I’m in a relationship right now that’s hard to explain and even harder for those listening to understand. But I’d like to try.
I am a sub, or submissive. I don’t have a boyfriend. I have a dom.
The popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey has afforded BDSM a wave of intrigue and recognition, but the logistics of this kind of relationship remain largely undiscussed. When people think of dominance and submission, they probably think of typical BDSM kitsch—whips, chains, ball gags, dungeons. Cheap pleather booty shorts with many zippers. BDSM can come off as no fun to vanilla sex enthusiasts, who may associate it with nipple clamps and getting candle wax dripped on them. That just sounds uncomfortable, right?
Dominance and submission, at its core, is about a power dynamic. One party likes to be in control, the other likes to submit. The psychological implications can be just as intense as the physical. Every dom-sub relationship is different, and my experiences certainly don’t reflect those of all who pursue this lifestyle. But I’ve learned a few things in the years I’ve been playing rough that I believe a newbie could benefit from hearing before embarking on this twisted, exhilarating road.
I was introduced to dominance and submission by an older man I dated a few years back. What started out as experimenting soon turned into a real dom-sub relationship, in which he explicitly controlled everything we did in the bedroom. Dom-sub sex is just like normal sex, except, well, you know how Mozart includes little frills, or ornamentations, in his music? Just little extra notes that make the song twinkle and feel more fun? That’s how dominant sex is, except instead of trills in The Magic Flute, you have things like spanking, slapping, choking, name calling, hair pulling, and much more.
Before you try this kind of play, you must set boundaries with your partner. The way I usually do this is telling him upfront what I’m not willing to do, and then everything left over are options he can choose from. That’s part of what makes being submissive so exciting—you never know what your dom is going to do with you. However, there are times when this grab bag of fun can get a bit too grabby. That’s why you need a safe word (mine is “veto”). I often find that just knowing I can stop at any time by saying the safe word makes me feel more confident to push my limits and try new things.
You also need to emotionally prepare and evaluate before trying dominance and submission. Get real with yourself first and make sure your soul is going to be okay if you allow someone to voluntarily treat you like garbage. Recognize up front that letting yourself be abused will be emotionally taxing. If you have any misgivings, you might want to take a step back and start with something more novice, like handcuffs. If you like that, work your way up. If you don’t like that, this isn’t for you. It’s just not for everyone.
It seems simple: the dom is in control, the sub submits. But how far do you go with it? In a dom-sub relationship, it’s so easy to let the bedroom dynamic leak out into the real world interactions between the two partners. Sometimes, that’s intentional, and can be extremely hot. But if you’re not on the same page as your dom about when the rules apply, that’s unhealthy. I try to remind myself all the time that this is one big, drawn-out role play. You’re role playing a relationship where one person calls all the shots.
My current dom and I take a mixed approach. First, we got on the same page about our real beliefs: equality for women, equality in relationships, we both think physical and verbal abuse is abhorrent. But, we realized we liked talking to each other and texting in our roles, and that means that sometimes we’ll be in those roles when we’re not banging. My dom loves ordering me around, and even gives me little assignments during the day sometimes (they’re not necessarily sexual—it’s a way of asserting dominance.) Balancing when you’re in your roles and when you’re not can be tricky, and there’s a difference between being a dom and being a dick–so communication is key. It’s okay to change the arrangement frequently—and speak up if you’re not cool with the terms. Your agreement can be as intense as a monogamous relationship, or as loose as a sporadic hookup. In my current arrangement, I’m allowed to date other people and I do, but when my dom and I are interacting, he owns me.
My dom and I both consider ourselves feminists despite the fact that he hits me while we’re having sex. We concluded that since being treated poorly by a man, or treating a woman poorly, goes against everything we both believe in, that’s why it gets us off. It’s wrong, it’s dangerous, it’s bad, and that’s sexy as hell.
The most immediate concern I’ve always had when it comes to rough play is actually being hurt/injured by my partner. I never want to have to explain to my family or boss why my face is bruised. Again, you need to have great communication with your dom to make sure you don’t get hurt. Me and my dom use a spectrum—before we begin, I say we can go soft, medium or hard and he adjusts his behavior accordingly.
Another risk of dominance and submission is getting hurt emotionally. When you’re with someone in this way, it’s likely you will form a strong bond. Even though your dom abuses you, you know he really does it to satisfy you, and that fosters a foundation of trust. Being someone’s sub makes you feel extremely special—he jealously owns you and wants you completely, and you give him more than regular lovers ever could. When you become someone’s sub, even though you both know it’s all a big act, you give yourself to them entirely. And that’s an emotionally charged decision.
My first dom and I were not monogamous, and I was convinced that was fine by me. However, I didn’t really pursue others when we were hanging out because our sex life satisfied me so much. He did pursue others, and when he eventually found love and moved to a different state, I was shocked by how heartbroken I felt. I couldn’t figure out how someone who wanted me so fiercely for so long could suddenly walk away. But he did. The experience made me more aware of how dangerous this game can be, and now I constantly remind myself to date other people and try not to attach emotionally to my dom if monogamy isn’t in our contract. I never sleep over. I never text first. I make a point not to see him two days in a row. It’s a delicate balance that requires effort to maintain.
The Fun Parts
There is no rush like dominance and submission. I’ve tried my share of drugs and decadent desserts, but this is my ultimate vice. I once read a quote that emphasized the role of fear in sex—fear is the reason it’s more exciting to leave the bar with a stranger than your husband of 35 years. Fear makes BDSM the roller coaster traveling through a hurricane that it is. You trust your dom, you turn yourself over to him, but you never really know what’s about to happen.
Pain itself is part of the pleasure of dom-sub play—it makes you more aware of your body and how it reacts. The pain heightens your senses and turns your adrenaline on. And there’s something exciting about feeling the bruises on your ass while you sit in your cubicle at work the morning after taking a good spanking.
Giving up control is incredibly freeing. You take risks when you have BDSM sex, but once you trust your partner and can completely submit, it’s the best release imaginable.
And the attention! Have I mentioned the attention? Doms generally keep pretty close tabs on their subs. They want to know what they’re doing all the time. The more intense the sex is, the more ravenously interested your dom will be in getting more and going further.
At the end of it, I think the reason I love dominance and submission is the depth of the relationship it creates. This weekend, I was walking down the street when I saw my dom on the other side. It was unexpected since we live and work in different parts of town, but this was a popular area and a popular event. When we made eye contact, I felt as though I had been struck by lightning (pardon the cliché). He ran across the street and stood close enough to me that I could smell him. Standing close to my dom in public—people milling around us with no idea how depraved our bond is—it felt sexy, and powerful, and right.
He threw his arm around my neck in a sort of joke headlock and whispered, “How’s my good girl?”
I felt alive.
– Rachel Green