has kink made me sadistic? exploring ones shadow side

Just the Tip offers smart and compassionate sex and relationship advice from queer non-monogamous kinkster Jera Brown. Send questions to jera@jerabrown.com or DM Jera on Twitter @thejerabrown.com.

My partner and I have been exploring kink for a few years. I’ve always considered myself mostly vanilla, but I’ve played the role of top to help her explore her masochism. Lately, however, I’ve found myself driving our scenes forward and pushing boundaries (emotional more than physical), much to the surprise of both myself and my partner. I am uncomfortable with this more sadistic side of myself. Was it always there, but is now being awakened by our play? Did practicing kink change me in some way? And how do I know what my limits are? 

Asking whether this side of you was always there is heading down the nature vs. nurture rabbit hole, and who knows …

Instead, I encourage you to use your newly discovered sadism to foster a deeper sense of self-awareness and self-acceptance. I’m reminded of Jung’s concept of the shadow: the pieces of ourselves that we’d rather ignore, the parts we dislike or are afraid of. Sadism is part of your shadow.

Now, just because you dislike or are afraid of a piece of your shadow does not mean it’s inherently bad or evil. It may be a piece of yourself that you need to accept. Easier said than done.

Jung believed that simply becoming conscious of one’s shadow side requires “considerable moral effort.” He goes on to say, “To become conscious of [the shadow] involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. The act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge, and it therefore, as a rule, meets with considerable resistance.”

You’re feeling that resistance now.

When we self-select the pieces of ourselves that are presentable and lovable, we are, in essence, hating the rest, and that hate can tear us apart. And this isn’t just about you, because you’re on this journey with your partner. You’re not only finding out what you’re able to love about yourself, you’re also finding out what pieces of yourself she is able to love. Deeper still, are parts of your shadow able to provide love? Can this sadistic side be a means of loving and serving your partner?

Now, some desires that lurk in the shadows are simply unethical—the desire to interact with someone without their consent, for instance—and these are manipulations of healthy desires and are never OK. If you find out that you enjoy hurting your partner in a way that doesn’t serve her, you’re not a bad person … just don’t do it. Investigate it, because there’s a lot you can learn from it, but don’t feed that desire.

But it doesn’t sound like you desire to hurt your partner. Not really. How do I know? Because you state that you’re afraid of going too far. You’re afraid that you’re capable of hurting your partner, and this fear is a good sign! In the gray area of consensual pain, you get to explore your edge and learn when and how to trust your own motivations.

So, if this is something you want to continue exploring, I think one of the biggest benefits for you will be learning how to more deeply trust yourself. And, of course, your partner gets to learn deeper levels of trust for you, as well.

Your job is to explore slowly and with A LOT of communication with your partner.

As for how to do this, I’d like to recommend a few things:

  • Check in more often than normal during scenes.
  • It’s OK if you need aftercare, as well. Negotiate beforehand what you can do to heal and feel connected afterwards.
  • Before, during, and after a scene (unless this breaks a mood you’re trying to set), use eye contact and words of affirmation to stay connected.
  • Keep a scene journal. 1) What scared you? 2) What turned you on? 3) What made you feel closer to your partner? 4) What were you hoping for and did you achieve it?
  • Understand that if there’s something you enjoy that your partner doesn’t, it doesn’t mean your interest is bad. It might mean there’s simply a compatibility issue. Welcome to the club. If you’re non-monogamous, this is where you get to find others who share your interests. Otherwise, simply enjoy what you and your partner have in common, and don’t fault yourself.

In short, poke at your shadow. In investigating it, you might find something there worth loving, and that’s capable of helping you love others even more fully.

Jera writes about sexuality, spirituality, and social justice. They are the author of Just the Tip, a queer-friendly, sex-positive, relationship advice column and the editor of Sacred and Subversive,...