Reconciling my submissive feelings
May 21, 2010 2:11 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for advice about or stories of coming to terms with submissive feelings in bed. I'm a lady in my mid 20s and I like dudes. I've seen a few questions like this one and this one, from the perspective of guys who want to be more dominant with their girls, but are finding it hard to get in the head-space. I'm interested in the opposite angle.

Ever since I was a kid I've been turned on by D/s, bondage, humiliation type fantasies. When I discovered internet porn I went right to stories and photos and videos of this kind of stuff.

That's always stayed in the realm of masturbation-fantasy, and I've been OK with that. I've had boyfriends and sexual relationships that were all pretty "vanilla." That sex has all been very satisfying to me and to the guys I've been with (as far as I know)!

Now I'm having sex with J. He's got a natural dominant streak in bed and I totally. dig it. We like to wrestle and struggle with each other, and he pulls my hair and pushes me around to how he likes and spanks and all that kind of rough-and-tumble stuff. Thinking about it gets me majorly turned on and I am game for it when we are together.

However: sometimes when we are going at it, I get flashes of.. a guilty conscience? Betraying my feminist ideals? Not totally trusting the feeling of "it's OK that I want this"? It's hard to explain. Needless to say, those momentary feelings are a downer during sexy times. I want to keep things moving, I want him to keep "doing what he wants with me," I want it to keep being rough and struggle-y. But I still get doubts that this is "OK" to do.

If anyone has advice on letting go, being in the sexy moment, etc., I would love to hear it! Especially if you like this kind of thing in bed and maybe had a hard time coming to terms with it, in the past, I'd like to hear your story. I imagine I am experiencing very common feelings.

If you want, you can email me privately at

Some more background info: J and I have been "casually dating" for a few weeks, so it's not a long term relationship. By which I mean, I understand that a lot of what I'm looking for comes with having more and more trust in your partner which takes time. I think adequate progress is being made in that direction: I've talked to him about what he does that makes me feel unsure, and why, and this has helped already.

Also, I'm familiar with sex-positive feminism and sex-radical feminists, and I think all that is great! I just wish I could put it more into practice.

Thank you!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (35 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I have run into folks that have struggled with exactly the same issues. Their reconciliation was somewhere along the lines of "do what feels good, not what you, or anyone else, thinks is supposed to feel good."
posted by milqman at 2:23 PM on May 21, 2010

Even though you aren't doing anything particularly risky or violent, work out a safe word. In those moments, think about it, and realize this is a game you're playing because it brings you pleasure, not a defining characteristic of the life you're living or the person you are. And, in those moments where you realize it isn't bringing you pleasure at all, you can use it.

And know your feelings aren't unusual at all. Even the most vanilla types have moments like that, for any number of reasons. So long as you feel confident that these feelings are not a symptom of something deeper, you shouldn't have any compunction against attempting to shred them.

Good luck, have fun!
posted by davejay at 2:28 PM on May 21, 2010

Er, shed them, not shred them. That sounded more violent than was intended.
posted by davejay at 2:29 PM on May 21, 2010

reading things written by madison young[nsfw, naturally] (and those that hang around her) might be useful to you. she's a feminist, an artist, a gallery owner, a porn star, and submissive. i think she does a good job of showing that you can like to be beat up, shoved around, and tied up without losing any part of your RAWR-feminism.

i've been submissive possibly my entire life - but certainly since young childhood. my barbies were constantly be tied up. when i started writing erotic stories when i was 13 or 14, submission and control were big themes. and this is without ever having seen porn or read other erotic stories (just stories/movies/media i found erotic because submission was a central goal). i've also been strongly feminist since at least 15. they aren't mutually exclusive.

it might help for you to examine your guilt feelings - maybe not in the moment, but later - ask yourself, what had you reacting that way - is it the ingrained crap we as women deal with (good girls don't do things like that) just taking on another form? are you worried that if your like-minded feminist friends found out they'd think less of you? is the guilt part of why you find it so hot?

i think with people just dipping their toes into Dom/sub type stuff there is an initial back and forth that has to do with consent. when we think of a man hitting a woman, saying mean things, domineering her - we think of it in non-consensual ways. we think of that woman as a victim and that man as a monster. however, it's important to realize that with consent, all those issues disappear. he's not forcing himself upon you - you are playing a mental game that has him in a power position - one that you can say stop (or [safe word]) to at any time.

