Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Dominance, Submission, Control

--Lee Hawaii

Sometimes DS play can get pretty confusing.
One reason for this, I believe, is that dominance and submission are things that are present in all interactions between human beings. And this makes it sometimes difficult to be clear on the boundary between DS as play and the rest of life.

With bondage, for instance, this confusion doesn't exist.
One doesn't hear people saying, "I'm looking for
a 24/7 bondage relationship," or "It wasn't real bondage, because after he tied me up and did some things to me, then he let me go again."


DS play focuses on control. But control happens in ordinary life as well. Go to the
relationships section of the bookstore, and you can find lots of books on controlling one's significant other (ideally for mutual benefit). In the parenting section, there are many books on controlling one's children. And the business section is full of books on controlling one's employees (or, in some cases, one's boss).

But DS play is different. In real life, the important thing is the result. But in DS play, the important thing is the process. Power and control in DS play
are not a means to an end. They are, in my opinion, the whole point of what we do.

("Play" is the best word I know to describe what we do, but in participating in the Citadel DS discussion group, I notice that a lot of people reject this word, because to them it refers to playacting or carrying out a charade. For me, DS play is very serious and very real. But it's also very different from things in real life that may superficially ressemble DS.)

On the surface it may seem as if DS interactions are about the dominant getting his/her own way. But in fact they are just as much about the submissive having a satisfactory experience. If I as a submissive don't get this satisfaction, I will pick up my marbles and go home. For me, learning this was a very important insight after going through several experiences where I was not getting the particular satisfaction I need and was telling myself, "It doesn't matter if I'm bored and don't feel like I'm getting anything out of it; I'm a slave and I have to do whatever my mistress wants." It just didn't work for me.

If I come over and clean a dominant's kitchen, then it's certainly nice that the kitchen gets clean. But that's not the primary objective. The primaryobjective has to do with the total experience. The energy is very different from what happens if the dominant calls up a service and pays to have the kitchen cleaned.

Of course a big part of my satisfaction comes from seeing the dominant's pleasure or other satisfaction. That's fine. Sometimes I've had to tell dominants, "Let me know that you're having a good time."

Several years ago I published an essay in GP called "Obedience Training For Humans." Several people expressed surprise that several of the things I recommended contradicted the usual recommendations for parenting or animal trainings.

I recommended for instance that the dominant be inconsistent in his/her punishments and that the submissive should never be completely clear on what the rules are. I also suggested that itcan be good when punishment comes days (or at least many hours) after the bad behavior, after the submissive has had a chance to think that he has got away with what he did. I suggested that control by punishment is better than control by reward.

Although not every couple will want to play this way, the objections to these suggestions missed the point. Effectively changing behavior may be an important goal in a DS relationship, but it is secondary to the goal of having exciting DS interactions that are satisfying to both parties.

To me, as a male submissive, it is very exciting when I unexpectedly get punished for something I did the day before which at the time I didn't even know was wrong. It is exciting and for me the punishment is also very effective.

I got whipped once because several days before I had been reading a magazine and when the my dominant started talking to me, I kept on reading it, even though I was also listening to her. After that, whenever she talked to me I put whatever I was reading face down on the floor, and in fact for quite some time after that, I even did that when other women were talking to me.

I noticed that it was sometimes very amusing to my dominant that I would do things that were not even required of me, because I could never be sure what the requirements were. And I would pretend to not notice her amusement. It was satisfying to me to know that she was entertained by my behavior.


I've tried very hard to identify the specific things that actually make a scene work for me. And, for me, it seems that two things are really crucial. The first is that a dominant needs a real sense of authority. And the second thing I need from a dominant is a sort of energy that I call seduction.

I've found that some people misunderstand this word, thinking that seduction means manipulating someone into doing something that they will regret later. But I am using the word seduction to mean something that happens mostly once a scene has started. It is verbal warm-up or verbal foreplay. And mostly I think it amounts to the dominant promising me that I will get the things I really want out of the scene. She might do this by saying, "I'm going to turn you into a total slave," or, "I'm going to teach you what obedience really means." These sorts of things are very individual, of course, so in order to do this effectively a dominant has to know me very well.

On the overall level, our interaction is not a battle. I want the dominant to succeed, so I want to give her all the information I can about how to be effective in controlling me.


Since I want to be completely controlled by the dominant, how can it be okay for me to tell the dominant what I want? Doesn't that mean that I am taking some control over the scene? (Especially if I have gone to a professional dominant and are paying her to give me certain sorts of experiences.)

Being unwilling to say what one wants because of concern that this would be controlling the scene is on of the most common mistakes that new submissive make. Sure, it is wonderful when one can find a dominant who has ESP. Usually, though, not saying what one wants is a very effective way of not getting what is looking for.

The fact is that all play is cooperative, whether it be impact play, bondage, or DS.
This is quite evident in physical play, where at parties one sees a couple briefly decide on a good place to play. Then the dominant tells the submissive where
to stand and ties him up, asking, "Is that okay? Are you secure?" And the submissive might say, "No, you need to tie my right hand more firmly; if I do this
[gesture] then I can get free."

When I am engaged in DS play, the dominant and I have a common goal: we both want me to go deeply into subspace and feel compelled to obey.
(This is true for me, in any case. It may not be true for all submissives.)
And as far as I'm concerned, it is in fact my duty to give my dominant all the information possible on how to most effectively accomplish that.

But the fact that at root our play is cooperative doesn't mean that everything we do is by mutual agreement. For me, in fact, it would be totally antagonistic to the
sort of scene I want if the dominant were to say, for instance, "I'd like to make you wear diapers. Is that okay?" For me, the whole point is that I do what she wants, whether I like it or not. I know that if she lets me get away with refusing to do something because I really don't want to, then afterwards the scene will seem like a big let-down to me.

