Master/slave Dynamics in BDSM and Haven

So, I mentioned last week that I was going to talk about my thoughts on Master/slave relationships. In thinking about it, well – I don’t want to come across as giving relationship advice because these thoughts are really from the outside-looking-in on this one. The closest that I got to having a slave, well, I decided I didn’t really want a sexual relationship where my partner was referring to me as his goddess. I enjoy power-shift play but that was a little more than I felt I could handle.

Instead, consider this, the views that inform my writing.

So, what is a slave and how does that differ from a submissive?

Well, the easy answer is that they are two different things. What gets difficult, however, is that the two roles sometimes overlap, the lines between them can blur, and people get confused, especially those new to or unfamiliar with BDSM. A slave’s behavior is observed, then a submissive’s behavior is observed. The observer, seeing no other interactions, comes away with the impression that the slave and submissive are essentially the same thing, or that Master/slave play is just an extreme form of D/s play.

It’s the Association Fallacy. For those not wanting to click the link, the Association Fallacy is where two unrelated things are associated because two different things happen to share a quality. For example, Lassie is a collie. Lassie is a dog. Therefore, all dogs are collies. That may seem silly, but consider something you may be more familiar with: David is a bully. David is a jock. Therefore, all jocks are bullies. Or maybe,  Dana is a snob. Dana is a cheerleader. Therefore, all cheerleaders are snobs. Or Julie is dumb. Julie is a blonde. Therefore, all blondes are dumb.

The list goes on. If you have a either a complaint or a joke about a group of people – all men are pigs, all women are connivers, old people can’t drive, young people have no respect for authority – you formed an opinion about a group based on the actions of/interactions with only a few members of that group. This is one of the first things we learn to do as children, and ideally we grow out of it by the time we leave college.

In actuality, this tendency stays with us and presents itself when you see the pretty collared lady at the club and think that the collar means she’ll do anything that she’s told.

Adam is a slave. Adam is also submissive. Therefore, all submissives are slaves.

… that was not how Mistress Victoria was training her at all. Yes, she offered basic information to her, answered questions when asked. She did not tell her everything, however. She wanted Heather to be free, even as she submitted that freedom back to her. Heather could not do that if everything about the scene came only from her Mistress’ lips.

Mistress Victoria had never explained to her the difference between a submissive and a slave, but Heather thought she was beginning to understand it.

She realized that she did not know Adam’s safe word.

One of the first things I learned when I began exploring BDSM was the safe word. It is important, and the Dom who I was with was careful to be sure that it was a safe word that I would be happy with, and that I understood when to use it – that is any time I felt play was going too far. Not when I was at my limit. Not when I was tired or had enough. Not when that line had been crossed, or was about to be crossed. When I felt I needed to use it.

And so we get to the part where I find Master/slave dynamics problematic. Not problematic in the sense of no one should do it. I include it in my own writing, after all. I do, however, tread lightly through this particular field.

In a typical (and healthy) Master/slave dynamic, agreements will be made before play actually begins. Is this dynamic a 24/7 thing, or is it only set aside for specific time periods – at a private or public club, in the privacy of a home, only specific days of the week, etc? What are the limits of what the slave can be commanded to do, and what is the limit of what the Master is willing to demand? Don’t think for a moment that a Dom or a Master is into every little kink. Even those who receive power in power exchange relationships have preferences and limits.

Once play begins, within those established limits and guidelines, all bets are off. No is punished. Sometimes, slaves do not have or use safe words. Sometimes they do, but slaves do not necessarily use them the same way submissives do. It may only be for a specific type of activity, for example.

All of this assumes everything happens within the set limits. Slaves whose limits are abused should leave, no matter what ceremony was used to establish the Master/slave contract. A slave submits to the Master’s wishes once play begins, true. The Master’s word is everything. Consider the passage above. Heather realizes that if she waits for Mistress Victoria to teach her everything she is supposed to learn about BDSM and Haven, then she is no longer her Mistress’ favored submissive – she is her slave.

The Master also has responsibilities in the dynamic. The most important is to know, understand, and respect the established limits of the slave. The Master also has to be aware of how the slave is responding to the dynamic, to ensure that the demands being made do not turn from consensual play to exploitation and abuse.

Okay, so now we get to the part where I find M/s to be problematic. A good Master/slave dynamic is still consensual, even though the slave has given up the power to say “no” (at least without punishment). It is consensual in that whatever limits the slave has are set out at the beginning are honored. It is also consensual in that the slave has willing entered into the M/s dynamic and can end that dynamic at any time, without punishment or repercussion. This could be because of a breech of trust by the Master, sure. It could also be because whatever the slave (or Master, yes) needed from the dynamic has been met or for whatever reason, they feel it is just time to move on.

To me, as an observer of the dynamic, it seems a fine line to walk. Personally, I prefer the limited power exchange of D/s. I can also see the attraction, however in a total power exchange dynamic. The lines are so fine in the M/s dynamic that I much prefer it in a place that I have ultimate control over – Haven.

One more thing on Master/slave dynamics. I can also see the attraction for people who, in their day to day lives, have control over others to give up some (as a submissive) or all (as a slave) of their own control to other people. When I worked for my Dom, I saw this. A few of her clients were very highly positioned men, whose word could make or break a lot of people’s livelihood. This power, however, came with a lot of responsibility and a lot of stress. For these men, giving up some or all of their power to their Mistress was a way to release that stress and, to some degree, come to terms with the impact of the very real-world power they had over other people.

And that is actually, in my opinion, what 50 Shades got very wrong, and is probably the greatest sin of the novel (aside from the unforgivably weak female protagonist).

Christian really should have been a submissive or perhaps even a slave.

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