Understanding the desire to submit : FAQ about submission

I’m a loudmouthed, opinionated, independent – some may even say ‘stroppy’ – person. I am also a submissive. These things don’t cause conflict in my mind, at least not on a regular basis. After all, it’s not like the redder my bottom is after a spanking, the less important the other aspects of my life become.

But many people struggle to come to terms with their desire to submit, feeling like there’s something wrong with them if they enjoy pain, or want to give up control. Others may be comfortable with their own desires, but find it hard to explain those desires to a partner who thinks that submission goes hand-in-hand with exploitation. It’s understandable, and these aren’t shameful questions to ask. Below I’ve tried to give you my answers to the three most frequently asked questions about submission.

Its not like the redder my bottom is the less important other aspects of my life becomeClick To Tweet

What do you mean by ‘submission’?

This is perhaps the biggest question, and the answer will be different for everyone. Consider your sexuality like a pic’n’mix stand at the cinema: everyone has a few favourites that they’ll reach for first. Sour cherries, cola bottles, white chocolate mice – you get the idea. Except instead of sweets it’s sensations, emotions, and acts:

  • Humiliation
  • Pain
  • The sting of someone’s palm smacking against your skin
  • Obedience
  • Nakedness
  • Anal sex
  • Sensory deprivation
  • Forced orgasm
  • That sound the belt makes when someone slides it out through the loops

Submit to the caneTo name just a few. My submission encompasses some of these, as well as some other things. For other people, their submission might include things like being restricted in bondage, or being treated like a treasured pet. Being humiliated. Having sex outdoors. Being forced to do housework. Receiving six strokes of the cane as a punishment, or receiving twelve strokes of the cane as a reward.

If you want to submit to your partner, or your partner has expressed a desire for submission, the first thing to do is unpack that word. What do they mean by ‘submission’?

It’s easy, when you’re writing BDSM guides, to fall into the trap of telling people: this is what submission looks like. To paint a picture of leather and latex and whips and ‘yes ma’ams’ so beginners can get a feel for the moves they should make. But in fact the most important thing to do is ask lots of questions, listen to the answers, and work together to find the mix of acts, sensations and emotions that match your submission style best.

Its easy to fall into the trap of telling people 'this is what submission looks like'Click To Tweet

Where does your desire to submit come from?

Why do you prefer cola bottles to rum ‘n’ raisin fudge? OK, I know that sounds flippant, but in truth the answer for so many people will be that they simply don’t know. Kinky people are generally more likely to have examined their own desires – because the nature of our narrative around sex is that we don’t question what’s considered ‘normal’ or common. If your tastes are more vanilla, you’ll probably never have had to explore the question ‘why do you like getting hand jobs?’ because the message that ‘hand jobs are pleasurable’ has been woven tightly into the fabric of our society. My knee-jerk answer, when people ask me why I want to submit, is ‘because it’s fun.’

But there’s obviously more to this question than that. Many people do link their kink to events that have happened in their life – whether it’s an early sexual awakening when they read a dirty book, or a game they played with a friend that gave them a hot flush and made their heart beat faster.

On a darker note – and be aware this touches on topics of abuse – partners of those who are into kink, who struggle to work out the reasons, may worry that it’s linked to early trauma. The mechanics of consensual BDSM can sometimes look shocking: pain, punishment, bondage, brutality: often people want it to mean something, or view it as a problem to be fixed. However, consensual kink is not abuse – the key is always ‘consent.’ There are kinksters who have experienced abuse, as there are kinksters who haven’t. Personally, my desire to submit, and the activities I enjoy in the bedroom, have nothing to do with my childhood (which was a happy one, luckily).

Consensual kink is not abuseClick To Tweet

As with everything, the key is to listen to your partner – really listen. If you’re not a qualified professional, it can be extremely frustrating for your partner to have you tell them your theories on why they may feel a particular way. Ask them about their kink, explore what they enjoy, and if they do want to explore the whys and wherefores further, there are professional counsellors and therapists who are kink-friendly, and who can provide a space to explore desires without judgment or shame.

Isn’t dominance and submission inherently exploitative?

Ah, the 64-million-dollar question. As I mentioned above, from the outside a lot of BDSM looks shocking. Often the way I play would look like my partner is a horrible, abusive bastard. He beats me, calls me ‘slut’, pushes my head down onto his dick until I choke and splutter… only if I’m really lucky, though. The key thing is that the most important elements of any scene come long before we’ve taken any clothes off. The negotiation and discussion, sharing fantasies, asking questions – all that stuff. By beating me or shagging me in specific ways, he’s not exploiting me: he’s pleasuring me.

That’s not to say that exploitation disappears in a puff of smoke as soon as there’s consent. Sex and exploitation have always had a close relationship, because humans like sex and we also cannot (apparently) help but exploit, double-deal, and generally be pretty awful to each other. Even the most apparently vanilla-seeming sex acts have been used to humiliate and control.

In my time as a sex blogger, I’ve been asked how I can possibly reconcile my feminism with my desire to be beaten and used – predominantly by men. Is my sexual desire at odds with my political beliefs? Are they two sides of the same coin, with my bedroom activity being a ‘safe’ way to explore the things I’d rail against outside of it? If you’d asked me five years ago I’d have said ‘no’, but now I think I have a better answer: maybe.

Is my sexual desire at odds with my political beliefs?Click To Tweet

Maybe sex is a way to explore those things that frighten or shock us. Maybe BDSM is a space where we can let off steam. Perhaps kink is a tool with which we can examine taboos – hold them up to the light, and then come out the other side with more knowledge of ourselves and our partners.


But let’s go back to the pic’n’mix analogy: as everyone likes different sweets, so everyone’s kink looks different. Yours will be shaped and influenced by different things to mine, and will have a different relationship to your personal politics. The key thing isn’t that you know all the answers to these questions – it’s that you’re asking them in the first place. These questions – and the discussion you and your partner have around them – are like the paper bag you’re about to fill with kinky sweets. Asking them shows you’re curious, kind, interested, and open: and those are the most important things in exploring any new desires. You’ve got to pick up your bag first, make sure there are no holes in it, then you can start filling it with sweets that you’ll both enjoy together.

Start filling your bag with kinky sweets that you'll both enjoy togetherClick To Tweet
Girl on the net

Written by Girl on the Net

Girl on the Net is a London-based writer. She blogs at girlonthenet.com about sex, feminism and things that make her angry on twitter.


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