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Five point scale of bottoms

This is a scale of how much authority over the "bottom" is acquired by the "top". It is an attempt to describe a system of terms which will be useful in discussing the various phenomena associated with SM, D/s and M/s.

In itself, this ordering is not intended as a value judgement. However, many people implicitly place higher value on more intense activities and so something similar to this list is lurking in the subconscious of many BDSM subcultures. This gives rise to two widespread causes of antagonism: people looking up the scale with a "even if you're a submissive (or slave), you're no better than us masochists (or submissives)" agenda; and people looking down with a "stop pretending you're really a submissive (or slave), you're just a masochist (or a submissive)" attitude. It is not unusual for the resulting arguments to hinge on the word "genuine", as one group is not the genuine article according to the definition of the other.

My opinion is that most SM vs D/s vs M/s arguments are caused by the belief that everyone should call themselves whatever they like, and that common definitions are inappropriate. My belief is that meaningful communication is impossible without commonly held definitions.

1. Fetish bottom: "I worship your boots and want to serve them."
Fetish bottoms differ from other types of fetishist in that the object they eroticise is associated with a top. They are almost invariably male, and in the pure form have little need to interact with the top or to submit their will in real life encounters.

2. Masochist: "I want you to use the needles tonight."
Masochists take things a step further and grant the top authority to subject them to pain or humiliation, or perhaps to physical control such as bondage. However, the dynamic of these scenes is still one of equality, and it is clear that everything is done for mutual gratification.

3. Roleplay submissive: "Can I be the Girl-Caught-Shoplifting tonight?"
This involves assuming roles for a temporary scene (from a few hours up to a few days) which would normally be associated with inequality and with one person having power or authority over the other: for example, a store detective blackmailing a shoplifter into obeying him. However, it is understood that the goal of the scene is direct mutual satisfaction for both top and bottom (eg, that the "shoplifter's" desire to be held down, "ravished" and sworn at is catered to.)

4. Servant: "What can I do for you now, Sir?"
This can sometimes be difficult to distinguish from a long term relationship involving roleplay submission. However, the essential feature of a servant or service orientated submissive / bottom is their desire to do things purely for their top's benefit (literally, to serve.) Hence, a servant may derive great satisfaction from doing housework at the top's home. Nevertheless, this kind of service is voluntary and is an example of "ongoing voluntary submission". The bottom constantly chooses to stay and to serve, even if that choice is just implicit in their continued presence and obedience.

5. Slave: "You have the authority to decide things for me, Master."
A slave differs from other types of bottom in that they have no (enforceable) rights with respect to the top. In particular, they cannot remove themselves from the relationship, and cannot themselves chose to impose restrictions on what is done to them. This lack of rights in the face of the top's acknowledged authority over them constitutes ownership. The difference between a servant and a slave can be summarised by: "Ownership rather than obedience is the defining quality of slavery; obedience rather than ownership is the defining quality of submission." -->

There are two further subdivisions:

  • 5a External Enslavement - in which slavery is enforced by external forces, such as threats to hunt slaves down and retake possession of them if they run away. This approach has limited plausibility in a modern society, at least for any length of time.
  • 5b Internal Enslavement - in which slavery is acheived by forging an emotional bond which the slave cannot extricate themselves from. This approach is ultimately dependent on the validity of the Internal Enslavement Hypothesis (in short, that submissives with such a great need to be owned exist, and that a Master can create a psychological environment in which that need comes to the fore.)

Other scales

The above scale is an expanded form of William Henkin's Five Basic Bottom Types.

There is also a widely quoted and finer grained scale by Diane Vera originally published in "The Lesbian S/M Safety Manual" (edited by Pat Califia, 1988) and on the web as Nine Levels of Submission.

Last updated 14 February 2001.

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