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When I was an undergrad, I took a course on altered states of consciousness. The professor who taught it was in his last year of teaching and had reached the “fuck it” stage of his career. He would begin each lecture talking about how “people” or “the subject” experienced an altered state. However, at some point in the lecture, would slip into first person. It became a game with me and other students to bet on how long into a lecture would it take him to shift to first person.
What was great about this, is hearing him talk about being high on marijuana or LDS or cocaine or peyote or meditation or whatever(I got the feeling he tried every drug he could get his hands on) lent to a deeper understanding of how different things really altered someone’s state of consciousness.
I start with this here, because in the kink community, we mention sub space a lot. When you read about bottoming/subbing or about how to care for a partner as a top, the topic of sub space arises. Sub space is an altered state of consciousness someone can reach when engaging in BDSM play. It does not happen for everyone, nor does it happen every time a person submits during play.
Sub space is not a well understood altered state. We know more about the psychological impacts of drugs and things like runner’s highs than sub space. However, because sub space as a form of altered conscious occurs for people engaging in BDSM play, and it is a powerful altered state, it needs to be discussed.
What is Sub Space, Exactly?
Sub space is a shift in consciousness. It is like being high or drunk in this sense. It occurs for the person submitting during a scene.
People experience sub space differently. Just like some people are friendly drunks and others are belligerent, sub space differs for people. Additionally, like drugs and alcohol, different partners, different scenes, different histories with sub space change the experience. Sub space with one partner may feel a bit different than with another partner.
What generally typifies descriptions of sub space is that 1) perceptions of pain are altered, 2) decision making is altered, and 3) emotional reactions are altered. It is critical to understand the basics of sub space if you engage in BDSM, both from a submissive and a Dominant point of view. Because one of the participants stops thinking clearly when they enter sub space, behaviors need to be modified to account for this.
Sub Space is an Altered State of Consciousness
Sub space, like being high on pot or really drunk, changes your capacity to process information and make decisions. Its not like having a couple of beers or a couple of tokes for a functional stoner. Its power is closer to knocking back eight shots of Fireball in less than two hours, or like me (a completely non-functional pot smoker) taking a few hits and forgetting I have legs.
Sub space is powerful and can eliminate or cloud certain brain functions. Like all my writing, I offer this from personal experience with the caveat that everyone is an individual and will experience things somewhat differently.
Sub space changes your physical experience. Like being really drunk, sub space alters concepts of pain. If you have been really drunk and fallen down, at the time you may not feel much pain. When you are sober the next day, you go to get out of bed and collapse in pain on a sprained ankle that is twice its normal size. You don’t remember it being that bad when you fell.
I have been in sub space and what I experience in a scene and remember is not mirrored in the physical evidence afterward. I have done scenes I really enjoyed and found quite pleasurable. I remember some of the pain that came with various behaviors, but on a scale of one to ten, I remember it being about a four or five. The evidence afterward, bruising that lasts more than week, skin that has been split open from a belt strike, would indicate there was significantly more force than I recall.