About Erotic Humiliation and Princess Kali’s “Enough to make you blush”
I have written about shame in the context of writing and reading romance before. But shame is not only something I had to overcome about my writing, it’s also a huge theme inside my writing. Erotica offers a safe space to explore erotic humiliation.
Shame and guilt as tools for social and moral control aren’t new. Back in the day, clerics created so called penitentials, detailing what constitutes a sin and how one should repent for it. Those penitentials dealt extensively with sex, outlining what was okay and what wasn’t. Basically everything but missionary intercourse between consensually married people put you in the sinner camp. Sex on certain days or during daylight hours could land you there as well.
Penitentials started being written around the seventh century, when clerics (except for nuns and monks) were still allowed to be married and have families. They were around for a long time, serving as guides for confessors on how to deal with the sins of their flock. Scholars disagree if they were meant to control and create conduct. But whether their purpose was to control people or not, their effect is noticeable to this day: sex is shrouded in shame and guilt.
Like chains and ropes and other means of bondage become highly eroticized for some people, shame can be a huge turn-on. There doesn’t have to be a reason for it, or one experience that started it all. There doesn’t have to be a psychological big bang that warped a person into a mess of kinks and now they get off on being humiliated. Some people just enjoy a good dose of shame and sexual humiliation. Nothing wrong about that.
A play on a person’s mind
For those into this kind of play, Enough to make you blush by Princess Kali is a handy little guide breaking down aspects of erotic humiliation. She explains erotic humiliation as “taking a ‘real world’ thing/word/action which we commonly understand as ‘humiliating’ and re-contextualizing it as erotic play by adding a layer of acceptance, appreciation, and mutual enjoyment.”
On a physical lever, the enjoyment is quickly explained: the symptoms of shame and arousal are almost the same. The heart beats faster, the blood rushes hotter, you get jittery. Yet the physical experience is not the sole reason making humiliation enjoyable. Erotic humiliation is more than a physical kick, though. It involves, above all else, the brain and psyche. It’s an intricate play on a person’s mind. Real life embarrassment can be excruciating, unbearable. It can make you cringe even years after it occurred. The emotional impact is intense. We all have these stories of situations we’re ashamed of. They have the power to pull us right back into that state of nausea and turmoil with just a small reminder. I’m in my thirties and still cringe at some things that happened in elementary school.
So why would anyone want to go through this for pleasure? The difference between sexual humiliating play and real life shame and embarrassment is that play occurs more or less in a safe space. It comes with all the intense emotions and physical symptoms, but none of the real life ramifications. In a scene carried out with care and awareness, you don’t need to fear consequences. It won’t make you cringe and despise yourself even years in the future, despite feeling real in the moment. As Princess Kali puts it: “There is a huge difference between shame and erotic humiliation of any level: Non-erotic shame is about leaving you feeling less-than. Erotic humiliation is intended to build you up — to leave you satisfied, and ultimately more empowered than when you started.”
Real life vs. Fantasy
Generally, it seems that humiliation play is more favored by male submissive than females. As John Warren puts it in The Loving Dominant, there might be a s simple logic behind this. The lives of women are full enough of constant humiliation through society, so they have no desire to seek it out in a sexual situation as well. Men, on the other hand, are mostly safe from social humiliation, so experiencing the powerlessness in a sexual setting is novel and exotic to them. Even when a female submissive desires humiliation, the male dominant needs to tread carefully. It’s easy to cross into territories that are all too real and fraught with real world implications. Communication is key to avoiding these traps (as it is key to healthy kink in general).
Because it is such a complicated thing for a lot of people, humiliation is one of the hardest things to get right in writing as well. This goes especially in a heterosexual constellation with a female sub. With a same sex pairing, it’s easier to avoid some of the pitfalls of a scene with too much similarity to real life abuse, sexism and misogyny. Even so, balancing consensual fun times and believable humiliation is like the proverbial tight rope walk. It’s the same problem as in real life: How much is too much?
I find myself drawn to it in a lot of my stories, and every time is different and difficult again. Writing erotic humiliation as a consensual and sexy act is a challenge. Having a character calling another “slut”, “bitch” or other insults rooted in everyday sexism and misogyny means walking a thin line. It can be sexy if it doesn’t create something that enforces and propagates these very ideas in real life. Embracing these terms in the safe space of a fantasy is different from experiencing them in real life when they’re actually meant to debase. I want to experience the fantasy, not the real life degradation of being a woman.
Fiction provides the same safe space like fantasy. It offers an experience to the reader without ever needing to even enact a fantasy. What you do in your headspace is yours alone. My focus thus far has been consensual humiliation in fiction, but there are endless flavors and varieties of the theme in erotic fiction. It can range from playful embarrassment to dark and twisted tales with full on degradation.
Trust and Respect
Erotic humiliation requires a huge amount of trust that the person doing the humiliating won’t go to far and will catch you if you fall. You have to trust that they do respect you as a person and everything is alright again when the scene is over. This trust has to be built up, in fiction between characters as well as in real life between those engaging in play. And like any other bdsm/kink activity, there has to be some form of aftercare. (In a dark story, it’s probably the reader who needs some breathing room and a good cup of tea to soothe the soul).
Like fiction, kinky activities come in various levels of intensity as well. A spanking can be anything from soft slaps to the butt to something that’s leaving you bruised purple. Humiliation play is no different.
Enough to make you blush
Princess Kali divides it into three categories of increasing intensity: embarrassment, humiliation and degradation. This offers a useful distinction to work with, as some might be into light embarrassment but not into degradation. As she’s coming from a background of femdom working with male subs, her perspective is colored by her experience. It is in some aspects too extreme for me. While the distinction is helpful, I would draw the lines between them much sooner in terms of intensity. What she classifies as merely humiliating is full on degradation on my scale, and much of her book focuses too closely on squicks of mine.
Admittedly, I’m not the target audience. Given that the majority of kinksters interested in this kind of play seem to be male subs, it may be hitting bullseye for them. Beyond these slight incompatibilities however, Enough to make you blush provides informative insights. If you are interested in this sort of play, it’s a handy guide to get you started. And Princess Kali sums up one fascinating facet of this kind of play perfectly:
“In order to humiliate an individual, the key is really understanding their personal context. There’s a story the dominant needs to hear that the submissive has been telling inside their head. Tease that story out and you’ll know everything you need. That’s what is going to dictate whether or not the submissive finds an action to be embarrassing, humiliating, or degrading. Great humiliation does not come from your orders or some external force. It comes from within.”
For me, the most powerful description of the lure and feel of humiliation comes from a work of fiction though: Named and Shamed by Janine Ashbless. Despite combining some of the things I like least (first person narrator and fae folk — I know, that’s rich for someone so obsessed with fairytales as I am), this book had some really powerful writing and is one of my favorite works of erotica. I think of the following quote a lot:
“I’d flirted with humiliation before, letting it brush against my libido like some muscular, dangerous beast, all threat and thrill. But it seized me now without ambiguity and, for the first time, I felt the true power of its jaws and the heat of its breath. For the first time I saw it in all its terror and might. The beast caught me up and took me into a world in which there was nothing but me and those boots; me and those angry, scornful men ordering me to do something unforgivably wretched and dirty. My mind might have been riven by conflict, but my body’s response was unambiguous.”
How do you feel about erotic humiliation? Is there something you would like to add? Leave your thoughts in the comments!
Handbook of Medieval Sexuality. Edited by Vern L. Bullough and James Brundage.
Enough to make you blush by Princess Kali.
The Loving Dominant by John and Libby Warren.
Named and Shamed by Janine Ashbless.