The Dom/sub BDSM relationship
A Dominant leads the scene in accordance with the pre-negotiated boundaries of the submissive. Depending on the Dominant, the submissive partner, and the kind of scene (BDSM play session) they’re engaging with, a Dominant might take on the role of protector, punisher, and or owner. They might humiliate, tease, deny, encourage, chastise, or train as part of their BDSM activities.
The submissive partner can play a similar variety of roles: servant, brat, eager pleaser. They might desperately try to avoid displeasing their Dominant, or they might deliberately test their boundaries. Submissives may enjoy resisting or fighting their Dominant, or they may want to do everything in their power to please.
There is no set way for a Dom/sub BDSM relationship to play out. It all depends on the unique kinks and desires of the individuals involved, and how they can work together to facilitate and explore these.
What does being submissive mean in BDSM?
Being submissive is a deliberate and considered handing over of power and control to a Dominant. It can feel incredibly liberating to do this, offering an opportunity to embrace vulnerability in a safer and more controlled environment.
The submissive role can be any gender, with any kinks and interests. Some submissives do not have a sexual element to their need for submission, whereas for others it is a purely sexual exchange.
For people who consider being submissive to be a large part of their identity, they may choose to live a large proportion of their life, if not their whole life, as a submissive in some way, shape or form. These people would consider themselves to be “lifestyle” submissives, and might be involved in a 24/7 Dom/sub relationship.
You don’t have to identify as a lifestyle sub or be involved in a 24/7 Dom/sub relationship to enjoy submissive sex! For some people the ritual and intensity is an important part of these interactions, but for others it can be enough to introduce just a sprinkling of submissive sex tropes into their play.
The core of submissive sex is power exchange. Some things to try if you want to explore submissive sex without commiting to the lifetyle might be the following:
You and your partner/s can decide to have particular names for one another when playing with submissive sex.
If you want to take on the submissive role, decide what kind of feelings you want the name to engender in you and your partner/s. Do you perhaps want something affirming? Infantilising? Humiliating? A submissive nominative that many people have used without realising the inherent power play potential is “baby”.
Dominants can have corresponding nominatives – for instance, “Daddy” (used with no gender specificity) is often paired with “baby” – or you could have whatever feels right for you and your submissive.
The key thing with nominatives is that they should be affirming and arousing both to say and hear for all parties involved in the play.
Another simple way to introduce a Dom/sub dynamic to sex would be to incorporate orders into your play. A calmly stated “take your clothes off” immediately creates a power dynamic where one person is in control of how events are going to unfold.
When giving orders it is important to be specific. If you, as a Dominant, want the clothes folded and put somewhere neatly, tell your submissive exactly that. It is then up to the submissive how they choose to engage with your orders, following them to the letter if they want praise and maybe not quite toeing the line if they are feeling a little bit bratty or looking for a punishment.
Orders, praise and punishment all need to be negotiated before getting into play, as some people might be triggered by a sudden change to commands.
One of the classic tropes of the Dom/sub relationship is punishments. One of the more obvious (and loved!) is spanking, but punishments don’t need to be physical or indeed about inflicting pain. For some submissives, being sent to sit in the corner is punishment enough, with the potential to add sexual elements such as having to watch erotica without touching themselves, having to watch the Dominant pleasure themselves.
Again you can negotiate punishments before embarking on any submissive sex experience, with endless scope for inventiveness from both Dominants and submissives.
Subspace: a state of being
Subspace is a trance-like or euphoric state that some people experience when playing with BDSM. It might feel like floating, like your body is completely relaxed or weightless. Subspace could also feel more like an intense euphoria or a release, manifesting in giggling or weeping, or both. It’s caused by the intense flooding of hormones that a BDSM session can induce, including adrenaline and endorphins.
Whilst subspace has some similarities with dissociation, it’s important not to get the two mixed up. Whilst both states indicate an altered body/consciousness connection, for most submissives subspace would be characterised as happy, calm, or enjoyable. Dissociation, often linked to trauma, is more likely to manifest as a complete detachment from your body, including any emotional states.
