to feed into those.

Lots of people have a history of sexual abuse or assault ~ about one in three women, one in six men.  

i don’t think fewer members of the BDSM community have experienced  past abuse, or that more of us have.  It’s still a lot.  When we add in people who were physically abused, but not sexually, it’s even more.

i don’t think that means we’re “damaged,” don’t think that’s why we’re kinky.  i don’t think TTWD are a substitute for therapy, or that we need to set out to heal other people through play.

But i believe that BDSM has some dynamics that can help people heal from past trauma.  i’ve read it in other people’s blogs, and i’ve experienced it myself.   

And i’m a therapist ~ i know a lot about trauma work.  i’ve done my own work, so i know about it from the inside.  And i walk with folks on that healing journey.   i help guide them through the work it requires.  i have a bunch of training in different techniques, and a bunch of theories and ideas about how it works.

For example, i know we learn rules about how the world works.  We are always trying to make sense of the things that happen to us, and find ways to stay safe.  When we get abused, we learn rules, and create explanations to answer the question, “Why did this bad thing happen to me?”

The answers we develop to that question become deeply ingrained ~ often so deeply embedded that we’re not fully aware of what we believe.  Therapy can help those beliefs surface so we can look at them, evaluate them, and decide whether or not they’re valid.

This can be a long, slow process.

i believe some experiences in BDSM serve as “transformative experiences.”  Some experiences shift beliefs through he power of the experience.

Here is a simple example, and a common one.  People who have been abused have frequently learned not to talk about what they’re feeling.  In fact, we may learn not to feel.

When we’re in the middle of a trauma ~ any kind of trauma, whether it’s sexual abuse or a tornado ~ we often shut down our feelings to focus on surviving, just getting through what’s happening and staying alive.  

After a tornado, for example, we usually reclaim those feelings.  We tell the story, talk about what it was like, get support, and process the feelings.

With sexual abuse, that rarely happens.  Typically, we hold that secret a long time, or we tell and don’t get a supportive response, or we still end up being told that we need to get over it, often long before we’re able to heal.  

Abusive families don’t talk about feelings ~ in fact, the rule is often “Don’t feel your feelings.”   It is often not safe to feel your feelings.  That can create an atmosphere of  shame about feelings.

BDSM, on the other hand, does what?  It encourages us to feel our feelings ~ all over the place.  We talk about what submission feels like, what it’s like when the single tail whip descends on us, what it’s like to feel humiliated, objectified, used, and so on.  Dominants may talk about the feelings of control, and for sure, dominants have to deal with their own feelings about hitting someone.

We share those feelings with our Masters, with our peers, and sometimes we blog them and share them with the universe.   The act of sharing the feelings can be a transformative experience.  In itself, it can begin to heal old wounds.

Let me be clear.   i believe we are all damaged, scarred by life, in one way or another.  i do not believe that having experienced sexual abuse damages us in a way that is “worse”  than ~ for example ~ having lived a life of such privilege that you can’t imagine what it is to be abused.  

All the things we experience bring us where we are.  We are all on our own healing journey.

When the injury is sexual assault or abuse, the journey is rich in opportunities for growth and discovering joy.  i believe it is like Khalil Gibran says ~ i’ve quoted this before here, and i’ll say it again:

“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being,the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

 So there are things i know about past trauma and healing.  And so much more i want to know. And when i know more of the things i want to understand , then i want to teach about the connection.

i want to create a way of doing TTWD that is “trauma informed kink.”  i think many people “get it” instinctively, but i want to make the understanding more explicit.  i want people to know how healing from trauma works so they can see how it applies to them, if it applies, and how they want it to apply.

This was supposed to be a short post – ha.  Once i get started on this, i can go on all day.  And this just barely skims the surface… but i hope it gives you an idea of where i’m coming from, and where i’m headed.

14 Responses to “Kink and Trauma”

  1. Master Charles October 16, 2012 at 11:41 am #

    Excellent post!

    • aisha October 17, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

      Thank you, Master Charles! I’m glad you liked it!

  2. Ally October 16, 2012 at 11:56 am #

    I find this all so interesting… glad you wrote this post and look forward to more on it.

