One of the more confusing basic concepts in BDSM is the issue of superiority and inferiority. While not all kinksters use this concept in their relationships, many do. It can be an enormously powerful principle, but it’s also one easily misunderstood and abused.
Inferiority is the principle that the sub is inferior to the dom. It grounds the actions of the dom toward the sub as being reasonable and justified because the dom is in some fashion better than the sub, more deserving of power, obedience, and pleasure. Humiliation play and verbal abuse are often rooted in the notion that the sub is ‘worthless’ or ‘useless’ and thus deserves his humiliation. It’s a common feature of porn, and the clichéd image of the dominatrix is of a leather-clad woman telling her sub that he’s a “worm” or something similar. Master/slave play tends strongly toward the notion that the dom is a superior man and the sub an inferior one.
The fact is that the extreme power differential created by the idea that the sub is inherently inferior can be amazingly arousing. Many submissives already harbor feelings of inferiority or worthlessness, so openly expressing them is a way to validate those feelings in an erotic context. Instead of having to fight against them, the sub can revel in the relief of admitting these feelings. Doms can enjoy being able to claim the mantle of superiority; I often tell my subs that it’s nice to stop pretending I’m equal to everyone else. It’s just plain fun to be arrogant and superior.
Openly expressing these ideas is central to worship. Worship eroticizes whatever qualities the dom has that speak to superiority–muscles, a big cock, a strong presence, and so on. The experience of worship is inherently about looking up to and being looked up at, and the one worshipping needs to see the one being worshipped as better in some way because that’s what it means to worship, to celebrate the value and power of something.
Inferiority is often framed as having an obligation to serve, to let one’s self be used sexually, and so on. Slaves simply have a duty to obey because their master is better than they are. Race play is usually grounded on the idea that one race is inherently superior to another. Findom trades on the concept that the cashslave just owes the cashmaster money.
However, all of this easily shades over into the notion that the sub’s inferiority to the dom is inherent. When framed that way, it quickly begins to give rise to all sorts of ugly, dangerous ideas that reek of misogyny, homophobia, antisemitism, racism, and so on. It can easily validate destructive feels that the sub already has, perhaps for reasons of childhood abuse, poor body image, and the like. Taken to extremes, these ideas underlay American race slavery, rape culture, and the Holocaust.
So how do we indulge this highly erotic idea while avoiding the pitfalls it is prone to? Simple. In BDSM, inferiority is a voluntary state.
I firmly believe in the principles Thomas Jefferson laid out in the 2nd paragraph of the Declaration of Independence: that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I walk this planet firmly believing that my right to happiness is exactly equal to everyone else’s, no greater and no less. This belief gives me the confidence to pursue my desires and the obligation to respect everyone else’s. My right to my kink ends at everyone else’s nose, to paraphrase a saying.
That means that when I want to be dominant, I am morally obligated to find someone who is willing to be dominated, someone who is willing to voluntarily be inferior to me for the purposes of our power exchange. In other words, within BDSM, inferiority and superiority are voluntarily chosen states, not inherent qualities. A sub chooses to be inferior to me; I cannot choose to make him inferior.
Thus our interactions begin as an agreement that I will be superior and he will be inferior. He chooses inferiority because it feels right to him, because it arouses him, because it allows him to put aside the pressures of his daily life, or whatever, but he does it because for some reason he wants to. He may choose to limit his inferiority to a specific act, like being pissed on, or for a specific time period, or to a specific dominant. He may choose to live his life as my inferior, and he may choose to burrow so deeply into his inferiority as to function as a slave rather than a free person, but it is always at heart his choice. If at some point he wishes to withdraw his submission, I cannot ethically stop that.
To some people, like so-called Alphas, this probably seems unsatisfying, because it means that my superior status is conditional and limited, but to me, it seems far more satisfying, because my superiority is not a mere quality granted by nature; rather it is something that I choose to construct, and may therefore take pride in as an accomplishment. When a man chooses to submit to me, it means that he sees me as deserving of his surrender. It means that on some level he thinks, “I could be this man’s equal, but I would rather accept him as my superior.” How much greater is it to know that a man submits because he wants to, not because he must, that it is the force of my personality, not the force of my muscles, that drives him to give up his power to me. To me, that’s real superiority.
Once a boy chooses to be inferior, my goal is to inspire him to remain in that state. That can take the form of verbal abuse, displays of my masculinity, arousing play, nurturing and supporting him when he feels down, or numerous other things. But it’s up to me to continue inspiring him to submit, to earn the power and position that he has given me. When all is going well, once he submits, we enter into a self-reinforcing cycle where my superiority encourages his continued inferiority which in turn encourages my superiority. To me, it makes both of work hard to please the other and helps keep us from becoming complacent in our roles.
This means that a boy’s inferiority is the greatest gift he can give to me, because it makes possible all the remaining power exchange we do.
3 thoughts on “Inferiority”
I think this is a misunderstanding of inferiority from a sub’s perspective.
Subs have a fantasy about submission and kink is a way of realising that fantasy. We subs submit to superior men of our fantasies – men of power, intelligence, wealth, size, social status, physical shape and above all those who protect and defend us and our communities . Think: Spider-Man, Batman, Kings, religious figures like Christ and Buddha (who have both inspired armies of devoted monks and nuns who submit to them).
But no one in the real world is like these people. So we project our fantasy onto Dom: exaggerating positive qualities and downplaying negative ones. It’s a form of what psychologists call limmerence. This of course is why the dress code, speech styles and behaviour of doms etc matter and why rituals and protocols matter. They are ways to attach ourselves to the fantasy of the men that we wish to submit to.
So submission isn’t always or indeed ever to a real human dominant but to the idealised character of that person.
As you say superiority it isn’t inherent: it comes from the sub’s consent and submission. But I think it’s fair to say that a sub genuinely feels inferior compared to the character of his fantasy.
I agree, but I think it’s more complicated than that. I believe that as a dom, I have a duty to hold myself to a higher standard, to demonstrate that I am worthy of a boy’s submission. His submission makes me feel a duty to bring out the best in myself.
To paraphrase a popular saying about dogs, be the person your sub thinks you are.
I think is less complex than you think.
Your comment is focused on the dom reaction to the sub’s fantasy – entirely fair. But if the Doms tries to be what the sub wants, who is driving the dynamic if not the sub?
In any case from the sub’s perspective it IS limerence. We all know that the Doms aren’t the superhuman superior characters of own fantasies but we endow them with these characteristics despite knowing the reality.