The way the body responds to threats is controlled by ancient systems that developed when our ancestors had to be super-vigilant to avoid becoming lunch for early predators. Complex chemical and nervous pathways evolved that enhanced the ability to react to danger. Collectively these are known as the Fight or Flight response and I am acutely conscious of mine every time I arrange a submissive BDSM session with a Mistress.
3 DAYS OUT
When prey animals perceive a predator in the distance, limbic circuitry in their brains initiates a range of defensive reactions, including motor inhibition, focused attention to the threat, and decelerating heart rate.*
I look at the email. It confirms my appointment with the Mistress. This is not just any Mistress. She has a reputation for uncompromising, challenging sessions that find your limits and test them. I now know that in three days’ time I am going to be the victim of a strong powerful creature who will immobilize me and inflict considerable pain. Almost immediately I feel a frisson of fear and anticipation. For the next 3 days my senses feel heightened; I feel more aware of my surroundings; I see things more sharply; I have trouble concentrating as my mind jumps about, constantly returning to the upcoming trial. It might sound unpleasant but I actually enjoy these sensations: this heightened sense of being alive; of being somehow wider awake than normal as ancient responses and rhythms take over my body. This wonderful clarity was felt by the first humans before we confused our simple hunter-gatherer world by adding jobs, cars and PlayStations.
4 HOURS TO GO
If the predator gets closer, these reactions are augmented. Bradycardia, evoked by a fear cue, covary closely with cell firing in the amygdala. Further understanding of this defense circuit demonstrates that fearful animals are hyperactive to startling stimuli presented during conditioned fear cues.
As the meeting comes closer the sense of heightened awareness becomes more intense and is accompanied by a hollow feeling in my stomach as blood moves out to the muscles. I have a routine for this time: I do a small amount of exercise; have a strong coffee and eat something sugary to help my energy levels; later a long shower. The ritual just adds to the relentlessly mounting tension. I am a skier and this is how I feel standing at the top of a too-steep, too-narrow, too-icy gully with only rocks below. I have the same sense of the body preparing itself; resources being martialled; unneeded systems closing down; of having one hundred percent mental and physical focus on what is to come. Crossing the road to her building a cyclist veers in front of me. In my hyper-aware state I sense the danger almost before it is there and step out of the way.
As the distance from the predator is further reduced, prey animals increasingly mobilize for action. This “alarm” reaction involves yet higher vigilance, sympathetic activation of glands and smooth muscles, movement of blood to the gross muscles, and cardiac acceleration. Breathing quickens.
Within a few minutes of entering the dungeon space with its benches and restraints, its whips and canes, I am tied to a cross, naked and vulnerable. I can almost taste the adrenaline. I can feel my heart beating rapidly as it drives blood round my body. My breathing is faster and deeper as my system pulls in oxygen. I am frightened. I am excited. I am aroused. I am alive. God, I am so alive. Standing close she whispers: “You are safe here but I am going to hurt you a lot” and draws back her whip. I feel a final surge of adrenaline course through my body as my muscles tense, waiting for the first blow.
*Both Predator and Prey
Emotional Arousal in Threat and Reward
Journal of the Association for Psychological Science. September 2008
Note: First published as a guest blog at Girlonthenet.com