This article originally appeared on ArcaneAdvice.com.
A bright new submissive wrote me asking how could she tell if she was really submissive? The question seemed slightly moot at first, as the reason we were speaking was because I was a Dom and she was a submissive seeking knowledge. Nonetheless the question and our ensuing discussion quickly touched on a variety of key points that seem to describe in a mutually positive way the virtues of both Vanilla as well as the virtues of being Submissive. I would not pretend that our conversation covered every element to consider when asking oneself this question, however I enjoyed the conversation very much. I felt it showed that being Vanilla is not a negative thing at all, and in fact can be quite beautiful, while at the same time it reflected how embracing Submission – if that is what your soul is calling for – can share many of the same virtues the Vanilla path holds while at the same time glistening with a whole set of separate virtues unique to the path of Submission. It struck me as quite an egalitarian assessment and so I chose to present the essential points of the discussion here.
Summarizing the “essential” difference between Vanilla and Submissive, I elected to look at seven key qualities:
BEING EXPOSED (as in the joy of being able to be so)
To begin to see the difference between the Vanilla Path and the Submissive Path, we will examine each of these seven qualities from both the Vanilla and the Submissive perspectives. To say the very least, this list of seven key points is NOT the sum total of all there is to the difference between Vanilla and Submissive. Nonetheless, I chose these seven key points as reasonable markers of some of the concepts one might consider and contemplate in the pursuit of helping to discern which way the compass points in one’s own nature….
Vanilla – It is certainly true that a healthy Vanilla couple will seek and share a very strong Connection. That feeling of Being Connected to someone, as opposed to just conversing or having a one-night stand, is perhaps that titillating feeling everyone gets as they become genuinely fond of the other person and sense that same fondness being returned. Perhaps it arises as mutual likes are discovered, or one feels a similarity of temperament over time with another. It is possible this even leads to the experience of Love as the Connection grows and that fondness turns to genuine affection and caring. Certainly healthy Vanilla couples the world over feel a very strong sense of Romantic and even Soul Connection, and it often becomes a quality one desires when seeking a longer-term partner.
Submissive – In the D/s World, Connection contains all the above qualities, and yet it becomes nearly tangible, like something you can taste or touch, when it begins to contain the Connection between a well-tuned Dom and sub. Within the extreme focus that comes with D/s, comes a kind of Connection that can feel literally like an electrical circuit being completed, with the power flow streaming cyclically between the two – from Dom to sub as the Dominant exerts his best efforts upon the submissive, cycling back with the submissive’s inner beauty and flowering being a force of empowerment back into the Dom’s designs and choices. It is a one-way flow of power but a cycle of empowerment. It is not a “power exchange” as the misnomer calls it, yet it is most definitely a Power Flow, and it requires both the Dom and the sub to complete the circuit and have that electrical Connection truly flow.
The Relevant Questions r.e. CONNECTION:
Is the Romantic and Soul Connection enough for you? Or in addition do you seek that further Electric, Living, Empowering Force of the D/s Connection?
Vanilla – Vanilla couples who share Intensity usually are referring to an activity they share (thinking of intensity in a positive light, as opposed to the intensity of conflicting opinion in an argument – that is not the Intensity we speak of here). They may share an adrenalin rush from skydiving together or riding the roller-coasters at a theme park. They might share the Intense Joy of taking a great, traveling adventure together. They might share the intensity of a night of mad, passionate love-making where both come alive in their most animalistic way. However, in the day-to-day life of a Vanilla Couple, Intensity is not usually a quality that is sought, but rather there is much more of a tendency to opt for Peace, Calmness, Steadiness, and Equilibrium.
