Sexual Health 101

Ready for Dominance and Submission?

Ready for Dominance and Submission?

Here’s Your Guide to Exploring D/s Dynamics
Sara Youngblood Gregory | July 17, 2023 | 8 min. read

Dom and sub relationships take on many different forms, and with so many terms and ideas to describe these relationships, it can be difficult to understand what exactly a D/s relationship looks like — and how to explore this dynamic safely.

D/s is used for a variety of relationship structures, but it really just describes a kink dynamic where partners explore power, pleasure, dominance, and submission (often through BDSM.) Typically, the dominant holds consensual power over the submissive and takes on the role of the disciplinarian or leader in a scenario. The submissive consensually relinquishes power and takes on the role of the follower, obedient, or brat. For some people, this power dynamic only exists for a set period of time (like during sex, for example), while for others, it’s a lifestyle choice they bring outside of the bedroom.
What’s important to understand is that there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to D/s relationships. Not all D/s dynamics involve pain or humiliation kinks, and many encompass pleasure, praise, and mutual service. Each dynamic is negotiated equally by the dom and sub before power is given or received — meaning pre-planning is needed for every D/s relationship regardless of what turns you on!
In this guide, we provide a comprehensive overview of D/s power dynamics, how to advocate for consent and safety, and how Dom and Sub relationships can create a passionate and powerful connection.

Power Exchange: The Basics of Submission and Domination

To understand the basics of D/s relationships, you’ll need to understand what power is and how it’s negotiated in a kink dynamic. Most people incorrectly assume the dom has full power over the sub — but this isn’t true. A sub gives specific power to the dom and the dom uses that specific power over the sub. For example, a sub may give their dom the power to bind their hands with rope, and the dom uses that power to do so. This is what’s called a power exchange, and these exchanges are tailored to each partner’s preferences and limits.

Often power isn’t just exchanged, but also played with, says Emerson Karsh, a sex and kink educator. “For example, within power dynamics and kink there is a type of submissive called a brat. Brats often toe the line with disobedience within power-dynamics. Other times brats express their submission in a way that is amusing, consensual, and done for a reaction. Bratting is a way to allow the dominant partner to re-establish their power while allowing the submissive to play around with their own form of power,” says Karsh.

The rules and expectations in each D/s relationship can vary depending on the people, but at minimum navigating a D/s power dynamic responsibly means working with your partner as an equal to decide what is and isn’t on the table.

Both sub and dom should be able to express their specific limits, desires, and intentions clearly. In turn, all parties, and especially the dom, must respect and honor those limits and act within the boundaries of agreements. In the bondage example, this means the dom would use their given power to bind their sub’s hands — and only their hands. It also means that if the dom declines bondage, the sub would not demand it from the dom.

The most basic tenant of any D/s relationship is that they are consensual. Consent isn’t just about what happens during play — like bondage — it’s also the mutual understanding of potential risk, how to mitigate risk, and what to do if things become uncom

The act of discussing consent, risk, boundaries, and play is called negotiation. “Within a power dynamic relationship, the type of roles, expectations, actions, punishments are fully discussed, negotiated, and consented upon,” says Karsh, “Negotiation is when partners discuss beforehand which kinks and parts of the dynamic they really want to explore, which they are open to exploring and which they are absolutely not willing to try.”

As a part of this negotiation, you’ll need to discuss risk. Risk awareness in kink is the understanding that every kink activity has its risks and that by consenting, one is aware of the risks at play and how to navigate them, says Karsh. Being risk-aware means considering both physical and emotional risk. For example, if you are both interested in spanking or whipping, you’ll need to understand that there is potential to damage the body if done improperly and how to lower the likelihood of injury. On the emotional side, a sub may love the idea of being called a “slut” during sex, but should consider what would happen if they felt humiliated when it actually happened — and how you’ll deal with it.

During negotiation, you should also establish a safe word, which is a predetermined word that, if said, stops all play and physical contact immediately. You should also have an agreed-upon system to check in during play. Many people use the “traffic light” system. Green means we’re great, yellow means we’re approaching a limit, and red means stop.

