You hear a lot of nonsense about the world of dominants and submissive. And makeup even more in your head. The key is reliable sources and honest communication. Looking back on my past, there are some things I wish I could go back and tell my new BDSM submissive self. This is my list.

The back story


One night almost a decade ago, I was sat in the living room of someone I barely knew. They were having a party, and I was only there as someone else’s plus one. We were playing a truth-or-dare drinking game. When it was my turn to be asked a truth, a pretty goth boy with piercing blue eyes fixed me from across the room with a look that saw more than I had expected.

“When did you first know you were kinky?” he asked.


I squirmed uncomfortably in my seat. “I don’t know if I do know that, really,” I said. “I’ve never - I mean, I don’t -” I blushed furiously. “I’m still figuring all this out.”

My questioner caught my eye and nodded, gave me a knowing smile. He took me home with him one night not long after that, and I have never been the same since.

Things are so different now


A lot has happened since that night. The person hosting the party is now the UK’s foremost academic in the field of alternative sexualities, a fixture on the annual Pink List and a regular in all manner of national media. Many of the other guests have gone on to become my nearest and dearest friends. The pretty goth boy and I dated for the better part of three years. He remains both one of my best and closest people and an occasional play partner.

I’ve changed, too. I was still a teenager then. Now, I’m feeling the impending pressure of thirty. Back then, as a new sub, I barely knew what BDSM stood for. Now here I am making a career out of it. I’ve learned a lot about myself in the intervening years - including a great deal about my own sexuality - and I wouldn’t swap that journey for anything.

If I could go back and meet myself as I was then, though - the girl who so soon after that party would be looking on wide-eyed as the pretty goth boy with the piercing blue eyes tightened a loop of rope around her wrists for the very first time -

new sub

The six things I’d want that new BDSM submissive to know...


1. That list of limits you just wrote is nonsense.




I was massively preoccupied with kink for months after my first few experiences. A huge portion of my brain was given over to obsessing about this brave new frontier. I read endless online forums, looked up every book I could, spent hours hunting for oblique references in mainstream media. At some point during all this, I decided that I was going to write my own lists of hard and soft limits as a LiveJournal post. This being the pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter, pre-Tumblr era where that was where we all lived our lives. I still have those lists, and you know what? They are abject nonsense. Not only have I since done and enjoyed literally every single goddamn thing on them. I have also - of course - since figured out what my limits actually are. They’re mostly things I hadn’t even heard of or considered at that point.



2. Kink does not come with a uniform.



Here’s a secret for you: I kind of hate latex. Plenty of people look amazing in it, of course, but I am not one of them. It mostly just makes me hot and uncomfortable. The texture of rubber actually makes my skin crawl a bit, and not in the good way many people describe. I never cared much for PVC, either. In general, I like my leather to be of the boots, gloves, and handbags variety. On the other hand, I look amazing in a pair of fully fashioned silk stockings and a bullet bra.

As a new sub, it took me a while to be alright with this. I spent a few years feeling as though I needed to find a way to make traditional fetishwear work for me, just because everyone else seemed so into it. This is nonsense, of course, and thankfully in the intervening years I’ve managed to do a decent job of embracing my own kinky look.

3. Be careful what you do with candle wax.



In general, I’m a lot more into psychological BDSM than I am straightforward sensation play, but one of the few exceptions to that is candle wax. I’m not sure what it is about it, but I really like it. You know what I really don’t like, though? Dealing with all the fucking candle wax bits afterward. They get everywhere; in the sheets; on the carpet, attached to bits of hair it’s no fun to pull them out of...I could have saved myself a lot of boring cleaning work if 'new sub me' had learned sooner to put a goddamn towel down.

4. You are not a switch; stop trying, it’s embarrassing.


My friends are, by and large, all switches. While that’s less true now than it was then, back in the day I basically didn’t know anybody who didn’t turn the tables occasionally. I somehow got this idea in my head that that’s how it works. You sub for a bit at the beginning because it’s a good way to learn. Then, as time passes, you explore the other side of the whip more and more often. It’s a shame I came to this conclusion, really, because it’s bullshit, and I still wince a bit when I recall my clumsy attempts at making it happen. I’m so sorry, tiny handful of people who had to be on the receiving end of that. I promise I only tried a few times before I realized what you guys already must have known.

5. Masochism is not a competition.



Submissives can be a surprisingly competitive bunch. Especially as new BDSM submissives. It’s easy to fall into the trap of wondering how you measure up. To your friends, to exes or other partners of someone you’re playing with, to fellow attendees of the club or party you’re at. It’s easy for a new sub to want to be the hardest on the block. Someone who thinks nothing of being caned till they bleed in the middle of a dungeon party while everyone looks on impressed.

Most of us aren’t that sub, though - or at least not all the time - and even the people who are, have things they can’t take much of or don’t enjoy. They also have days they don’t cope well with that level of impact play. I still fall into this trap from time to time. In fact, I’ve had moments of not being good at communicating about my pain threshold because I’m too embarrassed to admit that it’s been reached. It’s a stupid thing to get anxious and het up about, though. People’s pain thresholds vary on a daily basis, not to mention being drastically different for different kinds of pain. Any Dom who is more concerned with how much force they’re inflicting than they are with the effect it has on you can fuck off.

6. It’s basically all okay, and it’s never just you.



I have a huge thing for being talked to a lot. A Dom who doesn’t tire of using their voice liberally and often is a really important thing for me. I sometimes find it difficult to keep my head fully in the game without it, but done right a frequent stream of whispered filth does things to me almost too good to describe.

For some reason, this was the thing that brand 'new sub me' was worried would be too weird to admit to. I was getting comfortable with the idea of floggers and handcuffs and paddles and candles, hell yes, but telling someone that I’d like it if they called me a dirty slut while they did it all? Oh, god, whatever would they think of me! Those of you with much experience in the kink scene are probably giving the same wry smile I give now when I remember those concerns - because, of course, name-calling and its ilk are really really common.

Dear new BDSM submissives: whatever the thing is that you’re worried is too weird to tell people about, it’s okay. You won’t be the only one. The chances that it’s as unusual as you fear are minuscule, I promise.


Abi Brown is a freelance writer and general pen-for-hire devoted to sexual deviancy, far-left politics and wearing too much jewellery. Find her at her website or @see_abi_write.
Images by mcgarrett88 and Santa Bellicose via Flickr

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