Fetlife, for good or ill, is a great tool to communicate with other kinky folks, and to see which direction the prevailing wind is blowing. Over time, I have seen a shift away from dominant and submissive (D/s) dynamics in favour of pick up play and varied experiences in my local community. My feed was filled with people talking about events, play dates, hook ups, and flirting. I love to play, flirt, and meet new people, but my core has always been steeped in the leather tradition: etiquette, discipline, and earned submission. The depth of a strong D/s relationship is like nothing else I have ever experienced. A strong connection with your partner can make a cuddle date watching a Disney movie as profound as whipping someone bloody on a cross or putting them through an excruciating tie.
Playing without that connection feels like eating junk food to me. It gives me a wonderful high for a few hours, but when that fades, I fall back to earth. The fall is not always hard, but it often feels lonely or empty. Pick up play would lead to the hardest of these drops, and often feels like a ride at the carnival. Great play, loving aftercare, a few check ins the next week… and then nothing. Was the high worth it? Absolutely. I am sure for the more extroverted folks out there, this type of play can fulfill them the way only D/s can for me. As my friends list expanded beyond my local area, more stories of that deep devotion of ownership and submission started to trickle back into my feed. It was a welcome change, and I am thankful for these amazing stories of love and connection.
About a week ago, something crossed my feed that struck a nerve that I did not realize was so raw. It was a lament about how a collar had turned into a necklace. It detailed how a submissive had lost her desire to submit because her owner seemed to have lost his desire for her submission. I have seen this happen time and time again, in both new and vastly experienced people. I responded to the thread with some of the tenets that I have learned from personal experience, mentoring by amazing people from both sides of the slash, and anecdotes from lifestyle educators. I received a great deal of positive feedback from that post, and decided to write something a bit more formal.
No discussion of any part of BDSM should begin with anything else. D/s is no different, and failure to establish consent has lead to a great deal of problems for many people.
Like most of the things we do, labels tend to complicate things. People have different definitions for what the terms Dominant, Submissive, Top, Bottom, Master, Slave, Owner, and Property mean. This is complicated further by popular works of fiction that are often the inspiration that draws people into the BDSM scene. How many of us read the Story of O, watched Secretary or 9 ½ Weeks, or got caught up in the recent brouhaha over Fifty Shades of Grey? There is an entire subgroup of people who follow the tenets of slavery put forward by John Norman in his Gor books.
The fantasies that these stories inspire are often out of touch with real life. The more blatantly unrealistic fantasies, like being locked in a dungeon for a week, being kidnapped and used as a sex slave, or being an awkward college grad that gets swept away by a billionaire, are easily dismissed. However, some of our fantasies are a bit more insidious and form deeper roots in our psyche. The proverbial 18-year-old master is derided openly, as is the brand new bottom who has never been spanked before who proclaims themself to be a no-limits slave. We like to think we are smarter and above this kinds of magical thinking, but we are not.
What does this have to do with consent? Simply put, many of us have no idea what we want. We love the idea of owning someone, or being conquered and serving our one true owner. How many of us know what that means when we have to factor in real life? How many of us get involved with people who have vastly different life experiences than our own? It is easy to assume that someone who states they want a D/s relationship actually wants what they claim? Why would you choose not to take someone at their word, especially when they are saying exactly what you want to hear? The realities of being owned or the responsibilities of owning someone often do not match your/their ideal desires.
It is imperative that we take baby steps in every new relationship. We need to constantly reaffirm that the goal we are working toward is a shared goal, and not just the vision of a passionate Dominant-type (D-type). Getting swept away in the passion of a new relationship happens every day – the poly folks call it NRE (new relationship energy). NRE is a powerful thing, and consent can be given while this is in full effect without realizing just what we agreed to. Take small steps, reaffirm that both partners are still on the same page, and be specific that no matter your role, a no or a limit is sacred.
Good communication is sexy as hell. The more you do it, the better your connection will get. Negotiation is an integral part of communication, but it is just the tip of the iceberg.
