One of the things that has seriously bugged me for a very long time is how lots of people think about submissiveness, particularly but not necessarily as it relates to male sexuality. It bugs me because for all the lip service paid to respecting submission, very little about the way it’s discussed actually seems to be respectful of submissive desires.
I, unlike many submissive young men in their teens, surrounded myself with the culture and ritual of dominant/submissive relationships through the very fortunate circumstances in which I found myself. Yet, despite my incredible access to such resources, it was indescribably difficult (not to mention painful) for me to get to a point where I felt like I can enjoy my sexual submission as a valid part of my masculinity.
Why was it so hard for to me feel validated in my submission? Why does it continue to be a struggle for many people, as the overwhelming response to my subversive writings at MaleSubmissionArt.com show? This question, at once both simple and unspeakably intricate, is what I want to address in this post.
Imagine for a moment you’re a young guy (or a guy of any age, really) trying to understand your sexual desires. You know you want a relationship with (in the name of simplicity) a woman who will “take charge in the bedroom,” but you don’t really know what that looks like. You come across porn and sex blogs and, like a second (or third, or fourth) erotic awakening, all sorts of fantasy imagery involving either getting butt-fucked or not being allowed to orgasm, or both of those, starts bubbling in your brain, since—let’s face it—that’s most of the erotic material out there for such guys. You finally get a girlfriend and, remarkably, she’s good, giving and game, so you get butt-fucked and she doesn’t let you come. “Wonderful,” you’re likely to think, “now I’ve been submissive.”
If you’re lucky, maybe it was really wonderful. More power to you. But what if it’s not? Moreover, and I suspect this is most common, what if that wonderfulness is just the tip of the iceberg? What if the new experience was amazing and novel but you want more? What is that “more” that you want? More butt-fucking? More bondage? More sexual service? More orgasm denial? What are you yearning for, really?
This, sadly, is where many of us get stuck. I’ve read countless words from hundreds if not thousands of men, all of whom seem to be trying to answer these very questions. I’m one of these men, trying to figure out what the fuck all this desiring is, trying to make it “more” and “better” as though I’m following some kind of primal programming. I want to be more passionate. More intimate. More connected. More devoted. More focused. More meaningful. More submissive.
Obviously, this is a very big topic, and I often feel overwhelmed just thinking about how submission relates to my life, influences my relationships, or shapes my desires. As I often struggle with articulating these thoughts, I figured that even if I don’t get it quite right, it’s worth sharing some of where I’ve gotten to because I no longer enjoy sex despite being a submissive man. I finally enjoy sex because I am—and want to be—a sexually submissive man.
Hopefully, I’ll clarify the imprecise language we currently have available to explore gendered power and submissive masculinity in particular, and I’ll address how such feeble language may cause egregious ambiguity in communication as well as misconceptions about fundamental desires that hamper our understanding of consensual sexual submission.
Hot or not? Submission isn’t arousal.
This submission stuff is hard, and I’m not the only one who’s struggled, or is struggling, with it. One reason it’s so goddamn hard is because the way I so often see it conceptualized feels polluted by imprecision, absolutism, and sexism.
Most of the time, I ignore a great deal of the polluted chatter because it comes from people I don’t hold in high regard to begin with. Recently, however, some of the men who blog that I respect a lot have hit some of the same notes while singing submissive masculinity’s tunes as the people I ignore, and that is something I cannot ignore.
The denial after [lots of orgasms] is much harder and much sweeter for it, and the submission deeper and more fun. Of course during those periods [after orgasm] its hard to be as submissive[…].
Although I’ve read this opinion expressed in about a bazillion different ways, it’s a sentiment I’ve never felt completely comfortable with. Indeed, the more I dissect my own submissiveness and explore what submission means to me, the more upset I get by its prevalence. I get even more upset when bloggers perpetuate this, because they are currently the most influential source of education about submissive masculinity.
But before I get too far into what I find so upsetting about the way this is framed, let’s make one thing clear: what I’m about to say has nothing to do with espousing a submissive ideology, a One True Way® for being a “real submissive.” It’s irrational to, for instance, call a self-identified switch “a submissive” when that person is feeling submissive by sole virtue of their feelings; they are no more or less “a submissive” than they say they are, despite how desirous of submissive feelings they are at any given time. Insofar as identity politics are involved, they stop at the point of acknowledging that your identity is a part in your personal experience of the world.
This post, however, is not about your experience of the world. It’s about finding a way to convey your experience in a manner that is reconcilable with the different experiences of others. This is important because, lacking this ability, all conversation about submission starts with “for me,” repeats the caveat, and then ends with “Your Mileage May Vary.” To date, every way I’ve heard anyone talk about submission breaks down when someone else introduces their own, differing, experience, and I’m afraid those conversations are no longer useful for me.
Anyway, the short debate between MyKey and I ultimately lead to a post in which Thumper put forth the following equation:
Denial + arousal = submission.
