Welcome to my comprehensive guide on how to punish a sub effectively.
And when I say comprehensive, oh boy, do I mean it. This guide is based on my years of experience, reading, talking to people in the community, as well as the years of trial and error in my 24/7 TPE dynamic. It covers everything you need to know to design and implement effective punishments for subs.
Do excuse the length, but I wanted to be as thorough as possible. I have done my best to make it navigable.
Before diving in, just a quick word on why I wrote this. There are some great resources on how to punish a sub out there. The thing is, they are mostly in books and buried in Reddit threads. And most of what you find when you search for ‘punishment for subs’ are listicles of sexytime funishment ideas. Which is not particularly helpful if you’re after advice on how to implement actual punishments in a power exchange dynamic.
In fact, I found very little on the actual communication, self-reflection, and emotional processing required to set and develop effective punishments for subs. So, I wrote this guide to put a better resource out there. Hopefully, you find it helpful.
Let’s dive in.
Section 1: Understanding Punishment in D/s Relationships
Are you actually looking to punish your sub?
Punishment as often fetishised and fantasied about as it is misunderstood. So, first things first, make sure it’s really what you’re after.
Punishment and pain / impact play are not synonymous
One of the most significant misconceptions is that punishment is a specific act, like a beating or spanking. Punishment is a consequence for doing something wrong. It’s defined by the dominant’s intention to correct behaviour. It’s not inherent in any particular act.
If you think punishment means a good thorough beating, well, say hello to scores of masochists out there. Want someone to write out lines or do your laundry in a head-to-toe scuba suit? There’s someone out there for whom that sounds like the perfect Saturday.
Punishment, just like reward, beauty, and the optimal shade of brown for toast, is entirely in the eye of the beholder.
Don’t want to correct your sub? You’re probably after ‘funishment’
‘Funishment’ refers to using the narrative of punishment for mutual pleasure. It’s perfectly fine if you’re not into the real thing, or want to play around with both – just make sure you and your partner are on the same page.
What is an effective punishment for subs?
‘Effective’ broadly means something which is successful in producing a desired or intended result. So, if you want to punish effectively, you need to figure out what your intended result actually is.
That is to say, what is punishing a sub intended to accomplish?
This might seem like a question with one answer. But in reality, the role of punishment in your dynamic will be somewhat nuanced and personal to you.
Punishment can play a variety of roles in a dynamic, so have a think about which apply to you:
Behaviour modification: this is perhaps the most common and straightforward role of punishment – to serve as a deterrent to a particular behaviour, right? D/s dynamics generally have some kind of rules. Punishments are the consequences for breaking them – a means of making sure a sub is appropriately disincentivised from breaking a rule again. Note that punishment generally isn’t about ‘training’ someone in an operant conditioning sense – rather, it’s about targeting motivation, decision-making, and desire. But that’s a very specific point, which I will cover in an upcoming post.
Accountability: D/s rules, particularly in 24/7 lifestyle D/s dynamics, often aim to address more than just honorifics and orgasms. Some rules are frequently designed to target the submissive’s personal development or focus on fostering good habits. Punishments therefore can help keep a submissive on track through keeping them accountable.
Enforcing the dynamic: punishments can also be significant in making power exchange a reality – adding a stick to the carrot. Rules can get omitted or lost in the general chaos of life in a 24/7 dynamic. Punishments can be a great way to give a sub that little extra push to keep to all the rules.
Atonement / closure: submissives are often driven by the need to please and knowing they displeased their dominant can be difficult to put to bed. Punishment can offer closure – a clear, easy means of atoning for whatever it is, allowing them to move on.
That list is by no means exhaustive, but I hope it gives you an idea as to how varied and complex the role of punishment in a dynamic can be.
Why is understanding the role of punishment important?
Well, to figure out what to actually do to your sub to punish them, you need to figure out how to make them feel the way you want them to feel. And to figure out how you want them to feel, you need to know why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Hopefully, you’re with me so far.
What punishment ISN’T for
Right, before I get into the how and the what of submissive punishment, I want to cover why nots. That is, what punishment definitely isn’t for. These lists are by no means exhaustive, but should give an idea of the kind of thing to avoid.