be prepared for some people to not understand. i've run into an issue that i never saw in my late teens/early 20s, but i see more and more now - for whatever reason, some people are totally ok with the woman being the Dom and the man being the sub - however, when it is switched they are absolutely NOT ok with it. i let it bug me initially, but then i realized, that's there baggage, not mine. i know that my enjoyment of these things isn't because i'm a scared little girl and he's the big powerful man - my enjoyment is because pain, control, submission, bondage, etc really, really, really get me off. my enjoyment is because i trust my partner. my enjoyment is my business.

related to that last point, but slightly separate - with reading some things about D/s, especially here, some people will be of the opinion that a girl who was sexually abused can not consent rationally to a D/s relationship. not saying you were abused - but if you were - this comment i made previously really outlines why i hate that argument. just putting it here in case it's helpful.
posted by nadawi at 2:44 PM on May 21, 2010 [12 favorites]

let them eat pro-sm feminist safe spaces might not be a bad starting point for you; it'll introduce you to the writings of a handful of feminist bloggers who are involved with BDSM and don't consider it a negation of their feminism.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 2:48 PM on May 21, 2010

Are you sure you're not acting out abusive relationships from your childhood? Feeling confined and trapped, and fantasies of, are signs of an abusive childhood where usually a parent was the abuser and the child was trapped in the relationship.

If you're feeling guilty there is also a thing called 'survivor guilt' where a person mistakenly feels they're done something wrong to survive a trauma.
posted by Honkshu at 3:05 PM on May 21, 2010

see, that shit right there ^ is why i posted a link to my other comment. i'll post it in thread just for good measure.

in my past some assholes didn't care for my consent or my free agency which somehow in your mind makes you feel ok, moral even, about saying now that my consent is non-relevant because you can't understand my desires. do i like kinky shit because i was molested and raped? who the hell knows. but what i do know is that i'll be damned if i listen to a single other person tell me what is and isn't ok for me to feel and experience.

it's hard enough for people with difficult pasts to find love, trust, respect, and sexually pleasing situations without you trying to save them.
posted by nadawi at 3:09 PM on May 21, 2010 [9 favorites]

I would also look at this book: I Can't Get Over It. Those flashes might be Post Traumatic Stress Disorder flashbacks or dissociations.
posted by Honkshu at 3:14 PM on May 21, 2010

Um hello, nadawi, I'm one of those people with a difficult past you spoke about. That was my advice. Peace!
posted by Honkshu at 3:17 PM on May 21, 2010

Are you sure you're not acting out abusive relationships from your childhood? Feeling confined and trapped, and fantasies of, are signs of an abusive childhood where usually a parent was the abuser and the child was trapped in the relationship.

As someone who researches sexual violence/child sexual abuse, I will go ahead and say that this is bullshit and you can disregard it. It's irrelevant to your question and just puts scary ideas in your head that don't need to be there.
posted by emilyd22222 at 3:19 PM on May 21, 2010 [6 favorites]

The fascination with being humiliated involves eroticizing the transgression of a taboo boundary. Without the taboo and the guilt for having crossed it, there would be no erotic enjoyment, like how in cultures where they run around naked all day, they aren't turned on by nudity, but we are, because of our prudish inhibition. Feeling guilty, sinful, ashamed or dirty about your mode of enjoyment is not the opposite of sexual enjoyment, it's the heart of it. So don't worry about feeling guilty, enjoy it!
posted by AlsoMike at 3:20 PM on May 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

^Which is not to say that your past didn't in part lead you to be submissive now, Honkshu, but to say that submission is a sign of being abused by a parent is just wrong and really damaging.
posted by emilyd22222 at 3:21 PM on May 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

One needn't pathologize everything. I thought this was a pretty good take on the question.
posted by Maias at 3:21 PM on May 21, 2010

Uh, hello emilyd, as someone who has experienced sexual violence and child sexual abuse, I will say this is valid. Also I wish to point you to a reference Women, Men and Rape.

Remember, diversity of advice is a good thing. And if she can handle BDSM I'm not sure what makes you think she can't handle sexual abuse advice.
posted by Honkshu at 3:25 PM on May 21, 2010

I'm the same as you, I've had submissive thoughts since I was a very young girl, and it was submissive fantasies that I thought about while having vanilla sex.

It took me a very long time to actually act on my inclinations, and the only thing I can say is that I truly wish I had acted sooner.

I've never had the guilt feelings that you describe, but I was pretty shy about acknowledging my submissiveness for a while. I think what made it easier was acknowledging that being sub or dom or having a fetish or whatever is just a sexual preference, and that's it (for me). It doesn't cast some greater shadow over the other parts of my life, doesn't make me a good or bad person, or change my morality or value system or character, it's just the way I enjoy sex. And that is nothing to feel bad about.

