Going Deep: Topspace, Bottomspace, And Sado-Erotic Ecstasy
by Chris M

What is happening inside us when we do SM? Why does it feel good? What can we do to make it feel better or more rejuvenating? These are fundamental questions of SM. When you look at the human animal through the lens of biology we are all remarkably similar. We all share the same physical design we all have the same limbs, organs and biological needs as any human being on earth, as well as our prehistoric ancestors. Psychology, the world's religions and the amazing relevance of ancient literature all seem to indicate that we share a common internal architecture as well. Our bodies need nourishment and exercise, but the food of the soul is life itself.

One reason so many people have stumbled into the "heaven feeling" during SM play without even trying, has to do with the physical ordeal of bodyplay. Much of what we do: flagellation, penetration, bondage… prompts a powerful physiological response by tactile means alone. In my own exploration of the spiritual practice of SM,, the light bulb turning on came when I started noticing (through my voluminous reading) the intriguing similarities between our favorite activity and the mystical practices of world faiths. From prehistory forward people have engaged in rituals amusingly similar to contemporary SM. Examples? Fakirs meditating on beds of nails. Yogis turning bodily contortion into sublime acts of worship. The Sadhus going even farther, doing terribly odd things their bodies like rolling for thousands of miles, or maintaining a raised arm for years on end. Mother Africa has its initiatory rites involving scarification and rigorous corseting, and encumbarment. The Mandan Indians of the American plains performed gory rituals of mutilation and endurance like the Sundance, replicated by some contemporary SM connoisseurs. Th Shakers received their derogatory name because of their fits of ecstatic dancing, a practice shared by tribal Africans, Australian aboriginal and Sufi Dervishes alike. The list goes on and on: the Jewish mystic during a fast, the tribal initiate in a Micronesian flesh carving, the medieval Christian flagellant whipping his back into a crimson froth. All share the principal of bodily ordeal as a path towards higher awareness and mystical wisdom. When you consider the tingly otherworldly experiences we find our suburban dungeons can we really doubt the similarity between us and them?

The Physiology of Pleasurepain

Let's take a brief, look at the physiology of the SM encounter. Over the eons, our nervous systems evolved, at least in part, to rescue us from bad situations. Upon injury, the nervous system jabs the brain with a message guarantied to grab attention. Pain. It jolts the human beast into immediate action - a roaring scream, sudden spasmodic motion, fight or flight - all good things if, lets say, a saber tooth tiger takes an experimental bite of your posterior. Here's why it matters to us: To keep pain from crushing your ability to react, the brain floods the body with pain fighting natural opiates, hormones, enzymes, and adrenaline. And as any well-seasoned bottom knows, this response produces all sorts of fun. Feelings of excitement, arousal, clarity, even out of body or dream states. In short, the body's natural response to injury can be harnessed to create intense and mysterious sensations. When framed and emphasized by rites and rituals these natural responses would naturally be ascribed to supernatural powers.

A Calliope of the Senses: Types of Bodyplay

Just for fun I put together a table (I started with a shorter one by Fakir) clustering various SM techniques with activities from spiritual practice.

