As the new year approaches, most of us are thinking about the year gone by and looking forward to the future. It’s the perfect time to consider our New Year’s resolutions: How we’d like to improve ourselves and our relationships going forward. It’s the perfect time to consider what this D/s dynamic really means to us.
Last month, we started with a discussion of “Intent” over “Activities”. We noted how dominance and submission do not consist of things that you do (or are made to do), but rather the reason behind the things that you do. We viewed submission as an action, not a reaction. We further defined submission as actions intended to serve the dominant’s preferences. Lastly, we briefly touched on communication as enabler for dominant-centric submission. If you missed last month’s article, you can check the November 19th archive!
This month, I’d like to spend a little time discussing the roles involved in a D/s dynamic and, in particular, the rights, responsibilities, expectations, and obligations that those roles entail. We’re going to shake a few trees with this discussion and we’re going to cover a concept that I introduced in my second book that sits at the cornerstone of my methodology for adding D/s dynamics to your relationships.
We’re going to cover this topic over two weeks. This week, we’ll establish the basis for the discussion: The layers within our D/s relationship and the rights of expectation involved in a power transfer. Then, in the December 24th edition, we’ll get into a deeper discussion of obligations. Let’s get started!
The Underlying Relationship A power dynamic is built upon a relationship of one type or another. There are many forms of relationships, ranging from casual acquaintances to life partners and spouses. Some are contractually binding (think marriage contract), others are based in quid-pro-quo (think client/professional – pay for play), and others are purely emotional (think friends and partners). They can exist anywhere in the emotional spectrum between professional, nearly clinical relationships to deeply committed ones. Regardless of the type of relationship, any can support a power dynamic.
It’s interesting to note that the type of power dynamic is independent from the type of relationship upon which it lies. You can have intense, deeply committed power dynamics riding on a base of friendship (friends with kinky benefits) as easily as you can have casual scene-based, bedroom-only dynamics in a marriage…and vice versa.
There are a few attributes that are common across relationships, and while the intensity and criticality of these vary based on the type of relationship, they exist in some form or another in each of them. Among these you will find things like: Trust, honesty, caring, respect, open communications, mutual fulfillment, and perhaps love. These attributes occur in some form or another in all relationships, with and without power dynamics, and are not functions of a power dynamic, but of the relationship itself.
The power dynamic is going to contribute other attributes to the relationship, such as: The intent of service, commitment to roles, pleasure, catharsis, and a voluntary imbalance of power that results in new rights of expectation.
The Right of Expectation
When you think about the characteristics of the underlying relationship, you see they are balanced and mutual. They give both partners equal rights to expect certain behavior of each other: The expectation to be treated with care and concern for one’s health, to be treated with respect, communicated with, to be spoken to honestly and openly, etc. In all relationships, both partners are granted these rights. Again, the degree to which these apply depend on the relationship type, but regardless, these rights are equal and mutual. Since the underlying relationship, along with all of its characteristics, continue even after a power dynamic is added to the mix, the mutual rights and expectations of both partners continue throughout. This is important to recognize: The attributes and responsibilities of the underlying relationship remain in play, even after a power dynamic is added.
The moment submissives commit themselves in service to a dominant – with the intent to serve as the dominant’s submissive – and a D/s dynamic is created, the dominant is given a new, additional, right. The submissive has promised to strive to fulfill the preferences of the dominant. This means that the dominant is given the right to expect and even demand that the submissive live up to that commitment. Suddenly, anything the dominant wants, needs, or desires becomes something that the submissive has committed to deliver. I call this new privilege the “Right of Expectation”.
The dominant is not committing the same thing; the submissive is not granted the same new privilege. The submissive retains the same rights they had before the power transfer, because the underlying relationship continues to be in force, but they do not gain any new rights because of it. Only the dominant gets the new rights. This creates an imbalance of power that sways heavily to the dominant. It goes above and beyond the natural mutual expectations of being in a relationship and gives the dominant additional privileges.
Most submissives recognize the imbalance, the “unfairness” of the dynamic, which is exactly what gives them that feeling of submission; of being out of control. Without that imbalance, the dynamic reportedly lacks a realness.
As a dominant, I recognize that my sub has a choice, each and every moment he is my sub; he chooses to remain my sub. He chooses to focus on fulfilling my expectations – expectations he gave me the right to have when he committed to becoming my submissive. It is that commitment that shifts the power to me…not because I’m “all-powerful”, but because he is focused and dedicated to doing whatever I prefer for him to do. As a consequence, my preferences are prioritized above his. He chooses his actions and attitudes based on his understanding of my preferences, priorities, and needs. He “obeys” me, not because he “has to obey”, but because he knows that if he does not obey me, goes against my desires, then that would not further his objective to please me. It would violate his commitment to my preferences. My “Power” comes from our mutual understanding of his commitment, not out of physical strength and control. It’s a very real power – a power he chooses to continue to give me every day. A power that stems directly from my right of expectation.
