Who has power in a Dominance/submission relationship?
This is a discussion that I’ve been getting myself involved in a lot lately, and I’ve had a chance to really examine things I learned about this a long time ago. I think it is important to be able to state the reason for your beliefs beyond just “it is what I was taught.” If you cannot give reasoning beyond that, then you have knowledge, but no wisdom.
So here are my thoughts on this. Take it for what you will, but it does play an important part in my overall philosophy of BDSM.
So, in a Dominance and submission dynamic,
The Submissive Has the Power
Not everyone agrees with this. It is what I was taught by the pro-Domme who first introduced me to the world of BDSM. It has been reinforced other places as well. I see it taught quite a bit in BDSM education groups and I have seen many who are far more experienced in the lifestyle state it unequivocally. It is a commonly held belief about the exchange of power between Dominant and submissive. It is one that I believe whole heartedly.
In seeing discussions about this and the arguments people make against it, I think that I understand why people disagree. I do not think that those of us who hold this belief explain what it means clearly. I also think that people often do not understand the difference – or do not draw a distinction between – session and dynamic.
Not Topping from the Bottom
The idea of the submissive having the power in a D/s is not what is known as “topping from the bottom.” Topping from the bottom is often seen negatively, though it is not necessarily a bad thing. In terms of D/s, it is when the submissive in the dynamic begins to exert control that is not hers to exert, as she has relinquished it to her Dominant. For dynamics that thrive on power struggles between Dominant and submissive, this is not a bad thing. I think of this as the “bratty sub”. It can, however, be a sign of problems in the dynamic, and it is something that both parties should address to keep the dynamic healthy.
When a submissive enters into a dynamic, she hands over power to her Dominant and with that, the control that comes with that power. While acting with that power, the Dominant has control of what happens in sessions. Those sessions may last for a couple of hours once or twice a week/month. Those sessions may be ongoing 24/7. It depends on the structure of that dynamic. For the purposes of my discussion here, I am using session to mean the use of the power handed over to the Dominant by the submissive. That should encompass any form and level of power exchange between Dominant and submissive.
So in session, the Dominant is the one exercising control. The Dominant is the one who gives commands for service and obedience of the submissive. The Dominant is the one who acts upon the submissive or commands the submissive to act upon her or another. Whatever the activities that happen within the session, the Dominant is the one who wields the control.
Where the Power Comes From
We talk a lot about Dominants being in control. They control a session. They give orders, they act upon their submissive, or have their submissive act on or for them. They often go to great lengths to plan out very detailed sessions from beginning to end. They set out the protocol that will be followed during a session. They maintain the discipline of the dynamic and, when necessary, administer punishment.
Being a Dominant is, in part, about exploring how you exercise control over another person. I said in part. There is more to it than that, but this is what we are focused on right now. I wonder sometimes if Dominants understand the power that the are exercising – whose it is and where it comes from.
Recently someone posted up a question in a group about a friend who wanted his wife to be his submissive. His wife wanted nothing to do with D/s and he was bothered by this. He really wanted to pursue domination and she was the only one he wanted to pursue it with. The friend wanted to know how to help him convince his wife to do this.
Though neither friend nor husband want to know this, the simple truth is, there is not much that can be done to convince the wife to be his submissive. The best that her husband can do is express his desires and provide her reliable information, like Submissive Guide for example, about submission and Domination. Even if she enjoys kink, D/s is not kink. Yes kink may be involved, but it goes beyond merely tying someone up in the bedroom or spankings during sex.
If she has read up and is aware of what submission is, but does not want to do it – then that is it. That is the end of the discussion. She will have any number of reasons for not wanting to be his submissive. Not everyone gets something from it. If she does not, no convincing will get her to.
As a Dominant, you do not convince someone to be your submissive. If you think they have an interest then sure, you can ask them. If you have a submissive you are considering, you do what you can to show yourself trustworthy and able to responsibly handle power. Your job, however, is not to convince someone with no interest in being a submissive (or no interest in being your submissive) to be your submissive.
It perverts what D/s is about.
You see, if you have to convince someone not interested in submission to be your submissive, then you are exerting your power to take hers.
A dynamic does not work that way. The power that you use in a dynamic is the power that a submissive hands to you. That is why it is called Power Exchange. You use your control to use that power.
But the power that you hold in the dynamic is not your own. It belongs to the submissive. It has whatever limits he or she set out for you. You do not get to take more of it. More must be given to you of the submissive’s own will and own decision.
When we say the submissive has power in a D/s dynamic this is what we mean. The power the Dominant uses belongs to the submissive. The submissive makes the choice to hand it over – to submit. If the submissive feels that the Dominant is approaching a limit or if for any reason the submissive needs to step out of session, then the submissive uses his/her safe word. If the submissive realizes that a new limit has been formed – for health, for age, for whatever reason that the submissive’s needs have changed – then the submissive informs his/her Dominant of the new limit and the Dominant no longer has that piece of power. It has returned to the submissive.
It reminds the submissive where a Dominant’s power comes from, so that s/he knows that a Dominant cannot demand more power than what s/he wants to give. It also reminds a submissive that she is still responsible.
She is responsible for herself. She is responsible for her actions. Handing over power to be commanded to do things within her limits does not remove her culpability for the actions she does within her limits.
It reminds everyone that a submissive is not a doormat. He or she is a strong person who chooses to give her/his power over to another and allow that person some amount of control over her/him.