If you’ve Googled “subspace,” you may have been frustrated by pages of articles on linear algebra and Star Trek. But experienced kinksters know that subspace is a mental place a submissive, bottom or masochist can go in a scene. What exactly is it, how do you get there, and why would you want to go in the first place?
What is subspace?
In BDSM, subspace refers to that delicious, floaty, blissed-out headspace that a submissive partner sometimes reaches. (It would also be a great name for a kinky club.) It’s an altered state of consciousness that some people reach more easily than others. Commonly, there’s a set of “symptoms” including some or all of the following:
- Dissociation, or feeling like you’re in “another world”
- A feeling of calm and well-being
- Extreme relaxation or “floppiness”
- A deep sense of pleasure
- Slowed responses to stimuli or commands
- Difficulty speaking
- Feeling “loopy,” giggly or high
- Time dilation
Written out that way, it sounds like a response to a drug. And in some ways, it is! The physical response to endorphins brought on by pain can sometimes lead to subspace. Given that endorphins are the body’s own opioids, this makes a certain amount of sense.
Some people, though, reach subspace without playing with pain at all. Instead, they enter an altered state through acts of service, roleplay, or even deep submission. Think of subspace as a room with many different doors – physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. The only requirement is wanting to go in!
So how do you get into subspace?
For some bottoms, getting into subspace is easy – if not unavoidable! Bottoms who are very sensitive to dominance can “drop” into subspace very quickly under the right conditions. For others, it can be a real struggle. With that said, here’s some ways to access that elusive state.
A good flogging, caning, or other pain play is a primary doorway for some people. Especially for folks who have trouble letting go of control, stressing the body can handily short-circuit the hamster-wheel of the mind. Simply put, when your body is under stress, it’s hard for your brain to think of anything else! A long, slow buildup of pain can set up an endorphin cascade which, sometimes, can tip you over into subspace. In this state, kinksters often describe having reduced pain sensitivity, a feeling of euphoria, and a release from their worries and cares.
Submission itself can put a bottom into an altered state. As a scene begins and a dominant gives orders and commands, a submissive can find great joy, relaxation, and serenity in performing service. While at first, you might simply kneel when told to kneel and strip when told to strip, as a scene continues, you might get tunnel vision, a slowing of time, and the sensation that the dominant is all that exists and their pleasure is all that matters. This is also a kind of subspace, and might be just as chemical as the physiological kind. In this case, it likely has more to do with a shift in brainwaves, as the bottom goes from a more alert state into deeper relaxation and flow.
Ritual is a primary human need. Whether a major ritual like a wedding, or a daily ritual like morning coffee, ritualized acts change our consciousness, make us behave differently, or mark beginnings and endings.
BDSM can provide a lot of frameworks for exploring ritual, including roleplay scenarios. It’s like theatre: there’s props and costumes and certain scripts to perform. Doing these things to change your external reality can change your internal reality, too. Fastening a submissive’s collar can be a ritual marker: the scene has begun. Putting on certain clothing or toys can also be a ritualized act that marks the space of a scene as special. Whether you’re pretending to be a puppy, doing a teacher/schoolgirl scene, or getting wrapped in latex to be put on display, those ritualized changes can induce subspace.
So now that you know what subspace is, why would you want to go there? For some people, it’s a way of letting go of worries and letting themselves “float” for a while. For others, it just feels really, really good. In most cases, it can be an exploration of deep trust between you and your dominant. In fact, it can be difficult to get into subspace without the sense that your dominant is competent, in control, and trustworthy. With a lot of trust, you can really put yourself in someone else’s hands for a while. And that can feel incredibly freeing.
For more about the psychology of BDSM and possible benefits of subspace, read our article How Endorphins from Kink Play can Help Depression.
Is it safe?
As with everything in BDSM, approach subspace with care. It’s a vulnerable state, and you shouldn’t trust just anyone with your body and mind. Sometimes, people in subspace are not able to safeword, and some simply won’t because they are not experiencing pain in the same way as usual. Whether physically or emotionally, a dominant can easily harm someone when they’re in subspace.
If you want to explore it, or already know that you tend to go there easily, talk about it with your play partner beforehand. If you know what it’s like when you’re in that space, describe what it looks like to your dominant – especially if they’re new to kink, or new to playing with you.
A good general rule is that once you reach subspace, the dominant should stop escalating and keep things at the same intensity level or lower. Playing in subspace also puts more responsibility on the dominant to “bring you back” afterward, and to make sure your aftercare is thorough and specific to your needs.
In short, subspace isn’t some “holy grail” of kink. It can be a beautiful place to visit, and there are many possible routes. But remember to have a trustworthy traveling partner – and enjoy the journey, even if the quest is elusive!
Remember, submissives aren’t the only ones who need aftercare! Learn more in How to Cope with “Top Drop.”