On Being Owned

by Raven's Boy

Many people in the BDSM scene will insist that concepts of "ownership", "slavery" or "property" have no real place in ethical BDSM. Their general feeling is that those who say they are doing it are either putting a fantasy role over what is actually a simple (if unusual) consensual arrangement, or they are acting in an abusive and unethical way. But suppose for a minute that one can truly be owned in an ethical way. What might that look like?

I first want to make it clear that I do not see ownership as the "ultimate perfection" of BDSM. It is common in the scene to idealize ownership. Even those who reject it frequently do so not because it is undesirable, but because it is impossible. It is seen as the stuff of fantasy stories and erotic dreams -- Mr. Benson, The Story of O, and the Gor universe; sex slaves in bondage, kept chained to the bedside. Exciting to read about, but it simply has no place in real life. But for some of us, D/s ownership is real life. It isn't some elaborate fantasy role, but simply the way we live.

In many ways, fulltime ownership D/s may be seen as the monasticism of BDSM. In the religious world, the monk or nun should not be seen as "better" in their path than the layperson. Their path is "purer" in their focus, which is also to say that it is narrower and perhaps easier in its strictness. Which path is more desirable is irrelevant; one does it because one is strongly called to it, and to take on such a burden without that calling is foolishness, for only those who are called to it are given the psychological and spiritual tools needed to truly do it properly. You give the highest honor to yourself and to your gods by living your life according to your unique path, not the one judged most valuable by your peers.

People on this path have a hard place in the BDSM scene. If they do not have the satisfactory ownership situation that they crave, they may compensate with unhealthy behavior which superficially resembles what they desire (possibly consciously, but probably unconsciously). Bottoms may play indiscriminately and dangerously, unwilling to enforse limits or say no to anyone that attempts to dominate them, or they may be attracted to dangerous and unethically controlling individuals. Some bottoms may act as "full service" tops rather than submit to an unsuitable master. Tops may get a terrible repuation, scaring off bottom after bottom with their escalating demands and attempts to push them further into ownership. They may come to accept that this need of theirs is an unrealistic fantasty. Both may go through every kink available to them in an attempt to fill this need.

If they understand their path, it can be very uncomfortable for them to watch "play" scenes, because it may feel like a caricature of something so real to them. They can get a reputation for being stuffy and elitist, especially since obedience and service seem so unbearably dull to players who see power exchange in terms of pain and euphoria, altered states and catharsis. On the other hand, the only people they hear talking about making a life of this rather than a game are too often the some of the worst specimens of humanity -- blank faced childlike slaves with no opinions and no lives, and irresponsible masters who shouldn't be entrusted with the care of a houseplant, let alone a human being. But no matter how poorly understood, the need and desire for ownership remains.

So what do I mean by owned? It isn't simply being collared, or being in a "fulltime" or "lifestyle" D/s relationship, or acting in a manner deemed fitting for a "true slave", whatever that might be. You aren't owned simply because you want to be, or because your master says you are. In a way, it's similar to being in love. One can date or marry entirely of their own free will, but love is more elusive. Love cannot be produced from thin air on command. It comes uncalled and unexpected, or grows where carefully nurtured. One does not so much "consent" to love so much as accept it and if you are mindful and prepared, you can see it coming and have the choice of running from it or embracing it. Becoming owned is the same, although it seems that a person's defenses against ownership are significantly higher -- as they should be.

But I haven't really answered the question. What do I mean by owned? Basically, it is giving over your free will to another person. You enter the relationship with full consent, but over time your ongoing consent becomes irrelevant. You become unable to go against the will of your master or mistress. They have a sort of direct link to your subconscious and can change you by force of will alone. Orders given by them can bypass your higher conscious, and you will find yourself unable to refrain from responding. Your body, mind and soul belong to your master. It isn't that you both agree to act as if they own you completely. They actually do.

Do you find this terrifying? You should. It is an immense power, and one that is shockingly easy to abuse.

How does it work? I'm not really sure. Brain chemistry, I suppose. As far as I can tell it works on the same principle as brainwashing. There is some mechanism by which the human will can be broken and subverted; something inherent to the human condition. By this mechanism someone could be owned in every way, and unable to leave without help. Being broken in this way wouldn't have anything to do with the individual's need for submission; it could happen to anyone under harsh enough circumstances.

