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NS(K)Q: Q41 – What’s the difference?

November 20th, 2014

NoStupidKinkQuestionsGandhi said that if you want to change the world, you have to be the change you want to see. To that end, Insatiable Desire brings you No Stupid (Kink) Questions, a series of questions asked by novice kinksters around the web. If you have a question for us, leave it in comments, or send it to rayne (at) insatiabledesire (dot) com with “NS(K)Q” in the subject.

Question 41:

What’s the difference between a submissive and a slave?

There was an article floating around somewhere that said, “A submissive is a volunteer. A slave is not.” That sums it up quite nicely.

There are three main labels, for lack of a better word, used to identify those of us who enjoy being the one tied up and spanked. They are “bottom,” “submissive,” and “slave.” These days, “submissive” and “bottom” each have two meanings, really. They’re both used as a heading to describe all bottom-types in BDSM relationships, some folks feeling like “bottom” is a better heading because not all bottoms are submissive. They also each have their own definition.

Everyone defines these labels differently based on their own experience and relationships. But this is how I understand them:

Bottom: In most cases, a bottom is someone who only submits for a scene. This could be someone who only submits in the bedroom, or someone who only submits occasionally at play parties, or someone who only submits to one person one time for the purpose of giving them a bottom to spank (or whatever).

Submissive: Submissive is a little more difficult to define because it means so many things to so many people. I know many submissives who I would call a slave, but they vehemently deny their slave status.

Generally speaking (meaning this is not always the case), the largest difference between a submissive and a slave is the submissive’s right to say no.

Of course, legally and ethically speaking, we all have the right to say no, at any time. Consent is a fluid thing, and every person has the right to give and revoke their consent whenever they choose. A submissive generally chooses to keep this right in tact in their agreements, sometimes using a safe word as the consent trigger, and sometimes just using open communication to negotiate how and when they’ll submit.

A submissive is not always the bottom of a relationship. Some are submissive in nature and serve those around them (those they choose, of course), either domestically, or sexually, or sometimes even just as a whipping post or bondage doll. Some are equal in their relationship, but submissive to their dominant out of the desire to please them and make their lives easier. “Submissive” is a wide label, encompassing so many different personalities and relationship dynamics, but generally speaking, a submissive chooses which orders they’ll submit to.

Slave: In a post I wrote early this year, I describe “true slavery” thusly:

an arrangement in which one person (the slave) agrees to submit themselves wholly to the will of another (the owner), and commits themselves to actively ensuring their owner is pleased

The only reason I chose to define “true slavery” at all is because I saw a couple kinky “educators” on Fetlife scoffing at a slave’s “true slave” status because she had a question that, to them, seemed like it had an obvious answer. But you can’t really define “true slavery” unless you’re discussing human trafficking because consensual slavery is not true slavery, no matter which way you slice it. I mean, a consensual slave can leave without worrying about their owner killing them or their family. So…you know.

In any case (she says, as she steps offer soapbox), slaves are different from submissives in that they are owned. Some submissives are owned, too, but generally speaking, ownership = slavery. Most slaves are not seen or treated as equal to their owners. And in many cases, ownership means giving up the right to say no.

This doesn’t mean that the slave’s owner does horrific things to the slave even when the slave isn’t into it, however. Usually (as is the case with me) a person wishing to be a slave will seek out a person wishing to be a master whose limits are similar to the potential slave. In fact, in many master/slave relationships, there’s a “back door,” so to speak, allowing for negotiation, and unforeseen circumstances. But generally speaking, a slave gives up the right to choose which orders to obey.

  1. RynJ21
    January 4th, 2015 at 19:11 | #1

    Every time I’m discussing kinks with someone I have to give my explanation about my feelings on the term “slave.” It’s odd to me that even people that consider themselves experienced kinksters don’t always stop to consider the implications of each label. Then again, everyone is different *shrugs*

  2. January 5th, 2015 at 10:41 | #2

    @ RynJ21 I understand why it would be difficult for you. Why anyone would even wonder at your reasons is beyond me. I used to have all sorts of resources that I could point you to from POC speaking on why they’re okay with it, why they’re not, etc. but I can’t seem to put my hands on them. I’ll happily search harder, though, if you’re interested in reading them.

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