Dominance and submission
Dominance and submission (also called D/s) is a set of behaviors, customs and rituals involving the giving by one individual to another individual of control over them in an erotic episode or lifestyle.
Physical contact is not a necessity, and it can even be conducted anonymously over the telephone, email or other messaging systems. In other cases, it can be intensely physical, sometimes traversing into sadomasochism. In D/s, both parties take pleasure or erotic enjoyment from 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 submissives or subs (male or female). A switch is an individual who plays in either role. Two switches together may negotiate and exchange roles several times in a session. "Dominatrix" is a term usually reserved for a female professional dominant who dominates others for pay.
Note, it is common for writers to capitalise the "D" in Dominant but leave the "s" in lowercase for the submissive. Many extend this to His/Hers, Him/Her, He/Her etc. to make it clear when they are referring to a Dominant. See Linguistics Conventions below for more info on this.
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Dominance and submission, and the inner conflict and surrender connected with these are enduring themes in human culture and civilization. In human sexuality this has broadened to include mutual exploration of roles, emotions and activities which would be difficult or impossible to do without a willing partner taking an opposing role.
A 1985 study suggests that only about 30% of participants in BDSM activities are females. A 1995 study indicates that 89% of heterosexual females who are active in BDSM expressed a preference for a submissive-recipient role in sexual bondage, suggesting also a preference for a dominant male, and 71% of heterosexual males preferred a dominant-initiator role.
A safe word is usually given to the submissive partner to prevent the dominant from overstepping physical and emotional boundaries. The safe word is especially important when engaging in verbal humiliation or playing 'mind-games' because the submissive may not be aware of an emotional boundary until it is crossed. If an emotional boundary is breached and the safe word called, the dominant should cease all play immediately and discuss the emotional breach with the submissive in a tender and understanding manner. Negotiating limits in advance is also an important element in a D/s relationship.
It is important to note that for a safe, sane and consensual environment to be maintained, all participants should have a safe word of which the other is aware; this includes the Dominant partner. While it may not seem so from the outside, Dominants will also have limits and boundaries of their own, and should not only have a safe word, but be comfortable calling it if their own limits are exceeded. This includes cases where the dominant may feel things have gone too far, and are uncomfortable continuing. As with a safe word call from any other, it should herald the stopping all play and a recuperative discussion between the participants.
D/s may be ritualized or freeform. It is usually a negotiated lifestyle, with people discussing their wishes, limits and needs in order to find commonality. A D/s relationship may be sexual or non-sexual, long or short term, and intimate or anonymous. Most adherents search for the essential intensity, trust and intimacy that are required to make any deep relationship possible.
D/s participants often refer to their activity as "play", with an individual play session called a "scene". In addition to "dominant" and "submissive", a "switch" is a person who can take either role. A scene between two switches can involve trading off the dominant or submissive roles, possibly several times. In contrast, the terms "top" and "bottom" refer to the active (agent) and passive (patient) roles respectively. In a given scene, there is no requirement that the dominant also be the top, or that the submissive be the bottom, although this is often the case.
The term "vanilla" refers to normative ("non-kinky") sex and relationships, the vanilla world being mainstream society outside of the BDSM subculture. The term comes from vanilla ice cream being considered the "default" flavor.
D/s relationship styles
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There can be any number of partners in a D/s relationship, in some cases with one dominant sometimes having several submissives, who may in turn dominate others, or a submissive sometimes may have multiple dominants. Relationships may be monogamous or polyamorous. 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 is virtually limitless and the activities take many forms. These may include:
- domestic servitude or consensual slavery
- enforced chastity of the submissive
- erotic humiliation
- sexual slavery
- verbal humiliation
- fetishes, such as shoe or boot worship, uniforms, smoking, latex, heavy rubber are, among other activities, considered part of BDSM
- dehumanization (pony or animal play) or objectification (forniphilia, becoming an "inanimate object" such as a foot stool)
- corporal punishment
- human furniture
- human toilet - golden showers
- bondage (sexual)
- public humiliation
These may be combined with other forms of BDSM. 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 housecleaning or serving tea. It should be noted that cross-dressing in D/s does not always involve a desire to be sissified or made into caricatures of women or to serve; for example, others may desire to be made as beautiful as possible and interact on a "girlfriend-to-girlfriend" non-sexual basis.
