A Piss Poor Attempt at an Explanation

I began to attempt to answer a question in a comment posted on my #indelible flash piece yesterday. I realized that it was too long to answer in a comment box and that I’d have a difficult time answering it coherently anyway. So, to begin with, here’s the question:

Cutting & bleeding seem strange to me, is it really erotic & sexy? If so…why?
Thank you,

First off, I need to point out that cutting and bleeding is sexy to very few people in the world.  It’s simply not common to be erotically stimulated by either pain or damage to the body’s integrity.  There’s nothing wrong with you if you don’t find it erotic. In fact, lots of people think there is something wrong with you if you do. However, there is an historical fascination with it threaded  through time, so although it’s not a common fetish, it’s definitely been around for a while and has made incursions into our cultural landscape.


I would have preferred to communicate this in story form, because I think it is the best way to invite people under the surface of something, especially when it’s complex and hard to comprehend.  But in this case, I can’t write the story without getting intensely personal in a way I’m not yet comfortable with. So, instead, I’ve tried to organize my thoughts on the subject using a mind-map.

You can click on this to see a larger version.

So, when everyone raves about mindmaps, you can see to some extent how useless they are. They explain nothing. They just map out the subject. But it’s a start and I think it contains hints of an explanation. I’d also like to point out that this is MY map of the subject. Someone else’s is going to look different – a masochist’s, for instance. And certainly a sadist’s is going to look VERY different.

I’ve broken it up into three large areas: Blood, Pain and Love. But I could have just as easily broken it up into emotional, physical and intellectual. The spheres don’t align exactly, but it’s pretty close. And there are themes that rear their heads over and over again in each of the areas.

The physical stuff is the easiest to deal with and the most quantifiable. Pain, in certain dosages, triggers a release of endorphins that makes you feel high. In many people, so does the sight of your own blood. I wouldn’t think it was a very efficient way to get a buzz, but some people really enjoy this way. It’s not the main attraction for me, but I can’t deny that it’s there.

The second easiest to deal with is the intellectual aspect of it. Letting someone cut you is taking a risk – and many people find risk erotic. In an optimum situation, you would do it with someone you trust, and submit to it as an act of trust. Blood, in recent times, has become a very dangerous thing. We are, hopefully, all aware of the pathogens it carries. So letting someone cut you is a risk to both the cutter and the person being cut.

Blood is a very semiotically heavy fluid. It is a lot like semen, in that it’s a life essence: if it’s not pumping through our bodies, we die. And there is an enduring paradox to it in religious terms: in Orthodox Judaism, blood is a ‘ritually impure’ substance. That’s why menstruating women are considered untouchable and why animals are slaughtered and hung to remove the blood. In Christianity, however, it has a purifying significance. People who ‘go to Jesus’ are ‘washed in the blood of the lamb’.  It also has magical properties. Transubstantiation is the ritual conversion of wine into the blood of Christ, during the mass. Meant to replay the event of the last supper.

In some non-Judeochristian religions, blood is used as a transactional vehicle. A fluid that can act as a bridge between the temporal world and the spiritual one. Hence the use of animal sacrifice in Santeria and Voodoo. I’m pretty sure it has serious symbolic value in other belief systems I have not mentioned. I just don’t know much about them.

Why am I mentioning all this? Because I’m a very cerebral person. When I see my own blood, shed by someone else, all those concepts and meanings are present for me. Perhaps not on a conscious level, but sub or semi-consciously, they inform the act.

The emotional aspect of it is the hardest for me to describe. I don’t enjoy pain. It doesn’t turn me on, but enduring it for someone else’s pleasure does. Deeply. This is why having someone offer, for instance, to spank me because I LIKE IT is a total turn off. It’s why well-meaning and accommodating people who are basically vanilla just won’t work for me. I had very kind people say… but seeing you turned on turns me on, so I don’t mind giving you some pain if it will arouse you. It’s very hard to give a coherent answer for why I just can’t go for that. It’s not a general state of arousal that interests me. They need to be turned on by my pain. And, just to add to the list of dumb things I require, they have to love me. The prospect of receiving pain from a sadist who feels casual about me… well, it isn’t going to happen.

