Fetish Foibles, Part 3 – Social Submission

Welcome to Fetish Foibles, the series where I recount my mistakes as a Dominant for our mutual edification. In the wise words of Queen Clarisse of Genovia, “Don’t make the same mistakes I did; make your own mistakes!” 

This one’s a twofer. Both of these situations relate to the tricky issues that can come up with ‘public’ acts of submission (in kink-oriented settings). The first one is someone else’s foible, but it made me remember one of mine. 

Tl;dr – When experimenting with D/s in a social setting, clarify expectations with your partner and the people with whom you’re socializing. 

I had a strange and mildly unpleasant social experience at the local fetish club recently, which I’ll pick apart now. A Dom and sub asked to sit next to me on the sofa, which was fine. Then, the Dom sat on the sofa, and the sub knelt on a cushion in front of him and began to massage his feet. Neither party spoke to me after settling in. Now, normally, that sort of thing is my jam. Power exchange with service and protocol is often more interesting to me than play without power exchange. And not talking to people? Great! But in this situation, I felt like I had been roped into a scene as an unwilling spectator. 

We were sitting close enough together that I could have made eye contact with the sub while looking straight ahead. I felt like I was sitting too close to something so intimate. I’ll freely admit that I’ve gotten a bit desensitized to sex. I can watch a sex scene and think “Huh. That’s nice; they’re using protection. Good technique…” without getting hot under the collar. D/s protocol scenes are a different matter. It’s the vulnerability! *bangs fist on table* And the intimacy! Ahem. Anyway. This couple could have chosen any other location in the dungeon, including various chairs. I got the sense that they wanted others to be close and to watch. That’s not a bad thing in itself, but I had two issues, which I didn’t fully understand in the moment:

  1. They didn’t tell me they wanted to do this dynamic interaction when they asked to sit down, so I didn’t get to consent to being so close to the scene (generally speaking, it is etiquette here to stay at least a few feet away from a scene in progress). 
  2. They didn’t talk to me or even introduce themselves before starting their scene. I then didn’t feel like I could talk to them or ask for clarification, as they were cultivating an interaction with each other. I just happened to be mere inches away. 

Combined, these issues made me feel like a prop. A very awkward prop. 

Here’s what would have helped:

  1. They could have scened elsewhere in the dungeon. Granted, this couple may not have thought of what they were doing as a scene, but the sofas are generally social spaces, and these two were cultivating something very specific and personal. It felt different from the kind of socializing that D/s couples sometimes do, where the s-type sits on the floor in front of the D-type while they watch others play. 
  2. They could have introduced themselves and clarified what they wanted to do. The Dom could have said “Hi, I’m So-and-so, and this is Such-and-such. I’m speaking for her right now because she’s under protocol this evening and is only talking to me. We’d like to do a little foot massage scene here because it’s right in the middle of the dungeon, but we don’t want to invade your space…” And then, I probably would’ve thought “Cool!,” introduced myself, asked a couple of clarifying questions (like whether the Dom was open to socializing or wanted to focus on his sub), and had a lovely time watching. 

If they’d taken one of those steps, I would not have felt used (fortunately, I was able to make a fairly quick exit, as my sub prepared a space elsewhere to give me a massage). 

Now, that situation reminded me of a mistake I made many months ago, when my sub and I were experimenting with ways to show our D/s dynamic in kink spaces. The first time I brought him to the dungeon, I had him sit on a cushion on the floor in front of me. What we didn’t realize was that when people see that configuration, they sometimes assume that the floor-sitter is under some sort of speaking restriction protocol. My poor sub, social butterfly that he is, found himself largely left out of conversations because people did not know how to interact with him. 

On top of being in a new space and trying to meet new people, he was trying to be a good sub in a public setting for the first time, and my expectations of him weren’t clear. I simply hadn’t considered the practical, social implications of our physical positioning. It left him feeling unstable–and even unwanted. As the D-type in that situation, I should have clarified my expectations for his behavior and checked in with him about how the new protocol felt throughout the evening. If I had realized that people thought they weren’t supposed to talk to him, I would have clarified with them too, or I would have had him sit beside me so that he could converse more easily with others. 

Moral of the story: when using a public protocol, don’t assume that everyone’s on the same page. Clarify expectations with your partners and others in the immediate area. And if you’re the D-type in a situation that renders your s-type more vulnerable than usual, remember that your duty of protection extends into the social arena. 

“Wow, you’re so domly!” – Negotiating from the Other Side of the Slash

[Image description: Photo is of red and purple flowers in a hanging basket.]

I’m already learning about myself through submission (even though I haven’t actually submitted yet). Having spent the past year exploring dominance (read my erotica “Stay Like This” to get a sense of my D/s dynamic with my sub), I decided recently, in abject terror, to start exploring submission. You can read about that here and here. As I browsed articles about D/s from my shiny new submissive perspective, I found one by Pearl O’Leslie called “Why a Special Protocol to Approach Dominant Women is a Bad Idea.” It made me think about the ways that men approached me on FetLife while I explored dominance. 

One pattern I noticed was that they sometimes perceived my frankness, my refusal to sugarcoat or soften my boundaries, as a sign of dominance. More than once, men I had been messaging with said they could sense my dominance. I think that happened for a few reasons: for some desperate souls, it was surely flattery. Others probably lacked experience with firm, direct women in their vanilla lives (which makes me sad). Still others were comforted by my ability to ask good questions; it inspired in them a desire to submit that made me feel authentically dominant. I’ve had the most fun with group three. 

I didn’t enter these conversations with the intent to be Ms. Domly Domme. I was interacting online as a woman, distrustful of men as a group and thinking that clarifying my boundaries quickly would shoo away the creeps. But it’s more complicated than that; in hindsight, I believe that part of what empowered me to set such clear boundaries was my dominant mindset. As Pearl O’Leslie writes, “Sure, it feels good to say ‘how can you hope to be a submissive for someone if you ignore my ‘no dick shots!’ request in my profile!’” 

And it did feel good. It felt powerful to be so firm. It felt comfortable. For a year, dominance has been a security blanket, reinforcing my sense that I can claim firm boundaries without guilt. But firm boundaries and dominance are not the same thing. Likewise, lacking firm boundaries is not submission. As I would tell any sub, everyone gets to have boundaries; no special approach required. That has been strangely hard for me to tell myself. Why? Because now that I’ve started exploring submission, I don’t have my security blanket. It’s made me feel awkward and prickly in a way that I rarely do as a Dominant, anxious and uncertain about whether I’m negotiating ‘correctly’ as an s-type. That’s been a challenge, and I couldn’t quite articulate why until I read that article and recognized my reliance on my dominance. 

Even without my security blanket, I need to have strong boundaries for my own safety and that of potential partners. With an ethical partner, I can expect them to be learned, acknowledged, and respected, no matter what role I choose. So when I put a “no dick pics” request in my profile or set any other boundary, in any role, I can let the boundary be without feeling either overly defensive in my vulnerability or guilty for the boundary’s existence. While understanding that doesn’t take away the fear of the unknown, it does reassure me to know that I don’t have to compromise my boundaries to negotiate as a submissive. 


Further reading: “Domism: Role Essentialism and Sexism Intersectionality in the BDSM Scene

Teaching from the Bottom” by blogger Kinky & Nerdy