Definitions: submission in BDSM

acedc11cbeb3a2a0b4e3bca15378bec4“submission in BDSM is present when one individual, within agreed limits and having given informed consent, defers to the will of another”.

I get involved in debates on forums like Informed Consent where people often talk around terms like dominance and submission. Some even say “Xxxxx can mean whatever you want it to mean!”: This is a red rag to me. I like people to make themselves clear. Saying you can use a word to represent your particular definition of it and not explain this to your readers encourages misunderstanding. It’s a pet peeve too that it seems to me that many of the people who say “you can use a word to mean what you want it to mean” are also those that say “Oh, I don’t use labels – you can’t label me” when they go on to use a label that everyone should understand but insist it has their own special meaning.

People are different and there are probably as many ways of running a BDSM relationship or dynamic as there are people in them. And its wrong to say anyone’s way of doing it is any less valid than anyone else’s. But, you can’t explain what is true and real for you unless you use terms that others clearly understand.

Submission in BDSM

What is it?

I recently took part in two threads on Informed Consent that discussed this, very helpfully. They are here:

  • Is submission real (1)
  • Is submission real (2)

I suggested that the debate should use Wikipedia’s definitions of submission to ensure a common understanding of the term.

From that document, these seem most relevant:

  • Submission is the acknowledgement of the legitimacy of the power of one’s superior or superiors.
  • Sexual submission, the practice of deferring to the will of another in a sexual context.

From those debates and a bit of solitary thinking, I’ve come to this definition:

“submission in BDSM is present when one individual, within agreed limits and having given informed consent, defers to the will of another”.

It seems to me, that if, within agreed limits, a submissive does as required,then submission exists, at that point, regardless of the submissive’s motivation (i.e. whether s/he is pleased to be doing as required or not). If s/he does not, then submission does not exist.

Do you agree that this definition is useful, right or appropriate?

The need for informed consent

Informed consent is fundamental to this definition and this (taken from Wikipedia – but edited for brevity), helps explain what that means:

Free Prior and Informed Consent
(Photo credit: PinkMoose)

“Informed consent is a phrase that indicates that the consent a person gives meets certain minimum standards. Informed consent can be said to have been given based upon a clear appreciation and understanding of the facts, implications, and future consequences of an action. In order to give informed consent, the individual concerned must have adequate reasoning faculties and be in possession of all relevant facts at the time consent is given.”

It assumes no fraud – ie that both parties have been truthful to each other. The Informed Consent BDSM website also recently discussed this topic and it’s usefulness in explaining how we live to the wider world. For interest, these are the links:

Who uses safewords? Results

standing stoneThree day’s ago I put up a one question PollDaddy  poll on safewords. I closed the poll at 9:15 am on Thursday 9 August 2012.

These are the results. 320 people responded, of whom  11 said they weren’t BDSM people, so they didn’t answer the question. Of the rest, there were 161 submissives, 105 dominants and 43 switches. As with the other surveys I’ve done there always seems to be more interest among submissives, and dominants seem to take more of an interest as the completion deadline looms.

The results, surprisingly (at least to me) show that a clear majority of those that responded do not use safewords, especially if they are in relationships.

The question asked was: “Please tick the answer that most resembles you and your attitude to safewords”

The chart below shows the answers given by all respondents. Most came from the UK, where I promoted the survey on Informed Consent and Fetlife Up to a fifth may have come from other countries, mostly the USA, with maybe a quarter of the non UK responders coming from other European countries.


Two-thirds of dominants said they were more likely not to use a safeword.

Dominants Actual %
Mostly use safeword 36 34%
Mostly don’t use safeword 69 66%
Total 105


Submissive respondents agreed with dominants, in the same proportions.

Submissives Actual %
Mostly use safeword 54 34%
Mostly don’t use safeword 107 66%
Total 161


Three out of four switches said they were more likely to use a safeword than not.

Switches Actual %
Mostly use safeword 32 74%
Mostly don’t use safeword 11 26%
 Total 43  

People in relationships

People in relationships said they were the least likely to use a safeword of any group (only a quarter said they did).

In relationships Actual %
Mostly use safeword 46 24%
Mostly don’t use safeword 147 76%
Total 193  

People interested in scenes and play

Two thirds said they used safewords

Play and scenes Actual %
Mostly use safeword 76 66%
Mostly don’t use safeword 40 34%
Total 116


Masters and slaves: attitudes to BDSM symbols of ownership.

