How Does Power Exchange Work?

The truth is rarely pure and never simple.
― Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

In D/s relationships, it appears that all the power resides in the Dominant, and that the submissive is powerless. But this dance of power is not what it seems.

It could be said that D/s relationships contains an inner secret relationship which is exactly the opposite of this outer conventional D/s relationship. Maybe its symbolism would be: d/S. On some level, the Dominant draws power from the submissive. Our relationships are symbiotic. Without the D there is no s, without the s there is no D.

But, you’ll often hear this not particularly hidden fact that submissives have a power of their own taken to extremes, usually in some variation of “the gift of submission” logic. It runs something like this:

“The submission of s is the root of the Dominant’s power. Everything the Dominant manifests finds the submission of the s as its source of power. The entire flamenco-like dance that the Dominant leads, happens because of the charged energetic potential that the s’s submission allows the Dominant to manifest. This process of empowering the Dominant is a rare and precious gift given by the s and if they were to withdraw consent at any time then the dynamic of the relationship and the power of the Dominant disappear.”

I’m not sure I really understand this “unbalanced power” view of power exchange. Like alternating electrical current it flows back and forth. The submissive has power of consent, the Dominant has power of consent. The submissive can end a scene or walk away, the Dominant can end a scene or walk away. BDSM is a game of equals played out in a theatre of inequality. No one holds “the most fundamental power”.

“The submission of the s is the root of the Dominant’s power”, has a reflection in “the domination of the D is the root of the submissive’s power” (though you might like to substitute the word comfort or pleasure or self actualisation if you don’t like the word “power”).

Submission is the investment the bottom makes in the scene. It (the act not the bottom himself) puts demands on the Top. The Top must be equally honest.
Dark Vulcan, Submission Can Be Many Things

Power isn’t something you possess, it’s something that flows, hence dynamic. Both individuals in a power exchange dynamic are equally empowered, and to create a successful relationship they must in some way give each other what they need. They allow each other fulfilment through their shared reality, and between them that power flows.

Both partners are dependent on each other to find and develop that fulfilment, and in the real world it is nearly always the case that both partners will sometimes do things they otherwise aren’t keen on doing because they know that’s what satisfies their partner.

I think a self-aware Dominant knows where their power actually comes from, and doesn’t buy into their own ego’s koolaid that they’re just such a powerful wolf that subs are helpless in their presence.

The work of dominance is to enable or inspire submission. We don’t make our partners submit; we create the opportunity for them to submit.
Anton Fulmen, The Heart of Dominance

I think a self-aware submissive knows their unfathomable power. Even as they play out the role of totally surrendering their power, this only highlights and makes completely conscious, the awesome power they wield in silence and in “irrepressible inaction”.

And so, the Dominant and the submissive are like mirrors of each other. The submissive is the inner secret nature of the Dominant, his/her source of power. The Dominant is the manifesting outer nature of the submissive’s total surrender. And in a fully-awake relationship, each knows that the other knows.

Perhaps it’s better to not call it a power exchange in the first place. Really, it’s an authority transfer. I have power, he has power. he would not be in a relationship with someone who couldn’t actualize their sense of self unless he gave consent. he don’t magically lose his awesomeness because he consents to belonging to me. Ideally, he gains MORE power over time.

In my relationship(s) there is no secret or inverted power structure. We are both powerful people. It’s just that I  have the final say. Really. 😉


The Pleasure of Discipline and Punishment – (A Foucauldian Analysis of Power Exchange in Female Domination)
• BDSM Circle – TPE or Total Power Exchange
• Looking Into (and away from) the Mirror of Our D/s
• ASIBDSM – Negotiating a 24/7 BDSM Relationship

 More Articles related to Power Exchange

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