On the Linguistics of Being a Kinky Author, Regardless of What You’re Writing

“Would you like to share?” 

I… would not. 

I’m on the weekly video call with my teacher and classmates for an online class offered through a writing workshop.  We’ve just done a freewrite, and what came out on the page this time was the beginning of a new plotline for an in progress work of BDSM fiction. 

I have never finished a BDSM related writing piece longer than a few thousand words; I’ve written a small handful of shorter fiction pieces mostly by request, and write my blog posts, and compose love letters to Mistress that are seen only by her and the filing cabinet, but this longer work is something new.  I’ve written plenty of vanilla novels, but…  

Not today.  And this is not a kinky class. 

“I… kind of got inspired for something in the middle of a big project; it won’t make much sense out of context.  And I kind of misinterpreted the prompt,” I say, which is all true.  “I’ll pass.”  

Like with others who said, “I’ll pass,” though, the teacher is overly encouraging.  “That’s okay.  It doesn’t have to make sense.  It’s just a freewrite.  We don’t need to know what it means as long as you do.  And the prompts are open to interpretation!” 

In grid view, a few classmates nod sympathetically. 

No, you really, really don’t want to know what this means, I think. 

But it’s going to get even more suspicious the longer I try to pass.  And this class is in part about overcoming writer’s block and doubt and self consciousness, even if those aren’t the parts I’m here for.  I could pass, but it’s not worth it.  Next week maybe I’ll watch what I write.  

So I start reading. 

I censor.   

It was only a five minute exercise and so there isn’t anything terribly long or elaborate on the page.  

But in a small page and a half of handwriting, there’s a clear power imbalance, honorifics, the implication of permission required to leave someone’s presence, kneeling, and a final sentence about that new plotline that I just have to eliminate altogether. 

I take out words as I find them.  Cut honorifics off the ends of sentences.  Soften up some phrasing.  Put less correlation between one’s action and the other character leaving the room.  Change “went and knelt next to her” to “went and found her”.  I have to think fast; I’m used to much slower proofreading and revising, for myself or as a service. 

I’m still paranoid by the time the next person starts reading, thinking that something has slipped through my filter that I’m too immersed in my own dynamic (and writing) to notice, something that I think of as perfectly normal, something that would raise some eyebrows.  

No such looks from the people in my computer screen, though. 

Not that I am so afraid of being out in this group, but I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable, either. 

Still, I ponder my choices on what to cut or modify. 

The vast majority of my writing over time has been vanilla fiction.  My interests and knowledge bases seep in, but aren’t overt. 

Recently, I was writing a scene amongst a vanilla fiction project in which a character is being whipped, among other things.  None of the characters involved are so much as really BDSM aware, and while it would take a long sidetrack to explain here, there was dystopian interrogation context.  No one was having fun.   

But, as a kinkster, I’ve experienced pieces of some elements happening in the scene I described, in a fun way.  I know a thing or two about being whipped and restrained. 

While the scene was appropriately vanilla, I knew that if I was reading this with a different author’s name on it, I would be going, “Well, that author’s kinky.”

Mostly, it was the word choice that gave it away.  I had to edit.  The scene was in third person, and not so limited that the words really had to be the choice of someone involved, but still.  

My experience added some realism, whether a vanilla reader would know it or not, and I had a lot of phrases in mind to describe elements of the scene that I hear used mostly in BDSM circles, but are perfectly acceptable words in the vanilla world.

But, knowledge shows up in little pieces.  Types of whips.  Which ones are more, or less, common.  Where on the body being hit hurts more or slightly less.  Basic impact techniques.  What draws blood.  The concept of sting versus thud.  Where to grasp for best control when pulling someone’s hair.  The parts of a single tail.  What you can do with a knife to threaten but not yet hurt.  How it all feels in detail.

While at least one character in the scene might have researched parts of those—with different reasons in mind than a kinkster—word choice counts.  They might have, in choosing and purchasing a whip, had to know exactly what kind it was.  But in this moment, would they make that distinction?  Probably not.

In the actually kinky scene I wrote during that writing class, it was much more the power dynamic elements of the scene that were overtly not vanilla, not any sadomasochism. Dialogue and actions were the giveaway, not descriptors.  And I may have even been overly cautious—honorifics can be perfectly vanilla, for starters.

As I set out on writing BDSM fiction, a place to let those dynamics and that knowledge run free overtly through characters and relationships, I’m interested to see what I write for the first time, and what I find surprisingly familiar.

For the curious, that fiction work can be found here.

