A few days ago I wrote a post about anticipation, and how giving your partner advance hints and information about activities you have planned can heighten the excitement before and during an adventure. Today, however, I want to discuss anticipation’s polar opposite: surprise.

Surprise is created, of course, in exactly the opposite way from anticipation—by withholding advance information and providing no hint of what you have planned. Within the realm of BDSM, where blindfolding and other means of restricting the senses are relatively common, it’s even possible to keep one’s partner so in the dark that they don’t discover what you have planned until they are already well into an adventure, or understand exactly what it is that they are doing until they have already begun to do it. When I have a new toy, a new technique, a new position or a new activity to introduce to Joy, I often do so with no advance notice so as to create a sense of surprise.

What’s the advantage of surprise? I believe there are two primary benefits:

  • Increased excitement: When something is unexpected, it triggers an alert response within your partner’s body. They instinctively evaluate whether the unexpected event or object is a potential threat or item of interest, and while the evaluation continues, their body remains on alert status. In other words, they’ve automatically been taken to that place that I love to talk about—the area just outside their comfort zone. They’re not yet really afraid, but they’re not yet sure they’re okay, either, and therefore their breathing increases and their adrenaline begins to flow. This is the spot where maximum excitement can be achieved—IMHO, the sweet spot for BDSM.
  • Less chance for fear/inhibitions to get in the way: Sometimes when you know what is coming, your mind can play tricks. It can magnify and distort things to make you afraid or uncertain, leading to increased anxiety and the inability to go forward. Picture yourself at the top of a cliff, hooked up with a rappel line, looking down and trying to decide whether you should try rappelling for the first time. Once you go ahead and take the step off the edge, you might feel thrilled and exhilarated, but until you can summon up the courage, you’re paralyzed with fear and indecision.

    Surprise can remove the opportunity for this paralysis to occur. If you don’t discover that you’re doing something new and unexpected until you are actually in the process of doing it, you don’t have time for that fear and indecision and can move straight to the thrill and exhilaration. It’s like being placed directly on the rappel line and rappelling on down before you have a chance to think or worry about it.

    This idea can translate quite readily to the BDSM world and your adventures with your partner. As a good beginner’s example, suppose, for instance, that your partner has never worn a gag. If you bind your partner’s hands behind their back, then from behind and without ever showing it to them, place a gag against their lips and instruct them to “Open,” they have no chance to worry or be fearful. Their natural reaction (assuming that you have earned sufficient trust) is to part their lips and take the gag into their mouth. If they had time to think about it, they might worry about whether they’ll look okay with the gag in their mouth, whether they might choke, or even whether they’re willing to take this step further into submission. But without time to think, none of these issues come up. By the time any such concerns could come to mind their mouth is already full and they’re too engaged with what’s happening to them to worry.

    I chose the rappelling analogy for a reason, however, because it’s quite easy to imagine the risks of using surprise in this way. Suppose you have a serious fear of heights and are placed in a situation where rappelling is the only option, and you have no choice. Do you think that will go well? I’d bet not! And the same thing is true of BDSM. You must be confident that your partner is ready for whatever activity or situation you’ll be surprising them with, or risk that the outcome won’t be thrill and exhilaration, but rather fear and erosion of trust.

  • The primary downside of surprise is that it only works when something’s new. The second time your partner experiences something there may be a bit of a jolt of excitement, but not what it was the first time. And by the third time, they’re squarely in their comfort zone, and the benefits associated with surprise don’t appear. This is one of the reasons I’m such a big proponent of progressing down a BDSM path in small steps. If you jump straight into flogging your partner with a single tailed whip, then you lose any opportunity for surprise with any of the intermediate steps. But if you first start with bare-hand spanking, then move to a belt, then on to a paddle, you get the benefit of a new experience with each small step.

    My adventures with Joy over the years have led me to a working hypothesis on when to use surprise, and when to use its antithesis, anticipation. I’ll share it with you, but I caution that while I believe this is the correct approach for Joy, I’m not particularly confident that it applies more generally. I suspect that the rules governing surprise and anticipation vary with individual personalities, both yours and your partner’s. But nonetheless, here is my guideline for use in my relationship:

    If we’re trying something new that Joy has not yet experienced, I go with surprise. However, this approach must be coupled with the baby-steps rule so that I don’t take Joy past enjoyment and into fear! On the other hand, if we’re trying something that we’ve done before successfully, then I’m much more likely to leverage anticipation.

    Enjoy Yourself!

    Jake

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