Ever since I can remember I have been a feminist. As a child, I refused to play with Barbie dolls, saying they looked ridiculous. In High School I was the sort of girl that tore down FHM centrefolds from the common room walls whilst shouting about the casual objectification of the female body and at university I pushed myself hard to land a glass-ceiling busting job (the sort of thing that would please your parents). I am, innately, a feminist.
But I am also a submissive.
I did not realise this latter fact however, for a long time. I came to this place, not uniquely, after childbirth had left me feeling desperately unsexy and breastfeeding had ground down my libido. Despite having been very passionate prior to children, we were in a rut and I found myself becoming more and more passive in the bedroom. Then one night, when I had a precious moment of spare time, I was lying in bed reading (of all things) a relationship advice column in the Guardian and it dealt with the subject of D/S* relationships. It was something I had never heard of before and I was immediately consumed by it. (NB: I knew what BDSM was, I’m not that innocent.)
I spent many hours that night researching, learning about the dynamic and how it can function in a long-term relationship. I realised that the increasingly passive way I approached our physical interactions was an attempt to get my husband to dominate me. (Of course, it didn’t work, it was just off-putting, but at its core I had been crying out for him to take the lead.) Within 24 hours I had written a letter, sprayed it with perfume, kissed it with lipstick and pushed it into my confused husband’s hands as I ran out of the door on an errand. I cannot imagine what must have gone through the mind of my caring, liberal partner as he read my words. Well, that was almost a year ago now, needless to say he accepted my proposal and here I am, writing this.
So far, so happily-ever-after, save for the feminism. At the beginning (and sometimes even still) I battled with the part of me that is concerned that what we subs do might make several second-wave feminists turn puce: Some of the online content I see can be extreme and it’s fair to say that a few people that I have come into contact with probably wouldn’t get through their first interview with the HR department! I have therefore, given a lot of thought to the subject of submission and feminism and in my moments of self-doubt, I try to remember the following things:
I am choosing to do this, I asked for it, and it is what I enjoy. No one forced me to become a sub or even expected it of me and I have been fortunate enough to have the freedom to decide to do it. This, arguably, is a freedom that I enjoy due to the success of the feminist movement.
Since I have taken this road, I have become more aware of the power struggles around me. I should probably add here that I know I am not an easy sub: I need to be actively dominated, to have power taken away from me, so we play a lot of power games. The power play that I engage with at home has allowed me to more clearly see the dynamics between others outside of it. It’s almost like seeing new colours as you interact with the world. This has allowed me to deal more effectively with unfair power-plays from others. Strangely perhaps, I would say that as a result of D/S I am a more confident and effective person.
The Balance of Power
The very first website that I came across, after leaving the advice column behind, taught me that ultimately, we subs hold the balance of power: We set the hard limits, we have our safe words and we can stop the situation at any time. The latter factor is unique to the D/S dynamic, this was not an option for vanilla me either in the bedroom or in the middle of a blistering row. In the end, the source of a dom’s power is our own submission.
D/S has increased the trust and communication within our relationship to a level that I don’t think would have been possible in our vanilla lives. It has changed the way I think and perceive myself, but I would like to think that I need not give up on the fundamental principles that I hold dear. For any subs who are struggling with this, I would recommend finding a community and talking to others (for example, the excellent The SafeworD/s Club). I have found others like me and it is invaluable.
*Yes, I am capitalising the “S” because it is just as important as the “D”.