If you’re trying to negotiate with a potential dom or sub and they are resistant to discussing boundaries and consent, it’s a clear sign that this person is not safe to play with.

Role-play, Discipline, and Bondage: Types of Play in Sub-Dom Relationships

The possibilities are endless when it comes to D/s relationships — which is exactly why so many people find this play uniquely passionate and fun. If you’re not sure what kind of BDSM to introduce during negotiations, consider the below:

- Sadism and Masochism.

Many D/s partners enjoy exploring pleasure and pain during play. The specific options can range from impact play to discipline, orgasm denial, and torture (like nipple torture, for example). The sadist is someone who derives pleasure from inflicting pain or humiliation on someone and the masochist is someone who gets pleasure from that pain or humiliation.

- Bondage.

Bondage describes the art of restricting someone’s physical movements, usually with rope. In D/s relationships, bondage is a great physical demonstration of power, and it can be used for pleasure as well as “punishment.”

- Role-playing and Costumes.

D/s is often loosely considered a role-play because partners are taking on the “role” of dom or sub, and can explore a different side of themselves. You can take it further by creating scenarios, using costumes, and making characters out of your dom and sub personas. It’s also the perfect time to introduce your fetish wear.

- Pinwheel.

Also called the Wartenberg pinwheel, this device was initially used in a medical setting and features small non-painful pins that are rolled on the body. The pinwheel can be used on the chest, arms, legs, back, and anywhere that’s pleasurable. The pins provide light, sensual pressure on the body and plays with the senses.

- Pleasure and Worship.

Sensual domination and submission are great options for people who don’t enjoy pain. Many subs enjoy feeling pampered and cared for, and many doms love to feel worshiped. If pleasure gets you off, consider body worship (like massage and service bottoming) and verbal praise.

- Collaring.

While collaring isn’t always a type of play exactly, it is a big part of how doms and subs relate to one another. A collar — usually worn on the neck — is given to the sub by the dom and represents their relationship dynamic, and can mark the sub as “belonging” to the dom. A collar represents deep commitment and it’s not a casual gift. Typically, only the dom can put on or take off the sub’s collar and can be an indication of when play will start and end.

- Temperature Play.

Most people are familiar with wax play (using warm, melted wax on the body, usually the chest, ass, and tummy), but there is a whole spectrum of temperatures to play with. Warm water, heated massage oil, ice, chilled fruit, and whipped cream are all pleasure-focused options many D/s couples explore.

- Play parties and group dynamics.

Many kinky people also enjoy group sex and play with other doms and subs. Usually, events where kinksters meet up to play in a group, is called play party. It depends on the party, but often these events prioritize kink activities (like flogging or bondage) over sex and also act as an opportunity to connect with a wider BDSM community.

Post-Play Aftercare

During a D/s scene, emotions, pleasure, and adrenaline can run high, which can also be taxing emotionally and physically. And that’s exactly all dom and subs should engage in aftercare.
“Aftercare is the time after play or a scene where partners recover and take care of each other. Aftercare is focused both on emotional and physical needs,” says Karsh. “Our brains also release lots of chemicals and our bodies go through lots of adrenaline [during scenes], after our chemicals and adrenaline drop, it’s important we take care of our brains and bodies.” Aftercare looks different for each person, but it usually includes cuddling, affirmations, and communicating about how the play went, and exploring positives and negatives.
People often assume only the sub needs aftercare, but this isn’t accurate at all. Doms need love and support, and all parties should be given gentle, conscientious care. This can look like snacks and water, massage, and praise.
The world of D/s dynamics can be as casual or immersive as you want them to be — and anyone can enjoy power exchange in their sex life. The key is understanding power, how you and your partners’ desires align, and investing in negotiation, safety, and care. If you’re interested in BDSM and exploring D/s, start slow and research your kinks and interests beforehand.

Sara Youngblood Gregory is a lesbian journalist and the author of The Polyamory Workbook. She covers sex and kink, culture, and identity. Her work has been featured in places like Vice, Cosmopolitan, Jezebel, and many others. Find more of her work on... Read More
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