But it will also seem like a big let-down if I have done everything she asks, no matter what, simply because that's our agreement. To me, that's not slavery, that's voluntary service. I know that a lot of submissives find volunary service satisfying, but I need to know that the dominant has power over me and is forcing me to do what she wants.

But the two of us work cooperatively to create the framework where this will happen.

And it's essential that I let her know that *involuntary* servitude is the sort of scene I want. She *must* give me that sort of scene, or else I won't play with her again.

So who's in control?


The fact is that words like "power" and "control" are much too vague. There are different levels of control.

There are three different levels of reality relevant to DS. First, there is, for want of a better word, what I call the Real World. And then there is Fantasy. And
finally there is Play. And these three kinds of reality are very different and are all very important.

In Fantasy, a dominant enslaves a submissive and completely controls him. But in Reality, it is often the submissive who initially approaches the dominant. He wants to be controlled, to be, in some sense, enslaved. And even if it is the dominant who makes the initial approach, what she does is not to overpower the submissive, but to make him an offer which she hopes will be attractive to him.

If the couple are beginners, the dominant's initialapproach may be, "Kneel you worm!" And a completely inexperienced submissive may think, "Great! A dominant who wants to play with me. I'll do whatever she wants and have a great experience." But for the most part, this only works in chat rooms.

More experienced players talk about their previous experience and what each of them is looking for and decide whether they want to play together and, in general terms, what the framework of their play should be.

Play will usually be very different from Real Life but is also different from Fantasy. Play takes place within certain boundaries.

When I play, I don't want to be aware of these boundaries. I want to be caught up in the fantasy world where the dominant's power if absolute and extends to every aspect of my life. But in fact if the dominant transgresses the boundaries, I will very quickly come out of subspace.

Roughly speaking, for me the main boundary is that play is not allowed to have a major impact on my life as a whole. An example I often mention is that a dominant cannot order me to shave my head, or to shoplift, or to
become a vegetarian. It is not acceptable for play to have an impact on my career or my relations with my family. And certainly I am not willing to play in ways
that endanger my health or physical safety, although I will admit that in the past there have been times when I allowed myself to be forced to do things that were more dangerous than was wise.


One thing I've realized is that for myself, anyway, there is a split between two different parts of me when I do DS play. When I think about play and when I initially talk to the dominant about it, I am in a sort of top space,
as if I were a dominant planning the scene for my submissive self. (I won't tell the dominant I'm playing with all the details though, because I know that it will be more satisfying for both of us if she comes up with those herself. But after the scene, I might say something like, "I was a little surprised that you didn't order me to do such and such," and she might respond, "It never occured to me; I'll remember that for next time.")

While I am imagining the scene and discussing it with my dominant, I am seeing it pretty much from a third-person point of view, what the NLP people called a dissociated viewpoint. And I tend to be pretty cruel to my submissive self.

I've often observed this sort of thing in couples who frequently engage in SM play. The submissive will say things like, "You need to be more strict with me. You let me get away with too many things." At moments like this what is happening is basically co-topping.

It's when this sort of thing happens during the play itself that we have "topping from the bottom." For me anyway, topping from the bottom significantly weakens a scene, almost destroys it. Because at that moment, I am not in sub space.

But between scenes, even though I will still have a lot of submissive feelings, it is essential that we come back to Real Life space at least to the extent that I can give the dominant this sort of feedback.

Once we start playing, my submissive self totally takes over. I completely forget about the fact that it was me who wanted this stuff in the beginning. I genuinely suffer and may be very resentful toward my top. But at the same time, I have a commitment to seeing the scene through. Horrible though it may be, I want to experience the whole thing.

When dominant is having problems that she doesn't know how to solve, her submissive is the best source of expert advice available. (But the middle of a
scene is not the appropriate time to ask for a submissive's objective advice.) She might say, for instance, "You really don't like interacting sexually with
other males, do you? How can I get you to do this?" And the submissive might say, "I don't want to do it." And then the dominant could say, "You're my slave and I
want to see you being sexual with another male. Sooner or later, you know I'm going to get my way. So tell me what I can do to speed the process up and also make the scene work for you." Etc.

She might also want to ask, "Is this a hard limit for you?" In my case
at least, I don't want to say that something is a hard limit because I don't want to acknowledge, even beforehand or afterwards, that I have a certain degree of control in the scene. And I know that if I can get past my distaste and inhibitions, then I will feel very good about the interaction after it is over.

It might be useful for the dominant to sometimes discuss things with the submissive from a third-person point of view. "I want to let you know that the Dominant is getting very frustrated here because the Submissive keeps doing things that are really bratty. What should the Dominant do to stop all this bratty behavior?" (Sorry if I am violating some people's fetish about the use of capital letters here.) For me, this would make it easier to consider the situation objectively.

At the end of the scene, if the dominant asks me, "Was that good?" or "Was that what you wanted?" it will almost destroy the whole scene for me. I want to be able to stay with the fantasy
(and yet it's only partly a fantasy) that the things
in the scene happened because they were what the dominant wanted, not what I wanted.

In my opinion and my experience, the best thing for a dominant to do at the end of a scene is to once again align herself with my top self. She can say
things like, "Wow! That was really great. I really enjoyed watching you suffering. You really didn't like some of the things I forced you to do, did you? Did that make you feel like a real slave? And are you going to be more obedient from now on?" She will talk about the scene almost as if she and I had been topping some other male. And this will bring me out of subspace and remind me that what just happened was something we both wanted, thus helping me let go of any anger I had as a sub about things me that happened during the scene. It will bring me back to the Real World level of reality, which, unfortunately but realistically, is where I need to be to live most of my life.


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