Updated: Aug 22, 2022
My last post about sub space got a flood of responses. Most of the 3,000+ people who replied here and on Fetlife were very complimentary. I appreciate the kind words. A few folks sent me links to articles which link sub space to a simple norepinephrine (aka adrenaline) release.
The most popular article people sent me a link too was one of the Frisky Business Boutique blog. The article begins with a disclaimer that the person is not a medial professional but they checked with a few others who are in the medical field to make sure they weren’t totally off base. The article then guides the reader through the “stages” of sub space based on theoretical literature on the release of endorphine and adrenaline.
Yes, these brain chemicals do influence sub space. Yes, they do get released in people who experience pain. No, they are not the sum total of the reason people experience sub space. Looking at sub space as simply “brain chemistry” misses much of the actual experience of sub space.
Can Sub Space Be Explained as a Flood of Chemicals?
Let me address a few things in the article:
The author starts by describing Stage I as “When a scene first starts, there are no endorphins in the submissive and even fairly light torment is very stingy, ouchy, and, well, painful!”
Ok, if you walk into a location to do a scene with no mental preparation, planning or discussion, I could believe this. However, as someone who has played for a very long time, here is my experience. Scenes that end in sub space for me begin long before any physical sensations are delivered. Most of the time, my partners and I spend some time talking or texting prior to the event. Generally, I am required to do some sort of preparation for a scene.
Much of the time, the texting and preparation start my descent into sub space. My partner will generally establish any new parameters for the scene and there will be some talk about desired outcomes. This starts the flow of hormones and adrenaline long before I start a scene. Generally, I shower, shave, prepare my ass for play, and insert a butt plug before I meet with my partner. I dress (or undress) as instructed. Often times when they come to my place to play, I wait in a prescribed position for them to arrive. All of this helps set the head space and starts brain chemistry switches long before I am ever touched.
The author continues “next 10 minutes is spent doing anything that provides relatively light but constant stimulation to induce the bottom’s body to create the next endorphin load for release.” Okay, first, unless you are doing something where there needs to be time limits, people in a scene are not watching a clock. Yes, when I have done rope scenes, the rigger will pay strict attention to the amount of time spent in suspension. However, with impact and sensation types of play, there is little attention paid to time. This article is based on the conceit that scenes happen in 10 minute increments to coincide with the bodies release of specific chemicals. If you look at the timeline, any scene under an hour should never produce sub space.
That is simply false. Some people reach sub space very quickly with certain partners. Others will never reach it. If sub space was as simple as an extended set of chemical releases, every sub could enjoy an hour long scene broken into 10 minute segments and reach sub space. That is not the case, so, there has to be something more to reaching sub space than just a chemical flood of the brain.
“Level Three and Four” – Early Sub Space
The author contends once a sub reached Level Three, they will be in a early form of sub space. It is described as “Now at Level Three, the bottom will definitely feel a little bit woozy, exhibiting a mildly-drugged state. His eyelids should appear droopy, and he will fall into a more relaxed condition than before, more low moans and groans, and lower inhibitions.”
From both my experience and the hundreds of comments I received from other subs, this type of sub space is only an occasional thing in some scenes. The most common description of sub space is “floating” and “happy” and “light” and “flying.” These actual descriptions of sub space stand in stark contrast to “mildly-drugged” and “droopy.” Yes, someone experiencing just a flood of brain chemicals will exhibit this. Sub space, however, is beyond a simple chemical rush explanation. That is why subs who experience sub space don’t describe it the way the article does.
The article continues, “At this Level Four state, there is a very definite altered state of consciousness. The bottom will feel drugged and will be very compliant and submissive now. This is countered, however, by the largest charges of adrenalin [sic] he has received so far, the result of the intense climax just used to push him over this edge. The bottom is still quite communicative and his reaction time is still quick.”
Again, the theory in the article does not match most descriptions of sub space. According to the article, Level Four would not be reached for at least 30 minutes. Many, many subs get to sub space well before this. According to the article, to produce a Level Four state, there has to have been at least 20 minutes of intense play and 10 minutes of mild play. Let’s look at actual descriptions of sub space.
