It’s been a while since I’ve posted. Lack of inspiration will do that to you, but at last, I have something that I’m interested in writing about. The new hit novel Fifty Shades of Gray and the subsequent sequels have brought BDSM into the mainstream view, with many, women especially, desiring to try this out. One of the biggest things that this novel has brought is the idea of a relationship based on power exchange. Now, anyone in the kink community that has read Fifty Shades will tell you that the relationship presented there is completely unrealistic, but it’s a good starting point to get people talking, so for today we’re going to talk about the different types of power exchanges and some of my personal definitions for each type of relationship. Please keep in mind that there is no one right answer in BDSM and many people within the kink community will have differing opinions and definitions from the ones that I present here.
In my experience, rather than having specific categories of people such as dominant, master, submissive, slave, ect., people seem to lie more on a continuum, much like the Kinsey Scale for human sexuality. You could fall anywhere on a scale of one to ten or whatever scale you want to set up. For the sake of continuity in this post, we will use a scale from one to ten with one being someone who gives up 100% of their control and a ten being someone who takes complete control. Both of these types of people would be incredibly rare, if they exist at all.
If we’re going to make it through all of this information, I need to go through some definitions, especially for my friends out there that tend to live more in the vanilla world. So let’s start with the basics. A power exchange relationship is a relationship in which one of the partners consensually gives up a specific amount of control of their personal lives to another partner. In general we call the partner that gives up the control a submissive and the dominant is the partner that receives that power. Some other important terms include master and slave. This is where the opinion parts of this start coming in.
A master is much like a dominant but takes a larger amount of control from their submissive. In the community, the title master is usually earned through years of experience and involvement in the community, but many people use the title within their relationship to denote how much power s/he has. A slave on the other hand, is much like a submissive but gives up a larger amount of their power. Many of these people see the ultimate goal of giving up all of their personal control in a type of power exchange called a total power exchange (TPE). In this relationship, the slave literally makes no decisions, or almost no decisions, from what they wear to what they eat and sometimes to even what they can spend their money on.
Moving more toward the middle of our scale we have tops and bottoms. In general terms, tops and bottoms do not participate in power exchanges except possibly during a very specified time (called a scene) but many times, even then there is no power exchange taking place. A top is generally defined as a person giving stimulation or sensation to another person. A good example would be flogging with the top being the one that holds the whip. A bottom is the person receiving the stimulation or sensation (being flogged). Finally in the very middle of our scale we have switches. Switches do exactly as it sounds, the can switch from being the top or bottom, dominant or submissive. Some people do this right within their relationship, others are dominant to one partner but submissive to another.
Two final terms for you and then I promise, I’m done. These two terms actually fall outside our sliding scale but are commonly used terms. A sadist is a person who receives a certain amount of pleasure (especially sexual pleasure) by inflicting pain on their partner while a masochist receives pleasure from experiencing pain. This has absolutely no bearing on a person’s dominant or submissive characteristics. I happen to be dating a very dominant person who also enjoys a certain amount of pain and there are many submissives that do not enjoy pain at all and even a few who like to inflict it.
I just spent a long term defining what appear to be very distant categories of people, but the whole point of this article is to explain that they aren’t distinct and more importantly there is no consensus on how dominant or submissive one type of person has to be to call themselves one of these terms. BDSM is entirely up to the people involved in it. What I consider to be a dominant/submissive relationship, other people will say that there isn’t enough power exchange for that or some people might say that there is so much that it’s actually a master/slave relationship. Maybe the connotation of the word slave doesn’t sit well with you, but you want to give up all of your personal control to your partner. You are certainly free to call yourself a submissive if you want. I find all of the terms confusing, so in my personal life, I like to use the scale that I mentioned before.
For reference, I identify myself as a submissive in both of my relationships and would say that I’m about a 3 or 3.5 on the ten point scale. I submit to both of my partners, but I also keeps a large amount of my personal control. I would put one of my partners at about a 7 on the scale and the other partner at about an 8. They both take control but neither of them wants complete control over me.
One of the biggest problems that I’ve seen within the kink community is the use of these categories to discriminate. Many submissives hold slaves in high regard because they tend to give up more power and many dominants find master to be the ultimate title. This gets to the point where people have arguments about the definition of a what a “true dominant” or “true submissive” is. You should avoid falling into this trap. People give up or take a measure of power that is right for them. There is not, or should not be, a competition to see who can be the most submissive or dominant. Have relationships that work for you. Do what feels right and makes you happy and don’t let anyone tell you that you’re doing it wrong (unless you’re doing something unsafe, then by all means listen to someone that has more skill than you).
Where do you fall on the continuum? What do you classify yourself as? Let me know in the comments.