How to not take advantage of your service sub
February 6, 2019 4:36 PM   Subscribe

Kinkfilter: What's the line between having a satisfied service sub and taking advantage of them for free labor?

While I have some familiarity with kink & power dynamics, one thing that I'm still unclear about is the ethics around service submission - mainly, how do you make sure your service sub IS actually getting something out of this and you're not just using them as unpaid labour coz you don't want to clean your own house or whatever.

This mostly came about after reading a bunch of infamous unethical job ads where someone is looking for an all-encompassing "assistant" or "intern" doing all kinds of work for free or really low pay. I'd think, "sounds like what you want is a service sub" - then I wonder if or how this any more ethical if indeed this was an ad for a service sub.

I've experimented with service submission before (as the sub and the domme) and I have a few friends who are into service submission. I've asked them what they get out of it and they often say that the satisfaction of keeping their top/Dom/etc happy is enough, but feels like there needs to be a bit MORE there.

Impact play or more stereotypical kink activity feels more clear in the "what does either party get out of it" department, possibly because it's more tangible? Whereas with service submission, the top gets the benefit of the sub's labour, and the sub gets...what exactly?

Are there specific things doms can do to make sure their sub doesn't feel taken advantage of? If you've been a service sub, what works for you?
posted by divabat to Human Relations (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

You have to break character and talk to them. What is and is not expected should be clear to both of you after the first or second session. It's not sexy but it's what any healthy D/s relationship is built upon.
posted by East14thTaco at 4:44 PM on February 6, 2019 [6 favorites]

Whereas with service submission, the top gets the benefit of the sub's labour, and the sub gets...what exactly?

The satisfaction of serving and doing it well (or doing it badly if you're going for a brat dynamic), and for some folks, humiliation (the delicious kind) might come into it. As someone into these type of dynamics, I can say there really doesn't need to be more there! It has definitely been a barrier with dominant partners who don't believe me when I say that, though, and often that speaks to someone who is struggling with guilt because they just can't believe that they're worthy of receiving what I'm giving and convinced it must not be as good for me as it is for them. Like anything, the only way to get over that is to keep the lines of communication open and always work on building trust.

And that's really the way it works for everything kink, and the way you keep it from being abusive. I mean, how do you make sure that spanking doesn't become abusive? Or name-calling? With consent and communication! It's the same with service-oriented submission. Even folks in 24/7 d/s relationships have to negotiate the boundaries of how it'll work! Have you read anything by Sinclair Sexsmith about d/s theory? They're in a full-time m/s relationship that has a lot of service components and while I don't have the time to track down specific essays that might address this, I think just a general browsing of a few things on their site will quickly bring up something that talks about their protocol.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 4:52 PM on February 6, 2019 [9 favorites]

You have to discuss this, before, during, and after. You need safewords that indicate when your play partner is ready to move to a different activity, etc.
posted by bilabial at 5:08 PM on February 6, 2019 [4 favorites]

East14thTaco has it. Check-ins. You need to be able to break character, step out of the scene, and check in with your sub as equals. For something like service submission where the "scenes" range from long to basically endless, check-ins need to happen at regular intervals as well as whenever it seems like they might be specially warranted. And the sub needs to feel able to break character as well and say when they want things to be different.

Trust and consent, basically, same as any relationship.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:28 PM on February 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

You, the dom, aren't doing nothing while the sub scrubs away at your dirty corners. Every act you take is deliberate. If you kick back it is calculated to get a result. To show off your status or grandeur, to produce feelings of adoration, envy, shame. If you use your freed time to do another activity, that too is part of the game. "Mistress is so strong and hard-working!" Or perhaps you correct your sub as they serve. Isn't that a clever ploy? "Not good enough." Or, "This is how to please me better." "What a spirited lass, I love to watch your muscles bend."

