Domination, a practice older than we might think
In April this year, we celebrated the ten-year anniversary of E. L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, marking the date when BDSM crawled its way out of the dark dungeons and into the minds and homes of suburban housewives across the globe.
Yes, I’m being facetious, since this is no more an accurate portrayal of history than the book series is of dominance and submission. Instead, we can travel all the way back to 4000 BC to find records of the first known “femdom-icon”, the Mesopotamian goddess Inanna who whipped her vagina-worshipping followers into states of frenzied ecstasy.
And while the Kama Sutra was giving detailed flogging and spanking instructions as early as 400 BC, and French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau yearned “to be at the knees of an imperious mistress, [and] to obey her orders” back in 1782, it took until the 1970s for the term BDSM to be coined.
It took even longer, until 2013, for the American Psychological Association’s decision to finally de-pathologize and pull all instances of BDSM-related practices from their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5).
Although this tiny snippet of kink history proves that Gaga, Rihanna, FKA Twigs, and co, did not jump on some fad with their S&M-inspired music videos, but rather scraped the surface of something that’s been simmering since the beginning of time, we may still thank modern pop culture for removing many stigmas.
As far as we’ve come—nowadays when you open apps like Tinder and Feeld, it may seem as if everyone and their mother is either a dom or a sub—there are still plenty of misconceptions floating around.
I’d like to bust a few myths around D/s play and what it means to be dominant while providing some hints and tips on how to do it well and in a way that is SSC aka Safe, Sane & Consensual.
Being dominant means being rough in bed
Unfortunately, most submissive-leaning folks I have met have stories of those who seem to mix up the words dominant and asshole. Often new to BDSM, this type is under the impression that claiming the role as Dom gives them an all-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.
While D/s sex can be rough—if it’s what both partners want—the two should not be confused. It’s never ok to use domination as a scapegoat for abuse, assault, or any kind of inconsiderate behavior. Further, copying acts or aesthetics from porn or BDSM without proper knowledge is potentially harmful and even dangerous.
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 female dommes with male subs where the sub is quite often physically stronger than their dominant, we see even more clearly that submission is a choice; 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 is one that 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.
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 complete power to their dominant, this is risky and not recommended, at least not for beginners. As a rule, be skeptical of anyone claiming not to have any limits.
In order 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 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 really want and like, as well as what we’re not keen on.
Hard and soft limits
A hard limit is something we absolutely don’t want to do, while a soft limit can be open to negotiation depending on circumstances. I know many, myself included, whose limits and boundaries have shifted with time and depending on the relationship with a partner.
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. As an example, a submissive may want to be made to feel helpless and cared for, or perhaps humiliated and frightened, while a dominant’s intentions could be to hold and protect or to discipline and punish.
As the name suggests, our safewords are there to keep us safe and 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 after the near-universal ‘red’ for ‘stop’ and ‘yellow’ for ‘pause’ or ‘slow down’.
The sub gives, the dom receives
I used to believe this when I ventured into the world of BDSM but was quickly proven wrong, and even more so when I attempted to switch and 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 is energy demanding and requires imagination and creativity as well as a heightened sense of empathy.
The submissive is, of course, 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.
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!
You’re either dominant by nature or you’ll never be
There are those who seem to be leaders in every walk of life, whether they came that way or have been socialized to be, and perhaps that makes them natural-born doms too? I’ve seen examples where this proved to be true, and others of the complete opposite.
Sometimes those who tend to call the shots in other aspects of their lives are the ones most in need of letting go and being told what to do. In fact, a huge amount of professional dominatrixes report that their clients are more often than not high-power business suites.
I believe that everyone who feels called to be sexually dominant can learn to be one and that it’s a skill like any other. Thankfully, there are many styles of domination, from caregiver aka mommy or daddy dom to sadistic, primal, master/mistress, and so on, leaving something for every hopeful dom out there!
If you are left with the feeling that ‘wow, that sounds like a ton of work!’, you are absolutely right—it is! Domination requires tremendous amounts of energy, and this goes both ways: it takes two to tango!
A game of trust, D/s play has allowed me to reach levels of intimacy far beyond what I had previously imagined possible, so if you are willing to put in the effort it could just take you to the next level.