Submissive – A submissive “in role” certainly knows the feeling of their breath being taken away when their Dom asks for any kind of D/s activity that gladly reminds the submissive of the fact that they share D/s. For example, that moment in the shopping mall when the Dom whispers into the ear of the submissive, “stand at attention.” The submissive intuitively knows that taking a predetermined posture is harmless and most likely unnoticed by others around them, yet at the same time she gets to enjoy the Rush, the Buzz of even the tiniest level of “naughtiness”…. of the microscopic moment of Discipline that is happening…. of the fact that in the space of merely a few second she has been transported out of the mundane and into the clear space of D/s. A moment later the posture is relaxed and the two go on about their business, but the excitement, the added Intensity of KNOWING that at any time the Power and Embrace of D/s can arise, remains alive in their minds. In a 24/7 for example, that is a background Intensity that never fades. For the Dom and sub however, this does not even remotely take into account the extremely overt Intensity of any kind of BDSM scene, which unlike their Vanilla counterparts is an activity shared by the D/s couple. Perhaps the main difference is that a D/s Couple can share that Intensity at any time night or day, with an act as simple as the Dom choosing to give his submissive a quick, sweet spanking. This is as opposed to the Vanilla couple with whom it is more a matter of leaving their home (with the exception of hot sex) to share a similar Intensity.
The Relevant Question r.e. INTENSITY:
Are you satisfied with sharing fewer moments of Intensity with your partner on special occasions and in bed, or do you want to be in a relationship where Intensity is a more pervading and continuing element that you can share with greater randomness in regards to the where and when, and particularly express in moments of BDSM activity?
Vanilla – It would be absurd to suggest that Vanillas are incapable of profound levels of Depth in their relationships – of course they are! Most of Shakespeare’s love stories, the great works of inspired artists throughout time, and endless tales of Love so deep that it shakes the foundations of the gods themselves are peppered throughout human history in the tales of Vanilla Couples. Books on the Spirituality of Vanilla Couples, including the Kama Sutra itself, emphasize again and again that ANY Couple – Vanilla, D/s, or otherwise – can attain immaculate Depth in their relationship if the two are aligned to connect in such a way.
Submissive – The submissive and the D/s Couple share those same opportunities for Depth that the Vanilla Couples can attain, with the added condition that the roles of Dominant and submissive can in themselves become so Deep as to become Spiritual, like a living breathing work of Art, “Life As Art” if you will. Now that said, there is a caveat – in D/s the Dom and the sub can become too entrenched in the “roles” of “Dominant” and “submissive” such that these roles that normally can be experienced with incredible intensity, become instead a sort of misleading, 2-Dimensional “pseudo-depth” ensuing from too much adherence to the “role” while losing sight of that beautiful, all-encompassing, human Depth that is the birthright of every couple. This is one reason why I strongly emphasize that the Dom and the sub must never lose sight of the fact that they are two living, loving human beings no matter what. To have Depth between a Dom and a sub who also share a deep love of their roles yet prize their connection as two loving beings first and foremost is truly the Double Win.
The Relevant Questions r.e. DEPTH:
Do you seek a pure and poetic love which will encompass you in your calm human nature, and nothing more? Or in addition, do you also seek immersion into the expansion and flowering of your own submissive soul vis-a-vis your Dom’s devotion into expressing his Dominance alongside your submission, both at your very, very best?
Vanilla – In the Vanilla world, that moment when you realize you are vulnerable to your partner can be both scary and also very relieving, as you suddenly understand you have found someone with whom you can “take off your mask,” lower your guard, and perhaps even be yourself in a way that you feel you must otherwise defend or hide in your daily life. It is a sense of trust that you extend, hoping with unspecified terms that the one to whom you have made yourself Vulnerable will protect and respect whatever fragility you have let them see. If that feeling of Vulnerability makes you feel loved and respected in return, if you feel protected and safe in your Vulnerability, then that will certainly bring a Vanilla Couple closer together.
