Help Wanted: How Does Service Space Feel For Me?

Image is a green Philips brand iron lying on top of a white item of clothing.

This post is part of a miniseries exploring the nuances of different headspaces I access through kink! You can find all the other posts in this series by clicking here, and I hope this one serves you well. (Get it? …I’m sorry.)

I grew up assigned female, disabled and queer in a misogynistic, ableist and queerphobic society. I also attended a fee-paying high school solely because of some inherited money that was tucked away in a trust fund, which did not automatically equate to living in a wealthy (or even, uh, financially comfortable) household. Society and my peers made it clear to me from day zero that there were aspects of my life and my identity – of the very foundation of my being – that were undesirable, unworthy or wholly unacceptable.

This did not make for a very sturdy foundation upon which to build self-esteem, as I’m sure you can imagine.

One of the most harmful concepts that our capitalist society presses upon us is that our value as human beings is directly and inextricably linked to our “productivity”. I’ve read a lot of leftist theory and done a whole lot more psychotherapy, but I don’t think it makes me a bad anti-capitalist punk to admit that it’s going to take me a very long time to truly unlearn this particular faulty concept. It’s everywhere.

I’ve already talked a fair bit about the relationship between my disability and my service, but I haven’t actually unpacked what service space feels like for me, or why I enjoy it. It starts with all of the above: in a society that values “productivity”, whatever that means, and with disability already holding me back from being productive in any sort of traditionally capitalist manner, I was desperate to be worthy.

This manifested in my vanilla life first. Some of the things I was doing were all well and good, like donating blood regularly and knitting for charity… but others, not so much. I continued emotionally draining, outright harmful friendships wherein I acted as an unqualified therapist and/or crisis worker because I was desperate to make a difference. I took on responsibilities I couldn’t or could barely carry out because of my disabilities, like staffing a bake sale (which my joints, anxiety and autism all prevented me from doing) and helping my mum redecorate her house from bottom to top. As a pattern of behaviour, it was unsustainable.

Enter service submission. I stumbled across the term during one of my many blog binges and realised I was already kinda-sorta enacting it in the relationship I was in at the time – when I visited my then-boyfriend, it made me feel a great deal less anxious and burdensome to tidy up a little, do some dishes or massage his back. I slowly came to notice that I was deriving a sense of satisfaction from these acts of service that was similar to that which I experienced when doing helpful things in vanilla life – but it felt more profound.

When I’m in service space, I often hyperfocus. In other settings, hyperfocus is a double-edged sword, because I can end up overexerting myself, or forgetting to attend to other things. Under the watchful eye of a dominant partner, though, I can hyperfocus for the length of time it takes to complete a specific task, and then be gently pulled back into reality. It borders on hypnotic. I can immerse myself in the minute details of a task with the safety net of being ordered to stop if it seems like I’m at risk of exhausting or hurting myself.

Within a 24/7 dynamic, my Daddy and I have been able to account for my tendency to hyperfocus even when he isn’t supervising. Sometimes, this involves him being very specific about the level of energy he wants me to put into a task – he might explain that he wants the kitchen “quickly cleaned”, which means that I load the dishwasher and wipe down the countertops – but only the countertops, not the microwave or the toaster or the cupboard doors, etc. Sometimes it also involves him reminding me to check in with myself about whether my joints are hurting and how many spoons I have left, and he specifically tells me that stopping when my mind and/or body want me to stop is included in the service task.

I feel useful when I serve, in the exact ways I was seeking to feel useful in vanilla life. Service space also feels a lot more psychologically safe because it’s so predictable and the parameters are so clear: I am given a task. My job is then to complete this task to the best of my ability, and/or to communicate with my Daddy about any difficulties I’m having with its completion. My Daddy commends me for my execution of the task and/or my insight and communication, and I glow with pride at having done a good job. My experience of service space is almost entirely psychological – the sensory components (like wiping things til they shine, or the smell of citrus dish soap) are a bonus, but entirely incidental to the headspace itself. With a partner giving me specific, achievable goals, I feel like the embodiment of that capitalist myth: a cog in a well-oiled machine. And because my service submission is entirely removed from capitalism, I feel like I’m at liberty to set boundaries and I can even run the risk of “failing” without worrying about the loss of my livelihood. I feel intensely, deliriously safe in service space.

I also feel genuinely pleased with myself for my tangible impact on my dominant’s life. Formalising acts like a back massage or loading the dishwasher by doing them within subspace can help to keep their significance in the forefront of both our minds, meaning that my partner rarely overlooks my labour and so I rarely feel taken for granted. My tangible impact on him and his praise in response to it starts to fill in the cracks in that foundation I mentioned earlier. It’s not a substitute or a replacement for self-worth, but it gives me somewhere safe and reliable to start rebuilding my self-worth all on my own.

