Photographer: David Williams
Science fiction fans keen on Star Trek will know a different version of subspace than what we're talking about here, but, just like in the show, "subspace" in BDSM refers to a specific kind of space with its own rules, texture, and properties -- a kind of altered reality.
In BDSM, this altered reality usually takes place in the mind, although changes in the surrounding physical space can make a difference as well. This is why, for instance, people go out of their way to visit dungeons or set up private play rooms. These intentionally designed settings make it easier to get into the mood of an interaction -- to enter a psychological state where all the worries, cares, underlying thoughts, and emotions are stripped away, and your deepest, darkest fantasies can become reality.
When we're talking about "subspace," we're talking about the specific psychological state of mind that the submissive partner (or "sub") enters into during a scene with a dominant partner. To enter this subspace, the sub must be completely comfortable with the dominant partner, as they completely give up control to the "top" or "Dom/Domme" partner.
In many ways, getting into a subspace follows many of the same steps of practicing basic mindfulness, and is not nearly as strange as it may sound. Like with mindfulness, you have to be 100 percent present with your partner and in the moment. Many performers, musicians, and athletes use similar techniques to "get in the zone," where nothing exists except the experience itself.
Ever had a book you couldn't put down or a TV series you just had to finish, even if it meant an hours-long episode marathon? Subspace is the same. It's that feeling of utter presence, when all of your senses are heightened and your mind and emotions are totally wrapped up in the suspense of the moment. For the sub, entering subspace is an experience that melts away all their worries and fears. They don't have to think about anything or make any tough decisions.
All they need to do is obey and go with the flow.
On a psychological level, the point of this kind of exchange is to make the sub feel that the scene is real, thereby triggering their sympathetic nervous system into the "fight or flight" response. Tying them up, spanking, whipping, or flogging them may be part of this, as are later elements of pleasure such as the use of a vibrator or sensory play. Verbal putdowns, humiliation and begging are often part of the scene. Though it may seem intense, this sort of play is often tailored to match deep-seated fantasies that the sub harbors but has been unable to express outside of the emotionally safe space of the scene.
Photographer: Sandra LaMorgese PhD
On a physiological level, the fear element gets the adrenal glands going, flooding the system with epinephrine, followed by endorphins. Epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) energizes us when we are in the thick of "danger." Once we know that the danger is over, the endorphins kick in. These are the body's natural painkillers, and they model opioids in how they make us feel, relaxing us, giving us a sense of calm and wellbeing. Most subs say that when a session is over, they feel a sense of euphoria, a warm, ecstatic glow. It can be such an intense, natural high that subs can feel as though they are walking two feet off the ground.
The afterglow can last for hours, even weeks. It creates feelings of love, attachment, belonging, and wellbeing, and the sub and the dominant partner also share a special connection, in that they know a side of each other that others are completely unaware of. This makes them intimate in a way others cannot know.
Psychologically this sort of play is very healing too. Usually subs carry with them sexual desires that they feel they must hide away. But this allows them a free space to explore those fantasies without fear of judgment. Instead, they are welcomed with open arms.
After the initial opiate like euphoria wears off, many subs feel what's often called a "drop" or a "subdrop." This is when the biochemicals begin to taper off, leaving a sleepy, relaxed feeling in their place. At this point, what's known as "aftercare," in which the sub's physical and emotional needs are seen to, is very important. After the exertion of play, for instance, a blanket or robe may be needed, since the body temperature often drops from the sudden stoppage of exertion.
If you and your partner are interested in creating a subspace, do your due diligence first. Find others in the community, read articles, watch videos, read an instruction book, and learn from others. If you don't know anyone knowledgeable on the topic, attend a naughty workshop. It's important that such play be carried out in a correct, safe and responsible manner. (For example, it's important to let the sub's euphoric feeling wear off before they get behind the wheel.)
Done right, experimenting with subspace has a ton of positive physical and psychological benefits. And, as always, it's loads of sexy fun.
Sandra LaMorgese Ph.D. is an expert in bridging the gap between sexuality and a lifestyle that focuses on holistic health of the mind, body and spirit. She is the author of Switch: Time for a Change, a memoir of her journey from holistic practitioner to professional dominatrix at 55-years-old, and her passion and purpose is to empower others towards healthy authentic living. To learn more about Sandra and receive your FREE eBook "5 Steps for Better Communication, Sex, and Happiness (Did I mention better sex?) visit www.sandralamorgese.com.