Years ago, I volunteered to be the “demo bottom” for an erotic embarrassment and humiliation class a friend of mine was teaching. During the class, I was asked to do a series of things that were supposed to be increasingly embarrassing, such as taking off my clothes in front of the audience and fetching a dog toy while on my hands and knees. I happily fulfilled all of these requests and was never really embarrassed, much to the annoyance of the presenter.
A couple of years later, I was teaching at a kink convention — I’m a certified intimacy educator — and saw that Midori, a kink educator I admired, had a humiliation class on the schedule, so I hurried over to grab a good seat. The way she framed humiliation play shed light on my own experiences.
Midori explained that you need to understand a person fairly well to successfully engage in this form of play. To embarrass or humiliate someone, you need to be poking at things they value. For example, when I was asked to undress, the assumption was that I valued modesty. But I don’t. If anything, I’m a bit of an exhibitionist.
Being asked to chase dog toys could assume that I’m particularly attached to my species (nope — I generally prefer dogs to people) or that I value decorum (wrong again, I have a theater background and will happily make a fool of myself for an audience reaction.)
To dig deeper into this fascinating topic, I talked to a fellow kink educator and a kink-positive therapist to get the goods on what a humiliation kink is, why people find it hot, and how you can try it out yourself.
What Is A Humiliation Kink?
Sunny Megatron, certified sex educator and host of American Sex Podcast, describes it this way, “Consensual psychological humiliation done for sexual or emotional arousal is commonly referred to as humiliation play in BDSM. It’s most often done during dominant/submissive play and falls under the umbrella of psychological sadomasochism. Erotic humiliation can be delivered verbally, physically, or be a combination of both.”
Like most forms of kink play, it can be incorporated in or out of the bedroom. While some people enjoy adding humiliation play to their sex, it can also be its own stand-alone form of play, or ‘scene’ to use the BDSM term. For example, you could turn dinner into a humiliation scene by making someone eat with their hands, or making them beg for every bite and then feeding them from your fork.
Megatron goes on to describe the nuances of humiliation play that explain my prior experience. “The key to understanding erotic humiliation is knowing that specific actions or scenarios aren’t universally humiliating,” she says. “For instance, consider being consensually ‘ordered’ to perform a striptease. Some would turn red with embarrassment and want to hide while others would eagerly show off, shaking their stuff.”
Rebecca Jay, LMSW, expands on the wide variety of ways people can play with humiliation. “[Humiliation kinks] are often very personal and can range from verbal humiliation (insults, mockery, belittling) to physical humiliation (water sports, being used as furniture, being forced to lick someone's boots).”
Have the examples so far left you scratching your head? At first glance, some kinks leave people baffled. But if you dig a little deeper, the motivations may become clear.
What’s Hot About Being Humiliated?
When you ask people the “why” of their kinks and turn-ons, you get surprisingly similar answers, no matter how different the kinks look from the outside. People are drawn to playing with power and control because of the way it builds connection and trust in their relationship.
“Erotic humiliation can help partners feel more connected, especially if their scene inspires giggles or requires a deeper level of trust. For some, being made to do something they’re shy about lowers inhibitions creating new erotic possibilities. Others find the anxiety and tension exhilarating — after all, the thumping heart and sweaty palms of humiliation are similar to feelings of sexual arousal,” says Jay.
Erotic embarrassment and humiliation don’t need to focus on words or activities that are generally considered negative. One of the most powerful and embarrassing scenes I was involved in required me to kneel in front of a mirror, naked, and say nice things about myself. Like many activities in the kink and BDSM world, the possibilities for play are nearly endless once you give your imagination free reign.
Kink Can Be Therapeutic, But It’s Not Therapy
The potentially therapeutic benefits of kink are hotly debated but one thing is certain: kink is not a substitute for therapy.
As long as you understand the limits of what kink can do, you may discover a variety of ways kink and BDSM can be an empowering force in your life. Both Megatron and Jay describe some of the ways that humiliation play can have positive effects beyond turning up the heat in the bedroom. “Those into harsh degradation might find it healing or empowering to have control over a situation in play that would be uncontrollable in the real world,” says Megatron.
And Jay concurs. “[M]any people who have experienced moments of humiliation in their lives find it hot to be able to control how and when they're humiliated. It can also be soothing to have a positive experience that connects with humiliation in order to better handle humiliating moments in daily life!”
This sense of control is a running theme. People with chronic pain also report enjoying BDSM for the ways it allows them to exert power over their physical experience. Being able to choose a spanking or flogging, for example, as a consensual interaction with pain provides a mental break from the chronic pain that doesn’t care about their safeword.
