October 18, 2010

Passive vs. Active Submission

There has been a interesting dialog going on for the past couple months, not a raging torrent but a subtle undercurrent around the matter of passive vs. active submission. Several women have spoken out about their interest and desire to be active in their submission. The classic notion of a submissive is one of passivity, a calm, a measured response, that conforms to some image that includes demure, and slight and slow.  Submission that is a restrained response, because the girl is often restrained, and it sets a tone or pattern, and she often feels that is what is expected of her. That she is expected to be quiet and calm and still and respond, and certainly is not expected to initiate.

It is a bit of a dilemma really, because she does what she thinks he wants, and so it seems it might put the onus on the dominant to guide on this.  I have looked around and not found much in the way of Dom-speak on this subject.  Most of what you see are submissive reactions or their own take on their feelings or behavior.  So, just what is the proper amount of energy/enthusiasm to put into active submission?  I think submissives often feel that they walk that fine line between expressing themselves, and drawing his wrath for being un-submissive and attempting to grab control, and I suspect it tends to make a girl very passive.

So, what do we dominants expect?  Firstly, in this matter, the dominant can be his own worst enemy. I think the nature of submission is passivity, but I appreciate a girl who leans into her submissiveness and uses it, plays with it and even initiates.  By leaning I mean expressing a more active inclination rather than a standing still waiting.  Maybe step up the assertiveness 20 or 30% but not too much, not 60 or 70%, (strange to put a number on it) but perhaps it gives a sense.  One way to be more active is to be "playful" or to "ask questions", something that gives her an "in" into the situation, perhaps to tease and taunt, play the part of a subtle seductress.

I said that this was a current topic of discussion, but I think my first thoughts in this area stemmed from a posting by meg, of Persephone in Love, well over two years ago, when her former owner suggested to her, "your kissing is too passive."
"Let me show you what it feels like." he brought his lips up to hers and held them almost completely still. She said it felt uncomfortable and disconnecting. He agreed, "that's going to stop. every kiss you give is going to be passionate and active. you're going to pursue the kissing; you're going to use your whole mouth and your tongue." She wrinkled my nose. "but that's not very submissive."

So many submissives think that they should just lay back and willingly let things happen. They do not actively reflect back the love and affection, returning it with all the passion they feel for their owner/master/lover/top. That brief discussion on passivity/passion around a kiss is a perfect example. Give every bit of yourself and throw all of your passion into every act of submission.

And in a recent post by Jz, the Tiger Girl she said:
. . . (it) is facetious and exaggerated - but you really do read a lot of advice out there about service and most of it is couched in terms that strike me as very zen and passive. Admirable, soothing qualities and I do NOT belittle them. But Tiger Girl is all about action! Submission is simply not passive to me. Instead, I see it as an active process, one that I am continually reviewing, redirecting, and refining. So, as you can probably guess, I am constantly being tripped up by the word "service".

I don't disagree with the concept, mind you, but to reconcile the discrepancies within my head, I have to frame it differently. I can't picture myself as the graceful lily, sitting with head bowed, waiting for directions. Rather, I am the tiger, crouching in the veldt, poised to spring into action when needed. 

On another blog, BDSM: A Kinster's Guide, she goes so far as to say, she does not want to be submissive, she wants to be conquered:
"I don't want to be told not to sit on the toilet seat or denied an orgasm. I want to be conquered. I want to be dominated. I want to be subdued.

To describe me as "submissive" rings false to me because I, while I greatly respect the women who do, do not get my main sense of identity from being dormant or servile. I don't want the identity of a submissive; I want to be with a man who holds the title of Dominant. He can be a dominant, a master, a warrior, a king. I want to get my identity, not from the quality of my actions, but from him. Who is he. That is where I want to derive my identity, and with it all the adjectives I use to describe myself.

Perhaps this goes beyond the active submission I have been talking about, in to something that might even be called aggressive submission.

Finally, another example of something "bordering" on aggressive submission is the writing presented by Kate, of the Games the Shrew plays... (she has recently moved her journals to FetLife.)
She has two documented experiences so far, The Rape Experiment, and Consensual Kidnapping; she is pursuing some very aggressive or assertive examples of submitting, delving deeply into the domain of consensual non-consent. Perhaps you might view them as bottoming rather than submission; however, they are examples of a most willful way of submitting herself to another, and they are very active examples indeed.

These are instances of submissive women seeking an alternative to the old classic D/s style where the submissive passively waits for guidance and direction from her lord and master. Or it maybe a changing of the paradigm of dominance and submission, reevaluating the older style and expectations. I am a bit on the conservative side, and find tradition and decorum very pleasing in many ways, but I find in this matter, I am fully in support of this more active form of submission.

In the comments section Vesta said she would write more on this topic and indeed she did, have a look at Active versus Passive Submission A thoughtful perspective from the submissive point-of-view.

And more:
And greengirl said, for me, i think it's all active
And cassie said, Too far gone?
And then Pygar said, passive vs active submission

Please, jump in and join the conversation, active? passive? aggressive? what say you?


  1. David,

    This is a very interesting and helpful post. I will have to give this some thought. Thank you!


  2. Love reading your blog and your insight. So many submissives try to do what they think that their respective Dominants want but sometimes that is not that case. My loving Dom told me this when we were just getting know each other "You are a good girl, Anne. Just be you, I think that will suffice. It's is not about you being what you think I want, it's about being you and realizing how in doing so you are a submissive. That might mean being a smart ass or a brat or any number of other things. But so long as it's really you, it's all cherished, my beloved pet." And I've followed those words to this day almost 2 years later. But of course every relationship is different.

    Thanks for sharing.

  3. For myself, I think it's less a case of speaking out against the old guard as it is an attempt to create space within the paradigm for those of us who simply function better in a non-classical style.

