Being called names in bed. Forced to drink from a dog bowl. Being told you're worthless. This kind of behavior and language may be unthinkable for most people but revs the engines of those who enjoy being humiliated during sex.
Humiliation as a sexual kink consists of a person who gets off on being consensually physically or verbally degraded and humiliated within a sexual context. This behavior manifests in various degrees, including kink, which is something sexual that a person enjoys, and fetish, a specific aspect that must be present for the person to achieve sexual satisfaction.
Humiliation play can take the form of name-calling, body-shaming and exposure to "unclean" materials or gestures, such as eating from the toilet bowl. A wide variety of behaviors fall into this category, from calling someone a slut during sex to degradation roleplay such as being "forced" (in a consensual context where the submissive partner enjoys it) to act as human furniture.
While humiliation play falls under the broad umbrella of sadomasochism, it is distinct in that it's not an intrinsic part of BDSM (bondage, discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism).
Why does being humiliated turn people on?
"Our brains process physical and emotional pain in much the same way, by releasing cortisol and endorphins," said Stefani Goerlich, an author, a certified sex therapist and the founder and clinical director of Bound Together Counseling, a private practice based in Detroit. "For people who want that same physiological reaction without the experience of pain/intense sensation, humiliation play can be a way to get them there."
For Trip Richards, aka TripleXTransMan, a veteran transgender adult entertainer and sex educator, the satisfaction lies in vulnerability and being able to express sentiments to achieve mutual satisfaction that people would never be able to accomplish in a "normal" context. Richards was a professional domme for many years before transitioning and enjoys being on the dominant end of humiliation play, although he occasionally subs, too.
"The greatest appeal for me is being able to say something that I would never usually be able to…I get this thrill from norm-breaking," Richards said. "When a sub is offering their submission, the dom can take advantage of that in a way that they don't get to do very often. There's also the thrill of a submissive revealing something to me."
'It's about the deep connection between people, which requires mutual vulnerability.'
On the flip side, Richards said subs enjoy a level of intimacy with a partner that they may not be able to express in their everyday lives.
"It's about the deep connection between people, which requires mutual vulnerability," he explained. "You have to let down some of those walls, you have to place yourself in an uncomfortable situation. But when both parties are doing that for each other, that's how a connection is built."
Nobody can truly pinpoint the exact psychology of a kink (nice try, Freud!), but like Richards, Goerlich thinks BDSM play can be a form of cathartic release.
"Individuals who struggle with self-worth or who have a negative internal monologue might find validation and comfort in being able to externalize these emotions, confront them, process them, and be comforted afterward by a safe and trusted partner," Goerlich said.
As with all types of sexual play, kinks and BDSM, consent is the bottom line and must come from a foundation of communication. Without clear boundaries, safe words and an established high level of trust, humiliation play can devolve into harmful behavior.
"There's got to be mutual, enthusiastic consent," Richards explained.
A fine line divides consensual humiliation play from abuse. This line should be discussed and clearly drawn by everyone involved. Precautions and boundaries include safe words, hard no's and regular check-ins.
"If someone's not doing that and they call themselves a dom, run away," Richards advised. "My experience has been that most men who embrace that term of being a dom are just abusive a--holes. I think it's a way for them to shut somebody down and be like, 'You should do what I told you, even if you don't want to.'"
How do I tell my partner to humiliate me?
Communicating a sexual kink is no different than having good communication in all aspects of life. It works in tandem with a deep level of trust and a healthy relationship.
"If they feel like it's something that they're not able to communicate, I think that's a red flag for the entire dynamic," Richards said. "Often, people speak about sexual incompatibilities, and usually it's a proxy argument for some other lack of compatibility and inability to communicate and be on the same page. Sex is an easy scapegoat for people to avoid discussing a deeper mismatch."
If you're lucky enough to have a partner you trust and with whom you have open communication, Goerlich has tips on how to broach the subject of humiliation play:
- Begin by having a conversation about the terms or phrases that turn you on and explain why.
- Have the person on the receiving end of humiliation play lead the conversation.
- If a dominant person is interested in humiliation play, they should start by expressing curiosity about what their submissive might find sexy versus what they might find triggering. This conversation can help you set critical boundaries.
- If a submissive person wants to incorporate humiliation play into the dynamic, start slowly, perhaps by asking to be called a name or placed in a humiliating predicament.
Richards agreed that subs should take the lead in establishing clear boundaries when discussing being humiliated during sex.
"It may sound paradoxical because we think that the dom's in charge, but the sub is the one who guides this," he explained. "They're the one who gets to negotiate the limits.
"Sex, including kink, should be from a place of playfulness, exploration and curiosity," Richards continued. "And nobody's an expert. Humiliation can be tough for people because it's the opposite of what we consider loving communication. But if you take it outside of what is the 'norm,' humiliation play is not making fun of that person and their body, but rather about what they represent in that moment."