By Holly Field
Anyone can boss someone around, dishing out rewards and punishments but engaging in a D/s (Dominant/submissive) relationship that all parties find rewarding takes work. You might be entering a new relationship that has a power exchange as its foundation or you may be transitioning your vanilla relationship into one that consists of a D/s dynamic. Whatever your circumstances, to enjoy power exchange, you and your partner(s) need to communicate (here she goes again, banging on about communication…) your expectations and boundaries before you embark on this new venture. (It’s best not to just stumble into a D/s dynamic but if you do, you’ll need to work on it to make sure it’s serving both of you.)
Think of a D/s dynamic as a painting. Firstly, your painting will be in a particular style; Impressionist, Abstract, Surreal, Modern… You and your partner will decide on how you express your dynamic; will you exchange power in the bedroom or in a manner that permeates all aspects of your lives? What about financial domination or a Total Power Exchange (TPE) – or would you prefer to keep your D/s dynamic strictly sexual? Have you discussed CNC (consensual non-consent)? Will you bring other consenting adults into your relationship or keep it the two of you? With your partner, discuss your desires, expectations and boundaries. What are both of your hard limits? Does either of you have soft limits you’re wishing to test? Will you have fixed roles as either a Dominant or a submissive or will you switch? Will impact play, verbal degradation or punishment feature in your relationship? Will the Dominant partner tell the submissive partner what to do or will the sub know what to do by following guidelines? Will the sub ask for permission? Is your dynamic reactive or preemptive; about negotiating actions or falling into roles without discussing specifics? You may wish to draw up some form of contract with a break or review clause, but these aren’t necessary for a D/s relationship; it’s communication that matters. Contracts should never be used as leverage or to abuse power. If you do write one, you are still allowed to retract consent and not do something detailed in your contract.
There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to a D/s relationship. Not all Dominants like impact play and not all submissives enjoy receiving pain. If punishment factors in your relationship, this needs to be carefully considered; it’s not just about the Dominant whipping and spanking the submissive because they can. Punishments should be devised with the submissive in mind (a punishment that worked for one submissive won’t necessarily suit another) and punishment should be aligned to the transgression it seeks to address. A thought-out punishment holds more weight than a punishment that’s been used time and time again – and, ultimately, adds to the Dominant’s authority. Punishments also shouldn’t be given in a heavy-handed fashion and a Dom/Domme shouldn’t rule by fear; there should always be mutual respect between partners. Even in a fully consensual, role-playing scenario, verbal degradation can lead to unwanted consequences, like diminished self-esteem or concern over how your partner really feels about you, so navigate this honestly and always trust your partner’s boundaries.
As you would a painting, notice when something isn’t working. You should never try to force something and be sure to continually read and respond to your partner. Even in a 24/7 TPE, life events can hinder a D/s dynamic; the Dominant might feel stressed or overwhelmed and not be able to make a decision or engage in D/s play. If you’re not feeling your role, tell your
partner – and remember: we are all human, even if you choose to draw up a contract or engage in CNC, nothing is set in stone; life stressors get in the way and a carefully coordinated D/s relationship reflects this. Being able to see the relationship beyond the power exchange will help it develop into a masterpiece.
Artists know the accumulation of brushstrokes that create a painting just like you’ll know the pieces of your dynamic, but your relationship can look quite different to people viewing the painting. Embedding subtlety is essential for an artful D/s relationship, especially if you choose to maintain this power exchange outside of the bedroom. Will ownership feature in your connection? Will you have names for each other? Consider how you’ll manage these roles when you’re with friends, family or the kids! How will you honour your dynamic when you’re in the vanilla world or around vanilla people? Or do you decide to turn the power exchange on and off? The art is in the subtlety; you don’t want to make your company feel uncomfortable but you may decide to maintain your Dominant and submissive roles. If there’s a rule that the Dominant eats first, the submissive may wish to offer their Dom/Domme food before they serve themselves. This won’t necessarily be perceived as kinky to onlookers but it will have a different meaning for both of you.
If you’ve got this far, well done. As a reward, here are some insider’s tips you won’t have learnt in the classroom:
Aftercare is not just for the submissive. Dom/Dommes need aftercare, too.
“Subspace” is a mental state submissives may experience when intense feelings of pleasure and pain unite; releasing a dizzying cocktail of euphoric hormones.
The submissive is ultimately the one in control because the power play is bound by their limits. It’s the Dominant’s responsibility to read the scene and assess whether the sub is ready for a shift in pace or activity; within the sub’s boundaries.
The art of a D/s dynamic is in how all the artistic components come together. The most magnificent power exchange relationships are bursting with communication and nothing is stopping you or your partner(s) from changing your minds, picking up your paintbrush and adjusting your painting.
Holly Field is a professional writer and editor specialising in Education, Sex and Wellness. Despite having a good education and a liberal upbringing, she found her sex education was lacking; and throughout her twenties, she noticed how conversations surrounding sex so often accompany shame. So she did something about it. For almost ten years, she’s been writing about sex, dating and relationships on her blog and writes unashamedly about her own experiences of pleasure, BDSM and kink. Holly’s on a mission to reduce the stigma around sex and desire, one article at a time…