Kit Q&A: Slave? Sub? Pet?

On Saturdays I answer questions from my readers or respond to frequent web searches. A friend of mine who is new to BDSM asked this question.

What is the different between a sub and a slave? What is a pet?

A slave is someone who has a serious commitment, for some people equal in importance to a spouse. It usually means that the couple have spent a lot of time together, figured out that their needs match, and have entered into an extremely intense relationship with “24/7″ kink frequently involved.

A dominant woman and a BDSM 'slave' in Taiwan. Titles in the kink scene are sometimes hard to define. Photo by Hankblue.

The slave’s Master probably gave a collar to the submissive to signify their bond, which is often worn all the time. In some circles, like the traditional leather community, there are multiple levels of collar from a simple token of consideration for further training, through an intermediate level signifying serious commitment, all the way up to the final slave collar.

Submissive is a more generic term, meaning someone who takes the “bottom” half of the power exchange dynamic. If you hear someone say “I am Joseph’s sub,” all you know is that they sometimes play together with Joseph in the dominant role. They might be casual play partners or they might be involved in a relationship of any level of commitment from dating to significant others.

Pet is even more informal — in the case of my pet, who I refer to here often, she is something like a slave in training. I have given her an anklet which signifies she is under consideration for a more permanent collar. While it is not the case for us, pet may imply that the power exchange involve pet play like puppy play or kitty play. Pet play is a kind of objectification play where the often-submissive partner acts as a domesticated pet, either through pure roleplaying or by wearing pet collars, dog hoods, puppy paw gloves, or even cat-eye blindfolds.

In a nutshell, slave is a formal title, submissive is a class of people and pet is somewhere between a title and a term of endearment. At a festival I once insulted a dominant woman by assuming her personal air conditioning device was a collar — and just like that accessory, the only way to know the definition which applies to a particular relationship is to ask the people involved.

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  • http://www.neamhspleachas.com Molly Rene

    I feel like this goes back to our previous discussion about harem, etc. The kink community, in general, seems to lack a fundamental dictionary.

    • http://kitoconnell.com/ Kit

      @Molly: When it comes to BDSM, I think there may have been a dictionary at one time — if you ask kinksters from the leather tradition they seem to feel there are ‘right’ terms and ways of doing everything. But then we have the modern influx of Kinksters from all backgrounds and a lot of that loses meaning (in my opinion, anyway).

  • http://www.staceylangley.info Stacey Langley-Watts

    My fella in Houston calls me his “little slave girl”, but I consider myself more submissive than slave.

    • http://kitoconnell.com/ Kit

      @Stacey: Exactly, even ‘slave’ is not a term you can make an assumption about because plenty of people just think it’s a hot fantasy (c.f. slave leia ;). Thanks for your comment.

  • Char

    I definitely think most people in the bdsm community use the terms in the way you describe here… but I agree sometimes being a “slave” is more of a fun fantasy/roleplay than a serious commitment. I am not really a serious 24/7 slave type but I do some slavegirl roleplaying at times.

    Oh and I imagine myself as my boss’s slave all day at work, but he never gave me a collar or anything… WAAH!

    • http://kitoconnell.com/ Kit

      @Char: You make an important point, similar to what Stacey was suggesting. Slave can be a role in erotic roleplay every bit as much as it can be a lifestyle choice. Even hearing it used at a party you don’t know what it means — slave for the moment? for the night? until their relationship ends?

      You’ve told me about your fantasies of your boss before. I am guessing you are enough of a masochist that the unfulfilled fantasy is almost as fun as the real thing would be. Thanks for commenting!

  • Char

    Yes, sometimes it’s painful but mainly I get a kick out of being teased and tormented all day!

    In some sense though, even though I can’t do things with him physically, I really am being fulfilled in just working for him. I am giving myself to him in my service, and seeing how he values the work I do for him. Strangely we do have a kind of relationship, we have bonded after I’ve been working for him for almost a year now. Maybe I am more of a slave girl than I think… heehee

  • http://kitoconnell.com/ Kit

    @Char: People find satisfaction and service in submission in all different ways. It is good that you’re open to this one — and aware of its limitations.

  • James

    slave vs pet in my opinion while both relinquish control to the master, a slave is expected to take care of her/his master…..while a master is expected to take care of his/her pet