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.
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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