You’re on a leash, on the floor, being told you’re a disgusting animal. Your partner puts a high heeled shoe up to your face and demands you kiss their foot. You do it. They bring out a paddle and give you a spanking. They spit on you. You endure it. You’ve never been more turned on in your life.
Welcome to the world of erotic humiliation play. You’re going to have so much fun here.
Being humiliated in non-sexual scenarios is a huge driving force behind a lot of our anxieties. We loathe being embarrassed or made to feel small. It fucking sucks.
But in sex, it can feel like the opposite. BDSM often is a safe place to work through and play with our biggest fears and anxieties. It’s a way to take back a bit of control in a world that can feel like pure chaos. Humiliation during sex is at its core, “eroticizing or getting pleasure from words or activities that elicit feelings of embarrassment, shame, or humiliation,” says Zachary Zane, author of Boyslut: A Memoir and Manifesto, and sex expert for Momentum Intimacy. “You get a rush response when you’re called certain names or do [certain things], and people enjoy that heightened sensation in a sexual context.”
Remember in Succession when Gerri Kellman (J. Smith-Cameron) — mommy, btw — went off on one to Roman Roy (Kieran Culkin) about what a disgusting little pig he was while he jerked off in the bathroom? He was massively into being humiliated. It was the thing that was getting him off. The more horrible the things she said, the more into it he became. Arguably one of the hottest scenes in modern television history, if you’re into that kind of thing.
Making shame sexy. Who knew?
If you’re feeling a bit ~titillated~, you’re certainly in good company. This practice is huge in the kink world. In a study of cis-gendered women affiliated with the kink community, almost 43 percent enjoyed verbal abuse or humiliation and almost 26 percent enjoyed humiliating their partner in the same way. Erotic humiliation can be enjoyed by anyone, of any gender, of any sexual orientation.
Let’s explore what humiliation really is in BDSM, why people are so wild about it, and how to practice it safely (if you’re down to clown).
What humiliation play is in a kink context.
Humiliation play is incorporating humiliation into your sexual and/or BDSM practice. “It is a form of consensual psychological humiliation that can be physical, verbal, and emotional,” explains Dr. Lee Phillips, a psychotherapist and certified sex and couples therapist. “It is common in submissive/dominant relationships and it falls under the BDSM umbrella of sadomasochism.”
You literally become sexually aroused by being degraded.
OK, a quick refresher on what BDSM is — because if we don’t understand this aspect, humiliation play makes zero sense. BDSM stands for Bondage, Discipline/Dominance, Submission, Masochism. This kind of play hinges on consensual powerplay wherein the Dominant partner leads and the submissive partner follows.
In the context of erotic humiliation, the powerplay is focused on degradation. The Dom humiliates the sub in a safe and consensual way. “Humiliation-play can take place in the bedroom during sex, but sex does not have to be incorporated,” Philips says. “For example, crawling on your hands and knees with something in your mouth [and] bringing it to your Dom as they talk down to you is seen as humiliation-play.”
Humiliation can be a part of all BDSM dynamics. It’s about the intention. It’s an act within the play itself. It may be present in:
Psychological kink play
Such as verbal insults/degrading language
Punishments and painplay
Such as spankings, being tied up, slapped, or spit on.
Such as classic Dom/sub leather dynamics, Human/animal play, Caregiver/little (Daddy/little girl, Mommy/little boy etc.)
Why do people crave humiliation during sex?
We’re into humiliation during sex for many reasons. Because humans are hella complicated.
Shameful messages around sex.
“We learn about sex in a way that links sexuality with shame. Whether told directly or absorbed indirectly through culture, most of us hear far more about who and what we ‘shouldn’t’ do, the risks involved, and the potential damage (real or imagined) our sexual behaviors may cause,” explains Sarah Melancon, Ph.D, a sociologist, clinical sexologist, and resident expert at The Sex Toy Collective.
We learn about sex in a way that links sexuality with shame.
Despite this negative messaging, we still have sexual feelings. We’re human, after all. When our natural feelings are coupled with the messaging that sex is wrong and shameful, it can “cause us to purposefully bring feelings of shame or embarrassment to the surface and [this] can heighten arousal for many,” Melancon says.
How to explore a praise kink
Of course, we also have deeply personal insecurities that play into this. For example, if you’re insecure about your penis size, you may enjoy small-penis humiliation play. Your turn-on comes from your shame being eroticized.
Giving up control.
Additionally, embracing erotic humiliation can be an act of deep surrender for the submissive partner, says Julieta Chiaramonte, a kink instructor and sex expert. Completely giving your power over to a Dom is a big part of being fully immersed in powerplay.
The best sex toys for masturbation
Often, humiliation play is a way to let go of control, when your real life demands otherwise. “This is why usually very high-level CEOs or dominant people in their normal life may love being called unworthy and walking like a dog on a leash at night,” Chiaramonte says. “It’s relaxing, it’s taboo, and it’s hot to experiment in the shadow of humanity.”
Ironically, being humiliated during sex can actually be used to deepen your bond with your partner. “You’re very vulnerable when being humiliated,” Zane says. To engage in such a highly emotive form of play suggests a relationship that is deeply steeped in trust.
Safety and consent are key to safe play.
As with all sexual play, safety and consent are absolutely essential to playing in an ethical and enjoyable way. Remember, just because the play is centered around degradation doesn’t mean we’re looking to harm one another. Enthusiastic consent is a must. If it isn’t a hell yeah, it’s a hell no.
If it isn’t a hell yeah, it’s a hell no.
Chiaramonte suggests having a conversation with your partner in 3 steps. This should be done in a neutral, non-sexual space before play begins.
Here is my desire: “I would love to try some humiliation play, let me tell you more about it.”
This is why I desire it: “I think it would be really hot to be called X, Y, Z, and maybe wear a leash. This makes me feel super dominated.”
This is why I would love to try it with you: “I really trust you, enjoy our intimacy, and think it would be fun to experiment with this. How do you feel about it?”
Humiliation play looks different for everyone. “Humiliation-play is based on your own perceptions and experiences,” Philips says. You want to be clear on what you want and how you want it, so that everyone has the opportunity to play in a way that feels safe and pleasurable for them.
3 expert-approved tips for getting started.
Get really clear about language and boundaries.
You want to know exactly what is and is not on the table because what works for someone may be highly specific. “Perhaps you like the words ‘slut,’ and ‘whore’ but don’t like being called a ‘bitch,'” Zane says. “You need to communicate that to your partner.”
You don’t get what you don’t ask for. “If you don’t directly tell your partner you want to be called a dirty slut and have your hair pulled, it won’t happen,” Chiaramonte adds. “We get what we want when we can clearly ask for it.”
Have a safe word.
Now, sometimes, we don’t know what we don’t like until we get to that boundary. That’s OK. We’re experimenting a lot of the time. This is where a safe word comes in. “Always have a safe word, so if you’re not enjoying the experience, you can communicate to your partner that you’d like to stop immediately,” Zane says. Your safe word should be a non-sexual word that means: “The boundary has been reached. Stop.” Some examples include: Red, sailboat, evergreen, cupcake, etc.
Don’t forget aftercare.
Aftercare is the come-down time after a scene finishes. It’s a chance to recalibrate, relax, and reconnect with your partner. “Aftercare can take many forms, but often, it includes cuddling, kind words, and rehydration,” Zane says. Because erotic humiliation is so intense and consists of a lot of things we wouldn’t want in IRL, we need to make space to contain our emotions and come back down to earth in a safe and gentle way.