I hate the way I love it when I make you tie me up

I tease men into dominating me. Afterward I feel shame and anger.

By Cary Tennis
Published February 20, 2007 12:00PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

Is it possible to change what turns you on?

My first sexual experience was being molested by a family friend when I was 14. I think it somehow made my body think that this is what sex is supposed to be.

Now I'm 35, I've had three long-term relationships and a few little ones scattered in between. There is always lots of great sex in the beginning, but I gradually start luring them into dominating me in bed. I don't even have to say anything to the man; it might be as simple as holding my arms over my head until he grabs them. And this progresses to other things: Holding my arms down leads to getting tied up, nibbling leads to biting. These aren't deranged guys; I really am guiding them into doing it and making them think I want it. And I do, while it's happening. But afterward, when my brain kicks back in, I hate myself for wanting it and I hate them for going along with it. Eventually I stop wanting to have sex completely, and the relationship dies. I wondered if I was trying to prove to myself over and over again that men just want to hurt me.

Even when I try to masturbate alone, I can't have an orgasm unless I allow a rush of violent images through my mind, kind of like in "Clockwork Orange," except the images are all of women being sexually humiliated. One particular image keeps coming up of a man forcing himself into a woman's throat with his fingers in her eye sockets. I feel awful even typing that. Thinking about that now makes my eyes well up. If I see a movie where someone gets raped it upsets me. But later, when I'm aroused, it will start replaying in my mind, and it's exciting. And then I feel horrible again after.

I know there are people who are into the whole S/M thing, and that's cool. For a long time I thought maybe I was just submissive and that eventually I would feel free about it. But that hasn't happened, and I'm destroying my relationships. Only one man ever stopped and said, "Why do you like that?" I didn't have an answer then. I feel like I have an answer now, but I don't know how to fix the problem.

I recognize that I have a pattern of behavior that is hurting me. I stopped dating for the time being, and I have been celibate for the past two years. I'm not afraid of sex. I love sex, and I miss it. But I don't want to keep guiding men I love into dominating me sexually, only to hate them for it later. I want to be able to have a loving sex life without anyone real or imaginary having to suffer.

I'm writing you because I feel like I'm all alone here. Please, if you've ever heard of anything like this, or know of any resources I can look to for help, I would be very grateful.


Dear Conflicted,

What you say makes sense to me, and you are not at all alone in what you are feeling. You survived a childhood experience in the best way you knew how. You came up with ways to deal with it that got you through it.

Naturally, some of those ways of coping with that early experience are not ideally suited to adult relationships. You were a child, a princess beset with unimaginable difficulties; now you are an adult, a queen ready to assume command and make things right. Now the queen, the central you, takes her place on the throne.

How this happens is slowly, through regular work, with some difficulty and many setbacks but demonstrable progress and glimpses of perfection. It occurs in the form of a journey. You do it with someone trained and skilled in healing the mind and body, and not only trained but also magically connected to you -- in a therapeutic relationship, that is, that has something of the uncanny about it -- someone, say, who has gone through just what you have gone through, someone you would trust with your life, someone with unerring intuition who can help you make the leaps you need to make and hold you back from making the leaps best not yet made.

In other words, I am suggesting that you seek clinical help but it is not a cold, scientific process that I am suggesting. In taking a sensible clinical approach I think you will go beyond sensible and clinical to the deepest questions about who you are.

I suggest that you begin surveying psychotherapists and psychiatrists, using your letter to me as a description of the problem you want help with. Ask them if they have experience helping people with problems like yours. Ask them how they treat the effects of adolescent sexual abuse. Ask if they can help you minimize the intensity of these intrusive thoughts and flashbacks. Their answers will vary. There is no right answer. I certainly don't know what they will say. I am not advocating any particular approach; rather, I am suggesting that you try to have some good conversations -- conversations that you later will evaluate carefully until you can say, I like this person, I think I need to work with her!

My vision of the queen, uttered above, is just something that came to me, but it came strongly and immediately. I see you becoming within yourself the queen of all else, not to vanquish these other phenomena but to make them her subjects, not to rule over them with an iron hand but to assert herself as fearless and invulnerable before them.

You must become the queen of all your torment. I see you beset by goblins, lower beings dripping and covered with gray scales, with knobby, hairless elbows and hard, cold lips, nipping at your hem, coming screaming into your face, bats and vultures and goblins all tormenting you because you are unable to proclaim yourself the queen with sufficient vehemence and certainty. I see you going through this storm and coming out the other side having found a wonderful power (a power, more miraculous still, that you always had!) to subdue them and accept them, all of you finally at peace together.

Maybe I am just too childish, and too limited to my own goblins and terrors and residual pathologies. But I believe there is a way out of this, that grand mysteries await you, and that all you need to do is find a competent intuitive guide trained in the ways of the mind and the body -- i.e., a psychiatrist or psychotherapist with clinical knowledge and experience relevant to your story.

And then you just keep at it even when it gets very, very weird.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

What? You want more?

  • Read more Cary Tennis in the Since You Asked directory.
  • See what others are saying and/or join the conversation in the Table Talk forum.
  • Ask for advice or make a comment to Cary Tennis.
  • Send a letter to Salon's editors not for publication.

  • Cary Tennis

    MORE FROM Cary TennisFOLLOW @carytennisLIKE Cary Tennis

    Related Topics ------------------------------------------

    Love And Sex Psychology Sex Sexual Abuse Since You Asked Violence Against Women