Updated: MARCH 8, 2022

A submissive, frequently known as a sub, is a sexual participant who willingly gives up some or all of their control to a dominant partner. This type of partnership is often referred to in the BDSM community as a dominant/submissive (D/s) relationship. Subs can identify as any gender or sexuality. Being submissive can mean different things to different individuals. It can involve many different activities. By offering themselves to their dominant, submissives gain pleasure from both the acts of the dominant inflicted upon them and also from the knowledge they are pleasing the dominant.

For some, being submissive can involve psychological verbal cues, including referring to the dominant as “Sir” or “Master” or “Ma’am” or Mistress.” It may involve other forms of humiliation. It can also involve different physical acts, including various types of bondage (rope, collaring, cuffs, caging), impact play (spanking, caning, paddling), and different types of torture.

Submissive acts can also vary when it comes to pain. Some subs enjoy light teasing while others get off on significant types of pain. Other submissive acts include obedience, begging and asking for permission, being punished, roleplay, and being displayed and shared by the dominant. Sex gear and toys can also a big part of being a submissive, including gags, handcuffs, spreader bars, paddles, blindfolds, and more.

Some submissives and dominants can be switches. These individuals can move between either role, depending on the scene.

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When people outside of the BDSM community look at someone being submissive, there is often the mistaken impression that submission equates to weakness. In reality, there is nothing further from the truth. To be submissive means that a person understands and has embraced those aspects of their personality. This self-awareness heightens pleasure and actually puts them on equal footing with the dominant. There can be no domination in a D/s relationship if the submissive doesn’t embrace their role as willingly as the dominant does. The dominant is just as dependent as the submissive.

Another criticism levied at submissives is they embrace abuse. It is possible that there are abusive D/s relationships. However, evidence suggests abuse is far more common in non-D/s relationships. A solid dominant and submissive pairing is centered around consent and respect. Before a scene, both partners should establish and understand boundaries and use safewords. Some might argue that submissives actually have significant control during a scene, which is referred to as “topping from the bottom.”

There are varying degrees of D/s relationships. Some people only play at being submissive during certain times, such as during sex or when in a BDSM club. Others may live as full-time submissives and relinquish control to their Dominants in all aspects of their lives. This is known as a lifestyle or 24/7 submission. Many of the same dynamics used in sexual scenes are transferred to day-to-day situations, including obedience, using honorifics, and deference to the dominant. The submissive will perform duties for the dominant, and in turn, the dominant will care for the submissive.

A high honor in some D/s relationships is for the dominant to collar the submissive. The dominant gives and attaches a collar around the submissive’s neck to solidify their bond and relationship. Collaring is sometimes turned into a whole ceremony, akin to a wedding.


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