In order to get down and play with submission, you have to relinquish the societal norms of “masculinity.” Being submissive means relishing in surrendering, relaxing and being turned on by not being the one in charge during sex. It’s a chance to let go and capitulate.
And this scares people a whole lot. Many men want to embrace and enjoy this side of themselves but are worried about the social implications of handing over their power to a partner. It can feel too vulnerable, even when it’s something you desire very badly.
Why is it so frightening to want to embrace your inner sub as a cis dude? In short, toxic masculinity. “Somehow, still in the year 2023, many people consider subbing to be a feminine activity, so men are ashamed to explore a submissive side sexually,” explains Zachary Zane, the author of Boyslut: A Memoir and Manifesto and sex expert for Momentum Intimacy. “They think it makes them ‘less of a real man.’”
Suffice to say, this is ridiculous. You’re not “less manly” just because you want to get pegged, tied up or slapped while in the sack. In fact, the men who are able to embrace their sexual desires and have the confidence to explore are the ones showing true masculinity. To be that secure is sexy as hell.
If being submissive is something you’ve been wanting to try, you’re in really good company. It’s totally normal, fun and hot to want to get into this role. The key is embracing it is to create an experience that feels right and pleasurable for you and your partner(s). You may have a clear idea of how you see your submissive role, or you may not right now — and that’s okay! Here is everything you need to know about submission in sex, and how you can play with it in a way that feels authentic to you.
What Is a Submissive?
Before being able to be submissive, it’s important to be clear about what a submissive is and what this role entails. The role can manifest in many different ways, depending on the people involved in the play. But Dr. Celina Criss, a certified sex coach specializing in BDSM and GSRD (gender and sexual relationship diversity), tells us that “the essential core concept of submission is about intentional power exchange with a partner.”
The power exchange with submission can take place in vanilla/non-kinky sex if one partner is being submissive to the other, but usually when we refer to this dynamic, we’re talking about BDSM (bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism and masochism). The submissive role is one half of a dominant/submissive (D/s) role play. The submissive hands over their power (with enthusiastic consent) to the dominant partner. “By granting the dominant their power, the submissive increases the dominant’s power over them,” Criss says. “It’s a gift that requires self-awareness and trust.”
The range of D/s activities is truly limitless, but Julieta Chiaramonte, a kink instructor and sex expert, tells us that some typical play may include “being dominated, restrained and controlled.” The sub may derive sexual pleasure from these activities, but not all D/s play involves sex.
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The Appeal of Being Submissive During Sex
The reason people enjoy submission is rooted in giving up control. Criss tells us that for cis men specifically, the turn-on can be about challenging the social order. “Cis-het menfolk are traditionally expected to have greater agency and power in their social roles,” she says. Through submission, you can subvert these roles and embrace a side of yourself that isn’t traditionally expected (or accepted) of you. And the taboo nature of this is freakin’ hot.
Zane says that it’s also about simply being able to relax and not think for a hot minute. “This is especially true for overthinkers or high-powered professionals who manage a team and have to make a ton of decisions,” he says. “When you sub, you don’t need to decide anything. You simply do as you’re told. It can be very freeing.”
Lastly, the appeal of being a submissive can be plain old fun. Giving up your power in a trusting way to a dom partner and engaging in agreed-upon activities that you enjoy is a good time. “Being a sub is also associated with elements of physical pleasure that you typically don’t experience while domming,” Zane says. For example, you may like the sensation of being spanked, slapped or receiving anal stimulation when you sub. It’s a change-up.
Four Expert-Approved Tips to Play With Being the Submissive in a Safe Way
If you’re feeling inspired (and we hope you are), here’s what you can do to let your inner submissive run wild.
Do Some Research First
The first step is to take some personal time to think about your desires and limits. This takes a bit of research. “Self-awareness is essential to this kind of play because it enables partners to communicate in the creation of their dynamic, in the post-play debrief and if a scene doesn’t go as planned,” Criss says.
If you’re interested in learning about BDSM and D/s play, this beginner’s course from Chiaramonte is the perfect place to start. Part of learning is about understanding “the risks involved and [taking] steps to mitigate them,” Chiaramonte explains. “Learn about safe practices and techniques that make you feel safe in submission.”
Get Very Clear About What You Want (and Don’t Want)
Zane tells us that nothing should be a surprise when you’re engaging in this play. Scenes need to be highly negotiated beforehand, which takes clear and honest communication. He suggests considering the following questions: What do you like to be called during sex? Where do you want to be spanked? Do you like spit in your mouth? Do you like your hair pulled? Is anal play on the table?
“Have a safe word,” he adds. “You may think something turns you on, but then in the scene, you feel uncomfortable. That’s totally okay. You’re allowed to stop at any point.”
Take It Slowly
Our experts agree that taking things slowly is absolutely essential when you’re starting out with playing as the submissive. It is vulnerable territory, both emotionally and physically, and therefore it should be handled with caution and care. “Start with some dirty talk,” Zane says. “See how that feels. Then maybe incorporate some light spanking. There’s truly no rush. If you enjoy what you’re doing, you can then take it one step further.”
Once you feel safe and comfortable, you can open yourself up to more advanced play.
Have a Plan for Aftercare
Aftercare is the period post-scene where you take some time to come down and return to baseline. Emotions run high during D/s scenes — and when you’re playing with power dynamics as a cis dude, intense feelings can come up because of all the societal pressure around what it means to “be a man.” Zane suggests having “your partner hold you, bring you water or support you in another way once the scene is over.”
Remember, playing with the submissive does not say anything about who you are as a person. It simply means you enjoy certain kinds of dynamics in the bedroom. Everyone deserves to have the kind of sex they enjoy and to feel safe in expressing their desires.