One of our members has asked an interesting question in the comments of The Secret of Success, our film about a student exploring consensual adult discipline for the first time. Ernest asked,
Can you explain something to me? I can understand how spanking can be a deterrent to improve behaviour in a DS relationship (which is, after all, how punishment has normally been understood), and I can understand how it can be an enjoyable game to play (as I and you and others find it, the observance of appropriate limits being always understood) - but I honestly don't understand how it can be both for the same person.
In my experience this is one of those age-old questions, and I've seen it addressed on numerous occasions. But those recurring topics are also often the ones worth revisiting, as your understanding evolves over time. I gave a stab at an answer in reply to that comment, but I want to expand on it further.
The discipline paradox is, exactly, a paradox. I don't know anyone who engages in consensual, functional, non-abusive CP discipline who isn't kinky, so I would venture that it's not attractive or appropriate for people who have no interest in power or pain play. But I do know people who aren't spankos, but have other kinky interests, who use CP for discipline rather than play, and other activities when they want to have fun. In those cases CP has been selected as something that isn't a direct source of eroticism or pleasure. If you have, say, a spanko bottom and non-spanko top, an eager-to-please bottom might want to avoid the top having to do something they didn't enjoy, and this would act as an effective deterrent. But I thinkboth parties need to have some positive associations with the idea of dominance, submission and discipline for the practice of administering real life punishment to be a healthy and successful choice.
Personally, I enjoy spanking in sexual and theatrical contexts, and can be quite masochistic for it. But spanking also works for me as discipline and deterrent. For me, a discipline spanking is usually:
- harder than normal
- delivered without a warm-up, or without other comforting/soothing/erotic interaction which would normally make a spanking easier to take
- with an implement that is particularly severe, or delivers a sensation I don't find erotic
- accompanied by an awareness of disappointment from the top, or an acknowledgement that one can do better.
In my experience it's that last point that makes all the difference, and it can range from full-on scolding to a quiet "I'm looking forward to the week when I don't have to do this." A spanking might tick all the boxes of a "fun" play session in physical terms, but if the emotional context is one of disappointment or regret, it stops being fun.
As a bottom, I allow a top to share the responsibility of my life because I respect them and value their opinion. Admitting fault to my top is often the real deterrent; the spanking is just a sharp reminder. In a heartfelt discipline dynamic where the bottom wants to make their top proud of them, a sincerely meant scolding is often punishment enough. Once a bottom feels genuine remorse for their mistakes, the purpose of the spanking is only partly punitive; it also operates as an emotional valve and way for them to let go of guilt and start afresh.
Basically, if we care about pleasing our top, and I would say that's an essential foundation for a discipline dynamic, then punishment is punishment when our actions have failed to please. Everything else is just window dressing.
A good discipline dynamic is entered into consensually to help the bottom improve themselves. The primary motivation shouldn't be the threat of spanking, but the desire to improve. The spanking just helps focus the mind a little. If I didn't take the arrangement seriously, was cavalier about the prospect of punishment or deliberately sought it out because I wanted a spanking, that would imply I didn't care about my top's opinion, and wasn't genuinely motivated to improve. Any partner who was paying attention would notice, and they'd be wise to start a conversation about the arrangement and ensure that I was truly committed to it before continuing.
For me, a discipline arrangement is most successful where I have a say in what I am punished for, but not in how I am punished. My top is helping me fulfil stated goals within consensual parameters: they can't impose arbitrary punishments or write new rules without prior negotiation. But reason I've sought out this arrangement is that I don't feel able to do this alone. I have asked for help. If I not only decide what I'm punished for, but how I'm punished, then I'm not giving my top any authority; I might as well be in charge after all.
"Tell him to keep it at game level" therefore isn't something I can do. Since I have control over what I get punished for, my top needs to have the final say on sentencing. If I feel a punishment has been too harsh or not harsh enough, I can raise my concern afterwards, and find the right level over time (or, if we prove incompatible, a new top). Sometimes a set punishment might be agreed in advance: "If you fail to do X, I will do Y". But if I've said to my top "help me do X, please", then I'm showing I trust them enough to make a fair decision about the consequences if X is not done.
I suppose in theory, if I hadn't agreed to strict boundaries describing what I could be punished for, I might have more leeway to negotiate the nature of a punishment on the spur of the moment. But that feels to me like quite an adversarial way to approach things. I believe that discipline agreements, at their best, are co-operative, with both partners working together to help one of them achieve a stated aim. For spanking as discipline to work, in my experience, it requires mutual trust and respect, commitment to the terms of the agreement, and the ongoing willing co-operation of both partners.