In the comments—worth reading despite veering into predictably unhelpful tangents at points—Thumper later amended this to read
Denial + arousal = submissive energy. That’s better, thanks in part to the focus on “energy” (I think more precisely termed desire) over the intrinsic nature of the outcome. Nevertheless, I want to challenge both statements because I think the premise underlying them is simply not true.
Both statements feed into a dangerous, wide-spread stereotype: the cock-centric notion that if you control a man’s penis, you control the man. Is that true? Of course it’s not. These activities could certainly be an expression of dominance or submission and they might trigger dominant or submissive feelings in oneself or one’s partner(s), but Thumper, MyKey and I already seem to agree that the acts are not, themselves, the root cause of submission or dominance.
To wit, and to Thumper’s credit, one of his next sentences is the following:
That’s not saying I’m in no way submissive when my sexual appetite has been totally sated. I think I would be accepting of domination even then. [And later, in the comments:] I wasn’t trying to suggest it’s just that simple […] but they are strongly related.
Indeed, I can think of no realm less suited to the beautiful simplicity of mathematics than human desire, so it’s obvious that Thumper’s equation is an oversimplification. Since we can all see that things are not “just that simple,” I presume that what Thumper, MyKey, and other submissive men perpetuating this simplistic formulation are trying to get at is that they feel submissive more acutely when the fact of their orgasm denial is at the fore of their thoughts. Thumper says he feels his “sub mojo” lessen after he has come. MyKey calls this sensation “sub drop” and, since I disagree with the premise of their statements, questions whether I’m “wired differently”.
At least in this regard, however, I am not wired differently. I do understand the sudden, often startling change in desires post-orgasm. During relationships with keyholders, the degree with which my interest in, say, getting my penis locked away waned after having an orgasm was (and still is) totally remarkable to me. Nevertheless, similar to the experiences of others, when my keyholder wanted me locked, I got locked. Why? Because that’s hot! It wasn’t quite as hot right then, but it was super-hot shortly thereafter, when I was once again unable to masturbate freely.
This simple after-the-fact observation points to a crucial distinction I fear is missing from the conversation about submission: just because an activity is less pleasant at some moments than it is during others doesn’t mean I won’t do or enjoy those activities. Moreover, the drive to perform those activities independent of one’s immediate motivations is a distinct, separate pleasure, from the pleasure one gets from desiring the activity directly.
“And I want you to come really hard for me. I want you to remember this for a long time.”
“Oooh,” I moaned aloud.
“That’s why I’m going to make you eat my pussy right after you come.”
I gasped. It was like an electric shock to my groin. I’ve long had this fantasy, but could never bring myself to do it. The idea of being forced to clean her, to lick my still-hot come from her, to hear her demanding that I make her clean, to make her come with my tongue… I’ve only mentioned to her a handful of times over the years, but I’ve never been able to ask for this, let alone to try it. She was right, there’s something about the first ten or fifteen minutes after coming that puts all that desire right out of my head. I was excited, but at the same time a bit fearful. I knew that I wouldn’t want to do it afterward…and so did she.
She sensed my hesitation. “I know the idea turns you on,” she said.
Thinking fast, I said “But, I, um, thought that you were satisfied. You told me that you had come enough for tonight.”
“Oh, you’re not going to do it for my pleasure,” she said, “at least, not for my sexual pleasure. You’re going to do it because in a few days, you’re going to think about it, and you’re going to remember this evening as the hottest thing we’ve ever done.”
I was still partially dazed as she inched her knees alongside my body. When she finally rested her legs over my arms and braced her other hand against the headboard, though, things…changed somehow. Her pussy, which just minutes ago was a beautiful, warm cave, suddenly now seemed like a hairy tube of flesh that was filled with something that I didn’t want. Ugh, how could I ever have asked for this? I pursed my lips, but it was too late—I felt the drips onto my cheeks and chin. Seconds later, her slick lips were pressed tightly against my mouth, and I could hear her encouraging me to clean her, to keep sucking and licking until everything was gone.
What Tom’s story and our many similar experiences show us is that not even the men who purport to quantify submission based on sexual arousal or orgasm denial actually do that. Although our awareness of submissive feelings may be intensified by specific, often fetishistic triggers (e.g., being horny and prevented from coming), those two concepts are not causally related.
For men like Thumper and I, who clearly dig orgasm denial pretty hard, it makes sense that this desire is a core aspect of how we want to fuck. But we do ourselves and our readers a terrible disservice by perpetuating the idea that our fetish is the cause of our submissive desire rather than a manifestation of it. Submission does not come about through someone else’s control—that is mere restriction in the best case, and abuse in the worst case—it comes about through our active desire to submit. Consensual submission is not about how someone else controls me, it’s about the opportunities I create for myself to be vulnerable to that person.
