Articles on S/M by Diane Vera
Following are the two articles I'm best known for in the S/M scene, "Nine
Degrees of Submission" and a "Temporary Consensual 'Slave Contract'". They
have appeared in numerous S/M publications and were anthologized in THE
LESBIAN S/M SAFETY MANUAL by Pat Califia (1988).
After the two articles, this file also includes a brief bibliography on S/M
which I posted in MUNDANE in February 1991 C.E.
* * * * *
NINE DEGREES OF SUBMISSION
by Diane Vera
Copyright 1984, 1988 by Diane Vera. All rights reserved.
Within the S/M subculture, different people use the words "submissive" and
"slave" to mean many different things. When submissives say "I want to be
your slave", sometimes they mean only that they want to be tied up and
whipped. Many professional dominants routinely refer to their (usually not
very genuinely submissive) clients as "slaves". At the other extreme,
there are people who want to be full-time personal servants, and who truly
want to exist solely for their "owner's" use, pleasure, and convenience.
And there are many shades in between these two extremes.
To help sort out the confusion caused by differing uses of the words
"submissive" and "slave", I have made the following list of nine degrees
of submission, arranged in order from least submissive to most submissive.
(Since I'm a bisexual dominant woman, I will refer to dominants as "she"
and submissives as "she/he", but the following categorization can also be
applied to S/M people of other gender-role orientations.)
1. The Outright Non-submissive Masochist or Kinky Sensualist: Not into
servitude, humiliation, or giving up control; just pain and/or spiced up
sensuality, on the masochist's own terms, and for the masochist's DIRECT
pleasure (i.e. being turned on solely or mainly by one's own bodily
sensations, rather than being turned on by being "used" to gratify one's
2. Pseudo-Submissive Non-Slave: Not into even PLAYING "slave", but into
other "submissive" role-playing, e.g. schoolteacher scenes, infantilism,
"forced" transvestism. Usually into humiliation, but NOT into servitude,
even in play. Dictates the scene to a large degree.
3. Pseudo-Submissive PLAY Slave: Likes to play at being a slave; likes
to FEEL subservient; may in some cases like to FEEL that one is being
"used" to gratify one's partner's sadism; and may even really serve the
dominant in some ways, but only on the "slave's" own terms. Dictates the
scene to a large degree; often fetishistic (e.g. foot worshippers).
4. True Submissive Non-Slave: Really gives up control (though only
temporarily, and within agreed-upon limits), but gets his/her main
satisfaction from aspects of submission OTHER THAN serving or being used
by the dominant. Usually turned on by suspense, vulnerability, and/or
giving up responsibility. Doesn't dictate the scene except in very general
terms, but still seeks mainly his/her own DIRECT pleasure (rather than
getting one's pleasure mainly from pleasing the dominant).
5. True Submissive PLAY Slave: Really gives up control (though only
temporarily; only during brief "scenes" and within limits) and gets
her/his main satisfaction from serving and being used by the dominant --
but only for FUN purposes, usually erotic. (May or may not be into pain,
but if so, is turned on by pain INDIRECTLY, i.e. enjoys being the object
of one's partner's sadism, on which the submissive places very few
requirements or restrictions.)
6. Uncommitted Short-Term but More-Than-Play Semi-Slave: Really gives up
control (though usually within limits); wants to serve and be used by the
dominant; wants to provide PRACTICAL/NONEROTIC as well as fun/erotic
services; but only when the "slave" is in the mood. May even act as a
full-time slave for say, several days at a time, but is free to quit at
any time (or at the end of the agreed-upon several days). May or may not
have a long-term relationship with one's Mistress, but either way, the
"slave" has the final say over WHEN she/he will serve.
7. Part-Time Consensual-But-REAL Slave: Has an ongoing commitment to an
owner/slave relationship and regards oneself as the Mistress's "property"
at all times. Wants to obey and please her in all aspects of life --
practical/nonerotic as well as fun/erotic. Devotes most of one's time to
other commitments (e.g. job), but the Mistress has first pick of the
slave's free time.
8. Full-Time Live-In Consensual Slave: Within no more than a few broad
limits/requirements, the slave regards herself/himself as existing solely
for the Mistress's use, pleasure, and well-being. The slave in return
expects to be treated as a prized possession. Not much different from the
situation of a traditional housewife, except that within the S/M world,
the slave's position is more likely to be fully consensual, especially if
the slave is male (since men certainly aren't socially pressured into this
kind of lifestyle). Within the S/M world, a full-time "slave" arrangement
is entered into with an explicit awareness of the magnitude of power that
is being given up, and hence is usually entered into much more carefully,
with more awareness of the possible dangers, and with much clearer and
more specific agreements than usually precede the traditional marriage.
