Thursday, 4 July 2019

Ask Giles: Why does everybody say dominants have to be empathetic?

As you might guess, my response was basically because they are wrong!

Speaking as a life long sub, I think empathy is most emphatically not required.

The reason empathy is pitched as essential is that the BDSM community, especially online, tends to assume one style of D/s as the default: call it "Scene D/s".

In this, the dominant's primary role is to generate kinky experiences for the sub, and their dominance is expressed through the power to control the flow of kink. Dominants are earnestly advised to try being on the receiving end, and there are lots of classes to attend and skills to learn. The scene itself is often planned, and may play out collaboratively.

There's nothing wrong with Scene D/s. In fact it has a lot going for it. It's a robust approach when the players themselves may not themselves be robust, and especially so if you don't know them well. It can also generate some amazing highs and intimacy between couples.

However, I think this emphasis on play tends to frame the dominant as a service provider whose performance can be rated. It also creates the expectation that dominant women will behave like free alternatives to pro-dominants, putting some women off entirely, and creating annoying behaviour in malesubs.

Scene D/s also requires emotional labour, which makes it an unsustainable proposition for partners who don't have have a fetish, but would otherwise enjoy exploring their dominant streak - we see lots of questions along the lines of "My partner was into kink (which I introduced) but now they seem never to have time or energy" and the answer is always "Consider what's in it for them".

The alternative path, for which fewer soft skills are required, is to practice - call it - Actual D/s. 
In Actual D/s, the dominant does pretty much what they want (within hard limits and subject to safewords) and the sub takes the rough with the smooth. The dominant still has to be not evil or stupid, but they don't have to constantly monitor the sub's feelings or arousal. This approach requires the sub to be physically and emotionally robust, and is probably less than wise with a stranger.

As you can tell, I prefer this approach because it feels thrillingly real, and because I get a kick out of being on the wrong end of dark feeling and impulses.

One selling point for my mistress Xena is that she can take a break from using her empathy...

So the short answer is: because most discourse around BDSM assumes that it is collaborative play.

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