by Hermes Solenzol
Although much has been written about the different techniques used in bondage and sadomasochism, less effort has been put into systematizing the dynamics of a Dominance/submission (D/s) relationship. D/s is much more complex than the Dominant simply ordering the submissive around. It begins when the Dominant and the submissive agree that they want to pursue D/s, but that is only the first step of a long journey. D/s develops slowly over an extended period of time in which both parties actively work to open up and gain each other’s trust.
Here I will refer to the Dominant as a man and the submissive as a woman for the sake of simplicity, and because this is my personal preference; however, all this can be applied to any gender assignation of these roles. Some of the things I say may seem extreme, even brutal. We have to keep in mind that a D/s relationship is a sharp departure from the principles that guide a normal relationship, such as equality, personal autonomy, independence and respect. These values are still present in a D/s relationship, but changed into different shapes by the fact that the submissive surrenders a great deal of power to the Dominant, so the relationship becomes inherently unequal. The sub loses personal autonomy; and the use of pain, restraint and humiliation looks a lot like lack of respect. Of course, all of this needs to happen under the constraints of “safe, sane and consensual”. Sanity is a particular concern in D/s, because these practices can easily lapse into psychological abuse. We need to be watchful for anything that harms the self-esteem and the core dignity of the submissive, or that creates psychological dependence. I will address these problems in another article.
I propose here that a D/s relationship involves seven distinct elements: obedience, surrender, service, discipline, punishment, demeanor and mind-fucking.
Obedience is, quite simply, following the orders of the Dominant. This is the most obvious part of a D/s relationship: one commands and the other must obey. A good Dominant chooses very carefully which orders to give, taking into account the needs of the submissive and the development of the relationship. The submissive is a fully-developed adult living a complex life, so a poorly conceived order can wreak havoc in her life. On the other hand, if a submissive finds that she cannot follow an order, or that she must argue against it or use her safeword, her confidence in the Dominant can be undermined. A good strategy is to delimit an area of the submissive’s life that will be under the control of the Dominant; the obvious one being her sexuality. On the other hand, her professional life should be considered off limits for the Dominant. Also, the Dominant should not try to control existing relationships of the sub with other people if for no other reason that this will bring into the D/s dynamic a person who has not given his or her consent.
Surrender means that the submissive must be open physically and mentally to the Dom. A good place to start is for the Dom to assert his right to touch the sub intimately whenever and wherever he wants – her navel, her nostrils, her asshole, anywhere. The body of the sub is at his disposal to enjoy and to stimulate with pleasure or pain at his discretion. This physical surrender is accompanied by a mental openness in which the sub gradually reveals her secret fantasies, fears and desires. Again, sex is a good place to start, but this will naturally extend to other areas of her life. From his side, the Dominant should refrain as much as possible from judgment, because placing shame or guilt on the submissive would be a betrayal of her trust. She has made herself enormously vulnerable, and if she feels that her confidences are being used against her, her natural reaction will be to withdraw and put up barriers.
The ultimate surrender takes place during sexual intercourse. Here we must abandon all scruples: we are not having vanilla sex. The sub is not going to be made love to; she is not even going to have sex. She is going to be fucked, with all the overpowering and humiliating connotations that this entails. She may be rudely taken from behind, being denied the view of the face of the Dom. She may be tied up in a humiliating, exposed position in which she cannot deny access to the Dom, or even move to seek her own pleasure. She may be forced to view her degradation in a mirror. She may enjoy the fucking or she may dislike it, or both at the same time, at the will of the Dom. And, of course, she will cum only with his permission.
Service means that the submissive works to please and satisfy the desires of the Dominant. While surrender is mostly passive, service is pro-active. Service also goes beyond mere obedience, because the sub needs to anticipate the desires of the Dom. From his side, he must be mindful not to inhibit her creativity by being over-controlling. Of course, the submissive needs to ask permission before performing the service, or should meekly suggest a course of action. Having a submissive well trained in service will allow the Dominant to relax and enjoy the D/s relationship without having to be continuously on alert to decide what to do next.
Discipline comprises a series of exercises by which the Dominant fully asserts his control over the body and the mind of the submissive. The most obvious way to do this is in a scene in which he puts the submissive through various stages of pain and pleasure until she becomes fully pliable to his will. Here is where D/s interacts with sadomasochism. Pain and pleasure both have the property of salience, which means that they impose themselves on our consciousness, forcing us to pay attention. Therefore, they provide the perfect gateway for the Dom to invade the mind of the submissive, unrelentingly asserting his power.
