I am submissive – or am I?
The recent enthusiasm for BDSM romance novels has left me going from happy to worried and back again. I am happy about it not only because I write them, but also because I think any development which allows people to experiment with what makes them happier and healthier is a good one. The worry? The worry comes from what I would argue is the “fiction effect”. A lot of men and women decide to try out being a submissive (or a Dominant though the dangers are less here) based on an idealised character they read about. No real partner can ever live up to this – in particular if that partner is actually YOUR partner who has agreed to, for the first time in his life, play the other part in your BDSM fantasy. So, what are the real life rules? What SHOULD you expect? What do YOU want?
Your problem is that there are thousands of different kinds of submissives and Dominants out there – just as there are thousands of kinds of people. Let’s look at the submissive side, because this is where most newcomers get into danger. Because we are human and have an obsession with classification, we have come up with some sub-groups: service submissive, masochist submissive, slave, mental submissive and many more. None of these classifications are even agreed upon and across the myriad of fora you will find them differing, but I will give a quick overview here before discussing what it actually means.
submissive: A submissive is a person of whatever gender who takes pleasure from giving control of part or all of their lives to one or more other people. Neither the part of their lives nor the pleasure has to be sexual in nature.
However, in the further classification of the term, the different systems tend to concentrate on either physical or mental categories. Not really a problem as most people would fall into more than one group anyway. It is therefore often easier to speak of what kind of submission someone wants to achieve:
Mental submission: a submissive who reacts most to the mental aspects of submission. Physical triggers in the bedroom and in daily life support the mental state but are not the primary locus for the fulfilment of the need. This kind of submissive often surrenders themselves to their partner(s), up to the limit where they can lose themselves and be reformed by the needs and expectations of the dominant(s). These submissives often react well to mind games, and depending on their preference also might enjoy humiliation games and/ or capture games. This form of submission is often also found in conjunction to “slaves” and “service submissives” (See below)
Bedroom or sexual submission: submission which is limited to sexual interactions. Power relationships within non-sexual situations can vary widely and are unrelated (though it needs to be understood that ANY situation could be turned into having a sexual undertone and the D/s dynamic then is applied here). This term is also often used in a derogatory way to designate someone who only dabbles and is not a “real submissive”. However, it is arguably the largest group of players. Bedroom submission is paired with any form of submission that is not necessarily permanent (including mental submission).
Service submission: a service submissive is someone who takes pleasure (sexual or not) from “serving” another. This means little more than doing things for another to make them happy – and thus what these things are depend very much on the partner. It often is as simple as bringing someone a cup of tea or can be as extensive as making serious life changes for another (such as losing weight). A service submissive who is very upset can, for example, calm down when asked to perform a task such as cooking a meal. However, it can also easily lead to abuse and destructive behaviour as the service submissive often connects these acts to his/her self-worth and needs the emotional feedback.
Brat submission: Submission which feeds from the cycle of misbehaviour and punishment. Whilst it is often found in masochists it is not actually necessarily so. This behaviour can form a constant or just a playful interlude in a relationship. Just as punishment does not need to mean pain or degradation, the misdemeanour does not have to be grave. It can all be just a game between partners, one which both are aware they are playing.
High Court submission: This is a very formal way of submission following a set of “high etiquette” court rules (most of which would be unrecognisable to any historical scholar – including the use of formal address). It describes precise ways of kneeling, speaking, acting and hand, as well as verbal, commands. It can form part of 24 hour submission, bedroom submission or part time submission.
Part-time non-sexual submission: Many people argue that this form of submission should not be part of the BDSM. It is the counterpoint to bedroom submission but without the sexual element. For certain times, in non-sexual settings, a submissive transfers all power over their life (not necessarily but often including their career, finances, choice of household chores, personal and physical freedom, internet use, personal relationships…) to another. This is closely related to the position of a slave but not in a permanent 24 hour setting. This is often used by couples (or groups) where one member needs the mental support of settling back into a situation or to even out their mind again.
Slave: A term often used for 24 hour submission and can come in so many forms. It most commonly denotes a situation in which one partner gives up control over every aspect of their lives 24/7. However, this is almost impossible to achieve as, bar a situation when every participant can be constantly around, some decisions have to be taken away from the person with the control. As a result this is more likely to be a situation in which one person has made a set of clear and comprehensive rules which have to be followed and which relate to every aspect of life. Within this set of rules the relationship is conducted.
Financial submission: a situation in which the submissive gives up any and all control over his/her financial situation. Some BDSM practitioners would consider this to be a necessary part of submission, however it does not have to be. It can also be part of part time or bedroom submission where it then means that the submissive simply has no money for that time, or transfers a certain amount to the Dominant to be used as the Dominant wishes in that time.
Domestic goddess/ domestic submission: a submissive who “serves” their Dominant(s) by taking care of all domestic and household issues. It is often part of slave or 24 hour submission and suits service submissives (though not necessarily). It can be non-sexual or sexual and be linked to a 1950s fetish.
Romance submissive: this form of submission is the only one which requires love as a necessity. It relates to a submissive who defines themselves through their emotional submission to the dominant partner.
Many of these forms of relationships exist among people who would never identify with BDSM and that is part of the point. They are formalisations of some human interactions within relationships. There are other forms of submission as well but the above are the major ones identified commonly. It has to be noted that these describe forms of “service” not what happens within that service. Within each people can engage in sadism, masochism, sado-masocism, degradation, fire fetishes, bondage, Babygirl fetishes… and you will need to figure out what you want in that area as well, but often with a partner or partners.
The above categories merely relate to the different forms we generally refer to as submission, they are not exclusive lists or recognised classifications. And in each group there will be people who see their own group as the only true submission. That unfortunately is human too. And just as characters in books, we tend to idealise or demonise them.
However, in books, what we read about is an idealised form of people – often the extremes. Reality is a lot more multi-faceted and more easily bleeds over into other forms of submission. So, when it comes to play you need to know first what you want before you go out and “submit” – because no matter how much you trust your partner(s), or how much you love them and they love you, what they most likely are not is mind readers.
So, when you have figured out what you want you can start figuring out what you should expect form your partner. And the answer to that one is: a lot of messy mistakes and giggles, during sex and outside of it. And, most importantly, a lot of talk, much of which is mildly embarrassing, really embarrassing, awkward and amusing. And there might be tears. They are fine too.
In “real” life, I am an academic with degrees in Political Science, Economics, Philosophy and Law and an insatiable desire to confound, baffle and disconcert my students. Someone once suggested to me the reason for my stories lay in the desire to offset the tedium and rationality of academic life. He wasn’t an academic or he would have known better. It is best to use research against tedium, students to offset the rationality and an unlimited supply of stressballs for the faculty meetings. The stories? Well, they are just for me – like a mental manicure.
I also write a blog on Feminism and Erotica – come talk to me:http://christineblackthorn.eu/blog
This post is part of a guest series to promote the release of Show Me, Sir by Sonni de Soto.