Wednesday, April 23, 2014

My (Likely Unhelpful) Answer to Sub vs. Slave

One of the most prevalent questions I see from noobs online is what is the difference between a submissive and a slave. This is a difficult question for anyone to answer, as, like with most things in this lifestyle, the possible distinctions are individual and infinitely variant. Ask 50 people how they distinguish between the two, you'll get 100 answers. Of course, some will say go for the dictionary, but I think even that is limited, since, so much of the BDSM jargon was adapted for use within a BDSM context and those contextual definitions are not present in the dictionary.

Slave for instance:

  • a person who is the property of and wholly subject to another; a bond servant.
  • a person entirely under the domination of some influence or person: a slave to a drug.
  • a drudge: a housekeeping slave.

These are serviceable definitions, but when you ask people who participate in BDSM, you are likely to get an infinite amount of trappings and qualifications that make the issue more complicated.


Submissive as far as the dictionary goes is even more inadequate.

  • inclined or ready to submit; unresistingly or humbly obedient: submissive servants.
  • marked by or indicating submission: a submissive reply.

Submissive in the dictionary is exclusively described as an adjective. There are no definitions applying to the noun form used in BDSM contexts. The problem with this as well, is that submissiveness as a trait can be present in both a submissive and a slave, or absent in either. I personally believe that the act of submission is present in both identities (I really don't care what people say, I believe obedience is submitting to the will of another and thus an act of submission), but the submissive manner can be absent. Many of the slaves I have spoken to will adamantly proclaim that they are not submissive.

Some will say that submissives have dominants and slaves have masters, but that doesn't work as a distinction because master is often used as a title by submissives for their dominants just as it is for slaves.

Another distinction that many seem to offer is that slaves are owned and submissives or not. Alas, that distinction also fails the litmus test. Ownership is a popular concept and not the exclusive territory of the M/s crowd. While what constitutes being owned will vary from person to person, I have personally seen submissives as well as slaves claim to be owned by their respective d-types.


The idea of no limits doesn't quite work either. Many will say that a slave doesn't have limits. This is not true. Because there are so many schools of thought when it comes to BDSM, limits is a tricky issue. Some people believe if you get to set any limits on your master, you aren't a slave. However, the masters I've met in person insist upon limits. My Daddy is one of those who came up in the lifestyle with the idea that limits were a given. If one's master allows limits or insists upon them, I don't think that takes away from the M/s. If the master has the final say in everything, then they would certainly have the final say there. I will say that slaves will often have fewer limits than many submissives, but submissives may have fewer limits than some slaves.

I, personally, have identified as three different primary s-type labels. I still retain all three as part of my identity, but my primary label has evolved from submissive, to slave, and ultimately, to pet.

The way I have always seen submissive versus slave, a slave gives up more authority than a submissive. When I first started out, I was adamant that I was not a slave as I was not prepared to give up that degree of control. My first dom told me he eventually wanted a slave, and after a while, I started reconciling myself to the idea. After discussing the issue with a friend, he told me "You might as well go ahead and call yourself a slave. You do everything he says anyway."

Fuck you. I like cats. :P

It was true. Even when I shouldn't have, I did everything he said, so I changed my label and began to realize how my thought process differed from those who distanced themselves from the label of slave. I think that mindset is often what distinguishes a submissive from a slave. I don't often think in terms of choice. My ex would often say he was surprised I let him do whatever specific thing, and I would just respond that I didn't realize I had a choice. I went into this with the notion that there were certain things that were expected of me and that I couldn't say no. There wasn't really a concept of partial obedience for me.

Not to say that I've ever managed perfect obedience, but I also don't believe perfect obedience is required to be a slave.

I also find I am more open to, or more comfortable with the idea of certain extremes, such as no safe words, no limits, and consensual non-consent. I have found many submissives balk at the idea of no safe word. I even had a girl go all rage face on me in a forum because I said I allowed my owner to determine whether or not the use of a safe word warranted a full stop depending on his assessment of the situation.  I'm not sure if that was a distinction of the slave mindset on my part or the conditioning of the "community" or public kink groups in the emphasis the idea of SSC, but I have encountered the outrage against lack of safe words to be more prevalent in Non-M/s D/s schools of thought.


I'm not a no limits slave, but I can understand where a slave can make the choice not to impose limits on their owner (once one distinguishes between imposed limits and human limitations, but that's another post). No limits is definitely more popular and more tolerated in M/s circles, but those groups have their own heated debates about the issue. I find myself comfortable with the idea, even if I don't have any intention of practicing it myself.

I also am a fan of consensual non-consent (CNC). Many associate the idea of CNC with rape play (or force play), but, while I do enjoy that, it's a limited definition of it. With all the emphasis on consent, this can be a touchy subject as well, especially with the close association with rape play, which is upsetting for a lot of people. But CNC, when referred to by many slaves, is often referring to the idea of what I call "Original Consent" where a blanket consent is given at the beginning of a relationship for almost all potential future acts regardless of the slave's opinion at the moment of the act. For many, this is skirting too close to consent violations and I often find those that practice M/s to be more comfortable with this idea.

These viewpoints are why I feel comfortable with the label of slave and feel at home in the M/s groups. I eventually adopted the label of pet, as I feel it more accurate for me, but I still feel it is a type of slave as far as how I identify myself.


The distinction of giving up more authority and having a specific mindset is how I distinguish between submissive and slave for myself. This is by no means how everyone is going to define it. My views conflict with those of some of my friends of the same label.

So, basically, the conclusion is, it's something you have to really define for yourself, as there's no universal distinction that everyone is going to agree on. The next step would be finding a partner who defines it the way you do, or has a definition you jive with. I will say that, you will probably find that you gel with one group more than the other, and perhaps that's how you'll figure out what the difference is to you.

Then again, sub and slave aren't the only s-type labels out there. You might find that you are something completely separate.

No comments:

Post a Comment