Thursday, 7 December 2017

My (tentative) take on D/s and Personality Type

Determined by personality type?
If you float the idea that that D/s preferences might be a reflection of personality type, other kinksters have the urge to sandbag the conversation until it dies.

Nobody wants to be inherently evil, or weak, or have daddy issues, or be a cliched kinky middle manager. And, what little real research there is tells us that there's no correlation between social dominance and sexual dominance.

So it's pointless and divisive! Pile on the sandbags!

Except information about how relationships work is always useful.

For example, just as vanillas need to distinguish love from lust wrapped in romantic fantasy, kinksters need to distinguish D/s compatibility from kinkiness wrapped in D/s fantasy: "Is this me, or just me getting my kicks?"

And, yes, the waters are muddy making research difficult. The meaning of BDSM preferences - kinky activities we like -  depend on the context. Are people satisfying randomly acquired fetishes? Service topping?  Enjoying the physical sensations with a little fantasy thrown in? Messing around..?

However, things get clearer if you rise above all that and consider just the dynamic. Here's my take, and my prediction about what future research will show.

The most obvious question...

"What kind of people are drawn to hierarchical relationships?" 

...turns out to be the least useful, not because the answer is "Random people", but because the answer is "Almost everybody".

Hierarchical relationships are
the human norm.
Hierarchical relationships are the human norm.

It's like the way the "gay question" is dissolving into a realisation that almost everybody is at least potentially bisexual and that this has always been hidden in plain sight. (Duh.) Humans are wired for hierarchy. Our revolutions are about choosing leaders, not abolishing them. If we do abolish leaders, new ones emerge anyway. And so, quite naturally vanilla relationships tend towards hierarchal.

In every relationship I can think of, one partner leads - not dominates, erases, or abuses, just leads. And there's even a study that suggests that couples work better when one partner is in charge.

This is not about gender essentialism. Just as with homosexuality, as we strip away the cultural layer enforcing gender norms, we see a roughly 50/50 split between male and female leadership - and as with bisexuallity, that's always been hidden in plain sight.

Couples even eroticize hierarchy in vanilla ways. Romantic gestures and courtship usually express dynamic. It's perfectly possible to be dominant or submissive in bed without using whips and chains. And we all know apparently vanilla relationships dramatically skewed in the apparent favour of one partner.

This is all normal.

So, I hold that the only real difference between vanilla couples and D/s ones is that the latter express their dynamic using the BDSM toolbox. (Why? is another topic.)

It follows that Dominants and Submissives need have nothing to fear from scrutiny, because in all things other than the whips and chains, they're really very ordinary indeed.

Which brings us to the big question...

"Does personality type determine D/s role?"

If it doesn't, then the core compatibility in all those vanilla couples around you is random, none of them could infer that compatibility before actually dating, and people's most lifestyle-critical decision says nothing about their personality.

Logic and my experience of other people tells me that this is unlikely.

However - before you whack me with the sandbag - it's most certainly not about social dominance.

Social dominance is both situational and a learned skill. Wanting to be in charge is not the same as being any good at it. Also, it's not the Stone Age! Real world leadership roles are rarely about waving a branch and bashing other people into submission. A sexual dominant doesn't need to defeat a submissive partner - except perhaps in werewolf erotica.

(If it were about social dominance there would be a very limited number of dominants rather than one in most couples; or else dominance would be relative, so that Mrs Femdom would keep her husband in chastity, but yearn to go down on her CEO. Successful people would become more dominant as they grew older and gained status - midlife crisis subs wouldn't be a thing!)

Nor can it be about the tired cliches of strength and weakness: the saintly partner who cheerfully revolves around a physically or emotionally weaker spouse is (technically) submissive but very much a pillar of strength.

My take from observing other couples, including the kinky ones, is that people generally divide into Commanders and Champions. Quoting my own blog entry:
Champions are natural joiners, Commander's aren't.

Commanders lead decisively, Champions tend towards consensus building or else implementing/defending existing traditions or practices.

Commanders know what's good for you or an organisation, Champions are all about facilitating.

Commanders build empires, Champions run them. 
Guinevere was a Commander, Lancelot was a Champion.
I'm not claiming it's simple!

Good advice for a conflicted
female Commander 
Each type can learn the behaviour of the opposite type. At work, the Commander can do consensus building (or else). Driven by gender norms, the young male Champion may feel the need to strut around with a pocket full of Red Pills (being Alpha) and the young female Commander may cling to being a good girl (she should Let It Go). And kinky preferences may be in apparent contrast to D/s ones.

People aware of their type often manage it. I'm so easily sucked into clubs and organisations that I almost instinctively avoid joining them. When people unburden to her, my Commander wife has to hold back her urge to try to fix them.

