Submissives hold all the power…or do they?
In the world of consensual BDSM play, yes that does include the milder side streets of domestic discipline and spanking, there is a lot of talk about how the submissive or bottom has all the power in the relationship. I’m going to say something controversial here: I don’t believe this is true or should be true.
I know! I know! Shock! But hear me out because I’ve been in these relationships for my entire adult life (and some of my pre-adult life) and I’ve been on both sides of the equation.
I’m not talking about the fantasy life where we like to imagine the Alpha Dom grabbing a mouthy brat by the arm and swinging her across his lap for a good spanking, without pausing to get permission. What we like in fantasy is not what most of us would enjoy happening in real life. I will read the hell out of a non-con or dubious con story but will be the first to tell off a stranger who tried that on me.
Wanting to be helpless and controlled is locked deep into the heart of a submissive, to the point where many want to give someone blanket consent upfront so they can pretend they aren’t making the choice as things go along. I know submissives who, when going into a scene, are fine with you mentioning a safeword beforehand, but once in the scene will get mad if you stop to remind them or ask if they need it. It ruins everything for them and brings the whole fantasy to a crashing halt.
I’m not saying that it’s always healthy for everyone. I know a lot of people who suck at using their safewords when they need to…*shifty look* and probably need to be reminded occasionally. But having a safeword for some people makes it feel less real and more like a game, especially when applied to punishment. As an educator I highly recommend that you always have a safeword discussion before play, and that you use one with people who don’t know you well enough to know when you’re in distress.
And now that we’ve gotten that public service announcement out of the way, let me explain what I actually meant about submissives not having all the power. I don’t like the way it’s phrased, and I don’t like the way it plays out because it dehumanizes Doms and Tops. To say that one person in a relationship has all the power, is to say that the other person has none, and that is never a good thing.
A good D/s relationship should feature an equal amount of power outside of the scenes. Decisions should be made by everyone in the relationship, but I do understand where this all came from. In the early days of BDSM stepping out of the shadows it was important to differentiate between someone making a consensual choice, and the gender stereotypes of old where the man snapped orders and the woman obeyed. By making it seem as though the sub was really totally in charge it appeased a lot of people who would have had a serious problem with the dynamic.
People still worry that someone is abused when they are fully adult and have to follow rules or get punished so it’s not like we’ve even moved far beyond that stage. Fifty Shades and other media like that (Yes, I know how people feel about those books. Trust me I’ve been living and writing this since long before they were around. I’m well aware or the problems with them, but it’s fiction and it has done a lot to legitimatize the scene in the mainstream.) have helped D/s relationships become more accepted but there are always some people who won’t understand.
So yes, by all means let’s push the understanding that submissives are consenting and want this life. Let’s make it clear that it’s not abuse when the person is choosing to give someone else authority over them, but let’s not do it at the expense of the dominant partner being expected to shoulder a lot of hard work without getting any say in the relationship.
This has been a bit of a pet peeve of mine for a long time and I think it’s something that only a person who has played both roles is going to see, but Doms don’t tend to get safewords and at times they are expected to be almost superhuman in pushing aside their own issues to be there for their sub. Sometimes they’re exhausted and don’t want tantrums and disobedience. Sometimes they have a migraine and don’t have the energy to deal with a recalcitrant submissive who has chosen that moment to throw out the rules.
And it’s hard being in charge all the time. It really is. I think the dominant partner absolutely needs to have limits, and needs to be able to say, “I’m not dealing with this right now you need to stop.” but many of them don’t feel that they have that right. They feel like they have to be ‘on’ all the time and that’s not healthy for anyone. I’d blame it as the number one cause of Dom burn-out.
A big step towards recognizing that a dominant person has needs too is to stop acting like they don’t deserve any say in the relationship. One person having power in the dynamic doesn’t mean the other can’t have any. It’s not cake. I think “Subs are really the ones who have all the power,” is part of the cause of dominants thinking they can’t just say no.
In a personal relationship this is a problem, but it’s also an issue at clubs and parties. I’ve seen subs of the bratty variety (nothing wrong with those; I have been one from time to time) go up and do completely inappropriate things to Doms they didn’t even know, like smacking them on the ass for instance. A dominant would/could get kicked out of a club if he did that to a submissive and she complained, but Tops are expected to accept it and give the sub what they are looking for—attention.
If they don’t pull the big DOM (in all caps!) routine out of the bag to handle it then they look weak. And while everyone should feel fine with not being strong all the time, Doms, of all genders, are often pushed into this stereotypical role of not being allowed a moment of weakness. It’s not unlike men being told they are only allowed to show certain emotions and I think both situations can be toxic.
So, what’s the easy solution here? Well, there isn’t one—sorry! But I can tell you where you start and that’s by recognizing that everyone has strengths, needs, and weaknesses and when you’re in a relationship those need to be addressed on all sides. Realize that all members of a relationship have equal power outside of the scene roles. To say yes, to say no, to say ‘Stop, I can’t do this right now.’
Doms you need to remember that both the fantasy of being the ‘BOSS’ and the scene axiom of “The sub holds all the power” are wrong and that what you have is a relationship based on equals who are choosing what roles to hold with each other. What the sub has is the right to veto what is done to them, but guess what? You, as the Dom, have the same veto power and that includes being able to veto having more dumped on you than you can handle.
And while we’re on that topic…
Doms are human, not superheroes. They are going to fuck up. They are going to fall apart, and sometimes they are going to need to be weak, but that doesn’t mean they will feel comfortable being weak in front of their submissives. Most won’t be able to put down that mantle of BOSS if their submissive seems to need help—it’s just too ingrained.
But subs can help by recognizing that sometimes their strong person needs a break. That doesn’t mean you have to be perfect and not get in trouble…*coughs* this just means sometimes you have to table the D/s side for a few hours or a few days until things can be dealt with. Waiting sucks, but sometimes that’s just the way it needs to be.
Help your dominant people out by self-reporting as much as you’re able instead of always waiting to be chased around, which gets exhausting frankly, and if they miss something obvious try not to let yourself feel unloved or uncared for, instead recognize that they may be overwhelmed, and you might need to step up and confess.
It’s also okay for the submissive to set aside their own needs for a little while to take care of the Dom… because that’s how a partnership works.