Not all submissives are the same.
Right off the starting block I need to clarify something: not everyone who ‘submits’ considers themselves a submissive. In fact, some don’t like the word at all because of the connotations and expectations that come with it.
When I use the word submissive here, I simply mean ‘one who submits their will to another by choice’ so this will include all kinds of bottoms who don’t at all identify with the image of a kneeling sub at their Dominant’s feet.
There are as many ways to submit as there are people submitting. Every relationship is unique so you can pick your ‘type’ and your category but in general people just don’t fit well into boxes. So, a lot of submissives discover that they can’t find a label that applies to them—and that’s okay. We’re people, not crayons so we don’t need a label that says what we are.
The thing is though—it’s convenient, when you’re discussing your place in the scene, to be able to clue people in on the basics. “I’m a sub.” is a very broad and vague description which might be useful to someone outside of the D/s world, but really won’t help anyone in it to figure you out. So, you try to narrow things down a little but “I’m a little!” may only describe you 10% of the time. Maybe it just happens to be how you feel at that moment when asked, or maybe it’s how you like to identify but the reality is often different from that one name you’ve applied to yourself.
A lot of new subs (and new Doms) come into the scene with pre-conceived notions that are often derived from fiction. The infamous ‘Shades’ books and movies, for instance, have caused a lot of misconceptions. But that wasn’t the first BDSM fiction to go mainstream and get people excited about a little bit of kink in their lives. Before those books even existed, people were panting over 9 ½ weeks, and The Secretary.
Both, by the way, portray equally unhealthy relationships to what we see in ‘Shades’ and that’s the problem with learning from fiction. Unhealthy in the media tends to be shown as exciting and it attracts people. I don’t recall ever seeing a healthy D/s relationship in a mainstream film, do you? I’m sure there are some, but they don’t get the same level of attention.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved both of those movies, and the Nine and a Half Weeks novel which explored the kinky stuff much deeper. There were aspects of them I really appreciated– but they definitely weren’t showing stable and safe D/s examples that people should be emulating.
Fantasies are fiction and they don’t have to be realistic or teaching tools. As an author I like to think most of the relationships I write are healthy partnerships, but my books are not textbooks on ‘How to Kink’ they are stories meant to entertain and excite. That’s why I try to be a little more real over here on the blog.
It’s okay to love the BDSM books (especially mine, which you can find here: https://www.amazon.com/Kessily-Lewel/e/B072NG8L5T ) and movies, but they often don’t give you the facts you need, and many times the characters are stereotypes of Doms and subs that can leave new people in the scene a little confused about their role. If there is one piece of misinformation I would correct for a newbie in the scene, it’s that BDSM does not equal sex for everyone and that submission and the reasons for it are different for each person.
That being said, we do have some broad categories to choose from, and even though you can then mix and match and define yourself however you like, it does help to be able to point and say “That’s me!” and I think a brief overview of a few of the more common types of submissive might be helpful to people who aren’t sure where they fit in.
I do need to say though, that what you identify as can change over time, and it can do so for a myriad of reasons. It might be the person you’re with is leading you in a new direction, or it might just be where your mind is at. It can be that you’ve gained some maturity—or that you are discarding some maturity for a while. As long as you’re choosing the role and are comfortable with the fit it’s valid and that’s all that matters.
I’m going to start at the lighter end of the spectrum in terms of D/s and work my way towards the heavier relationships. Many people in the earlier categories may not call themselves subs at all. They have chosen to submit to another’s authority, but they might not do so gracefully and may want/need to be forced into compliance, or are just in it for the spankings so they aren’t going to obey unless there is punishment.
Bottoms naturally, are the ones on the bottom in a power-exchange relationship. The one who is controlled. They consent to allow another person to boss them around, dominate them, spank them, etc. (Yes, it can get a bit confusing because the term is used in gay relationships too, but it means the same thing really. The one who receives.) They may or may not identify as a submissive and many in these first few categories fall under this umbrella.
Brats are probably the most common role for new bottoms coming into the scene. It’s a role that is comfortable for many because it’s logical and makes sense. When you were a child and acted up an authority figure punished you, since you’ve already lived it it’s pretty easy to slip back into. Spanking a child isn’t nearly as common anymore and is fading fast (and is something we’re never going to debate on this blog) but there are still many adults who have it in their memories.
Brats tend to do childish things to earn their spankings, and other punishments. They are bubbly, light-hearted tricksters usually, who can be the life of the party. They can also be irritating as hell, especially in the beginning when they’re full of naughtiness. Some brats feel more comfortable with Dominants who take on family roles: big brothers, Dads, Moms and commonly cross over with both SAMS and Littles.
SAMS (Smart-Ass Masochists.) Are very similar to brats and there’s a lot of overlap there, but it tends to be their mouth that gets them in trouble more than other behaviors.
Pain slut doesn’t sound like a very nice thing to call someone but most in this category wear it with pride. A pain slut is a masochist who enjoys pain and has a high tolerance. Sometimes this goes with submission and sometimes it doesn’t. There are plenty of pain sluts who don’t submit in any way beyond being the one to receive pain and for those it’s purely a physical need.
Age-players are adults who take on a child role. They pick an age, anything from a baby to a teenager and they behave as though they are that age, often getting very deep into the headspace (kidspace). Parental type discipline, including spankings, is very common here. It may be their lover/partner who takes on the role of their caregiver but that doesn’t mean that they do sexual or adult things while in that headspace of pretending to be a kid.
