I happen to be married to a really perverted guy. When he and I met, he let me explore the limits of my libido for the first time (so far, no known limits; expanding along with the universe), and showed me how to let myself be a really, really perverted gal. I was new to kink, and his kink informed my own in a very formative way. So as a result, I like to play with other really, really perverted guys and gals.
One of the really perverted things I have been both drawn to and repelled by(*) is that type of play we kinky people call Humiliation. I've met lots of people into Humiliation Play in the last decade, and I've discovered that no two bottoms/subs/slaves/littles/pets mean quite the same thing when they use that term. It's more of an umbrella term for lots of different types of emotionally submissive play. Under that umbrella are humiliation, shame, embarrassment, degradation, and objectification. (I may have left some out. Let me know if I have.)
What I've discovered is that it's not enough to tell someone that you're into Humiliation and leave it at that. Most tops/doms/daddies/mistresses/owners I meet have a more general understanding of the kind of play that lies under that umbrella term. I've tried for years to explain why I like certain kinds of Humiliation and not other kinds, and I have yet to satisfy myself or any of my potential play partners, so I've shied away from that kind of play with others for fear of a Bad Experience.
I don't want to shy away from it anymore. So this is really a personal exercise for me to define what I think each of the following terms means, whether I want it, and under what circumstances. I hope other people find it useful, too, since I've noticed I'm not the only person who has trouble finding the right language to talk about this stuff.
To humiliate: to cause a painful loss of pride, self-respect, or dignityI love everything about this definition. As both a submissive/bottom type player, and a Dominant/Top type player. It's masochistic ("painful loss"); it fulfills power exchange goals; it allows for all kinds of delicious creativity. To use this term in a discussion with a play partner is an invitation to get to know each other better. Find out what makes the other person tick. What do you fear? What do you crave? Why? What are your neuroses? What do you want, need, despise? What do you spend lots of time thinking about? It's not enough to say someone is into humiliation - each person has different sources of pride, self-respect, and dignity. Find out what they are. Then find out what is the healthiest way to take it away from them.
Which brings me to what I view as the sub-sets of Humiliation:
Shame: The painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, etc, done by oneselfThis, for me, is the most explosive, potentially hot, and also potentially toxic one. It's tricky; it's dangerous. It's awfully closely related to guilt, and more importantly, self-worth. I love to feel ashamed in a scene. It makes me really, really hot. This bothered me for a long time. There I was, an intelligent, educated, modern woman and feminist, with plenty of shame issues to overcome in her day-to-day life (as every woman does), and feeling ashamed in a scene made my pussy dripping wet. This in and of itself, I thought, was shameful. (A viciously hot cycle for anyone who could figure it out.) I took lots of time to think about this. It was a process. I've worked it out for myself now, and I'm OK with how I am and why this works for me.
BUT! There is a big But here for me. I only consent to this kind of play with people I trust, because sometimes I carry the shame with me beyond the scene. This is something I do not want. I know there are people who like to hold on to the shameful feeling they get in a humiliation scene; they want to enjoy it, feel it linger, process it. More power to them. I don't know how they do it. For me, it's not healthy. I have no interest in emotional masochism outside of play. I view shame as a very personal thing. It is related to our own self-images, our self-esteem, how valuable we view ourselves as people. One feels ashamed of oneself. We are each our own harshest critic. We internalize it. It can warp us.
There are lots of ways to prevent this from happening. I need evidence that you care about me despite my exposed flaw. If I don't get some kind of validation from my play partner either during or after a scene involving shame, I may end up hating something about myself, and/or hating the person who made me feel that way. I don't want to resent myself or my partners. The best validation for me is a hard cock/swollen pussy. Let me touch it. Fuck me. Have an orgasm brought on by my humiliation. It proves to me that you are just as fucked up as I am, in your own perverted way. That's my aftercare. Then, check in with regularity in the days after. Continue to be my friend/lover/partner. That way I know you, the person I care about and trust, are OK with my flaws, you embrace them even, and I don't have to beat myself up about it.
To embarrass: To cause to feel confusion or self-consciousness; to disconcert; to fluster. Embarrassment usually refers to a feeling less painful than that of shame, one associated with less serious situations, often of a social natureEmbarrassment is like Shame's exhibitionist cousin. One cannot be embarrassed without an audience. When you have chocolate on your face, and you don't realize it until after you've given a 90-minute presentation to your colleagues - that's embarrassing. If you got chocolate on your face at home, and happened to notice it in the mirror 2 hours after you ate the chocolate, that's just realizing you should wipe your face.