On the other hand, it seems certain people are "natural slaves". They have a deep need to be owned in this way, and in being owned their will isn't broken but offered up whole. They are simply born for this role. It really comes down to knowing in your heart that this is the right thing for you. There is much said about what a "real slave" does or who a "true master" is, most of it entirely worthless. I'm not trying to add to that argument, but I will try to lay out what qualities seem to indicate that one is suited for slavery.

A "natural slave" is generally eager to please and focused on making other people happy. They can calmly accept that it is their proper place to work hard and even suffer for the benefit of others, although they can stubbornly rebel against this impulse in certain situations. Most seem to accept hierarchies, chains of command, and the concept of "power over" as the proper and natural order of things, although they may have exceptionally high or very unusual standards for what qualifies one to hold power over another. They may be drawn to the military, strict religious orders, or a 'traditional' patriarchal marriage.

(Note: Many claims are made that only women are natural slaves, but I find no real evidence for it. It's possible that it is easier for women to come to a clear understanding of it, as they often have long standing cultural and religious context for submission in romantic relationships. In reality there seem to be just as many natural male slaves as female ones, but they are often quieter about it and have fewer good role models.)

A "natural slave" responds strongly and involuntarily to 'alpha' types, often so strongly that they are confused or embarrassed about it afterwards. They may respond to acts of aggression with a dangerously severe display of submission. For their own safety, they often work very hard to compensate for this natural reaction. In the process, they may publicly obscure their submissive natures to the point where no one would believe it of them.

In the BDSM scene, natural slaves may be very "service-oriented" bottoms, eager to cook and clean and do all manner of non-sexual service. They are differentiated from other sorts of bottoms and submissives for whom service may be a titillating part of "scene theater", usually to be followed up with hot sex, but not rewarding in and of itself. In that old joke about the bottom who says he'll do anything to please his mistress and is told to paint her house, the "natural slave" would be eagerly going over color swatches while most bottoms would have left in sexual frustration. As Laura Antoniou describes in her Marketplace series, "to be thrilled at the opportunity to provide useful service, aroused by a pleased nod, and satisfied by the proverbial job well done, is the mark of a slave."

There is much discussion about "natural slaves", but if there is a "natural master" it is someone with not only the hunger for this power, but the control to feed without devouring. It is someone who is able to work her way into the bottom's psyche and mark each and every part of it as hers. They have to understand and appreciate the nature of service and be able to hold this power without becoming abusive to their slave, or an asshole to the rest of the world.

There is a great deal of value in talking to others about this, if only to get a clear idea of the wrong way to do this. Finding other people who you can relate to who have or want any kind of full time D/s relationship can provide a wonderful way to explore your thoughts and feelings on it. A key phrase for me in finding like minded people was "service oriented submissive". This describes a wide range of bottoms, not just owned slaves, but it gets across the right mindset without the cock waving that is often triggered when phrases like "24/7" and "real slave" come up.

This sort of deep psychological ownership is often discussed online as "Internal Enslavement" or "Total Power Exchange" (and perhaps "Hypnotic Submission"). If you can manage to see past their pervasive sexism they have good points to make. The main Internal Enslavement website has a wonderful "Five point scale of bottoms" which is the most useful classification I have seen, particularly in the differentiation between a servant, who exhibits "ongoing voluntary submission" and a slave, who after giving initial consent has very limited ability to withdraw it.

Another thing the "IE"/"TPE" gets right is that ownership is deep mental process that is about more than training protocol and obedience. They stress that external displays of submission are beside the point, as you do not merely want the bottom to act like a slave. You want them to become a slave and then the actions will follow automatically. Punishment for misbehavior becomes therefore less important than figuring out the cause of the misbehavior. Don't assume this is "going easy" on the bottom. Most people would prefer to be beaten than do the hours of "emotional SM" involved here.