M/s vs. D/s

D/s is a power dynamic where one partner (the Dominant) consensually maintains some level of power in certain areas over the other (the submissive).

M/s is a power dynamic where one partner (the Master/Mistress) consensually maintains a very high level of power in many or all areas over the other (the slave). It has a higher connotation with 24/7.

Neither of these relationship dynamics inherently connects to romance, sex, or kinky play.

A commonly heard idea in discussions about D/s vs. M/s comes down to when the choice to obey is made. Obedience in M/s is often seen as a one-time decision; the slave decides to obey when they become the slave of their M-type, and that decision is never really made again, because it’s already been decided. Obedience in D/s is often seen as more of an active decision each time the submissive follows their Dominant’s will, with each act of obedience seen as accompanied by a bit more of a thought process. Relatedly—internal enslavement is something I see referred to almost exclusively in M/s language.

D/s tends towards more negotiating than M/s, so a submissive might think about the implications of following an order more than a slave. If they do it now, does that set the expectation that they’re always okay with it, or that they’re okay with an escalation path going forth from it? A slave who gives up more control might not think of those things because they might not matter as much.

In those negotiations, it is more often seen in M/s that the slave does not have safewords, hard or soft limits, or the full ability to leave the relationship. It is rarer in D/s for the submissive to not have those things.

D/s is kind of a “headspace enforced” situation. If the submissive is not feeling like obeying at that moment, I see a lot of “then the headspace needs to be fixed” (often by the Dominant). M/s is more of a “headspace expected” situation, where the slave obeys whether they want to or not, and if they don’t want to in that moment, it’s not viewed as a problem; there’s just the expectation that they still want to obey overall, and their headspace will reflect that better later, in a likely fairly natural way.

Often, in fact, I think that these expectations are good for the desired headspaces in themselves, and the expectations for a submissive might be actively detrimental for a slave, and vice versa. A slave would feel discouraged if their M-type wanted to fix their headspace every time they internally didn’t want to do something; a submissive would feel discouraged if they didn’t get help with their headspace at the same moments. Same for how they feel they should address it within themselves.

The positives of being a submissive are often described as “the joy of the feeling of surrender”. It is associated with something you actively feel. The positives of being a slave are often described as “the joy of serving and pleasing another”. It is associated more with how you make your M-type feel.

With this difference in mindset, D/s often has the submissive’s headspace kept in mind when coming up with specific ways for the submissive to submit, with the submissive’s wanting to do those things being important. M/s more often has the Master/Mistress’ wants being kept in mind when coming up with specific ways for the slave to submit, and their desire to submit overall being the important factor.

I am frequently asked about my thoughts on this subject, and I wanted to create one reference on it; so, here it is.

Sadism vs. CNC

I had an interesting conversation with Mistress on this Valentine’s Day.

“I think I might be a sadist,” she said.

“Why?”

“Well, a few hours ago—“ before the nap I’d needed after “—we had sex, and you were in pain, and I liked that you were in pain.”

Okay. Well, yes, that sounded like sadism—but also wasn’t news. She’d used a neon wand to the point of pain on me just the night before, combined with a chest harness of conductive rope, while our friends watched. We’d done impact scenes that lasted hours and consisted of mostly single tails. So why did enjoying having sex that exacerbated some pre-existing pain trigger this revelation?

Her initial explanation came down to “because you were in pain and didn’t want to be in pain”.

I thought out loud about definitions of sadism I’d seen. In the kink scene, “sadist” and “pain play Top” often get kind of combined and messy. A more classic definition of sadism would say that it was enjoying the pain of others. The difference I spotted was basically enjoying inflicting pain for one reason or another, or enjoying others being in pain for the sake of pain.

I asked, “What do you get out of pain play scenes?”

Well, mostly she enjoyed it because she knew I liked it. And she got to guide me through a journey of sensation. And, sometimes, show off—in the case of a public scene.

None of those really had to do with the pain itself. Of course, pain was involved, she said, but it was something I generally wanted as a part of a scene, pain for the sake of pain.

So that’s what made the sex today different. I was in pain I didn’t want. And she enjoyed it—without my enjoyment, without getting to lead a sensation journey, and without any showing off. If her definition of sadism was just about the pain itself, she could’ve had this revelation from an impact scene. But she hadn’t. Because it wasn’t about the pain.

It was about the fact that I didn’t want the pain; that was the differentiating factor.

We’d had sex, which exacerbated pain I didn’t want to be in, making it hard for me to enjoy it. And she found she especially enjoyed the experience specifically because I was experiencing pain I truly didn’t like.

