In Hitoshi Matsumoto’s 2013 R100, a Japanese BDSM action comedy, protagonist Takafumi Katayama is eating his sushi dinner in a quiet restaurant, when a latex-clad dominatrix appears beside him. He looks up at her nervously, with reverence. She smacks her hand violently upon his sushi roll while staring at him. When she removes her hand, Takafumi hurriedly eats up the destroyed roll. She does this for the duration of his meal while the other guests watch in stunned silence.
With this humiliation climaxing, Takafumi’s face begins to change. The camera zooms in on him as the air around him begins to vibrate and warp. His cheeks expand like a chipmunk. The whites of his eyes turn black to match his pupils, and his head falls back in ecstasy.
This is subspace.
Healthline describes subspace as the trancelike rush of euphoria that submissives can experience when being dominated in a BDSM (Bondage, Discipline/Domination, Submission/Sadism, Masochism) scene. This feeling is caused by an increase in biological chemicals like cortisol (stress hormone), adrenaline (stress response hormone) and endorphins (feel-good painkillers).
Although I consider myself a switch (someone who enjoys both being dominated and dominating), I do tend to connect deeper with my body as a submissive. My memories of reaching subspace are somewhat foggy because the moment, in my experience, is one of release. There are a number of factors at play here.
Subspace isn’t inherently sexual. But it is about heightened sensation, stimulation, release and connection, all of which are parts of good sex.
My attraction to submission has deep roots in my psyche around childhood shame, body dysmorphia and trauma. Trusting in a dominant during a scene is trusting them with these roots. In the pain and humiliation the dominant offers me, they are subverting some of the painful triggers caused by these roots, and my body responds. But this time, the person causing the triggers is showing me utter acceptance and love. In this space that is simultaneously radically vulnerable and safe, I feel able to release completely.
In a scene (the term for a session of BDSM), the dominant is utterly present with the submissive. To be done properly, they must be attentive to each sensation their sub feels, no matter how miniscule. Checking in beforehand, communicating during play and debriefing or aftercare post-session are essential.
With these practical measures in place, I trust my dominant when they tie up my entire body while I lie on my stomach. I trust my dominant when they bind my wrists behind my back to my ankles and begin whipping my exposed ass with their leather flail.
It is with this trust that I can close my eyes and fully accept my body’s inability to move. I can pay full attention to the sensation of pain on my skin, the rush of blood and adrenaline making me dizzy. The intensity of my flesh and impact brings me entirely into my body, yet out of mind as time stops.
I become entirely encompassed by my dominant in time and space.
Madeline Rae is a sex educator and writer living on Treaty 1 territory. She holds a BFA in performative sculpture and a BA in psychology and is beginning her master’s in social work this fall, working toward a career as a sex therapist.
Published in Volume 76, Number 21 of The Uniter (March 17, 2022)