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What a Slave Needs

© 1997 by david stein. All rights reserved.

david stein was kind enough to let us repost his opinions on what consensual slaves need from their Masters (as opposed to what they want .) For more of his work read a History of Our Leather-S/M-Fetish Subculture and Communities: towards a bibliography and visit his website at http://lthredge.com/ds

Some late-night thoughts i felt were worth sharing:

slaves, and those who seek to be slaves, are constantly advised not to be self-centered and not to focus on our needs and desires but rather those of others. And this can be good advice when a would-be slave is so focused on fantasies of what a Master will look like, act like, and do to the slave that he loses sight of what he will do for the Master or bring to the relationship. As i've said before -- and no doubt will say again , here or elsewhere -- being a full-time sex toy/captive/whipping boy almost never actually happens, and if that's what slavery means to you, 99% of the real-life Masters out there will be terribly disappointing.

But aside from that lesson, there's another, more subtle lesson about slave "selfishness" that's only now becoming clear to me, which is that someone who's looking to become a slave, or remain a slave, needs to be ruthlessly *selfish* about getting his or her slave needs met. By this i don't mean the basic needs of life for food, shelter, clothing, employment, social contacts, and a degree of affection. We all need that, whether we're slaves or Tops or boys or vanilla. Rather, i mean the things that feed and strengthen a slave's slavery: things like direction, discipline, and service. About these there can be no compromise, because when they are lacking in a slave's life, slavery itself cannot long be sustained.


The popular conception is that slaves are people who are forced to obey a Master's orders, and many slaves also fantasize being forced. Being obedient is held to be the opposite of freedom, and the negative connotations of "slavery" largely consist in this lack of freedom.

This no doubt was true of many or most coerced slaves in history. It is not true of consensual slaves today. Those who become slaves today in the U.S., Europe, and the rest of the developed world do so not because they are being forced to obey, but because they positively *need* to obey. Obedience is the voluntary slave's lifeblood. To obey is not our cross but our joy! We only ask to be given the opportunity.

And that's where direction comes in. Any idiot can tell someone else what to do! Lots of people are bossy or domineering or pushy. That's not what can satisfy a slave's need to obey, not in the long run, because people who are merely bossy tend not to be very consistent or intelligent about what they tell others to do; they operate on whim. The more perfectly you obey someone like that, the more likely you are to get into trouble, because today's order may contradict yesterday's or undermine tomorrow's. You can drive a dog or a child insane with contradictory orders; is a slave any less sensitive?

Ideally, what slaves need -- whether they're aware of *wanting* it or not! -- is clear direction, firm goals, consistent rules, unambiguous orders. And it takes a Master with great presence of mind, intelligence, self-control, and self-understanding to provide that kind of environment.


The most common slave fantasy is probably of being punished, but i think the erotic charge of this is really a metaphor for discipline, which is not the same as punishment. Discipline is controlled behavior; punishment is simply a means, and not often a very good one, of achieving discipline. Just as slaves need to obey, we need to follow rules and to push ourselves to live up to some ideal. i think every (voluntary) slave *wants* to be "the perfect slave" in some sense, and we need -- as much as we need air and water --someone to hold out that ideal before us and challenge us to live up to it, even knowing that we'll never actually achieve it.

If it were easy to be a slave, if anyone could do it, what would be the point? If there were no sacrifice involved, if it required nothing "above and beyond" ordinary life as a bottom- oriented leatherman or leatherdyke, why bother?

slavery is a demanding, challenging vocation, or calling, and its challenges cannot end once the slave enters into service with a Master. The Master must provide a continual challenge as well as an environment in which the slave's discipline and dedication are continually honed. To this end, many Masters institute various rituals and protocols for their slaves to follow. These are misunderstood, i think, if they are examined too literally, and especially if the point is taken to be the inculcation of a worshipful attitude toward the Master's person. The point is to enable the slave to develop a worshipful attitude, period. Giving the slave a framework by which to live a disciplined life of respect and dedication is the point, not feeding the Master's ego.

Nonetheless, at the very prosaic level of "enforcement of rules," a Master who does not notice or care about infractions is one who is shirking His duty toward His slave. It is not necessary to punish, but it is necessary to take notice of the lapse and deal with it in *some* definite way. slaves need to feel the Master's eye on them continually, until it is internalized. If He cannot or will not provide discipline, He has no business owning a slave, just as a parent who will not provide it for a child is unfit for that role.


While there are no end of fantasies about obedience and discipline, most slaves only fantasize about *sexual* "service" -- but that is typically the lesser part of a full-time slave's service. Indeed, the difference between a slave and a bottom may turn on the willingness, even eagerness, to serve in nonsexual ways. (As i once read in a personal ad, "I don't clean my own apartment -- why should I clean yours?" If you have to ask, you'll never understand. [g])

Difficulties arise when Masters, or slaves, confuse service with being used. The difference is subtle but critical. Perhaps it is the difference between "being used" and "being useful." Being used has a very negative connotation for most people, and i suspect that in cases where it has a strong erotic charge, it refers more to the categories of direction and discipline than service. That is, what is exciting about "being used" is being obedient and controlled, transcending your own ego and its selfish pleasures to be an instrument of someone else's will. That doesn't *have* to be a humiliating, demeaning, or degrading experience -- it can be an exhilarating and liberating one.

Being useful, in contrast, is something that most people do find pleasurable and rewarding -- slaves more than others. It is the sense of "right employment," of expending your life energies in a good and satisfying way. The joy of service is the feeling of having "made a difference" in some part of the world, however small.

When Masters think of a slave's service purely in terms of having him at Their beck and call to fulfill any whim or transient desire, They trivialize the slave's slavery and undermine his ability to continue that way of life. On the contrary: a case could be made that the main reason Masters even exist is to provide slaves with an opportunity to serve to the best of their abilities! Whether you accept that view or not, a Master who neglects or wastes a slave's talents is worse than a fool; it is a form of abuse as serious as physical harm or neglect.

Perhaps the greatest challenge for a Master is to determine how a given slave can best serve Him, and to reconsider the matter again and again as the slave grows, learns, and develops. This is not to say that any particular service should be beneath any particular slave -- we can all benefit from taking a turn at menial chores. Nonetheless, a slave needs to feel, overall, that he is fulfilling his potential for service, or he will not remain content in his slavery for long.


In conclusion, the lesson i'm trying to convey is that slaves need to look out for ourselves in terms of making sure that our needs for direction, discipline, and service get fulfilled. No matter how sexy a potential Master may be, no matter how many of your fetishes He matches and BDSM buttons He pushes, if there's no clear evidence that He'll provide for your basic needs *as a slave*, look elsewhere. By the same token, a potential Master who's not your wet dream but can offer an environment of clear direction, firm discipline, and opportunities for challenging and satisfying service deserves at least a second look.

Hope this is helpful to someone!

---- david stein