Humiliation and Degradation: an introduction
Why are we so turned on when we call someone our slut, our bitch, our pet, our pig? Why does it turn us on to be called these names? Why do we seek out humiliating experiences in our sexual exchanges? Like with all aspects of sexuality, there is no single answer that is true for everyone, but here are a few basics about humiliation in an erotic context.
Something to keep in mind is that each person is very different, and limits must be negotiated before playing. What one person may find exciting, another won’t enjoy at all. There is no single activity that you can do that will suit every partner and nearly any activity can be humiliating depending on the context.
Humiliation vs. Degradation
Humiliation is something that causes embarrassment through verbal or physical means. This can range from the tame, such as wearing an item of clothing that draws attention of those around you, to the more extreme, such as shaving off all body hair, eyebrows included. Generally speaking, one needs an audience in order to feel humiliated: if you are dressed in a way that may cause embarrassment but nobody is there to see you (and to make fun of you), the effect won’t be the same.
Humiliation and degradation are very based in psychology. If my sub doesn’t find wearing a diaper shameful at its’ core, I’m going to become very frustrated if I slap one on him hoping to embarrass him. Cultural context is also important. Being an expatriate, I have learned that there are differences in what (many) French subs find off-putting versus what (many) American subs find humbling.
Some common humiliating activities include SPH (small penis humiliation), boot-licking (which in this context is different than fetishism), eating out of a dog dish, toilet play, or mocking someone while they masturbate, but the list is truly endless. The key is finding something that the submissive feels is humiliating. It could be so simple as making them buy condoms, lube and a cucumber at the grocery store. Each person has things that make them shudder, the fun is finding that soft spot and playing with it.
I love going out to eat with my submissives, who are mostly male-identifying, and making them wear lipstick. I will often choose what they will eat and order for them, and make sly remarks to the server throughout the meal (taking into consideration that other people are not necessarily willing participants). I’ll drop my napkin on the ground several times, making him pick it up (all the better if he has to get up from his seat to do so).
I will pay the bill, saying something like “I don’t let him control the money, he’s completely irresponsible with it.” My partner and I know what’s going on, but I’m not going to violate the limits of someone who isn’t in on our game.
For me, there is a certain playfulness in humiliation, where as with degradation, the stakes are higher. Humiliation tends to be more general and less personal, based on common fears while degradation is more personal.
In the context of BDSM, degradation can be defined as the wearing down of a persons self-esteem to a point where they feel totally exposed and defenseless.
An example of degradation play would be when I’m at the aforementioned meal with a sub and he spills something on himself. I could start calling him names to bring him down. “You don’t deserve to be taken out of the house. I don’t know why I waste my time with you. I know five year-olds that have better manners than you. You’re a filthy pig. Now you’re going to eat like the little pig that you are: on the floor.”
While I wouldn’t make them eat on the floor at the restaurant, if I am at home and this happens, my sub will indeed eat off the floor. I might tell them that they can’t speak, only make grunting piggy noises. They have lost their status as a human.
Why do we like humiliation and degradation?
In general, we are drawn to these practices because they are subversive and destabilizing. The submissive ‘surrenders’ the Dominants insults. As with many BDSM practices, this is extremely liberating for the submissive. When we give control to the other, we feel more free. It also allows us to put aside societal expectations and to embrace things that scare us. We are able to confront and reject the the norms of everyday life. Playing with taboos is exciting, particularly when it’s in a judgment-free and safe setting.
It also requires high levels of trust to ask someone to humiliate or degrade you. As a dominant, we need our submissive to be 100% honest with us. From the submissives standpoint, they put their emotions entirely in the hands of the dominant. This creates a deep connection and profound intimacy between the participants.
There is also a physical aspect that is linked to sexuality. When we are embarrassed, our heart rate increases, we get sweaty and nervous, and we are unable to focus. These are the same physiological responses that we have before having sex with someone for the first time.
From a dominants perspective, humiliation and degradation are exciting as people trust us to take control of their insecurities, to “force” them to confront things that are uncomfortable outside of the framework of BDSM. We are responsible for the well-being of our partners, and these practices allow us to delve deep into the psyche.
When doing humiliation and degradation play, it’s important to set time limits. For example, only allowing your dominant to humiliate you during dinner on Thursday nights. You should also prepare to take enough time to process afterwards. Again, psychology intense play can have some serious negative effects if not managed properly. The marks from a whip or a cane will disappear in a few days. Emotional wounds are often much harder to heal if things go wrong.
As always, communicating with your partner is key. Discuss the words and terms that turn you on and those that turn you off (or have no effect). Don’t make assumptions that your partner will find the same things exciting that you do.
Be safe, have fun, and keep it kinky!