As I was browsing through the internet after hearing of something called the ‘nine levels of submission’ – I found one or two pages discussing the difference between bottoms and subs. There seems to be a lack of clarity on what each specifically is (as there often is with such vague terms) and what the different levels of each are. Besides being education and explaining a bit more on the mindset behind the different types, it also gave me a bit of a better idea of where I was on the scale. (I think at this point I’m fairly sure that I lean towards being submissive, I think I’d just feel a bit silly and out-of-place being a top/dom, not to say that I might not try it out a little at some point in the future).
Okay first, let’s look at the terms ‘bottom’ and ‘submissive’ by way of their overall meaning. It seems that the main distinction is motivation, and while (almost) all submissives are bottoms, bottoms don’t need to be submissive at all.
Bottom – Speaking generally, the bottom is the person receiving an action i.e. being fucked/spanked rather than being the one doing the fucking/spanking. While in many cases this will include some traits of submissiveness, it doesn’t have to. Someone who identifies as a bottom may like being the receiver of actions or perhaps being the more passive member in the act, but are doing it for their own needs – they allow themselves to be spanked because they like the sensations of being spanked for example.
Submissive – A submissive is usually also the person receiving the action (although it’s entirely possible that their Dom will demand them to perform actions on them), however the motivation is different. The submissive may participate in an action purely for the satisfaction of their Dom, even enduring things they deem unpleasant as they feel good for serving their Dom. Of course limits are set as to how much they’re willing to endure, but it is the Dom that sets the rules within these parameters and the sub is expected to follow these rules. (One issue here is something known as ‘topping from the bottom,’ something I want to go into later as a possibly dangerous concept).
So you can see that while submissives are usually bottoms, it’s not at all necessary for bottoms to be submissive. I feel myself that I probably relate more to a bottom with limited submissiveness. There are certainly different levels of submissiveness, the simplest categories being the submissive and the slave:
Submissive – Someone who is submissive towards their Dom in certain situations, but not all. For example the Dom may control their sex life, or may take control over the carrying out of chores, what they wear, what they eat, etc. Outside these parameters the relationship is considered to be on equal footing. For example a couple may have a sub/Dom relationship in the bedroom but may have equal input on other aspects of their relationships such as raising children, chores or managing finances.
Slave – A slave is someone who is considered the complete property of their Master/Mistress. All aspects of their lives are under the control of their Dom (within the specified limits of course). There do appear to be some people who believe that a true slave/Master relationship should be completely without limits, but I believe this to be extremely risky.
Of course people will rarely identify completely to such broad categories. They can lie anywhere on the spectrum and I think a lot of people who aren’t familiar with the scene (including myself) can get easily scared off when they come across the ‘all or nothing’ approach.
Another problem I’ve found is the notion that bottoms are selfish/self-serving. While it’s likely that there are some people out there that only concerned with their own pleasure (much the same as in the vanilla world) I find it quite insulting that just because someone doesn’t display strong submissive tendencies they should be automatically considered selfish. Speaking for myself, while I identify more as a bottom than a sub that certainly doesn’t mean that I’m only thinking of myself – I’d never be able to have any type of relationship where I didn’t consider the other person/people involved, however brief said relationship is. I’d want the other person to enjoy themselves too – I don’t automatically connect a want to please others as a submissive trait, as I’d like to imagine that the vast majority of Doms want their subs to gain some sort of pleasure or other benefit or satisfaction from their relationship. However I do think that the extent to which I’d go for the sake of my partner would be classed as submissive traits – for example I might do something I found a bit uncomfortable if it’s something that really pleased my partner. I wouldn’t go so far as to do something I hated, but I wouldn’t refuse to do something just because it isn’t totally focused on my own personal pleasure.