Punishment is not a way to address your sub…
- having a reckless disregard for your feelings;
- failing to respect your boundaries;
- being objectively insulting or rude to you;
- persistently and clearly not listening to what you have said;
- persistently not following clearly agreed rules / aspects of the dynamic, despite repeated conversations on the topic;
… and so on.
In short, punishment will not ‘fix’ someone being a poor partner.
While reading this guide, please keep in mind – power exchange dynamics are based on mutual effort. What that effort looks like may vary depending on which side of the slash you’re on, but at the end of the day (and I cannot stress this enough), you cannot train a relationship partner to treat you better. If they are not going to put in effort into your relationship of their own accord, you can’t make them.
Don’t try. It won’t go well.
Equally, on the other side of the slash, a submissive should not be punished for:
- voicing feelings or concerns;
- stating a boundary or a limit; or
- providing more information to their dominant (eg explaining why they practically cannot do something they have just asked).
Punishment is a great tool, but as most great tools, it can do a lot of damage in the wrong hands. If you’re in a dynamic with any of the above, you should, at the very least, take a good, long look at your relationship and strongly consider if it might be abusive.
These lists are by no means exhaustive, but it should give you an idea of the kind of thing to avoid.
Now, on to the practical stuff.
Section 2: Communication
While there are lots of comprehensive lists out there, I would strongly recommend you put your phone away and start with your partner instead. (Just…errr you know, not right this second. Finish reading this first, obviously.)
The phrase ‘communicate with your partner’ gets chucked around with all the reckless abandon of a three-year-old with a bucket of paint when talking about punishments. And of course, you absolutely should communicate with your partner. But a lot less, if anything at all, is said about how to actually do the communicating.
So, here’s what in my experience helps in having a clear conversation around punishment.
- Have a starting point
- Be clear on punishments vs funishments
- Use disclaimers
- A list of talking points to cover
Have a starting point
Have a look at the list of roles of punishment above – if you’re thinking about punishment, probably at least one of the points resonates with you. That’s a good place to start a discussion. Perhaps you have some other ideas or previous experiences – the important point is, have something a bit more specific to start the conversation rather than just ‘punishment’.
Have a good think about it. I am highly biased in that writing is my cup of tea, but I would recommend writing that thinking down. Just throw some words at a page and see what comes out. It will help you get a clearer picture of what’s in your head.
This, by the way, applies equally to subs as it does to doms. Being submissive doesn’t mean being passive – coming to your dominant with some ideas about what you think punishment means for you is a great example of how you can be proactive.
Make sure you’re on the same page – funishment and punishment are separate concepts!
Before you delve into a conversation with your partner, make sure you’re talking about the same concept! The distinction between funishment and punishment is a common cause of misunderstanding. Make sure you and your partner are on the same page.
Use ‘disclaimers’ to help brainstorm
My sub and I use what we call ‘disclaimers’ – a few sentences to let the other person know the situation and to pre-empt misunderstanding. This is very useful in a variety of situations, but particularly where we are talking about something we are just coming to explore.
If you’re not sure what you want, or how you feel about it, that’s okay! Just let your partner know. If you’re not clear on what you want, chances are the way you’re expressing your ideas isn’t clear either. That leaves a lot of room for misinterpretation. Saying something like ‘I’m not sure what I want, so if you could you let me talk through my thoughts and give me the benefit of the doubt if something sounds odd / weird / etc’ can prevent jumping to conclusions and foster a space for open communication.
Talking points to cover
At this stage, don’t worry about the what and the how of punishment. Just focus on the why.
A lot of people rush into the kinky aesthetic, grab the nearest listicle and then wonder why it’s not working. I know, because… Well, at least some of them have ended up in my inbox over the years.
Take the time to understand what is driving you and your partner – trust me, it will save you a lot of time and agro down the line.
Bear in mind, these conversations don’t have to be ‘serious’. You can integrate them into space. There’s no reason you can’t tie your sub up and have a chat during, or even integrate it into something more complex. As long as both parties feel comfortable expressing themselves fully, there’s no one right way.
When you have the talk with your partner (or probably several conversations, if your life or brain are anywhere near as chaotic as mine), consider the following:
What is appealing about punishment?
Ideally, you will already have some idea of why do you want to add punishment to the dynamic, but really delve into it. What appeals to you about the idea? What appeals to your partner? Do you have previous experiences driving you? What is the idea of punishment you have in your head and why?