At the beginning of any relationship be sure to set expectations. How much time can you give your partner? Work, family, and friends are things that need to be accounted for. Be realistic, and do not over extend or over promise.
What kind of daily communication is expected/required? Are texts at work ok? Phone calls? Do you require a daily journal? All of these things should be established and encouraged. The more communication the better.
What is the goal of this relationship? If you are just looking for a fuck buddy with a little D/s thrown in, be sure to state that. The depth of feeling D/s can inspire can often lead to unexpected emotional attachment, be aware of that and do not abuse it.
What is your level of experience? If you have had the type of D/s you crave, describe it. If not, talk about your ideal vision of D/s. If you are brand new and have zero experience be open about that, and be kind to yourself. You do not have to agree to everything all at once. If a top requires that from you, just walk away. Odds are that it will not end well for either of you.
Be honest with what you want. D/s can be as rigid as strict discipline, or as ethereal as wearing something every day that reminds you that you belong to someone. If you want rules and consequences, ask for them. If you just want a collar to show off to your friends be clear about that too.
When I say honest, I mean complete honesty. Yes, baring your soul to someone is one of the scariest things you will ever do. People will often subject themselves to beatings, brutal bondage, and other physical challenges before they will ever let go of that deep dark fantasy that they hold dear. Into incest role play? Yay, I am so relieved that you opened up to me about that… or ewww, that is gross and I cannot do that! Would you rather get that answer before or after you invest yourself into a deeply emotional bond with someone? It is not fair to you or your partner to hold back. If you trust them enough to hurt you, make you helpless, or fuck you in every available hole, trust them with your fantasies.
No one can read your mind. Speak up and speak often. You are responsible for your own happiness – anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you something.
It is a great deal of fun negotiating, exploring each other bodies and fantasies, and being drunk on the amazing power exchange. The hard part is follow through.
Follow through. If you make rules, enforce them. If you agree to live by a set of rules, obey them. Everyone makes mistakes, and there should always room for forgiveness when transgressions occur for legitimate reasons. In practice, I prefer the word adjustment over punishment. We have all heard the common phrase “They need an attitude adjustment.” This is not usually said in a positive manner, but within the realm of D/s it absolutely can be a better way to interact with your partner.
Set up what punishments will be at the same time you set up the rules. Random whacks on the butt will not work for masochists. Corner time will not work for brats (they just walk away). Find out what it takes to deter further transgressions, and set that up as your standard discipline. Adjustments can come in many forms, from a quick swat on the butt (more along the lines of traditional punishment) to a gentle code word to let them know that a line was crossed.
Know what you want and who you are. Having and enforcing strict rules is a HUGE commitment of time and energy for a dominant. If you cannot give your submissive the proper time and attention that strict rules require, don’t start down this path. Having a single golden rule is often enough. “Always show respect.” “Always arrive early, dressed in this manner, and wait for me on your knees.” These are often enough for someone that craves structure but has real life time constraints.
Most bottoms want fair punishment for their transgressions. Many dominants cannot wrap their heads around why a partner would crave punishment. It’s important to consider that many submissives hate to disappoint their tops above all else. Accepting a simple punishment absolves them from their misstep and lets them move on and be happy in their service. Take the time to let them know why an adjustment is required, how to avoid doing it in the future, and the most important step, make sure they know that they are forgiven. Some beat themselves up a lot more than we ever could. Forgive them, and mean it. The worst thing you can do is say that you forgive them and then hold their mistakes against them. Punishments should be given at the time of the infraction if at all possible. If not, a direct talking to needs to happen ASAP. Many submissive-types (s-types) crave punishment because it feels like absolution.
Disobedience is the fault of both partners. I hate to punish, simply because it means I have failed. I have failed to instil the proper devotion and respect in my partner. I have failed to give them enough incentive to behave for me, and make me proud. I have failed at the most important duty I have as a top, to protect them from themself. Discipline has to happen, and it is often a quick ordeal for the bottom, but a cause for massive introspection by the top. Never think that this is a one-sided affair.
