Photo: Jae C. Hong/ AP Photo

An inside view of a Domme putting down the crop and learning to submit

This month, A Beautiful Perspective is exploring touch in all its forms and contexts. Click here to read more stories from the TOUCH Issue.


Touch allows me to communicate where words fail. On a weekly basis, I carefully take crops, floggers, paddles and other play implements out of a bag and lay them out on the couch, running my fingers across each item, waiting to feel the pull on my fingers that indicates which will be the best choice for my submissive’s deliciously awaiting body.

I am a Domme/Top. In the BDSM/kink world, a Domme is someone who restrains and coaxes a submissive or bottom through some of their most intimate and carnal desires. Outsiders often view this relationship as cruel and imbalanced, with Dommes, well, dominating, submissives treated terribly, and touch used only to inflict pain. But that’s wrong. It’s actually the sub who’s in control, who lays out precisely what they want using a checklist and dictates what they will allow during a scene. It’s the Domme’s job to stay within those parameters.

Through classes, books, videos and lots of practice, I have learned to wield the implements of BDSM in the particular ways that my submissive seeks in kink and sensation play. BDSM stands for bondage, domination/submission, and sadism/masochism. My tastes fall on the BD(S) side of the scale with a heavy dose of sensation play, meaning I’m way more interested in tying someone up and working soft toys for pleasure than I am in doing anything to myself or to them that would draw blood or cause humiliation.  

By using everything from whips and floggers to my caressing fingers and tongue, I coax my submissive’s body through a kink scene safely. By playing in a controlled environment where the sub dictates what happens, we can rewrite traumatic moments from the past in a new way where she’s in charge, instead of them happening to her. My goal is to bring just enough pain to her body that it becomes flooded with feel-good endorphins and she hits a high known as “subspace,” a floaty, time-suspended, buzzy feeling.

For years I sought that same subspace sensation through self-harm. I would cut myself and my brain would send in the troops, that morphine-like hormone cocktail to numb my mind and body. It was those endorphins my brain was craving all along. What if in BDSM I had found a way to elicit that rush without hurting myself or doing drugs?


For about 18 months I watched previous bottoms, and now my own submissive, go through these stages and secretly wondered what it would be like to I try it myself. I felt safe in my role as Domme, where I held the paddles and decided how hard, how many times and where on her body they would bite.

The perceived loss of control seemed like a line I couldn’t cross because of the abuse and trauma I experienced as a child. Every time the thought of switching places with my sub came up, I pushed it away.

But I couldn’t deny the benefits I’d witnessed. When we first started playing together, my sub was unable to articulate her needs both in and out of a scene. She had no boundaries she was aware of. Over time, I watched as she learned about herself and become confident in speaking her needs and setting firm boundaries. She grew happier overall, more fond of her own body and proud to be in it. That, more than anything, drew me to try.

I stilled myself on the bed and concentrated on Tove Lo’s “Habits (Stay High)” playing through the speaker on the nightstand. She started with the soft flogger, running it lightly up and over my thighs and breasts. I closed my eyes and allowed myself to dip into the moment. Goosebumps covered my body, and after a few minutes, I forgot to be afraid, concentrating instead on the warming of my skin and the longing filling my stomach. I was surprised that I began actually hoping she would switch to the crop. I felt like I was being primed for something more, something bigger, and I needed it to happen soon.

“My goal is to bring just enough pain to her body that it becomes flooded with feel-good endorphins and she hits a high known as ‘subspace,’ a floaty, time-suspended, buzzy feeling.”

The first time the crop snapped my thigh, I jumped and heard a moan, which I belatedly realized had come from my own mouth. There was nothing that existed in the entire universe but what was happening to me in that moment. I was the blood rushing from my heart to my cheeks to between my legs. I was the heat coming off my chest in waves. I was the trickle of sweat beading on my forehead, sliding behind my ear and plinking to the sheets. I was the air, heavy around my mouth, which was slightly open and hoping to be crushed by her lips soon, very soon, please.

The stinging pain of the crop biting up and down my legs increased from light to moderate with the occasional pop of just outside what I felt I could take. The buildup of sensation was both not enough and too much, and then suddenly, I felt intense relief. Every cell seemed to open up and welcome a sense of peace and well-being. I never wanted her to stop. I had entered subspace.

Some time later, she changed the music to something soft and began gently stroking my arms, legs and face. I cried while she held me, feeling loved and safe, in one of the most healing moments I’ve ever experienced. Old childhood pain and trauma come out in a flood.


Adam Birkett/Unsplash

BDSM/kink is different than self-harm in that “self-harm breaks relationship contracts, puts yourself at risk for real harm from others or one’s self, and doesn’t stay within boundaries of physical and psychological safety,” says Dr. Joe Kort, a sex and relationship therapist who teaches in the University of Michigan Sexual Health Certificate Program. “When you engage in healthy ways, you talk openly and honestly at length with the person you are going to engage with in kink, fetish or BDSM play. You have a safe word, you stop when you don’t feel safe or comfortable, and the feelings are pleasurable and enjoyable and not shame-based.”

Having been a sub, I now understand how it feels when I use a paddle, then rub my hand over her thigh and wipe away the pain. I watch my sub’s face when I shower her with loving caresses between strikes and remember the relief I felt when she did the same to me. It’s like watching someone climb a mountain or run a marathon. I’m supporting my sub’s journey, loving her, telling her I know she can do it. And I know that as often as I’m ready, she’ll take me on that journey, too.

“The benefits are the same as children who have had traumatic things happen and then engage in play therapy,” says Kort. “BDSM/kink/fetish—and truthfully all sex—is ‘play therapy.’ People are working out all kinds of things through sex. As long as it is open, honest and negotiated in safe and respectful ways between two or more adults, it is a release that can be very healing and pleasurable.”

I relish the rules for play in the BDSM world, the control over what happens, to what extent and for how long. I can rewrite old hurts to make sense of them and release old trauma, victorious in the battles I choose to fight this way. Sometimes I don’t have the words for what I need, but through kink, touch speaks for me.


Want to try kink?

  1. Safety First: Use a checklist like this one to thoroughly explore what you and your partner want to do and be done to you. Create and practice your safe words!
  2. Get in the mindset: You don’t have to start with whips and paddles. Try feathers, floggers used in a stroking motion or a blindfold to get started. The risk is low you’d hurt anyone, but it gets you in the mindset of play.
  3. Try some personal exploration: Spend some time with yourself, by yourself. Get a vibrator or other toys and see what turns you on, so you can show your partner what works best for you.