Is it OK for Me to Call Myself “Master”?

So, you’ve got this title, “Master”. What are the origins? How did it come to be part of the BDSM language?

“Master” might refer to:

  • someone with a high level of skill in something (a Master Swordsman or Master Electrician, for example). To be recognised as this type of Master by your community you may need to pass certain exams or perform feats of daring-do to demonstrate your skill. In my Buddhist group, we call our leader Master, and that recognises her mastery of her own worldly self and the many years she has practiced self awareness and acquired knowledge.
  • someone who has ownership of another person (in which case, if you don’t have a slave then you technically aren’t a Master)
  • head of a household (ala Downton Abbey) or business/society (the Master of the house)

All of those variations are still in use today in different pockets of society, and different people in the BDSM community associate the title “Master” with different ideas of its origin.

The mythology of the Old Guard is the first type of Master above. You participate in the community and demonstrate your Masterly attributes (these are always somewhat vague) and you achieve the title at some point (again, kind of vague).

If you’ve been reading a lot of material based on this kind of mythology then you’d understandably be confused because everyone is pretty sketchy on the details of how that might work. How many rope ties do you need to know before you are seen as a Shibari Master? What kind of personal attributes do you need to demonstrate (and for how long?) before you’re allowed to use the title Master in your local leather community? Can you just start calling yourself that or is there a hatting ceremony and a sash? No-one really knows the answer to those questions.

But, in general, the principle used here is that a Master is dominant, but a Dominant is not always a Master. So, if you’re 19 and calling yourself a Master, you probably haven’t put in enough time. If you’re asking inane newbie questions, you probably don’t have the knowledge. If you are thinking about buying your first toys, you probably don’t have the skills. If you think you’ve going to be laughed at for calling yourself a Master, you probably will.

The other two origin stories are more often used by the New Guard (or non-Old Guard, or modern kinkster or whatever we call those damned upstarts). If you’re in what you believe is a Master/slave relationship and you’re on the left side of that slash, then you are a Master, at least within your relationship. If you take that and adopt it as your title and add it to your Fetlife screen-name or the name you like to be called at munches, then you may offend someone because they may perceive that you feel that people outside of your relationship should call you Master… and that’s a touchy hot-button in the BDSM community.

Sorry, I’ve just added to your confusion I think.


If you like to call yourself Master, then go ahead. Many people will support your right to do so, and some will get a little butt-hurt about it. Just remember that it gives you no special rights. It doesn’t make you “the” Master of anyone outside of your relationship, and if you don’t treat others with respect they may start calling you other things behind your back (or to your face).

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