I know that seems counter-intuitive to most people. Isn’t the role of an s-type based on giving power, sometimes total power, to a D-type? Isn’t that the appeal and purpose of submission?
If we are going to talk about fantasy submission, sure I can agree with you. In the “perfect” world, in the fantasy world of Gor novels or The Story of O, where reality does not have to impede on human functioning, submission can be complete. In the real world, the one we live and work in, the one we parent in, the one we have to maintain relationships and our health in, no. Autonomy is critical for a healthy submissive.
What Do You Mean by “Autonomy?”
Autonomy is having the capacity to make your own decisions, take your own actions and act on your own accord. It is closely related to the psychological concept of “self efficacy,” the belief that if you do something you will be effective. S-types, even in total power exchange (tpx) relationships need some autonomy.
We are born with very little autonomy. We are completely dependent on other humans for food, shelter, housing, warmth, and survival. As we grow most of our development is aimed at becoming a more autonomous human. We learn to walk, feed ourselves, regulate our environment, change things in our world, and regulate and maintain our identity and health.
When we lose autonomy as adults we tend to grow resentful. Think about work. There are now a load of industrial psychology studies which demonstrate that when employees have basic autonomy to control their time and make some simple decisions at work they are happier and more productive. If you have ever had to clock in and clock out and had your time regulated to 3 or 5 minute incriminates you understand how demeaning losing control can be.
Most employees, if given some basic parameters (arrive between 7 and 8 in the morning, then work nine hours, include one hour for lunch) will work within the parameters. Employment studies show that oftentimes, when employees have this flexibility, they will work ten or fifteen minutes more a day for the same salary and not feel put out by this. They choose to put in more time without increased compensation, because simply autonomy means that much to them. This benefits the employer (an extra week of work every year from the employee without increased compensation) and the employee (happier and more satisfied with their job). Autonomy is that important.
Everyone also need some freedom to care for health issues. Everyone, at some point, will have to deal with their own health concerns. If a person feels autonomous and knows they can make their own decisions, and are in fact responsible for their own health, they will have to take care of their health.
This is critical when living with a mental illness. Many mental illnesses make a person feel out of control and at the mercy of their moods. Depression, OCD, anxiety and other disorders can make you feel helpless, which then feeds a loop of self doubt and belief that things will never get better, aggravating a mental illness. By working to manage mental health, a person gains insights into this own health, they become more effective at managing their illness, and seeing things get better when they are managing their health helps buffer against another episode.
Giving Away Power
In a power exchange relationship, s-types make decisions about what areas they will give over to their d-type. For many s-types, their first (or first few) relationships are learning processes. We enter D/s with the fantasy of being a best submissive we can be. We want to give over power in all areas of our lives, not realizing what that actually means. When the relationship fails (and many do) the s-type is left feeling not only devastated by a break-up, but often times at loose ends for how to function.
Those of us who have been in the lifestyle for more than a few years know the s-type who was madly in love with a d-type. The couple was great for a period of time. There was a strong D/s dynamic and the s-type gave over an enormous amount of power. Then, something went wrong and the couple split. The s-type is devastated. Then that person loses control over their finances (e.g., erratic spending, missing bill payments) or their health spirals (e.g., stop eating, overeating) or they can’t figure out how to get to work on time on a daily basis. The areas they ceded control to their D-type, they stopped thinking about and lost the capacity (momentarily) to manage these areas of life.
S-types need some level of control over our lives. Its fine, even desirable, to cede some power. But we have to maintain some knowledge that we can control all areas of our lives. For example, if your D-type determines what you eat, you need to be able to make decisions about food when they are not there. At a minimum, breaking the rules and sneaking a snack or a treat on occasion helps maintain the idea that you can manage your own food. This can be applied to all areas of life.
Why D-types Should Encourage Autonomy
No one wants to micromanage another human 24/7 for years on end. It is exhausting. It tends to lead to you seeing the person you micromanage as incompetent and child-like. Even for age players, thinking of your partner as an eight year old that you have to make all decision for all the time makes the person less sexy.
That is the paradox of love. You want to be with someone who you love and know completely. What is sexy is learning something new about people and how they surprise you. If you are calling every shot in the relationship and the s-type never pushes back or takes any control, the sexiness and desire will quickly dissipate.
For every couple, how some level of autonomy is maintained will be different. Every couple has some protocols and ways of showing respect that are critical to maintaining a functioning relationship. These can be enforced and should be. Other areas are more open to negotiation and allowing the s-type control.
For example, the couple may decide that the D-type controls food. Great! There can be many reasons for this. However, over time the s-type learns the choices the D-type will make and then can be given options to decide between A and B, or what to eat for lunch. Then s-type can be obedient and submissive by choosing something that please the D-type and still have choice about what to eat.
Some areas, the D-type may not care about the specifics. The couple may decide the location of where they want to go on vacation. The D-type can then give the s-type the chores of planning the vacation: finding the hotels, booking the flights, renting the car, making the restaurant reservations, and such forth. This gives the s-type some autonomy and feeds self-efficacy without sacrificing the power dynamic.
Risks for TPX
There is a risk for both sides of the slash if all power is exchanged. The s-type becomes child-like and loses the capacity to make decisions. The D-type ends up managing everything for two adults and it becomes exhausting. There is no surprise left for the D-type, nothing to anticipate or look forward to since the D-type is controlling everything.
We do not live a fantasy world where someone making all of our decisions never gets tired of that and never loses interest despite never being surprised or learning something new. Autonomy is critical to healthy D/s and M/s relationships. For each couple out there, what areas are up for negotiation and what areas the s-type retains control over will differ. It is important to remember that just because the s-type has some autonomy does not mean you are somehow as weak D-type or a disobedient s-type. It does not mean you are not living a D/s relationship or an M/s relationship. It means you are living a healthy, adult relationship.