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how bdsm ruined submission for us all

an essay by Lexi Summer Hale

submission is not intrinsically sexual. nonsexual submission is not intrinsically coercive. nonsexual submission is not intrinsically bad.

sexual submission isn’t bad either, of course. it’s incredibly rewarding and enjoyable, able to offer incredibly intense sexual bonding, and submissive desires are completely normal and healthy to have. they’re much more common for women than for straight men, but they are very common. if the desire to submit is important to you, you should absolutely nourish that desire and look for partners who either already have sufficient confidence and raw sexual power to dominate you as intensely (or gently) as you crave, or have the potential to build that confidence and skill by practicing it on you over time. because sexual submission isn’t “just” a kink — it can be an intense and extremely important need, and if it isn’t met (or if you’re not open and explicit about your desire for a dominant partner), it can really fuck up your relationships.

but as far as the current cultural narrative is concerned, submission ends there. sexual submission is only accepted within the very narrow framework of BDSM, whose general thesis is that the desire to subjugate or be subjugated, to torture or be tortured, are normally bad things that human sexuality develops abnormal but harmless fixations on. per the BDSM doctrine, if you’re one of the rare Kinky People, then it’s acceptable to indulge in these practices as long as they are 110% consensual and stay strictly in the realm of eros. and even that is intensely controversial.

if you stray beyond these realms, our culture tells us that you are either sexualizing something that should not be sexualized, or you are being abused. the only proper relationship between any two human beings is that of perfect equals; it is deeply immoral and harmful to be anything else. submission outside the sexual realm only occurs when someone is being exploited or oppressed, and nobody in their right mind would ever want to submit to another, because we are all equal and everyone naturally wants to be treated as equals. only abusers and oppressors want to have power and authority over others, and so if you think you want to submit to others, you are actually just brainwashed by internalized oppression, and you need your mind to be liberated for your own good by people who know better. that’s what our culture sincerely believes. some feminists will even go so far as to say that lesbians who engage in sexual dominance and submission among themselves are importing intrinsically heterosexual abuse dynamics from mainstream heteronormative culture and harming themselves because they’ve been brainwashed by the patriarchy to be unable to conceive of healthy egalitarian relationships.

it’s fucking bullshit. all of it.

if you have a partner you respect and think can give your life together direction, if you trust him with your safety and with making decisions for your family, it is 100% okay to choose to submit to him. the only time submission is an entirely bad thing is if you give it to someone who is not worthy of it, who will take your submission and use it irresponsibly or abusively. these people exist, certainly. but we’ve been taught to believe, effectively, that everyone becomes irresponsible or abusive when in power over their loved ones, even when the power is freely given — and that’s just absurd. relationships are not competitions. they are not battles. they are partnerships, in which we protect and comfort and care for each other.

so if you feel that you wish to put yourself under the charge and command of another person, that is your decision to make. but why would you wish for such a thing in the first place? well, submission certainly has many practical advantages. it simplifies decision-making, it circumvents conflict, and it allows each partner to play to their strengths — the partner who is the strongest, most capable leader is entrusted with forging a path forward for the couple, while the less capable partner is protected from making mistakes, and relieved of burdensome, potentially overwhelming responsibilities that would only get in the way of doing the things they actually are good at. but the real drive to submit comes from the emotional benefits. you come to trust each other all the more intimately and completely. your bond becomes stronger. the submissive partner gains a warm, comforting sense of her place, purpose, and where she (or, occasionally, he) belongs. the dominant partner gains a boost to his confidence, prestige, and self-esteem, because he’s earned the respect and submission of someone he (or, occasionally, she) values and loves. these are intensely meaningful and incredibly valuable things, none of which have anything to do with sex or fetishes.

submitting this way does not make you less of a person. it doesn’t make you kinky (although it can certainly coexist synergistically with sexual submission). it does not dehumanize you or besmirch your dignity. and anyone who thinks it does can go fuck themselves. it is okay to live for someone else. it is okay for someone else to be your purpose in life. if they have earned that from you, they have fucking earned that, and it is your right to offer it up to them. the Mental Health cult that lectures us about Boundaries and Self-Actualization and Emotional Labor and tells us we must live for ourselves, that we are obligated to find validation internally, that all relationships must be fundamentally transactional, colonizes our souls with the inhuman and sadistic logic of capital. (not only that, it is intrinsically misogynistic — it is normal and natural for women to need and seek out external validation, and trying to force us to validate internally is yet another way our culture is trying to force masculinity upon us.)

you do not need to “love yourself” before someone can love you, and telling people that is a cruel lie. you do not need to have a fully-developed life and career and be perfectly stable and independent on your own before you are allowed to go looking for partners and make big decisions about your future. it is absolutely, 100% okay to decide, e.g., “i don’t really have any sense of direction or drive, i don’t really see my life going anywhere on its own, there’s nothing i particularly want to accomplish out in the world, but i really love this man. when i think about spending the rest of my life at his side, taking care of him and comforting him and tending to him when he is ill, keeping his home clean and cooking him fresh dinners so he has something to look forward to when he gets back from work, falling asleep in his arms every night, following him wherever his work takes him and just generally being the tame, obedient love interest in the adventure novel that is his life, that makes me feel incredibly happy and excited. i can think of no greater goal for myself that making this man i love happy, so i am going to dump all this other bullshit like my stupid barista job and my pointless, expensive English degree, and make my life about him first and foremost.” that’s not self-destructive or pathological: it’s called devotion, and it’s one of the finest qualities a person can have. don’t listen to anyone who tries to tell you otherwise.

if you have autonomy over your person and your life, you are allowed to delegate that autonomy to others. if you feel coerced by threat of social sanction or otherwise not to so delegate, your autonomy is not being respected.