Some of them do and some don’t. It is two consenting adults regardless of what they are pretending to be and shouldn’t be confused with pedophilia.
Littles are bottoms who need to be coddled and taken care of. They are childish and it’s usually built into their personality so they might not want to act very mature throughout various aspects of their life and require a Dom to keep them in line. They can also be age-players but they aren’t always, and many people who are in this kind of relationship do incorporate a very sexy vibe into their role.
This is often where you’ll see people dressing in Lolita styles—sexy contrasting with innocence. They aren’t pretending to be a child, they are just an adult who fosters a childish cuteness that they bring into everything, including sex for some people. But again, not everyone mixes any kind of adult behavior into this. Some littles want nothing more than to be cuddled and maybe read a story.
The DD(DaddyDom)/lg(little girl) dynamic has made this particular category fairly popular in the past few years so it’s fairly common to see now, though it’s often confused with ageplay.
DD bottoms/subs (Domestic Discipline) These are often spouses, partners, lovers who want to be disciplined for real misbehavior. They may occasionally act up to get their need to be punished filled, but a lot of times a domestic discipline relationship is meant to keep life and the home running smoothly. A husband might be spanked for a parking ticket. A wife might be spanked for forgetting to pay a bill on time. They might consider themselves a sub, or not.
Some women I know in DD relationships simply consider themselves old-fashioned wives, for instance. There’s also a whole group of people who have this lifestyle for religious reasons.
Bedroom submissives generally find Dominance sexy and hot. They prefer to be controlled in the bedroom and may participate in all kinds of roleplay scenes where they submit or are forced to submit to their lover, but they generally like to leave those activities in the bedroom.
They may or may not play in kinky clubs or parties but if they do it’s mainly because it’s a turn on and it doesn’t spill over into their vanilla life. They rarely have rules outside of a scene, except maybe sex related rules like not being allowed to masturbate without permission.
Submissive is just a generic catch-all title for someone who has relinquished control to another person or people. This person feels that they are committing deeper than the above categories and giving up more control. There may be collars involved, possibly rules for how they behave. They may be a little bit of every other category depending on their mood. It’s a very broad group.
Service submissives are subs who enjoy being useful, helping their Dominants without needing to be ordered. When asked if they’d like to be of assistance the answer is usually yes. They probably have times when they fill some of the other roles, but at their core they want to be useful and it’s usually part of their submission. These are going to be the ones you see who are running around doing errands for their doms and a large part of their submission doesn’t revolve around the scenes but a whole lifestyle.
Slaves are generally considered the deepest because they give up the most control. While people who only get their understanding of BDSM from fiction might think that in-depth contracts detailing complete control of a submissive’s life are common, they aren’t. In fact, in all my years as a sub, involved in the scene the only time I’ve seen contracts are with slaves.
Most slaves that I’ve known are controlled to a level that many people would find unhealthy. In my opinion it can and often does become unhealthy to foster that much dependence in a person. Submissives who become completely dependent on their Dominant partner for everything from what to wear, to when to eat can end up incapable of surviving without someone to tell them what to do, and I think that is more likely to happen in a Master/slave relationship than any other type of D/s relationship.
That being said…I do know slaves who are completely happy in their relationship and in their case the contract can be a vital part of it. In it they can list the things that they need to handle on their own, and the freedoms they require. This gives them safe boundaries without having to say ‘no’ which can be hard for someone who is that deep into submission. I would never, and I mean never, recommend slavery for someone inexperienced to the scene.
This kind of relationship should only be attempted when all partners involved know exactly what they are getting into. And, my advice would be that it should only happen in a stable long-term relationship where people know each other thoroughly.
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I identify as a service submissive first and foremost, because I like to please people. I want to make them happy by doing things for them and this spills over into my normal personality. I often go out of my way to be helpful to anyone around me.
When it comes to being a submissive I need to be praised and told I’m a good girl and I need to know I’m useful in some way, but there are days when I’m nothing but a bratty smart ass, or when I’m feeling little girlish and I have to be guided to do anything because I just want to be cuddled (and coddled) and not do the icky adulting thing.
At other times in my life I have fit into most of these categories and I’ve come to realize that people tend to feel guilty for changing so they try to hold onto who they were. Everyone around you, your loved ones, your friends, your play partners–they see you in a certain way and it’s often based on how you were when they first met you. It can be extremely hard for them to accept that you’ve moved to a new phase, and this is just as true in the scene as it is anywhere else.
So, when we discuss a topic like “What kind of submissive am I?” you do need to know that what you are today may not be what you are tomorrow. That there is no shame in exploring or in changing even if people keep trying to put you back in those old molds, they’ve made for you. You may start as a brat, and then find yourself needing to explore the depth of a more intense kind of submission. You may start as a sub and decide that you want to be a Dominant too (or even instead.)
You might find that you want to be submissive with one person only, but love to play out the brat or SAM with everyone else at parties—everything is valid as long as you are the one deciding who you are.
Introspection is good and maybe the above definitions will help you figure out your place in the wide world of kink but try not to let yourself get too attached to being that one thing at the expense of seeing what else is out there. And remember it’s okay to be more than one thing. It took me a while to realize it but being a brat on some days or a SAM doesn’t make me less of a submissive. It’s just part of who I am.