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Domination and submission (also known as D&s, Ds or D/s) is a set of psychosexual behaviors, customs and rituals relating to the giving and accepting of dominance of one individual over another in an erotic or lifestyle context. It is part of the BDSM group of paraphilias.
D/s is often referred to as the "mental" side of BDSM. Physical contact is not a necessity, and can even be conducted anonymously over telephone, email or (more recently) instant messaging services. In other cases it can be intensely physical, sometimes traversing into sadomasochism. In D/s, one takes pleasure or erotic enjoyment out of either dominating or being dominated. Those who take the superior position are called Dominants, Doms (male) or Dommes (female), while those who take the subordinate position are called subs or submissives. A switch is an individual who plays in either role. Two switches together may negotiate and exchange roles several times in a session. Submissives generally outnumber Dominants, with male subs outnumbering Dommes by the widest margin, often three to one or more. "Dominatrix" is a term usually reserved for a female professional dominant who dominates others for pay. It should be noted that a Dominatrix is not a prostitute, and sexual services are not usually provided. There also exist D/s relationships outside of the BDSM community, or where the dominance and submission is not sexual or erotic in nature, which are not referenced here.
Dominance and submission, and the inner conflict and surrender connected to these are enduring themes in human culture and civilization as well as human sexuality. Human beings share with many other mammals the instinct to look up to certain individuals who become leaders often through strength of will and personality, and to lead or follow, submit or dominate. In human sexuality this has broadened out to include mutual exploration of roles, emotions and activities (such as sensation play, the exploration of intense physical sensation as an end in itself) which would be difficult or impossible to do without a willing partner taking an opposing role.
As such, D/s is far more subtle than its initial appearance of those who are cruel and want to brutalize, but some people like sensations of pain to an extent. Modern BDSM is very different from this (see #Myths), is based upon a deep ethos of mutual respect and has developed an entire subculture of values and approaches within which such explorations of oneself and ones relationships can take place in a safe, sane and consensual manner within either or both roles.
D/s may be ritualised or freeform. It is usually a negotiated lifestyle, where people discuss their wishes, limits and needs, seeking commonality. As such it may exist within, or separate to, a sexual or marital relationship and indeed in many ways may be considered a form of relationship of its own. This would not be so much because it is sexual, loving or long term (although it may be any or all of these), but because the essential intensity, trust and intimacy within it that are similar to those required to make any deep relationship possible.
Main article: List of BDSM terms
D/s participants often refer to their activity as "play", with an individual play session called a "scene".
D/s relationship styles
There can be any number of partners in a D/s relationship, with one Dominant sometimes having several subs, who may in turn dominate others. Relationships with multiple Dominants and a single submissive are rarer. The most common combination is a single Dominant and submissive couple, often in an ongoing committed relationship. Romantic love is not necessarily a feature in D/s, partners might be very much in love or have no romantic relationship at all.
Variation in D/s (or BDSM for that matter) is virtually limitless and the activities take many forms, and may include servitude, verbal abuse, erotic humiliation, consensual slavery and sexual slavery and may be combined with other forms of BDSM in myriad combinations. A classic example of D/s is the Sissymaid, where an adult male dresses in cartoonish female clothing and performs stereotypical female chores such as houscleaning or serving tea.
Some D/s relationships are sexual, others completely chaste. Fantasy role play can also be a part, with partners taking classic dominant/submissive roles such as teacher/student, police officer/suspect or parent/child. Animal Play, where one partner takes the role of owner/caretaker and the other takes the part of a pet or animal, can also be D/s play.
Consent and contracts
Note that Non-consensual D/s is considered abuse and not accepted by the BDSM community.
Main articles: Consent (BDSM) and legal consent which discusses when consent can be a defence to criminal liability for any injuries caused and that, for these purposes, non-physical injuries are included in the definition of grievous bodily harm.
Consent is a vital element in all psychological play, and consent can be granted in many ways. Some employ a written form known as a "Dungeon negotiation form", for others a simple verbal commitment is sufficient. Consent can be limited both in duration and content.
Consensual non-consensuality is a mutual agreement to be able to act as if consent has been waived within safe, sane limits. In essence it is an agreement that subject to a safe word or other restrictions, and reasonable care and commonsense, consent (within defined limits) will be given in advance and with the intent of being irrevocable under normal circumstances, at times without foreknowledge of the exact actions planned. As such, it is a show of extreme trust and understanding and usually undertaken only by partners who know each other well, or otherwise agree to set clear safe limits on their activities.
It's not unusual to grant consent only for an hour or for an evening. When a scene lasts for more than a few hours, it's common to draft a "scene contract" that defines what will happen and who is responsible for what. It's a good way to work out what all the parties want, and usually improves the experience. Some "contracts" can become quite detailed and run for many pages, especially if a scene is to last a weekend or more.
