Since officially becoming a sexual therapist 3 years ago, I have had more and more submissive clients coming to talk to me about their kink related issues and traumas. In these conversations a common thread among the different stories is appearing to me – many subs are struggling to exercise their right to say no and are having troubling experiences as a result, some even walking away from their sessions with the feeling that they have been violated in some way.
It’s an incredibly difficult scenario to process, a common complaint from subs in these situations is that they feel they have no way to overcome the trauma and move on from the negative experience because the Dommes in question are not being held accountable, but even disregarding the fact that in this unregulated industry it’s actually very difficult to hold anyone accountable anyway (at least for a “bad experience” if not a physical injury) – how do you hold someone accountable for something they never even knew was an issue in the first place?
It might seem crazy to some that there are people who struggle to refuse or reject things they don’t want, but if you look at things from the perspective of a submissive it’s actually not that difficult to understand. Most subs report that they fear saying no to their Domme, or using safe words for 3 main reasons:
1.They don’t want to disappoint their Domme.
2.They fear that the Domme they love will refuse to see them again.
3.They fear that in saying no to one thing, they could be punished with something much worse.
When you consider the very strict, no nonsense attitude that a lot of Dommes convey, these reasons start to make sense, but the reality is, strict or not – most humans actually struggle to say no to a person they view as an “authority” figure and studies have been done to prove this.
The human tendency to comply.
Some of the first experiments on human compliance were conducted by Stanley Milgram of Yale University in 1961. His study aimed to answer the question - how did Nazi authorities manage to get so many Germans to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience?
Participants were led to believe that they were assisting an unrelated experiment on someone else, in which they had to administer electric shocks to a "learner." The “learner” was subjected to memory tests by the “teacher” (the unwitting participant actually being experimented on), and if they were unable to correctly recall information they had been provided, they would be electrocuted by the “teacher”. The “learners” were in fact actors and not actually being shocked at all, but the “teacher” was led to believe that the electric shocks were real and for every incorrect response, the shocks they provided gradually increased to levels that would have been fatal had they been real. If the teacher became uncomfortable at the sounds of agony they would hear from the learner on the other side of the screen and started to object, the scientist in control would simply tell the teacher “the experiment requires that you continue”, “it is absolutely essential that you continue” and finally, “You have no other choice, you MUST continue.”
The initial experiments were performed on men, then eventually repeated many times around the world with different groups of people and genders with fairly consistent results - a very high proportion of subjects would fully obey the instructions, albeit reluctantly, from the person they believed to be the authority figure in that situation – the scientist.
Before Stanley Milgram started the experiments he conducted an informal poll among his peers and colleagues, who came to the consensus that less than 3% (an average of about 1.2%) of “teachers” would actually inflict the maximum voltage on the “learner”, who would view a university scientist as an authority over them right? But in the end, that figure turned out to be over 65%, despite the fact that nearly all the teachers displayed visible signs of distress while complying.
So what can I as a Domme take away from this study on the influence of authority and what I am learning from the clients who talk to me about their issues? That potentially - there is a very high probability that over half of my clients are agreeing to engage in practices they would rather not - at my suggestion. Sure, you could say that because we ask our subs to let us hurt them rather than them hurting others, then when it comes to our situation that figure could be much lower, but we’re talking about subs that actually love, admire and respect us, and as a result that figure could also be much higher.
For an activity that is supposed to be built around absolute consent, whether that figure is lower, higher or the same for our community, that is still a terrifying prospect.