I’ve delayed posting this article because I found that every time I tried to write about it, I ended up talking in circles around the article’s original content. That’s probably because “Adult Toy Story: Romance vs. Reality in Air Doll” is so complete in itself that it needs little (if any) commentary at all. So before you start reading my ramblings, please take a minute to scan this incredibly well-written post. Air Doll is a remarkable movie by Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-ada that tackles some intense philosophical and sexual questions. And the article above, by columnist Greta Christina (who is another great resource!), does an amazing job talking about the movie and how it’s characters struggle with their own desires for intimacy and the give-and-take which comes from a real, honest connection.
Rather than trying to summarize or expand on what Greta Christina already tackles so eloquently, I want to take this conversation in another direction, to talk about sub-space.
No, that’s not like deep space or cyberspace; sub-space is a place inside your head that many submissives in BDSM scenes go. It’s different for every person who experiences it, doing everything from blurring the outside world to magnifying every detail of a particular moment, to some messy, beautiful combination of the two. And what does that have to do with Air Doll and the article I linked you to?
Honestly, very little. But what struck me about the plotline in Air Doll was this particular description, when the doll (who has come to life) becomes lovers with a video store owner who has recently saved her life by breathing air back into her from a puncture wound.
In offering herself to be, as she puts it, a “substitute,” to be and do any sexual thing Junichi wants her to be and do, the doll herself fails at intimacy. If she had an active, erotic desire to be his fuck toy, for him to use and abuse however he likes—if she was getting some genuine kinky thrill out of this—that would be one thing. That would be a path to intimacy. But she doesn’t. She doesn’t see herself as a sexual agent at all. She still sees herself as an air doll: an object of desire, not a generator of it. She sees herself as having nothing sexual to offer but her passive willingness to be the recipient of her partner’s sexuality.”
This is a brilliant distinction to be made between submissives and the kind of sexual persona that Air Doll represents. For the doll, sex is not something she is ENGAGED in, but something that happens TO her, which is incredibly unfortunate- both for her own sexual self and for the relationship she attempts to form with her lover. For submissives, on the other hand, the offering of one’s self to another for the fulfillment of their desires is a desire in and of itself.
Sadly, a lot of people don’t understand this distinction, and it makes feminists kind of cranky. Feminists tend to accuse submissives of compromising their strength as women (ignore the fact that, of course, there are male submissives too) by allowing men to dominate them (again, a gender distinction that doesn’t hold up if you’re looking at the whole collection of sub/dom practicioners). From that point of view, being a submissive looks a lot like what Air Doll was doing: unequivocally offering ourselves up for the pleasure of others, without any concerns or desires of our own.
But that’s what sub-space is all about- going so deep into our own desire to give that we lose track of where we are. We become crystallized in moments, in sensations, in physical longing embodied. And the act of being submissive is fulfillment of our own sexual desires, at once giving us the agency to decide what we want, and then relinquishing it to a dominant who will control how it is expressed.
And I think there are plenty of people out there who can benefit from understanding sub-space, from drawing distinctions between active submission and passive submission, which I think a lot of women (and maybe some men) are familiar with.
Passive submission is Air Doll. Passive submission is the teenage girl who agrees that she’s ready for sex because her boyfriend wants to, but is nervous and doesn’t really enjoy it. Passive submission is acceptance of what is coming. Passive is this explanation from Scarleteen:
“ Once he asked if there was something else he could do that she liked. She said no because it was something she just didn’t have the answer to: she didn’t know what she liked or might like just yet.”
Passive submission is letting sex happen, rather than taking it by the horns.
And passive submission will never get you to sub-space. Passive submission doesn’t create intimacy (although I know that romantic love can exist without it, but that is something for your own contemplation, not for me to tell you), it only creates complacency. Sub-space, on the other hand- genuine, whole-body submission, can be one of the most beautiful, mutual, and intimate places a person can go.
There are places like sub-space in vanilla sex, in D/s relationships, and in non-sexual ones, even, so don’t despair if you aren’t kinky. If you’ve ever had a moment, where your heart pulls so hard that your body tries to melt right into your partner, where you can’t stand the idea of being two separate people for a second longer, you’re in something like sub-space. If you’ve ever cuddled up next to someone and felt time pause for a second and focus on just the sensations of your skin on theirs, you’ve found your sub-space.
Sub-space is different for everyone. It’s kinky, it’s D/s, it’s intimate, it’s loving, it’s mutual. It doesn’t matter what form sub-space takes for you, as long as you can find it, or its equivalent. If you can tap into your own organic form of intimacy, rather than just submitting to sex, becoming passive and inanimate, then you and your partner can grow as sexual people. And that’s what we all want, isn’t it?