How does submission align with feminism?
Wanting to play with power dynamics by acting out dominant-submissive (D/s) roles is completely natural. It falls under the wider umbrella term of BDSM, which stands for bondage and discipline, domination and submission, and sadism and masochism. But if you are feminist interested in playing a submissive role, you might wonder if this will conflict with your ideals. We’re here to tell you — it doesn’t have to.
Feminism is about equality for all individuals and respecting other’s right to choose a lifestyle that’s right for them. This means not shaming or criticizing women who choose to engage in submissive acts or submissive lifestyles, even if that includes being tied up, slapped, or being called names. So long as all participating parties are enthusiastically consenting, have a safe word, and have communicated their defined boundaries beforehand, a woman should feel empowered to engage in her pleasure as she sees fit. There aren’t rules as to what you can and can’t do as a feminist; you are not a ‘bad feminist’ if you’re submissive.
It’s important to bear in mind, however, that consenting once doesn’t guarantee consent to the same sexual act another time. It’s also okay for anyone to change their mind during an act and withdraw consent or use a safe word. Far from killing the mood, checking in with each other during sex can put any concerns to bed (a-hem) and ensure everyone is having fun. When a woman has the agency to choose the role they play, engaging in a submissive position can actually be very empowering.
What does submission look like?
A common misconception of BDSM is that it’s all whips and chains, but acting submissive doesn’t always have to include exploring levels of pain. Rather, impact play is just one element of BDSM. Some submissives, for example, like succumbing to verbal degradation. Using role-play that incorporates humiliation or name-calling can be a fun way to test the borders of dominance and submission, and it can be a way to step outside day-to-day life and norms. Just make sure that if you are playing a submissive role, it is with a trusted partner where there is mutual respect. Even in a fully consensual, role-playing scenario, verbal degradation can lead to unwanted consequences, such as diminished self-esteem or concern over how your partner really feels about you.
Playing a submissive role also doesn’t just have to happen in a sexual context. Within the BDSM community, there are some individuals who subscribe to a more encompassing lifestyle with a dominant/submissive dynamic that pervades everyday living. This can take the shape of financial domination where the dominant is in charge of all financial decisions. It can be domestic servitude, where the submissive does the cleaning, cooking, and household chores. Objectification can happen when the submissive acts as human furniture. These are just some examples of what a D/s dynamic can look like.
Note that choosing to be more dominant or submissive isn’t fixed, and the roles can vary depending on the scenario or how a person feels in the moment. In fact, the term in the BDSM world for people who switch between dominant or submissive (sometimes during a sexual encounter or between sexual experiences) is known as a ‘switch.'
Can a feminist feel powerful while being submissive?
For some women, engaging in a submissive role can feel like a welcomed break from societal pressures to be strong and independent. Relinquishing control can be empowering in itself and relief from daily pressures. For example, a high-powered woman at work might find pleasure in being dominated at home.
The submissive also holds most of power, not the dominant. Through communication, the submissive sets the pace and boundaries. Where the dominant takes charge is in holding the responsibility of the situation — their role is to assess the play and consider whether the submissive is ready for a shift in activities. It’s the submissive who sets the parameters of sexual exploration and trusts the dominant so they can relinquish control while the dominant reads the scene and plays within these boundaries. Sometimes the dominant will test these boundaries, but this should only be done after thorough communication and garnered consent. But because the submissive is ultimately the one setting the boundaries, a feminist can feel very powerful as a submissive.
Should I try it?
If you’re not sure if BDSM is something you’re interested in, you might want to learn more about it by watching porn or exploring some free erotica online that explores BDSM. This can be a great opportunity for you to read, or listen to, sexy stories highlighting different elements of BDSM to see if it turns you on.
If you do want to try it, think about why you’re wanting to be submissive. It’s worth considering this before speaking with your partner, as it’s worth understanding if the act of submitting is serving your sexual needs. Are you wanting to be submissive for your own enjoyment and pleasure? Or do you feel your submission is hinged on wanting to please your partner? Not all dominants want their submissives to be so in the same way and not all submissives like the same thing. Exploring power dynamics is best when navigated as part of a healthy relationship and it’s important to remember that trust and respect are not only for long-established couples. Some people form connections quickly and enter into a D/s relationship through bountiful communication and without a relationship bedrock – casual hook-ups can be rewarding opportunities to navigate power dynamics.
There are as many ways of expressing submission as there are relationships. With no hard-and-fast rules on how to be more dominant or submissive, it’s difficult to know if we’re doing it ‘right’. The important thing to remember is that in order for the play on power dynamics to be enjoyable, it must be carefully communicated with your partner. It’s your choice what you do in the bedroom and you shouldn’t feel ashamed of your desires. Likewise, no one should shame you for feeling aroused by acts deemed 'un-feminist.' Providing you and your partner feel safe and happy to explore power dynamics, you may find that you’ve opened up an entirely new box of tricks to enhance your sex life. We know there’s more to sex than procreation – let’s enjoy the sex that feels good for us.