A popular subset of kink is dominance and submission, also known as D/s, power exchange, or power play. It’s depicted in most kinky stories, and regularly ranks highly in polls and studies about the most popular sexual fantasies.
Some kinksters see D/s as their sexual orientation, some see it as their fetish, and some see it as simply a sexy game they play from time to time. No matter how you conceptualize it, this kink has amassed its fair share of myths and misconceptions… so let’s debunk some damaging delusions about D/s!
Misconception #1: D/s is inherently abusive
It’s unsurprising that this view is so widely held: from the outside, kink can often look coercive or violent, even if what’s happening has been explicitly pre-negotiated and enthusiastically agreed to by all participants. When you also consider the fact that the most famous kink text of all time – Fifty Shades of Grey – depicts a D/s dynamic that is straight-up abusive, it’s easy to see why so many people are misinformed on this subject.
As I’m sure you know, the difference between sex and rape is consent – and in the same way, consent is what decides whether particular activities are kink or abuse. All participants in a kink scene must consent to it – which means that they are aware of the risks of what they’re agreeing to do, they aren’t being pressured by anyone or anything to take those risks, and they know they can revoke their consent immediately at any time. Consent is the baseline of all kink, and any ethical kinkster will make it a mandatory aspect of their play.
Misconception #2: D/s is synonymous with kink
Dominance and submission are certainly some of the most popular and best-known kinks out there, but there is much more to kink than just power exchange. There’s fetishism, roleplay, sadomasochism, and sensation play, for instance, all of which can incorporate power exchange but don’t necessarily have to.
Some people hesitate to self-identify as kinky if they worry their kinks don’t resemble those they see depicted in media. However, there are infinite ways to be kinky, and not all of them have to involve dominance or submission.
Misconception #3: You’re either a dominant or a submissive
As discussed above, some people are neither – but also, some people love both roles! A person who alternates between dominating and submitting may identify as a “switch.” They may have a specific role they prefer in certain relationships or contexts, or they may be truly happy to play either role at any time. Human sexuality is infinitely variable, and D/s is too!
Misconception #4: The dominant has all the power
In many cases, what kinksters find appealing about D/s is the sense of taking – or giving up – power. But it’s important to note that this is basically a grown-up game of pretend. If the submissive really had no power in their relationship, that would be an abusive, lopsided, unfair relationship – and although those do exist, in the kink world and everywhere else, they are not normal and certainly not moral.
In healthy D/s relationships, the submissive gets every bit as much say in what happens to them as the dominant does. Good dominants stay aware of their partners’ desires, fantasies, triggers, and limits, so they can do their best to provide only the types of dominance their submissive actually wants. How delightfully intimate!
Misconception #5: There’s only one “correct way” to do D/s
Some people think the man in a straight couple should always be the dom; some people think you can’t be a good dominant if you’re physically disabled; some people think submissives have to be gentle and ultra-accommodating; some people think your D/s relationship has to be in effect 24/7 to be legitimate… The list goes on and on.
All of these ideas have two things in common: firstly, they’re predicated on the assumption that there is a correct way to do D/s, and secondly, they’re wrong.
The right way to do D/s is the way that you and your partner(s) enjoy, negotiate, and agree upon. Sure, there are some “best practices” that almost all kinksters should adhere to – such as choosing a safeword in advance and keeping a bottle of lube by the bed – but ultimately, if your particular arrangement works for you and your partner(s), then it works. Period.
What are your most-detested misconceptions about D/s?