Due to a recent dissolution of a long-running dynamic, I’m re-reading what I consider the central texts of kink. It’s a time to work on myself by reconsidering these books, and the ways my understanding of them has changed. As I read, I had a thought that while an outsider may see choice and submission as opposites, choice is vital to power exchange relationships. I know that the more self-understanding I have, the more powerful my choice to submit becomes.
My guiding philosophy is Nonviolent Communication (NVC). One foundational principle of NVC is that we always have choices, even when we feel disempowered: “Regardless of the circumstances, we can meet our need for autonomy by making conscious choices based on awareness of needs; at the very least in terms of the choice of the meaning we assign to the circumstances.” Here Inbal and Miki Kashtan explain that the bare minimum of choice can be found in how we decide to perceive our circumstances. I also believe this is the basis of choice.
If you think you can’t do anything but argue with your partner, that will happen. Once you turn your mind to the possibility that other strategies exist, you have more choices. Ultimately, deciding to see alternatives in a difficult situation opens up so many more choices. As Oren Jay Sofer has written in Say What You Mean, “The more aware we are, the more choice we have.”
From a logical standpoint though, why would anyone choose to submit to another person’s will? ? Dr. Rosenberg admonishes us when he writes in Nonviolent Communication, “With every choice you make, be conscious of what need it serves.” In NVC, needs are described as universal aspects of the human experience that everyone shares despite any differences in time, geography, and culture. What universal need does the desire to submit satisfy? For me, safety and stability come to mind when I consider how I feel when other the control of another. After experiencing the intense vulnerability that a life of submission offers, I believe that being owned by someone allows me to be known, seen, and understood in one of the most profound ways possible.
According to Oren Jay Sofer, “One of the benefits of identifying our needs is that it gives us more choice. It gives us access to more creative options.” My understanding is that submission satisfies any number of needs for different people, and understanding how those needs differ allows us to find greater satisfaction. For example, the ideal rules, rituals, and lifestyle of someone who desires submission to challenge them would vary from someone who submits purely as an aspect of sexual expression. Or, perhaps their lives would look the same, but the intentionality behind every action would differ.
Ultimately, we make choices every day when we submit. Even in a relationship with a blanket consent policy, we actively choose to view how we perceive the actions of those that control us. We chose who we gave that power, and we choose to stay with them every day. Our lives are full of choices, even a life filled with submission.
I truly believe that the more information we have, the more choice we have. I’m always learning from my life experiences. That’s why I’m dedicating the next three months to deeply understanding myself and what I desire out of submission.
What needs do you meet with submission? Do you have a different perspective on choice? Please share your thoughts with me and continue the discussion in the comments.