Jealousy and the Poetics of Pain

One night at a private party, a dominant removed his belt, strapped me to a BDSM horse, and caned my ass and upper thighs. I screamed, yelped, wailed, and cried. Expressing myself like this is one way I navigate pain.

Jealousy also hurts. If you are like me, it makes you cold. And somehow it also burns. And your mind spins around and around, again and again, incessant. Luckily, there are ways to control jealousy, ways that can be uncovered by examining its poetics.

Poetics is a literary theory that can be traced as far back as Aristotle. Its bare bones are language, character, and drama. For me, the language of jealousy intermingles with the language of insecurity and fear.

To go back to BDSM, consider that dominants work hard. Even when they are not physically exerting themselves in such activities as flogging, spanking, or supporting your endorphin-zonked body, they have invested precious time and mental energy into figuring out how to best fuck your head. If you are like me, you wonder how it is that you could possible deserve this level of attention. Once you have questioned your worthiness, you start to believe you are not enough.

Furthermore, insecurity is not only about self-esteem; often times it stems from a fear of loss. According to psychotherapist Esther Perel, to know “that you’re replaceable, that you’re disposable, that you’re not unique” is an “unbearable truth.” However, one way to bear the insecurity that results from recognizing that truth is to trust your dominant. They chose you and you should respect that since you respect them. Just as you might take pride in forging a new threshold for pain, you should also take pride in having been selected by your dominant.

Using pride to combat insecurity is not easy, especially when the drama of jealousy – for me, threat and humiliation – comes into play. Clinical psychologist Lisa Firestone writes, “The ‘sexy secretary’ and ‘college love’ are rarely the threats we think they are, but the overwhelming, possessed state of suspicion we enter because of these characters, can be a real hazard […]” When I experience jealousy, this “overwhelming, possessed state,” manifests in me tormenting myself with elaborate imaginings. Literary critic Parul Sehgal says, “When we feel jealous, we tell ourselves a story […] about other people’s lives, and these stories make us feel terrible […] As the teller of the tale and the audience, we know just what details to include, to dig that knife in.”

Did he press her against a wall? Bend her over? What kind of noises did she make? Did he close his eyes when he climaxed? Did he say her name? Did she say his?

Over coffee, a writer friend joked that his wife was “ok” with him hanging out with me, but not with other female friends. It amused him that his wife thought any female he came into contact with had salacious intentions toward him, especially since he was too tired from studying and parenting to even think about women. “You’re a very busy man in your wife’s head,” I said. I was teasing, but I also sympathized with her. She was driving herself crazy with her imagination. I have done it many times.

That jealous energy can be a turn-on is certainly not a new idea (look no further than Shakespeare’s Othello). When combined with storytelling, what emerges is essentially fantasy, and sharing the fantasy is one way to mitigate jealous pain.

I remember attending a party one summer with my then-boyfriend and his friend. The three of us ran into a woman that my boyfriend’s friend had dated. While exchanging greetings, my boyfriend enthusiastically complimented her on how good her bikini-clad body looked. Needless to say, it was an awkward exchange. She looked uncomfortable. I felt humiliated. If he had privately shared his observation with me beforehand or told me in the car on the way home, if he had included me in this way, perhaps I could have taken that jealous energy and made up a story that ended with both of us getting off together. However, since I felt excluded, I was unable to eroticize that jealous pain.

In my first relationship with a dominant, my ability to eroticize jealousy came in quite handy. He worked at a club and it was his job to play with others. The first time I watched him play with someone was only a few weeks after we had gotten together so new relationship intoxication was in full bloom. Against that, the instant cold I felt at the sight of him with another partner was a harsh contrast. But still there was a persistent buzz under my skin that I had to acknowledge. I watched him, watched them, took in how beautiful he was, and viola! I was eroticizing.

This is not to say that watching him with others ever became easy or that eroticizing always works. It truly depends on the partner. For instance, I once had a one-night-stand where, during foreplay, the guy talked about how “hot” it would be if we had a threesome with our mutual coworker. Instantly, I was turned off; this guy was not someone with whom I had developed any significant bond. Capitalizing on jealous energy by eroticizing it requires first that there be a bond.

As a submissive, I have ways to endure the physical pain of playing, ways that are tied to trust as well as to the presence of pleasure alongside the pain. Examining the poetics of my jealousy has shown me how I mitigate the pain I experience at its hands and it is not all that different from how I would navigate BDSM-inspired pain. For me, jealousy means feeling insecure, threatened, humiliated, or fearful of loss, but it can also be a space where I connect with my partner through storytelling and erotic pleasure. And for those times eroticizing does not work to ease my jealousy, my partner can cane it out of me.


Nadia Davi is a control freak from Southern California. When she is not obsessing over cephalopods and little black dresses, she is obsessing over words, her favourite of which is swagger. Her novella, Play Thing, is available now through Amazon.

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