I think maybe that because you are just starting to act on this you might be going through a period of figuring it all out. That is probably normal, and there is a lot to figure out, it's an ongoing process.

I'm sure a few people will pop in to let you know this, but let me be the first...there is also a mefites on fetlife group where you will be able to find quite a few folks who will be very open and helpful about this and pretty much any kink related questions. You will also find that they are probably much more knowledgeable and insightful about this particular topic.

Good luck and have fun!
posted by itmightbecheese at 3:29 PM on May 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Those flashes might be Post Traumatic Stress Disorder flashbacks or dissociations.

Not to pick on you, but brief feelings of guilt/feeling like you're betraying feminist ideals are very, very far from clinical PTSD flashbacks or dissociations. In a flashback, you feel like the event is actually happening. It also doesn't sound like her distress is particularly intense, which would be necessary if you're going to go with a non-flashback reexperiencing criterion from the DSM. She said absolutely nothing that even comes close to dissociation, so not sure how to pick that one apart.
posted by emilyd22222 at 3:30 PM on May 21, 2010

Echoing nadawi, I'll also link to my answer to an earlier AskMe question that you may find useful.

The TL;DR version: this is about you getting mentally warped from the confused and often contradictory social/cultural messages women are given about sex.

Turn the context around, and think sex-positive: you have the right to be treated in a way that works for you in bed. You also have the duty to tell your partner what turns you on, and what does not work for you; and he, in the dominant role, has the responsibility to ensure safe, sane, consensual, and fun sex while respecting those desires.

What works for you during consensual sex for you says absolutely nothing about you as a person. It has no impact on "good" or "bad"; nor does it change anything outside of the bedroom.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 3:31 PM on May 21, 2010 [6 favorites]

Uh, hello emilyd, as someone who has experienced sexual violence and child sexual abuse, I will say this is valid.

Like I said, it may have been related FOR YOU, but it means nothing about other people's experiences. If you take a sample of people who identify as submissive, I would wager that their incidence of child sexual abuse is no different from the rest of the population.
posted by emilyd22222 at 3:32 PM on May 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wow, it really bugs me when there is an automatic assumption that there is some type of abuse in a bdsm'ers past. I understand that there could be, sure, just like there could be in any vanilla persons past, but is there some known correlation that I don't know about that makes this a sound theory?
posted by itmightbecheese at 3:33 PM on May 21, 2010

is there some known correlation that I don't know about that makes this a sound theory?

Nope. Just did a brief literature search. Almost nothing came up- I did see one study that said people who attend BDSM clubs have a higher prevalence of CSA than the general population, although the prevalence they cited was the same as most general population CSA statistics. And of course you can't extrapolate BDSM club members to the entire body of people who are submissive.
posted by emilyd22222 at 3:39 PM on May 21, 2010

From the OP:
Thank you to those who have answered so far. In response to those suggesting these feelings are due to repressed memories of abuse: I have no conscious memory or knowledge of having been abused as a child. I suppose it is possible I WAS abused and have repressed those memories or am subconsciously acting them out in my sexual desires. However,i am not the type to psycho analyse and am interested in things like active living and taking life as it unfolds.

I tried to phrase my question in a way that would steer answers away from "maybe you were abused.." and more towards "i like those things in bed,too,and here's how I dealt with similar feelings."
posted by jessamyn at 3:42 PM on May 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

Just want to emphasize Bora Horza Gobuchal's comment and her previous askme answer. She's 100% on point.
posted by itmightbecheese at 3:42 PM on May 21, 2010

The sub-dom thing really is a two-way street. As a man, I had equivalent questions and doubts when women first wanted me to be rougher with them. My instant reaction was "This isn't cool, I'm not that kinda guy." But I quickly got over this when I realized that there are only two people in this bed and if she wants me to slap her and demean her and it's going to turn both of us on, why wouldn't I? We can't help what turns us on. And if no one is getting hurt, what's the problem?

I think AlsoMike gets to the heart of it. There's a definite guilt factor associated with rough sex because it IS almost like breaking a taboo. I liken it to adultery. Having cheated on a girlfriend in the past I can say that it was probably the hottest sex ever because it was so "wrong." The knowledge that you're doing something that you "shouldn't" be doing is exciting.

Which is all to say that whatever two consenting adults want to do in the bedroom is fantastic!
posted by fso at 3:49 PM on May 21, 2010

I like those things in bed, too, and here's how I dealt with similar feelings. Heh.

WHO DOES IT HURT? I am way into age play, and I act out a lot of scenarios that would be fucked up and wrong if they were to happen in real life; daddy/little girl fantasies, horny teenage boys creeping into their friend's little sister's bedroom during sleepovers, "consentual non-consent" or rape play.