Submissive – Likewise a submissive can share that same feeling of Vanilla Vulnerability, and yet with the submissive it can and will go so much deeper. The submissive’s gesture to their Dom of giving themselves to the Dom to be nurtured, shaped, taught and trained…. to release into the realm of BDSM where the Dom will use a variety of toys upon the submissive…. to allow the Dom to bind or restrain the submissive…. all these will make the submissive feel incredibly Vulnerable. That these same activities EXCITE the submissive, that this level of Vulnerability translates into Blissful Surrender and Personal Ecstasy for the submissive, are the straight-forward distinctions that separate Vanilla Vulnerability from Submissive Vulnerability. Indeed it is a profound difference.
The Relevant Question r.e. VULNERABILITY:
Does the happy idea of allowing yourself to be Vulnerable to your partner extend only as far as that personal level of taking off your mask and being beautifully accepted for who you are as an evolving human being?
Or do you get Excited at the idea of taking your Vulnerability to a much greater magnitude that entails being Vulnerable not only emotionally as described above, but also quite literally physically and mentally as well with your beloved Dominant, a man you truly Trust?
Vanilla – It is always a beautiful exchange when a Vanilla Couple can be truly Open and Honest with each other. Building ANY relationship on a foundation of Openness and Honesty will always produce a quality exchange between the two. It will build Respect. It will build Trust. Most of the time this Openness will arise in the form of small moments or events from the Vanilla person’s life which they feel can be related to their partner even though there might be a quality of dubiousness about the moment or event. It is that knowledge that with your intimate partner that you can still share the information and know they will still love you and respect you that makes Openness with a Vanilla partner a joy to share.
Submissive – In the world of D/s the exposure of the Soul can go extremely deep. A Dominant might feel they need to KNOW what is going on inside their submissive, and might make inquiries aimed at revealing a perspective inside the mind and heart of their beloved submissive. Equally, the submissive might have a whole maelstrom of feelings whirling away inside herself, and depend upon the knowledge that she can come to her Dom to help her sort out these feelings. In addition to all that “being Open” means to the daily lives of a Vanilla Couple, in a D/s Couple being Open can be a road into the Deep Psychology of the submissive, given that the Dominant is peaceful enough and centered enough themselves to take on that very serious Responsibility. At the least, the submissive is someone who seeks to be able to come to one whom they trust far above anyone else, their Dom, and share not only dubious moments or events, but also the deepest inner workings of her soul. In an ideal D/s Relationship this equates to a Dom who is capable of handling such depth and clearly seeing the love in his submissive’s trust, and a Dom who can embrace the Openness of his submissive and give her back Calm and Positive Understanding to the best of his ability.
In finely-tuned D/s the Dominant in turn will also require the ability to be completely Open with his submissive so that he can express his designs and needs in a loving atmosphere of receptivity. Though the Dominant holds the power of command, for the submissive to hold powerful respect and trust for her Dom such that she can cleanly receive his input with the mechanism of positive feedback going in both directions (given adherence and appreciation of D/s Etiquette, e.g. keeping the communication High Quality), is foundational to creating the D/s Dance in its highest form.
One cannot overlook the more common quality of plain and simple COMMUNICATION SKILLS as well. In D/s, Openness also equates to being able to TALK about ANY activity that the two engage in, be it a BDSM scene, the Training of the submissive, and / or any other exploration of the D/s Lifestyle or Activities (again given the appropriate decorum of said communication at a given time). D/s Couples ABSOLUTELY WILL push the envelope father than their Vanilla counterparts, and as such Openness and Communication must be held as truly esteemed guiding principles.
The Relevant Questions r.e. OPENNESS:
Do you seek a partner with whom you can safely confide any aspect of yourself and find acceptance with them and that’s enough? Or do you furthermore seek to expose your Deepest Inner Workings to a Dom you look up to, who can accept whatever comes up and continue to guide you along in your submissive journey? Are you satisfied if your Openness leads to an appreciation of Honesty and builds Trust and stops there, or should it additionally become an Active Force of Communication that elicits Great Spoken Detail when addressing activities that will literally Push The Envelope of your very existence?
