The Psychological Appeal of Denial - by Mistress Lilith Haze
Once upon a time, in an episode of How I Met Your Mother, Jennifer Lopez, playing a fictional author of a dating self-help book, declares that she can break any man with one simple word: “No.” While obviously the hyperbole is core to the comedy, there is something to be said for how much more we want something when we’ve been denied it.
In kink, denial is usually immediately associated with chastity play and orgasm control. It also arises in situations such as a submissive asking their Dominant for permission in D/s relationships, and when something is denied the submissive per a protocol (like sitting on the couch, for example). But the craving for what we can’t have permeates more than these three kinks, and is likely a psychology journal unto itself.
Considering how popular denial is, I asked a few submissives that I have played with or know well what exactly they found so attractive and satisfying about denial. The answers I received varied, but could essentially be divided into four categories:
Lack of Expectation
Cited most often and likely the most obvious motivation behind denial was control. Someone else deciding whether or not you get something is a clear and straightforward representation of the control you have surrendered to them; especially as adults in an individualist, capitalist culture, accustomed to making our own decisions and being able to acquire what we work towards (ideally). Take it one step further, and the denial of basic human comforts can enforce the power disparity and feelings of objectification.
Increased desire came next, in the sense that we always want “the forbidden fruit” more than what is already in front of us. There’s no question that the orgasm that comes after being teased again and again and again is more powerful than any of its predecessors would have been; the rush of a reward sought after with determination is more intense than a simply given gift; living in the exhilaration of hope for something you may not ever receive.
Which brings us to the thrill of unpredictability. Much the same way a horror movie raises your heart rate, the anticipation of “Will she say yes or no?” can gratify those who seek a rush. Living in a world without knowing if you’ll be allowed to go to the bathroom or play your favourite video game can keep you on your toes in a way that those seeking stimulation and excitement may enjoy.
Interestingly enough, even those who cited the thrill of unpredictably found merit in the peace of not having any expectations. When living in a state of expected denial, things you may have felt entitled to are now simply positive surprises. Again, in a capitalist society where we consume and possess, having no expectation of receiving something leads to never being disappointed in not having it. While it may seem unusual to some, denial was cited as helping with anxiety in this regard.
Like every kink, the underlying psychology is what defines its importance and how it affects us: but the underlying psychology is different for every human being who engages in their kink. Porn and sites like FetLife are the primary, popular representations that we have… and yet so much of What It Is That We Do falls between the cracks of those definitions. Denial is much the same. There is no one reason or way… but we all like to be teased a little.