Some D/s relationships are sexual, others completely chaste. Fantasy role play can also be a part, with partners taking classic dominant or submissive roles, or classic authority figure roles such as teacher and student, police officer and suspect or parent and child. Animal play, where one partner takes the role of owner or caretaker and the other takes the part of a pet or animal, can also be D/s play.
Consent and contracts
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" may be used. 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.
Equipment and accessories
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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 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 non-BDSM situations. It is not uncommon for a sub to have several collars for special occasions. Dog collars are integral for K-9 roleplaying—pup-play.
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 around 1995.
Many people, for example some of those in the punk rock and goth subcultures, wear collars for other reasons such as fashion, so one cannot assume that all people wearing collars are involved in BDSM. Members of the furry fandom may also wear collars as a part of costuming or as a fashion. Use of collars in the sexual aspects of furry lifestyle may or may not be connected to BDSM depending on the individual's preferences.
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:
- Physically or mentally abusive dominant partner
- Self-hating subs
- Dominant partners who violate the trust relationship by attempting to isolate the sub from society or monetarily exploit the sub
- Unstable dominant partners 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 dominant partners seeking more from the relationship than the other, as a human being, can give. This can include so-called mind games 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 dominants or submissives who are in a troubled relationship.
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One of the most famous works in this area is Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's Venus im Pelz (Venus in Furs, 1869), in which the protagonist Severin persuades a woman, Wanda, to take him on as her slave, serves her and allows her to degrade him. In the end, unfortunately for Severin, she enjoys it so much that she decides to never let him leave her ownership. And as no one has knowledge that Severin is tied up in her basement, she is easily able to keep him for as long as she wants. 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 Velvet Underground's song "Venus In Furs" is based on Sacher-Masoch's novel and discusses sadomasochism, the character Severin, and common bondage practices in a detached, objective and non-judgmental manner.
The Rolling Stones song "Under my Thumb" (M. Jagger, 1966) is supposedly about a D/s relationship.
The Green Day song "All By Myself/Dominated Love Slave" (Frank Edwin Wright III or Tre Cool) describes F.E. Wright III's feelings for female dominance.
Dwele's "Obey" is a Neo-Soul song based on the mind of a Dominant in a D/s relationship.
Some people in the D/s world capitalize words and names that refer to dominants, and do not capitalize those that refer to submissives, hence the capitalization of D/s; others do not. It was popularized on internet chatrooms, to make it easier to identify the orientation of the writer or the person being written about.
Also, some submissives eschew personal pronouns, instead referring to themselves as "this slave" or "Master Bob's girl". This is sometimes considered an expression of modesty, but it is an entirely optional method of depersonalizing a submissive during "play". It may have roots in the military, where new recruits are required to refer to themselves as "this recruit" rather than "I" or "me".
- Arthur Adamov
- Laura Antoniou
- Jacqueline Carey
- Joey W. Hill
- Elfriede Jelinek
- Anne Rice
- Cecilia Tan
- Larry Townsend
- E.L. James
References and further reading
- Baldwin, Guy (2002). SlaveCraft: Roadmaps for Erotic Servitude — Principles, Skills and Tools. Daedelus Publishing Co, .. ISBN 1-881943-14-3.
- Gloria G. Brame, William D. Brame, and Jon Jacobs (1993). Different Loving: An Exploration of the World of Sexual Dominance and Submission. New York: Villard Books. ISBN 0-679-40873-8.