Vanilla – In the world of Vanilla Couples, far too often allowing oneself to be Exposed to one’s partner is a slow-coming quality that often takes great time and familiarity to attain. People commonly have all manner of hidden aspects of themselves that they fear will shock or drive away a partner if these qualities were known. Amongst these qualities are such things as an overly sensitive nature, aggressive thoughts, or deviant sexual fantasies. Carl Jung the famous psychologist called these the Shadow Self, the parts one generally keeps hidden and / or suppressed out of fear of being judged. In Vanilla Couples the degree to which one allows oneself to be Exposed fills the entire range from “you will never see or know these parts of me” to “please accept all my oddities.” There is no common amount of Exposure that can be ascribed to a Vanilla Couple – it really comes down to what the individual feels can be safely expressed, or what they feel had best be kept hidden away for fear of being judged.
Submissive – This is one area in which a submissive can let go and release in ways Vanilla’s are not commonly capable of doing. Within a D/s Couple, the Dom has the Living Opportunity to Expose his own Shadow Self via the various scenes, toys, and mutually acceptable activities that the Dom and sub will share. Likewise, the submissive is given the clear and open opportunity to express her own Shadow Self, her submissive soul, her “darkest” fantasies, her need for surrender, her need for someone else – one man – to take control, and much more, all vis-a-vis what the Dom expresses. Suddenly the “hidden matter” of the Shadow Self becomes veritable Food For Mutual Pleasure between the flowing exchange of the Dom and sub who are well-tuned and able to appreciate the kinks and quirks of these previously hidden elements. The submissive can allow herself to be Exposed in a light of genuine acceptance because the two are relaxed and capable of feeling safe with their own Shadow Selves being in the open with each other. The very nature of the Dom’s Shadow Self – often controlling, sexually aggressive, playfully deviant, and perhaps mischievously insidious – finds Safe Harbor when juxtaposed with a submissive who’s Shadow Self is perhaps deeply desiring of sexual submission, enlightened deviance, needing to be controlled, guided, molded, and shaped, and hoping to be with one with whom she can relax in the insidious machinations of her Dom’s playful (but nonetheless loving and safe) “dark genius.”
The Relevant Questions r.e. BEING EXPOSED:
Is the exposure of your Shadow Self and your hidden thoughts really not all that important to you or only a passing thought now and then?
Or do you seek to be able to Expose your most hidden, deviant thoughts to your partner? Is part of what you desire to expose a quality within yourself that craves for another to take control and guide you? Do you deeply desire to be with one who not only accepts your Shadow Self and submissive deviance, but who in fact Revels in it?
Vanilla – Trust can never be underestimated. It is perhaps one of the Holy Grails of ANY healthy relationship, Vanilla, D/s, or otherwise. To the Vanilla Couple, Trust means being able to Depend on your partner, to know they are there for you when the going gets tough, to know they do not lie to you nor distort the truth, to know they “have your back.” These are all absolutely honorable qualities to desire and seek in a Vanilla partner. Trust in ANY form is a beautiful thing. A Vanilla Couple will gain Trust for each other as they get to know each other, expose parts of themselves, make themselves a bit vulnerable here and there, and build that Trust over time.
