BDSM play doesn’t equal ‘being mean’

For new dominants, there is often an internalised belief that they are ‘being mean’ to their submissives when they play. Especially when the play involves physical or emotional pain. Impact play, CBT, nipple torture, humiliation, degradation…

This is true for many dominants, but it’s especially true for new dominant women who have been socialised their entire lives to ‘be nice’ and who often enter online spaces where they are heavily rewarded by fetishists for ‘being a bitch’. Without any other experience, they often [feel like they have to] wear and own that persona wholly and fully to ‘be a dominant’.

The trope of bitch-femdom is fed by nearly all representations of F/m out there in the world: In porn, in for-pay marketing, in fantasies, so it’s no surprise. And it works very well for those who do it, not least because many of those women genuinely don’t know or really care about those online subs, so it’s easy to inhabit that space, and it’s fun to be allowed to ‘be mean’ and get endless words of adoration and devotion for it. And it works very well for the subs whose fantasies are fed by the trope and who have no intention of having a relationship beyond those exchanges.

But for those women who move on from there and who actually DO end up wanting to explore their dominance further and DO want to have a personal love-based relationship with a submissive, this internalisation that ‘BDSM play is ‘being mean”, can cause a serious conflict when they meet a submissive they actually like, or even love.

How this problem comes out is in some version of this question:

“How can I be mean to someone I love? I don’t want to be mean to them. It makes me feel bad, makes me feel like a bad person.”

I’ve replied to this question many many times, so I’ve gathered the main points of my answers below.

How you feel isn’t uncommon: Being ‘mean’ to someone you love, hurting them, saying nasty things, goes against every instinct, and everything you’ve learnt about how to show love. Feeling that way shows that you’re a compassionate and caring person, and that’s great.

This idea that BDSM play, especially femdom play, is ‘mean’ is sold to us everywhere all the time, in porn, in for-pay marketing, in the language and imagery of fantasies and role play. It’s hard not to take it on board. Especially because physical and emotional pain is real, it’s not make-believe or pretend.

We end up with a double-whammy of a lifetime of ‘how love looks in the vanilla world’ plus the idea that ‘being mean + not caring = dominant’.

New dominants often feel this conflict because they haven’t yet internalised that BDSM play that looks ‘mean’ (humiliation, S&M play etc) is, in reality, giving someone a gift of something they want and love.

Expanding the idea of ‘what love looks like’ beyond the ubiquitous portrayal of the vanilla norms that we see everywhere all the time can be a challenge.

Even if you know it’s role play and it’s not ‘real’, there’s a difference between ‘knowing’ something and ‘KNOWING‘ it, if that makes sense.

IF you enjoy playing in those ‘mean’ ways, but you’re conflicted about it, I have a few suggestions to help change your mindset:

  • Reframe it in your head from ‘being mean’ to ‘giving your partner what they love and crave’. It’s a gift to them and when you play, consciously do it from a place of love. You can reinforce this by having them thank you and be grateful afterwards. Don’t expect this mind-shift to be an easy thing to achieve. It’s not.
  • Have a structured ‘start’ and ‘end’ ritual to cut that play right off from your every day relationship. Maybe your sub kneels and you put a collar around their neck and they beg for you to belittle or hurt them (or whatever your play consists of). End with them kneeling again, take the collar off, have them thank you for your generosity in giving them that.
  • Aftercare for you. Part of that may be the above (with them giving thanks and gratitude), but make time to come back to yourselves as the couple in love: Cuddles, sweet talk, praise them or soothe them to ‘undo’ the things you said/did in play, have sex, do whatever makes you feel close.
  • Ask for whatever reassurance you need from your sub to convince you that they don’t think you’re a bad person, that they enjoyed the play immensely, that they didn’t feel it as you being ‘mean’. Not just once, but every time. Maybe make them write it out, how it felt to them, how they received that play from you, how it makes them feel about you. And always with the thanks and gratitude.

If you keep trying, but you don’t actually enjoy it, if it really just continues to make you feel bad, then you probably need to step back from it, and start very gently with things you CAN enjoy (gentle teasing instead of full-on humiliation, sensation play instead of pain play etc) and see if you get anything out of it, see if you can find a path to ease into more intense play slowly. You may find that you get more comfortable with it as you see your sub reaching for more.

If you end up finding that the kind of play you may have enjoyed with casual partners doesn’t work for you in the context of a loving relationship, THAT’S OK. There’s nothing wrong with that, or with you.

You might then need to renegotiate the kinds of play you’re up for: Not all types of play are awesome for every person, and sometimes you don’t know that until you try a few things and realise that it’s work, or it’s no fun, or it’s not hot, or it makes you feel bad. Discovering those things is part of exploration.

In the end, doing things that make you feel bad about yourself is unhealthy for you and it’s unhealthy for the relationship, and if you discover that’s the case, then you need to talk about it with your sub and see if you can come up with alternatives that work for both of you.

