Inspired in part by this very thoughtful piece on the importance of touch in a BDSM context I've been thinking about need and desire.
Submissives are often characterised as "needy", which is a difficult label to walk around with. I remember that one of the initial conversations I had with Captain was around his nervousness over the responsibility he would have to assume in that situation, which led him to ask how needy I thought I was. And I replied that I wasn't. For me, needy is a bad word. It has connotations of childish petulance, wimpish lack of self-reliance, of whining, bickering brattishness and of that socially constructed entity that hangs over the heads of all women like Banquo's ghost: the nagging, needy girlfriend. I am a grown up woman, with grown-up wants and desires that are real, important and powerful. However, I am also sexually submissive and that means that situations which turn me on put me in positions where I rely on others for satisfaction and gratification in my sex life.
That's not a position unique to D/s. Everyone all over the world has been in a place where they have wanted sex and their partner has been busy/tired/washing their hair/non-existent. In such situations there's usually little you can do beyond grumble then masturbate, but in a D/s context you are effectively putting yourself in a power-exchange situation in which this witholding is a deliberate and ongoing part of your sex life. The submissive desires rely on the dominant providing them. In many instances, the dominant sexual drive relies on being in a situation where they can control this provision.
Now, there is where the discussion of need gets really interesting. Clearly, dominants have needs too, yet you rarely hear them called "needy". This is because their desires don't manifest in a way that we would consider socially undesirable in the same way that submissive desire maps onto the construct of a needy person. The cool, calm persona, unflappable and radiating authority never strikes us as needy, yet in many ways the dominant is actually the ultimate expression of need. They need the submissive, and control of the submissive in order to satisfy their own desires. Yet their need is invisible, or rather it appears as strong and silent. We don't "see" their need, only that of the submissive. This is how the power exchange causes the perception of a needy submissive and a non-needy dominant. Dominants conserve power, submissives give it up, which means that dominants have a surplus and submissives a lack - hence the imbalance. But both get off on the situation. Both need each other in order to have a healthy and pleasurable sex life, they are fulfilled by each others desires and wants, so why are we critical of the submissives drive, when it is an essential part of the dynamic?
Perhaps part of it is that we view it submissive desire as an absence rather than a presence in the traditional arena of binary signification. As I expressed above, the power exchange is viewed as zero sum, what one has the other cannot have and we always view the power as lying with the provider, in this case, the dominant. In this way, we devalue submissive need because it appears weak to us, incomplete. We privilege dominant need because we do not perceive it as a need, so the appear strong. D/s relies on these agreed constructs in order to operate but really, both desire and both provide.
The important thing here is to separate out "good" criticism from "bad" criticism. To me, there are ways in which the motif of need is a valuable and useful part of the D/s dynamic. Need can be hot. Guilt, shame, humiliation and feelings of "less than" are tools in the D/s arena. The shadows of neediness can give all of these and more, especially given that it is an endlessly repeating cycle - need creates submission and submission creates need. The more I want something (an orgasm, flogging, sens dep, bondage) the more submissive I feel towards the person who provides. The more submissive I feel, the more I need. They feed off each other, especially when my need is emphasised during play.
The references to submissive neediness becomes problematic when it spreads into non-sexual areas. I appreciate that for 24/7 or more ingrained D/s relationships there is an argument that everything is coloured by the D/s and hence sexual so I'll try to clarify. Where there is a belief that because someone is a submissive they are therefore needy (weak) in all areas of their lives, that becomes a problem. Where neediness is assumed as a bad thing which the submissive should be blamed for, rather than a natural part of their sexuality which gives pleasure to them and to their dominant, then that's a problem. Where there is an assumption that because someone is submissive they are automatically always needy and hence unable to control themselves, manage their wants and desires or protect themselves from unwanted attention because of the inferiority implied by their needs, then that's a serious problem.
My submissive need is not and never should be taken as a weakness of character or mind. It's a demonstration of strength and confidence in expressing myself and actively seeking to fulfill my desires.