essays, kink

“I know I’m submissive. But where do I start?” aka “I just read Fifty Shades of Grey and I want THAT.”

1. Read a fucking book

Read fiction, sure—Carrie’s Story, The Marketplace series, Mr. Benson, The Leather Daddy and the Femme (these are some of my personal favorites)—hell, even Fifty Shades of Grey—read the fiction, but know that it is designed for one thing: Arousal. The reality of it is both much, much sexier, erotic, and mind-blowing and also sometimes very different, full of realistic mundane problems that aren’t sexy at all.

Read non-fiction. There are many good ones: ask a bookseller at your favorite local bookstore for recommendations on where to start if you’re exploring kink (I know, it’s old fashioned, but do it anyway.) Go in to your local feminist queer sex-positive sex toy shop (is there not a good directory for those online yet!?) and ask them for their book recommendations. Go to your favorite queer sex blogger’s list of recommended BDSM books on Amazon and browse around. Go intellectual-butt-sniffing (aka, look over their bookshelves) at your bibliophile friend’s place.

All of those recommendations are worth reading, but these are essential. Consider them assigned to you as homework.

You can do this step while you also do the other steps, but do not skip it.

2. Find a buddy

It doesn’t really matter where you find your buddy, but you gotta have that person you can talk to about this thing that is growing and that you are beginning to voice and give weight and value to. It’s great if that person has lots more information about kink than you do, if they can guide you on the path, if they can be your mentor, but that’s not the most important thing.

They must:

  • Feel safe to talk to
  • Listen to what you’re curious about
  • Be supportive and not judgmental, not shaming of your interests
  • Ask interesting questions

And, most importantly:

When you leave the conversations with this friend, you feel invigorated, empowered, stronger, braver. <— Pay attention to this, to how you feel after visiting with your friends and relations in general. You don’t need anyone else stomping on this new baby-green identity that is just starting to sprout and grow. It needs some scaffolding, a tomato cage of strength and nurturance around it, one that won’t disrupt it’s growth but is there if it needs something to hold on to, some guidance of how to get to the sun, some support if the fruits get too heavy.

Find those tomato-cage friends and lovers and confidants and beloveds. Identify them. They are out there. You probably already know a few of them.

3. Brave up and go to a Thing

BDSM, kink, and fetish events abound. You may not find “your people” or “your community” or your next mind-blowing fuck at the first, second, third, fifth, or even twentieth event you attend—but then again, you might.

Depending on where you live, this might be harder than it sounds. Your Thing might have to be on another coast, in another city, while visiting that one friend from college who is always posts “interesting” things on Facebook.

Look up whatever might be happening in your local kink community on Fetlife. (I wish I knew of another good source for you, but that’s the best I’ve got. And hey, I’ll be your friend!) Yes, you might have to wade through unsolicited solicitations. Yes, you might not have the exact right orientation or gender or fetish event that you’d really most want, in your heart-of-hearts, to attend. But that’s okay. You don’t have to go to the only very most perfect events. Go to the events that kind of weird you out, that you don’t get, that you are totally “meh” about.

Regardless of the Thing, you’ll learn. Pay attention. Put your phone away and really listen. Think about it as if you’re a scientist studying what these kinksters do. Why do they like it? What’s amazing about it? What makes them squirm, in good ways or bad ways? Even if it isn’t for you, you can still observe and learn.

The more brave you are, the more you’ll feel strong and capable and badass, and the more you’ll be able to do.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be in person, though I do encourage you to make sure to attend at least one kinky event every two months. But if socializing is too too hard, if your schedule just doesn’t work, it could be online. Lots of kinksters host online events. I’m just about to launch Submissive Playground for the second time, which is a more in-depth study for anybody who knows they’re submissive (of some kind) and wants to explore more submissive headspace. It’s great for folks who are beginners, for folks who have done so much kinky bottoming that they are practically bored and stagnant, for people without much kink community around them geographically, and for people wanting to dip their toes back in after something hard happened (be it a breakup or a bad scene).

Regardless, the point is to prioritize your kink. Prioritize your submission. It’s important, and nothing to be ashamed of.

4. Brave up and ask a top to play

Step 0: Go to a kink/bdsm/fetish Thing.

Step 1: Identify the hottest person in the room. If you’re trying to develop your submissive self, then filter for whether or not that person is a top. (Hint: You might not know until you talk to them!)

Step 2: Dare yourself to find a reason to talk to them, and say hi. Maybe it’s to give a compliment (people like compliments!) or ask a question (it’s flattering for someone to be curious!).

Step 3: Find common ground, and elevate the discussion. (This is something my mom taught me and I think about it all the time.)

Step 4: If you’ve talked for 2-5 minutes at the event and are still curious and have more compliments to give, offer your phone number. Ask if they’re on Fetlife and give them your user name. Say that you’d love to be in touch and talk more.

Step 5: If you’re really bold, ask them on a date. If you are less bold, ask them on a date via whatever contact information they give you or when they find you on social media or email you later.

