In our “Fifty Shades/Internet/New Guard” BDSM world, major changes are to be expected. Some, obviously, are good; others not so. And as long as we never lose an insistence on safety, we can examine the changes in an objective way – as opposed to a “get that ball out of my yard” blanket hatred of all things new. I like to spotlight those rituals, traditions and customs that should remain part of the BDSM lifestyle even in changing times. TPE is one of them.

“What is TPE?”  The answer is quite simple. TPE stands for “Total Power Exchange,” and generally refers to a 24/7 Master/slave relationship. When I first entered the scene, most lifestylers aspired to have a TPE relationship. As the scene multiplied exponentially, there was no agreement on what, if any, BDSM aims should be. So, let’s look at TPE from a new perspective – that it is but one type of BDSM liaison and not the be-all-and-end-all of D/s relationships.  

Let’s first examine the word “total.”  On close examination, “total” seems an oxymoron. Can there ever be a “total” exchange of power? I think not. Since slavery is illegal, and “BDSM slavery” is consensual – and negotiable – power is never ceded absolutely, no matter what you might hear.  I will once again offer my patented rejoinder to those who claim there is such a thing as 100% “Total” Power Exchange.  

“The famous BDSM question, “Would you walk in front of a bus if your Master ordered you to?” is usually answered, “Yes, but Master would never ask me to do it.”  That is fine in theory.  It sounds good.  It works great online.  But, in reality, ask your slave to walk in front of a bus and the answer will be, “Fuck you, Asshole.”  Notice, the word Master was quickly replaced by Asshole.  There are always limits to things a slave will do — things the slave will refuse to do even at the peril of destroying the relationship.  There is no such thing as total slavery.

Even though the bus question is an extreme example, you can safely say that in any real-time D/s relationship, the word “total” can never be… duh… “total.”  There will always be things a slave cannot or will not do – and things a Master will not ask for. That is what negotiations as to hard limits are for.

Thus, we should think of “Total Power Exchange” as being an idealized goal rather than an attainable one.  As the relationship evolves, and as the trust level increases, more and more power flows to the Dominant. Total Power Exchange is a destination you get closer and closer to, but never arrive at.  

Now let’s look at the “power exchange” part of the phrase. As has been stated many times, a Dom/me cannot just take power – power is ceded to him/her by the submissive. Whether for an hour or a lifetime, there is a distinct shift of the power dynamic between the two people. And it is this transfer of power that is at the heart of all D/s relationships. Although I have met couples where the submissive ceded a great deal of power from day one, I have also met those who approached D/s in a more careful, “let’s not rush it,” way.  Once a significant amount of power is exchanged – and you must be the judge of what “significant” is – you are now on your way to a TPE relationship. You can take the “total” out of the equation, but you cannot eliminate the “power exchange” part.  And rituals – which I will cover in subsequent TPE articles – are important parts of any power exchange.

Another, and very unconventional, way of looking at TPE is to ignore the “how close you get to total” aspect of it and concentrate mainly on the 24/7 portion instead.  You might say “total” means “24/7” – a “24/7 Power Exchange.” And you don’t have to live with each other to be 24/7. As far as I am concerned, if the D/s hierarchy is always present, even when you are apart, you can be still be 24/7. This creates a much more measurable and meaningful standard.  When you think about “Total Power Exchange” in this way, it not only makes more sense, it is also more easily attainable.

By BaadMaster
After a ten year run as head writer for the legendary, and an equally long run as the host of the hit internet show “Baadmaster’s Dungeon,” we are pleased to welcome the one and only Baadmaster to KinkWeekly. His thoughts about all things BDSM will now appear regularly on these pages. From the mental aspects of D/s to the nuts and bolts of S&M play, Baadmaster will cover every facet of this ever expanding lifestyle.


  1. I guess “total” does muddy the waters a bit if you’re being specific.
    As many as there are already, maybe a different term is in order?

  2. With all this “sexual harassment” stuff being thrown around, maybe CPE — Consensual Power Exchange — could be the answer!

  3. MrThalanos says:

    I don’t believe that “total” muddies the waters when looked at from the perspective used when it was first coined. Back then, we didn’t have all the sjw and political correctness to drive everything to dizzying levels of subdivision from what they were.

    However, movies like 50 Shades have made BDSM more mainstream (which is both good and bad) so our traditional roles and, more so, the fetishes we acknowledge, have greatly expanded. I mean, I remember back when Fetlife only had a few sets of role types: D/s, M/s. Masochist, Sadist. Now, there’s something like 50(?) I mean, come on.

    It’s not surprising that people are confused as to what TPE means… we spend so much time anymore trying to subdivide, it’s become exhausting and simply causes more confusion.

    TPE is simple and it’s really based on the end-game relationship: Consensual non-consent. That is to say, the level of trust in the D-type is so great, the s-type has willingly given them near absolute control over them. I’m not even implying greyhound levels, but more the willingness of the s-type to be led by their D-type where ever they go (greyhound is a clearly EXTREME example of TPE).

    I just now found these articles, but thus far, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Thanks @BaadMaster.

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