9. Consensual Total Slave with No Limits: A common fantasy ideal which
probably doesn't exist in real life (except in authoritarian religious
cults and other situations where the "consent" is induced by brainwashing
and/or social or economic pressures, and hence isn't fully consensual). A
few S/M purists will insist that you aren't really a slave unless you're
willing to do absolutely ANYTHING for your Mistress, with no limits at
all. I've met a few people who claimed to be no-limits slaves, but in all
cases I had reason to doubt the claim.
The above list isn't intended as a rigid classification. Most submissives
don't fall neatly into one of my categories; there are still further shades
in between. (For example, a live-in slave with an outside paying job would
be category 7 1/2.) Also, the same submissive may attain different degrees
of submission with different dominants. My list is intended simply to show
the wide range of different possible meanings of the words "submissive" and
In the S/M subculture, the majority of "submissives" seek scenes in
categories 1 through 3, whereas most dominants I know (including myself)
seek slaves in categories 6 and 7. If you're a "submissive" in categories
1 through 3, you are probably best off seeking a relationship NOT with a
dominant, but rather with a fellow "submissive", or with a switchable (a
person into both roles). She and you can take turns acting out each
other's "submissive" or masochistic fantasies.
When a submissive says to a dominant, "I want to be your slave", it's often
hard to tell exactly what is meant. Lots of people FANTASIZE a much
greater degree of submission than they are able or willing to attain in
real life, and lots of "slaves", especially inexperienced ones,
over-estimate their own desire for real-life servitude. A dominant must
CAREFULLY find out how far the "slave" REALLY wants to go.
Revised May 1988
* * * * *
TEMPORARY CONSENSUAL "SLAVE CONTRACT"
by Diane Vera
copyright 1984, 1987 by Diane Vera. All rights reserved.
Of my own free will, as of _______(date), I ___________(name), hereby grant
you,____________(name), full ownership and use of my body and mind from now
I will obey you at all times and will wholeheartedly seek your
pleasure and well-being above all other considerations.
I renounce all rights to my own pleasure, comfort, or gratification,
except insofar as you desire or permit them.
I will strive diligently to re-mold my body, my habits, and my
attitudes in accordance with your desires.
I will seek always to learn how to please you better, and will
gracefully accept criticism.
I renounce all rights to privacy or concealment from you. I will
answer truthfully and completely, to the best of my knowledge, any and all
questions you may ask me.
I understand and agree that any failure by me to comply fully with
your desires shall be regarded as sufficient cause for possibly severe
Within the limits of physical safety and my ability to earn a
livelihood, I otherwise unconditionally accept as your perogative
anything you may choose to do with me, whether as punishment, for
your amusement, or for whatever purpose, no matter how painful or
humiliating to myself.
* * * * *
When I decide to accept someone as my slave, he or she copies and
signs the above "contract." The exact wording is open to negotiation --
the slave is, after all, writing a statement, "Of my own free will ..."
Usually, slave, the first "contract" would be for maybe three months.
After the first three months, we might then have a "contract" for a longer
period of time, perhaps six months to a year. Of course, any prospective
slave in his/her right mind will want to get to know me before signing even
the three month "contract".
"Slave contracts" aren't legally enforcable.
However, anyone who signs one without intent to keep it will get a very
bad reputation very fast within the tiny but growing female-dominant
lifestyle subculture. I don't believe it is a good idea to sign a
"slave contract" for more than a year at a time, and I definitely don't
believe in lifelong "slave contracts".
People do change. Among the people I've known, the longest-lasting
female-dominant S/M relationships typically go through an intense, total
(or nearly total) Mistress/slave phase for maybe a couple of years, after
which they settle back into less rigorously defined relationship in which
the dominant woman is still the leader, and the submissive is still eager
to do her bidding.
I doubt that anyone can totally surrender his/her autonomy forever, though
doing so temporarily can be an exciting and emotionally rewarding
experience for some people. And for however long they do remain totally
subservient, such people are NOT to be despised as weak, subhuman, or
On the contrary,a good slave is very valuable to have around. And
such a total gift of self requires a kind of strength and courage.
* * * * *
The following was posted in a message in MUNDANE on February 17, 1991 C.E.:
Here's a list of 10 books I recommend on S/M. The first 4 books are by S/M
insiders and can be obtained most easily at gay bookstores such as A
Different Light in Greenwich Village:
1) COMING TO POWER by Samois (Boston: Alyson Publications, 1982).
An anthology of writings by S/M lesbians, including theory, how-to,
and political essays. Samois was the first well-known above-ground
organization for S/M lesbians, founded in San Francisco (where else?)
2) THE LEATHERMAN'S HANDBOOK by Larry Townsend (many editions,
starting in 1972; I have the 1983 edition published in New York by
Modernismo). The classic how-to book for gay men. Alas, no similar
book exists for hetero S/M people, probably because the hetero S/M
scene isn't as well organized as the lesbian/gay scene, even though
hetero S/M people are more numerous than their lesbian/gay
counterparts. But there's a lot that heterosexuals can learn from the
lesbian and gay books.