- Califia, Patrick, (1993). Sensuous Magic. New York, Masquerade Books. ISBN 1-56333-131-4.
- Masters, Peter (2009) The Control Book. CreateSpace. ISBN 1-4421-7386-6.
- Masters, Peter (2008). This Curious Human Phenomenon: An Exploration of Some Uncommonly Explored Aspects of BDSM. The Nazca Plains Corporation. ISBN 1-934625-68-X.
- Rinella, Jack (1994). The Master's Manual: A Handbook of Erotic Dominance. Daedelus Publishing Co.. ISBN 1-881943-03-8.
- Rinella, Jack (2002). The Compleat Slave: Creating and Living an Erotic Dominant/Submissive Lifestyle. Daedelus Publishing Co.. ISBN 1-881943-13-5.
- Saez, Fernando and Viñuales, Olga, (2007). Armarios de Cuero, Ediciones Bellaterra. ISBN 978-84-7290-345-6
- Claudia Varrin (2000), Art of Sensual Female Dominance: A Guide for Women. Birch Lane Press. ISBN 0-8065-2089-2.
- Claudia Varrin (2003). Erotic Surrender: The Sensual Joys of Female Submission. Citadel Press. ISBN 0-8065-2400-6.
- Claudia Varrin, (2004). Female Dominance: Rituals and Practices. Citadel Press. ISBN 0-8065-2659-9.
- Claudia Varrin, (2005). The Female Dominant: Games She Plays. Citadel Press. ISBN 0-8065-2669-6.
- Claudia Varrin, (2006). Female Submission: The Journals of Madelaine. Citadel Press. ISBN 0-8065-2707-2.
- Claudia Varrin, (2006). Dominación Sensual Edicions Bellaterra. ISBN 84-7290-316-8.
- Claudia Varrin, (2006). Die Kunst der weiblichen Dominanz. Schwarzkopf & Schwarzkopf ISBN 3-89602-710-7, ISBN 978-3-89602-710-8.
- Claudia Varrin, (2007). Die Kunst der weiblichen Unterwerfung. Schwarzkopf & Schwarzkopf. ISBN 978-3-89602-773-3
- "D/s & BDSM Information - Glossary". Retrieved 2013-07-16.
- Breslow N, Evans L, Langley J. "On the prevalence and roles of females in the sadomasochistic subculture: report of an empirical study." Archives of Sexual Behavior 1985 Aug;14(4):303-17. PMID 4051718
- Eugene E. Levitt, Charles Moser, and Karen V. Jamison "The prevalence and some attributes of females in the sadomasochistic subculture: A second report." Archives of Sexual Behavior 23(4) / August, 1994 DOI 10.1007/BF01541410 PMID 7993186.
- Ernulf KE, Innala SM. "Sexual bondage: a review and unobtrusive investigation." Archives of Sexual Behavior 1995 Dec;24(6):631-54. PMID 8572912
- 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
- Secretary (imdb link) (2002) Directed by Steven Shainberg. Widely regarded as the first mainstream film to depict D/s relationship issues.
- 9½ Weeks (imdb link) (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 (imdb link) (1975) Directed by Just Jaeckin. Based on the novel Story of O by Pauline Réage
- Liberty in Restraint - behind the eyes of a fetish photographer (film)|documentary (imdb link) (2005) Directed by Michael Ney. Contains real life D&S scenes and discussion.
- Venus in Furs - (imdb link) (1967) Directed by Joseph Marzano (written by Joseph Marzano, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. A submissive (masochist) discovers (or creates) a reluctant Sadist. Long, examinating scenes depicting what is for the submissive to wait in solitude or in transitory. Sadist gives the masochist the "ultimate gift" in the end.
- The Night Porter - (imdb link) (1974) Directed by Liliana Cavani. Thirteen years after WWII a concentration camp survivor and her tormentor, currently the night porter at a Vienna hotel, meet again and fall back into their sado-masochistic relationship.