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Wednesday, 13 December 2017

My Three Big Ideas about D/s Power Exchange

(In response to useful comments on my last post.)

I have Three Big Ideas about D/s Exchange. I'm sure somebody else has already had them, but here they are:

1. In BDSM  Power Exchange, the Power Dynamic is Real

Not all BDSM is really power exchange. Sometimes the real control does rest with the "sub", or the couple are actually engaging in a collaborative scene. (See Skin Shallow's excellent blog post on this.)

However, where the dominant operates within permissive limits in order to please themselves and this is OK with the submissive,  then the power quickly becomes real. It's mentally hard for a sub to withdraw consent unless they hit a really hard limit:

(1) The submissive's need for the kink dissempowers them. They can no more casually call a halt because bored or irritated than a sports professional can walk off the field because they've had enough for the day.

(2) Humans quickly lose perspective making most role play quickly feel real, e.g. Stanford Experiment, and again, how people behave badly on the sports field.

(3) Submissives are caught in an undertow. Add a following wind, and we find it very hard to swim back toward shore.

(4) Hierarchical relationships seem "natural" to humans. Once we know who's boss, we tend to just go along with the arrangement unless something bumps us out of it.

Meanwhile, the dominant experiences something similar. They get used to being obeyed and quickly come to take it for granted.

Dominants might find this perspective uncomfortable - consent gets fuzzy if you look at it too closely! However, I think it's useful to distinguish between power exchange and play, especially because power exchange is the simpler and less demanding option for inexperienced or vanilla partners experimenting with a dominant role.

2. Power Exchange is the normal (BDSMers are just better at it and more explicit) 

This from observation of vanilla couples. There is usually a consensual power imbalance.

Psychology researchers have noticed this, but tend to treat it as a bad thing, even though there is evidence that having clear leadership in a relationship makes the couple more effective.

By "power imbalance" I mean something generally benign and even fluffy.

Typically, one partner tends to lead, the other facilitates or champions. They may each have areas they are in charge of - in a "traditional" relationship, the house is her domain - but the overall shape of the relationship focuses comfortably on one partner. This could, e.g., be the more professionally dynamic partner, or the one in charge of the domestic bliss.

The partners in question usually don't think of dominance or submission: "I'm a good provider, I look after my partner, I keep us on track, I get looked after, my work has to come first, my partner supports my hobbies...".

(Culture and humour suggest that this power has never automatically rested with the man: "She wears the trousers." Female Led Relationships are as old as history.)

D/s couples are therefore really just going with the flow but being explicit about it. For example, if your wife is in charge, it's a relief to be able to just admit it, rather than to feel the need to push back in order to maintain respect.

The kink just occupies the same place as romance does in vanilla couples. Both express dynamic. The romantic walks through the rain to buy a bottle wine for his lover, the submissive for his mistress. One wears a nice shirt she picked for him, the other a chastity device. Kink is just generally more intense and reliable than romance.

This is psychologically comforting because it means we aren't The Other. Xena and I turn out not to be so different from the couple next door - right now he's de-icing the family car while she watches from behind double glazing, drinking hot chocolate. 

It's useful because it shows that you can have a mutually satisfactory D/s experience by just following your inclinations in the context of power exchange. You don't have to be different people. This is particularly important for couples where one partner is no good at roleplay or acting, and quickly becomes self conscious or irritated when asked to do so.

3. Personality determines D/s role, vanilla or otherwise

Despite people's protestations to the contrary, I think people sit on a spectrum of Commander and Champion, and tend to pair up accordingly. I see this in vanilla couples, and in those couples I know with a strong element of BDSM power exchange.

Commanders aren't evil, Champions aren't weak. However, they are different from each other. This from a Psychology Today article on a collection of BDSM studies:
...doms were lower than both the controls and the subs in agreeableness. People who are low in agreeableness tend to be tough rather than tender minded, are willing to make hard decisions, and tend to be bossy and demanding in the way they relate to others. Thus it would seem that people who are into BDSM generally prefer the role that fits their own level of agreeableness. Tough, domineering people would seem to prefer the dominant role, while those who are more tender and willing to please naturally fit into the submissive role.
It's about preference, not status. In the outside world, each may equally well be a leader or a follower. Being a Commander doesn't automatically give you the skills to be socially dominant. Being a Champion doesn't automatically make you any good at nurturing or facilitating. Neither type entitles you to anything.

In long term relationships, a kind of feedback loop seems to move each partner away from the centre, intensifying the dynamic. Couples who resist this fight a lot - but perhaps they have great makeup sex.

This is useful because it suggests that you can infer potential kink compatibility from everyday personality. However this comes with lots of caveats. 

(a) The popular cultural service model of BDSM may put people off their corresponding rules. A Commander doesn't want to service top.  A Champion doesn't want to be the focus as a Bottom.

(b) Fetish, preference, trauma(!) and experience may nudge people into non-Power/Exchange kinky activities e.g. a Commander may enjoy being service topped.

(c) Actual type may be masked by cultural pressure, learned skills, or reaction to bad experiences. The Alpha Male manager may be "performing" alpha male to hide his Champion nature.

Well, that's where I'm at at the moment. What do you think?

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  1. A Commander doesn't want to service top. --> I might need to write about this...
    A Champion doesn't want to be the focus as a Bottom. --> That explains a few things for me.

    The submissive's need for the kink disempowers them --> not any more than the dominant's need for kink might limit their free rein (unless the dominant is sexually vanilla ;)

    Thanks for the shoutout, too.

    1. "The submissive's need for the kink disempowers them --> not any more than the dominant's need for kink might limit their free rein (unless the dominant is sexually vanilla ;) "

      Yes, where the dominant is well into it, the same applies in both directions.

      However, there is still the risk that the domme might withdraw perks for the sub - the stockings go away.

      And, it's still quite typical for the sub to be the one who introduces the kink, meaning they will feel insecure about it for a long time.

    2. Giles,
      The chance that a Dominant might withdraw or reduce perks could also be attractive to a submissive. The excitement of knowing or not knowing what my wife might do or take away can be intoxicating. My wife makes me stay home on Saturdays and clean the house or run errands. Many men normally do those activities or assist with things on Saturdays, but it’s a requirement that means I need to be sure get her permission to do something else. I love it, don’t get me wrong, but the free Saturday perk is gone. rg


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