3) URBAN ABORIGINALS by Geoff Mains (San Francisco: Gay Sunshine
Press, 1984). Focusses on the gay male S/M scene; presents the view
that gay leathermen have discovered a spiritual path having much in
common with some aspects of shamanism. Having attended a couple of
open meetings of Gay Male S/M Activists, I can believe it, judging by
the serene and vibrant (albeit somewhat aloof) expressions on their
faces. (Most GMSMA meetings are for gay men only, but they hold
occasional open meetings open to other S/M people too.) Insofar as
S/M does have a spiritual aspect, it appears to me that gay men are
way ahead of either lesbians or heterosexuals, though lesbians and
heterosexuals do also experience the kinds of ecstasy Geoff Mains
describes. (I dislike the title URBAN ABORIGINALS. It's an insult to
the intelligence of actual aboriginal peoples to imply that the re-
discovery of just one aspect of aboriginal culture qualifies an
urbanite as "aboriginal".) Note: this book assumes the reader is
already familiar with the basics of gay male S/M custom as described
in THE LEATHERMAN'S HANDBOOK.
4) THE LESBIAN S/M SAFETY MANUAL by Pat Califia (Boston: Alyson
Publications, 1988). An anthology of mostly how-to plus some
discussion of S/M relationships. Includes 3 articles by me.
The next 3 books are by psychologists and psychiatrists. However, bear in
mind that S/M is a topic that has never really been studied scientifically.
The psychiatric establishment knows as little about S/M today as they did
about homosexuality back in the 1950's. And for all their claims to
objectivity, psychiatrists certainly aren't immune to unfounded prejudice.
At the present time, the only REAL "experts" on S/M are the more
experienced people in the scene. The following 3 books should NOT be taken
as authoritative, though they are among the more insightful and interesting
5) THE FANTASY GAME by Peter Dally. (Briarcliff Manor, NY: Stein
and Day, 1975). Probably out of print. Fascinating discussion of the
non-obvious ways that people's S/M fantasies interrelate with their
personalities, though even Dally makes some absurd
6) MASOCHISM: A JUNGIAN VIEW by Lyn Cowan (Dallas: Spring
Publications, 1982). I haven't yet read the whole thing, and I
disagree with some of what I've read so far (such as the author's view
that masochism is "feminine"), but a number of people in the S/M scene
do regard this book as very insightful.
7) A SEXUAL PROFILE OF MEN IN POWER by Sam Janus, Barbara Bess, and
Carol Saltus (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1977). Out of
print. Based on a study of the more elite classes of prostitutes, the
authors conclude that many - perhaps even the majority - of
American politicians and other power brokers are sexual masochists.
The authors don't exactly have a positive attitude toward S/M, but the
book provides clear refutation of the idea that sexual masochism is
connected with self-destructiveness or social incompetence.
The next 3 books present studies by anthropologists, who have to be
reasonably open-minded in order to do their job. Unlike psychiatrists and
clinical psychologists, their job ISN'T to help people "adjust" (conform)
to prevailing norms. Insofar as a "scientific" establishment study of S/M
can be said to exist, the following 3 books are it.
8) S&M: STUDIES IN SADOMASOCHISM edited by Thomas Weinberg and G.W.
Levi Kamel (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1983). An anthology of
mostly anthropological articles on the S/M subculture (including the
lesbian, gay male, AND heterosexual S/M scenes). Some of the articles
are a bit out of date, particularly regarding the lesbian S/M scene,
which grew enormously during the early 1980's. Nevertheless, the book
is very informative.
9) DOMINANT WOMEN, SUBMISSIVE MEN by Gini Graham Scott (New York:
Praeger, 1983). The paperback edition has a different title: EROTIC
POWER (Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Press, 1983), the book you mentioned in
your message. An anthropologist's exploration of the female-dominant
hetero S/M scene in San Francisco.
10) PATTERNS OF SEXUAL BEHAVIOR by Clellan S. Ford and Frank A. Beach
(NY: Harper and Row/Perennial Library, 1970; originally published in
1951). Probably still in print. A classic cross-cultural and cross-
species comparison of sexual behavior. Not primarily about S/M, but
in Chapter III, "Types of Sexual Stimulation", there is a very
interesting sub-section on "Painful Stimulation", which - on the
basis of cross-cultural evidence - refutes some of the more common
psychoanalytic notions about S/M.
So that's the bibliography. As for your other question - "What
psychological basis do you see for your attraction to these practices?" --
I can't give you a definite answer. Do YOU fully understand the
"psychological basis" of your own sexual tastes, whatever they may be?