I’ve gotten this question from people with plenty of kink experience almost as much as from those with none. Identifying and describing subspace is a difficult, nuanced affair. It does not look or feel the same for everyone, and many claim they’ve never reached this headspace at all.

So what is subspace really?

It is, in essence, a state of mind. Imagine receiving a mind-blowing massage, or sitting through a deep meditation session. As you sink further into yourself and the sensations you’re experiencing, things start to fall away. Your worries and responsibilities begin to slough off. Time bends around you. Maybe even your person-hood becomes liquid, more essential, unstuck from reality.

A person deep in subspace might experience it as a sort of trance. An alternate persona might emerge. Hidden desires may come to the surface as your inhibitions retreat. Some people go completely nonverbal or even disconnect from your thoughts, feelings, memories, and surroundings. Many describe feelings of euphoria or weightlessness.

How to reach subspace?

As in all things BDSM-related, the crux of the matter is trust. More than lust or love or mutual kinks, trust is what allows us to truly let go. And trust requires communication – a lot of communication, from safe sex practices to off-limits terminology to scene expectations. If we can’t be honest and up front about our desires and find common ground, it can be so much harder to relinquish control.

In addition to trust with your partner, also needed is trust in yourself. This is a more difficult needle to thread, and a highly personal needle at that. In the same vein that subspace is like meditation, there is an element of introspection that I have found to be integral in engaging in BDSM. When I used to smoke weed, I had to be honest with myself about the dangers of giving my consent while high. When playing with a new partner, I often have to frame what I am most and least comfortable with for myself, before we even begin the conversation.

Subpsace can be a profound experience, but with such vulnerability comes heightened risk.

Safety in Submission

In such a fragile headspace, people are more prone to suggestion, more sensitive to triggers, and often have more trouble communicating effectively. This, then, is why pre-scene negotiation is such an integral part of exploring kink. If a hard limit is not discussed beforehand, it can be much more upsetting to experience that in subspace than when one is in control of one’s faculties. Similarly, creating protocols and establishing trust around safe words is paramount: for most Doms I know, nothing is scarier than the idea that a submissive will not use their safe signal when they need to.

As a submissive, it’s important to not be afraid of your safe words. I struggled for a long time with the concept that, even by calling “yellow” (using the traffic-light system, “yellow” means slow down/take a break/check in, rather than “red” which ends the scene immediately), I was disappointing my partner. I took it as a point of pride that I could take whatever was thrown my way, withstand an amount of pain or discomfort that other submissives could not. But pride is nothing if you are putting yourself at unnecessary risk.

Aftercare

Whether you are playing solo or with a partner, there is often a psychological and spiritual backlash from a kinky scene, and especially from sinking into subspace. It is difficult to go from a place of deep vulnerability to upright self-sustainability. That’s where Aftercare comes in.

Some subs want blankets and hot chocolate, others stuffed animals and cuddles. Perhaps a particular type of music or a long bath is what you need to bring yourself back to shore. Optimally, one’s partner should remain present through all of this – hell, the scene might have been very intense for them too, and many doms require aftercare just as much as their submissives.

Think of it as a type of self-care. Personally, when my subpsace takes me far, far away, and especially if I’m having trouble re-entering my body or my life, I might say my name over and over, or list out the things I like and experiences I have. These kinds of skills are especially important for people who scene by themselves or whose scene partner is not available for long-term aftercare. Sub Crash is a real thing, and can be very difficult and upsetting – when our vulnerability is not filled in and smoothed over, we might feel abandoned or hurt, lonely, scared, insecure. This is when the Aftercare scripts come in handy most.

Despite the risks, though, I’ve always found BDSM and in particular the experience of subspace to be incredibly fulfilling. I hope you do too. For more on this and other power exchange subjects, please sign up for my Submissive Desires class, Saturdays at 4:30pm Eastern.