Having thought through some things out loud, I came to the conclusion: “Maybe it’s not sadism, maybe it’s CNC.”

Because if sadism is about pain, if plenty of people identify as sadists when they are enjoying the pain of someone else when that someone else also enjoys it on some level, then her identification as a sadist wouldn’t depend on me not enjoying it; it also wouldn’t be about just being a pain play Top or not, because she was already definitely that.

It wasn’t about my pain; it was about my consent, and I’m not allowed to say no.

I pointed out that there were other times we’d had sex when I hadn’t wanted to, for reasons that weren’t really pain, per se—I was engaged in something else, I was short on time, I was tired, etc. She’d also very much enjoyed those—but hadn’t used sadism as a word to describe it because pain wasn’t involved. But the issue here wasn’t really pain either, though pain can be hard to define.

I do things as a slave on a daily basis that I really don’t want to do, but I do imagine it’s harder to pin down how you feel about that outside of a scene from the other side of the slash. Watching me do dishes and maybe looking a little agitated and jumping when washing a spoon ends up soaking the front of my clothes, is different than being actively engaged in something that’s clearly making me feel pain. It feels a little more the same from my side, sometimes pain is pain whether it’s from scrubbing or not.

I also pointed out that when providing a real answer to, say, a stranger at a munch about what she does in kink, Mistress usually engages more about having a slave than about whips or rope or fire play.

I think in the end I’m still thinking that this is about consent and not pain, an idea I’ve seen Mistress discover parts of over time, as I have. It’s an interesting concept.

Control/Service-Oriented and Anticipatory/Reactive Service

While service-oriented and control-oriented are two distinct ways of approaching submission, anticipatory and reactive service are two distinct approaches to service that can be a part of either orientation—here I discuss the meanings and correlations as I see them, with ideas from how I commonly see the phrases discussed.

Service-oriented I see as a focus on and fulfillment from “what” you do in a way (the service itself), whereas control-oriented is a focus on and fulfillment from “how” (such as being ordered to do that service). Service I will simply define here as the practically-executed completion of real, non-sexual tasks done to make someone’s life easier.

Control-oriented people I see as generally more likely to have a focus on things like rewards and punishments, whereas I see service-oriented people as generally more likely to find the service itself rewarding and use punishment, if they do, as a method of communication more than control.

Anticipatory service I see as service that is done without a direct order. Refilling the coffee cup before being told to, for example.

Reactive service I see as service that is done following a direct order, like refilling the coffee cup after being told to.

There are some things that kind of ride the line between anticipatory and reactive, such as following standing orders or a repeating list of tasks. If you make a pot of coffee every day without prompting, but you were told “make a pot of coffee every day” a year ago—is that anticipatory or reactive? What if a year ago you were told to always refill the coffee cup before it’s down to a third of the way full, and now do it without any prompting? The answer is probably somewhere between “it depends” and “both, and neither”.

Realistically, a lot of dynamics aren’t a hundred-percent service or a hundred-percent control, nor is the service within them (assuming there is a service component) a hundred-percent reactive or a hundred-percent anticipatory. Hence I define things as what the focus is on.

So how do these ideas correlate?

Many think—and I agree—that control-oriented and reactive service match up fairly naturally, as do service-oriented and anticipatory service. Anticipatory service leaves room to focus on the tasks themselves, the wonderful mix of art and science of serving. Reactive service gives a sense of control with the tasks; you get more direct interaction and can focus on why you’re doing the tasks as they come up, the beautiful sense of surrendering control to another.

Now, I also believe it can easily go the other way for the service-oriented. Service-oriented people can get their joy out of making someone’s life easier, and they can easily track results and patterns and smiles in a reactive service setting; they know they are being helpful if they are acting on specific instructions. Control-oriented people looking to do more anticipatory service might take interest in the style I mentioned above that kind of rides the anticipatory/reactive line; having standing expectations is a good type of control for some.

Why are these things important? Other than just interesting, they’re useful in conversation, both to discuss some general ideas and when people are looking for compatibility. Being aware of these concepts can help fuel discussions and provide a deeper understanding of what is wanted, and what is compatible with those wants.

So, where do I fall on this spectrum? Personally I’m pretty far down the anticipatory service side. We do use the repeating task lists style in addition to more straightforward anticipatory service. We’re both pretty control and service oriented in some ways; though service is perhaps more at the core of our relationship, we still have a level of protocol that surprises some people. This side of things is what I find fulfilling, but I enjoy talking about all of it because they’re interesting concepts.