"You can invent some sort of punishment, for me not doing it."
A note from Ten, via email, regarding him being a little shy over shaving around his cock and balls. A somewhat moot point, given that he has gone and done it - smooth skin is now a prerequisite for him to orgasm. It did get me thinking about punishment though, and how I think it should operate.
Punishment is an important part of training, something that I am naturally thinking of a lot these days. I want to make a very clear distinction between punishment and torture or other forms of pain play. Those things I will do anyway, I will want to do them and I will expect bottoms, cheeks and skin to be presented for such activities with eagerness. Punishment isn't a catch all term for hitting someone - I have a particular pet hate of "made up" punishments, whereby the dominant suddenly decides that the submissive is naughty or bad and needs punishment. I think that makes a mockery out of the trust between the two, and can cause a lot of unintended hurt to someone who doesn't feel they warrant a punishment, it also diminishes the severity of true punishment by making it appear whimsical and random. Now, there's nothing wrong with dishing out a bit of whimsical or random abuse, because you feel like it, or because they are just bent over like so, or because it's a day with a "y" in it. But that's not punishment. A punishment is different. It's less about the submissive offering something up to be abused in a power exchange that we both enjoy, more about me "teaching them a lesson" through something unpleasant in recompense for a misdeed.
Where it gets a little bit more complicated in my head is over the nature of the wrongdoing. It's not about, as in that original email, punishing someone for something that they flat refuse to do, ever. That doesn't sit quite right with me because I want punishment to be remedial, you give out the punishment and then do better next time. If someone is never, ever going to do something then the punishment is wasted, it won't help them change. Equally, I'm not sure you can ever call an action "bad" if it hasn't been agreed on in the first place, there is no transgression as such, simply a difference of opinion. I might hit someone because they have annoyed me, but it wouldn't be a punishment.
So, before punishment proper can happen, there needs to be rules, parameters which both parties (or which all of you, for those more multiply inclined) understand and are clear on. In my opinion, the less rules there are the better, and the simpler they are, the better. There's more to be written on protocol later, but when it comes to punishment, it needs to be very obvious when rules have been broken, and ideally, they need to be rules that it is possible (though perhaps difficult) for the submissive to keep. Rules like "always wear a red tie" are pretty clear if sartorially dull. Rules like "please me at all times" are horribly vague. There's no satisfaction in living by an unclear rule, but there is joy in living up to a coherent one. The most important part of whatever the rules are, is the agreement that if the submissive breaks these rules then they will be punished. Oftentimes, and especially with the "proud" submissive - those who derive satisfaction from being good - they will want to be punished, may even ask for it. Punishment works for the submissive because it has a cathartic element to it, a scourging away of the sin or misdemeanour so things can go back to whatever qualifies as normal in our kinky little worlds.
I like punishments that fit the crime - and being creatively nasty is one of the joys of being on top (just as being creatively abused is one of the joys of bottoming). Different punishments work well for different people and different actions. Punishments should be something the submissive does not enjoy doing, which makes their willingness to go through it an experience in and of itself and reflects well on their desire to make good. I especially like punishments that the submissive inputs into themselves, again, it's about them offering up something important and about what they are prepared to do in order to resolve the situation.
Finally, punishments don't have to hurt - physically. There's lots of ways of making people feel bad that don't involve pain, and that can often go awry especially if the submissive is a masochist. Think of all those bratty submissives who play up specifically to get cruel attention. There's little point in spanking the bottom of a naughty boy when that's what he wanted you to do all along. Putting him a corner, tied in an uncomfortable position, with a bag on his head and ignoring him for a length of time might be a different matter. It probably sounds obvious, but worth stating anyway: punishment works best when it focuses on the desires/wishes of the submissive and then thwarts them. After all, by breaking the rules, they have gone against the desires of the dominant, so it's only fair.
5 weeks ago