If I'm subbing to you and you want to really take the humiliation to another level, put it in front of an audience to add embarrassment to the shame. But beware that I will most likely get defensive in front of those voyeuristic fuckers over there whom I don't trust. If you want to see angry/bratty/snarky MrsB, this is the way to go. I will threaten to kick you in the nuts. I will call you a fucking asshole. I might step on your toe with my stiletto, or do something to fuck up your perfect rigging. I will provoke you. I know full well what the consequences are. Scenes like that can be cathartic and fun, but they'll be very different from scenes in the privacy of home. I can't get embarrassed if it's just you and me.
If you really want to break me, do a humiliation scene complete with embarrassment in front of an audience, and then tell me that if I talk back you'll stop playing with me. I will do one of two things: shut down quietly, or break down explosively. BEWARE: this kind of scene may have a Bad Ending. I don't want the scene to end when I break down. I want to push past it. I will feel like a failure because you are setting me up do to something that's close to impossible for me. The trick is to make me feel like I'm not a failure. I need a reward for my efforts. Let me have some success after my total failure. See above re: swollen genitals and orgasms. Or (less ideally but still good) give me a task you know I can complete, and let me complete it. Let me please you.
Now, onto something very different:
To degrade: To reduce in worth, honor, strength, character, rank, status, etc.This, to me, is the essence of Power Exchange. I find it difficult to be satisfied in play without some kind of degradation involved. WHAT is reduced by kind of play, and play partner. In a simple rope scene, it may be agency. In a pain scene, it might be strength or endurance. If there is D/s involved, it's status. But in any case, the thing the sub agrees to give up is transferred actively to the top in the form of power and control. The sub is degraded in direct proportion to the empowerment of the top. And I think it's really important to note that while the word "degradation" normally carries a hugely negative connotation, when used in a BDSM context I am not necessarily implying something unpleasant or negative. Becoming reduced or "less than" can be a really wonderful experience when that's what you want.
When I sub, I want to feel like you are worth more than I am. I want to feel lesser than you. I want you to feel like More than me. I will do what I can to allow you to feel that way. If I'm the top in the scene, I want to feel like I'm better than you are. I want to feel more powerful. I want my status to be elevated. In play involving really intense Power Exchange, I want the bottom to feel degraded on multiple levels; I want them (or me) to feel like their needs and wants don't matter at all; I even want them (or me) to feel that their only desire is to please and elevate the top; therefore a total loss of ego on the part of the bottom is the ultimate goal. This is the essence of degradation for me, and it plays an important part in my overall concept of kink.
A subset of Degradation is:
To objectify: [I am using the classic feminist definition for the purposes of this entry; it seems more relevant to our kink definitions of "objectification"] The seven features of objectification are
- instrumentality (to treat as a tool used for a purpose)
- denial of autonomy
- inertness (to treat as though lacking in agency)
- fungibility (to treat as though interchangeable with other objects)
- violability (to treat as though lacking in boundaries)
- ownership (to treat as though capable of being bought or sold)
- denial of subjectivity (to deny the validity or the existence of the object's thoughts/feelings)
While Degradation implies a lowering or reduction of these things (rank, status, worth, strength, etc), Objectification implies an elimination of these qualities. I have told people in the past that I love to be objectified; now I realize that isn't strictly true. I have learned that in order to be fulfilled in my kink, I need to feel like an active participant in it. I think it takes a special kind of mindset to feel that one's active participation in a scene goes only as far as surrendering one's right to self. It's difficult for me to find that particular mindset when it's needed.
Now, if someone is attempting to objectify me and I'm not actually expected to "act" like an object (that seems like an oxymoron) - then that makes for a hot scene. I do enjoy the dilemma posed when the goal is to objectify me (for the pleasure of the top) but I'm unwilling to do so (for the preservation of my pride). There is a give and take there; I'm required to actively subjugate my own pride for the pleasure of the top and I feel like I'm participating in something. If I'm to be an object from the get-go, I get bored. The one kind of objectification I nearly always like is sexual objectification - I love to be reduced to a body or even a body part for use. (The feminist in me is pitching a fit as I write this, but deep down, she loves that I'm owning my sexual desires this way.)
So, patient readers, there you have it. My own personal breakdown of the age-old Humiliation vs. Shame vs. Embarrassment vs. Degradation vs. Objectification question.
(*)The top in me goes: "Attracted to AND repelled by? Internal conflict! HOT."