The Case For Not Being A Good Submissive

Pretty much all the books (not that there are very many) about the theories of submission, and pretty much all the writings of various bloggers and folks on various message boards throughout the internet, say similar things, usually starting with: obey your dominant. Put your wants and desires after those of your dominant. That’s what submitting is. Don’t you want to be a “good” submissive?

But there are a couple of essential steps missing in that formula.

Obedience is, of course, important. Open defiance is often enough to get a submissive released from service entirely. I’ve known a Master who had a slave for ten years, and one day, the slave acted up, and the Master ended it, just like that. While Masters and dominants will have a variety of different reactions to that particular scenario (I probably would have sent them away for 24 hours with some assignments to cool off, for example), the point remains: obedience is important.

Don’t get me wrong— minor disobedience, in play kinds of ways, can be fun, and make more friction between folks. It can instigate more sadism in a dominant, and it can be used as “funishment”—faux-punishments which are more for pleasure than because someone actually did something wrong, like, “Oh look how wet your cunt is, you slut, I’m going to beat you now.” Yep, that is good fun stuff. Sometimes folks call this brattiness, though being a ‘brat’ is a debated hot topic in the D/s worlds, with many dominants saying they would never want a brat. Brattiness can be a really good tool — especially if dominant likes it, or if it creates more excuses for play. That kind of “disobedience” is more about obediently playing the game that’s been set up, and it’s legit.

But that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the importance of a submissive doing what they are told to the best of their ability in the D/s context.

The submissive has to be able to mess up without serious blows to their self-esteem, value, and submissive identity.
But what about those times when an order is given, and the submissive thinks they completely understand it, and they go along steps one-two-thee and present the completed task to the dominant, and that was not at all what the dominant had in mind? What about those times when the dominant is completely unclear about the orders, but just doesn’t have time to explain themself thoroughly, and expects the submissive to fill in the gaps themself? What about when a submissive thinks they are doing precisely the thing the dominant would want, since they have wanted that thing before, but is not taking into account these new factors in this particular scenario?

It’s not open defiance, intentionally being disobedient, but it isn’t perfect obedience. Regardless of who is at fault (and finding the ways that both the dominant and the submissive can make sure this doesn’t happen again is perhaps more useful than finding the fault), the dominant often responds with disappointment, and the submissive often responds with deep sadness that they didn’t get it right.

Because that is most often what submissives want, right—to get it right, to be good.

When we find ourselves in that scenario—and we will, if we play with power dynamics, eventually be in that scenario—we have to allow the submissive some wiggle room with being “good.” The submissive has to be able to mess up without serious blows to their self-esteem, value, and submissive identity. Now, I’m not saying that the submissive shouldn’t be punished, or there shouldn’t be an increased amount of discipline next time, but hopefully those things can be done in ways that build up the submissive’s self-value and self-worth, and don’t tear it down.

No matter how much humiliation fetish we may have, having a submissive with no self-worth is bad for everyone. A submissive with no self-worth can stop trying, can stop expecting amazing things of themself, and can stop believing in their value to their dominant. At the core, it is best to have submissives who believe themselves to be strong, capable people.

Submissives who are strong, capable people also tend to have needs, wants, and desires. We all do, of course—dominants are expected to constantly mine their needs, wants, and desires, and find ways to use the submissive to meet those. But submissives are often expected to override their own needs, wants, and desires in deference to their dominant’s. This is often called being a “good” submissive.

For example, there might be some orgasm control rules in place, where the submissive can only have so many orgasms, or none at all. It can be really hot to deny them what they want: “Oh, I see you writhing around, trying to rub your dick on the sheets. Are you trying to come? You know you’re not allowed, little pet; you will get in so much trouble if you do that.” The need for sexual satisfaction is of course valid, but part of sexual satisfaction, for this particular submissive, is being denied and teased with what they want.

There can be other, less sexual, examples of denial, too; if the dominant doesn’t like a particular food, perhaps the submissive never has it at home (there are never mushrooms or cilantro in my household, for example). This is, generally, not a big deal, especially not at first. But denial of something pleasurable, even something the submissive just desires, and doesn’t “need,” can wear them down over time.

When we’re talking about 24/7 relationships, especially authority exchanges which are also primary partnerships, the submissive does have needs, wants, and desires. That’s just a part of reality, a part of being human. The submissive does have core values and core kinks which, if they don’t get met, at least sometimes, they may start feeling unfulfilled, unsatisfied, and even unloved.

The dominant role has many components, but one of them is to monitor and support the submissive’s fulfillment and satisfaction. Many submissives are fulfilled and satisfied by being controlled and denied, but long term denial can break down a relationship. A dominant must pay attention to the submissive’s needs, wants, and desires in order to bolster the longevity of the relationship.

