Subspace, also known as headspace, flying, or floating, is an altered mental state which some people achieve during very intense BDSM play. This intense mind/body experience can feel like a trance-like state of euphoria or adrenaline rush, and it’s essentially a natural chemical high. While many people share similar sensations, it can be described in different ways. So, exactly what is subspace? And how can you get there?
Subspace is an altered mental state that can be experienced during BDSM or other types of kink play, generally for submissive. This wonderful and euphoric (or sometimes, confusing and disorienting) sensation is brought on by neurochemical changes in the brain. During a particularly intense BDSM session, subspace can be brought on by intense emotional and physical stimulation, invoking strong physical responses including an extended adrenaline surges. Essentially, chemicals are the highway to subspace!
What is Subspace in BDSM Play?
So, what does subspace feel like? This can be a controversial topic, as no one’s experience of subspace is exactly the same. Some may feel hot and tingly sensations or a warmth washing over their bodies, while others feel calm, peaceful, and serene. Almost everyone reports heightened sensations and a deep trancelike or floating state that may even feel like an out of body experience, dream-like state, euphoria, or in a trance.
Some people experience subspace so deeply that they become unaware of their surroundings, body, sense of self or others, or even time and space itself. It’s as though the mind and body dissociate, the mind shuts off completely, and they may be unaware or unable to control their actions. It’s possible to feel tunnel vision (like you can only see directly in front of you), difficulty focusing, concentrating, or thinking clearly, and have decreased coordination and ability to express yourself.
The intensity of subspace means that it’s even more important to trust your partner, feel safe in the space, and know you’re with someone you trust who will honor your boundaries and tend to your needs. Some folks may be riding a blissful high, but the outside effects can look a bit disorganized (after all, they’re not “in their body” anymore!). They may have glassy eyes, or be unable to focus their gaze, as if they’re in a dream or intoxicated. They may have trouble moving on their own, changing positions, sitting upright, standing, or walking without support. They may be incoherent or be laughing, babbling, chattering, or unable to respond. In these cases, it’s important to pause or stop play until your partner is able to regain mental presence, and check-in to ensure their well-being and consent.
What causes subspace?
This dream-like state or hypnotized state of subspace is caused by chemical reactions in the body. Many chemicals contribute to the intense feelings, as natural morphine-like chemicals pump into the brain!
First, adrenaline is released at the beginning of intense play and continues to release with more stimulation and throughout play. Adrenaline is responsible for increased pain tolerance and feelings of euphoria. The body sends out shots of endorphins as the body needs it — the more pleasure or pain experienced, the more endorphins are released! The best way to regenerate adrenaline? Continuous stimulation! (Ideally, that ramps up over time as you build tolerance to the sensations.)
Dopamine is also released and related to sexual arousal. Dopamine builds and builds until the climax. Therefore, edging and foreplay increase levels of dopamine — and the more dopamine builds, the more intensely you’ll feel this natural high state.
Another hormone, prolactin, intensifies the dream-like experience by inhibiting dopamine intake. This is responsible for the relaxation that occurs after the climax — your brain is limiting the dopamine, and starting to calm down as you go into a trance.
Cortisol is also released during subspace. In its most basic form, cortisol kick-starts your response to fear and pain, which could give you a fight or flight response. Yet, in a dynamic where you trust your partner, can relax into the experience, and are being given TLC and during-play care, studies have shown that this stress response does not actually trigger fight, flight, or freeze. Paradoxically, kinksters experience euphoria as cortisol kicks in, possibly because they feel so safe during their body’s natural stress response!
This could also be connected to the release of oxytocin, a hormone known as the “love hormone”. This creates a sense of connection and closeness, and is also linked to orgasm. Oxytocin reduces stress and amplifies feeling of closeness, affection, and intimacy after sex or a BDSM scene, especially when you feel cared for with intimacy and aftercare.
