This is intended to be a regular feature on this blog, in which I try to talk about the absolute basics. I personally won’t be able to teach you elaborate rope tricks or fancy ways to flog or how to make someone orgasm on command. The goal here is to cover the things people say they wish someone told them when they were new, and to answer the Frequently Asked beginner Questions.
This time I’m going to look at dominance, submission, how to figure out what to call yourself and most importantly, the sanity rules.
What is this, anyway?
One of the first pieces of confusion that comes up for new people is finding out how the Dom/sub thing works in real life. Sure a host of porn covers the things they might do, but it really doesn’t explain possibilities in reference to how it tends to go down with real couples and also people are generally not given a sane approximation of the limitations of a D/s (that’s Dominance/submission or Dom/sub) relationship. It also doesn’t let you figure out what to call yourself if you’ve only ever had fantasies.
First, the sanity check.
- All submissives do not have to do what all dominants say just because Dominants are dominant.
- Individual submissives do not have to do what their particular dominant says they should do, without prior negotiation. If you agree to a D/s relationship this is not automatic implicit consent.
- There is no central licensing system for dominants or guild system of training. Despite desperate hopes, even tales of “Old Guard” or “Leather Families” do not replace common sense in the quality of the dominant. The dominant can be as inexperienced or more inexperienced than the sub.
- Every D/s relationship is different. Some involve sadomasochism, some do not. Some are built on pure obedience, some involve deliberate disobedience on the part of the sub.
- Dominance and submission are identification labels not personality types. Doms can be shy and quiet and nervous, while subs can be aggressive and outspoken and have fantastic careers.
Now, some terms:
Dominant: The dominant person is a relationship is the one who is in charge. Dom, domme, dominatrix, master, mistress are all used to refer to this sort of person. The way you become dominant is by deciding one day to call yourself that. The way you act dominant, more often than not, is to convince someone else to call you that too. However the act of the stereotypical dominant (you know the one in leather chaps or the latex corset who is whipping someone?) can also be referred to as a Top if the level of compliance/disobedience is less important than the hitty bits or rough sex. Generally dominants get a warm fuzzy feeling from control that may be sexual arousal.
Submissive: The submissive is the one being told what to do. How accurately these commands are followed is really defined by what sort of relationship two people want to have. The submissive might like thinking of themselves as a slave, a pet, a servant, or simply the other half of a happy couple, maybe even all of the above over the course of a night. The sensations only version is a bottom. Generally submissives get a warm fuzzy feeling from someone being in charge of them. This could be arousal, feeling ‘safe’ and any number of other pleasant sensations.
Switch: Surprise! Some people are both! In some relationship people switch off on the roles with each other sometimes. In other cases, people feel dominant towards some and submissive towards others. Some switches are more there for the sensations, for example they could be equally happy being spanked or spanking. Switching isn’t even on/off and some people like ambiguous dynamics.
Okay, that’s nice but what am I?
A lot of people starting out don’t really have a clear idea of what they want to call themselves. Even your taste is porn is no help, for example it’s not uncommon for male subs to enjoy female submission as masturbatory material and many dom women find the stereotypical pro-dom shtick causes them to flee the room. If you’ve never done all this, for example you’ve never been spanked or actually had control over someone outside the safe limits of work you probably just have a vague idea some things are kinda hot.
It’s okay not to know what you are. If you’re filling out a profile, put yourself down as ‘unsure’. You have all the time you need to figure it out. Me, as a masochist I was under the impression that I’d be happiest as a sub. A friend who is entirely submissive mislabeled herself as a dom. Neither of us had the world explode on us as we worked out what we were.
Plenty of people even shift how they ID over the course of their life. However if you’re urgently trying to figure out a leaping off place with a label you can either go generic with ‘switch’ or give your fantasies a holistic look. Unlike a lot of quizzes I’m not going to think about whips and chains because if you’re not sure that’s probably just more confusing.
Are you more comfortable (in your fantasies!) being in charge or having someone else tell you what to do?
If your nurture someone are you being ‘responsible’ and taking care of things or are you ‘serving’ them with pampering?
If you like the idea of someone handling all the details of a problem or task for you is it because they are being responsive to your needs and letting you delegate or are they in charge and you feel great because you can just do as you’re told?
Your lover gives you a token to wear, like a neck charm or a bracelet or maybe a jacket When you put it on do you feel “Mine, mine, mine! My person!” or “I am marked and connected to them!”
I phrase the questions this way because not all dominants do the ‘harsh’ thing and not all subs are into passive. You will need to decide even beyond that, what kinds of dynamics you like. This could be anything from 1950s household or full bore wicked dungeon slavery games to equals with bedroom wrestling. And it’s all okay.