Discipline, Punishment and Abuse

I went to a meeting of submissives this week and an interesting discussion question was posed: What is the difference between discipline, punishment and abuse in an D/s and BDSM relationship.

This is an important question that needs lots of discussion and clarification. Many D-types integrate discipline and punishments into their dynamics with submissives. It is part of the power exchange that occurs in these types of relationships. Many submissives and slaves I know actually approach their D-types with requests for help with various behaviors and include disciplines and punishments to help change what the submissive desires to change.

There are also abusive D/s and BDSM relationships. Just because a submissive enjoys certain behaviors in play (e.g., humiliation or impact) does not meant that outside of play these behaviors are desirable or acceptable. Just as with millions of vanilla relationships, people can be emotionally, sexually and physically abusive to their partners. Simply engaging in D/s and BDSM does not automatically emancipate people from abusive behavior.

Discipline in a D/s or BDSM Relationship

Discipline, in many forms and by definition, involves training. It is also developing habits of mind and behaviors that are beneficial to a person. Most of us, regardless of our sexual proclivities, need some form of discipline in our lives. This can take the shape of dedicating time to work out every week, or to meditate regularly, entering all of our appointments on a calendar, or balancing our checkbook. Each of these behaviors takes time to develop and requires ongoing dedication to continue the practice.

Anyone who has tried to develop a regular workout schedule is familiar with developing discipline. Very few of us wake up one morning and decide to run for an hour a day. Most of us have to make the decision to start running, get the right clothing and shoes, decide we will dedicate certain times of the week to run, and then force ourselves to get out of bed or turn of the television and actually run. For those of us who develop this habit, running eventually becomes its own reward. The time to ourselves, the self care that happens, the feeling of success, and growing strength in our bodies and cardio systems becomes a feedback loop and encourages us to keep going. However, if something derails our practice (e.g., illness, vacation) it can be difficult to get back into our regular running routine. It is self discipline that allows us to return to the routine.

Likewise, there may be negative feedback loops. For instance, I hate going through my mail and responding to stuff. I can let it pile up for more than two weeks before I open anything. I have to discipline myself to get to my mail more than once a week. However, I know if I do not open the stuff that arrives, bills pile up, I miss car registration notices, or I miss RSVP deadlines for weddings and baby showers.

In D/s relationships, many submissives ask for help developing discipline to do things they know they should and that would be a good thing to do but they have problems disciplining themselves to do. I know submissives who have asked their D-types to implement chore lists that they are expected to complete daily. Like a lot of people, a lot of submissives hate cleaning. Having your D-type require that you take out the trash every other day and clean the bathroom once a week can be useful in developing good cleaning habits. I know other submissives whose D-types have helped them take control of their finances by working with them to develop habits of balancing their bank accounts and setting up specific times during the month to make sure bills get paid.

In a power exchange relationship, submissives often give over control to their D-types in areas of their lives they desire help improving. What those areas are depends on the individual relationship. I know more than a dozen submissives who have given their D-types the right to help control their finances. To me, it would be crazy-making and after one marriage, I will never combine finances with anyone again. It is not an area up for negotiation to me. However, being made to respond to mail daily as part of my relationship protocol would probably be a really good thing for me.

Every discipline relationship is different. Some couples use a gold star system. When the submissive does everything they are supposed to do for a day, they get a gold star. They may be rewarded for getting a week or month of gold stars with some reward (e.g., dinner out, spa treatment, massage). Some people use verbal praise. It is really up to the specific couple.

Discipline can also be used to help submissives develop new relationship or sexual habits. I love calling someone Sir or Master. This has always come naturally to me. Many people struggle with this formality. They find it trite or silly or awkward to call their D-type by an honorific. D-types may make using their title a part of a discipline practice.

Some submissives use discipline to develop habits for sexual reasons. They may engage in anal training (wearing butt plugs for a number of hours a day, increasing the size of the plugs they wear) in order to prepare themselves for anal sex. If you have not had a lot of anal sex, it can be very painful or difficult to be penetrated. Anal training is a way to make this act much more pleasurable for the submissive in the long run.

Some submissives engage in position training. They learn the names of the various positions their D-types want them to be able to hold. This may be kneeling for extended periods during a shibari tie, or on all fours to form an ottoman for the D-type, or display positions or whatever. Positions are generally supposed to be held until the submissive is given permission to move or asked to change their position. For people who practice this, position training can be incredibly erotic and an amazing sign of submission to the D-type. It takes practice. I do position work with a couple of D-types I play with. It is very meditative to me. It is one way I can show my dedication, focus on them and desire to please them. I also find it really hot be be told to be naked and in child’s pose when my D-type arrives for a date. However, it took me a while to develop the practice to the point where if my nose itched I didn’t automatically scratch it without asking permission.

Punishment in D/s and BDSM

Often as part of discipline training, D-types will use punishments. If a submissive has asked for help with something like cleaning habits and then fails to meet the requirements for a week, a D-type may implement a punishment. This can come in many forms. Some D-types use impact (e.g., spanking, caning). Some may use deprivation (e.g., enforced periods of chastity or orgasm denial). Some may require writing a journal entry examining