Welcome back to Rika’s Lair – a monthly column discussing a practical, no-nonsense approach to adding D/s dynamics to your relationships! I hope you’ve been enjoying “The Lair” as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. It’s my opportunity to share some thoughts and hopefully stimulate some new ideas! For my first-time readers, I hope you take some time to go back and read my earlier entries, accessible from the links that follow or by clicking on my name in the by-line above.
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This month, I was originally going to cover “Being the best submissive you can be”, but over the holidays, I had several conversations regarding the use of punishment in power dynamics and I decided to use this month’s article to share some of those views and get your take on the topic. We’ll come back to being the best submissive you can be in the future, but for now, let’s talk about the use of punishment in D/s dynamics – and in particular, why I choose to avoid it.
I want to start by differentiating Punishment from “Funishment”. Whereas punishment is the infliction or imposition of a penalty as retribution, rehabilitation, and/or future deterrence for an offense, “Funishment” is a colloquial term describing the act of punishment as a “kinky fun” activity. In funishment, the act of punishment is regarded as a form of play, and even though the punishments can be quite harsh and painful, they are done as part of a power-based scene, and may not be related to an actual “offense”. In fact, often times in funishment dynamics, submissives are expected to act up to be punished, or are put in “no-win” situations, where punishment is an inevitable outcome.
To be clear, this article is about Punishment, NOT Funishment. Specifically, the use of punishment by a dominant as a means to effect change in the sub’s behavior.
For some folks, punishment is a mandatory aspect of power dynamics. For others, it’s a necessary evil. For others still, it’s not a requirement at all. I fall in the last camp: I do not believe that punishment (or rewards, for that matter) are necessary to maintain healthy, vibrant D/s dynamics. I have found other ways to effect change and to assure that my dynamics align with my preferences as a dominant. I’m not passing judgement on those that choose to punish. I personally don’t punish because I don’t like to, and would rather not, do so. I’m not implying that punishment is wrong or a less-developed form of adjustment, I’m stating that it is not my preference, and therefore, since I’m the dominant, cannot be part of my power dynamics.
There is no question that punishment is an effective, quick, method of motivating behavior change. Link a non-desirable consequence to the offense and the subject will avoid recurrence out of fear of the consequence. It works. It works on all forms of life. We train animals using it. We train our children using it as well.
I see a couple of problems with punishment in a D/s context, however. Most obviously, if the dominant doesn’t enjoy punishing their sub, then having to do so forces them into actions that they don’t feel serve them. It obligates them, which, as we discussed last month, undermines the dominant’s authority. Secondly, it makes the dominant’s life more complicated by having to choose a punishment that fits the crime, will be understood to correct the behavior, is enacted in a timely manner, and will be undesirable enough that the submissive won’t actually WANT the punishment as a means to bolster their feeling of submission.
This last point is far more complicated than you may think. There are people who say that you need to pick a punishment that the sub hates, so that they are not tempted to misbehave in order to get it. This is true in most normal situations; however, it’s very different in consensual power dynamics. I have found that anything that the sub accepts – that in normal life they would not accept – because they are the submissive in a dynamic, is going to appeal to the submissive and fortify the fantasy. It’s going to make the dominant appear more powerful in the sub’s eyes and play to the “do me when I’m helpless” mindset. Even if the sub hates the activity of the punishment, they will love the fact that they are obligated by the power dynamic to accept it. Remember, these are consensual roles; subs have free will to leave the dynamic at any time. By choosing to stay in it, even while being punished in a way they hate, they are acknowledging and reinforcing their lack of power and position. Consequently, the more difficult the punishment they are “forced” to endure and the less they enjoy the punishment, the more realistic the power feels and the more submissive the sub feels. The result is, punishment, in D/s dynamics, rewards disobedience! This is why “Funishment” is enjoyable: It builds the feeling of submission and dominance by re-affirming consensual submission. As a means of effecting actual behavioral change, however, rewarding disobedience is a risky approach.
It’s interesting to note why punishment (and reward) does work for animals and children. Animals innately learn from experience. They understand “cause and effect”, but are incapable of understanding the nuances of commitment, integrity, dedication, and submission. Children have not yet developed the maturity to handle these cerebral concepts and therefore, cannot be reasoned with in this way. For animals and children, you have little alternative to cause and effect when encouraging behavioral adjustments. With adult submissives, however, you do have alternatives. Adult submissives can provide SELF discipline and introspection. They can reason and adjust without the “game” of cause and effect.
Submissives aren’t perfect. They make mistakes, they get things wrong. They need adjustment. In my previous article, we talked about CERAF (Communication, Expectation, Recognition, Assessment, and Feedback). Those last two steps (Assessment and Feedback) are all about giving the submissive enough information to enable them to make the adjustments necessary to up their game and deliver better service.
Punishment can enable adjustment quickly, but I find it not to be as effective as assessment and feedback in the long run. For long-termed dynamics, I find punishment inefficient and sub-optimal.
Here’s what I do instead: When one of my subs does something that isn’t serving me to my liking, I set out to determine his intent. If his intent was to disobey my directives and ignore my authority, then we have to talk – and talk fast. I’m going to spend the time to dive in. I want to understand the reason for him failing to live up to his commitment. I won’t allow him to continue to submit to me if he’s going to act this way – so for both of our sake, I want to understand the root cause and squash it before it gets to the level where I have to take action. Punishment might work, but addressing the root cause is more permanent, less “artificial”, and broader in scope than the one particular infraction. Addressing the root cause not only corrects the infraction, but it will correct any future infractions that are related.
If the root cause is that he just wants punishment, wants to control the dynamic, or wants a sub- centered focus, we have to consider whether we want the dynamic to continue or not. I won’t waste my time with a sub who won’t submit. However, it’s also possible that he might be feeling neglected, or not be getting feedback that I’m involved and active in our dynamic. He might be acting up unintentionally, because he’s feeling alone. If I know what he’s feeling I may be able to adjust my
communications to assure him that I am involved and active – and that he’s not alone in his head with the D/s dynamic.
I also consider that, if his intent was to serve, but he just failed to deliver (forgot, got sloppy, was human OMG), then what good is punishment, anyway? It will only stress him to have to worry that if he is human again, he’s going to punished. I would rather try to help him avoid the problem in the future. If he’s forgetful, I will help him to work on ways to improve his memory – mnemonics, routines, practice. If he’s failing at something that requires skills he doesn’t possess, then I’ll help him get training, make room for practice time, and provide opportunities for repetition. I prefer a positive approach aimed at helping him to help himself deliver the best level of service of which he is capable – by improving his ability to deliver, rather than playing on his fears and avoidance of punishment.
Lastly, I’ve found that people tend to do the minimum required to avoid punishment. Avoiding punishment becomes the measure of “good enough” – Good enough is not what I’m looking for from my submissives. Contrast this with pride in good service, which tends to make people go beyond ‘good enough’ and impact far more than is being asked. Personally, I want to actively help my sub to take pride in his abilities as a submissive. I want submission to be an enjoyable activity that he strives to be great at – rather than something he stresses over because he fears the consequences of not performing adequately.
THEN I can beat his ass…just for fun 😊
Would love to hear your opinion!
Ms. Rika is a lifestyle dominant, educator, and author; living in the suburbs of NYC with her husband/slave. She has written several popular books on her approach to adding Dominant-Centric, Service-Oriented D/s to relationships. You can find her books (in both print and eBook formats) at Lulu.com (http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/msrika), or at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the iStore, Books-A- Million, Kobo.com, or anywhere books are sold. Search for “Ms. Rika”.