The submissive does have core values and core kinks which, if they don’t get met, at least sometimes, they may start feeling unfulfilled, unsatisfied, and even unloved.
This means that the submissive must communicate their needs, wants, and desires—which means the submissive must know what their needs, wants, and desires are. Instead of shoving them aside when they come up, pushing them away, tamping them down like a “good” submissive is “supposed to,” pay attention. Put a little highlighter mark over them in your brain when it comes up randomly throughout the day, and make a list in your submissive journal. Perhaps you’ll notice some patterns. Perhaps you’ll identify something deep in you that is vying to get out.

Depending on the D/s arrangements that you have, it may be up to your dominant what they do with this information, or it might be your responsibility to assert your needs and boundaries, or to get them met outside of your relationship. My wish for you is that you can both figure out a way to honor your humanity, to acknowledge that submissives (and dominants!) make mistakes, have miscommunications, and differences in styles, and that everyone has needs, wants, and desires that are core to our long-term fulfillment and happiness. Hopefully, the dominant can fold a submissive’s needs into their own, and make them part of the power dynamic—another thing for the submissive to, enthusiastically, obey.

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Published by Sinclair Sexsmith

Sinclair Sexsmith (they/them) is "the best-known butch erotica writer whose kinky, groundbreaking stories have turned on countless queer women" (AfterEllen), who "is in all the books, wins all the awards, speaks at all the panels and readings, knows all the stuff, and writes for all the places" (Autostraddle). ​Their short story collection, Sweet & Rough: Queer Kink Erotica, was a 2016 finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. They identify as a white non-binary butch dominant, a survivor, and an introvert.

8 thoughts on “The Case For Not Being A Good Submissive”

  1. JD says:

    I’m not sure that your worry ought to be what you imagine it is. What I would think, (my take only) is that you have to decide who you’re preaching to. If it’s a multiple group- then you have to adjust.

    If your focus is only your specific & narrow group, then you ought to end or adjust/explain to the ones who might end here who are not fully as you service. Does that make sense? I feel you’re trying to stretch the net- but you can’t.

  2. Xiao Yingtai says:

    It’s not open defiance, intentionally being disobedient, but it isn’t perfect obedience.

    Goodness. I had no idea that getting it wrong might be viewed as not obedient. My idea of “not obedient” is more like what Ferns describes in “When your submissive says no”.

    So I’m hoping that your message also applies more broadly across the not-very-submissive-behaviour spectrum. Because I agree that it is a really important message.

    1. Sinclair Sexsmith says:

      Absolutely applies more broadly across the not-very-submissive-behavior spectrum … and I definitely think that some dominants and d/s dynamics are based on the submissive’s defiance and “brattiness” and getting it “wrong” so as to instigate the dominant into punishment/funishment.

  3. coco says:

    Well I am new to d/s dynamics and consent .But it helped me a lot to understand how communication and expressing needs and desires make a really good sub ^^

  4. Paige says:

    If a dom releases a sub, for, as you say, “acting up” (I assume this to mean disagreeing with the dom, questioning the dom’s behavior, making a request of the dom, voicing an opinion, etc.), this signifies that the dom in question–in this case, even after ten years–could not value the sub beyond their ability to submit. After ten years of service, the sub was suddenly worth nothing to the dom. Don’t you think this is abusive? An essentially dehumanizing way to view and treat someone?

    Doesn’t the phrase “acting up” reduce the seriousness and worth of the sub’s action/reaction?

    I just find it amazing that a person, a human individual, can be rendered meaningless and useless just because they might strive for a bit of equality. Actually, what I find more amazing is how sub/dom culture justifies this rendering.

    As neither a dom nor a sub, but an egalitarian, your writing completely confuses me. I can neither imagine allowing myself to be treated this way, or wanting to treat someone this way. What makes it okay for a dom to place their own needs and desires so far above those of someone else? Someone they supposedly care about; until, of course, the sub asserts their own humanity. At this point, the sub is “released” (read: thrown out, discarded, abandoned).

    Even in this article, the humanity of the sub is only mentioned as an afterthought. The sub’s humanity must be negotiated–“figured out,” as you say. It is not a given.

    I guess I would follow by asking what it says about a dom, that they feel they have the authority to negotiate someone else’s humanity, and what it says about a sub, that they feel their humanity is open for discussion, debate, and even refusal. I would ask if there’s ever a healthy end to this situation–“healthy” meaning balanced, all parties equally intact, nobody disproportionally hurt. I have to ask, because I can’t see the negotiation of someone’s humanity as anything but a recipe for extortion.

  5. Donna says:

    I really enjoyed your article. It really drills down to the nuts and bolts of the subject. The only other reference I have seen that is (almost) as comprehensive is called How Not To Be A Dick To Your Submissive. I’m adding you to my faves list!

  6. maria says:

    Thank You for sharing Your thoughts and – yes, i’m going to say it – wisdom! You speak more sense than most who consider T/themselves ‘BDSM experts’. Your articles are insightful and intelligent, and an all-round jolly good read. Again, thank You.

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