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Dominance and submission - a Power Exchange Relationship

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If anyone were to ask what 'Dominance and submission' is, they'd receive almost as many answers as people who practice it. Simply stated, though, most would agree that D/s consists of a consensual relationship that is based around a power exchange between two people. One person is the controlling one, known as the Dominant; the other person is the controlled one, and is known as the submissive (note that 'Dominant' is usually capitalised and that 'submissive' is not). The submissive gives a certain amount of 'power' to the Dominant over their lives. This can be as simple as the Dominant telling them what to wear each day, or can be as complex as them having to ask the Dominant for permission to even leave the room. The important thing to note here is that we are talking about consensual relationships. The rights of the submissive are not taken from them, they are given freely during a period of negotiation.

Total Power Exchange

Arguably, the 'pinnacle' of D/s relationships is a Total Power Exchange (TPE) relationship, where the submissive gives up all control to the Dominant. Total means just that. The Dominant controls every aspect of their lives from what they wear or eat, to where they go and who they see. There are many that claim to have this, but this Researcher has seen few real examples. It should be emphasised that this is only arguably the pinnacle of D/s relationships. The other side of the coin is that every D/s relationship is just as good no matter how much power is exchanged.

Some Terms

Before we go too much further, let's define a few terms that exist within the D/s lifestyle:

  • Dominant - The person who has been given some amount of control over the submissive. Other terms describing them are Dom and Domme.

  • submissive - The person who gives some amount of control to the Dominant. Other terms describing them are sub, pet and slave.

  • D/s - Dominance and submission. A power exchange relationship.

  • Lifestyle - Generally those that practice D/s are part of 'the lifestyle'. It doesn't mean anything, it's just a descriptive term.

  • Vanilla - a non-D/s relationship.

  • 24/7 - Living a D/s relationship 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To put it another way, you are always in a power exchange relationship.

  • Scene - The best way to describe this is to think of a 'scene' from a movie. This is one interaction between a Dom and a sub. It doesn't have to be sexual; all that is required is that a power exchange has taken place. Those not in a 24/7 relationship tend to have 'scenes' where the power exchange happens. Even those in 24/7 relationships can have scenes, where the exchange becomes deeper.

  • Top - A person who Dominates for only a scene. If you think of it as a 'one night stand' in the D/s lifestyle you wouldn't be quite correct, but it's a good start. This doesn't mean that the Top is a 'Dominant', just that the dominate for the one scene.

  • bottom - A person who is submissive for only a scene. This does not mean the person is always a submissive, just that they are submissive for the scene. See 'Top'.

  • Switch - Someone who switches between the Dominant and submissive roles.

  • Safewords - These are words that are used by either Dom or sub to slow down, or stop a scene. Having negotiated a safeword is very important. It means that if something is happening that makes either person uncomfortable, they can either back off a little, or stop.

A Few Myths

Let's look at what a D/s relationship isn't.

D/s Isn't about Abuse

Though the point has already been made it's important to emphasise that this article is about a consensual power exchange. Whatever happens to the sub, whatever demands are made of them, they have agreed to this. If they haven't, if they never asked for this, or they don't want this, then it's an abusive relationship and is not the kind of relationship covered by this entry.

submissives Aren't always Women

If your image of a submissive is a woman, no matter how she's dressed, think again. There are a great number of male submissives out there.

submissives Aren't Weak

If someone has to have someone else run their lives for them they must be weak, right? Wrong. Many submissives are quite powerful people outside their D/s relationship: lawyers, managers, business people, police, soldiers and so on. For some, being a submissive in the home, or merely in the bedroom, is a way of escaping from the normal pressures of being in charge.

D/s Isn't about Kinky Sex

Sure, D/s couples often have kinky sex. Then again, vanilla couples often do too. What defines a D/s relationship has very little to do with the methods used, so much as the power exchange. A simple 'no' when a sub asks if they can have a drink can have as much 'power' as getting them to kneel.

Entering a D/s Relationship

When two people are about to enter a D/s relationship, the first step is negotiation. This is a period where no power exchange occurs, but is a discussion where the parameters of the relationship are discussed. How much power will the Dominant have over the submissive? What hard limits do both have; that is, to what activities are one or both opposed? What will be the safewords? What will be the period of the relationship?

Often after negotiation a contract is drawn up, setting out all of the parameters discussed. In this way there can be no misunderstandings.


In most Western marriages, the symbols of the marriage are the wedding rings worn by the happy couple. You can probably think of a collar meaning a similar thing to a wedding ring, although in a D/s relationship it's more common for only the sub to wear a collar to show that they are owned by or bound to a Dom.

Collars come in all shapes and sizes, from a leather collar that is remarkably similar to that worn by pets, to elegant necklaces that could be worn at the classiest society ball. A collar is a symbol and is therefore as individual as the Dominant and submissive within the D/s relationship.

Why on Earth Would you Go through all This?

It seems a D/s relationship is an awful lot of work, doesn't it? Negotiation, contracts, safewords before you even get to the relationship itself. Yes, it is a lot of work, but the rewards can be worth it.

At this point it should be noted that a D/s relationship is not for everyone. Most relationships, even vanilla ones, contain power exchanges. In some relationships one partner is always Dominant, in other relationships whoever is Dominant changes almost constantly. That, however, doesn't mean that the whole relationship should become a D/s one. Some couples only practice D/s in the bedroom, others in the home, others all the time and some never.

Like all relationships, good communication is needed to keep a D/s relationship on track. The difference here, is that it is essential to the success of a D/s relationship. The basis of a D/s relationship is trust. This is not just the trust that neither partner will cheat, but the sort of deep trust where the partners will trust each other with their lives. For the submissive, they need to trust the Dominant with their physical and mental health; to trust that the Dominant will guide and protect them. For the Dominant this means trusting that the submissive is totally truthful with them, giving them all the information they need to make good decisions.

As the communication flows more freely and the trust grows, the entire relationship becomes deeper and more fulfilling. This also applies to a vanilla relationship, but there isn't necessarily the same impetus to keep communication flowing.

Traps and Pitfalls

The submissive gives power to the Dominant. This means the submissive can open themselves to abuse. This risk can be lessened by keeping the following in mind. They're not bad guidelines for vanilla relationships either:

  • Don't trust too easily. Trust is earned. Before giving someone power over you, make sure they can be trusted. Take time to learn about the person.

  • Go slowly. Don't be impatient for it all to happen at once. Take it in small steps.

  • Be honest. Don't say things just to please your partner. If you don't like something, or are unsure, say so. By the same token, if you like it a lot, say so.

  • If there is the smallest hint of abuse, back off. No matter how good your partner is in other areas, if they are abusive, leave. Sometimes we do hurt others by mistake, but if there is obvious abusive behaviour, either mental or physical, then leave.

  • Remember that everyone is human, and thus can make mistakes. Don't let a mistake ruin the relationship. Instead, talk about it openly, and try to learn something from it to help the relationship grow.

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