What began as a response to one of fuzzbutt’s weekly blog posts is finished below:
I think you’ve done a good job of hitting several of the big-picture basics on power-exchange, boy, especially as you experience them. Keep in mind that as you experience more and different kinds of PE, the kinds of categories you’ve laid out here will get broader, flesh out, gain more subtle shadings—or may be subject to a kind of wholesale revision if you find that the framework no longer reflects your experiences. This sort of thing isn’t particularly subject to dogmatic orthodoxy, and if I had one criticism of your post here, it’s that you deliver it in a very academic fashion with definitions and the sound of authority (which I suppose is completely understandable, given that you’re an academic who is an authority in his field). I caution you and everyone else who dips toes into PE and BDSM to always be aware that your submission/surrender/etc. won’t always be like or look like someone else’s and vice versa.
To demonstrate just what kind of difference I’m talking about, let me lay out some of the framework I use for talking about different flavors of power exchange. You and I have already had some of this conversation before, but there are readers and followers who aren’t privy to all of that, so you’ll have to bear with the repetition.
To narrow the issue down, I am specifically looking at the different ways that power is exchanged, how the end result—the exchange—can be the same, but the means of it (and the headspace of the parties) be different. If I were to talk about it in purely sexual terms, for example, a guy might end up getting fucked hard and ridden like a rented mule because 1) he wrestled his buddy for top and lost, 2) he normally tops his buddy, but was talked into bending over because his buddy was in a mood and kept pestering him to go heels-up for a change; 3) he might have been in a mood himself or just had an itch that needed one of its periodic scratchings; 4) he might have seen the need and boner of another and “volunteered as tribute”; 5) he might have seen a big dick that he wanted in him and rubbed his ass all over it like a cat in heat; 6) he might have been a little drunk and horny and thrown his heels in the air for the first guy that offered; 7) he might have taken out a Craigslist ad and had someone come in his unlocked back patio to the bedroom and fuck him senseless while he lay blindfolded on the bed; or any of a hundred more transactional scenarios. In each case, though, the result is the same—he’s getting fucked hard and by someone else who is clearly driving that bus.
Now take that broad spectrum of possibilities concept—where there are more roads mentally to the exact same physical result—and plunk it right down into a BDSM and larger power-exchange context, ie. more than just merely sexual power. Instead of mule-fucked, it could have just as easily been our example guy bound hand and foot, gagged, paddled and nips tortured for four or five hours, or…well… A whole lot of other shit my perverted brain could dream up, but that doesn’t further the conversation much.
SO, with that in mind, I tend to talk about the mental end/headspace of the person giving up power as a kind of spectrum, though one with lots of squirrelly notes and wiggles on its not-exactly-straight-line-linear path. Along one end of its length, I see a lot of different flavors of conditional submission, followed by a more generalized submission that has fewer and fewer strings attached until you reach an unconditional submission, which is in turn followed by surrender.
Conditional submission is exactly what it sounds like: an exchange of power that comes with conditions (and one of the most prevalent conditions is that the exchange will end with the end of a scene and parties will return to their previous relative positions of power). This is where you see a lot of Dom/sub dynamics of various flavors, including most “role-played” D/s, Puppy/Pony/Non-human play, non-relationship scenes, and even a fair amount of teaching and mentoring play, including some Daddy/boy interactions.
Way out on the end of the conditional submission end of the spectrum is where consent first enters the picture—in what is generically called consensual non-consent or a no-way-out scene. The initial consent is given and the stage is set and then the Dom has all the power and decides with the scene is over—no safewords at all. Oftentimes, the point of the play for the sub in this sort of scene (as with much of edgeplay) is to be pushed into areas that they would not otherwise go or allow themselves to be taken. Once there, the struggle, the internal fight, the physical resistance is expected, and whether it is through exhaustion or helplessness, their submission and acceptance is something that has been wrenched out of them. It’s brutal and intense play, which should not come as a surprise, given that initial consent by knowing parties is the only thing that separates it from honest-to-gawd torture and rape. But for some, not just the total loss of control, but having it TAKEN from them—complete with the terror and panic and adrenaline—is the kind of submission that they need to express and satisfies them deep down into their grubby little souls. Think of it like the roller coaster junkies or horror movie fans or guys who do X Games kinds of shit. It’s not for everybody, and it has its risks, but it also has satisfactions that can’t be gotten any other way.
A little further down the spectrum, you see things like the guys who wrestle for Top, or Dom, as the case may be. Submission is something that is physically asserted and enforced after a certain amount of struggling and striving. In this kind of an exchange, the headspace for the sub is one of being bested, having competed and lost, having hopes of being in control crushed out and the power taken. Consequently, there’s often a bit of a flavor of humiliation or shame in this kind of exchange, though any number of conditions can be negotiated out in advance to tailor the scene to the desires of the participants. Also, while I know it’s not exactly the same thing, I frequently locate these sorts of exchanges in the same neighborhood as the guys who like to switch and “trade licks” with paddles/etc, though the power keeps getting yanked back and forth, with the enforcement usually through shame and ego-driven psychological pressure rather than just the physical. I’d put all of the above types of exchanges squarely into “giving up” territory.