For long term consent, a "Slave contract" is often used. It is important to remember that BDSM "contracts" are only an agreement between consenting people and are usually not legally binding; in fact, the possession of one may be considered illegal in some areas. Slave contracts are simply a way of defining the nature and limits of the relationship and are not intended to carry legal force.
After a slave contract is drafted, some celebrate the event with a "collaring ceremony", in which the local D/s community is invited to witness the commitment made in the document. Some ceremonies become quite elaborate, and can be as involved as a wedding or any similar ritual.
In casual D/s relationships the sub only submits occasionally and with definite short-term goals, perhaps for an evening or the duration of a party.
In longer, committed relationships many people opt for the Master/slave model, in which consent is negotiated once for a long period and the consent given is generally broader. Slave contracts are often negotiated for a one year term, but longer and shorter terms are possible, lifetime contracts are rare but not unknown. Where the contract is in effect continuously, the relationship is referred to as "24/7". The limits of the slave contract can vary widely and extend into other areas of BDSM. Some people opt to be purely "sex slaves", while others who prefer domestic service identify as "service slaves". Some slaves allow their Masters or Mistresses complete latitude as to the demands that can be placed on them. Such a relationship is known as Total Power Exchange or TPE.
People usually only enter into a Master/slave contract after they have known and played with each other for some time, often several years. It can be one of the most difficult relationships in the BDSM world to maintain, and requires special skills and experience.
Equipment and accessories
Some people maintain a special room or area, called a Dungeon, which contains special equipment (shackles, handcuffs, whips, queening stools and spanking benches or a Berkley Horse, for example) used for play scenes, or they may visit a BDSM club that maintains such facilities.
Many submissives and slaves wear a "collar" to denote their status and commitment. It can be much like a wedding band, except that only the submissive partner wears one. The traditional collar is a neck band in leather or metal, chosen, designed or even crafted by the Dominant partner. Some subs wear a "symbolic collar", often a bracelet or ankle chain, which is more subdued than the traditional collar and can pass in vanilla (non-BDSM) situations. It is not uncommon for a sub to have several collars for special occasions.
There was once a tradition that wearing a collar with an open padlock indicated that one was seeking a partner, a closed lock indicated that one was in a relationship. This symbolism became less common after 1995 or so.
There are some risks commonly associated with D/s. Because it is mostly a mental activity, many of the risks associated with D/s involve mental health. Others involve abuses of the trust inherent in a D/s relationship. Some examples are:
- "Top's disease," or the tendency for some Dom/mes to grow into a sense of infallibility or omniscience
- Physically or mentally abusive Dom/mes
- Self-hating subs
- Dom/mes who violate the trust relationship by attempting to isolate the sub from society or monetarily exploit the sub
- Unstable dom/mes or subs who, through act or threat of calling public attention to the other's private life and their relationship, can cause financial or personal hardship (see Outing)
- Emotionally unstable or manipulative subs or dom/mes seeking more from the relationship than the other, as a human being, can give. This can include so-called mind games, emotional vampirism and any other forms of emotional manipulation or abuse present in any other relationship. The extra factor is that D/s relationships are already predicated upon a delicate shift of power, and so rely more than usual on participants being able to handle that well.
Local and regional BDSM organizations typically provide community-based counseling and assistance to Dom/mes or subs who are in a troubled relationship.
Dominance and submission actually predate homo sapiens, and in fact it could be supposed that shortly after the second species of life evolved, one began to dominate the other.
But our concern here is D/s of an erotic nature, which can be hard to document especially in cultures where one gender or another is presumed dominant. It can be hard to tell if one submits because it is pleasurable or for more practical reasons, such as food and shelter.
Still there are many writings from the ancient age through the modern that would clearly indicate a willingness to submit for purely romantic reasons.
A somewhat later example is the institution of courtly love, a medieval ideal wherein a Knight served his courtly lady (love service) with the same obedience and loyalty which he owes to his liege lord. This act was definitely submissive, and sometimes became fetishistic, with the knight performing acts of cross-dressing and self-flagellation.
There are also accounts of prostitutes in most major cities that catered to male submissives, as well as masochists. In a male dominated world it was all too easy for a submissive woman to find a strict male dominant, but some women still found ways to leave husbands who were "too soft".
One of the most famous works in this area was Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's Venus im Pelz (Venus in Furs, 1869), in which the protagonist Severin entreats a woman, Wanda, to be her slave and offers to serve her and allow her to degrade him. The book has elements of both social and physical submission, and is the genesis of the term masochism coined by the 19th century psychiatrist Krafft-Ebing.
The Rolling Stones song "Under my Thumb" (M. Jagger, 1966) is supposedly about a D/s relationship.
Common myths about D/s:
- Dominants are naturally cruel people.
- submissives are naturally weak-willed "doormats."
