Compelling Issues

PSA: You’re Not A “Bad Feminist” For Enjoying Submissive Sex

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Sex is amazing, but it’s also a minefield to navigate. Beyond the slippery body parts, sharp elbows, and strange noises, there is an inherent and constant give-and-take between partners about what is acceptable and what crosses a line. Women know that we are strong, worthy of love and respect, and should not ever put up with behavior that makes them feel degraded or put down. But it can be confusing and unsettling when things intolerable in “real” life become turn-ons in bed.

“It’s okay to enjoy whatever type of sex between consenting adults you enjoy,” said an Anonymous Redditor whose identity we verified. “That’s quite different than being degraded against your will by others. I think feminism is primarily concerned with ensuring people aren’t limited by traditional and/or inappropriate attitudes about gender, rather than forcing people to never align with traditional gender roles. It’s not necessarily hypocritical to do something by choice that you wouldn’t like having to do by force.”

Many women who display dominant qualities in social settings report submissive behavior during sex. With a trusted partner, the bedroom (or wherever, no judgment) can act as a safe space to explore fantasies in a controlled, comfortable environment. It can also be a space to give up control or feel taken care of.

A United Nations report recently found that, on average, woman do two and half more unpaid labor than their male counterparts. Women really do it all; they work 40+ hour weeks and put in essential work that often goes unnoticed in the home. Preferring to be dominated in bed is the sexual equivalent of insisting your partner picks what to eat for dinner. Put simply, being dominate all the time is exhausting and there is nothing inherently “anti-feminist” about choosing to be submissive during sex. The point is that it’s a choice that many strong, dominant, and feminist women choose to make.

We spoke with three women (asterisk indicates that names have been changed) who explained how they find the balance between identifying as feminists and enjoying being submissive during sex.

Cassie, 30:

I am dominant in my relationships with men and in my career. In my career, I’m often told that I am a natural leader and that I have a commanding presence. I am extremely competitive, but not in a negative way. I don’t get angry or jealous over my peer’s accomplishments, but I want to be the best at everything that I do, and I want to be in control and be the decision-maker.

I’m tired of women being judged based on aesthetics — that seemingly go in-and-out of style — while men are encouraged to have dad bods. Stereotypes make me mad. I think male privilege is a real thing. I guess I do consider myself a feminist.

Because I am always making decisions — in my relationships and in my career — I sometimes feel like I am aching for someone to just make decisions for me and tell me what to do. Somehow this has naturally become a reality in my sex life. It seems very natural to me to submit to my partner during sex and to let him control the experience.

I consider sex a time to experience a different relationship dynamic with my partner
. When my partner is in control and I am completely submissive to him, I will pretty much try anything. I think it balances out the fact that I am the dominant partner in our everyday lives.

Alison*, 33:

I’m too tired to make decisions in the bedroom. As a mother of young children who works full time, I feel like I make decisions all day long. What am I going to pack my kid for lunch? What about my own lunch? Should I take a shower today? What route should I take to work? Did I line up a babysitter for next week? My husband is a very supportive partner in many ways, but I do far more, I guess you would call it emotional labor, to keep our family running smoothly. I recognize that this the reality of our life and the lives of many. I do consider myself a feminist though our labor breakdown is uneven. It doesn’t seem anti-feminist to me to want to be dominated when we have sex; it’s me asking for what I need and want at the time. It’s a much-needed break.

Tracy*, 26

I am dominant in my life; I’d call myself a control freak, and I am also a feminist. I am submissive during sex though and I love having my hair pulled. I’ve tried to reconcile these two parts of my identity, but I’ve determined that I don’t have to have it all make sense. Honestly, it hurts my thighs to be on top for too long, and sex is one of the few parts of my life where I feel I can truly relax and let someone else take over for a minute, hopefully more than a minute. It reminds me of going to a yoga or spin class where someone is telling you what to do for an hour and all you have to do is follow directions. It’s a nice change of pace from my normal type-A behavior.

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