Three Kinds of Training

“Training” is such a sexy damn word for those of us who love D/s: the idea of one partner moulding the other, customizing them to their liking. To bring that sexy concept into a sexy reality, it helps to understand that there’s more than one kind of training that we might do with our submissive partners and to be clear on which kind we’re setting out to accomplish.

The simplest kind of training is pure personal preference. There’s a certain way we like our coffee prepared, a certain way we like to be addressed, or a specific kneeling position we like the look of. So we explain our preference to our partner, have them practice it until they get the hang of it, and done is done.

Somewhat more involved is training our partner to develop a new skill or to accomplish something that requires discipline. To train a partner to provide expert massage requires that we be a expert at massage ourselves and also that we understand something about how to teach. Or we can outsource by sending our partner to massage classes, but that may defeat the purpose if the process of training is what we were attracted to in the first place. To train a partner to always sit, stand and move with perfect posture, we ourselves need to be disciplined enough to always pay enough attention to notice and correct their posture.

It’s a common wisdom about submission that someone who’s submitting can only give what they have–that only someone who has strong self-control can give that control to another. Training for skill or discipline is an interesting case where that same principle applies to dominant partners as well. Anything we want to train our partners to do or become we’d best learn to do or become ourselves first.

Often, though, what we and our partners are looking for is a third kind of training, not about individual preferences or specific skills, but about submission itself. What we’re dreaming of and lusting over is the idea of being able to train someone, or be trained ourselves, to be better submissives: to be able to submit more deeply, more consistently, with less conflict or resistance. But what does it even mean to train a person to be more submissive?

First we should admit that this is often just a hot fantasy and a pretext for play. In many cases there doesn’t need to be any real progression of deeper submission over time. We can call sexytimes “training” and the dominant partner can say “It’s time for your lesson” in that deliciously strict tone of voice without really expecting that anything in particular will be learned. We can spin fantasies with our partner about how we’re going to train away their free will until all they know how to do is obey, and we can keep enjoying those fantasies together for decades with no actual change in the degree of control in our relationship. And sometimes that’s all we’re looking for.

Other times, though, people on both sides of the slash crave submissive training that does progress. We want to set milestones and get the satisfaction of passing them by. We want to feel our shared sense of power exchange grow over time. Sometimes, we want to know that we are preparing our partner to better submit not only to us but in general, like the Marketplace stories where trainers gather status and pride for turning out finely trained submissives that are admired by all.

This kind of training is different from the first two. People’s preferences vary widely, so training someone to never meet your eyes while submitting certainly doesn’t make them any better at submitting to a partner who demands that they never look away while being hurt. Skills like body service or bootblacking are useful for submitting to partners who value those kinds of service, but even those are not submission itself.

Really, actually, training for submission is challenging, and often not immediately sexy and fun all the time. Here are some suggestions for getting going in the right direction.

Clear Commitment

To make an progress on submissive training, both partners have to be committed to the project. Remember how I said that often training is just a pretext for a sexy scene? If one partner is thinking along those lines and the other is excited to make substantive progress, at least one is going to end up disappointed. Ask your partner, sincerely, directly, and far away from any erotic context, to talk about their hopes for training. Asking “Do you want this for real?” when the submissive partner is kneeling on the floor and the dominant partner is holding a crop is pointless–the answer then will always be “Oh yes, I want it so much!”

Emotional Responsibility

Part of the appeal of submission is often the opportunity it affords to escape from the responsibilities of choice. But deep submission requires it’s own kind of responsibility. To push edges and tread in dark places with consistent success, those in the submissive role need to be able to own their feelings and their reactions. If they’re feeling disappointed about the outcome of a scene, letting that feeling convert into blame for their partner being a lousy dominant, or blame for themselves for being a lousy submissive, will suck the life out of a D/s dynamic quickly. To maintain and strengthen their power relationship, they need to be able to recognize that feeling for what it is and to have the integrity to deal with it directly.

Mindfulness practices teach this kind of discipline. Searching for the word “mindfulness” will net you a long list of different books, trainings and exercises and you can sift through to find some that sound valuable for yourself and your partners.

Communication Skills

It may not be as sexy as learning a portfolio of sexy submissive postures, but learning the art of effective intimate communication is far more powerful for deep submission. Communication skills are what connect that emotional responsibility we’ve developed with the other member of our relationship. It’s the ability to clearly express what we’re feeling and what we need and what we have to give to our partner, and being able to clearly hear what they are trying to express to us.

Learning some simple skills like paraphrasing, active listening, or using I-statements can be surprisingly effective in improving your and your partners’ ability to stay connected and maintain your power relationship through challenging conversations. The discipline of Nonviolent Communication provides more in-depth training around intimate communication.

Connection to Submissive Desire

The fantasy of training someone to submit often involves separating them from their own desires. “What you want doesn’t matter; you exist only to serve me!” and all that. But the reality of the matter is that submission flows from that personal desire to submit, and so deepening submission requires strengthening the submissive partner’s connection to and understanding of their desires, not stuffing them down.

Talk with your partner about when and why and how they want to submit, about what rewards they get from it, about what inhibitions get in the way sometimes. Direct them to journal or meditate on it. Instead of ordering them to suffer through in silence when they’re having a hard time submitting, order them to tell you immediately and then stop and figure out what’s causing the difficulty. When you and they both understand those things, the road to deeper D/s will be made clear.