I have never before felt inclined to participate in an Internet chat room or study group, but the remarkably intelligent, tasteful, and civilized character of this site, together with the fascinating topic to which it is devoted, invite me to do so now. I came upon the site in an entirely fortuitous manner while pursuing literary research. It is not the first serendipity offered up to me by Google, but it is the most interesting. The site immediately captured my attention. I am a sexually dominant man – a term I have used to learn, despite the fact that I regard it as a tautology, like “wet water” – with an amount of experience commensurate with my maturing years. I did once in the past make a tour of several D/s sites. Perhaps I simply came upon the wrong ones, but what I found usually offended either my intelligence or my sense of good manners. The more exhibitionistic and pornographic ones offended both at once! It is a genuine pleasure to come upon a group of lively, friendly, articulate, and generally unweird people who share an interest in a central reality of our sexual natures that, for obvious reasons, seldom moves out of the strictly private realm.
I haven’t read all the articles linked to the site, of course, but I’ve read enough to be impressed by the comprehensive approach. Especially interesting to me is the fact that you have a sub-section exploring Christian perspectives on dominance and submission. It is quite amusing, indeed, to encounter on a website devoted to what most folks in the world would consider kinky and probably repellent sex, a warning to visitors that they might be offended by the religious language found there! Although I probably don’t personally share the beliefs of the contributors to this forum, I view the Christian tradition with great respect; and I applaud the effort of contemporary Christians to bring fundamental aspects of their experience into alignment. One of the tensions imposed by a sexual personality often regarded as aberrant is the need to integrate the “behavior”, mentally and psychologically, within the normal spectrum of other “behaviours”. Furthermore it is my experience than any account of our sexual natures that omits what I am forced to call the spiritual dimension is doomed to inadequacy. What is spiritual may or may not be “religious”, of course. For me the harmonies of a properly ordered relationship between a man and a woman have a spiritual beauty independent of any religious system or pattern of belief, though I have come to see that the mystery of genuine female submission can be usefully approached through religious myth.
It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good. One side effect of recent terror attacks in western countries has been that many people in Britain and North America, previously innocent of much knowledge of comparative religions, have heard or read a good deal of elementary information about Islam. I for one was unaware that the root meaning of the word “Islam” is “submission” – submission, of course to the law and will of God. The superficially paradoxical idea that it is in submission of our wills to a higher power that human beings find contentment and fulfillment is of course a common one in other world religions as well. A classic Christian view is expressed in a beautiful line in Dante’s “Divine Comedy” – “E la sua voluntade èènostra pace” (“And his will is our peace”, Paradiso 3.85). T. S. Eliot, among the greatest of modern Christian poets, thought this one sentence was perhaps the most profound in world literature.
Many of the great stories of the Bible, both in the Hebrew Jewish scriptures and in the Greek Christian writings, are accounts of extraordinary acts of submission. I think of Abraham, submissive even to his God’s command that he should offer up his only son Isaac in ritual sacrifice (Genesis 22). This nearly incomprehensible gesture of submission provided the philosopher Kierkegaard with the emblem of one of his deepest books, Fear and Trembling. And according to his account of his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul says that a taunting divine voice from heaven rebukes him: “It is hard for you to kick against the pricks” (Acts 9.5). The meaning of this curious phrase, which has elicited unseemly and ribald laughter in many a Sunday school class, derives from the practices of ancient agriculture and animal husbandry. A spirited horse cannot be ridden until it is “broken” by a severe discipline. A plow-ox will at first rebel by kicking against the lash or goad of its master. Paul, until he submits to the service of Jesus, is like a rebellious beast.
Once sacred texts – the Bible, the Koran, and others – exercise little or no authority over most modern Europeans and Americans in general and, I suspect, over visitors to this website in particular. However, only the ignorant or the imperceptive will fail to see in the great myth systems of world civilizations fundamental psychological truths that transcend the historical and social conditions in which they came to birth. Since I am obviously headed in the direction of an analogy, it might be a good idea to remind ourselves what an analogy is: a comparison in which certain details fit very well and others not at all. When Robbie Burns wrote “My love is like a red, red rose” he meant that his girl friend was beautiful, fresh, delicate, and alluring. He did not mean that her skin was crimson or that she was covered with petals. In suggesting an analogy between a human being’s submission to the divine and a woman’s sexual submission to a man I am not suggesting the divinity of males. I am a man, and my sensibility accepts its responsibility for a commanding role in intimate relations in rather the same way my lungs accept oxygen, yet since I was twelve years old I have stood by in amazed awe at the near-divinity of women, the loveliness of their bodies, their hair, their voices, the delicacy and skill with which they perform daily tasks that to this day lie beyond my capacities. Above all I remain awestruck at the overwhelmingly female facts of life – embryonic conception, gestation, parturition, mammalian nourishment.
My admiration is tinged with jealousy, particularly over the feminine capacity to experience pleasure in a range and intensity that appears to exceed by far my own. I have in mind principally the enjoyment of music and of the simple beauties of nature; but I also have the intuition that a woman’s sexual pleasure considerably overshadows that of a mere man like myself. This speculative topic, of course, could be put to an empirical test only by someone who had genuine sexual experience both as a man and as a woman. The only such person known to me is fictional: the ancient seer Tiresias of Greco-Roman myth. But his testimony was perfectly clear: the delight of the woman exceeded that of the man by a ratio of ten to one. My closest friends and most admired colleagues and associates have almost invariably been women. If I hesitate to say that such friendships are non-sexual, it is only because I think practically nothing about us is truly non-sexual; but they are free of explicit sexual content.