Why? I think it has something to do with their struggle. It’s not too difficult for most people to hurt someone they don’t care about. Just look at the Milgram experiments.  But we all have boundaries for ourselves. We don’t normally allow ourselves to hurt people we love. It requires an urge of serious intensity to get past those boundaries.

So, I’m going to start using religious terms here, even though I’m an atheist, because our language isn’t as rich as it could be in discussing this issue.

There is something about the sin that the person who hurts me commits, and my ability to accept it and them – to love them through it and passed it. That sin on their part and that sacrifice on mine. That is not only erotic but transcendent for me. I get a sense of an intense bond being formed in the act. A union of redemption. As if the act of doing it this way redeems both people in the process.

In reading that explanation, I still fear I am not getting across the eroticism of it. But for me, it’s hideously erotic. I’d like to say it’s like the world’s most intense form of foreplay, but that would be relegating it to a prequel of a main show.  No, the cutting, the pain and the blood are an integral part of it. But during it, or after it, I’d chew through metal to fuck.

I’m not a masochist in the normal sense of the word. Perhaps a better term would be that I have a martyr complex. I’m not sure. Attempting to put a label on it frustrates me and makes me annoyed and defensive. But I guess that’s as close as I can get to explaining it all and I still think I’ve done a really bad job of it. Sorry.

Have I made any sense at all?

P.S. This is an attempt at an explanation for my earlier post and the eroticization of cutting. It is in no way an encouragement or endorsement of this sort of behaviour. Although I don’t want to make any judgements about others, I personally believe myself to be mentally ill for craving it.  This is unsafe behaviour and potentially a risk to your health. Yes, you can try to be careful and take as many precautions as you like, but make no mistake – open blades and blood are dangerous. Period.

  29 comments for “A Piss Poor Attempt at an Explanation

  1. October 15, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    Far from being “Piss Poor”, you speak eloquently and intelligently on the subject and your piece gave me an insight into something I’ve struggled to understand

    • October 15, 2011 at 7:29 pm

      Thank you. Listen, I’m almost sure it’s completely different for others.

      • October 16, 2011 at 5:14 pm

        Don’t be too completely sure it’s different for others. This was spot on for me.

  2. October 15, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    The problem with anything intensely personal and intensely emotional/physical is that the intellectual words are never enough to describe it properly. Even in fiction, where the requirement to be rational is less.

    I got it, I believe, but of course that’s hard to be sure of. Of course, I can draw on conversations with a lesbian Domme with a cutting fetish (she made the prettiest “blood pictures” on her sub’s ass) and my own struggles with explaining voyeurism

    • October 15, 2011 at 7:41 pm

      It’s very hard to step away from anything that affects you at such a deeply emotional level, and yet I think it’s the obligation of all good writers to attempt it.

  3. October 15, 2011 at 7:42 pm

    I don’t think this is a poor explanation. I think it’s a personal one, and I think it’s fiendishly hard to gauge how well one communicates those. I’ll conflate two terms here for a moment when I say Endurance is erotic. For a moment I’m treating ‘endurance’ and the concept of martyrdom you raised the same. Endurance/sacrifice as a twinned theme is an undercurrent in no small amount of non-con and questionable consent erotica, and I think obviously in S/M. Any passage in which someone ‘grits their teeth’ or the like speaks to it. But then enduring/martyring share some identical and some opposite qualities. And I think there can be desires for both in the same person. Martyring is nihilistic – It talks to the self destructive or to permanent damage, permanent change at the hands of another. But enduring is by definition about surviving through, coming out scarred but whole. Blood – and other extremophilia speak to both of these themes simultaneously. I don’t think, broken down the way you’ve done it, it’s that hard to understand.