Obligations The obligations of a submissive are pretty clear: Dedicate themselves 100% to fulfilling the communicated expectations of their dominant. They commit themselves to that promise when they offer their submission. This is what provides the right of expectation. There is little argument when it comes to the obligations of the submissive.
The discussion is not so clear, however, when it comes to the obligations of the dominant. Because we’re in a relationship, there is still obligation and responsibility as a partner. However, it is a very different type of obligation and isn’t anywhere nearly as taxing on the dominant as it is on the
Over the years, I’ve heard some very strong opinions on how “new-found power” obligates dominants. These statements came mostly from submissives, however, there are also quite a few dominants who readily volunteer to be strongly obligated by the fact that they have accepted a submissive’s commitment to serve. They quote Voltaire in the line made more recently famous by “Spiderman”, “With great power comes great responsibility”.
The main factor supporting these opinions is the viewpoint that the power transfer has somehow rendered the submissive helpless to take care of themselves, or to think on their own, and it therefore becomes the obligation of dominant to care for, protect, and take accountability for, the submissive. However, not all power transfers result in a helpless submissive and I strongly advise against allowing that notion to take hold your dynamics, unless it applies.
I see validity in this notion of additional responsibility if you’re engaging in BDSM-like activities (as many readers of “Kink Weekly” do!), but not because of the power dynamic itself. Rather, because BDSM is a practice in which the submissive is often rendered incapable of stopping themselves from being put in harm’s way, or from engaging in potentially dangerous activities. The Top is obligated, because protecting someone who is dependent on you is a natural extension of the underlying relationship attributes. As a general rule of society, even without power dynamics, if you engage in activities in which you are potentially endangering another individual’s wellbeing, or are in a position to harm them physically or emotionally, you are obliged to act with care and concern. If you shoot weapons, practice martial arts, race motorcycles, perform surgery, look after children, provide psychiatric advice, etc., you have an obligation to look after your fellow man. That’s a relationship requirement. In BDSM-scene dynamics, if you’re going to render your partner helpless, flog them, hurt them, attack their psyches, or otherwise play in the realm of BDSM, you are obligated to do so with care and concern. Not because it’s a power dynamic, but because of the nature of the specific activities in which you are engaging.
There is also the notion that submission is regression: That by submitting to a dominant, the submissive releases themselves from all responsibility and control, and can therefore regress into a state of absolution; a return to childhood, where accountability and responsibility all laid in the hands of the parent – now dominant.
These notions do not always hold true. Submission and the power transfer are the result of a very unique and personal commitment. They do not always result in BDSM play or Regression. Whether submission will result in these types of dynamics depends on the definition of submission; which is determined by the preferences of the dominant. Therefore, it’s not the act of submission that creates these additional responsibilities for the dominant, it’s the dominant’s choice of the individual activities. For example, my dynamics with my submissives are not based in BDSM or regression. I personally will not agree to take on those types of obligations. My subs remain responsible and accountable for their submission and for their actions within that submission.
Furthermore, adults who make commitments are responsible for keeping them. I’ve been shocked to hear submissives say, “since they are giving themselves to a dominant, the dominant becomes responsible for driving them, keeping them honest, assuring that they carry out their tasks, punishing them when they misbehave, controlling their orgasms, rewarding them, protecting them, and taking ultimate accountability for their actions”. Wow! The way they transfer the responsibility of living up to their commitment onto the dominant, you’d think you were listening to a child make promises to take
care of the dog they want their parents to buy. No thank you! I expect my submissives to take the responsibility to own and be accountable for their commitments.
You do take on more responsibility should you choose to engage in potentially dangerous activities. But you do not take on these additional obligations because you’re the dominant, only because you’re in control of a situation that is potentially harmful to your partner.
The dominant does, however, take on new responsibilities. The dynamic is not one-sided. However, the dominant’s obligations are very different from those of the submissive. The dominant is not promising to serve, even if some of the things that they do provide a service to the submissive. As dominants, our INTENT is to be served in the best possible way – and therefore our obligations center more around helping our submissives to understand what they are expected to do, and to know how they’re doing against those expectations, and what they can do to improve.
Hopefully, this week’s entry gives you some food for thought. In the December 24th edition of “Kink Weekly”, Part 2 of this article will dive into the obligations of the dominant in quite some depth.
Ms. Rika is a lifestyle dominant, educator, and author; living in the suburbs of NYC with her husband/slave. She has written several popular books on her approach to adding Dominant-Centric, Service-Oriented D/s to relationships. You can find her books (in both print and eBook formats) at Lulu.com (http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/msrika), or at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the iStore, Books-A- Million, Kobo.com, or anywhere books are sold. Search for “Ms. Rika”.
Wonderful and informative!
Very thorough and well-written