“It’s hard to explain how pain can feel like pleasure.”

Content warning for discussion of consensual BDSM, specifically spanking and caning.

I went to a Torture Garden event in Edinburgh last weekend. For those that aren’t aware, Torture Garden is a club night with a fetish element and a strict, sexually charged dress code. I’m not really involved in the fetish “scene”, having only really explored that side of myself privately, but a group of friends were going and I decided to join them.

There’s something wonderful about the atmosphere created by a club full of people who’re into kink. Everyone is there expressing a side of themself that they don’t usually show to the wider world, and everyone there is mindful of the importance of consent. There is something incredibly freeing about being able to walk around a club in a fishnet dress, everything on display, and not feel that anyone is creeping on you. All around you are people being led around on leashes, people half naked, people cross-dressing, and when people stopped me to compliment my outfit I never felt like they were really complimenting my tits. It’s funny that an atmosphere so openly full of sex and sexuality should feel so much less frightening, so much less full of harassment, than your average, fully-clothed club night.

I am someone who has explored her share of kink behind closed doors. It has by no means been a part of every relationship I’ve been in, but my hottest sexual memories are of blood play, of being tied down and degraded, of being spanked until there are bruises. It’s not for everyone, and it’s not the kind of thing I would usually engage in on a one-night stand, but in the right situation it’s never been anything but enjoyable. There is pleasure – for me – in surrendering control, in giving into sensation for its own sake, and in pushing the boundary between pain and joy.

One of my friends was there with a guy from her work. Lining up for one of the playrooms upstairs, she asked me if I would like to be caned by him. I hadn’t really come there with the intention of getting involved, but in that atmosphere it felt right. I watched him cane another woman in front of me and I knew that I wanted to do it too.

When it was my turn, he asked me if I’d done this before and I said yes, in private. He put his hand on my face and looked me in the eyes. He said, “I’ll start slowly, with my hands. Say ‘red’ if you want me to stop. ‘Orange’ if you want to slow down. Ready?” I felt an instant trust. I felt safe. This is one of the things that a lot of people don’t understand about BDSM – when you submit you’re giving in to a fantasy of surrender, but you retain all the control. Whenever I want it to stop, it stops. And part of the fun is discovering that I can take more than I think I can.

I knelt over the table and he clipped a chain around my neck. I was so aware of my body. More aware of my body than of the fact I was in a room full of people, chained to a table, arse in the air. Aware of every sensation as he whispered in my ear for me to tell him how bad I’d been, to ask him for my punishment. I became someone else, or maybe I became a pure form of myself. I felt free, chained to that table. As I counted aloud the strokes of the cane and thanked him, I was lost in my body, lost in taking direction. Lost in the anticipation, in the sting of wood on skin.

It’s hard to explain how pain can feel like pleasure. Maybe it’s all in your head, in the context. It’s not like I enjoy stubbing my toe or burning myself making coffee at work. The pleasure comes from having the freedom to just experience the pain – to feel it as a sensation, not as a jolt of warning. Psychologically, it’s in the joy of letting go. You don’t have to make decisions, you don’t have to be strong. You’re submitting, but you’re in control of everything.

When we were finished, he lifted me off the table and set me down on my feet. He kissed my cheek and hissed in my ear. I leaned against the wall, my heart fluttering, my hands tingling, my skin stinging. I couldn’t stop smiling. I felt light and giggly.

The skin is bruised beneath my clothes now. A vivid canvas of pink and purple, vicious-looking welts and dark bruises. I can’t stop admiring them in the mirror. I get a little twinge of pleasure when I feel them as I sit down. A spark of a memory.

I love the feeling – physically and psychologically – of these bruises. I love knowing that they’re there, secretly, while I’m at work, or running to the shop. I loved every second of having these bruises put on my body, and I love looking at them now.

I suppose the point of this piece is to highlight the fact that there are many different ways to enjoy your body. There isn’t one “right” way to explore your sexuality, as long as everyone is consenting. It doesn’t make me less of a feminist to enjoy consensual submission, any more than someone would be a “better” feminist because they enjoy dominating men. Embracing my sexuality in a trusting, consensual context is a feminist act.

By an anonymous woman, aged 26

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