Bound and Shagged: Discipline

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

I promised you discipline this week, so here we go. Discipline. At face value, it seems pretty self-explanatory: discipline in BDSM is when the Dominant sets rules for the submissive that they are expected to follow. These rules can be anything, and if they’re broken, the submissive faces punishment. Simple enough, right?

Now, you may be wondering what place rules have in a relationship. Rules can do a lot of things for a couple. In BDSM, rules can simply be in place as a reminder of who has the power. This can include about how a submissive dresses or what they eat: they are meant to remind the submissive of their place. Rules can also have the purpose of ensuring that a submissive comes across to others the way a Dominant wants them to: speaking a certain way or being extremely polite, for instance, creates a very specific impression about the submissive that a Dominant may be looking for. Some rules have a sexual purpose: banning self-pleasure, for instance, is something from which a Dominant can derive pleasure at the expense of a submissive. Imagine if you have a toy that you love using, that you really enjoy pleasing yourself with, that you may lie back and let violate you over and over again. Your Dom may arrive informing you that you’re banned from using it again. Depending on the dynamic, your Dom may put the toy on a high shelf, conceal it, or, if they were especially sadistic, they may leave it right in front of you, teasing you with it. This may seem like an experience purely for the purpose of deriving you of pleasure, until they inform you that they will be taking the place of your toy, making sure that your virtue stays nice and tidy and claimed only for them. There are infinite reasons for and examples of these rules, but universally, if these rules are broken, the submissive will be punished.

Punishment can mean a few different things. It can be actual physical punishment, humiliation, or loss of privilege. Imagine this: You were told to stand in a corner with your eyes closed, and not to move. After a few minutes, you’re beginning to get antsy. You open your eyes and sneak a look over your shoulder, but your Dominant is standing there waiting. “I told you not to move,” he says. You try apologizing, but it doesn’t work. He pulls you over his lap and pushes down your pants and underwear before delivering hard smacks to your bare ass until you both know you won’t do it again. Punishment is negative reinforcement – using something bad to discourage unwanted behavior. Imagine being in bed with somebody who never does what you don’t want them to.

Positive reinforcement also has a place in discipline. Rewards can be extremely effective when trying to elicit certain types of behavior: for me, personally, a simple “good girl” after I’ve done something good can cause me to repeat that behavior over and over. I crave approval. More tangible rewards can also be offered as positive reinforcement. The most common tangible reward is orgasm. Orgasm restriction is a very common rule in BDSM – the Dom can restrict when (or if) the submissive can reach completion. This is often an extremely difficult rule to obey, made all the more hard by the Dom. If the submissive comes when they are not permitted to do so, they are punished. But if they are good, oftentimes the reward is orgasm.

This all may seem like it’s bordering on sadomasochism. In fact, though, discipline is extremely different. Discipline has a specific purpose: the Dominant wants the submissive to act in a certain way. Punishments aren’t typically enjoyed; they are simply necessary. Sadomasochism, however, is all about enjoying pain. And while discipline often has a place in sadomasochism, sadomasochism rarely finds its way into pure discipline. We’ll get to s&m next time, though – I, for one, can’t wait.


  1. Have you ever considered that there are better ways to satisfy desire for approval than this? Would you consider writing a future column considering whether BDSM is an emotionally/psychologically healthy practice, and considering whether there are alternative ways to satisfy whatever BDSM does for you?

    • I am BDSM-identified–though not currently a practitioner–and I have struggled with some of the same thoughts. Although BDSM is -NOT- a pathology or disorder and the upcoming DSM revision addresses this issue, it can still be practiced for unhealthy reasons. As a switch who leans Dominant, especially in the context of long-term relationships, I wonder about the motivations behind my own desire to control my partner, and whether it is healthy for me personally to indulge those desires.

  2. Any sexual practice–from BDSM to “vanilla” sex–needs careful consideration and thought in order to be Safe, Sane, & Consensual. BDSM is not inherently more emotionally unhealthy than vanilla sex. In fact, because BDSM requires so much communication (though this is not always followed through on), a lot of people who engage in BDSM play have done a lot of thinking about the emotions behind their desires.

    Of course, you don’t have to engage in BDSM to be having these kind of conversations (about your own desires and why you have them and the desires and limits of your partner(s)), but the nature of BDSM play does facilitate having these conversations in an explicit way. It’s easy to have vanilla sex without thinking about the potentially unhealthy emotional underpinnings of the acts, but in a BDSM context, because the specific acts and limits vary so widely from person to person, it’s much harder (if not entirely impossible!) to engage in play without a frank discussion. It’s always important to think and talk about why we want what we do, but don’t single out BDSM as a problem.

    There’s really no need to consider an alternative to BDSM when the BDSM play you’re engaging in is healthy, well thought out, and based on clear communication.

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