What Does It Take to Be Dominant in Bed?

Busting some common myths around dominance and submission.


Domination, a practice older than we might think

So, in April this year, we celebrated the tenth anniversary of E. L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey. You know, the moment when BDSM crawled its way out of the dark dungeons and into the minds and homes of suburban housewives worldwide.Yes, I’m being facetious. This version of events is about as accurate book series’s portrayal of dominance and submission. Let’s rewind to 4000 BC, where we find records of the first known “femdom-icon”, the Mesopotamian goddess Inanna. She was whipping her vagina-worshipping followers into frenzied ecstasy.And even the Kama Sutra was doling out detailed flogging and spanking instructions in 400 BC. Later, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the French philosopher, expressed his yearning “to be at the knees of an imperious mistress, [and] to obey her orders” as far back as 1782.However, it wasn’t until the 1970s that the term BDSM was coined. It then took until 2013 for the American Psychological Association to finally de-pathologize BDSM by pulling all instances of BDSM-related practices from their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5).Now, let’s clear the air on a bit of kink history. Lady Gaga, Rihanna, FKA Twigs and Co. weren’t just hopping on some fad with their S&M-inspired music videos. Nope, they were diving into something that’s been cooking since the dawn of time. Still, thanks are due to modern pop culture for helping us shed some of the stigmas.Despite the progress—scroll through Tinder or Feeld, and it might seem like everyone and their mom is either a dom or a sub—plenty of misconceptions are still floating around.So I’d like to bust a few myths about Dominance and submission (also called D/s). Along the way, I’ll drop some hints and tips on how to navigate this territory well, keeping it all SSC—safe, sane and consensual, that is.

Myth 1:

Being dominant means being rough in bed

Submission is a choice; a power willingly handed over to the dominant.

Unfortunately, most submissive-leaning folks I’ve encountered have stories of those who confuse the meaning of the word “dominant” with the meaning of the word “asshole”. Often new to BDSM, this type thinks that claiming the role of Dom gives them a free pass to throw their partner around like a rag doll, pull their hair, slap, spit and throat fuck without much consideration for the other person.

It’s never okay to use domination as an excuse for abuse, assault or any kind of inconsiderate behaviour. Further, copying acts or aesthetics from porn or BDSM without proper knowledge is potentially harmful and even dangerous.

D/s sex can be rough—if that’s what both partners want—but it doesn’t always have to be. D/s play can, on the contrary, be very calm and gentle, depending on what you’re into. Because dominance has little to do with actual strength, a good dominant can, and should, be able to give instructions and assert dominance without raising as much as their voice, let alone a hand.

If we take a cue from dynamics between female dommes and male subs—where the sub is quite often physically stronger than their dominant—we see even more that submission is a choice. In other words, it is a power willingly handed over to the dominant.

Dominance and submission is a dance based on mutual trust and consent

Defined by BDSM pioneer and sex educator, Cynthia Slater as a “consensual, eroticized exchange of power,” dom/sub play is also often compared to dancing tango. The dance demands a whole lot of trust, surrender, and care for one another.The submissive in the dynamic willingly chooses to trust and give up control, a gift that shouldn’t be taken for granted by the dominant, and one that comes with a ton of responsibility.
"We are defined by how we use our power."
Gerry Spence
The Rat Hole

Myth 2:

The dom does whatever they want to their sub

Another misconception is that a sub is some kind of sex slave who mindlessly serves and obeys. While someone might decide to hand over total control to their dominant, this is risky and not recommended, at least not for beginners. As a rule, be sceptical of anyone claiming not to have any limits.To stay safe and avoid post-play drops and trauma, it’s always best to talk beforehand. If you don’t like the idea of negotiating and playing on the same day or feel like it might kill the vibe, you can always discuss things a few days before your play date. With a regular partner, the need to negotiate in length might diminish as you learn each other’s bodies, boundaries and communication styles.


It’s common (and recommended) to negotiate limits, intentions, and safewords. This is when we share with a partner what we want and like, as well as what we’re not keen on.

Hard and soft limits

A “hard limit” refers to something we absolutely don’t want to do, while a “soft limit” refers to something that can be open to negotiation depending on circumstances. Many, including myself, have experienced shifts in limits and boundaries over time and between partners.


More than simply what we do and do not want, our intentions express how we want to feel and what kinds of fantasies and emotional states we wish to access with each other. For instance, a submissive may want to be made to feel helpless and cared for, or perhaps humiliated and frightened, while a dominant’s intentions could include holding and protecting or disciplining and punishing.


As the name suggests, our safewords are there to keep us safe. The golden rule is that when one is mentioned, all play immediately stops or pauses. You can choose whichever word you prefer. “Pineapple” is one of the most widely used right after the near-universal use of “red” to mean “stop” and “yellow” to mean “pause” or “slow down”.

Myth 3:

The sub gives, the dom receives

I used to believe this when I ventured into the world of BDSM but I was quickly proven wrong, especially once I attempted to be a dominant myself. If you think being dominant is easy and that all you have to do is lean back and receive, you have it mixed up.

A dominant plans a scene, holds space, pays attention to their sub’s verbal and non-verbal cues, adjusts accordingly, and gives instructions. Being dominant requires great amounts of energy, imagination and creativity, as well as a heightened sense of empathy.

Of course, the submissive is giving, too, but in a different way. While they might follow instructions, they get to turn off their heads and let themselves be led. The dominant, on the contrary, is required to be on at all times.

Myth 4:

Domination requires a ton of tools and equipment

BDSM is often portrayed as having a certain look and conjures images of latex, leather, collars, chains, and whips. While this image is not always untrue, it can lead to the misconception that showing up with a well-stocked bag in a fancy suit and leather gloves—or in tall boots and sharp red nails—are what makes someone a dominant. But, ‘the clothes do not make the man’ (or any other gender) in this instance. Though outfits, toys, and tools can add excitement and variety to play they should never take the main role. The only tool you really need are your words and with them, you can tease, command, humiliate, embarrass, punish, and control. The more you will understand how to get into your partner’s head, the more you can utilize your tone of voice, cadence, pauses, and silences to dominate them. Imagine that instead of slapping your partner around in a frenzy, you firmly tell them to get naked, go down on their knees and stay there until you tell them otherwise. Add something as simple as a blindfold and let them sit, unknowing and desperately guessing from the sounds they hear, as you get everything ready for what’s to come. The latter is way more effective and builds irresistible suspense and anticipation. Master this first, and then add your tools! 

Myth 5:

You’re either dominant already… or you won’t ever be

Some appear to be leaders in every walk of life, whether by inherent disposition or socialization. Does this make them natural-born doms too? I’ve witnessed instances where this held and others where it was completely the opposite.

Occasionally, those accustomed to calling the shots in various aspects of their lives are the ones most in need of letting go and being told what to do. A significant number of professional dominatrixes report that their clients are often high-powered business suits.

I believe that anyone who feels drawn to be sexually dominant can learn to be one, as it is a skill like any other. Fortunately, there are various styles of domination, ranging from caregiver (i.e., mommy or daddy dom) to sadistic, primal, master/mistress and more, catering to every aspiring dom out there!

If you’re left with the feeling that “wow, that sounds like a ton of work!” you’re right—it is! Domination demands significant energy, and this holds for all parties involved; it takes two to tango!

A game of trust, D/s play has enabled me to attain levels of intimacy far beyond what I had previously imagined possible. So, if you’re willing to put in the effort, it could just take you to the next level.


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