I hope you have been enjoying Rika’s Lair, my monthly column dedicated to thoughts and experiences regarding power dynamics in Service-Oriented D/s relationships. Look up “Ms. Rika” in the search box for links to all of my articles in KinkWeekly!
In my discussions with folks in the scene as well as folks who want to get into the scene, I’ve come across the notion that subs can be trained “like animals”; that they can be conditioned, usually through some sort of Pavlovian trigger, to respond to cause and effect and behave – perhaps without conscious acknowledgement – in accordance with the dominant’s desires. There are many folks, usually dog or horse trainers, who swear by the notion that subs will subconsciously respond to verbal and visual triggers through the use of repetition and positive / negative reinforcement – and that by using such techniques, one can create the perfect submissive.
I’m not a believer. At least, I’m not of the belief that it works the same way as it does with animals. I believe that there is far more complexity in the form of consent, negotiation, and agreement when it comes to humans. I don’t feel you “train” a sub; you “enable” them.
I acknowledge that there are many who will swear that training techniques do work the same way as it does with animals and have the “experience” to prove it. I challenge their experience: It is my belief that many submissives WANT to be trained and LOVE the idea of being ‘out of control’ – acting automatically ‘without will’ – and therefore, the techniques of animal training – interpreted as a kinky game and a means to those ends – motivates the sub to go along with the training. The end result LOOKS like Pavlovian training, but is actually only effective as long as the sub is willing to play along. When push comes to shove, the submissive is voluntarily complying…because it suits them. Unlike Pavlovian conditioning, the result is not subconscious at all…in fact, it’s quite the opposite.
The difference between humans and animals, is that humans rationalize. A human doesn’t just respond to stimulus, they analyze why that stimulus occurred and choose how to respond to it. If someone is creating a “Cause and effect” scenario for them, they seek to understand the motivation of that person; they intellectually recognize how the manipulation is intended to work. Humans may agree and react to that manipulation, but, unlike an animal, they are consciously aware of the motivation and intent of the actions and make a conscious decision to comply. That’s how humans work…and subs are humans (most of them!).
If you give a dog a treat every time it sits up and gives you its paw, it will eventually associate those things. Animals learn cause and effect. A dog will do the trick without knowing why you want them to do so. It does it without knowing they’re being trained. They just know that if they do this, they get that…so they do this if they want that.
A sub will also associate the treat with the trick; however, it is far deeper than that. The sub knows that the dominant is advancing this compensation. The sub understands that the dominant wants him to sit up and offer a paw … and that in order to get him to do that, the dominant is offering something that the sub wants in return (or something the sub wants to avoid – in the case of negative enforcement).
For some submissives, just having the dominant interested in training them in this way is enough to get them to comply. The compensation doesn’t even matter. It’s enough that the dominant enjoys the “game of training” and they are excited by the prospect that they will respond in a Pavlovian manner – so they choose to comply.
For others the sub is deciding – assessing the quality of the compensation and determining if it is ‘good enough’ to ‘earn’ their compliance. They feel in control of determining what it will take to “train them”. They may even choose to try to escalate the compensation over time, by slowing down the reaction time between cause and effect, in an attempt to prompt the dominant to increase the cause to obtain the same effect. You don’t see animals playing that game (if you can get a paw for a cookie, you don’t see the dog suddenly start to refuse to give you their paw unless you give them TWO cookies).
To me, training a sub is more about enabling them than manipulating them. I’m not trying to build up subconscious reactions to stimuli – there is an “automaton / Stepford” fantasy that’s just not my thing – My approach to “training” is to make sure my objectives and expectations are clear to the submissive and assure that they have the skills and materials to get the job done to the best of their ability. I’m not threatening them with what will happen if they don’t comply, nor am I rewarding them when they do. I’m simply assessing their performance and providing the feedback necessary (positive and negative) to demonstrate that I recognize their efforts and am interested in helping them to improve themselves. I’m completely open with my assessment – their sense of fulfillment when they’ve done a great job and I’m thrilled with their work, is its own reward…and conversely, if they are not hitting the mark, their own motivation to improve.
Ultimately, a sub who is motivated to be the best they can be, will seek out the assessment and demonstrate the self-discipline to improve. They will internalize your goals and objectives as their own. I don’t need to manipulate them. As a dominant, my job is to be extremely clear in communication of my preferences and expectations; to openly expect them to strive to meet those objectives; to recognize their efforts, assess them, and provide the feedback necessary to let them know how well they are meeting their goal; and to give them adjustments to help them improve when they’re not. The long termed goal, for both of us, is for them to learn to become the best submissive – for me – that they can possibly be.
Ms. Rika is a lifestyle dominant, educator, and author; living in the suburbs of NYC with her husband/slave. She has written several popular books on her approach to adding Dominant-Centric, Service-Oriented D/s to relationships. You can find her books (in both print and eBook formats) at Lulu.com (http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/msrika), or at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the iStore, Books-A Million, Kobo.com, or anywhere books are sold. Search for “Ms. Rika”. Write to me at Ms_Rika@hotmail.com