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Nine Degrees of Submission
© Copyright 1984, 1988 by Diane Vera. All rights reserved.
This material may not be copied in any manner without express permission.
Reposted with permission of the author
Within the S/M subculture, different people use the words "submissive" and "slave" to mean many different things. When submissives say "I want to be your slave", sometimes they mean only that they want to be tied up and whipped. Many professional dominants routinely refer to their (usually not very genuinely submissive) clients as "slaves". At the other extreme, there are people who want to be full-time personal servants, and who truly want to exist solely for their "owner's" use, pleasure, and convenience. And there are many shades in between these two extremes.
To help sort out the confusion caused by differing uses of the words "submissive" and "slave", I have made the following list of nine degrees of submission, arranged in order from least submissive to most submissive.
(Since I'm a bisexual dominant woman, I will refer to dominants as "she" and submissives as "she/he", but the following categorization can also be applied to S/M people of other gender-role orientations.)
- The Outright Non-submissive Masochist or Kinky Sensualist: Not into servitude, humiliation, or giving up control; just pain and/or spiced up sensuality, on the masochist's own terms, and for the masochist's DIRECT pleasure (i.e. being turned on solely or mainly by one's own bodily sensations, rather than being turned on by being "used" to gratify one's partner's sadism).
- Pseudo-Submissive Non-Slave: Not into even PLAYING "slave", but into other "submissive" role-playing, e.g. schoolteacher scenes, infantilism, "forced" transvestism. Usually into humiliation, but NOT into servitude, even in play. Dictates the scene to a large degree.
- Pseudo-Submissive PLAY Slave: Likes to play at being a slave; likes to FEEL subservient; may in some cases like to FEEL that one is being "used" to gratify one's partner's sadism; and may even really serve the dominant in some ways, but only on the "slave's" own terms. Dictates the scene to a large degree; often fetishistic (e.g. foot worshippers).
- True Submissive Non-Slave: Really gives up control (though only temporarily, and within agreed-upon limits), but gets his/her main satisfaction from aspects of submission OTHER THAN serving or being used by the dominant. Usually turned on by suspense, vulnerability, and/or giving up responsibility. Doesn't dictate the scene except in very general terms, but still seeks mainly his/her own DIRECT pleasure (rather than getting one's pleasure mainly from pleasing the dominant).
- True Submissive PLAY Slave: Really gives up control (though only temporarily; only during brief "scenes" and within limits) and gets her/his main satisfaction from serving and being used by the dominant --but only for FUN purposes, usually erotic. (May or may not be into pain, but if so, is turned on by pain INDIRECTLY, i.e. enjoys being the object of one's partner's sadism, on which the submissive places very few requirements or restrictions.)
- Uncommitted Short-Term but More-Than-Play Semi-Slave: Really gives up control (though usually within limits); wants to serve and be used by the dominant; wants to provide PRACTICAL/NONEROTIC as well as fun/erotic services; but only when the "slave" is in the mood. May even act as a full-time slave for say, several days at a time, but is free to quit at any time (or at the end of the agreed-upon several days). May or may not have a long-term relationship with one's Mistress, but either way, the "slave" has the final say over WHEN she/he will serve.
- Part-Time Consensual-But-REAL Slave: Has an ongoing commitment to an owner/slave relationship and regards oneself as the Mistress's "property" at all times. Wants to obey and please her in all aspects of life --practical/nonerotic as well as fun/erotic. Devotes most of one's time to other commitments (e.g. job), but the Mistress has first pick of the slave's free time.
- Full-Time Live-In Consensual Slave: Within no more than a few broad limits/requirements, the slave regards herself/himself as existing solely for the Mistress's use, pleasure, and well-being. The slave in return expects to be treated as a prized possession. Not much different from the situation of a traditional housewife, except that within the S/M world, the slave's position is more likely to be fully consensual, especially if the slave is male (since men certainly aren't socially pressured into this kind of lifestyle). Within the S/M world, a full-time "slave" arrangement is entered into with an explicit awareness of the magnitude of power that is being given up, and hence is usually entered into much more carefully, with more awareness of the possible dangers, and with much clearer and more specific agreements than usually precede the traditional marriage.
- Consensual Total Slave with No Limits: A common fantasy ideal which probably doesn't exist in real life (except in authoritarian religious cults and other situations where the "consent" is induced by brainwashing and/or social or economic pressures, and hence isn't fully consensual). A few S/M purists will insist that you aren't really a slave unless you're willing to do absolutely ANYTHING for your Mistress, with no limits at all. I've met a few people who claimed to be no-limits slaves, but in all cases I had reason to doubt the claim.
The above list isn't intended as a rigid classification. Most submissives don't fall neatly into one of my categories; there are still further shades in between. (For example, a live-in slave with an outside paying job would be category 7 1/2.) Also, the same submissive may attain different degrees of submission with different dominants. My list is intended simply to show the wide range of different possible meanings of the words "submissive" and "slave".
In the S/M subculture, the majority of "submissives" seek scenes in categories 1 through 3, whereas most dominants I know (including myself) seek slaves in categories 6 and 7. If you're a "submissive" in categories 1 through 3, you are probably best off seeking a relationship NOT with a dominant, but rather with a fellow "submissive", or with a switchable (a person into both roles). She and you can take turns acting out each other's "submissive" or masochistic fantasies.
When a submissive says to a dominant, "I want to be your slave", it's often hard to tell exactly what is meant. Lots of people FANTASIZE a much greater degree of submission than they are able or willing to attain in real life, and lots of "slaves", especially inexperienced ones, over-estimate their own desire for real-life servitude. A dominant must CAREFULLY find out how far the "slave" REALLY wants to go. CAVEAT EMPTOR.
Revised May 1988
The preceeding article and two others by Diane Vera -- "Kinds of Masochism and/or Submission" and "Temporary Consensual 'Slave Contract'" -- appear in The Lesbian S/M Safety Manual, edited by Pat Califia, (Boston: Lace/Alyson Press, 1988) (ISBN 1-55583-301-2)
Sadly, the book is currently of print, but used copies are available through Amazon.com.
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