For a while I felt I was somehow perpetuating sexual abuse by acting this shit out, which is totally ridiculous. Believing that a real 12 year old gets molested somewhere every time I get fucked is a specious fallacy on par with believing that every time you masturbate god kills a kitten. I'm not being hurt and no one is being hurt because of me, and that's just dandy.

GIVE AND TAKE IN KIND. I'm a decent switch and can muster up the ability to treat a sub like shit if they ask for it right, but even with boys I almost always bottom for, I'll try the things I like out on them if only to show them that it's not a big deal.

Like, my boyfriend didn't want to slap me in the face for the longest time; he was game, but he was being a total wimp, and his pansy little limp wrist slap wasn't doing it for me. I was trying to describe how hard he could hit me when I just sighed and let him have it with a firm open-palm smack.

It stung and his cheek turned pink but he saw that it wasn't going to break me or seriously hurt me if he didn't treat me like a china doll, and he got over it. I think for me it was helpful to see that I could hurt someone I loved, that it doesn't change how carefully and kindly I might treat them otherwise.

PEOPLE WHO HAVE KINKY SEX ARE RAD. Seriously, no offense to the vanilla, but our stories are just more entertaining than all that light wind caressing the pillow while waves break on the beach people. Thanks to the magic of sex-positive/queer/feminist literature I know of plenty of badass women who like to do all sorts of filthy things who are kind of my heroes. Breaking taboos is empowering.
posted by Juliet Banana at 4:42 PM on May 21, 2010 [18 favorites]

I'm not sure what makes you think she can't handle sexual abuse advice.

Sure, but she didn't ask for sexual abuse advice. You simply assumed that kinky desires = victim of abuse and ran with it. Not cool.

OP, I struggle with this issue myself sometimes but due to attitudes like the one above, I'm not comfortable posting about it this publicly, so please feel free to memail me if you'd like to talk about it. That said, nadawi and Bora Horza Gorbuchal's answers are spot-on.
posted by palomar at 4:46 PM on May 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

In those moments, think about it, and realize this is a game you're playing because it brings you pleasure, not a defining characteristic of the life you're living or the person you are.

It's cool for this to be just a game for you; it's also cool if it is more than that and is actually a fairly central part of your identity, sexual and otherwise. Either way, it's fundamentally about having fun and living your life on your own terms, while keeping inside the boundaries of consensuality and safety.

My partner has had to think her way through this. She's a strong, kick-ass feminist who is confident, assertive, and competent. Her liking to have rough sex, be spanked, or whatever other dirty perverted thing is going on in the bedroom, is not in tension with that. Instead, it's part and parcel of it. Her submission isn't something forced on her -- it's an active choice that is only possible because she is starting in such a positive and empowered position to begin with.

I was going to link to the Fetlife group, also, with the caveat that there are a ton of internet bdsm superstars who have the language down and are ready to parse the smallest of details; there's a lot of filtering you will have to do to sort through to the quality stuff.
posted by Forktine at 4:53 PM on May 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

Juliet Banana - for the OP and all the rest of us - could you quality and list names of those involved in "the magic of sex-positive/queer/feminist literature I know of plenty of badass women who like to do all sorts of filthy things who are kind of my heroes."? i know i'd add them to my reading list.
posted by nadawi at 5:30 PM on May 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

I had a hard time with this myself when I first found myself getting interested in BDSM as a sub. I was in my mid 20's so I guess I was a comparatively late bloomer compared to the rest of the group here. How I processed it was to consider that feminism is all about the freedom to make your own choices-including sexual ones. So I can choose promiscuity, submissiveness, bisexuality, whatever, and as long as I make the choice for my needs and not under duress because some guy thinks it would be hot, it's my call. Also, the prevailing wisdom is that the sub is really in charge and this is true. The dom is responsible for pleasing you every bit as much as you are responsible for pleasing him. And I am telling him what I want and asking him to give it to me- just because what I happen to want is to be smacked around a little doesn't change the fact that I'm making a sexual request/demand and he is honoring it. So truly, who's really in control?
posted by supercapitalist at 7:31 PM on May 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

Seconding SAFEWORDS. I'm in a D/s flavored relationship and have only ever used it two or three times, but knowing it's there is a comfort. We don't get into any complicated codes or weird words; the safeword is "safeword" and if someone says that then things stop - we pop out of the mental space of the scene and back into rational modes, while we work out what's wrong, and either fix it and go on, or just plain stop.

