by Hermes Solenzol
This practice seems to be quite common in the world of Dominance/submission (D/s). I have seen people who I respect a lot as Doms do it. And, given the enormous overlap between BDSM and polyamory / non-monogamy, it’s something that needs to be considered carefully from the ethical point of view.
It goes like this: in a D/s relationship the Dom states that, as another act of submission, the sub will allow him to have as many other sexual partners as he pleases. However, the sub is not allowed to do the same because she belongs to Him so it wouldn’t be appropriate that she gives herself to another man. This may seem unfair at first look but, then again, nothing is fair in D/s. The sub has to obey, get beaten, suffer punishments and endure lot of other things that don’t happen to the Dom, so why not this? Yes, the sub may experience feelings of rejection, shame and jealousy as a result, but she needs to get over them just like she learned to obey and accept pain in the service of the Dom. Yes, the sub may be sexually deprived as a result, but isn’t a certain amount of sexual deprivation part of D/s? In any case, Doms that do this are so manly that can keep several women sexually satisfied, right?
Of course, Dominatrices can impose the same rule on their male or female subs. This does also apply to Femdom. Sometimes I feel that male submissives are even more vulnerable emotionally than women subs. Certainly, Dominatrices can get male subs much more easily than male Doms can get female subs, and often take advantage of that privilege.
In contrast, reciprocity is key in the ethics of polyamory. Rules should apply both ways. If a marriage is open for him, it is also open for her. The “one cock rule” is frowned upon. And this should apply not only to couples but to any poly configuration, so demanding that a secondary is exclusive to a couple that is otherwise open to other sexual partners is not OK. Polyamory without reciprocity is no longer polyamory. It harks back to situations of male privilege in which a wife had to put up with her husband having other lovers because of the power imbalance imposed by society, or even to the polygamy still practiced by some religions. When we started talking about polyamory, way back then, we were very clear in separating it from those situations, which were rightfully condemned by the law as oppressive to women.
IS LACK OF RECIPOCITY SAFE, SANE AND CONSENSUAL?
So, going back to D/s, is this asymmetry in sexual exclusivity justifiable as an act of submission? Does it violate “safe, sane and consensual”? Starting with “consensual”, we need to keep in mind that true consent has to occur in the absence of any kind of coercion. Given the heavy cultural connotations of sexual non-exclusivity and its potential emotional impact, this has to be treated as a special issue. It has to be negotiated with a clear head, with both partners interacting as equals. Presenting it as “take it or leave it” or as a relationship-breaking deal strikes me as coercive. It should also be open to renegotiation if the sub finds the situation too emotionally taxing. One thing is to deal with jealousy when you also get to enjoy fucking other people, and another is to watch while your only sexual partner, the person to whom you have given yourself completely, casually fuck whomever he pleases while he gives no outlet to your own desires.
Regarding “sane”, some people can have strong negative reactions to sexual non-exclusivity. Ignoring them out of hand because “that’s what a submissive should do” is wrong. The ever growing polyamory culture has developed ethical parameters and ways of dealing with issues like jealousy, possessiveness, insecurity and reciprocity that are of tremendous value for anybody venturing into this dangerous territory. Ignoring them because D/s is different strikes me as irresponsible. Any submissive dealing with a situation of sexual non-exclusivity should educate herself in the ways of polyamory. The book “More Than Two”, which is primarily about polyamory but also addresses BDSM, would be a good place to start.
More in depth, I often ask myself to what point it is really ethical to use the desire to serve of the submissive for a purely selfish personal gain. It seems to me that D/s should be an exchange of the submissive servitude for the Dom’s care and attention. Obedience, service, discipline, training, even punishment, all involve the Dom and the sub interacting with each other. When the interaction involves the Dom doing something outside the relationship that is of no benefit to the sub, things start to look questionably unilateral.
I’m not saying that any relationship in which the Dom fucks other people but the submissive doesn’t is not ethical. If this is truly consensual and it doesn’t cause distress to the submissive, then is OK. A variant on this theme is where the Dom gets to choose who the submissive has sex with and how she does it. This seems a better situation because the sub has more opportunities for sexual satisfaction and entails delicious perversion and servitude. Still, I recommend everybody to be particularly careful when dealing with sexual non-exclusivity in D/s relationships.
Feature image by Mojo Wang
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Based in Los Angeles, California, Hermes Solenzol is a neuroscientist, and has been doing research on pain for several decades. In particular, he has been investigating endorphin release in rats. He has been a sadist for as long as he can remember and active in the scene for several decades.
Much of his writing is published in Spanish at Sexo, ciencia y espíritu, but there’s a great collection of articles on his English site, Sex, science and spirit. Along with a lot of BDSM wisdom, you’ll find thoughts on polyamory, communication, psychology and love.
He’s currently translating his first erotic novel from Spanish to English.