I was born in 1962. It was well into my lifetime when corporal punishment was abolished in UK schools and some of the things that happened, even as David Bowie was reinventing himself as Ziggy Stardust, now seem truly shocking. I remember coming home from school in tears after a headmaster had threatened to cane the whole year over something (admittedly something particularly unpleasant and upsetting which I won’t describe here), that someone in our year had done and for which the culprit had not been identified. I remember comforting a girl in my year after a caning administered by the male headmaster with nobody else present. Britain in the early 1970s could be a brutal place for children and issues like concern over wellbeing and safeguarding, were seemingly far from the thoughts of those in authority over us. To those of us who were there, the revelations of the sexual abuse of children in those distant times that have dominated headlines in recent years have been shocking but unsurprising.
By that time, corporal punishment (the birch) had been abolished in UK penal institutions. In Canada corporal punishment in prisons lingered on until 1972. The implementation of choice there was a leather strap. In BDSM circles the strap is still referred to by many as the Canadian prison strap. It was a particularly vicious thing and differed from the straps I have used in kink play in having holes. These were to allow the strap to travel faster through the air resulting in a harder impact and more pain. They also bit into the flesh and pulled away bits of skin as the strap was lifted off the buttocks, causing particularly nasty wounds that took a long time to heal. This was a particularly cruel punishment and one that, as we know from the testimony of those unfortunate enough to receive it, left lasting mental scars.
Despite knowing about its dark history, the prison strap is one of the favourite items in my toy bag. I bought mine at a fetish fair in Birmingham five years ago, shortly after discovering my dom side. I took it to a play party and used on a new play partner (who was to become a regular play partner). After a warmup I showed him my new strap. One stroke with this and he screamed with pain and cried “Red!”.
This remains the only time that a sub or bottom has safed out on me. This was partly due to inexperience on my part and to my not appreciating just what a strap can do. We talked the failed scene over and played again a couple of weeks later. This time I was a bit gentler, but he still cried “yellow” after three strokes and we moved on to other toys. This scene taught me something else. That is that the submissives’ fear of the strap is as powerful as the strap itself. I love the look of fear in their eyes, the pleading. I love messing with their heads too. I show them the strap, make them kiss it, then when I am behind them, put the strap down, pick up a nice suede flogger and hit them with that instead. Every time they scream as if they had had the strap, feeling the pain they had steeled themselves for, and not the actual pain.
In my experience it is only the strap that does this. I have a few nasty canes, and I don’t generally get people queuing up for 50 with the dragon. I have some quite fearsome paddles too. But only the strap arouses that raw, elemental fear.
I started this piece with a brief discussion of the sheer cruelty of the strap when used in an institutional context, because it helps to illustrate the emotional power of BDSM for its practitioners. It takes activities that are deeply unpleasant and recreates them as parody for the pleasure of participants. This enables BDSM to be both subversive and cathartic. I know a number of people on the scene who, through their play, are able to deal with their demons and emotional baggage. It is through kink that they can work things through in a safe and accepting environment. Not everything can be dealt with through BDSM, of course, and there are those who just get pleasure from pain. I am one of them. In terms of dynamics I can never be other than a dominant but I do need to be beaten from time to time. For feeling good, it can be even better than running!