For ownership to work, the master must have access to all parts of the slave's psyche, not just the nicely polished ones. A slave simply can not have any emotional or mental privacy. Everything he thinks, feels and does is open to his master's inspection. It is especially vital for the slave to be honest about defiant thoughts and feelings, in order for the master to help him work through that and get to a place where he is comfortable enough to accept full ownership. People who find this level of honesty difficult to manage face-to-face may use a "slave diary" where the bottom writes down all their thoughts and feelings about the relationship. This can provide a useful starting point for the sort of radical honesty needed.

This honesty goes both ways. A responsible master will not only get clear consent for all aspects of the enslavement process, but truly informed consent for the process as a whole. Someone who is suited for slavery may respond to any kind of training or conditioning much more quickly than either master or slave expects, even if on a conscious level the slave feels like they are just playing along. It would be extremely unethical (I would say "sick and wrong" actually) for a master to get simple consent for the elements of training while giving the impression that the slave would be able to give ongoing voluntary consent through the entire relationship.

The area where my master and I differ the most from the standard master/slave mindset is in regards to limits. It troubles me that people so often forget that the flip side of power is responsibility. Owned is owned. When done properly the slave has no rights or limits -- beyond what her master gives her. When starting a master/slave relationship it is very important to set clear ethical limits on the master's behavior, or the slave may find herself unable or at least very deeply unwilling to act for her own protection. I cannot understate the importance of a slave only submitting to a dominant who she trusts with not only her life, but with her soul.

The need to be owned doesn't mean that one can't have standards. In fact, it means that you should -- and must -- have incredibly high standards for your treatment, because you are so vulnerable to abuse. It is very tempting for natural submissives to throw themselves into any situation that is marginally acceptable, because they need it so badly and it "smells" vaguely like what they are consciously or subconsciously seeking. They should always remember that this can be done in a way that is fulfilling and beautiful for both master and slave, and that settling for an abusive situation is far worse than remaining alone.

In setting up our relationship, my master and I made certain limits very clear. I am to retain the ability to refuse any command to act dishonestly, dishonorably or in a manner which is against the edicts of my gods. If he goes against that or behaves blatantly dishonorably in any way, I am required by oath to end the relationship. Because of religious commitments, we are much more concerned with doing this honorably than with achieving someone elses notion of "total enslavement". We both realize how deep this can go and put quite a bit of effort into holding back.

For example, I am required to maintain a good amount of independence, both because my master would be bored with a "drone" and because he believes it would be unethical to stamp out my individuality that thoroughly. I am not required to agree with him or baby his ego. I am encouraged to speak my mind freely, so long as I act with the proper respect and obedience. He is required to treat me with care and respect, and not disregard my well being. These limits are in place for his sake as well as mine, helping him stay within his own ethical limits.

It is common for aspects of a slave's individuality, such as their name or sexual preferences, to be stripped away either for sport or as a lesson. (I met a set of slaves named "boy 1" "boy 2" and "boy 3", for example.) This isn't necessarily unethical, but it is an area which should be treated with great care. A master should endeavor to always remember that her slave is helpless before her, and treat the slave in a manner that shows her worthiness of this power. Falling into petty displays of power shows a lack of confidence in her control and a lack of respect for the depth of the relationship.

Some masters may feel a real master should not show any vulnerability to the slave. The slave must never see the master struggle or fail, they say, and if they do the slave must pretend it didn't happen or (even better) go through mental gyrations that make the master right after all. If we are to get beyond the slave merely putting on a show of slavelike behavior, we must get beyond the master's one-dimensional act as well. When everything is going well, the master can pull off a fair approximation of omnipotence and omniscience, but that doesn't make it reality. A good slave can see her master cry, and see her master fail, and it will never occur to her that this might mean he is unfit to own her. To be owned is to give yourself over to a flawed, fallible human being, trusting that although they might not be perfect or have all the answers, they will always do their best to take care of you.

Is this still terrifying to you? Perhaps. It scares me at times. I feel myself slipping further and further into this and part of me wants more than anything to fight it, and I would fight it -- if it didn't feel so entirely right. In slavery I find myself whole. The things in me that fit so awkwardly in normal life become comfortable and natural in slavery. Each day I serve my master I am more at home with my place in the world, and the world becomes a more perfect place. This is simply how I find my place in the natural order of things.