What is the aim of punishing your sub?
What is the aim of punishment for both of you? Look at the list above. Do you want closure? Structure? To ensure that the behaviour won’t happen again? Pin down what practical, emotional or psychological needs or wants you are looking to satisfy.
Understand the feelings at play and the emotional / psychological needs and wants
How do you want to feel while you are punishing / being punished? How do you want your partner to feel? It may sound silly to say ‘I want you to feel punished’ or something similar, but it can go a long way to getting what you want – the person best placed to guide you in what will be most effective for your partner will be your partner.
Section 3: Practical Points to Consider in Submissive Punishment
So, if you’ve gotten through all of that, you can set about starting to design an effective protocol for your dynamic – that is, what punishment will look like. I would strongly suggest reading my post on how to set protocol. I have just covered the points which specifically relate to punishment in this guide.
Why have protocol?
Why bother with protocol? Well, protocol is about creating easy, sustainable ways of connecting with your dynamic. Protocol just means putting the effort in up front to create an easy, thought-out way of doing something, which helps both of you connect with the right headspace, so that you don’t need to find the capacity to do that amidst the chaos of everyday life.
Define specific rules
Keep it simple
When you are setting protocol, pick a few rules to start with. It’s easier to add to the list as you settle into your punishment protocol. You don’t want to overwhelm yourself and your sub with a long list of rules and associated punishments neither of you will remember.
Make your rules specific. While ‘you have to do everything I say’ might seem like it covers your bases, the more specific the rule, the better the whole thing will work.
Make the offence clear
Every time a rule is broken, it should be crystal clear what the consequence was. Ensure both of you understand which rules lead to which punishments.
Think about how to keep the reason at the forefront of their mind. Would you like to have them recite it? Write about it? Find a way to connect the offence with the consequence. The clearer the connection
Quite a few guides out there basically just say ‘never punish in anger’ and leave it at that. The thing is, anger isn’t the only, or even most common, emotion you are likely to deal with. Effective punishment relies on understanding the thoughts and feelings which led to the misbehaviour in the first place. So, consider how you’re going to deal with underlying emotions when designing your punishment protocol.
Remember and have a think about how disagreement or dealing with emotion looks in your relationship – do you usually need space? Does your partner? Do you need to talk everything through before the emotions can be resolved?
Especially if you have no previous experience with a 24/7 dynamic, do bear in mind, effective change is always incremental – the way your relationship looks is the product of needs, reactions and habits. It’s not something you can fundamentally change overnight! To create a sustainable protocol, you need to think about how emotions work ‘normally’, then work out how D/s can fit around that, even if you’re aiming to change it0.
Think about timing and promptness
Think about when you want the punishment to occur relative to the offense. A lot of guides out here will say ‘it’s important to punish promptly’, but that’s not a universal truth. Understand the rationale for punishment in your dynamic, your sub’s needs and adapt to what is feasible.
For example, if part of the rationale behind punishment is to atone and put an end to the issue, sooner is better than later. But if you’re going for deterrence, maybe giving your sub a week or two to contemplate the impending is a good idea.
So, want your sub to stop thinking about it and move on? Punish quickly. Want to make a point? Punish slowly. Bear in mind the practical constraints of time in picking out a punishment. If you want to punish as soon as the need arises, design your punishment to be quick and simple. If you’re going to go through a list of infractions once a week on Saturdays, feel free to go to town on a high protocol filled ritual.
Should punishment fit the crime?
Punishment does not have to be fair or proportional.
I know we have generally been given the idea that the punishment should fit the crime, but in this case, it really doesn’t have to. There are plenty of emotional masochists out there who thrive in the unfairness, harshness and cruelty.
That said, there are also plenty of subs who would feel hurt and ill treated if the punishment was disproportionately harsh. So, consider what would fit the needs of your submissive better – proportional or non-proportional punishment.
The power of ritualised protocol
A ritual is a powerful thing – it’s part of the magic of high protocol. Repeating a protocol leads to habit formation. Notably, this includes emotional habits – you know how you feel every time you watch that one film that makes you cry? Or a song? Somewhere in your head, the emotional state and cue are connected.
