It is probably the most common thing I hear or see written about submission:
The submissive is really the one in charge. The sub can stop a scene at any time.
That concept has irked me for years. Over the past year, I started to really think about why this common, and apparently widely accepted idea of power exchange, bothers me so much. It comes down to this:
If the submissive has the power, then its not really power exchange.
To me, power exchange is- and always has been- based in the true relinquishing of power by the submissive and the true acceptance of power by the dominant. It means that in the areas where the couple agrees to do power exchange, the submissive really lets go of that power. That whatever bounds the couple has discussed are guidelines for the dominant and that retaining the right to be the dominant means making a decision each and every time those boundaries are approached if the d-type will honor them.
The notion that I, as a submissive, can and do have the right to pull back my power at any point and it is my decision to remain submissive means that I have not relinquished all my power. It is only partial power exchange.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t exchange power over everything. Nor do I relinquish power to every play partner. I can bottom without relinquishing any power. I can agree to an impact scene or a fire scene or whatever, can negotiate the parameters of the scene, and can enjoy the scene without ever relinquishing power. I, as a bottom, hold the power to pull back from any agreed upon behavior at any time for any reason. That is bottoming.
Being a submissive (or even deeper, a slave) means that I agree to give up power over certain parts of my life. This means with a partner I submit too (not just bottom for), I will negotiate the boundaries of the power exchange. Once there is trust and a clear understanding of the boundaries, my health issues (which are a big part of my life anymore), and my priorities, I relinquish power. The d-type has the power to do as he/she/they please. They have the power to decide if they will respect my negotiated boundaries. They do not have to respect the boundaries but they will have to deal with the consequence of crossing them.
If course, I can reclaim my power if I feel something is abusive. However, the moment I reclaim my power from my D-type the relationship is forever altered.
Relinquishing Power vs Bottoming
This distinction is difficult to make for people who believe submissives and slaves retain power over an area of their life they agree to give away in a power exchange. So, let me provide a few examples.
Grooming: I will, and have, given away power over personal grooming as a submissive. My Sir will know my preferences and knows what I have to be able to do (go to work, pass health inspections of my kitchen, etc.). He takes these things into consideration when dictating my grooming but does not have to make decisions which make me happy. I have a Sir who prefers natural pubic hair. I have done a Brazilian by personal choice for years, but at his request I regrew a full bush. When I have a burlesque performance, I let him know but it is his choice if I shave or not. While I may prefer to have no hair during a show, if he does not give me permission, I do not shave.
Safe word: When I bottom I have a safe word. I retain the right to stop a scene for any reason and I maintain the power. When I submit, I relinquish my safe word. I do this only with d-types I have an extended relationship with and know I can trust. They know my hard limits and my capacities. They decide what they want to push.
I have a d-type I play with and we have not had a safe word for a few years. We still use the color system so he has guidelines as to where I am at. He has, on occasion, gone past red. We have reached a point during a beat where I indicate red because I don’t think I can physically take anymore. However, we have an established agreement, which he and I re-confirm before a play session, that the colors are only guidelines. I have said red and he as told me how much more I will take. We push past red until he decides I am done.
The Reality of Being a Vulnerable Sub
Submitting with the understanding that you are giving over your power in full makes you vulnerable. It means that if your d-type opts not to honor your boundaries and limits you have agreed to that risk. It can be quite scary in some cases. Play is one place where boundaries and limits can be pushed and ignored. It is even scarier when the boundaries cross over into the non-play world.
Submission, giving in and accepting that full power exchange, requires you trust your d-type and you believe honoring his/her/their orders is more important that whatever objection to doing so you might have. It may require a submissive to do some things they are not at all comfortable with (like sitting through a meeting with elected officials while wearing a large butt plug). But the result of exchanging power and allowing yourself to be vulnerable and open to your d-type changes the relationship for the better.
When you let go of your power, your defenses, you control and trust someone else, you can achieve a level of intimacy you cannot get otherwise.