- submissives are attempting to re-live childhood abuse.
- Women who are into D/s are nymphomaniacs, or indiscriminate sex partners.
- D/s is usually a case of "role-reversal" with people who have much power and responsibility in real life often preferring a submissive role.
There is little or no factual evidence to support any of these concepts; submissives and Dominants come from a broad spectrum of society and most people into BDSM are very selective about who they play with. Considering the risks, this is not surprising. The idea that submissive women are sexually indiscriminate likely stems from pornographic fiction and the appeal of an insatiable partner who will do anything one commands. In real life this is rarely the case.
There is no evidence that people into D/s or BDSM have any greater history of childhood abuse than the general populace, but as people who were abused as children are more likely to seek professional help, these are the ones that professionals see and write about.
The "role-reversal" myth likely stems from studies done in the 1950's which found that most of the clients in houses of domination were wealthy, powerful men. This is probably more due to the high fees charged in such houses (often $200-$5,000 a session) than a dearth of impoverished submissives. There are many poor submissives and wealthy Dominants.
It is popular, but by no means mandatory for persons in the D/s world to capitalize words and names that refer to Dominants, and not to capitalize those that refer to submissives, hence the capitalization of D/s.
This convention began on internet Chatrooms, to make it easier to identify the orientation of the writer or the person being written about.
It is also popular for slaves and submissives to eschew personal pronouns, instead referring to themselves as "this slave" or "Master Bob's girl". This is seen as an attempt at modesty. It is entirely optional, and many consider it an affectation. It may have roots in the military, where new soldiers are required to refer to themselves as "this recruit" rather than "I" or "me".
- Dungeon (BDSM)
- Cage (BDSM)
- Dominant (BDSM)
- Submissive (BDSM)
- Male dominance
- Female dominance
- Top (BDSM)
- Bottom (BDSM)
- Slave (BDSM)
- Sexual Fetishism
- Courtly love
- Humiliation (BDSM)
- Servitude (BDSM)
- Munch (BDSM)
- Kink Aware Professionals
- National Coalition for Sexual Freedom
- Slave fiction
- List of BDSM terms
- List of BDSM topics
- List of BDSM organizations
- RACK (Risk-aware consensual kink, a common philosophy and approach to BDSM)
- Domestic discipline
- Adrian Hunter
- Anne Rice
- Arthur Adamov
- Cecilia Tan
- Laura Antoniou
- Larry Townsend
- Pat Califia
- Pauline Réage
- Dossie Easton
- Janet Hardy
- Gloria G. Brame, Ph.D
- Susan Wright
- Elise Sutton
References and further reading
- Gloria G. Brame, William D. Brame, and Jon Jacobs. Different Loving: An Exploration of the World of Sexual Dominance and Submission. New York: Villard Books, 1993. ISBN 0-679-40873-8.
- Jack Rinella, The Compleat Slave: Creating and Living an Erotic Dominant/Submissive Lifestyle. Daedelus publishing Co, 2002. ISBN 1-881943-13-5.
- Jack Rinella, The Master's Manual: A Handbook of Erotic Dominance. Daedelus Publushing Co., 1994. ISBN 1-881943-03-8.
- Guy Baldwin, SlaveCraft: Roadmaps for Erotic Servitude—Principles, Skills and Tools. Daedelus Publishing Co, 2002. ISBN 1-881943-14-3.
- Claudia Varrin, Art of Sensual Female Dominance: A Guide for Women. Birch Lane Press, 2000. ISBN 0806520892.
- Claudia Varrin, Erotic Surrender: The Sensual Joys of Female Submission. Citadel Press, 2003. ISBN 0806524006.
- Philip Miller and Molly Devon, Screw the Roses, Send Me the Thorns: The Romance and Sexual Sorcery of Sadomasochism. Mystic Rose Books, 1995. ISBN 0964596008.
- Secretary (2002) Directed by Steven Shainberg. Widely regarded as the first mainstream film to depict D/s relationship issues.
- 9-1/2 Weeks (1986) Directed by Adrian Lyne. Based on a book by the same name. Popular for its "You Can Leave Your Hat On" scene.
- Histoire d'O (1975) Directed by Just Jaeckin. Based on the novel Story of O by Pauline Réage
- The Control Book by Peter Masters
- Domsub.info Website focused on lifestyle D/s
- BDSM vs. Abuse
- The Eulenspiegel Society
- SceneTalk.Net - Outreach and discussion for people and groups in S/M/D/s relationships
- Example of a Consensual slave Contract
- Collarme.com Website for discussion of BDSM activities, including "advertisements" seeking like minding individuals for play
- The Dominant's View - Ezine for Dominants
- Master-Bob: BDSM educational articles
- Master/slave relationship disected and explained
- A slave explaining chronologically her journey deeper into M/s and BDSM