Finally, it doesn't have to be about people at all. An introverted Commander might be most at home managing a network or designing interiors. An introverted Champion might be happiest renovating old buildings or gardening.

So I expect that careful studies will show it's down to personality type after all, but multi-dimensional type of the kind you might measure using the Myers-Briggs, not a single variable like social dominance. However, these studies will only be fruitful if they address the elephant in the room: the way most vanilla couples also have a power dynamic running.

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  1. I disagree on a couple of points:

    1. "Humans are wired for hierarchy." You can't claim that... and even less so by using recent western historical evidence to support a claim on human nature.

    2. "Hierarchical relationships are the human norm." Dubious. They are a social norm, sure. Do relationships naturally tend to be hierarchical in the absence of social pressure? We don't know... and speculating... I think they might tend towards some light skew based on personality or competence, but nothing closer to what we think as D/s.

    3. "I hold that the only real difference between vanilla couples and D/s ones is that the latter express their dynamic using the BDSM toolbox." Really? Do you think the fact that people get aroused and/or swoon-y from the dynamic has nothing to do with it?

    1. Thanks for joining me in a discussion of this.

      1. There's certainly a lot of debate about this! However, it seems to me to be driven by wishful thinking. If humans weren't wired for hierarchy then it would be impossible for leaders to lead for any length of time, and most of history wouldn't have happened the way it did. Societies without clear leaders are usually in a state of armed truce, and there's clan or gang leadership at a lower level - Icelandic Vikings being a good example.

      (Just to be clear, I think hierarchies are usually situational, and don't reflect actual worth. Nor does them being natural validate all hierarchies. And though I think leaders are good to have, I believe in the consent of the led.)

      2. If it were social pressure that created hierarchy, then all until recently, all Western marriages would be male dominated. When you hear about marriages of the past, this is obviously not so. Also, I don't see how social pressure could create the many modern (vanilla) female led relationships I perceive.

      3. I think the vanilla couples ALSO get swoony and aroused by their dynamics. That's my point. Humans aren't complicated enough to have evolved a separate kink mode.

    2. My pleasure. Thank you for restarting the discussion here.

      1. First, leadership != hierarchy. Second, we are probably wired for something that in a certain conditions leads to hierarchical systems, but that's not the same thing as being wired for hierarchy itself. I think there is as much wishful thinking from your part. You can't divorce your argument from the fact that you are clearly invested in seeing hierarchy as 'natural'.

      2. All the vanilla FLR (I don't like the term, but well) I know are based on some power differential that exists outside the relationship and has enough strength to counteract the dominant social pressure... being it of life management skills, emotional competence, or something else. They are not an acknowledged surrender of authority, driven by sexual and/or romantic feelings (that's what D/s is for me).

      3. Of course they do, but they don't get swoony by the elements of authority/power in the dynamic. There isn't a separate kink mode, there is palette of sexual/romantic scripts that in some combinations produce what we classify as D/s. So it's not as complicated as being a separate thing... but it's not as simple as being the same.

  2. Google suggests that #1 is subject to an ongoing scholarly debate, so though I'm not guaranteed to be correct, nor is my position entirely eccentric. (Nor am I pushing a political agenda.)

    It's not so much that I am invested in the naturalness of this, as everything else follows from the idea that humans like hierarchy.

    Thus I do think vFLRs are actually "an (implicitly) acknowledged surrender of authority, driven by sexual and/or romantic feelings" and they do get swoony over expressions of the authority/power dynamic.

    However, often traditional gender roles mask this, e.g. he works hard, earns money to pamper her and buy her the things she wants and she has him running this way and that to please her. They both like it that she can make him drop everything to come and do her bidding. And they both like the way she controls the sex. (Or she routinely gets cross with him and they have good makeup sex.)

    Some relationships I've observed really don't look much different from actual FLRs.

    I think real FLRs are healthier and more fun because it's acknowledged, and because each partner is explicitly valued: it's better to be a surrendered husband than a henpecked one.

  3. I don't think you are pushing a political agenda. I just think you might be making some logical leaps because you are invested in the conclusion. I confess I might be susceptible to the same.

    I can only really speak for me and... I. hate. hierarchy. At a personal level I see nothing relating D/s with a likeness for hierarchy.

    Is there some connection between the two at a broader level? Maybe. But I think saying D/s follows from humans liking hierarchy is a huge logical leap.

    I think D/s is much more about intent than about actions. The fact that they look similar does not mean that they feel the same. Much of what we think of as D/s (apart from the BDSMy things) is just pretty normal relationship behavior on overdrive or repackaged with different meaning, so it's not surprising they look similar.