The same applies to punishment. If every time your sub has to kneel in the same position, make the same preparations, and is subjected to the same punishment, they will form an association with those actions. This can serve to make punishment more more ‘scary’ and can give you another tool in your arsenal. But hey, that’s written from a sadist’s perspective. More significantly, having an element of ritual will help both of you connect with the right headspace and the dynamic.
That said, protocol doesn’t mean you have to make punishment the same every time. The protocol you design can be a looser framework, which allows you to dole out more flexible punishments. Even if you are opposed to ritual, I would still take the time to develop protocol – it really is key to a sustainable 24/7 dynamic!
Section 4: Health and Safety – addressing practical and emotional risks of punishment
Aftercare and limits
These two points are stressed a lot in the kink community for good reason. But if you’re past the kink 101 stage, they can get a bit tiring to read about. So, if you’re experienced or really, if you’ve been around the kink community for more than five minutes, look, I’m sorry. I know you know. But I have to cover this just in case anyone reading this doesn’t.
Punishment is not a reason to skip aftercare or cross previously agreed limits.
That said, do note that there is no one right way of doing aftercare. Not everyone goes for the hugs, chocolate, and blankets, and that’s okay. I know people who are happiest stuck in a cage for a few hours. It’s about what works best for your dynamic. As long as the sub feels their emotional needs have been taken care of in whatever form works best for them, it’s all golden.
The dominant side of punishment
A lot is said out there about how to keep subs safe, but there’s not so much about how it can affect those of the left side of the slash, so I just wanted to cover two key points.
Discipline does involve emotional labour
This is an aspect of punishment people rarely consider or discuss. I suppose because in society, the role of the person doling out the punishment doesn’t assume that role voluntarily.
But punishing someone does require mental, emotional and perhaps physical effort. You need the time and capacity to think about it. Which is of course part of the responsibility which comes from being dominant in a lifestyle sense. But it’s important to acknowledge that the dominant is putting in effort into the dynamic in punishing a sub, as counter-intuitive as that may seem. They are doing what they should be doing and it’s important both parties keep that in mind.
Dealing with guilt
It’s not uncommon for dominants to feel guilt during or after submissive punishment. As I said above, it’s important to remember that punishment is a negotiated part of the dynamic. It serves to maintain it and the connection the dynamic is based on. You haven’t done anything wrong!
Remind yourself of the reasons behind integrating punishment into your dynamic and its role within your D/s dynamic. (See, the why coming in useful here again. Also why it helps to have some of these things written down).
If you find yourself really struggling with guilt or uncertainty, well. Please save yourself a Reddit post and just go and talk to your partner. Chances are they will be happy to reassure you and, at the end of the day, it’s the only way that your feelings will actually be resolved.
Section 5: Punishments for Subs
Types of submissive punishment
Right, now all of that is out of the way, we can talk about the what.
When choosing the right type of punishment for your dynamic, it’s obviously important to consider what is right for your submissive. But don’t forget to think about what is right for you. As I said above, what punishing a sub feels like can really vary for a dominant. Consider how something makes you feel as well as how it makes your sub feel.
Add something unpleasant
Punishment is supposed to be unpleasant to some degree and pain is one of the most obvious kinds of unpleasant there is.
Corporal punishment / impact play
If you’re going to employ impact play as a submissive punishment, I would suggest differentiating what is punishment and what isn’t.
Most doms own at least one piece of impact play equipment they love and their sub is not too keen on, which makes for an excellent candidate for a designated punishment tool. Having a tool especially for punishment can be good practice to really clarify what is and isn’t punishment, especially if you engage in impact play and funishment.
Something unpleasant doesn’t have to be kink related. Set your sub doing a chore which is particularly arduous or annoying. Have them meticulously weed the garden, scrub the bathroom grout, or vacuum under every single piece of furniture you own.
If you feel like you don’t have a chore which is arduous enough for your liking, by all means channel inner ugly step-sister and come up with an entirely new pointless chore – separating ash from poppy seeds, say. Or just limit the tools they can use or the position they have to do an actually functional chore in. Make it as oddly specific as you like. Say, only allow them to weed the garden using chopsticks or use a toothbrush to scrub the grout.
Honestly, my best advice here is – let your imagination go to town and don’t be afraid to be weird. Let’s face it, if you’re reading this guide, you’ve joined the club of people who passed that milestone several miles back. You have a human who’s on board with you being your kinky self, so be as marvellously and uniquely particular you as you can be.
