Consent and Catharsis: Coping With Trauma That Comes Up During Rough Play

by Kinkly
Published: JANUARY 20, 2016 | Updated: AUGUST 20, 2021
Consent can allow for revisiting memories and trauma in a safe space.

It’s late in the day, and I’m staring at a computer screen with tears in my eyes. Before me lies a few lines of plain text, but it was enough to bring me to this point. Emotions of all sorts race through my head faster than I can collect them. Images of rope and candle wax, cloth cleave gags and blindfolds, and enough tape to mummify an ape, all of it dancing around an image of Lily. It causes my heart to race with anticipation, but not without a bit of anxiety. Some of what I’m thinking scares me, because I want it deeply, but fear how far it might go.


The lines on the screen belong to a game called Consensual Torture Simulator, a Twine-based literary game designed by Merritt Kopas. In this game, you are asked by your girlfriend, who appreciates being beaten up (of all things), to make her cry. As the game proceeds, your decisions and actions lead to that eventual outcome, with a denouement that brings both you and her closer together, despite the pain that you have caused her.

Lily does not like being beaten up. She does, however, like consent.

When she plays with me, I know that there is a lot more going on with her: memories that still loom strong in her mind. So, when she consents to play, I know that she risks revisiting those memories.


In the room of consent, she feels comfortable. If she does find those memories during play, we work through them; play eases or stops. Much like the game of Consensual Torture Simulator, which deals with issues like stopping play, aftercare, and taking care of your partner, we found that the space within consent allows for revisiting memories and trauma in a safe space. In this space is compassion. In this space is vulnerability. (Read more about this in Bondage With Benefits: What I Learned from BDSM.)

There are times where she wavered. I know the signs. Eyes crossing, for example. Her breathing becoming shallow. I make sure to ask if she is OK; and not just physically OK, but emotionally OK. Should I hold her? Sometimes, that is all I need to do.

Of course, this is all incentive to make sure you communicate well before and during play; we've played together often enough that I know what to look out for when Lily is feeling overwhelmed. I ask if she needs me to untie her bonds, or if she needs a hug, or both. I touch her, with her permission, to reassure and comfort her. She has struggled with depression and mixed feelings about things like home and success. So, when she is struggling with trying to get out of her ties, she assigns emotional weight to this act that I do not. Consequently, when she has trouble getting out of the ties, she may feel even more helpless than when we started. It's as if her issues could never be overcome, and that it's not worth even trying. Within seconds, a pleasurable play session can turn from fun and exciting for the both of us, to Lily sobbing into my shoulder.


Working Through Feelings During Play

And that's OK. I want her to keep trying. I want her to fight. For Lily, this approach works. If we go too far and her memories or emotions go deeper than we had bargained for, she knows that this is a safe space. I want her to work through those feelings, of course. I will not abandon her during her time of need.

That's not to say I am not vulnerable myself. It just manifests in a different way. My voice goes even higher. I go from being a proud, vocal woman to becoming someone strangely deferential and hesitant. Lily makes sure to check in on me too.

Checking in isn't done just to make sure that your partner is physically OK. In this space, a lot of emotional issues can be uncovered. While we can work through them, that's up to the individual and their partner. Sometimes, I need a break. In the case of CTS, I found out how far I could go and how far I could not go. I respect limits and the relationship more.


A play session is a play session. Even if things get uncovered in that space - trauma, depression, deep-seated issues, and memories - a play session can always happen another time. If you respect your partner and their limits, emotions, and boundaries, you will still have a fulfilling time - even if it is crying on someone's shoulder or giving them a blanket.


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