I hope you have been enjoying Rika’s Lair, my monthly column dedicated to thoughts and experiences regarding power dynamics in Service-Oriented D/s relationships. Look up “Ms. Rika” in the search box for links to all my articles in KinkWeekly!
In previous articles, and within my books, I have alluded to this concept. I thought that this week, I’d focus in on it to highlight a very common misconception: That to make a punishment be effective for changing behavior in a D/s dynamic, it needs to be unpleasant enough for the submissive to encourage them to avoid the infraction. (Note: I am discussing actual punishment, not “Funishment” – scene time play in the form of punishments).
On the surface, this makes sense: If the person being punished hates the punishment, they will never want to experience it again – and will adjust their behavior to avoid it. If they fear the punishment, they won’t commit the infraction and the dominant will be happier, because they will not have to deal with the infraction again. You’ll often hear dominants talking about the severity of the punishment “matching the infraction”, and you will also hear that punishment needs to be swift and fitting.
All of this makes sense – until you consider the source of pleasure for a submissive. What thrills a submissive? What makes a submissive feel all subby inside? What washes a sub’s brain with Oxytocin and makes them feel so good about being a submissive?
In my discussions with submissives regarding things that “excite them most”, there is a common joy found in acknowledging (or having to acknowledge) their position in the relationship relative to their dominant. They LOVE to recognize that they are at the dominant’s beck and call – and at their whim.
They want to be helpless and dependent on the dominant. They want to feel the dominant’s authority. This was the root cause of excitement identified with of many fantasies, including: Bondage / suspension, Blackmail, Contracts, Humiliation, Chastity, Losing bets, etc. The idea that the submissive “has no choice but to comply” is ultra-alluring. It triggers sensations of fulfillment in people who are submissive.
So, let’s consider punishment. Who is allowed to punish someone? It must be someone with the authority to do so. Parents, teachers, wardens, governments – all with accepted authority to enforce rules. If you are being punished, you accept that punishment because you acknowledge and cede to the authority of the body punishing you — or you’d never allow it to happen.
Now, conflate the ideas: People only allow themselves to be punished by those with the recognized authority to do so – and submissives are excited by recognizing, or having to recognize, their relative position in the power dynamic and the authority of the dominant over them.
Therefore, I offer that this no way to punish a submissive without also rewarding them!
Furthermore, the more distasteful the punishment to the submissive, the greater the reward. Why? Because the more the submissive despises the punishment, the more they must recognize that they have agreed to allow themselves to be punished. The power imbalance created by their power dynamic is highlighted and elevated. They are “forced” to recognize that the dominant has the AUTHORITY to punish them – even with things that they hate. This fact EXCITES the submissive on some level – and their brain REWARDS them by filling them with all sorts of yummy subby pleasure chemicals. They feel more helpless; more “owned”.
The more difficult / distasteful / severe the punishment is, the more this reward-effect is realized.
The obvious irony is that the purpose of punishment is to modify behavior (or create a catharsis for guilt relief…there are many theories of why punishment is used – not to be discussed here), but the punishment, in and of itself, runs the risk of REWARDING the submissive for their bad behavior.
If you doubt this, look at the number of submissives who advertise exactly how they are willing to be punished for failing to serve properly. Or look at the number of submissives who deliberately act up whenever they feel they aren’t getting the attention they desire – or are checking the resolve of the dominant to force them to submit. Consider brats and how that behavior is often motivated by a desire to have the dominant exert their will and overcome their resistance.
A dominant who is trying to design punishments that will be severe enough to have the desired impact, is going to be sadly surprised to find that the behavior, although resolved in the short-term, will reappear again – usually if no punishment has been delivered in a while. They will be constantly escalating to attempt to stay above the submissive’s tolerance – only to find that backfire into more and more severe punishments…and a bunch of frustration!
What I Do In Lieu of Punishment
I published this in the article, “Why I don’t punish”. I recognized this “paradox” (it’s not really a paradox, as it really makes so much sense) a long time ago and vowed that punishment is simply not going to work with submissives. I concluded that the only way to really change behavior is to insist that the submissive provide the self-discipline to correct their behavior based on my explanation of my preferences and feedback on how what they’re doing is making me feel.
I recognize that a sub’s actions can sometimes be due to something that I do, or don’t do. I am not perfect (gasp, I know!)…so, I encourage my submissives to talk about what they need, before they’re acting up or acting out. Maybe I’m not demonstrating my position clearly. Maybe I’ve been a little lax or neglectful. It could happen. Maybe my sub is feeling a little alone in the dynamic and feels the need to check in, to make sure I still value their submission. That’s on me. How they go about resolving that and bringing it to my attention, however, is on them. I am approachable and will listen. If they are acting up, they are not taking advantage of my openness…and they need to talk to me.
If a submissive cannot correct their behavior – even after my insistence, explanation, and openness to listen, then THEY are putting the dynamic in jeopardy. I’m not saying that the only punishment is to dissolve the power dynamic – but I am saying that, if open communications of why something is displeasing to me, what I want them to do better (and why), and insistence that they correct the issue, doesn’t result in long-termed change, I’m not interested in wasting both of our time continuing the dynamic. Dissolving the dynamic isn’t a punishment, it’s a consequence brought about by their inability to change. It takes a lot to get to that point – but that’s where it’s going, if things don’t change.
Dominants: Consider avoiding punishment and favor open discussion and instance for change – explore to find root-causes for misbehavior and remain open to the possibility that it’s something you can control. Explain what you want and why you want it – and insist on it. Recognize that any punishment will be a reward at some level – and will likely work against the change you’re trying to achieve.
Submissives: Recognize that the responsibility for living up to your commitment to submit is yours. If you find yourself attempting to motivate your dominant to discipline you, introspect as to why and discuss it openly with your dominant.
Hopefully, this will give you cause to think – and maybe even change your opinion on discipline within your D/s dynamics. Happy power!
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”. Write to me at Ms_Rika@hotmail.com