BDSM II: Dynamics: Leontii Holender

BDSM II

One of the key terms that someone will hear when discussing BDSM is the practice of informed consent. Consensual and mutual agreement between two (or more) participants in a power-exchange relationship or scene is fundamental to a safe and pleasing experience for all parties involved. It is important in BDSM, which is often practiced through a trust-based exchange of physical and mental stimulation, that any participant’s boundaries are known and respected. How do we distinguish and inform our potential partners of what exactly it is that we are interested in and what we are not? That’s where a firm understanding of roles and dynamics comes into play.

When we talk about power exchange and the dynamics that are indicative to the broad umbrella that is BDSM, there is a lot of murky territory to navigate through. In truth, sexual expression (even of the kinky sort) is more what you make of it on a personal and intrapersonal level than it is anything that can be defined by a generalized term. So what are these blanket terms and how can we use them in character or scene creation? How can we spot those roles in some of our favorite ManLove romance?

Before we begin to define the various dynamics a person can identify with, it is important to make the distinction that there is no “One True Way.”  This is a term often found in the BDSM community that refers to a practice of certain individuals dictating how any power-exchange dynamic should be. Believe it or not, there is no one true way to practice BDSM. There are some good principles out there, techniques of physical exertion, and a variety of play tools to have a technical knowledge of. Beyond that, if the relationship/play is safe, sane, and consensual the rest is semantics on a personal level.

Another distinction to be made is that there is a difference in the lengths of time any of these dynamics form for. Some people will assume these roles in scenes, which are agreed upon times of play in a particular setting. During a scene, there is a settled upon and pre-negotiated exchange of defined emotional or physical stimuli that lasts for a particular time frame. On the other hand, some of these dynamics can be applied to the entirety of a relationship. It all depends on the participants and what they have consented to on an individual basis.

Now, let’s get on to the fun stuff!

Dominants/Dommes & submissives

Dominants (almost referred to as Doms or Dommes/Dominatrix for the female variant) are the people in control of the scene or relationship, and submissives are the individuals that surrender control. Here there is an exchange of power that stems from the submissive partner releasing control of themselves or physical stimuli to the Dominant. Oftentimes, this refers to an emotional exchange beyond pure physical stimulation. A submissive is a subordinate with negotiated physical and mental limitations. The Dominant assumes the responsibility of submissive’s physical and emotional well-being during the negotiated play or relationship.

There are many types of play and play-related roles that revolve around this base pairing of Dominant and submissive. We will discuss types of play in a separate article.

 

Tops & Bottoms

The exchange between a top and bottom is limited strictly to the world of physical exchange. In the world of BDSM, a top is the person that inflicts physical stimulation or is responsible for releasing an endorphin rush through physical activity in the bottom. The top is the active participant in the “play,” while the bottom is the one that is passive and receives the stimulation in whatever pre-negotiated form it may come in. The top does not always have to be people that define themselves as a dominant. When we talk about a top and bottom, we are not talking about a power exchange, but the literal roles reflected in the act of play. For instance, a submissive person could top another submissive person in a scene, but that does not mean the submissive on top is dominating the submissive on bottom.

 

Switches

A switch is a person who changes between two or more roles in scenes and/or relationships. They can participate as a Dominant and at other times as a submissive in both scenes and relationships. Switches may shift roles in relationship orientation based on mood, desires, or to allow their partner the pleasure of experiencing their preferred activity. For example, two Switches in a relationship together can change roles to provide each partner with opportunities to realize/fulfill his or her BDSM needs.

There is a huge misconception, even in the BDSM community, that Switches are people that sit on the fence and “can’t make up their mind on their kink orientation.” If we view Dominance and submission on a numerical scale, with Dominance at one end and submission at the opposite, most people fall somewhere in the middle. Sure, there is a lean to one side or the other, but no one is purely Dominant and no one is wholly submissive. More often than not, there is a little of both in a person. It’s natural to wonder what it looks like on the other side.

 

Masters/Mistresses & slaves (Also known as Owner & property)

Whereas tops and bottoms are terms used to define a preference for positions in play, the dynamic of the Master/slave is applicable to a preference in relationships. The use of Master and slave is often a literal one, not just terms used for the emotional charge they hold. While there are a variety of degrees in this kind of dynamic, the base principle is the same.

The Master or Mistress is the partner that is in control after negotiations (which are often written down in a document known as a contract). Whereas Dominants are the ones that assume control in the scene or relationship, a Master is a person that assumes ownership of the slave. There is a spoken awareness between both participants that the slave is seen as the property of the Master or Mistress. The concept of ownership is not a figurative ideal in this kind of dynamic, but a literal one. The Master or Mistress assumes the ultimate responsibility for the emotional and physical well-being of their slave(s).

The slave is the partner in this power exchange that makes a conscious choice to live in voluntary servitude to the Master or Mistress. After the often formal collaring and/or contracting of slave to the Master or Mistress, the slave makes a commitment of obedience to the will of the other. They accept that the Master or Mistress has the final decision in all areas of their life beyond what has been pre-negotiated as the slave’s responsibility. That is not to say that slaves are doormats or people of lesser status. There is no such thing as a Master or a Mistress without someone to willingly give them the power of that position.

Masochists & Sadists & Sadomasochists

A sadist is a person who derives pleasure from inflicting pain upon another person, a masochist is the person who enjoys receiving pain, and a sadomasochist is a person who enjoys both inflicting and receiving pain. This doesn’t have to strictly involve the infliction and reception of sexual pain. These are labels that are identifiable to a person regardless of orientation within the primary roles of BDSM. For example, a Dominant can be “sensual” in nature, “sadistic,” or a mix of both.

 

Fetishist

In the BDSM community, a fetishist is someone who gains arousal or gratification from a fetish. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Be it arousal from a physical object, type of garb, or specific situation, it is the involvement of this direct stimuli that grants a fetishist arousal or a heightened sense of arousal. The object or situation of particular interest is called the fetish while the person that has an attraction to that stimulus is called a fetishist.

Vanilla

A vanilla person, situation, or environment is one without BDSM inclinations.

Now that we have our base dynamics defined, there is a lot of wiggle room a person can have when they define themselves and the types of play or relationships they are interested in. No one is ever simply Dominant or submissive in a general sense. It’s plenty acceptable to be a mixture of any of the aforementioned roles or a little bit of all of them.

photo credit: Esther Marí via photopin cc