Fetish Friday: What Is Subspace?

Here we are again on Fetish Friday! Last week, we talked about spanking and its various psychological and physiological appeals and effects. I promised you last week that I would explain subspace in a forthcoming post, and here is that post! For the uninitiated, you might think that I am talking about some kind of high-tech encrypted communications protocol, or the deep web, a video game, or sub-basements, but in the kink and fetish world, subspace is a whole other thing.

No, not this subspace either. (img: scottpilgrim.wikia.com)

No, not this subspace either. (img: scottpilgrim.wikia.com)

As I mentioned last week, “subspace” is the term we use for the altered state of consciousness that a sub can achieve through prolonged intense stimulation, pain/trauma play and multiple subsequent endorphin floods. For those who don’t know about altered states of consciousness, an altered state is basically a state in which your brainwaves are functioning in ways other than your basic defaults of “awake and alert” and “sleeping”. This is a very basic definition, as brains are complicated and even the foremost neuroscientists aren’t quite sure how exactly they work, so analyses of the nature of subspace tend to be largely anecdotal. This one will be no different; as always, I write primarily from my experience and the experiences of those who’ve shared with me.

So! What does subspace feel like?

This is a bit of a tricky question to answer, as people experience things differently depending on partners, contexts, and moods, but there are a few general traits of subspace that most people tend to encounter. Subspace is not just a state of feeling very submissive to your partner, though that’s certainly an element of it. At the onset of the endorphin flood, physically, I find that my body buzzes and tingles, and is simultaneously very sensitive and able to take and enjoy extreme amounts of pain. My muscles grow extremely relaxed, and my limbs usually feel very heavy, limp, and difficult to control, as though they had “fallen asleep”. Fine motor skills? Nope. It becomes difficult to focus, both visually and cognitively, owing primarily to the overwhelming lack of give-a-fuck that happens in subspace.


The endorphin flood effects the mind as much as it does the body, and that is where all the give-a-fuck goes: washed away by the chemical rush taking over the brain. I, and many others, find that in subspace our cognitive capacities are significantly impaired, and we feel to damn good to worry about it. This mental state often comes with heightened suggestibility, meaning that the sub becomes very receptive, pliable, and open to suggestion, not unlike a hypnotic trance. Many feel overwhelmed by need for gentle physical contact and comfort, and even find themselves regressing to a childlike state in which they only feel capable of curling up with a blanket and their partner. It’s a very vulnerable state to be in, which, in the right context, creates a pleasurable and exhilarating sense of affection and intimacy between partners.

So, I think you can probably guess that it is extremely important that the dominant partner be able to recognize and understand how to respond if and when the submissive partner reaches subspace during or after a scene. If someone is left in subspace without appropriate aftercare (this is what we call post-scene activity), the intense emotions and sensations they are feeling can very easily redirect into negative thought and emotion patterns.

It’s not uncommon for people to “sub-drop” out of subspace; this refers to unexplained post-scene feelings of depression, listlessness, lowered self-worth, neediness, and questioning the value of the experience that they have just enjoyed. Here is a more extensive article that explains sub-drop in detail, for your reference. Anyway, doesn’t sound like fun, does it? It’s not fun, I can tell you first hand. Sometimes it happens despite our best efforts to avoid it, but there are things that we can do to help nurture the pleasure of subspace and mitigate sub-drop while in transition back to “normal”.

(gif: rebloggy.com)

(gif: rebloggy.com)

How do I care for my partner when they hit subspace?

For the dominant partner, aftercare generally means being very affectionate, giving lots of cuddles, and making your partner feel as comfortable, loved, and valued as possible. Even in a casual encounter, it’s important to devote time to gentle cuddling, stroking, and general coddling. Make them some herbal tea and give them something light to eat; their body is healing and replenishing itself, so do what you can to help this process happen as comfortably as possible. Gently treat the impact zones with soothing lotion or oil (such as aloe, vitamin E, or arnica). Let them know how much you appreciate that they trust you and were willing to participate in play with you. Be gentle, be attentive, and be kind.

How do I care for myself when I hit subspace?

As I said above, it is very difficult to give a fuck about anything while in subspace. There are just a few things you want to make sure you give a fuck about, as much as you can. Firstly, hydrate yourself. Drink water or tea, whether it’s brought to you, or whether you have to drink out of the faucet on your bathroom break, get some fluid into you. Don’t be in too much of a hurry to shake yourself out of your state of mind; take the time to really experience and enjoy it. Cuddle with your partner, or if this is impossible (as in distance and solo play scenarios), cuddle with your favourite blanket. Make yourself as comfortable as you can.

Cuddles are excellent medicine. (img: vitaloverdose.deviantart.com)

Cuddles are excellent medicine. (img: vitaloverdose.deviantart.com)

There are also a couple of things you can do to avoid a nasty sub-drop experience. It’s very important to affirm how good you feel, and how wonderful it is to be able to feel so good. Respond to your partner as well as you can; communicating in this state can be difficult but it is important to try, if for no other reason that they can better meet your needs if you communicate what you are feeling. Post-scene, especially if it’s been an intense pain session, take as much time and care as you need to tend to your body. Always keep the lines of communication open.

If you do find yourself heading into sub-drop territory, feeling sad or depressed for no good reason, it’s important to acknowledge those feelings for what they are: your brain is kind of freaking out a little and trying to regain its chemical balance. Many feel an instinctive desire to be alone, and attempt to push everyone (including, and perhaps especially their partner) away; I encourage you to resist this desire. Despite what your brain chemistry is telling you, solitude is not what you need in this moment. Allow your partner to care for you and help you recover. Your emotions will likely get a little wonky during this process. It will pass. Cry if you need to, it can be extremely cathartic.

It’s no surprise to me that for many, achieving subspace is one of the primary goals of their play. It is an extremely pleasurable headspace to occupy, and the routes there are many and varied. Now that you have a better understanding of subspace, how to experience it, and how to help someone through it, hopefully your own play and experiences will be even more nurturing, enriching, and revelatory. Have an excellent weekend, kinksplorers!


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2 thoughts on “Fetish Friday: What Is Subspace?

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