Yet discipline goes well beyond pain and pleasure, beyond scene time. The Dom will give his submissive a series of tasks and exercises that she must do in and out of his presence to train her submission. These can include, for example, sexual exercises like Kegel pulls or wearing a butt-plug; other forms of physical training; reading assignments; fixed sleep and wake up times; modifications in her diet; writing in a diary; working a certain amount of time with undivided attention, etc. For male submissives, chastity and control of erections and ejaculations are widely practiced forms of discipline. Although some discipline exercises can be unpleasant, they are not done for punishment but to train the submissive and develop her submission.
Punishment occurs because the submissive has to face the consequences of doing things wrong in the D/s relationship or in her life. This means that the Dom will chastise her verbally and by imposing on her physical pain or the performance of an unpleasant task. This is a delicate subject because we live in a tremendously punishing society that since our infancy has exposed us to the guilt and shame associated with failure and disobedience. For this reason, the meaning of punishment has to be carefully adjusted from the start, emphasizing its healing value as catharsis and atonement. Many D/s-minded people have a punishment fetish, which means that they find punishing or being punished erotic. This should be encouraged and developed. Indeed, in the context of a D/s interaction punishment has fulfilling aspects. For one thing, punishment is a powerful way to assert the power that the Dom has received from the sub and seeing that power expressed fills her mind with awe. The other thing is the healing aspect that I mentioned before. With the help of the Dom, the submissive brings to the surface the guilt and shame elicited not only by recent misbehavior but also by wrongful deeds of her earlier life. The humiliation and the pain of the punishment erodes those negative emotions, polishing and purifying the ego. Critical for this healing process is that the punishment ends with a time of aftercare in which the forgiveness of the Dom induces the sub to forgive herself. Any misdeed has been paid for and can be safely left in the past. The submissive can move forward in her life feeling clean, purified and free from guilt. She has accepted her weaknesses and witnessed the power of the Dom over her, things that have made her stronger as a person and better as a submissive. Paradoxically, by surrendering to the Dom she has freed herself from her inner demons.
Demeanor means that he submissive learns to carry herself and behave in a way that expresses a submissive mental state. Not all submissives have the same demeanor; each one expresses in a different way what submission means to her and to her Dominant. Some submissives are meek and subservient, while others may be proud and bratty. The Dominant decides which behaviors are acceptable and which are not, according to the nature of their relationship. The appropriate demeanor emerges from the personality of the sub and is polished through training to produce a poise that conveys to the trained eye the depth and beauty of the D/s relationship. For example, one type of submissive looks down in the presence of the Dom, walks behind him and speaks only when asked. Another type of submissive may proudly lift her chin, challenge the Dom, stare at him defiantly and freely speak her mind. Different demeanors are equally valid; they simply represent different styles of surrender, service and discipline.
Mind-fucking consists of mind games that the Dominant plays with the submissive to bring her to a state of defeat and surrender. It doesn’t need to be something complicated; gentle teasing is already a form of mind-fuck. However, the most intense D/s scenes use mind-fucking to bring the bottom into profound sub-space. This represents the culmination of the training into all the six other elements of submission. Mind-fucking requires creativity on the part of the Dom; it is here where he shows his skill. There are no recipes for mind-fucking. It needs to be tailored to the personality of the submissive, to her state of mind in that precise moment. A good strategy is to find her points of resistance, her inner conflicts, and then bring her face to face with them. To be successful, the Dom needs to give the sub his full attention, focusing completely on reading her. However, without the sub’s willful collaboration, the process will fail . Mind-fucking is not so much something that the Dom does to the sub as something that they create together. No matter how skillful the Dominant, it is impossible for him to mind-fuck the submissive if she doesn’t surrender to him or if she lacks the appropriate discipline to follow him in the process. For example, one of form of mind-fucking consists in making the sub choose between two unpleasant choices. If she is in a rebellious state of mind she may refuse the false dichotomy, sabotaging the process. Since mind-fucking brings out her resistances, inner conflicts and unresolved problems, it can entail a spark of self-discovery, a step in a process of self-transformation.
To develop the elements of submission takes time and effort. The Dominant has to gain the trust of the sub and carefully guide her through steps to develop each one. Accordingly, a D/s relationship is best conceived as training. The whole process should be very enjoyable and produce profound personal satisfaction in both participants. As often happens in life, what matters is the journey and not the destination…because, in fact, there may be no destination at all.
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.