What Is A Sub? This BDSM Term Isn't Quite What You Saw In 'Fifty Shades'

If you asked me to name three things that intimidate me off the top of my head, I'd probably say skydiving, people who are bilingual, and BDSM. Skydiving because it's terrifying, people who are bilingual because they're smarter than I am, and BDSM because I honestly have no idea what it's about. What does it mean? What is a dom? And what is a sub? This BDSM term is more nuanced than you might think. I find that learning about a subject makes it less intimidating, so I reached out to sexpert Lola Jean to help break it all down.

Usually, partners engaging in BDSM take on different roles — one person being the dominant partner, and the other being the submissive partner. "BDSM is broken into three subcategories: Bondage/Discipline, Dominance/Submission, and Sadism/Masochism," Jean previously told Elite Daily. But when it comes to further defining what being a sub means, Jean says it's not so clear-cut. The dynamics between partners can be really complex, and being a sub can mean different things for different people. Jean says, "If I were to tell you that the submissive is the one who does what they are directed to do by the dominant, that would be incorrect and misleading."

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While it might seem that the dominant partner would have all the control and power, the submissive partner is actually the one setting the tone. Jean says that a sub isn't necessarily powerless, unless they choose to be. She says, "Being submissive doesn't mean they are powerless unless that is the desire of the submissive." Contrary to what you might have seen in Fifty Shades of Grey, the submissive should actually be calling the shots. "There are many different types of submissives," Jean explains, "But generally speaking, the submissive is who the BDSM experience is tailored around."

If you like to be in control in general, you might automatically think that being the dom would be right role for you. But being a sub could be satisfying for you, too. Jean says, "As a sub, I like being able to exert control and have it taken away or earned by someone else. It’s more about an act of giving versus receiving." So clearly being a sub doesn't mean being powerless or irrelevant to the sexual dynamic and can actually be a very empowering experience.

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Unsurprisingly, Jean recommends that if you're curious about engaging in BDSM, don't just try to emulate or recreate what you might've seen on TV or read about in books. Jean says, "There has to be a communication and base relationship — even if it's a friendship. If you try to pretend to know what you’re doing, or put on a character without having any empathy for that person, someone is more likely to get hurt - be it physically or emotionally." Jean cautions that while BDSM can be fun and empowering, it can also be dangerous. Pressuring a partner, or demanding that someone behave in a way that they don't feel comfortable doing is not fair in the game of sub and dom.

"When people hear BDSM, they tend to associate it with 'being mean,' aggressive behavior, and general sadism," Jean told Elite Daily. "BDSM can, in fact, be sweet, fulfilling, and creative. What gets lost is the understanding, effort, and responsibility that comes with being a Dominant, or the simultaneous control and vulnerability that comes with being a submissive."

If BDSM piques your interest, it's worth taking your time to explore the community and find your sweet spot in it. Sometimes, the best things in life require stepping outside the box.