When I hear people discussing submission as though it is the result of the thing they want instead of discussing submission itself as the thing they want, it’s like listening to people talk while putting the emphasis on the wrong syllable. Such an awkward conceptualization of submission is not merely incorrect, it’s very dangerous because it restricts any submissive desire into a necessarily coercive paradigm.
In this instance, with teasing and denial as the addends, it constructs mens’ submission as totally dependent on the myth of male lust (the idea that men are controlled by their penises because they are men). It states that submissive energy is itself induced by a woman (or, more generally, “keyholder”) by accessing that man’s sexual potency in a strictly prescribed, time-release fashion, like a pill.
This is the same misconception that says blowjobs are inherently submissive, or that pain is inherently bad, or even that blogging about sex is inherently submissive (srsly)! Sadly, these ideas are the prevailing view of what “submission” is, and I think they totally miss the point about the validity of submission itself as a core motivation.
Framing submission as a second-class thing, a byproduct of some other, first-class particle, is incorrect. Submission is it’s own distinct facet of sexual desire.
Reductionist Submission Is Dangerous To Your Sex Life
There’s absolutely nothing wrong about getting off on stereotypes. While the reasons for why many submissive men, including myself, fetishize orgasm denial are debatable, that obvious fact does not make orgasm denial a component of submission. Akin to the way desiring anal sex does not make someone gay, abstaining from orgasm does not make someone a submissive. Abstaining longer doesn’t make them “more submissive.”
Sexual “teasing” is really pleasurable and fun for many people, regardless of their interest in submission. For a huge population, that kind of sex is all about improving their orgasms, whether “vanilla” or not; I’ve read of self-identified dominant men who enjoy the practice, too. For other people, like certain religious sects, some portions of asexual populations, and anorgasmic women, living (or trying to live) an orgasm-less existence isn’t even kinky. On the flip side, there are certainly some submissive men who simply aren’t into orgasm denial at all.
In other words, even though sex acts obviously influence one’s mental or physical state at any given moment, conceptually coupling a sexual activity to what an activity means is going to cut you off from the pleasure of diverse sexual experience. Teasing and denial (the “denial+arousal” part of Thumper’s equation) are not ingredients for submission, they’re just toys I play with because I, like many others, enjoy expressing submission with them some of the time. Sometimes we enjoy it more than other times, but sometimes we express that same submission in completely unrelated ways.
Regardless of your personal experience, I’d urge you to avoid linking any sex act to any intention, even “for you,” even if it’s your fetish. The stereotypical view of orgasm denial as requisite for or even directly “enhancing” submission, even for those of us who fetishize it, simply doesn’t account for our own diverse expressions of submission. To assert that it does is fundamentally miscommunicative. It’d be like saying getting flogged is submission and that the harder you get flogged the more submissive you are, and although people often make the “harder=submissivier” false assertion as well, that doesn’t make it sensible, that makes it dangerous!
That definition of submission, coercive at best and abusive at worst, invalidates submission itself as a potential motivation for healthy sex by undermining a submissive person’s power to choose exactly what they do or do not want—a power that’s required to make healthy sexual choices for one’s self, even “as a submissive.” It tricks us into believing all the false dichotomies embedded in hegemonic culture that tell us BDSM is obscene, and that to be submissive is to necessarily be unassertive, passive, self-effacing, receptive, or acquiescent. These are not ambiguous, wishy-washy obstacles to people’s health. For many people, particularly men who are deeply immersed in heteronormative culture, these are real factors that contribute to sexual anxiety and a horrible depreciation of self-image.
Defining the degree of one’s sexual submission as the summation of a period of orgasm denial and current sexual arousal is not only reductionist, I believe it’s actively damaging. The equation perpetuates the myth of male lust and disavows the validity of submission as a sexual self-expression that can be actively chosen, rather than induced coercively.
In the post that spawned all this theorizing, Thumper wrote:
I had cruised all through my adolescence with no inkling I was what I was (though I can see some signs that were there all along).
Like Thumper, I was certainly submissive before I had a dominant partner in my life. So while this rant may sound like meaningless semantics to some, it’s crucial that we amplify these distinctions and move the prevailing understanding of submissive masculinity away from the limiting, misrepresentative, and downright sexist bullshit so often spewed by exploitative pro-dommes and the likes of Elise Sutton (
no link because I hate what she says; Google it instead ). That’s precisely the kind of bullshit that kept “what we are” hidden from men like Thumper and I for so long.
As an adamantly submissive man myself, I’m sure my personal experience is going to be different from, say, a switch’s orgasm denial experience. And that’s the point: submission is not about creating a ruleset of Things To Do To Be Submissive for anyone, yourself least of all. Very simply, it’s about sexual self-expression in order to be happy and healthy.
So please, all of us who blog about such things, stop insisting that keeping a man from his orgasms somehow turns him more submissive. You’re just fooling yourselves, your readers, and arguably worst of all, your lovers.