Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
I bet you’re all wondering why, three weeks into a BDSM column, you’ve yet to hear about BDSM. That changes today. But be warned – it might take us a while to work through. Consider this part one.
BDSM is a big acronym made up of three littler ones. B&D, D/s, and S&M. B&D stands for bondage and discipline; D/s for Dominance and submission, and S&M for sadism and masochism. This week, we’re going to talk a little bit about Dominance and submission. It’s the least sexy bit – D/s is often considered the most mental aspect of BDSM – but, for a sub like me, the most rewarding.
Dominance and submission is about a lot of things, but the one that is most prominent is power. The submissive allows the Dominant to have power in their situation. The submissive willingly decides to give their power over to the Dominant. This exchange implies that the submissive has chosen to put the Dominant’s needs and wants before their own, and that the Dominant has chosen to care for their submissive so that they can be safe and happy in that role.
D/s can be sexual or not. If it’s not, it’s usually referred to as “lifestyle,” meaning that the D/s mentality extends past the bedroom and into other aspects of a couple’s life. Sexual D/s is what people think of most often, if they know about this sort of dynamic at all. Typically, people think of one party ordering about another. To an extent, this is accurate. If a Dom asks their sub to suck them off, the sub will do it. There are punishments for disobeying, and more so than threat of punishment, subs should know better. But it’s about more than obeying.
The submissive’s need to please comes from a place deep within themselves, much similar to the middle-school yearning to be part of the popular crowd. A sub wants to please their Dom out of a deep admiration and respect. So yes – subs will do what they are told. But they also yield to a deeper belief that their Dom is more important than they are.
Interestingly, in this situation, the submissive almost has more power. They are at the mercy of the Dom, and so they are vulnerable and exposed. For a sub to sit naked, bound and blindfolded in a room where they aren’t sure if their Dom has left or not, where they aren’t sure if there is someone else watching requires a huge amount of trust that the Dom is looking after the sub’s well-being. The submissive in this situation is entirely powerless, and so if the Dominant were to take advantage, it could be likened to shooting an unarmed prisoner. The Dominant, in breaking the submissive’s trust, will lose the sub. That trust can never be rebuilt once broken. Because of this, and because D/s is based on willing submission, the sub has the power to stop whenever they desire. That’s what safe words are for.
D/s, in its proper SSC (Sane, Safe & Consensual, if you remember from last week) form, always has a safe word. A safe word is a word that wouldn’t come up in normal conversation used to signal that the submissive is not okay and would like out of the scene. Some use a traffic light system – red means stop immediately, yellow means something is starting to feel a bit iffy – and others have a hard-and-fast word meant to immediately and permanently stop whatever activity is happening at the time. I’m especially partial to “flamingo.”
D/s can be found, in some form or another, in almost all relationships. There is always a give-and-take of power – in D/s relationships, however, this exchange is majorly one-sided. D/s relationships also stress trust in a more intimate way. All relationships depend on trust, but if it’s missing in a D/s relationship then a situation can turn dangerous, or even deadly, extremely quickly. However, they’re worth the risk: D/s relationships are incredibly fulfilling for both sides.
As a submissive, I can say that I personally find no greater joy than pleasing my Dominant. I love being certain that no one in the world can please who I love more than I can – and I can know it with certainty because if my Dominant ever wants something, my Dominant will take it from me. I never have to worry that I am inadequate, and that is incredibly freeing. Kneeling at my Dominant’s feet and knowing that I am not in control, that I am serving a purpose greater than myself, gives me a sense of completion I find nowhere else. I can only assume that having me brings the same sense, the same joy, to my Dominant.