Posted at 18:45 on 1 Apr 2011 by Pandora / Blake
I'm an inconveniently light sleeper. I've also suffered from insomnia my whole life - as far as I can tell, the primary cause is having too much to do, and a brain that is extremely reluctant to turn itself off. Since moving out of London I've managed to develop a routine which has mostly suppressed my getting-to-sleep insomnia, but I still tend to wake throughout the night - and have the same struggle getting back to sleep every time I do.
I recently obtained some ear plugs for the first time to see if they helped me sleep next to a lover who snores. I'd previously only encountered people using the things at nightclubs or while skydiving, those foam ones you have to push in. These were a new design: gel pads which you push over the ear canal to form a seal. They're far more comfortable, and surprisingly effective. As soon as I started using them I realised how much of my wakefulness is in response to sound. Suddenly I'm able to sleep through the night, or take naps in the middle of the day, or get to sleep even when the neighbours are playing loud music. It's incredible - and Tom, a fellow insomniac, has had similar success after I recommended he try them.
The other night, for the first time, we both bedded down together with our ear plugs in. Mostly I've used them while sleeping alone. I realised as soon as we were both deprived of hearing how frequently Tom and I communicate in words. We talk a lot: we have always bonded through in depth conversations; we rarely run out of things to say to one another. Even at the end of the night, preparing ourselves for sleep, we exchange words along with cuddles, sweet nothings, verbal love and affection to reassure and soothe each other. (By contrast, D uses words sparingly; I hadn't noticed any difference when wearing ear plugs in bed with him, as he tends to respond to my remarks non-verbally anyway.)
Sharing our small, temporary sensory deprivation, Tom and I snuggled up to each other in the dark. I would open my mouth to say something, remember he wouldn't be able to hear and kiss him instead. I became very aware of the places where we touched: his hand lightly stroking my spine, my hand sliding around the smooth skin of his torso, thighs pressed against each other. Each touch became resonant with meaning. Eyes closed, I could hear little beyond the pulse of blood in my skull. We could only communicate by touch, and something about it was profoundly intimate.
Sensory deprivation is a common tool for BDSM practitioners, usually experienced by the submissive in a scene. It's not something I've played with myself apart from the occasional blindfold or gag, and I've certainly never heard of a dominant taking part too. It made me wonder what it would be like to be spanked in this state of heightened sensory awareness; deprived of sight and hearing, how much more acute the experience of being over my dom's knee might be.
Playing in a night club is the closest I've come to that experience, where the wall of sound from dancefloor and crowd drowns out subtleties; if you aren't within a few inches of someone it's difficult to hear each other without shouting. When I'm bent over a whipping bench, head down, and my dom/me is standing behind me, the usual verbal check-ins are not possible over the noise of the club. My partner has to pause, bend down, speak into my ear; or else communicate with a hand on my back, a caress, a shoulder squeeze, a brush with the flogger or warning tap of the cane. But I can't reply, not without breaking position.
It's an intense way to play, but it's also difficult. Scenes can go awry more easily without the direct feedback provided by vocal response. And both parties have to work harder to communicate.
I find myself curious about the idea of a scene in which both me and my dom wore ear plugs. If I were blindfolded as well, we would be even more dependent on our sense of touch. What would it be like, being hit without the evocative sounds created by different implements? The cane would sneak up on you out of nowhere. Heavy paddles and straps would announce themselves with a whomp of air before they landed. Would hand spankings feel as sharp without the loud crack of palm hitting flesh? Would every sensation be more welcome, without any other way for me to experience the closeness of my partner?
I'm not sure if I'm going to suggest such a scene or not, but it's fascinating to think about the different role each sense plays in this thing we do.