Not all doms will agree with me, but I think you should always be working as hard as your sub, if not harder. That work can be psychological -- what you say and how you say it, controlling how you move through space. It all builds to endless effect. Effort ought to be proportional, unless uneven effort is a dynamic you want to cultivate. That's how you know you're not taking advantage. You're asking questions, listening carefully, acting with intent, and investing real energy.
posted by aw jeez at 6:35 PM on February 6, 2019 [9 favorites]

Right, so, the thing with kinks is that they make people wanna bang and/or feel romantic love. If you’ve done it because you were curious or whatever but it’s not your thing, okay, but that doesn’t mean it’s neutral like that for everyone who does it. I mean at some point you’re basically asking whether kinky people are actually kinky or if they’re just, idk, too dumb/helpless to figure out what they like. The answer is that they’re kinky and they’re into it in the same way people are into vanilla sex and roses and candles and all that.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 7:37 PM on February 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

and often that speaks to someone who is struggling with guilt because they just can't believe that they're worthy of receiving what I'm giving and convinced it must not be as good for me as it is for them.

i am feeling so called out right now

No seriously, that's my biggest hang-up! I'm both really into it and really guilt-ridden about it for the above reasons. I'm not in any sort of relationship right now so this is mostly for future-planning, and for sure I'll spend time out of character communicating, but having some insight on what the sub's motivation would be is helpful.
posted by divabat at 8:07 PM on February 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

I am excited for future you, divabat! I think one thing that’s really separated pleasure vs drudgery for me is having the dominant person be clear about what they get out of it and then wanting to know what I get out of it so we’re both aware and feeding off what gets the other off! That really helps with the guilt on both ends. It’s hard to find people willing to talk about that, something about BDSM makes folks feel like it’s not sexy if you have to talk about it. I find that planning and check-in part incredibly fun and satisfying. I don’t think I’m unusual in that!

Believe me, I get the guilt. I do not enjoy dominating folks and so I feel outrageously lucky to be with someone who isn’t just doing it for me out of obligation. I know my ladyfriend now feels the same way but I had no idea until we talked about it a lot — like, thank god we both get turned on by the opposite dynamic and how amazing it is that it works out. (There are totally folks who want it both ways and that’s great, but wow, am I not one of them.)

Enjoy the hopefully guilt-free fun times ahead!
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 8:43 PM on February 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

and often that speaks to someone who is struggling with guilt because they just can't believe that they're worthy of receiving what I'm giving and convinced it must not be as good for me as it is for them.

This is a great point

There is a kind of absurd, play acting, queen for a day confidence that comes with Dom-ing in service or lifestyle kinks that isn't as necessary in more physical or explicitly sexual kink. In those cases the power dynamic, the "hot thing" is represented via physics; one party can't move, is being hit, is suspended from a rafter, etc.

In non-physical kink the power dynamic is social and for some, assuming the role of one-room-tyrant doesn't come naturally. It feels guilty or silly or fake. My advice, find what works for you and trust people. Trust what partners say. I someone tells you they want to make you happy via service lean into that, the way you fulfill that role is to BE happy (or impossible to please depending) either way the D is not socially passive, even if physically passive or absent.
posted by French Fry at 6:21 AM on February 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

To hopefully give some insight into what the sub might get out of it...

Giving up responsibility to a partner you trust can be incredibly freeing. As adults, our lives are full of decisions to be made on an endless string of large and small stuff. Even something like deciding what to have for dinner can get exhausting, partially because it just never ends. You had to decide what to have for dinner yesterday, and you will have to do it again tomorrow, and the next day, etc.

Part of being a service sub is letting some of that responsibility fall on someone else. Not only do you get to turn part of your brain off and just do what you're told, but you're almost guaranteed to be making your partner happy by doing it! It's awesome!

And on the flipside, it's easy to imagine as the dominant partner that you'll be able to just sit back while somebody does things for you. But there will be days when a partner asks "What can I do for you?" and you'll just want to say "I don't know, man, I just want to sit on the couch and zone out for a bit." Which is fine, but on some level giving orders can be work and as the dominant partner it will be your responsibility to uphold that end of dynamic and do that work.
posted by parallellines at 7:57 AM on February 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

Update: so I've started things with a new service sub type and we're taking it slow - small bits of service here and there, not full scenes yet. It's been really lovely and I find that I don't even have to play act all that much - it's coming really naturally. We've been communicating really well and there's really good chemistry and it's so nice :D
posted by divabat at 7:39 PM on April 13, 2019

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