While it’s also common to experience subdrop after BDSM play, subspace happens during the play itself. All these chemicals play a part in helping you reach subspace, and can be further intensified with techniques like edging, multiple orgasms, various types of sensations and tempos, and both physical and mental BDSM play.
How To Reach Subspace
Now that you know what subspace is… how do you get there? To work with the natural chemicals in your body, you can use different play techniques (both mental and physical) to bring your brain a flow of chemicals to help you reach subspace during sex or a BDSM scene. The goal is to increase the intensity of play gradually over time (within your limits and comfort zone) to continually release endorphins and the other chemicals that contribute to subspace at a slowly intensifying rate.
Here’s a general outline of how you can lead into subspace through play. Keep in mind that it’s always important to honor your boundaries and only push your limits to the degree that you feel comfortable doing so. You can continue with one activity that you enjoy throughout the whole experience, or you can continually ramp up the intensity of different techniques to become increasingly more intense!
1. At the beginning of a scene, there are no endorphins. Once pain/pleasure is initiated, the body’s endorphin reserve begins to be released.
2. As you start to play, spend about ten minutes on relatively light but continuous stimulation (light spanking, gentle flogging), to encourage the body to start creating those endorphins. If you want to explore with a sex toy instead of impact play, try using the Magic Wand on the lowest setting first, then intensify the sensation, and ease back up. The Magic Wand is a great choice because it can be deep and rumbly, or intensely powerful!
3. After these ten minutes of mild play, spend about five minutes building up to about 10 to 15 seconds of intense pain/pleasure stimulation (more intense whipping, flogging, whatever activities you enjoy), just beyond the current pain/pleasure limit. This will trigger the body to release endorphins into the bloodstream and increase pain tolerance and pleasure, without yet being in an altered state of consciousness.
4. Continue with about ten minutes of mild, easy, continuous stimulation to encourage the body to create more endorphins. Then, repeat with another 5 minutes of intensity at the previous more-intense level.
5. Finish off that set of play with ten seconds to a minute of very intense, over-the-edge stimulation (with your consent of course, but pushing the bounds of your pain/pleasure tolerance), which will release another round of endorphins and begin to bring you into a new headspace. You may feel a bit woozy and trance-like, your eyelids may appear droopy, and feel more relaxed and floaty than before.
6. Fall into this pattern and keep going. As before, have ten minutes of any relatively mild stimulation at the new level, followed by a five-minute build. Then a 10- to a 15-second intense sensation to release the next endorphin flow. This next level of headspace may feel like being drugged. You may even feel hypersensitive, such that a small sensation can lead to an intensified response in the body.
7. Go back to ten minutes of any relatively mild stimulation. With sensations intensified, your moans and groans will be longer and deeper, the body may even become limp, and your body’s reactions will be obvious. It may be harder and harder to meaningfully respond. This is the sweet spot of play (and also when your Dom should be taking extra care to check in and ensure they’re honoring your boundaries and needs).
8. With the next five minutes, alter with 10- to 30- second builds in intensity, releasing more endorphins and bringing you into subspace, the trance-like state of ecstasy that very clearly feels like an altered state of consciousness.
When you’re exploring subspace, it’s essential to be with a partner you trust to honor your needs and boundaries throughout play. As excited as you may be to try it, this isn’t a place you’ll want to explore with a new partner. Ensure that you’re both on the same page about play and limits, and be aware of the signs you’re nearing or in subspace. Agree upon the type of play you’ll explore once you’re there, when you’ll stop, and that kind of aftercare you’ll receive to help bring you down from subspace and ease subdrop. You’ll likely not reach subspace everytime you play, and may not reach it at all – and that is completely okay. Everyone’s body reacts differently.
- Sirstompsalot – BDSM Chemistry (no longer active)
- 50 Shades to BDSM – Subspace, Endorphins, and Topspace (no longer active)
- Dominant Guide – Let’s Explore Subspace (no longer active)
- Frisky Business – The Endorphin Levels in BDSM (no longer active)
- O’ Connell, 2011