July/August 2002

Black Leather Couch
by Dorothy Hayden, CSW, CAC



Dear Black Leather Couch:

I am a dominant woman and have been actively involved in the scene for about two years. I have met a great number of people, cinluding some terrific women who have become friends and have played with many submissive men in a variety of different scenes.

Lately, however, I'm feeling discontent and disillusioned with the scene, as the men I meet seem to me to be interchangable and superficial. It's like they get off and move on. I find myself longing for a more enduring relationship. Do I have to leave the scene to find a "vanilla" guy who wants to connect to me in other ways than just sexual? Is the only choice I have to give up my dominant nature (which I greatly enjoy) and leave the scene to find a relationship. Why can't I have both? What Is it about the male subs I meet that they don't seem to be able/willing to form and maintain relationships?

Lonely Lady M

Dear Lonely Lady M -

Rest assured, you’re not alone. I hear this complaint from male subs all the time. I don’t think gender/orientation makes a difference. So…the question really is: Why are so many people in the scene having problems forming and maintaining loving, caring relationships? Is it not?

I think the D/s scene is loaded with landmines in the area of healthy intimate relationships. People go to TES because they want to meet like-minded folk and some have the hope that they might find that “special one” who shares his/her dreams. But scene or no scene, it takes two whole, vital people to make one good relationship.

The problems arise due to the different levels of narcissism that people carry in the door. People with entrenched narcissistic problems have, at some time in their childhoods, withdrawn from real contact with real people because there was too much pain or trauma or whatever. Withdrawing into a world of their own, they develop a rich (usually sexual) fantasy life that nourishes and enlivens them in ways that the real people in the real world were unable to do. These people have difficulty leaving their internal “other world” to take the risk of dealing with a “warts-and-all”, regular, imperfect human being. After all, in fantasy, the dom or sub is always perfect. The scene is always perfectly controllable. There’s never any disappointment, rejection, or disillusionment like there is in real life.

I think many people come to the scene because they want to “live out their fantasy”. Well, hell, it’s plenty of fun to “play” at acting out our fantasies. BUT…is the primary concern acting out the fantasy, or is the primary concern THE HUMAN BEING with whom one is playing? Is there any recognition of the other person as a separate being with his/her own needs, wants, wishes? Or are we just trying to impose an overriding, rigid, compulsory fantasy onto someone who really isn’t a someone at all, but is rather an object. My personal definition of perversion is meeting a human being with a soul and turning him/her into a thing. I think the scene is really hot when there’s some level of empathic connection with the person you’re playing with.

The sweetest fruits of life are sexuality and love. We all want and need both. Scene sex may take some education and practice - the techniques of giving and receiving high-intensity, mind-blowing erotic experience. We have plenty of meetings to learn the techniques of playing. It’s a pretty straightforward deal.

But love is a bit stickier. First of all, it takes two whole, vital people to make one good relationship. If a sub is an adult and a whole person who makes a choice based on self-knowledge to be submissive, well, that’s something quite different than a woman who had childhood trauma and is developmentally arrested as a child in an adult woman’s body. This is a person who can’t really make adult choice but is rather looking for a dom to heal the past and to compensate for her own psychological deficits. Or, there’s the case of the dom who really couldn’t be less interested in the wants, needs and feelings of the sub or in understanding another person’s inner life to establish a human contact. I find in many of my dom patients a deep fear of abandonment combined with a shame-bound identity that tells them that no one could really love them unconditionally and consistently. These are the guys/gals who need to control the “object” to calm their fear about being abandoned/rejected when anyone really gets to know him/her. This type of narcissistic is so consumed with feeling secure through having power and control that he/she doesn’t have the psychic space to recognize the reality of another person.

This isn’t love. It’s sickness. These types of relationships, where one or both people are still children stuck in their histories, or are using another person as a mannequin upon which to drape their projections of the fantasy of the perfect scene, or where one or both people haven’t arrived at some level of personal security, are doomed. These people look at their beloved and see the hope of having the life-long fantasy (of whatever) being lived out through him/her. Invariably, I see them in couples counseling years later when they realize that they’ve been together for years feel rage and betrayal being they married their fantasies, not real people.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for fantasies and having them fulfilled. But in the human psyche, everything has its place and if the fantasy overrides satisfaction in real living, people have a hard time in relationships.

My advise, dear Lady M, and to all people in the scene who are looking for more intimacy and consistent companionship, is start out with one question in mind when you meet someone new: Besides being hot, or interesting, or having compatible playing styles, always keep one question in the back of your mind: “Can he or she love? For that matter, can I?


Ms. Hayden is a prominent lecturer on the psychology of male sexual masochism in both the therapeutic community and in the New York S&M community. She practices in New York City but does telephone therapy with people throughout the country. She can be reached at d2hayden@mindspring.com