Pain is part and parcel of the BDSM lifestyle, but there is a difference of nuance in the meanings of pain and hurt in this context. As practitioners of this thing that we do, we are no strangers to pain. As human beings, we are no strangers to hurt, but while those words are synonyms, the English language has different words for similar concepts because those concepts are separated by subtle differences.
For the purposes of this entry, I’m going to define these words according to my own terms.
Both pain and hurt are used as verbs, though the use of pain as a verb is somewhat archaic. One might say, “my arm pains me” to mean the same thing as, “my arm hurts.” At the end of that second phrase, there is an implied “me,” but it is not usually explicitly stated in modern language. Usually pain is a noun – it is a state of being, a thing that is being experienced, while hurt is a verb.. it is an action word and like all action words it requires an actor and intent.
However, while these synonyms can pretty much be used interchangeably if you so choose, I like to think that they have evolved to have subtly different meanings.
When I say that I am in pain, I mean that I am experiencing the physical sensation of pain. When I say that I don’t want to hurt you, I mean that I don’t want to cause you unintentional distress. For submissives under my care, I will often say, “I have no desire to hurt you,” and then proceed to slap, smack, spank, flog, whip, bite, and toss them into furniture. In the absence of a way to properly distinguish my meaning, this would seem to be a case where my actions are not in line with my words, and yet, no one in this position with me has ever given me any indication of being confused on this point.
How is that possible?
I will attempt to elaborate by way of example…
The other day, I was in bed with my girlfriend, post-coitus, and she was expressing some concern about an interaction that we had has previously that day. I failed to pick up on some of her emotional cues and created a situation where my lack of action caused her emotional turmoil. I didn’t intend to hurt her in this case. We do not have a TPE relationship and even if we did, I am not the type of Dominant partner who would ever want to create an emotional rift like that. So in our discussion of what happened and how to best avoid similar situations in the future, I said to her, “I never wish to hurt you,” and then had to pause and chuckle, following up with, “well, you know what I mean…” and of course she did, but it brought to mind for me the unvocalized nuance that followed with that statement.
The words do not support this notion natively. We have to imbue them with subtlety of our own. And yet, because she is a smart woman and because she knows me rather well by this point, she understood my meaning without the need to elaborate significantly.
Hurt is a part of every relationship.. mistakes happen, people will fail to live up to our expectations, especially when those expectations are not vocalized – perhaps because the effort of so doing is extreme.
Pain is not a part of every relationship, and for most people, it really ought not to be. I’ve said it before and I’m certain that I will say it again, but without consent, what we do is abuse. For most relationships, there is no desire for pain, there is no discussion of appropriate applications of pain, and without the acknowledgement and discussion, the infliction of Pain is no different at all from Hurt.
Pain is a part of most BDSM relationships, but while we can revel in the pain, use the catharsis that follows, have a release of endorphins and emotions, we usually try to avoid Hurt. Pain is part and parcel of the lifestyle that we choose to lead, but Hurt is abuse.
For my girlfriend, for my friends, even for my family, I try very hard to avoid Hurt. I have felt Hurt from my family. From some members of my family, that hurt has never abated. We so very often hurt those that we love when we are, ourselves, hurt. But I try very, very hard not to do so intentionally, and for those I love, this is especially true.
If you put yourself under my power, I will cause you pain with intent. I will willfully bind you so that the bindings are tight enough to cause you pain. I will willfully flog you with enough force to mark your skin and leave behind reminders of the experience. I will bite you hard enough to leave a bruise that lasts for weeks. But I will not intentionally pull the rug out from under you or cause you to question your trust. I will not intentionally belittle you or put you down unless that is a specifically negotiated arrangement and executed at specifically designated times so that you can understand the difference between my words and my beliefs.
I respect those that I encounter, and even for those that have hurt me in the past or continue to hurt me now – I try to be respectful and forthright, but make no mistake, I will not idly sit by and continue to take the abuse, nor will I suffer it as you apply it to others. I will at the least ostracize you and may even confront you, depending on the situation.
I have often said that I think I’m more of a masochist than a Sadist, and perhaps that fact is informing my opinions here. I make no broad statements to say that a majority of Dominants feel as I do, nor do I necessarily think that they should, but this is what works for me, and it is a continuing part of my education and growth in this wonderful and scary world we inhabit.
I’m not sure at what point in my life I started to make this distinction, and I know that I’ve never successfully conveyed the nuance before, but I suspect that this is the kernel that exists behind my personal difficulties in causing pain in those that I love.
When you look back at me and say, “please hurt me,” this is the difficulty through which I have to process before I can act. Like my grasp of other languages, I have not yet (despite my advanced age and position) been able to completely internalize these things and so I must go through a process of translation and change this to, ‘please render pain unto me,’ in my own particular and rather archaic idiom.
But my life, my experience in BDSM, and my experience in relationships is an ever evolving process and this is yet one more thing that I am refining and will probably further refine again over time.