Subspace is an altered mental state that can be experienced during BDSM or other types of kink 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. This wonderful sensation is brought on by biochemical changes triggered by intense emotional and physical stimulation during a particularly intense BDSM session. Not everyone can hit subspace, and most people will describe the experience in different ways.
Subspace is caused by natural, morphine-like chemicals that your body releases into the brain. Many chemicals contribute to the intense feelings of subspace. Adrenaline is released often at the beginning of intense play and continues to release with more stimulation. Adrenaline is responsible for increased pain tolerance and feelings of euphoria. The body also releases endorphins throughout play. The more pleasure or pain experienced, the more endorphins are released.
Other chemicals such as dopamine, prolactin, cortisol, and oxytocin contribute to this amazing sensation. Dopamine plays a huge role in sexual arousal, and builds throughout play until climax. Edging and foreplay increase dopamine, and the more dopamine builds, the more intensely you’ll feel this natural high state. Another hormone, prolactin, provides more intense sensation by inhibiting dopamine intake. So, more dopamine means even more feel-good sensations. As this flood of hormones is released through play, intense pleasure and even relaxation occurs.
Cortisol is also released during subspace. In its most basic form, cortisol kick-starts your response to fear and pain, giving you a fight or flight response. Yet, in a dynamic where you trust your partner and can relax into the experience, and are being given TLC and during-play care, studies have shown that this stress response does not appear as a psychological response, with kinksters paradoxically experiencing euphoria in this trance-like state.
This could be connected to the release of oxytocin, a hormone known as the “love hormone”, creating 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 scene.
All these chemicals play a part in helping you reach subspace, and can be even further intensified through additional techniques like edging, multiple orgasms, various types of sensations and tempos, and aspects of foreplay that are both physical and mental.
So, what does subspace feel like? This can be a tricky l topic, as no one’s experience of subspace is exactly the same. Some may have hot and tingly sensations, or a warmth washing over their bodies, while others feel calm and peaceful. Almost everyone reports heightened sensations and a deep trancelike or floating state that may even feel like an out of body experience.
Those in subspace may even be unable to respond. They may be incoherent or be laughing, babbling, or chattering. Their reactions to physical sensations or words may change or feel incongruent. 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.
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. Subspace means that it’s even more important to have trust in your partnership, and feel safe to be in that space with someone you trust to honor your boundaries and tend to your needs.
How To Reach Subspace
Now that you know what subspace is… how do you get there? From a purely chemical perspective, you can use different play techniques (both mental and physical) to bring your body a flow of chemicals to bring you to subspace. The goal is to increase the intensity of play gradually over time (within your comfort and limits) to continually release endorphins and other chemicals that contribute to this headspace 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.
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.
- O’ Connell, 2011
This article was originally written with reporting by Victoria Sparrow. This article has since been re-written for more comprehensive information and flow.