To punish or not.

There is much discussion in the D/s lifestyle about punishment, and to a lesser extent discipline. Too few people actually take the time to examine what punishment in D/s is for, what purpose it serves, and what effect it can have on a relationship.
What then is punishment and discipline, and how can they be applied to a D/s relationship?

Looking at various definitions of punishment, a general view is that punishment is the imposition of a penalty for a fault or a violation. The penalty may well be inflicted in retribution or retaliation. The infliction of corporal punishment may also be involved in a punishment.
Discipline is better defined as "training to improve strength or self control".

So, there are two distinct and very different meanings to each of punishment and discipline that may be applied to a D/s relationship.

In a D/s relationship the submissive, by their nature requires that certain areas of their life be controlled by the Dominant. This control can happen in many ways, and at many levels; examples of this control might be deciding how certain things may be done, what the submissive might wear, or how they may act. What the Dominant is actually being asked to do is to create a series of boundaries, either physical or mental, the crossing of which it is understood should not happen. The crossing of any boundary by the submissive for whatever reason should be a cause for the Dominant to show displeasure.

What happens is confusion between whether discipline and punishment ought to be used to correct a wrongdoing.

Now, the Dominant's wish to ensure that the sub does not transgress a boundary (need to control), and the subs desire to please (desire to be controlled by) the Dominant are important factors here. As well as this it is vital that both know where the lines are drawn, because it's no good for a sub to be told they have crossed a line, and will be punished if, firstly they didn't know the line was there, and second they did not know what the consequences of that crossing would be. Therefore, the setting of rules agreed by both is important, and necessary for the operation of a successful D/s relationship.

Punishment should be thought of as doing two things: Retribution and deterrence. It can be the result of the crossing of the boundary, and the knowledge that the punishment will ensue should be enough, under normal circumstances, to make the sub think twice about actually crossing the line. As part of a punishment it's important that even if the rules are well known, the sub is reminded why they are being punished, and what for. In a D/s relationship that is consensual it is important that the Dominant can justify the action. You cannot punish "just because you can". That is a flagrant disregard of the control which is granted, and one that ought never to be used.

Discipline, on the other hand is much more of a precursor to punishment. As the definition above suggested, discipline can be thought of as teaching to improve strength or self control.

The fundamental difference is that punishment is given for something already done, and discipline is used to stop something happening that has not yet occurred. It is important not to mix the two concepts, or we fall into the same trap that many do, where the terms become interchangeable, when in fact they should be very distinct.

Punishment should be thought of as a final choice, only when all else has failed. By definition the submissive does not like to displease the Dominant so a strong word, or lecture, or a re-emphasis of rules may well do the trick. What is important to remember is that the submissive must understand that the Dominant WILL use punishment as that last option. By never punishing the Dominants position within the relationship may well be undermined, and some respect might be lost. It may well be useful to keep one specific item for punishment that the submissive does not like, or is never used in play. This way the punishment and play are kept entirely separate, and reduces the chance of the submissive who transgresses because they WANT to be punished.

Some will of course feel that they want punishment because the punishment fulfils a separate need they may have to feel pain. If a submissive does this it is important that the Dominant sees this, and uses a punishment that the sub will not enjoy. A physical punishment may not always be the answer.

For most submissives receiving a punishment is both embarrassing and distressing. The fact that the Dom has need to inflict a punishment underlines how displeased they are with the actions of the sub. After the punishment is completed, it is important that the Dominant comforts the sub, telling them how loved and wanted they are, because it is likely the submissive will be totally distraught at this time. Do not leave them alone, stay with them, and show them how much you care for them. The punishment at this point is over, and should not be revisited.

There is also a point to remember: if a punishment needs to be administered for the same kind of transgression, always be consistent, and do not "change the rules" just to suit the moment.
Within consensual relationships it is important always to consider safety, and safewords.

So a major question here is: Should a sub be able to "safe out" of a punishment? The answer should be No. Does that not contradict the rules of Safe, Sane, and Consensual? No, it does not. If a sub could call a safeword to simply get out of receiving a serious punishment then what is the point in accepting that punishment is necessary? The sub uses a safeword to stop the Dominant from passing a personal limit, or a boundary: at the threshold of pain for example. This in effect allows them to say "I am at my limit and can take no more, so stop".

It is therefore incumbent upon the Dom to see that the punishment that is chosen will not take the sub to the point of calling that safeword. This may seem a difficult concept to understand but I do feel it's important, as the D/s relationship is based upon the respective positions of Dominant and submissive. The submissive grants the Dom the right to decide, and therefore the Dom must use that right wisely. Do not use punishment as revenge, or as a way to beat the living daylights out of the submissive. That's not what it is about. Yes, use the physical side, but remember that the focus of punishment, if done correctly is to make the sub aware that she has failed the Dom, and that they are dissatisfied. This in itself should be bad enough, without the addition of physical pain.

I believe very much in talking things through; discuss everything at great length, and I strongly advise that couples in D/s relationships set aside time for this exchange of views. Don't just discuss the good stuff, but look at the bad things too. Talk about things like punishment, and how it may be administered, whether you might agree to restrict the use of a safeword in a real punishment situation.

Punishment has its use, but only as a last resort, and only when all other avenues have been exhausted. It is an important tool though, and one that if used correctly will better define the Dom and subs positions in a relationship.

Do not joke about punishment: it is no laughing matter. Those who reduce punishment to a game level, (every 5 minutes: You will get punished for that sub…Oh Master will punish me for that) show a lack of thought about the importance and seriousness of an integral, but very unfunny part of a D/s relationship.

Finally I would make the point that a scene and a real punishment should be kept entirely separate. Of course there may be some kind of punishment scene within your play, and that is fine, but in my view, real punishment is far too serious, and important to be incorporated into a scene. Know the difference, and define it together, and hopefully punishment wont have to happen too often. Punishing ones sub should be a bad experience for both, but on balance, when done correctly a good day for the relationship.

© D/s Seekers 2003