Several subs messaged me to mention they become unable to communicate. The author states you can be in full sub space and “still quite communicative and his reaction time is still quick.” Yes, for some of us, this is the case. For others, undergoing the type of play the author claims is necessary to reach Level Four (for the author, the point at which sub space starts), we become unable to communicate. I have had my ability to talk and communicate change in under 20 minutes. This is impossible according to the author of the piece.
“Level Five” – Deep Sub Space
The author proceeds to Level Five with this description, ” The bottom will have a very high pain threshold at this time, but also will be fairly groggy and less able to communicate a safe word. In fact, the bottom will now be so compliant that it is very unlikely that he would use it even if he ought to do so! So, push this “grand finale” with finesse and sensitivity to what is going on with the bottom! At the other end of the 10- to 30- second climactic build in intensity – in a wonderful blast – this latest endorphin load will push the bottom into Level Five: a state of supreme ecstasy.”
So, this gets a few things right. In very deep sub space submissives can lose the ability to use a safe word. We can become overly compliant and submissive. We do tend to develop a high pain threshold as the scene progresses.
The way the author of the article sets up a scene is that it is only at this point that the submissive can reach “supreme ecstasy.” In my experience and that related to me by many subs, climax and orgasm can be achieved at different times throughout a scene. Not everyone can reach “supreme ecstasy” through impact and sensation play. A 10- to 30- second climatic build in intensity” will not necessarily lead a sub to “a wonderful blast.” If the submissive is deep in sub space as Level Five is described, they may not actually be able to experience ecstasy or climax in this stage. Many subs describe that at this point in play they “float off” or the “pain becomes a light” or they “fly about the room.” Remaining grounded enough in your body at this stage to experience a grand climax is not something a lot of subs can do.
The author then goes into a long description of the importance and type of after care needed from an intense scene. They point to the experience of sub drop as a reason for after care. Yes, sub drop does occur and it is intense. However, sub drop can occur without reaching deep sub space. Sub drop is not correlated 1:1 with sub space. If sub space was only a chemical flood, sub drop would always follow sub space. The absorption of all these chemicals should cause sub drop every time. The reality is, many, many subs experience sub space without ever reaching sub drop.
Yes, after care is important. Subs need to reground and “come back to earth” so they can appropriately interact with the world. The article prescribes a standard bit of after care. The reality is, subs are unique. Some of us need cuddling and holding. Some of us need to sit at the feet of the D-type and just be quite. Some of us need to be told we did a good job. Some of us need to fall asleep in the arms of our D-type. You have to know your sub to know what they need.
I agree that brain chemicals help with sub space. However, this is too simplistic and fails to capture the reality of many submission experiences. I get that people who have not experienced sub space want to understand it and need an explanation. A medical model provides a simple thing they can understand.
The Problem with Believing the “Medical Model” of Sub Space
I am concerned however, at the number of D-types who sent this article and claimed this was THE explanation of sub space. Submissives are humans and therefore unique. We are also more than simple chemical factories. Relying on a medical model to explain something as complex as an altered state brought on without drug consumption can be dangerous. It gives D-types the idea that they “get it.” If their sub does not respond as proscribed, I worry they will blame the sub or invalidate that person’s experience.
Finally, this article is based on theory. There is not a study where someone agrees to undergo a scene, then every 5 or 10 minutes, the scene is stopped, blood is drawn, cortisol levels are measured, heart rate and blood pressure are taken, then they continue the scene. It is an attempt to explain a deep psychological experience using basic literature on brain chemistry. I would say this is a decent start to a medical theory of sub space, but only that. A very simple start.
Both submissives and D-types need to think more about sub space. We need to talk about it with each other and with others. We need to be open to the idea that sub space is complex. We need to recognize that as smart as we may think we are, a theoretical article by a non-professional is not the key to understanding sub space.