One more note about asking tops to play:

They are not better than you are, they are not (inherently) sexier than you are, they are not more entitled to play than you are, just because they are a top and you are/might be a bottom. Tops sometimes act like they own the scene, but they don’t. They need you just as much as you need them, and they are just as nervous/excited/lonely/wishing for the right person to come along as you are.

Sometimes s-types are nervous about asking for dates or being forward, because that is seen as a trait that dominants or tops have. I say, fuck that. There are absolutely ways to hit on someone from a submissive or bottomy or masochistic perspective. The more you hit on people and the more trial and error you do, the more play you’ll get and the more you’ll be able to read the signs better and better.

Rife has some great tips for how to get more kinky play from a submissive’s perspective—Watch for his video on that later this week!

5. One last tip to help you open up your submissive world:

Recognize that no matter what you consume about submission, there’s no one right way to do it, and your way is just as good as anyone elses. You don’t have to love service, or being hit, or playing in public, or being naked, or having your orgasms controlled, or body fluids, or blood, or ANY thing at all really. Your kinks are okay and your icks are just fine too.

Whatever you learn through any sources you take in, people or meetings or mentors or books or events or lovers—you get to remix everything into your own identity, and who you are, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, is exactly right.

PS: AMAZING illustration by rife, who drew an infographic for the stages of kink and power dynamic identity development and formation. (I helped with some words and theories.) Watch for the full thing to be posted in a few days!

Published by Sinclair Sexsmith

Sinclair Sexsmith (they/them) is "the best-known butch erotica writer whose kinky, groundbreaking stories have turned on countless queers" (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 a Lambda Literary Award, and they are the current editor of the Best Lesbian Erotica series. They identify as a white non-binary butch dominant, a survivor, and an introvert, and they live outside Seattle as an uninvited settler on traditional, ancestral, & unceded Snoqualmie land.

7 thoughts on ““I know I’m submissive. But where do I start?” aka “I just read Fifty Shades of Grey and I want THAT.””

  1. Hilary says:

    For the most part, I think this is a great beginner’s post. But I think it’s INCREDIBLY irresponsible of you to recommend or condone Fifty Shades of Grey, even as an entry text into the world of kink. It’s perfectly fine to acknowledge that a lot of people today discover an interest in kink through that novel and other mainstream fiction like it, but PLEASE take a second to recognize that Fifty Shades isn’t a book about kink–it’s a textbook for an abusive relationship. Suggesting that people read it — even as a last resort, as a joke, or as an beginner’s text — is tantamount to condoning the portrayal of the so-called D/s relationship contained therein.

    Fifty Shades is not a book about D/s. It’s a book about abuse. And it’s irresponsible of you as a teacher, guide, and resource for the online kink community (especially beginners) to suggest otherwise.

    Thank you for taking the time to read my feedback, and I look forward to more posts in the future!

    1. Asenath says:

      A great many of the Kink Canon novels are about profoundly unhealthy novels. Severin badgers Wanda into becoming this dominant creature from his fantasies, and then ends up loathing her and despising all women by proxy when she takes another lover. O from the Story of O asks (and is given permission) to commit suicide when her lover abandons her. Anne Rice’s fictional submissives abandon the concept of consent at all – a thing that, in fantasy, appeals to some of my sensibilities. Of all the things it takes to make a Kink Classic, responsible communication and affirming relationships relationships aren’t on the list.

      1. Asenath says:

        Unhealthy ~relationships, not unhealthy novels. Blargh. Allergy meds.

    2. Sinclair says:

      Hey Hilary,

      I hear you—and I completely agree with you—that the relationship depicted in Fifty Shades of Grey is pretty much terrible. I would never, ever recommend it as a good example of D/s or as something to aspire to. I think it’s a pretty awful book all around.

      I disagree that it’s irresponsible of me to even mention it, though. I’m certainly not trying to suggest that it is a good depiction of D/s, but I do think it has been a very effective entry point into the world of more power exchange and kink for thousands of people. Perhaps I need to include a disclaimer any time I mention it (which I do, occasionally, in passing and flippantly, both in classes and in person and in articles).

      I’ve got the luxury (I suppose) and somewhat invisible taken-for-granted-of privilege of being in kink communities and around other D/s identified folks who both know the value that Fifty Shades has had in introducing new folks to kink AND know the ridiculousness that is the content of that book, so I kind of assume I’m talking to those kinds of folks—people who know that it is not “good”, but who may have read it and been turned on by it.

      But, thanks for pointing out that it’s not a given that people think it is a bad example of D/s, and that perhaps I should include more disclaimers. And of course I agree with you, it’s a pretty awful book. I don’t think I would go so far as to call it abuse, but I did find it dysfunctional, unhealthy, barely consensual, and badly written (so if that is your definition of abuse then I agree). It’s endlessly frustrating as an erotica writer and someone who advocates for informed consent, agency, and empowerment to see a book like that get so famous when the folks who are doing D/s and kink with ethics and responsibility are still struggling.


  2. clarkeroyale says:

    i *love* rife’s illustration! for the socially anxious of us out there it’s nice to have a framework to start with.

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