Here we have the makings of a debate that rivals one about which baseball team is the best–ask 20 people what a submissive is and you will get 21 answers! People will get in each other’s face, kick up dirt and, sometimes, come close to an all out brawl.
What if you believe that a submissive always defers to the dominant? What if the second baseman believes that a submissive generally defers to a dominant within boundaries that are established? And what if the third baseman believes that a submissive is someone who takes a subservient, passive role in the bedroom but is an equal outside the bedroom? Well then, who‘s right and what’s the name of the phonies?
No problem. Let’s settle this debate. Who’s got a dictionary? We cannot turn to a dictionary to give us a precise definition for what a submissive is because in the dictionary the word is generally listed as an adjective!
And so we begin to see one reason for this variety in interpretation—we have limited vocabulary available to us in the dictionary. We take words from everyday language that is not designed for and does not give us enough words to cover all that we encounter in BDSM.
Thus, no one is fully right and no one is fully wrong. Everyone is thinking of a valid scenario. And everyone is turning to limited vocabulary of everyday language to find words close enough in meaning to the scenario they envision. We then find different meanings attached to the same word because this word is being used for different scenarios that are slightly similar to this word but with some differences.
I think the word submissive is not a precise term or label, and instead a word that conveys the general ballpark. At a broad level the term submissive is differentiating a person from those who have absolutely no psychosexual interest in submission. I define submissive as follows:
Submissive: a person who finds psychosexual reward in assuming a lesser authority status via one or more of acts that to varying degrees are deferential, appeasing, obedient, and capitulating.
Thus, a person who enjoys submission in the bedroom only is a submissive, as is a person who is submissive also outside the bedroom but in limited ways, as is a person who enjoys a broader yield to authority.
Given the general ballpark, we can draw upon communication and adjectives to better understand and describe this person.
Let’s go into extra innings and talk about what a submissive is not. Here is what I don’t associate with a submissive: (1) personality and (2) social status. If you absolutely equate either with submission then one day you might find yourself swinging at a curve ball.
Submission and Personality
An interest in submission is distributed across the range of personalities you see in population. You will find strong and timid personalities. You will find selfless and selfish submissives. This discussion about distribution of personality traits can continue much further.
A submissive (a person who gets psychosexual gratification from acts that reflect submission) who has a strong personality and who takes an assertive stand is still a submissive; this person is simply an assertive submissive. A submissive who is selfish and focused on own needs to get psychosexual gratification from acts of submission is still a submissive; this person is simply a selfish submissive.
Submission and Social Status
There are many people—dominants and submissives and beyond—who see the BDSM role preference to define castes or hierarchies where dominants take a greater status. This view is common but not universal. And I don’t envy the person who tries to argue that this rule should be universal.
After all, we are all peer citizens who find psychosexual gratification in different BDSM roles. What role one prefers and what turns us on by itself does not create any reasonable basis to confer status or superiority.
So next time you hear the word submissive, think ball park. If you want to know more, ask questions to find out where in the ballpark the submissive is. Maybe he is an outfielder whereas you are thinking more of a catcher. So he may not be the type of submissive your team wants but he is still in the same ballpark and some other team might want to draft for that position.