Do not sacrifice love or joy. Discipline is about giving a submissive what they crave. However, if you only get to see each other once a week for a few hours, do not give up your time together for discipline. Punishment should never be done in anger, and sometimes postponing it can be even worse than the punishment.
4. Creativity and Connection
Yes, this one is a double C, but the two are so intertwined that they need to be on the same line.
Connection is the amazing reward of a strong D/s dynamic. All it takes is a look from your owner and you are instantly a puddle of arousal and devotion. That sparkle in your slave’s eyes can make the fatigue of an awful day melt away and make you forget how tired you were, and remind you just how horny you are. There are no words to describe it, and there is nothing else like it on the planet.
Creativity is how you maintain that connection in the throes of real life. You are all worked up and ready to tear into each other like wild animals, but oops, you are at Disney World on vacation, at the store getting groceries, or with your family for a holiday dinner. These moments should never be wasted, and creativity can get you through them satisfied, and without involving the rest of the world in your kink.
Hidden kink in public places is hot in its own right, but what about impromptu kink in public. Something as simple as taking your panties off and handing them to your owner, being sent to the bathroom to put in a plug, or, in the case of Disney World, being forced into a costume shop and walk around dressed as one of the Princesses for the rest of the day… with a butt plug in for good measure. These little acts of control and obedience can go a long way. I am not going to give away all my tricks, but my point is to never let these moments of inspiration pass you by.
This goes for time at home as well. Did you plan a quiet cuddle date at home for tonight, but find you cannot keep yours hands to yourself? Stop holding back, and reach out and touch what belongs to you. I mean this for both D- and s-types. If you feel a desire, not expressing it is like lying. Follow you heart… and your crotch. Did Baymax’s fist bump make you crave some rough body play? Did Star Wars make you want to dress up like Slave Leia? Did watching 50 Shades of Grey make you want to run upstairs and show the world how it is really done? Do it!!
You cannot have the other four without this one. D/s may not always involve a loving relationship, but service bottoms, play partners, and fuck buddies all deserve the compassion that we show to our loved ones.
Real life and real people do not always fit within a rigid set of rules. If there is a good reason for bad behaviour, comfort and support your partner. If you are not feeling up to being Sir Lord Master Domly Dom, and just need a night to recharge and be with your loving partner, be compassionate with yourself. We cannot always be on all the time. Balancing life with the things we do is a unique skill and one that often gets overlooked. Even if you only get one night together a week, do not push yourself past what you feel like doing at that moment. Disappointment is temporary, especially if you explain why and make up for it later.
Aftercare does not go away with D/s. In a deeply connective relationship, people tend to push themselves harder than they do with more casual encounters. The deep and enduring trust allows them to beyond what they thought they were capable of. This can lead to amazing play, but also to violent drop. I have seen many hard limit lists start to turn into checklists, and that is amazing to witness. The real fear, the apprehension mixed with desire, the absolute devotion to their owners is breathtaking.
D-types owe the people that serve us more than just aftercare: due care. We fetch them water and fruit to recover, we check in with them constantly when we know they are getting to their breaking point and pushing beyond. We get their favorite blanket, their cherished stuffie, or whatever other coping item they desire. We let them dictate to us what they need. Cuddles and reconnection, being left alone in a dark and quiet room, or just sitting and chatting about what just happened. Everyone is different, but we owe it to them to give them exactly what they need as they need it.
Compassion is also the realization that the people that choose to serve us are not “less than” in any way. They are as important as we are. It is their choice to worship us as their personal gods, and it is our duty to protect and love them for it. D/s is a power exchange. That exchange ebbs and flows with moods, schedules, and other commitments. It is up to both sides of the D/s slash to take equal responsibility in keeping that power flowing. We must give to get, and we must be diligent in maintaining all 5 of these C’s so that a collar will never become just a piece of jewelry.