What is Subspace?

Kink is not a fixed practice but rather a constantly evolving one. New practices and forms of play emerge over time. Pup play and findom are both extremely popular these days but were not talked about much even 15 years ago (although both have far-older antecedents; findom is arguably one of the oldest kinky practices there is, being practiced in Ancient Greece). Social media has broadened the reach of kink a great deal, and one result is that kinksters with fringe practices can more easily form communities and spread their practices. The language of kink 20 years ago is not the language of kink today, and how kinksters use terms change over time.

And that’s what I want to talk about today–a change in terminology. Recently I’ve noticed that some kinksters are using the term ‘subspace’ in a very different way than kinksters a decade ago were using it.

Some time in the 90s (from what I’ve seen), the term ‘subspace’ emerged to explain a particular phenomenon that many but not all subs experience during some forms of play. During intense scenes, some subs experience a sense of being disconnected from their bodies. They describe a sensation like floating, falling, or flying. They can lose track of time, cease feeling pain during torture sessions or experience in a very detached way, become non-verbal, or become ‘hazy’ or ‘dreamy’. They can become non-responsive or physically limp, and it can take minutes for them to ‘come back to their body’. Although this can sometimes be disconcerting to their dom, who may worry they’re in medical distress, the sub generally enjoys this sensation.

This form of subspace is caused by a combination of physical and mental stimuli. During pain play, a whole host of hormones can be released by the body to cope with the experience; adrenaline, cortisol, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins can flood the sub’s body and brain. These hormones help the body manage pain and other harsh sensations and can help the sub experience pain as pleasure.

But there is also a psychological component to subspace. Letting go of control can be intensely pleasurable and may alleviate feelings of stress, shame, fear, and other negative emotions, creating a powerful sense of relaxation and pleasure. Years ago, I knew a boy who could enter a form of subspace just by being talked down to; he’d get a dreamy expression on his face, would become incoherent, and might say he was “falling” over and over again. Some cashslaves can be talked into a state of total submission where they simply want to send money over and over again and lose the ability to say no to their cashmaster. As I noted, not all subs achieve this, although most serious subs would like to get there. To some extent, it is likely a skill that a sub may be able to learn over time, making it easier for them to access subspace during play.

Learning to manage a sub’s subspace is an important element of being dominant. It raises complicated issues of safety and consent. If a sub becomes so detached from their body that they cannot say they are experiencing bad pain, the possibility of the dom accidentally injuring them increases. If a sub becomes so disconnected that they are unresponsive, can they genuinely consent to continuing play? As awareness of issues of consent and safety spread within the BDSM community toward the end of the 20th century, kinksters talked frequency about subspace: how to achieve it, what caused it, what problems it created, and so on.

But in the past 2-3 years, I’ve started seeing ‘subspace’ used in a very different sense, to refer to a state of deep submission to a dom but one that was entirely ‘conscious’. In this usage, the issue is not pain play but rather the core dynamic of dominance and submission. A sub who is in subspace is properly focused on their dom’s wishes and comfort and is successfully putting aside their own ego and fully embracing their inferior status. A good dom knows how to put his sub into a proper subspace mindset through things like verbal play, confidence, physical aggression and displays of athleticism, and so on. A sub in subspace worships their dom as a vastly superior being. In this state, a sub will perform chores, tribute financially, endure physical abuse, an become highly receptive to sexual demands, and feel deeply grateful for the opportunity to do so.

The people using ‘subspace’ in this sense are typically younger or newer kinksters and are often involved in what used to be more fringe forms of play, like pup play, findom, and the alpha/faggot dynamic. Pups and their handlers will sometimes talk about ‘pupspace’, the mindset of being a puppy. It makes sense that these newer/fringe communities would develop their own meaning for the term, to serve their perceived needs as they gain experience, have conversations within their groups, and struggle with the complexities of understanding their practices. Since they are less connected to the ‘traditional’ kink community, they may be unaware of the ‘traditional’ terminology, or they may repurpose a term to suit their particular needs.

It’s not a question of the ‘traditional’ sense of the word being objectively right and the newer sense of it being wrong. Language constantly evolves to reflect the needs and wishes of people. Just think about how the terms used within the LGBT community have evolved over my own lifetime. It would be a mistake to put a term like ‘subspace’ in an Old Guard straightjacket and insist that it can only mean one thing. Instead, simply recognize that the term has developed a second use, so when you’re reading or conversing with another people and the term comes up, clarify what it means for the person using it, if the meaning isn’t clear from the context.

1 thought on “What is Subspace?

  1. Have found sub space a number of times and never had to worry as my Dom knew me well enough to keep the play either agreed parameters or if introducing something new it was not a hard limit..,

    Liked by 1 person

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