‘Subs Have All the Power’ is Wrong and We Should Stop Using It

It feels like we haven’t had a controversial topic in a while, but this one has been on my list for a couple of years. I’m going to say this will probably only sound controversial until you read what I have to say and think about it for a minute.

I’m going to explain why I absolutely detest the phrase ‘The subs have all the power in a D/s relationship.’ So, sit back and buckle up because this is going to be a ride.

In the days when kink was still a hush-hush ‘don’t let the neighbors know kind of thing’, you know, before it got kicked into mainstream by 50Shades, this phrase was used as the default to explain why BDSM was not abuse. It couldn’t possibly be abuse because subs have alllll the power.

How do you abuse someone who is actually sneakily, despite what it looks like, the real boss? You can’t, of course.

Read more: ‘Subs Have All the Power’ is Wrong and We Should Stop Using It

And it worked to a certain extent. That, along with nifty phrases like ‘Safe Sane and Consensual’, made up a great marketing campaign to convince people that kink was A-ok! And it is okay, don’t get me wrong. Kink is perfectly fine as long as you engage in it in healthy ways.

But at the time, even the hint that you were involved in anything kinky could get you fired or divorced. You could lose custody of your kids. You might even get arrested. So, the marketing was necessary to soothe people and let them know that it wasn’t the sick, depraved behavior they thought it was.

But like many first drafts it was problematic. Since then, we’ve found better ways to explain D/s dynamics—more honest and realistic ways. It had a place, and it was an important one, but we’ve moved past that now.

The problem with the phrase is simple. It’s not, and shouldn’t be, true.

Hear me out before you gnash your teeth and start typing angrily. If you think I’m saying the sub doesn’t have any power, you are absolutely wrong. That’s not what I mean at all.

SSC and phrases like this were never really accurate, but it was the kind of half-truth that was needed at the time. Non-kinky people didn’t really want an in-depth course on the nuances of D/s relationships. They didn’t want to be shown step-by-step how something wasn’t abuse because x,y, z.

They just needed to be reassured that no one was being tortured. They needed to know that people on both sides of the relationship wanted to be part of those activities. And simple slogans and blurbs were the best way to get that across to people who didn’t really want to know more.

I’ve already written about having outgrown SSC in detail, so I’m not going to go over it again. If you want to read it, you can find it here: We’ve Outgrown Safe, Sane, and Consensual (SSC).

But this is something that falls into the same category. Subs never really had all the power, at least not in a healthy dynamic. They had, and should have, half of the power. Just like in any relationship both sides should share the power equally.

I will present to you that, in my opinion, the sub having ‘all’ the power would be an unhealthy and possibly abusive situation. It just wouldn’t be the sub who was being abused. No dynamic should be weighted with the power on only one side.

Dom or sub, it doesn’t matter. If you have all the power in a relationship than that is an unhealthy dynamic, and sometimes one that is abusive. We can see this clearly when we complain about a boss hitting on a secretary. We can see this clearly when we talk about a professor hitting on his student.

Those dynamics are, by default, considered inappropriate these days. They are considered sexual harassment.


Because the boss, the teacher, the person in authority has …. All… the… power.

So. Why should it be any different in a kink relationship? It’s kind of funny actually, because if you said a Dom had all the power in the relationship, people would absolutely jump right to the conclusion that it was abuse. But those same people will happily tell you that it’s the sub who has all the power.

Do you see the issue with that?

But maybe you’re wondering why this matters. Who cares if the phrase isn’t quite accurate? The reason behind it is still valid, in that it conveys a reassurance that the sub isn’t being abused. Right?

Well, maybe. But I think people look at it as more than a phrase. I think new people coming into the scene embrace the idea of it, and it leads to Tops going into a dynamic thinking they don’t have a right to have their own needs.

They are told that all of their power is only surface level. It just appears that they are in charge, when in fact, the sub is. They are told that the sub’s needs are the important ones—which means, by default, that their needs are less important.

I think it’s one of many things that contributes to the idea that the Dominant in the relationship has to be inhumanly strong all the time and give without respite. It sets up an unbalanced and unhealthy idea that the Top can’t say no, can’t safeword, and can’t have limits.

It’s all about the sub. The sub’s needs come first. What the sub wants is the most important thing. The Dom has to put their own needs aside to make sure the sub is taken care of.

And don’t get me wrong… there will always be some of that due to the nature of the dynamic. When there is any kind of a caretaking relationship involved, there will be a strong focus on the one being cared for. There’s nothing wrong with that.

But when the focus is constantly only on the sub’s needs, and no one, not even the Dom, is considering the Dom’s needs… it’s unhealthy.

I’ve watched too many Doms set aside their own comfort and limits to do things they didn’t want to do, because they felt it was their job to give the sub anything they stated was a need.

Even if they were exhausted. Even if they were worn out. I’ve seen Doms lie, by omission, pretending that they wanted to do something just because the sub wanted/needed it and they felt they had no choice.

And Doms please listen to this carefully. It’s not the sub’s fault if the Dominant fails to set up their own boundaries. It is important for you, as the Dominant to recognize and state your own needs and limits. Not doing so causes problems on both sides, because the submissive cannot rely on someone who is not open and honest.

You might think that Dominants have to be the strong one all the time, but it’s not true and it’s not realistic. You have equal rights in any dynamic you are in. The sub does not have ALL the power. You both share the power.

I really want to push the idea that all parties in a kink dynamic have the power. All parties can say no, safeword, and state limits. All parties, not just subs, can retract consent and walk away when they’ve had enough.

Since BDSM went mainstream, we now have a large population of non-kinky people, at least in the United States, who know how these things work. Most of us no longer need to couch our terminology in half-truths to shine a better light on what we do.

Even therapists and doctors have admitted that a healthy kink dynamic can be an asset to people who have those proclivities. We are no longer considered mentally ill.

But we do still have a problem with leftover baggage from our previous bad relationship with the vanilla world and I think it’s time we work on it. Maybe that starts with changing how we word common phrases that we’re used to parroting, and slapping on memes.

What do you think?

4 Replies to “‘Subs Have All the Power’ is Wrong and We Should Stop Using It”

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