Bite Me: How Does Masochist-Space Feel For Me?

Image of Morgan's shoulder - white skin with deep teeth marks set into it and slight bruising forming around said teeth marks.

Content note: This post features brief mentions of self-harm (but no detailed descriptions or images) and briefly refers to a consensual scalpel scene (again, without details or images).

This post is part of a miniseries exploring the nuances of different headspaces I access through kink! You can find the first one, on ‘ropespace’, here.

You can also find an extended piece of my erotica featured on Erotica at Doxy, which I am fucking ecstatic about, right here. Or you can stay on this webpage and read my musings on masochism.

One of the first essay-type posts I ever drafted, when I was first considering starting a kink-focused blog, was an impassioned rant in response to a recent ex saying that I was using masochism as a proxy for self-harm after he’d seen the aftermath of my first ever scalpel scene all over my thighs. (I should point out that I’d talked to him about the scene beforehand, because surprising a partner – or anybody – with potentially disquieting or triggering wounds is, under most circumstances, a dick move.) I eventually decided that it was too direct, too angry and too personal to be much use to anybody else, but it sits in my Google Drive nonetheless, and it served as a brilliant initial exercise in kinky introspection.

Defining masochism in opposition to self-harm has some drawbacks (primarily, it can be limiting and makes me sound acutely defensive) but it’s a good starting point. Self-harm, for me, is an impulsive action (or series of actions) that I carry out hurriedly, in secret, as a means to an end: I just want to stabilise my brain chemicals enough to survive the day.

By contrast, playing in a masochistic space is a deliberate and shared experience that I seek out and savour. Much like bottoming in a rope scene, bottoming in a sadomasochistic scene requires me to be grounded, present and super attuned to my body and the signals it’s giving me. My job in an S/M scene is to be receptive and responsive, and, above all, to enjoy the array of sensations that my top is providing me with. Self-harm is an attempt to manipulate my body and brain; masochism is an attempt to relax into them.

Masochist-space feels meditative, more so than some other subspaces. Often I’m beaten, pinched, slapped, etc, to a particular rhythm, and reminded by my top in a warm (if condescending) tone to breathe deeply between strikes. I focus almost exclusively on relaxing my muscles and on every sensation I’m experiencing – including non-pain-related ones like the texture of the bedsheets I’m on or the sounds of the impact implements being used. Sometimes I process pain by making noises, and those noises reverberate pleasantly in my chest. I feel as present in my body as it is possible for me to feel, and the pain transforms from something I’m enduring into a catharsis I’m enjoying.

Masochist-space also feels more performative than some other headspaces – but not in an inauthentic sort of way. All the sounds I make (and there are a lot of ’em!) and all the ways I articulate that I’m in pain (like scrunching my face up or writhing) are reflexive and beyond my control, but the process of receiving pain in and of itself is, in part, a way of expressing what a Good Pup™ I can be. I use S/M scenes to showcase my abilities to be determined, resilient, responsive, dedicated to a top, mentally ‘strong’, brave, and/or vulnerable. Like service space, masochist-space allows me to show off, and cultivates a feeling of self-worth in me that I (currently) find impossible to manufacture on my own.

The other thing about masochist-space that separates it from other headspaces is that it requires a sadist in some capacity. Pain for the sake of pain ranges from inconvenient to downright miserable, whether it’s in the context of self-harm or a stubbed toe, but pain for the sake of someone else’s enjoyment is as satisfying as any vanilla thing that brings someone you like some joy – like baking something your partner really likes, or massaging their neck after a long day at the office. I worried for a while that this didn’t make me a ‘true’ masochist: shutting my finger in a drawer didn’t instantly get me wet, and my enjoyment of pain hinged upon someone else’s enjoyment of administering it. It took me a long while to piece together that this was, in essence, a consent issue – I didn’t ask my joints to sublux or the coffee table to get in the way of my shins, but I did ask my Daddy to do whatever he wanted to my ass until I cried “Yellow” or he got bored. And, again, this explained some of the difference between masochism and self-harm, because I was never enthusiastic about the pain I caused myself or the circumstances that forced me to it; the only thing I was enthusiastic about was a spike of endorphins and a quick distraction from my thoughts.

