In BDSM there are three separate forms of power exchange.
In no particular order:
- Sadism & Masochism
- Topping & Bottoming
- Domination & Submission
Sadism & Masochism is the exchange of power through pain. Spanking, flogging, whipping, caning, CBT, nipple torture, even rough sex. Like feeling a little pain with your pleasure? You’re a masochist. Does making someone hurt bring you pleasure? You’re a sadist. Can you be both? Absolutely. I think most of us are, in subtle ways. (My Domme pointed out it was rather sadistic of me to tease my dog with a treat to make him do cute tricks.)
Topping & Bottoming is the exchange of power through sex. One of you is in control of the situation, whether it’s just for this roll in the hay, or every single time with your partner. That person is topping. The passive, or controlled one is bottoming. So if it’s being held down or tied up during sex, or begging for an orgasm, or edging someone until they cry… that is sexual power exchange. Can you be a top and a bottom? Oh, yes, you can. You can even do it in the same romp, if that’s what works for you and your partner.
Domination & Submission is the exchange of power through emotions and intimacy. D/s (the shorthand for this) is about rules, structure, discipline, and protocol. And that can be as intense as a 24/7 Master/slave relationship, or as simple as calling your husband ‘Sir’ or ‘Daddy’ because he said so. In between is a WORLD of amazing ways to exchange power mentally.
Rules are set in place with a purpose -not just because they’re sexy. Rules are things like: Check in via text when you leave work (so I know you’re on the road and shouldn’t text). Send a photo of your outfit every morning (so I can see how beautiful you look today, and compliment you). Work out four times a week (because I want to help you stay healthy).
Protocols are similar, they are standards of behavior, such as the way you talk to and address your partner, hand them a drink, carry yourself when others are around, or present yourself to them in varying situations. Protocols are brilliant for reinforcing the D/s dynamic. Broadly speaking, you’re not often reminded of protocols unless you misstep. So something as simple as remembering to stand to your girlfriend’s left and wait quietly if she’s talking to someone at a party can reinforce your submission to her.
Discipline is about reinforcing the dynamic and enforcing rules and protocols. Mistakes are made, rules forgotten. We’re all human. That is when discipline comes in. The transgression is addressed, punishment handed out, and then the slate is wiped clean. Add in some affection after the fact and you’ve just reinforced everything you are working towards together. The intimacy required for this is pretty damn intense, and it’s important to know each other well before diving in.
Structure is key in a D/s dynamic, because without consistency, it can all fall apart. Rules that aren’t enforced are unlikely to be followed. A Dom who allows his sub to get away with everything isn’t likely to keep the respect he has earned. And respect and reverence are part and parcel of the whole kneeling thing. Likewise, a submissive who is constantly fighting the rules she agreed to isn’t respecting the dynamic, and isn’t doing her part to make it work. D/s is a lot of work for both partners, and isn’t something to be jumped into too quickly or taken lightly.
Now, to review, you can mix and match the forms of power exchange however suits you and your partner(s). And it is often different from one partner to the next. Some people fit the classic roles of Dom/Top/Sadist and Sub/Bottom/Masochist. Some people switch between sadism and masochism, while always remaining a Dom and top. Some people switch between topping and bottoming. Do you see the point I’m getting at here?
You can be any combination of those six roles in any given relationship, and that includes NOT being one of them, even when, traditionally, the others may apply.
Wanting to be in control in the bedroom does NOT automatically make you a Dom. (Say it again for the fuckboys in the back.)
Enjoying rough sex and spanking does NOT automatically make you a sub.
And you can very well be a Dom who doesn’t physically punish his sub or enjoy rough sex. And you can easily be a submissive who does not get spanked.
The definition of these terms is much broader than my summary, and will differ from person to person. Don’t pigeonhole yourself by feeling you need to adhere to a stereotypical definition of any of these terms or roles.
And if you feel I missed something, and it’s possible I did, as this is based entirely on my reading and experiences in my local community, let’s talk about it.