Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Objectification vs. Humiliation/Degradation

The terms humiliation, degradation and objectification are often used in BDSM to describe types of play between dominants and submissives. It does seem to be the case, unfortunately, that these terms are used interchangeably. More specifically, objectification is often lumped together with humiliation and degradation. But there are some significant differences between all three, and even more so between the first and the last two, respectively.

Humiliation can be described as play where the submissive consents to being treated in a way that would seemingly elicit feelings embarrassment, or is put in a compromising position. Examples of this would be a male submissive who is not a cross-dresser or sissy being “forced” to dress in women’s clothes, or a submissive being made to do something embarrassing in public. 

Degradation, by contrast, is play where the submissive is treated in a manner which demeans them. Examples of this would be the dominant forcing the submissive to lick the bottom of a pair of boots, or being made to perform an act that would normally be “beneath” the submissive or a typical person. Verbal engagement is very important in degradation play, with the dominant often reinforcing the degradation with statements like “Lick that boot, you worm,” or “You’re nothing but a worthless, pathetic loser.” Sometimes the degradation can be 100% verbal and not involve any accompanying acts whatsoever. 

Objectification, by contrast, is play where the submissive is treated in a manner that disregards their humanity (or ignores it entirely) and reduces their purpose to something specific or functional. Examples of this would be a rubberized submissive being bound and used as a “sex toy” or a gimp fulfilling a role as a human chair or a drinks tray.

It’s critical to recognize that an element of shame can find its way into all three forms of play, but only with humiliation and degradation is this emotion something to be expected or even amplified by the dominant through verbal or other means. 

Problems arise, however, when a dominant conflates humiliation/degradation and objectification. Of course, if a submissive enjoys all three at once then all is well, but, for many submissives, objectification by itself is not humiliating or degrading in any way. There does not necessarily need to be shame in being a drinks tray, or a human fuck doll. It is simply the fulfillment of a specific function. In fact, many objectification fans are proud to serve as an object for their dominant and do their best to perform with excellence. 

Verbal degradation or being humiliated can be a severe trigger for people that have undergone abuse in their kink or vanilla lives, especially the psychological kind, and both the dominant and submissive absolutely must be aware of these triggers and avoid them. For example, when a dominant is playing with a submissive that enjoys being objectified, and the dominant throws in some degradation or humiliation (thinking that they are all basically the same thing), the submissive may be triggered by this. The result can be quite upsetting and even potentially damaging. Imagine the dominant’s confusion when a submissive reacts negatively to being degraded while they are, at the same time, being used as a chair. If you understand the distinction between degradation and objectification, you have no problem understanding the consternation of the submissive.

Another way of looking at it is to consider the following: the only reason humiliation and degradation has any effect is because the dominant is treating the submissive as a person (be they a lowly worm or worse). The kink here is the perversion of the normally undesirable situation for the submissive of being in a humiliating or degrading scenario and the power exchange that occurs as a result. Unless you enjoy sexual power exchange, you won’t “get it” at all. But for those that do enjoy it, it’s all good. For objectification fans, however, the kink factor is that the humanity of the submissive is ignored. They are not being treated as a person, with feelings and pride and propriety to be fucked with. They are being treated as an object, and thus feelings and propriety are not a factor.

With all this being said, if you are confused by the distinction between humiliation/degradation and objectification, imagine your toaster. It exists to make toast. Would you, while you are making toast, talk at the toaster and subject it to phrases such as “Come on and toast that bread, you worthless piece of metal crap,” or “What’s taking you so long??? Hurry up and toast that bread, you pathetic home appliance”? Probably not, though I have no doubt that a few toasters have undergone verbal degradation during their stoic bread-browning duty. Check out season one of the classic sci-fi series “Red Dwarf” for some examples. Sassiest toaster ever.

Similarly, if your submissive enjoys objectification - but not humiliation or degradation - would you shout at them while they were performing admirably as a sushi table? One would hope not.

Now, it must be stated that, in all forms of play, consent is mandatory, and a thorough discussion of limits, triggers and desires is crucial to having a fun time. The scenarios described above assume that the people involved have talked in great length about their kinks and agree in advance to the kinds of treatment that the submissive will receive. At any point, regardless of the consent given beforehand, if the submissive or dominant is not comfortable, the safe word or some other indication that the play needs to pause should be used.

The bottom line is that one should be aware of these distinctions and hone in on one’s desires, limits and triggers accordingly. When learning how to play with someone new, make sure to highlight these distinctions and not tolerate any transgressions. 


This article originally appeared in Fetish Dynasty Magazine Issue 8 available on MagCloud

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