The Pain Game

A carefully administered smack on a bare behind. A furrowed brow glistening with perspiration. A thick, raised welt and a rosy hue spreading across the surface of pale skin. A look of ecstasy in the eyes. A needle puncturing smooth flesh, then disappearing underneath it. A moan escaping from between parted lips. What do these sensual signs represent to a viewer? Pain or pleasure? What about both?

When I watch videos that depict the joys of leathersex—bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, and sadomasochism (BDSM)—more often than not, I am disappointed. Sometimes poor production values are to blame, a problem from which many alternative and underground films suffer. Or the dialogue between players is a series of clichés, from the stereotypical lick-my-boots-you-pig command to the please-Mistress-may-I-have-another response. The interaction between tops and bottoms seems forced, their connection fake, their pleasure an uninspired performance. These videos leave me longing for real, experienced leatherfolk, rich power dynamics, and authentic flashes of sadist pleasure or sublime submission.

Part of the challenge in making a hot BDSM movie is that BDSM is hard to explain to people who've never experienced it—it can be like telling a story in a foreign language without the benefit of a translator. The erotic possibilities of pain are especially tricky to communicate to folks who associate pain with violence, physical discomfort, and suffering. Sex is supposed to be about feeling good, and what feels good about pain? Actually, giving and receiving pain can be extremely pleasurable for some people. There is a very fine line between pleasure and pain, and many people like to explore that boundary. People who enjoy receiving pain like to test their endurance, strength, and resilience. When the body experiences pain, it releases endorphins and other chemicals that can cause one to feel aroused, euphoric, or high. BDSM play may combine pain with an intense emotional component, where someone has the opportunity to explore fantasies and even fears. Role-playing can be a chance to investigate erotically charged power dynamics. Some BDSM practitioners describe their experiences as deeply spiritual. When they play, they can achieve different states of consciousness as well as connect with their own bodies, their lovers, and a higher power.

With all these components involved, the complexities of BDSM are very difficult to capture on film. Sometimes the exchange of power isn't as obvious as a whip-toting Master and his cowering slave; in fact, most of the time, it's much more subtle. On either end of a cowhide flogger or a Lucite cane, the top's and the bottom's experiences can be a unique combination of physical sensation, emotional intensity, and psychological turn-on. How does one illustrate something that may be quite internal and difficult to express? My girlfriend said that the first time she saw someone being whipped, she was bored. Once she had been whipped herself, watching it could be mesmerizing, because she could better identify with what the bottom was experiencing. Can a viewer begin to understand, appreciate, and enjoy watching a BDSM scene if he or she has never actually experienced the activity?

Professional dominatrix and BDSM educator Cleo Dubois makes a valiant attempt to create a better BDSM video with her new release, The Pain Game ( The hour-long video consists of two different scenes between the French dom ("Call me Madame") and two of her bottoms, a middle-aged man named Brad and a young woman called Creed. The movie is educational, not in a traditional how-to way, but because Dubois speaks openly in interviews before and after the two scenes about what BDSM means and why people do it.

Instead of paying lip service to crucial concepts like "negotiation" and "consensuality," Dubois shows us the process as she and Brad talk about their experience level, their desires, and their limits before their scene. She then goes to town on him with different floggers and a pair of nasty clothespins. But it is when she has him tied down to a bondage bed, with a hood over his head, that she really tests him with cock-and-ball torture. She talks to him as she places tiny plastic clothespins along the ridge of the head of his cock (trust me, these suckers hurt, especially in such a sensitive spot!). If the viewer is still wondering what he's getting out of this seemingly excruciating activity, all you have to do is take a look at his hard cock and the smile on his face to understand.

In the second, more intense scene, Dubois attaches a series of clothespins with white feathers on the end of them to Creed's back. After more than two dozen are clipped to her skin, she appears to have wings. Then Dubois inserts needles into her chest in a pattern above her breasts using a process called "play piercing," a temporary piercing of the skin. When all the needles are in, she loops rubber bands and string around the ends of the needles, and tugs on the string until Creed is swaying and, yes, flying in her own way. Neither scene is overtly sexual, with only a minimum of genital contact, but clearly everyone is getting off.

Dubois transcends the typical "let me beat the crap out of you just for the hell of it" kind of BDSM story. The Pain Game is one of the more thoughtful BDSM flicks I've seen, with much camera attention paid to the two bottoms, their responses and their pleasure. Plus Dubois's talking clips offer insight into kink: "In this society, we really support people who push their limits in sports and other things. We don't support those who push their limits and find out who they are when there is an erotic component." The one thing missing for me are the voices of Brad and Creed. I wish they had also been interviewed and viewers had the opportunity to hear what the experience of bottoming is like for them. I wanted them to describe what was going on in their minds and bodies during their scenes. Fleshing out these two characters would have heightened my viewing experience, and added another level of education for people who may not understand BDSM from the bottom's point of view. Madame, may I have a sequel?

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