Perhaps my greatest admiration is reserved for the gracefulness and beauty of a woman’s surrender on those rare occasions when the right circumstances combine with the right chemistry to spark love. Here it is that the language of the religious paradigms I touched on earlier seems to me relevant. In fact our usual words “surrender” and “submission”, though they capture the reality of the woman’s volitional yielding to a male power expressed both in physical and in psychological terms, can express but the lesser half of the mystery. There is, or at least in my opinion should be, a “merry war” between two lover such as that so charmingly depicted by Shakespeare in Much Ado About Nothing in his characterization of Beatrice and Benedick. And if you have metaphorical war, you then have metaphorical arms, battle, victory and defeat, a conqueror and a conquered. But the proper experience of the act of female submission is not the bitterness of defeat but the exultation of fulfillment. The best analogues for this paradox come not from military history but from spiritual autobiography.
On the first page of his famous Confessions, an autobiographical soliloquy for which God is the audience and we readers mere eavesdroppers, Augustine wrote that “Our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee”. There is an implied theory of human nature shared by many ancient writers, sacred and secular alike – a theory of moral alienation. We are all born as exiles from a homeland we have not seen but are hard-wired to desire. This view is shared in common myths of a Fall from some sort of primal innocence or perfection. In the beautiful story of Plato, sexual differentiation into male and female is itself a badge of imperfection. The act of sexual intercourse is for the individual as the institution of marriage is for society the expression of “a desire and pursuit of the whole” – a long-vanished androgynous unity. The pagan Greeks and Romans had the beautiful myth of the vanished Golden Age. It was a time when Justice reigned, and the characteristics of human society were agrarian simplicity, honesty, and peacefulness. This blissful period ended forever when Jupiter rebelled against his father Saturn, castrated him, and threw the severed members into the sea, whence Venus, goddess of sexual love, rose full grown, as in the memorable painting by Botticelli. In the biblical account of the Garden of Eden the relationship of primal dereliction and sexual disturbance is even clearer. Only after their arbitrary act of disobedience, but then immediately, do Adam and Eve find themselves embarrassed by their nakedness, until then so naturally and innocently enjoyed.
How can one regain a paradise lost? Only through an act of striving that is simultaneously an act of submission, or, in the idiom of this website, by being taken in hand. No reasonably experienced man who has encountered true female submissiveness, unmistakable in its observation however difficult it may be of description, will be astonished by the paradox. The appetite for the feelings of tranquility and certitude that are the fruits of sexual submission are, I think, genetic, instinctual for all women; but the same thing cannot be said of the means of satisfying the appetite. Most women seem never to find it, and even self-realized submissive women often stumble around for many anxious years before achieving it. It is here, in my experience, that the intelligent and loving dominant man has a genuinely masterful role to play. I am deeply honored when a woman, at her request and with my considered permission, calls me Master. I recognize in the word those etymological associations of the master as teacher, trainer, and guide. It is unfortunate that the word schoolmaster has virtually disappeared from American English, and even more unfortunate that so many people, including several on this site, think that the natural complement of the word “master” is “slave”. A woman entrusted to a man’s mastery should be a beloved disciple, not an indentured servant. Again religious language hits the nail on the head. One of the prayers in the old Anglican Prayer Book speaks of obligations to a Master “whose service is perfect freedom”.
A masterful man loves, cares for, nourishes and protects his woman very much in the manner that a trained and experienced teacher nourishes a star pupil. The higher the teacher’s standards, and the more clearly the pupil demonstrates a capacity for growth, the more stern and insistent the disciplinary aspect of the relationship is likely to be. In terms of the purely sexual aspects – by which I suppose I here mean the frankly genital aspects – the man must train the woman to find pleasure through her uninhibited and unquestioning willingness to give pleasure. In an established and stable D/s relationship sexual intercourse, in terms of its frequency, is probably neither more nor less prominent than in any other sexual relationship involving a man and a woman. But as the most notable site for the dramatization of the woman’s submission in all its aspects, it achieves a unique level not merely of pleasure but of that satisfaction that goes so far beyond the physical that I find its description demands religious language. And once again in this mystery it seems that the submissive woman leaves the dominant man far behind. Hers is an ecstasy guaranteed by her own psyche quite independent of the variable and unreliable performance of her partner.
Perhaps the most famous statue of the entire Baroque period is Bernini’s “Saint Teresa in Ecstasy”. What a viewer of this remarkable work sees, quite unmistakably, is a nun heavily draped within the folds of a Carmelite habit, gasping in the throes of orgasm. That Bernini intended or that his ecclesiastical patrons found in the masterpiece a sacrilege is obviously preposterous. But since the most available vocabulary of human ecstasy is sexual, the sculptor naturally turned to it to suggest an ecstasy of a different sort. In like manner, I should suggest, a vocabulary first created to deal with religious experience may be helpful, again without sacrilege, in thinking about the sweet mystery of sexual submission. In the words of the immortal Fanny Crosby, an indefatigable hymn writer of the Victorian era who appears to have had a great sex life to supplement the literary exertions of her day job,
Perfect submission – perfect delight!
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight.
Angels descending bring from above
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.