The Onion of Desire

Do you crave being made to suffer in ways you hate?

Do you simultaneously care deeply about your partner’s happiness and want to treat them like their feelings don’t matter?

Do you want to struggle and strain to move against restraints that hold you helplessly in place?

Do you love watching your partner cum, and also want to lock them up and never let them cum?

There’s a mad riot of different desires and practices all lumped under the umbrella of kink, with so much variety that sometimes it’s hard to see why we put them in the same category at all. There are some deep, unifying themes that you can find running through many or most of the different currents of kink, though, and one of the big ones is that a lot of kink has to do with tension between different layers of desire.

We want what we don’t want, and the tension between the two can drive incredible emotional intensity. Understanding this, and being able to manage that tension deftly, is one of the deep skills that separate those who are able to reliably create life-changing kinky experiences and those who struggle to get deep or who often have things blow up in their faces.

I saw a writing that said “It isn’t submission until you’re doing something you don’t want to,” immediately followed by another writing that said that when you submit you should never do anything that you really, truly don’t want to do. And they’re both right!

Either perspective alone is incomplete. If you just think that submission is about being made to do things you don’t want to do, you end up with the submitting partner getting bullied into obedience that doesn’t work for them; that doesn’t push the hot buttons that make obedience rewarding and suffering worth it. If you just think that submission is about the submissive being ordered to do exactly what they wanted to do anyway, you’ll never fully engage with the desire to be used or taken.

To really dance the dance, you’ve got to understand and engage with multiple layers of desire simultaneously. 

Maybe this submissive genuinely has no desire to be crawling across the floor right now. It’s uncomfortable and while they’re doing it they feel foolish and irritable, not sexy or romantic.

At the same time they do have a powerful desire to be in a relationship in which they feel subordinate overall, and being made to crawl is one of their common fantasies for how that subordination is put on display.

So if you’re going to make them crawl, don’t just order them to do it and tell them they’re a bad sub if they hesitate. Make sure to connect the act to their big-picture desire to feel subordinate. Tell them how servile they look on their hands and knees. Acknowledge that they don’t like it, and let them know they’re expected to do it anyway. Don’t expect them to be hot and excited in the moment, but maybe encourage them to remember the moment when they’re getting sexy later.

I’m not just talking about D/s, either.

The simplistic perspective is that a masochist is a person who likes pain, but most people who play with masochism don’t just straightforwardly enjoy pain in the same way they enjoy ice cream. Instead, they have some kind of tangled way in which they love hating it and hate loving it.

To play hard and hot with pain, understand the nuances of how your partner wants suffering and how they dread it, then play those off against one another. Don’t just say “You’re a masochist so you’re supposed to like this,” and whale away on them. Say “I know you want to show me how strong and stoic you can be, so stay perfectly still while I do this to you.” Or “This is going to be hard, but we both know you’ll cum your brains out by the end.” Then deliver the pain in the way that rides the line between what they need and what they fear.

Bondage is all about wanting to move and not being able to, while also wanting to not be able to move. To get the most out of it, don’t just tie them up and leave them there! Figure out what they fantasize about restrained from doing. Are they tied up so that they can’t get away? Tied up so that they can’t touch their sexy bits? Maybe it’s really about shame and exposure. Bashfulness makes them want to curl into a ball and hide from passion, and bondage is a way to force them to stay exposed and engaged with a partner’s desirous attention. Each of those different kinds of tension calls for being played with in a subtly different way.

So when you’re trying to understand kinky desire, don’t settle for a single answer. Peel the onion. Look for different desires at different levels, and especially look for the hot, fucked up tangles where different levels of desire pull a person in opposite directions.

Those are the critical spots!

Stumbling across them blindly or poking at them unskillfully is a surefire way to end up with bad experiences and hurt feelings, but they’re also where you’ll find the most intense and compelling reaches of kink.

If you’re in a power relationship, and want to explore deeper into your desires together, check out Power&Intimacy part one: Desire