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: