You have discovered something wonderful.
You like bondage or pain, maybe even both. You might like having your hands bound by your lover. Perhaps you like the feeling of hot wax on your stomach or a flogger across the back of your upper thighs. Your legs being immobile makes you weak in the knees. Whatever your specific interest, you love being on the receiving end of these new, physical pleasures.
Then your partner gives you a command, and your hackles rise.
You wonder what is wrong? You were sure that submitting to your partner was the thing. Are you a bad submissive? A brat?
Is this BDSM even for you?
The short answer to the questions in order: nothing, no, no, and yes.
The Long Answer
I love Venn Diagrams because they are great for illustrating how things can relate and overlap. In the case of BDSM, the Venn Diagram is a great way to demonstrate how Bondage, Discipline, Sadism, and Masochism do, in fact, lay outside of the Dominance and submission dynamic. They overlap, but they have their own practices as well.
Which means that yes, you can enjoy aspects of B/D and S/M play without having a D/s dynamic involved.
So how does one enjoy BDSM without the power exchange?
Well … by not giving up power.
A D/s dynamic may also draw on the other aspects of BDSM, but those are not the only components of the dynamic. Within whatever limits are set in the dynamic, control is handed over. This is where commands are given and expectations of service are made.
Scenes outside of the D/s dynamic do not function on power exchange, but upon agreed consensus. In D/s, a submissive can ask to be tied up, and a Dominant may choose to grant the request. Provided that bondage is part of the dynamic, and the submissive does not safe word, the Dominant does not have to ask. The Dominant wills and the submissive complies.
In a Top/bottom S/M scene, however, where a D/s dynamic is not present, everything is different. The Top does not will and expect instant submission from the bottom. Just as the bottom may ask to be tied up, spanked, whipped, whatever, the bottom has the same expectation of the Top. “Can I pour hot wax on you?” would be the appropriate way to begin temperature play. Power is held equally by all parties, even when one asks to be tied up. Consent is never handed from one participant to the other.
This type of Top/bottom play may not involve power exchange, but it does still follow the guidelines of Safe, Sane, and Consensual.
The Consent is obvious. Play begins and continues with each partner always consenting to what is happening. Sane is covered by always being alert to the well being of ones partner. Safety is in knowing about the specific activities you are taking part in, monitoring physical conditions, and knowing how to avoid and handle possible injuries.
The safe word also remains an important component to this type of play. Rather than being a signal that power needs to return to the submissive, even if only briefly, it is a signal that a scene needs to pause. That pause can be for something as simple as readjusting bonds or as complex as resolving a pain limit being approached.
Following the scene, Aftercare is vital for safety – cleaning any wounds, tending bruises and abrasions – and keeping a session sane – providing physical and emotional comfort, especially after intense S/M play.
However you like to play in BDSM, communication is the most important thing. Whether you already have a play partner, or you are looking for one, understand the type of dynamic that you want.
And then … enjoy.
(Many thanks to a friend on Fetlife for the inspiration to write)