As I write this post, it’s only a few days before Halloween, a day (or night) tailor made for BDSM. Look at a few of the parallels. Both Halloween and BDSM are about playing with the themes of desire, fantasy, hedonism and fear especially. Imagine a helpless victim, bound and gagged securely. An unrelenting tormentor, brandishing a knife, whip or other implements designed to cause pain. Tears, dread and an overwhelming sense of fear. I could be referring to the latest horror flick or an intense play scene between consensual partners, the blurring of fantasy terror and kink reality.
The question arises, why would kinky people deliberately want to be scared out of their wits? Sex geek science offers an explanation why kink infused doses of fear can actually be pleasurable.
The human brain is always processing information and receiving stimuli. This is extremely important when it comes to the emotion fear. Triggering feeling of fear and the physiological responses it creates are the brain’s way of keeping us safe. Our distant ancestors learned to be afraid when they saw an uncontrolled fire or a hungry tiger. In modern life we’re conditioned to be afraid of a speeding car that veers closely or a stranger following us on a darkened street. Fear is our natural alarm, alerting us when we’re in danger.
The brain does more than simply warn us of danger, it prompts the body to defend itself, to deal with the perceived threat. You’ve probably heard of the flight or fight response, well here’s how it works.
The stimuli is something that frightens you, be it a spider, rat or speaking in front of a large crowd. Two important parts of the brain that ultimately react to this stimulus are the amygdala and hypothalamus. The amygdala is referred to as “the seat of fear”, it’s literally the part of the brain that creates fearful emotions. The hypothalamus is responsible for the “flight or fight” response to being afraid. It causes heart rate and respiration to increase, the brain and senses to focus and even directs blood flow, the reason we get cold chills when spooked. We also get a surge of adrenaline, which heightens our emotional and physical state.
The unique thing about the fear response is that the brain has two different paths, called respectively the high road and low road. The high road fear response takes longer and includes more cognition. The low road involves less processing and quickly triggers the flight or fight response. A person’s brain uses both of these roads at the same time to evaluate fear stimuli. This means that we can be frightened by something that rationally poses no threat. For example, imagine seeing a scarecrow suddenly sway on a windy day. The low road response will trigger, causing us to scream or jump. The high road response takes the time to access the stimuli, letting us know it’s probably the wind and that the scarecrow isn’t a danger. However, we still receive the physiological fear response. This is why we get a buzz from roller coasters and horror movies.
Understanding how our brains process fear gives us an explanation how kinky fear play works. Take the example of an interrogation scene. A submissive in such a scene can experience very real fear, being helpless and facing a fearful result. The ropes, knives and pain in the scene are very real. The sudden click of a stun gun can make that sub wince and tug futility at their bonds. In the scene, both roads are working in tandem. The low road is prompting the body to deal with the all the stimuli of the interrogation, which seems real. Yet the high road response lets the brain access the scene, telling us that we’re in the hands of a trusted partner, one that mitigates the danger and doesn’t intend to cause any actual harm. We can enjoy the heightened sensory state of being afraid while knowing we’re completely safe.
A fear play scene lays all of this out. It allows us to knowingly and consensually experience something that makes us afraid in a controlled environment. Even when our scene feels out of control, it actually isn’t. This sense of balance and control is what afford us the aforementioned “healthy” dose of fear, or the respective sensory experience.
Fear play actually represents the best aspects of BDSM, consent, trust, safety and risk awareness. Kink can be a safe place to experience a range of emotions, including fear. Consider fear scenes like horror movies and roller coasters, a fun trip to the edge without actually going over.
Keep it sexy, scary and always kinky.