Submissive – In the world of D/s, Trust still contains all the literal needs of Vanilla Trust, but it dives below into a far deeper level where it becomes a Living Thing Manifest. It goes beyond mere concepts and knowledge, and becomes a truly Tangible Experience. When the submissive is bound she Trusts her Dom to take her on a journey of the flesh – be it with BDSM toys or merely sexual – that will land her safe and healthy back where she started, though perhaps with a little more self-knowledge and a clear smile on her face. When the submissive kneels before her Dom while he Trains her, she Trusts that whatever Pathway he holds in mind for her evolution under his hand will be honorable and have her best interests in mind long-term. Likewise, via the Fidelity of finely tuned communication between the Dom and sub, the Dom learns to Trust the responses and messages from his submissive – during a scene, during Training, and during their daily life – such that he can continue to push himself to be at his very best with his submissive while secure in his own knowledge that he is proceeding along mutually acceptable lines from a profoundly deep connection. Trust within D/s is not merely a philosophical concept nor merely a happy experience of the heart — it is a Very Literal Experience that your partner is someone with whom you can put your life in their hands. A D/s Couple will often start by extending a modicum of Trust to the other to effectively “get started,” and through a series of successful scenes, delicious activities and inspired Training, as the smiles come and both eventually find that deep satisfaction they were seeking with each other – their D/s complement – where Trust will climb up the gradient until a Deeply Profound level of Trust is mutually attained and warmly embraced by both.
The Relevant Questions r.e. TRUST:
How DEEP do you want your experience of Trust to be? Will you be satisfied having mild to medium Trust in your heart for your partner? Perhaps even a sense of deep trust in your heart? Or do you need MORE – do you need the Living Experience of those moments when Trust is so In-Your-Face that their is plainly and simply no denying it, when you can almost taste it, feel it, and hold it in your hands?
I hope that by examining these Seven Points that you, dear reader, are able to answer the question in yourself, “is my desire for submission genuine?”
Whether you find that you are more suited to the Vanilla Path or whether you find that only the Path of Submission will satisfy your soul, I wish you the very best in your journey.
You can contact Arcane through The Crow Academy and read more advice and writings here. Follow Arcane @CrowAcademy as well as on Facebook. His new book Igniting the Fire is available now on Amazon.
Amazing. So much I’ve felt and have trouble coming up with the right expressive words to accurately describe the depth I seek in a relationship. Keep it coming. Thank you!
Amazing article. I’ll help a lot with my current evolving submissive. She has recently found out she is not full vanilla, and by reading this I’m confident she will understand better what I’ve been trying to explain.
Thanks a lot.
Hi Issac. Arcane here.
I think you may have missed one of the Main Points of the lesson, namely that BOTH Vanilla and Submissive have Their Own Virtues. One should not feel “lesser” because one chooses one path over the other. The Submissive path is only “better” for a Submissive; the Vanilla path is the best path if one leans towards Vanilla.
Can you mix the two? YES! Of course you can have some Vanilla aspects AND some Submissive Aspects. In fact, the honest-to-gosh Final Lesson often comes back to the words of the Oracle At Delphi in ancient Greece who said, when asked to sum up all her wisdom into one sentence, “Know Thyself.” We can extend that to a more contemporary translation, “Be Yourself.” This means do NOT try to be someone else or assume that what someone else chooses is the only way or automatically the best way if it does not work for you. This is especially true in the world of BDSM and Kink where No Two Kinksters Are Exactly Alike, and there are a thousand Ways To Play. Everyone is a little (or a lot) different. The trick is to try enough of the things that interest you and figure out which direction feels right for you.
So the quick answer is be as Vanilla AND as Submissive as whatever mix feels Good To You.
Isaac Kalder says
I fall mainly under the Vanilla Path. Is that bad at all? Being the fact that the Vanilla Path is lesser then the BDSM path? Being the fact that the D/S dynamic has EVERYTHING the Vanilla Path has, and MORE? Does that make the BDSM Path superior to the Vanilla Path? After reading this, it makes me feel a little inadequate that I am Vanilla like as in I SHOULD be into BDSM, Kink, D/S, or somehow learn to leave my Vanilla ways behind, and convert in to the apparently better path. It sounds like the D/S people have something much deeper that the Vanilla people will never be able to have. So, does Vanilla Path still have a valid place in the world, or is it just for people who are too scared to get into BDSM?
Amazing article.Thsnk you.
Elizabeth Huff says
This has got to be one of the best articles I have ever read. Thanks so very much!!