If you ever find yourself talking to someone who practices domestic discipline, first, don't ever, ever ask them if they've read the best-selling soft-porn novel Fifty Shades of Grey.
When I asked that question at the start of an interview, the reply was "I've never even read the book. I thought you wanted to talk about domestic discipline, that's why I agreed to talk to you."
Quickly, I explain that I, too, haven't read the best-seller, but I just wondered if people who practice domestic discipline are inspired by the BDSM laid out by author E.L. James.
BDSM is not domestic discipline, my interviewee says emphatically.
I don't think it's that much of a stretch for people to hear about spanking and think BDSM, the acronym for bondage, discipline (or dominance), sadism and masochism. And right now, popular culture is getting hip to BDSM through James' novel about 22-year-old Anastasia Steele, who gets involved in a submissive/dominant relationship with Christian Grey.
A riding crop is featured prominently in Fifty Shades, which everyone seems to be reading. The book and its two sequels have also triggered conversations about feminism, sexuality and what can get published these days.
Of course, that's not why I'm talking on the phone to a woman who lives in Phoenix and isn't eager for her name to be printed in the paper.
Certainly the practice of BDSM isn't new. Doms and subs, those who like to spank and be spanked, have long been part of the Savage Love column published in alternative weeklies across the land.
But I'm reminded by, let's call her Jane, that this isn't domestic discipline as she knows it.
Jane says she and her husband have been practicing domestic discipline the past two years and found out about it through a website. Yes, they are Christians, and no, domestic discipline isn't just practiced by Christians, she says. But it's provided them with a method to reinforce a traditional household, something that is "too challenging in this day and age," she says.
Wary that I'll put my foot back in my mouth, I tell her about the research I've done. "Look, to be honest, domestic discipline seems to be hung up on a lot of rules, and I just don't know if I really get that."
Jane laughs. Well, yeah, she says, that's the point. For Jane and her husband it's about reinforcing his place as the head of household and making sure their home runs smoothly and happily. So when rules are broken, there is a punishment, and most often that punishment is a spanking. However, the person who gets spanked is Jane, not her husband.
If you Google domestic discipline, you'll find what seems to be hundreds of blogs dedicated to the topic. Most often, they are first-person accounts, usually from the women in the relationships, about why they got into domestic discipline. And, yes, domestic discipline is decidedly heterosexual. I never came across a blog that wasn't from a wife-and-husband perspective. If there are any same-sex couples out there practicing domestic discipline, you're an anomaly and you should give me a call for a follow-up story.
One blog quoted Bible passages to build the case for domestic discipline, such as this one from Ephesians:
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.
When I read that to Jane from Phoenix, she says "Well, I can't really say that we read those passages and decided this would be a good idea. We were looking for something to help our relationship and this has worked."
But then I decided to insert foot in mouth again. Some people think domestic discipline borders on domestic violence, I say.
"No, see, you don't really get it," she says.
What about sex? I ask. "Does your husband get turned on spanking you and do you get turned on getting spanked?"
Silence. Then she eventually says, "It enhances sex, but I don't think it's about sex. It brings us closer together and that's what helps."
Punishments are very, very difficult, she admits, but once they are over, the household starts running again and everyone has their roles. "That's what it's about for me," she says.
Tucsonans who practice domestic discipline can be hard to find. A fetish group I contacted didn't know of anyone doing it, but the writer of a domestic discipline blog I contacted hooked up with me on Google Plus. No one from Tucson showed up, but I did get on a listserv, and that's how I found Jane.
And one blogger I contacted while trying to find practitioners in Tucson gave me some advice: make sure people who say they practice domestic discipline are the real thing and not just people into BDSM.
Probably the best blog I discovered is A Domestic Discipline Society (ADDS), at adomesticdisciplinesociety.blogspot.com.
Instead of dom and sub, there's HoH (head of household) and TiH (taken in hand) to describe the dominate and submissive roles in the domestic discipline relationship.
There also are explanations that I have to say I found interesting and revolting at the same time. For some reason, a submissive/dominant relationship outlined in a book like Fifty Shades of Grey seems normal, while domestic discipline made to reinforce the male as the head of household sounds like a Green Acres episode gone wrong.
But that's also one of the things I liked about the ADDS blog: It acts as a clearinghouse for traditional domestic discipline blogs as well as more BDSM-flavored blogs. It explains everything from getting started —you should have rules that spell out when punishment is required; there's a confession involved (which, who knows, some ex-Catholics might really like); and there's aftercare, which involves checking in with the person you've just spanked.
Here are two more websites that may help with domestic discipline issues. You can find a selection of paddles, whips and arnica cream at shop.domesticdisciplinestore.com. And if DD is your thang, check out www.spanko.net. It lists an Arizona branch that hosts domestic discipline spanking parties.
Although I'm pretty certain they aren't the Christian variety.