Old fashioned domestic punishments
You can always wheel out the old classics:
- Corner time / time-out
- Pressing coins to wall with fingers / nose
- Washing their mouth out with soap
- Kneeling on rice (note: this one isn’t for the faint of heart!)
Subject your sub to a period of uncomfortable confinement, predicament bondage, or sensory deprivation. Generally, this has the added benefit of being relatively low effort from the dominant perspective (other than a common sense level of monitoring).
You can take away a privilege that they have within your dynamic, or just something they like in general. It depends on the extent of power exchange you have.
For example, you can limit screen time, sweets, or whether they’re allowed in the same bed as you, as applicable. Basically, find a thing they like, but don’t need, and limit it for a fixed amount of time.
A good stern talking to
Not all punishment has to involve something physical. It might sound silly, but genuinely there are situations when just giving your sub a decent telling off might do the trick. And when I say that, I don’t mean random complaining or gripes that can come up in the context of every day life. I mean put them in a position which reminds them of their place (say, naked and on their knees) and take them through an itemised lecture as to why and how they have disappointed you, a la sitting in a headteacher’s office.
Genuinely, there are some subs out there who would take literally any other punishment from the list than this, so it’s really worth a mention.
Note on sexual punishment for subs
While some people opt for sexual punishments, I personally don’t think they are a good idea for two main reasons:
i. my dynamic involves a component of free use. So, I wouldn’t want to restrict my access to my sub or my ability to have him do what I like; and
ii. I don’t like mixing sex in with something which is supposed to be unpleasant, because it muddies the water. Orgasm denial, chastity, and edging are all kinks in their own right, so it’s difficult to untangle to what degree a sub is genuinely enjoying the ‘punishment’, to what degree the punishment is satisfy mental / emotional masochism, and / or to what degree the punishment is actually a punishment.
That said, some people are partial to them. So, if you think it will work for you, go for it. I would just keep the above two points in mind to make sure that you don’t unwittingly veer into funishment territory.
Option to consider: have your sub set their own punishment
It is also worth considering having your sub come up with an appropriate punishment themselves. Just asking them to come up with ‘a punishment’ though might be a bit too vague though!
I would recommend being somewhat hands-on. Give your submissive a type of punishment to brainstorm around, or come up with a list they will be forced to chose from. Or vice versa, have them come up with a list of punishments for you to chose from.
This can give you an idea of what they are thinking and can also form a part of the punishment itself. A dominant friend of mine has been known to employ making a list of punishments as a punishment in itself, which then helps him figure out future punishments. So, all in all, this can be a helpful exercise.
Punishments to avoid
I’m not going to say you should never use any of the following. What I will say is that the below are inadvisable as punishments for (at least) most people.
The silent treatment
Personally, I find the silent treatment to be just plain childish. But beyond that, it’s just poor communication. In any relationship and especially a power exchange one, if your partner did something wrong, just tell them. Equally, if you need space, tell your partner that. There’s a big difference between not talking to someone for nebulous reasons and explicitly taking time away to process your thoughts and feelings.
Withdrawal of dominance
A withdrawal of dominance should not be a punishment. Power exchange dynamics depend on maintaining a strong connection and punishment is really about reaffirming that dynamic. Withdrawing dominance is likely to have the exact opposite effect.
That said, it is perfectly valid to step back from the dynamic when you don’t feel as if your input is appreciated. However, that’s distinct from punishment and should be clearly communicated to your partner. Don’t just arbitrarily and suddenly step back from your dynamic and leave your partner to figure it out!
To sum it all up…
…here’s a step-by-step of how to design an effective submissive punishment.
- Understand what role punishment can play in a dynamic
- Talk to your partner and figure out what punishment means to you
- Think about the practical considerations in setting protocol for punishment
- Make sure you are both aware of the risks and best practice
- Decide what the punishment will consist of
- Put it all together to create a life-proof protocol for punishment
That has taken light years to write, so if you find it helpful, do let me know! Equally, if there’s anything I’ve missed that you think should be a part of this resource, tell me – I intend to expand and revise this resource over time, so I would be happy to improve it!
Last updated: 01 September 2023