How do I know if I’m masochistic or just submissive?

Thank you whoever found my blog by searching for “how do i know if i’m masochistic or just submissive?” that’s a really good question 🙂

It’s really easy to mix these up and depending on how you define “masochistic” there’s a lot of gray area. I personally like Carolyn’s definition, which is that masochistic just means that you can use pain to get where you want to go. It doesn’t mean you enjoy the sensation of pain, just that you have reasons for wanting to experience it. Some people really enjoy the endorphin rush from a good beating, some people love the way pain gets them out of their heads and into their bodies, some people like to see how much they can take and push their own limits, some people need pain to trigger an emotional catharsis etc, etc. It’s not unlike the reason I run, actually 🙂 Sometimes it’s actually fun to go for a run, and sometimes I hate it a whole lot. But even when I just want it to be over already, it still helps me relax, I still feel a sense of accomplishment when I’m done, and it still helps me sleep. Oh and it feels great when I stop.

Basically masochism is about physical sensations, even if you’re using those sensations to create an emotional response in yourself.

Submission, on the other hand, is about handing over control/authority/power to someone else. Some people feel warm and fuzzy and loved when someone else cares enough about them to make decisions for them, some people get turned on by being told what to do, some people express love and affection by giving decision-making power to their partner and doing nice things for them, some people just like having a leader in their relationships, etc, etc.

I would say that submission is about how you run your personal relationships, and not necessarily romantic ones. Aromantic people who are into d/s exist, after all, and so do people who just happen to not have a romantic relationship with their dom/sub/insert preferred title here. I say ‘personal relationships’ here because submission most certainly does not mean that you’re a doormat for everyone to walk on, it means that you like to let your partner(s) run the show.

The confusing part is how common it is for submissive people to also be masochistic and how common it is for masochistic play to appear submissive.

Because so much of the porn we watch and stories we read (both fictional and non), focus on doms doing things, often painful things, to submissive people, it’s really easy to get the idea that submission is fundamentally about having those things done to you. For the same reason, it’s really easy to get the idea that if you want those things done to you, you must be submissive.

Another thing that muddies the waters is that it’s not exactly unusual for submissive people who don’t like pain to take it to make their partners happy. This can look a lot like masochism, and you know, there’s a pretty solid argument to be made that “I love the look on my dom’s face when she whips me” isn’t so different from “I love the endorphin rush I get from a good needle scene”, but I personally see taking pain to please a dom as more submissive than masochistic.

So given all that gray area, how do you figure out whether you’re masochistic or submissive? That’s a tough question, but I have a couple of ideas. First of all, try some stuff. It could be that you only like particular kinds of pain, or only enjoy submitting to people you know really well. The more stuff you try, the more chances you have to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. Oh, and to be clear, when I say that, I absolutely do not mean that you should pressure yourself to try stuff you’re sure you’ll hate or that freak you out. I’m strictly talking about mentally translating “meh” to “why not?”

I also have a couple of thought experiments:

Imagine having a scene where the person who inflicts pain on you does it because you like it and they want you to be happy. There are no surprises in this scene, no “Oh do you hate that toy? I’m going to hit you with it more”, everything happens exactly how you like it and they only use your favourite toys. Would that scene be fun for you or would you feel like something was missing?

Here’s another scene to imagine: suppose your dom takes a whole scene to do just stuff they like. Say, tickling for example (if you hate being tickled, imagine they’re using a whartenberg wheel or something else that’s not especially painful but can be annoying if you don’t like it). Something that you feel kind of “meh” about, but that they really love. Imagine the whole time your dom is having a blast and they really enjoy the way you react even though you would never ask for a tickling scene for the sake of having a tickling scene. Would that scene be fun for you or would you feel like something was missing?

Readers, how did you or your partners figure out whether you/they were submissive or masochistic?

6 thoughts on “How do I know if I’m masochistic or just submissive?

  1. What a great question. I hope that person finds their way back here.

    And then you’ve got me, who can never tell if “I really enjoy this sensation which, I am led to believe, is considered painful by other people, but just feels…good-intense…to me,” counts as masochism or not. 😀

    First scene example sounds pretty awesome, but then, I know I’m at least something of a dominant bottom.

    Second scene…hmmm! I could definitely enjoy parts of a scene that were like that. I love seeing my partner’s face light up. I’d be grinning just because they were. And even if I weren’t totally into the thing for itself, it could feel like a gift to them, and I love giving gifts. On the other hand, a whole scene like that would probably be boring? I don’t think just doing what they want would feed me enough. It might even make me a bit resentful if they were having super tons of lots of fun and I was kind of sitting there going “meh.” 😛

    (But then, I’m never sure if the right-side-of-slash portion of my switch tendencies are sub ones or bottom ones, anyway. This doesn’t make me think they’re more submissive!)

  2. Stabbity,
    Great question and great answer. The thought experiment is great. I’m not in a kink oriented relationship so can’t directly answer you’re question, but the second scenario reinforces my belief that I’m im both strongly submissive and strongly masochistic.
    Love your blog and I read it consistently, though rarely comment.

  3. Yes, a good question and well put.

    Personally, I would classify myself as submissive with a streak of masochism. My ideal is a normal male/female relationship, just with a different dynamic – my lady is the boss. We would discuss, offer our opinions on subjects and lifestyle decisions, but my lady’s decision would be the final say.

    The whole wearing collars, crawling about thing is not for me. In other words, I accept female domination, but not unnecessary cruelty.

    As to the masochistic side, I would accept the need for punishment for any serious misbehaviour or disobedience.

  4. I think there are two common pitfalls in the “submissive vs. masochistic classification”:

    First are the people who are “emotional masochists” as in, they enjoy being treated badly (as badly as they want, obviously) but don’t enjoy following orders etc. But because they don’t necessarily like bodily pain they will say “sub” especially if they are new and don’t know the nuances.

    The second are (thanks, femdom porn!^^) the people who are into serving/letting others lead, but not into high protocoll, and who have seen to much of high protocoll so they think they can’t be submissive because they’re not into slav positions and whatnot. So they’ll classify themselves as “masochists” while they are more sub than maso.

    I have at least met those two “types”, so today if a prospective date tells me they’re submissive and doesn’t have to much experience, I generally try to find out if they are really submissive or if they are emotionally masochistic, and if a prospective date tells me they’re a masochist, I try to find out whether they’re into pain or whether they’re submissive but into low protocoll.

    • so they think they can’t be submissive because they’re not into slav positions and whatnot

      Ha! I spent so long thinking I couldn’t possibly be a real dom because I thought memorizing slave positions sounded like about as much fun as watching paint dry. I can kind of understand the appeal of ritual and knowing exactly what you’re supposed to do, but that is so very not for me.

      I totally forgot about emotional masochists, that’s a good point. It’s got to be tough to tease emotional masochism and submission apart – oh hey, I wonder how many of the men who appear really self-loathing and bore the shit out of me are really just emotional masochists who don’t know there’s a word for it. I bet there’s a whole nother blog post in that 🙂

      • The questions I like to ask is “How do you want to feel during the scene?” and “How (in which feeling) do you want the scene to end? Do you want the feeling that you’ve been “good”?”

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