  4. October 15, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    Yes, you’ve made a great deal of sense. I think what you’re discussing here could be applied to so many other things, not even in the sexual arena, simply because the human mind is so varied and complex when it comes to what we find attractive and desirable or necessary in order to be an individual.

    I think so much of this about cutting/bleeding feeds from the vampire mythos – there are those people who do live a ‘vampiric’ lifestyle, inspired by the old stories – the dark, dangerous figure, that overpowering embrace. They use razor blades in lieu of fangs and even dress the part. Films like The Hunger were a huge inspiration. The imagery alone inspires romantic/lusty longings most people, though, never act out.

    Pain though, always goes hand in hand with love or any intense emotional connection to another person. It’s always there, or the potential, at least. Pain keeps love from being boring. The potential of hurt can make obsessives of the most timid. We always want the smile of our loved one, their approval, their desire – but sometimes their sneer can be just as thrilling.

    • October 15, 2011 at 7:50 pm

      I actually purposefully left out any discussion of vampirism, although perhaps that was remiss of me. It’s just such a trendy issue… hehe. I was a coward.

      • October 15, 2011 at 7:55 pm

        No, not cowardly – you gave the topic depth and personality. Vampirism, while ‘trendy’ can derail a topic to something else completely. Still, the lifestyle (if you want to call it that) does exist and has been around quite awhile. I do happen to think the imagery has been so popular, it can explain why some may choose to indulge in it, even in a limited way. That might be more ‘surface’ appeal though. The deeper stuff though, you’ve articulated beautifully.

        • October 15, 2011 at 7:57 pm

          Actually, now that you mention it, I think some of my emotional component explanation is why I have such a hatred for Twilight. I hate its fundamental dishonesty.

        • October 15, 2011 at 8:01 pm

          I think ‘vampirism’ is, essentially, a surface attraction. It is limited, based upon a look, a style, less about real emotion.

        • October 15, 2011 at 8:11 pm

          Re: Twilight and RG’s hatred for it. Twilight is not about blood or vampirism really. It’s simply a way to make the “bad boy”, that so many teen girls are attracted to, acceptable. He’s a “bad boy” but he can’t help himself because he’s a vampire.

          • October 15, 2011 at 8:14 pm

            Whereas, I like my badboys to have the balls to own up to being bad by choice. Hehe.

        • October 15, 2011 at 9:11 pm

          Always been a little partial to bad girls meself. 😉

  5. October 15, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    You made a great deal of sense. Of course, you usually do 😉 As for myself, I am one of those people who needs pain (and enjoys bleeding). It connects my mind to my body in a way nothing else does, without it desire short-circuits into frustration. It’s the touchstone that connects me to my feelings and focuses my consciousness, and not merely during sex, but all the time. Trust is essential as I lack the ability to set limits, a poor choice could easily be fatal. The hardest part, of course, is the censure, or worse, pity, in people’s eyes when it comes out. I, for one, appreciate seeing my kink eroticised so beautifully.

    • October 15, 2011 at 7:48 pm

      Would you like to try and make your own mindmap of it? It would be interesting, no?

      • October 15, 2011 at 8:05 pm

        hmmm, I’ve never made a mindmap . . . that could be an interesting exercise, if a bit unsettling. Of course, if I can’t be honest with myself about it I’m in serious trouble.

  6. October 15, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    I think that it all makes a great deal of sense. I wonder why you’re so hard on yourself by ascribing it to mental illness, though? We don’t ever have real control over what turns us on, the control we have is over how we react to that and translate it into action and relationship. It sounds like you have a weird kink which you safely translate into consensual erotic behaviour, which is not something that strikes me as out of the ordinary. I think everybody has moments of “oh my god, why do I want to do *that*, am I some kind of freak?!”. But I think it’s important to remember that *everyone* fucks weird.

    I appreciate that I’m in some sense buying into the stigmatising conflation of “mental illness” with “bad”. I don’t want to dictate to anybody how they self-describe their internal personal life. I would just hope that everyone is as healthy and positive about it as possible, I guess.