SMOther ActivitiesImpact PlaySpanking, flogging, paddling, face slapping, caning, sting toys, thud toysReligious flagellation, corporal punishment, boxing, football, rugbyCompressionPlastic wrap, mummification, bondage, tight rubber-lycra-latex, Japanese rope harnessesCorsets, stockings, girdles, hobble skirts, tight jeans, kiatsu, acupressure massage, scalp massage, huggingAdornment (Temporary)Drag, uniform fetish, leather-rubber-latex fetishism, femme/butchDieting, Bulimia, make-up, hair styling, Halloween, costume parties, school uniforms, dunce capsAdornment (Permanent)Tattooing, body jewelry, scarificationSilicon implants, tummy tucks, circumcisions, nose jobsPenetrationFisting, dildos, tit play, ass plugs, enemas, vibratorsVaginal and/or anal penetration, cunnilingus, masturbation, fellatio, Tantra, Ben-Wa ballsContortionSuction play, hog-tie, clips, pillory, the stocks, clamps and clothes pinsHigh heels, Chinese foot binding, torture: the rack, piercing enlargement, YogaSensory Deprivation Blindfolds, mittens, gags, hoodsChastity belts, solitary confinement, bread and water, giving up pleasures for Lent, asceticism, hermitage, celibacy, fasting, vows of silence and/or povertyEncumbermentMetal bondage, manacles, parachutesPumping iron, bustiers, hoop skirts, primitive heavy bracelets and anklets, Chinese weighted collarsTemperature PlayIce, fire, wax, hair dryers, mentholated ointments, pepper, toothpaste, cinnamon oilBen Gay steam baths, sauna, tanning, Finnish ice bathing, walking on hot coals, tight rubber, Japanese “Okyu” treatment, Sweat lodge ceremony, hot baths, cold showersCuttingBody piercing and/or cuttings, scarificationCircumcision, infibulation, Kandavi spear bearing, body piercing, tribal scarification, bed of nails, acupuncture, the OkeepaAbrasionWartenburg wheels, body shaving, knife playThe hair shirtTicklingTickle tortureWedding night rituals for 19th century brides, the bath of fliesGravity PlaySuspension harnesses, St. Andrew’s cross, slings, inversionSky diving, swimming, SCUBA, roller coasters, swing sets, tree climbingElectricityTENS units (recreational), cattle prods, stun guns, violet wandsTENS units (it was a medical device before it was a toy), the electric chairPhysical ExertionMilitary training drills, hard labor, boot camp, fraternal pledge hazing, body buildingMarathons, sports, martial arts, the whirling dervishes, the Aboriginal walkaboutReposeAftercareRest from exertion, relaxation, sleep, breaks between bench press setsPurgingSM water sportsScat, basic bodily functionsBreathingBreath controlScreaming, crying, laughing, Yoga breathing exercises, Kiai, hyperventilation, speaking in tonguesChemical IntoxicationSocial drinking, white wine enemasAlcohol, controlled substances, Native American rituals involving psychotropic drugsSightErotica/Pornography, voyeurism, exhibitionismGirl watching, boy watching, the visual artsHearingVerbal humiliationDirty stories, music, beautiful language, phone sexScentRaunch, scat, leather, rubber, perfumePotpourri, Lemon Pledge, natural body smellsIngestionDog dish trainingFood, drink, sacraments, nourishmentHypnotic InducementProlonged bondage, flagellation (for the top)Mantras, breathing exercises, TM, pinball, video games, dance, Buddhist chanting, Gregorian chants, drumming, knitting, painting, house work, crochet, chopping wood, Japanese tea ceremony

Fairly eye opening isn't it? How many SM activities have direct analogies in religious, spiritual, or curative practice. Notice also that the difference between bodyplay perceived as torture, religious ecstasy, or good clean fun is largely a matter of context and degree. Virtually any of these activities could be used as torture if they were done against ones will by an oppressor. The greatest sex in the world is still horrible - and criminal - if inflicted against someone's will.

True, true, scuba, phonesex, and potpourri are not traditional regarded as spiritual practice. But they are human experiences that produce human awe, the kind that leads to spiritual awakening. Lets return, for a moment to that lone flagellant in a side chapel of the Vatican, seeing visions and whipping his back into a massacre of welts. There's nothing in scripture about Jesus encouraging people to beat the daylights out of themselves. More likely, he is being visited by opioids than the Holy Spirit. But what is he doing right? Well, he is breathing deeply, for one thing, and he is concentrating on the object of his devotion. He's wailing the snot out of himself, and that helps too. Perhaps he knows that he's enjoying it too much, and that contributes to that deliciously nasty feeling of being bad. Perhaps he's meditating on his trespasses and feels the forgiving joy of the pain as it absolves him. But most importantly, he is forging a link with a higher spiritual power, a two-way link up between himself and the object of his worship using the language of pain. Now think for moment. In an earlier time, before our knowledge of psyche, physiology and the natural chemistry of the body, would we have any reason to doubt he was having a vision from God? Religious fundamentalists will probably hate me for describing the hobbies of true bad leatherfolk as spiritual devotions. But what kind of sadist would I be if I were shy about popping a deserving balloon. Grabbing a submissive woman's ass, especially someone in at ease with her compliant side, and goosing her while her mouth lolls open and her eyelids flutters, is a sort of call to prayer. And If the serving of Tea can be made spiritual through mindful focus why not the tender-savage caress of my single tail, in a candlelit dungeon?