Sub Ethics: Owning Our Power

Statue of angel against sunset
Image by Nicki Mannix(CC BY 2.0)
This is the fifth post in the Submissive Power series.

Once upon a time there was a play-fight, and I was pinned. In my total inexperience, I shoved my elbow backwards, and hey presto, there was a long man on the floor.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or to panic. It didn’t help when he began to wheeze. “What — you just hit — is called — the — solar plexus.” Then he patted me comfortingly. I think it was about half an hour later that he finally managed to stand up.

Poor man. I had no idea I could floor him. But in that moment of ignorance, I could have bruised his heart. (Literally.)

That’s what submissive ethics means to me. That however powerless I think I am, my actions actually can hurt others, including the dom at whose feet I’m kneeling. And I have to try extra hard to remember that, because submissive power can be so hard to see.

Kink Lives in the Real World

When I’m on, I can’t say I feel very safe or powerful. But honestly, who’s got more power, me or all the Dominant Men clamouring for attention in my overflowing inbox? There are so many female submissives cussing them out or ignoring them that — believe it or not — I’ve received gratitude for the tiny favour of a “No thanks” reply. The market forces are strong in this one.

It’s true that the balance of power changes once I’m hogtied, wide-eyed and cringing under a whistling cane. But suppose we’re discovered by a hostile vanilla world. The worst-case scenario for me — assuming the top is a good guy — is that I’m outed. For my evil tormentor, it’s jail. I’m damn grateful that tops are willing to take that kind of risk. To be honest, it makes me feel very protective of the poor things. :p

Privilege of the Weak

My friend Tilari sometimes wears gorgeous furry feline ears at cons. People are always touching without asking. And the worst offenders are women, including subs.

That’s not okay. Granted, I think it’s worse if a man or a dom is doing it. I expect people with power and privilege to conduct themselves with more restraint, because they can do so much more damage. But weaker doesn’t mean powerless.

So it’s not okay for me to touch without asking. It’s not okay to keep asking for a play date after Master Hotness has said no. And it’s also not okay for me to say no with disproportionate verbal force. Doms have feelings too.

I find it particularly disturbing that I’ve seen more than one domme blog about fearing a male partner’s anger outbursts. Being the sub doesn’t make it okay to lash out and be scary. Being an adult comes first.

Bestowing Unwanted ‘Privileges’

“Mistress: I saw your profile and you are a divine beauty. I am yours to train and torment. Say the word and I will quit my job and fly to your continent.”

Good grief, no.

Yes, your submission is a priceless gift. But power comes with responsibility and intimacy. Not everyone wants to adopt a puppy, let alone a human being!

Doms get to give consent too. And that’s just as true for the small things. Maybe they don’t want you to call them “sir”. Maybe they don’t really want to control your diet. Maybe they’re always going to be too tired for a fifteen-minute welcome-home ritual of rededication to slavery.

And frankly, a lot of them haven’t learnt how to say no to hopeful submissive puppy eyes. I’ve been forced to conclude that “yes means yes” is not enough. Enthusiastic consent is better.

im in ur head
eating ur heart

You may have heard of The Story Of O, a seminal novel of erotic submission. The author was a brilliant literary critic, and she said that her heroine manipulates her masters into giving her exactly what she wants. That confused the heck out of me. What manipulation? O does practically nothing but obey and say, “I love you.”

But then again, is there anything more powerful than obedience and love? And if you thought you might lose all that devotion and awe thanks to your own unworthiness, wouldn’t it scare you?

We have so much power down here. This might be the one place they let go and trust. A sub is a very powerful source of affirmation, but that also enables totally unintentional guilt-tripping. And if a dom has nowhere else to recharge, they’re going to need looking after sometimes.

Leadership is a position of startling vulnerability. We hold their hearts in our hands. They need us to remember that.


To recap, here’s what I’ve learnt about screwing up ethically as a sub, because I’ve done it myself:

You could say that all four points come under the first category. But in practice, I find this a more useful summary:

We have choices. They have feelings.

And subs have the power to do the right thing.

Kitten meme: I'm in your head eating your heart
Public domain image from Pixabay

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