Say what you will about Fifty Shades of Grey; it raised many questions our culture needed to grapple with. Like, for example: can a woman be sexually submissive and still be empowered?
Setting aside Fifty Shades itself – which, arguably, presents an image of a submissive woman who is not empowered, because her dominant partner is overbearing and abusive – it’s more than possible for sexual submission to facilitate empowerment. Here are some reasons why…
True submission is necessarily consensual
Any knowledgeable kinkster on the up-and-up will tell you that dominance and submission are meaningless and deplorable without consent. When it comes to sex – including kinky sex – consent must be risk-aware, informed, ongoing, and freely given. Those who claim submissive women are “unempowered” often don’t realize that submission is, for many women, an active choice – not a sad circumstance thrust upon them by society or their male partners. Of course, pre-existing power dynamics in society can influence the choices a woman will make, but that’s no excuse for invalidating the agency of women who crave submission and deliberately choose it.
Submissive calls the shots
In risk-aware, consensual kink, both (or all) participants pre-negotiate what they want to happen in a given scene or relationship – and the submissive’s desires and limitations usually take center stage in this discussion. The dominant’s needs and wants are important too, of course, but since the submissive will typically be enduring more sensation or going through more of an “ordeal,” their wishes and limits must be centered.
This can be empowering in a world that routinely tells us women’s needs are not important and should be set aside in favor of appeasing or deferring to men. It is powerful for a woman to be able to say, “This is what I want,” and get it. It is likewise powerful for a woman to be able to say, “This is what I don’t want,” and have that be respected, too.
Submission can be relaxing
Giving up control to a partner you trust is an immensely calming act, under the right circumstances. Many women run around performing emotional and physical labor for others’ benefit all day, whether in their work lives or their personal lives or both and so it can be freeing to completely release those responsibilities for even just the duration of a kink scene.
Submission can mitigate the effects of trauma
With the ever-present caveat that BDSM is not therapy and cannot be used as a replacement for therapy, some people are able to find healing through kink. It can be powerful, for example, to revisit the circumstances of a past sexual assault, but with a trusted partner who will steadfastly respect the survivor’s boundaries and safewords.
Sex therapist Samantha Manewitz points out that the three-act structure of a kink scene – negotiation, play, and aftercare – closely mirrors the three-point process of trauma healing: skill-building, exposure, and integration. Proceed with caution – and, ideally, with the guidance of a kink-aware therapist – but you and/or your partner(s) might find BDSM helpful in shedding the past and moving into a more empowered personal future.
Submission can be pleasurable
Why else would people keep doing it, after all? For example, the endorphins released during sadomasochistic activities like spanking can leave the body feeling buzzy and blissful. Some research on BDSM has even found that it elicits “flow” in its participants, a psychological state associated with a better overall mood and temperament. So kinky sex doesn’t just feel good in your body – it might be good for your brain, too.
While a submissive woman might sometimes roleplay as someone powerless, if she’s in a consensual kink scene with a good kink partner, she is only ever voluntarily lending out her power. And in many ways, when the scene is done, she may feel even more powerful than before.