    • October 16, 2011 at 8:59 pm

      I am speaking from a culturally normative point of view. Until very recently, homosexuality was classified as a mental illness. Our understanding of what is healthy or unhealthy, sane or insane, has changed over time and will keep changing.

      I am not outside society or apart from it. I don’t live life at the margins of my culture. It would be hypocrisy for me not to accept that these sorts of behaviours have labels within the mainstream of my society that are negative.

      I don’t have a problem with this. I sincerely hope that most people don’t get their jollies this way. It’s not a safe way to get them.

      There is also a dearly held fantasy that some how sadists and masochists (for instance and to use a label for the sake of brevity) are different sides of the same coin that neatly compliment each other. But it’s just not true. It would be better to say that although their desires don’t align entirely, they are sometimes able to accommodate the ways in which they don’t align.

      If I was wired to just get off on pain, it would be much simpler. There are many people in this world capable of doling it out. There are, in my experience, very few who can indulge in it without dehumanizing and forging a distance between themselves and the person they are doing it to. It requires a far greater level of responsibility taking. A far greater owning of what you are doing and who you are doing it to.

  7. October 15, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    The emotional aspect of it that you describe strikes right at the heart of submission, not the submission of “so I don’t mind giving you some pain if it will arouse you” but rather:
    “I like it when you make me do things, even things I don’t want to do.” And I got used to making her do them, even when she didn’t want to, because I learned, her pleasure in doing what I wanted was greater than her unhappiness at having done the unwanted thing, by a mile.

    • October 16, 2011 at 9:26 pm

      I think it’s complex and depends on the people involved. I’m not certain I’m a submissive in the sense that they are often described. And in a certain way, if you read the post, you can see that there is a very precarious balance of power going on.

  8. October 15, 2011 at 11:24 pm

    Elegantly explained. I would add a bit about the chemical events in the brain that result from cutting. It is widely documented in the literature pathologizing self-injury that cutting and bleeding releases natural opiates (as noted by the endorphins on the map). There is contradictory opinion on whether cutting causes dissociation or halts it. My personal opinion is that both top space and subspace mimic a level of dissociation. For me, cutting and blood provide a sharper jolt into or out of that space than, say, flogging. For those of us who find our own and/or others’ paths in and out of those states erotic, cutting is an intense, fast on-ramp.  Consider that some people “faint at the sight of blood.” Evolutionary biology has hard-wired us for deep, visceral response. This is, I believe, at the root of religious/mythical romanticizing of blood, which just layers a more complex, layered response.

    • October 16, 2011 at 9:27 pm

      Really good points, Wyeth. I think you’re spot on about the fast on-ramp.

  9. TFP
    October 17, 2011 at 6:38 pm


    I read your explanation and the various comments with great interest. I would surmise that the relationship between the two participants would have to be very meaningful & genuine in order to achieve the state you mention below.

    “during it, or after it, I’d chew through metal to fuck.”


    Thank you,

  10. Nan A
    October 20, 2011 at 12:30 am

    This resonates with me on so many levels. I went and made a mind-map of my own desires surrounding rope bondage, which has similar issues for me, but not exactly the same. The sin/redemption idea you discuss is very illuminating.

    One of the amazing things about being an erotica writer is thinking and trying to understand these issues, in ways that most people never contemplate. Most people take their sexuality for granted, and yet, we are all complex and unique in our desires. I wish more people would understand that.

    • October 20, 2011 at 9:35 am

      I wish more erotica writers believed it to be their job to reveal it. 😛

  11. Dis
    October 20, 2011 at 7:59 am

    Back to an earlier point, vampiric imagery IS sexual imagery. The “biting” is penetration and the vampire character is very much an embodiment of desire, desire carrying the connotations of evil/darkness/etc. I would say vampirism as a fetish is more about eroticizing taboo and mystery than superficial/display blood play.

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