Training in D/s—How? (2/3)
In an earlier post, I shared some thoughts about why we train in D/s. Today I want to look a bit at the “how question”—how do you modify a person’s behavior in the context of a D/s relationship. What are some common mistakes? What are the ethical considerations and concerns? These are serious questions, so let’s get started. (Also, the usual disclaimers apply: I write this from my own gender perspective, and you should feel free to adapt to your own situation.) One of my readers sent me this ask quite some time ago:
I train animals professionally (marine mammals to be exact) and I totally geek out anytime you describe training methods on here. There’s far more classical (vs operant) conditioning in a D/s dynamic than in animal training, but the principles are spot on. I’ve nearly brought up examples from your blog when teaching our junior trainers. Though, being a sub with so much training knowledge seems to make most potential Doms uneasy. My guess is they may be inexperienced and thus insecure. Thoughts?
For those of you think you don’t know the difference between classical and operant conditioning, you actually probably do know the difference. The classic examples of classical condition are Pavlov’s experiments in which an involuntary reaction was associated with a neutral stimulus. Everyone knows about the dog experiments in which a bell was rung whenever they were given food. Eventually, the dogs salivated at the sound of the bell. (What you may not be familiar with is that Pavlov did some unethical human experiments, for instance, instilling phobias.) Operant conditioning is probably more familiar and straightforward: creating an association between a behavior and a result. If she learns that bad things happen when she does something, the frequency of the undesired behavior will decrease. Now, I want to respectfully disagree with my reader (who undoubtedly knows a lot more about training an animal than I do (and I do wish I could sit in on one of those training classes in which she brings up examples from my blog (and, as evidenced by three nested parenthesis, my mind is a little boggled at my blog training a trainer to train junior trainers to train animals….))) I suspect she sees classical conditioning in some of the results of D/s training, but, in my experience, a girl’s involuntary reactions are well established before I touch her. The very first girl I ever slammed against a wall while holding her by the throat was dripping wet as soon as I touched her. I’ve seen many girls’ nipples harden when I give her “that look” over a drink or at dinner, or watched her grind her thighs together and squirm at a certain tone of voice. Every time I’ve grabbed a handful of a submissive girl’s hair, her personality and body language went through a dramatic shift. I recently sent an innocuous photo of three belts to a girl who responded with something like, “Omg. I don’t understand my body’s reaction at this. I have no control over what’s happening to me.” In all of these cases, a sexual response was associated with a stimulus that might not normally be considered provocative, but I did not train that response. It was already a part of her psychological and sexual personae—I just knew how to touch it in a way that elicited that response. In truth, there is some classical conditioning in D/s, and some very important applications (how do you respond to “good girl”?), but I think operant conditioning is far more common. The Dominant who simply punishes unwanted behavior is missing some opportunities. I think there are two things that play into this: First, many people think that D/s is about punishment, and that punishment is the focus of D/s relationships. This is wrong, but, even more destructive, is that many Dominants are insecure on some level and perhaps are paranoid about appearing weak. These types of faux-dominants often speak in ways that reassure themselves of their own dominance (e.g., constantly saying how “alpha” or how dominant they are), and they also tend to avoid tenderness and gentleness as unbecoming a dominant. This is, obviously, silly, and it misses an important point—as effective as punishment is as a deterrent, encouragement and rewarding wanted behavior can be an even quicker path to success. Furthermore, consequences (whether good or bad) can either begin or end as a result of a girl’s actions. This gives the following possibilities:
- Positive reinforcement: Desired behavior results in a reward.
- Negative reinforcement: Desired behavior results in something unpleasant being taken away.
- Positive punishment: Undesired behavior results in a punishment.
- Negative punishment: Undesired behavior results in something good being taken away.
This is an oversimplification, but it hits the important points. Now, with this bag of tricks, the Dominant is better prepared to respond with flexibility. It is not necessary to use every option, but the Dominant has many more possibilities at his command; pure punishment is a very blunt instrument when it comes to modifying human behavior. This brings up another important point—you are dealing with a human being. I have had several people tell me recently that I am not actually dominant and that I make the mistake of anthropomorphizing the submissive. (Yes, they used that exact word, and I’m pretty sure most of these guys are, frankly, not really that smart. I’m very curious if there’s some document or forum out there that uses this word because it’s odd to hear it three times in the same context.) Essentially, what they are saying is that I am making the “mistake” of treating a submissive as if she were human, and that effective training requires treating her as if she were something less than human. I strongly believe this is wrong, for a few reasons. First of all, neither I nor any woman I have been involved with is stupid enough to be able to accept a cognitive framework that relies on something that is obviously untrue. Second, you have a tremendous ethical responsibility to this other person. Much of D/s training and behavior modification walks the line, and we must constantly ask ourselves “is this healthy and good?” You are doing things to this girl and changing her in ways that will last for a long time—perhaps forever. This is not to be done lightly and without careful consideration, and, if you think of her as not human, you are relieved of a lot of your ethical burden and can blissfully go about wrecking someone’s life and creating the need for years of therapy. Third, training a human offers some interesting possibilities compared to training an animal—it’s a lot easier to train a girl. (This post ended up being quite long. I’ll follow up soon with another post looking at specific behaviors that can be trained, examples of punishments, and some thoughts on reinforcement schedules and consistency.)