You cannot give consent while in Subspace
Because subspace is an altered state of consciousness it is not possible for people to give consent whilst they are experiencing it.
Being in subspace can significantly alter a person’s ability to communicate: some people become completely non-verbal when in subspace. It also can impact a person’s judgement, making them perhaps more likely to agree or ask for things that are actually outside of their comfort zone.
Everyone involved should take note of a submissive’s specific subspace behaviours and adapt play accordingly, negotiating prior to a session what can and can’t happen and ensuring that there is no renegotiation attempted whilst someone is in subspace.
Dominance: a duty of care
If you are taking on a dominant role in a BDSM interaction, you have a duty of care not only to your sub but also to yourself. You need to be aware of your sub’s limits, safe words and subspace indicators in order to create a fulfilling experience for them. It is the sub that leads in terms of the parameters of each interaction. Within these parameters is where you can play, discovering and exploring more about yourself as a Dominant.
As a Dom/me/mx you can of course have preferences, and particular kinks and interests, but ultimately if they do not align with what your sub is looking for, and there’s no scope for negotiation, you will both be best served seeking other people for play. The BDSM community is vast and varied, and you are both likely to find someone better suited to your needs and interests.
It’s a pop culture myth that all Dominants are scary, stern, or cold towards their submissives. For some people this might be their style, and certainly some submissives enjoy this kind of domination. However, if that isn’t right for you then you should know there are as many Dom/me/mx styles as there are Dominants!
Whatever your style, there is always an element of care in the Dominant/submissive relationship. It is primarily the role of the Dom to facilitate aftercare, and to ensure that subs leave sessions feeling calm. You also have an important role in sessions, listening to your subs’ safe words and other verbal and nonverbal cues to make sure you are not pushing them beyond what they are able to enjoy and or tolerate. Sometimes a Dominant needs to call time on a session if that is what is in the sub’s best interests.
A Dominant may appear to use and abuse a submissive in whatever way they please, but in reality it is a carefully calibrated partnership with respect, consideration and care at its core.
Sub Drop: What it is and how to ride it out
Sub Drop is the experience that can come hours or even days after an intense BDSM session. It’s an emotional and physical low caused by the body’s processing of hormones spiked during the play, such as dopamine and endorphins.
Essentially the system is attempting to rebalance itself after having been flooded with these hormones, leading to a dip that can manifest itself in a number of ways such as tiredness, irritability, or tearfulness.
Doms can also experience Dom or Top Drop, and these states aren’t even always related to kink. In essence, Sub Drop is the comedown from any particularly euphoric or intense experience.
How can I deal with Sub Drop?
The way that each individual will want to deal with Sub Drop will be totally unique to them. For everyone, though, it’s important to remember that this state is temporary and the body will right itself in time.
It’s important to have effective aftercare immediately following the session. Again this will vary from person to person, but some activities that can help ease you back to earth would be doing some gentle yoga stretches and breathing exercises. A warm, scented bath can also help relax the body and start the recovery process. You may also want to have some calm physical contact with your Dom/me/mx, such as a cuddle or a massage, and to talk through the play reflectively.
For more long term care, a good rule is to work with things that make you feel better in other scenarios, as there is a strong likelihood that these will help ease you through Sub Drop. Some people will want to be in solitude, others will want the presence of another person without any interaction, and still more may want to be lavished with attention and affection.
Some people keep a Sub Drop kit to hand, stocked with things like high energy snacks, cosy socks or scented candles to cushion them through the hours and days following a session. Take lots of rest, stay hydrated and get plenty of fresh air if possible.
It can also help to keep a journal tracking your progress through Sub Drop, so you can see what helps you to feel better and also roughly how long you are spending in the recovery process each time.
If you find yourself experiencing Sub Drop for extended periods of time (anything over a week) or if your drops are particularly intense, you may want to seek guidance from a sex therapist or councillor.
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Esme (she/her) is the editor of the KK blog. She is also a writer, copywriter and full-time Aquarius.