Can taking on a submissive role in sex be therapeutic for a person who has suffered real-life violence?
Pop star Rihanna's admissions in a recent issue of Rolling Stone about how much she adores bondage, spankings and being tied up in bed is leading people to wonder if these proclivities are linked to her emotionally and physically abusive past.
According to Dr. Laura Berman, host of "In the Bedroom" on the OWN network, the things that turn us on are often encoded in our brains at a very young age.
"The traumas we see and experience often make up our sexual template," she told the News. "People internalize messages they received as a child and translate them into sexual desires."
The singer admits that her "masochistic" side could be linked to the abuse she witnessed as a child – and being slapped by her father.
"He slapped me so hard," she said. "I ran home with his handprint on me. I couldn't believe it. My mother saw my face, how traumatized I was. You know how, when you know you did something wrong, and you deserve to get beat? This was out of nowhere."
Berman said that some victims of abuse find their own kind of relief reenacting past traumas – but with a trusted partner who knows when to stop and understands the importance of boundaries.
"Abuse that occurs in childhood, like spankings for example, can become eroticized," said Dr. Lonnie Barbach, author of "Erotic Edge: Erotica for Couples." "Those memories and those images can hold a lot of sexual charge."
Many women are disturbed by the fact that they're aroused by the very things that caused them pain – but Berman said that she assures her patients that it's totally normal.
"They find themselves asking 'Am I normal?' and 'did I want to be abused,' " Berman said. "The answer is no, of course not."
The role play can be a form of therapy for some women.
"You need a partner you can trust in order to allow yourself to be that vulnerable," said Barbach.
The other way of looking at a woman like Rihanna's desire to be controlled in bed may have nothing to do with her own abuse – and everything to do with the fact that she's one of the most famous women in the world. And sometimes powerful people want to give up that power – for a little while.
"You see that a lot with powerful businessmen," said Barbach. "They spend all day giving orders and at night they want the relief being told what to do."
Being submissive in bed wields its own power, too.
"You're turning your partner on, you're controlling his desire with your own," said Barbach.
Sex therapists agree that the most healing therapy has little to do with what kind of sex you have, but who you're having it with. A loving and trusting sexual partner is key for many women who want to work through their complex sexual feelings.
Perhaps, Rihanna may be taking control of her sexuality and finding great joy and pleasure in it.
"Working through these feelings is perfectly normal for women who've been victimized in the past," said Berman. "It's very empowering."Source