    • aisha October 17, 2012 at 12:14 pm #

      Thanks, Ally. i’m glad it was interesting to you. For sure, there will be more!!

  3. faerie October 16, 2012 at 12:24 pm #

    Wonderful and inciteful post aisha. I always enjoy reading your take on this subject 🙂

    • aisha October 17, 2012 at 12:15 pm #

      Hi, Faerie,

      Thank you so much ~ i always appreciate how much i learn from reading you!

  4. SirQsMLB October 16, 2012 at 2:55 pm #

    aisha – I tried to reply but it seemed to disappear. The statistics for abuse are staggering and appalling. In my small high school, those statistics held true, even at that young age. I have often wondered if the statistic was higher in the world of kink. I do not believe kink to be a replacement for talk therapy. I have, however, personally experienced kink helping me to re-wire pathways and triggers. I think one of the things that kink does – as you say – is not just request, but REQUIRE communication. I think that with a loving, trusting, caring partner to walk on this circuitous path that we call life, our baggage can be streamlined to worn easier. Thanks for sharing. I would love to learn more about your philosophies and processes at one of your classes if you ever decide to have them. Do please share 🙂

    • aisha October 17, 2012 at 12:21 pm #

      Hi, SirQsmlb,

      Thank you for the thoughtful reply – i’m sorry if my blog was giving you a hard time trying to comment! 🙂

      I sure agree, it would be fascinating to know if there’s a higher percentage of kinky folks with past trauma or not, but i’m still betting not. For sure, not everyone with a trauma history is kinky!

      What you’re saying – about it rewiring pathways – is really on target, I think. And i love the phrase “our baggage can be streamlined to worn easier.” i think that’s exactly right.

      i’m not sure exactly where i’m going with all this just yet, but i promise you’ll be invited!



  5. Wordwytch October 16, 2012 at 6:43 pm #

    I’m nodding my head while reading your post. Wolf and I were talking about this last night in fact. His example was spanking. It may hurt, scare, threaten us on many levels. However, when it stops, there is catharsis. There is holding and loving and care given. Therefore the lizard brain learns that it can survive X, and/or that good things can come of it. Even more so, we learn to cope in a safe environment.

    We have also talked on numerous occasions that BDSM, TTWD does help us work thought things as it part of being a Dom to help the sub work through issues. Just like when your Sir or Wolf helps us with our self confidence issues.

    • aisha October 17, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

      Hi, Wordwytch,

      You’re right, spanking is a good example, and it happening in a safe environment is certainly a key element. i think there’s something valuable in the exchange of power too, which means the submissive or slave has control before they agree to hand it over. It is all frigging fascinating, in my opinion!



      • Wordwytch October 18, 2012 at 12:04 am #

        Agreed. And it is all about the exchange of power on so many different levels.

  6. Lady P October 24, 2012 at 8:05 am #

    Dear Aisha
    Coming back to your blog after a 10 day pause, I find all kinds of interesting posts…
    This post is exactly why I hereby forbid you to stop blogging! *grinning*
    You have such insight in both kink and psychology, which makes you the best communicator/teacher on these issues.
    As always I feel a little more knowledgeable reading your posts!
    I recommend your blog to all, coming into the world of BDSm and will come halfway across the world, if you ever decide to hold classes.

    In awe
    Lady P

  7. Lady P October 24, 2012 at 8:10 am #

    And more:
    Referring to your discussion with SirQsmlb; There is some research about the relation between childhood trauma and kink. In a Finnish study 288 persons, actively engaged in BDSm, where given questionaires about past experiences with sexual abuse. 23% of the women, and 8% of men, reported having experienced sexual abuse. Which means that 77% of the women and 92% of the men did not report sexual trauma as children. For details find: “The prevalence and effects of self-reported childhood sexual abuse among sado-masochistically oriented males and females” (Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 2000, 9, p. 53-63)

    • aisha October 26, 2012 at 4:40 pm #

      Dear Lady P,

      Thank you so much for the kind words on my insight. I will not quit blogging 🙂

      Also, huge thanks for the information! Sounds like solid research and i’m not surprised.

      Be aware that I will DEFINITELY be doing classes one of these days – and looking forward to meeting you!



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