    1. You hate hierarchy, but D/s by definition involves a consensual hierarchy, so surely you must like hierarchy in the right circumstances? One reading would be that you are aware that this is a usually destructive part of human nature, so you flinch from indulging it except in ethically permissive circumstances.

      "I think D/s is much more about intent than about actions. The fact that they look similar does not mean that they feel the same. Much of what we think of as D/s (apart from the BDSMy things) is just pretty normal relationship behavior on overdrive or repackaged with different meaning, so it's not surprising they look similar."

      I think actions speak louder than words and that what people do tells us more about them than what narrative they wrap around it and share with us.

      I suspect that if we could read minds, the intents would be virtually identical: "This will show him who's boss..." "This will make her smile..." "She want's this so she's going to get it!" "I'm going to drive him WILD with frustration." Etc

    2. Hummm... I think we might be disagreeing at a more fundamental level. I think we are starting from very different premises and that might stem, at least in part, from our different preferences when it comes to 'style' of D/s (that's actually a big part of why I value talking with you).

      I'll have to reflect a bit on what you said before continuing. Thank you for this discussion.

    3. Perhaps the central issue is: to what extent are simulated relationships real?

      I think that all the "This is BDSM *play*... we negotiated... it's roleplay... we established consent for everything... I have l33t dominate skills and attended a rope workshop what a good partner I am" is mostly just a skin that gives people permission to unleash something real and primal, and not always very nice.

  4. Giles,
    I think personality type is the a huge factor in determining a Dominant/submissive relationship but it’s not the only factor. Deep down two people have to be open to trying the D/s relationship to begin with. My wife would have never even considered taking a Dominant role in our marriage if I had not brought it up to begin with. Even denying me orgasms for lengthy time periods would have been an alien concept to her just a few years ago. Now she enjoys a “pampered” wife centered home life and we both enjoy new levels of intimacy. Maybe one partner can ignite the passion another if the other person is receptive. And such couples are indeed ordinary in many ways. Our families and friends see us a pretty ordinary people who happen to think young, exercise and dress stylish (she makes me), without having any idea of the growing number of tools in our toolbox. I think my wife is a Commander, she says how it is and tells me this is how our relationship is going to stay (fine with me).


    1. What makes people willing/able to transition to a kinky relationship is a separate issue that I haven't really addressed in this post.

      However, if you deleted the kink from your current dynamic, wouldn't what you have look awfully like a lot of ordinary vanilla marriages in which he revolves around her, or she "wears the trousers"?

      And, the non-kinky things your wife gets you do to - how many of them: resolve running tensions in your relationship or are just amplifications of what you already did?

      My theory is that the FLR dynamic was usually already there, or making its potential felt in ways that caused arguments or tensions as people pushed back or second guessed themselves.

  5. This might be your best post yet, and the discussion underneath a part of it. It even inspired me to rejig and repost my own (related) musings on the difefrence between dominance/submission and ''kinks'' (i.e. the toolkit) here:

    To throw my penny into the discussion on whether humans are wired for hierarchy, perhaps your (gentle) disagreement with CQuark is not as much about whether they are, but about how you define hierarchy? Hierarchy as a way of organizing the society or a group in a fairly fixed way, or hierarchy as wanting to establish and being responsive to, and yes, also eroticizing, roles and relationships in which control is unequally distributed, i.e. leader/follower dynamics.

    In 1-on-1 relationships this could be more fixed or dynamically changing. I suspect (even though anecdote is not data and I am biased) that some fulfilled couples lean towards a more fixed D/s (whether explicit or implicit) dynamic, and others enjoy more or less playful power struggles, fluid shifts and changes, or having various realms in which one partner has more control than the other.

    If you think about it, even the most M/f traditional marriage ALWAYS gives the woman dominance in some realms, usually in the domestic sphere. And the modern version of equal/democratic coupling gives the woman pretty indisputable (vanilla) dominance in the sexual sphere in the sense that female right to refuse sex and (to a lesser but still clear) extent, demand sex done in a certain way is pretty much a given.

  6. Response here:

  7. Enjoyed your comments and observations. I would say they are very insightful and pretty accurate for many of the folks I have met in my lifetime....not in a kinky context, but just life in general and relationships I have observed in daily life.

    I certainly agree about people looking for a leader or hierarchy in is so obvious in almost any situation. And yes, reflecting back I see the difference between a commander and champion....perhaps like an entrepreneur who starts a business, and the second generation in command who becomes more of a Champion to grow and mature the business.

    I do believe that people in relationships tend to develop a hierarchy based upon their own natural personalities and capabilities.....the difficulty in relationships comes when people try to be something that is not true to themselves.

    Well done and much food for thought.

    A simple Hoosier


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