What Should You Consider Before Playing With Humiliation?
Like any sex or kink play, it’s important to think about what you do and don’t want so that you can clearly communicate with your partner ahead of time. “Identifying what you feel is humiliating and what is hurtful is probably the best consideration. Humiliation can be defined in so many different ways that knowing what you want, or what you might want to try, can be helpful in negotiating this kink,” says Jay.
Especially when trying anything that’s more physically or emotionally risky, it’s vital to be clear about boundaries and limits before play begins. And humiliation play is definitely risky. In fact, Megatron describes it as “psychological edge play.”
“Humiliation is subjective. It’s based on an individual’s unique perceptions, experiences, and beliefs. What’s playfully embarrassing to me could be so shameful that it’s psychologically harmful to you,” says Megatron. That’s why prep work — reflecting on your desires and sharing them with your partner — is so important.
How To Make Humiliation Hot
For humiliation play to be hot, it needs to hit the right buttons. You need to find topics that are tender enough to be worth playing with, but not so sensitive they do damage.
As with many facets of sex and kink, getting the language right is key. “If your partner has a strong negative reaction to the word ‘humiliation’, try using other phrases, such as ‘it makes me squirm in a good way.’” says Midori, in her writing on the topic.
Thinking about what makes you “squirm in a good way” is also a good place to start when you’re deciding what to include in your play. Take a mental inventory of things that have happened with your current or past partners that have made you squirm, blush, or get butterflies in your stomach.
Does being told to undress with all the lights on make you feel shy, while also secretly enjoying the attention? Does being called naughty, or a slut, give you a little thrill and maybe also give you permission to let that side of your personality go wild? Or maybe having to recite your fantasies or sex dreams out loud would make your pulse race. Those are tender areas you might want to play with.
If you don’t have examples from your own life to pull from, think about things you’ve seen in movies or read in books that have made you squirm or blush.
How To Make Humiliation Safe
When you’re new to any kind of play, it can be safest to explicitly decide what is on the table, rather than leaving too much room for interpretation or improvisation. Requests that are too broad can flummox even the most willing partners.
In my coaching practice, I often see couples struggling to draw these distinctions. One partner might make the request to be “called names,” and all this brings to mind for their partner is a school-yard bully. Instead, try providing an exact list of the words you want used the first time you play.
“[E]ven the most well-intentioned, light-hearted humiliation scene could result in someone being emotionally harmed or triggered. Humiliation play is best done with someone you know well and can trust. It also requires an immense amount of negotiation and emotional literacy. Why? Let’s say I tell you that I like to be called names. However, I don’t specify that I prefer “dirty little slut,” only in certain contexts, and delivered in a playful, teasing tone of voice. If you angrily scream “you’re a worthless pig” during our scene, technically you’re doing what I asked — calling me names. But because we didn’t thoroughly agree on the details it not only misses the mark, it could also cause emotional harm,” says Megatron.
Once you get more comfortable with humiliation play, and with your partner, you can try negotiating by categories. For example, I generally request that people not insult my looks or my intelligence during play. That leaves a lot of room for improvisation, including the classics, like “slut,” “dirty, and “naughty,” but takes words like “stupid” or “ugly” off the table. Those terms might be someone else's kink, but they’re a turn-off for me.
How To Play With Humiliation For The First Time
Just like any new kink activity, if you want to try playing with humiliation, start slow. You can always turn up the intensity if you’re enjoying it, but you can’t undo play that’s gone too far.
For a first experience, consider some of the areas you identified as sensitive and then play with them using dirty talk. A whole scene can take place with only words, and that’s a great way to start while you decide if this is your kink.
For example, you could play with embarrassment about sex by having your partner ask you to describe past experiences or to explain in detail the ways you like to be touched. It takes practice to find the right teasing tone that pushes just enough, without going too far. So start with topics that aren’t too tender at first.
When you’re ready to move past dirty talk, consider adding physical elements to your play. If being ignored makes you feel self-conscious you could explore play like becoming human furniture. This can be as simple as getting on all fours in front of your partner so they can use you as a footrest while watching TV, or perhaps sitting on the floor beside them as a human end table, holding their drinks or snacks. Just make sure to keep checking in to ensure that everyone is having a good time. And consider starting with small chunks of time — your first time as a footstool should probably be for a 20-minute streaming show, not a Lord of The Rings marathon.
With a bit of practice and a lot of negotiation, you can add humiliation to your list of sex and kink skills.
Midori, Sexologist, Kink Educator, author of Wild Side Sex
Rebecca Jay, LMSW