BelasariusIn my BDSM ownership and symbols survey, 43 Master/slaves (M/s) participants answered the following question:

Thinking of symbols of ownership in BDSM, to what extent do you agree with the following statements?

Their responses to each of the question’s statements are below:

BDSM M/s owbership

Symbols of ownership can be used by anybody in any BDSM dynamic, for any purpose

72% of M/s people disagreed with this (58% strongly). 14% of M/s people agreed. and 14% were neutral.

Symbols of ownership are important symbols of commitment and permanence and should be worn and respected as such.

86% agreed (70% strongly). 7% were neutral and 7% disagreed.

Symbols of ownership can be worn to indicate temporary ownership (for example in play sessions)

35% agreed (just 5% strongly agreed); 30% were neutral and 35% disagreed (which meant they thought it was ok).

Symbols of ownership are fun and have no other special significance

Only 7% agreed (none agreed strongly). 5% were neutral. 89% disagreed (77% strongly)

Symbols of ownership should only be worn by the submissive partner(s)

54% agreed. 40% responded neutrally and 21% disagreed.

Symbols of ownership can be worn by all partners

23% agreed (2% strongly). 23% were neutral and 249% disagreed (35% strongly disagreed)

A symbol of ownership can be anything the partner(s) agree on

84% agreed (the same as D/s respondents, but slightly more agreed strongly, 51% of M/s respondents as against – 44% of D/s people), 12% responded neutrally and 4% disagreed.

A collar is the accepted BDSM symbol of ownership.

86% agreed (63% strongly). . 14% were neutral and none disagreed!

Further background on this question can be found here.

 If you found this interesting or useful, please think about doing the BDSM and Money survey, on the impact of BDSM on people’s pockets. Current results will be visible once you have completed the survey

Related articles

Collars, and other symbols of BDSM ownership.

standing stoneNot surprisingly, the BDSM Ownership and symbols survey showed that:

  • Collars are the top symbol of ownership and;
  • few dominants had any symbols of ownership

More surprisingly, perhaps, some dominant respondents said they DID wear symbols of ownership

Across all respondents, the top ten symbols of ownership were:

A typical slave collar with ring for possible ...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  • No 1 – No symbol of ownership 46%
  • No 2 – Collar 41%
  • No 3 – Bracelet/bangle 18%
  • No 4 – Tattoo 10%
  • No 5 – Necklace 9%
  • No 6 – Wedding ring 8%
  • No 7 – Piercing 7%
  • No 8 – Ring (not wedding) 6%
  • No 9= – Anklet 2%
  • No 9= – Branding 2%

I’ve published that list before on Informed Consent. The charts below are new. They show what respondents said they wore as symbols of ownership. It was possible to choose more than one item, so percentages don’t add up to 100!

Dominants and symbols of ownership

The chart below shows what dominant respondents said they wore (not what their partners wore) as symbols of ownership, it looks at dominants of all BDSM components.

Overall. 73% of all dominants said they wore no symbols of ownership. All S/m dominants said they wore no symbols of ownership (to be fair, that was just two individuals). 66% of D/s dominants said they wore nothing (23 respondents). 86% of M/s Dominants wear no symbol of ownership (19 people).

Chart 1

The most common symbol of ownership worn by dominant respondents was  a bracelet or bangle (17% said they wore this), followed by a wedding ring (12%).

Submissives – what do they wear?

74 submissives answered this question. As a symbol of  ownership, the collar came top. 68% of all the submissives that answered this question said they wore a collar.  80% of S/m submissive respondents wear a collar to show ownership (4 people).  60% (31 respondents) of D/s submissives said they wear a collar and  88% (15 answerers) of M/s submissives also said they wear a collar to signify ownership.

26% of submissives wear no symbols of ownership.

24% of all respondents say they wear a bracelet/bangle – the second most common symbol of ownership. 25% of D/s respondents and 30% of M/s respondents wear this (no M/s respondents).

The third most common symbol of ownership worn by submissives is the tattoo, worn by 22% overall and 21% of D/s submissive respondents and  29% of M/s submissives who answered.  Necklaces were fourth, but not far behind, being worn by 20% of submissive respondents.

Amongst submissive respondents rings (not wedding), at 11% were more common as ownership symbols than wedding rings (7%).