I think this is true for most vanilla partnerships too, without being identified as submissive behaviour. For example many women aren’t keen on giving blowjobs, but still give them because their partner enjoys them, and they like to see their partner enjoying themselves. Even outside of sex, most people love the idea of doing some little thing just to make their other half happy – something like doing a few chores of picking up a little present for them out of the blue. They don’t particularly enjoy washing the dishes, but even if their partner doesn’t notice they still like knowing that they’ve saved their partner from that little thing that they don’t care for. Perhaps where this differs is that this is usually considered to be a two-way process. Whilst a partner probably wouldn’t expect a partner to do these random little acts of goodwill, they do hope that it’d happen from time to time and would soon get a little ticked-off if it was them doing all the giving. As I understand it in the context of the sub/Dom relationship it is the sub that is expected to want to do all the little things for their Dom without expecting it in return (they do expect to benefit from the relationship in some way, but not in this sense).
So perhaps this is where the line is drawn – the concept of more-or-less equal reciprocation. I know that for myself I wouldn’t feel happy having to endure things I truly disliked purely to please my partner, I love to do the little unexpected things for the people close to me – family, friends and partners alike. It’s inherent in my nature to want to see people pleased – if everyone around me is happy, then I’m certainly happy. If I’m sensing friction I can get nervous, so I’ll often do a little thing to cheer than person up – especially if I feel that stress is the root of the problem.
There also appear to be individuals that believe a bottom/Top relationship as opposed to a sub/Dom relationship doesn’t at all belong in BDSM – but why not? BDSM encompasses a lot of things, ranging from the fairly light to very extreme activities. The D and S in the acronym may mean dominance and submission, but that doesn’t mean they have to be included, or can’t be included on a small scale. After all the M can signify masochism, but it’s certainly true that not all people who participate in BDSM engage in pain-play. A couple may only participate in a little light bondage, but it still counts. It may not be considered ‘true BDSM’ by purists, but quite frankly who cares? It’s your sex-life so you do what you want with it! I think a lot of people new to the scene worry about not being considered extreme enough or that they will be shunned for their relatively light tastes, but I’m sure that this wouldn’t be the case – I can’t speak from experience but looking from the outside in, it certainly seems that most BDSM scenes are very tolerant, often more tolerant than many vanilla situations. Perhaps this is because people within the lifestyle have had to fight against prejudices against themselves, or have gained this mood of acceptance after struggling and/or discovering their own kinks and tastes. Whatever the reason, I find it sad to think that there’s the few in the scene that seem out to ruin that very positive image.
I think it’s best described by the acronym YKINMK – Your Kink Is Not My Kink. How better to describe it? You have your own tastes, and what others do may sometimes make you uncomfortable, but you accept that while it’s not for you it makes them happy. It’s not necessarily about understanding – sometimes you may never be able to empathise with a specific kink – it’s about acceptance and tolerance (although I think the term tolerance carries some negative tolerations – does anybody get the feeling that it’s less about acceptance but more of ‘I don’t like it, but I’m such a wonderful person that I shall put up with it in my world.’ Almost as though their acceptance is something you should feel grateful for rather than expect. And personally I do expect it. I abhor racism, but I can’t expect someone to change their own beliefs on the subject. When those beliefs translate into negative actions that harm others however, it becomes unacceptable). I only wish this type of thinking were used more often in day-to-day life.
So the message here is not to worry about where you fit on the spectrum of bottom/Top and sub/Dom – only worry that you’re where you want to be and that you’re not feeling pressured by anybody to be anywhere else – either from the vanilla or the BDSM community. I think if this message were more widely spread a lot of people inexperienced with and wanting to experiment with or even just find out a little more about BDSM would be much less likely to be scared off or scared by the more extreme things they find. I think it addresses some personal worries of my own – I suppose there was a part of me that was worried that I couldn’t identify as either vanilla or BDSM as I didn’t fit into either, but perhaps I’m a little of both – and what’s wrong with that? Not a thing.
As always I’d love to hear other people’s opinions, questions and experiences.
Sites that helped me on this topic:
http://cigisworld.blogspot.co.uk/2007/10/bottom-vs-submissive.html – Discusses the bottoms vs. subs debate.
http://www.submissiveguide.com/2011/02/do-bottoms-have-a-bad-rap/ – Fights the corner for the acceptance of bottoms in BDSM relationships.
http://www.bdsmcircle.net/dslifestyle/the9levelsofsubmission2.htm – Details the nine levels of submission.