What Does It Mean to Be a Submissive in BDSM?

What Does It Mean to Be a Submissive in BDSM?

That question is not as easy to unpack as you might think. In the BDSM Lifestyle, the term submissive has multiple meanings, and people do not always agree on how to apply it to a person or scene. We are going to look at the ways the term submissive is used to help you navigate how people talk about it in communities and how you can apply what it is to be a submissive in your dynamic.

Technically: The Submissive Umbrella
Like BDSM itself, the term submissive is sometimes used as an umbrella term in BDSM to encompass the role a person can take in a BDSM scene or activity. For example, in a bondage scene, the person being bound is the submissive (even if they do nothing else except allow their partner to tie them up). In a humiliation scene, the person who is made to perform humiliating activities is the submissive. In an impact scene, the person who is being struck with a flogger, paddle, riding crop, or other impact tool (or hand) is the submissive.
In all of these, the submissive is giving some amount of power or control to their partner, but that exchange of power happens only in that scene. Once the scene is over, the power exchange ends.

Submissive Roles
The Submissive Umbrella also covers different roles in the BDSM Lifestyle where one person gives up a degree of power or control to another in a power exchange dynamic. In these dynamics, the submissive partner agrees to give up some amount of power and control to their Dominant partner. The terms of this power exchange are negotiated between the two partners, limits are set, and activities that both parties will engage in are discussed. These dynamics can be discreet scenes that take place over time (a couple may enjoy a vanilla relationship during the week and take on their chosen Dominant and submissive roles every weekend, for example). They can also be 24/7 where the relationship between Dominant and submissive is always “on” and the submissive is always subject to the Dominant’s control.

Submissive is a role in power exchange; however, there are some characteristics of submission that have gained their own distinct role titles. A few examples include:
Littles/Middles – submissives who display youthful or childlike characteristics in their dynamic
Pets – submissives who display the characteristics of owned animals in a dynamic
Service submissives – submissives who perform tasks for their Dominants
Sexual submissives – these are submissives who primarily service their Dominants through sexual acts
Masochistic submissive – submissives who submit to receiving pain in one form or another from their Dominant
Slave – someone who gives over almost all control to a Dominant (This is not a role for beginners, as this type of dynamic require experience on the part of both partners and a great degree of trust.)

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