Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Significant Sensation

Do your tactile senses have fantasies of their own? Moments that touch your consciousness without words or visuals? A sensory moment, complete and whole, as if something has touched that instant in your memory. Whether it’s ever really happened to your body or not.

Perhaps you feel a hard hand around your wrist. A tongue forcing past your lips. Your ribs attempting to expand against constriction. You feel it, and your breath comes short for just a second. And then life goes on.

I think those sense-memories that come up again and again are the ones with meaning. Of course they’re the most arousing; that’s the simple answer. More complicated is the significance they carry. When you’re on the sub side of the d/s continuum, they mostly represent control of your body by someone else. Control accepted or resisted; sweet or rough, pleasurable, painful, in person or by proxy. But control. A sensation of one’s body ruled by the will of something other than oneself. Not fully under its own command. Sending feedback to hampered muscles: messages perhaps of calm and security, or fear and frantic struggle. Plus arousal. Lots of that.

Sensation is core to our experience, but it’s not easy to convey. Still, what other genre should be more about sensation than erotica? We need to take wordless experiences and find words for them. Words that draw readers into a sensory moment, a moment which resonates at the level of body, not brain. And if it’s done well, emotions and meaning engage, integrate, resonate together.

I find myself trying all sorts of techniques to convey tactile experiences. Pure description, brief moment-by-moment minutiae of sensation, metaphors:

…His hands were around my thighs, and his movement into me seemed slow as seasons, as if he meant to introduce each of our separate nerves to each other, one by one. Each moment seemed to stretch and distend, full of its own distinct sensation. I quivered and waited, held in place like something planted in the earth, at the mercy of the elements; at the mercy of the gardener most of all, and of my own helpless unfurling. Welcome. Please invade me.

Clashing or intersecting images can convey the shift away from the rational, toward the sense of the body taking over:

…He lifted me off my feet and took my mouth over with his own. My blood was turning to thick, hot magma, weighing down my limbs, slowing my thoughts. And yet I was being handled as if I was no weight at all: a duality strange enough to give me vertigo.

I think the approach I use the most is the sound of the language itself. I’m pretty auditory; I “hear” the words on the page. As any poet knows, you can do all sorts of things with rhythm: Steady, mounting, jarring. Repetition works as well, as do sentence fragments or alliteration.

“Up on the bed, hands and knees. We’re going to find out just what makes you come, my little hunhund. And what doesn’t.” The deep voice had downshifted, was warm, hypnotic, in rhythm with the stroking of his fingers. Sensation was fed by the heat of spanked flesh: fed, amplified. His hand tickling, sliding through hot wet folds. He was touching, moving away, touching again… tension building, building…. Then the fingers were gone. Sensation now at my nipples, circling and squeezing, on and on…. And a hand rubbing round circles on my ass, pressing the arousal deeper, deeper…. I crouched there for what seemed like ages, clutched the bedspread, moaning low in my throat.

All excerpts are from As She’s Told.

What are the best sensory passages from your favourite books, or your own writing? Care to share?


  1. You know, it's funny. As I gave some thought to your question, I realized that when it comes to my writing, I go way deeper into the sensory-analyzing when it comes to punishment, not when it comes to giving/receiving pleasure. I might describe the feel of the Dom's hand lightly caressing the woman's ass cheek before laying into the first spank, and then go on to describe the pain of the paddle, what it feels like as it smacks against her ass. Or I might describe the throbbing, escalating burn of a ginger root being administered, or the bite of the crop being whipped up inside a sensitive inner-thigh. But I don't pick my words so carefully when it comes to describing pleasure.
    Maybe this is something I need to work on in my own writing....

  2. Hi Shelby. Interesting observation. I do the same sensory writing on the punishment, I think, but for some reason I stuck to more pleasurable ones for this blog. (Shy? me?)

  3. I just read Angel and the Assassin by Fyn Alexander and was blown away by one of the flogging scenes. Here is one paragraph:

    ... The whip caressing his body, sending shock waves of pain and pleasure through him, was mystical. It bordered on holy. He was in his body, and yet he was everywhere, filling the room, his molecules diffuse, blending with everything in the dungeon, with his master. They were part of each other, connected by the whip that went from Sir's hand to Angel's body like an umbilical cord. He did not want the flogging to end because he did not want the cord to break and set him free, floating away from Sir. They were connected in that moment in an indefinable circuit whose center was everywhere and whose circumference was nowhere.