This post has only scratched the surface of my deep love for S/M scenes (get it…? I’ll show myself out) but I hope it’s made clear the uniquely meditative and connective nature of masochist-space as I experience it. I leave you with this quote from the angry essay I wrote to myself last year:

In letting a partner mark my body during a scene, I am consciously handing over ownership and control of my body to somebody else. The marks, wherever they end up placed, will remind me for days or weeks to come that I had enough autonomy to surrender my body to somebody else – somebody who treated it exactly the way I wanted it to be treated.

All Tied Up: How Does Ropespace Feel For Me?

Last Sunday, I was on the way home from a seven-hour shibari workshop with my Daddy (as in my nurturing, dominant romantic and sexual partner). I sat in the passenger seat of my Daddy’s car, my black ‘Masochist’ T-shirt covered in rope fibres, and attempted to compose a message to my mum (as in my actual biological parent) about how my day had been. I have a spectacularly open and chill relationship with my mum, so I finally gave up on forcing my brain to communicate with my thumbs and just told her I was in subspace and my brain was “pleasantly mushy”. The next day, when I was somewhat more coherent, she asked me what I actually meant by subspace.

The answer, of course, is that it depends.

This conversation with my mum, in combination with Kate Sloan’s latest piece on little space, prompted me to contemplate the differences between the different kink headspaces I experience, and how I might describe them. This post will hopefully be the first in a series of many exploring the different subcategories of subspace.

To begin with, I want to talk about “ropespace”. It’s a subspace like many others, but it specifically occurs when I’m being tied up in some capacity, and usually involves literal ropes, as opposed to other restraints (like handcuffs). The rope itself plays a part: I’ve grown to associate the appearance of rope, its texture and its warm earthy scent with being bound in some capacity, so just seeing, handling or sniffing the stuff can gently nudge me towards ropespace if I’m not there already.

The other sensory aspect of rope bondage that really contributes to the headspace it puts me in is the sensation of being wrapped up tight, squeezed or otherwise securely held by ropes, both whilst I’m being tied and for any period of time that I stay tied up. I often say that it “gives me good autism”, which is a very particular kind of sensory stimulation or comfort that satisfies me very, very deeply. (Other things that give me “good autism” include glitter, citrus-y scents, arranging things by colour or size, and those cookie decorating videos that are everywhere at the moment.) I am almost instantly blissed out by the feeling of being hugged by ropes, whether that hug is around my waist, chest, wrists or even feet, and the experience of being tied into those hugs by someone I’m into is so joyful it makes me giddy.

A big part of the reason that I’m so sensation-oriented when I’m in ropespace, and thus so focused on the scent and pressure of the rope, is that I feel a lot more mindful and embodied than I do usually. I have a bunch of trauma stuff I’m still in the midst of addressing, meaning that I dissociate on a pretty regular basis, and in my day-to-day life, I can still more or less function even when my brain has completely checked out. But, because of the risks involved in rope (like circulation loss, nerve damage and joint problems), dissociating just isn’t an option. My primary job as a rope bottom is to be attentive to my body’s responses so that I can communicate with my top and be tied safely (which also means that any hint of dissociation warrants a safeword and possibly the end of a scene). Rope scenes are some of the few times that I intentionally and continuously tune in to every single part of my body and the ways that they’re all feeling. This can be exhausting, of course, but it can also be calming and enjoyable and deeply, deeply healing.

Another major psychological component of ropespace is the sense of malleability it gives me – or, more specifically, the sense of malleability that being manhandled by my Daddy gives me. Combined with the security of being tied in the first place, the experience of being grabbed, moved around, turned and twisted as my top needs can sometimes put me into little space; other times, it simply puts me into a deeper subspace wherein I feel lovingly objectified – a useful and prized canvas upon which my top can create art with rope. The couple of times I’ve been suspended have amplified this enormously: being carefully dangled from the ceiling makes me feel small and willingly helpless, especially when coupled with the intense fear of falling and the pride my Daddy expressed when I overcame it.

There’s also an exhibitionist edge to some of the rope stuff I do, since my Daddy and I are currently obsessed with attending workshops to learn and practice new skills. This necessarily means getting tied in front of people, which adds again to the sense of loving objectification – my Daddy loves to tie me tightly, roughly or otherwise meanly, to get me to squeak and whimper, so all eyes are on me and I feel distinctly ‘shown off’. Not all of the rope that I do is in public, but I still feel like I’m ‘showing off’ when it’s just me and a top – like I’m showcasing how still I can be, or how obedient, or how resilient.

Ropespace is still somewhat new to me, but it feels different from masochist-space, service subspace, pup space and little space already. All of the aforementioned fall under the general umbrella of ‘subspace’, of course, but I hope I’ve managed to articulate exactly how ropespace feels for me, at this point in my kinky development, and I’m planning to explore other kink mindsets soon – so watch this space!