I am pretty big on book definitions. So for me, the word “submissive” has always been an adjective describing a personality trait. When I got involved in BDSM, it became, for me, a heading, of sorts, describing a group of people.
Under the heading of submissive, there are three main labels I - and others - use to describe the bottom half of the totem pole in BDSM relationships. Generally speaking, each label delineates a level of submission. How much control the person has given to their dominant. Because there is no set standard (How could there be?) of how much or how little submission one must give to be considered submissive, we instead give the different levels of submission names to aid in communication. A way of getting an idea of how much or how little control the submissive is willing to give up without having to get to know them.
In the grand scheme of things, one is not better than the other, except for the person in question. They're just different.
Generally speaking, we call someone who is only submissive in the bedroom or at play parties and such a bottom. They are not interested in giving up total control. They enjoy being dominated sexually - or sometimes just being bound and hurt without involving sex at all - but really have no interest in being controlled on a regular basis. This group of submissive people leaves their submission at the door of their play space.
A lot of people start out here. Being the bottom of a scene is often a gateway. A place where people discover deeper, more submissive desires. I was a bottom before I was a sub and sub before slave. A lot of submissive people I know followed that progression. Not everyone, though.
People occasionally shorten “submissive” when specifically discussing this next group to avoid confusion. It's a running joke, in the community, that a “sub” is a sandwich, and you'll occasionally hear people talking about wanting roast beef and provolone on theirs. But since the first day M dragged me onto IRC, using “sub” has been my way of making it clear I am talking about this particular level of submission and not submissive people as a whole.
So what's a sub? That's where it gets tricky. Because the line between sub and slave is rather fine and blurs a lot. People often use “submissive” and “slave” interchangeably. But they are not the same thing.
A sub is someone who still retains some control but is in service to someone else. They have the right to say no and walk away at any time. They have a safe word. They have limits. They're not owned.
An article I read recently described it best when it said “A submissive is a volunteer. A slave is not.”
A slave is owned. That's probably the only constant. Some slaves have safe words. Some do not. Some slaves have negotiated limits. Some do not. Some slaves have submissive personalities. Some are only submissive with the one who owns them. Some slaves have given up their right to leave or consented to have it taken from them. Some retain the right to walk out the door whenever they choose.
Legally, we all have that right. Some of us just choose not to acknowledge it.
In my perfect world, a slave is someone without limits or safe words. A slave is someone who opens himself or herself completely to his or her owner. Complete transparency. Total power exchange. He or she doesn't have a choice.
But in my reality, it's illegal to own another human being. Some states don't recognize consent. In the interest of keeping the owner out of prison, the submissive is allowed to negotiate the rules. Even I can't or don't always live up to my perfect world. So it doesn't surprise me that others don't, can't or aren't interested.
Some say the difference between a submissive and a slave has nothing whatever to do with how much control one gives up or how submissive one is. That it's in one's actions. In the way, the slave obeys without question or hesitation. In the respect in the slave's voice when he or she speaks with his or her owner. In the way, the slave knows what the owner needs almost before the owner does. But I've known some submissives to show their dominants more respect than some slaves show their owners.
A submissive is someone who submits willingly, sometimes on a case by case basis, to the will of another. A slave is someone who is wholly controlled and owned by another. That's really the sum of it.
This post was written by Rayne.