A friend of mine and I were talking the other day. We were discussing the word “slut”, it was a word that had been used to hurt her in the past, now it was a word she was claiming back. I was impressed by her strength and determination, while also being reminded that words can leave invisible wounds that we carry with us through daily life. The word slut had been used to intentionally hurt her, and it had succeed. The very same word that had been so hurtful to her was the same I used with affection or kinky cruelty, as the situation dictated, with partners of mine.
I have no negative association with the word “slut”, nor do any of my partners. It is a word that is used in our play, sometimes to tease but never with real malice. It is not a word that hurts them, although sometimes they might blush depending on the context.
Do you really want to hurt me.
We often play with things that hurt; floggers, whips, words… In play we help make dangerous experiences safe by letting our partners act out fantasies of helplessness or victimhood while we keep them safe. Some people find a catharsis in play, reenacting situations and reclaiming them by doing so (Even as we talk about some of the psychology of play we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that plenty of times we just do it because it is fun).
When we are swinging away with a flogger it is easy to notice where the blows land, to judge how hard the strike are. With words it is far harder to measure, but the damage can be far more severe.
If someone wields a cane carelessly it can easily split the skin and leave long lasting scars. Words can certainly do the same, so we must treat them with just as much respect and care.
Do you really want to make me cry.
There is a practice I use in my D/s dynamics to encourage certain behaviors called experiential framing. It is the method by which we provide a positive or a negative structure to an event. One particular aspect of it is the use of affirmative, encouraging terms when describing behaviors we wish our partners to repeat. There is a risk that we might assume the correct method to discourage behavior would be the reverse of this practice. We might therefor think that we should use negative terms to discourage negative behaviors.
We should pause before doing so.
I strongly advocate the use of positive reinforcement in the development of consensual D/s training while keeping negative activities safely confined to play environments. This extends to the situational use of words. If I use the word “slut” to refer to my partner during play, and only during play, then it doesn’t have any weight outside of that situation. However, if I start to use the word “slut” disparagingly outside of play then it takes on a negative connotation which extends into both the real world and the play space.
Think of play as a one way space, things that happen within that space might be safely contained within it, but things from the outside world might well leak into it. During a scene we might make someone feel scared of us, but at the end we are the one cuddling them with tea and chocolate, making them feel safe. If we scare someone in the outside world then they will almost certainly carry that fear into any scene with us.
In the same way that we do not want our partner to flinch in the day to day world when we raise our hand quickly, we do not want them to flinch when we call them a “slut” during play.
Words that burn me.
24/7 style D/s should be a positive experience for everyone involved, the intentional disparity of power matched by a disparity in the obligation of care. If we take on the responsibility of framing another persons experiences we also take the responsibility for possibly redefining their relationship with words. We need to know the impact that our words can have.
If I want my partner to always feel a negative association with a word then I would use it in our day to day interactions intentionally. I would surround it with words designed to make her feel bad about herself, her actions. If I did this I would want to be very careful about why I was doing it and what word I would want to use. It is like loading a gun and leaving it lying about for anyone to use, but even worse, many people might mistake it for nothing more than a water pistol.
Empowered words which are commonly used in the outside world can open up those invisible wounds without any intention. As such it is the responsibility of the person who first causes the wound. Every single time that person is hurt by a word you loaded with intention it is your responsibility.
Words are tokens.
Society condemns many of us for the simple fact that we enjoy sex, in a multitude of ways. There is a rich vocabulary of words developed to shame people, especially women, for their sexual natures. We can help with the reclaiming of words, the rejection of condemnation, by using kink to re-frame our relationship with these words. We also have the power to give meaning to words, to emotionally load them.
It is our responsibility to be as careful with words made to hurt as we would be with any tool we use to inflict pleasurable pain. In the same way we would ask about using certain toys in play perhaps we should consider checking about certain words? While it may well not be our responsibility that invisible wounds are there we can still show care for those we play with by checking, and do our best not to cause any new wounds.
About the Author
Will Hunt has been involved in the UK kink scene for the last 10 years; running clubs, teaching workshops, performing and generally encouraging naughty behavior wherever possible.