When I first discovered the online world of BDSM, I read everything I could get my hands on. Everything. There is a lot of information out there. Some of it is pretty good. Some of it is built on realism. But a lot of it is built on fantasy, much of it by people who have never entered into a D/s relationship in real life. The problem for many submissives when they first begin exploring is the ability to determine which is which. And so people take what sounds good to them and they discard the rest. While this is how you should always take in information about BDSM, the problem with it is that, without any practical experience, you don’t know if what you are taking in remotely resembles real life or not.
The first thing that you should know is that identifying as submissive or slave does not mean that you have lost the right to say no. It does not mean that you have to do whatever anyone who identifies as dominant tells you to do. Until you have entered into a relationship where you have done your due diligence and you have negotiated the rules of the relationship, you do not have to agree to anything that you don’t like. That’s what negotiation is all about. That’s what due diligence is all about.
Submissive does not equal helpless. Identifying as submissive does not suddenly absolve you of personal responsibility. I see ‘protected by’ all over the internet. I hear about it in real life. Being submissive does not mean that you have to submit to every Dom, Dick and Clueless who approaches you. You CHOOSE to whom to submit. So when someone walks up to you or sends you a message and introduces himself as MasterOfAllTheUniverse, you have the right to just shake his hand and say, ‘Nice to meet you, Universe.’ You are never required to use a title with anyone, regardless of what the protocol of the group says. (There are some high protocol groups that will require you to use titles. It is your choice whether you frequent those or not.) Even if everyone in the room is calling him ‘Master’, until such time that YOU decide the title fits for you, you do not have to use it.
When someone who identifies as dominant sends you a message or walks up to and you gives you an order, you have every right to say, “No”, and expect that s/he will graciously accept that answer. And if they do not accept it, you have the right to walk away.
When someone who identifies as dominant touches you without your permission, you have the right to not only correct them publicly by saying something along the lines of, ‘Please do not touch me unless I give you permission,’ but if they disregard your request and touch you again, you have the right to physically stop them. Even if doing so will cause a scene.
You have the right to make decisions for yourself. You have the right to walk away when you are uncomfortable. You have the right to say no. You have the right to protect yourself from unwanted advances and non-consensual touch. You have the right to choose to whom you submit, all others are just people.
So what about your responsibilities as a submissive? All this great stuff that you’ve read on the internet talks about how the dominant is responsible for taking care of you, protecting you, ensuring you are safe and secure and happy. Well, there is some truth in that. Let’s face it, your dominant wants you around to play with again. So protecting the property is sort of his job. But the reality is that only you can be responsible for yourself.
It is your responsibility in a play situation or a scene to use your safeword or otherwise communicate with your dominant or play partner when you need something. They are not mind readers. Just because you have alerted your dominant to your triggers or problem areas does not mean that s/he will know by sight that s/he has hit one or that you are in trouble. Especially if you are responding no differently than in previous sessions or if you are still new at things together. And if your dominant checks in with you to ask about your status, it is your responsibility to be honest. It is NOT the responsibility of the dominant to read your mind. Life just doesn’t work that way.
It is your responsibility to give consent honestly and truthfully. If a dominant asks permission to do something and you consent out of fear or because you believe it is the accepted practice, the responsibility lies with YOU, not with the dominant. You do not get to consent today and then change your mind later. If you are unsure, then DO NOT give consent to begin with. Setting up a dominant by grudgingly giving consent because you believe it is expected of you is on YOUR head, not on the dominant’s.
It is your responsibility to take care of yourself, both physically and mentally. If you have a physical issue that will impact play, it is your responsibility to convey that to your dominant. If you have an emotional issue that is impacting your interaction, it is your responsibility to convey that to your dominant. Just because you mentioned the condition back when you were negotiating does not mean that you never have to mention it again. Especially if it is impacting you in the moment. It is your responsibility to speak up. The dominant cannot be held accountable when you have not communicated with him that a problem exists.
It is your responsibility to protect yourself. If someone approaches you and tries to engage in non-consensual activities with you, it is your responsibility to protect yourself. Whether that involves informing the host or DM of the venue or actually physically protecting yourself doesn’t matter. If someone is non-consensually touching you in any way, you have the right to ask them to stop and to remove the threat if necessary by physically stopping them – that includes slapping or pushing someone. Not only is it your right, it’s your responsibility.
I have listened to many submissives, both locally in real life and online, complain about dominants over and over again who have approached them even though they are in a relationship, who have complained about dominants who hug or touch them when they don’t want to be hugged or touched, who complain about dominants who didn’t protect them. My question always is, did you tell this dominant not to touch you? Did you tell this dominant that you are not interested? Why should your dominant have to protect you? Are you helpless?
If you are in a relationship and someone approaches you about play or whatever, it is not an automatic sign of disrespect. They are testing the waters, a normal human expression. As a submissive, you can stand up for yourself and be gracious at the same time. A simple, ‘I’m in a relationship and not interested in play with others, but thank you for asking,’ is all it takes. If the person who has approached you doesn’t get the message and continues to push the point, then you have the ability to walk away. You don’t have to stand there, you don’t have to read that email. Block and delete. Walk away.
If someone touches you non-consensually, you can stand up for yourself and be gracious at the same time. A simple, ‘Please do not touch me without permission,’ is all it takes. If the person who has touched you continues, then you have the right to protect yourself physically or walk away. You also have the responsibility to report it to the event host and/or DM.
If your own dominant does something that you believe crosses the line, it is your responsibility to take it up with your dominant, not take it public. Unless it becomes a situation that you need help to handle or escape. And even then, quietly finding someone to help is much preferred over publicly airing your dirty laundry. There are resources available to you both online and in real life. Find someone you trust and get them involved. But don’t start posting about it all over the internet. Don’t start accosting people at events and coffees and munches. Your relationship deserves to be respected, and by airing your dirty laundry to the world you have now made sure that others will stay far away from you in the future.
What if you are not in a D/s relationship and it involves only a play partner? How does that change the rules? Well, first of all, you are not in a ‘relationship’. Typically, the extent of your relationship is the extent of the play period. It is your responsibility to negotiate the rules of the play. Because it is a play partner and not a relationship, your partner may not be as aware of cues that someone in a regular relationship may be aware of. As the submissive/bottom in this scenario, you have even greater responsibility for yourself.
It is your responsibility to be very clear about the boundaries of your limits. It is your responsibility to use your safeword if you need it. It is your responsibility to negotiate aftercare if you require it. And if you later decide you regret something you chose to do, it is your responsibility to handle it.
Dominants are not mind readers. Submissives are not children. You hold the responsibility for yourself in your own hands. Submissive does not equal helpless. Stand up for yourself, protect yourself, and communicate with your dominant. Those are both your rights and your responsibilities.
The bottom line in responsibility is this: you are an adult playing in an adult playground. If you do not have the ability to be responsible for yourself, then you have no right playing in this playground. Yes, we do take care of our own. But the bottom line, regardless of your relationship status, is that YOU and YOU ALONE are responsible for your own well-being.