One thing that helps a lot in this sort of thing, at least for me, is to have personas to wear. The "you" who loves to get tied up and spanked (or whatever) is not the "you" who has to go out and earn a living, is not the "you" who goes out dancing with this very same guy. Different masks to wear for different moods, and some of them happen to be very very submissive. Give them names to tell them apart, give them names to communicate who you are right now. Lately, for instance, if I'm making "fox" noises* it probably means I'm open to being dominated, because the vixen is airheaded and subby and eager to please.

It might be weird for "me" to get tied up and spanked, but it's perfectly okay for the artificial toy fox to get tied up and spanked, because that's what she's made for!

* me and my boyfriends are all furries, so we use this as part of our play. As part of our normal home lives, really.
posted by egypturnash at 7:31 PM on May 21, 2010

I blame Different Loving for all those silly assumptions about abuse and BDSM being linked. I remember reading something in that book, which on the whole is objective and informative, which linked abuse and BDSM and it really bothered me because, seriously, WTF? At the time, that book was as close to an alternative lifestyle bible as you could get, but it sure got that wrong.

One book I could recommend for you, OP, by the way, is Screw the Roses, Send Me the Thorns. Very positive S/M resource.

Here's the thing, and it was touched on above in-thread: women are taught this whole good girl/bad girl stuff, about what we should do and what we shouldn't. And then we are taught that, to be feminists, we have to want to be assertive and confident and do everything a man can do, to prove that we are equal. Which is insane because OF COURSE we are equal, and OF COURSE we are different. Not just from men, but from each other.

Which is my way of saying that when it comes to your life, you have to toss out all the rules, implied or otherwise, and embrace what makes your heart and body sing.

And if, when it comes to sex, that means wanting someone to pull your hair and spank you and whisper, "Dirty slut!" in your ear, than that's fine. I hereby give you permission to go wild with it. You will still be just as much a feminist as you are now. You'll just be sexually satisfied one.

And, for the record, I had an idyllic childhood with no abuse whatsoever, and the submissive is strong in me, too.
posted by misha at 7:49 PM on May 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

My mantra on occasions that I find myself needing one is: "Society should, sexuality is".
posted by tigrrrlily at 10:06 PM on May 21, 2010

This stuff takes practice, the more you do it the better you will be at getting into that headspace. And the more comfortable you are, the more you will get out of it. It's one of those rare and wonderful win win situations in life :)
posted by By The Grace of God at 4:26 AM on May 22, 2010

Over the past few years I have also come to terms with my submissive side. I'm also a feminist and in a position of leadership at work and often very dominant. Here's what I have done and what I would suggest:

1) Talk to friends. When I started talking to friends about the sex I liked to have and being submissive, I found many of them (if not all of my strong female friends) enjoyed being submissive. I actually was quite shocked to find so many who felt similarly to me.

2) Join a site like fetlife. There's actually some really good discussions on there. It helps to find like minded people.

3) I was really happy when I found people like Madison Young, a smart, educated feminist who is submissive and talks about it. I went to one of her lectures and was so happy to find someone that I felt was speaking to me.

4) While many people have brought up the abuse issue above, I would approach the topic in a different way. I have never been abused, but I do think there are psychological reasons why we like what we like in bed. A piece may be biological, but for me it was definitely about control and letting go of control. I think having an understanding of why you like what you like is helpful.
posted by hazyspring at 7:00 AM on May 22, 2010

In Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex Positive Culture, Carol Queen talks about this in a recurring fashion throughout in different essays including "On Being Submissive and Doing What You Damn Well Please." Might want to check it out from the library if possible. Fetlife is another option; there are support groups for wrestling with this there, and about theories behind it if that's your thing too. Oh, and this is random Mary Gaitskill's first short story collection there's a story early on ironically framed as being about a romantic getaway between a submissive woman and a jerk. The depiction of the submissive woman and why she wants what she wants (and the ways in which submission can be rife with frustrating internal paradoxes) really, really struck a chord with me.

And I haven't read it but there's a book out there called Screw the Roses, Send Me the Thorns that, you know, sounds like it might be helpful.
posted by ifjuly at 9:50 AM on May 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've talked to him about what he does that makes me feel unsure, and why, and this has helped already.

Also, I'm familiar with sex-positive feminism and sex-radical feminists, and I think all that is great! I just wish I could put it more into practice.

You are putting it into practice, communicating what you want (even though it's not happy fun conversation, you still had it, and that's important), and you're having good fun sexy sex with some minor roadbumps! That is really awesome for the amount of time you've been doing this.

Keep it up!
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:58 PM on May 22, 2010

« Older Which browser should I use?   |   Please sir, may I have my pages back? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.