A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the difference between honest-to-goodness submission and “pretending” to submit. In that post, I described the phenomena of pretending as follows:
“One way in which conflicted submissive partners can deal with the stress is through pretending, and this is particularly common among those who are new to D/s relationships. In pretending, the submissive’s thought process goes something like this: “Okay, I’ll let my partner put me in this situation, and okay, I’ll permit them to bind me like this, and yes, I can take this next step and accept the gag, and okay, I can handle a little light spanking.” By doing so, the submissive partner essentially gives permission (sometimes explicitly, by saying okay, but more often tacitly, by not objecting) for each act, allowing themselves to both experience the physical aspect of submission and yet maintain at least a semblance of control.”
Pretenders go through the actions of submitting but do not take the step of really surrendering themselves to their partner.
True submission, on the other hand, occurs when that step-by-step decision-making process no longer takes place. In this case, the submissive entrusts themselves to their Dominant partner, giving over control of themselves and their body. They do so with the understanding that the Dominant will ensure their safety, provide them with extreme excitement and pleasure, and not give them more than they can handle. The thought process in this case might start with, “I can trust my partner and I am safe”, then move to “Oh my God, I can’t believe that I am doing this!” and then move on to a place where thought is almost superflous, and sensation and emotion take over.
It’s important to note a couple things about this, however. The first is that despite the level of surrender, both limits and safe words still apply! We practice only consensual BDSM, and true submission only works as long as trust remains intact. While limits can and often should be gently worked with, they cannot be disregarded and trampled over. If they are, all chance of real submission will be lost–quite possibly forever. Safe words remain necessary and must be honored because someone may be hurt (or about to be hurt) and because a limit may be unexpectedly triggered. If a submissive truly gives themselves over to their Dominant partner, it is an honor and responsibility the Dominant must respect. It’s also important to remember that being given sincere submission is not a license to run rampant through all the various minefields and pleasure gardens of BDSM. A Dominant so honored should still proceed slowly and deliberately, allowing their submissive partner to savor each small step and every new experience so as to wring the last drop of joy and excitement from every inch of their journey.
Why would you, playing a submissive role, want to move beyond pretending and into true submission? Well, perhaps you wouldn’t–real submission can be scary. But assuming you have a partner you can trust, there are some powerful reasons why you might want to consider it. Imagine how exciting it would be to honestly give up control to your partner! If you do so, you truly ride a rollercoaster, one on which you cannot see the hills and drops, twists and loops in advance, and one which will likely change course almost every time you ride. My belief is that those who pretend to submit almost universally have a desire to feel the power of true submission, and this rollercoaster ride is the reason why. You also free yourself to explore all kinds of fun and interesting situations and activities, visiting places you wouldn’t allow yourself to go on your own, letting yourself pass beyond convention and inhibition with little guilt. After all, what you do is your partner’s choice, not your own! And finally, you commit yourself fully to your Dominant half, giving them an extreme expression of honor and trust.
As a Dominant, how could you help your partner step from pretending, where almost every submissive starts, across the boundary into true submission? Well, in the end, you cannot do more than provide them with an inviting opportunity–they must decide (either concsiously or subconsciously) to take the step themselves. But let’s talk for a little bit about how you might create that opportunity and make it as inviting as possible.
- Trust is a pre-requisite for consensual submission. You will not succeed unless trust is in place. Therefore, be sure you demonstrate time and time again that you are trustworthy. How do you do that? By being trustworthy. That means taking care of your partner, not pushing them beyond where they can go, keeping your word, helping them when they need help, and placing their well-being ahead of your own wants/desires/needs. Much of this, by the way, happens outside the walls of the bedroom. If you can’t live a trustworthy life, then how can your partner trust you with their very self?
- Pretending is a good thing, because it offers a chance to practice for the real thing. Therefore, don’t be discouraged if your partner pretends to submit–it’s the first step towards true submission. It’s certainly possible they will never move past pretending, but the fact that they are willing to pretend is a good indication that they have at least an interest in going farther. Remember, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” By pretending, your partner is dreaming of submission. To capitalize on this, give them lots of opportunities to pretend. Pick scenarios where they must stretch their limits a bit, or where they must permit new situations or activities. But go slowly! Don’t do anything that might damage the trust that you are building in each other.
- Identify limits within your partner. Respect them, but also investigate them. Many Dominants think of limits as obstacles–boundaries that fence them away from areas they may (or may not–some limits are good things!) want to explore. A better way to view them, however, is as challenges. Some types of limits indicate very fertile ground for exploration–places where tension and desire are both high. Others indicate areas of non-interest for a variety of reasons. However, together those limits define your partner, and make the experience of travelling the paths of BDSM with them unique and fun. (Can you imagine how it would be if your partner had no limits? Frankly, I think that would suck–they’d be basically a sexual automaton. I’d much rather have an individual for a partner, someone with unique needs, desires and inhibitions to discover.) And if you can determine which of your partner’s particular limits bear further exploration, activities that gently engage these limits will make for great opportunities for them to gingerly stick a toe into the waters of true submission.
- Talk with your partner about submission and about pretending. Help them to understand the difference, and discuss why they might want to take the next step. Encourage them to read about it–there are many good blogs by submissives online (a few of my favorites are listed in my blogroll), and they often provide excellent perspective. At the same time, don’t push. That will again erode trust. But help your partner create a mental picture of true submission, so that they can visualize where they would like to go.
- After plenty (at least several months, possibly years) of pretending, consider an experiment in true submission. Tell your partner in advance your objective–to allow them to experience true submission–and make sure they are willing to participate. Ask them to trust you during the exercise, and request that they reserve their safe word for emergencies–safety issues and/or sincere fear only. However, don’t tell them what activities you have planned–the point is for you to decide, and they to acquiesce to your desires.
I wish I could tell you what exercise to pick, but I’m afraid I can’t. It’s too unique to your submissive partner and your relationship. In general, though, select something that starts familiar, but ramps up into unfamiliar, or that starts within known permissable boundaries, but moves into (slightly) dicier areas. Include at least some activities you know your partner will enjoy. Do not go too far! Allow me to say that one more time, because this is the mistake I make most often. Do not go too far. To guard against this it’s a good idea to imagine the steps you’re going to take and the goal you want to reach during the exercise, and then stop one step before you reach that goal. When you begin your exercise, don’t provide your partner with an opportunity to make choices–accept that they will use their safe word if they are truly unhappy or in danger. A fast pace is a good idea if it fits in with the activities you’ve selected. Your goal should be to have your partner feeling fully helpless to say “no” by the end of the session, to feel as though they cannot stop from doing anything you wish, but at the same time, not to cross the boundary of excitement into fear. Once you’ve started, expect to see the exercise through to the end, but remember–if your partner uses their safe word, stop immediately. This remains true even if you think they used it needlessly.
If you managed to give your partner a taste of real submission through the exercise and it was a positive experience for them, it’s a major step forward. If it was a negative step for them, but you kept your trust intact, I’d regard it as neutral but good practice. However, you should talk about why it was negative and what would make things better next time. If you broke your trust with your partner, then shame on you, and you will be paying for this crime for a long time.
My wife Joy remains in “pretender” status with her submission. I have succeeded in bringing her to a deeper level of submission via exercises similar to the above a couple times now, with the outcome usually being serious excitement, but also a feeling of fear afterwards. Joy is afraid of giving up control–she has a limit around it. However, it’s as I said above–limits make the experience of exploring the world of BDSM together fun, and should be regarded as challenges. Therefore, true submission remains a work in progress for Jake and Joy…