Other conditional submission situations are things that you’re more familiar with, I think. Pup play, ALL of the role-played scenes (including just the generic Dom/sub roles without lasting dynamic), and many others. They tend to have a different headspace for the submission involved—a kind of disassociative adoption of a character or alternate personality that makes them free to behave as they otherwise would not, including giving up a certain amount of control for a time. The big shift that I tend to see when we get to these types of exchanges is that power tends to not be “taken” quite so much. Oh, sure, there can be struggles and protest and even tears (um, because that’s fucking hot), but the submission comes willingly in the end, rather than grudgingly or dragged kicking and screaming. But in the end, these, too are negotiated exchanges that rest on foundations of conditional submission, even if that condition is as simple as, “I want you to call me your little piggy and spank my ass hard with your hand before you fuck me.” The translation is, “Unless you call me a pig and fuck me after my ass is good and red, I’m not submitting to a spanking.” The point to note here, is that even though the sub is the one getting his hide tanned, he’s the one who is ultimately in control of the dynamic, even after the power is exchanged.
I’m sure that by now you can see how teaching scenes, demo play and even some mentorship interactions (like some of our Daddy/boy interactions) belong in conditional submission territory. They are sub-driven, for the most part, with the condition often being the learning that’s taking place. The headspace is one of training, submission for a purpose of improving oneself, in addition to the satisfactions that come along with letting somebody else make the decisions and drive the bus. I’d put these conditional submission exchanges into the “giving in” bucket, since they aren’t forced like the others mentioned before, but are still dependent to a greater or lesser degree on the sub getting something that he wants—be it attention, ego validation, pleasure, knowledge and experience, catharsis, or just the freedom of letting go for a while.
As the strength of the conditions begins to wane a little further down the spectrum, particularly the temporal condition, and the power imbalance between a dominant party and submissive party takes on a longer-lasting quality, we enter what I refer to as a “generalized submission” exchange. These kinds of exchanges are uncommon outside of some kind of relationship dynamic (the labels that are most often used for them in the gay male leather realm are Daddy/boy and Sir/boy) or some kind of social recognition of “power orientation.” They often involve ritual and protocol, open acts of service and demonstrations of respect outside of scene-play. Headspace for this kind of exchange doesn’t carry with it the kind of struggle and taking of the “giving up,” and doesn’t carry so much negotiated conditional scripting as “giving in” with a self-serving end in mind does. The generalized submission in these sorts of dynamics are what you very aptly dub “natural” in character. It flows from a recognition of relative power and relative position, and often takes a substantial amount of satisfaction in providing the Dom with pleasure and satisfaction—whether that comes through providing service and comfort and convenience and outward shows of respect, or from submitting to the sadism, disciplinary measures and perverse ministrations of the Dom’s sexual and power-driven appetites—or the like.
Down at the far end of the generalized submission, typically in the context of a permanent power imbalance of a Sir/boy relationship, there is something that I refer to as unconditional submission, and it really only makes sense in contrast to what I refer to as surrender. That being the case, I’m going to skip over it and hit surrender and then dog-leg back over.
Surrender is just that. It is a sub’s release of any consideration for his own wants, desires, preferences, comfort, pleasure, and even ego, and all of that utterly subjugated to a full focus on and consideration for the Dom’s wants, desires, preferences, comfort, pleasure and WILL. Surrender’s only satisfaction is in obedience and conformity with the will of it’s owner. And I use “owner” very deliberately here because this sort of exchange headspace only really exists in Master/slave relationships.
Contrary to popular portrayal of “Masters” and their “slaves” (mostly in porn), where Masters are all swaggering egomaniacs bent on crushing their pitiful slaves into a humiliating and degrading submission for a brief time before fucking their brains out, most Masters of my acquaintance are fairly humble people, and their ego is FAR removed from their ownership of slaves. Good Masters whom I know and respect take their responsibility for their slaves so seriously, view the gift of their total surrender and trust as so precious and awe-inspiring that they are humbled to their core by it, and respond accordingly, taking up and shouldering that responsibility with a kind of egoless symbiotic purity of need meeting need. A good and well-balanced Master/slave relationship is a beautiful thing to watch and see in motion. But I digress…
The reason I lay all of that about surrender out first, and spend all that time focused on the role of ego is that ego as a motivator is the sole separating feature between surrender and unconditional submission. What a slave does for his Master is done for his Master alone, and many slaves will balk, be made ENORMOUSLY uncomfortable or even hurt by praise or being told that they’ve done well by their Masters. They frequently take a certain amount of satisfaction in being told to do things that they fairly loathe doing and then obeying, precisely because they cannot take a shred of pleasure in it aside from the obedience itself and the satisfaction that it brings his Master.
A boy who unconditionally submits to his Sir, by contrast, is still motivated by and validated by his own ego and sense of himself. One of his deepest satisfactions is to be told that he is a “good boy,” that he has done well or made his Sir proud. Through his submission, he may lean into activities that he hates just like any slave, but his satifaction will not come solely from the obedience, but also his self-recognition of his own worth as demonstrated by that compliance—he is dedicated, obedient, and valued for his service. His virtue, if not praise, is its own reward. For the slave, there is nothing other than the pleasure of his Master. Like the mule-fucked guy from those early scenarios, you may see identical outward activities pursued, but how we got there is VERY different.
I hope that gives you a fuller picture of the framework that I use for talking about PE, and some of how it relates to some of the types of traditional dynamics that we’ve talked about before, boy. If you have questions or want some clarification on anything in particular, be sure to make note of it and bring it up this weekend. *smooch*
Ummm.. How is this guy not on the New York Times Bestsellers list yet?