 

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15 comments

  1. Another thought-provoking post. As a sub on the other side of this story, I run from mean. Although the Woman Who accepts my submission self-describes as cruel, I can’t think of anyone I’ve ever met who is more loving and caring. Challenging? Beyond belief. But gosh, for me to be able to pour out love to her through submission, through gifts, through attention, through touch, all because she has collared and leashed me metaphysically, metaphorically, and very much in her presence, is to have given me the opportunity to give what I was put on this earth to do. Find a Goddess and help her feel like one. Every minute of every gosh darned day. Especially when it isn’t easy.

  2. “As a sub on the other side of this story, I run from mean.”

    Well the entire point was that ‘being mean’ in an ethical D/s relationship where activities are negotiated and agreed is an expression of love.

    If pain play or emotional masochism isn’t for you, then obviously you shouldn’t be in a relationship with someone for whom that’s important.

    “…for me to be able to pour out love to her through submission, through gifts, through attention, through touch, all because she has collared and leashed me metaphysically, metaphorically, and very much in her presence, is to have given me the opportunity to give what I was put on this earth to do”

    That’s so lovely: I’m so glad you found a relationship that allows you to express yourself in all the ways that make you happy, and presumably that’s the case from the other side also :). Long may it continue for you and your Mistress :).

    Ferns

  3. Thank you for this post. My sub and I are comfortable with imoact play and I delight in creating the deep moans of agony with my biting and paddling along with other implements. I believe there is a part of me that is fighting the stereotypes of being “mean” and what we both enjoy. In my growth and learning I am having difficulty moving to other “ways” to play that satisfy us both. I am still learning what my Dominance looks and feels like.

    Thank you for your writing.

    1. You’re so welcome :).

      I think everyone takes some time to learn exactly what works for them and what they need to ‘unlearn’ to find their fit. Goodness knows I started with a whole bunch of stereotypes in my head and leaned into that pretty hard, so took a while to come out the other side.

      I’m glad you have a lovely sub who’s there to support you in it :).

      Ferns

  4. You’re dead to me! being mean is the entire point, well that and the leeeeather. Well that aside another insightful post Ferns
    Coug

  5. As someone who is just starting out in a long-distance relationship with a submissive person and really enjoying being the gentle but firm dominant part, this was a reassuring read. :) What I seem to have trouble with though is how to cope when they don’t have time for me for a while and I miss my sub terribly. How do I assert dominance without having to hide my feelings? I really don’t want to come across as clingy or needy.

    1. Thank you. I Have a similar Experience right now. And it has suddenly turned out not so good. I am very sad about it, and feel bad. I miss my long-distance sub, our relationship, that has gotten lost. And I probably will be missing him for a long time, he seemed to be “the one”.. Just as you spot on explain: Longing for him when he was to busy and not attending to me……. I became clingy…or perhaps just felt that way? I did not hide my feelings, -I told him I longed terribly for him. – And he disappeared. Saying we did not fit together.

      I will move on. I deserve a loving sub, that appreciates being loved.
      So do you. Your sub should respond happy, when being loved. Otherwise: Move on Live Happily ever after, best regards and best of luck to you, Tara

      1. @Solveig: I’m so sorry it didn’t work out for you, but fwiw, I absolutely think you did the right thing.

        If you (general ‘you’) can’t be honest with your partner about your feelings, then that’s an entire issue all of its own. And if it turns out they aren’t on the same page, then it’s better to know as early as possible than to shy away from that truth because it will come out sooner or later.

        And 100% yes on deserving a loving sub who appreciates what you bring into the relationship and adores you for it. I hope you find one.

        Ferns

        1. Thank you, Fern, thank you. Your words both sooths and comforts the pain of loosing my beloved sub. And your support eases the moving on. I am on the move at the moment, excited and happy about a promising start-up. Thank you, Fern. Your support and you giving me these loving words is bringing me hopes. Thank you, Fern

    2. @Tara: I missed your comment, sorry about that.

      “How do I assert dominance without having to hide my feelings?”

      There is nothing more dominant than asserting your needs in a relationship, telling your sub what you want, how they can make you happy, all of that. And if your sub thinks you’re too clingy or needy, then you either sort it out, or you have to face the fact that you’re a bad match in that area and figure out what that means for the relationship.

      So just say it: “This is the level and type of interaction I need for this relationship to work. I’m currently not getting that and it’s making me feel bad/miss you/lonely. How are we going to address it?”

      Not whining, not passive-aggressive hints: Openly state what will make this work for you and look to find a solution together.

      I know it’s scary to ask for what you want, but it’s also really empowering.

      I was slow to respond to this so I’m sure this has been resolved already: I hope it worked out how you wanted.

      Ferns

  6. Perhaps the world need alternatives to the “bitch-Femdom” trope. In the past I have seen comments by Dommes that their relationships seem wrong because they actually feel affection for their submissives.

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