    Thank you for understanding that this is not a revolution, just a bit of tailoring.


  4. Sir,

    Wonderfully worded!


  5. Serenity - thank you, we will be looking forward to your thoughts.
    annie - I think he had it just right, be yourself, express yourself, give yourself.
    Jz - I mean Tiger Girl, there is something to be said for non-traditional approaches.
    mouse - I am glad you liked it.

  6. How strange ...

    Thank you David. "Active vs passive submission." It is a hobby horse of mine. I thought I had written about it and on searching have discovered I did two years ago but it is still in draft! I am afraid I am often too long getting my brain into gear.

    As a Dom my own personal preference is for active submission. That is not to say that a sub should not be obedient and at times passive - but I am not so interested in that model. I do not want a doormat. I want an intelligent, bright, enthusiastic sub.

    Surely the role of a sub is to please her Master. Is that not active rather than passive? Perhaps I am just lazy but I do not always take my pleasure through ordering my sub around. Rather I would delight in her constantly searching for ways to please her Master.

    I have always tried to "train" my subs in that way. It can be difficult to do so. For many subs submission can be an easy way out. No longer do they have to think for themselves - their Master will decide. Submission should not be intellectually easy. A sub should be thoughtful and dedicated to the pleasure of her Master.

    I am sure she could delight herself in such activity and in doing so give great pleasure to her Master.

    Yes of course - there is a place for passivity. The Master will take control and direct. It is central to the dynamic. But subs should not neglect the active service in searching for ways to please their Master.

    However I have written this after a couple of glasses of wine. I reserve the right to decide the opposite in the morning!

    Thank you for this post David and also to the delightful sub who brought it to my attention knowing rightly that I would be interested.

    - P

  7. Pygar: You really must write more often after consuming wine. That was delectable!

    I find myself with a thirst for the topic as well and shall write more soonest.

    A wonderful post, David!

  8. oh, i have so many, many many thoughts on this, and some i may write to you privately about, David.

    i serve two Sirs, as diametrically opposite as night and day.

    The one, Sir B, loves my flighty, joyful spirit. I laugh *all* the time...or pretty much. He said he never ever knew anyone before to giggle during a spanking, nor laugh during sex.

    My response to him then, and you now...submission, service to Him, makes me so so so happy, how can it not have outward expression?

    The other Dom i serve i am much more reserved, sometimes guarded with. He is very strict, very protocol oriented. He gives me something different in that control, something that feeds a darker place in me. That's all i will say publicly, but know that this discourse was so extremely timely, and so interesting. Thank You, once again, for a though provoking post.


  9. Pygar - I would have loved to have read, and still would move to read, your take on this topic. Perhaps you can dreg it up?
    Vesta - Pygar does not need encouragement to get into his cups.
    nilla - I am sure you invest your full energy into both, and that is the point of this idea of active submission. Thank you

  10. Vesta said she would write more on this topic and did, have a look Active versus Passive Submission A thoughtful perspective from the other side of the connection.

  11. I've been trying the passive approach and it just hasn't been working for me. I've never been the type to be able to sit around and wait for something to happen. I have to make things happen. I guess that's one of the qualities in me that makes me a good entrepreneur and well... makes it very difficult to work for others (especially when those others feel they need to dictate everything I do).

    Ever since take a more active approach in my submission as I have in all other areas in my life, I've been feeling a lot more balanced. :) Great post!



  12. I like this - it has made me think too - maybe too much from my own POV - but it made me think about actively and passively controlled systems, and how that applies here. Thanks

  13. Thanks David. I have dredged up my earlier thoughts here. However I am not sure they were worth waiting for! I have also appended part of my comment above.

    Thanks again for reminding me of this interesting topic.

  14. I think the Dom sets the expectation for how the sub will behave. I have gone from one who liked quiet submission to one who likes active submission and I am only slowly learning how to make the switch. Active submission is certainly much louder and physical and some care needs to be taken to avoid harm (and by this I mean accidental not intentional).

  15. I love this discussion. What Anne describes is what I want, and, I think, what I have had. Submissive is a description of how I behave sexually, my preference, but I am never, ever passive. I respond, I crave, I'm noisy, and sometimes I tease. And most of all, I want to be desired for the full package that is me, not because I am able to change myself for someone (which I certainly can do if necessary).

  16. Interesting. My first boyfriend ever criticized me because he said my kissing was too aggressive. And while I am, I think, an 'active' kisser, I find that advanced forms of intimacy can be overwhelming and I sometimes think I fall a bit flat.

    I think this happens for two reasons, one related to more submissive feelings, and one not. I'll start with the not. I'm a sensation junkie, and occasionally, in self judgmental moments might consider myself a selfish lover. Sensation simply overwhelms me and I want to revel in it. I find it can be hard then to add 'in the moment', "Oh, and I should be doing x,y, z to him as well" It pulls me away from the sensation and being lost in it.

    So there's that.

    But I also find I have this absolute terror of 'doing the wrong thing' or 'being unpleasing' which tends to lead to a type of inactivity. Certainly initially. Although I find with repeated contact with a partner, once I feel more confident about things I know they like and don't like, I can pursue the things I know they like without invitation.

    Is it a submissive tendency or is it just a regular insecurity? Hard to say. I know that the absolute crushing disappointment I feel if I do something someone 'doesn't like' or doesn't prefer is truly overwhelming. So I shy away from it, and enabling situations where it might occur. I know I get pleasure from doing things a partner likes, even if it's not really my favorite thing, simply because I know it is making them happy. And I know I really appreciate someone telling me what they like or want because it makes it infinitely easier. But again, I'm not at all sure that that's due to being submissive or due to inherent personal quirks that probably add to my being submissive.