The theme of healing through kink has come up repeatedly in both my reading and real life a lot lately. For me, this is a touchy subject. I know from first hand experience BDSM can be very healing. I have also seen too many people try to sublimate issues or repress feelings through sex leading to very unhealthy outcomes.
Many people find engaging in kink and BDSM to be healing. It is. When practiced well, BDSM prioritizes connection, care, and respect. For many of us, incorporating those three things into a sexual situation is healing in and of itself.
We are in a culture now that glorifies being “happy” and the one-shot cure. We look for pills to make us happy. We look for experiences to “fix” what is wrong. We want it quick, easy, and cheap. The truth is, healing is rarely quick, easy, or cheap. Expecting kink to be your cure puts more pressure on it that it can bear. It is part of the process for many, but not the sum total of the process.
Here are a few things I have learned through practicing kink and my academic work in psychology which may prove to be helpful if you choose to incorporate kink/BDSM into your healing process.
1. Don’t sleep with your therapist. Don’t turn a sexual partner into your therapist.
Most of us turn to our intimate partners to discuss problems, trauma, triggers and more. This is completely normal in an intimate relationship. However, discussing your history and traumas with a confidant and working through them with a therapist are two different things. While both may offer tips and tools for helping you work through your emotional issues, a therapist is trained in understanding how the mind works and is (generally) an outside consultant who can view the situation much more objectively than an intimate partner. Professionals are also trained in helping when emotional/psychological crises occur.
If you are working through a big trauma (e.g. abuse, sexual assault, PTSD) you should work with a therapist of some sort (e.g. LCSW, MFT, psychologist). I will point out that I have a deep hatred of most medical professionals, and even with that hate, I am suggesting seeking out a therapist to deal with major trauma. These professionals have skills and tools to help you that an intimate partner (even one who is a licensed therapist) will not have. If you have a major trauma to work through, you need a professional as part of the process.
[If you are looking for a kink-aware professional, check the Coalition for Sexual Freedom’s Kink Aware Professional List to start.]
2. Be clear about your goals in a seen with your kink partner.
Be up front and clearly explain your goals for your kink scene. It is a consent violation to ask to engage in a kink scene with the purpose of working through a trauma if you do not tell the person you are playing with about your agenda. Using BDSM to try and heal from a trauma can increase the risk of something being triggered and creates new needs. It also makes the scene emotionally risky for both partners. You need a clear plan for after care and your partner(s) need to be clued in you are trying to work through emotional issues. You also need to talk about what to do if things go wrong in the scene.
This does not have to be an especially lengthy conversation with all the details of what led you to want to try to use kink/BDSM to help with your trauma. Your partner(s) do(es) need to know that the scene is tied in to other emotional issues so that they can help keep you safe and provide the type of support you are looking for. You should also have a plan in place if you are severely triggered and need immediate care and support.
3. Make a plan for aftercare.
Aftercare looks different for everyone. Some of us need it after every scene, others can use minimal aftercare and be okay after most scenes. If you are engaging in a scene as part of the healing process, plan on needing a bit of aftercare.
This may or may not involve the person you did the scene with. If you are working with a top/Dom(me) who is not a regular intimate partner you may wish to incorporate your regular intimate partner(s) in the aftercare. Speaking from personal experience, when I engaged in a knife scene as part of dealing with my past as being a cutter, I brought along my primary partner to the scene. Afterward my primary – who had not participated in the scene – was there to provide me hugs and support. It was immensely helpful. When I have topped for these types of scenes, the bottoms almost always bring their intimate partners for support.
4. Allow several days (at least) for your mind to process what has happened.
I have subbed for years (decades actually) before I engaged in any kinky play related to healing. I know how I generally process a new experiences, a new play partner, or an intense scene. For me (and several folks I have spoken with), the way a healing scene is processed differs from our regular kinky play. Emotions may be more heightened. New memories may arise. New triggers can be found.
To account for all of this (and more) give yourself time to process thought what happened. Know that your body may respond differently. You may experience sub drop or euphoria a day or two after the scene rather than immediately. The scene may release trauma stored in the body and you may feel a bit ill afterward. Being aware that this may happen will help. If you start feeling “off” a day or two after a scene, being aware that this was a different type of BDSM scene can help you from crashing.